Ka-boom! The blast shattered the settling peace of dusk as Marissa Madison pulled into the circular drive. Rissa threw open the car door and sprinted toward the gray stone house.
“Please, no blood this time,” she whispered as her feet hit the rough-hewn steps leading up to the broad double doors.
A bespectacled man stepped through the doorway amid a confetti shower of envelopes and leaflets. His silvery hair stood in startled spikes around a balding pate as if it too had been a victim of the explosion.
“Too much torque in the mail conveyor,” he muttered with a frown.
“Please turn it off, Uncle Horace!”
“Right.” The old man disappeared back into the house. Within moments, the clanking stopped and silence fell over the rolling hills once again.
Just another normal day, Rissa thought, as she surveyed the day’s mail scattered in gay abandon across the landscape.
The sullen gray sky rumbled ominously and tossed a few raindrops against her face. Rissa grabbed a check out of the privet hedge, an overdue bill off the bird bath, a shampoo sample from the branches of the azaleas, and a plain brown envelope from the lawn.
I hope I didn’t miss anything important. Rissa scanned the inner courtyard once more. Lightening crackled across the sky, hurrying her steps back to the navy blue sedan to grab her briefcase and a bag of groceries. She closed the heavy wooden door behind her as a gust of wind pushed fat, sloppy raindrops against the mullioned windows.
Maybe Uncle Horace should invent a mail dryer instead of a mail conveyer. Rissa dropped the soggy mail on a cherry wood table as she stepped out of her shoes. With the bag of groceries balanced on one hip, she padded barefoot toward the kitchen. A tall figure in a sweeping lavender print dress stood at the sink.
“I couldn’t tell if the grocery list said chips or cheese, so I got both.” As Rissa moved closer, the person she thought was her aunt turned toward her. She shrieked and dropped the groceries. “Ryan!”
Rissa’s twin brother grinned at her from beneath the purple feathers of one of her aunt’s collection of hats.
“Do I want to know what’s going on?” Rissa asked warily.
“I’m going to a Valentine’s party tonight,” Ryan replied.
“Dressed as Aunt Madelaine?” Rissa retrieved a head of lettuce and a package of marshmallow pinwheel cookies from the marbled tiles.
“It’s a great way to pick up women.” Ryan bent down and caught an escaping tomato. “You’d be amazed at what they tell dear Aunt Mads.”
“You’ve done this before?”
“Sure. Madelaine thinks it’s a hoot.”
“Where is Madelaine anyway?” Rissa pushed aside a stack of unwashed dishes to set the tattered grocery bag on the counter.
Ryan shrugged. “She’s been gone all day. By the way, I left your food in the microwave since I knew you’d be late.”
Rissa opened the microwave and poked at the still-warm entree.
“It’s beef tips over rice–one of your favorites.”
“Thanks.” Rissa glanced over her shoulder. With the hat pulled low across his face, Ryan bore an uncanny resemblance to their tall, raw-boned aunt. She couldn’t resist one jibe. “You’ll make someone a wonderful wife some day.”
Ryan fisted a hand on one hip and struck a pose until Rissa chuckled.
“Come with me,” Ryan urged. “When was the last time you went out?”
“Thanks, but I’m tired.”
“You work too hard.”
The truth of her brother’s statement stirred a wistfulness in Rissa, which she quickly pushed away.
“I think Madelaine might have a special surprise planned for tonight.” Ryan grinned wickedly.
“What are you scheming now?” Rissa frowned at her brother.
“Guess you’ll have to come with me to find out.”
“Oh, no. I’m not falling for that trick. I’m going to eat this gourmet dinner you so thoughtfully prepared and go to bed.”
Ryan shrugged, and Madelaine’s lavender feather boa slid off his shoulder. “Well, you can read about it in the morning paper anyway.”
Rissa’s fingers gripped the plate holding her dinner. Ryan was baiting her. That was all. He wouldn’t really do anything too foolish.
The muffled thud of the front door echoed her brother’s departure.
He’ll go to the Pink Flamingo, have a few drinks, pick up another blonde, and come home just before my alarm clock goes off, Rissa told herself. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Of course, she never would have guessed that Ryan dressed up as their aunt, either–and apparently got away with it.
“No, I am not going to follow him.” Rissa marched to the kitchen table, pulled out a chair, and spread a napkin across her lap. She even lifted a bite of food to her mouth.
“Oh, bother and damnation.” She set her fork carefully back on her plate. What if her brother really did something spectacularly stupid? Rissa would have to pick up the pieces anyway. She might as well stop the disaster before it got started.
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