Mirror Image


By Sandra Brown

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When a TV reporter is injured in a Dallas-bound jet crash, she enters a world of mistaken identity and political intrigue in this action-packed romantic suspense novel — a Globe and Mail bestseller!

The crash of a Dallas-bound jet isn’t just a tragedy for TV reporter Avery Daniels; it’s an act of fate that hands her a golden opportunity to further her career. But it also makes her the crucial player in a drama of violent passions and deadly desires.

After plastic surgery transforms her face, Avery is mistaken for the glamorous, selfish wife of Tate Rutledge, the famous senatorial candidate and member of a powerful Texas dynasty.

As she lays helpless in the hospital, Avery makes a shattering discovery: someone close to Tate planned to assassinate him. Now, to save him, she must live another woman’s life — and risk her own.


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Table of Contents

A Preview of Low Pressure

Also by Sandra Brown


Copyright Page

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The hell of it was that it couldn't have been a better day for flying. The January sky was cloudless and so blue it was almost painful to look at. Visibility was unlimited. There was a cool, harmless breeze out of the north.

Airport traffic was moderate to heavy at that time of day, but efficient ground crews were keeping to schedules. No planes were circling, awaiting permission to land, and there were only a couple of aircraft in line to take off.

It was an ordinary Friday morning at the San Antonio International Airport. The only thing the passengers of AireAmerica's Flight 398 had found troublesome was getting into the airport itself. Road construction on 410 West, the major freeway artery in front of the airport, had caused bumper-to-bumper traffic for nearly a mile.

Yet ninety-seven passengers had boarded on schedule, stowing carryon baggage in overhead compartments, buckling up, settling into their seats with books, magazines, newspapers. The cockpit crew routinely went through the preflight check. Flight attendants joked among themselves as they loaded up drink dollies and brewed coffee that would never be poured. A final head count was taken and anxious standby passengers were allowed to board. The Jetway was withdrawn. The plane taxied to the end of the runway.

The captain's friendly drawl came over the speakers and informed his passengers that they were next in line on the runway. After he reported that the current weather conditions in their destination city of Dallas were perfect, he instructed the attendants to prepare for takeoff.

Neither he nor anyone on board guessed that Flight 398 would be airborne less than thirty seconds.

* * *



"A plane just went down at the airport."

Irish McCabe's head snapped up. "Crashed?"

"And burning. It's a hell of a fire at the end of the runway."

The news director dropped the latest Nielsen ratings onto his messy desk. Moving with admirable agility for a man of his age and untended physical condition, Irish rounded the corner of his desk and barreled through the door of his private glass cubicle, almost mowing down the reporter who had brought him the bulletin from the newsroom.

"Taking off or landing?" he asked over his shoulder.




"Airline or private craft?"


"Hell, are you sure there's even been a crash?"

A somber group of reporters, photographers, secretaries, and gofers had already collected at the bank of police radios. Irish elbowed them aside and reached for a volume knob.

"… runway. No sign of survivors at this time. Airport firefighting equipment is rushing toward the site. Smoke and flames are evident. Choppers are airborne. Ambulances are—"

Irish began barking orders louder than the radios, which were squawking noisily. "You," he said, pointing toward the male reporter who had barged into his office only seconds earlier, "take a live remote unit and get the hell out there on the double." The reporter and a video cameraman peeled away from the group and raced for the exit. "Who called this in?" Irish wanted to know.

"Martinez. He was driving to work and got caught up in traffic on 410."

"Is he standing by?"

"He's still there, talking on his car phone."

"Tell him to get as close to the wreckage as he can, and shoot as much video as possible until the mobile unit arrives. Let's get a chopper in the air, too. Somebody get on the phone and chase down the pilot. Meet him at the heliport."

He scanned the faces, looking for one in particular. "Ike still around?" he asked, referring to the morning news anchorman.

"He's in the john taking a crap."

"Go get him. Tell him to get on the studio set. We'll do a break-in bulletin. I want a statement from somebody in the tower, from the airport officials, the airline, police—something to go on the air with before the NTSB boys put a gag on everybody. Get on it, Hal. Somebody else call Avery at home. Tell her—"

"Can't. She's going to Dallas today, remember?"

"Shit. I forgot. No, wait," Irish said, snapping his fingers and looking hopeful. "She might still be at the airport. If she is, she'll be there ahead of everyone else. If she can get into the AireAmerica terminal, she can cover the story from the human interest angle. When she calls in, I want to be notified immediately."

Eager for an update, he turned back to the radios. Adrenaline rushed through his system. This would mean he would have no weekend. It meant overtime and headaches, cold meals and stale coffee, but Irish was in his element. There was nothing like a good plane crash to round out a news week and boost ratings.

