Arbor House Books

Forgotten (Book 1 of The Grimm Laws)

Forgotten (Book 1 of The Grimm Laws)

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📚Read an Excerpt

“What on earth are you wearing, Miss Worthington?”

The words were spoken loudly enough so that the other homecoming attendants and their escorts turned to stare as Miss Caskill looked over her with a scathing eye. 
Elle looked down at her Silver Jeans and shimmery blue, Vera Wang sweater. She’d dressed up the ensemble by wearing spiked heels and long, dangly, diamond-studded earrings.

She offered an apologetic smile. “Sorry, I was all out of dresses.” She rubbed her sweaty palms on her jeans. 

The woman straightened her 5’ 3” frame as tall as she could and glared up at Elle. “Do you think this is a joke?”

“No, I don’t.” The heat of embarrassment stung, and she was suddenly furious with Rush. Why had she listened to him? She should’ve stayed home like she’d wanted to do in the first place. And she should’ve listened to that premonition that told her to stay as far away from Rush as she could get. 

The buzzer sounded, signaling the end of the second quarter. The football players and coaches ran off the field. Edward removed his helmet. He looked at her from across the field as though he were going to come in her direction, but then he dropped his head and reluctantly turned and ran off the field with the other players. 

Her heart dropped. What was he doing? He’d promised her that he would be her escort. Here she was dressed in jeans and a sweater and now her escort was running off the field in the other direction. 

Miss Caskill stepped up. The little woman was practically breathing fire, and her eyes looked like they might pop out of their sockets. “I told you that Edward would not be allowed to escort you on the field, but you didn’t listen. This is unacceptable, Miss Worthington. Unacceptable.”

Any apology Elle could’ve made laid too heavy in her throat to speak. She stood numbly, tears brimming in her eyes. What had she done? Miss Caskill shook her head and stalked away.

The band marched onto the field and moved into formation, creating a path through which the homecoming court could pass. 

The announcer’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Castle High is proud to present this year’s homecoming court. The lovely Lydia Davenport, last year’s homecoming queen, will present the crown to this year’s queen. Lydia is being escorted onto the field by Harry Mayfield …” 

The band starting playing as Lydia Davenport in her stunning red dress and her escort walked regally across the field and took their honored places in front of the bleachers filled with people. Elle looked up at the stands, wondering if she could see Sera and Josselyn. They must be laughing at her right now. The announcer kept talking, and the band kept playing, but it was all a blur to Elle as she watched the ninth grade attendant walk down the field with her escort.

Only one more—the tenth grade attendant—and then it would be her turn. She would walk the path alone … in jeans. A hysterical laugh was building in her throat, but she swallowed it down. She was losing it … totally losing it. She looked over and saw Miss Caskill, talking furiously to Mr. Owens, the science teacher. They kept throwing glances in her direction. 

A moment later, Mr. Owens walked over to her. He was a stout man with a fuzzy mustache that twitched when he spoke. “Elle, that’s an interesting outfit.” 

Elle blushed as she glanced down at her jeans and sweater. “There was an accident involving my dress. It got ruined,” she stammered.

He stroked his mustache. “I see. And where is your escort?”

She was in no mood to play along with his silly charade. Miss Caskill had no doubt already told him about Edward. She glared at Miss Caskill. “Look, Mr. Owens, I know Miss Caskill doesn’t believe me, but Edward told me that he’d gotten permission from Coach Harris to be my escort.”

“I see, and where is Edward?”
She wanted to crawl under the dirt. The words spilled out. “In the field-house. There must’ve been a misunderstanding. I know everyone thinks I’m losing it because of the accident, but Edward really did tell me he could be my escort.”

“Is there someone else who could escort you?”

The tenth grade attendant and her escort were walking onto the field. 
Elle shook her head. “My dad’s flight got delayed, so he couldn’t be here.” She clenched her fists. This whole thing was so humiliating. 

Mr. Owens rubbed his forehead. “If it were up to me, I would let you take the field by yourself.” He looked in the direction of Miss Caskill, who was watching them intently to make sure he followed her every order. The man was little more than a puppet. “Anyway, as I was saying, we just don’t know if we can allow you to walk out without an escort …” he cleared his throat “… dressed so radically.”

She let out an incredulous laugh and looked past him to Miss Caskill. “Radically? I’m wearing jeans and a sweater, for goodness sakes. That’s not radical.”

