About the Author
An avid knitter, coffee junkie, and devoted chocoholic, Allie Pleiter spends her days writing books and finding new ways to avoid housework. She grew up in Connecticut, holds a BS in Speech from Northwestern University, and speaks nationally on writing, faith, and creative productivity. Allie currently lives in suburban Chicago, Illinois. Sign up for her newsletter at http://alliepleiter.com/contact.html
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Amelia Klondike, like any sensible person on God's earth, knew that. She was out here in the woods to find pinecones for a Sunday school project, not accessories. She set down the last of the lemon bar and coffee she'd brought for breakfastAmelia didn't believe in sensible breakfasts, everand picked up the glove from its place among the scattered pinecones. Large, well made, worn to a comfortable softness, it was definitely a man's gloveone that would be missed, so she should try to find its owner. She chuckled as her mind made the connection; a woman whose life's work was a charity called Here to Help ought to be able to help one glove find the man who owned it.
Not that Amelia was looking to find a mangloved or otherwisethese days. Just over a year out from a publicly broken engagement, Amelia was barely starting to feel as if talk had died down and she could be seen as Little Horn's best helping hand, not its saddest broken heart.
She was tucking the glove in her pocket when she spotted its mate ten feet away. Then a boot and a leg until there, lying under the largest of the pine trees, Amelia spied the owner of those gloves.
She blinked a few times, startled to see a large, ruggedly dressed man sprawled in the wet needles under the boughs. "Sir?" The angle of his arms and legs wasn't that of sleep, and last night's storm certainly wasn't conducive to camping out under the stars. Amelia dropped the gloves and her pack on the ground and walked over to shake the man's shoulder. "Hey, sir, are you all right?"
He didn't respond. Lord, help me, what do I do? she prayed as she looked around for any sign of companions or transportation. Short of Louie, her own horse, who stood inspecting a clump of grass behind her, Amelia was alone. She didn't recognize the rather handsome man; he was clean-cut, well if casually dressed, but mud-smeared as if he'd been out here all night. As if he'd come to some kind of mishap. "Are you hurt? Sick? You don't look like you should "
Amelia swallowed her words as the man groaned and turned his head to reveal a grisly wound across his forehead. "Oh, mercy!" Amelia gasped, fumbling back to her backpack for her cell phone. She had to call 911. This man needed an ambulance.
The phone was no helpshe should have known she'd get no cell service way out here. How was she going to get this poor soul to help? Amelia twisted a blond curl around her fingers in panicked consideration of her options. Sometimes text got through on almost no service and she was good friends with Lucy Benson, the sheriff. Would Lucy be nearby on a Saturday morning? She pulled up Lucy's cell number and typed Emergency!
She shook the man gently, pulling the scarf from her neck to wipe the worst of the drying blood from his face.
Someoneor somethinghad taken a good whack at his forehead. Accident? Fight? Bandit? Little Horn had been experiencing its own odd crime spree in recent weeks, so there was no telling if the attractive man on the ground before her was a good guy or a bad one. If the past year had taught her anything, it was that bad guys could come in good-looking packages.
Hero or villain, this was a hurt man in need of help, and right now she was the only help to be had. Carefully, she rolled him fully onto his back, which made him wince. "Sorry about this," she offered as she rummaged through his pockets for a phone, wallet or, hopefully, car keys to a truck just out of sight.
The search came up empty. No keys, no wallet, no phone. "Looks like someone had it in for you, mister." Given all the robberies taking place in Little Horn of late, it wasn't hard to think the criminals had expanded their cattle and equipment theft to face-to-face holdups. It took a special brand of mean to not only take a man's valuables, but to dump him unconscious in the middle of nowhere. "Come on there, cowboy, wake up. This'd be a whole lot easier with you conscious."
Her phone dinged an incoming text from Lucy. Hurt? Gramps?
It would be natural for Lucy to think any emergency of Amelia's involved the elderly grandfather who lived with her, but not this time. Found injured man in woods just over ridge behind Palmer's Creek. Call 9-1-1 for me?
I'm not too far from there. On my way.
Some days it paid well to be best friends with the local sheriff. "Help is on the way," she told the unconscious man. Wasn't it important to keep concussion victims awake? Why hadn't she paid more attention when watching medical dramas? Try talking to him. She grasped one of his broad, solid shoulders and shook him a little harder. "Do you hurt anywhere? What's your name?"
