Mariah Cassidy sat on the front porch and watched her husband, Frank, ride through the gate. The large Rocking C, the ranch’s emblem, cast a shadow across his face as he rode beneath it. His muscled thighs gripped the flanks of his huffing, black stallion, and his hat rested in that familiar rakish tilt. He certainly knew how to sit a horse.
Frank dismounted and gave the horse’s reins to a hired hand. He dusted himself off then turned and strode to the porch. “Good morning, sleepyhead.”
She smiled. “You were up bright and early. Would you like some breakfast?”
“No thanks. I already ate with the ranch hands, but... I might be interested in somethin’ else.”
Even after seventeen years of marriage, Frank’s innuendo embarrassed Mariah. Just a wink of one of his heavy-lashed, blue eyes made her heart flutter, but her desire for lovemaking never equaled his. She fretted about him leaving her to find satisfaction in the arms of another. Her mother had planted such deep-seeded inhibitions within Mariah that nudity made her uncomfortable. She loved being in his arms, but beyond that, her embarrassment got in the way of feeling free.
The same old thoughts niggled at her as she gazed into his face. Why didn’t she feel the same comfort with her body as Frank did with his? Would he be happier with someone else? He deserved a wife with passion to match his own. She massaged the creases in her brow.
“Mariah, did you hear me? Would you like to join me upstairs?” He nodded toward the house.
She held up a silencing finger while guilt niggled her. “Hush. The children will hear you.”
Lost in thought, Taylor Morgan sat and stared at the stacks of files piled on her large mahogany desk. The sun barely peeked through the office window of the high-rise building and the dim lighting matched her somber mood. Had she remembered to kiss David before she left home? It seemed she was always in a hurry these days. Rushing to put on make-up, darting off without goodbyes, working late, and barely finding time for her husband—something had to change. She didn’t want a repeat of the argument she’d had with David last night.
The thud of his fist on the dining room table echoed in her head. When he expressed frustration, her body trembled, much the same as the silverware had. She’d never seen him so angry.
His words had cut through her like a knife. “We’re like ships passing in the night. All we do is work, eat and sleep. You’re so busy with your job that that’s all you think about. You don’t cook, you don’t clean... Good God, we only make love on your schedule, never mine. What if I don’t want to wait five years to have children?”
The thought of having a child made Taylor shudder. She’d labored hard to achieve the status she enjoyed at the law firm. Giving up now wasn’t an option. Still, what about David? Didn’t he have a right to the family he wanted? She felt so conflicted. What if her husband wasn’t willing to hang around until she determined the time felt right?
If only there was a way to compromise. She nodded. Making David a priority seemed a good start if she wanted to save her marriage. Tonight, she’d leave work early, go home, and make dinner. A few candles, a bottle of wine—David would be pleasantly surprised.
She picked the most pressing files from her desk and threw them into her briefcase, planning to peruse them while she cooked. Grabbing her jacket from the chair, she slung it over her shoulder and reached the door when the urgent buzzing of her intercom summoned her back. She leaned over the desk and mashed a button with her fingertips. “Yes?”
“Ms. Morgan,” her secretary responded, “Mr. Abernathy requests that you join him in the conference room right away. The senior partners have called an emergency meeting.”
“I’ll be right there.” Taylor plopped her briefcase back on the desk. She straightened her collar and smoothed her skirt then took a deep breath.
Maybe tomorrow, David, maybe tomorrow.
Mariah Cassidy awoke to whinnying horses outside her bedroom window. She rolled over, propped herself on an elbow and pushed the lace curtain aside. Despite the morning sun’s blinding glare, she saw Frank, and several ranch hands moving animals from the corral toward the west pasture. The clock in the parlor downstairs chimed seven times.
Her mouth gaped. Surely, it wasn’t that late already. Why hadn’t Frank roused her? Normally she had breakfast over, the dishes washed and put away. She threw aside the colorful patchwork quilt and scooted off the bed. Where were the children?
