A face to die for, p.16
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       A Face to Die For, p.16

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
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  “Well, she does now. She says it’s urgent and she’ll speak only with you. That’s all I’ve got.”

  “Put her through.”

  Marc closed the document he’d been reading and placed his iPad on the desk in front of him. His phone gave one bing, signifying that his caller was there.

  “Gia?” he answered.

  “Oh, Marc, thank God,” she breathed. “I was afraid your receptionist would blow me off.”

  “What’s going on?” Marc had to admit that Emma hadn’t been exaggerating. Frantic Gia was one he had never heard.

  “It’s too long to go into on the phone. Suffice it to say, my sister’s life and my life are in danger. We need to meet with you, hire you, like, yesterday. I know Forensic Instincts has a long waiting list of potential clients. And you know that I have just as long a waiting list for my services. I’m calling in the favor you offered when I bailed you out at the eleventh hour. My sister is flying in this afternoon. When’s the earliest you can see us?”

  Marc had a million questions. But instinct and experience told him that now was not the time. For Gia to be pushing this hard, it had to be bad. And grilling her on the phone would be wasting precious minutes.

  “Hang on. I’ll see what I can do.” He pressed *T and his cell phone number. Immediately, he answered his now-vibrating phone and simultaneously put Gia on hold. He left the room, opting to talk to Casey in person. He loped up the single flight of stairs that separated them and knocked on the conference room door. “Casey, it’s me.”

  “Come on in,” came her reply.

  He strode in and shut the door behind him. “Remember my wedding planner, Gia Russo?”

  Casey’s arched her brows. “Only what you told me. From your description, she was a get-it-done wizard with an iPhone and an earpiece.”

  “She’s on the phone. She’s a wreck. According to her, she and her sister are both in life-threatening danger. They want to see us ASAP.” Marc met Casey’s gaze. “This one’s for real, Casey. Gia’s not the type to freak out. Can we skip the preliminaries and see them late today? Her sister’s flying in this afternoon in order to be here.”

  Studying Marc’s expression, Casey didn’t hesitate. Marc’s instincts rivalled hers. If he said it was for real, then it was for real. “Find out when she lands, then set a time. I’ll alert the team.”

  “I owe you one.”

  Marc got Gia back on the line and got the details, wondering all along what could have so badly shaken the strong young woman he knew.

  LaGuardia Airport

  This time, the greeting between Gia and Dani was a very different one than the last. It had been days—and a lifetime—since then.

  The instant Dani stepped into the arrival area, she and Gia rushed toward each other, hugging tightly as soon as they could. There was a newly formed bond between them, and a sense of belonging. But both those precious things were marred by an underlying profusion of fear.

  “This was the longest flight of my life,” Dani said in a shaky whisper. “My emotions are all over the place. I have a twin, and I can’t get over the joy of that. I have a million questions, all of which have me tied up in knots. And someone is trying to hurt us—or worse—and I can’t wrap my mind around that, either.”

  “I know.” Gia stepped back and squeezed Dani’s hands, surveying her once again with that awed surreal feeling. Her twin. She had a twin. “I’m thrilled and I’m lost and I’m terrified all at once. But that’s why you’re here and we’re together—to get the help and the answers we need.”

  “You said Forensic Instincts is expecting us,” Dani responded. “I know next to nothing about them, except what I saw online.”

  “I’m not an expert, either,” Gia replied. “But I did ask Marc some questions when I was handling his and Madeline’s wedding. I’ll tell you what I know in the car. Let’s get going.” She seized the handle of Dani’s carry-on. “I assume you brought more luggage than this?”

  “Since I have no idea how long I’ll be staying, yes,” Dani replied. “One suitcase and a garment bag.”

  Gia nodded. “We’ll go straight to baggage claim, yank your stuff off the carousel, and carry it to the car ourselves. We have no time to deal with carts or porters. Marc’s team is staying late for us. I don’t want to keep them waiting.”

  “I don’t want to keep any of us waiting.”

  Office of Forensic Instincts

  First-floor meeting room

  The team took their coffee mugs and settled in, either on one of the leather tub chairs or on one of the twin matching couches situated between them. Hero stretched out on the area rug alongside Casey’s center-stage chair.

  This was the same meeting room the team had used to interview Brianna Mullen. It was unintimidating and meant to put nervous clients at ease. In contrast, the main conference room was ideal for keeping more complex and ambiguous clients awed and a bit on edge as they were being closely interviewed.

  The choice of which room was used during a first-time client meeting was Casey’s. She seemed always to make the right call. And as she’d determined re their meeting with Brianna, this time she was equally certain that the team’s interview with Gia Russo and her sister belonged right here.

  “Gia Russo didn’t give you any information other than the fact that she and her sister are in danger?” Patrick asked Marc, perching on the edge of a sofa cushion and taking a belt of coffee.

