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Authors: Foster, Kimberly

Unforgettable

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UNFORGETTABLE

by

Kimberly Foster

Published by Kimberly FosterCopyright © Kimberly Foster, 2013This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Special Thanks to

Dezzan Stock for the Original Background stock

Jason Aaron Baca for Male cover Model

Erwin Layaoen Photographer

Liam stock for Female Model Stock

Fallen Stock for the hair brushes used

A Very Special Thank you to Sharon van den Bronk-McNeil for all of your mad editing skills, your friendship and for always shining that flashlight in the dark allowing me to find my way out. Also to Lisa Jo Spriggs Gulfport, MS for making the awesome Cover Art.

Chapter 1“The Heartless Lion”

“I don’t gi’ a damn, Patrick! Ye’re workin’ ta hard, ta long, an’ fer what? There be only sa much ye can do in a week, lad.”

“Look, I appreciate your concern, but it’s uncalled for.”

“Uncalled fer?” Liam Flynn exploded, his Irish brogue thickening audibly as his anger grew. He was desperately trying to get through to the young man whom he had loved as his own son from the moment he was born.

“Tha’ be why yer secretary came ta me in tears, is it? Ye bit tha lass’s head off fer doin’ somethin’ ye ordered her ta do. I know Marie. She’s tha best damn secretary there be. She’s been wi’ this company fer 25 years an’ she was ready ta quit because o’ ye. She’s taken a lot from ye, lad, but I ha’ ne’er known her ta cry!”

“I apologized for that,” Patrick Day replied flippantly, wishing he’d never left his home on the Upper East Side this morning just to be lectured like a schoolboy by his uncle. He didn’t feel a bit of remorse or regret for any of his actions, including snapping at Marie.

“Apologized? Is tha’ what ye called it? A halfhearted, half mumbled ‘sorry,’ as ye blew past her desk? Ye were better than tha’, Patrick!” Liam intentionally used the past tense hoping something would strike a chord in Patrick. “Tis come ta me ears tha’ our own employees be callin’ ye ‘Tha Heartless Lion’ behind yer back. They say ye be cold, hard, an’ ruthless. Did ye be knowin’ tha’, laddie?”

“Yes, I know it,” Patrick scoffed. He was proud of it, too…damn proud. “You have to be ruthless in this business or lose your shirt.”

“Perhaps, at times, ye do, but not in yer private life. Ye ha’ no private life, Patrick. E’er since Caroline left, ye’ve had no life a’tall,” Liam said. Patrick glared at him viciously at the mention of her name. For a moment, Liam thought he was going to snarl at him. By God, he was done tiptoeing around this boy. He ignored the look Patrick gave him.

“Ye’ve become uncarin’ towards everyone an’ everythin’. Tha only thin’ ye do is work an’ I don’t believe ye do tha’ because ye enjoy it.”

“What’s all this about, Liam? What are you driving at?”

“I think ye work sa hard because yer tryin’ ta prove somethin’ ta Caroline an’ ta yerself. I think ye be workin’ sa hard because ye’ve gi’en up on everythin’ else, except fer money. Tis tha only thin’ ye ha’ left ta hang onta.”

“That’s absurd!” Patrick insisted, although the old man had inadvertently hit the nail right on the head. However, Patrick refused to listen to that niggling internal voice and immediately silenced it.

“An’,” Liam continued “I’m thinkin’ if ye keep goin’ tha way ye’re goin’, if ye keep workin’ this hard fer nothin’, yer goin’ ta wind up a wealthy man in an early grave.”

“Meaning?”

“No hidden messages, Patrick. Yer killin’ yerself an’ I hate ta see tha’ happen.” Liam sighed heavily. He already knew the answer to the question he was about to ask, but he would do what he had to do for Patrick’s sake, even if it meant the boy would hate him for it. He sighed again and cleared his throat. “I don’t suppose I could talk ye inta takin’ a vacation, could I? A long, extended vacation?”

“A vacation? Have you gone mad, old man? A vacation? Now?” Patrick exploded.

“I was afraid ye’d react tha’ way, lad. Sa, fer yer sake, I’m pullin’ rank.”

“Pulling rank?”

