A contemporary mystery romance
with a nod to Jane Austen.
by Wendi Sotis
Safekeeping copyright © 2015 Wendi Sotis
All Rights Reserved
A shrill sound pierced the darkness. Her head throbbed along with the intermittent rhythm of its whine, in time with her heartbeat. Her mouth was painfully dry as if it were lined with cotton. The metallic taste of blood caught her attention. Every inch of her body hurt. Instinct told her to remain quiet and still.
She searched her memory. What had happened to cause such agony? She couldn’t recall much of anything—just an image of a dark SUV in her rearview mirror and a vague sense of foreboding. Those shadowy figures within had wanted her dead.
I must’ve gotten away… or I’ve been captured.
Her left leg felt much heavier than it should. Were the tales of people getting rid of unwanted individuals with concrete shoes true? Is that what they had planned for her?
Maybe it would’ve been better if she had remained unconscious.
A woman said, “Page Ken. She’s waking up,” followed by the unmistakable sound of a telephone receiver being replaced in its cradle.
Squinting at the bright light shining from overhead, she could barely make out the form of a person standing nearby before having to close her eyes again. Her eyelids felt as if they were lined with sandpaper. Tears ran down her cheeks in response to the irritation. But no matter how much it hurt, she had to look around. Knowing the layout might lead to her only chance to escape.
As she brought up a weighty arm to shield her eyes from the light, pain exploded inside her skull and radiated throughout her entire body. She had been hit! Instinctively, she rolled away from where she had seen her attacker. Cold metal blocked her getaway.
A steady, high-pitched alarm sounded, increasing the ache in her head ten-fold. Hands clutched her arms and pulled them to her sides. She hated being restrained, but she was too weak to fight any longer. Besides, she had better save her strength until she had assessed the danger.
“You’ll harm yourself,” a soothing female voice cooed. “Relax…”
She pulled her right arm free and forced herself to focus on it. Realization dawned. I hit myself in the head with a brace.
Everything was white and stainless steel—bed, machines, and wires. A tube disappeared under her sleeve. She returned her focus to the woman and saw she wore scrubs.
The nurse walked around the bed and pressed a button on a machine, effectively quieting the alarm. “I know you’re confused. You’ve been unconscious since the accident. I need to check your IV, or the alarm will sound again. My name is Kitty. I’m your nurse this evening.”
Kitty adjusted the IV and taped it in place. “This should hold you for a while but try not to move that arm too much. I’ll get a new IV set up after the doctor sees you.”
“Water?” she asked hoarsely.
The nurse shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t… not until the doctor says it’s okay. He’ll be here soon.”
As if on cue, a man walked through the door. He was of medium height and weight, completely bald and wore a button down shirt, bow tie, and a long white coat. She tensed.
Kitty patted her arm and said, “This is Dr. Cozzolino.”
He nodded at her, opened the electronic tablet he carried, and swiped the screen several times. She assumed he was reading her file. “In layman’s terms, you’ve suffered a head wound, and your wrist is sprained. The fibular bone in your left leg had a clean break, and you’ve got quite a few cuts and bruises.”
She tried to speak, but that only provoked a cough.
The doctor nodded at the nurse, who helped her take a sip of water. She tried to grab the cup to get more, but Kitty shook her head. “Not too much at once.”
She asked with a hoarse voice, “How long?”
“You’ve been unconscious for five days,” the doctor said.
Her eyes widened.
“You gave us quite a scare, young lady. We weren’t sure you’d awaken at all.” Dr. Cozzolino paused. “I’ll need to examine you.”
After gesturing to the nurse for another sip of water, she was allowed much too little to quench her thirst. “Is it bad I don’t remember anything?”
Both the doctor and nurse raised their eyebrows. He asked, “You don’t remember the accident?”
She began to shake her head, but dizziness overwhelmed her and she closed her eyes. When she opened them again, both were staring at her. “I don’t remember anything else, either. I don’t even know my name.”
