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ninekaronas

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For some reason, I've had a hard time describing the premise of this story without making it sound sad, so I won't even try. But I swear to y'all that this is not gonna be a sad story.



Return to Me

Chapter 1

It was a cool crisp day in the Pennsylvania countryside, but still she chose to ride with the top down. Fall was in the air, but the sky was blue and the sun was bright, and she wanted to hold on to the last traces of summer. Deciding to let the wind have it's way, she removed the hat from her head and tossed it onto the seat beside her. She tried to tame the riot of curls around her face, but quickly gave up the fight. "Go ahead, Mother Nature. Do your worst!" she said to her reflection in the rearview mirror. She reached down and turned up the volume on the car stereo when she heard the first strains of her favorite Nickelback song. She was singing along without a care in the world when she saw him.

She glanced up just in time to see a man coming out of a greasy little diner. He was clearly overdressed for the place, but somehow still seemed to fit in. She didn't recognize him, but that didn't mean she couldn't appreciate how hot he was. Tall with wavy brown hair and wearing a very expensive suit. She couldn't see his eyes because of the sunglasses, but somehow she knew they were warm and inviting. He looked her way as she drove past, but he was dialing his cell phone and didn't appear to notice her. She drove on for another minute, until her curiosity got the best of her. Something about him pulled at her, so she doubled back, convincing herself that she was just hungry. When she got back to the restaurant, he was gone.

-------------------------

Zach reached for his cellphone and started to dial as he walked out of the diner. Another day of looking, but with the same results. He started the same ritual he repeated every week: calling Derek, then Tad, then his own man, Johnny Mathis. "Yeah, like the singer," the man had said when Zach first met him. "My mom was a fan," he'd added with a shrug. Zach smiled at the memory, but the smile froze on his face when he noticed the car driving by. Well, not so much the car as the driver.

"Kendall?"

The air left his body in a rush. He dropped the phone, only vaguely aware of Derek's voice in the background. "Kendall," he repeated. He closed his eyes for a second, and when he opened them she was gone. He stood unmoving, staring in the direction the car went. Was it really her? He rubbed his hands over his face. He had seen her everywhere these last eighteen months, but it was never really her. But this was different. Wasn't it? The pounding of his heart convinced him that this time it was her. It was really her. He picked up his phone and ran to his car. He'd find her. He had to. He couldn't go home without her again.

-------------------------

She pulled out of the diner thirty minutes later. She had hoped he would return, but of course he didn't. Why would he? She didn't understand why she cared so much. She wasn't the kind of girl who threw herself at strange men at roadside restaurants in the middle of nowhere. But he was different. Something about him beckoned her. She couldn't explain it. She wasn't even sure she liked it. But there it was. She drove on, trying to put him out of her mind. There were still a couple more hours before the sun would start to set and she wanted to enjoy the ride. She punched number six on the cd player and again let Nickelback carry her "Far Away."

-------------------------

Zach drove for nearly an hour before deciding to turn back. He hated to give up, especially when he had felt so sure it was her. But as time passed, he started to question what he saw. "You can't keep doing this," he said to the empty car. "It's not fair to the boys." He turned the car around and headed back in the direction he came from. If he hurried, he might be able to make it home in time for dinner.

-------------------------

Even though it was supposed to be just a long weekend getaway, she knew she couldn't return home. Not yet. So she found herself standing in the doorway of a motel room across the street from the same restaurant she'd seen him at the day before. She looked back over her shoulder, trying to remember how everything had changed so quickly.

She had come back to the diner to eat breakfast, and to wait. But by the time she left she had a job and a place to stay. Why did she do it? Why didn't she just drive away? She didn't have any answers to the questions that were plaguing her. She just knew she had to stay.

After spending most of the day learning the ropes of her new waitressing job, she was given the afternoon off to get moved into her new room. As luck would have it, the same people who owned the diner also owned the motel, so they included the room as part of her salary.

She looked around at the clean but shabby furnishings and took a deep breath. "What am I doing here?" she asked the empty room. When it didn't answer, she decided to take a long, hot bath.

-------------------------

Zach found himself driving back along the same route he had taken the day before, which led him back to the same restaurant in the same small town less that 70 miles from Pine Valley. Kendall was out here somewhere, he was sure of it. So how could he just go on with his life as if he hadn't seen her? "It was her," he told himself for the hundredth time. It had to be her.

He walked in and seated himself at a booth in the corner and he waited. It was late afternoon, nearly 24 hours since he'd seen her. He drummed his fingers on the table as he looked around the room. The place was clean and the food was good, and business seemed to be good. He briefly considered asking around to see if anybody had seen Kendall, but decided against it. What was he supposed to say? How could he explain that he was looking for a woman he might have seen that just might be the woman he's been trying to find for almost two years?

He ordered a cold beer and a sandwich and settled back against the worn vinyl upholstery. He studied every face that came into view, praying that one of them would be hers. He sighed heavily as he stared out the window at the motel across the street. "Where are you, Kendall?"

-------------------------

The bath made her feel refreshed and rejuvenated. And more determined than ever to find a place for herself here. It's not like Memphis was really her home. She didn't know anybody there either. But something about this place filled her with hope.

She dressed quickly and went back outside. It was getting late, but she could probably get in a little bit of sightseeing before it got too dark. She loved the feel of the wind in her hair as she drove through the sleepy little town. She popped in her favorite cd and pulled out of the parking lot.

-------------------------

Zach left the diner in a much fouler mood. He'd waited for hours, but she never came. So now what was he supposed to do? Give up? How could he? But how the hell was he supposed to find her? He'd gotten his answer from the jukebox in the diner. Just as he was questioning his own sanity, he heard Johnny Mathis - the real Johnny Mathis - singing "Chances Are."

For a brief moment, he got caught up in the sentimentality of the song. Then it hit him. Why not let the team of professionals he'd hired stake out this place? Isn't that what he was paying them to do? Although he had the nagging realization that he didn't want somebody else to find her - he wanted to find her himself - he reluctantly left the restaurant and headed back to Pine Valley. Back to another night of haunted dreams and memories that time couldn't steal.

As he drove, he couldn't stop the thoughts that plagued him. The last eighteen months had been hell. Kendall was gone and he couldn't live without her. He didn't want to live without her. After spending so much of his life alone, he found he didn't know how to do it anymore.

Zach was not one of those people for whom time blurred the images or dulled the memories. He remembered everything. The texture of her hair, the softness of her skin, the feel of her breath on his face as he leaned in to kiss her. He remembered her voice and all its intonations: angry, playful, worried ... the sound of her crying out his name in the height of passion. He remembered it all. It kept him up at night. It also kept him alive.

He had spent the first weeks of Kendall's disappearance in a haze of police briefings and phone calls. The following months were spent inside a bottle, trying to kill himself if he couldn't kill the pain, until one day somebody reached him. Of all people, it was his mother-in-law who reminded him how much he still had to live for. Erica brought him back to life. Back to his sons. And back to hope.

Hope was the thing he held on to tightest. He never stopped looking for Kendall. Never. He hired a team of investigators to look for her around the clock. As a favor to Erica, Tad was also looking into her disappearance. During the week, Zach tried to maintain a regular routine for the sake of Spike and Ian. But each weekend was spent searching for the love of his life. She was out there somewhere. He could feel her.

"But where, dammit?" he growled, banging his hand on the steering wheel. "Where are you, Kendall? I'm coming, honey. I swear I'll find you." Zach pulled into a small roadside park and killed the engine. He couldn't go home yet. Not like this. He had to protect the boys from his anger and his frustration. He wanted a drink desperately, but he had promised himself he wouldn't fall into that trap again. He stepped out of the car and buttoned his coat against the chill in the air. He noticed absentmindedly that the sun was sinking rapidly and darkness was about to fall.

He walked over to a bench situated on the edge of the grass and sat down heavily. He suddenly felt so weary. He had buried his face in his hands and was trying to fight off the depression that threatened to bury him when he heard another car pull in on the other side of the parking lot. He swore under his breath. All he wanted was to be left alone. Five minutes of peace. Was that really so much to ask? He could hear music coming from the other car's radio.

... I love you
I have loved you all along
And I miss you
Been far away for far too long
I keep dreaming you'll be with me
and you'll never go
Stop breathing if
I don't see you anymore


Zach jerked his head up when he realized what he was hearing. It was Kendall's favorite song. He found himself unable to move as he watched her step out of her car and walk toward him. He could hear her shoes on the gravel, see her getting closer, but still he couldn't move. It was her. The woman from the diner. The woman from his dreams. Kendall? Dear God, could it really be her?

-------------------------

She pulled into the roadside park just so she could stretch her legs. The last thing she expected to find was a silver Mercedes sitting in the parking lot. She stared at the man sitting on the bench for a moment, trying to decide if she should disturb him. He didn't look like he wanted company. But in the end, she realized she didn't really have a choice. She had spent the last two days trying to find him. There was no way she was walking away from him now. She couldn't.

So she walked forward on shaky legs, afraid of the strength of her feelings, but also strangely excited. She felt like she was exactly where she was supposed to be. Fate had to have a hand in this. As she got closer to him, he looked up at her, and she gasped. There was so much emotion in his eyes. So much warmth, and so much pain. And something else she couldn't quite define. Feeling self-conscious all of a sudden, she ran her fingers through her hair and nervously pulled on her shirt. All too quickly she was standing before him. He was watching her closely, but he hadn't moved from his place on the bench. She took a deep breath, licked her lips, and stuck out her hand.

"Hi," she said. "I'm Amy."


TBC

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Auntinette

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WOW!!  Hurry Back!!


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ninekaronas

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Since I was late posting the first chapter here, y'all get a quick update.



Chapter 2

"Hi," she said. "I'm Amy."

Zach finally stood to his feet. It took him a second to realize that she had spoken, and another second to understand what she'd said. "Amy?" he repeated as he took her outstretched hand. "Are you sure?" She stilled, giving him a strange look. "Why would you say that?" He shrugged, hoping he appeared casual. "You don't look like an Amy." His heart was pounding out of his chest, but he struggled to maintain a calm exterior. He fought the urge to pinch himself, just to be sure he wasn't dreaming.

"You know, it's funny you should say that," she said as she pulled her hand from his grasp. She didn't understand her reaction to him. Part of her wanted to run away and another part of her wanted to throw her arms around him and hold on tight. It was a very new experience for a woman who had vowed not to get close to any man. Not until the one she was waiting for found her.

"Oh," Zach said as he cocked his head to one side, "then why aren't you laughing?" She looked around nervously before turning her back to him. "It's a long story," she said softly, so softly she was afraid he didn't hear her. Zach took off his coat and wrapped it around her slender shoulders. "I've got time," he said, his voice gentle and warm in her ear. He stepped around her and offered her is arm, waiting patiently for her to make up her mind. After sizing him up, she slipped her arm through his and let him lead her down the pathway into the park as the first stars of the night made their appearance in the twilight sky.

-------------------------

They walked in silence for several minutes, both lost in their own thoughts. Amy was afraid. Not of the man walking beside her, but of herself. She was unprepared for the way her body reacted to him. She felt butterflies in her stomach every time her eyes met his and there was no denying the fact that her heart was racing and her knees were weak. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, and found he wasn't paying any attention to her. He appeared to be a million miles away. She took advantage of the opportunity and really looked at him. She smiled. Of course her body was reacting to him. He was gorgeous!! He probably never met a woman who didn't have heart palpitations. For a brief moment she wondered what it would feel like to kiss him ... to be held by him.

