By: Evangeline Anderson

Chapter One

Elise felt like her stomach had dropped right out of her body. “James. Oh my God, James! How could I forget?”

“So this is true?” Merrick demanded. “You have a fiancé? You were calling out for someone named Buck, but I thought—”

“No, no.” Elise shook her head impatiently. “Buck was a dog I owned when I was a kid. He had one blue eye and one…” She looked up at Merrick’s mismatched eyes and bit her lip. “And one gold,” she finished in a small voice.

His eyes, one bright blue and one deep gold, narrowed and he stood suddenly, spilling her out of his lap. “A dog? As in, a fucking pet?”

Elise stumbled but he didn’t catch her. She grabbed the rail of the bed and tried to steady herself. “Please, you don’t understand.”

“No, I fucking don’t,” Merrick snarled. “Just a minute ago you were all over me, begging me not to leave you, and now it turns out you have a Goddess-damned fiancé.”

“I forgot!” Elise cried. “I don’t know how I could—we’ve been engaged for well over a year. But somehow I completely forgot him! I swear, it’s true, Merrick.”

“Sure it is.” He ran a hand over his skull-cut hair. “Gods. I’m an idiot. Thinking a female like you could care for someone like me.”

“I do care,” Elise protested. “I swear I do.”

“Right.” He nodded shortly, his face suddenly impassive. “In that case, let’s go meet this James of yours. I want to see what kind of male is so forgettable you can be engaged to him for over a year and not even remember him.”

He grabbed Elise’s arm and dragged her toward the door. Suddenly the blonde nurse, Olivia, was in the way.

“I don’t think so, Merrick,” she said, frowning up at him. “She’s my patient, and you’re not going to hurt her, no matter how angry you are.”

“Hurt her? You think I’m going to hurt her?” Merrick dropped Elise’s arm suddenly. “Don’t worry about that,” he snarled. “I’m not a fucking beater. I just want to meet her male—that’s all.”

“I’ll come with you, just in case.” Olivia took Elise’s arm and led the way. “Come on, maybe it’s all just a mistake.”

“It’s no mistake,” Elise said miserably. “We’re engaged, all right. I just…I don’t understand how I could have forgotten.” The truth was, all she had been able to think about was Merrick. Somehow the huge Kindred had driven everything else out of her mind. But a quick look over her shoulder at his scarred, scowling face told her he wouldn’t want to hear that. He thinks I’m lying, she thought, feeling sick. He thinks I was leading him on all this time—and I don’t blame him! How could I be so stupid? What’s wrong with me?

“You’ve been through a lot, hon.” Olivia put an arm around her shoulder and squeezed comfortingly. “It’s no wonder a few things slipped your mind.” She shot a glare at Merrick who returned it with interest.

“Being promised to another male for over a year is a pretty fucking big thing to slip your mind,” he growled.

They were coming to the end of a long hallway and Olivia turned and pointed a finger at him. “We’re almost here, so keep a civil tongue in your head, Merrick. You need to remember that Elise was the one who was kidnapped and…and hurt. She’s been through a lot of trauma, and I don’t need you adding to it. Am I making myself perfectly clear?”

His eyes narrowed and he loomed over her. “You’re very fucking lucky you’re female, you know that?”

Olivia drew herself up. “Are you threatening me?”

“No,” he said shortly. “I’m saying you shouldn’t be threatening me. You don’t have to tell me what Elise went through. I found her, remember? I saw the bruises and cuts that sick bastard left on her skin. I know what he—”

“Please!” Elise burst out. Her heart was racing and her palms were damp. The vault, she thought wildly. Keep it in the vault. If she let the memory of what had happened on the Fathership come back, she was sure other—worse—memories would follow.

“Elise?” Olivia frowned. “You’re white as a sheet, honey.”

“I just can’t…” Elise took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. “I have to go in there and talk to James,” she said at last. “And I can’t do it with you two fighting like this.”

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