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As he looked around the private New York hospital room, Seth Kentrell dug his hands deep into his pockets. The best medical treatment money could buy, delivered in a room that wouldn't look out of place in one of his own high-end hotels. For someone like the world-renowned jazz singer, April Fairchild, he wouldn't expect anything less.
He glanced over at the woman lying seemingly unscathed in the hospital bed, her eyes closed, her delicate skin pale and more sublimely fascinating than he'd expected. Her image was familiar, but in the flesh, she was exquisite. Even in sleep.
Was that what his brother had thoughthad she taken Jesse to her bed? Was that how she'd manipulated him into practically giving her one of the prized hotels from their portfolio? At the thought of his brother, a sledgehammer blow hit the center of his chest. It'd been eight days and it was still beyond belief that Jesse was gone. Dead. Seth clenched his fists tight in his pockets, as if that could relieve the ache. But nothing could take the crushing sense of loss away. He'd never see his brother again.
And this woman had been the last person to see Jesse alive.
As he took a step closer, she moved restlessly in her sleep and he paused, not wanting to wake her. He had no idea of the true extent of the injuries she'd sustained in the accident that had killed his brotherthe media had been fed meaningless and general information only. Which was why he'd had to come.
April moved again, and her face pinched then relaxed. Seth frowned. Was she in pain? Were there bruises marring her loveliness under the covers? He sucked in a breath, wondering if he should call a nurse. What if
He stopped himself midthought and scrubbed his hands through his hair. He couldn't let himself lose track of why he'd come. He needed the Lighthouse Hotel back or he risked losing the alliances he'd carefully built on the board of directors. By leaving equal shares in the conglomerate to his legitimate and illegitimate families, his father's will had tried to bring his sons together but had instead thrown down the gauntlet. With Jesse's death, the shares he and Seth had jointly inherited had reverted to Seth, but that just meant he and his half brother, Ryder Bramson, now had an equal half each of Warner's stock. And now another man, JT Hartley, had emerged, claiming to be a long-lost son of Warner, demanding a share of the will. Though he wouldn't get that farSeth would make sure of it.
Likewise Seth had no intention of losing to Ryder Bramson. In the space of mere months, he'd lost his father and Jesse; he wouldn't lose his company as wellno matter how lovely or vulnerable April Fairchild seemed to be.
The door opened and closed behind him and he pivoted to see a middle-aged, overly thin woman step purposefully into the room.
She snagged him with her gaze. "Are you another doctor?" she asked with the air of someone in charge.
"I'm not with the hospital."
Her spine stiffened. "Are you a reporter?"
"No. My name is Seth Kentrell."
Her eyes widened as she recognized the name. "How did you get in?"
A reasonable question. He'd told April's guard at the door that he was from her lawyer's office and showed him her name on the contract he held. The man had at least checked the name, but it had been too easy to pass. Had he been on the Bramson Holdings' security staff, Seth would have him fired.
But he wasn't here to share details about security.
He arched an eyebrow. "The question you should be asking is why I'm here."
"You're the intruder. I'll ask the questions." She bit on her lip, clearly wanting to ask precisely what he'd suggested, but now reluctant. Then she gave in. "Why are you here?"
He rewarded her with a smile. "To save Ms. Fairchild from a nasty, very public legal battle. Believe me, it's in her best interests to talk to me sooner rather than later."
Small noises came from the bed, and he turned to see April waking, her lashes blinking against the light, then opening to reveal large, chestnut-brown eyes. Her gaze fixed on him and the breath caught in his lungs. She was like a crushed rose, forlorn and broken, yet still exquisitely beautiful. Her fair skin was as perfect as porcelain; her haira tumble of caramel and honeysat about her shoulders. He had the strange sensation of being drawn closer, closer. But, no, he tore his gaze away and steadied himself.
Shoulders squared, he looked back to April. She was squinting to see; there was too much light in the room. He crossed to the windows and drew the drapes closed, and she relaxed a fraction, opening her eyes more fully.
The older woman rushed over and sat on the edge of the bed. "April, darling, you're awake."
