A forced impersonation, a binding contract, and a sheriff’s deputy she would give up everything for.
Brianna Spencer has never been the favored daughter. That place has always been reserved for her identical twin sister, Briony. Briony crushes anyone that stands between her and her wants. Until the fateful night, she sneaks out to a party and disappears from her doting parents’ lives forever. Thus, Brianna’s plans for a quiet life are thrown into chaos as she is coerced to pay the price for her sister’s selfishness.
For ten years, Brianna has been forced into assuming her socialite sister’s identity. Now, at age twenty-seven, Brianna begins to wonder if she will ever break free of her sister’s identity and live out her own dreams.
Jackson McCord loathes liars. Raised by parents who conned anyone and everyone, Jackson could spin a lie and have the person swear it was the truth. Until his parents were arrested when he was twelve and a cop saved him. A man he learned to respect and who taught him that dishonesty has consequences. Then he meets Brianna Spencer, a woman he never expected to fall for and one whose entire existence is a lie.
One twin dead. One twin sacrificed for her family’s sanity. And a man who pierces the veil of lies and sees the true heart of the living twin. Can Jackson pull her from the mire of deception? Or will Brianna stay enshrouded in her dead sister’s shadow?
Jackson McCord pulled his Crown Vic between the two stone columns of the driveway. The winding drive was picturesque with the trees ranging from the deepest greens on the junipers to the silver-green oaks. A small pond surrounded by medium-sized rocks was almost hidden amidst the bushes in full bloom.
Everything spoke of class, elegance, and wealth. No gaudy pinks or purples appeared anywhere in the landscape, only the softest of pastels and purest white dared bloom in this environment. Thinking he’d taken a wrong turn, Jackson exhaled in relief when he finally spotted the sprawling three-story mansion set in the middle of a lush green lawn. Ivy crept up one side as if it were an old English manor even though they were in the middle of Alabama.
Before he could park, a man in a bright red vest and matching bow tie with sharply creased black pants and white button-down shirt jogged to Jackson’s window. A look of distaste on the man’s face as his eyes swept over Jackson’s beat up vehicle. “Are you here for the Garden Society tea as well, sir?”
“No, ” Jackson grabbed his badge from the passenger seat and held it up. “I’m here to see Mr. and Mrs. Spencer.”
Shock widened the man’s eyes before a professional blankness smoothed it over. “Pull around to the side, I’ll alert Ms. Williams to meet you.”
Jackson tipped his chin and shifted his car into drive to follow the paved path the man gestured towards.
Manicured Japanese Box hedges flowed across the front of the house, guiding him further down the paved drive then around to the other side of the intimidating structure. There were expensive homes in Chicago, but none in the inner city where Jackson had worked before he moved to Alabama.
Everything in the south felt languid and lazy. Seeing a parking area to the right, he swung in and parked his car. After taking the file and his badge, he stepped stepping into the overly warm spring air, he realized this was where the servants parked.
Rusted hatchbacks, older model sedans, and sedate vans were clustered together. A bustling woman in a pressed black dress, her dark hair pulled into a severe bun at the nape of her neck hurried to his side.
“Mr. McCord?” the woman asked, her lips twisted in disdain.
“Deputy, ma’am. And you’re Ms. Williams?” He passed her his badge.
“I am,” came the clipped reply.
Her onyx eyes scrutinized the badge, then him for what felt like an eternity, until she finally passed it back to him. Gesturing impatiently for him to follow her as if he were the one that kept her waiting, she swept ahead of him. Waiters and waitress scattered as she cut through the kitchen and wove deeper into the house.
It was a novelty. Most were either intimidated by his six-foot-four heavily muscled frame, his badge, or his perpetual frown. None had treated him as an inconvenience — none except the nuns that had taught his classes long ago.
“You can wait here while I get Mrs. Spencer. Would you like tea or water?” she asked grudgingly.
He looked around the posh library he’d been led to. Deep wine-colored armchairs faced a large desk with a globe tucked into a corner behind it. Two windows behind the desk allowed the sunlight to stream in brightening the room. Dark wood floors matched the floor to ceiling shelves that housed leather bound books. Curious, Jackson stepped closer to the shelf that had a glass door, his steps muffled by the Aubusson red and gold rug.
A throat cleared behind him before he could examine what titles rested within the glass-enclosed shelf.
