The last thing Maura Thomas remembers before her car careened over a steep embankment is having dinner with her college roommate…over twenty years ago. Everything in between is a blank. Maura has no recollection of her husband, her daughter, or her busy, glamorous existence as owner of a Beverly Hills boutique.
Maura can’t even be sure that everyone around her is who they claim to be. Is it paranoia or
self-preservation that makes her uneasy? And then there are the images starting to fill her head—pictures of a life at odds with everything she’s been told.
As Maura begins to piece together the fragments of her previous life, she grows convinced that her car crash was no accident. But the moment she remembers the truth she’ll find herself at the mercy of a killer determined to silence her forever…
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By JOANNE FLUKE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1995 Joanne Fluke
All rights reserved.
Maura woke up to the sound of a voice. Someone was calling her name. Her head felt huge and fuzzy, as if someone had emptied out everything inside and filled it with fluffy cotton batting. If this was a hangover, she'd never drink again!
It took her a moment to remember the events of the preceding day. She'd taken her dreaded chemistry final and nailed it cold. Her roommate's tutoring had really paid off. Maura had been so grateful, she'd taken her roommate out to dinner, and they'd ended up at the campus pub. If her pounding headache was any indication, she must have had much more than her customary mug of beer.
The voice was still calling her, and Maura groaned. She'd told everyone that she was sleeping late this morning, and there was a DO NOT DISTURB sign on her door. Why wouldn't the voice leave her alone?
Maura groaned again and tried to shake her head, but it was just too heavy to move. If the voice would only go away, she could go back to sleep. Even ten minutes more might help to clear her head.
"Maura? Wake up, Maura. I want you to open your eyes."
It was no use. The voice was too persistent. She'd have to see what it wanted. But it was a man's voice, and men weren't allowed in the dorm unless they were family. What a lousy time for her father to drop in for a surprise visit!
She tried to open her eyes, but they felt as if they were glued shut. Then someone dabbed at her eyelids with something cold and wet. It felt good and she managed to gasp out a word, "Thanks."
"You're welcome." It was the man's voice again, but he no longer sounded like her father. "Try to open your eyes, Maura."
Maura tried, but nothing happened. Her eyelids were as heavy as the lead sinkers her father used on his fishing line.
"You can do it. Come on, Maura. Open your eyes."
Maura concentrated, and her eyelids lifted slightly. She doubled her efforts and they opened, slowly. She'd done it. Maybe he'd give her an "A" in EyeOpening 101.
But the sight that greeted her was completely foreign! She was in a bed in a room with pale green walls. It was a sterile room, no paintings on the walls, no rugs on the floors. It certainly looked nothing like the dorm room she'd taken such pains to decorate.
Light flickered on the far wall, and Maura's eyes were drawn to a television set which was perched on a high ledge facing the bed. The volume was inaudible, but the picture was on. And it was in color!
For a moment Maura was sure that she was dreaming. Color television sets were terribly expensive. None of her friends could afford one. The set in her parents' living room was black and white, and so was the one in the rec room at the dorm.
Maura was so startled to see Dan Rather in color, she almost didn't notice how awful he looked. It hadn't been in the papers, but he must have been terribly ill. He'd aged dreadfully since the last time she'd switched on the news.
As she watched, Dan Rather's face was replaced by a commercial for something called Diet Coke. It must be a new product, since she'd never seen it in the stores. But the next commercial, for Ivory Soap, was comfortably familiar. She tore her eyes away from the novelty of actually seeing the blue and white wrapper on a television screen, and began to look around the room again.
Three green plastic chairs were pushed against the wall beneath the television set. And there was a door which was slightly ajar, leading to a small, institutional-looking bathroom.
Where was she? Even though it was difficult, Maura turned her head slightly. The blinds on the window were open, but all she could see beyond the glass was the top of a palm tree. That was no help. Palm trees were common in Southern California.
A table-type cart sat under the window, and it held a massive bouquet of beautiful flowers. There was a small white card attached to a leaf, but it was difficult to read at this distance. She squinted and made out the words, WE LOVE YOU, and then the man's voice spoke again.
"Could you look at me, please?"
Maura tried to turn her head toward the voice, but it was impossible. Something tight was clamped around her neck, restricting her movement. "I can't. My neck won't turn."
"Hold on a minute. I'll take off your brace. You don't need it, now that you're conscious."
She could hear his footsteps behind her. His fingers touched the side of her neck and something ripped. She must have winced, because he held a long, white cuff up in front of her eyes.
"I'm sorry if I scared you. It's just a neck brace with a Velcro fastener."
Maura watched as he lapped one end of the cuff over the other. Something made them stick together. Then he pulled them apart and she heard that awful ripping sound again.
"Look this way, please."
It was definitely a command, and Maura turned to look at the voice. It belonged to a handsome man in a white lab coat who seemed vaguely familiar, but that could be explained by the fact that he looked exactly like Paul Newman. She was wild about Paul Newman, and she'd gone to see The Sting just last week.
