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By Jean Barrett
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhatever it was, it was vital. Something he had lost and had to recover before it was too late. That part was clear, though nothing else was.
He wished his head would stop hurting. If only he could achieve that much, ease the throbbing inside his skull, he was certain he would remember just what it was he was trying to find.
Then a new thought struck him. Maybe it wasn't a something from which he had been separated but a someone. Could that be right? Yes, he was sure of it now. Someone was waiting for him, someone who needed him. Or was it the other way around? Was he the one in need?
In his confusion he wasn't absolutely certain of anything, only that he had to get there. Wherever there was. He was so disoriented he had no idea what this place was or how he'd gotten here. Neither the hour nor the weather were his allies.
It was late, sometime in the middle of the night. He could sense that much. And there was water off to his right. A river, he thought. He could see lights on the other side, and more lights off to his left. Between them was this strip of darkness along which he had been wandering. For how long he didn't know.
A parkway, he decided. That was the explanation for the grassy strip. He was alone and on foot along some city parkway. A wind blew off the river, cold and wet, pelting him with needles of rain. He wasn't dressed for the weather. Drawing the collar of his light jacket up around his neck, he turned and moved away from the biting exposure of the broad river.
That's when he realized that more than his head was hurting. His whole body was sore, aching with the effort of each step. Had he been in an accident?
He came to a wide boulevard where the traffic at this hour was light. On the other side were the glowing lights of what looked like a convenience store, one of those places that never closed.
They would have aspirin in there. If he could get some aspirin inside him, relieve the stabbing inside his head, he was confident his brain would find the answers he was searching for.
He shuffled across the thoroughfare, and into the store. The light was dazzling after the darkness outside. It took him a moment to adjust to the glare. Then he saw that the store was deserted except for him and a young attendant at the checkout counter talking on her cell phone.
He found the aspirin at the rear of the store. There was bottled water nearby. He took both the aspirin and a bottle of water up to the checkout.
"Customer," the attendant said into her phone. "Gotta go."
She ended her call and turned her attention in his direction. There was a startled expression on her face when she looked at him. It puzzled him for a second, and then he remembered how wet he was from the rain. He must look as if he'd fallen into the river.
He placed his purchases on the counter and reached for his wallet in his back pants pocket. There was no wallet, not in that pocket or anywhere else on him. Had he been robbed? The young woman was staring at him.
"Sorry," he muttered. "Forgot something."
He left the aspirin and water on the counter and retreated down one of the aisles. When he was out of sight of the checkout area, he stopped and searched again through all his pockets, trying not to panic, trying to understand.
But there were no funds on him anywhere, not in his pants, his shirt or in his jacket. No money, no credit cards and no identification. Nothing at all.
In desperation he clutched at the sides of his jacket. And that's when he felt it. Something deep down inside the lining. His hand plunged again into the lower left pocket, this time finding a tear in one corner. His fingers dug through the opening, fished around, and finally closed around two small rectangles of thick paper.
Not concerning himself with how they had gotten there, whether they had slipped down into the lining by accident or whether they had been deliberately concealed there, he hoped only that they would tell him who he was and what was happening to him, if not why. He withdrew his discoveries.
One was a photograph of a young, solemn-faced boy. He didn't recognize the child, and there was no writing on the back. There was printing on the other rectangle. A dog-eared business card. Hawke Detective Agency, it said. Under that, beside the emblem of a golden hawk, was a name and address. Eden Hawke, 99 Mead Street, Charleston. There were also a phone number and an address.
None of it triggered any memories. None of it meant anything to him. But it was all he had, and he suddenly knew that he had to go to the address on this card. That it must be the place he was seeking, and that there was someone there waiting for him.
A phone. He remembered seeing a pay phone in a corner at the back of the store. He had no money to place a call, nor any wish to make that kind of contact. No desire to do anything but reach that address. But first he had to locate it. Public phones were accompanied by city directories, and directories had maps in them. A map that could tell him how to get to 99 Mead Street.
Providing, that is, this was Charleston he was in and not some other city far away. And why didn't he know? Never mind, he promised himself as he moved down the aisle toward the phone. It would all get sorted out.
There was a display of sunglasses with a small mirror at eye level, to see what the glasses looked like on you. He caught a glimpse of himself as he started past the display. Coming to a stop, he peered into the mirror, shocked by his image.
No wonder he was in pain and that the attendant had been jolted by the sight of him. The unrecognizable face that stared back at him looked like a battleground. One eye was bruised and so swollen it was half shut, his bottom lip split open, a raw wound on the bridge of his nose, blood smeared on his cheek.
Something had happened to him out there all right. Something very bad. No time to wonder about it. Later. He had to get to Mead Street.
Backing away from the mirror, he went on to the phone. A directory was attached to it by a chain. The cover under the heavy black binding told him what he needed to know. He was in Charleston, South Carolina. The street map inside the directory provided him with the location of Mead Street.
He would need the map. Tearing it out of the directory, he folded it and placed it in his jacket pocket along with the business card and the photograph.
He had to get out of the store before that attendant got nervous and called the cops. Maybe she already had. He didn't want the police, didn't consider asking the attendant for help, either with medical assistance or directions. He wasn't sure why, but instinct told him there was a potential danger in this situation that he had to avoid.
He left the store, head lowered, and went out into the wild blackness of the night. There was a street sign on the corner. He read it and then checked the map under the streetlight. Mead Street was twelve blocks from this corner.
Not far, but light-years away in this weather and in his condition. But he would manage it. Somehow.
It was a struggle. The wind had risen again, blasting rain into his face. In several places he stumbled over limbs that the storm had torn from the trees. He fell once and fought the temptation to just lie there and forget he must be oozing blood and that every step was agony. Picking himself up was an effort, moving on an ordeal. But he did it.
There were few people out in this weather, and at this hour the traffic almost nonexistent. A cab did pass by. If only he could have hailed it. He couldn't. He had no money for a taxi.
Excerpted from Sudden Recall by Jean Barrett Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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