الرئيسية After Caroline

After Caroline

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Two women who look enough alike to be twins. Both involved in car wrecks at the same time. One survives. One doesn't.

Now, plagued by a bewildering connection to a woman she never knew, driven by an urgent compulsion she doesn't understand, Joanna Flynn travels three thousand miles across the country to the picturesque town where Caroline McKenna lived—and mysteriously died. There Joanna will run into a solid wall of suspicion as she searches for the truth: Was Caroline's death an accident? Or was she the target of a killer willing to kill again?

After Caroline

Kay Hooper

This edition contains the complete text

of the original hardcover edition.


After Caroline

A Bantam Book


Bantam hardcover edition published December 1996

Bantam paperback edition / October 1997

All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1996 by Kay Hooper.

Cover art copyright © 1997 by Alan Ayers.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 96-5741.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any

form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including

photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and

retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

For information address: Bantam Books.

If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

ISBN 0-553-57184-2

Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words "Bantam Books" and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036.








Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six

Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter

Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Epilogue


Contents - Next

July 1

It wasn't much to cause such a drastic effect. Not much at all. A small spot on the road, maybe a smear of oil that had dripped down when some other car had inexplicably paused here where there were no side streets or driveways or even wide shoulders to beckon. She never saw it. One moment, her old Ford was moving smoothly, completely under her control; the next moment, it was spinning with stunning violence.

She was jerked about like a rag doll, and clung to the steering wheel out of some dim conviction that she could somehow regain control over the vehicle. But the sheer force of the spin made her helpless. It seemed to go on forever, the summer green of the scenery revolving around her wildly, the anguished scream of tires on hot pavement shrill in her ears. Other cars cried out in response, their tires shrieking and horns blaring, adding to the cacophony blasting her.

And then there were actual blows as the whirling car began to strike stationary objects, the overgrown shrubbery that lined the street at first, and then small trees. Harsh shudders shook her and the car again and again. The spinning slowed, she thought, but then the undercarriage snagged something that refused to give or let go, there was an ungodly wail of tortured metal, and the car flipped—not once, but over and over, as violently as it had spun on its wheels.

She didn't realize she had closed her eyes until the car jolted a final time upright, rocked threateningly, and then went still with a groan.

In that first instant, she understood the phrase "deafening silence"; all she could hear was her own heart thudding. Then, as though someone had turned up the volume, the sounds of people shouting and car horns filtered into her awareness. She opened her eyes cautiously, blinking back tears of fright.

The sight that met her gaze was appalling. The windshield's shatterproof glass had simply vanished, and she could see with terrible clarity the long hood of her car now crumpled back toward her like some monstrous accordion, with unbroken headlights pointed bizarrely toward the sky. The passenger door had also been forced inward, so that she could have easily rested her elbow on it without even leaning to the right. And though the driver's door seemed amazingly whole and unharmed, she knew without even looking back that the rear of the car had also folded in, so that she was encased in a tight box of collapsed metal.

She forced her hands to let go of the steering wheel and held them up to eye level, warily examining her fingers one at a time until she could convince herself that all ten were present and working properly.

Then, as the voices came nearer to what was left of her car, she shifted a bit, carefully, waiting for a pain or some other indication of injury.

She even managed to feel down her legs, bared by her summer skirt, and searched for damage.

Nothing. Not a scratch.

She wasn't a religious woman, but staring around her at something that didn't even look like a car anymore, she had to wonder if perhaps something or someone hadn't been watching over her.

"Lady, are you all right?"

She looked through the glassless window into a stranger's concerned face and heard an uncertain laugh emerge from her mouth.

"Yeah. Can you believe it?"

"No," he replied frankly, a grin tugging at his lips. "You ought to be in about a million pieces, lady. This has gotta be the luckiest day of your life."

"Tell me about it." She shifted slightly, adding, "But I can hardly move, and I can't reach the door handle.

Can you get it open?"

The stranger, a middle-aged man with the burly shoulders that come of a lifetime's hard work, yanked experimentally on her door. "Nope. There isn't a mark on this door, but it's been compressed in the front and back, and it's stuck tight. We're gonna need the Jaws of Life, sure enough. Don't worry, though—the rescue squad and paramedics are on their way."

Distant sirens were getting louder, but even so she felt a chill of worry. "I had a full tank of gas. You don't think—"

"I don't smell anything," he reassured her. "And I've worked in garages most of my life. Don't worry. By the way, my name is Jim. Jim Smith, believe it or not."

"It's a day to believe anything. I'm Joanna. Nice to meet you, Jim."

He nodded. "Same here, Joanna. You're sure you're okay? No pain anywhere?"

"Not even a twinge." She looked past his shoulder to watch other motorists slipping and sliding down the bank toward her, and swallowed hard when she saw just how far her car had rolled. "My God. I should be dead, shouldn't I?"

Jim looked back and briefly studied the wide path of flattened brush and churned-up earth, then returned his gaze to her and smiled. "Like I said, this seems to be your lucky day."

Joanna looked once more at the car crumpled so snugly around her, and shivered. As close as she ever wanted to come…

Within five minutes, the rescue squad and paramedics arrived, all of them astonished but pleased to find her unhurt. Jim backed away to allow the rescue people room to work, joining the throng of onlookers scattered down the bank, and Joanna realized only then that she was the center of quite a bit of attention.

"I always wanted to be a star," she murmured.

The nearest paramedic, a brisk woman of about Joanna's age wearing a name badge that said E.

Mallory, chuckled in response. "Word's gotten around that you haven't a scratch. Don't be surprised if the fourth estate shows up any minute."

Joanna was about to reply to that with another light comment, but before she could open her mouth, the calm of the moment was suddenly, terribly, shattered. There was a sound like a gunshot, a dozen voices screamed, " Get back!" and Joanna turned her gaze toward the windshield to see what looked like a thick black snake with a fiery head falling toward her out of the sky.

Then something slammed into her with the unbelievable force of a runaway train, and everything went black.

There was no sense of time passing, and Joanna didn't feel she had gone somewhere else. She felt…

suspended, in a kind of limbo. Weightless, content, she drifted in a peaceful silence. She was waiting for something, she knew that. Waiting to find out something. The silence was absolute, but gradually the darkness began to abate, and she felt a gentle tug. She turned, or thought she did, and moved in the direction of the soft pull.

But almost immediately, she was released, drifting once more as the darkness deepened again. And she had a sudden sense that she was not alone, that someone shared the darkness with her. She felt a featherlight touch, so fleeting she wasn't at all sure of it, as though someone or something had brushed past her.

Don't let her be alone.

Joanna heard nothing, yet the plea was distinct in her mind, and the emotions behind it were nearly overwhelming. She tried to reach out toward that other, suffering presence, but before she could, something yanked at her sharply.

"Joanna? Joanna! Come on, Joanna, open your eyes!"

That summons was an audible one, growing louder as she felt herself pulled downward. She resisted for an instant, reluctant, but then fell in a rush until she felt the heaviness of her own body once more.

Instantly, every nerve and muscle she possessed seemed on fire with pain, and she groaned as she forced open her eyes.

A clear plastic cup over her face, and beyond it a circle of unfamiliar faces breaking into grins. And beyond them a clear blue summer sky decorated with fleecy white clouds. She was on the ground. What was she doing on the ground?

"She's back with us," one of the faces said back over his shoulder to someone else. "Let's get her on the stretcher." Then, to her, "You're going to be all right, Joanna. You're going to be just fine."

Joanna felt her aching body lifted. She watched dreamily as she floated past more faces. Then a vaguely familiar one appeared, and she saw it say something to her, something that sunk in only some time later as she rode in a wailing ambulance.

Definitely your lucky day. You almost died twice.

Her mind clearing by that time, Joanna could only agree with Jim's observation. How many people, after all, go through one near-death experience? Not many. Yet here she was, whole and virtually unharmed—

if you discounted the fact that the only part of her body that didn't ache was the tip of her nose.

Still, she was very much alive, and incredibly grateful.

At the hospital, she was examined, soothed, and medicated. She would emerge from the day's incredible experiences virtually unscathed, the doctors told her. She had one burn mark on her right ankle where the electricity from the power line had arced between exposed metal and her flesh, and she'd be sore for a while both from the shock that had stopped her heart and from the later efforts to start it again.

She was a very lucky young lady and should suffer no lasting effects from what had happened to her; that was what they said.

But they were wrong. Because that was the night the dreams began.

Chapter One

Contents - Prev | Next


It wasn't the hand on her shoulder that made Joanna Flynn turn; it was the utter astonishment in the voice that had called her by another woman's name. Astonishment and something else, something she sensed more than heard. Whatever the emotion was, it prompted Joanna to respond.

"No," she said. Then, driven by something she saw in the man's face, she added, "I'm sorry."

He, a fairly nondescript man with reddish blond hair and blue eyes that were only now losing the expression of shock, took his hand from her shoulder and nodded a bit jerkily. "No," he agreed, "you couldn't be… I'm sorry. Sorry. But you look so much like—" He stopped, shook his head. He offered her a polite, forgive-me-for-bothering-you smile and brushed past her to keep walking.

Joanna watched him striding away and felt vaguely troubled without even knowing why. People were mistaken for other people all the time, she knew that, and just because it had never happened to her before was no reason to let it bother her now. But she couldn't seem to get his shocked expression out of her mind.

She stood there on the virtually deserted Atlanta sidewalk in the hot September sunlight for much longer than she should have, gazing after the stranger she could no longer see, before she finally managed to shake off her uneasiness enough to continue on toward the private library where she worked as a researcher.

It was just another odd thing, that was all. Just another item to note in the column of her life reserved for strange occurrences—the column that had been filling up with items since her accident two months before.

Some of the items were minor ones. Her restlessness, very unusual for her. The vague but increasingly strong sense of urgency she felt. Her anxiety, churning within her for no reason she could pinpoint.

But the biggest item was the dream. It had begun the very night of her accident, and though it had been sporadic those first few weeks, it was a nightly occurrence now. Always the same, it presented a sequence of images and sounds, always in the same order. It was not a nightmare; there was nothing innately terrifying about the images or how they were presented. Yet Joanna woke each morning with her heart pounding and a sense of fear clogging her throat.

Something, somewhere, was wrong. She knew it. She felt it. Something was wrong, and she had to do something about it. Because if she didn't… something terrible would happen.

She didn't know what, but she knew it would be something terrible.

