As an amnesia victim struggles to regain her memory, she must deal with the pressure of knowing her life is in danger. Dare she trust the offensive stranger who killed her attacker with his bare hands?
While strolling in a park, Madison Murphy survives a Doberman’s vicious attack. Rescued by an unlikely savior, her head injury, caused by a fall to the paved walkway, leaves her hospitalized and suffering from total memory loss.
With the help of a nurse named Annie, Maddie embarks on a course of discovery, wracking her brain for clues to her identity, seeking out her personality traits, and trying to rationalize the reason for the attack. She can’t understand the flashing scenes of the Arctic tundra, a courtroom hubbub, or the ones of Ontario’s Kingston Penitentiary.
When she learns a criminal is out to get her and had ordered the dog’s attack, she knows she must place her trust somewhere, but not at the hands of the tattooed stranger who had rescued her and continues to plague her. His presence at the beginning of the tribulation leads her to believe Cade McKinnon holds the key, though. His authoritarian attitude overwhelms her in her present state, so she turns to a retired detective anxious to help. Together they struggle to unravel the mystery as pieces of her memory kick into play.
Various memories point to Maddie’s career in the RCMP. She learns that as a police officer, her testimony had helped convict Cade and send him to prison, yet he had saved her from death. His reasons plague her.
As the criminal, Gerald Finnigan, draws both Maddie and Cade into his web, the two find they share more than their common interest of seeing his criminal activities cease. The refusal of their mutual attraction to die a quick death provides a stumbling block producing as much conflict as nailing Finnigan will.
For Cade, ensnaring Finn involves more than joining him in a yacht’s drug-laden cruise up the Rideau Canal. With Maddie in such danger, Cade must decide whether to use law-abiding tactics or mark the end of her turmoil with Finnigan’s death.
A series of stills flashes before Maddie’s eyes. The face of the beast bearing down on her is grotesque with its bared teeth and snarling fury. Free-flowing moisture drips from her hands’ protective shield onto her new T-shirt. Strange she should think of her recent purchase when her legs are crumpling beneath her.
Maddie shivered in fear and peered through slitted eyes. Surprised by her narrowed vision, she struggled to clear her senses and escape the mist blocking coherent thought. Frantic, she looked around, raising her hand to examine the item pinching her left index finger. The task proved beyond her capability. She glanced down to check the cause and noted to her dismay, both wrists were strapped to the steel side rails of a bed. Her hands swaddled in bandaging, only her left thumb and index finger remained free. Recognizing the pulse oximeter and its function to measure blood oxygen levels, she didn’t know why she lay helpless in some kind of medical facility. She trembled. Where am I?
Partially open white-and-green curtains hung from a curved overhead rod and circumscribed the area in which she lay. A cacophony of bleeps, buzzers, and moans drilled into her brain. Suddenly a flash of color shot into the draped opening. It stopped with startling agility, backed into full view and entered her room. “Oh, you’re awake. Good.”
Staring down at her stood a fantasy of multi-colored flowers, each bloom seeming to compete for space on the fabric of the scrubs. The long name on the woman’s identification pin wasn’t easy to read in such a hazy state, but Recovery Room Nurse and the name Annie were strong possibilities.
“You’re in the hospital in Kingston, Ontario, hon. Two days ago, you had an unfortunate mishap and needed surgery. You’ve been in and out of consciousness ever since. Do you remember the incident?”
Maddie tried to think, but thinking hurt. She shook her head with care. “Do you remember your name, hon?”
Tears came to Maddie’s eyes. “No.”
“We think it might be Maddie.”
“Maddie?” The gritty sound of her own voice surprised her.
“That’s the name engraved on the bracelet you wore.” The nurse retrieved a sealed envelope from her breast pocket. “This has been in the floor safe. Want me to open it for you?”
Annie removed the sterling silver jewelry from the packet and dangled an exquisite chain in front of Maddie’s eyes.
Maddie blinked several times, pleased to see her vision clear. The nurse let her examine the intricate scroll on the small bar, then flipped it over to the backside. The initials, C.M. meant nothing, either.
“Don’t you recognize this?” Annie asked.
“Since the bracelet must be yours, why don’t I fasten it on your wrist, the one that doesn’t carry our hospital identification tag?”
After the nurse closed the clasp to secure it, she touched the right wrist’s Velcro strap. “You’re restrained because we didn’t want you to thrash around and hurt yourself.”
An unbidden groan escaped Maddie’s lips. I’m a prisoner.
The image of a prison plowed into her thoughts--gray limestone walls guarded by a large central tower, four corner turrets, and a closed massive front gate. She rolled her eyes off to the side with caution. The mirage had disappeared when she looked back. “What incident?”
