Author: Joan Carney
Publication date: November 7th 2016
Genres: Adult, Romance
For most people, Christmas is a time of joy and anticipation. But when a freak accident robs Gracie of her memory, the lines between fantasy and reality blur.
Now there’s only one gift Gracie wants for Christmas, and the only man who can bring it is not Santa.
Now there’s only one gift Gracie wants for Christmas, and the only man who can bring it is not Santa.
“Medic 36 enroute St Joe’s with unconscious female approximately thirty years old, status post drowning. Two rounds of CPR given with restored pulse of forty-five and irregular ETA to your facility is less than five.”
The nearby bleating of sirens brought me to a vague awareness of my surroundings. I lay stretched out on a board, my arms, legs, even my head restrained and immovable. The rumble and whine of the engine told me I was moving... fast. What’s happened? Why am I restrained? Am I being kidnapped?
I’d read stories of women ripped off the street, forced into slavery. Oh my God, I have to get out of here. Panic crept up my spine and spread like wildfire throughout my body. My fingers itched to claw at the heavy mask covering my nose and mouth forcing air into my lungs. I had to get it off my face. It was smothering me. Somebody help me... please. But even my meager efforts to struggle against the restraints exhausted me and stole what little breath I had.
“Shhh, lie still.” A man’s soothing voice came through the fog and a hand rested on my shoulder. “You’re going to be okay now, Miss. We’ll be at the hospital in just a minute.” He reached to adjust the bag of fluids hanging over me and the site where the tube ran into my arm giving me a clearer view of his uniform. I’m in an ambulance. Why? Am I injured? Am I sick?
I fought the light headedness that made my eyes roll loose in my head like marbles. Disjointed thoughts and images swirled in my mind: a sea of grotesque staring faces, a pair of
tender blue eyes, the rhythm of a heartbeat. The surreal feeling of detachment from my limbs made my head seem to float like a buoy. Jack, help me... Please.
Minutes later we slowed to a stop. The sound of the sirens wound down, and the rumble of the engine ceased. The ambulance doors swung open and a blast of frigid air shocked me to semi-consciousness. My bed snapped into position, wheels on the ground. Faces swam above me, their sudden flurry of incomprehensible words assaulting my ears and making my chest squeeze tighter.
Again I was moving, being whisked past the hiss of sliding doors. Fluorescent lights rushed by overhead as we sped down a long hallway, the shoes of my litter bearers squeaking on the tile floor. Staccato voices came at me from all sides, the sounds blending together, compounding my confusion.
One man, louder than the others shouted orders. “Get me a CBC, Chem panel, ABG’s and a chest x-ray stat!”
Oh my God, everything’s moving so fast. This must be serious. What the hell happened? Can’t anybody hear me? Where’s Jack?
Through the turmoil, calm voices tried to soothe my panic as hands—strong yet gentle—released me from my bindings, lifted and settled me onto a narrow, hard bed. They made quick work of my clothes, stripping off what they could, then cutting off the rest, and replaced them with a light cotton gown. I heard the sound of Velcro peeling, stretching and the blood pressure device inflated tight as a vise around my upper arm.
A man’s face came within inches of mine, shining a bright light into my eyes. “Hi, I’m Doctor Raeber, you’re in the emergency room. What’s your name?”
My name, sure, I know my name. Of course I do. So what the hell is it? I groped for an answer that never came.
“Do you know why you’re here? Do you know what happened?”
His forehead creased when I couldn’t come up with a reply, increasing the pressure in my chest as though an elephant had sat on it.
“Okay, don’t worry. We’ll take care of you, just relax now.”
Don’t worry? Relax? Is he kidding? My scrambled brain tried to make sense of the situation, but I couldn’t connect the dots. Fitful tears leaked from my eyes and ran into my ears from the effort. I wanted to scream. I have no idea what happened. Please tell me why I’m here.
The doctor withdrew from my field of vision, but his voice still carried to me. “So you said she drowned? How? Where’d you find her?”
“At the mall of all places,” the voice from the ambulance chuckled. “A bystander said she’d been texting and not paying attention to where she was walking. She’d nearly mowed him down on the upper level a few minutes earlier. So when she tripped and did a face plant in the lobby level fountain, he just figured she was just a klutz. Until we showed up.”
I drowned in the mall fountain? That’s ridiculous, no one does that. I didn’t remember even being at the mall let alone falling into the fountain. For that matter, I didn’t remember being anywhere.
“She must’ve hit her head pretty hard when she went down, that’s a nasty lump she’s got. Hey! Get me a CT scan with contrast, too,” Doctor Raeber called out.