It was so damned vague, it was maddening. So vague that it should have been easy to dismiss as nothing more than the distorted but unimportant ramblings of the unconscious mind. Joanna had never paid much attention to her dreams, and she wanted to be able to ignore this one as easily. But she couldn't.

Her doctor said that odd dreams were to be expected. After all, she had suffered a blast of electricity strong enough to stop her heart. The brain was filled with electrical impulses, and it made sense that those impulses could have been scrambled by thousands of volts from a power line. He was sure there was nothing for her to worry about.

Joanna just wished she was as sure.

♦ ♦ ♦

The roar of the ocean was deafening at first, smothering all other sounds. The house, perched high above the sea, was beautiful and lonely and awoke in her a confusing jumble of feelings.

Admiration, pride, and satisfaction clashed with uneasiness and fear. She wanted to concentrate on the emotions, to understand them, but felt herself abruptly pulled back away from the house. It receded into the distance and grew hazy. Then a brightly colored carousel horse passed in front of her, bobbing and turning on its gleaming brass pole, as if to music she couldn't hear. She smelled roses and from the corner of her eye caught a glimpse of the flowers in a vase. Then the roar of the sea abruptly died down until the loud ticking of a clock could be heard. She walked past a colorful painting on an easel, her steps quickening because she had to … get somewhere. She had to… find… something. She heard sobs, and tried to run forward—

Joanna sat bolt upright in bed, her arms reaching out, her heart pounding against her ribs. She was shaking, and her breath rasped from her tight throat. And inside her was pain and a terrible grief, and over everything else lay a cold, black pall of fear.

Her arms slowly fell while she tried to calm down. The fear and pain and grief faded slowly, leaving only the familiar uneasiness behind, and Joanna tried to reassure herself. It was a dream. Just a dream.

But the dream had changed, and its impact on Joanna had changed as well. The sense of fear had been a part of the dream all along, but this time there had been more. The grief was new, and the pain, and what she had felt while the dream had played out before her, the overwhelming feelings of anxiety and urgency, that was different, too, so powerful now that she couldn't even try to ignore what she felt.

More than ever, she was certain there was something she had to do. She didn't know what it was, but the urgency was so strong that she actually threw back the covers and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She hesitated for a moment when she realized what she was doing, then went ahead and got up. It was morning anyway—albeit very early morning. Five-thirty.

In the kitchen of her small apartment, she put coffee on, then wandered into the living room and turned on a couple of lamps. It was a pleasant room, with comfortable overstuffed furniture and an eclectic collection of knickknacks from all over the world. Aunt Sarah had loved to travel, and every summer she had packed up her niece and jetted off to some remote corner of the globe.

Joanna's friends had always envied her her Aunt Sarah, who had certainly not been a conventional parent. And Joanna had enjoyed her unorthodox upbringing. But in a small, secret corner of her heart, she had envied her friends, because all of them had a mother and father.

She wandered over to the cold fireplace and, with her index finger, traced the edge of a silver-framed photo of her Aunt Sarah that was on the mantel. The shrewd eyes gazed out at her, and the warm smile stirred memories, and Joanna felt disloyal somehow for the childish idea that her aunt had not been enough, that her childhood had been missing something vitally important.

Still touching her aunt's photo, Joanna turned her gaze to the other silver-framed picture on the mantel.

Her parents. Her mother had been younger than she was now when the photo had been taken. Fair and delicate, she stood in the protective shelter of her husband's arm, her smile glowing. Lucy Flynn had married her childhood sweetheart, and had been head over heels in love with him until the day she died.

One of Joanna's most enduring memories was of the sound of her mother's voice speaking softly to her husband and calling him "darling."

As for Alan Flynn, what Joanna remembered most about him was his laugh, deep and contented. He had adored his wife and child, a fact neither had questioned. He had always been there, for both of them, never too busy or too preoccupied by his job as an attorney to spend time with his family.

Joanna reached over to touch the silver frame holding her parents' picture and wondered, as she had so many times before, what would have happened if a judge's illness had not given her father time off on that sunny June morning. Time to happily gather up his wife and take her sailing in their small craft. She wondered why fate had placed her far away that day, gone with Aunt Sarah on an impulsive trip to Disney World. She wondered why the weather service had not warned of a storm coming or, if it had warned, why her father had not taken heed. She wondered why he, an expert and experienced sailor, had been unable to bring the little boat safely back to shore.

With a little shock, Joanna realized that it had been twenty years.

She was roused from her thoughts by the coffeemaker hissing as it completed its cycle, and she turned away from the mantel and her memories. The dream had left her in an odd mood, she decided. That was all, just an odd mood.

But she was more uneasy than ever as she went to fix herself the first cup of coffee of the day, because the feelings she remembered from that tragedy of her childhood had not felt so strong since then as they did on this quiet morning. She felt pain, grief, wordless anger. She felt bereft, abandoned. It was as if something had ripped open an old, old wound inside her, and Joanna felt as raw and adrift as she had felt on that June evening when Aunt Sarah had held her and cried.

As if it had happened again.

The first week in September passed, then the second. Joanna managed to keep up a good facade, she thought, but inside, her nerves were jangling. The dream came nightly, and with it the anxiety she couldn't shake, the sense that something was very, very wrong. More than once, she caught herself looking up from her work and listening intently, almost straining to hear something, and yet with no idea what it was she tried so hard to hear.

And then there were the other things. Odd things she couldn't explain. Like why a child sobbing in a grocery store because its mother wouldn't allow candy suddenly had the power to yank at her emotions.

And why a whiff of cigarette smoke awoke in her an urge to inhale deeply. And why she began wearing skirts more often than slacks, when she had always disliked skirts. And why she felt a jolt of surprise whenever she looked in a mirror, as if what she saw wasn't quite right.

She felt like a pressure cooker, the force inside her building and building until she could hardly bear it, until it was dangerous, until she knew she had to do something about it. But she didn't know what to do, and the frustration of that ate at her. It wasn't until the middle of September that the dream haunting her offered a clue.

♦ ♦ ♦

The roar of the ocean was deafening at first, smothering all other sounds. The house, perched high above the sea, was beautiful and lonely and awoke in her a confusing jumble of feelings.

Admiration, pride, and satisfaction clashed with uneasiness and fear. She wanted to concentrate on the emotions, to understand them, but felt herself abruptly pulled back away from the house. It receded into the distance and grew hazy. Then a brightly colored carousel horse passed in front of her, bobbing and turning on its gleaming brass pole, as if to music she couldn't hear., She smelled roses and from the corner of her eye caught a glimpse of the flowers in a vase. Then the roar of the sea abruptly died down until the loud ticking of a clock could be heard. A paper airplane soared and dipped, riding a breeze she couldn't feel. She walked past a colorful painting on an easel, her steps quickening because she had to… get somewhere. She had to… find… something. She heard sobs, a child's sobs, and tried to run forward, but she couldn't move— and then she saw the signpost, and she knew where she had to go—

Joanna woke to find herself sitting bolt upright in bed, her arms outstretched and her heart pounding painfully. Slowly, her arms dropped, and in the silence of the dark bedroom, she heard herself whisper a single word.


♦ ♦ ♦

Like a weird movie signpost, crooked letters on an old splintered board. Cliffside. It wasn't very much to go on. There were probably hundreds, if not thousands, of towns bearing that name in the United States alone.

But a research librarian had the tools and knowledge to sift through all the possibilities, and Joanna wasted no time beginning what she expected to be a lengthy search. Luckily, her workload was light at the moment, and so she was able to spend hours at the computer and microfiche machine.

It was a customary part of her job, spending hours combing through information, and Joanna was glad.

Not only because it made her task easier, but because she could search for a dream signpost without arousing any undue suspicion. No one around her could possibly guess what was going on in her head, the anxiety and uneasiness. No one could possibly imagine that she woke each night from an eerie dream with a cry locked in her throat and panic tearing at her breathing.

By every outward sign, Joanna's life was normal. She went to work each day and home each evening.

The face she saw in the mirror was unchanged, her smile nearly as quick and easy as it had always been.

Her coworkers noticed nothing unusual about her intense focus or the preoccupation that often kept her working through her regular lunch hour. And since she had no family and had kept herself too busy recently to see much of her friends, no one spent enough time with her to realize that in actuality her life was anything but normal.

But Joanna knew. She felt oddly out of control, as if she were adrift in a current, helpless to choose her own direction. She was being carried along, whether she wanted to be or not. Toward a place named Cliffside. She had never really believed in fate, but as the days passed, it began to seem to her as though fate demanded that she concentrate all her energies on one thing alone. Finding Cliffside.

But why? Haunted by a dream, her life virtually taken over by it, Joanna couldn't begin to understand what was happening to her. She had to believe it had something to do with her accident, since the dream had started afterward, but that didn't explain why. In her more frustrated moments, she couldn't help but wonder if all that electricity had simply scrambled her brain, yet even then something deeper inside her refused to believe that. Her accident had somehow been a catalyst, but the dream was no mere accidental pattern of electrical impulses in her brain.

It meant something. And until she understood what that was, Joanna knew that her life would not be her own again.

She threw herself into the search for Cliffside, trying to match the rocky, surf-pounded shoreline in her dream to an actual place. By eliminating all the landlocked Cliff sides from her initial list, she was able to cut the list in half, and eliminating all states with a low-lying coastal plain cut it again, but there were still dozens of towns named Cliffside left, each of which had to be checked out individually for characteristics matching those in her dream.

It was a slow, painstaking process. And by the middle of the third week in September, with Cliffside still elusive, Joanna had begun to seriously question her sanity. She didn't feel like herself anymore. Favorite foods no longer appealed to her. She found herself drawn to colors she had never cared for. And for the first time in her life, she'd begun to bite her nails, a nervous habit so unlike her that it frightened her. She was filled with anxiety and tormented with a sense of urgency that was knife-sharp each morning when she woke from the dream and diminished only a little throughout the day.

Cliffside. It was like a lodestar, hovering before her to entice and compel. Everything else in her life had shrunk to insignificance.

By the following Sunday afternoon, she had to take a break from the pile of books and clippings cluttering the living room of her apartment, and drove to a shopping center a few miles away. She didn't need to buy anything in particular, but she was tired and discouraged and not looking forward to the coming night, and splurging on a new bottle of perfume or bath oil sounded like a good idea.

