A sneak preview of Sim and Zoe's story ...

Chapter 1

 

Zoe

I regained consciousness enough to register that every single part of my body hurt. My head, my ribs, my back, my legs. I tried to lift my right hand to my head, but nothing happened. I tried to lift the left. Nada. It felt as though I were strapped down. Or paralyzed.

Dear god, please let me not be paralyzed.

I took a deep breath and immediately winced. Shit. That was painful. I concentrated on taking a few shallow breaths. 

Focus. Focus.

Where was I supposed to be?

I was supposed to be in my car, driving home to my apartment. That was the last thing I remembered—closing out my shift at the restaurant, getting in the car, and driving. 

No, wait. 

Was driving the last thing I remembered or was it the dream?

Dream. Hah. Nightmare is the technical term, I believe.

Well, at least I hadn’t lost my sense of humor—if I was still able to snark at myself.

Did the dream come before or after the driving? I sighed. Ouch. Back to shallow breathing. I’d always had the nightmares, for as long as I could remember. Even as a child. But they were becoming more frequent, so it was hard to remember when I last had one. 

I heard a soft noise. Then a voice. “She awake yet?” It was an unfamiliar voice.

“She seems to be stirring a little.” Now that was a familiar voice. Caterine Schwartz. My best friend since childhood. 

“I’m awake.” I opened my eyes, then immediately shut them again. “That light is bright. I might need to keep my eyes closed for a few more minutes.”

I sensed someone moving next to me. 

“Where am I? Cat, what are you doing here?”

“You’re in the hospital,” the unfamiliar voice said. 

Ah, so a nurse.

“I came as soon as your mother called,” Cat said. “She’s trying to get a flight home.”

My mother. Flight.

“No! Tell her to stay. She’s on her honeymoon.” I bit back a moan. Talking hurt almost as much as breathing.

“Zoe, love. You’re going to need someone to take care of you for a bit.”

“Can’t I just stay here?” Isn’t that what hospitals were for? I opened my eyes to barely a slit.

“Not on your insurance, dear,” the nurse said. “The doctor will be in shortly.”

I heard the soft noise again. The door, obviously. 

“Is she gone?”

“Yup. Let me turn down the lights.”

I’m in the hospital? WTF?

“You can open your eyes now.”

I blinked hard several times, then let my gaze settle on Cat. Who looked as though she’d slept in the chair she was sitting in. Her blonde hair was half in and half out of a ponytail. Dark smudges of makeup shadowed her eyes. 

“Your sweater is inside out.”

“Yeah, I know. You were in a car accident.”

“I was? Oh shit. How’s my car?”

“Totalled.”

“Fuck. How am I going to get to work? I can’t really afford a new car right now.”

“You’re not going to be working for awhile.”

“I have to work. Piero will fire me if I can’t come in.”

“Probably.”

I fought the urge to cry. I am not a crier. Crying never helped a situation. Thinking was what helped a situation. Thinking got you to a solution. Not weeping and sobbing.

I lifted my head off the pillow. Just an inch but, man, did it hurt. A white sheet covered my body. The metal rails of the hospital bed were up.

“Why can’t I move?”

“They have you strapped now. You were in surgery.”

“Surgery for what?” 

“Your leg. And your hand.”

“Can you lift the sheet? So I can see?”

Cat carefully peeled back the thin hospital sheet.

Below the hem of the blue gown, my left leg was encased in a white cast. My left hand was wrapped in bandages.

“I think they’re going to put a cast on your hand, too, before you leave.” 

A phone started ringing. Cat leaned over and pulled hers from her purse on the floor. 

“It’s your mom.” She tapped the screen. “Hi, Lydia. Yeah, she’s awake now.” Cat held the phone up to my ear.

“Hi, mom.”

“Sweetheart! How are you?”

“I’m fine. I guess I had a car accident … no, I wasn’t drinking. I was on my way home from work … the roads were fine … I don’t know … no, please don’t cut short your honeymoon, mom.”

My mother was a newlywed—at the age of fifty. My father had died when I was a toddler.  Not that I had any memory of him. What I did remember from childhood, though, was my mother’s litany of failed relationships. Until she met Bryan, a nice lawyer who had retired early. They clicked and three weeks ago, I was the maid of honor at my mother’s wedding. I had never seen my mom so happy. In fact, I had never seen my mom happy at all. So the last thing I wanted was for her to come home early from the once-in-a-lifetime trip around the world she and Bryan were on.

“We were in the outback,” my mother was saying. “We’ll be in Sydney tonight and we have a flight out tomorrow. But it’s not direct.” My mother sighed. “So it’ll be a few days.”

“Seriously, mom, you do not have to come home. I’ll be fine.” 

How she was going to be “fine,” was not exactly clear at the moment. I handed the phone back to Cat.

“Lydia, she can stay with me and Alaric.” Cat laughed softly. “I’ll put her to work on the wedding.” She winked at me and, a minute later, ended the call.

“What did she say? Is she staying?”


“She said she’ll think about it.”

“Can I really stay with you?”

Cat rolled her eyes. “Of course, you can. We’ll kick Sim out of the first floor guest room.”

“Sim is there?”

“He’s leaving in a few days. He’s been helping Alaric finish up the kitchen. I told him it had to be done by Thanksgiving.”

“Why don’t you guys just hire contractors?” Cat’s fiancé was a bestselling author of naughty books. And the disowned heir to a chocolate empire. He could afford to hire out home renovations.

“It was his mother’s house. It’s important to him to do the work himself. I’m sure Sim would be happy to see you again.”

I snorted. Then winced. “Ouch.”

“He has fond memories of your fling.”

 I, Zoe Brooks, didn’t do relationships. Only flings. And of all my flings, Sim Toro had been the best. 

“As do I.”

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