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Borrowed Identity
Kasi Blake

Another scream ripped from her sore throat.

Chapter Two

Michael Taggert’s fingers closed over Kelly Hall’s creamy white shoulders. He swung her around and pressed her spine against the wall, his heart pounding at a marathon rate. Fearing the worst, he visually inspected her from top to bottom, reassuring himself she was all right.

A short towel was the only thing between him and her naked, glistening body. The green cotton ended at her upper thighs, exposing them to his avid gaze. Her blond hair hung in wet waves around her heart-shaped face. She was pale, for all of the color had drained from her cheeks.

Her blue eyes were wide, but they didn’t focus on him. Instead, she stared past him at the wall as if she wasn’t aware of him.

She continued to scream as if she couldn’t stop. She fought desperately to break his hold.

Michael pulled her into his arms and held her close. He whispered reassuring words into her hair while stroking her back until the shaking subsided.

After a few minutes, she pushed him away. Reason surfaced in her eyes. She blinked at him as if stunned, probably seeing him for the first time.

“I…” Her neck swiveled and she stared at the open door of her bedroom. Her teeth chattered violently. “I was taking a shower and…”

“What? What happened?”

“I thought I was alone, but I heard something. There’s a word written on the mirror. Someone was in the bathroom while I was showering!”

Suspicion colored her expression and Michael knew she was wondering if it had been him in the bathroom.

“I was downstairs when I heard you scream.” His gaze slowly moved down her towel-clad body. He released her shoulders, taking a step back for his own peace of mind. He needed to keep focused on the job at hand, had to remember to play the part of the devoted fiancé without getting carried away. “What frightened you? What’s written on the mirror?”

Kelly wrapped her arms around her body in a form of self-protection.

His gaze went to the scars on her forearms. This woman was no stranger to horrible circumstances. She’d been hurt badly.

“‘Die,” she sobbed. “The word die is on the mirror, written in the steam. Someone was in the bathroom with me.” Her hands shook as she wrung them together. “Do something.”

“Stay here while I check it out.”

“No.” She shook her head adamantly and latched on to his arm. “I am not going to stay out here alone. I’m coming with you.”

“Stay behind me then,” he said, entering her bedroom.

At the moment he would have given every cent in his bank account to have a weapon. If there was someone dangerous nearby, how was he going to protect Kelly?

He felt her hands at his back, holding on to his waist with trembling fingers. Kelly was standing so close to him as they entered the bedroom together, he doubted a breath could slide between them.

She was too close. Everything about her was an unwanted distraction. The weight of her hands on his spine. The amazing floral scent of her skin and hair. The whisper of breath as she inhaled and exhaled at a steadily increasing rate.

They stepped into the bathroom and Kelly gasped. There were two words on the mirror now: Die Michael.

He turned on her. “Is this your idea of a joke?” Anger clouded his vision. He had a job to do. He didn’t have time to play games with the local head case. No matter how beautiful she was.

“But…I didn’t do that…I swear.” Kelly hugged herself again. Her entire body shook like a leaf in a strong wind. “There was only one word before. You have to believe me.”

Michael sighed. If she was acting, she deserved an Oscar. His gut told him she believed what she was saying. But Michael knew no one could have gotten into the room. They had both been standing in the hallway.

“You think I did it!” Her slender hands clenched into tight fists. She shook them at him. “I am not crazy!”

“Maybe the pills you took—”

“Get out!” She pointed at the door. “Get out of my room.”

When he didn’t immediately leave, she threw a bottle of shampoo at him.

He ducked, allowing the plastic bottle to hit the door behind him. He didn’t want to leave her alone in her present condition. He had no idea what she was capable of.

He could tell her the truth, but the truth could put her in even more danger. His hands were tied right now. There was work to be done. Afterward, he could tell her everything.

“Get some rest. The sleeping pills will be out of your system soon and you’ll feel better.”

“Don’t patronize me,” she snapped. “You think I’m losing my mind.”

“No, I don’t.” He raked a hand through his dark hair, searching for the magical words that would put her mind at ease. “I think the drugs are causing this reaction. I also think you’ll be back to normal within the next few hours.”

She stared at him through sky-blue eyes that glistened with mistrust. Michael had learned early not to care what others thought about him, but the angelic blonde cut him to the quick with her suspicious gaze. For some reason he wanted her trust and respect. Unfortunately, he hadn’t earned either one.

“I want you to go,” she stated firmly.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes!” she hissed between clenched teeth. “I’ll be fine once you’re gone.”

Michael reluctantly left her to her own devices. Closing the door softly behind him, he stood there for several minutes, waiting for another frightened cry that never came. The dimly lit hallway remained silent. When he heard her walking across the bedroom floor, he left. She was safe in her room.

HAD SHE WRITTEN the words on the mirror?

No one else could have done it. She strained to picture the mirror in her mind again, trying to see it as it was before she’d left the bathroom to find Michael. There had been one word when she’d stepped from the shower. She was sure of it.

Maybe Michael was right in thinking she was losing her mind. He didn’t have to utter the words. It had been evident in the way he looked at her.

She’d seen the pity in his eyes. Avoiding that look was the reason she chose to live in isolation at Moore House. When she was growing up in Tinkerton, going to the local schools, she’d learned to hate the smell of pity. People in town knew the tragic story behind her scars. Most of them were kind, trying not to glance down, but it didn’t matter. She didn’t need their pity or Michael’s.

Returning to the bathroom, she splashed her face with cold water. She was lost, confused, with no idea what to believe. She prayed Michael was right about the sleeping pills. If her problem was that simple, it was easily remedied. She wouldn’t take them anymore.

She got dressed in a frantic rush, wanting to escape the four walls of her room. She purposely wore a long-sleeved sweater to hide her scars.

Kelly hurried down the hallway, but froze at the top of the stairs. She had an unexpected visitor.

Wade Carpenter, her best friend, was tiptoeing across the large foyer, heavy toolbox in hand. Wade was mildly retarded, but he was a genius when it came to carpentry work. He was larger than the biggest football player in the National League, an intimidating figure in faded coveralls.

“Wade,” Kelly called out.

Startled, he jumped at least a foot in the air. His toolbox hit the floor with a loud clang and the tools scattered across the marble with an awful noise, as if an entire orchestra had dropped their instruments at the same time.
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