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Brita settled back in her black Mustang, adjusting the seat to her height. Being petite, she had to pull the seat all the way up to the steering wheel.
She kept glancing at her purse, keeping it close to her side. Something important must have been lying inside it.
The highway was close to an ocean. If your windows were rolled down, you could breathe in the ocean air. That night, there was no way Brita's windows were rolled down. A chill covered the night sky, causing Brita to shudder with chill bumps. She didn't mind it, though, because she wanted her lungs to breathe in the fresh air.
For some reason traffic was mighty heavy, more so than during the holiday seasons. Was all of the drivers were racing to get to their location. Even Brita herself was rushing; she wasn't driving her normal speed.
In her rearview mirror she spotted a logging truck weaving in and out of traffic. That put worry in Brita; at that high speed, if a log came loose the consequence could be deadly. The man driving the logging truck shot her a look as he passed by. She took every precaution to get around the truck. The logs lightly moved back and forth as the driver sped up to dodge the cars he was about to come upon.
Brita's urge to get out of the traffic grew stronger. To keep her mind elsewhere she turned on the radio. A station was playing a flashback program of heavy metal groups that had eaten up the charts in the eighties. She began to move her lips along with the song, even though no words came from her mouth. Brita always felt embarrassed singing even when she was alone. Whenever Brita did sing, she kept her words in tune. Brita got into the song, not realizing her speed was getting faster.
Not long after the log truck passed her, she passed it.
A police car came out of nowhere with its lights flashing. Brita thought he was coming after her because she was driving ten miles over the speed limit in a sixty zone. She clenched her purse to her side as the police car approached. The car shot past Brita, and she let out a gasp of air she had been holding in her lungs, relieved that he hadn't signaled for her to pull over to the side of the highway. She had little time to get where she was going, and a pull-over would have caused a huge delay.
Traffic on the eastbound side was so heavy that all vehicles were bumper to bumper.
Cautiously, she passed an elderly couple that looked happy and very much in love. Just looking at them you could see the love that surrounded them. In a way, Brita envied the couple. She wanted to grow old with the man who was in her life. But he wasn't the loving type, more like a control freak.
Looking over her shoulder, she saw a young couple in a small pickup driving right next to her. Just barely able to see, she saw the woman resting her head on the man's shoulder as he drove with one arm on the steering wheel and the other hand clenched with the woman's hand.
To get her mind elsewhere, she reached down to open a bottle of Coke. She had to feel around in the dark. While she was touching the top, it tilted over, falling to the passenger side with a loud thud. It landed on the passenger side floorboard. Brita let go of the steering wheel with one hand and reached over, feeling around for the loose Coke bottle. She was unable to reach it because it had rolled underneath the passenger side seat. She could hear it rolling around.
In the instant she had her eyes off the road, she came up on the logging truck, slamming smack underneath its trailer. She screamed while the car took several spins before the truck had it pinned in.
In the next lane, a tractor-trailer carrying fuel smacked right into three cars, one of which held the elderly couple she had seen earlier. The air was suddenly filled with smoke and fuel flames for a good five miles down the highway.
The last thing Brita heard was the sound of tires screeching on pavement. Then her world turned to darkness.
Many people were trapped, unable to free themselves from the tangled metal. The tractor-trailer carrying fuel had exploded, causing half the highway to burn. Once smoke started to fill the eastbound lanes, all traffic was stopped. Some vehicles were turning around to go back from where they had come. Tempers were flaring as police turned to comb the wreck. Several people who tried to get a closer look at the wreck were pushed back.
A young, attractive police officer walked over to Brita's side of the car, trying any way to help her. He touched her hand to assure her she wasn't alone.
Brita's eyes slowly opened; she woke to an empty, cold room. She was no longer trapped in her car.
Each time she moved, she felt pain. Her neck was hurting the worst. Underneath her left breast she felt a broken rib. Each breath showed she was right. It made her feel like she didn't want to ever breathe again.
What had caused all this? She had no memory of the accident or even how she got there.
A doctor walked in without speaking and examined her. He pulled out his eyepiece, checking to see if her pupils dilated. He pressed down on her stomach, which caused her to moan. The doctor acted as though he was in a hurry.
She had a question burning inside her. Who was she? Looking back, she couldn't remember a day of her life.
The doctor gave her no time to speak. He left, closing the door behind him.
Nothing looked familiar. She looked around the room to spark a memory, but still nothing.
Feeling the need to leave, Brita removed a white hospital sheet that covered her, and then she noticed both knees were bandaged up and her left foot was swollen to ten times its normal size. She knew getting up to walk was not possible. Feeling frustrated, Brita threw herself back down in bed and began to sob. That's when a tail headed nurse came in with a kit to draw blood. Without making eye contact with Brita, she tapped her arm to find a vein. The woman showed no friendliness.
Brita could no longer hold back her thoughts. "Who am I?" Brita's voice contained fear.
The nurse looked up from what she was doing. "You don't know who you are, dear?" Her eyes widened with concern.
"No, I don't remember a thing or even how I got her."
