Woke Up Dead
Love & Light, Book 3
Written Musings (November 18, 2011)
A Love & Light Romantic Suspense with a touch of Magical Realism
“I never got a chance to tell Sam I love him!”
These are young Jennie Carmichael’s dying thoughts. A tragic accident is ending her life—and she’s never told her boss, private eye Sam Magee, how much she loves him. She was too timid—why would attractive Sam care for his shy, wheelchair-bound assistant? As Jennie’s life light fades, an incredible sadness fills her.
Then a miracle happens, Jennie awakens to find she has been given a second chance. She’s elated—until she discovers she has returned to life in the body of Maxine Lizbon—Sam’s detested ex-wife.
As Jennie struggles to adjust to a body that can walk, dance and make love—things she only dreamed of from the confines of her wheelchair—she realizes she is in deadly danger. For Maxine Lizbon was murdered, and now her killer is stalking Jennie. And worse, the man who can help the most—private eye Sam Magee—is the one who least wants to…
Connected Books: Love & Light
Read an Excerpt
Jennie Carmichael rolled her wheelchair through the doorway of Sam’s Private Eye and over to her desk by the window. Sam Magee’s low, rumbly voice coming from his office was as familiar and welcoming as the scent of aged wood, the heat of the furnace, or coffee…which, she noticed, was absent this morning.
Darn, he’d forgotten to pick some up again. The coffeepot looked cold and impotent in the corner. The mug she’d bought him for Christmas sat next to the empty pot, the hound dog face waiting patiently to be filled.
Speaking of hound dogs, she heard a jingling sound and turned to greet Romeo, the reason she’d picked that particular mug for Sam. Romeo’s tail arced gracefully, and his dripping chocolate-brown layers of skin flopped this way and that as he ambled over for his rub. She always rubbed her cheek against the top of his head. He had the softest fur, but she really loved the way his eyes rolled in ecstasy.
Romeo’s presence meant that Sam planned to be in the office for most of the day, and Jennie felt like rolling her eyes at that thought, too.
She shrugged out of her coat and then her sweater, hanging both on two low hooks Sam had put in just for her. She pulled the knit cap off her head, feeling several strands of her light brown hair crackling with static. Outside, snowflakes covered the city of Chicago, making her dread leaving and dealing with the snow.
She organized the papers on her desk as Romeo settled onto his dark green pillow with a contented sigh. She put copies to be made in one pile, reports to be transcribed in another. After firing up the computer, she put the tiny tape into the transcribing machine. She might have hated transcribing, but Sam was a good speaker and he had a voice she could listen to for hours.
“Sam’s Private Eye,” she answered cheerfully when the phone rang.
She put the call on hold and wheeled across the wood floor to the doorway nearby. Sam looked as if he’d been poured into that high-back chair. He had the old leather chair he’d picked up at an auction tilted all the way back, and his sock-clad feet were perched on the desk as he dictated another report.
That huge desk would have made most men look like elves, but not Sam. Not that he was a big guy in a burly sense; his strong shoulders tapered to a lean waist. He just had…presence. His ash-blond hair was brushed back in waves, highlighting his broad forehead and blue eyes. Here, the aroma of leather and the citrus cologne he wore almost made up for the lack of coffee.
“Upon further surveillance, the subject twice stood and—” He clicked the little recorder off. “Morning, kiddo.”
“Morning, bossman,” she said, using the nickname that had started out as a joke. “There’s a Petula on the line for you.” Petula of the long legs and blond hair and fake eyelashes. Like most of the women Jennie had seen Sam date. “She says it’s, er, personal.”
“Tell her I’m out of the country on a case,” he said, then flashed her a mischievous smile that stretched his trimmed mustache. “A dangerous mission spying on Mexican drug lords in Africa trying to sell their wares to Swiss tourists. If I don’t get nailed by the drug lords or the Swiss tourists, there’re always the cannibals. They like white meat, I hear.”
“Mm-hm,” Jennie said with a nod, trying not to look so very pleased. “That didn’t last very long.”
“That woman’s intelligence bled out with her hair color years ago.”
Jennie felt a strange whirring in her heart when she said, “Well, maybe you should change your type.”