April frowned, then winced as if frowning hurt. "I think you've made a mistake," she rasped.
Seth raised an eyebrow. "You seem awake. Hard to mistake that."
She looked back to him, and shook her head very slowly. "My name's not April."
The woman gripped April's hand and spoke gently, as if to a slow child. "Yes it is. April Fairchild. My daughter."
So this was the mother. And her daughter's manager, according to his research. Seth ran an appraising glance over her. She reminded him of a spider, with her sticklike arms and legs, and the way she was watching April, as if waiting for her daughter to come deeper into her web. Every instinct told him not to trust spiderwoman. But the bigger issue was why she was telling April what her own name was. He rocked back on his heels, waiting for their next move.
April sat up a little and looked intently at her mother, then lay back on the pillow. "I'm sorry, but I don't know you. You've made some kind of mistake."
The woman smiled tightly. "Tell me about your mother then. And your name."
April's warm brown eyes flew from her mother to him and back again, panic starting to fill their depths.
The woman leaned over and cupped her cheek. "Don't worry, darling, the doctors said you'll remember soon."
"Remember soon?" Seth was all attention.
April laid a pale hand over her chest, gripping the covers. "How long have I been here?"
"Eight days," her mother said, giving the same tight smile. "You were unconscious for the first five, but you've been waking up for the last three, and each time you don't remember."
April's hand trembled and gripped the covers tighter. "Why wouldn't I remember? Did I hurt my head?"
"The doctors say your brain is fine," her mother said in a singsong voice, clearly forgetting to be discreet in a stranger's presence. "You have retrograde amnesia. It'll all settle down soon and you'll remember everything."
Seth stilled as he studied April's face for signs of duplicity. Somehow she'd bamboozled his brother Jesse into swapping the Lighthouse Hotel for a next-to-worthless recording studio and label. And now that Jesse was dead and he'd come to fix the situation, she was claiming amnesia.
Seth didn't believe in coincidence, and something about her memory loss seemed far too convenient.
He refocused on the heartbreakingly beautiful woman lying in the hospital bed. Her lips trembled. Her eyes were huge in her delicate face. The overall effect was alluring and deceptively vulnerable. He crossed his arms over his chest. He couldn't afford to be swayed.
April turned back to the woman stroking her hand. "You're my mother?"
April looked at him, her gaze searching. "And who are you? My boyfriend?" He didn't say anything, but his pulse spiked at the thought of being her lover. She swallowed hard. "Husband?"
Her mother leaned into her line of vision, severing the connection. "You've never met him before. He shouldn't be here," she said, fidgeting with the edge of the sheet with her free hand.
Seth casually stepped to the side, a counter to the block the mother had provided. "And yet, here I am."
"I think it's time you left. We can talk about that matter when"
"Are you sure my name's April?" She cut her mother off, anxiety again marring her features. "Surely my own name would be familiar."
Her mother forced an overly bright smile. "You're April Fairchild. I'm very sure, since I filled out your birth certificate."
April sucked in her bottom lip and rolled it between her teeth as she turned to him. "Then who are you?"
The intensity of her gaze shot through his body, heated his blood.
He cleared his throat. "Seth Kentrell. We have an urgent business matter to discuss."
"Urgent enough to come to my hospital bed?" She blinked up at him, all confused innocence, but Seth reminded himself that she was a performer. She'd been singing on stage since she was thirteen.
Her need for hospitalization after a major car accident wasn't in question. Whether she was making the most of an opportunity to gain an expensive hotel from him was another matter entirely. "Yes."
She frowned, then winced. Her hands gingerly touched her temples. "What happened to me?"
Her mother's spider fingers gripped her hand again. "You were in a car accident."
April drew in a long breath. "Do you think you could get me some aspirin?"
Seth leaned closer, careful not to jostle her, and pressed a button on the panel above her bed for the nurse. She leaned her head back into the pillow to look up at him as he did, her eyes clearly asking if he and her mother were lying to her. He paused, hand still resting on the bed head. Could she be telling the truth and really have lost her memory?
The nurse bustled in and disengaged the call button.
Regaining his equilibrium, Seth stepped back. "Ms. Fairchild needs pain medication."