Zach knew she was watching him, but he wasn't ready to face her. Not yet. He still hadn't decided how he was going to handle the situation. It was Kendall, that much he was certain of. Maybe there was somebody else out there with her face, but no other woman had ever made him feel this way just by being near her. His body knew it was her and his heart knew it was her. But she didn't know. That was the problem that needed to be dealt with. But how? Should he take her into his arms and tell her she was his wife, the woman he'd been looking for for all these months? Would that be harmful? Just how fragile was her mental state, anyway? The last thing he wanted to do was push her farther away from him. He knew with an immediate certainty that if Kendall was lost to him forever, then he'd just have to make Amy fall in love with him. Either way, he was going to spend the rest of his life with this woman. But for the sake of their boys, he had to handle it very carefully. If he could rescue Kendall from the recesses of her own mind, it would be worth any amount of time it took.

"So, Amy. You were going to tell me a long story," he spoke at last. She turned to him, smiling shyly. She cleared her throat and dove in. "It's not really that long, I guess," she said. "It's just that ... well ... how did you know?" "How did I know what?" Zach replied. He could feel warmth spreading through his chest at the sound of her voice. He would do anything to keep her talking. Turns out he didn't have to. She was ready to talk.

"How did you know my name isn't really Amy?" Now Zach was stuck. He didn't know what to say. His instincts told him to play along and not say too much. "Like I said, you don't look like an Amy." She nodded. "I honestly don't know if my name is Amy or not," she said. "I woke up in a hospital in Memphis several months ago. I didn't know how I got there or who I was. Nobody did. One day one of the nurses told me to pick a name, unless I wanted to be forever known as Jane Doe. The girl in the bed next to me was always listening to a 70's rock station and that's the song that was playing at the time ... Amy. For some reason the name Amelia seemed important to me, but of course I didn't know why. So I took it. I've always wondered if maybe it really is my name. Why else would it feel so familiar?" she shrugged. She looked over at Zach, unable to read the expression on his face.

"Did I say something wrong?" she asked. She stopped walking and looked up at him. He'd become very solemn, almost sad. He shook his head and tightened his grip on her arm, but he offered no explanation for the mood swing. She saw the shadows behind his eyes, but let the subject drop. It was none of her business. She looked up at the star-filled sky and listened to the chirping of the crickets. It felt so much like summer. She was briefly tempted to take off her shoes, but the sudden brisk wind reminded her that summer was, in fact, over.

Zach watched her as the wind blew her glorious hair away from her face. She was so gentle now, almost guileless. She didn't remember all the injustices she'd been served, all the mistakes he'd made. For a brief moment he was jealous, but that quickly gave way to something else, something he couldn't define, but it pulled at him all the same. He almost wished she would stay this way, lost in a world of blissful oblivion. At peace. But the selfish part of him knew he wouldn't be able to survive without her. He needed her too much. This woman was beautiful, and he knew he could easily fall in love with her. But he longed for the old Kendall, his Kendall.

"Are you married, Amy? Boyfriend?" he asked as they resumed their walk. He released the breath he'd been holding when she shook her head. "No? Why not? Beautiful woman like you shouldn't be alone," he said, trying to keep his voice light. "I'm not alone, at least I don't think I am," she answered. "I don't understand." "Promise not to laugh?" she said shyly. He nodded. "Promise," he said aloud when she didn't continued. "I feel like I belong to somebody ... and he belongs to me. I guess I'm just waiting for him to find me." She laughed. "I've never told anybody that before. It sounds silly, doesn't it?" He just stared at her, not trusting himself to speak. "It's okay. I'm giving you permission to laugh." He started to talk, but his voice broke. "Not silly at all," he said, his voice a gruff whisper. "So how come you're here with me?" She looked away, but not before he saw the confusion in her eyes. "I don't know. I honestly don't. I mean, I feel so safe with you, and I don't even know your name," she added as her eyes once again met his.

Zach swallowed. She was looking at him so innocently, genuinely confused by what he fully understood. They belonged together. And their souls were joined for eternity. "Zach," he said as he brought her hand to his lips. "Zach Slater." They both felt the bolt of electricity when his lips touched her skin. "Do I know you, Zach?" The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. Again he tilted his head and watched her closely. "Do you want to?" he asked, trying to read her thoughts. "I think I do," she whispered, suddenly out of breath.

"What about you? Anybody special in your life?" she asked in an effort to ease the tension. He smiled. "There are a few special people in my life, but not the way you mean. No, there's only ever been one woman for me. Always, only her," he added wistfully, a faraway look in his eye. Then he turned his gaze to her, looking deeply into her eyes. "So how do you know I'm not the one you belong to?" he asked. "I don't," she replied. "But if I was, surely you would claim me, wouldn't you?" Once again she found herself wondering what it was about this man that made her open up so readily. The look in his eyes was so intense, it almost frightened her.

Kendall's reaction was exactly what she had feared most ... responsive. Her body flushed under his gaze. But it wasn't supposed to happen like this. She felt both excited and ashamed. There was someone out there, somewhere, and he was looking for her. And soon he would be coming to claim her. She just knew it. She felt it to the depths of her soul. She had clung to that knowledge during the long lonely nights. And never before had she felt attraction for any of the men who came on to her. Never. Until now.

She had to retreat ... to protect herself. As much as she didn't want to go, she felt she owed it to the man she knew was looking for her. "I have to go, Zach. This isn't right." She took a step back to put some distance between them. "Because of him," he said matter-of-factly, "the man who's coming for you." She nodded as she shrugged out of his coat and handed it back to him. "I hope he waits a little longer," she said in a rush as she hurried back up the path to her car.

"Oh no, Kendall. His wait is over," Zach said into the cool night. He offered a silent prayer heavenward and actually found himself whistling as he walked back to his own car. There was much to think about. He had lots of questions and lots of decisions to make, but one thing was certain. Now that he'd found her, he would never let her get away from him again.

TBC


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Purdue0612

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Reply with quote  #4 
Please come back soon!
Love it!
rosierozz

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This story would make a great story line for AMC, because what they are showing is awful. Can't wait for the next chapter!!!
brownpenny

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Reply with quote  #6 
Now THAT'S an amnesia storyline!  You can't help think what TK would do with that reading it.

Thanks for taking the time to post.  Can't wait for the next chapter.
Swtpeadana

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Wow another great story I am looking forward to more soon. This is great ... More soon please AMC writers could take lessons from you for storylines.. Keep up the good work

Dana

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Great story Karen!  More please!!!


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Micki
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 Please, Ma'am; may we have some more?
Thanks, Karen. This sounds great.
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ninekaronas

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Chapter 3

"Johnny, I found her. In a little town not too far from here. Yeah, I know. Thanks, me too." Zach smiled at the genuine emotion in his lead investigator's voice. They had been through a lot over these past months, and Zach now considered him more than an employee. He was a friend. "Listen, I have a new lead for you. Yes, I did find her, but there's still a lot we don't know. That's where you come in. Find out how my wife got from Los Angeles to Memphis. That's right, Memphis. And Johnny, nobody knows about this but you and me. No, not even her. Memory loss," he said, unable to say the word amnesia. It sounded too permanent. "Yes, it's temporary," he said easily, "but until I get it all sorted out, nobody knows anything. Got it? One more thing. If anybody does find out, chances are you'll be looking for a new job. Yeah, I know man. I had to. Thanks."

He replaced the phone in his pocket and turned on the car radio. After a few minutes of searching, he gave up and turned it back off. He could usually get absorbed in some of the all-talk stations - business or sports - but not today. Today he was floating on air and he didn't want to think about anything but Kendall. His beautiful wife. Home as last.

Zach stopped when he heard a strange noise, then broke into a broad grin when he realized what it was. Him. Humming. He shook his head, but couldn't seem to stop the noise escaping his throat. Then, to his utter horror, his fingers started tapping against the steering wheel. "God help me," he said to the empty car.

His mind drifted back to the night before. He was whistling then, until he remembered that he'd forgotten to ask Kendall - Amy, he corrected - where she was staying. In a near panic, he ran to catch up with her, and found her leaning against his car, her thin jacket pulled tightly to her in an effort to keep warm.

"You're still here," Zach said, stating the obvious as he started to remove his coat. "No, don't bother. I really do have to go," she said, holding up her hand to keep some distance between them. Amy was starting to second guess her decision. Maybe she should have just disappeared into the night. But she couldn't. She didn't understand it, but deep inside she knew that walking away from him would be the biggest mistake of her life. "I just wanted to ... well, I guess I was wondering if I would see you again," she said at last. He stared into her eyes, the intensity once again making her heart pound. There were promises in those eyes. Promises that Amy was afraid to grab onto.

"Where can I find you, Amy?" he said, his voice low and intimate. He moved closer to her, unable to stop himself. His body longed to tell her all the things in his heart, but he was afraid. The last thing he wanted to do was scare her away. He forced himself to relax his stance and tried to keep his tone casual. "Are you staying around here?"

"I'm staying at the little motel down the street," she said, pointing in that direction. "The one across from the diner. That's the first place I saw -" She stopped abruptly when she realized what she was about to say, but he didn't appear to notice. He was too busy staring at her with his mouth open. "Since when?" he asked, remembering how much time he'd spent staring at that motel that very afternoon. "Since today," she replied, dropping her eyes. She wasn't about to tell him she'd only gone there to wait for him.

"Unbelievable," Zach muttered under his breath. Kendall looked puzzled. "What is? Me living in a run down motel, or me standing here in the dark with a perfect stranger?" He didn't know what to say to that, so he said nothing. He was once again mesmerized by the way the wind blew through her hair and he fought the urge to bury his hand in those curls he knew so well. God how he'd missed those curls. She was watching him, waiting to see what he would do. Hell if he knew. 

"You'll see me again," Zach said finally, trying to fill the silence. Amy reached out and touched the back of his hand, but when he opened it to her, he felt her fingers slip through his. "I have to go," she said as she hurried to her car. With one last look she climbed behind the wheel and was gone.

And now here he was, on his way back to her. He couldn't stay away. He hadn't even tried, and he had no intention of trying. He'd been without her long enough. He and his boys had endured enough days without her - her smile and her laughter, and even her bad cooking - and he vowed never to put himself through that torture again.

His lighthearted euphoria suddenly turned into an unsettling need - an urgent desire to see her again, to touch her, to prove to himself she was real. He sped up, anxious to eat up the distance that separated them.

After what seemed an eternity, Zach pulled into the motel's parking lot, but he didn't know her room number. He went to the front desk, but of course the clerk was reluctant to give him any information, especially since Zach didn't even know her last name. "Do you remember her?" he asked the officious clerk. "Oh, yes sir, of course I do. Can't forget a lovely woman like that, now can I?" Zach grunted, oddly comforted by the surge of possessiveness that washed over him. "Right," he growled as he pulled a picture out of his wallet and presented it to the clerk.

The man studied the happy family in the picture, then looked up at Zach. "Then why don't you know her last name?" Zach sighed in frustration. "Look, don't force me to knock on every single door out there. Believe me, I will. God only knows what story I'll give to your customers, though," he added with a sideways glance. He reached for the guy's lapels so he could pull him closer, but then he realized he was taking the wrong approach. Intimidation wasn't going to work with this guy. He was obviously not a rule breaker. But maybe he was a romantic.

