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If She Only Knew
By Lisa Jackson
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2000 Susan Lisa Jackson
All rights reserved.
She couldn't see, couldn't speak, couldn't ... oh, God, she couldn't move her hand. She tried to open her eyes, but her eyelids wouldn't budge. They weighed a ton and seemed glued shut over eyes that burned with a blinding, hideous pain.
Mrs. Cahill? There was a touch, someone's cool fingers on the back of her hand. "Mrs. Cahill, can you hear me?" The voice, kind and female, sounded as if it was carried from a great distance ... far away, from a spot on the other side of the pain. Me? I'm Mrs. Cahill? That sounded wrong, but she didn't know why.
"Your husband's here to see you."
My husband? But I don't have ... oh, God, what's happening to me? Am I going crazy?
The fingers were removed and there was a heavy feminine sigh. "I'm sorry, she's still not responding."
"She's been in this hospital nearly six weeks." A man's voice. Clipped. Hard. Demanding. "Six weeks for Christ's sake, and she's shown no signs of recovery."
"Of course she has. She's breathing on her own, I've noticed eye movement behind her lids, she's coughed and attempted to yawn, all goods signs, indications that the brain stem isn't damaged —"
Oh, God, they were talking about brain damage!
"Then why won't she wake up?" he demanded.
"I don't know."
"Shit." His voice was lower.
"Give her time," the woman said softly. "We can't be certain, of course, but there's even a chance that she can hear us now."
Yes, yes, I can hear you, but my name isn't Mrs. Cahill, I'm not married and I'm dying from this pain. For God's sake, someone help me! If this is a hospital, surely you have codeine or morphine or ... or even an aspirin. The fog closed in around her and she wanted to give in to it, to feel nothing again.
"Marla? It's Alex." His deep baritone voice was much closer. Louder. As if he were standing only inches from her. She felt a new pressure on her arm as he touched her, and she wanted to let him know she could hear him, but she couldn't move, not at all. The smell of cologne assailed her, and she instinctively sensed it was expensive. But how would she know? The fingertips on her skin were smooth, soft ... Alex's hands. Her husband's hands.
Oh, God, why couldn't she remember?
She tried to recall his face, the color of his hair, the width of his shoulders, the size of his shoes, any little trait, but failed. His voice brought back no images. There was a faint smell of smoke that clung to him as his sleeve brushed her wrist and she felt the scratch of wool from his jacket, but that was it.
"Honey, please wake up. I miss you, the children —" His voice cracked, emotion strangling him.
No! There was just no way she had kids and didn't know it. Or was there? That was the kind of thing a woman, even a woman lying drugged and half-comatose in a hospital bed would immediately realize. Certainly her intuition, the female animal in her would sense that she was a mother. Trapped motionless in this blackness she knew nothing. If only she could open her eyes ... and yet the cozying warmth of unconsciousness was so seductive ... Soon she would remember ... It was just a matter of time ...
Cold horror crept up her spine as she realized she couldn't conjure up one single instant in the years that were her life. It was as if she had never existed.
This is a nightmare. That's the only explanation.
"Marla, please, come back to me. To us," Alex whispered gruffly, and deep in her heart she wished she felt something, one smidgen of emotion for this faceless stranger claiming to be her life partner. His smooth fingers linked through hers and she felt pressure on the back of her hand, the pull of an IV needle stuck into her arm. Dear God, this was pathetic, a scene from a schmaltzy World War II movie. "Cissy misses you and little James ..." Again his voice cracked, and she tried to drag up some tiny thread of tenderness from her subconscious, a tiny bit of love for this man she couldn't see and didn't remember. The void that was her past gave her no hint as to what Alex Cahill looked like, what he did for a living, or how he made love to her ... surely she would remember that. And what about her children? Cissy? James? No images of cherubic toddlers with runny noses and flushed cheeks or gangly adolescents fighting the ravages of acne flashed through her mind, but then she was sinking. Maybe they'd finally put something in her IV as she felt herself detaching from her body ... floating away ... She had to focus.
"How long?" he asked, dragging his hand away from hers. "How long is this going to last?"
"No one can tell you that. These things take time," the nurse replied and her voice sounded far away, as if through a tunnel. "Comas sometimes last only a few hours or ... well, sometimes a lot longer. Days. Weeks. No one can predict. It could be even longer —"
"Don't even go there," he said, cutting her off. "That's not going to happen. She will come around." His voice was like steel. He was a man used to giving orders. "Marla?" He must've turned to face the bed again as his voice was louder once more. Impatient. "For Christ's sake, can't you hear me?"
With every ounce of effort, she tried to move. Couldn't. It was as if she were strapped down, weighted to the mattress with its crisp, uncomfortable sheets. She could not even raise one finger, and yet it didn't matter ...
