The next step might be the last...
A woman without a past
Left amnesiac after an accident, Amelia Jamison struggles as her instincts
slowly rise from the depths of oblivion, leading her to question her life as
the wife of a cold, manipulating and distant man. Wisps of a dream show
her another man she may have known intimately, but is he a memory, or
a figment of her imagination?
A man with too much information
After many aliases, today Gerard Besson is simply a police commissaire
in Marseille. When a mysterious woman starts to follow him, he is
suspicious - and intrigued. But things aren't what they seem, and as he
reluctantly gets closer to her, dregs of his painful, buried past emerge and
make him question her identity.
Each seems to have led several different lives
But neither is prepared for what awaits them when they cross the fine line
between knowing your true self and that of your alter ego.
Danger is the name of the game, and as it catches up with them in the French
Provence, both know they better be ready for the inevitable fall.
And here's an excerpt to whet your appetite:
London. Oxford Street
Thursday, December 13, 1:24 p.m.
There's a man following me again.
She didn't know why she felt so certain. Selfridges teemed with shoppers in a Christmas buying frenzy, and bustling crowds swarmed around her.
Someone was watching her though. She knew. Maybe she tuned in to the hairs rising on her nape. Or to the little voice whispering in her mind, telling her there were eyes boring into her back and checking into her every move.
Was she going insane? The question snapped into her brain like a tightly pulled elastic band being released, stinging her when it hit home.
Come on, she told herself, I'm in a busy department store, and there's an idiot tagging my every step.
Her gaze darted to Nathaniel, the hulk of a guy who was her assigned chauffeur and man for all tasks, it seemed. Or, he could just be the watchdog her husband had set on her trail.
No, she wouldn't think of the big doggie and that other cold arsehole who waited for her at home. Peter Jamison was his name, the sad arse whom she didn't even know, whom she couldn't even recall, try as she might.
She toyed with the strap of a handbag on display in front of her, having no idea what brand it was or even what shop she was in. There were more important things to pay attention to right now, starting with the strange man who was a few paces away, across the corridor from where she stood. He seemed familiar. He was dressed in dark corduroy trousers and a heavy sweater; a baseball cap hid his hair and threw shadows upon his face. There wasn't anything specific to identify him. Yet she knew, deep down inside, that she had seen him before. Had it been just a day earlier, at an art gallery she'd visited in Soho, when she'd experienced the same heartbeat acceleration as now? She'd sensed eyes on her then too and had caught sight of a tall man in jeans, a blazer, and a fedora, standing outside the wide glass panes, looking into the gallery.
The two instances weren't the only times she'd felt the probing stare—that strange, unnerving perception had happened almost every day in the past week, whenever she went out.
And, somehow, she was pretty certain it was the same man every time. There was something about him, in the way he held his head, a slight thrust of the chin that permeated every encounter she recalled of the mysterious "stalker."
Who was he, and what did he want with her?
A soft gasp escaped her, and she realized she was twisting the handbag strap too hard, both hands locked onto the leather. She released the purse as if it were a hot potato fresh out of the steamer and took a step back.
Could that man know who she was?
Her gaze travelled up the clear glass of the pane that separated the shop from the main corridor that ran through the first level of Selfridges, her reflection staring back at her.
Her reflection or that of Amelia Jamison?
That's who she was, apparently. She had no recollection of her identity. She'd come out of a dramatic accident some seven months back with amnesia and with—as her medical record stated—a disfigured and burnt-beyond-recognition body.
Lord only knew how she had survived the explosion responsible for her condition. That's what all the doctors said, and what her "husband" had said too. He'd been there in the sunny hospital room of a private clinic in Switzerland, dark and with a countenance one could only describe as menacing, even when he lounged on a sofa, reading a financial magazine.
"You're awake," he'd said in a cold, detached voice. Not even the hint of a smile showed on his pale face. Despite her drug-befuddled mind, she was certain a real husband would greet his wife, whom he'd nearly lost, with more enthusiasm than what Peter had dished.
