Collateral Attraction – Fire and Ice Book 1


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Even though my twin sister Blythe assures me that the woman in the mirror is beautiful, she’s still a stranger—even if that woman is me. Why I ever agreed with her crazy idea to be made over to look like her, I can’t remember now, though it must have been the jet lag from my Sacramento to New York flight on the red-eye two days ago.

“Stop looking at me like that,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Deep inside, I know you love every minute of this.”

And she’s right. Deep down, I love every minute of it because, in two weeks, I’ll be back to my old life of shaving my legs only when I feel like it and walking around town without a trace of make-up.

But what’s not to like about girly-girl manicures and pedicures? And then there was that 24-carat facial by aestheticians who trimmed my eyebrows and attached my eyelash extensions, followed by the waxing specialists who would have waxed off every inch of hair from my body if they could. Even my entire wardrobe has been replaced with Blythe’s collection of designer clothes, from my paisley dresses and no-name canvas shoes I’d worn on the plane, to the box-store brand jeans and t-shirts, I’d hastily thrown into my suitcase.

Still, it’s fun to see people’s faces the moment they see us together, 23-year old identical twins dressed in similar clothes and high heels, even if I did almost stumble twice. A little girl even said we both looked like her dolls, with our long dark hair, green eyes, and matching smiles, though only one of us had to contend with painful braces.

Today she’s shopping on Madison Avenue like it’s going out of style, handing out her Gold card like she’s never heard of a credit limit. I’m too freaked out by the prices—or the lack of them—to buy anything more than a scarf that still costs a hundred dollars.

“Bring your shoulders back,” Blythe says as she stands behind me and pulls my shoulders back. It makes my breasts jut out, and as I instinctively hunch my shoulders forward, she pulls them back again.

“How can you afford all these?” I ask when she lets go of my shoulders. “This dress alone must be worth-”

She shushes me with a finger against my lips. “Don’t you dare embarrass me by complaining how much anything is!”

“Six months ago, you were asking me for a loan just to pay your rent!”

“That was six months ago,” she says, changing back into the Gucci dress she’d picked that morning before we left the high-rise penthouse she and her boyfriend, polo player Ethan Kheiron, calls home. “It’s Ethan’s money, though this time we’re shopping for you, so don’t complain. The last thing I want him to see is you looking the way you did when you stepped off that plane.”

“What’s so wrong with the way I came in? My wardrobe is entirely acceptable at-”

“-home!  Exactly!” she exclaims, laughing. “But this is New York, Billie Bee, not Nevada City, and honestly, it’s time for a change. “

“For you, it may be about change, Blythe, but for me, it’s the same old Thyme & Lavender Souvenirs Mom, and Dad left us,” I say, trying to keep my annoyance in check. “Oh, and before I forget, Kathryn says hi. She sent you an invitation to her big party in three weeks, and she’s yet to get your RSVP. She’s going to turn a hundred, you know.”

Blythe frowns. “I have to check with Ethan’s schedule, but I’ll do my best to be there.”

Kathryn Logan has lived next door to us for as long as I can remember. She first knew our maternal grandparents, watched our mother grow up and fall in love with our dad and see them marry and have Blythe and I. When our parents were both killed in a car accident three years earlier, Kathryn handled all the funeral arrangements.

“Why don’t you just sell the property? I know the building is historical, but it’s in need of such major repairs, Bee,” she says. “You’ve already gotten three offers for it, each one bigger than the last, yet you’ve turned each one of them down. Instead, ever since you took over after they died, you’ve barely broken even.”

“Like you aren’t partly responsible for that, borrowing money every chance you got,” I retort though I force myself not to get angry. Though our parents had left us some money along with the souvenir shop with its apartment upstairs where they’d raised us, I had to buy Blythe out when she threatened to sell her share shortly after they were killed. It had taken a lot of begging, but I eventually got her to sign her name on the quitclaim deed before handing over my entire savings to her.

She rolls her eyes.  “Can we talk about something else please?”

“Alright.  So when do I finally meet this mysterious boyfriend of yours who lets you use his Gold card anytime you want? I thought he was going to be here yesterday.”

“He had to visit his mother upstate at the last minute,” Blythe replies. “Anyway, this is not his Gold card. He added me to his account, so it’s my card. Maybe if you meet someone who loves you the way Ethan loves me, you’ll get your very own Gold card, too.”

“I sure hope they’re accepted at Steve’s Lumber because there’s a fence I need to mend,” I say, and Blythe rolls her eyes at me.

