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“We had to sedate her,” Dr. Richard Hanover explained, running a hand over his thinning gray hair, his eyes shaded with dark circles beneath them.
Nathan shifted his weight and stared at the older man, trying to grasp what he was telling him. “Did she or didn’t she come out of the coma?”
“She did, but there’s something you have to understand. When Miss Porter awoke, she was confused and disoriented. She was in a hospital bed, hooked up to IV’s and monitors, she had a tube down her throat helping her breathe… and she began to panic. We were able to calm her long enough to take her off of the respirator, but then her heart rate spiked and she started convulsing. So, we injected a strong sedative into her IV. She’s awake, yet quite out of it. But, Sheriff Benson… from what I could gather, the girl doesn’t know how she got here, doesn’t remember what happened.”
“So what are you saying? She has amnesia?”
“I haven’t had much time to talk to her. All I know is that she just kept asking where she was and what happened. Amnesia is such a broad term for what she is experiencing.”
“Then what term would you use,” Nathan asked with frustration.
“The mind is a fragile thing. When the body goes through such trauma as Jessica’s has, the mind shuts down and blocks certain things. I’m neither a psychologist nor a neurologist. Of course, we will have her checked out by both. But my guess is that just because she doesn’t remember right now, doesn’t mean that she won’t. Basically, it’s a waiting game. We do not want to force anything on her. At this point, recovering from her injuries is the most important thing.”
“Can I see her?”
“Absolutely. But I urge you to keep your conversations about what happened to a minimum. Let her get her strength back before you go into the logistics of what brought her here.”
“I will not lie to her. If she asks me, I’m going to tell her the truth.”
“I understand. If it were me, I’d want a straight answer, too. All I’m saying is that perhaps you should go slow with her. The young woman has been through quite a lot.”
Nathan nodded and shook the good doctor’s hand before he bolted towards the room.
He placed his hand on the knob and slowly opened the door, peeking in before entering. The girl looked frail and pasty, her hands clasped over her abdomen and her eyes closed. Despite her pallid coloring, her face was more devastating in person than in any picture. The way her hair billowed over the white linen pillowcase, her mouth puckering as she exhaled a long even breath, it almost sent chills across Nathan’s spine. He had spent the last two and a half weeks getting to know the woman without ever having gazed upon her in person. Actually seeing her face-to-face was overwhelming.
Nathan took a wary step forward and sat down in the chair beside of the bed. His eyes roamed from her face, down to her hand where an IV was implanted. Heart monitors beeped monotonously along with the gentle hum of the oxygen machine that fed her through a tube that was inserted in her nostrils.
His gaze found her face again, taking in the deep dark circles embedded beneath her eyes, the pale skin stretched over high cheekbones. Nathan couldn’t shake the mental image of the girl in the pictures and on the videotape. She was so full of life and vigor, spunky and quick-witted. Lying before him was the shell of that woman, the person that once was. He didn’t know if she would ever be that free spirit again. So much had happened to her and around her. The doctor had said that she had already been through a lot. Unfortunately, Nathan knew that this had only begun. Her life would soon be unraveling around her feet and he was helpless to stop it.
Nathan clasped his hands and stared down at them, closing his eyes to the painful image before him. When he glanced up at her face again, he found curious blue eyes staring back at him. He offered her a small smile, not really knowing what to say to her.
“Hi,” she said in a hoarse voice.
“Hi,” was Nathan’s stunned reply.
Her mouth tilted into an ironic smile. “Shower or shave much?”
He lifted a wayward hand to his stubbled chin and offered her a grin. Nathan could only imagine what he looked like. He had been so preoccupied with getting here that he hadn’t stopped to take a shower or much less shave his face. “Are you trying to say something?” he taunted, matching her good-humored mood.
“Sorry.” She lowered her eyes as if ashamed of herself before lifting her gaze to him once again. Jessica studied him curiously for a long moment. “Do I know you?”
Nathan simply shook his head.
Pondering her next question, her teeth grazed over her bottom lip. “Do you know me?” she asked carefully.
Yes, he thought to himself, but decided not to say as much. “No. But I’d like to,” he offered, causing her to smile.
“Do you have a name?” Her voice was slow, a bit slurred from the sedative she had been given.
“Nathan Benson. And you?”
Her eyes never left his as she studied him, wary and confused.
“Nice to meet you, Miss Porter.”
She simply nodded and Nathan could see her lids becoming heavy once again.
“Do you mind if I sit with you for a while?” he asked.