So Zach smoothed out the clerk's lapels and became the humblest man in Pennsylvania. He looked over his shoulder then leaned in and whispered conspiratorially. "Listen, Clinton," he said, glancing quickly at the man's name tag. "Amy is my wife." He held up his left hand so the clerk could see his wedding ring. "And well, it's our anniversary today, but I screwed up. I mean I screwed up really bad. We had a fight last night and she ran out on me. That's why I don't know what name she's registered under." He paused for effect.

"Go on," the clerk said. Zach could see the empathy in his eyes. "I just need to know what room she's in so I can go talk to her. You know, make it right." Zach said sadly, looking like a drowning man in need of a life raft. He knew the guy was considering it, but he still seemed a bit wary. "You married?" Zach asked, his eyes searching for a sign of weakness. It wasn't long in coming. The man tensed up immediately and Zach thought he had lost.

"Yes, I am. But not to a gorgeous creature like that," he said sourly. He swung the registry around to face Zach and turned away, feigning a coughing attack. "Pardon me sir, I need to get myself a drink of water. I'll be right back." He gave Zach a knowing look. "Don't let her get away," he said and walked out of the room.

"You don't have to worry about that," Zach said under his breath as he scanned the list of names. He froze when he saw her handwriting: Amy Alexander, Room 12. He swallowed the lump in his throat and turned to leave. She remembered more than she realized, he thought to himself as he wandered down the sidewalk in front of the rooms. He got to Room 12, the last room in the row, and raised his hand to knock. But he didn't. Instead he lowered his hand and stared at the closed door.

"What are you gonna say, Slater?" he chastised himself. He mulled it over, but nothing came. He wanted to take her in his arms and tell her she was his wife and he needed her to come home. She had a family who loved her and missed her more than she could ever understand. But then how was she supposed to respond to a declaration like that? What did he expect her to say? "Well, hell," he growled as he ran his hand roughly through his hair. He regretted it immediately and tried to smooth it down. He was nervous, and the realization shocked him.

Why should he be nervous? This was Kendall. He knew everything about her ... even the things she didn't know herself anymore. He loved her and he knew she loved him. He could feel their connection. So what did he have to be nervous about? He'd won her heart once. He could do it again if he had to ... if she didn't remember.

With a low rumble of frustration, he lifted his hand and quickly knocked on the door. Lightly at first, but then with more urgency when she didn't answer. He stepped back and counted the doors, just in case there was a numbering mistake. This wasn't exactly The Plaza, right? But no, this was the right room. Now he was really frustrated, but that quickly turned to fear.

Where was she? She didn't leave, did she? His mind raced with a dozen worst-case scenarios as he banged on the door again. "Ken ... Amy?" he called. Nothing but silence. He tried the knob and found that the door was unlocked. He pushed it open and leaned inside. "Amy?" he called again. Still no answer.

Imagine, Erica Kane's daughter living in a place like this. Oh well, if he remembered correctly, she'd spent some time at the Pine Cone before she and Erica patched things up, so he guessed she would be okay. There weren't any personal items in the room, but it looked clean enough and Kendall was not much of a diva these days, he thought to himself, which caused him to wonder for the millionth time what she had been through these last eighteen months. He felt wrong for being there when she wasn't, so he backed out of the room and looked back toward the motel's office.

Surely the bastard at the front desk would have told me if she'd checked out, he reasoned. He turned toward the front office, ready to make damn sure the man wasn't jerking him around, when he saw it. Her car was parked right in front of her door. So where the hell was she?

Knowing what an impression she'd made on the desk clerk, he decided to take a chance that somebody in the diner across the street would remember her too. She was probably eating all of her meals there. No way she could have gone unnoticed.

He walked into the diner and was immediately caught up in the commotion. Everybody in the place was rushing around, shouting. He was a little confused, until he saw somebody run past him with a fire extinguisher. His eyes followed the man to a table on the far side of the restaurant whose tablecloth was smoldering. He couldn't see the source of the smoke because of the crowd of people gathered around. Then he heard her.

"For crying out loud, Manny. Don't overreact. I put it out already. Ever heard of water?" Zach looked up just in time to see Kendall push her way through the crowd. She seemed embarrassed at first, but quickly shrugged it off. She gave Zach a big smile and walked toward him.

"Well, Zach. Feel like living dangerously? One tiny fire and a couple of dropped plates, and now nobody wants to sit at my station." Zach looked around the suddenly quiet room and noticed that everybody was watching him, some with warning looks, some with pity. He glared a few of them into submission, then offered her his arm. "Sure, I'm a man who loves a challenge." I married you, didn't I, he thought to himself. "Lead the way."

TBC


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Roseann

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Thank you, Karen!   What a great story....I knew there was a reason I woke up early this morning...Can't wait for the next chapter!

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Chapter 4

Amy took Zach to a mostly deserted section of the restaurant, which was fine with him. He appreciated the privacy. He hoped that since the breakfast rush was long over she would be able to spend some time with him. He felt himself relaxing, and silently forgave himself for the way his day started. He'd wanted to get out of Pine Valley much sooner than he did, but at least the kiss he gave his boys every morning from their mom had taken on a whole new meaning this morning. It had all worked out for the best.

"Whoever heard of tablecloths in a diner anyway?" Zach said as he settled himself in a booth away from the rest of the diners. Amy gave him an "I know!" look, but said only "Gus likes to think it gives the place some class." He nodded as he looked around the room, his eyes finally settling on the beautiful woman standing in front of him. "Classiest place I've ever been," he said. Amy couldn't tell if he was making a joke or if he was flirting with her. His expression was unreadable.

"You aren't gonna be spilling a lot are you?" he asked. "Kind of an expensive suit." Amy laughed, relieved to have the tension broken. She knew he was kidding now, and his light tone made her feel like she was once again standing on solid ground. When he looked at her so intently, as he often did, it made her feel uneasy and uncertain. Not necessarily in a bad way. Sometimes it excited her. It always made her nervous. And often it stirred something in her that she didn't understand, like something pulling at the corners of her mind.

"Maybe you should order something simple, just in case," Amy shot back, daring him. "Hmmmm ... simple, huh? Well, you're the expert. I know it's a little early for lunch, but how about a couple of chili dogs with lots of chili, and don't skimp on the onions," he added as he glanced up from the menu. "And bring me some cheese fries to go along with that. No onions on those." "Anything else," Amy said, biting her lip to keep from laughing. "I was gonna have the hot fudge sundae for dessert, but why don't you bring that out a little later," Zach said with profound seriousness. But this time Amy knew he was teasing her.

"Onions, huh? Sure you don't want to think about that?" she asked as she slipped her pencil behind her ear. For a moment Zach's eyes rested on that pencil while he fought the urge to rescue the stray curl that had gotten away. When Amy cleared her throat, he realized he was staring.

"Why?" he asked quickly. He cupped his hand over his mouth and nose, checking his breath. "You think I have a problem, or," he said, drawing the word out for effect as he watched her face, "do you think I might get lucky?" He smiled when Amy blushed, but she continued to meet his gaze.  She took the menu and walked away, feeling slightly self-conscious and very excited because she knew he was watching her. And if she'd had the nerve to glance over her shoulder she would have found out that she was exactly right.

-------------------------

"Can I ask you something?" Zach said when Amy placed the hot fudge sundae on the table in front of him. She had managed to serve him the entire meal without spilling a thing, which amazed her considering how nervous he made her. She had been able to grab a few stolen moments to chat with him, but not as many as he'd hoped. If she stopped for too long her boss, Gus, started yelling at her to keep moving. Zach had downed about five glasses of iced tea, just to give her a reason to keep coming back.

"Sure," Amy said as she refilled his glass. "How did you get here, Amy? I know you don't remember anything before Memphis, but how did you end up here, in Pennsylvania?" She glanced over at Gus and found he had his back to her, so she sat down across from Zach. "Promise not to laugh ... again?" "Didn't laugh last time, did I?" he replied, trying to keep his tone casual, but also desperate to get some information that could help him find out what happened to her in LA. Amy shook her head and began.

"I woke up in Memphis, like I said, with no memory at all. I needed a lot of physical therapy on an injury to my leg, but I don't know what happened to it. I just know I was laid up in a hospital bed for months waiting for it to heal so I could be released." She glanced up to see if he'd become bored with her life story already, but he seemed to be engrossed, so she continued. "I think I may have had more serious injuries, but they must have healed before I woke up." "Why do you say that?" Zach asked, concern evident on his face. "One of the nurses made a comment once about all the roommates I'd been through. There were only two the whole time I was awake, so I must have been there a long time before I woke up." "Didn't you get any kind of a breakdown. On the bill, maybe?" Zach made a mental note to have Johnny get a copy of all her hospital records. "I never saw the bill. He must have taken care of all that."

"Pick up, Amy!" Gus yelled from the kitchen. Amy hurried over to him and Zach could hear her apologizing. He wasn't feeling nearly so accommodating. He waited for Amy to greet some new customers, then he walked over to Gus. "How much you paying her?" he asked bluntly. "What business is that of yours," the bloated man with the military haircut snapped. "More than you know. Listen, whatever it is, I'll pay you double. But you will stop yelling at her. Look around man, the place is nearly empty. Give her a break." He peeled off several bills and left them on the counter in front of Gus and returned to his seat, hoping Amy hadn't noticed his absence.

"Sorry about that," Amy said as she brought him his check. "Where were we?" Zach frowned up at her. "I didn't ask for this yet," he said. "You kicking me out?" He looked around the room. "You need the table or something?" Amy laughed. "Of course not. But Zach, there's nothing left. And I know you couldn't possibly drink another glass of tea." He smiled at the twinkle in her eyes. "Besides, I'm just trying to keep Gus happy." "Gus, right. Forget about him. You were telling me how you ended up here."

"Oh yeah, I forgot," Amy said as she sat back down across from him. Zach glared at Gus, who just turned away. "Anyway, while I was trapped in that hospital bed, I spent a lot of time reading - books, magazines, anything I could get my hands on. One day I saw an advertisement promoting tourism here." She reached across the table and touched his hand. "Zach, I stared at that ad for hours. There was something almost familiar about it. Pennsylvania's Calling You," she said as she pictured the ad in her mind. "And it was. I kept that page taped to the wall by my bed. I knew as soon as I was able, I had to come here. So here I am."

"Here you are," Zach said, his voice gruff with emotions he was trying to hide from her. "How long have you been here?" Amy slid her hand back across the table and sighed. "Not long. I figured it would be a little vacation, but something ... well, let's just say I couldn't leave. Not yet." She glanced at Zach but looked away quickly. She knew he'd be able to see it in her eyes. He was the reason she stayed. And even though she didn't understand it, she sure as hell didn't want him to know. "I was lucky to get this job here at Marigold Sky. I don't think I've ever been a waitress before. I'm pretty bad at it."

Zach nodded, but said, "No, you're a great waitress." He looked down at his suit. "See, not a single spill. Just wait till you see the tip I'm gonna leave you." Amy smiled, something she did a lot when he was around. "Marigold Sky? Romantic name for a greasy little ... unromantic place, don't you think?" Zach said, trying desperately to prolong their conversation. "I guess that depends on your definition of romance," she said coyly. "Are you asking?" he said, leaning across the table.