No response other than a groan, but he had moved his hand and Amelia spied a watch. "Why'd they leave your watch when they took everything else?" She began unbuckling the old, worn timepieceit was a long shot, but maybe the watch could at least give her a name or initials if it was engraved.
It was. Finn: all my love, B. Mystery man had a nameand someone who missed him. "You're no slouch to look at, Finn, B's a lucky lady. And worried, I expect." She'd spent enough time praying for her now-ex-fiance, Rafe, to come off duty from the Texas Rangers safe and sound that her heart twisted in sympathy for the likely frantic B. It looked as if Finn had been out here all night, if not longer. "Wake up, Finn." She leaned in closer to his fine features. "Finn! Finn, can you hear me?"
A hint of awareness washed over the man's features. He dwarfed hershe guessed him to be over six feet tall and very fit. "Can you sit up?" She tried to pull his chest vertical, but he winced and his eyes shot wide open. They locked on to her for a second, a startling sky blue contrast to his glossy dark brown hair, before losing focus again as he fell back to the ground and murmured, "Ouch."
"I guess you're more hurt than you look." Amelia pushed up the fleece he wore to see blood staining the shirt underneath. "Mercy, Finn, I don't think you should move at all. Help is on the way, so you just sit still."
His hand moved to his chest. "Ribs." He said, the word slurring a bit.
"You might have cracked a few of those, and you're definitely bleeding." She took her scarf from behind his head and bunched it up against the red spot on his shirt. "Stay with me, Finn. Keep those eyes open." She grabbed Finn's hand, finding it alarmingly cold, and guided it to press against the scarf on his wound. His eyes found her again, the fear and confusion in his gaze going straight to the pit of her stomach.
"My name's Amelia, and I'm getting you help." She bit her lip. "You just stick with me, okay?"
Finn nodded his head. When he coughed, she could see the pain shoot through him even as he grabbed her hand. "Where am ?" Finn's words fell off into a sharp hiss as he tried to rise again.
Amelia put a hand gently to his shoulder. "Oh, no, you don't. You'd better stay still."
Finn's eyes wandered again, then returned to her as he let his head fall back against the ground. He looked at her as if she was the only person in his worldand right now, wasn't she? "Where am I?" he asked in halting words.
"You're in well, the middle of nowhere, really." She grabbed his free handthe one where the watch had beenand held it, stroking his forearm in an effort to keep him calm. Keep him talking to you. "What on earth made you come up into the forest in last night's storm? Or did someone just dump you here?"
"I " Finn's eyes rolled back and his lids fell shut. The hand Amelia was touching lost its tension and dropped to his chest.
He'd lost consciousness againthat couldn't be good news. "Lord," Amelia prayed aloud, helplessness pushing her pulse higher, "I need to know what to do here.
Don't You let Finn die before help comes. Don't You do that to him or to me." She laid her hand against Finn's chest, grateful to feel breath and a heartbeat.
Amelia checked her phone again, then used the edge of her jacket to blot the sheen of sweat now beading Finn's forehead. "Finn? Finn, wake up. Show me those nice blue eyes." She grabbed his hand again, shaking it a bit to rouse him. "I found your gloves." That struck her as a ridiculous thing to say, but she didn't have a lot of experience making conversation with men out cold. Gramps fell asleep nightlyokay, hourlyin his re-cliner, but that was different. "Come on, Finn, give a gal a break. Open your eyes. Groan a little. Let me know you're still in there."
Finn seemed to grow more still, even the tension in his rugged features going soft as if falling sleep. Was he dying? He was such a nice-looking guyif she discounted the mud, leaves and blood. Far too dashing to meet his end out here in a pile of pine needles.
Her phone beeped again. Shout out the text from Lucy said. Amelia dropped Finn's hand and stood to yell "Lucy!" at the top of her lungs. She heard the distant rumble of an engine and dashed over to the side of the ridge to see a little all-terrain vehicle scrambling up the hillside with Lucy's white police SUV not far behind. Some distance back, Amelia could see the flashing lights of what had to be an ambulance.
"Here!" Amelia yelled again, jumping up and down and waving her arms as relief filled her chest. "Over here!"
When the ATV veered in her direction, Amelia dashed back to Finn, still motionless on the ground.