He pulled at his neck like his collar had suddenly grown tight and glanced at Miss Caskill. “I’m sorry, the only way I can let you take that field is if you have an escort.”
She wanted to squash the spineless man. Indignation flew over her, and she gritted her teeth. “Fine,” she huffed.

She glared across the field to the bleachers swarming with people. Despite all of her effort, Sera and Josselyn had won. 

“I’m escorting her across the field.”

She turned to see Rush standing beside her. Her knees went weak with relief. He held out his arm and gave her a pointed look. “Isn’t that right, Elle?”

Time seemed to stand still as she looked at him, stunned. Finally, she linked her arm through his. “Why yes … yes, that’s right.”

“But you’re not dressed appropriately either,” Mr. Owens said in dismay. 

“Hmm, I think we make a pretty good match.” He smiled at Elle.

“This year’s eleventh grade attendant is Elle Worthington,” the announcer boomed. The band started playing. Before Mr. Owens could object, Rush tightened his hold on her arm and began walking her across the field. 

“You saved me … again,” she whispered.
“I’ll add it to your tab.” 

When they got to the middle of the field, she could feel all eyes on her. 
“Smile,” Rush hissed.

“Oh.” She plastered a larger-than-life smile on her face. When they neared the crowd, she could hear murmurs erupting.

“What’re you wearing?” she heard someone yell.

Rush tightened his hold on her, as if to offer more support. 

The announcer continued. “Elle Worthington is the daughter of Malcolm and Sera Worthington. She is being escorted by Edward Kingsley.”

Rush went stiff. 
A rustle went through the crowd. 

“Excuse me, folks, there must’ve been a last-minute change. Correction, Elle Worthington is being escorted by …” slight pause “… another guy.”

Rush chuckled and whispered. “How appropriate … the other guy. I guess I’m getting pretty good at being a stand-in for Edward.”
His barbed comment found its mark, and her face went hot. 

They took their designated place in the homecoming court and stood waiting for the twelfth grade attendant and homecoming queen to take their places. Lydia Davenport walked up to Elle and placed a bouquet of roses in her arms.

“Cool outfit,” she murmured appraisingly.

“Thanks,” Elle said, surprised.
Rush gave her an I–told-you-so smile. 

A few minutes later, when all of the court had arrived, the crowd stood and applauded. Elle saw Sera and Josselyn, sitting in the center section of the bleachers near the front. She clenched her jaw. They didn’t even have the decency to stand. Josselyn had a mortified expression, and Sera—no surprise—was scowling. Rush noticed them too. He flashed them a brilliant smile and then removed his arm from Elle’s long enough to grasp her hand and link his fingers through hers. He lifted their clasped hand to the crowd. The applause increased.

She marveled at how comfortable he was in front of a crowd. Judging from his acid-washed jeans and gray hoody, she’d pegged him as more of the rebel type. He was more complex than she gave him credit for. He winked at her, and she smiled in return.

Then without warning, he took her in his arms, dipped her backwards, and planted a full kiss on her lips. The crowd went wild, but Elle barely noticed because she was consumed with the heat of humiliation burning through her.

He lifted her back up and gave her a triumphant smile, which she returned with a scathing glare.
“You had no right,” she whispered through clenched teeth.

Rather than answering, he smiled and waved at the crowd. Thanks to that little stunt, he now had them eating out of his hand, the jerk.
“Smile, Elle,” he prompted.

“I could claw your eyes out for this,” she muttered.
“Fine, just do it with a smile,” he replied, nodding and making eye contact with people. 

She was forced to comply. Her face felt as though it would crack under the pressure, but she smiled anyway. She smiled and waved until they finally made their way off the field, at which point she spun around and got up in his face.

“How dare you. You had no right.”

He raised an eyebrow, and a hint of amusement lit his eyes. “You said you owed me, friend. I was just collecting the debt.”

“What?” The nerve. She slapped him hard, feeling the satisfying whack as her palm connected with his face. Then she turned and stomped off.

“Give Prince Charming my regards,” he called after her. “And tell him that’s the last time I’m standing in for him.”

A grownup, sophisticated fairytale retelling for those who enjoy rich, vivid world-building and characters with depth. Journey to a place where good and evil face-off in an epic battle of forbidden love.

