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Whose life was she living?
Diner waitress Allie Walker dreamed of grandeur, but even she never fathomed being switched into the body of Brianne Sinclair, the world’s most beautiful heiress. Dream come true? Not for long. For when Allie came to as Brianne, there was a dead fiancé at her feet—and she was holding the smoking gun!
Only struggling private investigator Pete Hackette believed her innocence. As Allie, she’d had a fierce crush on him, and now, as Brianne, she’d finally made Pete fall in love with her. But which woman was he really in love with? And which woman would survive when the real murderer was finally revealed?
“Excuse me, Mr. Gourmet Chef, but am I gonna get those fries soon or would I get them faster if I go down the street to McDonald’s? Now they know how to get food ready on a timely basis.”
“You got a smart mouth, Allie,” the cook growled, as he slammed a platter on the counter. “One day it’s going to get you into trouble.”
“Not in this lifetime, honey.” Allie picked up the platter and, juggling it along with a coffeepot, she sashayed across the crowded dining area. Her hot pink waitress uniform and white cotton apron shouldn’t have looked sexy, but coupled with Allie’s brash beauty and style, it was sizzling. It wasn’t because of her glossy black hair, which had been teased up and out to fall in waves past her shoulders. Her eye makeup may have been a bit heavy for daytime wear, but that was Allie, just as no one ever saw her without the bright red lipstick that matched the nail polish on her impossibly long nails. For many in a neighborhood that was rapidly becoming down-and-out, she was one of the few bright spots.
“It’s about time you got these here,” her customer grumbled as she set the platter next to his hamburger. “They better not be cold.”
Allie laughed. “Trust me, honey, those fries are as hot as I am.” She deftly evaded his roving hand, which was groping toward her narrow waist and shapely rear, and went to her other tables, pouring coffee at some and writing out bills for others.
She looked up and smiled when a tall man entered the shop, looked around and headed for one of the booths in the back. She snagged a coffee cup from behind the counter and carried it to the booth.
“Hey, handsome.” She set the cup down in front of him and filled it with coffee. “What can I do for you?”
He looked up and smiled. “Hey, gorgeous.” His smile disappeared when he noticed bruises encircling her wrist. He grasped her hand and looked up. “When are you going to run away with me?”
Allie kept a smile pasted on her lips. “It’s no big deal, Pete. Okay?”
Deep gray eyes turned stormy. “It’s a big deal if he’s hurting you and you know it”
“Don’t worry, I can protect myself.” She reached inside her apron pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper, which she placed in front of him. “Happy birthday!’
“You know very well it’s not my birthday.” He unfolded the paper and stared at the figures scrawled across it. “How did you get this?”
Allie shrugged. “There was no problem, since Vinnie didn’t want a pot of coffee poured in his lap. I just reminded him he owed you for that surveillance job.
He said he’d pay in his own good time and I said he’d pay now. Don’t worry. I made sure the check was good.”
Pete shook his head. “You should be working collections instead of here.”
“Yeah, but the clientele would only be worse.” She pulled out her order pad. “The usual?”
He nodded as he smothered a yawn.
Allie looked concerned. “The Anderson divorce?” She chuckled when she saw his warning look. “Honey, everyone knows they’re getting divorced and she’s convinced he has someone on the side. Thing is, the guy’s working two jobs. He doesn’t have any time to fool around on her. Here, drink your coffee. I’ll be back with your food in no time.” She bounced off.
Pete watched Allie head for the counter, drop off his order and move around the restaurant, checking her customers.
Some days he had trouble realizing she was his age. Other days he had trouble believing she could love a sleaze like Whit Richards. He’d busted the guy enough times when he was on the force to know just what kind of man Whit was. And he didn’t think much of him. He only wished he could have hung something on the bastard that would have kept him in jail for a long time. One thing he did know—if Richards ever truly hurt Allie, the man would be gumming his food for the rest of his miserable life.
He glanced at the check and shook his head in amazement He’d been hounding Vinnie for months for the money owed him Allie made one not-so-idle threat and Pete had his money. Good thing, since his rent was due and Judi had been hinting it would be nice if she was paid on time. For once.
