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Psychological Drama Suspense, Amnesia Women's Fiction, Contemporary Woman Finding Love
Small Town Romance, Mystery Thriller Female Protagonist, Tortured Dreams, Self-Discovery Novel Women's, Romantic Suspense

Read a few pages. - Enjoy!

September 13

 

Hospital Recovery Room

 

She thought what happened when she was a child would be the worst she’d ever experience. To have witnessed the murder of the person she loved most in the world. To remember little except the fear that she had been responsible.

But, she believed she could change her life. She was so close. She thought she had found someone to love her. She was wrong.

And then—yesterday. The attack.

She hasn’t learned what happened to the others. And when they ask her what she remembers, what will she tell them? What does she remember?

A screaming voice, full of rage, then realizing the voice was hers.

The crush of bone, the shock of pain.

The pinpoints of light exploding before her eyes, and the darkness rushing in around her.

And thinking, before she fell into that darkness, This can’t be happening again.


 

Chapter 1

 

The Office, Five Months Earlier Office

 

The sequence of events that changed her life slipped into alignment on a Thursday afternoon in April.

Harriet had arrived at the office early that morning after a restless night. She stopped in the ladies’ room on the way to her desk and stared at her reflection in the mirror.

“You have got to do something to change your life,” she commanded the image scowling back at her. Why did she even bother to look in the mirror? Out of habit, she smoothed her drum-tight ponytail and noticed that she needed a dye job. Ugly black roots frowned from her scalp. The bleached-blonde hair was her only concession to anything approaching concern with her looks. It made her feel better somehow. Her mother had been a blonde; at least she could remember that much. There was no makeup to touch up, as she never wore any. She sighed and made her way to her desk.

“Hey, Harriet, how’s it going?” the cheerful receptionist at the entrance to the office trilled as Harriet walked past, head down, lost in her thoughts.

“Great, Kathy. Wow, you sound disgustingly perky today.” Harriet cocked her head and raised her eyebrows. “Same as yesterday. And the day before that. It’s a bit monotonous if you want to know.” She put her hand to her chest in mock concern. “How do you even manage it? It must be exhausting.”

“Oh, come on, Harriet.” Kathy giggled and shook her head. “You’re not nearly as grumpy as you let on. You and that sarcastic sense of humor.”

 “Well, don’t let the word get out. It could wreck my reputation,” said Harriet as she continued to her desk, leaving Kathy hooting and calling after her.

“Hah. Not much chance of that.”

Conversation was not Harriet’s forte, nor her favorite pastime. At the office, except for Kathy, she spoke just enough so as not to appear rude. She realized her social skills could use some improvement. The last few weeks, she’d been thinking she would work on that.

Most of the people in the office were cordial, and this temporary job wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for one of the senior partners, Jon Ingram, who was, in Harriet’s opinion, a total jerk. She was working at a law firm where one of the secretaries—Mr. Ingram’s secretary, to be precise—was out on maternity leave. The firm was big enough that she didn’t feel too strange not socializing and small enough that she could find her way around and learn the procedures she needed to know. She wasn’t a legal secretary, but she’d done enough temp work at law firms that she could hold her own pretty well. For a while now, she had enjoyed the freedom and flexibility of having a succession of temporary jobs, although the pay wasn’t great. But over the last few weeks, a nagging discontent kept surfacing, and she wondered if it might be time to make a change.

The morning progressed without incident, but later, as she sat at her desk in a cramped corner, she braced herself. She had left a typed deposition for Mr. Ingram to review when he returned from lunch. She had no doubt he’d come charging out of his office after he looked it over, screaming about some typo or other mistake, whether it was due to his abominable penmanship or not. Why did the man insist on writing everything out in longhand? It was like he was stuck in the Middle Ages.

In another few weeks, maybe she’d ask the temp agency to find her something new, something other than a legal office. That was the beauty of temp work; if she didn’t like it, she’d leave and go someplace else. She resolved to make a list when she wrote in her diary tonight, outlining her options and some types of work she might like to try. Then she could decide what direction to take. She wasn’t getting any younger, she told herself, wincing at the trite expression. Her thirtieth birthday was coming up in May.

Just then, Mr. Ingram swept past her desk on his way back from his two-hour lunch, enhanced by liquor, she was sure. To amuse herself, she began a silent count and before she reached thirty, he came rushing out of his office like his hair was on fire, screaming about some petty mistake she had made trying to decipher his pathetic scribbling, and demanding she fix it.

 “What an idiot,” Harriet mumbled, almost hoping he would hear her.

As she took the paper he practically jammed in her face, she gave him her most polished artificial smile and said, with exaggerated politeness, “Certainly, Mr. Ingram.”