What if you lived another life?

A life you thought only existed in fairytales.

What happens when both worlds collide?

A silly accident puts Elle Worthington into a coma, and when she awakes, she can’t remember her name or anything about her life. She leaves the hospital and returns to a home that’s anything but ideal—her stepmother loathes her, her stepsister resents her, and her father’s a workaholic who’s rarely ever home.

She soon discovers that she is the head cheerleader and is dating Edward Kingsley, the golden-boy quarterback who’s madly in love with her. Everyone tells her how lucky she is to be with Edward, but for some strange reason, Elle is instead drawn to Rush Porter, her next-door neighbor—a brooding, reckless newcomer who’s too good looking for his own good! From the moment she sees him, he captures her attention and haunts her dreams, and he seems to know an awful lot about her.

When Elle goes to work for her eccentric aunt Adele who owns a chocolate shop, she begins to get a glimpse of another life—a magical life in which she was a simple peasant girl whose life changed forever the day she caught the eye of the prince. A girl who might have lived happily-ever-after had her heart not had other ideas.

She becomes trapped between loyalty and duty—betrayal and love, and a forbidden attraction so strong that it has the power to destroy her.

All is not as it seems on the surface. Dark forces are watching and waiting to claim what they deem to be theirs, and the fate of a kingdom rests in the hands of a girl who cannot remember who she is or where she came from.

Readers who grew up enjoying The Selection and fans of the hit TV show Once Upon a Time will get swept into an enchanting royal world of breathtaking romance, unyielding loyalty, and a love so strong that it will either bond a kingdom together or bring it to its knees.

*Author note* Forgotten ends on a cliffhanger, but the story continues with Remembered.

Read the First Chapter

Stranger in the Mirror

Before the accident, she’d been normal. Before the accident, she’d never questioned who she was. Or what she should do. How she should act. It came as easily to her as breathing—at least that’s what everyone kept saying.

She reached for a comb and absently raked it through her long, blonde tresses while studying her reflection in the antique mirror. She was attractive, she decided, with fine-boned features and a thin nose sprinkled with freckles so faint that she had to lean forward to see them. Delicate lips framed white, even teeth. She ran the tip of her index finger along the curve of her jaw as she continued her critique of the reflection in the mirror. She was thin, perhaps a little on the skinny side.

She shrugged off the notion. While she might not be able to remember her name, family, or past, she somehow knew that being skinny wasn’t a bad thing. Clear, intelligent eyes stared back at her like two large, blue coins. They were obviously her best feature, but they looked so strange … so lost. She peered into the fathomless blue pools until fear fluttered in her breast. She suppressed it and leaned toward her reflection, gripping the comb hard, making imprints in her palm.

“Who are you?” she demanded. “Why can’t you remember?”

She exerted all of her power, willing her brain to recollect something … anything. All her effort yielded was the beginning of a dull headache working its way across her forehead. 
As far as she could tell, this is how it happened. She’d stood in front of the bathroom mirror, just out of the shower. A pimple had popped up on her forehead. She’d stood on her tiptoes, reaching up to the top shelf of the cabinet, trying to grab the acne medicine. The rug slipped underneath her feet and she’d fallen backwards, hitting her head on the porcelain tub. It was a freak accident that put her in a coma for two weeks and three days. When she finally awoke, she had no recollection of … well … anything.

Her life was a blank. The doctors were stupefied, not understanding how a bump on the head could cause such calamitous results. They’d put her through a barrage of MRI’s, CAT-Scans and every other test they could dream up. Even though everything came back clean, there was lurking suspicion the coma was induced by some latent, perhaps hereditary, condition triggered by the concussion. 

“Will my memory come back?” she’d asked, looking back and forth between the white-cloaked doctors and the strangers who were her family.

Dr. Marcourt, the leading physician, had scratched his head. “It’s hard to say because every case is so different. Since we don’t know the definitive cause of your coma and memory loss, we don’t know when—if ever—your memory will resurface. The best advice I can give you is to take things one day at a time. Trust your family. Trust yourself. Build a life for yourself starting today. You may never be the same as you were before, and that’s okay. As imperfect as it is, life is a gift.”

She glared at her reflection. Some gift.

The reflection in the mirror smiled at her. 

