Stay low. Keep your head down. One false move and it’s curtains.
I fell out of the lounge chair onto the ground. And then I was crawling. No, dragging myself along the grass, like a soldier under fire. The landscape around me blurred as I moved closer to the edge of the bluf. I dragged myself on, closer, closer to the edge. As if I was being lured by a siren.
No, not lured, I thought, my head clearing for an instant. I wasn’t dragging myself. I was being dragged. Someone was tugging at me. Pushing me. And the cliff was coming up on me.
Terror gripped me. I tried with all my might to pull myself away, but a wave of cold black washed over me, paralyzing my limbs. Then I heard the echo of a scream.
It was me. Hands were grabbing at me. I opened my eyes and stared straight down the jagged mountain cliff. I felt doomed. Lost.
Elise Title is a leading author of women’s fiction, who has penned over twenty bestselling books. With more than eight million copies of her books in print, she is one of the most popular writers of romance fiction. Her fast-paced style and contemporary characters guarantee that every book is a page-turner.
Who is Deborah?
It all began the day I discovered I was Deborah Steele. I awoke early that morning, just after dawn—a sharp break in my routine of sleeping till noon. Usual, at least, for the past two months. Before then…Well, that was something else.
I remember waking anxious and disoriented, crying out in a low, broken voice as I heard a clap of thunder. I hated thunderstorms.
Lightning flashed across my drawn window shade and I was overwhelmed by feelings of panic and helplessness. I pulled my pillow over my head, blocking out sight and sound, curling up my whole body as if once again I was fending off…
Fending off what? That was the problem. As Dr. Royce had told me time and again, over the past two months, I wouldn’t allow myself to remember. I suppose he was correct. I was afraid. Everyone is afraid at times; but this fear lived inside me like a malignant virus for which there was no cure.
Tears spiked my eyes, dread mingling with frustration and desperation. I squeezed my eyes shut, praying for the awful feelings to pass, for the storm not to come, and most of all, for someone to find me—to find me in the truest sense. Because I felt lost. Completely and utterly lost.
By midmorning, I had managed to pull myself together. The sky was gray and overcast but it wasn’t raining yet. Maybe the storm wouldn’t materialize, after all. Maybe I’d make it through the day without unraveling. Not a lot to ask for. I could have asked for more. Much more. But I was working hard on not asking for things I wasn’t likely to get or setting myself up for disappointment. Which is why what happened later that day threw me for such a loop…
I was in my usual corner of the occupational-therapy room, my easel set up by a large window that let in the northern light. I stood there painting, as I did every afternoon between the end of my group-therapy meeting and dinner. There were other patients scattered about the large space, busy at projects, some of them chatting as they pounded clay or wove baskets. But I kept to myself. Not that I mingled much at any time of the day, but this was my special time, a time just for me. Two precious hours when I could lose myself in other worlds. Two hours when I could forget the hospital, the tedium, the persistent prodding, the endless frustration, the awful loneliness and the ineffable sense of loss.
Painting was my joy and my salvation. I loved the smell of the oil paints and even the turpentine. When I painted—only when I painted—did I somehow feel connected to myself. While all the other hours of my day dragged by, these two golden hours seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. I knew they had passed when I heard a familiar voice behind me.
“It’s very good.”
The pleasant, approving voice belonged to John Harris, my art therapist. The tall, gangly young man with a shock of red hair stood just off to my right, observing my painting with one of his thoughtful looks.
It was a look I had come to know well over the past two months. I returned his look with one he’d seen often enough before—a look at once guarded and sardonic. “Yes, but that isn’t the point, is it?”
He smiled good-humoredly. “Not the whole point.”
I didn’t respond. I set my brush down and joined him in his study of my canvas—a landscape with a still, blue sky dotted with clouds suspended over a mountain scene. And, as in each of my paintings, there was a single human figure—a young woman with flowing blond hair. This one standing on the top of the mountain, with the wind blowing at her back and looking out to the west. No, not merely looking; searching. I knew this as did John, even though—as in all my paintings—the woman was faceless.
“Tell me about her,” John said gently. I was in ‘real time’ again, hospital time, prodding time.
“You always ask me that. Why?”
He reacted to the added edge in my voice. “It’s the weather, isn’t it?”
“I suppose,” I replied noncommittally.
He gestured to the woman on the canvas. “Does she like the mountains?”
“I’m really not sure. Or maybe she’s the one who isn’t sure.”
He smiled and I offered up a quick, wry smile in return.
“What do you think would happen,” he asked in that measured voice that always made me uneasy,