The Princess Has Amnesia!
The Princess Has Amnesia!
“Don’t play with fire, Chère, you’ll only get burned.”
He stood, then walked to the door.
“Jake,” she called after him, then went nearer. “Don’t go.”
His shoulders tensed.
“I’m tired of being alone,” she said. “Day after day, you leave me. Is my company so…difficult?”
“Don’t you understand, Ana? I’m trying to do the right thing. You have a life somewhere else. When you leave here, I don’t want you to have…regrets.”
“I already have regrets, Jake…. I regret that I don’t remember who I am. But I will never regret anything we share during our time together.” Her breathing grew ragged. She was so angry she wanted to cry.
She marched out the door, without a clue as to where she was going.
And she didn’t care.
The Princess Has Amnesia! Patricia Thayer
To all the other ladies in the CROWN AND GLORY series:
Libby, Allison, Chris, Cara, Karen, Maureen, Elizabeth and Barbara. It was a pleasure to work with such talent. Hope we can do it again.
And to the two new men in my life, Harrison John and Griffin Thomas.
Your grandma loves you.
has been writing for the past sixteen years and has published fifteen books with Silhouette. Her books have been nominated for the National Readers’ Choice Award, Virginia Romance Writers of America’s Holt Medallion and a prestigious RITA® Award. In 1997 Nothing Short of a Miracle won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Special Edition.
Thanks to the understanding men in her life—her husband of thirty years, Steve, and her three sons and two grandsons—along with her daughter-in-law, Pat has been able to fulfill her dream of writing romance. Another dream is to own a cabin in Colorado, where she can spend her days writing and her evenings with her favorite hero, Steve. She loves to hear from readers. You can write to her at P.O. Box 6251, Anaheim, CA 92816.
Fifty-mile-an-hour winds and driving rain had shut down the Penwyck Airport. All flights in or out had been cancelled because of the fierce storm. In the tower the air traffic controller tried desperately to contact the troubled jet that had taken off just before the closure. Perspiration beaded over his body as he frantically searched the screen for the signal.
“Royal Bird Two, repeat your location. Over.” He spoke clearly into the microphone, then released the button praying for a miracle that the plane would reappear in his quadrant. Again he asked for verification. “Royal Bird Two repeat your location. Over.” But outside of heavy static, there was only silence.
He swallowed back the dryness in his throat and repeated the request again, then again. There was no response from the royal family’s jet.
He buzzed for help and his supervisor appeared immediately at his station. “Royal Bird Two has disappeared from our radar,” he explained, trying to keep the trembling from his voice.
“What do you mean disappeared?” the supervisor asked, unable to hide his panic. “How can that be?”
“I’m not sure. The plane could have dropped in altitude…” They all knew the worst, but no one would speak of it. Tensions ran high in this type of job, but to lose the royal family’s plane…“The last transmission from the jet was a request to change their flight pattern, hoping to get out of the weather. I cleared them, then suddenly they were gone.”
The supervisor immediately picked up the phone and called the palace. After receiving his orders, he took the controller’s seat and he tried to make contact himself. But he couldn’t summon the missing jet either.
Not ten minutes later the tower door swung open and three men rushed in. Their black suits were meant to make them blend in with the crowd, but just by their stature and presence alone, they stood out. They wore badges that proclaimed them members of the Royal Elite Team. One of the men, Jack Harrison, approached the control module and everyone stepped back. His expression was deadly serious as he glared at the supervisor.
“We have a Priority One situation here. So we will go over everything, step by step,” he ordered, then pointed out the window at the raging storm. “Princess Anastasia is out there somewhere and we have to find her.”
The Lear jet vibrated from turbulence as Anastasia Penwyck’s grip tightened on the armrest of her seat. Under normal circumstances, she didn’t mind flying, but this roller-coaster ride was not to her liking. Not at all.
Maybe it had been foolish of her to go off to London in such weather, but with all the madness going on at the palace recently, Ana had put her own projects aside too long. The needs of the children who had come to depend on her were important. Now that Owen had been safely returned home, she couldn’t delay what she had to do. Even if it meant she had to be up at the ungodly hour of 5:00 a.m.
It had taken some doing to convince her mother of the urgency of the trip. As a member of the royal family, Ana’s safety was always a concern. Her father, King Morgan of Penwyck, had taught her to be aware and alert. These days he had a new battle of his own to fight. For his life. Even though he was receiving the best medical care, she hated leaving him when he was still in a coma. Ana also knew the king wouldn’t want his daughter to neglect her duties.
The orphanage Marlestone House was one of Ana’s latest campaigns, and she would do anything to help these abandoned children. One of her favorite things was teaching them to ride. She’d already moved several of the palace’s gentlest horses to the home and had been giving instructions. Best of all, the media knew nothing of this. Dressed in jeans and a baseball cap, she was known to the children only as “Annie.”
But a six-year-old named Catherine couldn’t ride. Two years before, the girl’s leg had been badly mangled in an accident and never healed correctly. Ana’s search for someone to help led her to London’s top orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Thor Havenfield. A busy man, he’d informed Ana that he could meet with her before rounds at the hospital.
The plane shook again and Ana drew in a breath. Why was she so nervous? The pilot was experienced and they weren’t far from the mainland. She looked out the window, searching for the Welsh coastline, but visibility was nil. Maybe she should have waited for the weather to clear.
More turbulence! When it settled down for a moment Ana heard the pilot talking with the tower, then she felt the plane change course, but not soon enough. Lightning flashed, followed by a horrendous thunderclap. The jet shook violently this time.
Ana heard the orders being tossed back and forth between the men in the cockpit. Then there was a different tearing sound. Something was wrong with one of the engines. The jet tilted as they began to lose altitude.
Ana’s heart beat wildly. Oh, God! What was happening?
Her bodyguard, Rory, peered at her from the cockpit. “We’ve lost an engine, but we’re going to try and land the plane,” he said. “Grab some cushions from the benches and stuff them around you. Then put your head in your lap.”
“Rory, please,” she pleaded. “Tell me the truth. Are we going to…make it?”
He smiled. “I won’t let anything happen to you, Princess.”
