Start Reading Now: Chapter 1 - MIND OF HER OWN by Diana Lesire Brandmeyer
Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
Mind of Her Own by Diana Lesire Brandmeyer
Rain pelted the ceiling-to-floor windows of the family room. The grayness of the evening invaded Louisa Copeland’s mind and home. The oversize chair she snuggled in helped hide her surroundings. The thick romance in her hand further darkened her mood as she read how the hero whisked away the heroine for a surprise dinner on some pier. Were there relationships like that? She didn’t know of any.
“Give it to him!” Joey, her five-year-old son, joined the fray as Madison, her twelve-year-old daughter, dangled a plastic horse over the head of Tim, her youngest son, just out of his reach.
Jolted from the fantasy world into the real one, where rainy days turned children into caged animals, Louisa gripped the book tight and took five deep breaths. “Madison, if you don’t give it back to Tim now, I will take your phone away for the rest of the day.”
Madison’s eyes narrowed. “Daddy won’t let you.”
“He isn’t here at the moment. He is working but will be home for dinner, and you can discuss it with him then. But for now give it to Tim.”
“Baby.” Madison sneered at Tim. “Take your stupid horse.”
Problem solved, Louisa retreated into the book to finish the chapter. Done, she sighed and laid the book faceup on the side table next to her reading chair. The love-struck characters standing in front of a houseboat mocked her from the cover and filled her with jealousy. She longed to be the woman between those pages. She closed her eyes, pursed her lips against her hand, and tried to imagine the feel of Collin’s lips on hers.
She couldn’t. Her hand didn’t smell woodsy like Collin. Why would it? They hadn’t slept together in over a week. Not since that hurtful night when he’d accused her of not loving him enough. And until he apologized, he wouldn’t be back in her bed. She wasn’t going to give in this time, even if she did toss and turn all night in that enormous bed because she missed him. But letting him back in her bed without a true “I’m sorry” would mean he’d won, and she couldn’t accept that. He would have to come to her first, and sending her those two dozen roses didn’t count either. She knew he had his secretary call the florist, and Louisa didn’t want a quick-fix apology. No, she wanted a heartfelt, grand gesture of some kind. She hadn’t quite figured out what it would take for Collin to make the sting of his words dissolve, but she knew it would have to come from him, not his office staff. “Mom? Are you kissing your hand?”
Startled by her son, Louisa felt her face flush. Her thoughts twirled around themselves as she tried to come up with a reason for her action. “I was pretending to be a jellyfish. See?” She put the back of her hand against her lips and wiggled her fingers like tentacles.
“Why?” His serious face moved closer to hers to inspect the gesture.
“Because I was reading a book that has the ocean and jellyfish in it.” She could tell Tim believed her the minute his hand went to his own face. He walked away with his own pretend jellyfish flailing its tentacles.
She considered the morality of lying to her child but dismissed it. Her children didn’t need to know she couldn’t remember how their father’s kisses felt. She and Collin had lost the spark, the excitement and joy. Even their communication had dwindled to no more than a few small phrases—“Where’s the paper?” and “Have you seen my phone?” Did his commitment to her exist any longer? Had he found someone else?
Her head started to pound again from a migraine that had first made its appearance when a save-the-date for her family reunion had arrived in the morning mail. She still couldn’t believe it. A save-the-date? When did my family get so fancy? A phone call from her mother had followed minutes later. She demanded that Louisa tell her whether or not she and Collin would be there. An argument had started about Louisa being a snob and not wanting to know her own family, not wanting to spend time with her mother, which then led into why Louisa and Collin weren’t taking the children to church. The call ended with the usual rebuttal of “We will when we find a church we like.”
Her mother always brought out Louisa’s obstinate side. Louisa knew she had that effect on her own daughter, but she wasn’t sure how to fix either problem. She rubbed a thumb knuckle into the center of her forehead the way the neurologist had shown her to ease the pain. She wouldn’t be scratching “clean the van” off her list today. Bending over made the pounding worse.