After pulling her sage green gingham dress over her head, she smoothed it down over her petticoat and stepped into her shoes. She poured water from a pitcher on the washstand into a matching white porcelain bowl and dipped a cloth into the cool liquid. Leaning closer to the wall mirror, she inspected her face. Oh, those dratted lines and wrinkles!
It bothered her to be thirty-five—especially being wed to the most handsome man in Colorado. But aging was inevitable, so she hurriedly finished washing then pulled her long auburn hair back and twisted it into a bun. In the privacy of their bedroom, Frank loved seeing her hair down, but for housework and all the other chores around the ranch, it wasn’t practical or acceptable. She tucked a wayward strand behind her ear then hurried off to the kitchen to start breakfast.
The Rocking C kept everyone in the family busy. Callie helped with the washing, cooking and cleaning, and Jacob fed the chickens, cleaned the barn and did whatever else his father determined. Whatever time left in the day was devoted to studying at home. The closest school was hours away.
Mariah walked by her fifteen-year-old daughter’s room, surprised to see Callie still sleeping. Was Jacob up? Why in the world had Frank left them in bed? He usually maintained strict rules about the children getting their chores done in a timely manner. Puzzled by his behavior, Mariah stuck her head in the doorway. “Callie dear, time to get up. We have things to do.”
With the same red hair, green eyes and fair complexion, she reminded Mariah of herself when she was younger. The marked difference: a spattering of freckles across her daughter’s nose and cheeks, and Callie hated them. Jacob had twice as many, but they looked cute on a ten-year-old boy.
Her daughter rolled over and squinted, her eyelids heavy from sleep. Pushing her quilt away, she stretched her arms over her head. “Be right down, Ma.” Her words slurred in a yawn. “Soon as I get dressed and comb my hair.”
Mariah went into Jacob’s room. The usual mess littered the floor: clothes strewn about, boots left where he walked out of them, and the odor of a youngsters sweat and dirt lingered in the air. She crossed to the bed and ruffled his curly red hair. “Jacob... Jacob, wake up. Pa expects you to get your chores done. We’re going into town today. Remember?”
Jacob swatted her hand away. “Ah Ma, can’t a fella get any rest around here? As soon as I smell breakfast cookin’, I’ll get up. ‘Sides, I got plenty of time to get my chores done.”
Mariah left him still snuggling beneath his quilt and looking angelic. She chuckled as she went downstairs to the kitchen. “Can’t a fella get any rest?” Where did he come up with such things?
She pulled a heavy cast iron skillet from the oven and plopped it atop the stove—a surprise gift from Frank. He’d ordered it from the mercantile catalog then drove the wagon two days to pick it up and bring it back in time for their anniversary. She enjoyed being married to such a thoughtful man, and thankful she didn’t have to cook on the hearth anymore. Of course she wasn’t the only one to reap the benefits; her family did, too.
The bacon turned crisp and brown, and eggs sizzled sunny side up in hot grease. Mariah cupped her mouth. “Callie, Jacob, come down. Breakfast is almost ready.” She pulled biscuits from the oven.
Her daughter stumbled into the kitchen, still half-asleep. She stifled a yawn while she held out her plate for Mariah to fill. “Smells good, Ma. Sorry I slept in this morning. I stayed up late reading my history primer.”
Mariah smiled. “You’re excused. At least you have a good reason for being sleepy. I like that you’re eager to learn.”
Jacob was another story. Getting him to study was like milking a stubborn cow. Nothing but predictable, he'd race down the stairs at any moment, following his nose. As anticipated, he entered the kitchen like a whirlwind. Unruly curls hung past his eyes, and his shirt gaped from improper buttoning. He snatched up a plate and stood behind his sister, peering around her. “Don’t eat all the bacon, Callie.” He gave her a shove.
“Jacob! There’s plenty to go around. No need to act like a heathen.” Mariah stifled a grin, wiped her hands on her apron, and knelt in front of him. “When are you going to learn to fasten your shirt the right way?” Her fingers worked to redo his buttons. “And stop fidgeting!”
