Not Without You, страница 1
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NOT WITHOUT YOU
“You were thinking about not getting into bed with me. I had to come up with something to change your mind.”
“By pretending to be asleep?” Kelsey asked.
“It worked,” Jarred said simply.
With that, he carefully turned toward her. With his lips a hairbreadth from hers, his eyes open and gazing at her, and his nose touching hers, Kelsey was torn between desire and nervous laughter. A soft breath escaped her. More a moan than a laugh.
But he wasn’t going to have it all his way.
“So are you ready for the report, Jarred? As I recall, you wanted to know each and every little thing that’s been happening at work.”
Jarred groaned and crushed her mouth beneath his. The curve of his lips slowly diminished as amusement turned to something else.
With an effort, Kelsey fought free of his marauding mouth, only to have him slide those warm lips down the arch of her throat. “So things are progressing at work,” she went on.
“Shh.” The finger he placed over her lips said he was through listening to shoptalk. Kelsey’s eyes met his. Even in the semidarkness she could read the stirring sensuality in his gaze. “I’ve been thinking of this a long, long time…”
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Not Without You
Dedicated to: the newest members of our family— Brandon Michael Thurmond, born on June 22, 1998, six days before my birthday; what a marvelous gift!
his parents: our daughter, Melanie, and son-in-law, Jonathan.
And the other newest member of the family and my first granddaughter, Jessie Taylor Maclntyre, born April 3, 1999,
and her parents: our daughter, Angela, and son-in-law, Mac.
Voices. Somewhere in the dark. Watery voices.
…lost all memory. Doesn’t speak…
…could be temporary? Couldn’t it? Well, couldn’t it?
…opened his eyes twice and spoke. Didn’t know a damn thing. Doctor says it happens sometimes after severe trauma…
…has to remember…has to recover… Oh, God, what if he doesn’t?
…Forget it. We could never be that lucky…
The first truly conscious thought that zinged across his brain was: I’m in agony! Absolutely everything hurt. Taking the slightest breath crippled his lungs. His ribs, though meant to protect the organs they encased, had become his enemy. Every last one of them hurt.
His eyes opened before he bade them to. The room was unfamiliar, white, sterile. For a moment he lay still in complete bafflement, not even recognizing the woman standing at the window, staring blankly into the dark night beyond.
In disbelief he thought, I’m in a hospital.
She suddenly glanced his way and swept in a startled breath. He merely stared at her. She was… familiar. She was…
For the life of him he couldn’t remember her name. Nor, he realized with more curiosity than alarm, could he remember his own.
“Jarred?” she said tentatively.
Jarred Bryant. Thirty-eight years old. Head of Bryant Industries. Son of Jonathan and Nola Bryant. Grandson of Hugh Bryant, who was a rogue and a scoundrel, but possessed a genius for buying real estate at dirt-cheap prices and turning that same real estate into some of the most prime pieces of property around the Seattle area. Hugh had also founded several philanthropic projects and one private hospital, Bryant Park, which was undoubtedly where his grandson lay right now.
“Jarred?” she said again, lines of concern narrowing across her fine brow.
He couldn’t speak. He could barely respond. The effort was just too great, and he possessed neither the energy nor the inclination to even try. She considered him carefully for several moments, then stepped closer to the bed. Anxiety filled the most amazing amber eyes he’d ever seen. Her skin was soft, clean, and imminently touchable.
His wife? Couldn’t be.
She reached a hand for something lying out of his line of vision. The call button. He watched her thumb depress the silent beckoning agent.
“Can you hear me?” she tried. When he didn’t respond, she moved a half step away, hugging herself protectively.
He realized she was incredibly nervous. The pink tip of her tongue peeked out to moisten her lips. She wore a pale blue blouse and khaki slacks. Her chestnut hair shimmered with good health and curved just beneath her chin. This beautiful woman was—to his mind—perfect.
Moments later a nurse sauntered into the room. She wore the skeptical expression of someone who dealt with others’ emotional outbursts all the time and thought the world, as a whole, was full of overexcitable ninnies. Shooting a glance at the nervous woman, she turned her gaze on him.
“He’s awake,” she said. “That’s good.”
“Will you tell Dr. Alastair? Or should I call him? Is he here today?” The woman’s voice tightened at the nurse’s lackluster response.
