No matter what I did, I couldn’t wake up from this dream.
“Today’s the day you get out of here,” my doctor said cheerily as he strolled into my room. He sighed when he saw me. “You need to stop pinching yourself, Penny. This isn’t a dream that you can wake up from. He put his hand on top of mine to stop me from pinching my skin.
“I know it’s not a dream. It’s a freaking nightmare.”
He lifted his hand. “We’ve talked about this. You’re suffering from amnesia. Your memory should come back.”
“My memory is fine.”
“You fighting it isn’t helping.”
“I’m trying to hold on to my life.” I felt like I was drowning.
“Getting back into your normal routine is going to help you remember,” he said, ignoring me. “Your husband is filling out the discharge forms as we speak. And he left a change of clothes for you in the restroom.”
“Please don’t make me leave with him.”
“From everything I’ve heard and seen, you two are very much in love.”
A forced laugh came from my lips.
“You’re one of the lucky ones.”
I certainly didn’t feel lucky. Everything I knew and loved had been stripped from me. I was transported into this world I didn’t understand. With a brooding fake husband and a daughter? I didn’t know what was real anymore. Maybe I had imagined the little girl. I probably had. She’d never come to visit me in my room. Maybe I was imagining James. Please let me have imagined James too.
“Are you ever going to tell me about my scars?” I had brought it up yesterday after I came out of my forced sleep. But the doctor had insisted that I needed more rest.
He sat down in the chair next to my bed. “You’ve been having a hard time accepting things as it is. How about we make an appointment for you to come talk next week?”
“So it’s bad, huh?”
“You need to take it easy. You were unconscious for two weeks. You can’t resume normal activity for at least another two.”
“Is it my liver?” God, I just knew it was my liver. I could feel it.
He smiled. “No. Your liver is functioning properly. There’s nothing to worry about there.”
“So there is something to worry about?”
“No, no. You’ll live a full happy life. Come see me in a week.” He stood up.
Now that I was about to leave the hospital, everything suddenly felt real. It was slowly sinking in that I was stuck in whatever joke of a life this was. With a man I didn’t know. What was he going to expect of me when I went back to his place? I swallowed hard. I couldn’t do this. “There’s nothing you can do to jog my memory?”
“I know all of this is shocking. And it’s going to take some time to adjust. But please, try to accept what you hear. Everyone’s just trying to help. That 19 year old that you’re holding on to? From everything I’ve read about you and your family, you turned into quite the impressive young woman. Embrace her. You’ve been given the whole world. You’ll never want for anything.”
That wasn’t true. I wanted my old life back. But what did he mean by that? Was I rich? Had I robbed a bank? Had I won the Nobel Peace Prize? “Is James famous or something? Or…am I famous? Or…”
“Your husband will fill you in,” my doctor said. “In the meantime, if you don’t want to embrace this life, how about you pretend this is all real? Make a game of it.”
He shook his head. “It might help. You’re going to have quite the eventful day. See you in a week, Penny.”
At least he hadn’t called me Mrs. Hunter.
Make-believe. I didn’t have to truly believe it. I just had to pretend to believe it.
I finished dressing and stared into the mirror at the face I didn’t recognize. I can do this. Right?
The dress I was wearing was sophisticated and uncomfortable. I missed my leggings and tank tops. Maybe they’d be back at my place. Our place. God.
How could I play make-believe when I didn’t even know what I was about to get myself into? I had no idea where I lived. No idea who I was. I took a deep breath. Just pretend. It’ll all be over soon.
I smiled at my reflection and tried not to grimace at the face I didn’t recognize.
“Penny,” James said with a knock on the door.
I opened it and stared at my husband. Just thinking about the word “husband” did make me believe I was in an alternate world. Accept it.
“You ready to get out of here?” He looked hopeful. And tired. Or maybe it was something else. The brown hue of his eyes seemed to swirl with secrets. I found myself wanting to know every single one of them before I awoke from this dream.
“Yup. Take me home, husband.”
He gave me a strange look. “You’ve stopped fighting the truth?”
He shook his head, clearly not believing me. But he put out his hand for me anyway.
