Forget Me Not
Click on image to enlarge.
by Diana Bold
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Josh Morgan is an outlaw on the run. When Susannah Barrett finds him, he's been shot and has forgotten everything - even his own name. When he wakes to find Susannah in labor pains, he assumes she's his wife. Susannah chooses to let the handsome stranger believe he's her baby's father. His tender passionate nature is unlike anything she's ever known before. Soon she is head over heels in love with him, but she knows her lies will eventually catch up to her. When Josh regains his memory, he must choose between his past and the future he's built with Susannah.
eBook Publisher: Cobblestone Press, 2011
eBookwise Release Date: January 2012
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [76 KB]
Reading time: 46-64 min.
If not for the snow storm, he might have made it.
Until those first damning snowflakes fell, Josh Morgan had been well on his way to escaping with the fifty thousand dollars he'd stolen from the bloodthirsty outlaw who'd raised him. He'd meant to hide out in the foothills for a few days, then head south once the dust settled.
But snow meant tracks, and tracks meant that either the gang he'd double-crossed or the sharp-eyed lawmen determined to bring him to justice would soon be hot on his heels. He spurred the horse beneath him, trying to focus on the certain pleasure on Carrie's beloved face when he arrived in the New Mexico Territory and told her they were going back East. With this money, he'd finally be able to give her the life he'd always promised. He had no intention of letting this chance slip away.
Unfortunately, the sound of hoof beats, creaking leather and snatches of conversation filtered through the trees on the chill wind. Though he couldn't see who was closing in on him, he had a bad feeling it was Clyde and his gang. He'd rather it be the marshals. He didn't relish the thought of prison, but iron bars were far preferable to the fate Clyde no doubt had in store for him.
The price of his betrayal would be steep. He'd pay with his life.
Grimly, he scanned the surrounding area for some sort of landmark as he grabbed a handful of cash out of the leather satchel that held his loot. He'd take just enough to get him through the next few days and hide the rest. If he managed to elude his pursuers, he'd come back. If he didn't, at least he'd die with the satisfaction of knowing Clyde would never get his hands on their ill-gotten gains.
* * * *
Susannah Barrett found the stranger face down in her back pasture, a pool of frozen blood crusting the snow at his temple. She stared down at him, torn between sadness for what he'd suffered and fear for what his presence on her land meant for her quiet, solitary life. Cradling her shotgun beneath one arm, she awkwardly lowered her pregnant bulk from the back of her horse, casting nervous glances toward the line of trees on the ridge.
A hail of gunfire had woken her in the middle of the night, and she'd spent the hours until dawn huddled in a terrified heap against the wall of her cabin, fully expecting outlaws to burst through the door. When morning came without incident, she'd gathered her courage and forced herself to investigate, afraid someone had poached one of her handful of cattle.
Instead, she'd discovered this poor dead man.
Trembling, she sank to her knees in the snow beside the victim of last night's violence, wondering what had happened and how he'd gotten here. She lived nearly twenty miles from the nearest town.
Given her advanced pregnancy, she didn't know how she'd find the strength to bury him in the frozen ground, but if she left the corpse out in the open, it was bound to draw predators. Biting her lip, she set her gun aside and started going through his pockets, hoping to find some clue to his identity.
As she pulled out a thick wad of greenbacks, he uttered a soft, pain-filled moan. Gasping, she shoved the money back in his pocket and scrambled away, her heart thundering in her chest.
Once she'd regained her composure, she crept forward, pressing her icy fingertips against his throat until she felt the slow, steady pulse of life. A bullet had grazed his temple, yet somehow he'd survived both the wound and a night spent out in the freezing cold.
Gripping his shoulder, she pushed with all her might and rolled him onto his back. He moaned again, but then opened his eyes and blinked up at her, his green eyes glassy with pain.
"What happened?" he asked, in a raw, shredded voice.
"I don't know." She swept her gaze over his long, lean body, trying to see if he'd suffered any other injuries. The handsome blond stranger wore a pair of pearl-handled pistols around his waist, and he was young, probably not much older than her own twenty-three years. To her relief, he didn't appear to be wounded anywhere else.
"My head hurts." He lifted one hand to his temple, then winced and closed his eyes, swallowing convulsively. Despite the cold, his forehead was beaded with sweat. "I think I'm going to be sick."
"Can you walk?" she asked softly.
"Maybe." He took a few deep, steadying breaths, then planted his hands on the ground and pushed himself to a sitting position. With a groan, he clasped his head in his hands and rocked back and forth, muttering obscenities under his breath.
She got to her feet, staring down at him in dismay. If he couldn't make it back to the cabin under his own steam, she didn't know how she was going to get him there. For the hundredth time, she silently cursed her husband, Caleb, for getting her pregnant and then abandoning her to fend for herself in this hostile place. He'd left when he found out she was with child, then gotten himself killed a few months later.
"Give me a minute," he rasped. "I can do it."
As she waited for him to marshal his strength, apprehension built within her. Why had she offered to help him? Though injured, he was obviously a dangerous man. With only a week or two to go before she gave birth, she wasn't in any position to protect herself.
The stranger suddenly heaved to his feet, startling her. She stumbled back a few steps, only to rush forward again when he began to sway. Wrapping an arm around his waist, she let him lean against her as he struggled once more to catch his breath.