The jet vibrated in earnest, sounding like it was breaking apart. Anastasia closed her eyes and thought about her family…. All her regrets. All the things she put off in her life. Twenty-five years was too short a time. She would never know what it was like to truly fall in love. A tear found its way down her cheek as she heard the pilot shouting.
“Mayday! Mayday! This is Royal Bird Two. We’ve lost power and we’re going to attempt to land.”
Ana buried her head in the cushions, and held on tight and prayed. Then came the awful sounds, the screeching of metal, the breaking glass, a series of sudden hard bumps and jerks. The force threatened to throw her from her seat, but her seat belt stopped her. Then the sound of her own screams…then nothing….
He can only watch as she runs toward the car. There’s nothing he can do to stop her. He tries to go after her, but something or someone is holding him back.
Terror races through him. She’s walking into a trap. No! No! Meg! “Don’t go,” he yells, but his words are only a hoarse whisper. Then a sudden explosion rocks the ground, throwing him backward as orange flames and debris shoot out in all directions, the heat scorching his skin and hair.
With a gasp, Jake Sanderstone jerked up in his bed. Sweat beaded along his naked body as he fought to pull air into his constricted lungs. Nothing worked until he began the calming exercises the doctor had recommended. Soon his breathing slowed along with his heart rate.
That was when he realized the fierce rain pounding against the cabin’s roof, and Max’s frantic barking. Combing his fingers through his hair, he stood and walked into the main room. Although not quite dawn, he could see the five-year-old shepherd mix pawing the floor by the door.
Lightning flashed again and seconds later thunder crashed, rumbling through the wooden structure. “Okay, I’ll let you out.”
Jake unlocked the rough fir door and pulled it open, allowing the cold wind in, sending a chill through his body. But it felt good. Made him feel alive. Not that he deserved to be. A rush of sadness threatened to swamp him, instead he dragged himself back to reality as the dog scampered outside.
Hearing a noise that didn’t sound related to the storm, Jake went to the edge of the porch and looked up in the sky. Off in the distance, he saw a light then made out the distinctive sound of a jet engine winding down. A pilot himself, he realized the plane was in trouble and coming down…fast. And there was nowhere to land in these mountains.
Damn! All he could do was watch as the small jet dropped out of sight, then heard a crash and the huge golden glow as flames shot up in the air. The impact and his previous training threw Jake into automatic rescue mode. He had to get out there and see if there were any survivors.
Jake rushed inside and pulled on special insulated clothing to protect him from the hard elements. There would be no rescue helicopter to help in this remote area. He was the only one. And since the area the plane went down was treacherous, he had to go in on foot. He grabbed his jacket and a backpack filled with a flashlight and other necessities for hiking, then hurried outside.
“Okay, Max.” Jake pulled on his cap. “Lead the way.”
As if the dog understood him, he took off through the brush. Jake kept up, all the time hoping that when they got to their destination, there would be a chance for survivors. The rain had slowed to a steady drizzle, but the thick foliage made the going rough through the forest. Still unfamiliar with the area after only four months, Jake trusted Max’s instincts. It was just over the rise when he inhaled the faint odor of fuel and smoke. Then he saw the row of damaged trees that the jet clipped off as it came into the meadow. Fifty yards beyond was the wreckage. Pieces of the aircraft had scattered when it broke apart on impact.
Jake arrived at the cockpit first to see it had taken the brunt of the crash. The fire was out and there were two men still strapped in their seats. He reached through the shattered glass and checked each man’s pulse. Nothing. Not that he’d expected any. He hurried on to the midsection that had separated and rested ten yards back. He checked inside, no one. Max sniffed around, then went outside, but Jake knew that someone had been sitting in one of the seats because there was fresh blood. Max began barking again.
Jake followed the sound until he caught up with the animal as he scurried through the trees. Again the rain grew heavy as Max began to bark in earnest. Jake found the dog in a group of trees. He was standing beside a body.
Jake knelt down beside Max. “Good, boy,” he praised as he went to the survivor. He took in the soaked jacket and skirt and dainty bare feet. A woman. Gently, he rolled her over and brushed her wet hair from her face. He tried to ignore the pretty face he exposed, but even with the large bump on her head, she was striking. He checked for a pulse and found one, a little weak, but she was alive. He was examining for broken bones and any other injuries when she moaned, then opened her eyes to reveal a rich blue color.
Her lips trembled. “Fire…Please…Help me,” she whispered.
“I’ll do my best, ma’am,” he said, taking the blanket from his pack and covering her cold body. He figured she’d been exposed for the past thirty minutes. They had a little protection from the rain where they were, but how bad was the storm going to get? The crashed plane wasn’t any protection either, since it was in a ravine and the heavy rain could cause flooding. He needed to get her back to the cabin and take care of her. He could deal with the others later.
He tucked the blanket over her soaked skirt and jacket. She definitely wasn’t dressed for a hike in the mountains, nor was she in any shape to. Her pupils were dilated, meaning she had a concussion. Besides, she’d been exposed to the cold rain too long. He needed to get her dry and warm. Now.
He brought her to a sitting position. “Come on, wake up.”
She blinked and stared up at him.
“I need to get you out of the weather. So that means I’ll have to carry you. It may hurt, but I’ll try and be as gentle as possible.”
No answer. Her eyes drifted shut once again.
He smiled as his hands moved to her small waist and he lifted her up and over his right shoulder in a fireman’s carry. He heard her groan and regretted his roughness, but this was the only way he could get her back to the cabin.
By the time he reached the door, they were both soaked to the skin and his legs were cramping from exhaustion. He stumbled inside and went straight to the couch in front of the fireplace and gently laid her down. Then he began tossing wood onto the grate, and set a match to the kindling. Once the fire caught, he turned back to his charge. She looked pale, and when he touched her face her skin was ice-cold.
Jake stripped off the blanket, then went to work on the expensive little blue suit that hadn’t provided much protection against the heavy rain. He unfastened the zipper, and slid the soaked material down her narrow hips, revealing long shapely legs. Next came the jacket and fancy silk blouse.
He drew in a breath when he got to the lacy underwear. Suddenly the room seemed warm. Lord! He’d been in the mountains too long if he sunk to ogling an unconscious woman. He went into the bedroom, stripped the dry blanket off the bed. Returning, he draped it over her.
