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By Lisa Childs
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneShe'd lost her mind. What other reason did she have for being out at night when she so hated the dark? Of course, she'd been using that excuse for the last six years, ever since she had literally lost her mind. Or at least the part of her mind that held her memories.
Amanda sucked in a deep breath and concentrated on the relaxation exercises the last psychiatrist had taught her. But the extra oxygen in her lungs didn't brighten the dim lights of the parking garage, nor raise the sun in the dark sky outside the concrete barriers. So her pulse raced on.
The stale odors of gasoline and exhaust hung in the cold night air. When Amanda exhaled her deep breath, it lingered as a wisp of fog.
How was it her problem that the bridal shop's deliveryman was down with the flu? She'd suffered through her flu shot in the fall. But when her employment had been threatened by her refusal to fill in, she'd had to leave her sewing machine at home and pack up the wedding gowns to drop back at the shop. Not usually part of her job. She sewed. That was it.
She didn't know how she'd learned this talent, but it was hers. Her one marketable skill.
Or maybe she had more but didn't remember. She clutched her key chain in a tight fist. What did the past matter when she had all she could want now? Well, everything but daylight.
Row J. The scant light reflected off the sign posted on the cement pillar. A few spaces down, her old cargo van stood alone. From under the thin layer of dull white paint, the letters for the name of the previous owner's business bled through. Fawn's Flora. A florist. She smelled the cloying aroma of dried baby's breath lingering in the interior as she fumbled the key into the lock and yanked open the stubborn door.
No reassuring glow from the dome light soothed her frayed nerves. Only darkness reigned inside the van. Dead battery? She glanced down at the illuminated dial of her cheap plastic wristwatch.
She had to tuck Christopher under the covers and pull his cartoon comforter to his little rounded chin. She had to press a kiss into the riotous black curls falling over his forehead. Mrs. Olson had been a sweetie to come over on such short notice and watch her rambunctious boy. But at bedtime he needed his mother.
And Amanda needed him.
She dragged in another deep breath. The burnedout dome light might mean a bad fuse, nothing more. She hopped onto the exposed foam of the threadbare seat and jammed the key in the ignition.
None of the gauges on the dash lit up. The starter didn't grind as usual, didn't even click. Now she'd have to walk back across the shadowy parking garage to use the bridal shop's phone. Would the repair shop find only a dead battery, or more?
Her sigh shuddered out. If the van needed something major, she had precious little money saved. Long ago she had pawned the expensive watch found on her. All she had left from that forgotten past was the necklace she always wore.
Her trembling fingers lifted to the delicate gold chain, running down it to where the letters began. AMANDA fashioned out of diamonds. Probably worth a fortune, if what she'd gotten for the watch was any indication.
Could she part with her only piece of identification? But what did her name matter when she remembered nothing of the life? All that mattered now was Christopher, and she'd do anything for him. Anything.
She lifted her gaze to the rearview mirror to admire the sparkle of diamonds. Perhaps for one of the last times. A shadow sprang up in the cargo area. Before she could open her mouth to scream, a wide hand clamped over it.
The head of a snake tattooed on the back of that hand stared at her in the rearview mirror. "It's okay," a scratchy voice said. "I'm not going to hurt you. Just listen."
Above the hand, her eyes, wide and full of terror, stared back at her, too.
"I've got a warning for you."
Tears threatened, but she blinked them away. She couldn't show any weakness. She hadn't the last time she'd been attacked. That was why she and her son were alive today. But with her memory, she'd lost that woman she used to be. Fear paralyzed her.
"That bastard's getting out early. This week."
Hysteria swam in her stomach, nausea rising up the back of her throat.
"He's gonna hurt you. That's all he talked about. He knows where you are. And he's gonna hurt you bad." The hand slid away from her mouth, and she glimpsed the hairy forearm and the rest of the snake coiled up the length of it.
"Who are you? And why would he hurt me?" Her whisper barely made it through trembling lips.
"'Cuz you hurt him. You put him away. Six years. Not damn long enough. And now he bought his way into the early-release program."
"Why are you warning me?"
"I got a daughter about your age. I wouldn't want that bastard touching her. And you're a fighter. You deserve to know, so you can be ready."
"Don't. Just get outa town, lady. Reconnect your battery cable, get your little boy and get outa town."
The cargo door creaked open, the shocks bouncing back up as he jumped down. Then the slam of the door rocked the van. Through tear-filled eyes she glanced into the sideview mirror but only caught the shadow again.
A warning or a threat? She didn't care. She had to get out of town. He knew about her little boy. And he was getting out. Four months before the end of his too short sentence.
She listened to the news. She had heard the politicians had passed the early-release program to solve prison overcrowding. Why hadn't she realized that he would buy his way into it?
Because there was so little to remember, she never let herself think about the past. Now it intended to pay a vengeful visit.
Excerpted from Bridal Reconnaissance by Lisa Childs Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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