Excerpt from Bride on the Loose

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Bride on the Loose


Dana crawled out of the sea at dawn, grateful her stupidity hadn't
turned her into shark hors devours. Jumping off her fianc�'s yacht in
the dead of night might not be the dumbest thing that had ever been done
in the history of the universe, but it was a close second.
The sand was white and as fine as talcum, making her hands and knees
sink and slide with every attempt to move forward. Finally, finally,
when she was sure her upper torso would be clear of sea water, she
collapsed. "Don't crash now you idiot," she muttered, one side of her
face compacting damp sand. "You have to hide!"

"Hey, there!"

A man. Though instantly alert and on guard, she was too tired to lift
her head. She opened her eyes and noticed a wooden dock around a distant
curve of beach. A cabin cruiser was moored there. Unfortunately for her,
a man had just leapt off the pier and was heading in her direction. She
moaned. Run away, idiot! she told herself.  Tate probably has his people
out looking for you by now! Run!

She pushed up on one elbow, her arm quivered. Spending
heaven-knew-how-long paddling around in the ocean took a lot out of a
person. As the stranger jogged her way, she sagged down, her cheek once
again meeting cool sand. Squinting into the sunrise, she couldn't tell
much about his face, but he jogged like a man who'd done it before--a
lot. He had a trim, strapping silhouette; purple and pink streaks of
early morning light underscored the sinewy power of a great pair of long

Dana, stop ogling the man's thighs and make a break for it! her mind
screamed. You didn't risk life and limb jumping off Tate's yacht just to
be caught like a beached whale.
Dana felt herself being gently lifted and turned to her side by a pair
of strong hands. Her cheek no longer rested on cool sand, but was
snuggled against a warm, very masculine chest. She fancied she could
even hear a heartbeat. A little rapid, but solid, giving her a bizarre
sense of protection. Don't be crazy, Dana. The man's probably one of
Tate's hired thugs!

"Are you okay?"

She blinked, lifting her gaze to bring his face into focus. Even as
exhausted as she was, her heart did a high-kick of appreciation. For a
thug, his blue eyes were appealing, and he was startlingly handsome. He
was the image of those to-die-for male models in the TV ads, where they
do something particularly sensitive, like mop a kitchen floor or diaper
a baby. He had the kind of face an eye glasses frame company would hire
to put on a pair of their glasses, and woman all over the country would
haunt frame shops hoping he'll drop by.

If this guy was one of Tate's men, he wasn't one she recognized. Those
eyes, she'd remember. But then, what did she really know about the
conniving jerk she's almost made the mistake of marrying? She squinted,
not sure what to say or do. "What?" Her voice was a croaking whisper.
Maybe she'd swallowed a little too much salt water.

"I asked if you're okay." He looked concerned.

She eyed him, suspicious. Yeah, he would want to know that. Tate
couldn't pull off his little coup if I drowned.

"How did you get all the way out here?"

"Out where?" What was he talking about? Hadn't she washed up on Miami
beach? A rather deserted part, true, but...

"This is a privately owned island."

She frowned, confused. When she'd jumped off Tate's yacht, she'd gotten
a little turned around, yes, but the lights she'd seen, she'd thought...

"An island?"

He scanned her face, then the rest of her. His expression clouded and he
returned his gaze almost guiltily to her face. She wondered why.

"What's your name?" he asked.

So what did she say? Even if he wasn't one of Tate's men, she still
needed to hide. "Exactly where am I?"

"This is Haven Cay in the Berry islands."

The Berry Islands? They were in the Bahamas! The yacht must have sailed
farther off the coast of Miami than she'd realized during the big
pre-wedding bash.

"Miss," he said, "what's your name?"

She squinted at him, unsure what to say. She'd been abundantly dumb,
leaving that note telling Tate she'd overheard his sleazy plan. If he
got wind of where she was, he'd be Johnny-on-the-spot, slathering on the
charm, telling her she was mistaken--had misunderstood. Not to mention
her mother, so bent on this marriage she couldn't see the handwriting on
the wall. She'd add to the brew, badgering relentlessly. There would be
no escaping the marriage if anybody found out where she was.

Did she dare confide in this stud? Tate would offer a reward to know her
whereabouts. Or was this man the one in ten thousand not motivated by
greed? She smirked inwardly. Yeah, sure, and Tate-the-slimebag might
make a good Pope.

"You do know it, don't you?" he asked, drawing her back.


