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Lost in Me

Written by Barbara J. Hancock

Chapter Eight

I couldn't sleep even with the added incentive of Jonathan's embrace. Sex had thrown my synapses into overdrive. They fired relentlessly as if seeking to rewire connections that had been lost.

Please, come back to me.

I made my way downstairs through a dark house to the studio.

The altered painting sat where I had left it.

This was my work, my nightmare and my memory I sought to reclaim. Anger overcame my earlier fear. I wouldn't allow anyone or anything to interfere. I reached for a trowel and scratched away the fresh paint that I hadn't placed on the canvas. When I did, it was as if my mind was emboldened. Flashes came to me. Then faces. Then conversations.

I fumbled for paints to express it all. My life from before the butterfly on my brow.

The woman on the floor was Sienna Musgrave. She had held a gun and pointed it at…someone…someone I loved. I had stopped her. I had struggled with her for the gun and it had gone off.

I looked down once again at the scarlet on my hands. That night it hadn't been paint. I had turned from Sienna where she lay on the floor.

And La Croix's eyes had been terrifying.

I'd painted those eyes at St. Mary's again and again and again.

I had been shell shocked. Horrified. I'd reached for him with bloody hands…and he had suddenly, ferociously pushed me away. I had fallen. Hard. And the last thing I'd seen was my own blood running into my eyes.

I couldn't reconcile the man who had just tasted and touched me so tenderly with this violent man I painted. Something wasn't right. I remembered. I painted all I knew, but I didn't know it all.

"I'll never forgive myself," Jonathan said.

I whirled. He stood in the doorway again and this time I thought I could understand the shadows in his eyes. He came into the room. He approached me and my heartbeat sped. He had hurt me. He had made me lose myself for a whole year at St. Mary's.

I was the murderer. I had killed Sienna Musgrave. But Jonathan was my nightmare, tall and dark and stepping closer and closer. It didn't matter that his lips were still swollen from my kisses or that my skin still glowed from his touch.

"I don't blame you for looking at me with those tragic eyes—so beautiful, so betrayed," Jonathan said. He'd clenched his fists. The white of his knuckles caused my body to brace, ready to run, ready to fight.

"We'd just returned from our honeymoon. Sienna had gone mad. Or, worse, she'd always been mad in spite of the excellent references and the Au Pair Agencies' referral. She had taken care of my daughter from the time she was born. I had no idea of her ever trying to harm a hair on her head. I hired her to help me with a brand new baby I hardly knew how to hold, but she saw an opportunity with me grieving and my first wife dead and she thought one day she could become my wife. When I met you and fell in love, Sienna decided to hurt us both by taking away the person most precious to us."

"Aimee," I said. The name in its modern Americanized form immediately freed the rest of my sluggish memories. I had a step daughter. I had saved her life. My being sang with that knowledge even as I mourned all the days we'd lost.

"Our flight landed ahead of schedule. No one was expecting us. When we arrived the house was deathly still and we thought we would interrupt a bedtime story in the playroom," Jonathan reached both hands up and fisted them at his temples as if he could unsee what we'd seen that night. "Sienna had waited for my aunt to go to bed. She was going to shoot a child she'd taken care of for seven years in cold blood the night before we were supposed to come home. We came around the corner, but you were in front of me. You were so excited to see Aimee and give her the gifts we'd bought in Paris. You saw the gun before I did. It was…my God…Sienna was pointing it at Aimee. You saved her. You threw yourself at Sienna and grappled for control of the gun. When the gun went off, I saw red even before you turned around, but when you turned to me, Sienna managed to raise it to fire again. She was dying, but she was still determined. I saw her bloody fingers pull the trigger. I pushed you from the bullet's path and…" Jonathan began.

"You took the bullet meant for my back with your chest," I finished for him, finally understanding just how dark that night had been.

"Yes. I pushed you aside and I was shot. I didn't know until many weeks later when I woke up in the hospital that you had disappeared. I didn't know you had lost your memory. I didn't know my aunt had decided to hide you away to try to spare me from seeing what I'd done. But I knew I had hurt you. Even as I dropped to my knees, I saw you fall. I saw you hit the chair. I saw the blood on your head," Jonathan said. He was back in the shadows again, dwelling on a night and the mistakes and madness that had almost destroyed us. "Aunt Marie had always been eccentric and she was nearing her ninetieth birthday. She must have panicked. Trying to care for Aimee and handling even the most cut and dried police investigation into the incident all on her own while we recovered. It wasn't until she died that I discovered what she had done."

