Excerpt © 2014 by Laura Resnick a.k.a. Laura Leone
She was going to have to show Ziggy who was boss, Cherish Love concluded. Okay, so he had gotten away with something that no one else ever had; a total stranger, he’d made her cling to him like Velcro. But it was nothing to worry about. Her guard had been down, she’d been tired, and he had… employed certain skills she had never encountered before. But there was no question of its happening again. And if he thought that there was… Well, she had years of experience at dealing with men who thought they could have their way with her. She could handle one wounded amnesia victim.
The mental reminder of Ziggy’s memory loss turned Cherish’s thoughts in a new direction. Who was he? Why couldn’t he remember anything? Who was Catherine? What sort of vessel was the Lusty Wench?
What were they going to do if he didn’t start remembering who he was and where he belonged?
“Where’s my bunny?”
Cherish jumped, dropped the pot she’d been holding, and whirled to face her patient, who was standing in the doorway of the bedroom. The bedsheet was held modestly—though precariously—around his waist, and he was leaning against the doorframe so he wouldn’t have to put weight on his bad ankle. Seeing him standing for the first time, she became aware of just how powerful a man he was. Not just his body, which was a work of tall, lean, sculpted muscle and bone, despite the bruises and scratches. His presence, his posture, and his manner all bespoke a man who was confident and assured of getting whatever he wanted.
“You’re awake,” Cherish said inanely.
“The way you’ve been banging those pots around, the whole island is probably awake by now,” he responded.
“I see we’re a trifle irritable today.”
“Where’s my bunny?”
“My bunny, my bunny,” he repeated with growing impatience. “I know I had it with me when you found me on the beach. Where is it?”
“I…” She tried to remember where she had deposited the loathsome thing.
His face blanched. “You didn’t throw it away?”
“No, it’s… Oh! I know!” Cherish went to retrieve it from the pile of newspapers upon which she had lain it yesterday. Again holding it gingerly by its ear, she said, “It’s still soggy.”
“Give me that. I can’t believe you took away my bunny!”
“Calm down,” she chided. “Really, a man of your age carrying on about a stuffed animal.”
“You don’t know my age,” he reminded her, taking the bunny and regarding it with some disfavor.
He shrugged. “If I remember, I’ll tell you.”
“Still no memory at all?”
“I remember last night pretty well.”
Their gazes locked. Cherish felt herself tumbling into the smoky depths of his gray eyes. With a visible tremor, she broke off the contact and said, “What’s with the bunny, Ziggy? It’s hideous.”
He frowned at it. “Yeah, it is, isn’t it?”
About eighteen inches in length, the bunny was fat, with stubby limbs and overlong ears. It was a revolting pink, though the color looked considerably faded after its long drenching in the Caribbean. Its face was white, with a hideous, stiff grin painted on for a mouth and cheap two-tone buttons for its eyes. One eye was missing, though.
“Made in Guatemala,” Cherish murmured, reading the pink-stained label that hung off one drooping ear. “You nearly died two nights ago. Hanging onto this thing while swimming through a raging storm could have made the difference between life and death, Ziggy. Why did you keep it?”
“I’ll be damned if I know.” The sheet he held around his waist slipped slowly to his hips as he studied the bunny. Cherish’s gaze dropped briefly to his hard abdomen, his navel, the light trickle of downy brown hair that disappeared into the barrier of the sheet, the faint indentation where his thigh and torso joined… “What?” he asked her suddenly.
“You made a noise like… I don’t know. A noise.”
“Maybe you should sit down,” she suggested. “Get off that ankle.”
“Help me to the table?” He batted his lashes at her. Cherish eyed him suspiciously. “Strictly a charitable business. I promise.”
“Okay,” she agreed with ill-concealed reluctance. “Here.”
