He had wandered through the forest for what seemed like forever. He stumbled and managed to drag himself to his feet again forcing himself to put one foot in front of the other. They felt like lead weights. He was able to see a little as the full moon was casting its glow on the riverbank. He fell again, this time into a prickly bush. He grunted as he pulled himself back to his feet and felt the blood dripping from his hands and face. He hoped that the smell of blood would not attract wild animals. As if on cue, a lonely wolf howled in the not so far distance.
The young man shuddered with fear at the sound. He hoped he found a safe place to spend the night before the wolf found him. He didn’t relish the thought of becoming a link in the food chain. He looked with trepidation for a sign of human life anywhere in these lonely woods and found none. He trudged on through the shadowy forest seeing danger at every turn and jumping at every sound. As he walked he pondered how he came to be in this predicament. Unfortunately, he could remember nothing before waking up on the bank of this very same river.
Upon waking, after adjusting to his disorientation, he checked himself for injuries and found he was black and blue from an obvious beating. He was sure he had a black eye, a swollen jaw and maybe a few broken ribs but the worst seemed to be the good size lump at the base of his skull. He was wearing a torn black t- shirt, black jeans and black boots. There was no identification, no wallet, no name sewed into his shorts, (he looked). Instinct told him to walk and follow the river, so he began his journey. He had been walking for hours and figured that by now, it must be midnight, as the moon was directly overhead. The darker it became the more nervous he got. So, now here he was, beaten, lumpy, scratched, bruised, hungry and cold with no idea who he was, how he got here or if he was going to survive the night!
Just when he decided to sleep in a tree and began with great difficulty to climb to a safe branch, he saw a faint glow in the distance. From up in the tree he figured it was no more than an hours’ walk from where he was, so he decided to chance it and struggled back down. He just hoped that the wolf was crippled and blind in one eye with a very bad sense of smell and would not catch up to him before he got to the source of that light. He stumbled over a very large rock and cursed with disgust at himself. He tossed his long hair out of his face as if it had bitten him and fought with his sore and aching body to upright himself. He seemed to have great difficulty putting one foot in front of the other. Perhaps his injuries were worse than he thought.
A short time and a few more falls later, his battered body walked into a clearing. In front of him was the most beautiful sight. A cabin sat nestled between the mountainside and the river. The lights were on and he heard music coming from inside, he hoped those inside were friendly and had food! He clambered up the stairs and knocked on the door. After a few moments, the music stopped and someone asked who was there. “I don’t know who I am, I have been hurt and have been walking for hours, please help me.” He pleaded. The silence lent credence to the fact that the person on the other side was trying to figure out if he was telling the truth or not. He waited, then his vision began to blur and the door stood on its end and then nothing!
“Can you hear me? Sir, open your eyes, please!” The soft voice came to him through the haze of unconsciousness and he struggled to open his eyes. “That’s right, open those eyes up, you have been out for twelve hours now.” The voice was definitely feminine so he worked harder at obeying its commands. Carefully he opened one eye and then the other. After a few moments blinking, he was able to see the face that went with the voice. His body felt like he had been run over by a truck but he was alive and that was all that mattered. “Beautiful.” He whispered. “What? Did you say something?” She asked. “I said you were beautiful.” He answered. “Ah, so you are blind.” She chuckled. “How do you feel?” He shook his head to answer he first question and was immediately sorry he had. “Argh! My head hurts terribly!”
“Easy, don’t make any sudden moves, I think you have a concussion along with a multitude of bumps, lumps, bruises, scrapes and scratches. I also think you may have a few bruised ribs; I don’t think they are broken though. You are very lucky. Since I don’t have a phone and it would take more than forty-five minutes to get to town, I had to patch you up by myself. The road is very bumpy and I didn’t think you could make it in my truck. Do you remember who you are and what happened to you?” He started to shake his head and thought better of it, “No, I wish it had all come back to me, but it hasn’t.” She helped him sit up and drink from the glass of water she was holding. It was so cool going down his throat; he forgot how scratchy it had felt. “There, not too much at once or it won’t stay down. I am cooking some soup that should help you get some strength back. You are one giant bruise! You are lucky to be alive, who did this to you?” He stared at her and just shook his head. She looked at him with a look of genuine concern. “I am Emily Michaels. This is my family’s cabin, I am up here to write, well to overcome my writer’s block and come up with a story for my publisher before they burn my contract. Maybe your being here is fate, because I came up with a few ideas last night while you slept.”