Before he protested his starvation, she rose, filled his plate and set it on the table. "Sit and eat!"
Deciding to skip breakfast, she settled for a cup of coffee from the pot Frank had left simmering at the back of the stove. She filled a mug with the aromatic brew and sat down with the children.
“Callie honey, when you’re through eating, get the kitchen cleaned up, and Jacob, before you go outside, please clean your room. It’s worse than the pigsty outside.”
“Smells like one, too,” Callie interjected.
Mariah raised her brow. “Never you mind, Callie, just eat and keep your comments to yourself.”
Jacob stuck his tongue out at his sister.
"All right, you two." Mariah rolled her eyes. "That’s enough. As I was saying, Jacob, after you’re done with your room, get the chickens fed before your pa takes a switch to your backside. And don’t dawdle! We’re already getting a late start on our trip to town.”
Mariah left the children eating and went upstairs to her room. While she straightened the bedcovers and fluffed the pillows, she pondered the three-hour trip by wagon. Although a long, bumpy ride, the trek offered the children uninterrupted time with their father. It seemed the ranch occupied him most days.
While making a mental list of things to pick up at the mercantile, thoughts of the upcoming May Mixer drifted to mind. Every spring, all the families from the surrounding areas gathered to celebrate the end of winter, and she needed material for a new dress and perhaps some matching ribbon. Callie had mentioned looking forward to seeing the handsome, new mercantile clerk who’d caught her fancy on the last trip. He definitely was a good-looking young man, but Mariah worried that at fifteen, her daughter seemed far too young to be interested in boys.
Mariah peered at her reflection in the mirror. “Have you forgotten that you were only a year older when you promised to marry Frank?”
She grimaced, wondering how her daughter had grown up so quickly. Girls her age married everyday. Her own courtship came to mind. It seemed ages ago that Frank had proposed. Her feelings for him hadn’t dimmed despite the passage of time. If anything, she loved him more.
She pinched her cheeks to add some color, then dipped her fingers into the washbowl and dampened a wisp of hair that refused to stay in her bun. The natural curl she inherited from her mother wasn’t her favorite attribute, but then neither were the occasional gray strands she promptly plucked. With a final check of her appearance, she picked up the porcelain bowl and gingerly carried it downstairs.
Mariah emptied the used water, set the container aside and began preparing sandwiches for the trip. When she finished and stashed them in a basket, she poured a second cup of coffee and stepped outside to steal a relaxing moment on the porch. Frank had built the stylish overhang to cover the entire front of the house, making this her favorite place to spend time. Standing at the honeysuckle-trimmed railing, she inhaled the wonderful aroma swept up by the mild May breeze. The gentle northern wind transported the ranch’s earthy smells and rippled the sea of green grass beyond the barn.
Looking out over their vast acreage warmed her. She and Frank had worked hard to build their legacy, and she counted marrying him was as one of life’s biggest blessings. She’d grown up never feeling connected to any place for very long, and having roots was wonderful. Her father, always a dreamer, had dragged his family from town-to-town, always searching for something better. Mariah met Frank at a church social, and after a short courting period, they married. He was a hometown boy with no desire to travel, and for the first time in her life, she knew security.
“Hey sleepyhead.” Frank interrupted her thoughts. Somehow, he'd crept up without her notice, even while leading his horse.
Her cheeks warmed. “I feel guilty getting up so late.”
“I decided to give everyone a break and let ya’ll sleep later than usual. I ate with the boys in the bunkhouse. It wasn’t as good as your cookin’, but it was fillin’. I wanted to get some the horses moved before we left.”
She smiled. That was her husband, always working. Together, they’d built the Rocking C—a two-story home with a whitewashed barn and corral fences—on land Frank had inherited from his father. A large herd of Longhorn cattle grazed the open range with the several head of horses they also owned. She took a last sip of coffee, smiling at the thought that someday everything would belong to their children and grandchildren.
Frank leaned into her line of vision. “Where are you? Seems like your mind’s a hundred miles away.”
