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Authors: Anne Stuart

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary

Winter's Edge

BOOK: Winter's Edge
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Winter’s Edge by Anne Stuart

 

Other books by Anne Stuart:

Lazarus Rising

Night of Phantom

Chasing Trouble

Special Gifts

Heat Lightning

The Soldier and the Baby

 

DID YOU PURCHASE THIS BOOK WITHOUT A COVER? If you did, you should be aware that it was reported as unsold and destroyed and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this stripped book.

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All rights reserved including the right of reproductitm in whole or in part in any form~ This edition is published by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises II B. V. The text of this~ publication or any part thereof may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, storage in an information retrieval system, or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher.

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resoi& hired out or otherwise circulated without the prior consent of the publisher in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

First published in Great Britain 1996 by Silhouette Books, Eton House, 18-24 Paradise Roox~ Richmond, Surrey TW9 1SR

Anne IC, is tine Stuart Ohlrogg 1995

Silhouette, Silhouette Intrigue and Colophon are Trade Marks of Harlequin Enterprises II B. V.

ISBN 0 373 22329 3

Made and printed in Great Britain

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Atlantic City

Long Beach

 

For Julianne Moore. I couldn’t have done it without her.

And maybe I shouldn’t have.

Prologue

She was coming back. The cunning little tart had managed to fool them all. She’d survived the blow on the head, the coma. So far she hadn’t said a word, but there was no counting on that happy state of affairs to continue.

She had a reason for her silence, there was little doubt of that.

She would have to die. Sooner or later. Before she decided to start talking. Before she decided to turn the tables, and try her delicate hands at a little extortion. She would have to die.

The only problem was how to arrange it. Make it look like an accident? Or make it look like someone else had murdered her. That would be the most delicious of all. Kill two birds with one stone. She would die. And he would he blamed.

Ah, life could be very sweet indeed.

SHE WAS COMING BACK. He had no choice in the matter, Patrick Winters thought as he slammed around the

 

empty kitchen. She’d been hurt, she needed time to recover. She’d been implicated in a suspicious death, and she’d refused to answer questions. The police wanted her readily available, and he was the logical person to provide her a place to live.

He leaned back against the kitchen counter. It was just past dawn, and if he was a decent, caring man he’d be preparing to drive across the river to New Jersey, to the hospital, and fetch her back to Winter’s Edge, the only home she’d ever known. She’d lived there for seven years, and she had no place else to go.

If she had, he’d gladly send her there. He never wanted to see her again, not if he could help it. She’d caused too much harm, destroyed too much, with her willful anger and childish spite. He wanted her away from here, out of his life.

Before he made the mistake of thinking there might be something else, some faint glimmer of hope.

He’d been a fool in the past. He wasn’t about to let her make a fool of him again. She’d come back, spin her persecution fantasies, and then, once the police or someone was able to force the truth out of her, he’d send her away.

He had no responsibility for her. She had more than enough money, more than enough self-absorption to handle life. She could go, and he’d never think of her again.

Until he signed the divorce papers.

He wasn’t going to waste his time, his day, going after her. There were plenty of other ways to get her safely transported back to the sprawling estate in Bucks County.

Someone else could do it.

In the meantime, he was getting the hell out of there. And he wasn’t sure when he’d bother to come back.

Not until he could look at her, at her pale, innocent face with the green-blue cat’s eyes, at her soft mouth, and not think about the past.

And how much he’d wanted her, once, long ago. And damn it, how much he still wanted her.

SHE WAS GOING BACK. She knew it; the thought danced through her befogged mind as she drifted in and out of sleep. She felt both frightened and excited, reluctant and eager. Yet she wasn’t sure where she was going, or why.

She didn’t know what she’d find when she got there. She only knew she was returning to where she belonged.

Whether they wanted her or not.

Chapter One

It was very still in the room, still and warm. Maybe that should have reassured her, but it had the opposite effect. She fought her way out of the cocooning sleep, the too familiar feelings of panic beating about her like the dark wings of a thousand bats. She opened her eyes to face the sterile whiteness of a hospital room, and she remembered nothing. Except that she was afraid.

Without moving a muscle she slowly began taking in her surroundings.

Her head pounded like a sledgehammer, and she reached a tentative hand out to touch it, finding a tender scalp beneath a surprisingly heavy mane of hair. Drawing back her shaking hand, she looked at it closely. It appeared neither foreign nor familiar, a tanned, capable hand with long fingers, short nails and no rings. And her panic grew.

“You’re finally awake then.” A voice broke through her tangled thoughts, and her eyes met the warm, friendly ones of a young nurse.

“I thought you’d sleep forever after that last shot we gave you. You were pretty upset.” She moved closer, her eyes cheerfully curious behind the wire-rimmed glasses.

“How are you feeling, hon?”

She hated being called hon. That little she could remember.

“Where am I?” she demanded finally in a faintly husky voice that was equally startling. She didn’t dare ask the more important question—who am

I?

“Riverview Medical Center,” the nurse answered, watching her closely.

“Is something wrong?”

“How long have I been here?”

“Two weeks,” the nurse answered.

“Don’t you remember?”

She shook her head numbly, and the wicked pounding increased.

