Authors: Francine Craft
To Herschel and Mariettaâworld-class mates and lovers.
I acknowledge my proud debt to God and
His goodness for His guidance and His blessings.
As always, I acknowledge with profound thanks
the help I get from Charlie Kanno and Vivian Fitz Roy.
he limped along through the dense woods on sore and weary feet. Brambles tore at her clothes, and overhanging vines scratched her face. She was losing time and she didn't have time to lose. Something terrible had happened, and she was running through the woods to escape a man she knew would kill her if he caught her. She had tripped, fallen, hitting her head sharply on a large embedded stone. Now she couldn't remember who she was, although she racked her brains.
She knew she had been in the woods all night and at least a day, cowering, terrified. If he were going to find her, he would have done so by now. She gathered all her strength and headed toward a clearing. It was early night again and from the clearing she could see a brilliant galaxy of stars and a sliver of moon. She stood stock-still. Across the road ahead of her she saw a palatial white house and she knew she had to get to it. She would be safe there. A man who lived there would help her. She didn't know his name because she couldn't remember anything, but he would save her. Some deep instinct told her that.
Her throat was dust-dry and her stomach ached and rumbled. At the edge of the clearing, she paused and looked up and down the secondary road. There were few cars coming and going, but her would-be killer could be in any one of them. Summoning every bit of courage she owned, she climbed through the barbed-wire fence to the roadside. She crossed that road and finally stood at the door of the beautiful white house.
Then the thought hit her: What if the
lived in that house? What if her instincts were all wrong? Well, it was too late now. She leaned on the door chimes and her fingers clung to the door frame. Her heart thudded painfully and waves of nausea swept over her, and as she waited she fought to keep from passing out.
nside the palatial white house Damien Steele frowned at the prolonged chiming at his door.
“Okay!” he yelled. “I'm coming!”
He glanced at the woman he had been talking to and walked away. If it was company, he thought, they picked a poor time tonight. At the door he looked through the peephole, gasped, quickly opened the door and caught the woman who lurched toward him.
“Please help me,” she murmured as his arms went around her.
“Stevie, what in the hell happened to you?”
She said something unintelligible, and he pushed the door shut and guided her toward an overstuffed chair. He helped her into it, searching her face as he knelt beside her, rubbing her hands.
Behind him, the beautiful dark-blonde, Honi Holmes, spoke. “I was leaving at your request, but now it seems you'll need me. So the redoubtable Stevie Simms is having trouble? I'll call the police, and maybe an ambulance. Looks like she's been attacked.”
The injured woman rallied and leaned forward. “No. No police. You've got to believe me, no police. I'll be all right.” Her voice sounded piteous as she mumbled, “It's just that I don't know who I am. I came to in the woods and I've been there a while. But I'll be all right. I think I hit my head on something.” She touched her head gingerly before Damien's hand went to the big lump.
Damien drew a deep breath. “You've got a long way to go before you're all right. I'm going to take you up to my bedroom. Where else do you hurt?”
Honi came closer. “Let me take care of her. You know how clumsy you men are in an emergency. She needs to be undressed and gotten into something comfortable and you can hardly do that.”
Damien stood up. “I'm not a lecher, Honi, and I want to look after her. It's not like she's a stranger. She'll have a story to tell and I'm not sure it's safe with you.”
Honi smiled narrowly. “Be careful, sweetie. This woman is Jake McGowan's ex-wife and it's altogether possible he's behind whatever happened here. I don't have to tell you you'd be a fool to cross Jake.”
Damien stood up and looked at Honi. “I want you to leave. We're wasting time and Stevie needs tending to. If I need help, I can call my housekeeper. She'll come backâ¦”
“Well,” Honi drawled, “Stevie's certainly not your type and she looks like hell right now.”
“And that's a statement unworthy of even you.” He took Honi's arm. She hadn't worn a coat, and he propelled her toward the door, opened it and gently pushed her out into the night.
Honi called back over her shoulder. “Okay, put me out. That wasn't always the case, and one day it'll be the way it was before. I still love you, Damien, and don't you forget it.”
Damien closed the door and swiftly crossed the room to Stevie's side. He leaned over and helped her up. She seemed a little steadier as he led her up the stairs to his bedroom, the master bedroom. His house had six bedrooms, but this one was the closest and it had a kitchenette.
