CHAPTER ONE

Gabriella

I awaken startled, in the backseat of a moving car.

My mind bolts up. But my body lies frozen, helpless beneath the musty smell of leather and gasoline.

I try to open my eyes, let my vision adjust, but the effort is useless. I cannot move.

It's like I'm trapped inside the void of a timeless dream. The harder I try to wake myself up, the further I drift into the abyss.

Finally, I manage to slit my eyes—just enough—to see the tall trees, blinking by me every few seconds. Car horns sound, but we swerve right past them. My body tips to one side, but I don't fall. I lie silent, transfixed by my own bewilderment.

Where am I?

Until the jagged snarl of a man's voice stuns my senses. His hand strikes the back of my arm. "Hey lady," he mumbles, and I panic. I don't recognize his voice.

I open my mouth to scream, but a hot rush of blood stops my words. I choke on the salty liquid, trying to catch my breath when the car turns and comes to a screeching stop.

The next thing I know, this man is pulling me out of his car. My eyes have swelled I can't see his face. Yet I can feel his hands all over me.

No matter how hard I will myself to fight. My body won't move. It just hangs like a rag doll in his arms. For a moment, it feels like I’m floating above. I can see everything happening below.

The setting is oddly familiar, like the story I painted as a commission for East Valley Memorial Hospital. It was the first of my Damsel in Distress collection. Although, the man on my canvas was a hero, and the damsel, was definitely not me.

It's strange, really. I am completely numb, yet I can feel the heat of the sun touching my face. The sensation soothes me until the warm morning air turns into a dark and sterile dungeon. Again, I try to scream, willing myself to run. But it's hopeless. This man is going to kill me.

"Help!" The man shouts. "This woman's been hurt! She needs a doctor!"

Hurt?

"Here you go, Miss." He lays me on a soft, forgiving surface. "You'll be okay now." He promises.

I want to speak, ask him his name, but the words get lost somewhere between the blinding lights up above and the faintest recollection of why I am here. The truth I have somehow forgotten, even as it slices through my heart like a razor.

It's only when I hear Trevor's voice (or in this case, Dr. Reed's voice) that I understand I am in the hospital. It also makes me remember the things I want to forget most. "Does she have any allergies . . . is she on any medication?” A sharp, white light pierces my eyes.

"No . . . ah, I don't know." The stranger stutters.

The gurney begins to move, and now, there are voices everywhere. The momentum relaxes me, and the sound of Trevor's voice calms me.

Does he not realize it's me?

"BP is 52 over 24, heart rate 30, respiration 26." Someone pulls the hair away from my face. "Wow, she's so young," this time it's a woman, "and so pretty. A little poke, sweetie." She stabs my hand with a needle while my ex-husband examines my body, my ribs, my neck until finally, he rakes his fingers through my bangs.

"Oh my God!" He cries out. "It's Gabriella!" His soft, warm hands clutch the sides of my face. "Gabi . . ." he whispers, and I am so relieved. "What the hell happened to her? Who are you?"

I, I . . . I just found her like this." It's the stranger who saved me. "She was just lying there . . . under the Alton Bridge."

"What?"

Trevor sounds confused. He knows my fear of heights. "Get her over to trauma, now!" The gurney picks up speed and Trevor's voice draws closer to my ear. "Stay focused, Gabi." He is running by my side. And then he tells me, "Eyes on the rainbow, remember."

Those words roll me back to another time and place: The first time Trevor took me on a camping trip, I had never even heard of a monsoon. Later, when the wind kicked up, and lightning touched down all around us, I just knew we were going to die.

Trevor tried to calm me. "Stay focused, Gabi," he shouted, through the crashing downpour. Then he took me into his arms, turned me around in the opposite direction, and pulled me tight against him. "Keep your eyes on the rainbow." Is what he said.

When I opened my eyes, it was the most glorious sight I had ever seen. A magnificent display of color illuminating the desert sky. It was the image of a promise. A portrait. A masterpiece.