She stopped and looked. Was her mind playing tricks on her? She’d not been smiling, and yet the face in the mirror had smiled. She frowned, and her reflection did the same. She smiled. The reflection smiled back. Giddy relief flooded through her. Even though it was impossible … ridiculous… for a split second she’d had the impression the girl in the mirror was not merely a reflection, but another person—separate and disconnected. Her mind must be playing tricks on her. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and made a few faces, relieved that the reflection simultaneously mimicked her movements.

A laugh bubbled in her throat. It was ridiculous getting this worked up over her reflection. She turned away from the mirror, but a laugh stopped her cold. Her reflection laughed at her. She’d laughed once, and her reflection had laughed back. Ever so slowly, she turned to the mirror, dreading what she would see. There she was—pale face, hollow eyes staring back, reflecting the fear that returned with a vengeance.

“Who are you?” she whispered.

The reflection remained unchanged.

She touched the mirror, half-expecting her finger to pass through it. It was solid and cold. She sighed. Get a grip, Elle. She broke out in a cold sweat. I’ve lost my memory and now I’m losing my mind. She arose from the dressing chair, backed away from the mirror, and sat down on the bed. She focused on her breathing. In…2…3…4, Out…2…3…4.

Elle averted her gaze from the dreaded mirror, but couldn’t resist the pull to look back. Her eyes went to the milky white, antique-finished mirror attached to the dressing table. The matching chair upholstered in a striped pattern of various shades of pink. She studied the dressing table and mirror objectively, glad to have something other than herself on which to focus her attention.

The graceful curves etched in gold paint were outlandishly formal compared to the walnut bed with its straight, hard lines. It would be more fitting in a mansion than her teenage-girl bedroom. She looked up to where a jeweled chandelier hung. At least the dresser and chandelier matched, although the chandelier was too ornate for a bedroom. Her gaze went to the hot-pink, overstuffed chair with bold, black roses. A purple and pink pillow dripping in orange fringe was the crowning touch. The walls were pale pink. Wow. Obviously, her taste in decor was a little off before the accident.

The door burst open. Josselyn bounded in and plopped down on the bed beside her. Her singsong voice floated through the air. “Elle, what are you doing? Why are you just sitting here on the bed like an imbecile, wringing your hands? I know you’re supposedly recovering, but this head injury thing is getting to be a real drag.” 

Elle looked down at her hands. She gave her stepsister a weak smile. “I’m just trying to figure out if I should wear my hair up or down tonight.” It took effort to keep her voice light. It took effort to pretend to be the self-absorbed, airy, socialite she’d apparently been before the accident. 

Josselyn smirked. “Now that sounds like the Elle I know. Yes, what could be more important than your hair? You are, after all, the junior homecoming attendant. Of course everyone will be gawking at you.” She motioned with her hand and wrinkled her nose. “Although, I must say. You’ve got some work to do if you’re expecting to transform that into your usual perfect self. Are those sweatpants?”

“And what’s wrong with sweatpants?”

“You haven’t worn sweatpants since you were nine. You really are losing it. Mom said you were, but I didn’t believe her …” her eyes raked over Elle “… until now.”

Blood rushed to Elle’s face. “Oh, I didn’t realize. I just wanted to be comfortable. I’m going to take a nap and I—”

“Enough already. Who are you, and what have you done with my stepsister? The old Elle would never stoop to apologies.”

“Oh.” Every time she opened her mouth, everything seemed to come out wrong. How could she be so different now from the person she was before?

Josselyn cocked her head, causing her corkscrew curls to bounce. “Okay, let’s see the hair.”

Elle swept up her long tresses and held them with her hands. “What do you think?”

“Up,” she said decidedly.

“Okay, up it is.”
Josselyn rose from the bed and went over to the dress draped over the chair. She held it up to herself and went to the mirror. “I thought you were going to wear the yellow one because it highlights your hair.”

Elle shrugged. “I decided to wear the blue one instead.”

Josselyn’s lips formed a petulant frown. “But you hate blue.”

“I do?”
“Yes, you hate the way it brings out the color in your eyes.”

“Why would I hate that?”

This conversation wasn’t making any sense. Five minutes earlier, she’d looked in the mirror and thought how her blue eyes were her best feature. 

Josselyn gave her an impatient sigh and placed the dress back on the chair. “You don’t like your blue eyes. You wish they were brown. In fact, you even bought brown contacts once to try and cover them up, but they turned your eyes a hideous purple. Do you really not remember that?” 

