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By TED DEKkER ERIN HEALY
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Ted Dekker and Erin Healy
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSIX WEEKS LATER
Nightmares of death by black water ticked off the hours of the deepest sleep Shauna McAllister had ever experienced. In an eternal loop, she choked and drowned and was somehow resuscitated, only to choke and drown again, and again, in an endless terror. Always the same fight, the same thrashing for air. Always the same intense agony for the same amount of time before the screen of her mind dimmed.
Then it would flicker back to life.
Her stomach hurt with the penetration of a hundred slicing knives, cutting her enough to scrape and bleed and sting. The cold water was not a strong enough anesthetic.
She could not remember where she was or how she had come to be here.
Why wasn't her father with her? And where had Rudy gone?
The water closed over her head again. She considered welcoming death and letting her fatigue have its way. She was so tired.
Something touched her. A stable hand, gentle and helpful, grabbed her wrist. In that Herculean grip was all the strength she could not muster. And so it was that at the very moment she resigned herself to drowning, she sensed as she rose through the black waters that maybe she would not die today.
Shauna broke the surface, gasping and flopping like a snagged fish tossed onto the deck of a-
No, she was on a bed, some narrow thing that rattled when she moved. Her hands hit metal rails and she grabbed hold to avoid sliding back underwater, though some sixth sense told her there was no water. She started coughing and could not stop, as if the oxygen in this place would kill her just as quickly as liquid.
How did she get here?
Someone shoved a pillow under her shoulders. Someone was speaking. Several people were speaking at once, animated and urgent.
She opened her eyes and took her first full lungful of air.
A middle-aged woman in nurse's scrubs stood next to the bed, bright eyes wide and gap-toothed mouth slack. She hit an intercom button in the panel over the bed, punching it so hard the plastic speaker rattled.
Shauna was half-aware of people spilling into the room.
"Dr. Siders," the woman said into the wall. She put a hand over her heart as if to prevent its escape. "We need you here now. She's awake!"
* * *
Still disoriented, Shauna lay at the center of the small gathering in the room. Through her mental haze, she locked onto a tall doctor in a white lab coat as he moved to the head of her bed. The man was 80 percent limbs and 20 percent torso, long and wiry and strung taut.
"Hello, Shauna. You can hear me?"
She felt her chin dip a fraction of an inch.
He put his hand on her arm. "I'm Dr. Gary Siders. And you-well let's just say you're one very lucky girl. Without a doubt, the most unusual case I've had in here for a while."
Where was here? Where was Rudy?
She tried to remember. Random images collided in her mind in a wreck that could not be construed as an explanation: shopping at an open-air market in Guatemala, congratulating a colleague at the CPA firm where she worked, stir-frying veggies in a wok at her downtown loft.
These stray events seemed disconnected from this white bed, this white room, these people dressed in white. She couldn't remember, and the void was the most disconcerting piece of this white puzzle.
She saw a flash of color. Blue. A blue class ring on a long, angular hand that was supporting a man's chin. A handsome man. He stood under the TV, arms crossed, and his worry-lined forehead tripped some wire in Shauna's brain that said friendly. His brown eyes held hers and he smiled almost imperceptibly, hopefully.
Her mind held no recognition. But he was a relief to her senses, a warm, sympathetic object in an unfamiliar, cold room. She smiled back.
On the other side of the bed, her eyes landed on Patrice McAllister.
Shauna shivered involuntarily. How was it possible, after all these years, that the woman could make her feel afraid? Patrice wore her trademark navy blue pantsuit and deadpan expression. She had all of Diane Keaton's good looks, but her heart was a stone.
The scar tissue under Shauna's arm seemed to burn, as always when Patrice stared at her. Shauna looked for her father. No sign of him. No surprise there.
Instead, she saw Uncle Trent standing behind Patrice. A close-cropped layer of white hair covered his sun-spotted head. Trent rested his hand on Patrice's shoulder as if forcing her to stay put. The laugh lines around his eyes eased Shauna's fear.
In these beats of recognition, Shauna felt her body with new awareness, as if her senses had been on vacation and just returned: the stiffness of her limbs, the pain in her stomach, the hardness of her mattress, the discomfort of her itchy sheets. She wanted to get out of bed. Her muscles would not respond.
"Let's sit you up." The doctor reached the controls for the hospital bed, and she rose with a whir. "Better?"
"Where is this?" her vocal cords rasped.
"Hill Country Medical Center."
She'd been in this hospital many times, but never as a patient. Behind him on a counter, old flowers wilted in dirty water. Other empty vases lined up behind these.
"This should only take about five minutes. We'll schedule a complete neuropsychological evaluation when we know you're up for it. That will take a day or two."
"I mean, how long have I been here?"
He hesitated. "Six weeks."
