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Someone stood in the open door of the room, his silence more compelling than the steady beep of machinery, more alarming than the agonizing pain that had tugged Rayne Sampson from the velvety darkness she'd floated in for..
She didn't know.
Had no sense of time passing.
She shifted, the mechanized beep jumping with her pulse. Pain.
In her head. Her joints.
Someone watching. Time stalling. Nothing moving. Not Rayne. Not the figure standing near the door.
Get up. Find Emma.
The command shot through her pain-racked head, and she swung her legs over the bed, trying desperately to figure out where she was, how she'd gotten there.
Where her daughter was.
She had to find her, couldn't fail her.
You don't have what it takes to be a mother, Rayne. You're too young. You need to grow up a little, be a wife first. Be my wife. Just like we planned.
Michael's words drifted through her mind, filling her head so that it pounded even harder, throbbed more insistently.
When had he said those things?
A week ago? A month ago?
She had no sense of time passing, and her heart thundered with the knowledge.
"Where's my daughter?" she asked the man who watched, but the doorway was empty, the hall beyond brightly lit. The sound of footsteps and voices drifted into the room. People chatting and laughing, the sounds echoing through Rayne's pounding skull.
She pushed to her feet, nearly tripping over an IV pole. A hospital.
She was in a hospital.
But she had no idea how she'd gotten there. No memory of an accident or an injury.
"Where's Emma?" she spoke out loud, trying desperately to cling to the thought as darkness edged in and the floor slid away.
Cold sweat beaded her brow, her limbs trembling as she tried to hold on to consciousness.
You don't have what it takes to be a mother.
"You're wrong," she mutterednot sure if she was in the moment or in the pasther voice raspy, her thoughts fuzzy.
She took a step and fell into darkness. Emma!
The name speared through the darkness, and she jerked back to the room, the endless mechanized beeping. The pain.
Overwhelming, mind-searing pain. Cold tiles seeped through cotton and chilled her to the bone. On the floor, but she didn't know how she'd gotten there.
Footsteps sounded on tile. Close. Coming closer.
The man returning?
She struggled to her hands and knees.
Find Emma. Hurry.
But, her movements were sluggish and uncoordinated, her efforts futile.
"Rayne? What are you doing?" A voice drifted into the darkness, light splashing across the floor, splashing into her eyes and blinding her, making her turn her head to the side, away from the glare.
She blinked, focused.
Boot-clad feet just inches away.
Hands wrapped around her waist, eased her to her feet.
Warm breath against her cheek, and she was being lifted off the ground, the machine beeping, her ear pressed against something warm and solid.
She let her eyes slide shut, relaxing against the touch that felt so safe.
Someone brushed strands of hair from her cheek.
Her brother or father?
Couldn't be Michael. She'd given back the ring, broken things off.
"Dad? Jonas?" She wanted to open her eyes, tried to open them, but they felt so heavy.
She forced her eyes open, looked into a stranger's face. Dark hair, high cheekbones, pale eyes. She knew those eyes. Didn't she? "Who are you?"
"Chance Richardson." He frowned, pressed a button on the bed rail. "We work for the same company. You rent an apartment from my mother. Don't you remember?"
Did she remember?
She tried to pull the information from her mind, found nothing but emptiness and a cold, hard kernel of fear. "I live in Arizona. I work for a women's shelter in Phoenix."
"Do you know what day it is, Rayne?" He looked into her eyes, searching for something, but she had nothing to give. His eyes shimmered blue or green or gray, and she was sure she'd looked in them before.
"Do you know what city you're in?"
A memory surfaced. Packing the U-Haul, strapping Emma into her car seat, leaving everything she knew to take a new job in a new place. "I remember packing to leave. That's it."
"Do you know where you are?" He pressed the button on the bed rail again, and she knew he was summoning a nurse. A nurse couldn't help, though. All that could help was remembering, and that seemed to be impossible.
"Do you remember how you got here?"
"You were in an accident," he said, as if he hoped it would spark a memory.
All it sparked was terror.
"Where's my daughter?" Rayne tried to sit up, but Chance pressed her back.
"She's fine. She wasn't in the car with you."