"I had never won her over," I recalled. I remembered how I had hoped she would grow to accept me. "She thought you deserved someone from a more important family. She had a long list of debutantes she wanted you to consider. I was a starving artist. Worse than that, I had no family at all. I grew up shuffling from foster home to foster home. When I forgot you and Aimee, Aunt Marie must have thought my memory loss was a godsend," I said. Now, I could remember the austere octogenarian who had disapproved of me from the beginning of my relationship with the nephew who would inherit the La Croix estate.

"I was shocked when I found out her disapproval had almost caused me to lose you even when you'd survived Sienna's attack… and the push from me that had made you fall," Jonathan said.

I went to him. I placed my scarred head on his scarred chest. We had both gone through hell in the past year. We had lost so much. My whole life had been lost in me. Locked deep in the recesses of my mind. But now it had all been found.

"If it weren't for you, I would have been shot. I might have been killed," I said. "You couldn't have known that push would hurt me. You were trying to save me."

I relished the steady beat of his heart beneath my cheek. As the meaning of my words soaked in, his tense body relaxed, little by little, until he lifted his hands to hold me.


I paused on the garden path. The girl in the swing had riotous black curls and ribbons in her hair. Her cheeks were porcelain pale and her mouth red and pursed in a bow as she spun around in a circle surrounded by a jasmine breeze.

The doll had been a look-a-like made generations ago for the original Belle Aimée.

I had brushed this Aimee's hair and braided it with ribbons. I had often read to her from the book of French fairytales we both enjoyed. She was no eerie doll come to life. I recalled that in sunlight her pale cheeks were covered in smattering of freckles and that the bow of her mouth would widen into a happy grin when she smiled.

"Chloe!" she shouted and she slipped from the swing to run to my side.

Tears stung my eyes as I felt the familiar curl of her fingers in my hand.

We walked to the porch and sat on a swing hung there to take advantage of shade when the sun was high. Tonight, we only had the glow of fireflies and the faint light from the windows as we talked for hours.

She had given me the sprigs of jasmine. She'd left them in my room because she'd been forbidden to "bother" me until I settled in. She had watched me from a distance trying to be as patient as her father urged her to be. When she wasn't sneaking flowers into my room, she'd been staying next door with a neighbor her own age, enjoying an extended summer sleepover while the grownups she loved sorted things out.

At one point, when midnight approached and a whippoorwill sang from the garden gate, Aimee stopped my heart.

Innocently she began…

"Grandmere says you've proven your love for me and papa. She says you can stay."

We swayed on the porch swing, to and fro, as my heart started again with almost painful beats.

"She always protected me from Sienna. Sometimes she would lock or unlock doors so I could hide away. She made Sienna have bad dreams. Once she made the carpet curl at the top of the stairs and Sienna fell right when she had raised her hand to hit me," Aimee said.

"Why didn't you tell us?" I asked. It was too dark. I could barely see her face and our words were hushed and more momentous somehow because of my vision being dulled by the late evening velvet of the New Orleans night around us.

"Grandmere said papa wouldn't understand. She said not everyone can hear and feel Belle Aimée the way I can," Aimee explained.

"Is she here with us now?" I asked. Goose flesh had risen on my skin. I thought of the purple room and the doll and the painting that now sat covered in a stained drop cloth in my studio.

"Belle Aimée is grand mere and grand mere is Belle Aimée," Aimee said. I felt her Gallic shrug nudge me though I couldn't see her movements. "She's sleeping now. She said I'm safe and she's very tired."

Aimee laid her head on my shoulder. I draped my arm around her to pull her close.

Was I prepared to believe that the house had been responsible for what I'd seen and felt in the purple room? Did the spirit of Aimee's great-great grandmother live on in the old house's walls and had she inspired my painting, teasing and taunting and giving me nightmares until I was strong enough to reclaim what I'd lost?

The creak of the swing beneath us and the sound of the house sighing as its old boards cooled off from a hot summer day made me think it was possible. After what I'd been through, I had to believe anything was possible, even a fairytale ending for a story filled with shadows.

"Thank you," I whispered to Belle Aimée as I held my step daughter close.


From the window, Jonathan La Croix watched his wife and his daughter as they sat together on the swing. It was well past Aimee's bedtime, but the poignant reunion took precedence. His heart swelled as Chloe leaned down to press a kiss to Aimee's forehead.

Later, he would hold Chloe and he and his wife would sleep together again, all his long lonely nights alone—wondering, aching, tormented with guilt and loss—forgotten.

Somewhere in the house a floorboard settled with a creak and a sigh and Jonathan smiled.


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About the author

As the daughter of an alcoholic, I learned at a young age to turn to f...

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Barbara J. Hancock

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