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Authors: Jordyn Redwood

Fractured Memory

BOOK: Fractured Memory
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SHROUDED PAST

United States marshal Eli Cayne saved Julia Galloway’s life once…and he’s prepared to do it again. But his task would be easier if she could remember him—or the murderer who almost put her in an early grave and seems to be hunting her once more. To protect Julia from the latest threat against her life, Eli has to consider the possibility that he put an innocent man in jail. Julia has no memories of the serial killer called the Hangman, though, and no reason to trust Eli. But with the killer getting closer, she must work with Eli to confront her past—and the feelings growing between them.

“Eli…open your eyes…please…”

A faint flicker of his eyelashes and finally she could glimpse the pale blue of his eyes. Unfocused. She could see his pupils weren’t dilated. Good. He coughed more and closed his eyes. He became still again, though continued breathing. She examined the cut to his forehead—just a small trickle of watery blood from the gaping wound. At least the icy water had constricted the open blood vessels and stopped any bleeding.

As the last bit of strength seeped from her, she begged him, “Eli, please, open your eyes. Wake up.”

And he did as she asked. His eyes locked onto hers with a flicker of recognition. In that moment, she knew he would live.

His hand found its way to her face. “There are those brown eyes I’ve been waiting to see.”

Again, that phrase that always brought so much peace.

What did it mean?

Jordyn Redwood
is a pediatric ER nurse by day, suspense novelist by night. She pursued her dream of becoming an author by first penning her medical thrillers
Proof
,
Poison
and
Peril
. Jordyn hosts
Redwood’s Medical Edge
, a blog helping authors write medically accurate fiction. Living near the Rocky Mountains with her husband, two beautiful daughters and one crazy dog provides inspiration for her books and she loves to get email from her readers at
[email protected]
.

Books by Jordyn Redwood

Love Inspired Suspense

Fractured Memory

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FRACTURED
MEMORY

Jordyn Redwood

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.

—Phillipians
1:3

For Kathy Springer. My longest and most dear friendship.

Acknowledgments

Every author knows no book is written in isolation, and this book was no different. Particularly this novel as it required me to write outside my comfort zone on a very short deadline. Thanks to Laurie Kingery, Lisa Carter, Candace Calvert, Casey Herringshaw, Liz Solan and Norma Mai for providing insight, edits and overall support as I navigated my way through the Blurb to Book contest. Thank you to Karl for providing law enforcement insight (as always).

To my agent Greg Johnson—thanks for always being there when I need you.

Also, heartfelt appreciation to Emily Rodmell and all the Love Inspired editors for your interaction in the Blurb to Book team forums that definitely helped me write the best manuscript I could for a genre I needed to learn a lot about. I’ve truly been welcomed into the Harlequin family with open, loving arms. Most of all, I want to thank fellow book addicts. Without you, none of this would be possible and I’m always happy to connect with you via email at
[email protected]
.

ONE

T
he blank stare in Julia Galloway’s eyes confirmed Eli Cayne’s worst fear.

She didn’t remember him. The amnesia had erased every moment he’d spent ensuring that she would live after the Hangman nearly claimed her life.

“Julia Galloway?” he asked, his voice husky with undeniable emotion at seeing her for the first time in eighteen months. The feelings he thought he’d stomped into submission surfaced with a vengeance.

Julia reflexively raised a hand to cover the scars where the rope had carved into her skin. “Who are you?” The ringlets of her blond hair dripped water on her black T-shirt and red plaid pajama bottoms.

Eli held his badge at her eye level. “I’m U.S. Marshal Eli Cayne. May I come inside? There’s a matter of great importance I need to discuss with you.”

Doubt washed over her beautiful face. Even if she didn’t remember the attack, the lingering fear was evident.

He showed her the manila envelope he held in his other hand. “Our office has received information that there has been a hit ordered—on your life.”

She clenched the black fabric of her shirt tight into her other hand, her knuckles pale under the pressure. “Excuse me?”

“Someone has compiled a profile of information about you for a hit man to use to kill you. I’m here to get you to a safe place. Please, can I come inside?”

At first, the engine accelerating was distant until the screech of tires brought the hairs on Eli’s neck to attention. Instinct propelled his hand forward, hard into Julia, pushing her into the foyer. A bullet whistled past his ear, shattering a picture frame directly behind the remnants of her silhouette.

Julia landed flat on her back on the hardwood floor. Eli delivered a swift kick to the door, throwing it closed and turned to lock the dead bolt. He fell to his knees at her side. Her eyes were wide with fright, and her mouth gaped open as she tried to draw a breath.

“You’re all right. You just got the wind knocked out of you.” He pulled one of her hands to his chest. “Slow, easy breaths.”

Another bullet crashed through her front picture window. He had to move her to a safe place.

As Eli scooped her up, his fingers caught in the tangles of her long, wet blond hair. He carried her up the staircase just a few steps shy of the front door. Higher ground would be his only advantage in this fight against an unknown enemy. At the crest of the stairs, three doorways confronted him. He shouldered through the first one on this right.