* * *

Tate Rutledge stopped his car in front of the house. He waved to the ranch foreman who was pulling out of the driveway in his pickup. A mongrel, mostly collie, bounded up and tackled him around the knees.

"Hey, Shep." Tate reached down and petted the dog's shaggy head. The dog looked up at him with unabashed hero worship.

Tens of thousands of people regarded Tate Rutledge with that same kind of reverent devotion. There was a lot about the man to admire. From the crown of his tousled brown hair to the toes of his scuffed boots, he was a man's man and a woman's fantasy.

But for every ardent admirer, he had an equally ardent enemy.

Instructing Shep to stay outdoors, he entered the wide foyer of the house and peeled off his sunglasses. His boot heels echoed on the quarry tile flooring as he headed toward the kitchen, where he could smell coffee brewing. His stomach rumbled, reminding him that he hadn't eaten before making the early round trip to San Antonio. He fantasized about a breakfast steak, grilled to perfection; a pile of fluffy scrambled eggs; and a few slices of hot, buttered toast. His stomach growled more aggressively.

His parents were in the kitchen, seated at the round oak table that had been there for as long as Tate could remember. As he walked in, his mother turned toward him, a stricken expression on her face. She was alarmingly pale. Nelson Rutledge, his father, immediately left his place at the table and moved toward him, arms outstretched.


"What's going on?" he asked, puzzled. "To look at the two of you, you'd think somebody just died."

Nelson winced. "Weren't you listening to your car radio?"

"No. Tapes. Why?" The first stirring of panic seized his heart. "What the hell's happened?" His eyes flickered to the portable television on the tile countertop. It had been the focus of his parents' attention when he walked in.

"Tate," Nelson said in an emotionally ragged voice, "Channel Two just broke into 'Wheel of Fortune' with a news bulletin. A plane crashed on takeoff a few minutes ago at the airport." Tate's chest rose and fell on a quick, soundless gasp.

"It's still unconfirmed exactly which flight number it was, but they think—" Nelson stopped and shook his head mournfully. At the table, Zee crammed a damp Kleenex to her compressed lips.

"Carole's plane?" Tate asked hoarsely.

Nelson nodded.


She clawed her way up through the gray mist.

The clearing beyond it must exist, she reassured herself, even if she couldn't see it yet. For a minute, she thought that reaching it couldn't possibly be worth the struggle, but something behind her was so terrifying it propelled her ever forward.

She was steeped in pain. With increasing frequency she emerged from blessed oblivion into a glaring awareness that was accompanied by pain so intense, so encompassing, she couldn't localize it. It was everywhere—inside her, on the surface. It was a saturating pain. Then, just when she didn't think she could stand it an instant longer, she would be flooded with a warm rush of numbness—a magic elixir that washed through her veins. Soon after, the prayed-for oblivion would embrace her again.

Her conscious moments became extended, however. Muffled sounds reached her despite her muzziness. By concentrating very hard, she began to identify them: the incessant whooshing of a respirator, the constant bleeping of electronic machinery, rubber soles squeaking on tile floors, ringing telephones.

Once when she surfaced from unconsciousness, she overheard a hushed conversation taking place nearby.

"… incredibly lucky… with that much fuel splashed on her… burns, but they're mostly superficial."

"How long… to respond?"

"… patience… trauma like this injures more… the body."

"What will… look like when… is finished?"

"… surgeon tomorrow. He'll… procedure with you."


"… no longer danger… infection."

"Will… effects on the fetus?"

"Fetus? Your wife wasn't pregnant."

The words were meaningless. They hurtled toward her like meteors out of a dark void. She wanted to dodge them, because they intruded on the peaceful nothingness. She craved the bliss of knowing and feeling absolutely nothing, so she tuned out the voices and sank once again into the cushiony pillows of forgetfulness.

* * *

"Mrs. Rutledge? Can you hear me?"

Reflexively, she responded, and a low moan escaped her sore chest. She tried to lift her eyelids, but she couldn't do it. One was prized open and a beam of light painfully pierced her skull. At last the hateful light was extinguished.

"She's coming out of it. Notify her husband immediately," the disembodied voice said. She tried turning her head in its direction, but found it impossible to move. "Have you got the number of their hotel handy?"

"Yes, Doctor. Mr. Rutledge gave it to all of us in case she came to while he wasn't here."

Lingering tendrils of the gray mist evaporated. Words she couldn't previously decipher now linked up with recognizable definitions in her brain. She understood the words, and yet they made no sense.