“Ah,” he said with a flick of his wrist. “I don’t have time to woo and court a woman. This business is hard on a relationship.”
“Long hours away, rushing out on a sudden call in the middle of dinner, canceled dates… “
He looked at her, tilting his head. “Yeah, just like that.”
For a second, something clicked between them, something that smacked of a deep understanding. Was she imagining something more? Probably. She snapped out of her misleading thoughts. “Oh, I’d better tell Petula…” She gestured toward the phone and whirled around to give her the brush off.
Afterward, she mulled over what had probably been the gutsiest thing she’d ever said to him, that thing about changing his type. What made Sam’s heart tick? The blues, she decided when he turned up a particularly rhythmic piece, leaned his head back and started singing the chorus of “Drowning in a Sea of Love.”
Ah, she knew that feeling well. She closed her eyes for a moment, savoring the richness of his voice. She could go on forever like this.
Her eyes popped open. She had thought that about her life before, about being able to walk and run and dance. Then twelve years ago, in one minute, it was all gone. Her whole life changed. Never again could she look at something as forever. For now, she was happy with her life, even if she was in a wheelchair. Even if she was hopelessly in love with her boss, a man she was totally wrong for.
Sam was a living-by-the-seat-of-his-pants guy; Jennie would only bog him down. Paralyzed from the waist down, she wasn’t bound to be much in bed either. Mostly, his friendship wasn’t worth risking by telling him how she really felt about him. He would never feel the same way about her, and her admission would put a strain on a friendship that meant everything to her.
Jennie wheeled back to Sam’s office and peeked in the doorway. He was pacing behind the desk now, phone to his ear. “Mmhm. Mmhm. And what did you do?” he was saying.
“Sam, I’m going down to Shep’s to make copies,” she whispered, gesturing toward the door. She turned to head out. Thiers had died and he hadn’t had a chance to buy a new one.
“Psst.” Sam appeared in the doorway, phone scrunched between his ear and shoulder and gestured for her to wait. He slapped his palm to his forehead. “You slept with your wife? Aw, Harry, you just blew four weeks of surveillance. I don’t care if it was the greatest sex you two ever had, don’t you see? You knew she was sleeping around on you and you did the deed with her anyway. That constitutes forgiveness, and what that means, my friend, is you have no case. Her lawyer no doubt told her to hit you where your heart is, and I’m not talking about your stomach. … I should have told you this before? I didn’t think you’d sleep with her, for Pete’s sake. You’re the one who told me she was lower than a toenail.”
He rolled his eyes at her as she tried to stifle a giggle. “Hold on a sec, Harry. Jennie, buy us some coffee from Shep, will you?” He handed her a couple dollar bills.
“Yes, bossman.” She looked at the bills with a wry grin. That was his way of telling her that he’d forgotten coffee again. Mixed subtly into his expression was an apology.
“Thanks, kiddo. Listen, Harry, you don’t have a leg to stand on, least of all your third leg. Forget the whole thing.”
Jennie wheeled out into the hallway and knocked the door shut with her elbow. As she turned toward the elevator, she felt her wheels slide over something slick on the wood. Her chair slid backward toward the stairway that led down two more floors. She yelped, grabbing the railing to stop herself. Her back was to the staircase when she got the chair to stop turning. Glancing down the wood stairs, she let out a long breath and started the chair forward.
Instead, it went backwards.
She lunged for the railing again, but she was already tipping over. The railing was out of reach.
The last thing she saw before she fell was Sam’s horrified expression as he shot through the door and tried to grab her. She reached for him. Their fingers touched, slid without catching. Her stomach lurched as she fell, the steps jerking her chair to and fro.
“Sam!” she screamed out.
The world tilted, crushing her with pain and dizziness. Through some thick mist, she felt herself lurch down several more steps, landing on a flat, hard surface. Her body came to a jarring stop, but the dizziness kept swirling through her.
She heard voices filled with panic and exclamation. She smelled the coppery odor of blood, and heard Sam yell with a hoarse voice, “Someone, call an ambulance!”
