Robin Mulcahey has always dreamed of being a big-time actress. As a college student,
she took endless drama classes and finally snagged the lead of Maggie in Tennessee
Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Now, six years later, she’s one of the
country’s hottest soap-opera stars. She’s just won a Daytime Emmy for her portrayal
of South Riding’s bad girl, and now when it seemed life couldn’t get any
more perfect, she’s wed Declan Blair, an up-and-coming Irish film actor.
So what’s the problem?
Robin Mulcahey is dead. She was killed in a devastating car wreck in 1996 while
riding with her best friend, Amy Shiley. Amy, battered beyond recognition in the
accident, was mistaken for Robin and has played the role of Robin Mulcahey ever
since. But Amy’s never been able to forget the love she shared with Paul Mulcahey—Robin’s
If you had the chance to become someone else, would you take it?
"UNDERSTUDY mixes lust, intrigue and deceit in an erotic cocktail which
proves that the grass definitely isn't always greener, and when it comes to love,
you should never live a lie." - For Women Magazine, UK
"UNDERSTUDY leads readers on a harrowing, heart-tugging journey...Carole
Bellacera takes an improbable plot and makes it plausible...a sinuous, sensuous
thriller, almost flawless in its execution...UNDERSTUDY is terrific: a perfect
beach book that will keep readers turning pages long after the sunscreen has worn
off."-Mellanie Crowther, The Romance Reader's Connection
"Ms. Bellacera has written a wonderful book, fast-paced, full of twists and
turns. Love, passion, secrets left buried, and a family that's not what it seems
are just the tip of what "Understudy" has to offer. You'll appreciate
the story of true friendship; the kind that takes what you offer at face-value,
and doesn't judge. You'll come to understand how betrayal, anger, and resentment
can tear a family apart, from the inside. You'll learn that love, when strong and
true, can conquer anything you throw at it, as long as it's strong enough. Emotional,
funny, and a story that you can wholeheartedly throw yourself into, "Understudy"
is definitely a book worth reading."-Jennifer Wardrip, RomanceJunkies.com
"UNDERSTUDY is a complex and tightly woven novel that centers on the
lives, past, present and future of two likable, but wounded young women...intimate
characterization adds depth and powerful emotion to this highly charged tale...Ms.
Bellacera weaves a tale that is captivating, heartbreaking and triumphant. For a
story that will tug at your heartstrings and draw you into the complex and dramatic
dynamics of the Mulcahey family and Amy Shiley, I highly recommend UNDERSTUDY
-- a thoroughly unforgettable read."-- Terrie Figueroa, Romance Reviews Today
"Carole Bellacera became a "keeper" author for me after her previous
book, EAST OF THE SUN, WEST OF THE MOON. Dazzling
characters and riveting storylines are painted on paper by Ms. Bellacera's talented
hand. Instead of a simple story, you get a rich, engrossing psychological study
of her characters that is not bogged down in trivial details. Once again, I dare
you to pick up this story [UNDERSTUDY ] and manage to put it down withoutfeeling
the book drawing you back from across the room." -- Tracy Farnsworth,
"UNDERSTUDY is filled with unforgettable true to life characters, and
a fast-paced story with some unique plot twists...this is the kind of in depth story
of human life readers have come to expect from two-time RITA award finalist Carole
Bellacera...[she] has given us a story of heartbreak, success, emotions, and triumph
that is unforgettable. I know these characters are going to live in my heart for
a long time to come. UNDERSTUDY has found a place on my keeper shelf! I heartily
recommend it to everyone." -- Carol Durfee, The Word on Romance
"Impossible to put down! Very highly recommended. Author Carole Bellacera pens
an exhilarating romantic suspense with UNDERSTUDY . A novel rich with psychological
insight." --Cindy Penn, Midwest Book Review
"This book should be made into a movie. It would be a blockbuster...[it] takes
real life situations and unfolds them in the most extraordinary way...the best book
I've read in a long time." -- Melissa Alvarez, RomanceFiction.about.com
"Strong characters and a storyline that is very detailed come together to make
an engrossing read. Hard to put down!" -- Tami Sutton, RomanceandFriends.com
"An exhilarating romantic suspense. Contemporary romance readers will be pleased
with this fine work." -- Harriet Klausner, AllReaders.com
"UNDERSTUDY grabs your attention on page one and never lets go...Carole
Bellacera magnificently fine-tunes the personal soap opera of Amy's life-the triumphs
and tragedies, the beauty and the ugliness-and leaves you begging for more. UNDERSTUDY
is an emotionally charged story told by a master storyteller." -- Betty
"An absolutely sensational story and plot, a fast-paced, vivid and exciting
read that I mostly definitely recommend! Wow! Put this on your buy list and keeper
shelf! Lush, vivid, emotional-Solid Gold!" -- Marilyn, Romance Designs
"VC Andrews meets Sandra Brown in this delicious, gripping page-turner of a
book-a thrill ride from the first page to the last. UNDERSTUDY proves that
Carole Bellacera has what it takes to be a star!" -- Teresa Medeiros, New York
Times bestselling author
"With skill and compassion, Carole Bellacera explores the rich terrain of friendship,
love. . . and deception. UNDERSTUDY will keep you turning the pages."