This morning, Collin promised he would be home for dinner—for the first time since he’d announced he wanted to make partner this year at his firm. He’d informed her that he would be working extra hours and expected her to take care of the family. So she did her part and his. Then, less than a month later, he’d accused her of loving the children more than she loved him. How could he make that judgment since he was never home? The roses his secretary sent the next day didn’t even make it to a vase. She’d trotted out to the curb and stuffed them in the trash, where he’d see them when he came home that night. Since then, the two of them had lived like oil and vinegar unshaken in a jar.
Thunder rolled and lightning sparked in the distance. Maybe Collin wanted to make amends tonight, and that was why he was making an effort to be home early. Or maybe he wanted to tell her something else, something she might not want to hear. Would she listen? What if he wanted to tell her she wasn’t the kind of wife a partner at his firm would need? She did complain about having to attend office functions. They made her feel small—just a stay-at-home mom. She couldn’t compete with the woman lawyers, especially Emmie, the tall, stick-thin beauty who had an office next to Collin. Louisa could share a recipe or where the best dog park was located, but nothing brilliant or witty crossed her lips anymore. She rose from her chair and walked to the glass door. The waves on the lake had increased in height. Cleo, their dog, was out there somewhere.
Did Collin love someone else? Like a virus, the image of Emmie with her cute clothes and bright smile at the Fourth of July party threaded from Louisa’s mind and invaded her spirit. She swallowed back the fear that rose from her heart and lodged in her throat. That just couldn’t happen. Collin was hers and only hers. He didn’t belong to the firm or anyone else. She had to find a way to make him understand that she did love him, that he came first in her life. She wished she could open up and tell him everything. Maybe then he would . . . No, he would never love her if he knew her secret. No, that story could never be told. She would have to find another way.
The first thing she’d do was prepare a meal so delicious he wouldn’t want to miss another one. She knew it was foolish to put such expectations on her cooking but held out that there might be a fraction of hope, a glimmer of a possibility.
Behind her, Madison shrieked at her brother, lurching Louisa back to her own reality show. “Give me back the remote!”
“It’s my turn!” Joey tried to outshout his sister.
“Yeah, it’s our turn!” four-year-old Tim echoed.
The noise brought fresh, sharp spears of pain to Louisa’s head. With a sigh, she ignored the opportunity to jump into the fray and yell herself. In her stocking feet she crossed the great expanse of the golden oak floor to the kitchen, which was located to the side of the family room. When they first moved in, it had seemed like a great floor plan, all open, but now she regretted having chosen it. It made her always available to the children, and if one room wasn’t picked up, the whole house looked like a mess.
The clock in the entryway chimed five times. The hour had come! If only she could cook like Emeril, she might have a chance to win back her husband’s love—or at least his presence at the table. Then again, Collin might break his promise to her and the kids again and not even come home for dinner.
She flipped through the cookbook that rested on top of a cobalt-blue stand, where it usually sat for looks.
“Mom?” Tim ran circles around the kitchen island. “Joey and me want a snack.”
“Not now.” The page in front of her held a beautiful prospect for a meal, just not one made by her. Who cooks dinner like this? She flipped the page. Why had she bought this book? Surely she didn’t think she would ever have time to prepare a dish from it or be able to get her children to eat it. . . . She read the ingredient list. What is jicama?
“Mom, can we have Crunch Squares for dinner?” Tim interrupted her thoughts, tugging on the bottom of her shirt.
Louisa turned her attention from the cookbook pages. She placed her hands on her hips in her don’t-mess-with-me stance and stared down at two small, pleading faces. Her sons craved anything coated or sprinkled with sugar. “Sorry, boys, you cannot have cereal for dinner. You need protein and vegetables so you grow big and strong like your daddy.” She pried Joey’s fingers from the bright orange-and-red cardboard box.
“The commercial says it has all the vitamins and nutrients we need.” Madison bellowed her opinion from the family room.
“Don’t believe everything you see on TV, Madison.” Making dinner night after night for three kids and Collin had never entered her mind when she said “I do” at the church thirteen years ago. She closed the book, weary of its glossy pictures. She couldn’t pull off a gourmet meal tonight, not with this roaring headache. She’d be better prepared this weekend. Possibly Collin would eat with them Sunday night if she gave him enough notice.