It felt like a good idea too. Then, as she came out of the department store with her purchases in one of those little paper bags with twine handles and the store's elegant logo printed in foil, a chilly hand grasped her arm.


This time, a woman's shocked face met Joanna's startled gaze. She was a beautiful and exotic looking blonde with catlike eyes the slightly unreal green of tinted contact lenses, wearing a two-hundred-dollar silk blouse over faded blue jeans.

"No," Joanna said. "Sorry."

The woman's hand fell and her shock faded as she smiled politely. "Excuse me, I thought you were—

someone else." She laughed a little, obviously still shaken, then murmured another apology and went into the store Joanna had just left.

Joanna found herself looking at her own dim reflection in the glass of the door as she gazed after the stranger. Caroline again. That, she thought, stretched coincidence a bit thin, to be mistaken for this Caroline twice in such a short span of time. But even that didn't bother her as much as the shock of the man and woman who had mistaken her for Caroline. Why had they looked that way? Why would they feel such stunned incredulity at believing she was this woman?

Who was Caroline? And why did Joanna have the feeling that that was the most important question of all?

♦ ♦ ♦

"Oh my God." Joanna was hardly aware of speaking aloud, but since she was alone in the microfilm room, it hardly made a difference. There was no one to hear her. No one to see the shock she knew her face held. Checking references to Cliffside in Oregon in The Portland CitizenTimes, she had reached the previous July without a reference. Then she had found something.

Caroline McKenna, 29, was killed July 1 when her car went out of control on a rain-slick highway not ten miles from her home. A prominent resident of the coastal town of Cliffside, Oregon, and very active in community affairs, Mrs. McKenna is survived by a husband and daughter.

Memorial services will be held July 4 in Cliffside.

Caroline. Killed the day of my accident.

A woman named Caroline, who had lived in Cliffside, Oregon. A woman who had been killed in a car accident on July 1. A woman who might very well have looked enough like Joanna that two people had been shocked to have seen her—alive and walking the sidewalks of Atlanta.

And a haunting, compelling dream containing a signpost that said Cliffside.

Joanna stared at Caroline McKenna's obituary, reading it again and again. It wasn't much information to sum up a life—or a death. A car accident. A young and vital woman killed before her time who had left behind a husband and daughter. An end to promise.

Why did it tug at her so? In many ways, their lives seemed opposite. Caroline married with a child, Joanna single and childless. Joanna with a career, Caroline apparently occupied by community concerns.

They lived on op-posite sides of the country, one in a small town and the other a major city. Yet on the same July day, both had been involved in car accidents. One had survived. The other had not.

A woman she had never known had died three thousand miles away, their lives seemingly unconnected despite their being the same age and possibly being physically similar— and yet Joanna felt the strongest compulsion she had ever known to learn more, to find out about Caroline and Cliffside. It made no sense to her, no sense at all.

She made a copy of the obituary and automatically labeled a new file folder to add to the others containing material she had collected. This folder was labeled simply Caroline, and it struck Joanna powerfully that the first item of information to be placed into it was Caroline McKenna's obituary.

She closed the folder and set it aside, then went back to scanning the newspaper for any references to Cliffside and Caroline. Nothing. As far as The Portland Citizen-Times was concerned, the only thing of consequence to happen in Cliffside during the entire year through July was Caroline's death.

In August, however, there was a brief article about the planned expansion of Cliffside's small medical clinic; a new wing would be added, thanks to a bequest from Caroline McKenna. In her will, she had left to the clinic a piece of land adjoining the existing structure and more than enough money to build, equip, and staff the new wing. It would contain a lab and the latest diagnostic tools, as well as a cardiac care unit and trauma center.

The article, which Joanna copied and added to Caroline's file, offered at least some information about Caroline, however indirectly. She'd had money, that much was certain; the projected cost of the clinic's wing was somewhere in the neighborhood of three million dollars.

Three million dollars.

"There's one difference between us," Joanna heard herself murmur wryly.

The article also seemed to indicate that Caroline either had been interested in funding medicine in general or had felt pretty strongly that her community had needed its medical services expanded. But whether she had funded other causes wasn't clear; there was no mention of any other charitable bequest. And no mention of whether Caroline had left any part of her estate to her husband and child.

It wasn't until the following day, when she was working through her lunch hour, that Joanna gained computer access to Cliffside's newspaper and town records and began to find the information she had been looking for. Information about the town and its people, from climate and economy to how many marriages, baptisms, and burials were recorded at City Hall.

And a photograph of Caroline McKenna, taken the previous year when she and her husband had posed with a group supporting Cliffside's community theater.

She could have been Joanna's sister.

Dark rather than fair, the dead woman nonetheless shared Joanna's features, the shape of her face, even her slender build. On the computer screen, Caroline's delicate features were distinct. Her face was slightly heart-shaped, her dark hair worn in a smooth shoulder-length style some inches shorter than Joanna's much lighter blond hair. She had large eyes and a tender, almost childlike mouth, and there was an air of fragility about her.

Her husband, Scott McKenna, stood on her right. He was a darkly handsome man in his mid-thirties, well built and taller than Caroline by some inches despite her high heels. The dark suit he wore made him look not so much somber as… aloof. He was smiling faintly, but there was an odd aura of remoteness surrounding him, and though he and his wife stood side by side, they were not touching.

As she looked at the two people and the group around them, Joanna slowly became aware that the restless urgency she had felt for so many weeks had become a convic-tion so powerful she didn't even try to fight it. For the first time since waking from the accident, she knew exactly what she had to do, and the relief of that was stunning.

In order to get her own life back, she would have to go to Cliffside and explore the life of another woman, a woman who had died the day they had both been involved in car accidents. Joanna didn't know why, but she was certain that she and Caroline were somehow connected, and that until she understood that connection and the reason for it, she would never be at peace again.

Chapter Two

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Holly Drummond came out of her office and cast a critical eye over the front desk, more out of habit than the need to supervise. Bliss Weldon, the day clerk, was, despite her absurd name, both efficient and utterly reliable. And in fact, the desk was quiet, with Bliss working intently at the computer. No phones ringing, no guests offering plaintive grievances. Everything was peaceful, just the way a hotel manager preferred her establishment to be.

Holly consulted a page on her clipboard and nodded to herself. Only one guest was due to check in this afternoon, and she was booked into a small suite for the next two weeks, with the possibility of a longer stay. Which was fine, just fine. This time of year, guests tended to be sporadic, and anytime Holly could declare a 50 percent occupancy rate during the off-season, it was satisfying to both her and the owner.

She walked through the lobby toward the veranda doors, pleased by the elegant and comfortable atmosphere surrounding her. Called simply The Inn, the hotel was more than fifty years old, but no expense had been spared in renovating it less than five years ago, and it was a beautiful place. From the marble floors to the wallpaper, only the best of materials had been chosen, and a well-trained staff kept the place running with smooth, quiet efficiency. The Inn had a four-star rating and a firm reputation for providing the ultimate in comfort for its guests.

It was, in fact, one of the major tourist draws for the area. Beautiful scenery, peace and quiet, and The Inn brought visitors to Cliffside, and the visitors brought money to boost the local economy. Generally speaking, it was a fine relationship all around.

Holly went through the open doors and out onto the seaside veranda. Chaise longues and groupings of tables and chairs were placed invitingly under the protective roof as well as farther out where the October sunshine was bright and warm. A dozen or so guests relaxed out there, some reading newspapers while others drank coffee and talked.

Holly nodded to the waitress keeping the guests supplied with whatever they wished and went on. Her destination was a chaise at the edge of the veranda, where a lean, copper-haired man relaxed in the sunlight. He wasn't alone; a girl of about eighteen sat on the foot of his chaise and flirted for all she was worth, encouraged by his lazy smile of amusement.

Holly felt herself frowning, and smoothed out the expression as she joined them, saying pleasantly, "Hi, Amber. I thought you had a drive scheduled for today."

The slender blonde jumped to her feet, her expression both guilty and defiant. "I told my parents to go without me. Who wants to look at miles and miles of scenery? I was just telling Mr.— I was just telling Cain that I was thinking about walking down to the stores and doing some shopping."

"It's a nice day for it," Holly said, her tone ever so slightly dry. At the moment, she felt every one of the twelve years between her and this girl.

Amber shoved her hands into the front pockets of the very brief shorts she should have packed away a month before and smiled brightly. "I thought so. Cain, would you—would you like to go?"

Cain Barlow chuckled, and his lazy voice matched his smile when he said, "Haven't you heard the latest psychobabble? Men are hunters and women gatherers; that's why you love shopping for its own sake, and we hate it."

Amber looked down at him, her bafflement painfully evident. "Oh. Well… maybe we could walk along the cliffs later?"

"Afraid you'll have to count me out, Amber. I have to drive into Portland this afternoon."

"Oh." Amber summoned a smile and clearly hoped it was devastating. "Some other time, then."


The blonde offered Holly another of those half-defiant looks, then left them and walked across the veranda toward the building.

"Do you suppose she learned to walk that way by watching old Mae West movies?" Cain mused.

"I think she just lets her hormones rule," Holly said. "That and wearing heels three inches too high. You shouldn't encourage her, Cain. Hearts break very easily at eighteen."

"Encourage her? I was sitting here minding my own business and waiting for you to come back when she came over and practically dropped into my lap. What was I supposed to do? Offend one of your paying guests by being rude to his daughter?" He reached up a hand to touch Holly, but she shifted away with a faint shrug of impatience, and Cain's eyes narrowed. "Obviously, you think I should have chased her away."

Instead of claiming Amber's former seat at the foot of

Cain's chaise, Holly sat down on another one near his. "I think you charm without a second thought," she said.

"Holly, she's a kid, just a kid. And twenty years younger than me."

"All the more reason for you to be careful." Holly looked down at her clipboard, frowning.

Cain laced long fingers together over his flat middle and looked at her for a moment. He wore an expression of acute detachment, with only his brilliant green eyes alive in the stillness of his face. "Okay.

Noted, for future reference. Now, hadn't we planned a walk along the cliffs before that phone call interrupted us?"

"I can't."

"Let me guess. The call was from the master?"

Holly looked at him, still frowning. "It was Scott. Why do you have to be so mocking whenever you mention him?"

"Because I don't like him," Cain told her pleasantly. "And I don't like the way you drop everything and run to him whenever he whistles."

