XOXOAD is so excited about the first book in the sexy, suspenseful new The Secret Life of Amy Bensen series from New York Times bestselling author Lisa Renee Jones!
At a young age, tragedy and a dark secret force Lara to leave everything behind and start a new life as Amy. Years later, just when she thought that that she has managed to break free of the shackles of her past, her ghosts are quick to remind her that they’re still watching, and force her back on the run. But meeting the dark and persistent billionaire recluse Liam Stone has her questioning everything she has known. Liam wants to possess her and push her to her erotic limits. But what if there is nothing left of her to possess? Will Liam and Amy’s relationship have a fighting chance as long as her past continues to hover over them?
Keep reading for an exclusive excerpt from ESCAPING REALITY!
My name is all that’s written on the plain white envelope taped to the mirror. It wasn’t there when I entered the ladies’ room at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The laughter and pleasure of tonight’s charity event evaporate as fear and dread slam into me, adrenaline shooting through my body. No. No. No. This can’t be happening—but it is.
Suddenly the room begins to fade, and everything goes gray. It’s been years since I had a flashback, and I try to fight it, but I’m already right there in it. The scent of smoke burns my nose. The sound of blistering screams shreds my nerves. And all the pain and heartache, the loss of all I once had and will never have again, threatens to overwhelm me.
Fighting the meltdown, I swallow hard and shove away the gut-wrenching memories. I can’t let this happen. Not here, in a public place. Not when I’m certain that danger is knocking on my door.
On wobbly knees, clumsy in the four-inch black strappy heels that made me feel sexy only minutes ago, 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 the long, white-blond hair I’ve worn down tonight in honor of the heritage of my Swedish mother that I’m tired of denying. Gone, too, are the dark-rimmed glasses I’ve often used to hide the pale blue eyes my parents 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 will I be like at thirty-four?
Voices sound outside the door, and I yank the envelope from the mirror and rush into a stall. Two women enter the bathroom, and I tune out their gossip about some man they’ve been admiring at the party. Leaning against the wall, I open the sealed envelope to remove a plain white notecard, and a small key drops to the floor. Cursing my shaking hands, I bend down and scoop it up. For a moment, I can’t seem to stand up. I force myself to my feet and blink away the burning sensation in my eyes to read the few short sentences typed on the card.
I’ve found you, and so can they. Go
directly to JFK airport. 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: a triangle with some writing inside. The same symbol that was tattooed on the arm of the stranger who saved my life and helped me start a new one—and who’d made sure I understood that seeing that symbol means that I’m in danger and I have to run.
I squeeze my eyes shut, fighting a wave of emotion. Once again, my life is about to be turned upside down. Once again, I will lose everything—and while it’s so much less than before, it’s all I have. I crumple the note in my hand, desperate to make this all go away. After six years of hiding, I’d dared to believe I was safe—but that was a mistake. Deep down I’ve known that, ever since I left my job two months ago as a research assistant at the central library to work at the museum. Being here is treading water too close to the bridge.
Straightening, I listen as the women leave and the room goes silent. Anger erupts inside me at the idea that my life is about to be stolen from me again. Inhaling, I tear the note into 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.
Unzipping my small black purse, I drop the key inside. I’m going to finish my party. And 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 could be found. I don’t want to run again. 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. I don’t want to see myself right now, when I have no idea who “I” am or will be tomorrow. In the numb zone I’ve used as a survival tool before, almost as many times as I’ve tried to find the meaning of that symbol on the note, I follow the soft hum of orchestral music, entering a room with a high, oval ceiling decorated with magnificent murals. I tell myself to get lost in the crush of patrons in business attire and waiters offering champagne and finger foods, but I don’t. I simply stand there, mourning the new life I’ve just begun, and that I know is now gone. My “zone” has failed me.
“Amy, where have you been?”
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 the 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. 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?”
“The ladies’ room. There was a line.” I hate how easily the lie comes to me, how it defines me. A lie is all I am.
Chloe’s brow furrows. “Hmmm. There wasn’t one when I was there. I guess I got lucky.” She waves off the thought. “Sabrina’s freaking out over some donation paperwork she can’t find and says she needs you. I thought you were doing research—when did you start handling donor paperwork?”
“Last week, when she got overwhelmed,” I say, and perk up at the idea that my new boss needs me. 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 pulls me forward. “And I’m tagging along with you. I have a sixty-year-old admirer who’s bordering on stalker. I need to escape before he hunts me down.”
Her light words go deep. I’m the one being hunted. I’d thought I was safe—but I’m not, and neither is anyone around me. I’ve lived that firsthand. I felt that heartache and loss and while being alone sucks, losing someone you care about is far worse.
I stop dead in my tracks and pull Chloe around to face me. “Tell Sabrina I’m getting the forms and will be right there.”
“Oh. Okay. Sure.” Chloe lets go of my arm, and for a moment I fight the urge to hug her. That would make her seem important to me, and someone could be watching. I turn away and rush for a doorway, feeling sick to my stomach that I’ll never see her again.
I finally exit at the side of the building into the muggy August evening and head for a line of cabs, consciously not rushing or looking around me. I’ve learned ways to avoid attention. Going to work for a place with a direct link to the world I’d left behind wasn’t one of them, and now I’m paying for that luxury.
“JFK airport,” I say 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 felt 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 reality.