"Apparently you've never heard the song before," Amy said, trying to ignore the way Zach was looking at her and, more importantly, how it made her feel. Zach shook his head. "Well, it's about lost love really. Kinda sad. 'If you had a dream did it happen? If you stop and think for a little while, can you bring back times that were once so real?'" she recited. "Nothing romantic about that." "I guess that depends on your definition of romance," Zach repeated.

"Ah, are you a poet, Zach?" Amy asked as she studied his face. "Only with my hands," he answered. He'd meant it to come of as a joke, but it was too honest, too real. He couldn't keep the hunger out of his eyes or his voice. He wanted to touch her so badly and he wasn't any good at hiding it. He admonished himself to slow down when he saw how uncomfortable he'd made her.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that," he managed to say. "No, it's okay." Amy reached across the table and patted his hand. She didn't want him to think he'd insulted her. The truth was, her body reacted to his words and she was once again amazed by the power this man had over her. Zach wondered if she even realized she hadn't moved her hand away from his. He resisted the urge to take her hand, reminding himself again to go slowly.

"So how come you know so much about music?" Zach asked, hoping a change in topic would lighten the mood. Amy smiled, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. She seemed almost sad. "I told you, my roommate in the hospital listened to the radio constantly. It helped us pass the time." She continued to run her fingers distractedly over the top of his hand.

"Your wife is a lucky woman," she said, lowering her eyes to where their hands met. Luckier than she even realizes, he thought to himself. Then he realized what she'd said. His wife. Dammit!! She'd felt his wedding ring. Now how the hell was he supposed to explain this? "No, I'm the lucky one," he said, and meant it.

"Look, Amy. I can explain." Her eyes met his at last. Zach could see the hurt there and it tore his heart out. "No, Zach. There's nothing to explain. Honestly. I mean, we're just friends, right? A nice walk in the park, a little conversation over a big lunch. Friends. I understand, really I do." She got to her feet quickly and started to walk away, desperate to get away from him before the tears started. But his voice stopped her.

"I lost my wife almost two years ago."


TBC

 


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zendall44

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You're killing me Karen!  I love this story!!  Thank you.


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Roseann

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Karen, this is the kind of writing we should be seeing on the show!!  Fantastic...  thank you.
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I love this story!!!!  Can't wait for next chapter!!

Why.....Why can't they write stories like this on the show.  I am almost at the end of my rope watching the crap the (writers) and I use term loosely are writing.  What really struck me about this story is there is romance and hope.  The drivel that they are showing us is just awful, there is not one happy couple on the show. 
Puppetwrangler

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This is great. Wow. Please, please, please keep it coming!
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ninekaronas

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Since it took me so long to update, I'm giving y'all an extra long chapter. You can thank me later!



Chapter 5

Amy stood frozen to the spot, unable to form a cohesive thought. His wife was dead? How tragic. And what kind of a monster was she that her first instinct was to feel relieved? She wanted to comfort him, but how? What could she say to make it better? She did the only thing she could think of. Without turning around, she held out her hand. He took it immediately.

She turned then, and gazed into eyes that were almost apologetic. “I’m so sorry, Zach. How awful to lose your wife at such a young age,” Amy stammered, trying to find the right thing to say. “I don’t know what to say,” she finally admitted. Zach appreciated her honesty, but he appreciated her genuine concern even more. She cared about him. The realization was humbling.

Easy, Slater, nice and easy, he coached himself. He’d seen Amy stiffen at his words and waited to see what she would do. Would she call him a liar? Would she accuse him of taking advantage of her just because he knew how vulnerable she was? Would she laugh in his face and tell him that was the oldest – and sleaziest – line in the book? He braced himself for the worst, but in the end she said nothing. But she broke his heart just the same. She reached out to him.

“Amy, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. I honestly didn’t know how to approach the subject. The last 18 months have been such a living hell, and here I was, finally starting to feel whole again, so I …” his voice faded away when he realized he, too, was unsure of what to say. He pulled Amy closer and rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand. “I guess I don’t know what to say, either,” he said as he looked into her eyes.

“Zach, really,” Amy began as she sat down across from him, “you don't owe me anything. It's not like I thought something could happen between us. I'm spoken for, too. I already told you that. You don’t owe me any explanations. I mean, why would you have told me? Your past is none of my business.” She’d delivered her pretty little speech looking at her hands as they rested on the table. She was afraid to look at him and see sadness in his eyes. Even worse, she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to handle seeing the love he had for another woman. She fought the urge to flee. She didn’t want to be selfish or childish, but she did want to get away from this man who stirred up all of her emotions and left her so confused. She looked up at him when he remained silent and saw the sadness she’d been dreading.

Amy’s words were like a dagger in Zach’s heart. She actually still believed there was somebody else out there for her. He’d so easily forgotten how emotionally vulnerable she was – how confused the feelings he knew he’d awakened had left her. Did she really think he would ever let her go? God, he wanted to take her away from there. He wanted to take her some place private and safe, and he wanted to protect her for the rest of her life. The problem was, what she needed protection from at the moment was him. And there was no way he was going to stay away. Not ever. He was on the verge of telling her everything when she surprised him once again.

“Tell me about her,” Amy said softly. Zach was stunned. “Are you sure?” he replied, his voice a hoarse whisper. She took his hand again and gave him a reassuring smile. “Yes. Tell me about your wife,” she nodded. She was surprised to find that she really did want to know about the woman who had obviously captured this wonderful man’s heart. The reminder that she had her own Prince Charming out there somewhere helped to boost her resolve. Zach needed a friend, and she wanted to be that friend.

Zach was amazed at how giving this woman was. Amy, Kendall … whatever she called herself, this was the woman he married. The woman with such a huge capacity to love. The woman who never thought to protect herself. It suddenly became important for him to tell her just how much he loved her, and he realized she’d given him the perfect opportunity.

“Okay, my wife. Well, there’s so much to say I don’t really know where to begin. She’s beautiful, of course,” he said, as his eyes roamed her face. “What did she look like?” Amy asked, suddenly desperate to know everything about the woman Zach loved. “She has long, curly hair and …” Zach began, but stopped. He couldn’t describe Kendall to herself. “I could tell you all about her physical beauty, but it wouldn’t begin to capture her,” he said instead. “A man doesn’t always see his wife with his eyes, you know? I see her with my heart.” He was lost to Amy for a moment as his eyes fixed on something beyond her. She knew he was missing his wife more than anything at that moment. “She rescued me,” he said quietly, returning his gaze to her. “And I’ll love her until the day I die.”

It hurt Amy to hear Zach speak of his wife in present tense. She tried to hide it, but Zach knew her too well. Already he seemed to be able to read her thoughts. It was disconcerting, but also oddly comforting.

Dammit! I hurt her, he lamented to himself. He’d hurt the woman he loved most in the world, just by telling her how much he loved her. This had to stop. He had to find a way to get them both out of this crazy situation.

“Tell me more,” Amy said softly. Zach could see the pain in her eyes and he just couldn’t do it anymore. He knew she was trying to be a friend to him, but at what cost? It wasn’t worth it. “No. Not here. Not like this,” Zach said as he stood up. “I have to go, Amy. But I’ll be back.” She followed him to the door. “Don’t leave like this Zach. I don’t know why I’m so upset, but I don’t want you to think I’m angry. And I don’t want you to think you can’t share everything with me, especially something this important. If I could remember the man I love, I’d tell you about him. Maybe I’ll introduce you to him when he shows up,” she added with a weak smile.

“You do that,” Zach said as he stepped closer to Amy and tentatively kissed her on the cheek. Amy closed her eyes in defeat, Zach closed his eyes in surrender. He wanted to take her into his arms and promise her everything would be okay. If only he’d known that she wanted the same thing. Instead, he put on his coat and walked through the door.

“I wish it was you,” Amy said as a tear rolled down her face. She watched as Zach walked purposefully across the street, climbed into his car and drove away. He never looked back.

-------------------------

Johnny walked into Zach’s office, poured a generous amount of scotch into a glass and faced his boss. He slid the glass to Zach, then he handed him the folder he was carrying. “Brace yourself, boss,” he said as he waited for Zach to open the folder. “That bad, huh?” Zach said, killing the scotch in one long drag. He took a deep breath, glanced up at Johnny, then whipped the file open quickly. Johnny winced at the long, mewling groan that escaped Zach’s throat. Without a word, Zach slid the glass back across his desk and Johnny immediately refilled it.

Zach rifled through the stack of pictures, quickly at first, then he slowly examined each one individually. There were about a dozen or so pictures of Kendall’s badly broken body. She had been beaten severely, her left leg slashed open from hip to mid-calf. Her right arm was broken, her right knee was shattered, and there were bite marks on her breasts. Her face was so bruised and swollen, she was barely recognizable. But he’d know her anywhere. There were cuts and bruises all over her body, and one of her eyes was swollen shut. Zach was afraid he was going to be sick, but he was in too much shock to do anything about it. He studied one picture of her left hand, cut and bleeding, and stared at her wedding ring until the image blurred. Where were those rings now?

He roughly wiped away the tears that were streaming down his face. He downed his second glass of scotch and looked up at Johnny. “Was she?” he began, but stopped when Johnny shook his head vehemently. “No, Zach. She wasn’t raped. Somebody beat the hell out of her, but she wasn’t raped. Judging by those bite marks, my guess is that was the guy’s intention. She put up a hell of a fight, though.” Zach nodded, as he absentmindedly stroked her battered face. “Tell me what you know, Johnny,” he said after he’d pulled himself together.

“Well, she arrived in Memphis via a private ambulance service. These pictures were all taken there, in the emergency room. Nobody there can tell me where she came from or who hired the ambulance. I haven’t been able to find the benefactor who paid the hospital bill yet, either. But you and I both know it’s the same guy.” Zach nodded and closed his eyes. He tried to swallow his anger and think rationally, but it was difficult. All he wanted to do was rip somebody’s throat out for hurting the woman he loved. But until he knew who that was, his anger was a liability. He needed to think clearly and not let his emotions overtake him. He pushed away the third glass of scotch that Johnny offered and thanked him. Then he picked up the folder and left his lead detective standing in the middle of his office, staring at his retreating back.

-------------------------

“Tell me what you know about amnesia.” Joe Martin looked up to see Zach Slater standing in the doorway of his office. “Well, hello to you to, Zach,” he said as he rose and offered Zach the seat opposite him. “Sorry, Joe,” Zach said as he shook the doctor’s hand and took a seat. “It’s been a rough morning,” he said by means of an explanation. “I hate to barge in on you like this, but it’s important. Very important.” Joe waved off his apologies and leaned back in his chair. “Okay, I can see that it is. Amnesia, huh? Is this about Ryan Lavery? Have you talked to him?”

“Who? Lavery?” Zach said, clearly surprised by Joe’s leap. “No, not since he called Spike on his birthday. Before that, it was Christmas.” “Did he say where he was?” Joe asked, still assuming he was the reason for Zach’s question. “I didn’t ask. Look, Joe. He left because he wanted to. He decided Kendall was dead and there was nothing left for him in Pine Valley,” Zach said, his disdain clearly written on his face. “So I don’t care where he is or if he ever comes back. No, this is about Kendall.”

Joe was taken aback. “Kendall? I don’t understand.” Zach dropped the folder he was holding onto Joe’s desk and then paced around the room while he familiarized himself with the contents. Zach listened as Joe alternated between sighing and grunting. He was obviously horrified by what he was seeing. Zach knew he would never get those images out of his head. He also knew he would destroy them as soon as he had his answers. Nobody would ever see his precious wife like this, especially her. He felt a sudden urge to see her – to prove to himself that she really was okay. Her body had healed. Joe’s voice brought him back to reality.

