Dolores snuggled deeper into the covers, the fresh lavender fragrance from the bedding filling her nostrils. How sweet! Grabbing a fistful of sheets, she inhaled. Wait…the sheets don’t feel right. With a jolt, she opened her eyes and stared at smooth ceiling plaster, the crack she’d nagged her ex-husband, Ethan, to fix before he’d walked out, gone. When she moved the covers farther down her body, silk ran through her fingers.
What? With a gasp, she sat up, blood rushing from her head bringing momentary vertigo. Her gaze raced around the unfamiliar room. Her heartbeat inched into her throat. Two French doors leading out to a wide balcony stood where a large picture window had once been. She rubbed her eyes, but nothing changed.
Oh my God. What happened? She swallowed hard. The pictures of the girls were gone, replaced by a poster of Edward the vampire from Twilight. She shivered. Where am I? How the hell did I get here?
Black geometric figures flashed in her vision. She rubbed a hand across her forehead, pressing clammy palms on her closed lids. Damn. Not another migraine. When she released the pressure and glanced around, the tranquil tea-rose wall color did nothing to calm her. The morning light filtered through the curtains, assaulting her eyes. She squeezed them closed, gasping for air, lungs burning.
Breathe deep. In, out, slow….
Throwing the covers aside, she let them fall to the floor. When she stood, her feet rested on a black-and-white sheep pelt. The warmth from the woolen carpet wrapped around her cold feet. Her heart continued to somersault, slamming against her ribcage. Shaking her head, she pressed her fingertips to her temples, hoping to wake up from whatever bizarre nightmare had trapped her.
Knock, knock, knock.
Dolores jumped, rounding toward the foreign-looking bedroom door. Was there an enemy on the other side, armed and dangerous?
“Mona, time to get up,” came an unfamiliar voice. “You don’t want to be late on your first day of school.”
Terrified, her mind focused only on the unfamiliar baritone voice. Oh, God. Oh, God. Help me. Frozen, unable to decide if she should run or hide, her mind sank into that dark place where thoughts became hard to sort.
“Mona! Hurry up.”
“Think.” Gritting her teeth, she managed small panting breaths. “Breathe and think.”
Heavy footsteps indicated the man’s departure.
Who the hell was that? Did he call me Mona? She took a moment to compose herself, to get her bearings then inched through the room, making sure she was alone. Tiptoeing, she crept past a mirror, stopping to stare at the reflection.
Her eyes grew wide, and she gasped.
The reflection of her seventeen-year-old self mocked her. Leaning forward, she examined luminous, tight skin—the appearance of youth. How the hell did I get so young? But then, everything about her felt different—vibrant, energetic. The throb at the back of her head came and went. Shocked, she pulled up the oversized sweatshirt she wore to discover tight abs.
Dolores pinched her stomach. What happened to the little pouch of fat from having children? Her lower lip quivered with a bit of excitement at the sight of toned legs. Holy crap! Wait…what is this? Thin elastic strips circling her hips held a tiny bit of fabric in place. Butt floss…I’m wearing a thong?
Tanned skin covered tight muscles, giving her buttocks a sexy, jaw-dropping appeal. Facing the mirror straight on, she cupped her breasts. No longer saggy like plastic bags stuffed with silly putty, but firm and perky. She yanked the sweatshirt, stretching it as far down as it would go, grateful it fit more like a micro-dress.
The idea that what was happening might not be a dream lingered in a corner of her mind. But she couldn’t remember anything that would explain how she might have gotten here. The night before had turned into a whiteboard. It doesn’t make sense. She raised shaky hands to touch smooth cheeks. I must be going into shock.
Leaning closer to the mirror, she observed normal pupils—no dilation, no shock. Reality? She shook her head. No. More like a nightmare beginning.
Knock, knock, knock.
She spun toward the door. Oh my God. He’s at the door again.
“Mona, are you getting up?” the same voice called out. A moment later, footsteps moved down the hall.
Bile pushed up her throat. She cringed at the bad tasted, breathing deep to settle her stomach.
She glared at the door, unable to move. Who is Mona? The question echoed around her brain. Nothing made sense.
A sparkle of crushed glass flashed through her mind. Tumbling. The images blackened, and a sharp pain stabbed her temple then ran down her spine. She winced, disoriented, puzzled.
The door opened.
Dolores held her breath.
A tall man stood in the doorway, his brows knitted, appraising her. “Is everything all right?” Who is he? Exhaling, she edged toward the French doors in search of escape. Did he bring me here? Why is he staring at me like that? Is he going to kill me?
A burst of light in her mind’s eye blinded her. Plummeting. Rolling. Glass grinding. Agony. And then…nothing. She flinched, the room seeming to spin.
Sweat rolled down the sides of her face, along her neck. She wiped her cheek. The more she studied him, the more she relaxed in his presence, realizing his expression held a great deal of compassion, of worry—not threat or malice. “Who are you?”
The concern in his chocolate eyes deepened. “How’s your head, kiddo?”
She reached toward the relentless throb at the base of her skull. Why is he calling me kiddo? “Ouch!” She fingered a lump. “What happened?”
“Don’t you remember?” He stepped toward her.
Gasping, she moved closer to the balcony door. She reached for the knob. Locked. Her mind raced through all the self-defense moves she knew.
He stopped mid-stride, his brow furrowing. “Mona?” His soft inflection sounded strange to her ear.
With feet spread shoulder width apart, she stood ready to strike.