“No … I …” Elle’s voice trailed off, and she looked away. Most of the time she pretended to remember more than she did because it was too humiliating to admit that she didn’t remember anything at all.

Josselyn sat back down beside her. “Okay, let’s go over this again.” She spoke slowly and exaggeratedly, as if she were talking to a four-year-old. “Tonight is homecoming, and you’re the eleventh grade attendant. Lynessa Miles, your archenemy since third grade, ran against you. It was a tight race, but in the end, you won. You’re blonde, popular, captain of the cheerleading squad, and you’re dating Edward Kingsley the quarterback. Have I left anything out?”

“No, I think you’ve about covered it. Even my feeble mind can grasp that,” Elle snapped.

“Don’t get huffy with me. It’s not my fault that you fell in the bathroom and lost your memory.”

“Well, you don’t have to act so smug about it.” She may’ve lost her memory, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out that she and Josselyn didn’t get along. Since her return from the hospital, Josselyn had been downright hateful. Her stepmother Sera, was cold, and her father left town on a business trip the day after she returned home. Yes, they were all one, big, happy family. 

“Look, I can appreciate that you’ve lost your memory, but I haven’t.” Josselyn trailed her fingers through her hair. “Unlike you, I haven’t been able to forget all of the horrible things you’ve done to me over the years.”

Elle rocked back. “What’re you talking about?”

“Oh, let’s see,” Josselyn feigned remembering, though it was obvious from her rapid-fire responses that she kept the memories close. “How about the time you told Jeremy Stanford and the entire school that your chubby stepsister had a crush on him?”

“I… did that?” Elle asked cautiously.

“Uh huh. You certainly did. But you didn’t stop there. The summer I lost thirty pounds, you told Mom it was because I took diet pills. I was grounded for a month over that.”

“You lost thirty pounds?”

Josselyn rolled her eyes. “Yes, Elle, I did. Old news.”

Elle twisted a lock of her hair. “Well, you look great.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Were you taking diet pills?”

She let out a laugh. “Well, duh, who do you think got them for me?”

This was all coming at her too fast, the implication obvious. “I got them for you,” she said flatly.

“See, your memory is returning already.” Josselyn stood. “Anyway, Mom sent me up here to see if you want to go shopping with us.”

Elle thought for a minute. The homecoming game didn’t start until 7:00 p.m. and it was only 10:00 in the morning. A little shopping might be nice. “How long are we going to be gone?”

“Don’t worry, we’ll be back in plenty of time for you to get beautified, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Okay, let me change and I’ll be right down.”
“See ya downstairs.”

* * *

“Good morning, Sera,” Elle said as she entered the dining room.

Her stepmother didn’t bother to look up. Instead, she took a long swig of coffee and kept her eyes on the newspaper she was perusing. “You finally dragged yourself out of bed, I see.” 

“I’ve been up for a while. I was just in my room.”

Sera looked at her. “I see. Well, at least you finally put something on other than those dreadful sweatpants you’ve been wearing.”

“I guess.” She stood awkwardly, not sure what to do next. 

Sera seemed to enjoy her discomfort. “Well, don’t just stand there. Go and get yourself something to eat. Josselyn and I are going shopping.”

“Uh, yeah. I thought I’d go with you guys … if that’s okay.”

Sera put down the paper. She scrutinized Elle with a critical eye. “Of course you can go with us … if you’re sure you’re up to it.”

“Yeah, I feel fine.”

She cocked her head. “You don’t look fine.”

Elle’s throat went dry as she swallowed. “I feel fine.”

“Did you finish all of your chores yesterday?”

Elle nodded and then started ticking off the list of things she’d done. “I took out the garbage, unloaded the dishwasher, and dusted the bookshelves. Plus, I dusted the living room,” she added.

“It’s nice to see you earning your keep around here. Did you clean the bathrooms and mop?”

Elle stopped short. “Um, I thought that was Josselyn’s job.”

Sera stood and smiled, but her eyes remained cold. “Elle, you know I assigned those chores to you.”

Her pulse bumped up a notch as she thought back to the day before. She’d lost her memory of the past, but she had no problem recalling events since she’d come home from the hospital several days ago. The cool, indifferent treatment she’d received from this frigid woman who was her stepmother. She had no problem recalling the way Sera’s forehead wrinkled when she disagreed, or the look of disapproval in her cryptic, black eyes.

