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Even before Emelia opened her eyes she knew she was in hospital. At the blurred edges of her consciousness she vaguely registered the sound of shoes squeaking on polished linoleum and the swish of curtains and voices, both male and female, speaking in low hushed tones.
She half-opened her eyes. The light was bright, making her pupils shrink painfully. She squeezed her eyes shut and, after a moment or two, blinked again and, narrowing her still flinching gaze, looked at the nurse who was standing at the end of the bed with a chart in her hands.
'W-what happened?' Emelia asked, trying to lift herself upright in the bed. 'What am I doing here? What's going on?'
The nurse clipped the folder on the end of the bed before coming to lay a gentle hand on Emelia's shoulder to ease her back down. 'Mrs Mélendez, please don't upset yourself. You're in hospital. You had a car accident a week ago. You've been in a coma.'
Emelia felt her heart give a jerky beat in her chest like a kick. She frowned and then wished she hadn't as it made her head ache unbearably. She put a hand up to her forehead, her fingers encountering a thickly wadded bandage positioned there.
Hospital? Accident? Coma?
The words were foreign to her, but the most foreign of all was how the nurse had addressed her. 'W-what did you call me?' she asked, staring at the nurse with her heart still thudding out of time.
The nurse glanced over her shoulder as if looking for backup. 'Erm…I think I'd better get the doctor to explain,' she said and quickly bustled away.
Emelia felt as if she were trying to find her way through a thick fog while blindfolded. Accident? What accident? She looked down at her sheet and hospital blanket-covered body. Although she ached all over, she seemed to be in all one piece. No plaster casts were on any of her limbs so she obviously hadn't broken any bones. The worst pain was from her head, although she felt horrendously nauseous, but she assumed that was from the pain medication she had been given. She could see the drip leading from a vein in the back of her left hand where it was lying on the top of the bed. She quickly looked away as her stomach gave a rolling turn.
What had the nurse called her again… Mrs Mel… something or other? Her heart gave another little stutter. Married? Of course she wasn't married! There must be some mistake, a mix-up in the paperwork or something. They'd obviously got her name wrong. Her name was Emelia Louise Shelverton. She had moved abroad from Australia a couple of months ago. She lived in London, in Notting Hill. She worked part-time as a singer in The Silver Room at one of the top hotels a couple of blocks from Mayfair while she looked for a more permanent position as a music teacher.
Married? What a laugh. She wasn't even dating anyone.
'Ah, so you are finally awake.' A man who was clearly one of the senior doctors swished the curtains around Emelia's bed closed. 'That is very good news indeed. We've been quite worried about you, young lady.'
Emelia glanced at his name tag through eyes that were still slightly blurry. 'Dr…um…Pratchett? What am I doing in hospital? I don't know what's going on. I think there's been some sort of mistake. The nurse called me Mrs something or other but I'm not married.'
The doctor gave her a formal trust-me-I'm-a-doctor smile. 'You have suffered a head injury, Emelia,' he said. 'This has obviously caused you to have some memory loss. We don't know how extensive it is until we conduct further tests. I will have the staff psychologist assess you presently. We may also need to rescan you under MRI.'
Emelia put her hand to her head again, her brows coming together in a tight frown. 'I… I have amnesia?'
The doctor nodded. 'It seems so. Do you know what day it is?'
Emelia thought for a moment but knew she was only guessing when she offered, 'Friday?'
'It is Monday,' Dr Pratchett said. 'September tenth.'
Emelia drew in an uneven breath. 'What year is it?' she asked in a frightened whisper.
The doctor told her and she blinked at him in horror. 'That can't be right,' she said. 'I can't have forgotten two years of my life. That's ridiculous!'
Dr Pratchett placed his hand over hers where it was lying on the bed clutching the sheet in her fingers. 'Try to keep calm, Emelia,' he said soothingly. 'This is, of course, a very frightening and confusing time for you. You have been in a coma for several days so things will seem a little strange at first. But in time you may well remember everything. It just takes a little time. You need to take things very slowly at first. Baby steps, my dear. Baby steps.'