-- Diane Chamberlain, Award-Winning Author of KISS RIVER
"[UNDERSTUDY ] will keep you on the edge of your seat and hard-pressed
to put the book down. Wonderful!"
-- Donna Doyle, Romance Reviews
"Trashette turns rich girl…fun!" -- Kirkus Reviews
"UNDERSTUDY is an exceptional read…[it] will keep you up all night."
-- Suzanne Coleburn, Reader to Reader Reviews
“Captivating and wonderfully written, emotional and shocking makes UNDERSTUDY
a fantastic read. Carole Bellacera is a dynamite storyteller that drew
me in within the first few pages…a fast-paced tale that keeps you guessing, have
you shedding a tear or two, sighing over love, angry with a character or two and
ready to read it all over again immediately…unforgettable and very much a keeper!”
-- Tracey West for The Road to Romance
Richmond, Virginia - January 23, 1998
The emergency room doors slid open, and an attractive middle-aged couple burst into
the turmoil of a crowded waiting room, hair and faces wet from the falling snow,
eyes frantic. The noise inside the ER was overwhelming--overhead pages blaring codes
incomprehensible to anyone but medical personnel, people shouting, trying to get
the attention of a passing nurse or doctor, an infant screaming at the level of
the most raucous of heavy metal bands, gurneys clattering down crowded corridors.
Non-critical patients occupied seats, some of them coughing, puking, groaning, some
bloodied, others looking outwardly healthy. Medical personnel in green scrubs moved
through the chaos, seemingly unruffled.
The man who'd just entered looked around, his eyes settling on the bulletproof glass
protecting the reception center. He was tall and handsome, a man in his late forties
with slightly graying hair, and wore an unmistakable air of power and importance.
"Over here," he said to his elegant blond companion, striding to the reception
area. The woman followed.
He spoke through a window to a petite dark-haired woman wearing a brightly patterned
jacket and a badge emblazoned with a smiley face and a name--Rosemary Sethford,
RN. "I'm Michael Mulcahey. My daughter was brought in from a car accident.
Do you know her condition?"
The nurse glanced at the erasure board on the wall behind her. "They're working
on her, sir. That's all I can tell you right now. Please take a seat, and a doctor
will be with you as soon as possible."
Michael's lips tightened. "I'm former congressman Michael Mulcahey, and I demand
to see a doctor right now!"
The nurse's eyes grew cold. "Please take a seat, sir," she repeated. "The
doctor will see you as soon as he has done everything possible to save your daughter's
The woman at his side touched his arm. "Come on, Mike. Let's do what she says."
He swallowed hard and turned to her. "It's our little girl, Tammy. I just need
to know she's okay."
"I know," Tammy said quietly. "But there's nothing we can do except
She guided him to a seat in the waiting room, and they sat, gripping each other's
hands. Nothing changed in the ER. The baby still cried--horrible screeching wails.
A young man vomited into an emesis basin. The nauseating stink of it wafted through
the stale air, along with the overpowering scent of cheap perfume and rank body
odor. Machines beeped and shrilled out alarms. Voices in various languages babbled
in excitement or anger. A woman sobbed. Another moaned in pain. A man yelled obscenities.
More sirens whooped, and incoming causalities clattered through the doors on racing
And still, they waited.
Finally, an hour later, a young resident appeared in front of them, his scrubs covered
with splotches of blood. Michael paled, but Tammy sat rigidly, her only sign of
tension a slight clenching of her fist in her lap.
"Mr. and Mrs. Mulcahey?" The resident said as the couple got to their
feet and faced him. "Your daughter has been stabilized, but her injuries are
severe. She apparently went through the windshield in the accident, and she's suffered
extensive facial trauma. Her jaw was fractured, both lower and upper. There were
also fractures of the nasal passages, cheekbones and the right eye. She has suffered
various lacerations and contusions of her upper body." He took a deep breath
and released it, his voice softening at the look of horror on Michael's face. "I'm
sorry. I'm just telling you all this because I want you to be prepared when you
see her before she's taken up to ICU. You're probably not going to recognize her."
The resident was right, Michael thought, as he peered at the young woman lying on
the gurney in Cubicle # Five. Tammy took one glance at the unconscious figure and
turned away, the blood draining from her face. Michael was stronger. He took a deep
breath and touched his daughter's small, limp hand, the one that was still unbandaged.
"It's okay, Cupcake. Daddy's here. Robin, sweetie, you hold on. Everything's
going to be fine."
They only had a moment before medical personnel whisked her away to the elevator.
Behind him, Michael heard a soft cough and turned to see the resident.
"Mr. Mulcahey, we've called in a maxillofacial trauma specialist for your daughter.
