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Magnolia Cove, Frenchman's Island, South Carolina June, present day
He should have stayed dead.
That would have been preferable to this living hell. Captain Sullivan Fouquet plastered a brittle smile on his face and told himself he must not, under any circumstances, show his pain, or his fear.
Did he say fear? Non. More like apprehension. Unease. Nervousness.
Captain Sullivan Fouquet feared nothing in this world. At least not until.
Damnation. Tyree would be able to tell him what to do, how to act. What to be wary of in this strange new time and place and what should be ignored.
Blast the blighter for leaving on his honeymoon now, when Sully needed him most.
"You okay, Chief?"
"Aye," Sully said, gingerly catching the traveling case the man whose name was Jeremy Swift handed down from the huge red conveyance Sully had just descended from himself. "Yes," he corrected himself, and cautiously tested the strength of his weakened knees. That had been quite a ride.
Swift passed him down his walking stick and Sully leaned on it gratefully. No need for his men to know careening down the road in that cursed contraption he'd had his heart in his throat.
"Need help with your bag?" Jeremy asked.
"Non, I'm fine." Sully could deal with the pain. It was the strangeness and blind uncertainty he hated.
As proof of his fitness, he turned toward the fancy three-story boardinghouse that was painted the most peculiar green and garnished with white, curlicued latticework. He'd never seen anything quite like it in his life.
His old life. "This is where you live now, youremember?" Jeremy Swift asked with a slight frown.
"It's coming back to me."
Of course, he'd never seen pretty much anything he'd encountered in this extraordinary world since waking from his near-endless slumber. In the hospital Tyree had counseled feigning amnesia to explain his utter lack of recognition of anything around him. As well as why he had none of the memories of the person whose bodyhe now inhabitedAndre Sullivan, a man whose looks were uncannily similar to those of his old self.
"Okay, we'll leave you to it," Jeremy Swift said. "See you tomorrow at the station, Chief."
"Aye," he said, but the word was drowned by the rumbling noise of the giant red fire truck pulling away from the curb. On the side of the truck was emblazoned Old Fort Mystic Fire Department, as were the pockets of the neat blue uniforms of the six smiling men packed insidehis menall waving cheerfully to him as the truck rolled away down the street. A piercingly loud horn blasted twice from the roof of the vehicle, making him cringe, and then it disappeared around the corner.
Leaving him on his own. For the first time in three months. For the first time ever since being thrust into this diabolical adventure.
But a coward was something he'd never been, so taking a deep, cleansing breath Sully made himself reach for the gate in the white picket fence surrounding the house's front garden. A neat green painted sign was attached to it. Pirate's Rest Inn.
He gave an ironic smirk.
If they only knew. "Welcome home, Captain Fouquet," he mimicked in a high voice to the sign. "It's been a long time.
"Aye, two hundred years," he answered himself. "But it's not Fouquet anymore. I'm Chief Sullivan now. Andre Sullivan."
He exhaled. Non. No one would be calling him Fouquet, even in error. Sullivan Fouquet had been dead for two hundred yearsâ€¦as they'd continually pointedout in the hospitaluntil Tyree had convinced him to stop insisting he really was the infamous Cajun pirate captain. Tyree should knowhe'd spent two centuries hiding his real identity, even being forced of late to change his name to James Tyler. He said people would start thinking Sully's mind had been mangled along with his body in the fiery accident that had nearly claimed his life.
Alors. The accident that had claimed the life of the real Andre Sullivan.
Sully limped a few steps along the cobblestone walkway into the midst of the garden, pausing to take in the incredible array of summer roses blooming along its path. In the hospital, his newly awakened senses had been assaulted by pain and unpleasant smells, tastes and unfamiliar sounds. But now he feasted those abused senses, pulling in deep lungfuls of the fragrance of heavy blooms and warm breeze and fecund earth, teased by distant memories those things evoked.
Mon Dieu, he was alive again! "Welcome home, Captain. I'm sure you're glad to be out of that awful hospital, eh?" he muttered.
"Aye, I'd nearly forgotten what the world outside looked and smelled like. However, it's Chief now. I'm not a pirate captain any longer, but a fire chief."
Of all things. The mere thought made him break out in a cold sweat. The universe had an oddly perverse sense of humor, it seemed.
If his moldering body had to be resurrected to life, why couldn't it have been as a sea captain? Lying in traction in his cold, narrow hospital bed, his body en-cased like a mummy in plaster and unable to move, sometimes unable even to blink for the pain of his burns and broken bones, he would imagine himself back on the quarterdeck of the Sea Nymph, sailing against the wind, his hair flying and the salt spray in his face. It had been all he could do not to cry out with misery and longing.
"Welcome home, Chief Sullivan," he muttered.
"How are you feeling about your terrible ordeal?"
"Like I've just awoken in the broken body of a stranger and have no idea why I'm here."
Tyree said it was because of the curse. The powerful curse Sully himself had shouted in a rage over the death of his beloved fiancÃ©e, Elizabeth, when Tyree had shot her.
