A face to die for, p.12
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       A Face to Die For, p.12

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
 

  “And Hero is a hero once again.” Claire set down her flute on the floor beside the beanbag chair she was sitting on and began stroking the top of the bloodhound’s head. “You’re brilliant, you’re loving, and you’re warm-hearted. You’re even gorgeous. Who could ask for a more fitting hero?”

  Clearly, Hero liked the praise and the stroking, because he gave a contented grunt and rolled over to have his belly scratched.

  “Hey, I’m all those things,” Ryan piped up. “Do I get that kind of attention, too?”

  Claire bit back a smile as she looked at him. “No. You’re also arrogant and exasperating. Hero’s neither. You lose.”

  “The jury’s out on that one,” Ryan muttered. But he wisely kept any further comments to himself. Another innuendo and he’d be taking a cold shower tonight—something he had no intention of doing.

  Emma ignored them both, drinking her champagne with a mixture of satisfaction and happiness. “Seeing the relief on Brianna’s face made going back to school and sucking up to that pig worth it.” A quick glance at Casey. “I know I was being trained and tested. What’s the verdict?”

  Casey stopped typing to give Emma a thumbs-up. “You were great. I’m really proud of you, Emma. You’ve come a long way in a short time. I’ll be counting on you more and more from this point on.”

  Emma’s whole face lit up. “No more tests?”

  “I didn’t say that,” Casey replied with total candor. “I test all of you at different points. It keeps everyone on their toes. And before you ask, yes, I test myself. Every day in every way. I’ll never take my leadership role at FI for granted. You guys deserve the best because you are the best. And if you ever remind me that I said that, I’ll deny every word and cut your salaries.”

  “Yes, boss.” Emma zipped her fingers across her mouth in a my-lips-are-sealed gesture.

  “I really like Brianna and Lina,” Claire said. “They’re great girls.”

  “So do I,” Casey agreed. “And the feeling is mutual. They both asked if we could still hang out together—socially, since the investigation is now in the hands of the NYPD. Successful case, new friends. It’s a win-win all around.” She raised her flute. “Here’s to another coup for FI.”

  They all raised their glasses, or, in Ryan’s case, his beer bottle.

  “Time to choose our next case,” Emma said. “We’ve got a stack on my desk. I scanned them all. Nothing urgent. Some more interesting than others.”

  “We’ll pass them around for review tomorrow,” Casey replied. “Tonight is time to celebrate and unwind. Also, Marc and Patrick are due back this week. So we’ll all jump into something new together.”

  “Cool.” Emma polished off her champagne. “Whatever we choose, I hope it’ll be as high-octane as this past case.”

  Casey’s brows arched. “Be careful what you wish for.”

  Gia’s townhouse

  Rye, New York

  “Wow.” Dani perched her carry-on in the hallway and walked through Gia’s combo living/family room. “This place makes mine look like a cardboard box.”

  Gia smiled, glancing around the modern layout with a happy, grateful expression. The townhouse wasn’t huge. But it was open and airy, which made it look larger than it was. That was one of the reasons Gia had fallen in love with it.

  “I got lucky,” she replied. “The previous owner was transferred to Seattle. She needed to get out fast, so she took a low bid—mine. I’d just earned a hefty bonus, and my income qualified me for a decent-sized mortgage. It all came together at once. So here I am. And I’ve gotten spoiled. I really love this place.”

  “I don’t blame you.” There wasn’t a shred of jealousy in Dani’s voice, only admiration. “I guess I don’t need to ask if there’s enough room for me to sleep. I was going to offer to take the couch.”

  “No need. There’s a guest room upstairs. I already made it up for you. Did you want to rest?” It was hard for Gia to hide the disappointment from her tone.

  “No way.” Dani shook her head. “All I want is a quick shower and a change of clothes. I’ve got to set up my laptop to catch up on a couple of case files, since my pet patients are being handled by an associate while I’m away. Then we can go out.” She wrinkled her nose in a way Gia recognized as something she always did when she was thoughtful. “Would you mind very much if we stay local tonight and do Manhattan tomorrow? I’m kind of feeling the past few days.”

  “Not a problem. We’ll go low-key tonight and all out tomorrow.”

  Excitement flickered across Dani’s face. “Is the Big Apple really awesome? All I’ve seen of it is an airport, a postage stamp of a hotel room, an Uber, and the inside of a veterinary clinic.”

  Gia nodded. “The city is a world unto itself. It gets in your blood and pulses through you until it’s got you hooked. If you’re up for it, we could catch a train in earlier and do some shopping. Then we could go to a club or a restaurant or even a Broadway show if you’re willing to take whatever tickets are available. Your call.”

  “Yes to the shopping. Then let’s do dinner and a club.” Dani sounded like a kid in a candy store. “I want to do all the nauseatingly tourist things that first-timers do. Fifth Avenue. Times Square. The Empire State Building. Dinner somewhere that native New Yorkers roll their eyes about and call a tourist trap. Oh, and I want to drink and dance at the trendiest club you know.”