Perspiration popped out all over Brita. The flash of fear made her sweat while waiting for the nurse to respond. The nurse could tell Brita was serious; her eyes told her that. Without answering, she finished the job of filling all the tubes with Brita's blood.
"The doctor will be with you soon," she said, while gathering up her supplies. Brita watched the nurse as she stepped out of the room.
More than an hour passed before anyone returned to the room. Another doctor came in and pulled a chair next to her bed. "The nurse said your memories are fuzzy."
"Fuzzy? You mean nonexistent." She felt sick and afraid, more afraid than sick.
"Your head X-ray showed a small lump on the side, nothing that would cause permanent memory loss."
That didn't make Brita feel any better. She felt more lost than ever.
"You have a visitor waiting outside." Those were the last words the doctor spoke. A soft knock came at the door, and slowly someone moved into the room. A handsome, blue-eyed, middle-aged man walked into the room carrying a black leather purse tucked underneath one of his arms. He was the same man who had held her hand as the Jaws of Life had cut her from the tangled car. He was dressed in a blue police uniform. She seemed to have stumbled onto a gentleman who had a career in law.
For a long, silent moment the two just stared at each other. He grinned before introducing himself. "I'm Robbie Cash." He spoke in a polite tone.
"I would say my name, but I don't know it."
"Maybe this will help." He handed Brita the black leather purse that was left behind in the wreck. Unzipping it, she emptied everything in the purse on the bed. Opening the wallet, she looked at her driver's license. The name Brita Coleman appeared on the picture. In the picture her hair was dyed a better, darker color than now.
Something caught her attention; a piece of paper was crumpled in a ball. Trying her best she laid the paper flat, trying to read through the wrinkles. The letter appeared almost as a code: It had a date and time, with the initials C.P. at the bottom. Did this mean something?
Setting the paper aside, she pulled out the picture from inside the wallet. A little baby around nine months old sat in the Easter Bunny's lap. The baby looked like it was about to cry. The picture brought a smile to Brita's face. She turned the picture around but no information was written on the back.
The last picture was of an old woman sitting in a rocking chair, covered with a blanket.
Who was this woman? Someone she came in contact with on a daily basis? The questions were beginning to pile in her mind, without any answers.
Brita's face turned to a blank stare as a flashback came to her. She saw herself rocking a baby wrapped in a quilt in that same rocking chair, but couldn't recall the surroundings. Before she came to terms with that, she recalled herself giving birth, and the pain was hard to bear. The sweat started to pour from her pores. Snapping out of her daydream, she sat there frozen.
Robbie could see how distressed she had become. He took a seat on the bed next to her, wiping the sweat from her forehead. Old ghosts were coming back to haunt her.
Reaching over, Robbie took the picture from her hand. "You know them?"
Brita didn't know how to answer the question. The things she was seeing ... she couldn't tell if they were a memory or something her mind wanted her to believe.
"I feel like a child lost in a big city." She kept staring around the room as though the room had the answers. Robbie could smell the fear that surrounded her. He knew the answers were lost in her blind memories. With professional help, she could begin recalling all she knew very soon.
Robbie's pager went off. He checked the number. He had to leave; he was being called back on the job. From the purse, Robbie grabbed a note and pen; he wrote down his cell phone number and handed it to Brita. "Call me if you remember any more. I'll help you if you need me."
Those words sounded scenery. She thought it was nice of him to help, considering he knew nothing about her. That was all she needed: a friend that would help her remember.
After Robbie left, a nurse came in with a large white pill. Brita examined it before placing it on her tongue. "What was that pill for?" Brita kept choking because the large pill got stuck in her throat.
"It's just a little something to relax you and help you sleep," responded the nurse.
Really, though, she didn't want to sleep. The pain in her legs kept taking her attention.
The pill left a bitter taste in her mouth; no matter how much water she took in, the taste stayed around, causing a chill to climb her spine.
While waiting for the pill to kick in, Brita turned on the television. The news was broadcasting the wreck. She had no idea how serious the wreck had been until she saw the flames that still burned and the condition of the wrecked cars. She still didn't know what she had been driving.
Feeling only anger, she turned off the television and blankly stared out the window, watching the rain slowly fall against the window glass. As sleep took her, she hoped tomorrow would be a different day
In a nightmare, Brita dreamed she was standing around a table with two men; one resembled her. They had a drawn-out plan of a two-story building. Several locations were marked with red marker. The exits were also marked, but with black marker. The man beside her turned to face her. His face was heavily scarred; he didn't look like a friendly man. She could hear him yelling words at her.
She gasped, and a shudder went through her as she woke from the dream. Even though it had been a dream, she could still see his face. That sight wouldn't leave her mind.
Brita could suddenly feel something over her face. She couldn't catch her breath. She could feel a pillow being held down on her face. Using her hands, she fought the arms that held the pillow. Brita struggled to regain consciousness. Her legs were useless in the fight. Her head felt like it was going to explode if she didn't catch another breath. Brita called out for help. She didn't stop until someone came.
Brita thought she was losing her mind; she was relieved when she looked down on the bed. Someone had been in the room, because whoever it had been had accidentally left a black cloth glove behind.