I slipped my hand into his and felt the same spark that I had yesterday. I could get used to this. It was easy to feel safe by his side as we made our way through the hospital.
“The car is right outside,” he said as he stopped before the exit. His hand fell from mine and I instantly felt cold.
“Aren’t you coming?”
“Yeah, I’ll be right there.” He looked down at his watch like he was studying something.
“Is everything okay?”
He smiled and looked back up at me. “Everything’s fine, Penny. I just forgot something from your room. I’ll be right back down.”
“I’ll see you at the car then.” I made my way out the doors even though I had no idea what our car looked like. I glanced over my shoulder before the doors closed. James had his hand pressed against the wall and was hunched over slightly. Maybe he wasn’t as broken as I originally thought. Maybe the dark circles under his eyes weren’t caused by me. Maybe it was something else entirely. He looked…ill.
I was about to walk back into the hospital when someone called my name. I turned around just in time to see the man before he threw his arms around me.
“I knew you needed me back,” he said. “Despite what Jen thinks, this is the best position I’ve ever had, and I’m not going anywhere this time.”
Who the hell was this? And who the hell was Jen? “Oh, okay,” I said without hugging him back.
He pulled away. “Sorry. I…let me start over. I’m Ian.” He held out his hand for me to shake. “I am engaged to James’ sister, Jen. You know…your sister-in-law.”
“Ah, got you.” I had met Jen the other day. I think. “So you’re my soon to be brother-in-law.”
“Also the head of your security detail.”
“Security detail? Why on earth do we need a security detail?”
“Well, for starters because it seems like everyone’s out to get you.”
I laughed. “Who? I don’t think I have any enemies. I barely talk enough for someone to realize if they hate me or not.”
“Just trust me when I say that you need us.”
“There’s more than just you?”
“Four of us in total. You had three and then you hired me back.”
“Me?” I thought three security guards wasn’t enough? What kind of paranoid weirdo had I become?
“Yes, you,” James said as he rejoined me, slipping his arm around my waist. He did it like it was the most normal thing in the world. Like he didn’t realize how much his touch accelerated my heartbeat. “Let’s get you home.”
Ian opened up the back door of the car in front of us. A sleek black sedan that probably cost more than my college tuition.
“So we have a security detail?” I asked as I slid into the back seat. And a fancy car that we don’t drive ourselves. I stared at James as he sat down next to me.
“To keep us safe,” he said as he buckled his seatbelt.
“When you’re in the limelight like us, you’d be surprised by how many people are a threat.”
“And why are we in the limelight? Are you like a famous actor or something?” It seemed like the most logical conclusion. He was beautiful. There was no doubt about that. His dark brown eyes and sharp jaw line would make anyone in their right mind weak in the knees. And it really seemed like he was part of some elaborate scheme to make me feel insane. But if that was the case, he probably wasn’t an A-list actor. Maybe he was just starting out in showbiz.
He sighed. “A lot of reasons.”
“I sold my first company for a large sum.” He shrugged. “We donate to a lot of great charities. The way we met didn’t exactly pull me out of the limelight either. It just thrust you into it.”
“You avoided my question about how we met before. Are you going to answer it now?”
“I fell in love with you the moment I saw you.”
His words reverberated through me. I could feel that he was telling the truth. It made our make-believe relationship feel real. “And how did you meet me?”
He smiled. “We bumped into each other in a coffee shop.”
“That hardly sounds like something that would make us need a security detail.”
He lowered both his eyebrows. “Well you weren’t just some woman who stole my affection.” He paused, catching my gaze. There were so many secrets swirling in his dark irises. I wanted to know everything he was holding back.
“No.” He reached out and cupped the side of my face in his large hand. “As much as I wished that you were, that wasn’t the case.”
“Because I'm only 19? Er...was only 19.”
He lowered both eyebrows. “Yes. But more so because you were my student.”
I started laughing.
His expression didn’t change.
I started laughing harder. And I couldn’t seem to stop. So he wasn’t an actor after all. But he was most definitely a comedian.
END OF CHAPTER 6
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