Emelia pulled her hand out from beneath the doctor's, holding it up like an exhibit at an investigation. 'Look,' she said, pushing her chin up. 'No rings. I told you—there's been some sort of mix-up. I'm not married.'
'You are very definitely Mrs Emelia Louise Mélendez,' the doctor assured her with authority. 'That is the name the police found on your driver's licence. Your husband is waiting outside to see you. He flew over from Spain as soon as he was informed of your accident. He has positively identified you as his wife. He has barely left your bedside the whole time you have been unconscious. He just stepped out a moment ago to take a phone call.'
Emelia's mouth fell open so wide she felt her chin drop almost to her chest. She felt her heart boom like a cannon exploding in her chest.
Her Spanish husband?
She didn't even know his Christian name. How could it be possible for her to forget something as important as that? Where had they met? When had they got married? Had they? How many times…?
Her stomach gave a funny little quiver… It wasn't possible…was it ? How could she have lived with and loved a man and not remember him? Her skin broke out in a sweat, her palms hot and moist with uncertainty and fear. Was she dreaming? Surely she must be dreaming.
Think. Think. Think.
What was the last thing she had been doing? She scrunched her eyes closed and forced herself to concentrate but her head pounded sickeningly as she tried to recall the last few days. It was all a blur, a foggy indistinct blur that made little, if any, sense.
When Emelia opened her eyes the doctor had already moved through a gap in the curtains and a short time later they twitched aside again, the rattle of the rings holding the curtain on the rail sounding too loud inside her head.
She felt her breath stall in her throat.
A tall raven-haired stranger with coal-black deep set eyes stood at the end of the bed. There was nothing that was even vaguely familiar about him. She studied his face for endless seconds, her bruised brain struggling to place him. She didn't recognise any one of his dark, classically handsome features. Not his tanned, intelligent-looking forehead or his dark thick brows over amazingly bottomless eyes or that not short, not long raven-black hair that looked as if it had last been groomed with his fingers. She didn't recognise that prominent blade of a nose, and neither did she recognise that heavily shadowed jaw that looked as if it had an uncompromising set to it, and nor that mouth… Her belly gave another involuntary movement, like a mouse trying to scuttle over a highly polished floor. His mouth was sculptured; the top lip would have been described as slightly cruel if it hadn't been for the sensual fullness of his lower one. That was a mouth that knew how to kiss and to kiss to conquer, she thought, as her belly gave another little jiggle. She sent the tip of her tongue out to the sand dune of her lips. Had she been conquered by that mouth? If so, why couldn't she remember it?
Emelia felt her spine prickle at the way he said her name. His Spanish accent gave the four syllables an exotic allure, making every part of her acutely aware of him, even if she didn't know who the hell he was.
'Um… Hi…' What else was she supposed to say? Hello, darling, how nice to see you again?
She cleared her throat, her fingers beginning to pluck at the hem of the sheet pulled across her middle. 'Sorry… I'm a little confused right now…'
'It's quite all right.' He came to the side of her bed in a couple of strides, his tall presence all the more looming as he stood within touching distance, looking down at her with those inscrutable black eyes.
Emelia caught a whiff of his aftershave. It wasn't strong, but then he looked as if he hadn't shaved for a couple of days. There was a masculine urgency about the black stubble peppering his jaw, making her think of the potent male hormones surging through his body. She shakily breathed in another waft of his aftershave. The light fragrance had citrus undertones that smelt vaguely familiar. Her forehead creased as she tried to concentrate… Lemons…sun-warmed lemons…a hint of lime or was it lemon grass?
'The doctor said I can take you home as soon as you are well enough to travel,' the man said.
Emelia felt the skin on her back tingle all over again at the sound of his voice. It had such a sexy timbre, deep and low and unmistakably sensual. She could imagine him speaking in his native tongue; the musical cadences of Spanish had always delighted her. But there was something about his demeanour that alerted her to an undercurrent of tension. There was something about the unreachable depths of his eyes. There was something about the way he hadn't yet touched her. Not that she wanted him to… or did she?