“Aye, Patrick. When yer Da died, God rest his soul, he left ye an’ me controllin’ interest in Day’s Department Stores. Howe’er, he left me 1% more than he left ye sa I’d ha’ final say in all matters until I felt ye were capable o’ handlin’ things on yer own. He made me promise not ta turn tha company o’er ta ye until ye straightened out yer personal life. I ha’ been ready ta gi’ ye tha’ control an’ retire fer a long time, now. But, a promise is a promise, an’ I always keep me word. Yer Da waited three years ta find tha old Patrick he knew an’ loved. I ha’ waited an additional seven years ta find him, but ye’ve buried him sa deep inside yerself, I wonder if he’ll e’er escape. Sa, since I know ye willna take a real vacation, I’m sendin’ ye on a workin’ vacation.”

“What in God’s name are you talking about, Liam?” Patrick snapped, aiming a suspicious glare at his old friend and business partner.

Liam sat on the edge of his desk, hands resting on top of his ornate, silver headed cane. Patrick could glare all he wanted, but Liam had known the boy since the day he was born and he would not be stared down now. He held Patrick’s gaze as he answered the impertinent question.

“I’m sendin’ ye ta open tha newest branch o’ Day’s in Shelbyville, Indiana. Ye’ll ha’ complete control o’ everythin’ an’ ye’re goin’ ta stay there until after tha grand openin’. All ye need is in this file, includin’ yer plane ticket. Ye leave first thin’ Monday mornin’.” Liam dropped a huge file in Patrick’s lap.

“You can’t do this, Liam! I own 49% of this company. You can’t make me take a job that is beneath my abilities in my own company.”

“Ah, but tis still my company, at least fer now. I can an’ I am goin’ ta do it, Patrick, an’ there’s nothin’ ye can do about it. Thanks ta yer Da bein’ an intelligent man who had the foresight ta know just how stubborn an’ bullheaded ye can be, he left me this tiny little stipulation in his will.”

“Which is?”

“Simply put, as long as I ha’ control o’ 51% o’ this company, I ha’ tha last say, e’en o’er ye. I can e’en fire ye an’ take away yer 49%, if I see fit. Sa, ye can take this job or lose this company altogether. Tis yer choice, Patrick.”

“Is it? Dad sure put a lot of trust in you, Liam.”

“Aye, tha’ he did, lad, sa don’t be fooled fer a moment. I willna betray tha’ trust. I’ll use everythin’ he ga’ me ta see tha’ ye’re all right… tha’ ye can survive an’ lead a normal life wi’out Caroline, e’en if I ha’ ta strip all yer power from ye ta make ye realize yer true potential. God knows, ye ha’ enough o’ yer own money ta buy anythin’ any 10 people could e’er want. There’s nothin’ I can do about tha’, but I’m no’ talkin’ about material things, Patrick. I’m talkin’ about love, happiness an’ friendship. These are the only things in this world o’ any real value yet they canna be bought. Ye possess none o’ these things, Patrick. All ye ha’ is a job an’, if I have ta take tha’ away from ye ta gi’ ye these other precious gifts, then I will.”

“You’d do it too, wouldn’t you,” Patrick spat. It wasn’t a question.

“Yer damn right, I would! Yer Da an’ I built this company an’ when ye were old enough, we made ye a partner in it. Day’s was founded on our friendship, love fer our wives an’ fer ye. We poured our lives inta it fer o’er se’en decades, but we continued ta enjoy life at the same time. E’er since yer Da died, this place ha’ become nothin’ mor’n a machine. It ha’ lost its heart. I willna let ye tear the heart an’ character from this place like Caroline tore it from ye. It means ta much ta me. Ye mean ta much ta me, too, Patrick. I canna stand here an’ watch it happen an’ no’ say an’ do everythin’ in ma power ta stop it from happenin’. Take this job an’, when tis o’er, come back an’ we’ll talk.”

“And if I choose to get a lawyer and fight for what rightfully belongs to me? What then?” Patrick smirked as if he saw a way out of this ridiculous situation.