"That isn't fair. He's my employer. And he's having a tough time right now," Holly said. "Since Caroline was killed—"

"Since Caroline was killed, the entire town's been heaping sympathy and understanding on poor Scott's grieving head," Cain said, definitely mocking now. "And the son of a bitch is milking it for all he's worth."

"That's a terrible thing to say."

"Isn't it? And a genuine pity it's true."

Holly surged to her feet, hugging the clipboard as though it were a shield. "Look, I just came back out here to tell you I have to meet Scott at City Hall and go over some things about the new wing for the clinic. It shouldn't take more than an hour or so. If you're still here then—"

"I won't be. Like I told baby Amber, I have to drive into Portland." Cain didn't move as he looked up at her. He sat relaxed, watchful—and Holly had no idea what he was thinking.

She never did. It was enough to drive a woman crazy.

She nodded. "All right, then. Lunch was… fun."

"Yeah. Of course, it would have been more fun if we'd ended up in my bed for dessert. But you don't seem to have the time—or the taste—for sweets these days, do you, Holly?"

"You're busy too," she said defensively. "How many times have you had to go to L.A. or New York in the last weeks? Stop making it sound like it's all my fault we hardly see each other." She heard herself sounding like a neglected woman and made a fierce effort to keep that note out of her voice. "Look, we both have careers, and—"

"We were both busy a few months ago and still managed to find the time," he said, his voice hardening.

"Before poor Scott began to depend on you for everything."

"You're not being fair," she said, knowing she was repeating herself.

"No, probably not. But then, I'm a selfish bastard myself. You've told me so often enough." He shrugged, dismissing the conflict as though he really didn't care whether it was resolved. "You run along and help Scott with his current problem. I should probably conserve my strength anyway. It's a long drive to Portland."

Holly turned away and took two steps before stopping. Damn, damn, damn. Hating herself, she turned back. "Are you staying long in Portland? I mean—will I see you tomorrow?"

"I'll probably be back late tonight," he said.

She waited for an instant, until it became obvious that was all he was going to say. Then, reaching for dignity, she nodded. "Have a good trip. Drive carefully."

Those brilliant green eyes softened just a little, and he nodded. "We'll none of us ever be quite so nonchalant about driving as we were three months ago, I suppose. Don't worry, I'll be careful."

It was harder, this time, to turn away from him, but she did it and left the veranda briskly. She felt his eyes on her until she was inside, but she didn't look back or even pause. She had a job to do, after all, she reminded herself. She worked for Scott McKenna, who owned The Inn as well as various other properties and businesses in Cliffside, and if he needed her help in planning the new wing for the town's clinic, well, then she'd help him.

She could feel the rift between her and Cain widening.

Holly was halfway across the quiet lobby when the front doors opened. She heard one of the bellmen outside saying something about bags and parking a car, and then a blond woman came in. Holly stopped dead in her tracks, vaguely aware that her mouth had dropped open, that she was staring incredulously, but she was so surprised she couldn't seem to do anything about it.

The blonde came several steps into the lobby, saw Holly, and stopped a bit uncertainly. She was about Holly's own height, an average five-six, with lovely honey-gold hair pulled back off her face in a simple style, and her casual slacks and sweater showed off a slender, almost delicate figure. Her face was more heart shaped than oval, her unusual tawny eyes large and dark-fringed, and she had a sensitive, vulnerable mouth.

Before Holly could gather her wits, the woman gave an uneasy little laugh and asked a question in a soft voice with a strong Southern accent.

"Was it something I said?"

Holly blinked. How strange to hear such an alien voice come out of a mouth that was all too familiar, she thought. "Oh—no. God, I'm sorry. It's just that you look an awful lot like someone I used to know."

"Used to?"

"She died a few months ago."

"Now I'm sorry."

"It's all right. We weren't… close." Holly smiled and stepped forward, holding out her hand. "I'm Holly Drummond, manager of The Inn. Please call me Holly."

The blonde shook hands, her grip firm. "Nice to meet you, Holly. I'm Joanna. Joanna Flynn."

"Well, Joanna, welcome. If there's any way I can help make your stay with us more enjoyable, I hope you'll let me know." The words were conventional and professional, but Holly always meant them, and that sincerity came through.

"I will, thanks." Joanna Flynn smiled. "What I mostly want now is to settle in, unpack, and get the kinks out of my legs from the drive. Maybe I'll see you around later?"

"I'm usually around," Holly told her with a laugh. She watched Joanna head for the front desk, and after an instant continued on her own way. It was a fairly short walk, just a couple of blocks to City Hall, and Holly needed both the exercise and the air—to clear her head. And to figure out how to warn Scott.

Hell, how to warn the town.

Hey, guess what? There's a new guest at The Inn, and if you colored her hair dark and put in blue contact lenses, she'd be Caroline! How about that…

"Dammit," Holly barely heard herself whisper, "what'll he think when he sees you, Joanna Flynn? What'll he feel… ?"

♦ ♦ ♦

The fourth-floor suite was lovely; it was composed of a sitting room, a bedroom, and a bath, and it was spacious and comfortable. Despite its quaint name, The Inn was a full-service hotel complete with twenty-four-hour room service and cable television, according to the friendly bellman, and if there was anything she required to make her more comfortable, anything at all, she had only to ask.

As soon as he left, Joanna began settling in. She unpacked and put away all her things, turning on the television to CNN for background noise while she briskly worked. When that was done, she went to the French doors in her bedroom that opened out onto a little balcony, and stepped out to contemplate her ocean view.

Down on the right was the tile roof that partially shaded the veranda; down and straight ahead were a couple of acres of green lawn, then the rocky cliff tops and, beyond them, the ocean. There was a beach at the base of the cliffs except at high tide, the bellman had told her, but it was narrow, the path down to it somewhat difficult, and few guests ventured down there more than once.

Joanna turned her head to the left, her gaze following the cliff tops south. She froze, hardly breathing, and for a long moment just stood there staring. Then she eased back into her room as if careful movement was required to keep something dreadful from happening. She went into the sitting room and sat down at the little desk where she had placed the notebook.

She had never kept a journal before, but it had occurred to her that it might be a good idea here. To organize her thoughts. To keep things clear. Drawing a breath, she opened the notebook carefully and smoothed the page. She used the pen thoughtfully provided by The Inn and dated the top of the page.

She didn't really think about what she wanted to say, she just began writing.

Today I arrived in Cliffside. Here at The Inn my

bedroom has a little balcony overlooking the ocean.

And from that balcony, just exactly as it was in my

dreams, I can see the house.

♦ ♦ ♦

Even from a distance, it was an impressive house.

Joanna sat on a smooth-topped boulder atop the cliffs about halfway between The Inn and the house from her dreams, and stared at it. It was still nearly a mile away by her judgment, and from this angle the trees between it and Cliffside's main road hid part of the beautiful landscaping she had seen from her bedroom balcony, but it was still beautiful.

Vaguely Victorian in style just as The Inn was, it had a roof with many peaks, countless windows sparkling in the sunlight, and a wide, ocean-side porch with, no doubt, a spectacular view. From where Joanna sat, the house should have looked bleak; it seemed almost to perch on a rocky promontory, standing in lonely isolation, with frothy ocean waves crashing against the base of the cliffs far below. Yet it didn't look bleak so much as… dignified.

Still, Joanna's feelings about the house were distorted, shaped by the dream that had tormented her for so many weeks. It seemed to her dark and menacing. It made her wary, almost afraid.

Joanna drew her knees up and wrapped her arms loosely around them, listening to the thunder of high tide battering the cliffs and feeling the cool ocean breeze. The sun was setting over the ocean, making the windows of the distant house glow reddish, and Joanna felt a faint chill that had nothing to do with the falling temperature.

Caroline's house. She didn't know how she knew she was looking at the house where Caroline had lived, but she was positive of that fact. And there, presumably, lived Caroline's husband and daughter.

In the three months since her death, they had no doubt begun to cope with her loss, but Joanna knew her own appearance was bound to cause some… distress. Even the bellman and desk clerk at The Inn had been startled by her, and as for Holly Drummond, the attractive brunette had looked as though her knees had nearly buckled in shock.

Joanna hadn't thought very much about her impulsive decision to come here during all the busy days of preparation, but as she sat there on the rock gazing at Caroline's house, she felt more than a little panic.

What did she hope to gain by coming here? Would her being here exorcise the ghost of Caroline McKenna from her dreams—if it was the dead woman's ghost?

She had the uneasy idea that by coming to Cliffside so impetuously, she had started something that had immediately grown beyond her control, and for an instant she was sorely tempted to go back to The Inn, get her things, and catch the first plane heading to Atlanta, where she belonged. But before she could give in to the spurt of panic, a voice recalled her attention.

"Excuse me, but you shouldn't—"

Joanna turned her head quickly, hardly surprised by this time when the man who had approached without giving his presence away broke off abruptly, a look of shock on his face. He was a tall man, broad shouldered and athletic in build. He had very dark hair and very dark eyes, and though his lean face was too rugged for conventional handsomeness, there was something unusually compelling about him.

Beyond him, at the edge of the woods, Joanna saw a Blazer parked on a narrow dirt trail she hadn't even noticed until then, and though the lettering on the vehicle's side wasn't entirely clear at this distance, the large logo was.

"You're a policeman?" she asked, surprised by the lack of a uniform. He was, in fact, very casual in jeans and a light nylon windbreaker open over a dark T-shirt.

He nodded slowly and took a couple more steps toward her so that they were no more than a few feet apart. The shock had faded from his expression, but he was frowning slightly. "Sheriff. Griffin Cavanaugh." His voice was deep and just a bit harsh, though whether that was usual or he was emotionally disturbed by her appearance was something Joanna had no way of knowing.

"I see. Am I doing something wrong, Sheriff?"

He didn't answer immediately, those dark eyes fixed on her face so intensely she could almost feel the touch of them. But then he said almost mechanically, "You shouldn't sit so close to the edge. It isn't really safe. We had somebody fall right about here no more than four or five months ago."

Since heights never bothered her, Joanna hadn't hesitated to sit so close to the edge of the cliff that if she swung her right leg, it would have dangled out into thin air. But his words caused her to glance down at the jagged, surf-pounded rocks far below, and she shivered a little. Without wasting another moment, she scrambled off the rock and stood before him.

"The person who fell," she said, "did he or she… die?"

Sheriff Griffin Cavanaugh nodded. "We lose one every five years or so," he said, his voice still a bit remote. "Tourists without the sense to stay back."