“You’re hopeless,” she says, gathering her Hermès Birkin handbag and slinging it over her shoulder. “C’mon, let’s go. I still need to find something to wear.”

“You have a walk-in closet bigger than my bedroom, Blythe, with enough clothes to fill a store,” I exclaim as I collect my purse—or rather, Blythe’s Chanel handbag that I am borrowing for the duration of my stay.

“But I’ve worn them all.  And so we need to make one more stop. You’ll like this shop, Bee. Ethan and his whole family shop here for everything that’s in season. It’s like a personal shopper’s paradise!  You’ll love it!”

“Do I have a choice?” I ask as I follow her out the door and onto Madison Avenue where the limo is waiting. While Blythe was always the pretty little princess, I was the one who ended up climbing trees, jumping into rivers, and returning home with fingers and lips dyed black from picking wild blackberries. She was the first to break hearts at school, and the first to have her heart broken, the first to leave home and the first to break my parents’ hearts when she couldn’t come home for the holidays because she claimed she had to work.

“I can’t wait for you to finally meet Ethan!  Just don’t mind his whole traveling office,” she says sarcastically, hooking her fingers to emphasize traveling office. “There’s Jackson, his office manager, and his wife, Charlene, a paralegal, and Richard, his personal assistant. Sometimes I suspect they’re all connected at the hip because they’re just all over him, like he needs someone there all the time, even to wipe his butt.”

“I sure hope you two, at least, have some privacy when you have sex,” I laugh, only to earn a glower from Blythe as we slip inside the waiting limo.

“I told you how I met Ethan, right?” she continues. “It was at a Christmas party at his sister’s house last year. One of our in-house models took me along with her, and that’s how we met. He said it took him four months to finally gather the courage to call me. This was right after his father died and he became president of the company—and then not. His older sister, Jessica, holds this huge party every year at her estate up in the Hamptons, and no matter how everyone feels about everybody else, they all have to show up and pretend they’re all one big happy family.”

“Sounds like fun.”

She ignores the sarcasm in my voice as she continues. “He is a lot of fun, Bee, so easygoing, and so carefree, so unlike his brother, Mr. Tycoon, who has no charm whatsoever.”

“So why didn’t you go with Mr. Tycoon?”

She looks at me like I sprouted two heads. “Because his brother’s all work and no play and Ethan is the exact opposite. We have fun, like, real fun. He takes me with him wherever he plays his polo matches, spoils me with trips and gifts, and he loves me.”

“So is that all he does now since he stopped being president of the company? Polo?”

“You absolutely know nothing about him, do you? He doesn’t even need to play polo, but he does because he loves it.  It’s his passion. He’s the oldest son of Edgar Kheiron—of Kheiron Industries…” Blythe’s voice trails as she looks at me, expecting me to recognize the name. “Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of them? Metals, minerals, oil rights… that kind of thing?”

I shake my head.

“It was all over the news last year!” Blythe exclaims, her eyes wide. “After Edgar died, there was this huge mess over who was getting what, and how much. And there was this whole drama over who was going to head the company, and for a while, Ethan did because his dad had hand-selected him to lead it. But then, Heath took over the company. Restructured it and everything, all in the name of turning it around because he said Ethan had made so many bad decisions that sharks were circling.”

“You mean a hostile takeover?”

“Whatever, but I bet Heath engineered it to look that way.  God, it was such a mess,” she says as the limo stops in front of an unnamed shop with black tinted windows and a man in a suit standing by the door.

“That’s why Ethan just minds his own business whenever he can, just shows up at their sister’s Christmas parties and waits until next year to see everyone again,” she continues as we walk into the shop. “He’s still a member of the Board of Directors though he doesn’t hold the same high position like he used to. He’s more like an advisor now like his sister.”

She stops to introduce me to Alicia, an older woman who’s surrounded by four shop assistants who run around the shop as she barks orders.

“Do you have the new season available? We need something to wear tonight,” Blythe says as Alicia leads us deeper into the shop.

“Well, lucky for you, I do, my dear.  Would you two like some wine while I get the back room ready for you?”

“Yes, please!” Blythe exclaims, clapping her hands together as Alicia disappears in the back room along with the rest of her assistants.

“I sure hope you don’t get too attached to that Gold card, Blythe, in case this Heath guy fires Ethan, and you’ll need to borrow money from me again.”

“Can we just stop talking about money?” Blythe hisses.  “I thought this was a sister-bonding reunion for us, Billie. I mean, can we just have fun, please?”

