ERIN WOKE ONCE AGAIN IN A DARK ROOM, BUT this time it didn’t feel like a dream. She thought she had fallen asleep in her father’s car, which was unusual. The only times she really remembered blacking out like that . . .
Where was she?
What had she done?
She pushed herself up and then gasped. Her body ached. She shoved her hair out of her face and groped blindly for the edge of the bed, and from there for a lamp. She needed light. She needed–
Don’t freak out again, Erin. Deep breaths. She consciously controlled her breathing as she located the bedside table.
Instead of finding a lamp, she touched a small box, maybe for jewelry. A . . . pair of handcuffs? A little less carefully and a little more frantically, she searched further, and then she bit back a scream as she grabbed something sharp, cutting her hand.
She recoiled, hugging her injured hand to her chest, and ended up in the middle of the dark room. She shuffled forward, her uninjured hand in front of her face, until she found the wall and breathed a sigh of relief.
The relief was short-lived. In that moment, a door behind her opened, letting in a stream of muted but much-appreciated light and a man she had never seen before.
He looked a little older than Erin–maybe a college student–though he had a quality about him that made Erin think he was older than that. His skin was caramel-bronze, and his short, tousled hair was the color of French roast coffee beans.
What didn’t match were his silver and blue eyes, which made her think of a blue jay dipped in mercury. He didn’t look like anyone she remembered ever knowing, but at the same time he seemed impossibly familiar. Those eyes, focused on her with apparent concern, seemed like eyes she must have stared into for hours once upon a time, in another life.
Maybe she had.
This thought made Erin’s skin crawl.
“Where am I?” she asked, in a voice so muted she could barely recognize it as her own.
“In your room, in your Sète home.” He looked worried now. “Do you remember how you got here?”
Sète? She had never heard of it.
Now he really looked confused. “Shevaun, why don’t you sit down? You were badly hurt. This is the first time you’ve been conscious in days, and I think you’re still
“What did you call me?” But Erin already knew. She knew because she had heard the name before. It was written in all her medical records.
“Shevaun, sit down–”
He moved to touch her arm and she jerked back.
“I’ve got to go. I have to leave, now.”
“Don’t call me that!”
As she remembered what he had said, she demanded, “Hurt–how? How was I hurt? What did I do?” Erin didn’t want to go back to the ward, to lockdowns and body searches and waking up in restraints, but wasn’t this worse? At least when she woke up in isolation, she knew where she was and who she was with.
“Calm down,” the man was saying, but she couldn’t. She knew what “Shevaun” was capable of; any friend of that woman’s was no friend of hers. Erin only needed to glance at the bedside table–and the handcuffs, knife, and bottle of wine there–to know that.
The man reached for her again. This time she shoved him, discovering in her panic a strength she hadn’t known she possessed, and suddenly the stranger was sprawled full length on the ground.
Seizing her advantage, she dashed past him, only to slam into a tall, slender girl with unruly blond hair, who stumbled a bit but managed to keep her footing and grab Erin’s arm.
“Shevaun, you’re awake!”
The girl’s glowing happiness was quickly replaced by confusion as the man Erin had run from said, “Brittany, don’t let her past you. Something’s wrong.”
“Something is wrong,” Erin said swiftly as the man moved up behind her and grasped one of her wrists in each hand. “I don’t know what I’ve told you, but I’m not who you think I am. And I need to get home, right away.”
“You are home,” the girl said.
“No, I’m not–”
“Brittany, why don’t you give us some privacy?” the man asked.
Brittany nodded. “I’ll wait in the parlor, in case you need me.”
Parlor?Who has a parlor, in this day and age?
Apparently, Shevaun did, along with this oldmoney, Victorian-style bedroom, featuring a fourposter bed, an Oriental carpet, and honest-to-god oil paintings on the walls. Not to mention handcuffs and a knife, and a man Erin had never met.
“Please,” she whispered. “Let me call my father. He’ll explain.”
The man holding her didn’t reply. Instead, he pulled them both down on the bed, where he spooned against her back, pinning one of her arms underneath her and keeping her other wrist in his hand, against her shoulder. He was gentle, but Erin knew that he was perfectly ready to roll forward and pin her more thoroughly if she struggled.
“Let’s start over,” he said, in a voice that was ohso- careful. “My name is Adjila. I am in love with Shevaun, so you can be assured that I won’t hurt you, that I have a vested interest in figuring out what is going on, and that I am not going to let you out of this house until I am confident you are safe. Even if you were making sense to me, I would attempt to discourage you from leaving due to your current physical condition–which you would notice, if you would calm down enough to recognize that you are still injured.”
Aware that she wouldn’t be able to get up until he let her, Erin forced herself to relax. As she did so, she confirmed what he had said: her whole body hurt. The pain seemed most focused in her gut and her ribs, but everything ached, as if she had either had a serious flu or taken an equally serious beating.
“Okay, I’ve calmed down,” she said. “Would you let go of me now?”
“So you can run off?” Adjila guessed correctly.
“Actually, because it creeps me out to have a guy I don’t know snuggling with me,” she snapped. It was her secondary reason, but that didn’t make it less true.
She felt him flinch, and an unexpected wave of pity washed over her. He had claimed to love Shevaun. She was about to tell him that Shevaun didn’t exist.
“If it would make you less uneasy,” he said, “I can tie you down instead.”
She drew a deep breath. “I don’t want to be tied up.”
“I didn’t think so. Now, if you aren’t Shevaun, why don’t you let me know who you are?”
From the Hardcover edition.