Joanna felt defensive on behalf of all tourists. "There's no sign. If it's so dangerous, why isn't this area posted, Sheriff?"

His dark eyes narrowed slightly, and this time there was nothing detached in his tone when he said,

"Because every time I post it, either the wind or a vandal does away with the sign. You're from The Inn, aren't you?"

"Yes, I'm staying there."

"Then you should have read the warnings posted on the inside of your door. The cliffs behind the hotel have guardrails, and all guests are advised not to wander from that property. You're on private land now."

Joanna glanced toward the distant house involuntarily.

"Yes, his land," the sheriff said, following her glance with one of his own. "It isn't posted, but trespassing is strongly discouraged. This area can be treacherous, Miss—?"

"Flynn. Joanna Flynn."

He nodded. "Miss Flynn. We would all prefer it if you confined your walks around the cliffs to hotel grounds. For your own safety."

"I understand." She had no intention of saying more, but when the sheriff started to turn away, she heard herself say, "Sheriff? I've encountered quite a few surprised reactions today, including yours."

"You resemble someone who used to live around here," he said readily enough.

"So I've been told. Holly Drummond said that the woman I look like… died."

"Yes. Three months ago." Whatever he may have felt about that fact, Griffin Cavanaugh kept it to himself; his expression was calm, his voice without emotion.

"Forgive me, but what was her name? And how did she die?" Joanna didn't know why she was pretending ignorance about Caroline, except that she was reluctant to let anyone in Cliffside know that she had traveled thousands of miles to explore a tenuous connection with a dead woman.

"Why do you want to know?" he demanded bluntly.

"It seems I look enough like her to be her sister." Joanna managed a shrug. "I'm curious."

"Her name was Caroline McKenna. She was killed in a car accident. The highway was slippery; she was driving too fast and lost control of her car. Anything else you want to know?"

Joanna didn't let his rather harsh tone dissuade her. "Do I really look so much like her?"

He looked her up and down quite deliberately and thoroughly, then said, "Dye your hair black and change the color of your eyes and her own mother wouldn't have been able to tell the difference."

She didn't know if it was pain or anger she heard in his voice, but whichever it was warned her that she had gone far enough. "I see. Thank you, Sheriff—for the warning and for the information."

"Don't mention it." He looked beyond her, where the sun was sinking rapidly. "It'll be dark soon. It happens suddenly this time of year. You should head back to the hotel."

Joanna knew a dismissal when she heard one, and she decided to obey. She was here for at least two weeks, after all; there was plenty of time to explore. But before she could do more than begin to turn toward the hotel, he stopped her with a question of his own.

"Why are you here, Miss Flynn?"


"In October?"

"I like fall vacations."

He frowned at her. "You're Southern."

"Don't you like Southerners?" she managed lightly.

The sheriff ignored that. "Georgia, I'd say."

Without meaning to, Joanna answered the implied question. "Yes, Georgia. Atlanta, as a matter of fact.

But we haven't tried to secede from the Union recently, so I don't see that you should have a problem with my being here."

His hard mouth curved in a faint smile at that, but the amusement was short-lived. "You've come a long way just to spend your vacation in a place with nothing to recommend it but the scenery."

"That is surely my own business, Sheriff. But if you must know, I plan to vacation in every state eventually. It's the best way I can think of to see the country. Oregon just happened to be my first choice in visiting the West Coast."

"And Cliffside?"

Joanna couldn't tell if he believed her or not. She shrugged. "The Chamber of Commerce made it sound like a nice place, and all I wanted was a pretty coastal spot where I could relax. Good enough?"

"For now," he said. "Good day, Miss Flynn."

"Sheriff." She turned and headed toward the hotel, making a determined effort to move casually. At first, she was tempted to chalk the sheriff's interest up to smalltown caution, but that reasoning didn't hold water when tourism was so vital to the local economy. A more likely possibility was that he found the sudden appearance of a woman who looked eerily like Caroline McKenna to be far more than coincidental.

It occurred to Joanna only then that there would no doubt be many people in Cliffside who would feel the same suspicion.

She reached the neatly trimmed lawn of The Inn and paused to look back. The sheriff was still standing there where she had left him, but he wasn't looking after her. He was instead gazing off toward that lonely house in the distance.

♦ ♦ ♦

For the first time in weeks, Joanna slept all night without waking, but when she did wake around eight the following morning, it was with a niggling sense of unease as well as the memory of having dreamed again.

Not everything this time, at least not that she remembered, but defi-nitely the carousel horse and paper airplane, and there had been rose petals drifting downward like rain.

She lay there for a long time in her comfortable bed, listening to the low roar of the ocean and staring at the ceiling, thinking about the previous day and trying to weigh her impressions of Cliffside and the people she'd met. Judging by all the reactions she'd earned, it seemed obvious that Joanna was going to find many people who had known Caroline. Which meant there would be many sources of information.

If Joanna could only figure out what questions to ask.

She got up, showered, and ordered breakfast from room service. And she drank her final morning cup of coffee while standing in the open door of her balcony and looking off toward Caroline's house. She continued to feel uneasy when she looked at it. But that didn't stop her from considering the best way to approach the place.

Trespassing was "strongly discouraged," Sheriff Cavanaugh had said. Okay, but he'd also said the land wasn't posted. So legally she wouldn't be breaking any laws if she just wandered along the cliffs in that direction. Of course, the good sheriff could argue that she'd known better—if she got caught.

Briefly and somewhat ruefully amused at herself and this unfamiliar recklessness, Joanna left her room and took the elevator down to the lobby.

Holly Drummond was standing near the front desk and greeted her cheerfully. "Good morning, Joanna."

Joanna was very aware that the other woman was looking at her in a measuring way that was probably completely unconscious and doubtless due to the resemblance to Caroline. It made her a bit uncomfortable, but she reminded herself silently that she had better get used to it.

"Hi, Holly. Listen, I was wondering. If there's any information I need about Cliffside and the surrounding area—"

"You can ask me or whoever's running the front desk," Holly said. "Most of the staff know the area pretty well, in fact. We don't have a concierge, but there are lots of bro-chures over there by the house phones, and any of us would be happy to help you. What do you want to know?"

That's a good question. "Oh… nothing in particular, at least right now." Reading curiosity in Holly's expression, Joanna managed a laugh. "I'm a research librarian back home, so I guess it's an occupational hazard that I tend to research the places where I spend my free time. No matter how hard I try to relax, I always end up in a library reading about the town founders. Absurd, I know."

Holly smiled. "I don't know, it sounds more enjoyable to me than playing golf or buying a lot of junk you don't need, which is what most people seem to do."

"Yeah, but my friends tell me I really should stop working when I'm not getting paid for it."

"I know the feeling." Holly glanced somewhat ruefully down at her ever-present clipboard. "I never seem to be off duty. But, hey, who promised us life would be fair?"

"My Aunt Sarah," Joanna answered seriously.


"Oh, yeah. She raised me, and to her dying day, she was absolutely certain that you get out of life what you put into it. Be fair to others and they'll be fair to you. You know, I once saw her face down a mugger by asking him in her best aunt voice why he was wasting his life robbing people. He followed her for a block trying to explain his reasoning."

Holly laughed. "She sounds like quite a lady."

"She was." Joanna smiled, then said, "Well, I think I'll go out and look at the ocean for a while."

"Now would probably be better than later," Holly said, "unless you like walking in chilly rain; the forecast promises we'll get wet this afternoon."

"Thanks for the warning." Joanna waved and started toward the veranda.



Holly smiled. "Our library is three blocks down, just past the courthouse. A casual walk or a very short drive. Just in case."

Joanna acknowledged the information with another wave and a smile, then went onto the veranda. Had she offered a good enough explanation for her curiosity? She wasn't sure, but it had been the best she'd been able to come up with, and would at least provide a reason for her to spend time in Cliffside's library and to ask questions. She hoped.

Low brooding clouds promised that the weather forecasters had gotten it right for once, and the gusty breeze carried on it the taste of salt from a rather stormy looking ocean. Joanna didn't linger long behind the inn, standing at the railing and gazing out for no more than five minutes before turning and beginning to follow the cliffs south.

Reaching the end of the lawn, she looked around warily, feeling absurdly guilty to be leaving hotel grounds and more than a little nervous. But that didn't stop her from moving on briskly once she was fairly sure that no one had noticed her. She kept back from the edge of the cliffs this time but remained always in sight of the ocean, her destination the woods.

The plan, such as it was, was to make her way through the woods until she was closer to Caroline's house. After that, Joanna didn't know what she would do. She had no intention of knocking on the door, of course, or even of being seen if she could avoid it. And she didn't know what she hoped to gain by trying to get closer to the house. But the more ground she covered, the more certain she was that there was something out here she needed to see, to find.

She had no way of knowing what that was, but she recognized it instantly when she emerged suddenly into a clearing that was separated by the lawn of Caroline's house only by another fifty or sixty feet of forest. Built within the half-moon clearing near the cliff's edge was a lovely gazebo, slightly oriental in design like a little pagoda.

And inside the gazebo, in colors so bright and fresh it looked brand-new, was the carousel horse from her dreams.

Joanna moved forward without conscious volition. She went up the two steps, across a few feet of solidly built flooring, and lifted a hand slowly to rest upon a painted forelock. As far as she could tell, it was a genuine, full-sized horse from a carousel, the pole on which it was mounted fastened securely to the floor and ceiling beam of the gazebo.

"Now all I need is a paper airplane to sail by," she heard herself murmur.

"This was our place."

It wasn't difficult to tell who was more startled when Joanna turned her head. The little girl actually took a step back, her already huge blue eyes widening and her little face going paper white.

"It's all right," Joanna said involuntarily, not moving because she didn't want to frighten the child further. "I won't hurt you."

"You look like my mama."

She hadn't prepared herself even for the possibility of this meeting, and Joanna felt completely inadequate. She was gazing at a girl of no more than eight or nine, a girl who had lost her mother a scant three months before, and the poor kid was clearly on the verge of shock at finding her mother's virtual twin standing in the place they had apparently loved.

"My name is Joanna." She kept her voice as quiet as possible and allowed her instincts to tell her what to say. "I'm just a visitor in Cliffside. But they told me when I got here yesterday that I look like someone who… used to live here. Someone named Caroline. Was she your mama?"

The little girl nodded slowly, unblinking eyes still fixed on Joanna's face.

"I'm sorry you lost her. I lost my mama when I was about your age. My father too."

