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 legs. 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. "What?" "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 own. 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." "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 plans! The doctor moved to one knee, his smile reassuring. "My name's Sam. Sam Taylor." 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 had.... "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 asked. "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 quickly. "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 dirty." "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 butt. 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 guys." 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 yours." "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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