She smiled at him and he was again taken with her loveliness. Stunned, he said nothing for a few moments. “Cat got your tongue?” “What? Oh, no, I’m sorry. I just checked out for a minute. I was caught up in the face of beauty I see before me.” He surprised himself with the words that came out of his mouth too quick for him to stop. His look of utter embarrassment made her laugh. “My, you are a smooth talker, aren’t you?” “I don’t know, they came out before I could stop them. I am sorry if I offended you.” He regretted not having better control over his mouth. “I will try to police my thoughts before I utter them, so not to make that mistake again.” She just smiled at him and stirred the soup.
While she prepared the soup, he watched her unable to take his eyes from her. He saw a woman of immense beauty and grace. She had long, curly blond hair and blue eyes and a little nose that stuck up just a touch. She was by no means model- thin but she had perfectly formed curves in all the right places. She glanced at him and blushed when she saw he was staring at her. The color spread from her cheeks to her neck and only enhanced his interest in her. He thought she must think him a crazy man for waking up from unconsciousness and immediately wooing her with words of a very romantic nature. Was this the way he was? How much trouble had he gotten into with this kind of behavior? How would he know until he got his memory back?
What he didn’t know was that she had had twelve hours in which to check him out and liked what she saw. He was over six feet tall, long wavy, sable hair, a mustache and goatee and a lean, muscled body. Even with all the bruises, cuts and the black eye, she could see he was quite handsome. She tried to ignore her immediate attraction to this stranger and concentrated on cleaning him up. As she did so, she wondered what such a gorgeous man was doing out here in the middle of nowhere as the reason might make for a fantastic story. She examined his head and found the lump hiding in the mass of silky tresses and whistled at the size of it. Maybe he was telling the truth, as he bore the evidence of a severe beating. She had treated everything she could, but was worried about the concussion she was sure he had. She watched him as he slept and was filled with curiosity. Sighing, she had resigned herself to waiting for him to wake up and give her the answers she so desperately craved.
She poured the soup into a bowl and sat by him and prepared to feed him, “I think I can do it, thank you.” He said with a chuckle. It would not do for him to allow this gorgeous creature to feed him when he could manage. She helped him sit up and handed him the bowl. It slipped and she caught it just in time. “See, you are dizzy and weak, just let me help you.” He consented to her feeding him as he was starving and felt if he fed himself, most of it would’ve ended up on his shirt. She carefully spooned mouthful after mouthful for him until he finished the entire bowl. “There, see, you ate the whole thing!” She had a mischievous glint in her eye as she reached for his glass of water. “Oh, that’s right, hit me when I am down!” He joked. She held the glass for him while he sipped the cool water. He wanted her close for as long as possible so he drank the entire glass of water very slowly. “Do you think you need to, um, do you need, well, it has been a while since you have answered the call of nature. Do you need to now?” She stammered.
His eyebrow went up as she tried to ask if he needed to use the restroom, she was an author and had a hard time finding the word for bathroom? He let out a little chuckle, beautiful and modest, a nice combination, “I think I may just need to go to the bathroom, but I am not sure if I can get up on my own.” “I’ll help you, I put one of my father’s old shirts on the sink, I think it will fit.” She helped him up and across the room to the bathroom and let him use the walls and door to aid him in doing what he needed. He removed the tattered t- shirt and put on the soft flannel shirt. He managed to hang onto the sink and put the shirt on. He looked like death warmed over! Whoever did this knew what they were doing! His body was just about every color in the crayola box! He finished up quickly as it was getting difficult to stand. When he came out, she was waiting to help him back to the couch. He looked around the cabin and noticed that it was fairly comfortable in its furnishings.
The cabin had two floors and a huge roaring fireplace in the main room downstairs. There was a kitchen that seemed to have every modern convenience. There must have been bedrooms upstairs; as he saw no other rooms downstairs save the kitchen, living and bathroom. He collapsed on the couch with quite a bit of pain. He tried not to cry out and appear less than manly in front of this fair beauty before him. The little walk around the room had thoroughly exhausted him. After tucking the blankets around him, Emily sat opposite him on the other couch in the room.
“Still no memory of who you are?” When he shook his head in response, she said, “We need to come up with a name for you as I can not go around calling you “sir”. He agreed he needed a name, but what? She looked at him carefully while she pondered the perfect name for her handsome patient. “Let’s see, you don’t look like a Archibald.” She began. His face held a look of pure horror! “Okay, I take it you don’t like that one. Let me think, Oscar? No. Maybe Ralph!” She seemed to be enjoying his discomfort as she went through just about every horrendous name she could think of and then a few more! “No. I’ve got it, how about Cade?” He thought about it and it was as good as any other until he found out who he truly was. “Okay, Cade it is!”