"In a—in a car accident?" Caroline's daughter asked hesitantly.

"No, it was another kind of accident. My father liked to sail, and one day when they went out together on a little boat, there was a storm."

"The boat sank?"

Joanna nodded.

The little girl frowned slightly and looked past Joanna for a brief moment. "Aren't you scared of the ocean now?"

"If I'd been with them, I suppose I would be. But I wasn't. And it was a long time ago."

"I'm afraid of cars. I don't ever want to get in one again."

"I can see how you'd feel that way," Joanna said, her heart going out to the grave little girl.

"My name's Regan. With a long e." The last was added somewhat defensively, and that was explained when she added, "Only one e and only one a, but everybody wants to spell it with two a's and say it with a short e."

"I like it much better with only one a and a long e," Joanna said judiciously. "It's nice to meet you, Regan."

"You don't sound like my mama." Regan tilted her dark head a bit. "You don't sound like anybody around here."

"That's because I live on the other side of the country," Joanna explained. "In Atlanta, Georgia."

"Where the Braves are?"

Joanna smiled. "Yeah, where the Braves are. You like baseball?"

"Uh-huh. So does—so did my mama." Regan dug her hands down into the front pockets of her jeans and hunched her shoulders. "Daddy doesn't. He doesn't like anything except his work."

Hearing more in those last two sentences than the mere words, Joanna said slowly, "Sometimes when grown-ups lose somebody they love, they spend all their time working so it won't hurt so much."

Regan looked at her with an oddly adult discernment. "He worked all the time before the car accident."

Lesson: Don't talk down to the poor kid. Joanna nodded. "I see. Some people are like that."

Regan seemed pleased by the simple statement; she didn't quite smile, but nearly. "That's what my teacher says."

"Your teacher? Say, why aren't you in school today?"

"I'm being home-schooled," Regan explained. "Because of the car and the bus. School's on the other side of town, too far to walk, and… I heard the doctor tell Daddy not to make me get in a car or the bus until I was ready. So I have a teacher at home now. Her name's Mrs. Porter."

"You like her?"

Regan hunched her shoulders again. "She's okay. She likes one of those talk shows on TV, so I always take my morning break the same time so she can watch it."

"Do you always walk out here during your break?" Joanna asked.

"No, just sometimes." Regan hesitated, then went on a bit gruffly, "Mama's favorite place was this gazebo. When I was little, Mama took me to a fair, and I rode on the carousel. I liked it so much that she hunted and hunted until she found a carousel horse she could buy, and then she had it put here. So her favorite place could be mine too."

"She sounds like a pretty terrific mama."

Regan's face began to crumple, but she controlled it with a fierce effort. "Uh-huh."

Joanna pretended not to notice. "Regan, do you mind if I come out here sometimes? I won't unless you say it's okay."

"It's okay. You can even sit on the horse if you want. Mama did."

"Thanks, maybe I will." Before Joanna could say anything else, they heard the distant sound of a bell ringing.

"That's Mrs. Porter ringing the garden bell," Regan explained. "It means her show's over and I have to go home now."

"I see." Joanna smiled at her. "It was very nice meeting you, Regan. I'm sure we'll see each other again."

"You'll be in Cliffside for a while?"

"At least a couple of weeks."

"Good. That's good." Regan half turned, then paused and looked at Joanna with an odd hesitation. She seemed to be trying to make up her mind about something, and when she spoke, it was diffidently.

"Joanna? How do you know when a grown-up is afraid?"

"I guess that depends on the grown-up," she replied slowly. "When I'm afraid, I sit very still and hope whatever scares me will go away."

"I have bad dreams when I'm scared," Regan said. "Mama did, too, I think. She had a lot of bad dreams last summer. Before the car accident."


The bell rang again, and Regan said quickly, "I've gotta go. Bye, Joanna."

"Bye…" Joanna stood there in Caroline's gazebo, her hand on the carousel horse, and watched Regan run off toward home.

Chapter Three

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Griffin Cavanaugh sat at his desk and looked out the window. Across the street and at a slight angle to the Sheriff's Department was the town library, the front door clearly visible from where he sat. He glanced at his watch and frowned.

Three hours she'd been in there. Not that it was such an unusual way to spend a rainy Wednesday afternoon, but tourists seldom considered a small-town library's resources as a possible source of entertainment when planning their vacation activities. And he very much doubted that Joanna Flynn was so bored after less than twenty-four hours in Cliffside that the prospect of spending three hours looking through back issues of National Geographic would hold much appeal.

So what was she doing in there?

He had noted down her license plate as a matter of course, but the car was a rental and he doubted there'd be any useful information to be had from the agency in Port-land. If he were looking for information, of course. And if he had a halfway decent official reason for inquiring. Which he didn't.

Of course, that hadn't stopped him from calling Atlanta first thing this morning, counting on the brotherhood of his fellow police officers to answer a few unofficial questions about Joanna Flynn. The answers had been prompt and at least somewhat reassuring. She had no criminal record, and not so much as an unpaid parking ticket against her. One traffic accident last summer, totaling the car, but no one else had been involved and no charges had been filed against Joanna. She worked at a private library in Atlanta, rented an apartment where she had lived for some years, and always paid her bills and her taxes on time.

Born in Charleston, parents killed in a boating accident twenty years before, raised by an aunt. Had a current passport, and had traveled out of the country every summer during her teens.

And that, as far as the Atlanta P.D. was concerned, was all the relevant information about Joanna Flynn.

"Hey, Griff?"

"Yeah?" He didn't even try to pretend that he'd been engrossed in the paperwork on his cluttered desk as he turned and watched one of his deputies come into the office. Small-town life had certain advantages, and one of them, he'd discovered, was a laid-back attitude toward paperwork. And there was nothing urgent, anyway. "What do you need, Mark?"

"Ralph Thompson just called about those new parking spaces he wants beside his store; what did the town council decide to do about that?"

"Nixed the whole idea. Said it'd cut thirty feet out of the park."

"Well, you told him that from the beginning." Mark Beller sighed and rolled his eyes. "You know, I really don't want to be the one to give him the official word, if you don't mind. Ever since I wrote him up last month for blocking that back entrance, he's been treating me like I poisoned his dog or something."

Griffin glanced out the window again; her rental car was still parked in front of the library. "I'll go tell him myself," he said. "In person, to demonstrate my concern; he'll appreciate that. I need to stretch my legs anyway."

"It's raining buckets out there, you know."

"I won't melt." He pushed his chair back and got up, reaching for his windbreaker. On duty today, he was wearing dark slacks and a pale blue shirt, no tie. Though his deputies wore uniforms, Griffin stuck to street clothes that tended to be on the casual side; one of the perks, he maintained, of being in charge of all the town headaches. And though the mayor sighed heavily whenever they encountered each other, so far no one had objected to the way Griffin dressed on duty.

"I guess you've heard about Joanna Flynn," Mark said.

Griffin didn't let himself react. "What about her?"

"Well, that she's here. That if you dyed her hair black, she'd be the image of Mrs. McKenna."

Griffin, who hadn't mentioned his encounter with Joanna Flynn to anyone, wasn't particularly surprised; Cliffside's grapevine was second to none. "Yeah, I knew about her."

"People are wondering," Mark said innocently.

"Wondering what?"

"All kinds of things. Reincarnation is being discussed over at City Hall, seriously from what I hear. Twins separated at birth seems to be the favorite of the guys at the fire station—some of them have put money on it. And Janie says all her ladies at the salon are absolutely positive that Mrs. McKenna faked her death for some mysterious reason and has now returned to Cliffside to haunt somebody, but Ted at the bank thinks that last sounds a bit too unlikely."

"More unlikely than reincarnation?"

In an injured tone, Mark said, "I'm just sharing the sentiments of the town with you."

"What did they do, fax you all their ideas?" Griffin demanded.

Mark grinned. "Near enough. You wouldn't believe how many calls've come in since this morning. What should I tell 'em, boss?"

Griffin zipped up his windbreaker and settled his shoulders. "You tell them we don't butt into the business of innocent tourists, no matter who they happen to look like. Spread the word, Mark. I don't want anybody in this office adding fuel to the gossip."

"It won't need fuel," Mark said.

That was true enough, Griffin thought as he went out through the quiet lobby of the building. Gossip in Cliffside wasn't generally malicious, but it did get brisk whenever interest was aroused.

Joanna Flynn had definitely aroused interest.

Griffin didn't try to deny his own interest—to himself, anyway. And he didn't try to deny his apprehension. He sensed a matching uneasiness lurking just below the surface of Cliffside's calm, a tension that hadn't been there this time last year, and he was worried that an eerie replica of Caroline McKenna showing up here—especially now, so soon after her death—could only make things worse.

There was nothing he could put his finger on to explain what he sensed, and all his cop's instincts could offer was the awareness of silence where there should have been words, and sidelong glances closed and guarded. Everything seemed the same, at least on the surface. People smiled and greeted one another, and life went on as usual. But Caroline McKenna's death had somehow changed the town, and Griffin wondered if it could ever be as it had been.

The rain had slacked off a bit by the time he stepped outside, so Griffin was able to walk across the street without getting soaked. He went into the library, which was a fairly small building but held three floors, and saw no one except the middle-aged librarian, who was working at the desk.

"Hello, Sheriff," she said when she looked up and saw him. She was a pleasant looking woman, and her voice was unexpectedly loud and cheerful for someone who worked in the traditional quiet of a library.

But then she reverted to type by adding severely, "You're overdue."

It took Griffin a beat to remember he'd checked out a few books a couple of weeks before. "Sorry, Mrs.

Chandler. I'll get them back in tomorrow, I promise."

"Have you read them?"

"No," he admitted sheepishly.

She closed her eyes a moment in anguish. "Well, don't bring them back in unread, for heaven's sake. If anyone needs them, I'll call you—but read them before you turn them in!"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Meek doesn't become you," Mrs. Chandler observed.

"I'll try to work on that." He smiled at her. "In the meantime, is Joanna Flynn here?"

"Yes," she replied, making no pretense of not knowing who he was talking about. "She's upstairs with the microfilm reader. Seems to know her way around a library."

"What's she reading up on?"