“My God, Zach. What happened? When? How did you find her?” Zach faced the doctor, but was still too keyed up to sit. “She found me, actually,” he said. “It’s a long story, but she’s working as a waitress in a small town not far from here. Her injuries have healed, at least I think they have, but she doesn’t remember anything beyond the last few months.” Joe looked at him compassionately. He knew how hard Zach was fighting to maintain control. He knew how angry he would be if that was his wife in those pictures. And he wanted more than anything to help this man put his family back together.

“Sit down, Zach, and tell me everything.” Zach landed heavily in the chair, immediately leaning forward to rest his head in his hands. “I don’t know where to begin,” he groaned. “At the beginning, son. Just start at the beginning.”

-------------------------

It was early evening when Zach walked into the Marigold Sky. There was another commotion, and Kendall was once again at the center of it. But this time it was not because of something she’d set on fire. This time she was surrounded by a group of burly men dressed in jeans and flannel shirts, most of them wearing NASCAR caps. They were crowded around a couple of tables, each trying to get, and keep, Kendall’s attention.

Zach seated himself at a small table near the window and watched these strange men fussing over his wife. He didn’t like it one bit. Amy glanced up when she saw someone sit down at one of her tables, and smiled when she saw it was Zach. At least she was smiling until she got a good look at him. Then her frown matched his. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked as she brought him a cup of coffee. “What’s going on over there,” he said, ignoring her question and leveling his glare on the rowdy group of men. Amy grinned. “Oh that. They’re harmless. Besides, I am a girl working for tips, remember?” Zach grunted. Then he changed his approach.

”So what was your last job, Amy? Model? Exotic dancer?” He let his eyes travel the length of her body, coming to rest on her lips. He noticed she was smiling. He was learning that she liked it when he said outrageous things, and he definitely liked the way she blushed when he did. “I don’t think I have what it takes to be an exotic dancer, Zach,” Amy said as she sat down next to him. “I beg to differ,” he replied, grinning broadly as his eyes retraced their path. Amy laughed.

“Amy, you working tonight, or what?” Gus roared from across the room. Amy rolled her eyes and got to her feet. Sorry, Zach. Apparently there’s a French fry emergency that only I can solve. I’ll be right back. Zach watched as every male head in the room followed her progress. He growled low in his throat. He shook his head at his own jealousy. Kendall wasn’t a flirt, and neither was Amy. And could he really blame them for admiring her? Maybe not, but he damn sure didn’t like it.

“So what brings you by tonight, Mr. Slater?” Amy asked upon her return, donning her professional demeanor. “I like the coffee.” “So I guess I won’t be getting a big, fat tip from you, big spender,” she said. Zach nearly choked on his coffee. “On the contrary. There’s a huge tip waiting for you, if you play your cards right.” “Oh, I get it. You want me to blow off those guys and spend all my time with you. Is that it?” she teased. “You’re getting warm,” he said, deadly serious. She noticed the way his tone had shifted. “I get off in a couple of hours. If you can wait that long, I’ll be all yours.” “I’ll wait,” Zach said as he studied the menu he now knew by heart.

After a few minutes of watching the NASCAR boys hitting on his wife, Zach had reached his limit. He walked over to the counter and made Gus an offer. “But she’s my best waitress!” Gus whined. Zach cocked his head to one side and glared at him. “Well, maybe she ain’t my best, but the customers love her. See?” he said, indicating the boisterous mob. “Look, Gus. This is not an auction and I’m not bidding on livestock. All I’m asking for is a couple of hours. The price is more than generous, but not negotiable.” He waved the money in front of Gus’s face, then smiled when the man snatched it up. “Take her,” he said as he stuffed the money into his pocket.

“So how much did you pay him” Amy asked as she and Zach walked hand in hand through the small roadside park where they’d met. “Enough,” he replied quickly. “Tell me something I don’t know about you, Amy,” he said. She laughed loudly. “Have you forgotten already, Zach? Hell, you can probably tell me something I don’t know about myself!” Zach bristled. What did she mean by that? Was he coming on too strong? “Okay, dumb question. How about sports? Do you like sports?” Amy continued to smile at him as her eyes lit up.

“I don’t know if I was a sports fan before, but I did fall in love with one sport while I was flat on my back. My roommate was from Detroit, so she listened to it on the radio practically every day.” Zach waited anxiously for her to say hockey. “Baseball!” she exclaimed. He groaned.

“What was her name,” Amy asked. Zach automatically adjusted to the sudden shift in topic. After all, he'd been married to this woman for a long time. And he was starting to realize that while her memories may be gone, the woman he fell in love with was the same. Amy was Kendall, she just didn't know what that meant yet.

“Kendall,” Zach answered. God it felt good to say it out loud. It felt good to look into her eyes and call her by her name. “What a beautiful name,” Amy said, feeling a squeezing in her chest that she couldn’t explain. “Everything about Kendall is beautiful,” he said wistfully. “She has such a huge heart. When she loves, she loves completely. She’s loyal and brilliant and sexy and funny. She’s a great wife and daughter and sister. And the best mom in the world. “ He was just getting warmed up when his last sentence registered.

“You have a child, Zach?” Amy asked. He swallowed, stalling for time. Zach Slater was a man used to being in control. And he was so lost here. Joe said to go slowly. How much should he tell her? How far could he push? He saw what looked like pain in her eyes and decided to play it safe. It was too soon. He’d come too far to rush things now. “We have two boys,” he said as he squeezed her hand. “What are their names?” she asked, suddenly finding it hard to breath. “Spike is the oldest,” he began, only to be interrupted.

“What a cool name!” she interjected. “Yeah, he’s a cool kid. He turned three in May. Ian’s the youngest. He just turned two.” “Ian. I like it. It means God is gracious,” Amy said. Zach nodded. “How did you know that?” he asked. Amy thought a moment, then shrugged. “I’m not sure. I guess it’s just something I used to know. “I’d love to meet them, Zach.” “You will.”

“Do the doctors think you’ll get your memory back, Amy?” He had a flashback to when Ryan lost his memory and he wondered if Amy’s prognosis was any better. She smiled ruefully. “They don’t know. They’re hopeful, but not overly optimistic.” She tried to keep her tone light, but wasn’t completely successful. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” she said. Zach nodded, but said nothing.

“Tell me more about you and your family,” Amy said when the silence stretched out between them. “What do you want to know?” Zach asked, trying to help Amy lighten the mood. “Well, I don’t know. What do you do for a living, Zach? Tell me how you can afford these expensive suits.” He glanced down and his suit and laughed. “Ah, yes. The suits. I’m a business man. I own a string of successful casinos all over the world, and I’m also CEO of a major corporation.” Amy let out a long whistle. “Wow!” she said. “Did I impress you?” he teased. Amy laughed at the twinkle in his eye. “Oh, yeah. Put me down as very impressed,” she said melodramatically.

As they walked along the path, Zach began to feel guilty about keeping this from Kendall’s family. He wasn’t the only person who loved her. There were others who had suffered over these long agonizing months. But was it fair to Kendall? He honestly didn’t know. But he knew how much happiness having her back had brought to him, even if she wasn’t back home where she belonged yet. Should he wait and see if she started to remember? Or was that unfair to the people who loved her? He struggled with it long after he’d left Amy at her door with a chaste kiss on the cheek. He wanted more, much more, but he could wait. He reminded himself of that when he was lying in bed later that night, craving his wife. He reached over and touched the spot where she used to sleep. “Soon, Kendall.”

-------------------------

Amy was worried. Zach had been to the diner every single day since they met. Sometimes he came in the morning and visited until lunch, and sometimes he came late and walked her home when her shift was over. They often found themselves strolling hand in hand through the park. She looked forward to seeing him every day, even though she knew she was setting herself up for heartache. He was still in love with his wife and she was still waiting for her own white knight, not somebody else’s. But she couldn’t help how she felt.

But today was different. Her shift had ended and Zach hadn’t come. She hoped nothing was wrong. She thought back to their last meeting, but it had been uneventful. Warm and friendly, even flirtatious, but nothing out of the ordinary had happened. She didn’t think she’d said anything to upset him.

She checked her watch. It wasn’t too late. Maybe she should call him. She tentatively dialed the number he’d given her. He told her to use it anytime she wanted to talk to him, but she’d never abused the privilege before now. She listened while the phone rang, trying to decide if she should hang up before he answered.

“Hello.” Amy’s heart fell into her stomach. It was a woman’s voice on the other end of the line. “Hello,” the voice repeated. “Is there anybody there?” Amy cleared her throat and fought the urge to hang up. She tried desperately not to jump to any conclusions. “Um … is Zach there?” she said at last. “Yes, he’s here. He’s handling a chocolate milk crisis in the kitchen right now. We were just about to sit down to dinner. Can I ask who’s calling?” “Oh, well … don’t disturb him. I’m sorry to interrupt. I’ll catch up with him later,” Amy said in a rush. “Who is this?” she heard just before she disconnected the line. She felt humiliated, but also angry. And inferior. She could tell by the woman’s voice that she was smart and sophisticated – and beautiful. Amy climbed into her slouchiest pajamas and crawled into bed.

“Zach, who was that?” Erica said, gesturing with the phone she still held. "I think I'm supposed to ask you that?" he said dryly. He sat down on the couch and settled Ian on his lap as Spike climbed up beside them. "Zach, have you forgotten who you're dealing with? I know my daughter's voice. Now don’t play with me, and don’t you dare lie to me. Tell me what the hell is going on!"

Zach's shoulders slumped. He knew he couldn't keep it a secret forever, but this wasn't exactly the way he wanted to break it to Erica. Even so, he was relieved to have the truth out in the open. He looked into Erica's hopeful eyes and gave her the news she'd been waiting to hear. "I found her."


TBC

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Reply with quote  #18 
Well, Karen, I'll thank you now!
I really like it. Thanks.
Lorene
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I "second" that "thank you"....Can't wait for the next chapter.
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(((((((((Karen))))))))
You know how much I love all your stories, but this one is just extra special.  I adore the premise and you write so well that I can actually see Zach and Amy and feel their combination of sadness and hope.
Thank you.

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Chapter 6

“Zach Slater! Are you telling me you’ve know for weeks where my daughter is, and you didn’t tell me? How could you do that? “What kind of a man are you?” Erica was too stunned to be angry. At least that’s what Zach had hoped. He’d managed to stall her long enough to feed the boys and put them to bed. But as soon as he came back downstairs, she’d pounced on him. And he’d told her everything … well, almost everything. He spared her the most gruesome details of Kendall’s assault. She’d forced him to lie when she asked if the medical file he had included pictures. He was determined to protect both women where that was concerned. He knew Kendall wouldn’t want anybody to see her like that, and Erica certainly didn’t need to see her daughter in that condition. The images came to him every time he closed his eyes. He knew it wouldn’t be any different for Erica.

“The kind of man who would do anything to protect the people he loves.” Zach said as he handed his mother-in-law a cup of tea. She’d wanted something harder, but he easily talked her out of it. “And there is nobody on this earth that I love more than Kendall. But it’s complicated.” He’d left Erica alone for a while, telling her he needed to check on the boys. Truth was, she needed some time to process all that he’d told her, and he had a phone call to make.

