An all-new mind-bending, Romantic Suspense novel is coming soon from Jewel E. Ann, and I have the first chapter for you.
A simple bee sting can set off a chain of reactions to stop a human heart.
The man glanced at the stormy blue eyes taking pity on him, and he chuckled to ease the worry in the young nurse’s mind. “I think I was stung by a bee. Years ago … maybe as a child.” He shrugged, scratching his dirty-blond bedhead while lowering his gaze to his feet, clad in blue canvas sneakers, dangling from the side of the hospital bed. “I remember a sting and burn on my neck. Before I knew it, my whole body started to turn red, and I felt itchy everywhere. Hives appeared out of nowhere. My face began to swell; my throat constricted. I couldn’t swallow … I couldn’t breathe.”
“You remember that?” Faith asked.
Faith—the perfect name for a nurse.
“Yes. I think. I mean, why would that pop into my head if it didn’t happen to me?” The nameless man feathered his fingers over the burns on his hands. After countless surgeries, months of unimaginable pain, and the emotional tragedy of losing his memory, he stood on the precipice of being thrust into an unknown life.
“I’m not an expert on amnesia, but I would imagine any memory is a good sign. So yeah, that’s good.” Faith’s encouraging smile brought a tiny bit of light to the darkness. For months she had bestowed unconditional kindness on the man covered in scars.
Unrecognizable as a human. At least, that was what he thought.
Something a young child could create with crumbly, dry, Play-Doh.
Ugly felt like a compliment. Hideous and unsightly better described his appearance. Thick, raised, and uncomfortably stiff scars covered eighty percent of his body, making him unrecognizable. Erasing fingerprints—dissolving his identity.
“Good, huh?” He wondered if anything in his life would ever be good again. “Good that I remember something? Good that I know to watch out for bees? Because let’s be honest … I survived a fire. The doctors said it’s a miracle that I’m alive. I’ve lost my memory. It’s unknown if I’ll ever get it back. Yet … my one solid memory is that I nearly died from a single bee sting.”
The man chuckled. Glancing up at Faith, he found her wrinkled-nose expression rather cute. “So let’s review what we know. I can walk through an inferno, my skin literally melting from my body, but if on the other side there happens to be an angry bee … I’m a dead man.”
“Unless you have an EpiPen, which I highly recommend.”
He liked Faith. She had a husband and a two-year-old little girl named Izzy. They just got a dog, a doodle of some sort, and named it Gingie. He liked her all-American story. She was the best part of his day.
“So how’s this all going to go down?”
“What do you mean?” Faith cocked her head to the side, exposing two tiny moles on her neck. They were familiar because she comprised a large part of his new memory. The citrus scent of her rich golden hair pulled into a high ponytail, the pink lipstick, and the neon yellow sneakers would forever remain embedded into the working parts of his brain.
“No one has claimed me.”
And sadly, no one seemed to be looking for the nameless man.
“And I don’t have anything—money, a social security number, a bed. Just … nothing. How do I pay for the hospital bills? Where do they even send the bills? Where will I sleep tonight?”
Faith rested her hand on his hand. The scars made it difficult to feel certain things, but he felt her warmth, and it felt like everything.
“I’m going to have someone talk to you about all of this. They will help you figure it out. A place to stay. Maybe a payment plan. And the police will continue looking for some leads on your family.”
“What if I don’t have family? That would explain why no one is looking for me. What if they died in the accident? What if …” He shook his head, pinching his eyes shut. “What if it wasn’t an accident? What if I’m some sick serial killer who killed my family, blew up the home, and myself in the process? What if I hobbled incoherently to the hospital? Did they check? Do you think the police checked for arson, murder … something like that?”
Faith squeezed his hand. “You are the sweetest patient I have ever had the pleasure of helping. You never complained, even when I had tears in my eyes watching you endure the hardest parts of the debridement and healing process. Maybe you don’t have family looking for you. Maybe they assume you died. It happens. But you are definitely not a serial killer. Besides …”
Removing her hand, she stood straight and shot him a tight-lipped smile. “They said someone literally dropped you off at the entrance to the ER. Right?”
He nodded. “Supposedly. But they didn’t take me all the way into the building. Why would they just drop me off? And when the people here looked at the security cameras, all they could get was a make and model of the vehicle. It didn’t have license plates. What if I had an accomplice?”
Faith crossed her arms over her scrub-clad chest and lifted a single eyebrow at the man.
He shrugged. “Fine. It’s farfetched. I mean … I don’t feel like a murderer. That has to mean something, right?”
She giggled a beautiful, life-is-good giggle. “If they arrest you, I’d go with that defense.”
He couldn’t hide his grin nor could he fully grin because his body was nothing more than a heap of stubborn scar tissue and bones.
“You wouldn’t believe how many injured people get dropped off at the ER entrance or even the fire station. Gunshot wounds, stabbings, burn victims … we see it all too often, like taking an animal out in the middle of nowhere and just leaving it. A cruel act, but not entirely inhumane. Clearly these ‘Good Samaritans’ don’t want the victim to die, but they also don’t want to be questioned for many reasons that might not have anything to do with the victim.”
He nodded, eyes squinted.
“I’ll be right back. I’m going to see who’s available to meet with you to discuss further care, rehabilitation, finances, and so on. Okay?”
The nameless man swallowed hard and nodded slowly.
When Faith disappeared, his hands started to shake, and his pulse took off like it needed to cross a distant finish line. Her words jumbled in his mind, and her smile and that laugh he loved replayed on repeat, but it was no longer cute and endearing. It mocked and berated him. Faith’s eyes lost their sparkle, rolling in annoyance that she had to stare at his wretched face all day and pretend that he had a family who would be looking for him. Paranoia attacked him.
He needed out of there before anything bad happened. Sliding off the bed onto wobbly legs, he pinched his eyes shut to silence the voices. They were louder than before—screaming at him to get out. His mastery over ignoring them began to slip. They would no longer be silenced.
So he did the only thing he could.
Screeching tires, deafening horns, and echoes of profanity poured over the man as he staggered through the busy streets of Newark.
Whispers, cringes, pointed fingers … they fed the voices, giving them more power than they deserved.
He weaved his way down an alley, the flickering streetlight never fully penetrating the darkness. Stumbling over empty liquor bottles, water-stained crates, and crumpled wrappers and cups, he collapsed onto a pile of leaflets in a corner. When light from a passing car on the street washed over the opposite wall, he caught sight of a tattered blanket.
“Christ …” He wretched, hugging it to himself to keep warm on the late November night. It reeked of sour vomit.
He surrendered to sleep once the meowing cats, slamming trash lids, and flittering dance of the wind sweeping more trash in his direction silenced the voices.
* * *
The next day he discovered people were quite generous to homeless burn victims. An elderly man handed him a full pizza and a twenty-dollar bill. A young girl gifted him a half-full juice box, making her mother quite proud. By the end of the day, the empty half of his pizza box resembled a tip jar, but he didn’t have to do anything to earn the money. Looking pitiful proved to be his best talent.
Unfortunately, winter in New Jersey showed no mercy. After a week of living on the streets, he needed something warm. An unlocked car under an overpass worked fairly well, until the owner returned the following morning with a tow truck and chased the homeless man away.
Then, as if there was some higher power who gave a tiny shit about the homeless man, he passed an old building—a familiar building.
The angry, fighting voices in his head stopped, and one single voice—a new voice—whispered to him.
“Chris.” He exhaled, tears burning his eyes. “My name is Chris. I used to box at this gym. Oh god …” A hard lump formed in his throat. He wasn’t lost anymore. And he wasn’t a nameless nobody.