  Gia was laughing. “Forget the afternoon train. We’d better leave right after breakfast to get all that in.”

  “Do you mind?”

  “Are you kidding? I’ll love it. I’ll get the chance to see the city for the first time all over again. What could be better than that?” Gia’s eyes danced. “Besides, our meeting is a celebration. Let’s do it in style.”

  CHAPTER 13

  The Pub

  Rye, New York

  The Pub was Rye’s local watering hole, noisy, rustic, and complete with a jukebox, a dartboard, and great beer and food. Given this was a weeknight, the place was only three-quarters packed, and Gia and Dani were seated and served without a wait.

  “This is exactly what I needed tonight,” Dani declared a little while later, munching on a personal pizza and watching a group of college kids wearing SUNY Purchase T-shirts playing darts while they tossed back their beers.

  “Yeah, the Pub is our go-to place.” Gia took a bite of her bacon cheeseburger, wondering if Dani would be willing to go with her to the gym before they headed off to the city tomorrow. A whopping burger with fries and beer, leading into a full day of stuffing her face in Manhattan would tip the scale, and not in Gia’s favor. It would also make her next gym visit grueling. She’d be a slug, rather than being primed to get the adrenaline rush necessary to kick-start her workday.

  “What are you thinking?” Dani asked.

  Gia tilted her head hopefully. “Do you like working out?”

  “Yes, if I ever have a breathing minute to do it. I’m on call a lot. And I go into the clinic early. So there’s no gym time. I make up for it by running a few miles every morning. Why?”

  “Because I’m kind of obsessive about my time at the gym. Would you mind going with me, just for an hour, really early tomor
row? That would give us plenty of time to shower, get dressed, and head off to the city. Or would you rather sleep in?”

  Dani grimaced. “I’m not sleeping in. We’ve only got two days together. Resting doesn’t factor into that. How about a spin class? I haven’t done one of those in ages.”

  “Great. That calls for another beer.”

  Gia glanced around for their waiter, who was somewhere lost in the crowd. Instead, she caught the eye of the bartender—a nice-looking blond guy about their age, who was hanging out behind the bar, mopping the countertop, in a rare free moment. Gia signaled to him that they just wanted two beers on tap. He snapped off a salute, siphoned their drinks, and walked over, setting down their glasses.

  “Sorry, Gia, I think your waiter ran out for a cigarette break…” His words trailed off, and his startled gaze darted from one of them to the other.

  “Gia?” he asked tentatively, focusing on the girl who’d flagged him down. “That’s you, right?” He eyed her longer hair, obviously using that as an identification marker. “You have a twin?” This time he stared at Dani. “Wow, identical honeys!”

  Both girls grinned.

  “Even the same smile,” he noted.

  “Yes, Jay, it’s me,” Gia said. “And I hate to disappoint you, but we’re not twins—just friends. This is Danielle.”

  “It’s nice to meet you, Jay,” Dani replied.

  “Friends my ass.” Jay was practically drooling as he ogled them, one by one. “Danielle. So you’re the twin. Different hair. Different accent. Dead ringers. Why the secrecy?”

  “No secrecy,” Dani assured him. “Just fact.”

  “You live in the Midwest?” the bartender asked her. “I went to college there. I recognize the twang. I’m not just a bartender,” he hastened to explain, clearly eager to impress. “I do this for extra cash. I’m in finance.”

  “Good to know.” Dani was having a hard time not laughing out loud. “And, yes, I do live in the Midwest—shrewd observation.”

  “I go back a lot to visit friends. Give me your number before you leave. I’ve tried to pry Gia’s out of her a couple of times, but no luck. Maybe you’ll be easier on a guy’s ego? We could have dinner, either while you’re in town or when I’m in your neck of the woods. No strings.”

  Fortunately, Dani didn’t have time to answer. Another patron called out for Jay, and reluctantly, he turned away. “Gotta go. But I’ll be back to get your number and to hear your deep, dark secret. Whatever your reason is for this pretend-to-be-friends thing, I’ll tell you now, it won’t work. Identical twins are identical twins. But nice try.” He winked and headed off.

  “You have a new fan,” Gia commented, taking a swallow of her beer. “Do you think Gabe would mind?”

  Dani’s lips twitched. “I think Gabe’s feeling pretty secure right about now. But at least I have a gentle way to let Jay down. There’s nothing like the words ‘I have a boyfriend’ to pour cold water on another guy’s hopes.” Her brows knit quizzically. “What about you? In your messages, you said you don’t date much—too overwhelming a career. I can relate. Until I ran into Gabe again, I was practically a nun. Not a healthy lifestyle balance.”

  “You’re right.” Gia gave a rueful sigh. “I hear about it from my parents on a weekly basis. I do actually date—at least once in a while—but so far I haven’t met Prince Charming. Also, remember that most of the guys I meet are about to be married themselves—to other women. Kind of limits the future of the relationship.”