There's just one other thing..." The resident shifted his weight and hesitated
a moment as if trying to organize his thoughts. "Your daughter wasn't alone
in the car. The rescue workers brought in another young female." He paused,
then said, "There was nothing we could do for her. She was killed on impact.
The thing is...we couldn't find any identification on her. We were wondering if..."
Beside him, Michael heard Tammy gasp. He looked at her, and saw in her eyes she
was thinking the same thing. "Amy?" he murmured.
"It has to be," Tammy said. "They were inseparable."
Michael closed his eyes as anguish washed over him. Oh, poor Sunshine. But
along with the anguish, he felt something else. Something that made him less than
an admirable human being. Relief. Relief that it was his daughter that had been
spared, and her poor, unfortunate best friend that had died.
"Mr. Mulcahey, do you think you might know this girl? And could you give us
the name of her next-of-kin?"
Michael looked at the resident. Suddenly he felt an overwhelming weariness come
over him. It was almost five in the morning, and they'd been up since the phone
call shattered the winter silence at three. But it wasn't so much physical fatigue
as emotional. And now, this added shock.
"If it is Amy, there's no one you can call," he said slowly. "Her
mother is her only living relative, and she's locked away in a nursing home here
in Richmond. From what I understand, she's catatonic. Hasn't spoken a word in years."
Michael and the resident stared at each other as seconds ticked by. Outside the
emergency bay doors, a siren moaned, and then stopped with a burp. Eerie silence
"I hate to ask you this, Mr. Mulcahey, but do you think you can identify her?
We need to get the death certificate processed."
After a brief moment, Michael nodded grimly. "Where is she?"
The resident turned to lead him away, but Tammy touched his shoulder. "Mike,
do you want me to come with you?"
He ran a nervous hand through his neatly-trimmed graying hair. "No, Tam. I
don't want you to put yourself through this. I'll be back in a few minutes, then
we'll go up to ICU and see how Robin's doing."
Tammy watched her husband go with the resident. She was glad he hadn't wanted her
to come with him. It was bad enough seeing her daughter all bloodied and messed
up. She certainly didn't want to see Amy's mangled body. It was such a shame. Such
a waste of young life. But Tammy had always known that something like this would
eventually happen. Robin had been running wild since her teens. In fact, it was
amazing it hadn't happened before this.
The phone call had awakened them just before three o'clock in the morning. The dreaded
phone call from a hospital ER telling them that their daughter had been severely
injured in a car accident. Well, of course she hadn't been alone. Wherever Robin
had gone, little Amy had followed. That's the way it had been since they'd become
roommates their first year at William & Mary.
She looked up to see Michael approaching her, his face even grayer than it had been
before. "Was it Amy?"
His blue eyes stark, he nodded and extended his hand toward her. "The doctor
said she was wearing this."
Tammy stared at the blood-stained silver chain with its pendant in the shape of
a sun. Her heart bumped. She clearly remembered the last time she'd seen the necklace.
On Christmas morning when Amy opened their gift, and held it up for everyone to
admire. Tears had shown in her blue eyes as she'd tremulously thanked them--not
just for the necklace, but for treating her like part of their family. It was impossible
to think that shy, sweet Amy was dead.
Tammy met Michael's eyes. "Was she really...?"
He gave a terse nod. "I'm glad you didn't see her. Come on, Tam, let's go check
on our daughter."
She heard the voices before she could make out the faces. She felt the gentle touch
of a hand clutching hers. Smelled the strong scent of a familiar perfume. Slowly,
she opened her eyes and through a gauze of milky whiteness, saw a woman gazing down
at her. An older woman, pretty, but rather frayed around the edges. She looked familiar,
but her name evaded her.
"Oh, Robin, sweetie," the woman whispered, squeezing her hand. "Thank
God you're going to be okay."
Robin. There was a name she recognized. She moaned, and tried to speak but something
was stuck in her mouth. Some contraption. Where was Robin? The confusion in her
brain cleared a bit, and she suddenly knew who the older woman was. Tammy.
Amy blinked and tried again to speak. Nothing but a soft groan came out. A movement
beyond Tammy's shoulder caught her eye. It was Robin's father. He was gazing at
her, a tender, anxious expression on his face. An overwhelming rush of love flowed
through her. Robin's parents really did care about her. It was so wonderful to finally
have a family...after so many years of not having one.
"Robin, the nurse is going to give you something now to make you sleep."
Tammy squeezed her hand. "But we're going to be right here all day, okay?"
"That's right, Cupcake." Michael edged over and smiled down at her. "We're
not going anywhere until we know you're out of the woods."
Dimly, Amy saw a woman in a brightly-colored jacket inject something into the IV
line that ran into her left arm. Almost immediately she felt as if she were floating
away. But she struggled against it, wanting to say something...wanting to ask...something.
Her thoughts were all muddled. But just before the darkness closed around her, one
thought rang through her consciousness with crystal clarity.
Why were they were calling her Robin?