“Not at the moment. But I’m sure he’ll want to know. Dr. Crissman’s on duty today.” The nurse leaned her rather formidable bosom his way. “How’re you doing there? You’ve been away from us for a few days. The doctor will be in to see you shortly.” She patted his hand, sent the woman a look that could have meant anything, then moved away.
His “wife” walked toward the windows again. But was she really his wife? She seemed so reserved and removed. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on his part to believe that this woman could be his.
But he knew her. They were involved in some kind of relationship, or she wouldn’t be here in the first place. He just couldn’t recall her name. He struggled, but the effort to remember grew more painful the harder he tried. Somewhere outside his vision he heard a hum—a distant sound that filled his head and gradually grew louder and louder. His eyes closed despite his attempts to keep them open, and he thought about rocking gently on soft waves.
The second time he awakened, h
There it was. So simple. But he’d been unable to think of it while she’d been here.
She is my wife.
He realized his left arm was in a cast and weighted down. His face felt tight and hot, and when he squinched his muscles, new pain erupted. He didn’t think he had the power to move his legs, but a heart-thundering surge of fear abated when he realized he could wiggle his toes. He wasn’t paralyzed. At least it didn’t seem so.
However, whatever he’d done, he’d done it big time.
He remembered hazily that the doctor had come and examined him, but he’d been lost in a twilight netherworld that felt infinitely safer than this real one. Kelsey had hovered around; he could hear her voice. But her tone was curiously flat, and he had the sense that he was missing vital information.
Now, he felt sharper, and consequently the pain was more acute as well. Carefully—oh, so carefully—he turned his head on the pillow to look out the windows. City lights. Lights. Fitful, smattering rain slapping the panes at irregular intervals.
I’m Jarred Bryant.
He opened his mouth and tried to say the same, but his lips were cracked and the message from brain to tongue and vocal cords seemed to get waylaid somewhere. He shivered. Would he be mute forever?
He tried again, and this time a huffing ugh escaped from his throat. Better. Things appeared operational even if they weren’t exactly running at capacity.
But the effort cost him dearly. He could feel the sinking exhaustion envelop him again, and this time he did not welcome it. He needed to stay awake. He needed to be alert and ready.
Ready for what? he wondered, realizing that the anxious feeling had come from somewhere in his subconscious. But it flitted briefly through the channels of his brain and was gone, and Jarred sank into deep slumber once again.
The third time he surfaced it felt as if he were literally swimming from the depths of a dark well. He pulled and thrashed and strained until he broke the surface and there she was. His wife. Kelsey Bennett Bryant. Standing at the foot of his bed and gazing at him with mixed emotions, which he sensed had something to do with the events that had brought him here in the first place.
He cleared his throat. She straightened abruptly, lips parting in surprise, amber eyes widening just a bit. This morning she wore a white silk blouse and a black skirt and jacket. She looked as if she were going to a bankers’ convention or a funeral. He could not believe this beautiful woman was his wife. For reasons he didn’t want to explore too deeply he felt he didn’t deserve her.
“Hello,” he managed to say, though his voice sounded rough and scratchy as if from disuse.
Instantly a shadow crossed her face. And Jarred remembered with dampened hopes that she didn’t like him much. In fact, he could safely say her feelings verged on loathing and disgust.
“Don’t talk too much. I’m glad you can,” she assured him quickly, “but don’t tax yourself. Dr. Alastair said a lot of things about your condition. Rest was right at the top of his prescription list.”
“What happened?” he managed to rasp.
She swept in a sharp, swift breath, disconcerted. Jarred waited for some kind of explanation, but she either couldn’t—or wouldn’t—enlighten him. Instead she paced to the windows, and he had to turn his head to follow her movements. Outside, the sky and buildings reflected the same color: gray.
“Oh, don’t move,” she said, catching his wince as she glanced back. “Please. I won’t…be here long. I’m just trying to figure out what to do. Your parents will be here soon. They’re so relieved.”
“My parents?” he muttered. His head felt loose and liquidy inside, as if pieces were unattached. Or maybe that was just the.effects of the drugs they were obviously running through the intravenous line attached to the back of his right wrist.
“Do you remember anything, anything at all?” she asked tensely, shooting him such a fear-filled look that he could only stare at her in return.
Drugs. That caught at the corners of his mind. But it seemed wrong somehow.
“Was it… a car wreck?” he asked.
Her shoulders slackened.
She hesitated, then turned to him, eyeing him soberly. “They recommended that I shouldn’t tell you what happened. They want you to remember on your own.” She paused, then asked in a strained voice, “Do you know who I am?”
