About the Author
You can learn more about Sara at http://sarafurlongburr.blogspot.com, follow her on Twitter via @Sarafurlong, and read more of her ramblings via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/EnigmaBlackKindle.
Other works by Sara include the Enigma Black trilogy (Enigma Black, Vendetta Nation, Redemption) and The Living and The Dead.
Read an Excerpt
"It's Luke," she said, her voice flat. She spoke his name with care, handling it as though it were an egg balancing precariously on the edge of a spoon. Her trepidation, so raw and apparent, had inherently transferred itself into me the moment I heard her voice on the end of the line, forcing me to soak up every tear she must have shed over the last few weeks like a sponge. And despite the care she took, at some point, the egg she was balancing fell from the spoon and exploded on the ground, leaving nothing but a hollow shell in its wake. All emotion had been sucked out of her, rendering her so fragile that even the slightest jostling threatened to shatter what remained of her into a million pieces. "Something's happened, Elle."
The very second my synapses transmitted her voice from the receiver to my brain, resurrecting memories I had long ago laid to rest deep within the recesses of my mind, I'd grown numb. I'd grown so numb, in fact, that I hardly heard the words she spoke, except for bits and pieces; for my mind had been racing almost as fast as my heart, and it had been all I could do to keep my composure and not fall to the floor in despair in the cramped confines of my cubicle.
Not usually an eager telephone conversationalist outside of work, I had nonetheless been thankful that we hadn't been having this conversation in person, so she couldn't see just how much my hands were shaking or how pale I knew my face had become. I suspected she, too, was thankful for this, as every so often, a slight tremble in her voice presented itself, betraying the strong-willed woman she had always presented herself to be. Broken, she had somehow managed to assemble some of the pieces together again and was doing everything in her power to keep them in place.
"I know this is going to sound crazy," she'd continued, the defeat so strongly evident in her delivery I had begun to believe that she was feeling just as awkward speaking to me as I was with her, especially with all the time that had passed between us, "and I'm sorry for the imposition of my request, but you see, we're desperate. We've tried to avoid it coming to this, but he's been so demanding, bordering on the point of hysterical and, you see, we can't think of any other option. His doctors ... well, some of them, are hesitant, but others feel like this may help him, like —"
"I'll come," I'd said without hesitation, taking even myself aback.
The other end of the line fell silent, so silent in fact that I wondered briefly whether we'd been disconnected, even going so far as to remove the phone from my ear to check the screen before her voice returned at the other end. "Really?" she'd asked, overcome with disbelief. "Thank you, Elle. I can't express to you how grateful I am — how grateful we all are."
"Of course," I'd said, holding back the tremble in own my voice while trying to make myself sound like I, too, wasn't about to crumble right then and there. At my desk in a cubicle surrounded by a sea of my fellow call center co-workers, I'd had to keep my voice low and my emotions in check to keep from drawing attention to myself. Not to mention the fact that personal calls were understandably frowned upon, as well as enabling the busy function on our desk phones to take them. "Hey listen, Candy, I have to get back to work. Text the address to me, and I'll make all the arrangements I need to make to arrive tomorrow evening."
* * *
That conversation, now almost twenty-four hours ago, replayed over and over again in my head, like it was actually taking place in the present. Candy's voice, the sound of my past, drowned out the grinding sound of the road underneath my tires, the horns of disgruntled motorists, and the roar of vehicles in desperate need of a muffler repair. In contrast, it was deathly silent in my small, black Camry, yet the commotion going on within me was so loud it was deafening, and it wasn't until I pulled over to the side of the road and took in a series of deep breaths to calm my frazzled nerves that I realized I'd neglected to turn the radio on. Whether in the car for five minutes or five hours, I always had music playing. And its unnoticed absence was a testament to the jumbled mess going on inside of my brain.
Fingers shaking, I pressed the audio switch on the stereo touch screen, selecting the icon for my iPod over the option for satellite radio — all while thinking that if Eric were in the car with me, his irritation would have come in the form of a sigh, comically loud and drawn out to make his point. "Why pay for satellite radio if you never listen to it?" he'd ask.
"Because I like having the option to listen to it or not listen to it," I'd say, throwing in a, "Besides, you know I don't understand how to work the damn thing anyway," to exasperate him all the more.
My left hand loosened its grasp on the steering wheel as my eyes trailed downward to the sizable princess cut diamond engagement ring and gold wedding band around the fourth finger of my left hand. I detested gold, always believing it to be the more pretentious of the precious metals. It had been bought in haste. The consequence of my having been late one month and of Eric's chivalrous need to make an honest woman out of me.
We'd married three months after he'd proposed, a month after any necessity for a shotgun wedding had dissipated in the form of a miscarriage, and only six months after we'd first met. A one-night stand that turned into a three-year-next-month marriage. Eric had taken the news of my unexpected telephone call well. Much better than I had been expecting; much better still than I would have had the roles been reversed.
