She wasn’t sure where it hurt, exactly, just that it did. Ceaseless and sharp. She tried to cry out but her face felt loose and damp.
“Adora, don’t look at her face, dear. She —”
There was a sound like retching. Her little sister sobbed something Paloma could scarcely hear. Her mother’s voice was vacant and dreamy, murmuring soothing things in the same tone she’d always saved for Dora and Dora alone.
The night air was cold against the skin on her legs, bent unnaturally at the knee.
The last thing she heard was sirens.
The first thing Paloma noticed as she brushed against the edge of consciousness was how cold her feet were.
She blinked her heavy eyes open. Her toes were peeking out from beneath the covers, an unusual white duvet that she didn’t recognize. It was smooth against her skin.
There was a petite girl peeking at her from the edge of her mattress. Her hair was short and brown, tucked neatly behind her heavily freckled ears. “My lady, you need to dress. It’s nearly breakfast.”
Her family was wealthy, but nothing like this. Servants didn’t wake them up for breakfast. Certainly not servants in uniform.
Paloma propped herself up on one elbow, glancing down with a frown when she didn’t find the usual ache there. She’d had trouble with her elbow since she was young, why didn’t it ache now? “Who are you?”
The girl blinked, taking a step back and tilting her head curiously. “What do you mean, Lady Irina?”
Paloma quirked a brow. “Irina?”
The servant’s tone was concerned. “My lady, what are you —”
Paloma shoved her covers away with force, shooting to her feet and dashing toward an ornate mirror opposite her luxurious bed.
That was not her mirror.
That was not her face.
That blonde hair, those cyan eyes — those weren’t hers. Paloma had dark hair, dark eyes, and a scar an inch above her lip. It was all gone, gone, gone.
“Who am I?” Paloma knew her tone was hollow, but she couldn’t help it. After all, how was she whole? Hadn’t her legs been warped and bloody? Hadn’t her face been crushed? You didn’t come out the other side of a fall from the fifth floor in one piece.
You came out like the panes of glass she was launched through.
“Lady Irina, is this some sort of odd joke?” Her servant had gone pink, her hands wringing together in front of her stomach. “You’re rarely this unkind!”
Paloma took a slow breath, staring at her nails. They were a soft pink, long and round. She knew she’d chewed her nails down to the quick — these weren’t hers. None if it was. “What’s your name?”
“Molly!” The girl insisted, with an almost petulant frown. She caught herself, schooling her expression. “My name is Molly, my lady. Do you truly not remember? I have served you since last year.”
“Molly, I think something is terribly wrong.” Paloma glanced up at her. “I do not where we are. I do not know you.”
“Oh,” the maid wailed, a hand flying to her mouth. “Oh, something must have happened! I will fetch the physician. Just wait!”
And suddenly, she was alone.
Paloma tucked the silken skirt of her night dress beneath her legs, sitting in front of the mirror and staring.
Who was she?
She was not herself. She knew that much.
The slick fabric between her fingers told her she wasn’t dreaming. Dreams were not this vivid. Dreams didn’t give you ice-cold stone beneath your skin and rattling windows that made your ears ring.
Where was she?
It was nowhere she recognized. Certainly not her family home on the bay.
She…she had died, hadn’t she? The pain was too deeply etched into her memory to have been an illusion.
It was coming to her in pieces. The vacant terror of the fall itself. The overwhelming everything of hitting the grass. The warmth of the blood that pooled in her lungs. How strange it had been when she could not move her legs, or her face, or do much of anything other than murmur and gurgle.
And now she was somebody else. Living as a…noble lady?
She carefully examined the room. It was sumptuous, if not a little cold for her taste. The wind of what was surely a storm seemed to be shaking the glass of the windowpanes, flurries of bright snow coming down in force.
It was beautiful, in an old-timey sort of way. A smattering of glossy wood and fluffy rugs. On her wall hung a stunning gown, pressed and clean.
There was a knock on the door.
“Lady Irina, may we come in?”
It was a man’s voice this time. He sounded older. Gentle, in a way that reminded her of her grandfather. One of the few who had ever shown her any care.
“Yes,” she said, hoping it was loud enough.