The life of a private investigator wasn’t anything like they showed on TV or in the movies. Except that the P.I. was usually short of money. Still, while a regular paycheck from the city had been nice, working for himself meant no following rules when they didn’t do any good.
“Here you go, handsome.” A platter filled with hash browns, crispy bacon, three eggs, over easy, and a plate of butter-topped toast was set in front of him along with the morning newspaper. “Now eat up.”
Pete reached out and snagged the waitress’s wrist, careful with his grip as he kept her standing by the table. “Hey, Allie. If you could do anything you wanted to change your life, what would it be?”
Her smile was pure sunshine. “Oh, sweetie, that’s easy.” She reached down and turned the pages until she reached the society columns. She pointed to a picture taken at a local charity function. “See this picture? I’d be her. She’s beautiful, she’s got money, a gorgeous fiancé and no problems. I want her life.”
“Allie, you’re beautiful, too,” he protested. “Besides, who says she doesn’t have headaches? Having money doesn’t mean you have a life without problems.”
“Sure it does.” She pressed her fingertips against her lips, then against his forehead—another ritual between the old friends. “Now eat up before your food gets cold.”
“Allie.” He verbally halted her. “I mean it. If he ever hurts you, I want you to come to me.”
Allie’s smile wobbled. “Hey, I’m fine. Honest”
Allie didn’t feel so fine as she walked home to her apartment on feet that felt as if they were on fire. Because another waitress had called in sick, she’d worked a double shift. The idea of a long hot bath sounded like heaven.
“Your rent is late.” A woman wearing a flowered housecoat that had seen better days halted Allie’s ascent up the stairs.
“Wait a minute, Miss Curtis. Whit told me he gave you the rent a week ago,” she argued.
“Your boyfriend hasn’t paid me one cent and you know it.” The woman spoke around the cigarette sticking out of her mouth. “I want my money.”
“All right! You’ll get it but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow, when I get paid.” She was going to kill Whit when he got home.
“You better pay or you’ll be out on the street,” Miss Curtis threatened before storming back into her apartment and slamming the door.
“As if that would be a fate worse than death,” Allie drawled, making a face at the door. She wrinkled her nose at the strong smell of onions mixed with various odors she didn’t care to identify. Whit had promised they would be out of this dump by the end of the month. Trouble was, month end was two days away and he hadn’t said anything more about moving.
She looked up the stairs and groaned at the idea of climbing three flights. She slipped off her shoes and wearily held on to the banister as she climbed up. For once, if Whit had the idea of going out she was going to turn him down. Her feet hurt too much to spend the night dancing, even if it was one of her favorite activities.
When she reached her floor she was surprised to find the overhead light out. Swearing softly, she walked down the dim hallway until she reached the last door. She was surprised to see a pool of light streaming out into the hall because it was ajar.
Allie couldn’t imagine a burglar stupid enough to choose her apartment, since there wasn’t all that much to steal. And Whit would still be at work. Unless he’d lost this job, too. Just in case, she tiptoed down the hallway.
“I’m telling you I’ve got good stuff.” She was startled to hear her boyfriend’s voice. “Have I ever led you wrong before?” He paused, which told her he must be talking on the phone. “No, you can’t come here. My old lady could be home at any time and she’d freak out if she knew I was dealing again. Yeah, I can be there in about twenty minutes. See you there.”
Allie was positive the color red flashed before her eyes. She didn’t want to think about what she was hearing. That bastard! Without pausing, she charged inside and threw her purse at him. He had no warning and didn’t have time to duck before it bounced off his head.
“You bastard, you promised you wouldn’t deal anymore!” she screamed, running at him with her fingers turned into claws.
Whit was handsome in his own way, but there was no doubt his hard life was rapidly taking his looks from him. He immediately sidestepped to avoid her attack. When she turned toward him, his arm swept out and he hit her across the face with the back of his hand.
“Hey, what do you think buys the goodies around here?” he snarled, reaching out and grabbing hold of her uniform front Two buttons popped and flew into the air. “That crappy job I had? No way, baby.”