This Paul Newman look-alike was wearing a doctor's stethoscope around his neck, and suddenly everything was clear. She was in a hospital. That explained the bouquet of flowers. And it must be a very expensive hospital if they had color television sets in every room. It was a good thing she'd remembered to send off the premium for her student health insurance!
"What's my name?"
Maura stared at him for a moment and then she began to smile. He was wearing a white plastic identification badge on the front of his lab coat. It read DR. S. BENNETT, NEUROLOGY. And above his name in small red letters was the name of the hospital, Cedars-Sinai. If this was some kind of test, they should flunk the doctor for failing to take off his name tag.
"You're Dr. Bennett, Neurologist. And I'm in Cedars-Sinai Hospital."
Her answer seemed to startle him. He stared at her and blinked several times. Then he recovered enough to ask, "How did you know they took you to Cedars' after the accident?"
"I didn't know" — Maura grinned up at him — "but that's what it says on your badge."
Dr. Bennett glanced down at the front of his lab coat and raised his eyebrows. Then he gave her a sheepish smile. "Okay, my mistake. I forgot I was wearing it. Can you tell me your name?"
"Of course I can." Maura thought about stopping there, but she'd heard that most doctors lacked a sense of humor. He was only asking her a standard set of questions, and it would be smart to cooperate. "It's Maura. I know who I am. But I don't remember why I'm here. You said something about an accident?"
"You were involved in an auto accident three weeks ago. You've had a rough time, but you're going to be just fine."
"I was in a coma for three weeks!?"
Dr. Bennett nodded and turned to head for the door. "Just rest for a minute, Maura. There's somebody here who wants to see you."
The moment the door had clicked shut behind him, Maura struggled to sit up in bed. Her legs moved easily under the sheet. Nothing wrong there. But her arms felt sore, and there was a large, multicolored bruise on her elbow.
Wincing a little, Maura reached up to touch her head. It was bandaged in a turbanlike arrangement of gauze and tape that completely covered every inch of her scalp. She must have had some sort of head injury; that much was clear. She just hoped they hadn't shaved off her hair!
The door opened again and Dr. Bennett strode in, followed by a pretty girl with long, blond hair. Was she a classmate? She looked very familiar, but Maura couldn't quite place her.
"I'm so glad you're all right!" The girl rushed to the bed and bent down to kiss Maura's cheek. Even though she was smiling, she was blinking back tears. Who was this girl? And why was she so concerned?
Maura did her best to remember, but she drew a complete blank. Perhaps she was one of the new girls from the dorm. She'd met them all at a get-acquainted dinner, but she hadn't sorted out all the names and faces yet.
"How do you feel?" The girl was staring at her anxiously.
"Not too bad, considering." Maura reached up to touch her turban bandage. "Do you know if they shaved off my hair?"
The girl turned to Dr. Bennett. "Did they? You were here when they brought her in."
"Since there were no skull fractures, they just clipped it short. Don't worry, Maura. You'll look like a punk rocker for a couple of months, but it'll grow back."
A punk rocker? Maura frowned slightly. She'd never heard that particular phrase before. It must be funny, because the girl was laughing.
"Come on, Uncle Steve! That's the last thing she needs to hear!"
Uncle Steve? Maura raised her eyebrows in surprise. The blond girl and Dr. Bennett were related. But she was almost sure she hadn't met any girls named Bennett. Of course he could be her uncle on her mother's side. Or even ...
"Sorry, Maura." Dr Bennett turned to her, interrupting her train of thought. "I know you'd rather visit, but I'm afraid I have to ask a few more questions. What is your address?"
"Room two-thirteen, Andrews Hall. It's a girls' dorm on campus. I'm a sophomore at San Diego State."
Dr. Bennett looked startled and so did his niece. She must not be a dorm girl after all. But what was so surprising about living on campus?
"You live in San Diego!?"
"Yes, I do." Maura frowned slightly. Of course she lived in San Diego. It was much too far to commute from her parents' home in Brawley. She was about to ask them what was wrong, when a delivery boy came through the door.
"Oh! How lovely!" Maura couldn't help but react as he set the beautiful arrangement of pink roses on the bedside table. "Who sent them?"
"They're from your husband. He ordered them by phone this morning."
"My husband?" Now it was Maura's turn to look startled. It took her a moment to figure it out, but then she realized what had happened. "Sorry. You've got the wrong room."
"You're not Mrs. Thomas? In room five-fourteen?"
"No." Maura shook her head. "I'm Maura Rawlins. And I'm not married."
Dr. Bennett and his niece exchanged a worried look. What was going on? Then the niece reached out and took her hand.
"You really don't know me, do you?"
There was such terrible longing on her pretty face, that Maura was tempted to lie. But something about this girl's level, green-eyed gaze told her she had to tell the truth.
"I'm so terribly sorry." Maura felt tears well up in her own eyes. "I recognize you. And I know that I know you. But I just can't seem to remember."
It was a cry of pure anguish, and tears spilled over to run down the girl's cheeks. Before Maura had time to think about how inappropriate it might be, she was pulling her close to hug her and stroke her soft, golden hair.
"Don't cry, honey." Maura blinked back her own tears. "I never meant to hurt you. I ... I love you!"