Her heart thundered inside her, increasing the pain with each pulse of blood. She couldn’t swallow at first. There was some kind of liquid in her mouth, warm and thick. When she forced herself to swallow it, she recognized the taste of blood. I’m dying.
Sam held her, smoothing back her hair with trembling fingers. “Jennie, don’t leave me. Come on…oh, God. Don’t close your eyes. You’re going to be fine.”
Sam, I love you. She tried to voice her thoughts, but her mouth was filled with blood again. She wasn’t even aware that her eyes were closing, but nothing could make them stay open. Even in the darkness, she could see Sam’s face. She could still tell what was going on around her: Sam cradling her head, other voices in the stairway, Sam talking to her, the feel of blood trickling from her mouth down her chin and her neck.
She must look a wreck, she thought vaguely. Her impulse was to wipe away the blood. But nothing moved at her will. Panic gripped her. Not even a finger complied with her mental order to move. Was she completely paralyzed now?
Sam’s voice seemed so very far away, talking in soft, calming tones. She smiled, or at least thought she smiled. Yeah, she could listen to him forever. Then she realized she couldn’t feel him anymore, couldn’t hear the other noises. It was as if his voice had become a physical thing, a wave on which she rode, traveling through nothingness at a fast rate.
Then his voice faded, leaving her suspended and weightless. All of her fear, hopes, dreams, frustration—everything seemed to be sucked away from her, as if an unseen vacuum cleaner was pointed at her soul. She floated in some infinite darkness, feeling her life drawing to a peaceful end.
It seemed like an eternity, and at the same time only minutes from that fall down the stairs when Jennie opened her eyes. Time had no place here, nor did the physical. Her body was no more than an opaque mist. For the first time in many years she was free of constraints and limits. The silence was soft and comforting, rather than isolating. Yet, somehow, she knew she wasn’t alone.
She felt as though she were in a fog bank suspended over a vast ocean. Through the gray mist a light as bright as the setting sun penetrated. Gentle rays of light emanated from the sun and shimmered through the mist like glowing fingers playing some giant, unseen piano. They became brighter and warmer as they moved closer, enveloping her in a feeling of warmth and peace like she had never known. She reached toward the light.
Then one word crept through the darkness, warming her even more than the light. Sam. She smiled, or at least thought she was smiling. Following that warmth was such a deep regret at not telling him how she felt about him, sorrow that she wasn’t the kind of woman who could make him happy. Take care of him she asked the light. I love him, you know.
A soft, sweet voice emanated from the light. Not a voice in any physical sense but a wispy sound that seemed to penetrate her soul. Some never get to fulfill their dreams the first time. A very chosen few get a second chance. You, Jennie, are one of those chosen. Soon you will be able to pursue those dreams the second time around.
Another chance! To see Sam, to continue loving him, to nag him about getting coffee. This time she would tell him how she felt. Even if she wasn’t the right woman for him—even if he could never love her that way, she wanted him to know her feelings toward him. Never again could she leave her life feeling this profound regret over her silence. This was one second chance she wasn’t going to waste.
Then that blower started again. Only this time, it sucked her soul through the darkness. She was going back now. Everything happened at once. An incredible pain in her head, as if her brain had crystallized, then been dropped on a hard tile floor. Air filled her lungs so suddenly, she gasped with the force of it. Her heartbeat thudded through her, blood pulsing into every artery, every tiny vein. Her body was physical again. Gravity pulled her downward, pressing her against a hard surface below. She forced her eyes open, anxious to see what had become of her, knowing she would make the best of it.
The first thing Jennie saw, once her eyes focused in, was Sam’s concerned face hovering over her. “Sam,” she breathed, elated over the joy of smiling again—really smiling this time. Then she realized his finger was touching her neck, pressed gently against her pulse point. He looked startled as his gaze met hers. Slowly, he pulled his finger away. She was lying on the wooden floor, her body sprawled out like a ragdoll.
“You’re alive again,” he said in a low voice. “This is incredible. One minute you were gone—no pulse at all. Before I could even think about doing CPR, your pulse came back. All by itself,” he finished softly.
“I did die, didn’t I?” The light, the voice—it couldn’t have been her imagination.
“How are you feeling?”