“Sorry. I was day-dreaming.” She placed her cup on the railing and massaged the small of her back. “I fed the children, and there’s some bacon left over. Can I get you something? Coffee?”
“Nah, I’m fine food wise… but I might be interested in something else.” He winked a heavy-lashed lid at her.
She gave a dismissing wave. “Oh, Frank, hush. The children will hear you.”
He grinned and scuffed his boot in the dirt, but when he looked up, his blue eyes showed a hint of sadness. “Well, if you aren’t gonna take me up on my offer then we might as well get ready and go to town. I’ll stable my horse and hitch up the wagon.”
“While you do that, I’ll round up the children and the basket of sandwiches I made this morning.”
Before going back inside, she watched him saunter toward the barn, leading his stallion. Her Frank… tall, tanned with an incredible mane of dark hair always fighting against the confines of his cowboy hat. His normally short, curly hair, overdue for a haircut, now framed the nape of his muscular neck. For some reason, she always found him more attractive that way. A smile curved her lips, recalling their previous night’s passion. How she loved the security of those massive arms that had grown solid from hard labor.
Her gaze assessed his well-defined upper body. Strong shoulders tapered down to a slim waistline… and those firm buttocks encased in tight blue jeans—her stomach fluttered recalling him naked. If only she felt as free with nudity as he did.
She turned her thoughts back to their upcoming trip, praying that how she felt now wasn’t the way Callie reacted to seeing the young clerk at the mercantile.
~ * ~
Frank pulled the buckboard up to the porch and reined in the horses. He jumped down and helped Mariah up to her seat while Jacob and Callie clambered aboard. In one agile move, Frank was back in the wagon, snapping leather to stir the horses. The rig lurched forward and, immediately, the children started picking at one another.
Mariah turned. “Listen to me!” Sternness edged her voice. “We’ve a long way to go and I don’t want to hear bickering all the way.”
“Sorry, Ma,” came the chorus from the rear, but out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jacob stick his tongue out at his sister for the second time that day. Mariah chuckled to herself. What a little hellion she had on her hands. She leaned back to enjoy the silence she knew wouldn’t last.
The warm, refreshing air caressed her face, but she tied a bow snugly under her chin and gave thanks for the bonnet that protected her delicate skin from the sun’s harsh rays. Cuddling up to her husband, she snaked her arm through his and leaned on his shoulder. “Frank, sweetheart,” she cooed. “I need some material for a new dress. You know… for the May Mixer.”
He tossed his head back and laughed, then turned to her, still grinning but his brow raised . “You’ve got to be joshin’. You have a dress for every day of the week.”
He had never denied her anything, always said that one look into her big green eyes turned him soft. Frank patted her knee. “Oh, what the heck. If you want to sew up something new and fancy, you go right ahead. Buy some material.”
Looking over his shoulder, he said, “What about you, Callie? You have any plans for spendin' my money?”
“Well, Pa, it would be nice to get a new pair of shoes. I’m about to outgrow the ones I have.” Callie probably crossed her fingers for telling a fib. She wanted an opportunity to talk to the young man at the mercantile.
“Well then, I guess we’d better hurry and get there so you girls can get to shoppin’.” Frank laughed again and cracked the reins against the team’s hindquarters. “Jacob and I will tend to buyin’ the things we need for the ranch.”
For a few moments, the only sounds came from the rapid clip-clop of the horses’ hooves and the rumble of the wheels against the hardened earth. The children appeared occupied, watching the tall prairie grass alongside the trail and laughing when an occasional jackrabbit darted from its hiding place. Frank stared quietly ahead.
The once fresh air smelled faintly of moisture, and the air grew remarkably still. Although only wispy clouds appeared in the crystal blue sky, something caused the hair on Mariah's arms to stand erect. She rubbed her skin to soothe the strange sensation and wondered why no one else mentioned the subtle change in weather. A cluster of wild flowers in a myriad of colors caught her attention and she pushed her uneasy thoughts to the back of her mind.