"I want to talk to the doctor." Alex was forceful. His words clipped. "I don't see any reason why she can't be taken home and cared for there. I'll hire all the people she needs. Nurses. Aides. Attendants. Whatever. We've got more than enough room for round the clock, live-in help in the house."
There was a long pause and she sensed unspoken disapproval on the nurse's part ... well, she assumed the woman was a nurse ... as she struggled to force her eyes open, to move a part of her body to indicate that she could hear through the pain.
"I'll let Dr. Robertson know that you want to see him," the nurse said, her voice no longer coddling and patient. Now she was firm. Professional. "I'm not sure he's in the hospital now, but I'll see that he gets the message."
Marla drifted off again, lost seconds, maybe minutes. Her sluggish consciousness discerned voices again, voices that interrupted her sleep.
"I think Mrs. Cahill should rest now," the nurse was saying.
"We'll leave in just a minute." Another voice. Elderly. Refined. It floated in on footsteps that were clipped and solid, at odds with the age of the woman's voice. "We're family and I'd like a few moments alone with my son and daughter-in-law."
"Fine. But please, for Mrs. Cahill's sake, make it brief."
"We will, dear," the older woman agreed and Marla felt the touch of cool, dry skin on the back of her hand. "Come on, Marla, wake up. Cissy and little James, they miss you, they need you." A deep chuckle. "Though I hate to admit it, Nana isn't quite the same as their mother."
Nana? Grandma? Mother-in-law?
There was a rustle of clothing, the sound of soft soles padding across the floor and a door opening as, presumably, the nurse left.
"Sometimes I wonder if she'll ever wake up," Alex grumbled. "God, I need a cigarette."
"Just be patient, son. Marla was in a horrible accident, and then suffered through the surgeries. She's healing." God, why couldn't she remember? There was another long, serious sigh and a kindly pat of fingers on the back of her hand. A waft of perfume ... a scent she recognized but couldn't name.
Why was she in the hospital? What kind of accident were they talking about? Marla tried to concentrate, to think, but the effort brought only an ache that throbbed through her head.
"I just hope there won't be much disfigurement," the old woman said again.
What? Disfigurement? Oh, please, no. Disfigurement? For a second she was jolted out of her haze. Her throat, already parched, nearly closed in fear and her stomach felt as if it had been twisted and tied with rubber bands. She tried to remember what she looked like, but it didn't matter ... Her heart was racing with dread. Certainly someone somewhere watching her monitors could see that she was aware, that she was responding, but no loud footsteps pounded outside the door, no urgent voice yelled, "She's stirring. Look, she's waking up!"
"She has the best doctors in the state. She ... she might not look like what we expect, but she'll be fine, beautiful." Alex sounded as if he was trying to convince himself.
"She always was. You know, Alexander," the woman who called herself Nana said, "sometimes a woman's beauty can be a curse."
An uncomfortable laugh from this man who was her husband. "I don't think she'd agree."
"No, of course not. But she hasn't lived long enough to understand."
"I just wonder what she'll remember when she wakes up."
"Hopefully, everything," the woman said, but there was an underlying tension to her words, a pronounced trepidation.
"Yes, well, time will tell."
"We're just lucky she wasn't killed in the accident."
There was the tiniest bit of hesitation before her husband replied, "Damned lucky. She should never have been driving in the first place. Hell, she'd just been released from the hospital."
Another hospital? It was all getting fuzzy again, the words garbled. Had she heard it right?
"There are so many questions," her mother-in-law whispered.
Yes, so many, but I'm too tired to think of them right now ... so very tired.
Whistling sharply to his three-legged dog, Nick Cahill cut the engine of the Notorious and threw a line around a blackened post on the dock where he moored his fishing boat. "Come on, Tough Guy, let's go home," he called over his shoulder as the boat undulated with the tide of this backwater Oregon bay. Rain drizzled from a leaden sky and the wind picked up, lashing at his face. Whitecaps swirled and danced in counterpoint to the seagulls wheeling and crying overhead. The distinctive odors of diesel, rotting wood and brine mingled in the wintry air of Oregon in November.
Hiking the collar of his jacket around his neck, Nick grabbed his bucket of live crabs and stepped onto the pier just as his dog shot past in a black-and-white streak. A shepherd mix of indecipherable lineage, Tough Guy hurled his body onto the slippery planks and, paws clicking, scrambled up the stairs to the parking lot on the bluff. Nick followed more slowly, past sagging posts covered with barnacles and strangled by seaweed.
"There's somebody here ta see ya," grunted Ole Olsen, the old coot in the window of the bait shop located at the landing. He jerked his chin toward the top of the stairs but didn't meet Nick's eyes, just kept working at tying a fly, as he always did.
"To see me?" Nick asked. No one, in all the five years he'd been in these parts, had ever dropped by the marina looking for him.