A bathroom. No windows.

He swung her around and pulled the shower curtain aside resting her in the bathtub. “Stay here.”

Julia shook her head. “No.” Her brown eyes held more defiance than her whispered response.

“Stay here,” he ordered. “I’m locking this door. Don’t open it until you hear me say the words
red daisies
.”

He pushed the lock closed on the door and yanked it behind him, testing the knob once to make sure it was secure. He drew his weapon and crossed the hallway into Julia’s bedroom.

“Shots fired. I need backup,” he whispered into his wrist mic.

His FBI liaison, Ben Murphy, sounded distant—out of breath. “I’m in foot pursuit of the subject’s car...trying to get...a license plate. Local PD notified.”

Good. Knowing extra help was on the way left Eli free to accomplish what he needed to do to protect Julia. He couldn’t assume the rest of the house was clear. The number of assailants that could be after Julia was unknown. Was someone lurking in her home now—waiting for the perfect opportunity to attack?

He hugged the wall of her bedroom. It was clean and uncluttered. There was a computer desk with a bookshelf above adorned with several trophies. Competitive swimming if he remembered correctly. A Bible lay open on her bed, pillows piled high against the headboard.

Slowly, he slid open the door to the master bathroom and noted soapy water in the tub. He’d interrupted her from a soak and quiet time. Backing out of the bedroom, he entered the other room. A spare bedroom. The closet clear.

Back in the hallway, he faced the stairs. So far, Julia had followed his direction. The door to the bathroom remained closed. He eased by and took the stairs in cautious increments. At the bottom to his left was a small dining room. A quick check showed no one hiding under the table. To his right was a small sitting room. Shards of sprayed glass glittered in the early-morning light as the curtains waved in the soft breeze. In the distance, the faint sound of sirens approached his location.

Eli faced the hallway toward the back of the first floor with the TV room and kitchen. From the fruity aroma he guessed she was brewing tea even as the color of her eyes reminded him of the rich chocolate brown of coffee.

Those eyes...

He shook his head to clear the image.

Focus
.

Distraction was always the first nail in the coffin of a law enforcement officer.

The pantry was clear. Single-car garage with an older-model white SUV. No one underneath. He opened the door to her backyard. Small, quaint. No high trees or shrubs that could be hiding a suspect. Cheerful flowers edged the neatly cut grass with garden shoots just venturing up from the warmed spring ground.

He reentered the house and went back to the front door, surveying the yard. Nothing seemed out of place. Even though the concussive sounds of gunshots still rang in his ears, they hadn’t drawn a single curious neighbor from their home. Not one eye peeked out from behind closed curtains. Was everyone at work already? He turned back around and closed the door.

Time to check on Julia and release her from the small bathroom he’d locked her in.

He pocketed his weapon. Into his mic, he said, “Ben, what’s your location?”

“Walking back to the house. Lost the suspect. Description of vehicle and partial plate sent to local PD.”

With one foot on the stairs he looked up only to see Julia with a revolver aimed straight at his head.

* * *

Julia sucked in a breath. If only she could stop her heart from beating so fast. Her chest ached.

“Who are you really?” she asked.

Either Eli was who he said he was or he was posing as the good guy to cover his true intentions. His pale blue eyes narrowed at her question; he was clearly contemplating what explanation he could muster to keep her from pulling the trigger.

He kept his hands visible and still. “I
am
a U.S. Marshal. Eli Cayne. I showed you my identification.”

“I barely got a look at it before someone shot at me.” She squared her shoulders and adjusted the aim of her weapon. This was what she had practiced. What she always prepared for. She had rehearsed this scenario over and over until she hardened her mind to ignore her heart if she really had to kill someone.

“At us.”
Eli pointed his thumb to his chest. “I was right here, too. Those bullets could have found me just as easily.”

“A law enforcement ID can be bought.”

He raked his fingers through his chestnut hair before settling a thumb and forefinger on his stubbled chin. “Julia, if I wanted to kill you I would have done it already. Right when you answered the door.”

“You could be working with someone.”

“You’re right. I could. Can you hear those sirens? They’re awfully close. Why would there be help on the way if I was the killer? Did you call them?”

Her shoulders relaxed, and she eased the weapon down a bit. The sincere look in his eyes became more convincing than her resolve to shoot an intruder.

“At some point, you’re going to have to trust that what I’ve said is the truth. I’m here to keep you safe.”

Julia lowered the revolver. “Red daisies?”

“What?”

“Those were the best safe words you could come up with?”

Eli’s relieved smile solidified her impression that he couldn’t truly be nefarious. “I had to think of something on the spot that a killer wouldn’t say. It was the best I could do.”

She pointed the weapon to the floor. Her eyes darted to the side as a fist pounded her door.

Eli raised a calming hand. “That’s my partner on your case, Ben Murphy. Are we good here? Can I let him in?”

She motioned to her pajama pants. “I’m not entirely presentable.”

“Get dressed and then come down. There’s a lot we need to talk about.”