  “Nope.” Marc shook his head. “But my gut tells me it’s bad. The Gia I worked with was a force to be reckoned with. She’s a bulldozer, running over anyone and everyone if the sweet-talking doesn’t work first. That wasn’t the woman I spoke to on the phone. Whatever’s going on, it’s not imaginary or exaggerated.”

  “Yeah, she sounded that way to me, too,” Emma said. “She couldn’t get me to put Marc on the phone fast enough. I know the sound of desperation—that was it.”

  Claire frowned. “It’s strange. I never met Gia at the wedding.”

  “That’s not strange,” Marc replied. “Gia’s philosophy is that a good wedding planner’s job is to make everything perfect while staying invisible. Kind of like a puppeteer who pulls the strings but remains out of sight.”

  “She sure pulled that one off,” Ryan commented. “Not only didn’t I see her, I’m still not sure what a wedding planner does. But whatever it is, I guess she did it right, because the wedding was way cool.”

  Casey was watching Claire. “That’s not what you meant when you said it was strange, is it?”

  “No.” Claire’s frown deepened. “I’m getting an aura of shock and confusion mixed with a sense of discovery. And danger—a strong surrounding force of it. What’s strange is, I’m getting all this having never made contact with either of these two women, or even with a person or an object close to them. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before.”

  “That is weird,” Ryan said. “I don’t get how this works. Does that mean you expect to have a stronger-than-usual connection once you’ve met them?”

  Claire’s shoulders lifted in a shrug. “I have no idea.”

  “It looks like we’ve already made progress on a case we have yet to offic
ially accept,” Casey noted.

  “They really need our help, Casey,” Claire told her.

  “Between what you, Marc, and Emma have each said, I don’t doubt it.” Casey glanced at her watch. “They should be here any minute, based on the ETA Gia gave Marc when she called from the road. Given the circumstances, I think Marc, not Emma, should be the one who greets them at the door. There’s an element of trust Gia already feels for Marc. Let’s use it. I’ll go out behind him, wait a minute or two, and then round the corner and introduce myself. I’m hoping that realizing the president of FI is on board will give them an added sense of security.”

  As if on cue, the doorbell sounded.

  “Gia Russo and her sister have arrived,” Yoda announced. “I apologize for the omission, Casey, but you didn’t provide me with Ms. Russo’s sister’s name.”

  “We don’t have it yet, Yoda.” Marc was already headed for the door. “But we’re about to.”

  * * *

  Marc opened the door, his mouth already open to greet Gia.

  It snapped shut as he looked from one of the girls to the other.

  “Gia?” he guessed, his startled gaze settling on the longer-haired girl.

  “Yes, Marc, it’s me.” Gia shook his hand. “And this is my sister, Danielle Murano.”

  “It’s nice to meet you, Marc.” Dani also shook his hand. “Thank you for seeing us with virtually no notice.”

  “Ms. Gia Russo and Ms. Danielle Murano have arrived.” Yoda’s voice echoed through the townhouse as he corrected his omission at once.

  Both girls jumped.

  “Not to worry,” Marc assured them. “That’s Yoda, our artificial intelligence system.” He didn’t wait for their response. “Gia, you didn’t mention that you and your sister were identical twins.”

  “Monozygotic twins,” Yoda clarified. “Definition being that a single egg was fertilized to form one zygote, which then divided into two separate embryos.”

  “Got it, Yoda.” Marc was cutting this off before Yoda gave them a full genetics lesson. “I can take it from here.”

  “Certainly, Marc. I’ll complete preparations for the meeting.”

  Gia blinked. “That’s not an AI system. That’s the Wizard of Oz. Who designed him?”

  “That would be Ryan McKay, FI’s technology magician. He was at my wedding, along with the entire team.” Marc turned to Dani, silently getting a read on her. “Welcome to the Big Apple. You’re from the Midwest. I recognize the twang.”

  A hint of a smile touched Dani’s lips. “Actually, I speak normally. It’s everyone here who has the twang—New Yoik-uhs to the core.” Her smile faded. “But you’re right. I’m from Minneapolis. That’s why it took me so long to fly in. I’m sure you’d rather be home with your new wife, having dinner, than meeting with us.”

  “No worries. I can manage both.” From somewhere behind him, Marc sensed Casey’s presence—and yet, she was making no move to join them. He wondered what her motives were and finally decided she was giving him a little more time to help the girls relax. That wasn’t Casey’s usual style, but he’d go with it.

  He continued to make comfortable introductory conversation with the girls.

  * * *

  Casey was reeling with stunned awareness.

  She’d walked out two full minutes ago, ready to join Marc and their new clients. She’d reached the corner and was about to turn into the hallway. Instead, she’d come to a dead halt, staring at the girls Marc was speaking with.

  Lina. It was Lina. Times two.

  CHAPTER 18

  What the hell was going on?

