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As Jenna Byrd steered her truck toward the Flying B, she noticed a man walking along the private road that led to the ranch. Or stumbling was more like it. He didn't look familiar, but he didn't seem out of place, either. His dusty jeans, plain T-shirt and battered boots were typical small-town Texas attire. He was missing a hat, though. Had he lost it somewhere? His short dark hair was decidedly messy.
Jenna frowned. Clearly, he was snockered in the middle of the day. Cowboys could be a hell-raisin' breed. Of course she didn't dally with that kind. Although she was hoping to find a cowboy to call her own, she was attracted to well-behaved men, not rabble-rousers who could barely put one foot in front of the other. He was ambling toward her pickup instead of away from it.
Good grief. She couldn't just leave him out here. The Flying B was about five miles down the road, and in his condition, he would never make it. And why he was heading toward the ranch was beyond her.
She stopped her truck and sighed. She knew he wasn't a Flying B employee. She'd made a point of meeting everyone on the payroll. Jenna owned a portion of the ranch. She and her sister and their cousin had inherited equal shares of the Flying B, and they were going to turn it into a B and B.
She rolled down her window and said, "What are you doing out here?"
He looked at her as if he wasn't really seeing her. His deep brown eyes were glazed. He didn't respond.
She repeated the question.
He blinked at her. He was probably around her age, thirty or so, with tanned skin and striking features—handsome, even in his wasted state.
Curious, she tried to figure him out. Maybe he was a whiskey-toting hitchhiker. Or maybe he was affiliated with another ranch in the area and after he'd tied one on, he'd mistakenly taken the wrong road. There had to an explanation for his disorderly presence.
Hoping to solve the dilemma, she asked, "Who are you?"
"Who are you?" he parroted.
This was going nowhere. "You've had too much to drink."
He squinted. "I have?"
"I don't think so."
Easy for him to say. He was too drunk to know the difference. While she debated how to handle the situation, he staggered a little more.
"I feel funny," he said.
No kidding, she thought.
"I've got a headache." He rubbed the back of his head. When he brought his fingers forward, the tips were red.
Her pulse jumped. He was bleeding.
She parked and leaped out of her truck. Had he gotten into a brawl? Overly intoxicated men were prone to that sort of behavior. But whatever he'd done, it didn't matter. All that mattered was getting his wound treated.
"My cousin's fiance is a doctor. He lives at the ranch where I live, and I think he's home today. If he isn't, I'll take you to his office."
"No. That's okay." He wiped his hands on his pants. "I'm better now."
Obviously, he wasn't. She slipped her arm around him and realized that he didn't smell of alcohol. Most likely, he hadn't been drinking, which made his condition a bigger cause for concern. He was probably dazed because of the injury.
"Come on. Let's get you into the truck."
Shouldering his weight wasn't easy. He was about six feet, packed with lean muscle mass. At five-five, with a slight build, she was no match for him.
He lagged against her, and she held him tighter. Nonetheless, he kept insisting that he was fine, which clearly wasn't the case. He was definitely confused.
Once he was seated, she eased away from him and closed the door. She got behind the wheel and reached for her cell phone. She called Mike Sanchez or "Doc" as he'd become known in these parts. He was at the ranch. She asked him to meet her at the main house and told him that she was bringing an injured man with her.
"The back of his head is bleeding." She glanced at her passenger. He was staring out the window with those glazed eyes. She lowered her voice. "I don't know much about these things, but I think he has some sort of concussion. I found him wandering along Flying B Road."
"Don't worry, Jenna," Doc replied. "Just stay calm and get him here."
"I'm on my way." She ended the call, then started the engine and headed for her destination.
The cowboy turned to look at her. "Are we on a date?"
Yikes. Talk about befuddled. His condition was worse than she thought. "I'm taking you to see a doctor, remember?"
"Your hair is pretty." He reached out as if he meant to grasp a loose tendril of her wavy gold locks.
Jenna's heartbeat skittered. He didn't make contact, but she could almost imagine how his tortured touch would feel.
Almost. She focused on the road.
"Very pretty," he said.
She gripped the wheel, and to keep him from reaching for her hair again, she redirected his thoughts.
"What's your name?" she asked, rephrasing her original "Who are you?" question.
He furrowed his brows. It wasn't a trick question, but he didn't appear capable of a response. He didn't know his own name.
"It's okay," she said. "That's why I'm taking you to see a doctor." Besides, all they had to do was look at his ID to see who he was. Everyone carried identification with them. Still, not knowing something as simple as his name wasn't a good sign.
He leaned against the window, then closed his eyes. She hoped that he wasn't going to pass out. That wouldn't be a good sign, either.
She increased her speed, bumping along the road, her truck flanked by green pastures and grazing cattle.
Finally, as the main house came into view, she breathed a sigh of "thank You, God" relief.
The dashing young doctor was waiting for her on the wraparound porch. Tammy, her equally fetching cousin, was there, too. Jenna had only met Tammy recently, when all of the inheritance whoopla had begun. None of the heirs had grown up on the Flying B or visited when they were kids because their families had been estranged from each other. So, when they'd gotten called to their ailing grandpa's bedside, and when he'd died, they'd wept for a man they'd just begun to know.
She glanced at the cowboy beside her. Now wasn't the time to think about men she barely knew. Or death. Or anything bad.
Jenna stopped the truck, and Doc opened the passenger side and escorted the patient into the house.
Once Jenna exited the vehicle, Tammy approached her, and they went inside, too.
Doc didn't waste time. He was already examining the stranger, who sat on the edge of a sturdy leather sofa, looking as confused as ever.
Jenna stood back and frowned. "Do you recognize him?" she asked Tammy. "Do you know if he's from around here?"