Turning, he answered. “Deputy McCord, ma’am. Are you Mrs. Bianca Spencer?”
The woman in front of him looked to be in her early fifties. Ash blonde hair fell in a perfect curve to her shoulders, framing a heart-shaped face that held few wrinkles. A trim figure dressed in a pale green silk sheath with a darker green tunic jacket. In a glance, Jackson could tell the woman came from money. Her air of entitlement and ease with her surroundings and command of everyone in them alerted Jackson that Bianca would not welcome questions. At least not from a lowly deputy.
From the discreet emerald and diamond earrings dangling from her ears to the matching necklace down to the ring that nestled on the finger of her right hand. These were the people Jackson’s parents strove to meet. These were their gold standard when going in for a con. Wealthy socialites who looked down on everyone else and considered themselves the smartest, most ruthless people in the room. These had been Jackson’s parents’ bread and butter until he had turned them in.
The silence between them stretched. Jackson had played many a power game. With his parents when they forced him to participate in their cons and later with gangbangers and killers when he worked Detroit’s streets. He wondered how long the woman would last before she broke the silence. Because between the two of them, she’d be the first to break.
Finally, she released an annoyed huff. “Quite obviously I’m Bianca Spencer. As if my staff are incompetent.”
The ‘as you are apparently’ was more than implied. Jackson allowed the insult to pass over him since he was there to impart the harshest news a parent would ever hear.
She gestured toward an armchair, moving ahead of him to take the other. Her heeled sandals made no sound as she crossed the expensive rug, gracefully perching on the edge of the leather chair.
Taking the hint, Jackson sat at an angle to face her. “Is there someone else that can be here with you?”
She waved a hand between them. “I’m perfectly capable of hearing whatever you have to say without being coddled, Deputy McCord. Now, tell me what you need, because I have guests in my back garden.”
He cleared his throat. This was the hard part. “I’m sure you’ve followed the news about the serial killer?”
When none fell, he continued, “Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry to say, it is.”
He didn’t add anything about the body that had been dug up. Nor about the woman’s daughter being one of the serial killer’s first victims. Though he couldn’t say if the body in their morgue was Brianna. Instead, he patted her hand in comfort only to have her quickly jerk it away.
At a loss, he decided to get all the information out at once and deal with Mrs. Spencer’s emotional state afterward. “Her body was found among the grave site he gave us.”
He waited for her to breakdown. This was her daughter they were discussing. Waited for tears or a sharp denial to pass her lips. But there was nothing. No change of expression beyond cool indifference. No histrionics about her daughter being dead. No paleness or shock. Not even a dilation of her pupils. No reaction.
Mrs. Spencer gave a disdainful wave. “Well, it wasn’t anything we didn’t already expect, Deputy. She’s been missing for over ten years now.” A haughty sniff as if even having this conversation was tedious when to her the matter had been settled long ago. “So, our family’s come to terms with her being gone.”
Jackson tried to hide his shock at how cold Bianca was. None of his time on the police force, nor his time at the Sheriff’s Department prepared him for this kind of reaction. Trying to give the woman the benefit of the doubt, Jackson thought maybe she would mourn after he left.
Clearing his throat, he dug into the other reason he was there. Jackson shifted the file around so he could open it. “That’s the thing we’re confused about, Mrs. Spencer. We were sent personal effects for Briony Spencer by the FBI. A purse that still contained her wallet with Briony’s driver’s license as well as three credit cards. It also held a cell phone, again in the name of Briony Spencer as well as texts sent to her. The DNA we obtained from the body also came back as belonging to Briony Spencer–“
Bianca’s eyes grew colder the more Jackson laid out for her. “That’s impossible. Briony is in the back garden as we speak. Your people have quite obviously confused her things with Brianna’s. Though I’m not surprised, I’ve heard a lot
Jackson clenched his jaw to keep from lambasting the woman and instead counted to ten. There were so many markers they had collected from the site that pointed to the dead woman being Briony he had a hard time believing she was anywhere in the vicinity.
However, he couldn’t afford to say something he would later regret, especially if Mrs. Spencer was as well connected as he thought. Taking a deep breath, he tried to reason with the delusional woman. “If the samples were properly taken and cataloged they can’t be confused, Mrs. Spencer.”