The nurse said, “Elizabeth… Elizabeth Becket.”
The name sounded vaguely familiar, but it wasn’t right, either. “Are you sure?”
The doctor looked up from entering information on his tablet and frowned. “Let’s get the preliminary exam done. Your neurologist will stop by later.”
After a few minutes of prodding and poking, the doctor said, “The Mt. Wonnig police keep calling to check on your condition. They’ll want to speak to you soon. Shall I tell them tomorrow would be good?”
Elizabeth nodded, and the doctor left the room.
“Mt. Wonnig?” She glanced at the identification tag hanging off the pocket of Kitty’s uniform. Mt. Wonnig Hospital.
The nurse said, “It’s a college town in upstate New York.”
New York? What was she doing in New York? “But I was in…” She couldn’t remember.
Kitty said, “You just rest, okay? I’ve seen patients with amnesia before. Once the shock wears off, you might start remembering things.” She took hold of a cord with a box at the end of it and wrapped it around the metal bedframe so it was in reach of her good arm. “The controls for the television are on here. Push the red call button if you need anything. I’ll be back in a few minutes with a pitcher of water. Lunch is over, but I’ll see if I can scrounge up a sandwich from the kitchen. Turkey okay?”
I have no idea. She shrugged. “Sure.”
As soon as she was alone, her eyelids became heavy, but she fought the urge to sleep. Looking at the brace on her arm and the cast on her leg, she wiggled her fingers and then her toes. Pain shot up both limbs.
I’m in danger, and I’m laid up, unable to escape? This isn’t good at all.
Her gut told her this was no accident. She closed her eyes, trying to remember the dream she’d just had. Or was it a memory?
Who were those people in the SUV? Why would they want to hurt her?
Who am I?
“I’m going alone,” she announced confidently.
The muscles along Will’s strong jaw flexed as he ground his teeth. One needed to know to look for it—the only outward sign he ever displayed when upset. Unfortunately, she was all too familiar with it.
“Why risk it?” he asked calmly. “John might’ve trained you, but you’ve only been in the field on a couple of easy assignments.”
Her pulse throbbed in the old wound she had gotten in the line of duty two years ago. “That last one wasn’t easy.”
“It was supposed to be.” Will raised both his eyebrows and stared at her. It hadn’t been her fault. Why did he always blame her?
She stared into the clear blue depths of his eyes, trying to see what was hidden in his soul. He kept his emotions shuttered. She moved her gaze away so she could think more clearly. He was right—she needed protection this time. “I’ll agree, but it has to be someone else. I can’t be around you anymore.”
“Me? What’d I do?”
Her anger flared. “I should’ve known you’d forget what happened two years ago.” She wished she could’ve forgotten it, too.
After a few moments’ hesitation, he said, “Actually… I’ve thought of it often.” His wistful tone made her turn quickly to catch his expression, but she couldn’t read him right now. He only stared at her.
He advanced further, near enough for his spicy scent to fill her senses. Her insides melted.
He raised one hand and trailed the back of his fingers down her cheek and then placed his hand gently on her shoulder.
She arched her neck to move away from him, but it seemed only to expose more of her skin.
Leaning forward, his lips tickled her ear as he spoke. “I was trying to protect you.” Will’s husky voice vibrated through her entire body. “It almost killed me to say I didn’t want you… that I didn’t love you back…” He tasted the sensitive skin under her ear. “Even though I did.”
Every nerve in her body hummed with pleasure.
“I’ve never stopped loving you. You’re a magnet for danger, and I wanted you out. It was better to keep you out of harm’s way than to be with you.” He pulled away to look into her eyes. “But it was two years wasted—and your new job didn’t keep you safe, either. I’m not wasting another minute.”
He took her face between his hands. One thumb caressed her bottom lip as his gaze searched hers. “I don’t have the strength to stay away from you again. Not one more day. I’m coming with you.”
Will leaned closer, his lips just a breath away from hers. She could barely breathe.