He laid her on the bed and got a wet washcloth to sponge her dust-streaked face. “I'm worried about this lump,” he said. “Common sense tells me I should get you to an emergency room. You could have a concussion. Do you remember what you hit your head on?”
“A big stone. I came to beside it and I remembered nothing.” She gripped his arm. “Please don't call the police. He'd kill me.”
Damien frowned. “Who's
Stevie? Jake? You've put up with enough from Jake McGowan. I want to see that you don't have to put up with anything else from him. If he did this, I want him behind bars and you safe from him.”
“I don't know who Jake is.” Her voice sounded wan and fading, like a small child's.
“Then I'll tell you, but you need something to eat. I can hear your stomach rumbling.”
“Don't leave me, please.”
He stroked her arm gently. “I won't. There's a kitchenette right here. I don't want to give you anything but soup right now. Do you like New England clam chowder and oyster crackers?”
She nodded. “My stomach's raising Cain. You'd think I never fed it.” She tried to smile and it fell flat; her eyes misted with tears. “I'm not a crybaby. I'm usually brave.”
He patted her hand. “I like crybabies. I know you, Stevie, and I know you're brave. After I get some food in you and find you a pair of my pajamas, I'll tell you who you are and who I am. You've got amnesia, probably from the fallâ¦”
She was undergoing a metamorphosis and terror spread over her features. He leaned down and hugged her and her body felt lush, warm and soft in his arms. He knew this woman well, but he didn't have time to think about that now.
“You won't leave me.”
“I won't leave you. You'll hear me in the kitchenette fixing you something to eat.”
She calmed in a very little while and he went to the kitchenette and heated soup. Waiting for the soup to heat, he rummaged in his walk-in closet for a pair of pajamas. When he put them on the bed for her they looked at each other and neither spoke, but she swallowed hard. Her instincts had been right about him. He had saved her and he seemed so familiar.
Damien brought the food back on a small silver tray with legs for the bed. He set it down and smiled at her.
“You know me,” he said softly. “You know me well.”
Suddenly she seemed much better. “I seem to remember you from somewhere. But I should remember you better than I do now. You're a hunk and you're sexy and kind. I wouldn't be forgetting someone like you.”
Damien grinned and sat in a chair by the bed. The woman had a way with words. She was so vulnerable now, with her scratched face and frightened eyes. His heart went out to her. No, she wasn't his type. He had never dated a woman who wasn't glamorous and Stevie was plainâattractive enough, but plain. The body belied the face; it was, as they say, he thought, something else again. The dusty, bedraggled periwinkle print dress and jacket she wore hugged her curves and her breasts were live things. The thought flashed across his mind unbidden, it would be nice to feel them against his chest, craving his touch.
She finished her chowder and crackers, then he scooped ice cream into a bowl for dessert. Stevie dug into the ice cream.
“My favorite,” she said. “Neapolitan. When I was a little girl, my father used to buy cartons of it and stack it in the freezer. One day I ate so much I couldn't eat any more, and I cried because I couldn't hold any more.” She paused. “That was after he died. I've never told anyone else about that.” Her voice sounded fragile.
“Thank you for sharing it with me. You remembered that, Stevie. You'll soon remember other things.”
She looked surprised. “You're right, I
remember. But I don't remember anything recent. The name
seems like mine. I remember now my father and mother calling me that. My name is also Stevana. Am I married? Do I have children?”
“You have no children that I know of. You were married to a man named Jake McGowan. He owns a recording company. He's a mogul and he was mean to you. You got a divorce on grounds of abuse.”
The name didn't seem to mean anything to her. “I remember my father and mother dying within a year of each other when I was sixteen.”
“Do you remember being a famous singer who took a hiatus to write songs? And that's where you are now. You've gotten a lot done in your thirty-two years.”
“So that's how old I am. I hear songs, but I don't remember being a singer or a songwriter.” Her hand went to the lump on her head and she grimaced.
He shook his head. “I really ought to get you to a hospital, and I insist on it first thing in the morning. I hope I'm doing the right thing by in not taking you tonight. Then, too, in the case of amnesia, you probably ought to talk to the police just in case someone attacked you, hurt youâ¦”
The words were barely out of his mouth when she began to tremble wildly and her breath came in great gasps. “No police,” she whimpered. “Promise me you won't go to the police.”