Jessica shook her head, finally closing her eyes and drifting back off into a deep sleep.
Nathan sat back in the chair, crossing his ankle over his knee and watching her while she slept. Jessica looked so peaceful, so serene. If she only knew that this was the calm before the storm.
A protective need washed over him and Nathan knew that just because the girl was awake, there was nothing easy about what was to come. She was too fragile to just fall in with a million questions. This was going to take time and patience, both of which he always seemed to lack. Yet, that instinctive need to watch over her was overwhelming, the need to be gentle with this woman daunting. Her mind and her body were like a porcelain doll, vulnerable and delicate. The wrong move and he was sure she would shatter.
* * * *
Jessica opened her eyes, swallowing hard as the haziness faded away and she could focus. Her throat burned, her body aching from head to toe. She lifted her head slowly and glanced down at the IV in her hand, then lifted trembling fingers to the tube in her nose. A low hum plagued the room, a methodic beeping noise echoing in the silence.
Her gaze traveled around the expanse of the room, taking in the monitors clicking behind her and the four barren white walls surrounding her. She closed her eyes and inhaled a long breath, trying to reorient herself with the present. Jessie knew she was in a hospital room, but how she had gotten here was a mystery. The last thing she remembered was driving home from work and… her mind went blank from there on. She tried to conjure up images that simply were not there, tried to recreate what had happened but was unable.
Then, the vision of a man with dark stubble on his chin and piercing hazel eyes flashed before her. As if suddenly becoming aware, she glanced to her left and saw the man sitting in the chair, his long lean legs stretched out before him, crossed at the ankle, and his head tilted back, his eyes closed and his breathing steady. She took a moment to study the man, knowing that she had met him once before but not really remembering too clearly the event.
He had a handsome face, chiseled features of a man that belonged on an aftershave or cologne commercial. His hair was black, medium length waves that touched his neck and fell carelessly across his forehead. His body was a work of art, the gray t-shirt he wore stretching across broad shoulders and a trim abdomen. The man’s arms were crossed over his chest, his hands tucked underneath his armpits. She couldn’t help but notice the firm muscles bulging in his biceps. He was a pure specimen of masculinity and attractive beyond words.
Who was he and what was he doing here? A better question was what was she doing here? How could she not remember how she had ended up in a hospital? Had she gotten into a car accident?
Jessie dropped her head back against the pillow and lifted one weak hand to her forehead, probing around for a bandage or a cut. Feeling nothing, she trailed her fingers across her chest, to her abdomen. That was where she felt the most pain. Just as she was about to reach beneath the gown to find out why she hurt so damn bad, she heard the man in the chair move and quickly dropped her hand to her side.
She turned her face to him and found sleepy hazel eyes staring back at her. Jessie mustered a small smile before averting her eyes to the blanket laid across her legs.
“How are you feeling?” he asked in a sluggish voice.
Jessie glanced up at the man, watched him stretch before he sat upright and lifted his hands to his eyes to rub the sleep out of them with his palms.
“Who are you?” she asked, her voice raspy and her throat aching. Absently, she lifted her hand to her throat and gasped, surprised that it hurt so much to talk.
“You had a tube in your throat helping you breathe. Do you want a drink of water?” Nathan didn’t wait for her to reply. He stood up immediately, walked over to the table and poured her a cup of water from the pitcher. Walking back towards her, he couldn’t help noticing the way she watched his every move, her brow creased and her eyes clouded with confusion.
Nathan placed the cup of water in her hand and seeing her struggle to sit up, he put his arm around her shoulders to give her support. Slowly, she lifted the cup to her mouth, her gaze never leaving his.
Nathan stood back and waited until she emptied the cup before taking it from her and sitting it on the table. He turned to face her again and instantly he knew… there was no way around telling this woman the truth. The only question was how much truth could he tell her without completely scaring her?
“Who are you?” she asked again, her voice clearer and more forceful.
Nathan let out a long breath before collapsing into the chair beside of her. He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his thighs and meeting her stare. “My name is Nathan Benson. Sheriff Nathan Benson.”
She searched his eyes for a minute, silently debating over which question to ask first. But Jessie knew the most obvious answer she needed was what had happened. “I’m in a hospital. I know that. What I don’t know is why?”
Nathan nodded; figuring he would tell her what she wanted to know and answer her questions with as much honesty as he could. The woman had the right to know what had happened. “You were stabbed multiple times to the chest and abdomen.”
“I was?” she replied in a flat tone.
