The Prologue

PROLOGUE

A sharp sting ran across Jane’s forehead as it made contact with the brick wall. It rattled her brain back and forth, throbbing and pulsating as she stumbled back. She brushed against him on her way down. He could have caught her, steadied her fall, but instead he stepped aside as she came crashing to the ground.

She heard a faint voice in the distance, a man’s voice, commanding for him to stop his attack. Her eyes blurred and the street lamp just outside the alley provided very little light.

The ground was wet beneath her, soaking through her clothes. Her birthday dress had cost two of her paychecks. She spent hours at a boutique on Madison Avenue and she must have tried on at least eight different outfits. This one was the winner. Made of lace in a vibrant shade of violet, it was now covered with God knows what.

A hand gripped her thick wavy hair and pulled her up. She whimpered from lips that had already split down the side where his knuckles struck. She tasted her own blood and tears, drowning her slowly.

“You think you’re fucking funny, don’t you?” His breath was like steam against her ear as he spoke through gritted teeth against the lobe.

“You fucking bi—” Suddenly he was yanked back, sending her tumbling down to the ground and out of his grasp.

Jane tried to see who had grabbed him but all she could make out were dark figures melting into one another in a brawl. She could hear the fists hitting hard against ribs and jaws. She just didn’t know who was winning.

One of them started running toward the streets but the other stayed behind. When he knelt beside her, she tensed. His hand reached for her face and gently swept her hair to the side.

“Stay with me. You’ll be okay. I’m here to help.” Each word soothed her. She tried to make out his voice but his voice was unfamiliar. He was British and each accented word fell sweetly from his lips, like too much honey in your tea.

Her vision started to darken and she could feel herself fading away. The pain was starting to numb and she wondered whether this was what dying felt like.

Jane had just shut her eyes when she felt him pull her close to him. His arms cradled her against his chest. He was speaking to someone—not her, someone on the phone. The light from his cell illuminated beside his face and she could make out his sharp nose but that was all. She struggled to see him, to know who he was and thank him.

The man who held her tightly was shaking. At first, she was unsure whether it was her own trembling body she felt but his shaking was apparent when he brought a hand to her face and stroked her cheek. “You’ll be alright, I promise.”

His scent counteracted the foul air around them. It was masculine but subtle. She leaned her face closer and felt her nose brush against a satin tie that hung around his neck. “Thank you.” She whispered the brittle words before she drifted into a dreamless sleep.

When she opened her eyes, a sharp light stung into her retinas. The dark sky above her was now a white ceiling. The air smelled sterile and the damp ground was now a hard bed. She attempted to sit up but her arms wobbled beneath her like jelly.

“Miss Wright, you’ll have to lie back down.” This voice wasn’t soothing.

There was no honey or tea.

She winced at the throbbing pain that pumped into her forehead. When she opened her mouth to speak, she felt a thin line down her lip suddenly rip.

“Don’t touch it,” the cold voice commanded when her hand came up to her face.

Her eyes adjusted to the light. A man in a pristine white coat stood beside her bed; a pair of round glasses sat on the bridge of a round, pink nose. If it weren’t for his stone-cold expression, he would look like Santa Claus.

A policewoman stood by the door with the same countenance as the doctor.

“You’re in pretty bad shape so I would take it easy.” He pressed a button and the bed hummed a robotic sigh as the back of it lifted her upright.

“Hello Jane, I’m Officer Klein. I’d like to talk to you about last night.”

A nurse stepped into the room. Her sneakers made light squeaking sounds against the floor. She held a clipboard up as Dr. Santa shined a little flashlight into Jane’s eyes.

“She has a slight concussion. Responsive. Good.” He spoke low as if he was speaking to himself, and the nurse scribbled a silver pen on the page.

“What happened?” Jane’s words cracked.

The officer’s brows pulled together. “You don’t remember?”

Jane shook her head and the act made her wince again, her brain rattled.

“You were assaulted last night.”

“Memory loss,” the doctor muttered. The nurse scribbled again.

“It was my birthday.”

Everyone in the room went silent and waited for her to say more.

“My boyfriend—he was taking me out to dinner. We got in an argument. That’s all I remember.”

The policewoman stepped closer and stood at the end of the bed.

“Your boyfriend, what’s his name?”

“Marshall Barrett.”

“Do you have his contact information?”

Jane’s eyes filled with tears. “He didn’t mean to. He has a temper but he’s a good guy!”

The three who stood around her bed exchanged glances. The doctor sighed behind his thick white beard and Officer Klein’s full lips thinned out to almost nothing.

Unscathed by her outburst, the officer continued on, “Do you remember anything else from last night?”

“No, not really.”

“Remember how you got here?”

“I guess—I think so.” Her tearful eyes flicked open and she scanned the room. Jane looked around in a sudden panic, her long brown hair swishing with every sharp turn of her neck.

“Is he here?”

“No, we still need to bring your boyfriend in for questioning.”

“No—no! The man. The man who saved me—he was in the alley—where is he?”

The nurse stepped forward. “He left just as we brought you in. He rode in the ambulance with you but he didn’t give a name or contact information.”

Her voice was much more soothing than the doctor’s or the police officer’s. She had kind eyes and a warm smile.

Jane began to cry harder into her hands. The split on her lip bled and the throbbing in her head became unbearable.

The nurse rubbed her shoulder. “Don’t cry. You’re okay now. Everything will be okay.”

 

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