Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mind of Her Own by Diana Lesire Brandmeyer

Chapter One

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.”

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About The Author

Diana lives in Southern Illinois where the corn grows at a rapid rate behind her home. She's married and has 3 grown sons all on their own now, each of them bringing someone special to join the family. (Yay! Daughter-in-laws!) Diana loves having pets; right now there are two cats in the house, Wendell and Oliver, and an occasional granddog named Rusty.