Dr. Bennett's niece raised her head and gave Maura a tremulous smile. "Everything's going to be all right. I'll help, I promise. And I love you, too, Mom."CHAPTER 2
There was a gentle tap on the door, and a nurse stepped into the room. She smiled as she set a small leather suitcase on the bedside table. "Here's your suitcase, Mrs. Thomas."
"Thank you." Maura smiled back, although she felt more like frowning. A full week had passed and she still wasn't used to her married name. Everyone had assured her that she was, indeed, Mrs. Keith Thomas. She'd even met the man she'd supposedly married two years ago. He seemed nice enough, and he was very handsome, but Maura still felt as if she were in a movie, playing the part of his wife. She had absolutely no memory of her husband or the life they'd shared before her accident. Nothing seemed personal, and she couldn't help feeling that the past twenty-three years of her life had happened to someone else.
"Your daughter's in the lobby. Just call the desk when you're ready and she'll come in to take you home."
Maura nodded. She didn't remember her daughter, either, but Janelle seemed much more familiar than Keith Thomas. Jan, as she liked to be called, had come to the hospital every day. And as they had visited, waiting for the day when Maura would be released, Jan had done her best to fill in some of the blanks.
Maura now knew that Keith Thomas was her second husband. Jan's father, Maura's first husband, was dead. Maura had married Paul Bennett right after her senior year of college. Paul had been a lieutenant in the Navy, and they'd lived in an apartment in San Diego until he had been killed in a routine training mission, five months before Jan's birth. Jan had never known her father, and in some strange way that information had made Maura feel a little better. She had no memory of Paul Bennett, and neither did Jan. They could learn about him together.
After Jan had been born, her uncle Steve had come into their lives. Steven Bennett was Paul's older brother, and he'd arranged for Maura and Jan to move to Los Angeles. Paul's life insurance benefits had been enough to make a down payment on a condo, and Steve and his wife, Donna, had financed Maura's clothing boutique. The Bennetts had found a wonderful housekeeper to look after Jan while Maura was working, and Nita Ramos was still with Maura in her new, expensive home in Brentwood.
Maura, Jan, and Nita were part of the Bennetts' extended family. They spent every summer at Steve and Donna's cottage in Malibu, learned to ski at their mountain cabin in Big Bear, and attended frequent dinner parties and social functions at the Bennett home in Beverly Hills. Since Steven and Donna had no children, Jan had been like a daughter to them. They'd organized birthday parties for her, gone to all of her school plays and concerts, and even helped her with her homework.
It wasn't just Jan the Bennetts had helped. They'd supported Maura financially, until her boutique had begun to show a profit, and Donna had used her social connections to send high-profile customers to Maura's little shop. Donna had encouraged Maura to market original designs, and some very prominent Beverly Hills women had started to wear Maura's creations. Maura's line of clothing, which she called "Mystique," had grown from a few designer gowns to a full line of high fashion women's clothing. But the Bennetts had given Maura much more than money and encouragement.
Maura had found a loving family to rely on. Uncle Steve and Aunt Donna had never been too busy to babysit when Maura had gone on buying trips, or been forced to work late at the boutique. They'd always been there when Maura had needed a shoulder to cry on, or when she'd needed advice. They'd helped her celebrate special occasions, like birthdays and holidays, and Maura, Jan, and Nita had always been included on their vacations. With such a wonderful family, Maura hadn't seemed to need anyone else ... until Jan had gone away to college and she'd met Keith Thomas.
Jan hadn't told Maura much about her stepfather. She'd dutifully answered questions, but Maura had the uneasy feeling that her daughter didn't really like Keith. It wasn't anything Jan had said; it was what she hadn't said. Jan had shared all sorts of wonderful stories about Nita, and Uncle Steve, and Aunt Donna. She'd even cried when she'd told Maura about Aunt Donna's battle with the cancer that had eventually taken her life. But Jan hadn't volunteered any information at all about Keith, and she'd seemed almost reluctant to talk about him.
"Would you like me to help you, Mrs. Thomas?"
Maura looked up, startled, to see that the nurse was still in the room. "Oh, no, thank you. I'm sure I can manage."
"I'll leave you then." The nurse turned at the door, and gestured toward Maura's suitcase. "That's gorgeous luggage, Mrs. Thomas. Your daughter said it was your favorite."
Maura waited until the door had closed, and then she reached out to touch the soft leather of her suitcase. The nurse was right. It was gorgeous. Although she couldn't remember seeing it before, a name popped into her head. Mario Ammante. This luggage was from the Ammante line, and it came in three colors. This lovely butterscotch, a deep rich black, and a warm, mahogany brown.
But how did she know that? Did she carry this line of luggage in her boutique? There were so many questions, Maura's head began to pound. She reached out for the bottle of pain pills on her bedside table, but she stopped short of opening it. Although the pills alleviated her pounding headaches, they made her slightly woozy. She'd settle for aspirin, instead. Her headache wasn't that severe, and it was better to have all her wits about her for her return home.
Excerpted from Deadly Memories by JOANNE FLUKE. Copyright © 1995 Joanne Fluke. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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