The well-traveled road held deep furrows. Frank maneuvered the wagon around the biggest ruts and bumps, but at the fast pace the ride became much more jarring. Mariah shifted in her seat, wishing for a cushion.
“Pa, can we stop please? I need to pee real bad.” Jacob’s voice held an urgent tone.
Frank reined the horses next to a boulder. “Here ya go, son, this should give you some privacy.
Jacob scurried behind the large rock and reappeared, moments later, fastening his pants and smiling. “Thanks, Pa, I feel better now.”
When Jacob was back in his seat, Frank flicked the reins. “Giddyap,” he yelled.
The horses failed to respond. Instead, they whinnied, snorted and reared back on their hind legs. One animal turned its face, displaying eyes wide with fear. The distinct rattle of more than one snake came from nearby, and Mariah instinctively knew Jacob had disturbed their nest.
“Rattlesnakes!” Frank had heard it, too. “Hold on, everyone.” He leaned back and yanked the reins. “C’mon, girls, calm down. Whoa... whoa.”
The wagon rolled backwards and jostled from side to side on the uneven ground. The frightened animals bolted into a dead run through deep grass and thistles off the beaten path. Mariah grasped the side and bottom of the seat so tightly that splinters pierced her fingers. Concerned with the safety of her children, she sucked her bottom lip between her teeth and glanced over her shoulder. Callie and Jacob clung to each other, their eyes saucer-like.
“Hold on, children. Hold on!” Mariah repeated her husband’s warning.
Frank struggled to stop the frightened animals, but no matter how hard he pulled the reins, the horses wouldn’t slow. “Hold on tight,” he yelled. “The ground gets really rocky here.” No sooner had Frank made the statement than the wheels hit a stony ledge, and the wagon pitched upward, before tipping and sending Mariah careening through the air like a rag doll. Her panicked heartbeat sounded in her head until everything fell silent.
Badly shaken but uninjured, Frank stood and looked around for his family. Callie, looking dazed and dirty, yet fine, sat next to a still-spinning wheel.. Jacob rose from the other side of the wagon, strands of grass dangling from his unruly locks. He brushed himself off and glanced around.
“Is everyone all right?” Frank almost released a sigh of relief, but he didn’t see his wife. His breath hitched in his throat.
“Mariah... Mariah? Where are you?”
He scanned the area, wide eyes searching for her. “Mariah, Mariah. Answer me please!” His panicked tone reflected in the faces of his children.
He waited. Silence. His stomach felt as if a giant fist clamped around it.
Suddenly, an intense rumbling sound shook the prairie stillness. From an almost cloudless sky, thunder cast down a single bolt of lightning, striking the ground with energy enough to propel dirt through the air and set fire to a small patch of grass. Immediately, calm prevailed; only a single column of smoke, billowing skyward, remained as evidence.
The strange occurrence gave him pause, but fueled by the need to find his wife, Frank hurried in the direction of the fading smoke. “Mariah, Mariah, please answer me.” His boots cut a path through the heavy brush.
In the far grass, beyond the wagon, he rushed toward the visible brim of her yellow bonnet and found Mariah in an oddly contorted position. Her head rested against a large rock, and rivulets of red oozed from beneath her head-covering. Frank’s throat constricted. “Oh my God, are you all right? Mariah, answer me, please.” His words were little more than a whisper over his choking fear.
He gently removed her bonnet and inspected the crimson-stained gash on her temple. His heart quickened. “Callie,” he yelled, “Get the tablecloth from the picnic basket. I have to stop this bleeding. Quickly, Jacob, bring me the water jug.”
After cleaning Mariah’s wound, Frank wrapped a makeshift bandage around her head, but she remained unconscious. Why didn't she wake up? He brushed away the tear trickling down his cheek and choked back his fear. His sobbing children needed to see his strength.
Frank continued to bathe his wife’s face with cool water. “Mariah, please darlin’…” He looked to the sky. “Lord this can’t be happening.”
