Read an Excerpt
By Leona Karr
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Chapter OneFierce winds and slashing rain whipped the New Jersey coastline as Andrew Davis stood at the window of his seaside cottage late one afternoon, and viewed the strong summer storm. Outside dark afternoon shadows mingled with curtains of slanting rain and thundering clouds. Warnings had been posted up and down the coast. He was about to draw the drapes when he glimpsed something unusual on the beach below. Even through the rivulets of rain pouring down the window glass, the shape of a human form lying on the sand was unmistakable.
Good Lord, could it be? A body washed up in the cove below his house?
Grabbing his slicker, he bounded out the door, took the deck stairs two at a time, and raced across the wild grass and sandy ground that lay between his elevated cottage and the beach below. When he reached the prone figure lying on the sand, he saw that it was a petite young woman lying on her back, her face stark white, framed by tangled dark hair drenched with seawater.
At his touch, she gave a weak groan, and then took in a gasp of air that told him her lungs were free of water. Her eyelids fluttered open and she gazed at him with rounded eyes filled with terror.
"It's all right," he assured her. "It's all right. Let's get you out of this storm." He scooped her up in his arms, and quickly carried her back to his cottage. Laying her down on a rug in front of the fire, he reached for a quilted cover tospread over her.
Her white slacks, soft pink blouse and white sandals were soaked. The clinging wet clothing defined the swell of her firm breasts, narrow waist and shapely legs. Her teeth were chattering, and her body was racked with shivers, but she seemed to be all right otherwise.
"I'll get you something warm to drink," he said and disappeared into his small kitchen.
She sat up, covered her face with hands and choked back a sob. A vertigo of unanswered questions swirled in her head, and fear was like a monster attacking her memory. Even as she struggled to fill the void in her mind, a deep terror shot through her. Who is this man? She couldn't remember anything beyond the moment when his anxious face bent over her. Even her very identity was lost in the dark abyss of her mind. Was she afraid to remember?
Andrew returned with a cup of coffee laced with brandy and said, "Here, this will warm you up."
Her blue lips murmured a weak, "Thank you." He wasn't quite sure how to handle this unexpected houseguest. Should he suggest that she take a warm shower and put on some clothing of his? In her distraught condition, she might take offense. Obviously she had been traumatized by what had happened to her. How did she get on his beach? He'd been watching the storm develop all day, and hadn't seen any boats on this stretch of ocean. Weird, he thought.
He gave her a few moments to sip the drink, and then he said, "I'm Andrew Davis." When she didn't make the usual response, he waited for a long moment and then asked gently, "And your name is -?"
She lowered the cup, stared at it, and then said in a choked voice, "Trish." Even as she said it, there was no real familiarity with the name or any firm recognition that it belonged to her. Her stomach curled with tension. Trish? Where did that name come from?
"Should I call someone, Trish, and let them know that you're safe?"
Call who? A subtle warning lay somewhere in the devastating disorientation that she was experiencing. She lifted her head. "No, there's no one," she said as evenly as she could. Why am I so frightened that someone will come for me?
He raised an eyebrow, but didn't press her. She was obviously in a state of shock. Whatever had brought her to a deserted beach at the height of a lashing storm must have been catastrophic. Every time there was a clap of vibrating thunder, sparked by forks of summer lightning, she cringed as if she feared the fierce winds would whip the small cottage into the greedy ocean.
"This little house is storm-proof," he reassured her. "It's firmly anchored and has weathered gales a lot worse than this one." She nodded, but her sea-blue eyes remained glazed and rounded.
"Can I stay here ... until ... until the storm's over?" she asked, silently adding with a sense of helplessness, until I remember where to go?
"The welcome mat is always out for unexpected visitors," he lied. In truth, Andrew valued his privacy above everything else, and only an emergency like this one would compel him to share his roof with a stranger. "I'm curious how you found your way to my beach ... well, not exactly mine," he admitted with a sheepish smile. "But I claim it."
She didn't respond, but the warmth of the fire and the stimulation of the hot drink began to ease her bone-deep chill. There was something reassuring about her rescuer's gentleness, his clean-cut looks, wavy blond hair bleached by the sun, and his nicely tanned face. I feel safe here, she thought with a spurt of surprise. She stammered, "Maybe ... maybe, I got lost."
"Lost?" Andrew waited for her to elaborate, but she didn't. What did she mean - maybe she got lost? Did she or didn't she? "You're not from around here, then?" he prodded.
Her hands tightened on her cup and she stared at it without answering.
Andrew decided to back off from any more questioning for the moment. He could tell that she was fighting for self-control, and whatever had happened to her had left her in a state of shock. No telling how long she would have to stay before the weather cleared and he could drive her somewhere. He decided that he'd have to take charge whether he wanted to or not.
"Would you like to take a hot shower, Trish, and get into some dry clothes? One of my long sweatshirts and bathrobes will keep you warm while we put your things through the washer and dryer."
She hesitated for a long moment and he could see uncertainty stamped on her face. Then she raised her head and nodded.
Like a child who is grateful for some adult direction, she followed him into the small bedroom.
Quickly, he laid out the clothes he'd mentioned, and then directed her to a small bathroom that adjoined his bedroom and the other small room, which he'd taken for his office.
"Here are some towels. Shampoo and soap are on the shelf. Make use of whatever is there, and if you need anything else, just holler."
After he had closed the door, she just stood there for a long moment, staring at herself in a mirror. Then she whispered, "Trish ... Trish." Was that really the name of the strange woman with wide frightened blue eyes staring back at her? What happened to me that I'm even afraid to remember who I am? She shivered, and fought a weakness that went bone-deep.
She dropped her clothes, and searched her body for some familiar signs of recognition. There was an appendix scar, so she must have had it taken out at some time. Her toenails were polished in the same rosy hue as her fingernails. A bruise was forming on her right forearm and there was a tender spot on the back of her head. Had she fallen? Or had someone hit her? Had she suffered a blow to her head that had caused a momentary loss of memory? Momentary. She clung to that word as if it were a life preserver. Yes, she reassured herself, at any second, everything could come rushing back. Then she would know who she was, and why fear was coiled like a snake in the pit of her stomach.
Excerpted from Lost Identity by Leona Karr
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.