"I know you're experiencing a great deal of discomfort, Mrs. Rutledge. We're doing everything possible to alleviate that. You won't be able to speak, so don't try. Just relax. Your family will be here shortly."

Her rapid pulse reverberated through her head. She wanted to breathe, but she couldn't. A machine was breathing for her. Through a tube in her mouth, air was being pumped directly into her lungs.

Experimentally she tried opening her eyes again. One was coaxed into opening partially. Through the slit, she could see fuzzy light. It hurt to focus, but she concentrated on doing so until indistinct forms began to take shape.

Yes, she was in a hospital. That much she had known.

But how? Why? It had something to do with the nightmare she had left behind in the mist. She didn't want to remember it now, so she left it alone and dwelled on the present.

She was immobile. Her arms and legs wouldn't move no matter how hard she concentrated. Nor could she move her head. She felt like she was sealed inside a stiff cocoon. The paralysis terrified her. Was it permanent?

Her heart started beating more furiously. Almost immediately a presence materialized at her side. "Mrs. Rutledge, there's no need to be afraid. You're going to be fine."

"Her heart rate is too high," a second presence remarked from the other side of her bed.

"She's just scared, I think." She recognized the first voice. "She's disoriented—doesn't know what to make of all this."

A form clothed in white bent over her. "Everything's going to be all right. We've called Mr. Rutledge and he's on his way. You'll be glad to see him, won't you? He's so relieved that you've regained consciousness."

"Poor thing. Can you imagine waking up and having this to cope with?"

"I can't imagine living through a plane crash."

An unvoiced scream echoed loudly through her head.

She remembered!

Screaming metal. Screaming people. Smoke, dense and black. Then flames, and stark terror.

She had automatically performed the emergency instructions drilled into her by hundreds of flight attendants on as many flights.

Once she had escaped the burning fuselage, she began running blindly through a world bathed in red blood and black smoke. Even though it was agonizing to run, she did so, clutching—

Clutching what? She remembered it was something precious—something she had to carry to safety.

She remembered falling. As she had gone down, she had taken what she had then believed to be her last look at the world. She hadn't even felt the pain of colliding with the hard ground. By then she had been enveloped by oblivion, which until now had protected her from the agony of remembering.


"What is it?"

"Her heartbeat has escalated dramatically."

"Okay, let's take her down a bit. Mrs. Rutledge," the doctor said imperiously, "calm down. Everything is all right. There is nothing to worry about."

"Dr. Martin, Mr. Rutledge just arrived."

"Keep him outside until we've stabilized her."

"What's the matter?" The new voice seemed to come from miles away, but carried a ring of authority.

"Mr. Rutledge, please give us a few—"


She was suddenly aware of him. He was very close, bending over her, speaking to her with soft reassurance. "You're going to be fine. I know you're frightened and worried, but you're going to be all right. So is Mandy, thank God. She has a few broken bones and some superficial burns on her arms. Mom's staying in the hospital room with her. She's going to be fine. Hear me, Carole? You and Mandy survived, and that's what's important now."

There was a bright fluorescent light directly behind his head, so his features were indistinct, but she could piece together enough strong features to form a vague impression of what he looked like. She clung to each comforting word he spoke. And because he spoke them with such conviction, she believed them.

She reached for his hand—or rather, tried to. He must have sensed her silent plea for human contact because he placed his hand lightly upon her shoulder.

Her anxiety began to wane at his touch, or perhaps because the powerful sedative that had been injected into her IV began to take effect. She allowed herself to be lured, feeling safer somehow by having this stranger with the compelling voice beside her, within reach.

"She's drifting off. You can leave now, Mr. Rutledge."

"I'm staying."

She closed her eye, blotting out his blurred image. The drug was seductive. It gently rocked her like a small boat, lulling her into the safe harbor of uncaring.

Who is Mandy? she wondered.

Was she supposed to know this man who referred to her as Carole?

Why did everyone keep calling her Mrs. Rutledge?

Did everybody think she was married to him?

They were wrong, of course.

She didn't even know him.

* * *

He was there when she woke up again. Minutes, hours, days could have elapsed for all she knew. Since time had no relevance in an intensive care unit, her disorientation was augmented further.

The moment she opened her eye, he leaned over her and said, "Hi."

It was nerve-racking, not being able to see him clearly. Only one of her eyes would open. She realized now that her head was swathed in bandages and that's why she couldn't move it. As the doctor had warned her, she couldn't speak. The lower portion of her face seemed to have solidified.

"Can you understand me, Carole? Do you know where you are? Blink if you can understand me."

She blinked.

He made a motion with his hand. She thought he raked it through his hair, but she couldn't be certain. "Good," he said with a sigh. "They said you shouldn't be upset by anything, but knowing you, you'll want all the facts. Am I right?"