“Yeah, I don’t think she was under long, though.” I heard the smirk in the paramedic’s voice. “The guy playing Santa at the picture kiosk said he saw her fall in and people just kept walking past as if it happens every day.”
“Right? So get this, he dumps some kid off his lap, runs over, and wades into the fountain in his costume to fish her out. He had one of his elves call 911, and by the time we got there he’d started CPR. Talk about a Christmas gift, Santa saved her life,” he chuckled. “You should’ve seen it, the kids all applauded, it was awesome.”
No, that couldn’t have been me. Someone please tell me that wasn’t me.
“Huh, I’ll bet.” Even the doctor was amused. “So who is she, did we get an ID? Is there anyone here with her who can give us her history?”
“No, her cell phone fizzled and died in the fountain. When we took over, one of the security guards was chasing after the guy who stole her purse. Can you imagine someone doing that? You have to be awful damn low to steal a purse from a drowning woman. But the police were just seconds behind us. Maybe they got something.”
Jack knows me, call him. Jack will come for me, I’m sure of it. He’d never let me drown in a fountain.
The doctor peered into my face shining a light into my eyes again. “How are her vitals?” He called out to someone standing nearby.
“Good, Doctor,” a woman replied. “She’s conscious and stable.”
“Okay. Let’s see how she does on the nasal cannula. I want her to be able to talk. Set it at 100 percent.”
The heavy mask came off my face, replaced by plastic prongs set at the entrance to my nostrils. Each shallow breath I took in reminded me how much my ribs hurt.
“You’re doing great, Miss. We’re going to do a few tests and see what’s going on with you. Do you know if you’re allergic to anything? How do you feel? Can you tell me your name?” Back in my face, Doctor Raeber’s image distorted and pulsed.
“Jack...” An alien voice rasped and croaked from my mouth. Explosions of light behind my eyes made it hurt to blink. So much noise, so many people. I can’t be here. I want to go home. “Jack...”
“Who’s Jack?” Doctor Raeber asked the medic.
“No clue. No one was with her that I could see.”
Out of the blue, I sensed water rising up around me, filling my nostrils, my lungs. I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. Arms thrashing, my body writhed struggling to get free from the suffocating depth. But hands, many hands, held me down, keeping me under until darkness claimed me once more.
Under a swirling veil of gray fog, I drifted in and out of consciousness for what felt like years. The world swam past my dazed vision. People paraded in and out of the small room, some dressed in blue, some in white. All poking and prodding, invading my body with needles and tubes. Oxygen prongs still set at my nose, supported by tubes that circled my ears and wires attached to the cold tabs stuck to my body projected my heartbeat on a monitor in a hypnotic rhythm.
They talked around me as if I wasn’t there. Men, women, in easy discussions that meant nothing to me, continued their routine jobs without hurry. My weak cries for Jack went unheeded. I saw him though, sitting with casual nonchalance on the edge of a desk not six feet from me. He wore my favorite tailored blue shirt and matching Ted Baker tie, his suit jacket slung over the chair next to him. The lopsided smile that weakened my knees crinkled the edges
of his sapphire eyes. It calmed me to watch him, gesturing to something behind him as he spoke. I didn’t care that his words, muted and garbled, never reached my ears or that his image flickered like a TV with fuzzy reception. It gave me something to hold onto.
After a while, the gurney released a rush of compressed air and the side rails lifted, bracketing me in a metal adult sized crib. A man in blue scrubs and a ponytail wheeled me away from the chatter and noise. He jostled me into an elevator then down a long hall to another small room. Voices lingered outside the door, but no one had come in yet. Left alone for the first time, this darker, quieter space prickled my nerves even more.
Did I die?
My body had just sunk into the bed when a knock at the door sent my eyes rolling to the ceiling. It took me back to that awful year I’d spent as RA in the dorm at Purdue. No matter what time of day or night, every petty issue that arose became my problem. God almighty, now what?
I forced my body to a sitting position fighting the outbreak of vertigo that threatened to push me back. Two or three inches of tequila were left in the bottle on the night stand. Christ, I drank way too much. Feet on the floor, I wrapped myself in the sheet, dragging it with me as I stumbled to the door and yanked it open. Victoria waited on the landing wearing a long silky robe, thick waves of blonde hair falling loose around her shoulders. A seductive smile curling her lips.
“What is it Victoria? If something’s broken in your room, you can call down to the management and they’ll come fix it.” My steady tone belied the tequila induced numbness in my tongue and teeth.