“Yer Da thought ye’d try somethin’ like tha’. He made sure his will was a legal an’ bindin’ document, free o’ any an’ all loopholes. If ye try tha’, I am ta take everythin’ away from ye, by yer Da’s own wishes, an’ yer only hope o’ gettin’ it all back is ta start at tha bottom o’ tha ladder. Try tha’ an’ I’ll take yer 49% an’ ye’ll get a sack boy position in tha lower part o’ Queens. Tis a harsh thin’ ta do ta ye, I know, but it was yer Da’s decision, no’ mine. Howe’er, I’ll stand by it because I loved him like a brother an’ I love ye like ye were me own son. Take the job I’m offerin’ ye, lad. Tis yer only choice an’ tis the kind o’ work I know ye love.”

“This job you’re forcing on me will take a little over two years, if we’re lucky. What happens if, in the end, nothing changes for me…if I haven’t changed?”

“I do na know, Patrick. God forbid tha’ ta happen, but if it does…” Liam trailed off in mid-sentence. He didn’t know what else to try, if this failed. He could only hope and pray it wouldn’t fail.

Stunned, Patrick sagged back in his chair and stared at the man he used to call Uncle Liam. As always, he saw genuine love and concern in his eyes. Despite their many heated arguments, Liam was still the only person in Patrick’s life he trusted and respected enough to call his friend. Not that he’d been much of a friend in return, lately. Not in a long, long time; too long. Hell, he wasn’t kind, or even polite, to anyone. This whole idea of Liam’s, though, was crazy. Without another thought or word, he picked up the file and left.

Liam sighed in relief, wondering what Patrick would have done had he known the truth about the will.

Chapter 2 “Too Hot to Handle”

Sweet baby Jesus, it’s hot out here, Breezy thought. It was late September and she couldn’t recall Shelbyville ever having been so hot and humid at this time of year. Hoping for some relief from the heat, she tried rolling down her window but the humidity was so high only extremely hot air flowed in, making it even more difficult to breathe. Of course, her stupid air-conditioner would choose to break down two days ago, leaving her no choice but to keep the windows down. Unfortunately, the mechanic had told her it would take two more days before the parts she’d ordered would arrive.That’s what you get for fixing up this old Mustang, she told herself.It serves you right.

Breezy turned the radio on to take her mind off the broken air-conditioning.

“… its 98 degrees out there, folks, with the humidity at 88% and still climbing. I sure hope you’re all keeping cool because it’s going to be a hot one today. But, just in case you’re not, here’s a little song that just might cool you down and cheer you up.” The DJ was a friend of hers and his familiar voice emanated from her radio as he proceeded to play, “Rhythm of the Falling Rain.”

“Wise-guy!” Breezy snorted, as she stuck her tongue out at the radio and promptly shut it off. She made a mental note to personally kick Rick’s tush the next time she saw him.

Good Lord, I’m gonna melt before I get there, she thought, dabbing at the perspiration on her face. She should have just stayed home and ordered a pizza or a sandwich from the deli. Instead, she’d had the bright idea of going to the grocery store, winding up outside in this miserable heat. Big mistake!

Even as a child, the combination of intense heat and humidity had made her feel weak, dizzy and nauseated. She had to admit her condition hadn’t improved with age. She felt that way now and it was growing stronger. She’d spent most of her childhood summers playing indoors where it was cool.

Finally pulling into the parking lot, she once more dabbed at the perspiration on her forehead. As she opened the car door and stood up, the heat and humidity, intensified by the hot blacktop, hit her full force. She fell back against the car, grasping the door frame for support against the growing dizziness and wave of nausea that accompanied it.

“Are you all right, Miss? Do you need any help?” a strange man’s voice inquired.

“No, thank you. I’ll be fine. Just a little dizzy, that’s all,” Breezy replied. She didn’t raise her head to see the man, feeling much too weak for any movement at all. She knew from experience that, if she just remained still and waited for the dizziness and nausea to pass, she’d be fine.

The man stood next to his car, watching her. He was reluctant to leave because something was definitely wrong with her.

“Are you sure you are all right, Miss?” he asked again.

