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The Sheriff's Amnesiac Bride

November 2008
Silhouette Romantic Suspense
ISBN # 978-0373276066

Sheriff Jericho Yates was about to marry a friend as a favor when a gorgeous damsel appeared, dodging bullets and running for shelter.  He had to help this woman who didn't know who she was.

Rosie wished she could tell Jericho why she'd been running--and how she'd ended up pregnant.  She did know she was falling in love with the handsome engaged sheriff.  Then Jericho's marriage was called off...and he showed Rosie how far he'd go to keep her safe.  But once her memory returns, will they lose their chance for a future together?

The Sheriff's Amnesiac Bride

 

Chapter One

Uh oh. Big trouble.

“Shut up, lady.” One of the two men in the front seat swung his arm over the seatback and smacked her across the cheek. “You’re in no spot to argue. You say you can’t remember? Well, that ain’t my problem.”

The driver didn’t turn around, but muttered, “When we get back, the boss’ll make you talk. And he won’t be as nice as we are. You took something that didn’t belong to you and that’s a no-no.”

“But…but I really can’t remember.” She rubbed at her stinging cheek. “I don’t even know who I am.” Tears welled up and she fought the panic. She didn’t dare cry. Hardly dared to breathe.

She’d been trying to bring up memories from her past. She was desperate to remember anything at all. Even her own name escaped her, and it had been this way for what seemed like hours.

Where there should’ve been something, there was a huge void. Darkness. A little pain. But nothing familiar.

She didn’t have a clue why these men had forced her into the backseat of this speeding car. Or where on earth they were heading. Everything out the window seemed as alien as everything in her mind. She didn’t know what she was doing here. Or who these horrible men were who kept insisting she tell them where ‘it’ was.

The only thing she did know was that these two goons were carrying guns. Big ones. They’d waved them at her when she tried to tell them she couldn’t remember.

Oh, God, help her. She was going to die if something didn’t give soon.

Putting her hands together, she silently prayed for a break. Some way of escaping this car and these two men.

As if God had answered her prayer directly, a church spire appeared out the front windshield. The car slowed.

Oh please, let someone help me.

Then, quietly, an answer came to her from out of the emptiness in her mind. The Lord helps those who help themselves.

* * *

Sheriff Jericho Yates glanced up toward the Esperanza Community church steps looming directly ahead and slowed his pace. He wasn’t chickening out of his own wedding, but there was truly no sense in getting there before the bride-to-be would be ready to start.

“You’re sure you want to go through with this, bro?” Fisher, his older brother and the best man, slowed his steps too.

With a serious face but eyes that always seemed to be laughing behind his sunglasses, Fisher Yates, U.S. Army Captain home on leave, rarely showed any emotion. But at the moment, it was Fisher who looked panic-struck by the thought of this wedding.

“Hell yes, I’m going through with it,” Jericho muttered as an answer. “I gave Macy my word. But I don’t want to piss her off by showing up too soon. We’ve been best friends ever since I can remember, and I couldn’t hurt her feelings by embarrassing her like that.”

“Well, I remember when there were three of you best friends— back in the day. You and Macy and Tim Ward. I thought the whole idea of two guys and a gal hanging out and being so close was a little weird at the time. And sure enough, it was Macy and Tim that eventually got hitched. So what were you all those years? The dorky third wheel?”

Jericho straightened his shoulders under the weight of his rented tux and rammed his hands into his pockets. He would not let Fisher get to him today. His slightly shorter big brother could be a pain in the ass. But Jericho felt he needed to make allowances for Fisher.

He opened his mouth to remind Fisher that the three of them, he and Tim and Fisher too, had all been half in love with Macy in high school. But then, Jericho thought better of jamming the truth in his brother’s face right now. Tim had been the one to win the prize.

“No,” Jericho finally answered, forcing a grin. “I was the best friend and glad about my buddies hooking up and being happy together. I was also the friend who stood by Macy when Tim got sick and died six years ago. And today, I’m the friend who’s going to marry her and give Tim’s teenage son a new father.”

“Yeah, you are. And right friendly of you too, bro. But as you said earlier, you and Macy aren’t in love. What’s the real deal? I’m not buying this friendly daddy-stand-in story.”