"Thank God." She closed her eyes, the prayer swirling through her mind again and again and again.
"He was definitely looking out for both of you. Do you remember what happened?"
No, and that terrified her.
She tried to respond, but her thoughts were clumsy, her eyelids leaden.
"Do you remember the accident, Rayne?" he persisted, pulling her from the edge of sleep.
She scowled, wondering if she knew him well enough to tell him to go away and leave her alone. Not to ask any more questions, because every question she couldn't answer only added to her fear.
"Do you know how it happened? Where it happened?"
"In my car?" There. Finally something she could answer.
"Funny, Goldilocks, but that's not what I mean, and you know it."
"I wasn't trying to be funny, and my hair isn't gold, it's platinum."
"Looks gold to me. Do you know what town you're in?" That she could answer, too.
She'd left Phoenix to work in Spokane, Washington. If Chance was her coworker, she must be there.
"Spokane, but I'm tired of playing twenty questions, so let's stop for a while, okay?" She opened her eyes, looked into his gray-blue gaze.
Eyes she knew but didn't know.
The world spun, and she spun with it, falling back into darkness so quickly she thought she might never escape it. She reached out, grabbed something warm and solid. His hand.
Calloused and rough and oddly familiar.
She knew his eyes, and she knew him, but she had no memory of meeting him, no knowledge of their shared history. How far back did that history go? How much time had passed since her last memory?
Was Emma still a baby?
Had she grown into a toddler?
Terrified, she sat up, stars shooting in front of her eyes.
"I need to see my daughter." The frantic edge to her voice matched her racing pulse and the frenzied beep of the machine.
"Calm down, Rayne. Emma is fine. My mom was babysitting her while you worked, and she's still taking care of her." Chance pressed a palm to her cheek, forced her to look into his eyes.
Not panicked at all.
Then again, he wasn't the one with amnesia.
"Is everything okay in here?" A nurse walked into the room, her dark eyes widening as she saw Rayne. "You're awake. How are you feeling?"
"Aside from having a splitting headache and amnesia? Okay."
"Amnesia? The nurse looked at chance, and he nodded.
"She seems to be missing her recent memories. No idea what day it is, no memory of the accident. She doesn't seem to remember me or the area."
"She's sitting right here, and she can speak for herself," Rayne grumbled, but throbbing pain stole the heat from her words, and she really didn't have the strength to add to what he'd said.
Besides, what would she add?
He'd said it all.
All her recent memories were gone. Trying to find them was like searching through a sea of nothingness.
"I'll page the attending physician. He'll want to ask you a few questions, Rayne. In the meantime, on a scale of one to ten, what's your pain level?"
"Seven." But, compared to her fear and confusion, that was negligible.
She wanted to remember everything. Wanted it with a desperation that made her physically ill.
"When the doctor comes in, we'll see if you can take something for that."
"I don't need anything for the pain. All I want is to go home and see my daughter." Only she didn't know where home was. Didn't know where her daughter was.
Being a parent is a big responsibility. Let someone else take it on. Someone who really wants a baby.
Michael spoke from the past, and Rayne realized she'd closed her eyes, was drifting on waves of distant memories.
Or maybe not so distant.
"What day is it? What's the date?" she asked.
"Friday, November 28th, 2011." Chance answered, smoothing a lock of hair from her forehead.
She'd left Phoenix at the beginning of October. That meant she'd lost nearly two months of her life. Two months of Emma's life.
Better than the alternative. Better than years or decades.
"I need to see Emma." She sat up, ignoring the nurse's protest, ignoring Chance's hand pressed to her shoulder. Michael had been wrong.
Everything he'd said, everything he'd believed about her ability to parent Chandra's baby had been wrong.
Rayne had spent the past eight months proving that.
She wouldn't fail now. Wouldn't leave her baby with a complete stranger.
"Do you really think you're going to do her any good in the condition you're in?"
"I'll do her a lot more good if I'm with her than if I'm away from her."
"My mother has been her babysitter since you moved into the apartment. She and Emma will do just fine together. All you need to worry about is getting better," Chance said, and Rayne reached for a name, a face, something to go with his words.