“Cade? Cade? Can you hear me? CADE!” He jumped at the sound of Emily yelling at him. He had fallen asleep and now she was yelling at him at the top of her lungs! “Yes, I can hear you, what is wrong? Why are you yelling?” He looked at her through heavy sleep laden eyes. “You just dozed off. One minute you were laughing at my suggestions of names and the next, you were out. I got worried that it was the concussion.” She explained. He could see the worry etched into her face. “I’m sorry, I just got so tired all of a sudden.” She held her hand to his forehead and clucked just like a mother hen. He started to giggle and couldn’t stop.
“What is so funny!” She shrieked. “I thought you were going to die! Don’t laugh at me!” She was very nearly crying. He could see the tears forming in her eyes and immediately felt remorseful. He struggled to sit up and comfort her. She knew she was being ridiculous but she could not help it. He was looking at her with such a look of pity that she began to get angry. “Don’t look at me like that! I was afraid you were going to die and I would have to bury you up here!” She was nearly hysterical with fear. Cade held her shoulders and looked into her eyes, “I’m sorry I laughed at you, but your expression was hilarious. I don’t think I’ll die from a concussion or all the cuts and bruises, but if I do, there is a hungry wolf out there. Just drag me out into the woods and leave me, I’m sure he’ll find me.” How he managed to say that with a straight face, he’d never know. Emily blinked and stared at him, his words sobering her, “Don’t even joke about something like that. I don’t think I could stand it if someone else near me died!”
Cade could tell by the look on her face that she was dead serious. “Who has died on you, Emily?” She stood up and walked over to the fire, with her back to him, but he could still see the shuddering of her shoulders as she cried. “Please, tell me, it might help you to talk about it.” He was beginning to worry, as she was silent for so long. Then she began to tell him how her entire family had died in a car accident two months ago. Her parents, her sister and brother were all killed at the same time. After taking care of the funerals, and the estate, she drove up to the mountain cabin to think and heal. While there she began to work on her writing, as she owed her publisher a new book within the month and was having a terrible time getting started. Since the funerals, she had had no desire to write, but she had to make a living.
Cade’s heart went out to her, her voice quivered so much when she told him the story that he didn’t think she would be able to finish. “You were close to your family?” She turned and he could see the tears running freely down her face. “We were as close as a family could be. Not a day went by that Mom and I didn’t talk to each other. Every weekend, we would get together and have dinner. I miss that so much. Mom and I could talk about anything. Whenever I was having a problem with one of my stories, she would give me the push that would solve the entire thing for me.” Cade shook his head, “I wish I could say something that would make it any easier for you, but I don’t remember if I had a good or bad relationship with my family. Or even if I have a family. All I can say is I am sorry and be here for you to talk to about it. If that is okay?”
Emily looked at this dark stranger that had already begun to mean so much to her. “You don’t know what you have done for me by getting hurt and finding your way to my door. I was preparing to call my publisher and tell her I would not write anymore. Since finding you on my doorstep last night and dragging you in here to take care of your wounds, I have gotten some inspiration to write again. I jotted down some ideas while I waited for you to wake up. Good thing I have that old computer. It doesn’t have the internet obviously, but it serves my purposes.” He looked at her with surprise, “ You mean that you didn’t sleep last night?” She shrugged her shoulders, “I slept a few hours on the couch across from you. I didn’t want to go upstairs to the bedroom in case you woke up.” She walked over to the couch and sat down in front of Cade.
“How are you feeling now?” She examined his head and the cuts and scrapes and applied more antibiotic cream to the worst of them. His hands had been pretty badly messed up and she had wrapped them in bandages. With great care, she unwrapped his hands and applied more medicine to them as well. Her touch was so gentle he was not sure she was touching him. Her eyes were full of concern for him, which made him feel kind of strange. Why would that make him feel this way? Is there some reason she should not be concerned for him? Whatever it was, it stayed just far enough from his minds eye to make him wary but not close enough for him to know what it was.
Emily looked up from wrapping his hands to find his eyes were looking straight through her. “Cade? What’s wrong? Did I hurt you?” He shook his head and immediately regretted it, again. “No, you did not hurt me, I just thought I was remembering something, but it went away. I’m sorry. Your touch was very gentle. You should have been a nurse.” He bestowed on her one of his best smiles, meant only for those he truly liked. How did he know that? She rewarded him with a magnificent smile that lit up her entire face and magnified her beauty that much more.
All afternoon they talked and laughed and Cade felt he had not been so content in a while. With the familiar thoughts and feelings he was having, perhaps his memory would return sooner rather than later. He began to feel drowsy and thought to tell Emily before he dozed off and scared her again. He lay down and closed his eyes. Just as he was falling over the precipice, he felt her tuck the blanket around his shoulders and wish him sweet dreams. He knew he would dream of no other than she.
End of Chapter One
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