"Your name." He shifted her, lifting her more into a sitting positing.
She got a glimpse of rest of herself and was shocked. Good Lord, she'd
forgotten she'd shucked everything she'd had on but her bra and panties
while she'd been in the water. And those lacy scraps were soaked,
leaving nothing to the imagination but whether the brand name was Calvin
or Victoria Secret. Horrified, she flinched.

"Are you in pain?"

She shoved at his chest, dislodging herself from his arms. She fell back
on the sand; her breath whooshed painfully from her lungs. For a minute,
the man hunched beside her had two, blurry heads. She faced the fact she
was more exhausted than she realized. She couldn't even sit up on her

With a moan, she drew a forearm over her eyes. It was as close to
sticking her head in the sand as she could get.

"I'd better take a look at you." His fingers rested lightly on her head.
She jerked away but only succeeded in throwing out her arms, making him
visible again. He placed a hand on each side of her face and looked down
at her, his jaws tensed. A swath of black, wavy hair fell across his
forehead, ruffled by a breeze. The lock shone like obsidian. "Don't be
embarrassed, Miss," he said softly. His hands gently began to probe
beneath her wet hair. "I'm a doctor."

He nodded. A vague smile crooked his lips. She considered the smile as
his hands moved tenderly, carefully over her scalp. The expression
wasn't sly or smarmy, but sympathetic. If he really was a doctor, he had
a good bedside-manner smile.

Even so, she didn't dare tell him who she was. She needed a place a to
hide--and time. Two weeks, in fact, when she couldn't be found. By then
the deadline for Tate's scheme would pass, and their marriage would be
worthless to him.

His hands slid down to her shoulders as he touched, probed, asked if she
felt pain. She shook her head vaguely. No pain. But she felt something.
His fingers grazed along her ribs, then below her navel, where he
pressed gently. "Pain?"

She met his gaze. "No." Her flesh prickled at his touch and her
breathing grew uneven and labored. She wondered if she should mention
those symptoms, then decided they were best left unsaid--since they'd
only come on after his hands had begun to explore her body.
Poor man. He couldn't help being good-looking, or that his routine
check-up had a troubling seductive quality about it. She wondered if her
reaction was typical of his female patients and if it caused him much
trouble in the examining room. Of course, he probably had several
muscular nurses at the ready to hold patients at bay when lust overcame
them. Besides, he surely wore more than a pair of shorts and an
unbuttoned cotton shirt during office hours.
His hands skimmed over her panties and she closed her eyes. She was
afraid the groan she heard came from her throat.

"Something hurt?"

She shook her head, then decided she'd had enough. "Look, Doctor, I'm
okay. Really." She dragged herself up on an elbow.

He sat back on his haunches. Whopping good haunches, if you were into
men's haunches. She'd never thought she was, but being in such close
proximity to really first-class haunches made her rethink. Irritated
with herself she pulled up to sit. "I--I'm just tired. Nothing's broken."
Except maybe my heart, she added silently. Tate and his shoddy, sneaky

The doctor moved to one knee, his smile reassuring. "My name's Sam. Sam

That brief flash of teeth in the golden light held a burst of eroticism
that was way over the top for your average bedside manner. She wondered
if he had any idea how gorgeous he was early in the morning.

"Do you think you can stand?"

She shook her head, meaning she wasn't sure, but he took it as a no.
Before she realized what was happening, he lifted her in his arms.
"Well, then, I'd better carry you."

Dana swallowed hard. Why hadn't she thought of that! Well, as long as he

"You didn't tell me your name." He began to carry her along the beach,
away from the water and his boat.

"Where are we going?"

"My great aunt Beena's place." He winked. "It's better for resting. And
Beena will have food."

Her breath caught at the effect of the brief closing of that one eye.
She had to make herself start the breathing process again. Breathe in,
breathe out. Repeat. "Your aunt's place?"

He seemed to carry her effortlessly. Dana could detect no hint of
breathlessness as he talked. "I told you this was a private island."

"Oh...right. So it's your aunt's island. Must be nice." A private island?
Dana had been so muddle-headed when he'd mentioned it before, it hadn't
fully registered. What better hiding place could she hope for? Did she
dare think she had a chance to stay here for two whole weeks without her
whereabouts being found out? "Is your aunt sick?"

That sexy, crooked grin reappeared. "No, but I'm not her doctor."

"Why? Aren't you any good?"

Though his skin was tan, she saw a flush of darker color tint his
cheeks. How charming. He was blushing. "I've never had any complaints."

Dana just bet he didn't. He probably specialized in young women! "You're
a gynecologist, right?" She blanched. Where had that question come from?
She was aghast that only hours after discovering the man she'd promised
to marry was a liar and a phony, she could even think such thoughts
about a total stranger.

