Authors: Lisa Renee Jones
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Mystery, #Adult, #Suspense
The Secret Life Of Amy Bensen
Lisa Renee Jones
His touch spirals through me, warm and sweet, wicked and hot. I shouldn't
him. I shouldn't tell him my secrets. But how do I not when he is the reason I
breathe? He is what I need.
My name is all that is written on the plain white envelope taped to
I step out of the stall inside the bathroom of Manhattan’s
Metropolitan Museum, and the laughter and joy of the evening’s charity
event I’ve been enjoying fades away. Fear and dread slam into me, shooting
adrenaline through my body. No. No. No. This cannot be happening and yet
it is. It is, and I know what it means. Suddenly, the room begins to shift and
everything goes gray. I fight the flashback I haven’t had in years, but I am
already right there in it, in the middle of a nightmare. The scent of smoke
burns my nose. The sound of blistering screams shreds my nerves. There is
pain and heartache, and the loss of all I once had and will never know
Fighting a certain meltdown, I swallow hard and shove away the
gut-wrenching memories. I can’t let this happen. Not here, not in a public
place. Not when I’m quite certain danger is knocking on my door.
On wobbly knees and four-inch black strappy heels that had made
me feel sexy only minutes before and clumsy now, I step forward and press
my palms to the counter. I can’t seem to make myself reach for the
envelope and my gaze goes to my image in the mirror, to my long
white-blond hair I’ve worn draped around my shoulders tonight rather than
tied at my nape, and done so as a proud reflection of the heritage of my
Swedish mother I’m tired of denying. Gone too are the dark-rimmed glasses
I’ve often used to hide the pale blue eyes both of my parents had shared,
making it too easy for me to see the empty shell of a person I’ve become. If
this is what I am at twenty-four years old, what I will be like at thirty-four?
Voices sound outside the doorway and I yank the envelope from the
mirror and rush into the stall, sealing myself inside. Still chatting, two
females enter the bathroom, and I tune out their gossip about some man
they’d admired at the party. I suddenly need to confirm my fate. Leaning
against the wall, I open the sealed envelope to remove a plain white note
card and a key drops to the floor that looks like it goes to a locker. Cursing
my shaking hand, I bend down and scoop it up. For a moment, I can’t seem
to stand up. I want to be strong. I shove to my feet and blink away the
burning sensation in my eyes to read the few short sentences typed on the
I’ve found you and so can they. Go to JFK Airport directly. Do not go
home. Do not
linger. Locker 111 will have everything you need.
My heart thunders in my chest as I take in the signature that is
nothing more than a triangle with some writing inside of it. It’s the tattoo
that had been worn on the arm of the stranger who I’d met only once
before. He’d saved my life and helped me restart a new one, and he’d
made sure I knew that symbol meant that I am in danger and I have to run.
I squeeze my eyes shut, fighting a wave of emotions. Once again, my
life is about to be turned upside down. Once again I will lose everything,
and while everything is so much less than before, it’s all I have. I crumble
the note in my hand, desperate to make it, and this hell that is my reality,
go away. After six years of hiding, I’d dared to believe I could find “normal”,
but that was a mistake. Deep down, I’ve known that since two months ago
when I’d left my job at the central library as a research assistant, to work at
the museum. Being here is treading water too close to the bridge.
Straightening, I listen as the women’s voices fade before the room
goes silent. Anger erupts inside me at the idea that my life is about to be
stolen from me again and I tear the note in tiny pieces, flush them down
the toilet and shove the envelope into the trash. I want to throw away the
key too, but some part of me won’t let that happen. Probably the smart,
unemotional part of me that I hate right now.
Unzipping the small black purse I have strapped across my chest and
over my pale blue blazer, that despite my tight budget, I’d splurged on for
this new job; I drop the key inside, sealing it away. I’m going to finish my
party. Maybe I’m going to finish my life right here in New York City. The
note didn’t say I’d been found. It only warned me that I
be found. I
don’t want to run again. I don’t. I need time to think, to process, and that is
going to have to wait until after the party.
Decision made, I exit the stall, cutting my eyes away from the mirror
and heading for the door. I do not want anyone to see me right now when I
have no idea who “me” is or will be tomorrow. In a zone, that numb place
I’ve used as a survival tool almost as many times as I’ve tried to find the
meaning of that symbol on the note, I follow the soft hum of orchestra
music from well-placed speakers, entering a room with a high oval ceiling
decorated with magnificent artwork. I tell myself to get lost in the crush of
patrons in business attire, while waiters toting trays offer champagne and
finger foods, but I don’t. I simply stand there, mourning the new life I’ve
just begun, and I know is now gone. My “zone” has failed me.