With her covered, he took off the remainder of her wet clothes. After placing the articles of clothing by the fire, he took a few minutes to change into a pair of fresh jeans and a flannel shirt, which he left unbuttoned as he busied himself getting a pot of coffee started on the woodstove. He dried off Max and gave the dog some food, but decided to check the horses later.
Suddenly the woman cried out and he rushed back to the couch.
“No! No! Rory!”
“Hush,” he coaxed. “It’s okay.” She finally settled down. Who was Rory? Her husband? He looked down at her ringless finger, which didn’t mean she wasn’t married or engaged.
He cleaned and bandaged her head wound, then poured some coffee into a mug and went back to her. He managed to get a few sips into her, but she wouldn’t stop shivering.
After securing the blanket around her, he picked her up and carried her closer to the fire. He sat down with her on his lap. When he went to lay her on the rug, she moved closer against him.
“C-cold,” she whispered through her trembling. “So cold.”
“I know, I’m trying my best to remedy the situation.” He reached out and brushed the damp hair from her face.
God, she was beautiful. Her oval-shaped face was only perfected by her features, her large blue eyes, straight nose and delicate jaw adorned with a slightly dimpled chin. His gaze lowered to her mouth. Full and pouty, her lips had a rosy hue that was not only inviting…but way too tempting.
He fought off the enticement and discovered a fine gold chain hanging around her slender neck. Attached to it was a charm of some kind. He picked up the amulet to discover the finely scripted letters, A-N-A.
“Is Ana your name or your initials?” He checked her pupils again. They were dilated. “Come on, Miss Ana, you need to wake up for me.”
She groaned again, but only burrowed deeper into his chest. Somehow she worked the blanket from around her slim body and her bare skin pressed against the opening in his shirt. He sucked in a breath, trying not to think about the last time he had held a woman in his arms. But his body told him it had been far too long.
As much as he longed for some company besides Max, something told him that this beautiful woman was trouble for him. Suddenly the storm intensified. The sound of rain pounding on his roof let him know he was going to have a houseguest for a while. There was no way anyone was leaving this mountain any time soon.
She moved against him again. He closed his eyes and held back a groan as her breasts brushed against his chest. There was no breathing exercises in the world to help him now.
“Come on, sugar,” he said as his southern breeding slipped out. “Have a heart. I’m only human. Wake up and save yourself. Save the both of us.”
She could hear a man’s voice. A deep voice that was calling to her, but she couldn’t move, and her head hurt, so much that she felt tears in her eyes. Why did he want to hurt her?
She heard his voice again. “Ana, wake up.”
Ana? Who was Ana? She tried to remember, but her mind couldn’t recall anything. Another pain shot through her body as she tried to move. She cried out and felt a gentle touch accompany the man’s soothing words, along with the warmth of his breath against her face.
She fought to make her eyes open, but she couldn’t manage it. Frustration exhausted her when she couldn’t perform that simple task. She wanted to scream but was too weak. More tears made their way down her cheeks. Again she felt them being brushed away.
“Ssh, don’t cry. I’m here.”
Who was here? Please, let me wake up, she pleaded as the man’s voice faded in and out. Finally she managed to force her eyes open. Things were blurry, but she could make out the outline of a man’s head topped with black hair. She blinked again and he started coming into focus.
The first thing she noticed about him was his nearly black eyes, deep set with tiny lines fanning out from the corners. More lines etched his forehead, showing his concern.
“So you decided to wake up.” He smiled and her breath caught in her throat.
“What happened?” she asked as panic filled her. “Where am I?” She tried to look around, but the slightest movement caused her pain.
“Whoa, slow down. You had a rough time of it. You have a concussion.”
Again she tried to move and that was when she realized she was naked and he was holding her against his body. Instantly, her breasts tingled with the contact and her nipples hardened. The startled look on his face told her that he was aware of the situation, too.
Fighting the pain, she pushed against his chest. “Get away from me,” she ordered. “How dare you?” She grabbed at the blanket and covered herself as best she could, not wanting to lose any more dignity. “I demand to know why you took off my clothes.”
The man stiffened, then slowly relaxed. He raised his jean covered leg and draped his arm across his knee and nodded to the fire where her wet clothes were spread out on the bricks drying.
“By the time I got you back to the cabin, you were soaked from the rain,” he said. “The only way to keep you from getting hypothermia was to remove your wet clothes and bring your body temperature up to normal. You’d been exposed to the elements for over an hour.”
She was confused. What was she doing out in this weather? She looked around the small room. It was roughly furnished with a sofa and rocking chair, and a multicolored braided rug covered the plank floor. She had no idea where she was.
She turned back to the stranger. “Who are you?”
“My name is Jake Sanderstone.” He offered his hand. “And you are…?”
She blinked and thought, but try as she might she couldn’t come up with a name…nothing. “I don’t know.”
“I don’t know who I am,” she said, still not believing it.
She closed her eyes and willed herself to remember something. Blank. Nothing. It was as if someone had erased everything in her brain. And she had absolutely no idea who she was. She looked at the stranger. “How can that be?”
His dark eyes studied her. “I’d say that nasty bump on your head might have something to do with it. You’ve been through a lot in just a few hours.”
She reached up and touched the tender area. “How did I get it?” One of a thousand questions she needed answers to. “How did I get here? Oh, God! Where am I?”
“Now, slow down. I’ll tell you as much as I can,” he promised. “You’re in a remote part of the Cambrian Mountains in Wales. Your plane lost power and came in for a crash landing.” He nodded toward the German shepherd lying by the fire. “Max woke me up and we tracked the location. By the time we got to the crash sight, you had wandered off. It took us awhile to find you, but thanks to Max again, we located you under some trees. Then I brought you back here to the cabin.”
Then he stripped her naked, she thought. None of what the man said stirred her memory. “Surely there was someone with me. Please, don’t tell me I was flying the plane.”
He glanced away, then back to her. “No, there were two men inside, the pilot and copilot. I’m sorry. They didn’t make it. As far as I know, you’re the only survivor.”
Dead. Two people were dead. She waited to feel something for the men, but nothing. She was almost ashamed of her lack of emotions. The victims could have been her friends, or members of her family.
