Lost in Me. Barbara J. Hancock

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Lost in Me - Barbara J. Hancock

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       Lost in Me

      Barbara J. Hancock


      MILLS & BOON

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       Title Page

      Chapter One

      Chapter Two

      Chapter Three

      Chapter Four

      Chapter Five

      Chapter Six

      Chapter Seven

       Chapter Eight


       Chapter One

      “Dites moi qui vous aimez, et je vous dirai qui vous etes.” (Tell me whom you love and I’ll tell you who you are) —French Creole Proverb

      I painted.

      I also walked and talked and occasionally ate pudding. But, mostly, I painted. Everything else was superfluous. Walking, talking, eating, breathing…

      Paint mattered more than being ambulatory or loquacious or full of pudding. Of course, I had to breathe to live and therefore paint so I suppose breathing mattered, too.

      But, mostly, the midnight colors of red, black and purple mattered. And blue. Oh, that particular elusive shade of blue so hard to capture even with the most careful blending of oils on paper.

      Yes. The blue of his eyes mattered most of all.

      “Not hungry today, dear? Not even for Tapioca?”

       Talking, talking, there isn’t time for talking.

      I carefully swirled blue-tipped fingers on the canvas that held my full attention. Urgency caused my chest to tighten and my head to hurt, but I wasn’t a fool. The nurse picked up the neglected tray that had sat on a nearby table all morning. I’d have to stop and eat the next food that was brought to me. Not only because I’d be light-headed by then but also because, if you didn’t eat something once or twice a day, paint and canvas would disappear.

      I would eat when I finished his eyes. They were the trickiest aspect of the stranger to recreate because they were always changing. I could never capture the expression though I’d seen it in my nightmare thousands of times.

      It was the change I tried to paint, a simple shifting of dark to light.

      I’d never gotten it right

      “Always the same, love. A handsome devil for sure, but why the same man over and over and over again?”

      The nurse was new. I didn’t throw a handful of paint at her or scream my frustration or try to knock the hours old pudding from her hands. It wasn’t right to strike out when someone “meant well.” I’d been told that in the beginning. A lot. It was something I already knew, but I’d forgotten just as I’d forgotten so many things.

      I would never be able to remember if I had to talk at the same time but I was also afraid of losing my paint if I didn’t try.

      “He watches over me…I think. I see him in my dreams.”

      I dropped my hands to my lap not even noticing the smears of cerulean left there on an old smock from hundreds of just such moments before.

      The eyes were finished, but they were wrong. They were too dark and angry, almost frightening. Goosebumps rose on the back of my neck as I looked into the wrong eyes for the hundredth time.

      “A guardian, you say? Like an angel?” The nurse—her name was Emma, or Hannah, or Anna—walked around the room from painting to painting. Names didn’t matter. I was terrified if I learned new names I’d lose the beloved ones I couldn’t recall because they hovered on the edge of my consciousness like echoes of a yesterday that never was. Canvases were hung and propped and stacked everywhere and these had caught her attention. “But…no wings?”

      The nurse had turned back to me as the not-quite-right shade of blue dried on my fingers.

      “He’s not an angel,” I corrected. As always, I felt slightly defeated but also relieved to have failed. If I didn’t get the eyes right then maybe such an intimidating creature didn’t exist.

      In spite of the relief, I’d be driven to try again and again.

      For some reason, I had to get it right. An obsessive loop my doctors called it. There was so much my doctors didn’t understand. I might have forgotten who I was before I came to St. Mary’s, but the sense of urgency I had—to remember this one man—was a life line to my lost memories I couldn’t release.

      “Not an angel?” The nurse repeated thoughtfully running a finger down the handsome cheek of the man I had painted hundreds of times since I’d been brought to the clinic a year before.

      “Not at all,” I whispered, shivering as I looked into the wrong eyes.


      I didn’t have much to bring with me to Belle Aimée. When the ivy-covered wrought iron that surrounded the old house loomed large in front of me, my possessions seemed even more meager. The ghostly white Greek revival style “cottage” sat with silent prominence behind the elaborate iron gate on the very edge of the Lower Garden District. It was a mansion by today’s standards. I had only a creaky old steamer trunk filled with carefully rolled canvases, a much more modern suitcase on wobbly wheels packed with the simple clothing I’d needed at St. Mary’s and a shoulder bag with a few personal items that meant nothing to me. I didn’t remember why I carried the silver-handled hairbrush or the faded lavender ribbon or the book of French fairytales, worn and obviously well-read.

      I only knew it was late and I hadn’t painted all day.

      The hollow ache in my stomach, the nerves skittering along my spine as I looked up at the glow of windows shuttered against the night, mattered much less than my clean fingers and my restless need to find the man I tried so hard to recall.

      I missed my quiet room at St. Mary’s and the orderly schedule that allowed me to devote myself to his mystery. But even if my benefactor hadn’t died, I could no longer stay. I’d grown increasingly certain if I didn’t remember soon it would be too late. When I’d been summoned to Belle Aimée and a nurse had put me and my belongings into a car someone had hired to fetch me, I didn’t protest. It was time. My blood sang it with the beat of my heart. It was time. The nurse had hugged me and promised

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