"Ye-up. That's what he said." Seated on his stool, surrounded by lures and coolers holding bait and Royal Crown Cola, Ole was a fixture at the marina. A burned-out stub of a cigar was forever plugged into one corner of his mouth, a ring of red hair turning gray surrounded his bald pate, and folds of skin hid his eyes more effectively than the magnifying glasses perched on the end of his nose. "Told him you'd be out awhile, but he wanted to wait." He clipped off a piece of thread with his teeth, turned over a bit of orange fuzz covering a hook that looked suspiciously as if it would soon resemble a salmon fly. "Figured if he wanted to, I couldn't stop him."
"Never gave his name. But you'll spot him." Ole finally looked up, focusing over the half glasses. Through the open window, his face framed by racks of cigarettes, tide tables and dozens of the colorful flies he'd tied himself, he added, "He ain't from around here. I could tell that right off."
Nick's shoulders tightened. "Thanks."
"Enny time," Ole said, nodding curtly just as Tough Guy gave a sharp bark.
Nick mounted the stairs and walked across a gravel lot where trucks and trailers and campers were parked with haphazard abandon. In the midst of them, looking like the proverbial diamond sparkling in a pail of gravel, a silver Jaguar was parked, engine purring, California plates announcing an intruder from the south. The motor died suddenly. The driver's door swung open and a tall man in a business suit, polished wingtips and raincoat emerged.
Alex Cahill in the flesh.
Great. Just ... great.
He picked one helluva day to show up.
"About time," Alex said as if he'd been waiting for hours. "I thought maybe you'd died out there." He hitched his jaw west toward the sea.
"Not so lucky this time."
Alex's intense eyes, more gray than blue, flashed. "So you're still an irreverent bastard."
"I keep workin' at it." Nick didn't bother to smile. "I wouldn't want to disappoint."
"Shit, Nick, that's all you've ever done."
In a heartbeat Nick decided his mother must've died. For no other reason would Alex be inconvenienced enough to wear out some of the tread on his three-hundred-dollar tires. But the thought was hard to believe. Eugenia Haversmith Cahill was the toughest woman who'd ever trod across this planet on four-inch heels. Nope. He changed his mind. His mother couldn't be dead. Eugenia would outlive both her sons.
He kept walking to his truck and slung his bucket into the bed with his toolbox and spare tire. Around the parking lot, a once-painted fence and fir trees contorted by years of battering wind and rain formed a frail barricade that separated the marina from a boarded-up antiques shop that hadn't been in business in the five years Nick had lived in Devil's Cove.
Alex jammed his hands deep into the pockets of a coat that probably sported a fancy designer label, not that Nick would know. Or care. But something was up.
"Look, Nick, I came here because I need your help."
"You need my help?" he repeated with a skeptical grin. "Maybe I should be flattered."
"This is serious."
Son of a bitch. Beneath the rawhide of his jacket, Nick's shoulders hunched. No matter what, he wasn't going to be sucked in.
Not by Marla.
Not ever again.
"She's been in an accident."
His gut clenched. "What kind of accident?" Nick's jaw was so tight it ached. He'd never trusted his older brother. And for good reason. For as long as Nick could remember, Alex Cahill had bowed at the altar of the dollar, genuflected whenever he heard a NASDAQ quote and paid fervent homage to the patron saints of San Francisco, the elite who were so often referred to as "old money." That went double for his beautiful, social climbing wife, Marla.
His brother was nothing but a bitter reminder of Nick's own dalliance with the Almighty Buck. And with Marla.
"It's bad, Nick —" Alex said, kicking at a pebble with the toe of his polished wingtip.
"But she's alive." He needed to know that much.
"Barely. In a coma. She ... well, she might not make it."
Nick's stomach clenched even harder. "Then why are you here? Shouldn't you be with her?"
"Yes. I have been. But ... I didn't know how else to reach you. You don't return my calls and ... well ..."
"I'm not all that into e-mail."
"That's one of the problems."
"Just one." Nick leaned against the Dodge's muddy fender, telling himself not to be taken in. His brother was nothing if not a smooth-talking bastard, a man who could with a seemingly sincere and even smile, firm handshake and just the right amount of eye contact, take a life jacket off a drowning man. Older than Nick by three years, Alex was polished, refined and Stanford educated. His graduate work, where he'd learned the ins and outs of the law, had been accomplished at Harvard.
Nick hadn't bothered. "What happened?" he asked, trying to remain calm.
"Car accident." To Alex's credit he paled beneath his tan. Reaching into his jacket, he found a pack of cigarettes and offered one to Nick, who shook his head, though he'd love to feel smoke curl through his lungs, could use the buzz of nicotine.
Excerpted from If She Only Knew by Lisa Jackson. Copyright © 2000 Susan Lisa Jackson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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