Jericho wasn’t sure he could explain it to someone like Fisher, a guy who’d never had anybody to depend on him—except of course for the men in his squad. Well okay, his brother probably would understand loyalty and honor, but not when it came to women or kids or best friends. Fisher had never let any of those things into his life.

“The real story is that I’m not in love with Macy…”

“You said that already.”

“But...I do love her and want the best for her. And that kid of hers and Tim’s already seems like family to me. I’m his godfather, and I think I can make a bigger difference to his life as his step-father. I mean to try.

“Act like a best man why don’t you and just shut up about love and real stories.” He poked Fisher lightly on his dress-uniformed arm. “We need to waste a few more minutes out here, bro. If you’ve gotta keep yakking at me, tell me what your plans are for after your leave is over.”

* * *

Just inside the Community church, waiting behind closed doors in the vestibule with her maid of honor, Macy Ward fidgeted with her dress. “What do you think everyone in town will have to say about me wearing off-white? Maybe I should’ve worn a light blue dress instead.”

The dress was of no consequence, but Macy didn’t want to say what she really had on her mind. Her maid of honor, Jewel Mayfair, was also her boss. And although she really liked Jewel, being too honest in a case like this might not be the best idea. Even though Macy was about to be married, she still needed the job.

So as devastated as she felt by the nasty looks she’d received from Jericho’s brother at the rehearsal last night. And as much as she would love to pour her heart out to another woman as kind as Jewel, she would instead keep her mouth firmly shut on the subject of Fisher Yates. Anyway, he was about to become her brother-in-law. So the two of them would just have to find a way of getting along.

But Macy felt nervous and jittery about more than just an irritating old boyfriend in uniform. About something much more important. Her son T.J. had been giving her fits over this upcoming marriage. He’d said he didn’t want anyone to take his father’s place. Though her boy liked Jericho well enough, and eventually Macy felt sure he would come to love and respect the man as much as the rest of the town.

What was not to love? Jericho Yates was the best man she knew. He was kind, loyal and so honest it almost hurt her heart. His honesty had recently made her feel guilty because she had not been absolutely honest with him or anyone else in such a long time.

“What’s wrong, Macy? You don’t look happy? You should be ecstatic. Today’s your wedding day.”

“I’m okay, Jewel. Honest. It’s just…” She decided to confide in her boss, at least a little. “Jericho and I aren’t in love. Not like a man and woman who are about to be married are supposed to be.”

“No? But then why get married?”

“My son.” Macy plopped down in the nearest chair, disregarding the possible wrinkles to her dress. “T.J. needs a father badly. And Jericho will make such a great dad. I’m the one who convinced our County Sheriff to take pity on an old friend and do me the honor. I knew he would never tell me no.”

“But now you’re having second thoughts?”

“Second, third and fourth thoughts actually. I’m about to ruin a good man’s life and saddle him with a wife he doesn’t love and a kid who’s a handful.

“I like Jericho,” she added hastily. “A lot. I don’t know if I can do this to him.”

Jewel knelt on the carpet beside Macy’s chair and spoke quietly. “If you ask me, he’ll be getting the best of the deal.”

Macy’s eyes clouded over with unshed tears, but she bit them back. Jewel had become the dearest friend. But when everything had been said, Macy just could not go through with this sham wedding. At least not today.

“Jewel, will you back me up if I postpone the wedding?”

Jewel put an arm around her shoulders. “Sure, honey. But why don’t you go out and talk to Jericho about it first? Maybe you can catch him on his way in.”

“Come with me?”

“All right. But we’d better hurry. The guests are already arriving. There’s a major traffic jam outside.”

* * *

Outside under the cottonwoods and next to the church, standing with his brother Fisher beside him, Jericho had been biding his time. He turned when he heard someone calling his name.

“Sheriff Yates!” The voice was coming from his deputy Adam Rawlings.

Jericho watched as the man he’d hired not long ago hurried toward him. Adam was dressed in his full deputy’s uniform because he’d been on duty today and hadn’t planned on attending the wedding.

“Sheriff, we’ve got ourselves a traffic tie-up out here on the highway. Someone called it in and I thought I’d better come over and direct traffic.”