  Casey was still gaping. Mentally, she kicked herself. There was no time to process what she was seeing. She had to alert the team before someone—probably Emma—made a huge faux pas.

  Reversing her steps, she ran down to the office where everyone was waiting. She burst in and shut the door behind her, leaning back against it. Everyone’s head shot up in surprise. Even Hero snapped into ready mode.

  “We have an issue,” Casey informed them. “And we need to deal with it in the next thirty seconds.”

  “What’s wrong?” Patrick asked, taken aback by the shaky tone of Casey’s voice and the shocked expression on her face.

  “Gia Russo and her sister, Danielle Murano, are identical twins.” Casey paused. “Well, not twins.”

  “Which is it?” Ryan demanded. “Twins or not twins? Either way, why is it a problem?”

  “Because they’re each a mirror image of Lina Brando.” A quick glance around at the members of the team who had yet to meet Lina—sans Marc, who would have to hear this later. “Patrick, you and Marc were briefed on the Brianna Mullen case, and, Ryan, you were part of the investigation, so you all know who Lina is.”

  “They’re a mirror image of her?” Emma had jerked up in her chair. She’d met Lina last Sunday when she’d joined Casey and Claire for their last-minute brunch with her. They’d hit it off instantly. “Are you saying…?”

  “Triplets,” Claire finished for her. “Yes. They’re triplets. And none of them have any idea.”

  “Shit.” Emma looked like a rocket about to go off. “I don’t understand how—”

  “Let Casey talk,” Ryan instructed her. “Our thirty seconds are up. What do you want us to do, boss?”

  Casey didn’t hesitate. “Don’t show our hand. Don’t give them the slightest clue that a third sister even exists. We don’t know what we’re dealing with yet. Bringing Lina into the mix is out of the question now. I need each of you to do a flawless acting job.”

  “Done,” Ryan replied.

  Patrick nodded. Like Ryan, he’d be on board even if he didn’t have the distinct advantage of having never met Lina. The same would apply to Marc once he knew.

  Claire shook off her faraway gaze and resumed her usual calm demeanor. “This is the absolute right thing to do, so, yes.”

  “Emma?” Casey prodded, turning to face her. “Are you up for this, or should you sit this one out?”

  “I’m fine,” Emma surprised her by saying. “I’m a full team member now. And you know I’m a hell of an actress. So count me in. No Lina.”

  “And no shocked expressions when they walk in,” Casey pressed. “Just the usual procedure of our team greeting new clients. Agreed?”

  “Agreed.”

  “Good.” Casey opened the door. “I’m going out there to introduce myself and to bring Gia and Danielle in.”

  * * *

  “Ah, just who we were waiting for,” Marc said as Casey walked into the entranceway. “I told Gia and Danielle that you were on your way.”

  “And I’m sorry I was detained,” Casey said smoothly. “I had an important call I had to take.” She extended her hand to each girl. “I’m Casey Woods, president of Forensic Instincts.” Her brows drew together. “And you have me at a disadvantage. Which of you is Gia and which of you is Danielle?”

  The girls clarified, each one shaking Casey’s hand and thanking her for seeing them. As Casey had hoped, her presence and supportive attitude seemed to take the
ir anxiety down a notch. It helped even more when she told Gia that Marc’s wedding had been incredible and that she was obviously a planning genius.

  “It helped that I was working with such a terrific couple,” Gia replied. “It’s not usually that easy.”

  “I bet.” Casey was leading them down the hall to the meeting room. Small talk was over. It was time to switch gears. “Marc filled us in on the sketchy details you told him. He felt strongly about seeing you tonight, and I trust his instincts. My team and I are ready to hear your entire story.”

  “Thank you,” Danielle said earnestly. “We’re pretty freaked out.” She pursed her lips in a gesture that screamed Lina.

  Casey was having enough trouble tamping down her reaction. She prayed the team could pull it off. Whatever the triplet tie was, they had to figure it out before Gia and Danielle did.

  Pushing the half-open door wide, Casey led the girls in. She watched the team’s faces as she made the necessary introductions, and she was incredibly proud of them. Not a flicker of awareness was demonstrated, not even from Emma. Bravo, Casey thought to herself as she gestured for their new clients to have a seat.

  Without realizing it, Dani helped diffuse any lingering tension.

  “What an exquisite bloodhound.” She gazed at Hero and then at Casey, her brows lifted in question. “May I?”

  “By all means.” Casey gestured for her to approach Hero, a slight smile curving her lips. “You might be sorry. He’s a shameless beggar and attention seeker.”

  “I’ll take my chances,” Dani replied, also smiling. She walked over to Hero, squatted down, and offered him her hand to sniff. “I read about you, Hero. But you’re far more handsome than your photo.”

  Hero took a few whiffs of her hand, then wagged his tail and rewarded Dani with an enthusiastic lick and a hopeful look.

 
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