"I want her chart in here, NOW!" Trevor's voice brings me back to the moment. "And someone page Max Thorne!"

Maxwell Thorne is my OB/GYN. He is also my husband Daniel's best friend. For the past few months, Dr. Thorne has been observing my fertility: blood tests,

ultrasounds—hormones to regulate my cycles. I have Type 1 diabetes, which can make conception complicated sometimes. I haven't admitted to Daniel that this is worrying me because I don't want to alarm him. There is nothing, in this world, he wants more than a baby. And I am resolved to give him one.

"Will someone please bring me her chart!" Trevor has always been commanding. "And someone contact her husband. His name is Daniel Dubois." His voice softens. "What the hell happened to you, Gabi?"

So far, I have managed to avoid bumping into Trevor when I come to see Doctor Thorne. My medical visits are always scheduled for Trevor's day off.

Don't get me wrong. Trevor is a wonderful man—not to mention, he is a highly intelligent, drop-dead-gorgeous, E.R. doctor; the kind you brag about to anyone who'll listen. But the break up between us was difficult for him, and I try to spare him the pain. I owe him that much.

As far back as I can remember, I imagined myself walking down the aisle with a tall, dark and handsome doctor like Trevor Reed—even if my weakness was for

the seductively charming, bad-boy type. Which explains why my marriage fell apart the day I met Daniel Dubois.

I know now it would have been easier for everyone if I had left Trevor when I began my affair with Daniel. It was only when I found out I was pregnant, that I decided to tell Trevor everything. He was devastated. But he wasn't about to let another man have his wife and his child. Even if I couldn't promise him the child I was carrying was actually his.

At first, I did what I thought was best for me, and stayed with Trevor. After all, he was my husband, and how could I explain something like that for the rest of my life?

However, the moment Samantha was born, everything changed. I remember staring down at her little, round face, feeling struck by how much of Daniel I could see in the shape of her eyes, the curve of her nose.

Even though I didn't have any real physical proof. It was the right thing to do. Samantha and I moved in with Daniel the day she turned six weeks old. Breaking Trevor's heart for the second time.

At that time, I believed Samantha was the luckiest girl in the world having two wonderful men in her life she could call daddy. Sadly, that wasn't the case for long. Ten months later, when we got the diagnosis, not even the two of them together could change her fate. One year ago, four days after her third birthday, Samantha lost the fight of her life. My life has never been the same.

"Gabriella!"

This time, I hear Daniel. His footsteps are fast and coming closer. "Oh my God. . . Gabriella!" He touches my face. He is out of breath. And for one quick moment, before all the memories come rushing in, I'm remembering the first day we met.

It was my last semester of college and my turn to model for my classical art class. The Oscars were airing, so my instructor themed it a red carpet affair.

When I finished, I was too tired to change, so I left for home wearing a full-length, chartreuse gown, jeweled stilettos, and way too much cleavage. Anyway, I was almost to the freeway when my car slowed, sputtered, and then stalled. But by luck, or was it fate? I broke down in front of an old auto repair shop.

Managing not to trip over the potholes, I walked toward the building when I realized the windows inside the garage were slowly turning black. So I swung the door open with a great surge of panic. "Wait, please," I shrieked, "I need help!" When the lights popped back on, it was the first time I laid eyes on Daniel Dubois. That moment, I will never forget. How the world just fell away as our eyes came together. It was like time had stopped. Like a thousand moments froze in the silence between us. I knew better. I was always good at looking away. But that night, as I stared into his midnight-blue eyes, I could do no such thing. It's sad really, how betrayal can look so innocent when you are ignoring your deepest convictions.

I didn't allow myself to fall for his flirtatious innuendos, at first. I honed in on other things; like his massive shoulders bulging underneath his black v-neck t-shirt, and the way his hair was somewhat messy and perfect all at once. While on the outside I appeared cool and mostly uninterested, inside I had lost myself completely.