“Well, quite obviously someone has made a mistake. Probably because they’re twins. Briony is here. Twins are harder since their basic genes are the same.” She waved a hand and pushed to her feet. “I’ll have Ms. Williams fetch her.”
Jackson already knew that identical twins could have identical DNA with just the basic testing, but the woman wasn’t listening to anything he shared, so he decided to not say anything about it and see what happened next.
Bianca stepped from the room, and Jackson scratched his head.
Confusion twined into him. Could there have been a mix-up when the crime scene people took the samples ten years ago? If the samples were taken correctly then there shouldn’t be a mix-up. If Mrs. Spencer was adamant that Briony was here, then that had to mean Brianna was the girl in the morgue. But if that were the case why the heck would she have all of Briony’s things? It didn’t make sense.
Either the lab had mixed up the samples which was highly doubtful, but could have happened. Or the twin about to step through that door wouldn’t be Briony.
As a cop, Jackson liked his cases to at least make some logical sense when he closed them. However, this wasn’t his case; it was the FBI’s, and they had the guy who had murdered the young women, none over the age of twenty-three. Jackson’s only job now was to notify next-of-kin and get the paperwork handled. It should’ve been routine.
To him, the twins looked nothing alike. Pulling the missing person’s flyer for Brianna from the manila folder, he also took Briony’s driver’s license. Superficially, yes, they were mirror images of each other. But anyone who stopped and looked at them side-by-side should see the differences. Briony’s face held cool calculation mixed with
In the deepest part of him, where few of his dreams still lived, he prayed the twin about to step through that door was Brianna. Because the world had enough hard, brittle people in it, but dreamers, the human race sure could use more of them.
Within a few minutes, Bianca returned with her daughter in tow. “See, Briony is right here.”
The daughter looked uncomfortable, her gaze remained fixed on her open-toed shoes, and her face composed, but not closed.
“Are you Briony Spencer?” Jackson asked, tucking everything back into the folder and closing it.
“Of course, she is. I just said
“I know you did, ma’am but I need to hear it from her.” He pointed at the still silent figure standing next to Bianca.
“For heaven’s sake. This is Briony, so quite obviously you found Brianna.”
A gasp passed the daughter’s pink lips. Hope brightened her expression, and she lifted her gaze to her mother’s. “Alive?”
Bianca made an impatient sound. “Of course, not alive, Briony. What a silly question.”
The sparkle morphed to sadness as Briony’s eyes dropped again. This was the reaction Jackson had expected from Bianca.
“How?” she asked, her lips barely moving. Elegant fingers twisted together as she turned to him for answers. Her gaze never rising to meet his.
“It was that dreadful serial killer.” A pale pink nail wagged at Briony. “And don’t you cry for her. This house has seen enough mourning for that girl. She should never have run off.”
A single tear trailed from the corner of Briony’s left eye down her flushed cheek. “Yes, ma’am.”
“We still need to understand how the ID and DNA both show Briony instead of Brianna?” Pushing the weird interaction aside, Jackson focused on Bianca.
“A mistake, just as I said. We still have both girls’ rooms intact, so Briony can run upstairs and get another sample for you to test.” Bianca tapped her foot.
“No, you’ll go get it now, Briony and I won’t listen to another word.”
Jackson stood. “I’ll need to be present to note the samples.”
He refused to be blamed if this woman claimed there was yet another
He had never had any family notification go anything like this. No mother he knew of showed this much disinterest and annoyance when their child died. Hell, even the church-going mother of a dealer had pulled a gun on Jackson in Chicago during a notification, and from all reports, the woman had washed her hands of her boy years before.
“Fine. Briony, come here.”
Briony sighed but moved closer to her mother. Jerking away with a yelp when her mother plucked several strands of hair from her head. “Here. That’s a start. Briony can take you to her sister’s room for the other sample.”
He refrained from stating they needed to swab her cheek in case Bianca snatched the kit and jammed it in the poor woman’s mouth. Patience was a virtue he had in abundance, usually. In this instance, his patience wore thin with Bianca. He wanted to see Briony’s eyes dammit. She’d kept them either cast down, peeking through her thick golden lashes or on her mother. If Jackson could get a solid look into their depths, he would know if he was speaking to Briony or Brianna.
Manners were drilled into him from the time he was born, so he tipped his head in acknowledgment. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“I’m going back to the party before we’re missed.” Bianca swept from the room, leaving confusion and expensive perfume whirling in her wake.