Jake got to his feet and walked to the stove. He wanted to give her some space to sort things out. She’d had a terrible shock. Not only had her plane fallen out of the sky, she might have lost someone special to her. And when her memory returned, she’d have a lot to deal with. Something he knew about all too well.
“Did I have a wallet on me, or something that had any identification?” She looked like a waif as she brushed her tangled brown hair from her face and clutched the warm blanket like a lifeline. She was so damn appealing he had trouble speaking.
“I didn’t have much time to search the plane. The storm had worsened and once I found you, I thought best to get you somewhere dry. The temperature dropped ten degrees before we made it back here. You were pretty chilled. The only thing you have that might give a clue to your name is the charm around you neck. There are three initials, A.N.A., or it could also stand for the name Ana.”
She frowned. “Can we call the police or a forest ranger? Somebody?”
“Not possible. You picked a remote place to land. I have an off-road vehicle, but the road here washed out yesterday when this storm hit.”
“How will anyone find me?” Panic clouded her eyes, along with pain.
“If your pilot radioed his location, someone should be looking for you. But that could take a few days with these conditions.”
Jake turned to the sink, grabbed the pump handle and primed it until water shot out of the faucet. This place didn’t have any modern conveniences. Hell, it didn’t even have many of the basics. That was the charm for Jake. To be as far away from the world and its problems as he could get. But it looked like one of them had found him.
He filled the glass, took two ibuprofen from the first-aid kit and walked back to her. “Here, take these. They should help take the edge off.” He offered her two tablets.
She looked confused.
“They’re just over-the-counter painkillers. Can’t hurt you. Go on, take them. Your head has to be killing you.”
“It’s like someone’s using it as a drum,” she admitted, then took the medication and drank thirstily from the glass. She gave it back to him. “Thank you. Now, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to get dressed,” she said haughtily. “Would you please find me something to wear?” She looked down at the blanket.
The burning wood in the fireplace crackled and sparks shot out. The last thing Jake needed was to be reminded she was naked underneath, especially since he was the one who helped her get in that condition. His fingertips still could recall the feel of her soft skin. Forget it, Sanderstone, this woman’s trouble. You don’t mix well with the pampered princess type.
“I hate to disappoint you, but until your clothes dry out all I can offer you is one of my shirts and a pair of sweatpants.”
There was that defiant look again, then her features softened. “I’ll be appreciative of anything you can lend me.”
Jake went into the bedroom and pulled a faded chambray shirt from the closet and a pair of black sweatpants. He returned and handed the items to her.
She glanced around. “Is there some place I can wash up?”
“Sure. In the sink. But I wouldn’t suggest you exert yourself just yet. Remember you have a concussion.”
“I know I will feel much better if I can clean up some.” She tried to stand, but stumbled.
Jake reached out and caught her as she was about to go down. He wrapped his arms around her, trapping the downward slide of the blanket. The cloth barely covered her breasts and their fullness threatened to spill out. Oh, Lord help me.
“Okay, let’s get something straight. Until you can stand on your own, I’ll take care of you.”
“There are no buts. I’m the boss here. If you want, I’ll let you arm wrestle me for the job.” He cocked an eyebrow to see how far she’d fight him.
“Not fair,” she mumbled.
“Well, hell, who told you life is fair?” He knew firsthand how ugly it could be out there in the trenches, starting with a childhood that had been spent on the rough side of New Orleans.
He liked it better here…alone.
“If only I could remember…something, my name,” she said.
“How about I just call you, sugar?” He grinned.
“Don’t you dare. It sounds like a country-and-western song.”
“Well, now is your chance. You pick a name.”
She fingered the charm around her neck. “How about Ana?”
She looked up at him with those rich blue eyes and instantly he knew that was her name. It fit her. Fit her beauty…her courage…even her irritating stubbornness.
Never wavering from her mesmerizing gaze, he took the shirt and held it out for her. She managed to slip one arm into the sleeve while continuing to grasp the blanket. Then he wrapped the shirt around her back and she put her other arm in. He closed the front and did up the buttons. Once he finished, the blanket fell to the floor. Oh man, this woman was going to make him crazy. “I have socks for your feet.”
He guided her to the couch and sat her down, then went back to the bedroom. He rummaged through his drawers and found the last clean pair of white athletic socks. He needed to do laundry. He returned to the couch to find his guest curled up on her side, sound asleep. She had gone through a lot of trauma this morning. Maybe it was a blessing she couldn’t remember what happened in the crash. Life’s tragedies often turned into nightmares.
Trying not to disturb her sleep, he worked the socks over her dirty, but delicate feet. There was dried mud on her calves too, but she could wash up later, he thought, tugging the white fabric up her shapely leg.
“Seems we’re getting pretty familiar, sugar.” He smiled, but didn’t feel any mirth. She hadn’t liked him calling her that. Good. It made her angry. That’s exactly what he wanted. For her to stay distant and as far away from him as possible. He listened to the rain, hoping it would let up and things could get back to normal. That someone would come looking for the plane and her, soon.
It had been awhile since he had taken care of anyone. Not since his mother. Memories of their crummy apartment flooded his head. The smell of alcohol, his mother’s slurred words as she tried to apologize for not bringing home any food for him. At only ten years old, he’d learned quickly to fend for himself, not to depend on anyone.
Jake had made a point of being independent. Meg had been the closest he’d come to a relationship and that had been a mistake, too. They’d been partners in the bureau. He was a twelve-year veteran. He should have seen the danger, he should have been able to save her. Instead, he let his guard down and allowed her to walk into a trap.
Pain and regret washed over him, constricting his chest as he watched the mystery woman sleep. He didn’t want to be responsible for anyone again. That’s why he’d come here. Far away from country and duty, to figure out his plans for the rest of his life. All he knew was that his career with the bureau was over. He’d specialized in terrorism and worked undercover. He had seen too much ugliness and total disregard for human life. He just hadn’t had the stomach for it anymore. After handing in his resignation, he’d had no trouble walking away.
Through an acquaintance, he’d heard about Wales. So he packed up and traveled to the Welsh countryside. He liked hiking in the mountains. Then he’d found this remote cabin where he could be by himself, and over the past four months, he’d been able to get through most days. He still had the nightmares and he’d gotten lonely some times, but he was staying.