Geez. The entire county must be coming to his wedding. Who all had Macy invited? He’d left the plans up to her because he’d been so busy for the last few weeks. The sheriff’s business was booming lately.

“All right, deputy,” he told Rawlings. “Thanks for the quick thinking. I’ll be out of pocket here for a few more hours and then I can help you out.”

The deputy nodded and raced back toward the highway, apparently all ready to set out traffic cones and organize traffic lanes.

“Aren’t you and Macy going on a honeymoon, bro?” Fisher laid a hand on Jericho’s arm, reminding him of his presence and of the upcoming nuptials.

Jericho winced and shook his head. “Not funny, bubba. You already know the answer to that. Besides, Macy and I are planning on spending some quality time with T.J. over the next few days. I thought I might take him hunting like Dad used to do for us. I hear the wild boar hunting has been good up on the north Gage pasture.”

“Yeah, wild boar hunting the day after your wedding does sound romantic.” Fisher scowled and rolled his eyes.

Jericho shook off his brother’s sarcastic comments. He didn’t care what Fisher or anybody thought of this marriage to his best friend. Macy was a great lady and a great friend, and Jericho vowed to do right by her and her son— regardless of anyone else’s opinions.

* * *

Still twisting her hands in the backseat and waiting for a good opportunity, the woman with no past and a questionable future bit her lip and stared out the car’s window. There was so much traffic here. Surely one of the people in these other cars would see her predicament and come to her aid.

The sedan wound down to a crawl as the driver turned around again to speak to her. “Don’t get smart, lady. You call out or make any noises like you need help and we’ll shoot you. I don’t give a rat’s damn if that special item the boss wants is ever found or not. The choice between you giving us the answer and you never being able to answer again ain’t nothing to me.

“You got that?”

She nodded, but the movement seared a line of fiery pain down her temple. Another couple of pains like that and she might rather be dead anyway.

“Terrific,” the goon sitting shotgun said. “Just look at that, will ya? A local smoky. Out in the middle of the highway, directing traffic.” The man in the passenger seat was beginning to sweat.

The driver bent and buried his gun, then twisted back to her. “Remember, sis. No funny stuff. I swear if you call out, you’re dead.”

Shaking badly, she wondered if her voice would work anyway. But right then, the miracle she’d prayed for happened. Their car came to a complete stop, almost directly in front of the church.

The truck in front of them inched ahead and she decided speed was her only real choice. If there was ever going to be a chance of finding out what had happened to make her lose her memories, she would have to go. Now.

* * *

Jericho heard a popping sound behind his back. Spinning around, he scanned the area trying to make out where the noise had originated.

“Was that a gunshot?” Fisher asked, as he too checked out the scene in front of the church.

In his peripheral vision, Jericho spotted a woman he’d never seen before. A woman seemingly out of place for a wedding, dressed in fancy jeans and red halter top. And she was racing at top speed across the grass straight in his direction. What the hell?

Another pop and the woman fell on the concrete walkway. From off to his left, someone screamed. Then tires squealed down the long line of cars. When he glanced toward the sound, he saw a sedan with two men sitting in front as they roared out of the line and headed down the narrow shoulder of the highway.

Chaos reined. Car horns honked. People shouted. And the sedan spewed out a huge dust plume as it bumped down the embankment.

Jericho took off at a run. He dropped to one knee beside the woman, checked her pulse and discovered she was breathing but unconscious and bleeding.

“Is she alive?” Deputy Rawlings asked, almost out of breath as he came running up. “I got their plates, Sheriff. But I didn’t dare get off a shot with all the civilians in the way. You want me to pursue?”

Son of a gun. It would figure that he didn’t have his weapon just when an emergency arose.

“Stay with the woman,” Jericho ordered. “You and Fisher get her to Doc O’Neal’s as fast as you can. My rifle’s in the truck and…” He looked over his shoulder toward the church door. “Tell Macy…”

Right then Macy appeared at the top of the church steps and peered down at him. He was about to yell for her to get back out of the line of fire. But within a second, he could see her quickly taking in the whole situation.

“You go do what you need to, Jericho,” she called out to him. “Don’t worry about us. Just take care of yourself. The wedding’s off for today.”


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