He simply nodded, expecting a different reaction out of her, not this calm and cool veneer she exuded.
“Two and a half weeks ago.”
Jessie closed her eyes, trying to remember. But still, she was drawing a blank. She could not remember anything from the last two and a half weeks and that thought scared her. “Look,” her voice trembled, “I’m really confused here. And I don’t need someone just blowing hot air up my ass. I need answers. I need the truth. What is going on? How did I get here?”
“You were airlifted here to University Hospital where you have been in a coma for the last two and a half weeks. Last night you woke up with no recollection and the doctors had to give you a sedative to help you sleep. We don’t know what happened or who did this to you. That was something I had hoped you could answer for me.”
“I don’t remember anything,” she groaned. Large, frightened eyes focused on him. “I don’t know if I want to remember.”
“I don’t blame you. But, you see… you sort of have to remember, Miss Porter.”
“Otherwise, we’ll never find out who did this to you.”
“How can you be sure I know who did this?”
“I’m not. But, you’re memory is all I’ve got.”
Jessica studied him for a fleeting moment, reading the depths of his eyes. And she knew without understanding how that the man before her wasn’t telling her everything. He was holding something back, something important. And that pissed her off. This was her life and she deserved to know everything. “How come I get the feeling you’re not being completely honest with me?” she asked in a tense voice.
“I’m being as honest as I can.”
“That’s straight up bullshit.” She turned away from him with disgust, knowing he was only telling her what he wanted her to know. That pissed her off more. She had a right to know everything, no matter how horrible it was. And this man was just giving her bullshit answers. She didn’t need to be placated, or pacified for that matter. What she needed was to be told the truth, every last horrifying detail.
Nathan could sense her antipathy; felt she was entitled to it. He would tell her everything in time. But right now, she wasn’t well enough to hear the entire truth about what had happened that night.
He reached out and touched her arm, causing her to flinch and pull away. Nathan didn’t know why, but her rejection caused such a strong reaction in him. He was here to help her, not hurt her. “Miss Porter,” he tried, wishing he could ease her mind. She didn’t respond, continued to stare out the window at the sun slipping through the trees. “Jessica,” Nathan whispered, his weak attempt to reach her.
She turned to him, her eyes full of tears. “I’m not going to have a mental breakdown, you know? I just… I need to hear the truth.”
“There is something you’re keeping from me.”
“Yes, there is,” Nathan admitted, feeling an odd emotion surge through him.
“Please… just tell me the truth,” she pleaded.
Nathan sighed, figuring he might as well tell her everything. She deserved to know. “The attack happened at your house. We don’t know any of the specifics but… Sherry, Maria, and Karen were killed.”
Her bottom lip trembled, the tears flowing freely down her cheeks. “They’re all three dead?” she whispered.
“Yes. They were also stabbed multiple times in the chest and the abdomen.”
Jessica closed her eyes, drawing in an uneven breath before opening her lids and staring intently at the man beside of her. “And you think I’m the key to finding out who did this?”
“I think you saw who did this, yes.”
“But what if I can’t remember?” she sobbed. “What if I can’t help you?”
“We’ll cross one hurdle at a time. Right now, you need to get some rest, get your strength back. Then… we’ll go from there.”
She swallowed hard; not wanting to think about Sherry, Maria, and Karen’s fate at the moment for the idea of what had happened to them was too overwhelming. Jessie felt drained, mentally and physically exhausted. But worst of all, she felt scared and vulnerable, which was an emotion she found harder to deal with.
As if reading her thoughts, Nathan quickly told her, “We have around the clock protection for you, two cops outside your door at all times making sure that nothing happens.”
“Thank you,” she offered in a light voice.
Nathan reached over and grabbed her hand, holding it firmly in his own. “You and me, we’re going to figure this thing out together.”
“Does that mean that you’ll be staying here with me?” Jessie asked in a hopeful voice.
Nathan hadn’t given it much thought. But then again, he hadn’t held much hope that the girl would wake up. Now, looking into her sad, bewildered eyes, he didn’t know if he could go. Something deep inside of him took over, that innate need to protect this woman, and Nathan realized that perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to stay with her for a day or so until she was feeling better.
“Let me make a few phone calls and I’ll be back.”
“That doesn’t answer my question. Will you be staying here with me, Sheriff Benson?”
“Yes. At least for a day or so.” Nathan released her hand and stood up. “If you’ll excuse me… I have a few phone calls to make. I’ll be right outside the door if you need anything.”
He watched her nod solemnly before he turned and walked out of the door.