"You've drifted in and out for several days, never fully awake."
"I don't remember any of that."
"What day is it?"
He checked his wristwatch. "October 14. Sunday. You came in September 1."
She tried to remember August.
She'd been here six weeks? Her mind didn't want to connect with the idea of it, much less any specific memory.
He flashed a blinding light across her eyes and she winced. The stranger under the TV stepped to the bed and placed a warm hand on her blanketed foot. The gesture gave her courage. Who was this man? Someone she trusted, apparently.
"Follow my fingers," Dr. Siders said. She focused on his sinewy hand, contemplating how so much time could have slipped by without her knowing it. Six weeks from-
She'd taken her trip to Guatemala. That was when, March?
He lifted the blanket and ran a fingernail along the sole of her other foot. Her reflexes snatched it out of his reach. "You have no respect for the Rancho Levels-if you move through those any faster, I'll have to discharge you this afternoon. The GCS score is useless. Apparently all you're guilty of is a concussion. No TBI. The MRIs and CATs are clear, though they're not the most reliable, considering you're in a drug trial."
She had no idea what he was talking about.
"Can you tell me who's here in the room with us?" he asked her.
Shauna kept her eyes on the doctor. "My father's wife, Patrice McAllister. And Uncle Trent-Trent Wilde, a family friend. He's not actually my uncle."
"And what does Mr. Wilde do?"
The answer came to her without her needing to search for it. This surprised her. "He's the CEO of my father's company. McAllister MediVista."
"Where is that company located?"
"Do you know who he is?" Dr. Siders gestured toward the man whose warm hand still rested on her foot.
She studied him again. High hairline. Color-coordinated waves and eyes. Dark brown sugar. Older than she was, maybe midthirties. Professional. He might be an athlete-a distance runner or a cyclist. As for who he was, she came up empty.
She shook her head. Patrice sighed and tapped her fingers on her crossed arms.
"You have no recollection of Wayne Spade?" the doctor asked. "I understand you two are well acquainted."
Uncle Trent exchanged a glance with Wayne, who averted his eyes and shoved his hands into his pockets.
"Honey," Trent said, "you and Wayne have been close for several months."
Embarrassment settled over Shauna. "You don't mean-"
"It's okay, Shauna." Wayne's tone was careful, and his smile covered up what Shauna sensed was disappointment. She heard what he didn't say: they had been more, and he didn't want the truth of it to hurt either one of them. "Take your time."
How could she have forgotten someone so close to her? Distress filled her stomach.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
Dr. Siders turned back to her. "Wayne saved your life, my dear. He pulled you out of the water and performed CPR until the paramedics arrived."
This man? He saved her life? What water?
The doctor went on. "Where do you live, Shauna?"
"Wha-? Um, Austin."
"What is your father's name?"
"And he is presently campaigning for the office of?"
"President," she said. "Where is he?"
"California, I think. Our staff is in the process of contacting him about your status. Can you tell me the outcome of the primary elections in February?"
He won, of course, or else he wouldn't still be campaigning. She had a few questions of her own, but the conversation was moving too quickly for her to articulate the bottom line. Why could she remember her father but not-what was his name? Wayne? Why could she remember last year but not this summer? She stood unbalanced at the edge of a yawning gap filled with nothing but anxiety.
"Can we move it along please?" Patrice asked.
Dr. Siders checked his notes. "Do you remember the accident?"
Wayne seemed to recover from the blow of Shauna's forgetfulness. Touching her ankles, he said, "Is now the best time to bring all this up?"
"The-I was in an accident?"
"Oh, for crying out loud," Patrice murmured.
Wayne frowned at her. "Mrs. McAllister, please."
Shauna could not look at her stepmother, but she caught Uncle Trent's eyes. He shook his head at Shauna. Let it go.
"Yes," the doctor said to Shauna. "Do you remember it?"
Shauna looked at Wayne. "You were there? How did you ...?"
"He was following you home from my house," Uncle Trent said.
"I don't understand," Shauna said.
"Dr. Siders," Wayne said, "she's so tired."
"She's been sleeping six weeks," Patrice said, standing. "She can stay awake a few more minutes."
"Patrice," Trent said.
"No," she snapped. "Enough of this melodrama. We deserve to know what she knows."
"I don't understand." Shauna gripped the bedsheets in a double fist. "What happened?"
"You tell us, Shauna. I believe you know precisely what I mean. If you're pulling a stunt"-Patrice leaned over the bed-"if I find out you're making a mockery of Rudy and your father with this act ..." She frowned and fumbled for words.
Nothing but Patrice's own twisted view of the world could make sense of such accusations. Shauna's temples throbbed. She looked at Uncle Trent, begging him without words to sort this out for her.
He pulled Patrice away from the bed. "Rudy was with you, honey. You were driving when your car collided with a truck and went off a bridge."