The throbbing pain in her head persisted, but she was more concerned about her hands and arms. She curled her fingers, breathing in relief as they obeyed her command. She wasn’t completely paralyzed.
“I think I’m okay.” Her voice sounded strange, lower, thicker.
“I should call an ambulance.”
Sam’s face wavered out of focus for a second, but she willed him back. Clearing her throat, she said, “But you already asked someone to do that.” Her voice still sounded strange.
“No, I didn’t, but I’m going to now.” Something looked different about him. Maybe it was just his concern. “Stay put.” He started to rise, but she grabbed his hand to stop him. Her whole world spun for a moment, and she squeezed his hand to steady herself.
“Just give me a minute,” she whispered, letting the nausea settle down again. She put her palm on the pounding area of her head and felt something sticky. That coppery smell assaulted her senses again. The blood on her hand sent the nausea into full tilt.
She took a deep breath. “Oh, geez. What happened to me?”
“That’s what I was going to ask you. I heard a noise and opened the door to find you like this.”
He headed back into his office and emerged a few seconds later pulling off his shirt. He cut one of his sleeves off with a pair of scissors. Gently, he pressed it to the gash on her forehead. When she put her hand there, her fingers touched his, reminding her of another moment when their hands had connected, then slipped from each other. He removed his hand, and she continued applying gentle pressure.
The pieces started coming together, shards of memories. “I fell down the stairs.”
Sam’s eyebrow twitched. “We’re on the top floor.”
“I know that, but …” She turned behind her and was startled to see the staircase leading down. The one she’d fallen down. Well, she thought she remembered falling down the stairs. She looked down at her legs, sprawled out in front of her. She didn’t recognize the gray wool pants she had on, or the long, black coat. Her feet were clad in nylons, and she squinted at what looked like red toenail polish. She’d been twelve years old the one and only time she’d ever put polish on her toes. Maybe she was seeing things.
Something else was missing. Her wheelchair. Before she could ask Sam about it, he said, “I think we’ve got some antiseptic in the office.” A shadow darkened his eyes. “Jennie insisted we have a first aid kit.” His voice had gone softer at those words, and he got up and went into the office.
Why was he using her name in the third person? She turned around to look for her chair. Without it, she felt as though a part of her was missing. Strange how she remembered falling backward down those stairs. Unless someone carried her up them and left her in front of Sam’s door. No, that didn’t make any sense. Neither did Sam’s strange behavior. Maybe he was spooked by her coming back from the dead.
She noticed the rubber mat in front of their door. When had he put that there? She was sure there had been no mat when her wheel had slipped in the puddle.
She leaned toward her big toe to scratch an itch—and stopped. Her eyes widened. Her toe had an itch. Her paralyzed toe. A cold chill washed over her. She was sure it was all in her injured head. It had been a long time since she’d sent a message to her feet. She closed her eyes and concentrated. Her toe moved. Her eyes popped open. Then she saw her toe move. She couldn’t believe it.
“I found some hydrogen—what’s wrong?” Sam’s voice intruded in her reverie.
Her voice was squeaky with her disbelief. “Sam, look! I can move my toe.” Then another amazing thing happened. She moved her leg.
He didn’t look quite as thunderstruck as she did, but he did have a measure of disbelief. He crouched down beside her. “I always knew you were on the edge, but I think that bump on your head pushed you over. Are you sure you’re all right?”
She gave him a tremulous smile. “I might be better than all right.”
He just looked at her for a moment. “What were you doing here, anyway?”
Her mouth dropped open at that one. “Sam. I was getting copies and coffee at Shep’s, remember?”
His face paled then darkened with a shadow of agony. “Why the hell would you say something like that?”
He turned and walked back inside their office. What had she said? What was going on here? She could hear him on the phone a moment later. “Yes, we need an ambulance… “
Where was the man who had held her tenderly? Maybe she’d dreamed the whole thing. She lifted the piece of cloth from her head. Well, most of it. The bleeding seemed to have stopped. She reached for the bottle of peroxide Sam had left on the floor and poured some onto the cloth, then pressed it back to her forehead. She didn’t want an ambulance; she wanted Sam to tell her why he was acting so strange.