“I distinctly remember you assigning those chores to Josselyn.”

Sera cocked her head, her expression a mixture of surprise and annoyance. “Are you questioning me?”

“I’m just saying that you assigned those chores to Josselyn, not me. I did everything that you asked me to.”

Elle’s stomach lurched. The last thing she wanted was to have an argument with her stepmother. The woman was impossible. Everything about her was hard and impenetrable, making Elle wonder what her father had possibly seen in her. Sera was all hard angles, there was nothing soft or attractive about her. To make matters worse, she was Elle’s stepmother and her aunt—her late mother’s older sister.

When Elle’s mother got sick, Sera came to take care of her, bringing along a young Josselyn. When Elle’s mother passed away, her father married Sera. Elle suspected her father married Sera on the rebound, because that was the only scenario that made sense. 

On the night she came home from the hospital, Sera and her father had sat side-by-side, explaining the family dynamics to her. She’d asked to see a photo album, hoping scraps of memory would surface, but they’d told her the photos were damaged a few years earlier when the basement flooded due to a busted pipe. The only photos they’d been able to produce were taken a few months before the accident. Even if she’d been able to see older photos, she doubted that she would recognize anything. Everyone around her was a stranger. Heck, she was a stranger to herself, but there was one thing she knew.

Even though Sera pretended to care about Elle’s well-being, she obviously didn’t. If only her father were here, he would understand. “When’s my dad getting back?”

“Yes, if your father were here, he’d most assuredly take your side, as he always does. Unfortunately, his flight got delayed and he won’t get back from New York until late tonight.”

Elle’s stomach clutched. All week long, she’d been living for the moment when her father would return. She didn’t realize until this moment, she’d been counting on him being there to watch her walk across the field. 

“Don’t stand there sulking like a lost puppy. It’s a pity he’ll miss homecoming, but Josselyn and I will be there.” She flashed a cool smile. “After all, we’re your family too.” Her voice flowed like syrup, but there was nothing sweet about it—it was all bitterness.
Elle hated the smug look on Sera’s face. She was obviously thrilled that Elle’s dad wouldn’t be there to see her tonight.

She swallowed back the disappointment and looked Sera in the eye. “While I may not be able to remember the past, I do know my father loves me. That much, I do remember.”

Sera let out a nervous chuckle before reaching up to push a loose strand of hair back into her severe bun. “Well, of course he does, dear. What a silly thing to say. Now, getting back to your chores.”

“Josselyn’s chores. I did my chores.”

“Don’t get uppity with me, young lady.” 

Elle blew out a breath. Had things always been this difficult with Sera? “I’m not trying to argue with you, Sera. Why don’t you ask Josselyn? We were both standing right here when you gave us the assignments yesterday.”

“Very well, if you insist.” Sera craned her neck and yelled, “Joss, get in here.”

A moment later, Josselyn stepped into the room. “Yes, Mother. What is it?”

“Elle keeps insisting that I gave you the assignment to clean the bathrooms yesterday.”

Josselyn’s eyes went wide. “What?”
“You were standing right beside me when she gave you the assignment.”

Elle’s face was growing hotter by the minute.

Josselyn was a picture of innocence. “No, she assigned the bathrooms to you. She told me to unload the dishwasher, take out the garbage, and dust the bookshelves. And that’s exactly what I did.” 

“What!” She wanted to rip Josselyn’s head off. “How can you stand there and tell a bald-faced lie? You didn’t do any of those things. I did.”

“Elle, why are you saying all of this? You weren’t feeling well, so you lay around all day yesterday.”

“I did my chores first, and you know it.” She glared at Josselyn, daring her to disagree. 

Tears sprang to Josselyn’s eyes. “Look how she treats me, Mother. She’s always so mean.”

Elle saw red. “I’m being mean? You’re the one who’s lying.”

“Enough,” Sera boomed. “That will be enough from you, young lady.” She pointed at Elle. “I’m going to tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to clean all three bathrooms and mop. And you’re going to do a thorough job.

Furthermore, you are to pull all of the dead flowers from the beds in the front yard. If it’s not done by the time we get back from shopping, then you won’t go to the game tonight—homecoming attendant or not. Do you understand?”

