Now, sixteen years later, the Bradley family is crumbling. Paul and Gina have drifted apart and are only going through the motions of a marriage for Angela's twin, Rachel. But Rachel is beginning to act like a total stranger, and they begin to wonder if she isn't suffering from the same problems that plagued her sister.
When Rachel disappears just after Christmas, Paul and Gina are forced to pull togetherfor the sake of their family, for their very survival. Because someone has unleashed a vengeful fury on the Bradleys.
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By Meg O'Brien
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
The shots came from just beyond the door - two sharp pops in rapid succession.
Lauren Brownley's head jerked up. She stared at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. Her eyes were so wide they seemed to fill her ashen face. The only gunfire she had ever heard before had been on television or in the movies, but she recognized the sound instantly, and it sent a chill down her spine.
Her first instinct was to run. She shut off the faucet and darted a frantic look around the ladies' rest room for an escape route, but other than the high window that opened onto the alley, there was none.
Out in the lounge someone cried out in agony. Lauren's scalp crawled. She stared at the door, gripping the edge of the counter behind her with wet hands. It was after hours. Except for her boss, Carlo Giovessi, who had retreated to his office when they had parted company ten minutes ago, the Club Classico was supposed to be empty.
Dear God, had he encountered a burglar? If so, which one of them had been shot?
After casting another desperate look around, Lauren swallowed hard and crept across the tile floor to the entrance. She reached out to push the door open but at the last instant jerked her hand back. Her heart beat double-time when she realized the mistake she had almost made. If there was a burglarout there with a gun the last thing she wanted to do was reveal her presence.
The moaning on the other side of the door hit another crescendo that made Lauren jump and flick the light switch off. In the darkness, she pressed her lips together and eased the door open a crack.
Lauren caught her breath. Three men stood on the dance floor near the piano. Two of them she had seen around the nightclub, but she had no idea who they were. The third man - the one with the gun in his hand - was Carlo.
At his feet a man writhed on the floor clutching his bloodied legs with both hands. Lauren nearly gagged when she realized that he had been shot in both kneecaps.
Groaning and gasping, the man rolled onto his side, facing her. Surprise shot through Lauren. It was Frank Pappano!
Two months ago, when she had first started playing the piano in the lounge, Carlo had introduced Frank as a business associate. Since then she had seen him around the club frequently, but she didn't know him. Nor did she want to.
Frank was considerably younger than Carlo, somewhere in his mid-thirties, and handsome enough, if you liked the swarthy type. On several occasions he had tried to flirt with her, but she had pretended not to notice. There was something cold and soulless about Frank that made her skin crawl.
Even so, he didn't deserve to be shot. She couldn't believe Carlo had done such a thing.
Lauren leaned her forehead against the door frame and closed her eyes. Dear God, what a fool she'd been. She had read the allegations in the newspaper and heard the talk, and since coming to work at the Club Classico she'd noticed the rough characters going in and out of Carlo's office, but she had blocked it all out. Like an ostrich with its head in the sand, she thought with disgust.
Granted, deep down she had felt uneasy, but she'd refused to examine the matter. After all Carlo had done for her, merely having suspicions had made her feel disloyal.
And now just look at what your blindness has done for you.
Oh God, she couldn't believe this! "You shot me! Jesus Christ, Carlo! Why? Ahhhh, shit, my knees! My knees!"
Carlo Giovessi's shock of white hair and distinguished face gave him the look of a stern patriarch even when he was enjoying himself, which made his slow smile even more chilling. "Don't play games with me, Frank. You know why. You stole from me. I can't allow that."
Without taking his gaze from Frank, Carlo snapped his fingers, and one of the other men handed him a square, plastic-wrapped bundle. He opened the package, picked up some of the contents and trickled white powder down on Frank. "This last load of coke you picked up for me is mostly sugar." He hefted the package experimentally and pursed his lips. "Too bad you got greedy. It might've worked if you hadn't skimmed off so much. That was stupid, Frank."
His demeanor changed in a blink, and he delivered a vicious kick to Frank's leg. Frank's scream made the hairs on Lauren's neck stand on end.
"You little prick," Carlo snarled. "Did you really think you could steal almost half my coke and get away with it?"
"No, Carlo. I didn't skim. Swear to God, man! It...it must've been those damned suppliers! They're the ones ch-cheating you. Not me. You know I wouldn't do that! Ahhh, Christ, my knees!"
"I'm running out of patience, Frank. And you're running out of time."
Even in the dim light, Lauren saw Frank's face pale.
"I'm doing you a favor. You know I don't soil my hands with this sort of thing anymore. But this ... this is personal. Because it's you, I decided to handle this myself. I owe you that much."
Frank's groans turned to blubbery weeping. "Jesus, Carlo, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, man. Please. Please, don't kill me."
"You've worked for me a lotta years, Frank. I took you off the streets when you were just a kid. I trained you. Christ, I treated you like a son, you fucking scumbag."
"Please, Carlo, don't kill me. Don't kill me. Please! Please, man! I'm beggin' you! It'll never happen again! Swear to God! I'll do anything! Anything! Just don't kill me!" He rolled on the floor, clutching his knees, his contorted face streaming sweat. "Oh God, oh God, oh God."
"Save your breath, Frank. You were a dead man the first time you stole from me. Now it's just a question of when and how you die, and that's up to you. You tell me where you stashed my goods and I'll kill you quick. Stall, and you'll soon be begging me to kill you."
"Christ, man, if you'll just listen -"
"Those are your only choices, Franco," Carlo said with deadly calm. "And I warn you, lie to me, and I'll kill your family, too.
"I don't want to do that. You know how fond I am of Maria and little Frank and Mario. It always distresses me to kill women and children, but you know I don't make idle threats.
"So, unless you want that pretty little wife and those boys of yours to suffer, too, then you'd better not lie." Carlo leaned forward and smiled. "Now then, Frank, you got three seconds. Either you tell me where I can find my goods or the next shot is going into your balls."
Excerpted from Crimson Rain by Meg O'Brien Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.