“Um… no, it’s something else,” she lowered her voice, fidgeting with the belt on her robe. “But I’d rather not say it out in the hall. Is it okay if I come in?”
I stepped back to let her in, leaving the door open, and waited to hear the dire emergency that only I could fix.
She didn’t speak, but pulled the tie on her robe and let it fall to the floor revealing only a lacy black thong underneath. Holy shit is she stacked!
“Wait, what? What are you doing?” No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t take my away. Her breasts seemed to magnify in my vision, begging for my touch. Was it the alcohol or her tight naked body staring at me that took away my ability to think? My blood pulsed loud in my ears.
“It’s okay, Jack, you don’t have to pretend anymore. I know you want me.” Her voice matched the air outside. Warm, silky, sultry.
I tightened the sheet around my waist and poked my head out into the hall to see if anyone had witnessed her crazy stunt. Thank God, no one had.
“No one’s there, Jack, they’re out back in the pool. We’re all alone now.” A slight push from her hand and the door clicked closed.
Never before had a woman come on to me so boldly. It was intimidating, but exciting as hell. Heat flashed through my body. Her mesmerizing breasts, pointing at me as she approached, seemed to shift in my wavering vision like a Picasso painting. My hands ached to reach out, and I clutched the sheet to control them.
A few feet stood between us and the large bed. Conflicted between throwing her down on the satiny soft sheets and tossing her out the door, my feet edged back with every step she took forward. I kept one eye on Victoria as I sneaked a peek behind me. If I didn’t take a stand, this situation would spiral out of control, fast.
“Victoria, stop.” My hands grasped her shoulders keeping her at arm’s length, but my heavy arms couldn’t support them. They drifted down. Her gooseflesh rippling under my fingers made the breath catch in my throat.
She leaned in. The heady scent of her jasmine perfume infused the air, further intoxicating me. Her lips, gliding down the side of my neck, left a trail of warm gentle kisses. My racing pulse made the room swim even more than before and I tightened my grip to steady myself. She turned her head, I felt her soft hair brush a whisper across my chest. Gracie.
Gracie’s soft laugh echoed in my ear. Her beautiful sun-kissed face a vision behind my closed lids. My hands anchored at her waist, I pulled her closer. I’ve wanted this for such a long time.
Heat radiating off her body stoked the fire in mine. My tongue ran along the seam of her eager lips, teasing, sampling, savoring. Mmm, peppermint candy.
“Jack.” She gasped against my lips. Her arms tightened around my neck, drawing me in, urging me on.
Any reservations I might have had in the beginning were now nonexistent. I’d reached the point of no return. I deepened the kiss, sweeping my tongue into her mouth, meeting hers, trading places. In a full embrace, our bodies angled toward the bed.
“Gracie, baby, I’ve dreamed of this so many times.”
Victoria’s body stiffened. Hands pushed back against my chest. “What did you call me?”
“Baby? I didn’t mean...”
“Did you just call me Gracie?”
“What? No, I didn’t, I...”
“Yes you did! You called me Gracie, you son of a bitch. How dare you! You're seducing me and thinking of someone else?”
“Me? I am? Wait a minute...”
Her hand cracked against my face so hard, my head swung like a saloon door and I tasted blood in my mouth. The bell signaling the end of the first round rang in my ears. She gathered up her robe, tossed a few more irate insults at me and flounced out the door, slamming it behind her.
What the hell just happened? Victoria? Gracie? My head swam, going back and forth between the bed and the door, replaying the events of the last few minutes. Shit, did I really do that? I'd never called a woman by the wrong name before. Gracie’s got me so damn twisted up inside, I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore.
I eased my still burning body onto the mattress cradling my comfort in a bottle. The last few gulps of tequila slid down my throat with ease. But soon the spinning room had me gripping the sheets for balance.
Stomach churning, my clumsy feet scrambled for the bathroom, making it just in time to empty its meager contents into the porcelain bowl. It didn't take long, but my head throbbed from the effort. I splashed water on my face, noting in the mirror the red hand imprint on my cheek. For a skinny little vixen, Victoria sure packs a wallop.
A transplant from the concrete sidewalks of New York City to the sunny beaches of Southern California, Ms. Carney enjoys writing stories about women who are strong—whether by nature or circumstance—and the men who love and respect them for who they are. Things that make her happy are rainy days (too much sun is a bore), writing the perfect first line, family get-togethers, reading books that grab her heart, and finding new connections in her genealogy research. Bold coffee and dark chocolate fuel the artistic fire inspired by her family, friends, and psycho, lizard hunting cat.
Giveaway (INTL - ends Novembter 17th)