“Stevie,” he began, “I'll never do anything to hurt you, but you should go to the police.”
“I'll be killed if I go to the police.”
“Did someone threaten to kill you?”
“Oh God, I don't remember. Why can't I remember?” she moaned.
“Okay. At the hospital, I'm going to ask that you see the psychologist. My half-sister is a psychologist and I know a bit about it from talking with her. Shock and trauma can make you lose your memory, paralyze your body and your mind. Post-traumatic shock disorder they call it. PTSD. It happens often in wartime. The psychologist will help you to get your memory back. But you'll have to cooperate. Face your fears.”
She was trembling again. “I'll try, but it'll take time, a lot of time.”
“It may not.”
“Oh, yes, everything just seems to recede. The food was very good, Damien, and I wish I knew you. It almost seems I do. You're a nice man. You say I know you. Tell me something about yourself.”
Damien smiled and cleared his throat.
“Well, like your ex, I own a recording company, and I'm successful, but there the similarity ends. He does the raunchiest and roughest rhythm and blues and his records sell like hotcakes. The woman who was here tonight is his chief record producer and she's good. She knows him very well.”
“She's in love with you.”
Damien's nutmeg-colored skin flushed. “She thinks she is. She used to be.”
Much of the fear seemed to leave her then and she sat propped up on pillows and looked at him. He had to be at least six feet two inches tall with flat-grained, close-cut, soot-black hair and a longish, well-shaped head. His mouth had a wicked curve and his heavy black silken eyebrows arched over light-brown eyes with big flecks of dark gray. She tried to keep her eyes from his body but they kept straying to his wide shoulders and narrow hips, his flat abs, and biceps outlined by a snow-white, short-sleeved T-shirt. The pectoral muscles had a mind of their own.
He was a hunk, no doubt about it. She would have remembered him if she had any recent memory.
She felt more relaxed now. The food in her stomach and his presence greatly calmed her. “I'm not afraid of you. I feel safe here, and I'm glad I know you.”
“Yeah, I'm glad, too. You're good people. Stevie, you can get into these pajamas, and I'm going to sleep over there on that chaise lounge to keep an eye on you, because you're still shaking. Tomorrow morning I'll call my favorite department store and order you an outfit sent out. I know a saleswoman and I can get to her early. Then to the hospital for an exam.”
“You're good people yourself.” She dreaded the thought of going out of the house, but she forced courage to her mind.
When he went out she looked around the room. The furnishings were beautiful, she thought: sleek, expensive mahogany. The drapes were burgundy with eggshell ninon panels. She wondered what her own home looked like. Damien had said she was an important songwriter and singer, so she must have some money. And the name he called herâStevie. Somewhere in her mind something clicked and said she owned that name.
His pajamas swallowed her. She smiled a bit. They were burgundy with white piping. She rolled back the sleeves and the legs. Having the pajamas on would be like having his arms around her and she blushed at the sudden heat that swept over her.
She stood up and began to take off her torn and dirty clothes. She needed to remember what had happened. He knocked as she began to slide into the pajamas. “Just a minute,” she called, and he waited. She got back into the bed before she told him to come in.
Damien sat on the edge of the bed and looked at her somberly. He had always felt close to her, but he was feeling new things now, a stirring in his heart that had long been dormant. No, not dormant, dead. These feelings were deeper.
Thinking that anything he could tell her about herself would be useful, he began with “You recorded quite a few songs for my companyâfour very successful albums of country music. Your fans were very disappointed when you quit for a while.” He grinned. “Your signature song is âI Don't Need You Anymore.' Ring a bell?”
She frowned and music came into her head, unbidden. She hummed softly.
“Hey, that's it! Stevie, you're just getting started and you're well underway.”
She was excited, but frightened. There was something she must never remember. Her life was as good as over if she did. But other memories had begun to seep in, memories of her past. And what was to be her future?
He stroked her shoulder. Stevie had been a gold mine for his highly successful recording company, Nubian Gold. He had taken over the company from Gina Campbell whose late brother, Carson, had founded it. Carson's wife had murdered him and had gone to prison. With her hectic schedule, Gina didn't have time for the hands-on management needed.