He covered his guest with a blanket and put another log on the fire, then walked out the door to feed the horses. He only hoped that he was going to get back his solitude. Real soon.
“Wake up, Ana. Come on. Open those pretty blues for me.”
Ana stirred and tried to shove at the hand on her arm. “Go away.”
“Sorry, can’t do that.”
Her head was pounding as she rolled over. “Go away, Rory. I want to sleep.”
“Can’t do that,” he said, in a voice that was low and smooth as velvet. “So Rory will have to wait.”
Slowly Ana came out of her fog and she opened her eyes. The man before her was familiar, but he represented what she didn’t want to remember. A plane crash, two dead men and no memory of who she was or if anyone was even looking for her.
“What do you want?”
“I need to check your pupils,” he said.
She slowly and carefully made it into a sitting position, mainly to get away from him. “What?”
“Your eyes. You have a concussion. I let you sleep a few hours, but you need to be awake now.”
“Okay, I’m awake.” She looked toward the door. “Is it still raining?” Silly question when she could see water sheeting off the window pane.
“It eased off for a while.”
She looked back at the man. “How do you stand being up here by yourself?”
He shrugged. “I like being alone.”
“Yes, solitude can have its advantages, but what if something happened?”
“Max is a pretty good watchdog, he could go for help.”
That sparked an idea in her head. “Could he go now and let the authorities know I’m here?”
“Not in this weather. Besides, this isn’t a life-or-death situation.”
“Maybe not to you,” she said, hating the trapped feeling that was enveloping her.
“If you’ll be patient a while, this weather will clear and I’ll get you down the mountain, or better yet, maybe Rory will rescue you.”
“Rory? Who’s Rory?”
“You tell me. You called out his name when I tried to wake you.”
She gasped. “I did?” At his nod, she worked to remember, but nothing came. She couldn’t come up with anyone by the name of Rory. What if he was her…husband? “I can’t remember,” she said through gritted teeth.
“Stop trying so hard. Things will come to you.” He moved closer. “Now, look up here so I can check your pupils.” She did as he asked and sat still as he shined the flashlight in her eyes.
Jake Sanderstone was so close that she could feel his breath against her face. She drew air into her lungs and inhaled his scent and something else. Straw and some kind of animal. A horse.
She pulled back. “Horses.”
“What?” He looked confused and annoyed. “What about horses?”
“You smell like horses. Why is that?”
His nearly black eyes captured hers. “Maybe because I just came in from feeding two in the stable. Why? Do you remember something?”
She shook her head. “Just that I recognize the scent of horses. That’s not such a breakthrough. Pretty distinctive odor.”
“Maybe. But you might know something about horses. Give yourself some time to think about that.” He got up and went to the kitchen area. On the stove was a pan and he began stirring. “If you’re hungry, I heated up some stew.”
Suddenly, her stomach growled. “Maybe I could eat a little.”
“Good.” He smiled this time. “It’ll help you get your strength back.” He pulled down two mismatched bowls from the cupboard and filled them with two large ladle full of stew. He carried the heaping bowls to the small table and went back for a loaf of bread.
“Supper is ready,” he said as he came to the couch.
Ana started to stand, but her legs wouldn’t cooperate. Instead of asking for his help, she used the couch for support and slowly made her way into the kitchen. “Looks good.”
“It’s canned. I’m hoping when you feel better, you can practice your culinary skills on me.”
“I don’t cook.”
He sent her a questioning look. “Now, of all the things you had to remember, why that?”
She shrugged and picked up her spoon. “I don’t think I’ve spent much time in a kitchen at all.” She paused and looked around the bowl.
“What are you looking for?”
Silently, Jake went to the cupboard and pulled out a package of paper napkins and handed her one. She could feel his eyes on her as she placed it across her lap.
“You all set now?” he asked as he returned to his seat.
“Yes, thank you,” she answered. After taking a bite, she savored the taste. She’d probably had better, but nothing more appreciated. “As I was saying…I don’t recognize anything.”
“Well, when you’re feeling better, I’ll introduce you around,” he said with a cocky smile, then added, “sugar.”
“I insist you stop calling me by that ridiculous name.”
Ana hated that flash of arrogance in his midnight eyes. She didn’t like being teased, never did. Another flicker of memory. Well, she wasn’t about to tell him that so she concentrated on eating her stew. But there was another pressing matter that she did have to talk with him about. She needed to use the facilities. She looked around the room wondering if it was through the bedroom.
“What do you need?” he asked her.
“Nothing.” She turned back to her food, but the need wouldn’t go away, it only intensified. She stood. “Would you please direct me to the facilities?”
“Sure, but I’m going to have to go with you.”
“I beg your pardon. I assure you Mr. Sanderstone, I’m capable of taking care of the situation quite nicely, thank you.”
“The name’s Jake. And I think this time, especially in your condition, you need my help.”
“You’ve helped quite enough. Now I want you to show me where to go.”
His smile turned into a full-fledged grin. “It would be my pleasure.” He pointed to the door. “It’s outside to the left about thirty yards from the cabin.”
Ana bit back a groan, but wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing her distaste. He went to the door ahead of her and helped her into rain gear and boots. He opened the door and walked her to the edge of the porch. He turned serious. “Sure you don’t need my help, sugar?”
Her temper flared again. “Look…Yank. I told you, I can handle this.”
She got the satisfaction of seeing his irritation before she stepped off the porch. The cold rain washed over her face and made her shiver. She moved slowly, but she would die before she let Jake Sanderstone know just how much she really needed him.
Just before dawn the next morning, Jake was stretched out on the couch, listening to the crackling of the fire. Ana had gone to sleep in the bed. He’d checked on her off and on during the night. She was much better. Enough so he felt he could leave her for a while.
After hours of deliberating, he’d come to the conclusion that he had to return to the crash site. There were two bodies up there exposed to animals and the elements, and he needed to bury them.
There also might be a chance that the plane’s radio still worked. A slim one, but it would be great if he could at least get word out about the crash and the lone survivor. Not that there was any chance that a rescue team would get here until the storm passed and that could be days away. But he had to try.
And it wouldn’t hurt to find out about the woman he’d brought into his home. Maybe he could find some information on her in the meantime. At least she would have a name and maybe that would help trigger her memory.