What she needed was to find her chair. She grasped onto the railing behind her and pulled herself upward. Where could it be? It couldn’t have just disappeared. After being virtually attached to it for twelve years, it seemed strange to be without it. That black, molded chair, or variations of it, was never out of her sight.
Her upper arms weren’t as strong as they usually were. She struggled to hold herself upright, balancing herself while catching her breath. The sound of the elevator’s doors sliding open brought her attention to Shep. Skinny, with gray hair and beard, he looked a bit like a goat, though Jennie had come to like him an awful lot over the years. He owned a small office supply store downstairs.
Shep’s bushy eyebrows narrowed when he saw her awkward position. “Ah, see you found Sam’s all right.” He glanced at the open door, then back at her. “Hope everything’s okay. When you came running in my office looking for him, I thought you were in trouble or something. Are you all right, ma’am? You look shaky.”
Her mouth dropped open. Shep didn’t seem to recognize her. That warm sparkle didn’t light his eyes, and he didn’t call her by her nickname, Speed Racer. One of his words stuck in her brain. “Did you say I ran into your office?”
“Sure, don’t you remember?” He shook his head then glanced at the stairway as if it had a life of its own. “Gave me the willies when you took the stairs three at a time. Didn’t you hear me yell to be careful? What with the accident last month, none of us around here hardly uses them at all.” Shep’s face darkened with a palpable sadness, like the pallor on Sam’s face.
Her mind couldn’t sort the facts fast enough. She had bounded up the steps, three at a time. Maybe everybody was losing their mind, asbestos in the building or something. Her mind locked on the last bit.
“What accident?” Her fingers and arms trembled with the weight of holding herself up. Where was the upper body strength she had worked on all these years?
Shep glanced in the open doorway again, then back. “Sam’s assistant, Jennie. Speed Racer, I used to call her.” His smile was filled with melancholy. “She was a real sweetie, nicest person you could ever know. Someone spilled some lubricant on the landing there, right in front of the office door. Still haven’t figured out who done it, but I think it was one of the elevator service guys. Anyway, her wheelchair caught that spill just right—or wrong, you could say.”
Jennie noticed Sam in her peripheral vision but kept her eyes on Shep. Her throat tightened, nearly cutting off her air. “What happened to her?” she whispered. He’s talking about me.
“She fell down backwards, hit her head. Poor thing, only twenty-six years old, and her life is over.” His shook his head, lower lip pushed out.
Jennie wanted to hug him, to tell him she hadn’t died. Instead, she fell to the floor amid a blizzard of black dots. No, they actually looked more like wiggly worms, all squirming this way and that. She was getting dizzier watching them.
“I’ve got her,” Sam was saying as his arms went around her waist just before she hit the floor. “Shep, get her a glass of water, quick.” He set her down on the floor gently, leaning her back against the railing she was blindly grasping for.
She was a real sweetie…poor thing…her life is over. The words floated through Jennie’s mind, bits and pieces that refused to make sense to her. She had gotten a second chance, that’s what the voice had told her. And she was there. But Shep said Jennie was dead. Neither he nor Sam seemed to know who she really was.
She thought of the wool pants she didn’t recognize, the long black coat. Not her pants or her coat. Shep had seen her bound up the stairs. Not her legs. She opened her eyes, wiggly worms be damned, and glanced downward at the hands flattened against the floor to keep her upright. Long painted nails, strange rings on her fingers. Then further out at the legs sprawled awkwardly.
Holy angels in Heaven—she’d gotten a second chance in someone else’s body. A body that was whole, a body that could walk, run…dance!
Sam was trying to drape a wet, cold paper towel over her forehead when her head lurched upward.
“Get me a mirror.” Her voice gave way at the last word.
His forehead crinkled. “Maybe you shouldn’t look. It’s kinda nasty. The ambulance should be here anytime, so just calm down.”
“My face is kind of nasty?” Was she some monster?
Sam shook his head, a slight smile on his face. “No, the cut.”
“Get me a mirror, or I’ll get one myself.”
He raised his hands. “Okay, I’ll find a mirror. Vain woman,” he muttered as he left.