"I don't know your mother. I don't know you." Her breath came in short gasps, and she felt helpless to control it. Panic edged out everything. The nurse. Chance. The pain that slammed through Rayne's skull.
"You're not going to fall apart, Rayne. You have a kid to get home to and a life to live. This is just a blip on the radar, so take a deep breath and pull yourself together," Chance growled, his eyes blazing into hers, forcing her back from the brink.
She wasn't sure whether she wanted to thank him or punch him, but his harsh words had worked. She could breathe. She could think.
"Easy for you to say. You're not the one with holes in your memories."
"That's better, Goldilocks." He patted her hand, moved aside as the nurse leaned in to take Rayne's vitals.
"Partial amnesia is very common with head injuries. Give yourself a little time. Things will come back to you." The nurse jotted something on Rayne's chart, offering an easy smile.
"Unfortunately, it isn't an exact science. Sometimes, memories come back quickly. Sometimes, it takes months. Even years."
"I want them back now. I can't stomach the thought of my daughter with someone I don't know," she said, the words blurting out before she thought about how they'd sound.
"Of course you feel that way. What mother wouldn't? But I can assure you that Lila Richardson is one of the most wonderful women around. She'll take good care of your daughter."
"You know her?"
"She taught my Sunday school class when I was a kid, and now, she teaches my son. She's great, and I'm not just saying that because Chance is in the room."
"That make me feel better." But not much. Emma was her responsibility. She'd made a promise to Chandra, and she didn't take that lightly.
Sure, I'll raise her if something happens to you.
But she hadn't expected anything to happen to her best friend. Hadn't thought very hard about what it would mean to take on the responsibility of raising another human being.
"Good. Now, you just rest for a while, okay? The doctor should be in shortly. Hopefully, by midnight, you'll have some pain medicine and be fast asleep. Everything will look better in the morning." The nurse pulled the blanket up to Rayne's chin, tucked it around her shoulders.
Everything is going to be okay." Chance said, his words soothing and smooth, commanding her attention.
"Okay? I'm missing nearly two months of my life."
But maybe the nurse was right.
Maybe things would look better in the morning.
Still, something nagged at the back of her mind, something that shivered along her spine, lodged at the base of her skull, pounded into her consciousness.
Someone standing in the open doorway, watching.
Chance? A doctor? Did it matter?
People came and went in hospitals. There was nothing alarming about that, but she couldn't shake her fear, couldn't put the image out of her mind.
"Were you in my room earlier, Chance?" she asked, because she had to know. Couldn't rest until she was sure.
"I've been waiting down in the emergency room while they got you settled. My mom was here with Emma, but Emma got fussy and they had to leave. I walked them out to the parking lot and came up. Why?"
"Someone was here, standing in the doorway, watching me."
"The cleaning crew just made its rounds. You probably saw one of the team," the nurse interjected. A custodian? Rayne didn't think so.
But her head had been fuzzy, her thinking muddled, her vision blurred.
The nurse glanced at her watch. "I need to go do rounds. The doctor will be here soon. If you need anything before then, just buzz."
She hurried out of the room.
"Are you okay?" Chance asked, and she shrugged, her shoulders aching, muscles she hadn't even realized she had throbbing in protest.
A car accident.
Of course she was seeing danger in the shadows and the doorways. "I will be."
"Then why do you look so scared?" He studied her face, searched her eyes, saw more than she wanted anyone to. Mothers were tough, right? Strong. Immovable.
They didn't rely on other people, because they didn't need anyone to take care of them. They took care of themselves.
So no more relying on other people for Rayne.
That was rule number one for heart-healthy living, and Rayne planned to remember it. No matter what else she forgot.
"I'm not scared. I just don't think the guy I saw was a custodian."
"Then who do you think he was?"
"I don't know."
"He could have been a nurse or a doctor."
"Look, if you're nervous about staying here alone tonight "
"I'm not." At least, not very. "I can stay with you."
"Really. I'll be fine."
But something nagged below the surface of her mind. Bright lights. Terror.
There and gone so quickly she couldn't hold on to them.
"I planned to hang out for a while anyway, so I'll wait until the doctor comes in. Then I'll talk to the maintenance staff. See if any of them were in your room. How does that sound?"
"It sounds like you're placating me."