“We’re having grilled chicken.” She looked down at the two waifs standing in front of her. Joey and Tim both frowned in unison. She blinked at their action and shrugged it off. Some days she thought those two had to be twins, even though that was physically impossible since she had given birth to them twelve months apart. “You two, pick up the fort you’ve assembled in the other room. I don’t want to see or step on even one plastic block tonight.”
“It’s not a fort. It’s a space station.” Tim scrunched his face in disgust. “I told you a hundred times, Mom.”
“It’s a grand space station, but you still need to put it away.” She watched them leave the room, thinking a sloth could move faster than those two when it came to cleaning up.
Chicken—that’s what she was doing, wasn’t it? What else should she put on the table? Maybe a salad and mac and cheese, she thought. Yes, that would be best. It would cause less tension around the table if they all had something they liked.
Cleo whimpered at the back door. Her nails scratching against the glass felt like tiny needles pushing into Louisa’s optic nerves. It ratcheted her headache higher on the pain-management scale. She had never wanted a big dog, but Collin wouldn’t settle for anything small. Not even medium size. It had to be a brindled Great Dane, the gentle beast, to make him happy. It didn’t matter to him that she would be the one hauling the dog to the vet and puppy day care for socialization and training classes. She tried to ignore the pathetic whining coming through the door. Maybe the kids would let the dog inside.
Peering through the open archway, Louisa checked to see if anyone was moving. She could hear a satisfying plunk of plastic hitting plastic—the boys were picking up like she’d asked. Slow, but at least the rug had begun to appear. She had been cleaning for most of the day and wanted to enjoy an orderly space after dinner. Madison lay on the couch with her head hanging over the end. Her blonde hair almost touched the floor as it moved in time to a music video.
“Madison, let Cleo in before she chews through the door.”
“But, Mom, this is my favorite song,” Madison whined from the couch. “Can’t Joey let her in?”
“No. I told you to do it.” Louisa squatted down in front of the cabinet and grabbed a pot for the macaroni. As it filled with water, she rubbed her temples with her fingers. Cleo scratched against the door again.
Louisa felt herself stiffen as she prepared to go into battle with Madison. She turned to see what her daughter was doing. Madison had stood but had not moved in the direction of the door. Instead she watched the television screen and swayed to the beat of the music.
“Madison, step away from the TV.”
“I’m going. You don’t have to tell me everything twice. I’m not stupid.” She glared at her mother.
This is what the counselor they were seeing called a standoff. She and Collin were supposed to be stern in their commands and follow through with them. Well, she didn’t have any problem with following through, but Collin did. All Madison had to do was turn her lower lip down into a pout and Collin backed off, afraid to upset his little girl. There was a time when Collin would do anything for me too, she thought. Those days disappeared the minute Madison said “Daddy.”
Louisa removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. The intensity of the headache rose. “Thank you, Madison, for promptly doing what I asked.”
Madison clenched her lips tight, straightened her back, and stomped over to the door and yanked it open. Cleo came bounding through, her nails clicking over the wooden floor like fingers on a keyboard. Madison turned, whipping her long hair around like a weapon, and stared at Louisa as if to say, “I did it. Don’t ask me to do anything else ever again.”
“Thank you.” Louisa slid her glasses back on and smoothed her hair behind her ears. She checked to make sure the boys were still doing as she’d asked. They were making progress.
The clock in the entryway weakly imitated England’s Big Ben at the half-hour mark. It wouldn’t be long before Collin came home. Maybe he would relieve her tonight. A hot bath—no, a long, hot bath, she corrected herself—sounded wonderful if not dreamlike. Please, God, let him be in a good mood and willing to play with the kids tonight, she offered in silent prayer. She loved these kids; she really did. It was just that today, with all their requests, they had drained her of the will to live. School had begun less than a month ago. Why the school board felt the teachers needed to take off already for a two-day conference escaped her tonight.
