As soon as she awoke, she knew something wasn’t right. Her head was pounding with a ferocious headache. She felt groggy and had a hard time focusing. It usually only got this bad when she had gone several days without sleep. She couldn’t remember. Had she done it again? Without opening her eyes, she attempted to lift her hand to rub at the pain slashing through her forehead. Panic swelled when her fingers wouldn’t even twitch. Slowly, she tested each of her limbs but that proved to have the same affect. Nothing.
Wracking her brain, the last thing she could remember was walking out of the mall with Lindsey and a few new friends. They had been having such an awesome day. They had been shopping for Renee’s wedding and Lindsey’s birthday party. She recalled getting to the van and putting their packages in. Everything else was a blank slate. Why couldn’t she remember?
‘Don’t panic, Sara. Figure out what happened first. You can panic later.’
The pep talk brought up a memory of her father laughing at her, saying how if she wasn’t careful someone would hear her talking to herself and commit her to an institution. The straight jacket was always implied. She calmed a little as the memory washed through her.
Shoring up her courage, Sara tried opening her eyes. Nothing happened. Her eyelids felt as heavy as her arms had. Taking a silent, steadying breath, she tried again, putting more energy into the effort. Slowly but surely, her lids lifted, and the room gradually came into focus.
What she found was a darkened room that she didn’t recognize. There was a lamp on the bedside table that gave off just enough light for her to take in the room. It wasn’t a hospital room. There was no hospital smell to start with. From the décor that she could see without turning her head, it looked more like a hotel room but homier. Guest room maybe? The pictures on the wall consisted of wildflowers. Blankets were neatly folded on the loveseat across the small room, along with a pillow. A tray sitting on the bedside table held a pitcher, a cup of melting ice chips, a soda can, and crackers.
Looking down at herself as best as she could, she noted the handmade quilt draped over her. An IV tube protruded from her right hand that was laying to rest on her stomach. Glancing at her other hand, she started. There was a large, tanned hand wrapped around hers. It was a strong, masculine hand with thick veins standing out. The warmth from his clasp enveloped her from wrist to fingertip. She couldn’t move anything but at least she could still feel. It was a tiny comfort.
Following the arm, her gaze snaked up until it rested on the man’s face.
It was a face that she could not remember having ever seen. The man was slumped in the chair that was right next to the bed. From what she could make out, she was sure that when he stood, he would be tall and lean around the waist. He seemed muscular but not overly so. His chin rested on his chest and he seemed to be sleeping. Longish blonde hair blocked some of his features but there seemed to be a roughness on his jaw and cheeks that indicated that he hadn’t shaved in a few days.
Sara tried to think but for the life of her she could not come up with any answers to her many, many questions. What happened to her? Why couldn’t she move? Why couldn’t she remember anything? And why was there a strange man sitting by her bed, holding her hand? What plagued her the most was that she wasn’t afraid of this stranger. She was getting more of a comforting, safe vibe from him. By all accounts she should be in full panic mode, screaming at the top of her lungs.
He shifted in his chair and slowly raised his head. Scrubbing his free hand over his face, he rolled his neck to try and work out the kinks. He froze when he saw her looking at him.
“Sara?” He eased closer slowly so he wouldn’t frighten her. Brushing her bangs from her face, he tightened his grip on her hand. “How are you feeling? You gave us quite a scare.”
That puzzled her. She didn’t know where she was, who he was, or what had happened. She had scared them? Who was them? What had she done to scare them? He was talking as though he knew her, quite well judging from the way he was holding her hand and caressing her hair. She couldn’t remember him. Why? Did she have amnesia or something? It took a huge effort, but Sara finally got her mouth open to start firing off questions. Her mouth was so dry that no sound came out. Just a soft croak.
Understanding, the man took an ice chip from the cup and ran it over her lips until it melted. Once it was gone, he poured a small amount of water into the cup. Putting a straw that she hadn’t seen into it, he helped her take a sip.
“Better?” he asked gently.
“Yes,” she croaked out. “Thank you.”
“How are you feeling?” he repeated the question. Both of his hands now held her left one.
“I’m sorry. Do I know you?” She was a little uncomfortable with how familiar he was being with her. “And to answer your question, I can’t move anything. What happened? Where am I?”
“Don’t apologize. You have nothing to be sorry for. My name is Jackson Moore. I’m one of Tony and Lindsey’s friends. What do you remember?” he asked softly.
At the mention of Lindsey Sara relaxed slightly. If he was one of Lindsey’s new friends, then she was sure that she could trust him. Lindsey didn’t become friends with just anyone. The girl had some serious trust issues.
“I remember being at the mall. Lindsey was on her first real shopping trip. Renee? She was wedding shopping. It was so much fun.” Her smile at remembering slowly faded. “I remember leaving the mall. We were laughing and trying to decide what restaurant to go to.” It felt like jack hammers were taking up residence in her head suddenly. Try as she might, she couldn’t remember anything after that. “Then, nothing.”