"Are you all right?" Digging in her heels, she fought to keep them both standing.
"Yeah. I'm just dizzy...confused." He stepped away and grabbed the horse's saddle horn, taking his weight off of her. "My head hurts so bad I can't think. I can't...remember."
"The house is only a few hundred yards away," she assured him. "You can ride, if you like. I'll walk."
His gaze fell to her rounded belly, and he shook his head. "You shouldn't be walking."
She gave him a wan smile, surprised by his chivalry. "I'll be fine. You need to ride far more than I do."
She sensed he wanted to argue more, but obviously realized he wouldn't make it very far on foot. She helped him mount, then led the horse back up the hill.
Twenty minutes later, the two of them stumbled through the front door of Susannah's ramshackle cabin, breathing heavily with exertion and chilled to the bone. The fire had gone out, so it wasn't much warmer in the house than it was outside.
"I'll make a fire," she told him. "There are some blankets on the bed."
As she lit a pile of kindling, she heard him moving around behind her. The thud of his boots hitting the floor sent a shiver that had nothing to do with the cold up her spine. Such an intimate sound. After seven months of solitude, she didn't know how to react to the thought of a handsome man getting undressed just a few feet away.
She cast a quick glance over her shoulder and found him sitting on the edge of her bed, once again cradling his head in his hands. He'd only removed his boots, and she felt ridiculous for her fears. Someone had shot him in the head. He posed no threat to her. At least, not today.
Once she got a good fire going, she placed a kettle of water on so she could brew some willow bark tea for his pain and cleanse his wound. As she pushed herself back to her feet, a sharp twinge in her lower back made her pause and brace her hand against the wall.
The baby. Terror streaked through her. Not now, she prayed. She wasn't ready. Then again, she doubted she'd ever be ready for what lay ahead. She had no idea how she would get through childbirth, alone, and mostly ignorant of the process.
Her gaze locked upon the man on the bed, and a bit of her fear abated. She wasn't alone. Not anymore. Fate had delivered her some much needed company. In a day or two, he'd probably be well enough to leave, but perhaps she could persuade him to stay until she went into labor. Then he could go for the doctor to help her through the birth.
Ever since Caleb abandoned her, she'd been sick with worry over the matter. She didn't have the money to take a room in town until her time came, and she couldn't make the trip once her pains started.
Several minutes passed with no further twinges, and she drew in a huge sigh of relief. She needed her strength to care for the wounded stranger. Especially if she wanted him to return the favor.
She poured some lukewarm water out of the kettle into a bowl, and then gathered a few clean rags and a pot of salve from the sideboard. The man glanced up as she approached, his eyes still glazed with agony.
"Something's wrong," he told her, an edge of panic in his voice. "I don't know what happened to me. I can't remember anything."
"You have a nasty gash on your temple," she explained, setting her supplies on the nightstand. "I think someone shot you, but the bullet just grazed the side of your head. You were lucky."
"I don't feel lucky." He tried to laugh, but the sound trailed off into another moan.
She pulled back the covers, patting the lumpy featherbed. "Here, lie down. Let me take a look at that wound."
He slowly lowered himself to a prone position, and she pulled the heavy quilts up to his chin. Wetting one of the rags in the warm water, she carefully cleaned the ugly gash, wiping away as much of the blood as she could. He winced when she dabbed on the salve, but didn't pull away. When she was done, only a shallow, inch-long furrow remained.
"You have the hands of an angel," he murmured.
She smoothed her fingertips through his silky, wheat-colored hair one last time, then reluctantly drew her hand away. She'd nearly forgotten how nice it was to touch someone, to feel needed, if only for a moment.
He caught her wrist, holding her by his side. "I don't remember you," he whispered. "I don't remember anything before I woke to find you sitting next to me."
"It's all right." She squeezed his hand in an attempt to give comfort. "I'm sure everything will come back to you after you rest."
"You don't understand," he told her urgently, gripping her hand so tight it began to hurt. "I don't remember anything. Not even my own name."
She blinked. She'd read about someone who'd lost their memory once, but hadn't thought such things happened in real life. "You were unconscious for a long time, and that was one heck of a blow you took to your head. I'll make you some willow bark tea for the pain, and then you need to rest. I'm sure you'll feel better in the morning."
"Will I?" He released her hand and closed his eyes. "I hope so."
Turning away, she went back to the fire, pleased to see the kettle was hot. As she waited for the tea to steep, her gaze swept her nearly empty sideboard. She didn't have enough supplies to see her through the next month, let alone the whole winter. Caleb had taken every cent they had with him, and she'd already begged a line of credit at the general store, which she had no way of paying.
She thought longingly of the wad of money in the stranger's pocket. Though she hadn't had time to count the greenbacks, she knew there were enough to make all the difference. Enough to see her and her child safely back east. Enough to live on until she found some way to support herself.
With a sigh, she brought her guest his tea. He was half-asleep already, but she urged him to sit and drain the cup. Perhaps if he wasn't in so much pain, he would remember who he was and what happened to him.
"What's your name, darlin'?" he asked as she set the cup aside.
"Susannah," she answered, giving him a weak smile. "Now, get some sleep."