“Yes, I’m fine. Thanks again,” she replied. With a great deal of effort, she pushed herself away from the car and shut the door. Although she still didn’t feel strong enough to walk, she forced herself to take a deep breath and slowly start towards the store. She couldn’t let this man, whoever he was, stand outside in the heat of the parking lot and wait for her to get it together. As she was walking, she was aware of him watching her, making sure she got into the store safely.That’s a nice thing for him to do, she thought.

Another wave of nausea and dizziness made her knees buckle. As she fell, she struck her head on the bumper of another car in the parking lot. An explosion of pain in her head was the last thing she was aware of before darkness claimed her.

The man was at her side in a split second yelling for someone to call an ambulance, but there was no one else around. He quickly checked her pulse at both her throat and wrist. He had no idea what to do in a situation like this, having no medical training whatsoever.

A young stock boy came out of the store to gather shopping carts and the man yelled at him to get an ambulance. The boy immediately ran back inside to make the call. The boy quickly returned with two bottles of cold water and a washcloth from the store to apply to her forehead. Assuming she’d passed out from the heat, the boy suggested they carry her inside. However, when the man said she’d hit her head hard on one of the cars, they decided it was better not to move her.

The man gently pulled her head and shoulders onto his lap to keep as much of her body off the hot pavement as possible. The boy, clearly looking to the older man for guidance, gingerly repeated the action with her feet and legs. The man poured cold water onto the washcloth and began wiping her face, neck, arms and shoulders in hopes of keeping her cool.I knew it! I knew the minute I saw her the damn heat was too much for her, he thought. Her face was flushed, her skin hot to the touch. He continued to wipe her down with the cold water and damp cloth.

He kept talking to her, saying, “Hang on, little one. You’re going to be all right, angel,” but she never responded. She just lay there in his arms like a little rag doll. It was then that he noticed just how beautiful she was. The gauzy white, sleeveless summer dress she was wearing was cinched at the waist with a wide teal colored belt. Her waist length, auburn hair was French braided and fastened at the back with a matching teal ribbon. Long, thick eyelashes kissed the tops of her cheeks and he wondered briefly what color her eyes were. Brown, he supposed. She had high cheekbones, a small nose and a beautiful mouth. Even though she was flushed, he just knew her skin would be milky white and velvet soft. She seemed as small and fragile as a porcelain doll. She had to be the most beautiful creature he’d ever laid eyes on.

He wished he could be of more use to her right now. Besides keeping her cool, he had no idea what else to do for her but he was glad he was there. For the first time in a long time, he was glad he was… well, just glad he existed. Glad to be watching over her, protecting her. Glad to be helping such a fragile little creature as this one.

He wondered if there was someone waiting for her at home to look after her. He wondered if she was married. He quickly looked down at her hands. Her fingers were long and slender, as soft and delicate as the rest of her, but there was no wedding ring. He breathed a heavy sigh of relief, unaware that he’d been holding his breath until that moment. He was even more surprised at his relief that she wasn’t married. He should hope there was someone to take care of her when this was all over with, but he was strangely happy to know she was single. He quickly admonished himself for thinking such things when the poor woman lay unconscious in his arms. Besides, the last thing he needed in his life was a woman! Especially one who couldn’t take the heat!

Breezy was vaguely aware of the people and commotion surrounding her and wondered what was happening. She slowly opened her eyes. At first, everything was a blur until the face directly above hers came finally into focus.

“Hello there, little one,” the man said. Her dazzling blue eyes took him aback. Okay, they weren’t brown after all. Still, he wasn’t expecting them to be so bright and expressive, or so beautiful. One pupil was slightly larger than the other which, if he recalled, was a sure sign of a concussion.

“Hi,” Breezy whispered. Evidently, she’d died and gone to heaven for nowhere on Earth did a man as handsome as the one holding her in his arms exist. He was pure perfection, plain and simple. Dressed all in white and holding her so protectively, he just had to be an angel.Maybe he’s a guardian angel, she thought.My guardian angel!

She tried to sit up so she could talk to him but the movement was too much and she passed out once again.

“Dammit! Where’s the ambulance? What the hell is taking them so long?” he roared, looking around at the growing crowd of onlookers in aggravation. Didn’t any of these people have better things to do? Didn’t any of them know how to help her? If they didn’t, they should just leave! The last thing she needed was a bunch of people gawking at her.