Fifteen minutes earlier, Taylor Morgan had left her serene suburban neighborhood to drive to work. The closer she got to the city, the more congested the roadways became. Her temper /flared at the usual snail-like pace of the morning commute. At a stoplight, she drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, and watched raindrops pelt the windshield. “Damn red lights.” Patience had never been one of her virtues.
Today, she’d be the representing attorney in a big corporation’s acquisition merger, and as usual, she got a late start. Normally her firm didn’t monitor her comings and goings, but this meeting couldn’t start without her. That added to her stress. Fennster & Smith’s corporate executives would certainly take notice of her tardiness, and that didn’t bode well for her reputation. Somehow, her good intentions to be punctual never seemed to work.
Taylor’s thoughts ran back over the morning. After spending far too long in the bathroom, making sure her highlighted brown hair was perfectly coifed and her eyes properly adorned with just the right amount of liner and mascara, she’d dashed from the house, gulping down her coffee. Had she’d even spoken to her husband before leaving?
Since graduating from law school and acquiring her new position, she and David had little time for each other. He was an architect for a large firm in Denver, and their schedules always seemed to conflict. Thank goodness he had agreed to forgo having children, at least for the next five years or so. She wasn’t sure she wanted any at all. Being the center of attention worked in her favor. David was a great husband both in and out of bed, and she was happy with things the way they were.
“Shit, I’m really going to be late if this damn light doesn’t change.” She pinched the bridge of her nose.
Her habit of cursing always annoyed David. No matter how much she tried to clean up her mouth, she failed. Too many male co-workers with crass vocabularies in her life.
The light turned green. She stomped on the gas pedal and her Lexus lunged forward. Rapid acceleration on wet pavement caused the tires to squeal in protest. Taylor glanced at the clock on the dash and wondered why she always had difficulty being punctual. If David had told her once, he’d told her a hundred times, “It’s rude to be late.”
Turning down a side street, and confident she’d found a faster route, Taylor darted in and out of traffic. Thoughts of her presentation spun in her head. Her heart raced. Working for one of the largest and most prestigious law firms in Denver excited her. She earned a great salary, but the demands were often nerve wracking. A glance at the clock again showed twenty after eight. She grimaced. “Shit! No more running late. This is it!”
How many times had she made that promise?
Taylor shrugged the tenseness from her shoulders while listening to the soft, jazzy song on the radio. A taxi pulled out in front of her, and she swerved into the left lane, barely missing the other car’s fender. As she passed the cab, she held up her middle finger. “You friggin’ idiot!” she yelled at the driver. “Get the hell off the road!” So much for tact and diplomacy, she thought, but friggin' wasn't really a word, and Hell was in the Bible….
Static interrupted her music selection. Was a thunderstorm brewing? She scrunched down and peered higher through the windshield.
Damn it! She wasn’t dressed for a change in the weather. Dark, gray clouds obscured the once clear sky and the rain grew heavier. A single bolt of lightning pierced the atmosphere, sending a shiver up her spine. Fear of electrical storms stemmed from her childhood and she never outgrew it.
Already jittery from caffeine, she reached down and fiddled with the dial. Over the crackling static came the chilling sound of screeching tires, but before she spied the source, the air bag exploded in her face.
~ * ~
David sat beside Taylor’s bed, his heart aching at seeing his beautiful wife swathed in bandages, an IV in her arm, a tube down her throat. The large hospital bed dwarfed her five-foot-eight frame and elevated her head. The breathing machine’s swooshing and the heart monitor’s steady beep were the only sounds in the room.
“Everything will be okay, baby. Just wake up.” He held her hand and offered words of encouragement even though he wasn’t sure she heard him.
“Mr. Morgan?” The doctor entered with a serious look on his face.
David rose from the chair, his pulse racing. “Yes, doctor. Have there been any changes since I spoke with you in the recovery room? How is she? Is she going to be all right?”