He cursed under his breath when Amy didn’t answer. He rubbed the back of his neck and scowled. He’d never meant to stay away from the diner that day. In fact, he’d tried all day to get away from work. But one thing after another got in his way and the next thing he knew, it was too late to make the trip. But why didn’t he call? “Because you’re an ass, that’s why,” he answered aloud. As bad as he felt about the way he’d handled things, he allowed himself a moment of joy when he realized what had really happened. Amy had missed him. The thought made him smile. With a vow to talk to her first thing in the morning, he went back downstairs to face Erica’s wrath.

He had nothing to worry about. The time alone had done Erica a world of good. She was calmer now and fiercely determined to do what was best for Kendall. Zach had already explained what Joe said about taking it slow and not overloading Kendall with the burden of expectation. They had to be patient, for Kendall’s sake. Erica completely understood. It would be tough, she said, but she promised not to push. In return, Zach promised to keep her posted. Then, with a kiss on the cheek and a toss of her hair, she was gone.

********************

Amy felt terrible. She couldn’t decide if it was the flu, or just a guilty conscience. She was so angry about what happened the night before. But she wasn’t upset with Zach. No, she was upset with herself. How had she let herself get so close? It wasn’t fair to either of them. Neither was available, not really. He was technically a widower, but she wasn’t. At least she didn't think she was. And he was still clearly in love with his dead wife. No, it wasn’t fair to anybody.

She took her time in the shower, grateful that it was her day off. She wouldn’t have been able to go to work anyway. Not like this. Physically sick or heartsick? She still couldn’t decide. But either way she wasn’t fit company for anybody.

As if on cue, there was a knock on her door. She groaned, but still walked dutifully across the room. It never occurred to her to just ignore it. She was tightening the belt on her robe when she flung the door open wide. All she saw was a sea of white roses. At her gasp, the roses were lowered and Zach was standing on the other side of them. “You shouldn’t open the door without asking who it is,” he growled, but stopped fussing when he took in her attire.

“For me?” Amy asked, ignoring his rebuke and taking the flowers from his outstretched hand. “No, I’ve got a date later and I was hoping you could put them in some water so they’ll stay fresh until then,” Zach said. His voice was light and teasing, but his eyes were black as midnight. Amy noticed the way he was looking at her and felt her face flush. She glanced down to make sure her robe hadn’t come open and found that she was adequately covered.

“You’re looking at me like …” she began. “Like what?” he asked. He moved forward, causing her to take a step back. “Like a hungry wolf,” she whispered, never taking her eyes from his. “Am I?” Kendall nodded and absentmindedly pulled her robe tighter, furious with herself for the excitement she felt. She fought the urge to kiss him, reminding herself once again that a relationship between them wasn’t possible. Friends. They were only friends.

“White roses, huh? So what are you innocent of?” Zach took a deep, steadying breath and followed her lead. He knew he was moving too fast, but the sight of her with her hair piled on top of her head wearing nothing but a bathrobe was almost more than he could take. It had been a long time since he’d touched a woman. And the only one he wanted to touch was standing right in front of him. All he could think about was the shape of her neck and that one spot right behind her ear … he took another deep breath and forced himself to turn away.

“I’m the least innocent man you’ll ever meet,” he said, amazed at how casual and unaffected he sounded. His body was screaming but his voice was calm and even. “But I did want to apologize for last night. It’s not what you think,” he began, only to realize he may be jumping to conclusions. “I mean … um … it might not be what you think. Depending on what you think … or thought … about last night. The phone call?” he added, his eyes pleading with her to bail him out.

Amy laughed. He was so adorable when he was embarrassed. “What did I think?” she asked, unwilling to let him off the hook just yet. His shoulders slumped and he dropped heavily into the only chair in the room. “Amy …” he groaned. She remained silent, but if he’d looked at her he would have seen the gleam in her eye.

“Last night. You called me. A woman answered. Any of this ringing any bells?” he asked. He finally looked up at her, then jumped to his feet. “You’re torturing me on purpose! Wow, you must really be mad.” “No, I’m not mad,” she said, turning serious. “In fact, I’m pretty embarrassed about the whole thing. I shouldn’t have called, Zach. And you don’t owe me any explanations.”

She had gone to the bathroom to get some water for the roses and was surprised when she looked into the mirror and saw him standing right behind her. “You’re right. You shouldn’t have called,” he said, stepping back when she tried to walk past him. She didn’t want him to see the hurt in her eyes. He waited for her to put the vase on the bedside table, then grabbed her by the shoulders and gently turned her to face him.

I should have called you,” he said softly. “And yes, I do owe you an explanation.” He waited for her to agree with him, but she didn’t say a word. She didn’t even blink. “Do you want to hear it?” he asked. She nodded. “I tried all day yesterday to get here, but there were problems at the casino that couldn’t be avoided. When I got home, my mother-in-law was there visiting her grandsons. She offered to ‘cook’ dinner,” he continued, using air quotes around the word cook. “You see, my wife and her mother share a cooking secret … they don’t. They order in.”

“Sounds like my kind of women,” Amy said with a weak smile. Zach gave her a look that she didn’t understand before continuing. “Anyway, that’s who answered the phone - my mother-in-law. I don’t know what you thought, but that’s what happened.” Amy nodded again and did something that took his breath away. She stepped into his arms.

Zach folded his arms around her and pulled her tightly against him, rocking her slightly as she laid her head on his chest. At first she kept her arms by her side, but she couldn’t fight it for long. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pushed herself against him, closing her eyes as he crushed her in his embrace. Neither of them spoke a word, both too caught up in the emotion of the moment.

Amy felt blissfully happy and desperately guilty at the same time. She felt like she was finally where she belonged, but she wasn’t. This was where somebody else belonged. A dead woman who had been robbed of a long, happy life with the most wonderful man on earth. She belonged in somebody else’s arms. She couldn’t imagine it. Not anymore. When the hospital psychiatrist had given her the rings that day, she’d immediately felt drawn to them. She knew they were her most prized possessions. From that very moment she’d dreamed of what her husband was like. She’d pictured their reunion so many times. It always felt just like this. But now, when she thought of some other man holding her like this, it left her feeling empty and sad. This was the man she wanted. These were the arms that made her feel safe and protected. Would it be the same with her husband?

Zach felt only bliss. Nothing in his life had ever felt as right as this moment … holding his beautiful wife in his arms once again. He wondered how he’d been able to stand empty arms for so long. He felt a warmth spread through him that he felt sure Amy could feel. For the first time in a very long while, he felt whole. Complete. He was home. Tears that he’d held in for a long time rolled down his face unchecked.

Amy pulled away. “Zach, I can’t. It’s not right.” She reluctantly took a step back and held up her hands. “I can see you’re still in love with your wife, and I can’t be a substitute. Besides, you know I’m waiting for someone. I told you that at the very beginning.” Zach put his finger over her lips. “It’s okay,” he said, his voice echoing the warmth in his eyes. He wiped the tears from his face and smiled at her. “Go get dressed.” Amy looked at him with anticipation. “Where are we going?” she asked, reaching up to remove the clip from her hair. He took one last look at her before turning towards the door. “Out there. Somewhere. Where it’s safe. I’ll be outside,” he said over his shoulder as he sailed out the door.

********************

Zach took Amy to the ocean. It was a long drive, but the weather was beautiful and they had all day. Amy’s innocent comment that she’d never been in a Mercedes before made Zach laugh. Not only had she been in a Mercedes, she’d been in this one, more times than he could count. She wasn’t sure why he laughed, so she chalked it up to a good mood and settled back to enjoy the ride.

She was always amazed at just how comfortable she was with him. They’d only known each other a few weeks, but she felt like she’d known him her whole life … whatever that meant. They never ran out of things to talk about and they had even started to finish each other’s sentences. It was the kind of thing that sounded so corny when she read it in those silly romance novels one of the other waitresses at the diner was always reading, but it was actually very nice.

As they drove through the Pennsylvania countryside, Amy was captivated by the beauty of the fall foliage. More than once she insisted they stop so she could gather leaves and walk among the trees. Zach took a lot of mental pictures, knowing this was a day he would never forget. So many times he found himself on the verge of telling her how much he loved her, only to remember he couldn’t. Not yet.

When they pulled into a trendy little restaurant on the Jersey shore, Amy was surprised at how deserted the place was. Of course, it was the middle of October, but it was all so beautiful. Surely people didn’t just get used to it. She stared out into the neverending water, feeling the wind on her face. She could have stood there all day. But Zach had other ideas. He was starving. So after a few minutes of enjoying her enjoying the view, he leaned down to whisper in her ear. “Last one in pays for lunch.”

“So here’s where everybody is,” she said when they entered the dimly lit building. They followed the hostess to a table for two in the middle of the crowded room, but Amy wasn’t happy with her choice. “I’d rather sit by the window,” she said demurely. When the woman looked like she would balk, Amy seated herself at the table of her choice. “This one will do nicely, don’t you think, Zach?” “It’s perfect,” he said, shooting a look at the disgruntled hostess. “We’ll leave a generous tip, just to compensate our waitress for the extra leg work,” he said with disarming charm. “Yes sir,” the lady said with a smile as she turned to go.

They ordered their lunch and enjoyed the spectacular view and the comfortable silence while they waited for it to be delivered to them. Zach was pleased to see that Amy shared Kendall’s appetite. He’d always loved that about his wife and he knew he would miss it if she suddenly become one of those women who ate like a bird and always worried about how many calories something had. As if to prove his point, Amy’s had ordered a double cheeseburger and a large order of fries.

The only thing that ruined their lunch was the lady who served it. In fact, she was no lady at all. She shamelessly flirted with Zach and it made Amy very uncomfortable. She was seething, but Zach didn’t seem to notice the woman’s attempts. She repeatedly leaned over the table, pointing out the dessert menu, the wine list, things of interest on the shore line. Anything to plant her cleavage in Zach’s sightline.

At one point, she even tried the old “oops, I dropped my pencil” trick. Zach was kind enough to be looking the other way, which made Amy smile. But when the waitress tried to help Zach clean up the water she deliberately spilled on his thigh, Amy was seeing red.

“What’s the matter with you?” Zach asked as he grabbed the waitress’s wrist and brought it back above the table. At first he was amused, not because he needed this stranger to feed his ego, but because it was clearly bothering Amy. But when her behavior got more blatant and Amy still didn’t say anything, he began to pay closer attention. He realized that she had no intention of saying anything. Then it hit him like a thunderbolt.

Amy didn’t think she had the right to complain about this woman’s obviously inappropriate behavior. Then it all made sense. Why Amy had pulled away from him in the hotel room. Why she sometimes stiffened when he tucked a lock of hair behind her ear or stood too close to her. She didn’t understand his intentions toward her. She was trying to protect herself from her feelings for him. She didn’t want either of them to get hurt.

So much for good intentions, he thought to himself. In his efforts to take things slowly, he’d managed to leave her confused and vulnerable. The last thing she ever needed to worry about was some other woman turning his head. And it was his responsibility to make sure she knew that. He decided then and there that he would take Amy on a real date. He would plan something really special and sweep her off her feet.

“What are you thinking?” Amy asked as she watched the emotions flash across his face. “I’m thinking we better get out of here while I still have something to wear.” He looked around the room and saw that the coast was clear. He pulled out a wad of bills and dropped a couple on the table and then he and Amy hurried from the restaurant.

