* * *
Although he was lying in bed with his eyes closed, Will was far from asleep. Ten minutes ago, he would’ve told anyone he was exhausted and content with the woman he loved in his arms. His business was doing well and his love life was better than ever. Somehow, all of that was snatched from him so quickly that he couldn’t feel the pain of it being ripped away at first. There was just a mix of confusion and denial swirling around the sleepy fog of his brain. What he’d just seen was impossible. Incomprehensible. And yet there was no way to deny the truth.
The rose tattoo was gone.
He’d hated that thing from the moment she’d gotten it. Cynthia had gone off on a spring break girls’ trip to Cancun their senior year at Yale. Sometime amongst the sun and surf and tequila, she’d decided it would be a great idea to commemorate the trip with a tattoo on her ass.
It was pretty and well done, but in the end, it was a red rose inked into her left butt cheek. He’d done his best to ignore it over the years, and when their love life fizzled, he’d forgotten it was even there.
Until it wasn’t.
When he watched her walk away, the realization hit him like an iron fist to the gut. There was no tattoo. And not even the faintest hint of where one might’ve been removed by a laser without his knowledge. There was nothing. He didn’t know what to say when she asked if something was wrong.
Yes, by God, something was very wrong. She was not Cynthia Dempsey, and that was a problem.
In an instant, his entire world came crashing down around him. The best relationship he’d ever had was built on nothing but lies. He could feel it disintegrating around him. Everything she’d said and everything they’d done in the past few weeks meant absolutely nothing.
Who had he just made love to? This woman, this Cynthia imposter…who was she, and how had she ended up living another person’s life? The doctors said she had amnesia. Did she even know she wasn’t Cynthia? Was this all just one tragic mixup, or had this woman deliberately taken advantage of her circumstances? Was it possible that despite her outward appearance, she was as manipulative as Cynthia?
All this time he’d been afraid to let his guard down because he didn’t think he could trust Cynthia not to hurt him again. But he took the leap and found there was a greater pain he hadn’t felt yet. The woman he loved, the one who’d gotten under his skin and made him question the way he lived his life, wasn’t Cynthia at all. Cynthia never had the power to hurt him this badly because he hadn’t allowed it. This time he’d let down his protective walls and permitted his mystery lover to shatter his heart, whereas Cynthia had merely cracked it.
It took every ounce of strength he had to keep his jaw clamped shut and swallow the hurt, confused words in his throat when she snuggled into his chest, completely oblivious to his discovery. The woman in his arms was not Cynthia. It was nearly impossible to wrap his head around the idea. His mind bounced around frantically, reliving every discussion, every touch, trying to determine if it had been obvious but he’d been too blinded by her light to see it.
No wonder Cynthia had cheated on him. He’d been with her since college but he barely knew her anymore. They’d become so disconnected from their relationship that he couldn’t even tell her from someone else. He, of all people, should’ve been able to tell the difference regardless of what some plastic surgeon’s knife had done. He was a fool.
Will wanted to shake her and start throwing angry accusations, but it was 3 a.m. and he knew the answers wouldn’t come. In the morning he would uncover the truth and then see what she had to say for herself. For now, all he could do was try to fall back asleep and hope the heartburn-like pain in his chest didn’t keep him up all night.
It was then, as he lay in the dark praying for sleep to dull the pain, that the woman lying in his bed quietly declared that she was in love with him. And to think, up until that point, he’d thought the situation couldn’t get any worse.
W hen morning had finally come around, the arrival of the sun did not make Will’s outlook any brighter. In fact, he’d lay there wide awake the entire time. With each second that ticked by, the pain and confusion had slowly morphed into anger and suspicion. He got out of bed around seven and told her there was a pressing problem with the Sunday edition. He couldn’t very well tell her he didn’t want to be around her, pretending to bask in their post lovemaking glow. He wasn’t a very good actor, and he wasn’t ready to confront her until he had all the information. He wanted to have the advantage, and that meant doing the necessary research to figure out who she was and what she was after.