Ebook ISBN: 9781310043192
Print ISBN: 9781503277076
[ Paranormal Romance, MF & FF ]
My name is Gabrielle, but Madame thinks I’m a girl called Suzanne. I guess I’m partly to blame. After all, I signed a stranger’s name to my committal forms when I entered this rehab clinic. I’m not actually addicted to anything—not sex, not drugs, not even rock and roll…
“Sounds like a fun vacation, Daddy. I’m getting a little jealous.”
“Gabby, I’ve told you a hundred times: you’re more than welcome to come along.”
“Nah, I don’t want to cramp your style.” Holding her phone to her ear, Gabrielle looked both ways before crossing the street. “Anyway, car shows aren’t exactly my thing.”
“Oh, that’s right,” her father said with a chuckle. “Instead, you’ve opted for… what’s it called, a hermit holiday?”
Gabrielle burst out laughing as she jogged across the road. “It’s called a staycation and you know it. You’re so corny, Daddy.”
“Made you smile, though.”
As she walked past yet another perfect house with a professionally manicured lawn, her father asked, “What are you up to?”
“Thought I’d take myself on an urban hike in Loindici Woods. There’s supposed to be a back entrance somewhere in this neighbourhood.” She glanced at her hand, where she’d drawn a little map. “I’ve never come this way before.”
“Well, promise me you’ll pick up a nice bottle of wine on your way home. Start that staycation in style.”
She rolled her eyes. “I can’t, Daddy. I didn’t bring any ID. You know how they treat me at the liquor store: like I’m fourteen years old. Can’t they see all the fine lines across my forehead?”
“Gabby, your forehead is as smooth as a baby’s butt.”
She was sure going to miss her dad’s incessant compliments while he was away. “Hey, remember to turn your phone off as soon as you get to the border, okay?”
“Yes, Gabrielle, you’ve told me all about the whopping bills some people end up with after using their cell phones in the states.”
“Yeah, like thousands of dollars. I saw this consumer report where one guy’s charges were over ten thousand bucks! That’s insane!”
He always gave into her. “I promise to keep my phone switched off while I’m driving across America. Oh, before I forget: is there anything you want me to bring back? Your sisters wrote up a list of items you can, apparently, only buy in the good old U-S-of-A.”
“Yeah, they would,” Gabrielle grumbled. “No, Daddy, I don’t want anything. All I want is for you to enjoy your holiday, maybe meet a friendly car-loving lady while you’re down there.”
“Honestly, Gabby…” Her father sounded irritated. “How could I do that to your mother?”
“Mom’s been gone almost fifteen years. It’s okay for you to look at other women now.”
“And what about you, young lady?” His paternally friendly voice warmed up again. “Tell me, when was the last time you went out on a Friday night?”
“You’re young, Gabby. Don’t put yourself in solitary confinement. Trust me, you reach a certain age and men stop looking your way. You’ll have missed your chance.”
“Daddy!” Gabby’s heart fell, not because what he was saying was particularly mean, but because his evaluation of her life was so spot-on. “I don’t want to talk about this.”
“I just want you to be happy,” her father said.
“I just want you to be happy,” she replied.
And then a thought came to mind: a piece of art glass he’d bought her the last time he went on one of these road trips. He’d talked at length about the artisan who’d made it—described her in detail. She was a car-lover, too. The woman had obviously caught his eye, whether or not he was willing to admit it.
“I know what you can bring me back from the states,” Gabrielle said to her phone. “One of those glass roses. Remember the one you got me last time? Another one of those.”
A brief pause, and then: “Sure. I can do that.”
“Have a good time, Daddy. I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too, Gabby. Have fun painting your apartment. Make sure to call your sisters if you need any help.”
She laughed. “Yeah right, like they’d help me.”
“Well… you know they’re always around, even when I’m not.”
That seemed like an odd thing to say, but Gabrielle didn’t question it. “Bye, Daddy. Talk to you when you get back.”
“Bye, Gabby. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
Gabrielle listened while her father disconnected, and then sighed softly into her phone. A woman her age had no right relying on Daddy for emotional validation, but she’d rather not consider what that said about her.
Consulting the map on her hand, Gabrielle tucked her phone between her skin and the strap of her yoga top. Almost there. She was looking for Besta Avenue… and there it was, right up ahead. That wasn’t too difficult.
But Besta Avenue didn’t culminate in a cul-de-sac backing onto the Loindici ravine like she’d expected. Instead, there was a driveway with one of those very official-looking parking lot control arms blocking the path. No guard or attendant on duty. Just a placard that read Loindici Rehabilitation Centre.