He cleared his throat. "In my practice I pretty much do it all."

She was surprised, but not quite so surprised as she was to find she'd
lifted her arms and wrapped them around his neck. She noticed in passing
that he had extravagantly broad shoulders, and wondered how he carried
all that breadth around and remained upright. "Small town doctor?" she

"No." He inclined his head, indicating something ahead. "There's my
great aunt's place."

Dana shifted around and caught her breath. The place looked like a
gothic castle that had managed to drag its gray granite bulk out of
Transylvania and plop down in the middle of this tropical paradise. As
the cardiovascularly fit doctor trudged over a sandy rise, she could see
the whole amazing structure. "Wow!" She knew that sounded lame, but
excused her brain-deadness on bobbing around in the ocean for hours. An
experience like that might even dumb-down Einstein.

"Um hum."

She stared at the doctor, confused. "Your aunt lives in a castle?"

He grinned. Shame on him! What if one of his young women patients had a
bad heart? That smile would do her in. Since Dana wasn't in tip-top
physical condition at the moment, either, in a self-defense move, she
turned away to study the castle. Every gargoyle was fashioned in the
shape of a cat, every spire held aloft by one. There were crouched cats,
snoozing cats, leaping cats, snarling cats, running cats, prancing cats,
cats in top hats, cats in ballet skirts, cats in boxing gloves.

"She likes cats?"

"How'd you guess?"

Dana faced him. He was grinning again. She sucked in an appreciative
breath. "So, you live here with your aunt?"

"No, I come to visit every summer."

"You just got here?" She wondered how long he stayed, and decided to
wangle the question into the conversation later.

"Just this morning."

"So, nobody's sick?"

"Not that I know of."

A shadow pass over them and Dana noticed that he'd carried her beneath a
granite archway, carved with frolicking cats. She looked around. They
were within a stone wall that undulated along the landscape. The sand
had given way to a lush lawn that led gradually upward toward the top of
the low hill where the gray edifice loomed.

"Aren't you getting tired?" she asked. After all they'd been heading
gradually uphill for over a quarter mile.

His brows pinched slightly in question. "No."

She inhaled, experiencing a charge of feminine admiration. She felt much
better, all of a sudden. She could probably even walk, but didn't make
the offer. He wasn't even sweating. Besides, riding in his arms was
stimulating, somehow. She was surprised how quickly her exhaustion was
slipping away.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

"Fine." She bit her lip. Stupid! Do you want to walk? "I--I mean, a
little better."

"Good." He glanced toward the castle, then back at her. "So what was
your name, again?"

It was her turn to frown. Cute doctor or no cute doctor, Dana didn't
dare tell him who she was. She had to be cautious. She'd shown how
stupidly na�ve she could be, letting Tate sweep her off her feet the way
he had. If that experience taught her anything, it was not to trust too
"You do have a name, don't you?' he asked.

She blinked, shooting him a cautious look. "Uh--" she stalled. "I--of
course I have a name. Don't be silly." Her mind raced. What if she
pretended not to remember it? What if she didn't have a name--for two
weeks? Would that help her cause? It couldn't hurt, could it?

He came to a halt, his expression quizzical. "Okay, let's hear it."

Unaccustomed to lying, she swallowed several times. Fate hadn't led her
straight to this private island for no reason. Surely, she was meant to
be here. This private slice of ocean-going real estate was meant to be
her hiding place--she could feel it in her bones.
Dana Lenore Vanover had no intention of flying in the face of Madam
Destiny's decrees. Steeling herself with resolve, she made her decision.
"I--I don't remember."

He studied her for a moment, looking dubious. "You're not serious."

"I'm not?" She panicked, trying to think back. Had she said something to
give herself away? After all, he was a doctor. He probably knew more
about amnesia than she did. He'd probably taken courses--Amnesia 101 and
Advanced Amnesia. She bit the inside of her cheek. What the heck did she
know about it, anyway? Something she'd seen on an episode of ER?

"I don't like this."

She licked her lips, then made a face at the salty taste. "You don't?"
Don't panic! She told herself. Be calm. "Why--I mean, you're a doctor.
Surely--surely it's not fatal--is it?" She wanted to shout out, 'What
don't you like? What do you know that I don't? What am I doing to give
myself away?'

"It's not that." His fascinating blue eyes, fringed with lots of long
dark lashes, were narrowed in either deep concern or high distrust.
"It's just that I'm not equipped for this sort of thing."
She exhaled a slow relieved breath. "Oh--well, don't worry. I'm sure--I
mean, don't most amnesia victims regain their memory--in time?"