He slipped his right arm over her shoulders. She wrapped her arm around his bare waist and felt the heat of his smooth skin under her fingers, felt the subtle shift of muscle under her palm. He smelled far too good for a man who’d been drenched in nothing but saltwater and sweat for the past two days. He felt too good for a man who had treated her like a common sex object last night. He was just the right height, she thought—then wondered, the right height for what?
He lowered himself onto one of the rickety chairs at her stained little kitchen table and settled cautiously into a sitting position. “Don’t you have any comfortable furniture in this house?” he demanded. “A bed of nails would be preferable to that cot, and all your chairs look like they belong in some New York rehearsal hall. The kind of place where cadaverous, unemployed actors sit around being intense.”
“You’ve been to New York?” Cherish asked quickly, taking the seat opposite him.
“I… Yes!” He looked at her with delight, his gray eyes alert, his dark brows raised. “Yeah, I know New York well.”
“Do you live there?”
“Um…” He shook his head. “I don’t know, Cherish. I can see the streets in my mind. I know all the landmarks—the Empire State Building, the UN, Lincoln Center, Times Square… There’s a store downtown that sells nothing but condoms.”
Cherish blinked. “Can you remember anything personal? Places you’ve stayed, eaten, shopped? Besides the condom store, I mean. Can you think of anyone who knows you there? Catherine, for example?”
He frowned, and she could see his jaw working. After a moment he made a stifled sound of pain and pressed a fist to his temple. “Why does it hurt like this when I start trying to remember who I am?”
“Shhh,” Cherish soothed. “It’s all right. I’ve read about this. I think it’s called psychogenic amnesia.”
“I wish you hadn’t said amnesia,” he grumbled. “It sounds so serious.”
“It’s not so much a memory loss as a memory, uh, cover up. The forgotten material is still in your head, beneath the level of consciousness. You’ll be able to access it eventually.”
“Why can’t I ‘access’ it now?”
“This isn’t my field,” she said modestly.
“Cherish.” His voice was impatient.
“Well, as I understand it—and, at best, I understand it in a very shallow and superficial sense—”
“You’re probably suffering from a dissociative disorder.”
“What happened to my amnesia?”
“Amnesia is a dissociative disorder. The victim—”
“Do you have to use the word victim?”
“The, uh, amnesiac undergoes an experience so severe and traumatic that he must dissociate himself from it in order to… keep on going. The event could be a natural disaster, physical injury or the threat of physical injury, a close call with death, terrible tragedy, and so on.”
Ziggy glanced down at his wounded shoulder, which needed cleaning again. “I appear to have been through several of those things,” he remarked.
“So your mind blotted out whatever happened to you the other night. Stabbing, near drowning, the storm… Who knows what else? That information is still there. Hence, your nightmares. The problem is, in suppressing the horror of that night, you’ve suppressed all other memories, too.”
He was quiet for a long moment before he asked, with a casualness that didn’t deceive Cherish at all, “So how long does this last, Doc?”
“Well, it’s possible that you may subconsciously choose never to remember the events of that night.”
“What about the rest of my life?” he demanded.
“I don’t know, Ziggy,” she admitted. “I believe that memory eventually returns in most cases. It would undoubtedly help if you were in familiar surroundings, with familiar people. Unfortunately, you washed up with no ID. I’ll go over to the mainland today to use a phone and learn what I can… Hey! What does the Lusty Wench mean to you?”
“Lusty Wench?” His expression changed. “Dare I say it makes me think of you at about three o’clock this morning?”
She scowled at him. “According to your life preserver, you fell off the Lusty Wench. If we can trace the boat, we might be able to find out who you are.”
“That’s an encouraging thought.”
“And your memory could return at any moment, too,” she added encouragingly.
“But why do I know so many other things?” he wondered aloud. “I can name every state in the United States, and most of their capitals. I know some Shakespeare by heart—I tried it before I got out of bed this morning. I know that penicillin comes from mold, the Berlin Wall fell, and who the current US President is. How can I know these things, but not know my own name? Why can’t I remember who I am, or what the Lusty Wench is, or who Catherine is?”