He threw back his blanket and stood. He grabbed his dried pants from the hearth and put them on, next came his shirt and a sweater. He went to the sink and pumped water and splashed some on his face. The cold made him shiver. Well, if that didn’t wake him nothing would. Not wanting to waste any time, he’d eat breakfast on the trail and reached in the cupboard for some jerky.
He grabbed his jacket then rubbed Max’s fur “Come on, boy, I have a job for you,” he whispered and led him into the bedroom.
He stood next to the bed. Ana was asleep on her side, her hair nearly covering her face. He brushed the strands away and she moaned and rolled over on her back. She blinked at him, then opened her eyes.
“You again,” she groaned. “Don’t you ever get tired of disturbing my sleep? Fine, do what you have to do.”
Jake closed his eyes a moment and tried to erase the dangerous thoughts in his head. “I wanted you to know that I’ll be gone for a few hours. Max will be here for you. So you’ll be safe. There’s plenty of wood for the fire. It’s best if you stay in bed.” And out of trouble, he finished to himself.
All he got from her was the soft sound of her even breathing. She was great for the male ego, he thought ironically. Well, when he got back he would know who she was, and with any luck, she’d be gone soon. He put on his rain gear, walked out the door, locked it, then grabbed the shovel from the side of the cabin and headed toward the ridge. In a few days he’d be all alone again.
And that’s just the way he liked it.
The trip took him nearly thirty minutes, but Jake made the climb over the ridge without much problem. The rain had finally slowed, and he hoped it would stay that way until he finished his task.
When he reached the edge of the ravine, he paused, amazed at the destruction. Entire rows of trees had been bent or broken off by the force of the jet, but in the end, the mountain won out.
His gaze lowered to the yards and yards of debris scattered along the ground. He walked past what was left of the tail, then to the plane’s fuselage, and the twisted metal was all that was left of the wings. They’d been stripped away as if the plane were a toy. Only the midsection remained intact and that was where Ana had been seated. Jake glanced inside and saw the cushions that she’d placed around her; the padding must have saved her in the crash.
He quickly moved on. A job needed to be done before he could look for any clues about his guest. It could be days before anyone arrived to investigate the accident. Jake had to be careful not to disturb too much, but he couldn’t just leave the bodies unprotected, either. He walked about twenty yards up the slope to a pine tree, removed his backpack and picked up the shovel.
About an hour later, he’d finished his digging. Ignoring his fatigue, he returned to the plane and removed the first body from the cockpit. He took the man’s ID from his pocket. In bold black letters it proclaimed him to be, Rory Hearne, Penwyck security, top priority clearance.
“Rory,” he said the name aloud. “So you’re the one she called out for in the night.” Jake experienced a tightening in his gut that felt suspiciously like jealousy. That was crazy. He didn’t even know the woman. Why would he care if she and this Rory were lovers?
Jake lifted the other man from his seat and retrieved his ID. He found a pilot’s license for Stephen Loden also from Penwyck. That wouldn’t be out of the ordinary since the small island of Penwyck wasn’t too far off the coast of Wales.
After tucking Rory’s gun into his belt and the wallets into his jacket pocket, he started to lift the pilot and noticed a small tattoo through the tear in his shirt. A small, black sword. Where had he seen that tattoo before? During his years with the bureau, Jake had accumulated a lot of miscellaneous information, read over hundreds of advisory reports. As a terrorism specialist, his life had depended on it.
A sword. Jake searched his memory. The black sword represented the Black Knights. That was it. The Black Knights were a subversive group located in Europe.
Now he wanted to know what a security guard with top clearance and a pretty blue-eyed girl, with no memory were doing with a rebel. He had a lot of questions to ask his guest when he got back to the cabin.
She woke up with a killer headache, desperate to find something to stop the pounding. Climbing out of bed, she found the dog at her feet.
“Hello, fellow. Where’s your master?” Not that she wanted to deal with the rude man, but she needed medication.
Still in the blue shirt that he’d given her, she gingerly walked to the door of the bedroom and opened it. There was a small fire in the hearth, but the room was deserted. Grimacing, she made her way to the kitchen area and located the first-aid kit.
Trembling with relief, she popped open the lid and found the bottle of aspirin. She removed two tablets, then took a glass from the cupboard. Pumping the water was a little difficult, but she managed. After swallowing the tablets, she went into the sitting area by the dying fire. My word, she was cold. There was a blanket on the back of the couch. She wrapped it around her shoulders and a familiar male scent suddenly filled her nostrils. She could smell him. Sitting down on the cushion, she burrowed into the warmth and closed her eyes.
She could picture the brooding man, dressed in a plaid shirt and jeans, his face drawn, tiny brackets lining the corners of his mouth. His straight white teeth were visible when he smiled, which was a rare occurrence. It was his beautiful raven-colored eyes that drew her attention, but the sadness she saw nearly broke her heart. What had happened in his life that made him want to live off by himself? A woman? What kind of woman was the man attracted to? Blondes…brunettes?
She reached for a strand of hair. Hers was light brown. Plain light brown. Did someone think she was attractive? Was someone out there missing her, aching for her to come home? She tried so hard to remember, but there were only blank spaces. Was there no one for her? She had been in limbo for the past two days. What was worse, her rescuer, Mr. Sanderstone, didn’t want her around. Well, she didn’t care. The Yank was bloody annoying. He was also handsome and very well built. What a pity he didn’t have any manners, any polish.
A splattering of heavy raindrops hit the window, and she stared out the cloudy pane at the storm. Would she ever be able to leave here?
Suddenly there was pounding on the door. She got up and walked over, hesitating on her next move. Then she heard a familiar voice. “Hey, open up, it’s raining like hell out here.”
She unlatched the bolt and swung open the door to find Jake. He was soaked to the skin and he looked angry.
“Where have you been?” she asked.
He pushed passed her, stripped off his rain gear and hung it up on the hook “I’ve been up on the ridge, burying your friends.”
She gasped. “My friends? Do you know who I am?”
“Sorry, I didn’t have time to look around to learn your name. The weather turned on me. After I buried the bodies, I had to start back.” He took a chair from the table, sat down and started pulling off his wet boots. He jerked off his sweater, then unbuttoned his shirt as he tugged it from his pants.