He shrugged. She detected the stretch and bunch of muscle beneath her
hands. "It's not exactly in my domain, being a vet."

"Well, that's okay. I'm sure with plenty of rest and quiet I'll be as
good as..." Something about what he'd said nagged at her brain, and she
shifted to better look at his face. "Being a what?"

The sunlight in his blue eyes sparkled like bits of sapphire. She
couldn't tell if they were twinkling with amusement or if it was a trick
of the light. "A vet," he said quietly.

She felt a creeping unease begin to envelope her. "I hope you mean you
were in the Army."
His lips crooked into a wry grin. "Sorry. No."

With a rush of dismay, she cast her glance down at herself. She was
practically naked in this man's arms only because she'd been given the
impression he was a man of medicine--as indifferent to examining the
human body as a mechanic was to a carburetor.

Suddenly full of energy, she struggled from his arms, landing on her
feet, but quickly sagging to her knees. He reached for her, but she
lifted a halting hand, while trying to cover as much of herself as she
could with the other. "Don't--you--come--near--me--you--you--veterinarian!"
He straightened, looking a little put out. "Don't say it like it's

"You lied to me!" She worked at covering herself with both hands and
arms, and one bent leg, as she dropped to the ground. "You said you were
a doctor!"

"I am a doctor."

"For animals!" Thwarted, humiliated and furious, she cast out a hand.
"Give me that shirt!"
He muttered something as he shrugged it off. She bet whatever it was, it
didn't come close to the curses she was mentally flinging at him.

"Here." He held out the shirt, and it fluttered in the breeze.

She grabbed it and slung it on, pulling the front tight around her. At
least it was big. She eyed him threateningly as she crouched there in a
mortified little ball. "You should be registered someplace--as the local
pervert vet masquerading as a real doctor."

"I am a--"

"Do not say that again!" She fumbled with the buttons, but her hands
shook so badly she couldn't get them to fasten. Drat men and their
backward buttoning shirts, anyway! In frustration, she pulled the shirt
close around her again, and glared. "You fondled me!"

He crossed his arms over that great chest, and she gritted her teeth,
hating the fact that she'd used the adjective 'great' about this
pervert. "I did not fondle you. I examined you."

"Ha! That's pervert talk for fondle!"

"Look, you had just crawled out of the ocean, and you couldn't stand up.
You needed a doctor." He exhaled heavily. "You're not that different
from a dog."

"Not that different...oooooooh!" Seething, she pushed up to stand. She
might not be Miss America material, but she was no dog! Her
determination to march to the castle was undermined when she fell on her

She cringed, and rubbed her backside, but refused to look at the pervert
dog doctor.
"You'd better let me help you."

"Not if you were the last man on this entire island!"

"I'm the only man on this entire island."

She blinked, then turned to glower at him. "Huh?"

He watched her without humor. Apparently being called a pervert for
being a veterinarian didn't appeal to him. But he deserved it, the rat.
He'd purposely misled her! "I said, I'm the only man on the island."

She rubbed her throbbing posterior absently. "Why?"

He let go with that wry, crooked flash of teeth again, and it had an
affect she didn't appreciate, coming from a pervert. "It cuts down on
the raping and plundering," he said.

She squinted in confusion, wishing she could get up and stalk proudly
away. She wondered how long it would take to get her strength back.
Perhaps it had been na�ve of her--as a librarian--to think carrying around
tons of heavy books built up lots of muscle. Evidently it didn't bulk
you up as much as people might think--especially librarians. She sighed.
"You mean there are only women on this island?"

"There are around thirty male cats, and a couple of the iguanas are

She turned away, drawing up her knees and resting her chin on them.
"Good grief. They need a vet."

"Excuse me?"

She closed her eyes. "I said you're a pervert!"

"That's it! You're through calling me a pervert." She felt herself being
lifted, and struggled to get free. "Quit it," he said. "You have bigger
problems than having a veterinarian see you in your drawers. If you'll
recall, you have amnesia."

She glared at him, her jaws clamped. He was right! She must not forget
that for a second. Clutching his shirt snugly about her, she stared away
from him. "I hope," she gritted, "when I remember my name, I forget

"I think I know how you got into the ocean," he muttered.

She experienced a rush of anxiety. "You do?"

He nodded, his expression a striking blend of irritation and pity.
"Somebody out there got fed up with the attitude."

From the book BRIDE ON THE LOOSE, by Renee Roszel
Published by Harlequin books S.A. Copyright © 1999 by Renee Roszel
Publication Date (USA), August/September 1999, ISBN: 0-373-44076-6
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