…has to remember…has to recover… Oh, God, what if he doesn’t?
…Forget it. We could never be that lucky…
Jarred swallowed and considered. Bits of conversation he might have dreamed ran across his brain. Was one of those watery voices hers? A deep, sinking feeling that felt suspiciously like despair filled him, and he closed his eyes. Closed her out. Every instinct he possessed wanted to call out to her and beg her-to forgive him and hold him and trust him again.
“Dr. Alastair is coming,” she said with relief into the silent void. Footsteps approached and she added, “I’ll be back this evening.”
She was gone in a heartbeat, a lingering scent following in her wake. He recognized it as one of those natural perfumes concocted in some upscale bath and body store. He’d called it “Kelsey” because it was what she wore and he associated it with her. She’d been bothered by the endearment even though she’d never voiced her feelings.
Jarred opened his eyes and gazed up at the gray-haired doctor with the faint smile and intent gaze who stood over him.
“Do you know who I am?”
“The doctor,” Jarred answered after a moment.
“Uh-huh. And you’re the patient. I’m Dr. Alastair.”
“How long have I been here?”
“Four days?” He was mildly shocked that so much time had passed.
“What do you remember about the accident?” ’
That was a blank. Jarred struggled to recall anything at all, but the effort made his head ache and the doctor placed a hand lightly against his shoulder.
“Don’t try too hard. It’ll come. Do you know your name?”.
A long, intense moment passed while Dr. Alastair regarded him with clinical curiosity. Kelsey had called him by name but the doctor didn’t possess that knowledge. For reasons that escaped him he sensed subterfuge was still necessary, and in a split second he decided on what course to travel.
“No,” Jarred whispered and the deception began.
Russet leaves spun wildly, a last gasp of movement before they settled to the ground, sticking wetly against the black pavement. Kelsey walked through the growing piles, unconscious of the leaves’ slickness as her black heels stepped off the tarmac and headed in the direction of the people grouped at the top of the knoll. The path she traveled was made up of tiny beaten gravel, adding a more natural look to the beauty and serenity of the tall firs and gray headstones that dotted the rolling hillside. Rain slapped at her cheek, and the wind threatened to snatch her black’umbrella out of her numbed hands.
November in Seattle—or more accurately, Silverlake, a small suburb tucked outside the ever-growing circle of the city. Seattle itself was surrounded by water: Puget Sound, Lake Washington, Lake Union. A glance to her left and she could see a glimmering reflection off in the distance. Eighteen-mile-long Lake Washington. To her east and south, though she couldn’t see it from here, was Lake Sammamish. If her mind were in gear, she would be able to think of its size as well.
But her mind wasn’t in gear. There was a great gap between the synapses somewhere inside her brain. Maybe her whole collective nervous system had shut down. Except that she was walking and she managed to tell the cab driver where her destination should be: the graveyard.
Oh, it had another name. Something more suitable to senses
Today, though, she felt no ghosts, only a gasping sorrow that filled her chest and ached down her limbs and made her want to collapse on the water-soaked ground. Chance was dead, and there was no bringing him back. Gone. Forever.
And it was Jarred’s fault.
For an instant, a flash of rage singed across the deadened nerves in her brain. Jarred Bryant. Her husband. The man responsible for Chance’s death.
Her grip tightened on the umbrella’s curved handle. Resolve tightened her lips. The same resolve that had kept her going ever since the terrible news of the plane crash. She was going to divorce Jarred and leave this loveless marriage behind her. She should have done it years before. But Chance’s death was the impetus that she’d needed so badly to cut the ties that bound her to Jarred.
Marlena Rowden reached out a trembling hand. Chance’s mother. The woman who had been there for Kelsey all those years of growing up in Silverlake while her childhood friendship with Chance developed into something more. Marlena had always held a special place in her life. She’d taken Kelsey in after the deaths of her own parents: her mother from breast cancer; her father from subsequent loneliness and loss of the will to live.
Chance’s parents had picked up the pieces when Kelsey, aged sixteen, was left lost and bewildered. She’d relied on them for love and support just as she’d relied on Chance, and though Chance and she had grown apart after high school, Kelsey had continued to see herself as an “adopted” Rowden. They were her family.
Until Jarred Bryant, that is.
“I’m so sorry,” Marlena said now, tears filling her eyes.