Shauna managed a shallow breath but she couldn't exhale. "Is he okay?"
Wayne's eyes shifted. Dr. Siders appeared as baffled as Shauna felt. Trent looked at Patrice but offered no answer.
"Is Rudy okay?"
Patrice glared at Shauna. "You don't deserve an answer to that. You will tell us exactly what happened. Where you got the drugs. Why you planned to hurt Rudy. I can't believe anyone would go to such lengths. You're a beast. You have nearly ruined your father. It's a wonder he has managed to go on."
Rudy was hurt. Fear injected adrenaline into Shauna's heart.
"Where is he?" she demanded.
"California," Trent said.
"I mean Rudy!" She threw back the covers.
Patrice stepped back into Trent. Dr. Siders snapped out of his gawking. He dropped his charts onto the counter behind him, then leaned across the bed to catch Shauna's arm. "I want you out of here, all of you! We spoke about this."
She slapped Dr. Siders's hands away. "Tell me where Rudy is."
Wayne's face lit up with worry, and he reached for Shauna as she dropped her legs over the edge of the bed. A rolling table stood between them, and he bumped into it.
Her bare feet hit the floor and she tried to stand on her atrophied legs, which resented her demands as much as everyone else in the room apparently did. The blood in her body raced to her feet to be of help, emptying her head. Patrice stood back and watched Shauna fall. She went down before anyone else could catch her, clipping her jaw on the table and clamping down on her tongue. She tasted blood and heard her skull smack the vinyl flooring, then she slipped back into the black waters.
Chapter TwoWayne held Shauna's elbow and helped her down the white hallway. She insisted on walking this time, desperate to get out of the wheelchair, and determined to get out of this hospital as quickly as possible. It was already Wednesday.
After a day of fluctuating consciousness followed by two full days of being scanned, tested, poked, quizzed, and studied, she had many more questions than the first time she awoke.
But no more answers. They were all refusing to speak to her about Rudy and it was driving her crazy.
"I can't believe how much progress you've made already," Wayne said as her energy flagged. She paused for a break and leaned against the wall. "You're amazing."
She searched his eyes. "Please, Wayne. Tell me."
"Tell you what?"
"What no one else will. About Rudy."
"We've been over this." His tone reflected sadness rather than impatience. "Shauna, they've told me as much as they've told you. How bad can it be if they've sent him home?"
"This is ridiculous! Why all the secrecy?"
"He's home. And he's got the best care your father's money can buy."
"So for all we know they've sent him home to die?"
Wayne chuckled. "Wow. You really do go to the worst-case scenario, don't you?"
"Don't laugh at me." Shauna started walking again.
He sobered up and stayed by her side. "I only meant that your father wouldn't be on the road if that was the case."
"I'm sure it's for your best. Trent has everything taken care-"
"My father should be the one in that role. But then he never was where he needed to be, was he?"
"He's on his way back."
"So I hear."
Wayne didn't say anything to that. Really, what could he say? Shauna didn't wish her family's dysfunctional dynamics on anyone.
"Thank you for all you've done these last few days."
"I feel really bad about ... about not ..."
Wayne placed a finger on her lips, giving her a light static shock. She flinched. He looked surprised, then grinned.
"Don't worry about any of that," he said. "We'll figure it out as we go. Right now, you have bigger things to worry about."
He placed his free hand between her shoulder blades and guided her into the office, rubbing her back gently.
Dr. Siders was already there, his gangly body folded into a chair too small for him. The office had been painted uninspiring shades of mauve and green that failed to calm her. The colors clashed with the hyper arrangement of chairs and a chaos of paperwork on every flat surface.
"I'll wait outside," Wayne said.
"You can stay."
"This is your private business," Wayne said. "Tell me as much or as little as you want later. I'll be here for you."
His sensitivity took the edge off her nerves. She would press for information about Rudy until they told her what she wanted to hear or discharged her.
Dr. Millie Harding, a devil-may-care psychiatrist with frizzy red hair and glowing lipstick, crossed paths with Wayne at the door, then greeted Shauna with a kind touch on the shoulder.
Shauna hardly noticed it.
"You promised to tell me about Rudy," she said to Dr. Siders.
"Absolutely, Shauna. But you're our main concern right now. Let us bring you up to speed on our evaluations, and then-"
"I've spent three days imagining the worst."
"You've had a terrible crisis to face," Dr. Harding said. Her gravelly voice suggested she had smoked for decades. "Memory loss is catastrophic enough to process. One thing at a time, dear."
"If someone would just say, 'Rudy's fine,' I would-"
Excerpted from kiss by TED DEKkER ERIN HEALY Copyright © 2008 by Ted Dekker and Erin Healy. Excerpted by permission.
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