“Me, vain?” She sputtered a laugh as he disappeared through the office door. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Jennie spotted a purse lying nearby, a large tapestry bag. Not her purse. Much too big and flamboyant for Jennie Carmichael. She fumbled through the contents until she found a Gucci wallet. She opened it to the driver’s license. The woman in the photo had her hair pulled back, though several waves graced her forehead. Jennie’s attention went to the name: Maxine Lizbon.
Sam reappeared with the mirror he used to obliquely see who came in the door.
Jennie threw her wallet back in her purse. “Nothing’s missing,” she said quickly, taking the mirror from Sam.
“Are you saying you think you were mugged?”
She looked at her reflection. Her throat constricted when she saw a stranger’s face. No, not a stranger: Maxine Lisbon’s face. There was no sign of Jennie there. The woman looking back had red hair, lots of it, curling past her shoulders. When she lifted her bangs, she saw the gash. She quickly let them go again, feeling woozy. Sam was right—it wasn’t pretty. Instead, she concentrated on her general appearance.
Her eyes were the prettiest shade of green she had ever seen. Her skin was pale right then, making the streaks of blush stand out like a clown’s. Her upper lip twitched, and she saw it move in the reflection. Even that little movement made her head ache, but she didn’t care at the moment. Excitement shot through her veins, spreading a warmth through her entire body. She shoved the mirror back at Sam, not able to hide her smile.
“It doesn’t look too bad.” Her smile widened. She was Maxine now. Could she dare to hope this was real? With no wheelchair in sight, that meant—had to mean—she could walk. Shep returned with the glass of water, huffing and puffing next to her.
“Couldn’t find a darned cup anywhere to save my life. Or yours.”
She took a drink and handed it back to him. “Thanks. I think I feel better now.” That was an understatement. She turned to Sam. “Could you help me up, please?”
“You should stay put until the ambulance comes.”
“No, I’m fine.”
Sam just stared at her for a moment, expelling a short breath. Finally he extended a hand, and she grasped it, holding on for a second before pulling herself up. She had a whole new chance, a whole new body. Through Maxine, Jennie could now be the kind of woman Sam might fall in love with. She let her feet hold her weight for the first time in years. Her legs wavered, and she reached for Sam’s strong shoulders. He steadied her with his hands, fingers tight around her waist.
“Did you hurt your legs?” he asked.
“No. I’m just a little…weak, that’s all.”
Even though this body was used to walking, her mind wasn’t accustomed to issuing those kinds of commands. She concentrated. Such a simple action, something she used to take for granted a long time ago. How did you walk? One foot in front of the other. Her legs wobbled, and she held tight to Sam as they walked inside the office.
“Shep, why don’t you wait out front for the ambulance?” Sam asked.
“Is she going to be all right?”
Sam looked at her, lifting an appraising eyebrow. “As all right as she’s ever been, I suspect.”
Now what did that mean? Did he know? Could he somehow tell she was really in this body? No, he would have been celebrating this blessed event of walking with her. He would have looked at her in that familiar, warm way.
Shep set the glass of water on her desk and left to watch for the ambulance. Jennie made her slow way to the flowery couch Sam hated, the one his ex-wife had put in when she’d apparently used Sam’s office as her first decorating assignment. He went into his office to put back the mirror he’d brought out for her. Romeo ambled cautiously over, his nose wiggling.
“Romeo!” She leaned down to rub her cheek against his head, but her head started spinning at the movement. Gripping the edge of the couch, she held her hand out to him instead. “Romeo, what’s the matter?” Whoops. She knew what the matter was. He didn’t know her.
Sam snapped his fingers as he reentered the front area. “Romeo, go to your pillow.” Romeo gave one more glance to Jennie, then swaggered over and dropped down on his pillow with a dog sigh, watching her.
Sam crouched down in front of her. “Maxine, did someone hit you out there? Mug you?” he asked, crouching “You said nothing was missing in your purse.”
“No, I don’t think so. I was just being paranoid, I guess.” Well, she didn’t think she’d been mugged. “I…fell. Tripped or something.” She tried to laugh it off, but Sam’s expression was serious.