“Not a thing.”

The nurse clucked with professional sympathy, her brown eyes troubled.

“Take a deep breath and try to relax. You’ve had several of these blank spells be-fore—with any luck this one won’t last too long. They often follow a bad concussion like you’ve had. Do you remember anything at all this time?” she asked curiously, making a small notation on the chart in her capable looking hands.

“Nothing. How long have these blank periods usually lasted?” She clasped her unfamiliar hands together in an effort to hide the tremor.

The nurse shrugged.

“They come and go. A few hours, at the most. Once it went on for several days.

You just lie back and rest and I’ll get the doctor to answer any more questions you might have. This is such a shame—they were planning to discharge you today if it was all right with Lieutenant Ryker. “

 

“Lieutenant Ryker?” she echoed.

“Is he in the army?” It was a stupid question and she knew it. She might not have any concrete memories, but she knew she was in trouble. Deep trouble.

“He’s with the police. You’ve forgotten how you got in here, haven’t you?” She leaned over, taking her pulse.

The woman in the bed nodded miserably. The nurse hesitated, glancing toward the door as if expecting help.

“You were in a serious car accident, Mrs. Winters.”

The name meant nothing to her. She glanced down at her hands, but there was no ting. No telltale mark of one recently discarded.

“How serious?” She managed to keep her voice mason ably calm.

Once more the nurse hesitated.

“The passenger in your car was dead, and you had sustained a severe concussion and some unpleasant bruising. You were unconscious for several days, but since then you’ve been healing very rapidly. Except for your occasional bouts of amnesia.”

“And what does this Lieutenant Ryker have to do with all this? Did I commit a crime? Is there some question of negligence?”

The nurse busied herself with the pillows.

“You’ve refused to give us the name of the man who was with you. That, combined with the $350 thousand in cash that they found in the trunk of the car has raised a lot of questions. Questions you won’t answer.” She dropped her wrist lightly on the starched white sheet.

“If you’d just cooperate and answer the police’s questions, I’m sure they would let you go home and recover at your own pace. Sometimes it just takes time.” She stared at the nurse blankly.

“I wish I could. I only wish I could.”

She clucked sympathetically, patting her hand with a reassuring gesture.

“Try not to worry. I’ll go find Dr.

Hobson. In the meantime you just rest and think about your husband.


 

“My husband?”

“You mean to say you don’t remember him either?” she demanded, astonished.

“I would have said he was almost impossible to forget.”

“Is he… nice?”

“Nice?” She considered the notion.

“Somehow I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, the two of you don’t seen-, to get along so well. But God, is he beautiful! I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Just a figure of speech,” the nurse said hastily.

“I’ll get the doctor.”

She lay back against the starched white sheets, trying to put a tight control on the panic that was sweeping over her. She knew nothing, absolutely nothing about who and what she was, and the few little tidbits the talkative nurse had dropped made things even worse. A strange man dead? A fortune in cash? A handsome husband who hated her?

This must all be some hideous nightmare. In an other moment she would wake in her own bed in. The blankness that met her probing mind filled her with more horror than the thought of a dead man sit

 

ting beside her in her car, and she felt the burn of frightened tears stinging her eyes. But I never cry, she thought, blinking the tears back with a sort of wonder.

She pulled herself slowly out of bed, marveling at the exhaustion that suffused her unknown body, at the weakness in her legs. She moved across the cool, tiled floor to the small mirror above the washstand and examined herself carefully. It was a complete stranger staring back at her.

No, perhaps not complete. It was like looking at a picture of a distant relative. She didn’t know the person in the mirror. But she looked vaguely familiar. She surveyed the various parts of her. Long, honey blond hair that could do with a thorough washing, slanted green-blue eyes, a nose too small and a mouth too large. High cheekbones and a determined chin completed the picture, yet she felt neither strangeness nor recognition. She looked to be in her early twenties, far younger than she felt. She turned away from that lost face and moved slowly back to the bed. She’d lost more than twenty years someplace. Twenty-some years, and a husband she hated.

“There you are, my dear. Feeling a bit dodgy this morning?” She could only assume this elderly gentleman in the rumpled white lab coat was her doctor, but she eyed him with patent distrust and disapproval.

“I

don’t know whether you should he out of bed quite yet,” he continued.

She sat back on the side of the mattress, watching him with a distrust that seemed natural to her.

“I

thought I was leaving today,” she said shortly.

“Surely I’ll have to be able to walk?”

He raised an eyebrow.

“The nurse says you’ve had another memory loss.

I guess you’ve forgotten that you trust me just a tiny bit. “

She stared at him. He looked more like an elderly David Letterman than a doctor, she thought vaguely.

And then the realization struck her—how did she know what David Letterman looked like, when she didn’t know her OWn face?

“How much is missing this time?” he asked.

“Everything,” she said wearily.

“I have no idea who I am.”

He frowned.

“Amnesia isn’t usually like that. There should be some patches of memory, some faint traces.

While you’ve had intermittent memory loss, there hasn’t been anything this severe. You have no pressure building on your brain, no sign of any trauma other than the concussion, but perhaps another CAT scan might be in order. “

“No!” she protested.

“No more prodding. I just want a few answers.”

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