“The doctor will explain. Your throat might feel dry and scratchy from the tube inserted for surgery.”
My throat does feel irritated.
“I’ll rub ice chips across your mouth and slide one or two onto your tongue.” The offer flowed with the lyrical resonance of a fairy godmother.
Maddie inched upward the fog-saturated object that used to be her head. Dizzied by the movement, she lowered it back to the pillow. With the compassion of a Mother Teresa protegee, Annie stepped closer to cool and dampen Maddie’s lips. Desperate to rid her mouth of its furry sensation, she sucked on the chips and swallowed.
“The doctor will be in to see you soon.” Annie brushed a lock of hair back off Maddie’s forehead. “Ah, here’s Dr.Whitlow now. He’s the neurosurgeon who operated.”
A stethoscope dangled around the navy suit collar of the short stocky man entering Maddie’s room. “Hello, young lady. I see you’ve decided to join us.” He plucked a penlight from his vest pocket, snapped it on and peered into her eyes.
Doesn’t a white light appear just before one passes into eternity?
When the doctor exhaled, he filled the confined space with the pleasant scent of wintergreen. Maddie inhaled, preferring the doctor’s breath to the smell of disinfectant in the air. Annie handed him Maddie’s chart from its holder at the end of her bed. Dr. Whitlow scanned the report, and checked the heart monitor and blood pressure reading. “Hmm; 142 over 94 is a little high for blood pressure, but it’s understandable--you’re upset about your situation.”
His words reverberated against the walls of Maddie’s dulled mind. When he released the Velcro restraints, the restriction hampering her freedom vanished. “Thank--”She stopped speaking; speech not only hurt her throat, it slashed at her facial muscles.
A quiet scrape accompanied the doctor’s shift of a chrome chair to her bedside. She squirmed under his scrutiny, then focused back on him. The lines in his face testified to a lifetime of experience. In some shadowed recess of her mind, she believed his seniority would stand her in good stead.
“Let me explain what has happened, my dear. You were brought to Kingston General yesterday morning after an encounter with a vicious dog. A Doberman Pinscher, I believe.” The doctor’s eyes roamed her face. “The police haven’t been able to track down the dog’s owner to see if his shots were up to date. The lab is testing its brain for rabies. The paramedics said there was no froth around his mouth, so that’s promising.”
Aware facial expression would be painful, even awkward, she guarded against any show of emotion.
“More good news--we were able to treat the animal’s scratches to your face, leaving minimal chance of infection and no scarring stitches.”
This doctor is an optimist.
“The dog knocked you over and, when you fell, your head hit the pavement, causing a concussion.” The doctor’s eyes filled with compassion. His pause allowed her to process the information. He leaned closer, fixated on her face. She tipped her head to show her understanding and silently pleaded for him to continue. She needed his enlightenment, his specialized attention, his warmth.
Dr. Whitlow smiled and reached for her wrists again, holding them up where she could see her hands better. “Your palms and fingers needed sutures from the deep bites you received fighting off the animal. The antibiotics in your IV should prevent infection. At least you have grasping ability on your left hand.”
Maddie concentrated on the taped gauze packages in front of her. This padding would do a boxer proud, but I’m in no shape to get into a ring. Her nonsensical thought amused her. Did she have a sense of humor in her real life?
The doctor lifted his brow. She realized her mouth had curved into a slight smile at her own joke. Maybe he assumed she was still under the effects of anesthesia.
He continued, “The paramedics said if it hadn’t been for a bystander’s intrusion, you might not be alive. The man didn’t stay around to give his name.” Dr. Whitlow paused again, this time frowning. “I see panic in your eyes. Do you recall the attack?”
“No.” Her throat’s rasp startled her.
“Perhaps that’s for the best.”
The tears that threatened from the doctor’s first pronouncement now trickled from her eyes, hiding him behind the blur. She wanted to complain about the dull ache in her head, but she couldn’t find the strength or stability to trust herself not to break down to a mass of self-pity. Why was it so important she maintain decorum?
Perhaps, if she widened her eyes, he would catch on. Her eyelids hardly moved. It now registered: they were puffy and not responding to her command. The damn dog came close to scratching out my eyes.
Annie gently dabbed a tissue at the moisture itching Maddie’s cheeks.
“Do you know if you have any allergies?” Dr. Whitlow’s face didn’t betray concern.
Her mind blanked. “No clue.”
“Who could we contact?” he asked.
Maddie’s heart raced. “I have no idea.”
Dr. Winslow checked the heart monitor, then spoke slowly.“I realize you’re confused, and no doubt frightened, but we’ll take good care of you.”
The word frightened didn’t come close to the panic rocking her insides.
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