Back in the kitchen, Louisa picked up a glass from the counter, a dribble of milk left in the bottom. A quick rinse under the faucet, and then she placed it in the dishwasher. All the small chores were done. The counter no longer held books, toys, or dirty dishes. Louisa opened the pantry door and caught a cereal box as it fell. She shook it. Almost empty. Someone had been snacking in secret, probably Madison. She reached for the indoor grill on the top shelf. The cord dripped over the edge and dangled in her way. She wrapped it around her hand to keep it out of her face. Standing on tiptoes, she used her fingertips to work the grill out.
Barking, Cleo burst through the kitchen, chased by Joey.
“Stop running in the house!” They wouldn’t; she knew from past experience. Once Cleo began a game, she wouldn’t quit until she wanted to. Louisa almost had the grill in her hands. If she were just a little taller . . . There! She balanced it on her fingers.
“Look out!” Joey screamed.
Louisa jerked her head around and saw the tiger-striped 120-pound dog skidding across the floor, straight for her. The “gentle giant” rammed into her leg. She felt her sock-clad feet give way and slide out from under her. The grill slipped from her grasp as she fell to the floor. Her last thought was that dinner would be late.
Salt water burned her lips as she floated onto a white, sandy beach. Piccolo notes from seagulls called to her as they landed in an uneven line onshore. They hunted for forgotten corn curls and abandoned sandwich crusts, their tiny claws etching the sand behind them. A flash of white danced into her view. She glanced at the gauzy skirt grazing her ankles and wondered when she’d changed clothes. Then she noticed her hand held a bundle of calla lilies tied with a dark-green satin ribbon that trailed to her knees.
Next to her, the ocean increased its crescendo. Froth swirled around her bare feet, and the small white bubbles tickled her toes. Like a child, she wove up and down the shore, playing a game of tag with the swash marks on the sandy shoreline. She slowed her steps as a man ahead of her grew larger and larger until she finally stood next to him. He didn’t have a name, but she knew she would marry him this day. Her lips began to form the words “I do” when a voice crashed her wedding.
“Come on, baby, wake up.” Warm fingers brushed across her cheek. Startled, she tried to open her eyelids, but they felt weighted as if someone had stacked pennies on them. Peeking through her lashes, she discovered a pair of chocolate-brown eyes gazing into hers. And not the milk-chocolate kind but the dark, eat-me-now-and-I’ll-solve-your-problems kind. She tried to sit, but the onslaught of pain in her head stilled her like Atlanta traffic in a snow shower. Bright light lit the room around her, but it wasn’t a room she knew.
“Louisa, baby. You gave me quite a scare. How do you feel?” His hand trembled as it gently swept across her forehead.
“I’m Jazz.” Her words oozed like cold honey past her thickened tongue. She was desperate for information and a cool drink of water. “Wrong woman. Where am I?”
His hand dropped to his side, and he stepped back from her. “Dr. Harrison?” His weight shifted from one foot to the other.
The man she assumed to be the doctor maneuvered past Mystery Man. From his pocket, he pulled out a penlight and shone it into her eyes.
“Evil man. That’s a bit torturous to my brain.” She swatted at his hand but pulled back before making contact, realizing his purpose was to help, not hurt her.
“You’re in the ER. You suffered a nasty bump on the head, Louisa. You have a concussion, which is making your head hurt.” He clicked off the light and placed it back into the pocket of his lab coat. “Your scan came back clean. There is no bleeding in your brain. I’ll have the nurse come in and unhook the heart monitor in a minute. You can go home with your husband in a little while.”
“Husband?” The monitor showed a jump in her heart rate. “Please, I’m not who you think I am.” She wished for them both to dissolve from her sight and for someone, anyone, even a disgruntled fan, to appear in their place. Something like wind seemed to roar in her ears, and she struggled to catch her breath.
“Just calm down. Take a few breaths.” Dr. Harrison patted her hand.
The old, reliable remedy—take in oxygen and the world’s problems will be solved. Somehow that made her feel normal. She could go home soon, or at least Louisa could. She closed her eyes, willing the two of them to go away.
“Open your eyes, Louisa,” the doctor ordered.