She caught her breath, asking for someone to call Robby. The nurse refused and told her that nobody had been there; that it had only been a dream. She said that sometimes our brain functions that way and we can't tell if we're between dreaming and being awake.
Was the nurse that blind to seeing how red Brita' s face actually was?
Feeling no help from the nurse, Brita grabbed the phone from the side of her bed and called Robby. She was speaking so fast he got only bits of information from her. Several times he asked her to calm down.
He had to see her, so he left work even though he was still on duty for another five hours.
It didn't take Robbie long to arrive. Brita's room was full of on-duty nurses. They were all trying to calm her. She became calm when she noticed Robbie in the room. He rushed over, wrapping his arms around her shaking body.
"Someone came in my room and tried to smother me with a pillow."
Brita sighed with relief, but Robbie stared at her with horror.
He could tell something had occurred. "Did you see who it was?"
"No, it was too dark to make out a face. They left this." Brita pointed at the glove, which was still untouched on the bed.
Using an ink pen, he lifted up the glove and asked one of the nurses to find a plastic bag. He noticed tiny dark fabrics on the glove that could lead to a clue. When the nurse came back, Robbie slid the glove in the bag and sealed it.
He gave her a sideways look. "A cowardly way to murder someone." Anger was in his tone.
Brita opened her mouth and then seemed to stop herself. This was something serious. Brita was a target for something she knew. She must know something damn important if someone wanted her dead.
Robbie took guard outside her hospital room, eyeing everyone who came down the hall, even the hospital staff. He suspected everyone. His boss gave him hell because he refused to leave Brita's side. She had nobody else to protect her. This could lead to a dismissal from his job.
Robbie called a friend in the department to run a background check to see when she had last used her credit cards and to check to see if she had any outstanding warrants. Her driver's license could help locate her home address. The information would be ready for him first thing in the morning.
Assuring Brita of her safety, Robbie pulled a chair out in the hallway and set it next to the door. He laid his tired head against the cold walls.
The nurse standing at the nurse's desk kept staring at him from behind her clipboard. Her stare indicated that she didn't want him to be there. Another nurse that stood at the nurse's desk walked over and made conversation with Robby. She asked him questions about his love life. While listening, she laughed and pretended to be writing down every word he spoke. Robbie wasn't paying the nurse any attention; he kept peeking in the room to check on Brita. His thoughts were on her.
Robbie felt sorry for her, that she didn't know who loved her. That could happen to anyone, even him. Robbie never thought about that. Memory was the most important function of the human body. Even though they'd just met, he'd already built her up in his mind. Protecting her was becoming an obsession.
Sometime in the night Robbie dozed off in the chair without realizing he had done so. A new nurse who was starting the morning shift woke Robbie by handing him a cup of coffee. After focusing his eyes, he thanked the wide-eyed nurse.
The breakfast trays were starting to be delivered. Robbie stopped the man at Brita's door to test her food to make sure it didn't contain poison. Better to be safe than sorry. The food smelled and tasted fine, except for the eggs. They were a bit runny. The sight grossed him out, so he closed the tray. Robbie had never been never a breakfast man; he preferred hamburgers and tacos.
He gave the man the go-ahead to deliver the breakfast to Brita. He'd been careful to make sure nobody at the hospital knew the real reason he was guarding the room.
Brita had been awake for hours. Pain showed on her face as she rose. She removed the tray's lid and began to eat. The toast had already turned cold. Feeling nauseated, that was all she ate. Her stomach couldn't take in any more of the food.
A man in a black suit came into the room, and Robbie handed him the glove to get it examined for evidence. Brita tried to listen in on the conversation, but the men were speaking so low that all she could make out were mumbles. So she drew her mind away from them.
An uneasy irritation climbed Brita's spine. Her toes felt numb. Was she still able to walk? That question burned in her mind. She wasn't giving up hope.
Reaching for the rails, she pulled herself up. The worst pain came from out of nowhere. Getting up would be an impossible task. Unless she knew magic tricks, she wasn't going anywhere.
Brita turned around to find Robbie staring, giving her a disapproving frown before jerking her back into bed.
"You keep doing what you're doing and you're never going to get better." He hoped his words didn't offend her.
She had misunderstood what he meant. "So just lying here won't make me well?"
"Brita, the body needs time to heal."
She couldn't disagree with that no matter how hard she tried.
He tucked the sheets over her while telling her a farfetched tale of his elderly neighbor who did his own thing, making his recovery worse. The same tale he always told.
Brita changed the subject by asking if he had found out any more information on her identity. The DMV gave an address for a Vermont location, where she had originally received her driver's license, although the license in the wallet had a Washington DC address. A credit card receipt gave a clue: She had been in Pennsylvania filling up her gas tank and getting a breakfast plate two days before the wreck occurred. She must have been heading someplace south. That gas station was the only thing found recorded. There was no record of any motel she might have stayed at, so she must have been driving on the road for several days.
Excerpted from Deadly Secrets by Becky Moore Copyright © 2011 by Becky Moore. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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