  “I see your point.” Dani paused, her finger tracing the rim of her glass. Clearly, her thoughts had taken a different turn. “I also see Jay’s. Not about a date, about us. We do look exactly alike. Unfortunately, I don’t have a genetic lineage to trace. I was adopted.”

  “What?” Gia did a double take. “So was I.”

  A long moment of silence hung between them.

  “We can’t be twins,” Gia said finally, her mind working through the details. “Believe me, I’m an only child. My parents tried for years to have a baby. If they’d had a chance to adopt two, they’d have grabbed it with both hands.”

  Dani nodded. “So we’re each an only child. We’re also the same age. Facebook says your birthday is January twelfth. Mine’s Valentine’s Day.”

  “Different birthdays. Still, is it possible we share some blood ties—cousins or even half sisters, maybe? Our biological father could have been spreading the wealth around.”

  “Great. Two simultaneously pregnant women, both of whom he dumped. Nice guy. If that’s what happened, I’m glad I never met him.”

  “Do you know anything about your biological parents?”

  “Nope. Closed adoption. No contact and no knowledge.”

  “Same here.” Dani blew out her breath. “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”

  “How could we not? Since the moment I saw you, my mind’s been racing from one possibility to the next.”

  “Mine, too.” Dani gestured at Gia’s shoulder bag. “Do you have those baby pictures with you? I brought mine.”

  “So did I.”

  They both dug around in their purses. Dani pulled out a small but full photo album. She shoved the album across the table to Gia. “That about covers my life, newborn through high school, with a smattering of college and vet school.” She smiled fondly. “My folks are big on capturing the moment—every moment.”

  “I hear you.” Gia produced her own album, which was more neatly organized but equally thick. “I had to pull out the baby bathtub and changing table shots. Way too embarrassing.”

  The girls shared a laugh.

  Fifteen minutes later, they weren’t laughing or even exchanging lighthearted chatter. They were soberly comparing photo albums, staring at pictures that were eerily similar to each other. The girls in those photos—whether as babies, toddlers, young girls, teens, or adults—were almost identical, not just in appearance but in facial expressions, unconscious hand gestures and body motions, everything down to the space between their two front teeth that had required braces to fix.

  Gia broke the silence, her voice shaky: “I’m starting to freak out.”

  Dani nodded, white-faced, as she continued to compare two photos of two little girls in Brownie uniforms, smiling their pre-orthodontic smiles. Finally, she placed the pictures on the table and interlaced her fingers in front of her. “There’s no point in trying to explain this away. Whatever ties we have are real. The question is, what are we going to do about it?”

  “I’m a get-it-done-now person, Dani.” Gia was a wreck, but she held Dani’s gaze as she spoke. “I vote for a DNA test. We can Google the closest testing center and go there tomorrow. I don’t know how long the results take to come back or—”

  “That’s what the Internet’s for.” Dani was already using the browser on her cell phone, entering key words into Google. “Where’s White Plains?” she asked. “Or New Rochelle? They both have testing centers.”

  “I grew up in New Rochelle,” Gia replied. “My whole family still lives there. So that location is out. We’ll do White Plains. It’s closer anyway—just ten minutes away. What time do they open?”

  “W
ait.” Dani held up her hand as she scanned the information. “It says you need an appointment and a doctor’s prescription.” She frowned. “We don’t have either. It shows places you can order DNA test kits from, but that will take time. Apparently, even drugstores carry them now, but you still need medical authorization. More time. More hassle.”

  “I don’t want to wait.”

  “Neither do I.” Dani continued scrolling down on her phone. Abruptly, she stopped. “There’s a place in Manhattan that has a doctor on site to issue the prescription. One-stop shopping for DNA testing. But we still need an appointment.”

  “What time do they open?”

  “Nine a.m.”

  “We’ll be there at eight forty-five. We’ll tell them the truth—that you’re only in town for a day. We’ll appeal to them on every level possible. We’ll offer to pay them extra if we have to. I do this kind of thing for a living. I’ll find a way to make it happen.” Gia’s voice had steadied. She was all bulldozer now, ready to take on the world and win. “We’ll get this ball rolling first thing tomorrow.”

  “Agreed.” Dani looked equally resolute. “And while we’re at it, let’s have them do the whole gamut of testing—from distant genetic ties to a much closer link, like siblings.” A long pause. “Or twins. No matter how impossible it seems—Gia, I need to know for sure.”

  “So do I.” There was no hesitation on Gia’s part. “I assume it’s the same one-time mouth swab. If it’s multiple swabs, then fine. Either way, the lab does the rest. It’ll come down to how extensive and costly the testing is. And regardless of the price, it’s worth it. So we’ll check every box on the form.”

  “I’m in. Whatever it costs, it costs.” Dani took a gulp of beer—one that would do nothing except quench her thirst. “I’m not discussing this with my parents,” she stated flatly. “Not until we have results and not unless those results confirm we’re related. I don’t want to upset them that way.”

 
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