Home > Everything We Left Behind (Everything We Keep #2)

Everything We Left Behind (Everything We Keep #2)
Author: Kerry Lonsdale

PROLOGUE

JAMES

Six Months Ago

December 18

Puerto Escondido, Mexico

He dreamed about her again. Blue eyes so bright and hot they branded his soul. Waves of brunette curls stroked his chest as she moved over him, kissing his heated skin. They’d be married in two months. He couldn’t wait to wake up with her each morning and love her as his wife, exactly how she was loving him now.

There was something important he had to tell her. Something urgent he had to do. Whatever it was remained elusive on the foggy edges of his mind. He narrowed his focus, homing in on the thought until he could . . .

Protect her.

He had to protect his fiancée. His brother would hurt her again.

He saw his brother, the conviction in his expression. It bordered on insanity. They were on a boat. He had a gun and was making threats. His brother pointed the gun at him, so he dove into the water. The ocean was wild, dragging him under. He felt himself sinking. Bullets sprayed the surface and shot past his head and torso, narrowly missing their mark.

He swam hard and fast, his lungs burning. He had to protect her.

Large, powerful waves tossed him against rocky cliffs. Searing pain tore at his face and limbs. The ocean wanted him, but his will to protect the love of his life was stronger. He had to get to her. The current sucked him below the surface. He floated, drifted. Back and forth, up and down. Then darkness came.

“¡Papá! ¡Papá!” a small voice squealed.

His eyes shot open. A small child jumped over him, messing the sheets. He looked at the boy. Giggling, the child leaped around the bed.

“¡Despiertate, papá! Tengo hambre.”

The child spoke Spanish. He racked his brain, delving back to his college Spanish courses. The kid was hungry, and he’d called him “Dad.”

Where the hell was he?

He shot upright and backpedaled, slamming against the headboard. He was in a bedroom surrounded by framed pictures. He saw himself in many of the photos but had no memory of them being taken. To his right, windows overlooked a balcony and the ocean beyond. What the fuck?

He felt the blood leave his face. His body broke out in a cold sweat. The child jumped closer, spinning full circles when he launched in the air. “¡Quiero el desayuno! ¡Quiero el desayuno!” the boy chanted.

“Stop jumping,” he croaked, holding up his hands to ward off the boy getting too close. He was disoriented. Fingers of panic slithered around his throat. “Stop it!” he yelled.

The child froze. Wide-eyed, he stared at him for two heartbeats. Then he flew off the bed and out of the room.

He squeezed his eyes shut and counted to ten. Everything would return to normal when he opened his eyes. He was stressed—work, the wedding, dealing with his brothers. That had to be the reason. This was only a dream.

He opened his eyes. Nothing had changed. Labored breaths blasted from his lungs. This wasn’t a dream. It was a nightmare, and he was living it.

On the bedside table he spied a mobile phone. He picked it up and launched the screen. His heart stumbled as he read the date. It was supposed to be May. How the hell could it be December . . . six and a half years after his wedding date?

He heard a noise at the door and jerked his head. An older boy stood in the doorway, his espresso face pasty. “¿Papá?”

He sat up straighter. “Who are you? Where am I? What is this place?”

His questions seemed to frighten the boy, but he didn’t leave the room. Instead, he dragged a chair to the closet. He climbed atop and retrieved a metal box from the upper shelf. The older boy brought the box to him and punched a four-digit code on the keypad. The box’s latch popped open. The boy lifted the lid, then slowly backed from the room, tears streaming down his face.

Inside the metal box were legal documents—passports, birth certificates, a marriage license, along with a death certificate for a Raquel Celina Dominguez. Thumb drives and several data-storage discs were tucked at the bottom, along with an engagement ring. He knew this ring. She wore this ring. He held it to the light, staring, uncomprehending. Why wasn’t she wearing his ring?

He returned the ring to the metal box, and an envelope caught his attention. It was addressed to him. James. He ripped the envelope open and extracted a letter.

I write this on borrowed time. I fear the day’s coming I’ll remember who I was and forget who I am. My name is Jaime Carlos Dominguez.

I was once known as James Charles Donato. If I’m reading this note without any recollection of writing it, know one thing:

I AM YOU.

CHAPTER 1

JAMES

Present Day

June 21

San Jose, California

Dying is a whole lot easier than coming back to life. The amount of paperwork required to reinstate his identity is enough to suck the life back out of him.

Maybe he should have stayed dead. Because there sure as hell isn’t anything worthwhile left for him here.

The thought skips through James’s mind like a grounder across a baseball field, slamming hard into the outfield wall. It leaves a dull ache in his temple and a hollowness in his chest.

He stares at the San Jose skyline outside the window of his brother Thomas’s office at Donato Enterprises. Glass buildings reflect the setting sun in radiant displays of gold and orange. Six and a half years lost, and there isn’t a damn thing he can do, medically speaking, to recapture that time.

But he remembers the day he left Aimee as though it were yesterday.

He paces in front of the window, plagued by the conversation they had the night before he left. “I’ll be away for less than a week, barely enough time for you to miss me.” He then kissed her and made love with her. His fingers had caressed the moonlight in her hair as he reassured her their future would be the one they wanted, with him free of his obligation to Donato Enterprises. He wanted to pursue art. His mouth had traced the supple lines of her thighs, the curve of her calves, as he promised to care for her for the rest of his life.

But he failed to keep that promise. He failed her.

So much time has been lost. So much of his life lost. His home. His art. His identity.

The love of his life.

Aimee.

Her name whispers through him.

Does she know he’s back in the States? Does she know he is back, her James?

She hasn’t seen him since she found him in Mexico more than five years ago. She’d discovered he was still alive, not dead like his brother Thomas had everyone believing. The jackass even organized James’s funeral and bought a headstone at the family plot.

For his protection, Thomas has told him, else Phil would have tried to kill him again in order to save his own ass.

Thomas took advantage of his amnesia, which, in James’s case, had been a total whiteout of his autobiographical information. His brother went so far as to create a new identity for him, a new life.

Jaime Carlos Dominguez. Artist. Widower. Father.

He doesn’t have any memories of Aimee’s trip to Mexico. He doesn’t have any memories of falling in love with his physical therapist, Raquel; marrying her; adopting her son, Julian; fathering their son, Marcus; and her death from birthing Marcus. He doesn’t have any memories of anything Thomas told him about what he, as Carlos, did in Mexico. He can hardly recall how he ended up in Mexico.

He doesn’t remember anything about the hours leading up to his wandering into Playa Zicatela, bloodied, dazed, and confused, with no idea who he was or where he was from.

What he does have, though, is more than six years of Carlos’s journals, all tidily filed on a thumb drive. Daily entries that stopped two days before James surfaced.

The damn man kept a diary.

James makes an odd noise in the back of his throat. It’s ironic. Anytime he curses Carlos, he’s only cussing at himself. But thinking of himself as separate from Carlos has made it easier to accept the loss of time.

There is much about the man Carlos was that James doesn’t understand. The one thing he can relate to, though, is Carlos’s paranoia of losing his identity. For when James surfaced from the fugue state to magazine and newspaper stacks, framed picture mosaics crowding the walls, and a lockbox bursting with the details of the man’s short life, Carlos was lost to this world forever.

James thinks of the items in that lockbox. Photos, birth and death certificates. Aimee’s engagement ring.

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