She watched him lurch toward his office in a huff. Mr. Ingram was a short, thin man with colorless hair. His posture was poor, and since he was always rushing, he appeared to be permanently angled forward. Harriet smiled and added under her breath, “Yes, Igor.” She pictured Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein, hunched forward, entreating, “Walk this way . . . ”

She had just begun correcting the page on the computer when she detected strange grunts and gurgling sounds coming from Mr. Ingram’s office. She was accustomed to hearing grumbling from that office when he complained about some transgression on her part—a misplaced comma or spell-check error, for instance—but these sounds were especially bizarre. She became concerned when the gurgling morphed into strangled gasps. Harriet peeked around the doorway of Mr. Ingram’s office and was horrified. She saw him lying on the plush burgundy carpeting, grasping at the air with one claw-like hand, his face a grimace of speechless rage. His face color almost matched the carpeting, and Harriet noticed that one side of his mouth was turned down and half of his face appeared frozen.

“This can’t be good,” Harriet mumbled as she rushed to Mr. Ingram’s side and dialed 911 on her cell phone. When she got the operator, she asked if there was anything she could do and was instructed to stay by the man’s side, note his symptoms, and speak in a calm voice to assure him that help was on the way. Harriet did as suggested, and because the poor man looked like he was choking, loosened his shirt and tie.

When the EMTs arrived, Harriet gave them as much information as she could. As they wheeled Mr. Ingram into the ambulance, one of the paramedics told Harriet that her calm action most likely prevented the man from suffering a more massive stroke. “We got him started on IV meds right away,” the man told her. “That’s crucial in a case like this. Good thing you found him when you did and acted so quickly.”

Everybody standing around to watch the excitement gave Harriet a polite round of applause. She, who had worked at this office in relative anonymity for four months, became a bit of an office celebrity. All afternoon, coworkers who had previously ignored her stopped by to gossip and make conjectures as to Mr. Ingram’s prognosis.

Kathy was especially impressed. “Wow, that was crazy, huh? You’re, like, a heroine or something.”

Harriet shrugged and barked out a laugh. “Yeah, that’s me, a regular hero,” she said, remembering another time when she should have acted to help someone, and didn’t.

“Well, I guess you saved him from something much worse. What’s that you call him? It always cracks me up.”

“Yeah, poor old Igor.”

“Right.” Kathy laughed. “But, Harriet, what’s going to happen now? Do you still have a job?”

“I don’t think so. Mr. Baldwin came by to tell me they probably won’t need me until Mr. Ingram comes back. But by then, Patricia will be back from maternity leave. So, I guess I’m out of a job, at least around here. Nice reward for a good deed, huh?”

Before Kathy could reply, the phone rang. By the second ring, someone screamed over the partitions, “Where’s the temp? Doesn’t she have to answer that?” Harriet waved to Kathy and picked up the receiver. She didn’t mind answering the phone; it broke the monotony. She often entertained herself by trying out different voices and accents. Her British one was especially good, but she was partial to the Australian. This time, since Kathy was still within earshot, she answered as herself.

“Good afternoon. Mercer, Baldwin, and Ingram.”

“Oh, good afternoon, dear. Is this Patricia?” The voice on the other end of the line had a compelling quality to it—exaggerated vowels, crisp consonants, oozing confidence.

“No, ma’am. This is Harriet. I’m sitting in for Patricia for a few months. May I help you with something?”

“Oh. Well, then, let me speak to Mr. Ingram, would you, dear? This is Agnes Bertrand.”

Harriet wasn’t so sure she loved being called dear, but she explained to the woman what had happened to Mr. Ingram and offered to help if she could, or refer her to someone else. After the appropriate expressions of shock and sadness at the situation, the woman explained that she had been in yesterday to have her will completed and witnessed but had neglected to take it with her. “I wonder if I could come over and pick it up?” she asked.

Harriet remembered this woman—a wealthy, elderly widow. She had typed the will and knew the details. Mrs. Bertrand had left her considerable fortune, except for some charitable bequests, to her one living relative, a nephew. Harriet remembered thinking that was one lucky nephew.

“I saw that you left the will here yesterday, so I put it in an envelope in the mailroom. The mail hasn’t been picked up yet, though. Would you like me to drop it off to you on my way home? Save you the trouble?” Harriet knew that the firm would want to coddle this client, one of the their most valuable, or so she had heard.

“Oh, my dear, that would be so kind of you. I’ll be waiting for you.”

Harriet decided to give herself the rest of the day off and take the will right over there. After tomorrow, she wouldn’t be working here anyway. And she’d love to see this woman’s house, in an exclusive section of Moorestown, one of the prettiest towns near Cherry Hill, where the office was located. It was April, and the flowering trees had just started to bloom. It would be a lovely drive. She grabbed the envelope from the mailroom and, humming to herself, ran out to her car.