He went on to tell her he was Peter Jamison, and she was Amelia Brockhurst Jamison, a South African Afrikaner exchange student he had met at a London university and whom he had married when she'd finished her degree. At the time, she'd thought his story sounded rehearsed, and the feeling that their shared past was a fabricated lie struck her, enhanced by the indifference her "husband" expressed toward her. She didn't remember him or anything from her past and had simply listened to whatever the medical team and that man she was supposedly in love with had fed her about her life before everything was erased from her memory.
Yet, something was wrong with their story—a burn victim from the kind of accident she'd had would need more than a year to recover. But here she was, functioning normally and looking like a perfect, magazine cover girl a scant few months later.
Peter's explanation, delivered in a bored, why-am-I-bothering tone, was that she'd had experimental treatment at the clinic. Bollocks, she'd wanted to scream.
Some things didn't mesh, and darned if she wouldn't try to find out what parts of the puzzle didn't fit into the whole picture.
Her gaze, lost in the distance while she replayed the scenes of her waking up, focused again on her reflection, the woman staring back at her a stranger. The doctors said she'd had plastic surgery to bring her back to her former likeness; then why did she feel no kinship with the person she met every time she looked in a mirror?
Amelia Jamison, the woman who stared back at her, was a beauty. Delicate features that resembled the work of a master sculptor graced her face. Perfect cheekbones. Smooth, flawless skin. Crystal-clear blue eyes with extremely thick, dark lashes. Wide, full mouth. Dainty nose. Short, honey-toned hair.
Her hair had been long before, if she were to believe the pictures Peter so artfully placed in the Hampstead Heath home she'd come to live in two weeks ago, after leaving the Swiss clinic. Pictures of Amelia and Peter on their wedding day, on a trip to a winter ski station, on a tropical beach with a glowing sunset behind them, snuggled on a comfy-looking couch with a fire blazing in the background, and so on. And then there were photos of Amelia alone, smiling at the camera. Pictures in the same kind of elegant, gilt-edged frames that were arranged in tasteful, classy displays around the leather handbags and silk scarves sold in the shop.
Shaking off the weird, disturbing feeling that a trip down her nonexistent Memory Lane always brought on, she turned her attention back to the source of her unease. The man in the corduroy trousers.
There he was, a few yards away, intently perusing an artful party-table arrangement. Yet she was pretty sure a man like him—who appeared too much in control of a ruthless energy and vigilance, evident in his stiff back and the casual looks he sent her way—would not really have much to do with Disney princess decorations, the theme of the exhibition.
Unless he was watching her in the reflection of the big, Snow White, magical mirror on the table.
What did he want with her?
Suddenly, the corridor cleared, leaving no one between them.
A shadow fell over her, and she sighed when the imposing figure of Nathaniel settled in front of her.
"What?" she snapped, annoyed that he had intervened just before she made eye contact with the tall stranger.
"Time," Nathaniel growled. "Home."
Did the man ever talk in a full sentence? Sometimes she wondered if he even had a functioning brain inside that huge, shaved skull of his. Why had Peter saddled her with such a thick idiot?
Stepping around him, she tried to catch sight of the man in the corduroys, but he was nowhere in sight. Just her luck. "Let's go," she said to the gorilla beside her as she moved toward the exit.
Some way, somehow, she would figure out if there truly was someone following her. She could be going to Bedlam, yes, but something was on high alert inside her, and, though she had no idea what that something was, she would give it due consideration and follow through.
* * * * *
London. Hampstead Heath
Thursday, December 13, 2:15 p.m.
The minute she got home, she headed straight to her bedroom. Home. She snorted. More like a mausoleum, really. The humongous manor looked like an impersonal hotel or a perfect reproduction of a page torn from an interior decor magazine. It certainly didn't look like a home to her. She was ready to puke every time her gaze landed on the huge, crystal chandelier, massive moldings along the ceiling, the champagne-colored, silk-finish wallpaper, thick cream carpet, and ornate marble table with a disgustingly ostentatious arrangement of white lilies in the middle of the entrance hallway.
Peter said she'd handpicked the split-level mansion from all the outstanding offers in that posh area of North London. She'd wanted to reply that she'd needed to have her head checked a long time ago if that were the case, since no one in their right mind would desire such a dead shell of a house, however luxurious. But what did she know? Maybe the woman she'd been before had been a total snob who thrived on keeping up with the Abramoviches.
