A face to die for, p.22
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       A Face to Die For, p.22

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
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  “I’m glad you’re having fun.” Gia was angry—angry and scared. “But doesn’t taunting him escalate the danger?”

  Ryan was stunned by the barb. “Not to my way of thinking, no. Sure, he’ll get pissed off. But he’s the IT guy, not the big boss. He’ll report in and they’ll try to figure out another way to keep tabs on you.”

  “That sounds like escalated danger to me.”

  “I…” Ryan was in way over his head and sinking deeper. He dealt in facts. Dealing with emotional freak-out was not his thing.

  He shot Claire an imploring look.

  She picked up on it at once. “Please don’t let your imaginations run wild,” she said in that calming way of hers. “Ryan just removed your invasion of privacy. That’s a huge relief. I know you’re freaked out. I don’t blame you. But I agree with Ryan that this won’t up the danger. This spyware guy is just a pawn. And remember, he was hired only to keep tabs on what you do now that you’ve found each other. He’s not some perv who’s stalking and ogling you.” Even as she spoke, Claire had the oddest feeling that that wasn’t quite right. Something more was going on here. And whatever it was sent a shiver up her spine.

  Her reassurances, however, seem to have the desired effect, as both Gia and Dani settled down.

  “I’m sorry I snapped,” Gia apologized to Ryan. “My nerves are just frayed.”

  “No sweat. I understand.” Ryan shot Claire an I-owe-you-one look. She responded with an I-intend-to-collect look.

  “Now that you know about the spyware, what’s next?” Dani asked Ryan.

  “I’m running traces on the hacker’s origin. But I want to cover all bases. Which means we need to make lists of everyone you know. Just in case,” he added quickly. “I’m not leaning in the direction of any of them being guilty.”

  “You want a complete list of everyone we know?” Practical realization struck, and Gia sounded like she’d been asked to boil the ocean.

  “That’s the drill, yeah. Family, friends, boyfriends—including exes—co-workers, acquaintances, potential enemies.”

  “Ryan.” Gia clearly couldn’t wrap her mind around this one. “I’ve handled more weddings than I can count, most of them with at least one snarky bride, mother-of-the-bride, or wedding party participant. Who knows how many people I’ve pissed off ? Or how many people I’ve interacted with during the planning stages?”

  “I’m not in a much better position,” Dani added. “My circle of contacts is smaller than Gia’s, but, in addition to all the other vets at my clinic, the techs, and the support staff, I see dozens of pet owners a week, not to mention my veterinary network. I go to conferences, attend meetings, cross paths with so many others in my field. That list alone would be crushing and, most likely, incomplete.”

  “Good point.” Casey could see the agitation re-escalating, and she wasn’t about to let it happen. Enough buttons had been pushed already. “Since we’ve determined that that’s the least likely scenario, why don’t you both just list the regulars in your lives? That’s a strong start. Later today, skim your emails, contact lists, and work files and see if anyone you had negative dealings with jumps out at you. I think that should be sufficient, right, Ryan?”

  Ryan got the hint. Casey wasn’t asking; she was telling him to put the brakes on.

  “Right,” he said. He produced two legal-sized notepads, pausing before he passed them over to Gia and Dani. “Can we do the basics now?” He was asking Casey as much as he was asking their clients.

  Casey scrutinized Gia and Dani to assess their state of mind. No sign of panic at the suggestion. Just two tired nods.

  “Yes, I think that would be fine,” she told him. “It shouldn’t take more than an hour, maybe less.”

  It actually took fifty minutes, because that’s when Casey called a halt. The girls were starting to grasp at straws, and that would only deplete them and waste time.

  “Go home and chew on it,” she said. “We’ll start with what we’ve got.”

  “Just one last question.” Marc spoke up. “Is there anyone on this list who you’ve discussed even a small part of the investigation with?”

  “No one.” Gia gave an adamant shake of her head. “Except, obviously, my parents.”

  “Same here.” Dani placed her empty coffee mug on the table. “I haven’t even told Gabe and he’s left me about ten text and phone messages. I don’t know what to say to him.”

  “Just tell him what you told your veterinary practice,” Casey replied. “That you’re dealing with a family crisis—one you’re too upset about to discuss right now. Spend as much time talking with him as you want. Just find a way to do that without divulging info on Gia or the investigation.”

  A stricken look. “That’s the problem. I already told him about my Facebook connection with Gia and how I was leaving Cleveland to fly to New York to meet my look-alike. I even sent him a few photos of Gia and me together.”

  “That’s not a problem. What about afterwards, during the couple of days you were home? You didn’t mention the mugging or the fire, did you?”

  “No.” Dani shook her head. “I kept all that to myself. Especially once I knew we were contacting you. My texts with Gabe were pretty brief. His schedule was jam-packed, and he assumed I was playing catch-up at the clinic. But now it’s been a while and he’s concerned—so what do I say? I can’t give him details about my family crisis.”