* * *
"So, your ex-boyfriend was in an accident?" Eric asked, repeating everything I had just told him, only at a much slower pace than my barely coherent blubbering had been. I'd found him standing over the stove in our kitchen, browning hamburger to use in the goulash I had planned on making that evening.
"Yes, a car accident," I answered him, attempting to recall the fuzzy bits of the conversation I'd had with Candy, praying that the shock to my system hadn't prevented me from having absorbed any pertinent information.
"And he woke up in the hospital after a month-long coma with amnesia?" Eric shut off the stove, removing the frying pan from the burner. Turning around to give me his undivided attention, he braced his body against the island directly across from where I stood.
"Yes, retrograde amnesia," I answered him, doing my best to sound like I actually understood the ramifications of Luke's diagnosis. Unable to make eye contact with him, I kept my eyes downcast, focusing instead on the scuff that had appeared across the toe box of my brand new pump.
"And because of this retrograde amnesia, he believes ..."
"That he and I are still in a relationship. H-he can't remember anything that happened since 2008, or so his neurologist has been able to ascertain." Sensing his gaze on me, I looked up from the offensive mark on my otherwise perfect shoe and locked eyes with him. Even irritated, his face never portrayed a hint of malice. The only clue that something was wrong was the slight deepening of his usually sea foam green eyes to a hue resembling the turbulent waters of an ocean during a hurricane.
"And so when your ex-boyfriend's mother calls you and asks you whether you will come and see him in the hospital seven hours away, you immediately acquiesce and agree to put your entire life — your job, your husband, your commitments — on hold at a moment's notice on the off chance you can somehow provide the miracle cure even his doctors cannot?"
"Something like that," I meekly squeaked out, realizing just how ridiculous it all sounded when read back to me. He said nothing further, instead staring at me from across the kitchen as though expecting me to spring a belated "Gotcha" on him at any moment. A seasoned trial attorney, he was waiting for my rebuttal, some well-versed prose that would cement my argument for making this trip with the jury he'd assembled in that analytical mind of his. "Look, Eric, I know how it sounds. I know I'm absolutely insane, but a part of me feels like I owe this to Luke for the way things ended between us."
"It's been what, seven or eight years since you broke up with him —"
"Nine years," I interrupted him. "Ten years this May."
"Okay." Laughing, he rolled his eyes. "It's been nearly ten years since you left him high and dry. If he isn't over that yet, that's his problem."
"That's just it, he doesn't know there's anything he has to be over yet."
"So you're going to make him relive the break up all over again?"
"I don't know, I haven't gotten that far," I confessed. Eric remained slouched over the island's granite surface, uncharacteristically quiet. Most likely, he knew that any attempt to change my mind would only prove futile. "Come with me?"
His expression softened, and a smile creased his face for the first time since I arrived home that evening. "As much as I'd like to spend the next week hanging out in a hospital waiting room while you time travel back to 2008 with another man, I have client meetings scheduled throughout the week, a brief due on Wednesday, and a trial that starts on Friday for a case involving a pretty important client of the firm's."
"So that's a maybe, then?"
He laughed, rubbing his temples, something he always did whenever he was ready to concede a losing battle. I'd often wondered whether he broke that tic out while in the courtroom, too.
"On the contrary, that's a hard no, Elle Bell."
"Oh god, this being an adult crap blows the big one, doesn't it?"
"Speaking of being an adult, what on earth did you tell your supervisor?"
"That my favorite aunt from out of state passed away in a tragic boating accident."
"Oh, so a lie, then?" Eric leaned in closer across the counter, resting his hand on my own. "I must say, though, the use of a boat in your aunt's untimely demise was a nice touch, really authenticates things."
"If you're going to fib, you'd better not half ass it."
"Trust me, nothing about you is half-assed." Lifting my hand, he pressed his lips against the smooth skin of my fingers and sighed.
"Are you upset with me?"
Seconds passed — a few too many for comfort, in fact — before he answered me.
"No." His eyes looked down into mine, the fiery intensity of his irises having dissipated into their natural lighter shade of green. "It's hard for me to be mad at someone for just wanting to do what they feel is right. I mean, come on, what do you think I am, a dick or something?"
I laughed in spite of myself and joined him on his side of the island. "No, but I'm certain there are quite a few former opponents who would agree with that sentiment."
"Which means I'm doing my job." Wrapping his arms around my waist, he drew me in closer to him. "So, exactly how incapacitated is he, anyway? I'm not going to have to make an impromptu trip down to the intensive care unit to kick his ass for getting too handsy, am I?" "He has two broken legs and several broken ribs to go along with his head injury."
"He's a man, that's not incapacitated enough."
"What do you think I'm going to do, completely forget I'm married and jump his bones in his hospital bed?"