The man who entered had a worried furrow to his brow, long grey hair pulled into a short ponytail. He was walking with a gnarled cane, Molly following dutifully behind him.
“Molly tells me that you are not well,” he said, tone calm and even. “You don’t remember who you are?”
Paloma searched his eyes for any sign of skepticism, but he seemed genuine. She shook her head. “No. I don’t. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize, my lady,” he told her. He nodded to Molly, who held out a hand to help her to her feet. “Let’s sit in your foyer and see if I can see anything that may have caused this.”
Molly led her to a sitting room, attached to her bedroom by a simple white door with a crystal handle. She sat on a neatly upholstered couch with a frown, letting the physician take one of her hands for examination.
“Your name is Lady Irina Lis. You are the first daughter of your house, and you are twenty four this month.”
Paloma paused for a long moment. “Who am I to meet for breakfast?”
The physician followed her veins with a bronze rod while Molly busied herself with undoing the thick braids in Paloma’s hair. “Your father, Duke Leon Lis, and your older brother, Lord Artan Lis.”
“Are we close?” Paloma winced when the cool metal of the road reached her wrist. “My family and I?”
“Very!” Molly declared, with a relieved smile. “His Lordship loves you and Lord Artan very much. Your mother too — though she is visiting your grandfather for another fortnight or two.”
The word must mean something very different to whoever Irina Lis was. To Paloma, it was little more than something curdled and sour.
Paloma swallowed down her anxiety and patiently let the two finish their tasks.
At least the names were recognizable here. At least she understood the language. These were the small mercies she could count on.
But what would Irina’s family say when their daughter was somebody else entirely?
Paloma allowed herself to be shuffled through a routine she found unusual but pleasant. The physician pronounced her physically healthy, and suggested that she visit a “mentalist” here in estate. Whatever that meant in this place.
With him gone, apparently it was time to prepare for breakfast. Molly took care not to pull her long hair, combing through the long curls with a floral-scented cream Paloma didn’t recognize the exact smell of. A gel was dabbed on her cheeks and lips, and she was helped into a sizable dress of lace and ribbon that made her think of a fairytale.
“The physician will let your father know what’s happened,” Molly assured her, pulling Paloma’s (Irina’s) curls over her shoulders and tucking a rogue strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “Maybe seeing them will help trigger your memory!”
Paloma could hardly breath as she was guided down a set of lengthy, spiral stairs and toward a set of double doors. They were engraved with miraculous beasts that weren’t familiar to her. Their heads and backs were adorned with horns and feathers and wings of all kinds.
“It is through here, my lady,” Molly told her, with a polite curtsy. “Please walk carefully, you seem unstable in your shoes.”
Her shoes. A pair of low heels with a strap. They were a pretty purple color, with silver buckles. She couldn’t get used to her feet yet, so much smaller than she remembered. Paloma found her voice finally, after a moment of searching. “I will be careful, Molly. Thank you.”
Paloma took a few moments to steady herself and placed her splayed fingers on the right door, clicking the mechanism with her free hand and stepping into the room.
The two men she saw took her breath away.
“Happy day, father,” she said, repeating the words Molly had told her were her usual greeting. “And to you, brother.”
“Irina,” the older of the two said, his eyebrows furrowed and expression sad. “The physician tells me you’ve lost your memory. I had hoped this would not happen again.”
Paloma’s head jerked up, meeting his cyan, shiny eyes.
“Again?” She repeated, the words sweet on her lips. Uncommon and uncomfortable in their plushness. “What do you mean again?”
Her brother met her eyes with a similar expression to her “father.”
Paloma Beaumont never lived the charmed life everyone thought she did.
Her vain mother hated her, her devoted father was dead, and her beautiful sister Adora was the apple of society's eye.
Then she fell out a window.
Now she's stuck living the life of Lady Irina Lis, the popular and magnanimous daughter of a Duke, and the unfortunate bearer of a familial curse. Trouble is: Irina's family and her prickly fiance, Duke Einar Rinne, know she's an imposter. And Duke Rinne isn't impressed.
Einar may look like a male lead from Paloma's favorite romantic fantasy novels, but he hasn't got the attitude to match. Besides, she didn't ask to marry you, Mr. Male Lead!