  “Let him know it’s a bad situation—one you’ve been asked to keep confidential,” Marc replied. “Stick to the truth without elaborating on what’s really going on. After that, talk about other relationship things.”

  “Okay.” Dani nodded.

  “Most of all, call him back,” Casey said emphatically. “He’s clearly worried. Plus, the longer you wait, the harder it will be to dodge questions and explain why you’ve been ignoring him. Once you tell him what a hard time you’re going through with your family, he’ll understand if you only send brief texts and don’t call for a while. He’ll know you’re short on time and shorter on emotional strength.”

  “I’ll call him from Mr. Nickels’ car on the way back to Gia’s place.” Dani pushed back her chair and rose. “After that, I need some time to prepare myself for seeing my parents and helping them through the initial trauma.” A quick glance at Patrick. “Are we okay on the updated logistics?”

  “Yes.” His tone and expression were calm and in control. “Your parents will land this afternoon and be driven directly to their hotel, where they’ll check in and get settled. You’ll be waiting there for them. Afterwards, John will drive you to the Russos’. Gia will already be there.”

  “Then let’s get this day underway.” Gia glanced at her watch. “I have to go into the office for a while; they’re starting to wonder where I am. I also have a client meeting, but you already know that. I’ll be ready for the evening way ahead of time.”

  Dani sighed. “I doubt I’ll ever be ready.”

  Gia squeezed her hand. “We’ll do this together, just like we did with my parents. After tonight, we’ll just have a bigger, closer family. And Forensic Instincts will keep us all safe.”

  Gia’s words were a prayer and a plea.

 
Casey planned to make them a reality.

  CHAPTER 24

  Gabe sounded pretty frantic when Dani called him back.

  “Are you okay?” he demanded over the sound of running water. “I’m freaking out here. All I’ve gotten from you in days are a few I’ll-talk-to-you-later texts. I’m torn between thinking something’s very wrong and thinking you’re dumping me.”

  Dani shut her eyes and leaned her head back against the smooth leather of the backseat of the car. She visualized Gabe, setting up his water treadmill and worrying about her. Casey had been right. She’d only screwed things up more by delaying this call. But she’d been such a wreck. She was also a horrible liar. She’d have to follow Marc’s advice: the truth, but only bare bones.

  “I’m so sorry, Gabe.” Her voice rang with genuine regret and equally genuine anguish. “I didn’t mean to freak you out. I’m just a mess. My family is going through a real crisis, and I’ve been with them day and night. I can’t seem to focus on anything else. Of course I’m not dumping you. In fact, hearing your voice means more than I can say.”

  The sound of running water ceased. “What kind of crisis? Is someone ill?”

  Here came the hard part. “I…” Dani choked back a sob, which—even though it was as real as it gets—she supposed would help her cause. “I can’t talk about it. It’s very personal and it involves confidences I can’t break. Just know that, if I could discuss it, you’d be the one I’d do it with. And when I can, I will.”

  “Okay.” Reluctant acceptance. “How can I help?”

  “Just be there when I need to talk. Understand when I can’t. And focus on all the feelings we rediscovered when I was in Cleveland.”

  “That part’s easy.” Gabe’s tone was tender. “Do you want me to fly to New York? I could at least be there for you while you work this through.”

  Dani swallowed hard. “No, but thanks. It’s easier for me to cope with this alone. I promise I’ll make it up to you.”

  “You don’t have to make it up to me. Just know that I’m here if you need me—whenever you need me.” A pause, during which Dani heard Gabe call out to someone. “I’m sorry, Dani,” he said. “My next patient just arrived—a Papillion who’s recovering from patella surgery. I’ve got a back-to-back day and a ton of files to update after that. But can we talk later? Maybe tonight?”

  “I’ll text you.” Dani never thought she’d be relieved to get off the phone with Gabe, but she was immensely so. She couldn’t do this anymore, not now. “I’ll be with my family. But even if we can’t talk, we can text. Please understand. I’m stretched as thin as I can be without breaking.”

  “You won’t break. You’re too strong for that. And I do understand. Now go do what you have to. Text me when you can. And remember that I’m thinking of you.”

  “I’m thinking of you, too,” Dani replied quietly.

  She disconnected the call and blew out a slow breath.

  “You did great,” Gia said.

  Dani turned her head toward her sister. “It was tough—really tough. But I think I managed to control the situation.”

  “From my end, it sounded like you did. Was he angry?”

  “Gabe is a pretty sensitive guy. So, no, he wasn’t angry. I’m sure he has a million questions. But he’ll be patient. Hopefully, it won’t be long before this whole nightmare is over and I can fill him in.”