“That’s weird.” Gabrielle consulted the map on her hand. Yes, she was in the right place. When she gazed across the manicured grounds, past the mulberry trees and the geranium beds, she spotted a pathway leading to the forest.
Okay, so the map was right after all. All she had to do was cut across the lawn and she’d be on the right path. Once she’d slipped under the parking arm and cleared the imposing stone wall around the property, a giant establishment came into view. Was it Victorian? She wasn’t good with architecture, even though there’d been a section on it in the art history course she took at university. All she remembered were Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns, and this house had none of those.
House, yes—it looked more like a mansion than an institution: all brick and stone and peaks and lead windows. It reminded her somewhat of a castle because of its size, but there was also something dark and foreboding about it. Castles stood tall and proud. This place slumped and shrouded itself, as though it were ashamed of what went on in its belly.
Loindici Rehabilitation Centre… what kind of rehabilitation, Gabrielle wondered? Rehabilitation as in people with broken spines learning to walk again? Or rehabilitation as in drug addicts trying to kick the habit?
The building was hauntingly beautiful. How come she’d never heard of this place? She tried looking it up on her phone, but it didn’t seem to exist online. Maybe the building had been abandoned. Or maybe she’d stumbled onto a film set without realizing it.
Just as she tried one more page of search results, a creaking noise sent her heart into her throat. She pressed the heel of her palm to her chest, breathing a sigh of relief when she realized it was only the gate arm lifting to let in a shiny black town car.
Oh no… was she on private property? Would she get in trouble for being here? Would she be arrested?
The vehicle honked and she scurried off the driveway so the town car could pull up to the fearsome Victorian mansion. Standing on brilliantly green turf, she watched it in awe. And then she noticed the “Keep off the Grass” sign and jumped onto the concrete path.
A smart girl would have taken off down that path, enjoyed a pleasant hike in Loindici Woods, and never looked back.
But Gabrielle couldn’t stop staring as the driver stepped out of his vehicle and circled around it to open the back door. Who would get out? Somebody famous? If this rehab clinic wasn’t findable online, maybe it provided super-secret service to the stars.
Who’d been arrested lately? Which celebrity’s addiction might require medical intervention? Oh, why hadn’t she paid more attention to the tabloids last time she was standing in line at the supermarket?
As the driver unloaded suitcases onto the curb, a purple high-top running shoe emerged from the back seat. The shoe was followed by a leg, a bare leg… a bare thigh… and then a denim mini-skirt.
Her outfit was a throwback to the eighties, though the girl couldn’t possibly have been alive back then. How old was she? In her teens, for sure. Her splattered neon T-shirt hung so low off one shoulder it would inevitably give way to a nip slip. The girl had a canvas messenger bag over one shoulder and a book tucked under her arm. From the book, she pulled a bill, and handed it to the driver. He tucked it in his pocket, then raced back to the car and squealed away like he’d just pulled off a bank robbery.
When the eighties girl fixed her gaze on Gabrielle, panic set in. She’d almost forgotten this scene was playing out in real life, not on TV. It was so much like a reality show.
Standing on her toes, the girl in the denim skirt waved wildly. Gabrielle had never seen anyone so happy to start rehab. No tears. Just a bright sunny smile.
Raising her hand to shoulder level, Gabrielle wriggled her fingers in a half-hearted attempt at a wave. The girl raced to her at quite a clip. It must have hurt to run like that without a bra on.
The girl reached out with both hands. At first Gabrielle thought a big braless hug was coming her way. Nope. The girl in the denim skirt clasped her shoulders, gave her a shake, and said, “You! You’re Suzanne! Got it?”
The girl’s beaming grin burned Gabrielle’s retinas as she watched the young woman flee down the concrete path and into the ravine.
Staggering in that direction, Gabrielle asked, “What? I’m who?”
Too late. The young woman ran into the woods without so much as glancing back.
Gabrielle kept asking herself if she recognized the girl. Her face, though striking, was totally unfamiliar. Maybe some billionaire’s daughter—not the Paris Hilton type who flaunts herself in public, but the kind who causes her parents untold stress by acting out, begging for attention. According to the tabloids those kids were always hooked on drugs by the time they turned fifteen.
And then a deep, dark voice came out of nowhere to say, “Come, Suzanne. You must surrender to your fate.”
One hand landed heavily on Gabrielle’s shoulder, and by the time she’d turned to see who’d touched her, another hand had landed on the other shoulder. Two men in scrubs hovered over her like statues. She looked into their eyes, ready to tell them they’d made a big mistake, but their faces were stone…