“Somebody hand me her purse. I need to see if she’s allergic to anything before that stupid ambulance gets here.” He didn’t bother looking up to see who handed it to him when it appeared abruptly over his shoulder. He was snapping at people for no good reason but that was nothing new for him. He’d been snapping at people for years without even noticing he was doing it. He wondered vaguely why it occurred to him to notice it now, or even care. Was it because his bad attitude had recently been brought to his attention? Or was it because he was worried about this woman? That question brought up another question before the first one had been answered:Whywas he worried about her? He didn’t know her from Adam.

What he did know was that, when she’d finally opened her eyes, he’d been so incredibly glad to see it. Instantaneous relief and joy had swept over him the moment she’d said ‘hi.’ And those eyes! He’d never be able to forget her eyes, the color of clear, ocean blue waters. His heart had tap danced in his chest at the sight of them. He wasn’t sure why, or what it was about her, but he’d felt compelled to help her. Hell, something had told him to hang back and watch over her before she’d even passed out. He’d never cared so much about anyone before. Well, that wasn’t entirely true…once, a long, long time ago, but not lately, not in the last decade or so. This was more than just human compassion, though. Something about this woman pulled at his heart, as if he’d always known her, and losing her would leave him devastated.

Where was that damned ambulance?he wondered. He searched the small address book he’d pulled from her purse and found the person to contact in case of an emergency. There was no information on whether or not she was allergic to any medications or if she was on any specific medications. Finally, in the distance, he heard the wail of the ambulance siren.

“Thank God!” he breathed softly.

Once she was stabilized and loaded into the ambulance for transport to the hospital, he called the number he’d found in her purse.

“Miss Brenton?” he inquired.

“Yes?” a woman’s voice replied.

“Miss Susan Brenton?” he asked again.

“Yes, who’s calling, please?”

“I’m calling on behalf of a Ms. Brittany Spring. I found your name and number in her address book, so I believe she is a friend of yours. I’m afraid she’s had an accident.”

“Oh, my God! No! What happened? Is she all right?”

“I’m not sure how she is. The ambulance is taking her to County Hospital as we speak. I’m not sure what happened but, if you’ll meet me there, I’ll tell you what I know.”

“I’ll be there in a few minutes. Wait! How will I know you?”

“I’m wearing tennis whites and I’ve got Brittany’s purse. I forgot to give it to the ambulance driver.”

“Thank you so much for calling me. I’ll meet you there in a few minutes. I’m on my way now.” Susan replied and hung up the phone without waiting for an answer.

The man hurried back to his car which was parked only a few spaces from Brittany’s classic Mustang. He stopped long enough to lock her doors before turning back to his own car. As he neared the bumper of her car, a white piece of material blew across his foot. He bent down to pick it up and saw that it was a woman’s embroidered handkerchief. Pink roses surrounded the B on one corner, with pink crocheted lace edging all the way around it. “Brittany,” he said softly, brushing his thumb across the tiny roses and monogram.

As he continued walking to his car, he couldn’t resist the urge to sniff the delicate handkerchief. It smelled of roses, lilac and some kind of softly seductive perfume which brought a vivid image of Brittany to his mind’s eye. Only in this image, she was awake, smiling seductively, and calling his name. As he reached his car door, he shoved the white square into his pocket and silently cursed himself for entertaining such thoughts about a woman who may well be fighting for her life. He got into his car and drove to the hospital as fast as the traffic laws would allow.

Susan was out the door and on her way in record time. Brittany was her best friend and always had been. She couldn’t fathom a life without Brittany in it. They were closer than any two sisters could ever have been. In fact, she’d been the one who introduced her to her husband, Tom and had been Susan’s maid of honor. After she married, Susan had worried their friendship might fade away and die, but Brittany hadn’t let that happen, no way. Ever the eternal optimist, Brittany always said things had a way of working out for the best, and they usually did.

Tom’s business was just getting off the ground when they were courting, but skyrocketed soon after the wedding. Within a year, Susan and Tom were able to buy the house at the end of the block from Brittany. They’d all grown closer together as friends, with Tom treating Brittany like his kid sister. He absolutely adored her. If anything was seriously wrong with Brittany, it would break Tom’s heart and hers too.