"It's okay, Finn," she said, mopping his face again.
"We're gonna get you out of here." She grabbed his hand, breathless and surprisingly near tears. "Help is here. You're safe."
"Hello there. Welcome back. I'm Dr. Searle." A man in tortoiseshell glasses was peering at him as if he was a science experiment. The doctor's warm tone felt suspiciously rehearsed. "Can you tell me your name?"
His name? His name seemed just out of reach. The combination of pain and confusion left him feeling weightless and heavy at the same timeas if he couldn't tell up from down or left from right. He couldn't answer.
The doctor adjusted his glasses. "Amelia found a watch on your wrist inscribed to Finn. Is that your name?"
"Sounds right," he said, mostly because he didn't know what else to say. Amelia? Did he know that name?
"Well, let's go with Finn for now. Tell me, can you see my face clearly?" Dr. Searle asked.
"Uh I guess so." Glory, even his teeth hurt. His tongue felt dry and sluggish. Where did this awful headache come from? Why did everything feel so out of place?
Dr. Searle switched on a small light and waved it back and forth. "Do you know where you are?"
"No." Admitting that made the pounding in his head go double-time, a steady rhythm of not-good, not-good, not-good.
"You're in the Little Horn Regional Medical Center. Amelia Klondike found you unconscious in the woods early this morning. Can you tell me how you got there?"
The pounding turned into a slam, with a sucker punch of fear to his gut. "No." Hospital? In the woods? Out cold? Come to think of it, he couldn't remember anything about anything except that this Amelia person sounded a bit familiar. The air turned thin and his head began to spin. "My head hurts. And my ribs."
"I expect so. You've had a concussion, along with a few broken ribs and several nasty lacerations. Whatever hit you was big and mean. Took your wallet and your phone and left you out in the storm from the looks of it. Amelia said you had nothing on you but the watch."
Amelia. He focused on the half-familiar name and remembered a vague impression of some very pretty blue eyes and a soft, soothing voice. Everything else was a blank.
"Well, Finn, it seems the knock on your head has rattled things around a bit. I'd try not to worry about it. It's not that unusual for head-trauma patients to lose the hours around their injury at first."
Finn didn't like that he'd said "that unusual." And he hadn't just lost a few hoursright now it felt as if he'd lost everything. The spinning started again and he closed his eyes.
"I'm going to run some tests and give your description to the police. We might not be able to learn much over the weekend, but it's worth a shot. Can you tell me if Finn is your first name, a last name or a nickname?"
Finn licked his dry, cracked lips. It hurt to think. For that matter, it hurt to breathe. "I don't know." He put his hand to his forehead, immediately regretting the sparks of pain it sent through the back of his eyes.
The doctor put a hand on Finn's arm. "Try not to get all worked up. You must have friends or family looking for you. It won't take long to sort things out."
If Dr. Searle could have picked the one idea to make Finn feel worse The haunting sense that no one was missing him or searching for him, that he was alone, was as deep as it was inexplicable. "I don't remember anything, Doc." It felt as if the admission swallowed him whole.
"It'll likely come back to you in the next few hours. Are you up for a visitor? Amelia's been out in the lobby waiting for you to wake up, and if you ask me, you could do with a distraction right about now."
"Sure." After all, this Amelia was the only thing he thought he remembered right now.
Dr. Searle gave him a half casual, half concerned smile as he moved to the door and opened it.
"Well, look at you, awake and everything."
"Amelia" swept into the room with a bouquet of flowers and a bundle of plaid fabric. The particular turquoise of her eyes did feel vaguely familiar, as did her voice. In fact, her voice and eyes were the only memory he could pull up at all.
She deposited the flowers on his bedside table with a hopeful smile. As rescue squads went, she was pretty easy on the eyes with a tumble of blond hair and a petite, curvy figure. "Do you remember me? I found you early this morning."
"A bit." He had no idea what to say.
"Dr. Searle says you'll recover just fine despite being pretty banged up. Gramps broke a rib onceI know it isn't much fun."
Should he know who Gramps was? "It's not." Finn stared at her, feeling as if he ought to know more about her but coming up short. All he remembered was the sound of her voice saying You 're safe and the blue of her eyes. And her hand. He remembered her holding his hand. He started to say You're the only thing I remember, but changed his mind.