She glanced at his long fingered tanned hands. They were hanging loosely by his sides—or was that a tight clench of his fingers he had just surreptitiously released?
Her eyes slowly moved up to meet his. Her chest tightened and her breathing halted. Was that anger she could see in that tiny flicker of a nerve pulsing by the side of his mouth?
No, of course it couldn't be anger. He was upset, that was what it was. He was obviously shocked to see her like this. What husband wouldn't be, especially if his own wife didn't even know who he was?
She moistened her lips again, trying to find a way out of the confusing labyrinthine maze of her mind. 'I'm sorry…you must think I'm terrible…but I don't even know…I mean…I…I…I don't remember your name…'
His top lip lifted in a movement that should have been a wry smile but somehow Emelia suspected it wasn't. 'I do not think you are terrible, Emelia,' he said. 'You have amnesia, s ? There is much you do not remember, but in time hopefully it will all come back to you. The doctor seems to think your memory loss will not be permanent.'
Emelia swallowed. What if it was? She had read a story a couple of years ago about a young woman who had lost her memory after a horrific attack. Her whole life had changed as a result. She hadn't even recognised her parents. Her brother and two sisters were total strangers to her.
'Perhaps I should introduce myself,' the man said, breaking through her tortured reverie. 'My name is Javier Mélendez. I am your husband. We have been married for almost two years.'
Emelia felt the cacophonous boom of her heart again. It felt as if her chest wall was going to blow open with the sheer force of it. She struggled to contain her composure, her fingers now clutching at the sheet of the bed either side of her body as if to anchor herself. 'M-married?' she choked. 'Truly? This is not a joke or something? We are legally married?'
He gave a single nod. 'It is our anniversary at the end of next month.'
Emelia had no hope of disguising her shock. She opened and closed her mouth, trying to get her voice to work. Her brain was flying off in all directions, confused, frightened, lost. How could this be? How could this man be her husband? How could her mind let her down in such a way? How could she forget her own wedding day? What cruel stroke of fate had erased it from her memory? She let out a breath that rattled through her lungs. 'Um…where did we meet?' she asked.
'We met at The Silver Room in London,' he said. 'You were playing one of my favourite songs as I walked in.'
Emelia ran her tongue over her lips again as part of the fog cleared in her head. 'I… I remember The Silver Room…' She put her hand to her aching eyes. 'I can picture it. The chandeliers…the piano…'
'Do you remember your employer?' Javier asked.
Emelia looked up at him again but his eyes were like glittering diamonds: hard and impenetrable.
'Peter Marshall…' she said after a moment, her spirits instantly lifting as the memories flooded back. At least she hadn't lost too much of her past, she thought in cautious relief. 'He manages the hotel. He's from Australia like me. I've known him since childhood. We went to neighbouring private schools. He gave me the job in the piano bar. He's been helping me find work as a private music teacher…'
Something flickered in his gaze, a quick lightning flash of something she couldn't quite identify. 'Do you remember why you came to London in the first place?' he asked in a voice that was toneless, showing no hint of emotion.
Emelia looked down at her hands for a moment. 'Yes…yes I do…' she said, returning her gaze to his. 'My father and I had a falling out. A big one. We have a rather difficult relationship, or at least we have had since my mother died. He married within a couple of months of her death. His new wife… the latest one? We didn't get on. Actually, I haven't got on with any of his wives. There have been four so far…' She lowered her gaze and sighed. 'It's complicated…'
'Yes,' he said. 'It always is.'
She brought her gaze back to his, searching his features for a moment. 'I guess if we're married I must have told you about it many times. How stubborn my father is.'
'Yes, you have,' he said, 'many times.'
Emelia pressed her fingers to the corners of her eyes, her frown still tight. 'Why can't I remember you?' she asked. 'I should be able to remember you.' I need to be able to remember you, otherwise I will be living with a total stranger, she thought in rising alarm.