With his black hair plastered against his head, he reached for a towel in the kitchen and mopped the water from his face and hair as he walked to the hearth. He looked at the fire and cursed. “Couldn’t you at least keep the fire going while I was gone?” He removed the screen and placed several logs on the dying embers.
“I wasn’t informed that you had left. And there were no written instructions telling me to keep anything going.”
“Common sense would tell you to add logs to the fire when it’s going out.”
“You seem to forget that I was in a plane crash yesterday and I don’t have any memory,” she snapped. When she stood, her head began to spin and she swayed.
Alarmed, Jake rushed to her side. “Whoa.” He grabbed her by the arm, led her to the couch and sat her down. Damn. What was wrong with him? He was being a jerk.
“Does your head hurt?” Stupid question. He could see the pain in her eyes.
“Yes, I took some medication from the first-aid kit.”
“Then rest here.”
“No,” she said, refusing to lie back. “I want to know what you found at the plane. Who…died?”
He shook his head. “We can talk about it later when you’re feeling better.”
“I need to know now,” she demanded. “Who were they?”
He didn’t want to go over this now, but it looked like he didn’t have a choice. “There was a Rory Hearne, he was a security guard from Penwyck. Do you remember him?”
She shook her head again. “No.”
“You sure? You cried out his name last night when I tried to wake you. It seems you were pretty familiar with this guy.”
She frowned. “What are you insinuating, Mr. Sanderstone?”
He didn’t like the feeling that had creeped back into his gut. “I’m only stating facts, chère.”
“Well, stop it. You act as if I’m guilty of something. What if this Rory and I were…together? Is there any reason we shouldn’t have been?”
“No, but we’re trying to find out who you are.” He was pushing her, but since his discovery, this situation had grown a lot more serious. And he needed some answers. “Does the name Stephen Loden ring any bells?”
She shook her head. “Was he the other man in the plane?”
“I want to thank you for burying them. That was kind of you.”
“Forget it. I did what needed to be done.”
“It was more than anyone could have expected of you, especially in this weather.”
He got up. “Okay, I’m a nice guy.” He started toward the bedroom. “I’m going to change my clothes.”
Once inside the room, he shut the door harder than needed, but his frustration drove him to it. He jerked off the wet shirt along with his undershirt. He was soaked to the skin. Peeling off his wet jeans was more difficult, but he managed. Opening the dresser drawer, he took out underwear and another pair of jeans.
What was he going to do now? He’d come here to Wales to get away from complications like this. And he’d had one big problem dropped in his lap. But this one was attached to a gorgeous woman with an attitude.
Not to mention a pair of legs that made his mouth water.
By the third day, Jake had cabin fever.
For the first time since he’d arrived in the mountains four months ago he wanted to leave. Thanks to one blue-eyed intruder, his peace and quiet—not to mention his solitude—was a thing of the past.
Why should it matter so much if he had a visitor for a few days? The cabin sure as hell wasn’t big, but two rooms should be enough for two people. He wasn’t so much of a bastard he couldn’t share his space…for a while. Unless, of course, the other person was a woman who seemed set on driving him crazy.
“Yank indeed,” he muttered, watching the continuing downpour through the window. Seventy-two hours had passed since he found his visitor, and as soon as this damn storm was over, he would take her down to the authorities and hand her off. But not before he satisfied his own curiosity and found out who his cabin mate was. Especially not until he found out what she was doing with a member of a known terrorist group.
He glanced across the room to Ana. Awake for the past thirty minutes, she sat quietly at the hearth, studying the fire and looking innocent. The shirt he’d given her to wear nearly swallowed her up. He could barely see her fingertips under the cuffs, which made her look fragile. He pushed aside any feelings of compassion as his gaze wandered down past the shirttails to her long, smooth legs. Another basic need surfaced and a surge of heat rushed through his body.
He growled a curse. She must have heard him because she looked up. Her hair, wild with curl, circled a pretty face, only marred by the bandage on her forehead. When their eyes locked and hers darkened like twin sapphires, he found his throat suddenly dry. Damn, she was gorgeous. Realizing that he was staring, he forced himself to look away, but his hunger stayed.
He couldn’t let this woman get to him. Hell, she had a life somewhere. She could be involved in God knows what. So even if he wanted to pursue his interest, he couldn’t let anything happen between them.
Her health had to be his main concern. “How is your head?”
“It still hurts.”
“No doubt. You must have walloped yourself but good when the plane came down. You’re lucky to have survived.”
“Tell that to the two men who died.”
“You’re not responsible for their deaths.”
Frowning, she stood. “Then why do I feel responsible? Why do I feel that they were taking me somewhere? You said I was the passenger and they were flying the plane.”
“Yes, and one was a licensed pilot. Besides, the plane had been cleared by the airport to take off.” He came across the room and took a closer look into her rich enticing eyes, telling himself that he was only checking her pupils. They were normal. They had been for the past twenty-four hours. “You can’t keep second-guessing everything. It won’t change a damn thing.”
“Well, it gives me something to think about since I don’t have any other memories before yesterday. What do you do when you’re by yourself around here? Besides go mad.”
He shrugged. “There’s plenty to do.”
She placed her hands on her hips. “For instance?”
“Like fishing, or riding or hiking. This area is beautiful.”
“All I’ve seen is this room.” Her eyes widened. “And of course, the wonderful facilities out back.”
Jake was getting fed up with the woman’s complaining. “Well, you better head to those facilities once more, because it’s about bedtime.”
“It’s barely dark,” she said.
“And we’ve both been up since long before daylight,” he insisted.
“But I’ve slept all day. I’m not tired.”
“Well, I am.”
“Then you take the bed and I’ll sleep out here.”
Damn, she was stubborn and he needed to get as far away from her as possible. He needed to be alone, even if he had to lock her in the bedroom to do it. He swung her up into his arms.
“Put me down this instant,” she ordered.
Jake ignored her demand and carried her into the small room crowded with a double bed and dresser. He pulled back the blankets, then laid her down on top of the sheet. When she started to argue, he leaned over her and placed his finger against her lips. “Whether you know it or not, chère, you need to rest. You’ve been through a lot in the past two days.”
All the fight seemed to leave her and she nodded. When she reached for his hand, her soft warmth made his gut tighten in a familiar and long denied need. A need he had pushed aside long ago.