“How can I have fun when all I see is you spending money left and right? Just six months ago, you were borrowing money from me,” I whisper. “Have you forgotten how you left Mom and Dad with so much debt after you moved out here to study, and I had to quit college to help them out at the store? And after they died, you cleaned out your bank account—even all the money they left—youto pursue your dreams, whatever they are.  But even that ran out.”

She rolls her eyes. “You know, I know you’re the responsible twin sister and all, but why do I suspect that all this talk about me running off, and money, blah-blah-blah, is really all about Andrew?”

I stare at Blythe for a few moments.  How the hell does Andrew Tennyson, my ex-boyfriend, figure in all this?

“Excuse me, but when has he ever entered our conversation?”

“He hasn’t, but it almost feels like you’re doing this—whatever it is you’re doing—to punish me for whatever you think happened between Andrew and me.”

I shake my head.  “That’s not true.”

“Fine.  So can we just have fun then, Bee?  After three years of barely talking to each other, can we just spend time together and enjoy ourselves?  That’s what this two-week vacation was all about—us coming together again, like the old days.”

Before I can agree with her, the room springs back to life as Alicia returns with her assistants, one of them bearing glasses of champagne and slices of cheese and crackers on a platter.

Within seconds, my forced smile turns real as everyone crowds around us, marveling at the similarities between us. They point out the thick dark hair, the luminous skin, the matching boobs, and even the teeth. It actually feels good to be seen as the identical twins that we are, even though deep inside, we’re poles apart.

Like fire and ice.

While Blythe is in the back room having her dress fitted to her measurements, I’m enjoying my second glass of wine when the front doors burst open, and a man strides in. He’s dressed in an immaculately tailored suit that can’t hide a broad chest and slim waist, his long strides emphasizing muscled thighs and long legs.  He’s like a Greek god with dark hair and piercing steel blue-gray eyes, a strong jaw, and full lips and the way he moves reminds me of a panther, smooth and stealthy.

The moment our eyes meet, my confidence falters.  There’s nothing friendly about the way he looks at me.  I struggle to remember if I’ve met him before, but I come up empty.  As I set my champagne glass down on the table and get up, I suddenly panic. Did we overcharge Ethan’s Gold Card?

As he stops in front of me, I smell his cologne, and my nostrils flare, the hairs on the back of my arms standing on end. Even my belly tightens.  Citrusy with a hint of spice.

“Where is he?”

I glance around as if confirming that he is talking to me. “Who?”

“Don’t ‘who’ me,” he says through gritted teeth as he draws closer. “Where is Ethan?”

“I don’t know,” I stammer, confused and not understanding his anger.  I’ve heard of how New Yorkers are brash and direct to the point, but this is just too much.

“When you see him, Blythe, tell him to call me,” he says just as the realization hits me.

“No, wait! You’re wrong! I’m not Blythe!”

“Yeah, right,” he scoffs, grabbing my wrist, and this time, his voice lowers as he addresses me. “Tell Ethan to call me the moment you get a hold of him.  Or better yet, tell him to return what he stole or I’m shutting everything down—his access to company spending accounts, company properties, everything.”  He releases my wrist and turns to go, but stops to face me again.  “Even you, Blythe.”

“Excuse me, but since when did women become just a thing to you?”

“Since you allowed yourself to be turned into one.  And all with his money—or shall I say company money.  Right, Blythe?”

Before I can earn myself an appearance in court for assault and battery, Alicia magically appears next to me.

“Mr. Kheiron! That is no way to speak to Miss Delphine, and I need you to leave right now.  This behavior is inexcusable.”

“Oh, don’t worry, Alicia.  I was just leaving,” Heath says before turning his attention back to me again. “Ethan has until tomorrow to explain himself, or he’s going to end up with a  bigger problem once the Board of Directors learns the truth.”

“Mister Kheiron!” Alicia shrieks again, and this time, it works because even two men in dark suits appear from out of nowhere.

As he turns to walk away, I can’t even begin to describe the humiliation I feel—for Blythe.  I find myself wondering if this is how people in Ethan’s world see her. A gold digger, and nothing more.    

“I’m so sorry, dear,” Alicia says as she steers me back to the sofa. “Are you alright?”

“I guess when tycoons have a bad day, they really do have a bad day, don’t they?”

“Everyone gets bad days, dear, but it’s still no excuse for bad manners,” she says sadly just as Blythe emerges from the showroom, completely unaware of what just happened.

She looks stunning in a sleeveless dress with a delicate border of red lace flowers, telling me how perfect it is for some afternoon tea party in Santa Barbara.  And as she takes my hands and we waltz around the room, I resolve to enjoy my time with her, and forget all about my first—and hopefully, last—meeting with Heath Kheiron.