She blinked.

"Do you remember boarding the airplane? It was the day before yesterday. You and Mandy were going to shop in Dallas for a few days. Do you remember the crash?"

She tried desperately to convey to him that she wasn't Carole and didn't know who Mandy was, but she blinked in response to his question about the crash.

"Only fourteen of you survived."

She didn't realize that her eye was shedding tears until he used a tissue to blot them away. His touch was gentle for a man with such strong-looking hands.

"Somehow—God knows how—you were able to get out of the burning wreckage with Mandy. Do you remember that?"

She didn't blink.

"Well, it doesn't matter. However you managed it, you saved her life. She's upset and frightened, naturally. I'm afraid her injuries are more emotional than physical, and therefore harder to deal with. Her broken arm has been set. No permanent damage was done. She won't even need skin grafts for the burns. You," and here he gave her a penetrating stare, "you protected her with your own body."

She didn't comprehend his stare, but it was almost as though he doubted the facts as he knew them. He was the first to break the stare and continue with his explanation.

"The NTSB's investigating. They found the black recorder box. Everything seemed normal, then one of the engines just blew up. That ignited the fuel. The plane became a fireball. But before the fuselage was completely engulfed in flames, you managed to get out through an emergency exit onto the wing, carrying Mandy with you.

"One of the other survivors said he saw you struggling to unlatch her seat belt. He said the three of you found your way to the door through the smoke. Your face was already covered with blood, he said, so the injuries to it must have happened on impact."

She remembered none of these details. All she recalled was the terror of thinking she was going to die the suffocating death of smoke inhalation, if she didn't burn to death first. He was giving her credit for operating courageously during a disaster. All she had done was react to every living creature's survival instinct.

Perhaps the memories of the tragedy would unfold gradually. Perhaps they never would. She wasn't certain she wanted to remember. Reliving those terrifying minutes following the crash would be like experiencing hell again.

If only fourteen passengers had survived, then scores had died. That she had survived perplexed her. By a twist of fate, she had been selected to live, and she would never know why.

Her vision grew blurry and she realized that she was crying again. Wordlessly, he applied the tissue to her exposed eye. "They tested your blood for gases and decided to put you on a respirator. You've got a concussion, but there was no serious head injury. You broke your right tibia when you jumped from the wing.

"Your hands are bandaged and in splints because of burns. Thank God, though, that all your injuries, except for the smoke inhalation, were external.

"I know you're concerned about your face," he said uneasily. "I won't bullshit you, Carole. I know you don't want me to."

She blinked. He paused, gazing down at her with uncertainty. "Your face sustained serious damage. I've retained the best plastic surgeon in the state. He specializes in reconstructive surgery on accident and trauma victims just like you."

Her eye was blinking furiously now, not with understanding, but with anxiety. Feminine vanity had asserted itself, even though she was lying flat on her back in a hospital ICU, lucky to be alive. She wanted to know just how badly her face had been damaged. Reconstructive surgery sounded ominous.

"Your nose was broken. So was one cheekbone. The other cheekbone was pulverized. That's why your eye is bandaged. There's nothing there to support it."

She made a small sound of pure terror. "No, you didn't lose your eye. That's a blessing. Your upper jawbone was also broken. But this surgeon can repair it—all of it. Your hair will grow back. You'll have dental implants that will look exactly like your front teeth."

She had no teeth and no hair.

"We've brought him pictures of you—recent pictures, taken from every angle. He'll be able to reconstruct your features perfectly. The burns on your face affected only the outer skin, so you won't have to have grafts. When the skin peels, it will be like taking off ten years, the doctor said. You should appreciate that."

The subtle inflections in his speech slipped past her comprehension while she focused on key words. The message that had come through loud and clear was that beneath the bandages, she looked like a monster.

Panic welled up inside her. It must have communicated itself to him because he laid his hand on her shoulder again. "Carole, I didn't tell you the extent of your injuries to upset you. I know that you're worried about it. I thought it best to be frank so you could mentally prepare yourself for the ordeal ahead of you.

"It won't be easy, but everybody in the family is behind you one hundred percent." He paused and lowered his voice. "For the time being, I'm laying personal considerations aside and concentrating on putting you back together again. I'll stick by you until you are completely satisfied with the surgeon's results. I promise you that. I owe it to you for saving Mandy's life."

She tried to shake her head in denial of everything he was saying, but it was no use. She couldn't move. Making an effort to speak around the tube in her throat caused pain to her chemically scorched esophagus.