"Town history, so she said. Asked about the town founders, and which families could trace their roots back. Said the property around here was lovely, and wondered who owned what. She copied a few maps and plats. She seemed pleased that we keep the birth, death, and marriage records here instead of City Hall. And the newspaper morgue." Mrs. Chandler paused, then added deliberately, "Strange how much she looks like Caroline, isn't it? If it weren't for the coloring and the voice…"

"Yeah." Since Griffin had no good official reason for wanting to talk to Joanna, he didn't offer one. He merely nodded to the grave librarian and made his way upstairs to the second floor, where most of the town's archives—such as they were—were kept.

The old stairs and floorboards creaked beneath his weight, but the woman at the microfilm machine was so intent on what she was doing that she obviously didn't hear his approach. Griffin paused a few feet away and studied her, trying to be objective. It was unexpectedly difficult. Even under harsh fluorescent lighting, her hair gleamed gold, and despite frowning in concentration, she was lovely. Yet even in profile, the resemblance to Caroline was amazing. A long-lost twin? Looking at her, it didn't seem so unlikely.

He might have risked money on that possibility himself if he hadn't known with fair certainty that Caroline had never had a sister.

Griffin drew a breath and walked toward her at about the same moment as she realized she was no longer alone. She started when she looked around and saw him, and perhaps that was why her hand moved suddenly—or perhaps she had quite deliberately made sure he wouldn't see what it was she had been reading with such intentness.

He wasn't happy to realize he suspected the latter.

"Sheriff. Fancy meeting you here."

"Miss Flynn." He sat down in a chair near hers and in that moment caught the light scent of her perfume.

He liked it, but it also unsettled him for some reason he couldn't immediately put his finger on. Then he realized. He had expected her to smell of cigarette smoke.

"Oh, please, Sheriff, call me Joanna." There was dryness rather than friendliness in her tone. "I mean, since we're apparently fated to turn up in the same places day after day."

Griffin's silent debate was a brief one; he decided not to let her sarcasm get under his skin. Not today, at any rate. "I'm not following you around, if that's what you think," he told her. "My office is across the street, and I saw you come in here. Do you realize you've been here for at least three hours?"

"So?" she demanded somewhat belligerently.

"So I thought you might be ready for a break. Why don't I buy you a cup of coffee?"

She eyed him uncertainly. "Is this a trick question?"

He laughed despite himself. "No. Look, I was ready to take a break and I thought you might be too.

There's a cafe just down the street where they happen to make great coffee. What do you say?"

After a moment, she shrugged. "Sure, why not. Just give me a minute to put things back where I found them."

"Through for the day?" he asked mildly.

"I think so. Spending more than three hours in a library on my vacation, even on a rainy day, sounds a bit too obsessive, wouldn't you say?"

"That probably depends," he said, "on what you're looking for."

Joanna paused in rewinding a spool of microfilm and looked at him steadily. Then, in a reflective tone, she said, "Tell me something, Sheriff. Suppose you went to a quiet little town on vacation, and when you got there you discovered that you looked an awful lot like someone who had recently died. What would you do?"

"I think I'd do what you're doing," he replied, matching her thoughtful expression. "Find out all I could about that person, just out of curiosity."

She nodded. "Then why do I get the feeling you disapprove?"

"It isn't disapproval. If anything, it's concern. Caroline McKenna's death is still a raw wound to a lot of people."

"I imagine it is. Any death in a close-knit community is bound to affect a lot of people. Why do you think I'm in here reading back editions of newspapers instead of out asking questions? Because I don't want to upset anyone more than I already do just by looking like her." She drew a breath. "I had an unexpected encounter this morning. With Caroline's daughter. I don't want any more surprises, Sheriff. Not like that one."

He watched her nimble fingers coping with the microfilm. She had beautiful hands, he thought, but what he slowly said was, "It must have been difficult for you."

"More difficult for that poor little girl than for me, but I might have handled it better if I hadn't been caught by surprise."

"I see your point."

"And understand?" She folded up a stack of papers— undoubtedly copies she'd made of some of the information stored on microfilm, as well as the maps and plats Mrs. Chandler had mentioned—and put them into her large shoulder bag.

"I understand your reasons for trying to find out what you can about Caroline." He wasn't conscious of having used only the first name until Joanna looked at him thoughtfully.

"You knew her well?"

How the hell do I answer that? "Well enough. It's a small town, and I've lived here for more than nine years."

Without comment, Joanna got up to return the microfilm to storage, taking her shoulder bag with her.

Griffin smiled grimly and got to his feet, waiting for her to come back. Yes, her reasons were perfectly understandable, but her attitude wasn't. Why should she be so cautious if her interest was so innocent and easily explained?

When Joanna came back, they walked downstairs, neither one of them saying anything. Griffin knew she was a little tense; he couldn't see it, but he could feel it. It bothered him that he could feel it. Was it only because she looked so much like Caroline that he felt this sense of knowing her? Was he feeling Joanna's tension only because he knew Caroline would have been tense in such a situation as this?

"Find everything you were looking for, Joanna?" Mrs. Chandler asked.

"Pretty much." Joanna nodded at the older woman. "I may be back, though, especially if it keeps raining.

It looks like you have a fine stock of popular fiction."

"Not bad, if I do say so myself. You come back anytime. We'll be here," the librarian told her.

When they left the library, the rain had stopped, though the clouds continued to glower with the promise of more later, and the smell of rain was definitely in the air. Joanna paused for an instant and looked at her car, then said, "Hey, I'm in a one-hour parking zone."

"I noticed," Griffin said.

"I didn't. Are you going to give me a ticket?"

"No." When she sent him a wary look, he shrugged. "We usually don't bother to enforce the zone except during tourist season, when parking is at a premium. If you'll look around, you'll notice that nobody'd have to wait or circle the block looking for a place to park today."

She did glance around at the almost totally deserted street, and said, "I see what you mean. So you won't get all official if I leave my car where it is while we have our coffee?"

"This is my afternoon break," he said. "I won't get official at all unless somebody robs the bank over there."

Joanna turned obediently when he indicated the way, and walked beside him down the sidewalk toward the cafe a couple of short blocks away. "Is it usually a quiet job, being the sheriff of a small town?" she asked.

"Usually." He thought she was honestly interested, and so he added, "We're more apt to have arguments than crimes, and we need a judge so rarely he only works a couple of days a week. Off-season, that is.

During the summer, it gets a bit more lively, but for the most part all I do is see to it that civic ordinances and regulations are obeyed, and that the kids from the high school don't get carried away on prom night."

She looked up at him rather curiously. "You said you'd been here around nine years, and somehow I don't see you as a small-town product. Were you born in Oregon?"

He shook his head, wondering if she was intuitive or if it just showed. "Nevada. Raised all over the place; my father's career army."

Joanna nodded, but before she could comment, an older lady walked past them going in the opposite direction, murmuring a polite hello to Griffin but looking only at Joanna.

"Not at all surprised to see me—but very definitely interested," Joanna noted somewhat ruefully, keeping her voice low. "Bet she knows my name. I didn't have to introduce myself to the guy who put gas in my car at the service station or to the librarian. Tell me something, Sheriff. Does everybody in this town know my name?"

"If anyone doesn't," he said, opening the door to the cafe, "they undoubtedly will by nightfall. And my name's Griffin—Joanna." He held the door for her, and when she responded to his last remark with a quick smile, Griffin had to fight a sudden urge to reach out and touch her. He managed to resist it, but he felt even more unsettled as he followed her into the cafe.

The cafe's young waitress also needed no introduction to Joanna, and her curiosity was absolutely naked as she led them to a corner booth and then reluctantly left them to get the coffee.

"Is it just me, or because you're with me?" Joanna asked him.

"It's just her," he answered lightly. "Liz is incurably nosy."

"I see." Joanna glanced around at the dozen or so customers in the place and added, "A nosy town you've got here, Sheriff. I mean—Griffin."

"Afraid so." He didn't have to look to know that everyone in the place was watching them, and most openly. "You'll be the hot topic of interest for at least a few days, I'd say."

She studied him with an intentness he found more than a little unsettling, and he wondered if she had any idea how strange it was to look at her. Unusual light brown eyes instead of blue, golden hair instead of black, but the features were almost identical. Christ, even the way she tilted her head thoughtfully was Caroline's mannerism. Yet the differences were just different enough to confuse the eye— and the ear.

"I suppose they will get used to me?" she offered hopefully.

"Bound to," he answered almost at random. Then, because he couldn't help himself, he added, "I don't suppose it's possible that you and Caroline were sisters?"

She lifted a brow wryly. "I admit I wondered about that myself. So I checked at the library and saw her birth certificate. She was born right here in Cliffside, to parents who practically founded the town. I, on the other hand, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, also to parents well rooted in their community—

and three days after she was born. So unless there was incredible chicanery committed in two places thousands of miles apart and for no apparent reason, I don't see how we could be related in any way."

"I guess not," he said. "But for two women to look so much alike without being related… what are the odds?"

Joanna looked reflective. "I don't know. But if you consider the theory that we all have a double—or doppelganger—living somewhere on earth—"

"Please, let's not venture into science fiction."

Liz arrived with their coffee then, and Joanna didn't respond to his comment until the waitress had left.

Then she said, "Yesterday's science fiction is tomorrow's science fact. Or don't you believe that?"

Deliberately, he said, "I believe answers are usually ordinary and almost always simple, Joanna. Being a cop in a much bigger place than Cliffside for a few years taught me that much."

"So you're a hardheaded realist?"

"If you want to call it that." He shrugged. "People are fairly predictable, on the whole, and their motives are seldom complicated. What you see is usually what you get. It makes my job easier."

"And what do you see when you look at me?" she asked him seriously.

"I see… Joanna Flynn."

After a moment, she smiled. "You're a bad liar, Griffin."

"I'm not lying." He tried to keep his voice even. "Caroline McKenna is dead. Unlike most of the people in this town, I saw her body, so I couldn't begin to convince myself that you're her. Even if I wanted to."

Joanna's smile had vanished. She looked down at her coffee, frowning. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to remind you—"

"Of something painful? I was a cop in Chicago for nearly five years, Joanna; I've seen a lot of bodies. I can talk about her—and what that wreck left of her—without going to pieces."

She looked at him, grave now. "Given your job, I'm sure you can. But when I said you were a bad liar, I didn't mean I thought you literally saw Caroline when you looked at me."

"Then what did you mean?" He knew he was so tense it showed, and he knew his voice held a harsh edge despite all his efforts to sound detached. Most of all, he knew that his quick denial of any pain about Caroline's death had sounded jarringly untrue.