“Mr. Morgan, as I told you, we don’t know right now. We did all we can. She suffered a lot of trauma. We’ve taken care of the internal bleeding and removed her spleen, so all we can do now is wait and hope.” He glanced at her chart.
“Money isn’t an issue, doctor. If you think she needs a specialist—”
“I assure you, Mr. Morgan, the surgical team consisted of the finest doctors. Now, only time will tell.” The doctor patted David’s shoulder, then turned and left the room.
Tears welled and David blinked them back. He turned to his wife and took her hand. “Taylor, darling, you can make it. I know you can. I’m going to be right here. Do you hear me? Squeeze my hand if you do.”
Her fingers curled around his hand. The grip was weak, but she responded.
“Doctor, doctor!” David yelled. “Come quick. I think she’s waking."
The doctor rushed back into the room.
David gazed at him, heart filled with hope. “She squeezed my hand. Squeeze it again, Taylor.”
The physician put a stethoscope to her chest. He raised her bandage and lifted her eyelid. “Mrs. Morgan, if you can hear me, blink your eyes.”
David watched her closely. She blinked, not once, but twice.
“That’s good, Mrs. Morgan. You’re doing fine, just fine. You’ve been in an accident and were badly hurt, but you’re going to be okay. Your husband is here.”
David stood and leaned in. “Hello, darling. I’ve been so worried about you, but like the doctor says, you’re going to be fine.”
He brushed a kiss against her cheek.
~ * ~
You aren’t Frank! Where’s Frank? Why are you kissing me? I don’t know you. Somebody help...
Who was this man? Mariah fluttered her eyes and barely lifted her head off the pillow. The mere movement caused her temple to pound. Her gaze darted around the room. Nothing looked familiar. Why did she feel so sore?
Nothing she saw made sense. Strange machines, dials, sounds, and the room—so white, so pristine. She tried to raise herself, but couldn’t. Where was she?
Glancing down at the strange tube in her arm, she gasped, then raised her hand and touched her head. Bandaged? God help her. Where was her husband? Her mind formed Frank’s name but her lips failed to speak it as darkness shrouded her.
~ * ~
A woman in white stood over Mariah. “Oh, Mrs. Morgan, you’re awake. We’ve been so worried about you. Your husband just went down to the cafeteria for something to eat. He’s been here every day for the past two weeks. You gave us quite a scare.”
The stranger fluffed Mariah’s pillow and checked the tube in her arm. “Wouldn’t you know you’d wake up the minute he left? Poor fellow, he’s barely had time to change his clothes.”
Cafeteria? The word meant nothing. Two weeks? She’d been here for two weeks? And where was here?
She tried to ask, but nothing came out. Vaguely recalling something thick and painful in her mouth, she swallowed. Thank goodness whatever had been there was gone.
“Don’t try to speak, Mrs. Morgan." The stranger patted her arm. "Your throat is probably pretty raw. We just took the breathing tube out yesterday. You’ll be able to talk soon, but now you just need to rest and get well. Let me give you a little more pain medication.” She fiddled with some sort of bagged liquid hanging above the bed. Her fingers followed the tube down and smoothed the tape holding a needle in Mariah’s arm. “There, that should make you feel a little more comfortable.”
Breathing tube? Mrs. Morgan? What’s happening? Somebody tell me, please. Confused and frightened, Mariah’s teary eyes focused on the man who walked through the door.
“Ah, Mr. Morgan, your wife is finally awake.” The woman in white greeted him. “She seems pretty alert.”
“Taylor, sweetheart.” He rushed to the bed. “Thank God, you’re awake. I’ve been so worried about you.”
Mariah turned her head to the side, avoiding the stranger’s kiss. “I’m not Taylor.” Her words were merely a whisper that no one heard.
“What are you trying to say, darling?” He bent lower.
“I asked her not to try to speak yet.” The white-clad woman rubbed her own throat. “The breathing tube you know.”
“Of course." He nodded. "The nurse is right. Don’t talk, sweetie. When you’re healed, we’ll have lots of time to chat. Just rest.”
Confusion shrouded Mariah.