Susan said a silent, heartfelt prayer for all of them, adding a blessing for the unknown man who’d been kind enough to help Brittany and think to call her.

Susan spotted her unknown caller immediately upon walking through the Emergency Room doors. You just couldn’t miss a man as handsome as this one, especially when he was so darkly tanned and wearing tennis whites. The fact that he was carrying a teal handbag over his left shoulder kind of gave the game away, as well.

“Hello, I’m Susan Brenton. I believe you were the one who called me about Brittany Spring?” she asked. She knew it was him but, in today’s world, you just couldn’t assume anything. “How is she? Have you heard anything?” she asked anxiously.

“No, I haven’t heard a thing. I just got here myself and the ambulance was just a few seconds ahead of me,” he replied, handing Brittany’s purse to her without introducing himself.

“Tell me what happened, please,” Susan said, following him into the waiting room to sit down. As the man explained what had happened, Susan not only listened, but studied him intently. The way he spoke and carried himself implied that he was well educated and probably wealthy. Physically, he appeared to be a few inches above 6 feet in height, lean but well-muscled, with evenly tanned skin. At the moment, his broad shoulders seemed to carry the weight of the world. With that wild tangle of blue-black hair and full pouty lips, he looked like some mythological god on Earth. His rich brown eyes were shaded by full dark brows, emphasizing their hypnotic intensity. His strong, angular facial features were a combination of Irish/Italian masculinity that would have turned any woman’s head. However, it was his voice and his eyes that kept capturing her attention. There was a quality about them that made him seem distraught over what had happened to Brittany. Susan didn’t think he looked or acted like the kind of person who fell apart under pressure or in a crisis, so she wondered why he seemed so upset about Brittany.

“… and, as they came through those doors, I heard someone give the order for a CAT scan, but I don’t know if that was for Brittany, or not. As far as I know, she’s still unconscious,” the man explained.

“Oh, my! What possessed her to go out in this heat? She knows better than that since she has never been able to handle this kind of heat. I remember, when we were little, a bunch of us kids got together to play hide-and-seek and when we were hiding for the second time, none of us could find Brittany anywhere. I went and got her mom and finally, after about 30 minutes, we found her behind her parents’ garage. She’d passed out from heat exhaustion even though it was shady back there. Her face was flushed and covered with perspiration and her skin was hot to the touch, like you said it was today.

“She was ill for two days after that, weak and sick to her stomach, but then she was fine again. The doctors told her to avoid temperatures above 80 degrees and high humidity days because even the slightest exposure or exercise could cause her to pass out again. I can’t ever remember being so scared as I was that day, until now,” Susan said.

“I know what you mean. I don’t even know her and I’m worried sick about her. Look at me, I’m shaking!” Holding out his trembling hands as proof, he was surprised at the note of fear in his own voice. He wasn’t afraid of anything. He never worried about anything or anyone, always calm, cool and collected even under the worst pressure and circumstances. Yet, here he sat in a hospital waiting room on the edge of his seat agonizing over a woman he didn’t even know.

Susan looked at his shaking hands and, without a word, took one into her own and lightly squeezed it. She gave him a comforting smile and their hands remained entwined. In that moment of silent understanding, a new friendship was formed. She wasn’t sure exactly what had happened in the parking lot between Brittany and this man but she did know that, in that brief time, he’d come to care about Brittany as much as Susan had in a lifetime. Now, she thought she understood why he seemed so distraught over an apparent stranger.

“You know, when I first saw her leaning weakly against her car and trembling, I knew something was wrong but I didn’t do anything to help…I didn’t even try. I was just hanging back, making sure she got into the store safely. Oh, why didn’t I do something sooner? She never would have hit her head if I’d just done something! Instead, I stood there, a self-involved asshole, wondering why she didn’t just go home if she felt that bad! God! I can be such an ass!” he said guiltily, running his hand through his hair.

“Don’t do that to yourself. You did help her. She should have taken more precaution. She knows how the heat affects her. You did all you could possibly do to help her,” Susan said, attempting to comfort him.

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