"What I meant was that you hadn't gotten past the—the features I shared with Caroline. When you look at me, when anybody in this town looks at me, they see Caroline's face. They see somebody who looks like Caroline looked. Nobody knows me. Nobody here has any idea who Joanna Flynn is, so they don't see me at all."

After a moment, Griffin nodded. "Okay, fair enough. It's… disconcerting, I admit." And no doubt explained his own turbulent feelings, he thought. His brain was just trying to reconcile images of two women who happened to resemble each other even though he knew they had to be different in other ways. That was all.

"How do you think I feel? People look at me as if they know me. They assume things. Do you know, when I went to the drugstore just before the library, the clerk automatically got a pack of cigarettes and pushed it across the counter to me?"

"Caroline smoked," Griffin heard himself say.

"Yeah, so I was told when the clerk realized what she'd done. Mrs. McKenna smoked, she said, and she'd just as-sumed…" Joanna sighed. "The poor kid didn't know where to look, and neither did I. It feels peculiar, let me tell you."

Griffin hesitated, then said, "Does that mean you're going to cut your vacation short?"

She sipped her coffee, those big golden eyes fixed unwaveringly on his face, and didn't answer until she had set her cup back on the table. Then she merely said, "No."

"If we make you so uncomfortable…"

Joanna shrugged. "If it gets too bad, I can always leave. In the meantime, according to the Chamber of Commerce, Cliffside offers just what I need—wonderful scenery, peace, and quiet."

"And if the people around here go on making you feel peculiar?"

"Then I'll spend all my time staring at the scenery or reading peacefully on the veranda at The Inn."

He wondered if he'd ever get used to her voice and that lazy accent. It was oddly pleasing, but startled him every time she spoke. "Is your life back in Atlanta so hectic?"

Her eyes lit with amusement, and her lips curved in that brief, just slightly crooked smile that was nothing like Caroline. "As a matter of fact, my life is pretty tame. I work in a private library."

He nodded, trying to look as if he hadn't already known that. "So why the need for peace and quiet?"

"Oh… maybe it's not so much that as just a change of scene. And it's so noisy in a big city." She shrugged again.

Griffin wished he believed her, but his cop's instincts were telling him that Joanna's reasons for being here were hardly as simple as the need for a change of scene. There was nothing he could pinpoint, no obvious indication that she was hiding something, but he was certain she was. Despite the little he had been told about her blameless life, he was certain that it was no coincidence Joanna had come to Cliffside. She had a reason for being here, and he had the unhappy idea that he wouldn't like it when he found out what it was.

"You're staring at me," she murmured.

He shifted his gaze to his coffee, realizing only then that he hadn't even tasted it yet. "Sorry."

"So, tell me about Caroline."

It caught him completely off guard, and when he looked quickly at Joanna, he knew she had intended to do just that. "Didn't you find out all about her at the library?" he asked stiffly.

"Oh, I found out a few things. That she was on a lot of committees. That she was highly respected in this town. That she was intent on improving the quality of medical care here. That she was a concerned parent, involved in her daughter's school."

"And all that isn't enough for you?"

Joanna shook her head very slightly. "None of it tells me who Caroline was, not really. I still have a lot of questions about her. What did she do with her life besides serve on committees and paint scenery for the school play? Did that fulfill her? Did she have hobbies, interests? Did she like animals? What about music, art—did she like those things? Did she love her husband? Was she happy?"

Griffin drew a breath. "Why ask me?"

"Because you won't go to pieces talking about her," Joanna said quietly. "That's what you said, isn't it?"

Goddammit. "I can't answer your questions," he told her.

"Can't—or won't?" Then she shook her head a little before he could decide how to answer, and said,

"Sorry, I shouldn't push. It looks like you've got another nosy person in your town, doesn't it?"

Griffin frowned at her. "Joanna, I meant what I told you at the library. Don't go around town asking questions about Caroline. There are too many people you could hurt."

"Is that an order from the sheriff?"

He couldn't read very much in her expression, but he had the distinct feeling that he had made her mad.

"No, it's a request from me."

She inclined her head slightly. "Noted. And now, I think I'd better head back to the hotel. Thank you for the coffee."

"Don't mention it," he said.

Joanna didn't offer to shake hands with him outside the cafe when they parted company; she merely said,

"See you around," and strolled off down the street toward the library and her car.

Griffin stood there for a moment looking after her, until it occurred to him that every patron in the cafe, as well as Liz, was watching him watch Joanna. He was tempted to turn around and glare at everybody, but finally just walked away in the opposite direction so that he could tell Ralph Thompson he couldn't have those extra parking spaces he wanted.

Fifteen minutes later, having listened patiently, until Thompson finally ran out of breath, to a diatribe on the consummate arrogance and utter ignorance of the town council, Griffin walked back to the Sheriff's Department. Joanna's car was no longer parked in front of the library, so he could only assume she had returned to The Inn.

He retreated to his office without speaking to anyone and closed the door behind him, fighting the impulse to lock it. He took off his jacket and hung it on its peg, then sat down at his desk and unlocked the top drawer. Inside were a few confidential files, but he didn't reach for any of them. Instead, he pulled out a piece of pale blue notepaper. It was folded once, the crease worn because he'd opened and closed it so many times. He opened it now, and read the rounded, almost childish handwriting with the ease of someone who had long ago memorized the message.


I must see you. Meet me at the old barn at noon.


He closed the note and returned it to his desk drawer, then leaned back in his chair and stared out the window.

It was raining again.

♦ ♦ ♦

"Damn this rain," Scott McKenna said.

"You live in Oregon," Holly reminded him. "It rains a lot here."

"Too much. I should go back to San Francisco."

"Where it doesn't rain at all, of course. And where there are earthquakes to boot. Besides, you've lived here for twelve years. Your roots are here."

"Are they?"

Holly looked up from the keyboard and watched him for a moment. He was standing at the window of his study, gazing out at the drenched garden beside his house. He was a strikingly handsome man, with dark hair and hooded gray eyes, and there was something remote in the very way he stood. He always looked alone, she thought, even in a crowd. It was something she had noticed about him from the first day they'd met.

"Well, the majority of your money's here anyway," she told him. "You have to run things."

He turned his head and looked at her, that direct, measuring stare that no longer unnerved her. "You could handle most of it alone," he said.

"What, you mean the stores, the greenhouse, the lumber mill, and the new wing for the clinic, to say nothing of The Inn? News for you, boss—I don't want to handle it all."

Scott smiled slightly. "I know. But you could."

"Yeah, right." She finished entering figures from her clipboard into the computer on his desk, and said,

"Okay, that's everything, I think. All the estimates and bids, the materials lists, including the list from the medical supplier. Cost of grading, even landscaping."

"Thank you, Holly."

"No problem. I don't mind, Scott, really." She might have said more, but the door opened just then and Scott's daughter looked in. As always these days, Regan was solemn, her dark blue eyes large and unreadable.

"What is it, Regan?" Scott asked a bit abruptly.

"Mrs. Ames says I can stay up tonight and watch all of that movie if you say it's all right." Her voice was flat, without expression.

Scott didn't ask what movie, he merely nodded. "It's fine."

Without another word, Regan departed as suddenly as she had arrived.

Holly sat back in his desk chair and looked at her employer. He was gazing out the window once again, his aloof expression daring her to comment. Never one to refuse a dare, Holly said, "Does the housekeeper always supervise Regan after Mrs. Porter goes home?"

"She doesn't need much supervision," Scott replied coolly. "She's an independent child, you know that."

"Independent, sure. She also lost her mother three months ago. Have you talked to her?"

"What would you have me say to her?"

Holly gave a helpless shrug even though he wasn't looking at her. "I don't know. All I do know is that she adored Caroline—and I've never seen her grieve for her mother. Not the day it happened, not at Caroline's funeral, not anytime since. Has she cried at all?"

Scott didn't answer immediately, but finally said, "I don't know."


"Holly, I can't change my nature just because I've suddenly become a single parent. Regan was close to Caroline, but never to me. I'll do everything I can for the child, but I can't take Caroline's place."

She had known him for eight years, but looking at him now, Holly had no idea what—if anything—he was feeling. He had always been somewhat remote with his daughter, but hardly more so than he was with most other people; perhaps it was his nature.

"I know it's none of my business, Scott, but I can't help being concerned. If you don't reach out to Regan now and help her get past Caroline's death, I think you'll regret it for the rest of your life." She got up from the desk, adding briskly, "And that's my meddling for the day. I'm going home."

"Drive carefully."

"Yes. I will." She went as far as the door, then paused and looked back at him. "Good night, Scott."

Still gazing out the window, Scott asked, "Does that arrogant artist of yours know how lucky he is?"

"I don't know."

He nodded slightly, as if her answer didn't surprise him. "Good night, Holly."

She went out, quietly closing the door behind her, leaving Scott alone.

♦ ♦ ♦

Joanna slipped the last sheet of paper into Caroline's file and leaned back against the pillows banked behind her, frowning. There was still precious little information in the file, not nearly enough to do more than sketch in a life. No color, no… texture. That was it, she decided; so far, she couldn't really feel the texture in Caroline's life.

In three hours, Joanna had managed to scan years' worth of Cliffside's weekly newspaper, so she had more information than she'd arrived here with—but as she'd said to the sheriff, none of it told her who Caroline had really been.

A wealthy woman, yes—in her own right as well as married to a wealthy man. A woman who had supported a long list of charities, most of them in the areas of medical research and treatment, probably because a younger brother had died of an incurable disease when Caroline was a teenager. A woman who had seemingly been at ease speaking in public. A woman who was known for her sense of style and who wore dresses more often than pants, at least publicly.

Facts… behind which lay only speculation.

Actually, Joanna had discovered far more about Caro-line's character in casual conversation than by reading a recitation of facts in the newspaper. The clerk in the drugstore, for instance, had told her not only that Caroline smoked pretty heavily, but also that it was a nervous habit and that "she bit her nails, too, poor thing."

The clerk had boasted long, beautifully manicured nails, so her pity was easily understood. Joanna lifted her own hands and studied them, taking note of the neat, medium-length nails, only one ragged thumbnail evidence of her recent nibbling. Aunt Sarah had been quite definite in her ideas of how a young lady should present herself, and those had included well-kept hands and no nervous mannerisms.

Another difference between Joanna and Caroline? Caroline had apparently been nervous, at least in some ways, and Joanna had never been that. Except that for the first tim