  Gia nodded, seized by an unexpected pang of emptiness. “I’ve never felt like I was missing something by not having a serious guy in my life. I’m all about my career. But right now, I really envy what you and Gabe have got. Hold on to it.”

  “I plan to.” Dani chewed her lip, visibly hesitant about whether or not she was about to overstep her bounds, and then deciding to go for it. “Open yourself up a little more, Gia. Let people in. Show a teeny bit of the vulnerability that I’ve seen you show with me and with your parents. The right guy will find you.”

  A small smile curved Gia’s lips. “You mean leave the bulldozer at work?”

  “Something like that.”

  “Thanks for the advice. We’ve known each other for such a short time, and yet you know me so well. I’m used to running the show and managing people. My family’s been the only exception. But it’s time I separated personal and professional and opened myself up to some possibilities. I’ll work on it.”

  “I’m glad. Sorry if I overstepped.”

  “You didn’t. You’re my twin.” Gia still savored the word. If anything could soften her tough exterior, it was finding Dani.

  Abruptly, her thoughts shifted. “Let’s talk about tonight and about your parents.”

  * * *

  Gabe swore under his breath. Gripping his cell phone, he sank down on the chair next to his water treadmill. How could he have been so stupid? Slipping up like that, telling her he’d visit her in New York? He shouldn’t have a clue she’d be in New York. His assumption should be that she’d be home in Minneapolis, right there with her family.

  Shit. Shit. Shit.

  He dragged a hand through his hair, trying to calm his racing heart. She hadn’t picked up on his screw-up. She couldn’t have. Because, if she had, she would have said something. Plus, she’d barely been focused. She was too freaked out about her life. And if the realization struck her later, he’d figure out some way to explain it away. She’d believe him. She trusted him. She fucking trusted him. It would be okay.

  He’d almost convinced himself by the end of the day when his last recuperating dog had gone home.

  He was just going through his files, adding his pets’ therapy updates, when his phone rang again. A dark premonition shot through him. What if Dani were calling to demand answers? What if she’d guessed?

  The “anonymous” on his caller ID put that fear to rest and raised another.

  Reluctantly, he answered. “Hello.”

  “What the hell is going on there?” the familiar voice demanded. “I haven’t heard from you in two fucking days. What are you pulling off her computer? What is she saying? What is she doing? And why am I paying you if you’re not doing a goddamned thing?”

  Gabe swallowed hard. “You know the situation, Mr. Carp.” Yeah. Mr. Carp, my ass. “Things have changed. You’re the one who told me about the investigators Danielle and her sister are working with. They’re good. Very good. Dani and Gia knew their phones and Facebook accounts had been hacked. Once the Forensic Instincts team heard that, the first thing they must have done was to shut down any telling communications on the twins’ computers. Which is why I’m only seeing innocuous Google searches and emails to Dani’s friends and co-workers. It’s only a matter of time before Forensic Instincts blocks the video and audio feeds, after which I won’t pick up much of anything.”

  “Then find another way.” There was a level of unleashed fury in Mr. Carp’s tone that scared the shit out of Gabe. “I don’t care how. You’re sleeping with the bitch. Get her to talk to you, to spill her guts. I’ve got to know where things stand.”

  “I’m trying.”

  “Try harder. Otherwise, you’re dispensable.”

  The phone line went dead and Gabe dropped his head into his hands. What had he
gotten himself into?

  When Al Carp—or whatever the hell his real name was—had first approached him with this job, it had seemed like a gift from the gods, even if Carp did look more like a hitman than a businessman. With cold eyes and an ominous tone, the heavily muscled gorilla told Gabe that he knew all about his preoccupation with Danielle Murano, and that he also knew about Gabe’s side jobs in technical support for extra cash. How the gorilla had known all that had been unknown and unexplained. What was explained was that Dani was in danger—from the deadbeat who was her biological father—and that Gabe was just the man to ensure her safety.

  The allure was too much to resist. Not only would Gabe get to keep tabs on and protect the woman he’d never stopped loving, but he’d be in her life every day—even if she didn’t know he was there. He’d be able to watch her, hear her, and reclaim a piece of the past. Plus, he’d be well compensated for something he would have done for free.

  He was in before the gorilla finished laying out the terms.

  Gabe had gone to the veterinary convention to seek out Dani and to figure out a way to upload the spyware onto her computer. The rest had been a dream come true. Discovering that what they’d had was still simmering beneath the surface and that it was mutual? That Dani wanted him as much as he wanted her?

  Gabe had been blown away. It didn’t matter that Dani hadn’t even remembered that she’d been the one to end things—and at the very worst time. Gabe had planned to propose marriage the very night she’d suggested they take a time-out to grow as individuals rather than as a couple. So how could she know he’d spent six years fantasizing about what should have been? About the life and the family that should have been theirs?

 
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