"Me, either." But dang if he didn't make her tongue stick to the roof of her mouth. She couldn't get his tortured attempt to touch her out of her mind.
Just a few feet away, Doc was telling the patient that he was going to need a couple of stitches. In fact, Doc was preparing to patch him up. But the cut itself was incidental. What obviously concerned Doc were his other symptoms.
Apparently Jenna was right. Indeed, he had a concussion.
Thing was, his identity was still unknown. He wasn't carrying any form of identification; Doc checked his person.
"What do you think is going to happen?" Jenna whispered to Tammy. "I don't know."
Neither did Jenna. But it was clear from the examination that he had no recollection about himself or how he'd gotten hurt.
After his cut was sanitized and stitched, Doc made arrangements for him to be treated at the local hospital. He spoke gently to the patient, then explained the situation to Jenna.
"I'm going to order a CT scan," he said. "At this point, it's impossible to know the severity of his trauma."
"What's the worst-case scenario?" she asked, making sure the stranger was out of earshot. "Bleeding in the brain." She shivered.
Doc concluded, "But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's get a thorough diagnosis first."
"I want to go to the hospital with him." She was unable to bear the thought of abandoning him.
"That's fine. A police report will have to be filed, too, since we don't know who he is or what triggered the injury. He'll be admitted as a John Doe."
Jenna didn't like the impersonal sound of that. But she didn't like any of this. She preferred to have her ducks in a tidy yellow row, with carefully laid plans, no matter what aspect of her life it concerned. She'd even created a list of the type of qualities she wanted her future husband to have, a man who would be nothing like her father. She used to be disappointed in her dad, but these days she was downright ashamed of him. A humiliating skeleton in his closet had surfaced.
She glanced at the stranger. Did he have skeletons in his closet, too? Even if he did, it was none of her concern. She was going to see him through this injury and forget about him.
Doc and Tammy took him to the hospital, and Jenna followed them in her truck.
She sat in the waiting room while he underwent the CT scan. Was she going to be able to forget about him? Already she was feeling oddly attached, as if she was responsible for him somehow.
She glanced over at Tammy, who occupied the seat next to her. "Thanks for keeping me company."
"It shouldn't take long. Rather than wait for a written report, Mike is going to look at the scans himself, along with the radiologist, of course."
"It's nice having a doctor in the family."
Tammy quirked a smile. "Very nice." She stood up. "Do you want some coffee?"
"How do you take it?"
"Cream and sugar."
"Coming right up."
Jenna watched her cousin head for the vending machine. She was a petite brunette, thriving on newfound love. She and Jenna formed a bond when Jenna had helped her with a makeover that had caught the doctor's eye. Tammy was a tomboy turned hot tamale. She could still ride and rope with the best of 'em, but she also looked darn fine in feminine attire. The girl could cook up a storm, too. Soon the Flying B cook would be retiring and Tammy would be taking over as the down-home B and B chef.
Tammy returned with two cups and handed Jenna one. She took a sip. It tasted better than expected.
Jenna said about the stranger, "I can't help but wonder who he is. What his name is, what his family is like."
"Hopefully he'll remember soon."
"I just hope the scan comes out all right." She drank a bit more of her coffee. "He said some weird things when we were in the truck. He told me that he liked my hair, then he asked me if we were on a date."
"That must have been awkward."
"It was." She frowned. "What sort of treatment do they do if someone is bleeding in the brain?"
"I have no idea, but you shouldn't be dwelling on that."
"I know. But I'm the one who found him."
"Finders keepers, losers weepers?" Tammy put her cup beside a dog-eared magazine. "Did you ever say that when you were a kid?"
"All the time. But I hope that doesn't apply to this situation."
"Like someone is left behind weeping for him?"
Jenna nodded, and they both fell silent. But it seemed better not to talk. Other people had just entered the waiting room with somber looks on their faces, as if they were afraid that they might be left weeping for whoever they were there to see.
Time ticked by.
Then Tammy looked up and said, "There's Mike," as her fiance strode toward them.
Jenna got to her feet, with Tammy on her heels.
Doc said to them, "The results were normal, but we're going to keep him overnight for observation."
"Then what?" Jenna asked.
"Then we'll reevaluate his condition in the morning."
"Do you think his memory will return by then?"
"It's possible. Oftentimes these sorts of lapses only last a day or two. But it could continue for a while. It's hard to say."
"Can I see him?"
"Once we check him into a room, you can visit him."
By the time that happened, the stranger was asleep. Doc and Tammy went home, and Jenna sat in a stiff plastic chair beside his bed and watched him. She used the opportunity to study his features: dark eyebrows, a strong, sharp nose, cheekbones a male model would envy, medium-size lips with a bit of a downward slant. That made her curious about his smile. Was it bright? Crooked? Brooding? She noticed that he was harboring a five-o'clock shadow. The sexy scruff made him look even more like the cowboy she assumed he was.
The hospital gown, however, didn't; it robbed him of his edge.
He stirred in his sleep, and she frowned. Although he had a semiprivate room and the curtain was drawn, the TV of the older man next to him sounded in her ears. A game show was playing, a program that had been on the air since she was a kid. She'd never actually seen it, not all the way through. But she'd gotten used to hearing the noisy show in the background when her dad used to watch it, much like she was hearing it now.
Tuning out the sound, she studied the stranger again. Because she was tempted to skim his cheek and feel the warmth of his skin, she kept her hands on her lap. She even curled her fingers to keep them still. Being this close to him while he slept wasn't a good idea. She should go home, but she stayed for as long as the hospital would allow, already anxious to return the following day.
Posted April 11, 2013
Posted April 11, 2013
Posted April 10, 2013
Posted April 10, 2013