"You're right, I'm being foolish. Besides, he probably wouldn't remember it, anyway."
"Eric Bell, you're positively horrible." I attempted to push him away, but his grip on me was resolute and my combativeness only served to make him tighten his grasp.
He kissed me lightly, his lips lingering on my own as he spoke. "Why don't we go upstairs so that I can give you something to remember me by?"
* * *
The early spring sun swiftly set on the horizon behind the splendor of the Allegheny Mountains, a welcome change from the relatively flat lands of southern Indiana, where a long drive was bound to put you to sleep. Seeing them in all their splendor, the remaining ghosts from my past came rushing back to haunt me, reminding me of the drives Luke and I used to take at my insistence. He'd grown up here, while I had only been in town long enough to attend — and eventually drop out of — Cogsworth University after two years. He'd chuckle to himself as I'd gazed awestruck at the emerald expanses towering around us as far as my eyes could see. Never condescending of my obviously sheltered life prior to arriving in Roanoke, he'd just smile whenever I would comment on how his growing up surrounded by such beauty must have been comparable to waking up in a fairy tale every morning.
And it was here in Roanoke where he was awaiting my arrival, completely unaware that his heart was destined to be broken by me once again.CHAPTER 2
"He's been staring at you since we sat down. He's trying not to be obvious about it, but I see him. I've got his number," Mena spoke softly from across our table. Her eyes had been just as glued to the screen of her laptop, as mine had been to my own. It was beyond me how in the world she could have noticed anything outside of the Word document on the screen in front of her.
"Are you sure it's me he's looking at? You haven't turned your head once since we've been here, not even when giving the waiter your order ... which was kind of rude, I may add."
"I have a paper due tomorrow and no time for pleasantries, and I don't have to turn my head to see anything; my screen may as well double as a mirror with the way it's reflecting everything in this horrendous lighting."
"It beats sitting in our dorm room, listening to Bruce Springsteen on your iPod all evening," I muttered. Curious, I tried to see over Mena's chestnut brown hair, casually craning my head upward and then quickly looking back down again for fear of being caught.
"Keep that up and he'll think you're having a seizure," she quipped. "Give me a second and I'll bend down and act like I'm tying my shoe. You'll get an unobstructed view of him, then."
"Mena, for god's sake, you're wearing boots."
"He doesn't know that."
"How do you know he's looking at me? It could be you he fancies."
"Fancy? I thought we were in some dive coffee shop on the east side, not in a quaint café in some storybook English parish."
"That's more like it."
Mena's finger made a final swipe across the touch pad on her keyboard, as she saved the paper she'd been feverishly working on for the better part of the last three days. Paper safely tucked away on her hard drive, her big, brown eyes glanced up at me for the first time since we'd been seated. "I know it's you he's interested in because, as you'll recall, I was walking behind you when we came in. Elle, when he saw you, it was like one of those scenes out of every corny ass romantic comedy I've ever seen ... you know, the one where time stands still the moment the love interest walks into the room in slow motion to the tune of some even cheesier eighties song playing in the background. That's how he was looking at you, not me. As far as I'm concerned, he's probably cursing my mother for my conception right now, since I'm the only thing standing in his way of getting an unobstructed view of you." She took a sip of her frappuccino, pursing her lips and narrowing her eyes in disgust as she set the cup back down. "The next time you want to drag me out of our dorm, I'm choosing the venue."
"At least I'll have until when hell freezes over before I have to worry about that."
Mena rolled her eyes, backing her stool away from the table. "Show time," she said as she bent down to inspect her lace-less boot.
I waited a few seconds before I allowed myself to look, trying not to appear overeager or make what we were really doing all too obvious to whomever it was I was trying to see. Truth be told, I hadn't noticed much when we walked in, instead keeping my eyes focused on the small table in the corner of the shop where we were now sitting; the perfect spot to be alone, yet among the Roanoke social scene at the same time. After the passing of a respectable amount of time, and finding myself unable to hold back any longer, I allowed my eyes to wander to the table situated twenty feet behind Mena.
"Well?" she asked.
"There's like a half dozen guys, all staring at either textbooks or laptops sitting at that table. Which one am I supposed to be noticing ogling me?"
"The blond one, third one from the end, closest to the door. Hurry up, I'm starting to get a neck cramp."
I glanced back up at the table full of our college-aged peers again, a little more obvious about it this time than before. If I'd had any doubts about the identity of the blond Mena had wanted me to find, they were quickly erased when, the second I found him, he found me, too. Everything told me to divert my attention elsewhere, not to make it obvious that I was staring back at him, but once my eyes caught a glimpse of his face, there was no turning away, despite my better judgment.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "When Time Stands Still"
Copyright © 2018 Sara Furlong Burr.
Excerpted by permission of Sara Furlong Burr.
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