Still not willing to play their game, she compromised and opened one. “Light hurts. I’m not Louisa.”
“You’re just a bit confused right now. Your name is Louisa, Louisa Copeland. The bang on your head gave you quite a headache, didn’t it?” The doctor patted her arm as if doing that would change her identity. “This is all to be expected, just a bit of disorientation. Don’t worry. Once the swelling goes down, you should remember everything.”
Respect for his position kept her from saying that maybe he needed to switch places with her. After all, she knew she was Jazz Sweet.
The doctor turned his back to her. “Collin, I think you need to take her home. Once she’s home in familiar surroundings, I believe her memory will return.”
Collin. She considered the name. Irish, she thought. A romance hero’s name. Maybe she would use it in her next book. He certainly looked the part—strong chin and thick brown hair that begged for a path to be wound through it with willing fingers.
“What if she doesn’t?” Collin asked.
“Take her to your family doctor for a follow-up tomorrow. Wake her a couple times tonight and ask her questions. Make her answer with words; full sentences would be even better.” She heard the familiar rough scratch of pen on paper. “Give her acetaminophen or ibuprofen tonight.” He tore the paper from his pad and slapped it into Collin’s hand. “Fill this for pain if she needs it.”
Home? Whose home? Jazz dropped the characterization of her newest hero. Home with Collin? She focused on those three words. That couldn’t be right—she loved adventure, but going home with a man she didn’t know went beyond what she would do for book material. She didn’t go anywhere without a folder full of notes, and she hadn’t spent any time researching living with this man. Panic ran like ice water down her neck.
She struggled to prop herself up on an elbow and demand an explanation. The end of the bed wavered like a desert mirage, causing her to wonder if the head injury had affected her sight. She squinted, trying to sharpen her vision, but it didn’t help much.
She needed to tell the doctor—maybe then he wouldn’t send her with this man. Jazz started to call out, but the white of the doctor’s coat blurred out of her sight before she could recall his name.
Collin bent over her. She noticed that for a man who’d probably been working all day, he still smelled nice. “Well, honey, you heard him. Let’s get you back home.”
“Water. Please.” She pointed to a sweating water bottle that beckoned just out of her reach. Collin put it in her hand but held on to it. For a moment she thought he planned to help her bring it to her lips like an invalid. Good thing he didn’t or he’d be wearing it, she wanted to say, but thirst won over talking.
The liquid slid down her parched throat. Feeling better, she returned the bottle to him and then hit him with the big question. “Tell me who Louisa is and why you think I’m her!”
Collin sank down in the chair next to Louisa’s bed. She looked paler than his daughter’s collectible porcelain dolls. “You don’t remember us?”
“Remember you? No. I’ve never met you. Wait, you weren’t at Jen’s party, were you?” Hope touched the edge of her voice.
“Who’s Jen?” He rubbed his earlobe while he went through a quick list of Louisa’s friends.
“My agent. Jen is my agent.”
“Agent? For what?” He knew they hadn’t been communicating well, but when did she decide to sell their house? No, she’d said her agent, not ours.
“I write inspirational romance novels.” She crumpled the edge of the bedsheet between her fingers.
“Romance?” Collin felt like he had fallen into another dimension. Louisa had never written a word, much less a book or books. She had said novels, as in more than one. Hadn’t she? He assessed the situation. It had to be a grasp for attention. He had been working hard, and yes, he probably deserved this. He’d play along for a little bit. “Who do you think you are?”
“Jazz Sweet. I live at . . . on an island or the coast. Florida, I think.” She rubbed her forehead with the tips of her fingers.
“Louisa, you win, okay? I’m sorry—I really am—about what I said.” He squeezed his hand into a fist and then released it, a futile attempt at ridding himself of the tension in his body. “Let’s not play games here. It’s late, and it would be nice to go home, wouldn’t it?”
“Games? What games are we playing?” She cocked her head at him, her eyebrow raised in question.
The look she gave him wasn’t one he recognized. She truly looked lost and confused. His gut clenched. She really didn’t know who she was. “Never mind, it’s not important. Once you get home, I’m sure you’ll be back to normal.”