She sent him a perplexed look. Sara detested not knowing what was going on. She desperately wanted to move and was beginning to feel trapped because she couldn’t. Her breathing was beginning to become more erratic as the panic and desperation set in.
“Easy, Sugar.” Jackson’s hands started rubbing some warmth into her suddenly cold fingers. “I can explain everything that happened,” he said soothingly. Well, not everything. He would need to discuss with Tony what he could and couldn’t reveal but he could give her the most pertinent information. “Do you want the short version or the long version?”
Sara blew out a frustrated breath. No matter how much she was aching for every detail, she still felt really tired.
“Short, please. I don’t think my head can handle the long version right now.”
He nodded reassuringly. He completely understood. “Okay. Short it is. I assume you already know Larry?” He smiled when her face scrunched up in disapproval. “Well, he got together with Melody, a girl that Tony and all of us grew up with. They hatched this crazy plan. Melody shot all of you girls with an experimental tranquilizer dart that she had stolen. Once all of you were knocked out…” He paused as she interrupted.
“Tranquilizer dart? Like what gets used on animals?” Her mind was racing.
“Yes. She stole it from a medical clinic earlier that day. Once you were all down, Larry kidnapped all of you and tried to hide out in the hotel where he works until Melody contacted him.” Jackson stopped to make sure she was still following.
“Sleaze bag,” Sara muttered.
Trying to hide his amusement, Jackson continued. The next would be harder to tell. “Luckily, Lindsey woke up and was able to contact Tony somehow to let him know where Larry was keeping you. Unfortunately, as Larry became more unstable, Lindsey talked him into leaving the four of you behind and just taking her.” He continued to rub her fingers between his palms.
“That’s our Lindsey.” Sara was absolutely sure that if Lindsey thought she could protect someone she would, and nothing could or would stop her. Due to the way she was raised, her first instinct was to protect all of those around her. No matter the cost to herself.
“We were able to get to you at the hotel and brought you here. We’ve been trying to flush the drug from your system for two days.” He pointed to the IV attached to her other hand.
“Two days?” she said faintly. “Where is here? Where’s Lindsey? Did you find her? Why isn’t she here? You shouldn’t be here with me. You should be out looking for her!” An even worse thought occurred to her. “Please tell me she isn’t dead?” She was practically begging him. Sara knew without a doubt that if it were at all possible Lindsey would have been here so something must have gone wrong. Horribly, terrifyingly wrong.
Jackson quickly left his chair and knelt down beside the bed.
“It’s okay, Sugar. Calm down. We found her. I’m not going to lie to you. We almost lost her. The van crashed and Melody attacked her.” He looked desperate as Sara’s eyes started to well up with tears. He brushed them away for her since she wasn’t able to do it herself. “She’s safe now. Tony has her at home and she’s healing.”
Sara took a shaky breath trying to calm down enough to ask. “How bad was it this time?” she choked out.
Knowing he was causing her pain, his voice wavered with emotion as he filled her in. Jackson refused to lie to her. It would be so much worse if he didn’t tell her. From what Lindsey had told him, she would just worry. “Broken leg, cracked jawbone, deep scraps along her chest and throat, concussion and other bumps and bruises from the wreck.”
Watching Sara’s eyes close with the tears that refused to stop flowing, Jackson couldn’t hold back any longer. He crawled up onto the bed next to her and wrapped her in his arms. He wasn’t sure what was driving him more, his need to give her the comfort she so obviously needed or his need to hold her to him and make sure she was safe. He finally decided it was probably both. If she wasn’t human, he would have said that this felt like a mate bond. Even though Tony’s mate had been human, that was a once in a lifetime deal. Right?
He muttered soothing words to her until she calmed again. Brushing more tears away, he smiled warmly. “She’s okay. Lindsey’s healing. She’s strong. She’ll pull through this. I spoke with Tony just a little while ago. She is driving him crazy, arguing about staying in bed when she really wants to get up and have everyone stop treating her like a baby.” He was relieved when that brought a choked laugh from her. “She sent word that as soon as the was able, she would come visit you. She said, and I quote, ‘As soon as the neanderthal stopped beating his chest, I’ll be there.’”
Sara tried nodding before remembering that she couldn’t move. She felt so bad for Lindsey. She had been through so much already.
“So, how long until I can move again? You never told me where I am.”
Jackson gave her another squeeze before backing away and sitting in the chair again. “You should be able to move in a few hours. Lindsey wanted you protected so we have you at the clinic inside the subdivision and a personal guard to make sure there are no more surprises.”
Shock registered on her expressive features. “Personal guard?” Was that really necessary? If they had taken care of the issue with Larry and this Melody person, did she really need a bodyguard? She glanced around the room, not seeing anyone but him. Clearly, she didn’t understand. “Is he outside the door or something?”
Jackson took a deep breath and blew it out, not sure what her reaction would be. “It’s me. I’m your guard.”