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
Don’t wake me!
Elizabeth opened her eyes and looked around.
She blinked a few times, trying to hold onto the dream, but it faded away like a mist in the sunshine. At least it wasn’t another nightmare.
“Hi, Ms. Becket. I’m Detective Vera Haseman.” The woman gestured toward a man at her side. “This is my partner, Detective Ed Guando. We’re investigating your accident.”
Elizabeth nodded warily.
“The doc says you don’t remember anything?” the male detective asked.
“Nothing. Even my name doesn’t seem familiar.”
“Well, your photo in the New York DMV database matches with the name Elizabeth Becket.” He handed her a paper. “You’ve recently enrolled at the local university, and you have an apartment at a building just off campus. The landlady says you were expected to arrive before the school year begins, which fits since you had luggage in your rental car and your belongings were delivered to the apartment the day of your accident. You have an account at First National Bank, which was opened at a branch in New York City recently.”
Elizabeth shook her head slightly. She winced at the pain the movement caused. “None of that rings a bell.”
“While you were unconscious, we tried to locate your next of kin. We sent a local police officer to the address listed on your license, which is the same one you used to rent the vehicle. The apartment is completely empty—no furniture, nothing. The officer spoke to your neighbors. Apparently, you weren’t there very long and kept to yourself, but their descriptions of you match. You paid cash for the rent.”
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. “Has anyone filed a missing person’s report about me?”
The cops glanced at each other uncomfortably. Detective Haseman said, “No.”
“Oh.” Elizabeth looked down at the brace resting on her lap. I’m alone in the world? She took a deep breath. “Was there any evidence that I might be in danger?”
Detective Haseman looked up from writing on her pad and shook her head. “Why?”
“Every time I fall asleep, I’ve been having nightmares…” Elizabeth hesitated. “If there is a reason, I’d like to know about it.”
“So would we, but we’ve seen no indication that you’re in danger,” said the male detective. “How you rented the apartment here is a little strange. It’s paid up for the next year—cash, wired from a lawyer in New York City. Your first semester at college was paid the same way. Both just a few hours before your accident.”
Detective Haseman continued the summary. “When local law enforcement tried to get in touch with the lawyer to see if he had your medical history or any other information, the office was abandoned. No forwarding address filed with the post office, either.” She shrugged. “Nobody’s complaining about the lawyer disappearing, so we concluded that the telegraph office recorded the wrong address. We can’t even find a lawyer by the name of Lawrence Phillips in the city.” She held up a file folder. “At your neurologist’s request, we obtained a copy of your application for the university. He’s hoping when you read the entrance essay, it’ll trigger some memories.” He handed the folder to her. “The officer we sent to the high school on your transcript couldn’t find anyone who remembers you.”
Not one person remembers me? Elizabeth took several quick breaths, fighting back panic and tears, before continuing. “My head is killing me. Can I look at the paperwork later, or did you want to observe me while I read it?”
“Later is fine.” Detective Guando shook his head. “Listen, you’re not being charged with anything. Your tox screen was negative. It was raining hard that afternoon. The accident reconstruction report says your tires passed over a slippery patch on the road and you skidded. The vehicle traveling behind you hit your rental car and pushed you off the road, down a hill. Based on the height of the dent, we believe it was an SUV or a truck. Your car stopped sliding downward when it hit a tree head-on. Judging by your blood loss, it was determined that the accident occurred at least an hour before it was reported by a passing motorist. Your car was totaled, by the way. I’m sure the rental company will be in touch.”
An SUV! Like in the dream.
Detective Haseman picked up where her partner left off. “Since the other driver didn’t stop or call in the accident, we’re trying to find him and charge him with hit and run, but to be honest, it’ll be nearly impossible. There’s just no evidence other than some black paint on your car.” She handed Elizabeth a business card. “Call if you have any questions or remember anything about the accident.”
How do I do that when I don’t know if my dreams are memories?
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