“She doesn’t seem upset.” Unable to keep the censure from his voice, Jackson took an evidence bag from the file folder, opened it and placed the strands of hair within it. Then pulling the tab to seal it. “I’m going to need to do a cheek swab.”
With Bianca taking the lead and offering it made his job much easier. No pesky warrant would be needed.
“We can do all of it. After you bag your other sample.”
“As for her not being upset.” Briony shrugged, dejected. “We’ve been expecting news like this for a while.” She raked her plush lip between her teeth. “Did she suffer?”
Disbelief at the absurd question pushed Jackson over the edge as he bit off every word. “What do you think? From what your mother said you all watched the news and heard about this guy.”
A soft sound passed the woman’s lips, her face losing the little color it had.
Unmerciful, he continued. Drilling into every detail. “Which means you know the man was a serial killer who raped and tortured his victims before strangling them.”
Finally, the shell of calm around the woman broke with a sob. “I begged her not to go. Told her I would call Mother and Father–“
“But you didn’t. Did your cell run out of power? Did the maid not plug it in for you? And you didn’t know how to do it yourself.” It was a struggle to keep the sneer that coated the words from his face as well. He’d heard all the lies and excuses before from his own parents. Con artists
She shook her head, the burnished bronze locks shimmered under the light as she slumped against the desk. “No, we were grounded. So, no cell. But I tried using the landline.”
He had to hand it to her, she was a much better actor than his parents had ever been. “No cell? But a cell was found with her belongings. And we know it was hers based on the texts.”
Briony half-shrugged. “My sister could wrap my parents around her finger, she probably talked our father into returning it early. Or just took it from the safe in his office.”
“But not you?” He wanted to feel some sympathy, but at the moment it was beyond him. If this woman would’ve called someone, maybe her sister’s death could have been prevented.
When she remained silent, he pushed. “So, you called your parents. And what? Your parents wouldn’t come?” His need to know what happened to drive a seventeen-year-old girl into a car with a stranger was paramount. He needed answers. Not that it would explain the senseless death, but it usually helped the survivors deal with the aftermath. To allow the poison to be released.
“No, my sister had disabled the landline.” The woman snatched a few tissues from the box that perched on the corner of the desk, using them to swipe under her eyes. “She knew me. Knew I wouldn’t let her get us into even more trouble. Especially, since it was Halloween. All the crazies come out during Halloween.”
Seeing the tattered remains of her control struggle to return, it finally hit home that at least this family member had cared. She wasn’t trying to play on his emotions. Clasping her slim-fingered hand briefly, he offered her what comfort he could. “Your sister didn’t suffer.”
Hope shone from the red-rimmed, watery orbs as they latched on to his. “She didn’t?”
Relief poured into him at seeing the gorgeous eyes he’d become attached to through a photograph. Swallowing convulsively, he struggled to hold her piercing gaze. “No, she was either his first victim or one of the first, because when he dosed her, he used too much of the drug. She died before ever being touched.”
“I wouldn’t say it if I wasn’t. Your sister was one of the lucky ones.”
A soft snort came from the woman. The sound was incongruous with what he had seen so far. “I wouldn’t call her lucky, but of the two choices… then yeah, falling asleep and dying is a lot better option than a slow torturous death.”
His gaze tangled with hers again. The pure blue held a hint of gold.
When he’d been given the task of breaking the news to this family, he’d been drawn to Brianna’s picture over and over. Her eyes were the purest of blues mixed with just a hint of gold. As if the sunlight were trapped behind the sky. Briony’s eyes were a hard, dark blue. As if a dangerous predator lurked beneath those depths.
Every instinct he had told him this wasn’t Briony, but Brianna. However, the FBI didn’t close victim reports on feelings, they closed them based on evidence. He knew the DNA evidence would bear him out. It would also rip apart whatever game this girl was playing with her family.
Questions swirled in his head. Was it for money? Was Briony set for a larger portion of the estate than Brianna? Or was it the need to be seen by her parents? Because based on Bianca’s reaction, she didn’t care for Brianna at all.
“Now that she’s out of the room, I need to tell you…” The woman’s eyes darted back to the door her mother had closed, before meeting his again.
Curious, Jackson arched a brow, his pen poised to write on the evidence bag. Wondering what would come out of her lying mouth next, he waited.