He moved to sit at the foot of the bed.
In a low voice, she repeated, “Who are you?” Then added, “Where am I?” Even while she spoke, she measured the distance to the open bedroom door.
“Mona, you hit your head pretty hard last night after you tumbled down the stairs.” He tapped his skull with one finger.
“But I’m not Mona. My name is Dolores,” she protested with an energy she didn’t think she could muster. She forced her fists to her hips.
“Kiddo, it seems you’re suffering from amnesia after all.” He hit his temple. “It doesn’t make sense. You didn’t even have a concussion. Do you remember the MRI?”
She shook her head.
“Do you have a headache?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I always have them.” Migraines had been constant companions like little lap dogs that never left her side. The current pain didn’t seem quite as bad as most, but the lump on the back of the head sent shockwaves of doubt through her brain.
He patted the space next to him. “Come sit by me.”
She stared at his kind yet unfamiliar face, making no move to do as he suggested, but did let her arms drop to her sides. Her heart did another flip before slowing. Realizing the man’s gaze never roamed over her half-naked body, she took a calming breath.
A smile brushed his lips. “Don’t be so afraid. I’m your father.”
“You’re not my father. I don’t know who you are.” She shut her jaw so tight it began to ache, but no matter how hard she dug into her memories, nothing surfaced that made any sense. She closed her eyes, willing the nightmare to go away.
Not a chance.
Peeking through her eyelashes, she observed the stranger.
With a deep sigh, he lowered his chin to his chest. “Then can you tell me who you are?” “My name is Dolores….”
The man sighed again.
How can this be? In the mirror, she saw herself—a self from almost thirty years ago, but nonetheless herself. “What do you see?”
He opened his hands, showing his palms. “I see my daughter, suffering.” “What does she look like?”
“Like a wild cat, cowering in a corner.”
She inhaled. “Do I look like your daughter?”
He wiped his face with his hand. “You are my daughter.”
The world had gone crazy. I’m a teen? No, I’m a mom with teenage daughters. Even thoughshe struggled to draw enough air into her lungs, her head spun, making her stomach queasy again. She reached for the dresser to catch her balance.
Two strong arms scooped her off her feet. “Whoa. I got you.” He carried her to the bed. “Baby girl, how are you feeling?”
Dolores’s mind churned, pondering the puzzle pieces that did not fit. When the room stopped spinning, he came into focus, sitting on a dainty upholstered chair. He had a kind face with a strong, square jaw, his full lips forming a fine line. His gaze was locked on her.
Chilled, she shuddered. “I don’t remember you.” She continued to stare—no recollection whatsoever. Rising onto her elbows, she blinked several times.
The same man saunters into the backyard. Mona jumps off the swing, screaming, “Daddy, Daddy.”
She runs. He bends with open arms to catch her, lifting her into the air. She laughs when he twirls her around.
“How’s my little girl today?”
Her small hands wrap around his neck. “I love you, Daddy.”
She squeezed her eyes shut tight to chase away the memory that wasn’t hers. Instead, she allowed images of her daughters playing with their father to come into focus. A tear snaked down her cheek. She swiped it away.
“Are you still feeling dizzy?” he asked.
“You don’t remember me?”
She shook her head, but stopped because she did have recollections of the man. Fog crept into her mental peripheral, growing, wrapping around her brain, rendering her incapable of coherent thought.
The doorbell rang.
“That must be Eric.” He looked to the bedroom door and waited.
A few seconds later, the front door slammed. Footsteps thumped up the stairs. The man got up, leaving to meet the person in the hallway.
Their muffled conversation reached her ears, but she couldn’t understand the words. Jumping off the bed, she searched for any clues to figure out why the world had turned upside down. On the elegant white desk sat a laptop. Propelled by desperation, she opened it and hit the On button. The screen flickered to life from sleep mode. Thank God it’s not password protected.
Perched on the edge of the chair, she clicked the icon to start a browser—adrenalin pulsed through her body. Surely, her email account would hold some answers. She tried to log on. The words “The email you entered does not belong to any account” flashed onto the screen.
What? Thinking she’d made a typo, she tried again. The message flashed on the screen again. Her email didn’t exist
Maybe I no longer exist. She hesitated, pondering her entire life. Dolores Reynard’s life. It was too vivid, too real to ignore. She recreated her email account and wrote a message to Ethan. Thank God that went through. On second thought, she decided to send a message to her daughters also. Relief filled her heart. How long would it take them to see her message and reply? She closed the laptop.
She looked around the unfamiliar room, and her breathing sped up, coming in short, uneven sputters. I can’t hyperventilate, or I’ll faint. She panted into her hands forcefully, slowly, unable to clear her mind and understand what in heavens could have brought her here. She really needed to talk to someone, anyone from the life she knew she belonged to.
From the corner of her eye, she noticed a cell phone lying on a pile of discarded clothes. She rushed over and dialed Ethan’s number. Ringing. More ringing. Seriously? Come on, I don’t have much time. Ethan, where are you? He always answered right away. Maybe he didn’t recognize the number on caller ID. Voice mail came on, but then the line just cut off before she could hear the greeting. Damn it. With a groan she tossed the phone aside.
The Richmond Times Dispatch. She typed her name in the paper’s search box. Bingo. The morning headlines were unmistakable.
POLICE CHASE ENDS IN DEATH. Dolores Rima Reynard was pronounced dead at the
Medical College of Virginia several hours after arrival.