Julia backed away from the top of the stairs and closed her bedroom door behind her. She crossed the room to her closet and pulled out a pair of jeans and a floral turtleneck. In the bathroom, she brushed through her wet hair. Her hands still trembled from the massive adrenaline release.

What she wanted back was the peaceful morning she’d planned. After three hard days as a nurse in the pediatric ER, especially after losing a child from drowning, she needed some quiet to recoup.

The gunfire shattered the solitude she so badly needed. Had the horrors she’d already survived come back to haunt her? What was it about Eli that tugged at the erased threads of her mind? There was something about him, his presence, which felt warm and homey—like hot chocolate on a cool autumn evening. In the wake of her parents’ death, it was a feeling she craved.

There was a three-month gap in her memory starting from the time of the attack until she entered rehab for a brain injury caused by a lack of oxygen at nearly being hung to death. From the subsequent brain swelling, Julia had been in a coma and on life support for a month. Then, according to her grandfather, she’d spent another two months in the hospital until she grew strong enough for a rehab facility. Her remarkable recovery had astonished doctors, who were convinced she would never be anything other than persistently vegetative.

Julia’s first memories were shrouded in a foggy sea where she relearned to eat, walk and speak. Even now, nearly two years after the incident, there were only fleeting moments when Julia could sense memories from those three months trying to break through the imprisonment of her brain injury.

Six months after her near murder, the Hangman’s trial started.

Julia didn’t follow the news threads about the trial. The prosecutor chose not to have her testify, as her fractured memory was of no use to his case. The forensic evidence the Hangman left behind was enough to seal his fate.

Even though her mind was healed, she had to convince everyone else she was all right. The Colorado State Board of Nursing insisted she complete additional testing and clinicals to ensure that she was competent enough to practice nursing.

Almost two years of her life given away to a criminal. For her own sanity, she had made a conscious choice to not make attempts to retrieve the lost time, suppressing her normally inquisitive nature to avoid everything on the internet about the man who tried to kill her—a doctor who had been a coworker.

Someone she had once called her friend.

Now that she had started back nursing in the pediatric ER, all she wanted to do was heal kids and stamp out disease—as they always said at work.

Had that been wise? Did her lack of knowledge about the Hangman and his crimes put her at a disadvantage now?

She quickly dressed. Running shoes seemed to be the best option for a day where she had already been shot at before nine o’clock in the morning. From the stairwell, male voices snarled like lions arguing over territory, but as soon as her feet hit the landing, they stopped.

Eli broke through the trio of uniformed officers and led her to her kitchen. He pulled a chair out for her. Another man, dressed in a charcoal-gray pinstriped suit, followed him.

“Julia, this is my partner, Ben Murphy. We’ll be working together on your case. He’s from the FBI.”

The FBI and the U.S. Marshals working together?

Ben reached his hand out to her. “I wish we could have had a calmer introduction.”

His hand enveloped hers. Strong grip. His black hair, longer and swept off to one side, stood in stark contrast to his emerald-green eyes.

“Nice to meet you, Ben.” She sat in the chair, pulling her hand from his.

Ben continued. “Since the Hangman’s case was under federal jurisdiction because of the Wyoming murder victim in his series, your death threat was forwarded to us by a local parole officer. However, FBI staffing issues provided an opportunity for us to work with the marshals, who are more skilled at protecting witnesses. We bring different assets to your case.”

“Tea?” Eli asked.

She nodded.

“Pumpkin spice creamer and two teaspoons of sugar?” Eli stated more than asked.

Her lips pursed. How did he know?

He went directly to the cups and pulled one from the cupboard. No riffling around the kitchen in a blind search.

Electrical currents pulsed through her chest. He knew where they would be.

How was this possible?

“I see you’re getting low on your stockpile.” Eli shook the container to emphasize his point and examined it closer. “No matter, it expired two months ago.” He pulled out the trash drawer and chucked it in.

He not only knew her but knew her home.

“Who are you?” Julia demanded.

He turned to her, cup and spoon in hand, stirring her concoction slowly. “Eli Cayne. Marshals—”

“No.” She held her hand up. “Who are you
to me
?”

He crossed the kitchen, set the cup down in front of her and turned to his cohort. “Can you give us ten minutes?” Ben handed him the manila folder. The one Eli claimed marked the end of her life.

Eli unbuttoned his suit jacket, and she noted dark patches on the broad expanse of his tailored shirt. Water from her hair, from when he had carried her up the stairs. Something about being held in this man’s arms had felt so strangely familiar. Comforting. Julia pushed the thought aside and watched as he lowered himself into the chair across from her. She gripped the cup between her hands to cut the fear-laden chill that set in her bones.

“I used to work for the Aurora Police Department. I was the lead detective on your case. I’ve only been with the marshals’ office for about a year and a half.”

How much did she want to know about their past? Had there been anything besides a professional relationship between them? Pins and needles rushed over her body. She felt light-headed. Fear rose within her. The daily battle to keep it at bay faltered.

BOOK: Fractured Memory
13.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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