“I can’t keep taking your bed,” she said. “What about you?”
Jake’s desire flashed hotter and moved dangerously lower. Hell, he knew where he wanted to sleep, but he fought the crazy urge to climb in with her. “You’re not taking anything, I’m offering.” He moved back before he did something very foolish. “Besides, I want some time to myself. This way we won’t disturb each other. I’ll be fine on the couch.” He sounded a little too gruff, but hell, she wouldn’t leave it alone. “If you need anything holler.”
“I’ll have you know, Mr. Sanderstone, I’ve never ‘hollered’ in my life,” she said indignantly, crossing her arms over her chest.
Jake wanted to laugh at his haughty houseguest. She looked distant and untouchable, but he knew that was far from the truth. He turned and left the room, hoping for a peaceful night. But he knew that peace wasn’t possible as long as Ana was in the cabin.
Ana woke up the next morning and realized two things; she still couldn’t remember who she was, and it was still raining. Climbing to her knees on the bed, she leaned against the adjacent windowpane and looked out at the heavily wooded forest. She’d had high hopes that today she would be able go outside. And if the skies cleared, that would allow a rescue team to start searching for her.
But who would be searching? She had no idea. She closed her eyes and tried to force herself to remember, but there was nothing. Dear Lord, she had no idea how old she was. She tugged on the gold charm around her neck. Who had given it to her? A husband? She studied her bare ring finger. Who was Rory? Was he important to her?
Ana sat down on the bed and pulled her knees to her chest. What if she never regained her memory? Worse, what if no one was looking for her? In her head, she conjured up all kinds of scenarios, none of which helped calm her anxiety.
A loud knock broke through her reverie. Then the door swung open and Jake appeared. He had changed into a fresh pair of jeans and a blue and green flannel shirt. He’d washed up, too. His long hair was damp and his face free of any beard stubble.
He frowned. “You all right?”
She nodded and quickly blinked away her threatening tears.
“Don’t give me that.” Looking concerned, he walked to the bed and sat down next to her. “Are you in pain? Is it your head?”
“No, I’m feeling fine.” She tried to turn away, but he wouldn’t let her.
“You’re not fine if you’re crying.”
“I’m not crying.” She just felt like it. “I have a reason to be upset…I still can’t remember anything.” Now the tears rushed out along with the words.
“You need time. It’ll happen,” he promised. “It’s only been a few days.”
“It’s been four.” Ana suddenly felt weepy. She hated weepy women. She’d never resorted to tears before, but now she couldn’t seem to stop them.
Jake scooted closer on the bed and she breathed in the familiar scent of soap and the man. When his hands gripped her by the shoulders, she looked up at him. His coal-black eyes locked with hers, and she could see compassion and concern. A strange stirring erupted in her stomach, and she was oddly disappointed when he released her.
“Come on, chère, don’t go all mushy on me.”
She stiffened. “Mushy? I’ve got news for you, Yank. You’d be a little upset if you didn’t even know your name.”
His eyes turned dark and dangerous. “And I got news for ya’ll. I’m not a Yank and never have been. I was born and raised in the south,” he said with a heavy southern drawl. “Ya’ll got that?”
She nodded, knowing better than to push him any farther.
“And you may stop calling me silly pet names.”
“Fine. Then you tell me what to call you.”
She took hold of her charm. There wasn’t much of a choice. “Call me Ana.”
He stared at her. “Okay, Ana it is. Now, let’s get some breakfast.”
“Is that all you think about, food?”
He cocked his eyebrow and she caught a slight twitch at the corner of his mouth. She felt that strange feeling again.
“Believe me, I think about other things,” he said in a husky voice. “But my stomach has been talking to me since before sunrise.”
He tugged at her arm. “Come on, it’s your turn to cook.”
She resisted. “And I explained to you before that I don’t know how. Besides, you seem very capable of doing the job.”
“Well, capable or not, I’m tired of doing it. Your turn.” He got her off the bed and into the other room. “If you need to make a trip to the facilities, you better be quick. I’m hungry.”
Ana grumbled the whole time she put on her rainwear. She purposely took her time, but that didn’t seem to change Jake’s mood. When she returned to the cabin, he was leaning against the counter, waiting for her.
“You could have started without me. I’m not very hungry.”
“Too bad, you need to eat and so do I. So don’t think you’re getting out of cooking. Since you seem to be recovered, we’re going to share the chores.”
“Maybe I should rest one more day, because of my head.” She touched the bandage.
He paused, looking concerned. “You said it didn’t hurt. Look, if you aren’t feeling well, then go back to bed.”
Here was her chance to get out of cooking, but something inside wouldn’t let her lie. Besides, she’d be bored if she had to spend the day in bed.
“No, my health is fine,” she said.
“Good.” He led her over to the woodstove. Using a metal poker, he removed the round plate and exposed the fire below. After adding some more kindling, he replaced the cover.
“This baby is a little tricky, but when she gets going the place heats up fast.”
Ana followed Jake’s instructions. The food was simple. He had cooked her eggs in the past along with some ham.
“I have something special I brought along with me from the States.” He held up a large box of pancake mix.
“Isn’t that dessert?”
“Not where I come from,” he said.
He showed her how to stir it all together. That was simple, the hard part came later. The first four pancake attempts she put on the griddle burned. Even Max turned his nose up at her efforts.
“I told you I can’t do this,” she complained.
She wanted to give up, but a persistent Jake wouldn’t let her. “Come on, give it another try,” he encouraged.
Again she poured more batter onto the griddle. Then, with Jake’s hand over hers, guiding the spatula, they scooped up the cake and managed to flip it over and have it land back on the griddle.
“That’s it,” he cheered.
“They aren’t burnt,” she cried happily.
“A perfect golden brown,” he said, then handed her a plate and she slid one cake after another off the griddle.
They sat down at the table with butter and syrup. After Ana watched Jake doctor his cakes, she did the same. She took a big bite.
“Oh, my, these are delicious.” She swallowed and forked up another bite.
“You sure seem to be enjoying your breakfast. For someone who wasn’t hungry, that is.” He took a big bite of his own.
“I didn’t know I was so hungry, or that these would taste so good.”
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