The nurse picked up the chart at the end of the bed and asked April several questions, took her temperature and pulse. And all the while, April watched him. She looked lost, clinging to his gaze like a life raft. The urge to protect her inexplicably reared in his chest, and he closed his eyes for a moment against the power of it. When he opened them again, he focused on the nurse.
She wrote something on April's chart, seeming satisfied, then went to the trolley she'd brought in and shook two tablets from a bottle. "This will help with the headache. The doctor will be along in an hour or two and will answer your questions."
"Again," her mother said quietly.
On her way out the door, the nurse turned a sharp glance on April's mother and then him. "Ten more minutes, and don't upset her. She's still healing."
Butthe million-dollar questionhow much healing was there to do? She'd woken from the coma three days ago, plenty of time to cook up a strategy with Mommy Manager. They would want more time to counter the legal challenge to April's ownership of the Lighthouse Hotel. Surely, April had been expecting a challenge once Jesse died. Faking amnesia would certainly give her that time.
"You don't believe me, do you, Mr. Kentrell?" April's soft voice broke through his thoughts.
He cleared his throat then told her the truth. "I haven't decided yet."
"Why would I pretend?"
"To avoid dealing with me." He shrugged one shoulder as he called her bluff. "Perhaps a publicity stunt."
"Publicity? Who else would care?" She blinked slowly, her eyes large. There was intelligence behind those eyes. But was the intelligence calculating which words to use for manipulation, or was she honestly struggling to understand?
He ran through his options for playing the situation. For the moment, he needed to base his actions on the assumption she was faking. Which meant he could straight-out accuse her of lying, which would only garner him a denial. Or he could play along and wait for her to trip up.
He stalked to the window and drew back the curtains, letting sunlight flood the room once more.
"Can she walk?" he asked her mother.
"She was given clearance a few days ago when she first woke."
"Does she have any body injuries?"
The mother appeared hesitant to divulge further information, so he graced her with a practiced smile. "I'm here to help. If everyone cooperates, I'll be able to protect her from the scandal of a legal battle."
Eyes widening in alarm, Mrs. Fairchild nodded. "It was mainly bruises, and they've pretty much healed. Though her balance has been affected, and she's not supposed to get up without the physiotherapist here."
Seth nodded, then walked to April. "I'll carry you to the window. There's something I need to show you."* * *
Carry her? April's heart raced. Everythingthe room, this woman holding her hand, her explanationwas surreal, like a dream; instinctively, she knew it was really happening. The lights were too bright to be a dream, the man too alive. He was a flesh-and-blood man, no question, pulsing with vitality and heat. And when she focused on that heat in his eyes, she knew she was alive, too.
He cast her a sidelong look as he stood there all tall and dark, and for a moment she was stunned by the intensity of his eyes. On the surface, he looked like a respectable businessman; but those eyes they were navy blue, and filled with tightly leashed emotion. There was an edge of danger to this man, an edgeshe would guesshe kept carefully controlled at all times. It took her breath away.
Stomach churning, she broke away from his gaze. This situation was spinning out of control. But then, had anything felt remotely like control since she'd woken? She'd only just been able to hold at bay the panic triggered by the woman's assertion that she was her mother and her own name was April.
And now this man was suggesting he pick her up in his arms. If he was a stranger, as he said he was, she didn't want him carrying hershe already felt he was too close, his looks too intimate for someone she'd never met before. She looked down at herself through the thick hospital bedspread. Besides a monster of a headache and the anxiety filling every limb and organ, her body at least felt in working order.
"I can walk."
And then a thought struck. Was she decently dressed? She lifted the covers and found she wore a long, emerald-green nightdress that laced up the front. A nightdress was far from equal to his suit, but at least it adequately covered her from neck to ankles.
One hand pressed to her throbbing temple, she slowly swung one foot from under the covers to the floor. Seth moved to stand beside the bed, not close enough to crowd, but his presence was strangely reassuring, and she let out a breath. She slid the other foot out to join the first, wiggling her feet on the tiles to make sure they were stable, then she slowly rose from the bed.