He stood and tilted her head back, his finger gently tracing the skin around her cut. “This didn’t just happen. The blood around the cut is too dry. I’d say it happened about half an hour ago.” His eyes met hers. “Try to remember what happened just before you came here to see me.”
She didn’t want him to think she’d lost her memory, but it was going to be hard to bluff through this one. Then she had a sobering realization. Whatever had happened to Maxine had killed her. Whether accidental or not, this gash had probably proved fatal. She decided to tell him the truth, or as close as possible.
“I’m not sure, to be honest with you. I can’t remember what happened in the last hour.”
“What about before that? Do you know who you are? Maybe there’s something wrong with your legs.”
“No, there’s nothing wrong with my legs.” She couldn’t keep the smile away at that statement, but she tried to downplay it. After all, she’d bounded up the steps three at a time earlier, or at least Maxine had. Bounded up the stairs. What a wonderful thought! Her legs had to work pretty good for that. She lifted each leg, flexing her foot to demonstrate their ability. “See, they work just fine. And I know who I am. I’m Maxine Lizbon, and I’m thirty years old.” She recited her address, the one from the license.
Sam gave her a wry grin, jumpstarting her heart all over again. “You must have hit your head hard; I’ve never heard you tell anyone your age.”
“But you don’t remember how you got that gash?” he continued. “That’s a serious injury.”
“No. I can remember everything up until that point.”
Sam tilted his head. “Why did you come to see me?”
Uh, except for that. She swallowed. “I-I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with this.” She pointed to her forehead.
“In here,” Shep’s voice said. Two paramedics followed him into the office.
“I’m fine, really,” she said.
The woman said, “Let us be the judge of that, okay?” She was short and stocky, and looked like she meant business.
Jennie tilted her head back and lifted her bangs.
“Yow,” the woman said. “We’d better take you in.”
“No,” Jennie said, almost too quickly. She had an illogical fear that the doctors would see right through her, call her an imposter or body thief. “Can’t you just stitch me up here?” At the doubt in their faces, she crossed her arms and added, “I’m not going to the hospital.”
“Don’t be difficult,” Sam said. “I know you’re really good at it, but not now. Maxine, are you listening to me?”
Jennie realized he was talking to her and not the paramedic. “It’s not that bad. I hate hospitals.” She’d spent enough time in one after her accident.
“We can’t stitch you up. All we can do is apply a butterfly stitch, which is more like a band-aid. Real stitches will close the wound much better, leave less of a scar.”
“No hospitals. Just do what you can do here.”
Sam shook his head, rolling his eyes upward. “You’re just asking for trouble, woman.” To the paramedic, he said, “Can’t you forcibly take her to the hospital?”
“No, afraid not. All we can do is make her sign a release so if something happens, we’re not liable.” She turned back to Jennie. “Okay, we’ll apply the butterfly, but if you have any dizziness or fainting spells, you must go to the hospital right away. Head injuries are serious business.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jennie said solemnly.
After running a battery of tests, including looking deep into her eyes with their flashlight, the woman said, “I don’t see any signs of concussion, but I really wish you’d let us take you in.” When Jennie shook her head, the woman shrugged. “All right, it’s your head. We’ve got to cleanse it first.” The man with her handed her cleansing solution. When the woman pushed Maxine’s hair back, she blinked. “That’s strange.”
“What?” both Jennie and Sam asked at the same time.
“I’d swear it looks better already. Like it’s healing unnaturally fast.”
Jennie smiled. “See, told you it’s not that bad.”
Jennie closed her eyes. Sam winced as he watched them do their ministrations on her head, which was why Jennie decided she couldn’t keep her eyes open. Her fingers dug into the fabric of the sofa as the cleanser stung.
She focused her thoughts on her old life. She could tell Sam the truth, but would he believe her? He already seemed to think she was wacky, and her actions thus far hadn’t done much to dispel that. Sam wasn’t into the stuff that defied reason, like ghosts and UFO’s. If she told him she was Jennie’s soul come back in another body, she might lose him forever. That thought made her fingers curl over the arms of the sofa. She felt Sam’s hand cover hers.
“It’ll be over soon.”