She was trapped. Trapped in her own house by this horrible woman and her lying daughter. No wonder she’d lost her memory. She’d probably chosen to block it all out because it was too terrible to contemplate. 

“Answer me when I’m talking to you,” Sera demanded. 

Elle looked at Josselyn who wouldn’t meet her glare. “You win. I’ll do your stupid chores.”

“Mother,” Josselyn wailed. “She’s taunting me.”

Sera placed a hand on Josselyn’s arm. “Never mind her, dear. It’s just noise.” Her eyes met Elle’s. “Insignificant and useless noise.” 

* * *

“Stupid flowers! Stupid yard!” Elle plunged the spade into the earth, attacking the dead flowers and yanking them out. It felt good to vent her frustration, even if it was only at the beds. The more she thought about Sera and Josselyn, the madder she got. How could her father possibly be happy with that insufferable woman? Being around Sera made her wonder what her own mother had been like. Not like that horrible woman … she hoped.

After she’d cleaned the bathrooms and mopped, she called her father, but he didn’t answer. So, she left him a voice message, asking him what time his flight was getting in.

Being left alone with the likes of Sera and Josselyn was a miserable experience. Josselyn kept talking about how horrible Elle had been, but seeing as how she’d just told a bald-faced lie, it was evident that she couldn’t be believed or trusted. Then another thought entered her head. A terrible thought that caused her heart to pound. A wave of dizziness enveloped her. Was it possible that she was remembering things incorrectly?

She swallowed hard, ignoring the way her palms had become sweaty against the spade. Mentally, she ran through the events of the past two days. She distinctly remembered doing those chores. She clutched the spade and thrust it viciously into the dirt. Again and again she attacked the dirt. I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. She repeated the words over and over again in her mind, willing herself to go through the sequence of events from the past couple of days until her head ached. 

Elle was finishing up the second flowerbed when she felt the sensation of being watched. She turned toward the house next door and saw a guy standing on the front porch, leaning against the column. Her eyes met his, and she could tell from his expression that she was supposed to know him. The fact that he was very handsome didn’t help matters.

He was tall and lean with black wavy hair and eyes so intense that she could feel the heat of them from across the yard. Her heart raced. She couldn’t face trying to make polite conversation with him—not when her head felt like it was about to explode. She looked away, but she could still feel him standing there, staring at her.

What? She wanted to scream. She looked at him again through narrowed eyes. This time, there was a trace of amusement on his face. She glared at him and was startled when he chuckled. Anger surged through her.

She threw down the spade and stood, her feet squared. “What do you want?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Do you really have to ask … Elle?”

The way he spoke her name was almost a caress. The distance between them seemed to shrink, and she became aware of the way his shirt fell along his muscular chest, the strong curve of his jaw, the way his blue eyes sparked when he gave her the slightest hint of a smile. Confusion clouded over her. These feelings. Where were they coming from?

She lifted her chin.

“I don’t remember you,” she said with more certainty than she felt. 

“Well, that’s mighty convenient.”

“What’re you talking about?”

He flashed a smile that disappeared as quickly as it had come. “I’m talking about this supposed memory loss thing. I’m just not buying it, that’s all.”

She clenched her fists to her side. “How dare you insinuate that I would pretend to lose …” She shook her head. “Forget it.” She darted up the front steps to her house. 

“You know me, Elle,” he yelled after her. “You know me,” she heard him say again as she went inside, slamming the door behind her. For good measure, she locked it. 

She ran her hands through her hair and leaned against the door. He was right. She did know him. Her heated reaction to him had come from some deep, basic part of her—some primal part that she could never let out.

She shuddered. Where were these thoughts coming from?

She shook her head. Some primal part, that she could never let out? She really was losing it. He was some random guy—a neighbor who enjoyed getting under her skin. That was all.

Even as she thought the words, she somehow knew that he was more. An image of him, leaning against the column flashed through her mind. The knowing look in his eyes, and his cocky attitude. She shut her eyes, willing the image to disappear. Something about him scared her—scared her to the core. And somehow, in a way she couldn’t understand, she knew she must stay away from him.

She went to her room and threw herself down on the bed. A nap was what she needed—a nice long nap. Everything would look better when she woke up.

She closed her eyes and drifted off. It was in that moment, right before sleep overtook her, that she remembered his name—Rushton. His name was Rushton.

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