At the reminder of his sweet lover's demise, Sully's heart squeezed as it always did. In those last years battling the sea and his enemies, Elizabeth had been his shining beacon of happiness, the home port he'd set his compass by. How would he ever bear the coming years without her?
Because he had no choice. "Welcome back, Chief. Happy to be home again?" He sighed. "Aye," he answered himself wearily, "thrilled to the core."
"You don't sound very convincing," an amused feminine voice said from the garden.
He spun to the sound, knocking himself off balance. The suitcase dropped from his hand as he struggled to stay on his one good leg. Suddenly she was beside him, grabbing his arm, holding him around the waist.
"Steady there. Sorry! I didn't mean to startle you." A peculiar tingle sifted through his body, emanating from the places where she touched him.
He stared down at her as his throat tightened. There'd been many women in the hospital who'd touched him. Doctors, nurses, those cute aides in red and white striped uniforms. Even hisâ€¦that is, Andre'sâ€¦lady friend Lisa Grosvenor had brushed his cheek with indifferent lips as she'd issued him his sailing orders shortly after he'd regained consciousness.
None of them had affected him. He'd barely even noticed their presence.
But the touch of this woman wasâ€¦different. Somehowâ€¦familiar. Her hand on his waist, even her scent, sweet like the roses surrounding them, with a touch of clove, made his whole being come to life and stand at attention. She reminded him so much of
All at once, goose bumps roared over his flesh and he lost his breath.
Startled blue eyes gazed up at him. "Do Iâ€¦?"
Her words trailed off as he reverently traced her face with his fingertips. "Mon Dieu. Can it really be you?"
Her features were not the ones he remembered, her hair a different color. But her scent, her eyes, her touchâ€¦a lover did not forget these things.
"Elizabeth?" he whispered again.
With a groan, he folded her in his arms. "Thank God, you're here! I was so afraid I'd lost you forever." He buried his nose in her hair, breathing deeply of her intoxicating scent. "Hold me," he softly said, "so I know you're real."
Hesitantly her arms came around him. The devastating burns on his back had healed for the most part, buthe cursed the scars that prevented him from feeling more than the weight of her tentative embrace. He leaned down and kissed the tender spot below her ear, a place she'd always delighted in.
Her body quivered. He rejoiced. It was her!
She gave a tiny gasp as he captured her lips with his. He kissed her, gently, savoringly, and she tasted like pure heaven. It had been so longâ€¦
Then her arms tightened around him and her mouth opened a fraction. He pulled her close, taking her invitation, kissing her long and deep.
When the kiss finally ended and their lips parted, she whispered, "Welcome back, Chief. Happy to be home again?"
"Aye," he answered with his first true smile since waking from the dead. "Thrilled to the core."
"Well, well, well," a different woman's voice suddenly said from behind him, sarcastic and accusing.
He turned. Lisa Grosvenor stood at the gate, tapping one toe and looking disgusted. "I must say, that didn't take you long. You were discharged, what" she disdainfully consulted her watch "all of a half hour ago? And already you've made your first conquest. Or" she lifted a brow "perhaps you're old friends?"
"Lisa," he said impassively. He hadn't liked the female the one time they'd met and he liked her even less now. Andre obviously had horrible taste in women.
"What do you want?"
Elizabeth disentangled herself from his embrace and backed away, her expression appalled. "You have a girlfriend?"Had.Apparently. But I have no memory of her, which is probably just as well since she broke it off while I was in the hospital. Didn't like being saddled with a cripple."
"Oh, honestly, Andre," Lisa said evenly. "You act as if it's my fault you're a philandering womanizer. I don't know why I ever thought I could change you. Moving in together was a huge mistake."
He glanced back at Elizabeth, who was still backing away from him. She'd nearly reached the steps of the boardinghouse's broad, wraparound porch.
"Elizabeth, chÃ¨re, wait. I can explain."
With a derisive snort, Lisa walked back to her car and pulled out a cardboard box. "I've brought some of the things I thought you might need. The rest of your belongings are in a storage unit.Address and key are in the box."
"Thanks," he said, but Lisa's attention was on Elizabeth.
"Do yourself a favor, sugar, and don't get involved with Andre Sullivan. He'll fill your heart with pretty fantasies but as soon as he gets what he wants he'll be gone, sure as the sun rises."
"You're the one who left me, Lisa," he reminded her. Merci, Dieu.
She gave a final withering glance at Elizabeth. "And not a moment too soon, I see."
With that she stalked to her car, slammed the door and took off.
Jaw clenched, he turned back to Elizabeth. She was on the porch now, eyes wide.
"You are Andre Sullivan?"
He blinked. "I'mâ€¦" Dieu. What should he answer?"You know who I am, Lizzie." Suddenly he had a terrible thought. "Don't you?"
Her tongue swiped across her lips. She looked stricken. "I, um. II'm sorry, Iâ€¦have to Oh, God."
She whirled and vanished into the house. He stood there for several seconds cursing inwardly. Cursing his absurd fate. Cursing Andre's evident reputation as a bounder. Cursing the impossibility of running after Elizabeth because of his shattered body.
But most of all cursing the obvious truth. She didn't recognize him.
His own woman didn't know who he was.