Her frustration increased until a nurse came in and ordered him to leave. When he lifted his hand off her shoulder, she felt forsaken and alone.

The nurse administered a dose of narcotic. It stole through her veins, but she fought its anesthetizing effects. It was stronger than she, however, and gave her no choice but to submit.

* * *

"Carole, can you hear me?"

Roused, she moaned pitiably. The medication made her feel weighted down and lifeless, as though the only living cells in her entire body resided in her brain and the rest of her was dead.

"Carole?" the voice hissed close to her bandaged ear.

It wasn't the man named Rutledge. She would have recognized his voice. She couldn't remember if he had left her. She didn't know who was speaking to her now. She wanted to shrink from this voice. It wasn't soothing, like Mr. Rutledge's.

"You're still in bad shape and might succumb yet. But if you feel that you're fixing to die, don't make any deathbed confessions, even if you're able to."

She wondered if she was dreaming. Frightened, she opened her eye. As usual, the room was brightly lit. Her respirator hissed rhythmically. The person speaking to her was standing outside her peripheral vision. She could sense him there, but she couldn't see him.

"We're still in this together, you and I. And you're in too deep to get out now, so don't even consider it."

To no avail, she tried to blink away her grogginess and disorientation. The person remained only a presence, without form or distinction—a disembodied, sinister voice.

"Tate will never live to take office. This plane crash has been an inconvenience, but we can work it to our advantage if you don't panic. Hear me? If you come out of this, we'll pick up where we left off. There'll never be a Senator Tate Rutledge. He'll die first."

She squeezed her eye closed in an attempt to stave off her mounting panic.

"I know you can hear me, Carole. Don't pretend you can't."

After several moments, she reopened her eye and rolled it as far back as she could. She still couldn't see anybody, but she sensed her visitor had left.

Several minutes more ticked by, measured by the maddening cycle of the respirator. She hovered between sleep and wakefulness, valiantly fighting the effects of drugs, panic, and the disorientation inherent to an ICU.

Shortly afterward, a nurse came, checked her IV bottle, and took her blood pressure. She behaved routinely. Surely if someone were in her room, or had been there recently, the nurse would have acknowledged it. Satisfied with her patient's condition, she left.

By the time she fell asleep again, she had convinced herself that she had only had a bad dream.


Tate Rutledge stood at the window of his hotel room, gazing down at the traffic moving along the freeway. Taillights and headlights were reflected on the wet pavement, leaving watery streaks of red and white.

When he heard the door opening behind him, he turned on the heels of his boots and nodded a greeting to his brother. "I called your room a few minutes ago," he said. "Where have you been?"

"Drinking a beer down in the bar. The Spurs are playing the Lakers."

"I'd forgotten. Who's winning?"

His brother's derisive frown indicated the silliness of that question. "Dad's not back yet?"

Tate shook his head, let the drape fall back into place, and moved away from the window.

"I'm starving," Jack said. "You hungry?"

"I guess so. I hadn't thought about it." Tate dropped into the easy chair and rubbed his eyes.

"You're not going to do Carole or Mandy any good if you don't take care of yourself through this, Tate. You look like shit."


"I mean it."

"I know you do," Tate said, lowering his hands and giving his older brother a wry smile. "You're all candor and no tact. That's why I'm a politician and you're not."

"Politician is a bad word, remember? Eddy's coached you not to use it."

"Even among friends and family?"

"You might develop a bad habit of it. Best not to use it at all."

"Jeez, don't you ever let up?"

"I'm only trying to help."

Tate lowered his head, ashamed of his ill-tempered outburst. "I'm sorry." He toyed with the TV's remote control, punching through the channels soundlessly. "I told Carole about her face."

"You did?"

Lowering himself to the edge of the bed, Jack Rutledge leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. Unlike his brother, he was clad in suit slacks, a white dress shirt, and a necktie. This late in the day, however, he looked rumpled. The starched shirt had wilted, the tie had been loosened, and his sleeves were rolled back. The slacks were wrinkled across his lap because he'd been sitting most of the day.

"How did she react when you told her?"


  • "Sandra Brown is a master at weaving a story of suspense into a tight web that catches and holds the reader from the first page to the last."—Library Journal
  • "Author Sandra Brown proves herself top-notch."—Associated Press
  • "A masterful storyteller, carefully crafting tales that keep readers on the edge of their seats."—USA Today

On Sale
Apr 9, 2019
Page Count
448 pages

Sandra Brown

About the Author

Sandra Brown is the author of sixty-nine New York Times bestsellers, including the #1 Seeing Red. There are over eighty million copies of her books in print worldwide, and her work has been translated into thirty-four languages. She lives in Texas.

Learn more about this author