“Oh, you noticed that, did you?” Amy said when they’d reached the safety of the parking lot. “Not at first,” he teased. “I mean, I get that all the time, you know.” Amy elbowed him. “Why didn’t you say something to her?” she said. “Honestly?” he asked, waiting for her nod. “I was enjoying your reaction. I wanted to see what you would do?” “Figures,” Amy said. “I’m trying to play nice and I miss my opportunity to tell that bitch off. I didn’t want to embarrass you, Zach. It’s not like you’re my husband.”

Zach looked stricken, but he recovered quickly. “You could never embarrass me,” he said as he reached up to stroke the side of her face. “But if you want to try, here comes your chance.” Amy turned around to see the waitress coming toward them. She met her halfway. Zach just leaned against the car and waited. He couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it was obvious that Amy was doing most of the talking. He thought he heard something about needing a better bra or a good plastic surgeon, but that’s about all he caught. He grinned at the woman when she looked over at him before stomping back inside.

“She may be a ten in a dark restaurant, but in the cruelness of broad daylight, she is a definite two!” Amy said when she reached his side. “How about a walk?” She had a sudden burst of energy and she wasn’t ready to get back in the car just yet. So she took Zach’s outstretched hand and walked with him across the highway and down to the sand.

“You never told me how your wife died,” she said after a long silence. “I never said she did,” he said. She stopped walking and pulled her hand away so she could brush the hair from her eyes. “She disappeared,” he clarified.

TBC

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Reply with quote  #22 
Great Story!!!
Please come back with more soon!
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Reply with quote  #23 
This is such a good story, and so well written, as usual.
My heart is breaking for both of them.

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Chapter 7

 

Amy stood with her back to the wind, shielding her eyes against the waning sun, waiting for Zach to explain. He looked so calm she was beginning to think she’d misunderstood him. Not dead, is that what he said? Disappeared? How? When? She searched his face for answers, but all she saw was sadness.

 

Zach put his hands in the pockets of his long black coat and watched Amy closely. He hadn’t meant to tell her like that, but he was so tired of pretending. He wanted the truth to be out in the open. He didn’t want to spend another night without his wife lying in their bed next to him. But he couldn’t just dump the whole thing on her. Not like this. He turned to walk down the beach, waiting for Amy to fall into step beside him.

 

“She went to Los Angeles, on business I guess you could say, and she never came back,” he began. But what else was there to say?  He turned to gauge Amy’s reaction, but she only stared at him, waiting for him to continue. Her face was so open, he could read every emotion. At first she’d been stunned, but that had given way to confusion, and something else. Something he couldn’t quite define. Hope, maybe? And now all he could see was pain. She hurt for him, he could feel it. Briefly his mind wandered back down the path of the last 18 months and he hurt for himself. All the pain and fear and impotent rage came flooding back. He closed his eyes against it, but opened them again when he felt her touch his face.

 

“Talk to me, Zach,” she said softly. She’d reached up to wipe a tear that had escaped his closed eyes, oblivious of the parade of tears that ran down her own face. He was touched by her empathy. More than that, he was moved beyond words by what he saw in her eyes. Love. Endless and pure and so very familiar. At that moment, he fell in love with her all over again. This was Kendall. This was his wife. The woman he wanted to spend every single day that he drew breath with. And this was just one of the many reasons why.

 

He was once again drawn to the purity of her heart. He didn’t deserve her. He never had. And he’d known that all along. But, God, he had her. He had her and he lost her, and here she was again. He pulled her into his arms and made a silent promise to both of them that he would never let her get away from him again. She was his anchor, his lifeline, the very breath that he breathed. And he would never let her go.

 

For a brief moment, the pictures of her battered body flashed through his mind. It was almost more than he could bear. He agonized at the idea of some bastard hurting her, and he blamed himself because he wasn't there to protect her. But what happened? How did she get from LA to Memphis? He needed answers and he needed to punish whoever robbed them of nearly two years. He wouldn’t rest until he made them pay.

 

Amy felt Zach flinch and assumed he was reliving the nightmare of losing his wife. She ached for what he and his two small boys must be going through. She couldn’t help but wonder if her own family was going through the same thing. Family. Did she even have a family? Did she have babies out there waiting for her to come home? The thought paralyzed her. She couldn’t think about it. It was too hard, too raw. Life was so unfair, she thought to herself. She just wanted to stay there in the safety of Zach’s arms. She never wanted to let him go. She was afraid she would float away, separated again from anybody who cared about her.

 

Zach pulled away from her and looked down the deserted beach. He pulled on the lapels of Amy’s jacket, worried that she might be too cold, then took her hand. He led her to a bench a few yards away and pulled her up against him as soon as she sat down.

 

“She wrote a book,” he said once they both got settled. He tried to keep the venom from his voice, but he hated that damn book. It had taken so much from him. “It was a big hit, so the publisher sent her on a book tour. One of her first stops was Los Angeles.” He draped his arm over the back of the bench and Amy snuggled up even closer to him. He assumed she wanted his warmth, but he was only partly right. She wanted all of him.

 

“So what happened?” she asked. “I don’t know. I talked to her the night before the book signing. She had just settled into her room and was getting ready to attend a cocktail party in her honor. She was supposed to call me when she returned, just so I’d know she made it back safely.” Amy felt him shrug. “I waited all night,” he said, his voice breaking.

 

Amy stifled a sob. She could hear the anguish in his voice and it shattered her heart into a million pieces. She wanted to say something to comfort him, but what? There was nothing she could do or say to make his pain any less real. She couldn’t bring his wife back to him, their mother back to his boys. She did all she knew to do. She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him with all of her might. He felt warm underneath his overcoat. Warm and solid and strong. She could just imagine him trying to bear the burden all alone, trying to hold on to something that was slipping through his fingers.

 

Zach snaked his hands through Amy’s thick curls. He breathed in her scent and memorized the feel of her body against his. He’d forgotten just how perfectly she fit. He would never forget again.

 

“I hate to say it, but maybe she left you,” Amy said, knowing in her heart that it wasn’t true. How could any woman willingly walk away from a man like this … from her own children? She turned so she could see his face, hoping she hadn’t made him angry. But he was smiling.

 

“No. Never that,” he said with certainty. “Sometimes people get lost and they don’t want to be found,” Amy said. Zach thought of his own past. “Some people. But not Kendall.” He looked into her upturned face and once again fought the urge to kiss her soft, inviting lips. “Are you sure?” “I'm sure.” "Did you look for her?” she asked, already knowing the answer. “I never stopped. I knew she was alive and I never stopped looking.” “Until now?” Amy asked. She noticed he was suddenly speaking in past tense. Zach cleared his throat and looked away. “No, I'm still waiting for her to come back to me, and I won't stop until I have her back ... all of her.” His words hurt her, but wasn't she doing the same thing? Spending time with him when she knew she belonged to somebody else?

 

“Well aren’t we a pair?” she said at last. “You’re a husband who lost his wife and I’m a wife who lost her husband.” Zach gasped. She’d never mentioned that the man she was looking for was a husband. In fact, she told him she wasn’t married. Was she starting to remember? Did she still have the rings? There were so many questions he wanted to ask her, so many things he wanted to say. But he knew she didn’t have the answers. Not yet.

 

Instead he did what he had been dying to do all day. He kissed her. He cupped her face in his hands and lowered his mouth to hers, giving her time to pull away if she wanted to. But she didn’t pull away. She closed her eyes and waited for his lips to touch hers. And when they did, warm and gentle, she wrapped her arms around his neck to keep him there.

 

Zach thought he would come apart. A myriad of emotions swirled through him. Not the least of which was pure relief. He had been afraid of what this moment would be like. He didn’t know if she would be afraid of him, or appalled. Or maybe even offended. But, to his utter delight, she kissed him back. He wanted to weep with joy.

 

He released her, watching her closely. It took her a second to realize he wasn’t kissing her anymore. He smiled at the disgruntled look on her face. When she opened her eyes, she smiled at him. He brought her back to him and kissed her again. He couldn’t help himself. He had missed her so much. Missed touching her and kissing her and loving her. His body was beginning to respond to her touch, and he knew he had to stop before things went too far. So he pulled away from her again, his breath heavy on her face.

 

“I think it’s time we headed back, don’t you?” Zach had asked the question, but Amy didn’t want to answer it. She wasn’t ready to go back. She never wanted to leave this spot. Everything had become so complicated since she left Memphis … since that day she first saw him. She wanted to hate his missing wife, but she couldn’t. She didn’t want her to come back, though. She found herself wishing her husband would meet Zach’s wife and fall in love. That was foolish, she knew. But she couldn’t imagine her life without Zach anymore. And if remembering her past took that away from her, she hoped she would never remember.

 

Reluctantly, she took one last look at the ocean and followed Zach back to the car. The drive home was much quieter. Zach seemed distant and Amy wondered if she’d done something wrong. She felt like she needed to apologize, but she didn’t know for what. She was just about to ask him what was wrong when he reached out and took her hand. He brought it to his lips before flattening it against his chest. Then he smiled at her, and everything in her world seemed right again.

 

Amy turned on the radio and tried a few stations until she found a song she liked. “Journey!” she shrieked. “My roommate’s favorite. Is it okay?” “Sure,” Zach nodded, knowing he’d give her anything. He was silently grateful that her Memphis roommate wasn’t a country music fan.

 

And being apart ain’t easy on this love affair

Two strangers learn to fall in love again

I get the joy of rediscovering you

Oh girl, you stand by me

I’m forever yours...faithfully

 

Amy settled back against the leather seat, holding Zach’s hand between hers, and fell asleep to the sound of him humming along with the radio.

 

*************************

 

“Tell me about Memphis.” Amy opened her eyes at the sound of Zach’s voice. She had actually awakened minutes before, but was enjoying the warmth of Zach’s hand enveloping hers so much she was reluctant to open her eyes for fear she’d wake up from the most amazing dream. His voice shattered that illusion, so she greeted him with a smile.

 

“There’s not much to tell,” she said, suddenly feeling self-conscious. She had this horrible vision of herself with creases on her face, drool on her chin and her hair an angry mess. She started to remove her hand from Zach’s grasp so she could pull herself together, but he wouldn’t release her. “You look fine,” he said flatly, ignoring her gasp. How did he know? “I know everything,” he answered, leaving her to wonder if she spoke the question out loud. “No, you didn’t,” he said, clearly enjoying himself. “We can do this all night,” he warned. “Or you can just accept that you have a very open face, and tell me about Memphis.”

 

Amy’s first thought was to be amazed, then her mind drifted to the other things she’d rather do all night with him. When she looked up at him again, she found him grinning at her, one eyebrow arched. She squirmed under his knowing gaze and gave up in defeat.

 

“Fine, Memphis it is,” she said as she stretched, long and slowly, like a lazy cat. That’ll teach him, she thought to herself. The way his eyes followed her every move proved her right. She smiled innocently before continuing. “Let’s see. I told you about Tina, my roommate. She was in worse shape than I was, at least that’s what I thought. But she left before me, so maybe not,” she said with a shrug. “I didn’t know anybody, so it’s not like I had a string of visitors. My days consisted of physical therapy, long talks with the hospital shrink, and lots of flipping.”

 

“Flipping?” Zach asked. “Flipping through the channels, flipping through magazines … you get the point.” “And the radio,” he said, remembering their past conversations. “Oh no,” she laughed. “Tina manned the radio. Nobody was allowed to touch that radio. Luckily, I liked her choices. Otherwise a very lonely time would have been much worse.”