If only I had known that night, the risk of falling in love with Daniel Dubois.

"Gabriella!" Daniel's quivering voice wakes me from my reverie. And though the memory is endearing, it's not enough to stop the unforgiving visions that resurface at the sound of his voice. My eyes begin to tear, as I remember the shock on his face this morning when I walked in on the two of them.

"Gabriella?" he said. But what he meant was: "Oh shit!" His shirt hung from one arm and when he ran toward me it flowed like a cape behind him. Like a wet mop, she just stood there hideously staring at my husband. A moment, when I wished, I could just will myself to die. A feeling I already possess—intimately.

Oh Daniel, how could you?

How could you do this to me?

"Gabriella . . ." I break from my trance but only to listen. I feel his hand stroke my hair, his lips brush softly against my cheek. "Oh my God . . . what happened to her?"

"I don't know Daniel." Trevor's voice appears from somewhere. "I was hoping you could tell me."

Daniel's warmth vanishes. I hope his face is warped with shock seeing Trevor so unexpectedly. The awkward silence sketches the most satisfying portrait for my mind. Again, he traces my skin with his lips. I hear him sigh. Is he crying?

"Oh my God, babe. I'm so sorry." He says this as if these few words could erase what he has done. Now he picks up my hand and straightens my index and middle fingers. He crosses them together and lifts them to his chest. It's a thing we do when words get lost. The crossing of the fingers is a promise that we will always be as one that our love will forever endure.

Drawing them to the heart is a way of sealing that promise, for eternity. It's the language of trust. I suppose if promises could speak they would sound something like that. But it doesn't matter how tightly he squeezes, or how firmly he presses my hand into his chest. All I can feel are his promises breaking.

"That's far enough," another man sparks, firm and deep, and Daniel's hand slips away. "We'll take it from here, buddy."

"What the fuck!" I hear a scuffle. "That's my wife officer, please," he begs, "Gabriella!"

He grunts, and then he shouts even louder, "Let go of me!" His voice is rough, and it rises with the energy in the room. "It's okay, babe, I'm right here! I'm not going anywhere!"

I turn my head slightly toward the commotion, but no matter how hard I try, I still can't open my eyes.

"Gabi," he whispers, and I know right away its Trevor. Trevor is the only man, other than my father, who is allowed to call me Gabi." The police are talking to Daniel now. Don't worry, doll face, I'll be right here."

The police?

I squeeze my eyes at the thought. Wishing I could just disappear. Wishing my life would just come to an end. "Let's get a CT scan." Trevor is shouting orders—something that comes very natural to him. "And where the hell is Dr. Thorne?"

"You think her husband did this?" A woman appears. She presses cold, slimy stickers on my body.

"No!" Trevor is fitting something around my head. "There's no way."

Granted it's true, Trevor hates Daniel. He knows Daniel would never hurt me. I mean, physically. "I just don't understand. Unless..."

The nurse finishes his sentence. "Suicide?"

"No," Trevor snaps, "Gabi's terrified of heights. She would never do something like that!"

The nurse will not stop guessing. "Maybe she was attacked."

"Um, maybe?"

The voices suddenly fade, in and out, drowning in the echoes of the hospital’s machines. "She's stable now," I think Trevor says, and then his voice draws closer to my face. "Damn it, Gabi, talk to me . . ." he rubs my cheek ever so gently, "Can you hear me?" I concentrate hard, willing my eyes to open. They flutter, struggling to look at him, when finally. I can see the white haze of his silhouette. "Gabi, what happened to you?"

I draw in the shallowest breath. "Wh, wha . . ." I mumble, gasping for air. "Ha . . .ho . . ." Is all I can utter before my lungs collapse, releasing my words and everything I am trying to say. All I can do now is lie motionless, listening to the high-pitched drone of my own heart beating no longer.

 

Buy Online