“Miss Curtis already told me you didn’t pay the rent,” she snarled back, not the least afraid of him. “So where’s the money going?”
“I’ll worry about that. This score is going to give us more than enough cash to get out of this hellhole.” He shook her so hard her head snapped back and forth.
“Not by dealing drugs,” she argued.
“And you’re not telling anyone. Especially that SOB Hackett,” he warned.
Allie ignored the sound of rending fabric as she freed herself from his grip. “You know how I feel about drugs.” She headed for the door. “That’s it. You’re outta here.”
Before she could take a step, she was grabbed from behind and backhanded again. Allie screeched and fought back as she stretched her body in an attempt to reach the phone. Whit cursed loudly as he pulled her back and snatched the phone out of her hand. He threw it across the room, where it slammed against the wall and fell to die floor with a loud dinging sound.
“You know, I’m sick and tired of your goody-two- shoes manner,” he muttered.
Allie was past reasoning and raised her knee. There was no way she was going to allow him to win this battle. His scream of pain told her knee found its target. But even then he didn’t let go of her.
“You bitch!” His handsome face turned ugly with rage as he reached inside his shirt. “I gotta say you’ve been a pain in the ass from the beginning. I only kept you around ’cause you were so good in the sack. I don’t need this crap.”
Allie tasted the coppery flavor of fear as she spied the knife in his hand. It seemed to move in slow motion toward her. Before she could utter a word, she felt a sharp pain in her chest, then a cold feeling invade her body. Just as suddenly the cold disappeared and a damp warmth flooded her skin. She looked down to see her blood flowing freely down her chest. She looked back up at Whit. She was too stunned to react. For a moment, his anger receded and fear started to take over. Just as rapidly, it disappeared.
“Now maybe you’ll know I mean business,” he said cockily, although white lines appeared at the edges of his mouth when he realized how serious her injury was.
“No!” she whispered as she saw her surroundings seem to grow foggy and eventually turn black.
This isn’t fair! She raged as the darkness surrounded her. He shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this. Please, don’t let this happen!
As if her heartfelt plea had been heard, the darkness seemed to fade to a misty gray fog. She still couldn’t see anything, but she sensed a presence with her.
Do you want another chance? The presence asked, the unisex voice seeming to come from inside her head.
You may have to take on a problem even greater than your own.
I don’t care, she heard her own voice answer, an echo inside her head.
Then it shall be.
“Brianne. Brianne! My God, what have you done?”
When Allie opened her eyes, she knew instantly that something was very different not just with her surroundings; her body felt different too.
First of all, she didn’t feel any pain in her chest only in her head, which ached abominably. Next she realized she was standing on a very soft carpet that alone told her she wasn’t in her apartment. The beautifully dressed woman standing next to her, wearing a shocked expression wasn’t anyone she knew. Then she felt the metal in her hand and looked down. That was when she saw the lethal-looking handgun. She was not only holding a weapon, but lying at her feet was a man dressed in a tuxedo. What caught her attention was the bright blossom of red flowering on his chest there was no doubt in her mind that the color wasn’t there because he’d spilled catsup on himself!
Allie realized the woman was talking to her. She unsteadily rose to her feet, and when she turned, she saw a mirror on the wall behind the woman. The reflection staring back at her was more than a surprise. It was a shock that shook her to her toes.
She felt like Allie. She thought like Allie. The trouble was, she didn’t look like Allie.
Instead of glossy black curls flowing to her shoulders, ash blond hair was pulled back in a French twist, with tendrils straggling across her pale cheeks. A white-and-silver, strapless gown covered her slender body instead of a pink waitress uniform that had seen better days. She was positive she could see her own reflection in the mirror, but it looked like a faint memory in the background.
What the hell was going on?
“Brianne, what happened here?” The woman grabbed her arm and pulled her around. “What have you done?”
That was when Allie realized for certain the woman was speaking to her. And that she wasn’t Allie Walker any longer. She looked just like the socialite she had pointed out to Pete. The one she told him she wanted to be…Brianne Sinclair.