Though she heavily doubted she could've been such a stuck-up cow, if that were so, thank goodness she had amnesia.
There was a reason why she flew straight to the bedroom and its adjoining bathroom the minute she stepped into the cold dwelling. She wanted to get to the pills she had to take—pills scheduled like clockwork every six hours, and the reason why Nathaniel had said they needed to get back before Peter came home. That way, she could ditch them down the drain while Nathaniel struggled to get in with the mountain of shopping bags she'd piled on him back at Selfridges; thus, she could escape the drugs' heavy, losing-control-sedation.
As her hands closed on the vials in the medicine cabinet, she froze. The plastic tubes rolled with a clatter of shaking pills into the sunken marble sink.
Someone was there. Oh, no. Peter. Her breath hitched in her throat as she sensed more than heard his approach, his Italian loafers making no sound on the bedroom carpet, then on the polished floor tiles of the en-suite. The closer he got, the more she recoiled and cringed, dreading the feel of his cold fingers should they touch her.
He dipped his head so his mouth would be level with her ear, and the whisper of his breath maliciously teased her skin.
"Good girl," he said softly.
She heard the hint of mockery in his tone, a chilling reminder that he was the one who called the shots around the house. Gone was the distant, detached man who had been by her side at the hospital. In his place was a manipulating monster who took pleasure in making her jump out of her skin.
Against her will, her body shook with subtle tremors. The one vial of medicine still in her palm rattled with a nerve-wracking sound as the pills inside danced from the involuntary movement.
Peter brought his cold hand to settle onto hers and rubbed his long fingers along her wrist. She wanted to shrink back from the slime-like touch, but she couldn't move. He'd do to her what she didn't want him to do—he'd make her take the drugs.
She watched, misery threading an icy path down her spine and into her soul, as he reached for the small bottles.
"Seems like you need to rest, Millie," he said.
His voice was like a thousand shards of sharp crystal, stabbing into her gut and at her pounding heart. He carefully took one pill from each of the white vials, and two from the pink one, before he cradled her hand in his and placed the little spheres in her palm.
After putting the medicine bottles back in the cabinet, he swung the door closed. The mirror on the panel reflected their images. She stifled a gasp when the visual realization that he stood so close drove home. He was a devastatingly handsome man, tall, with pale skin as flawless as the most precious Italian marble. His eyes were deep green, and locks of his expertly cut dark hair—the shade as intense as gleaming mahogany—brushed his wide forehead, which tapered down to an otherwise lean face.
She glossed over his visual perfection to examine her own reflection. What she noticed was the fact that, for all the racing heartbeat and thundering blood pounding in her veins and at her temples, her face betrayed no hint of the fear and dread inside her. No, she appeared detached, regal, as if she didn't give a damn.
Peter filled a glass at the tap and placed it in her other hand. His stare caught hers in the mirror, and she shook inwardly at the empty hollowness of his soul that darkened his bottle-green irises.
Drink, they seemed to order, a barely concealed command obvious in the penetrating gaze.
No, she wanted to scream, but something else took over. Defiant, she threw the pills into her mouth and swallowed them with a big gulp of water.
Satisfied? Her blue eyes insolently asked as she stared back.
He smiled. Only the corners of his mouth stretched, his eyes remaining hard, emerald stones in the smooth, chiseled perfection of his otherwise expressionless face.
She shivered—at his calm, detached demeanor, or at the drugs hitting her bloodstream with no food as a buffer in her empty stomach? She didn't know anymore. The stuff he plied her with was potent, and it could knock her out in a matter of minutes. Already, she felt groggy, wisps of oblivion snaking through her consciousness and laying siege upon her mind, intent on numbing any functioning neuron in her system so that the abyss could consume her.
She felt Peter's hand on her elbow, the chill of his touch permeating the fabric of her cashmere cardigan. He made her turn around, his grasp firm as he led her, stumbling steps and all, into the adjoining room.
As her blurred vision made out the silhouette of the king-size canopy bed, the last thing she clearly recalled before darkness claimed her was someone pushing her forward with all their might.