“Where have you been?”
The question comes as Chloe Monroe, the only person I’ve let myself
consider a friend in years, steps in front of me, a frown on her heart-shaped
face. From her dark brown curls bouncing around her shoulders to her
outgoing personality and fun, flirty attitude, she is my polar opposite and I
love that about her. She is everything I am not but hoped I would become.
Now I will lose her. Now I will lose me again.
“Well,” she prods when I don’t reply quickly enough, shoving her
hands onto her hips.
“Where have you been?”
“Bathroom,” I say. “There was a line.” I sound awkward. I feel
awkward. I hate how easily the lie comes to me, how it defines me. A lie is
all that I am.
Chloe’s brow puckers. “Hmmm. There wasn’t one when I was there. I
guess I got lucky.”
She waves off the thought. “Sabrina is freaking out over some
donation paperwork she can’t find and says she needs you.” Her brow
furrows. “I thought you were doing research? When did you start handling
“Last week, when she got overwhelmed,” I say, and perk up at the
idea that my new boss needs me. I don’t need to leave. I need to be needed
even if it’s just for tonight. “Where is she?”
“By the front desk.” She laces her arm through mine. “And I’m
tagging along with you. I have a sixty-year-old admirer who’s bordering on
stalker. I need to hide before he hunts me down.”
She tugs me forward, and I let her, too distracted by her words to
stop her. She’s worried about being hunted but I am the one being hunted.
I thought I wasn’t anymore. I thought I was safe, but I am never safe, and
neither is anyone around me. I’ve lived that first-hand. I felt that heartache
of loss, and while being alone sucks, losing someone you care about is far
My selfishness overwhelms me and I stop dead in my tracks to pull
Chloe around to face me. “Tell Sabrina I’m grabbing the forms and will be
“Oh. Yes. Okay.” Chloe lets go of my arm, and for a moment I fight
the urge to hug her, but that would make her seem important to me, and
someone could be watching. I turn away from her and rush for a door, and I
feel sick to my stomach knowing that I will never see her again.
I finally exit the side of the building into the muggy August evening,
and head for a line of cabs, but I do not rush or look around me. I’ve
learned ways to avoid attention, and going to work for a place that has a
direct link to the world I’d left behind hadn’t been one of them. It had
simply been a luxury I’m now paying for.
“JFK Airport,” I pant as I slide into the back of a cab, and rub the back
of my neck at a familiar prickling sensation. A feeling I’d had often my first
year on my own, when I’d been certain danger waited for me around every
corner. Hunted. I’m being hunted. All the denial I own won’t change my
The ride to the airport is thirty minutes and it takes me another
fifteen to figure out what terminal locker 111 is in once I’m inside the
building. I pull it open and there is a carry-on-sized roller suitcase and a
smaller brown leather shoulder bag with a large yellow envelope sticking
up from inside the open zipper. I have no desire to be watched while I
explore what’s been left for me. I remove the locker’s contents, and follow
a sign that indicates a bathroom.
Once again in a stall, I pull down the baby changer and check the
contents of the envelope on top. There is a file folder, a bank card, a cell
phone, a passport, a note card, and another small sealed envelope. I reach
for the note first.
There is cash in the bank account and the code is 1850. I’ll add more
as you need it until
you get fully settled. You’ll find a new social security
card, driver’s license, and passport as well.
You have a complete history to memorize and a résumé and job
history that will check out if
looked into. Throw out your cell phone. The new
one is registered under your new name and
address. There’s a plane ticket
and the keys to an apartment along with a location. Toss all
and don’t use your bank account or credit cards. Be smart. Don’t link
your past. Stay away from museums this time.
A new name. That’s what stands out to me. I’m getting another new
name. No. No. No.
My heart races at the idea. I don’t want another new name. Even
more than I don’t want to be back on the run, I don’t want another new
name. I feel like a girl having her hair chopped off.
I’m losing part of myself. After living a lie for years, I’m losing the
only part of my fake identity I’d ever really accepted as me.
I grab the passport and flip it open and my hand trembles at the sight
of a photo that is a present-day me. How did this stranger I met only one
time in my life get a picture of me this recent? It doesn’t matter that I’d
once considered him my guardian angel. I’m freaked out by this. Has he
been watching me all this time? I shiver at the idea, and my only comfort is
my new name. I’m now Amy Bensen rather than Amy Reynolds. I’m still
Amy. It is the one piece of good news in all of this and I cling to it, using it to
stave off the meltdown I feel coming. I just have to hold it together until I
get on the plane. Then I can sink into my seat and think myself into
my “zone” that I can’t seem to fully find.