Jennie smiled. She couldn’t risk losing Sam, not now. Even if he did believe her, he’d probably still look at her as the old Jennie anyway. Just because she looked different didn’t mean his feelings would change. Besides, the old Jennie was dull. She had no life, no excitement. No, it was time to let Jennie die. As Maxine, she would be exciting, sexy, everything Sam wanted in a woman. They would start fresh, the two of them. She would make Sam fall in love with her this time, and nothing would get in the way of that.
“You’re all set,” the woman’s voice said.
“You bet I am.” Jennie’s eyes popped open. “I mean, I feel better already. Thank you.”
The paramedic shone the flashlight in her eyes again, and Jennie willed her pupils to dilate properly. “Well, you look just fine. Okay remember, any dizziness or fainting—”
“I’ll go to the hospital right away,” Jennie promised.
“And I would make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible, as a precaution.”
Jennie signed the release, with Sam shaking his head the whole time, and the medical team left. She was alone with Sam again. She’d been alone with Sam many times, but it felt different this time. The office was overly warm, and she pulled off her expensive London Fog coat and laid it on the couch.
“The heating and cooling system in this old building never did work right,” he said, looking out at the snow flurries clinging to the window.
“Roasting in the winter, freezing in the summer.”
He turned to look at her. “How did you know that?”
“I mean, I can tell. It’s way too warm in here. The other part was a guess.”
“Oh.” He nodded slowly. “How are you feeling?”
“Okay. I’ll live.”
He looked so good, wearing his faded blue jeans and white cotton shirt. He’d cut the other sleeve off so they’d match, and the muscles in his arms ripples as he clenched and unclenched his fists.
“Do you remember anything more about the accident? Or why you came here?”
She shook her head, immediately regretting the action when Sam and the entire room swayed like a rolling ship. She gripped the arm of the couch again, subtly so he wouldn’t notice.
“Are you all right?” he asked, noticing anyway. Of course, he would. That’s what he did.
She forced a smile. “I’m fine.” To prove it, she was going to walk to her desk and get the glass of water Shep had left there.
“What are you doing?” he asked when she braced the arm of the couch to get up.
“I want to stand for a minute.” Oh, to feel the floor beneath her feet—the hard, flatness of it. She had left her cream pumps by the door, so her feet were bare but for stockings. Her toes wiggled. Slowly, she pushed herself upward, feeling all those wondrous muscles in her legs group for action. Lifting her arms out for balance, she straightened and stood there for a moment. Sam wouldn’t understand the sheer joy at simply standing, but she could hardly hide it. This was all a precious gift beyond comprehension.
“Are you sure your balance is all right?” he asked, coming closer.
“Oh yes, I’m sure.”
Praise & Reviews
“Tina Wainscott continues to be a delightful spinner of tales rich with magic and wonder.”
— RT Book Reviews
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“SECOND TIME AROUND [WOKE UP DEAD] will bring out the imagination in your soul! Lovely characters! So beautiful is the love they both fight for you’ll find yourself craving more. Tina Wainscott reaches new heights with this wonderful one-of-a-kind thrill. She combines love and suspense as no one else can!”
— Literary Times
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“Engaging, charming, heart-warming and intriguing. Tina Wainscott has the right formula for success.”
— Romance Communications
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“A well-written, romantic, feel-good story that everyone should read. Readers will definitely want to stay up past their bedtimes for this one!”
— Gothic Journal #10/97
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“Terrific Tina Wainscott provides her readers with a fabulous romantic suspense drama built upon an interesting mix of elements from the supernatural. Sam is a delightful detective, and Jennie (regardless of what skin she wears) is a fabulous lady. SECOND TIME AROUND [WOKE UP DEAD] is worth reading the first time around, the second time around, and the nth time around.”
— Harriet Klausner, Affaire de Coeur, 10/97
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“This is absolutely wonderful! ‘Special’ doesn’t begin to describe it, it touched me so much. This has to be one of the year’s most heartwarming, tender stories.”
— Bell, Book and Candle
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“This is one great book and I loved it!! Make plans to add it to your library. I know you will be pulled into Sam and Jennie/Maxine’s lives just as I was and you won’t want to let them go.”
— Old Book Barn Gazette, 10/97