 

“But I guess you know all about loneliness, huh?” she said when he remained silent. “Nights were the worst,” she added. Zach swallowed around the lump in his throat. For the first time, he was realizing how much she had suffered during their separation. He knew the physical pain she’d borne, but the emotional cost was just as high. He wanted to hold her, to tell her it would all be okay. There would be no more lonely nights, for either of them. But there was no place to pull off the road. Probably for the best, he decided. If he got his hands on her now, he was afraid holding her wouldn’t be enough. She was treading on dangerous ground.

 

“Why do you look so sad,” Amy asked a while later. Her question took Zach by surprise, so he answered without thinking. “I hate thinking about all that you’ve been through,” he said. “I never want you to feel lonely. You’re right, I know all about it. And it’s the last thing I want for you. Especially you.”

 

“Why especially  me?” she asked. “Because I care about you, Amy. Don’t you know that?” She nodded. “I know. I care about you too, Zach.” He watched in horror as her eyes filled with tears. Luckily they were almost home. No, he corrected himself. They were almost back at Amy’s room. Home for both of them was in Pine Valley.

 

He quickly brought his Mercedes to a stop next to Amy’s car then he pulled her roughly into his arms. “Why are you crying? You don’t want to care about me?” To his surprise, she shook her head against his chest. He eased her away from him so he could see her face. “You don’t? Why?”

 

“Oh, Zach, you know why!” she said, her frustration showing. “He’s coming for me. I keep telling you that, but you don’t seem to hear me. I’ve let myself get too close to you. And the closer I get, the more it’s going to hurt when I have to leave you.” Zach reacted as if she’d slapped him. “You’re never going to leave me. Do you honestly think I’ll let you go?” She shook her head vehemently. She didn’t want to have this conversation. Not now. Not after their beautiful day together.

 

“He’s out there, Zach. We can’t change that.” Zach pulled her back to him, pressing her face against his chest. “What if he isn’t?” he said as he stroked the side of her face with his thumb. “If there isn’t anybody out there looking for me, then why have I been waiting all this time? What have I been waiting for?”

 

“You’ve been waiting for me,” Zach said, his voice barely above a whisper. “And I’ve been waiting for you,” he added when she looked up at him. She responded to the fear she saw in his eyes. He was afraid of her leaving. “Why me?” she asked. “Surely there have been other women who have caught your eye in all this time.” He shook his head slowly. “Only me?” she said. “Always, only you.”

 

Amy felt defeated. She was tired of being lonely, and she was tired of being afraid. She knew what she wanted, but what about Zach? Would he change his mind? Would he stop looking for his precious Kendall? Would he toss her aside when his wife came back to him? She knew he wouldn’t do that. He was an honorable man. He would never deliberately hurt her. But he couldn’t possibly know what the future held. Neither of them did. For a moment, she debated just giving in to her desire and letting the rest of it go for just one night. One glorious night. She’d imagined what it would be like to be kissed by him, and the reality surpassed her imagination. She knew making love to him would be no different. It would be the best night of her life.

 

Zach watched her glide her tongue over her bottom lip. It affected him as strongly as if she'd thrown herself against him naked. He suddenly became very aware of just how close she was, and how long it had been since he'd made love to her. It was the night before that fateful trip to Los Angeles. It seemed like a lifetime ago.

 

“You want to come in?” Amy asked. Hell yes, he wanted to scream. Every fiber of his being ached for her. “I don’t think I should,” he said, even as he closed the door behind him. He looked over her shoulder and saw the bed, growling low in his throat at the way it taunted him. He turned his back to it and faced the door. “Why not?” Amy asked. He just looked at her, his eyes telling her everything. The hungry wolf was back, only this time she wasn’t afraid. This time, she welcomed him. She was hungry, too.

 

She licked her lips in anticipation of his kiss. Before she could take a breath he was on her. He walked her backwards, pinning her to the door as his lips met hers in a long, slow, ravenous kiss. He started out gentle, but it soon became urgent, almost frantic. Amy felt drugged from his kisses. And she never wanted it to end.

 

Somewhere in the back of Zach’s mind was the nagging thought that he needed to stop. It was too soon. He wasn’t being fair to Amy. But the raging desire sweeping through him quickly buried any logical thought. He was intoxicated by her touch, her taste. Her reaction fueled his own, and he could feel his control slipping. He plundered her mouth, wrestling for control as she returned his kiss with equal passion. He felt her relax against him and he wanted to melt into her, never to be separated again.

 

His mouth slanted over hers again and again, his desire fed by the mewling sounds coming from the back of her throat. He pressed himself against her, feeling her body as she arched against him. He buried one hand in her hair and brought the other one around her waist, anchoring her to him.  He was amazed at how fiercely he wanted to possess her ... to make her a part of him once again. To make her remember.

 

Amy clung to him, excited by the sheer size and strength of him. She couldn’t seem to get close enough, no matter how hard she tried. She wanted more. The sudden realization that his clothes were in the way broke through her haze of passion. She needed to get rid of the clothes. Before she could act on it, she felt his hand on her hip, pressing her closer, as he rained kisses down the column of her neck. She could hear his harsh breathing and knew he was just as affected as she was. The thought made her smile.

 

Zach was on the verge of taking her right there, up against the door of a cheap motel room. The significance of that finally sank in just as he felt her hands on his shoulders, sliding his coat off. “We have to stop,” he said, his voice a raspy growl. He took her hands in his to stop their progress and eased himself away from her.

 

“Why?” Amy said. She pressed herself against him again. “Please ... stay.” Zach looked at her. Her lips were swollen from his kisses and her eyes, clouded with passion, were beckoning him. He couldn’t resist one more kiss. But when he felt her fumbling with the buttons on his shirt, he knew he had to leave. Immediately.

 

“I want to. God, how I want to. But I can't. It’s late ... the boys,” he stammered, looking for any excuse. He couldn’t explain it to her, because he didn’t really understand it himself. All he knew was that this was not how he wanted their “first” time to be. She wasn’t some bimbo he’d picked up at a bar somewhere. This was his wife. The woman he loved with all of his heart and soul. Everything had to be perfect for her. “I’m sorry,” he said as he ran from the room, leaving the door wide open.

 

Amy was frustrated, but she couldn’t suppress the smile that spread across her face as she stood in the doorway and watched Zach’s hasty retreat. For the first time in their brief relationship, she felt like she was in control. She knew what she wanted. No more worrying and no more fear. After all, what did she have to be afraid of? Hadn’t she just scared away a wolf?

 

TBC

 


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Ann

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Reply with quote  #25 

WOW,just WOW! You continue to amaze me with your talent. You capture Zach and Kendall perfectly.  Thank you.


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Ann
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Really great story with so much emotion!
Please come back soon. I can't wait
zendall44

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Your stories are SO addicting!  I need more!!!!!!!! 


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Karen....I need more chapters!!!  thank you.

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More soon please...   I am so loving this story...  It is so good, can hardly wait to see what happens next...  Keep up the great work..

Thanks for a great story...

Dana   : )

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Thanks, Karen.

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Chapter 8

Amy pulled the rings from their box, as she had so many times before. Only this time, the bittersweet feelings were replaced by guilt. She’d lied to Zach from the very beginning. He’d asked her right away if she was married, and she’d said no. To this day she didn’t know why. She’d been asked that question often enough and she had always told the truth. But when Zach asked her, she instinctively lied. She didn’t want him to think she was off limits, even though she knew she was. But why? It didn’t make any sense to her. But then again, nothing about their relationship made sense.

She looked at the rings nestled in the palm of her hand. There was a beautiful wedding set in diamonds and platinum. Her husband had excellent taste, and quite a bit of money, she thought with a smile. There was also a set of three stack rings … diamond, blue topaz and emerald. She didn’t know what their significance was, but they had to be important. She slipped the rings on her fingers. A perfect fit. She felt so connected to them. Connected, but to what?

She walked over to the door and ran her hand along it’s surface. She could still feel him there, kissing her, making her forget. Well, enough was enough. She’d waited months for her family to find her. Now it was time for her to grab what she wanted. And what she wanted was Zach.

After one last look, Amy placed the rings back in the box and buried it beneath the socks and nightgowns in the top drawer of her dresser. She felt sad, she couldn’t deny that. Those rings symbolized something very special about her past. But how long could she wait for the past to catch up? Especially with her future staring her in the face.

With a heavy sigh, Amy turned out the lights and climbed into bed. Her last thoughts before drifting off to sleep were of Zach. She imagined him placing those rings on her fingers and fell asleep with a smile on her face.

*************************

Zach started his day just like every other. He walked into Kendall’s closet and buried his face in her clothes. It was getting fainter, but he could still smell her perfume in the small room. This time he found himself looking through them, trying to decide on just the right one. He could remember every time she’d worn each of them. They were all beautiful, but none of them seemed right for what he had in mind. Maybe it was time for something new.

He had meetings all morning, but he still managed to find time to do some shopping. This wasn’t the kind of job a man gave to his secretary. Not this man anyway. No, he wanted to do this himself. It was too important. Everything had to be perfect.

So that’s how he found himself in odd company that morning, standing in the middle of Pine Valley’s most exclusive boutique. He drew a few stares and a lot of dreamy sighs. But it was worth it. He found just what he was looking for, and he couldn’t wait to see it on her.

*************************

“The roses are beautiful. Pink, huh? What are you thanking me for?” Amy had called Zach the moment the flowers arrived. She missed him. It had only been a couple of days, but it seemed like forever. “For not being mad about the other night. I was a coward.” “Why would I be mad?” she asked innocently. “I was ready for you to go. I was tired.” Zach chuckled. “Yeah, I could tell.” “Are you coming by today?” Amy was beginning to think he was regretting the kiss. He didn’t come yesterday, calling with some excuse about work. “I’m not sure yet. I’ve still got a lot of work on my desk to wade through,” Zach said evenly. The truth was, it was killing him to stay away, but it was getting harder and harder to be near her and keep his hands to himself. He thought it better if he kept his distance, at least until the big day.

“Oh, Zach! You won’t believe who’s here,” Amy said, suddenly remembering the celebrity in their midst. “Erica Kane!” Zach dropped the phone, but recovered quickly. He grabbed his coat and was out the door before Amy could draw a breath. “I’m on my way,” he said as he waited for the elevator doors to open. When they did, Johnny Mathis was standing in front of him, looking like a man on a mission.

“I need to talk to you, boss,” he said, his tone telling Zach it was important. Unfortunately, Zach was also a man on a mission. “Can it wait, Johnny? I’m on my way out.” Johnny shook his head and walked into Zach’s office. “I’ll be there as soon as I can, honey. Gotta go.” He was so anxious to hear what Johnny had to say that he hadn’t even realized what he’d said. But Amy noticed. Honey. With stars in her eyes, she stuffed her phone in her pocket and went back to work.

*************************

Zach pulled into the parking lot of the Marigold Sky with his head still reeling. He’d replayed his meeting with Johnny over and over as he drove the distance to get to Kendall. While he was glad to finally have a break in the case, he certainly hadn’t expected this.

Zach walked back into his office to find Johnny pouring himself a drink. He was nervous, that much was obvious. But Zach couldn’t imagine why. He waited for Johnny to take a seat next to him on the black leather sofa, then held out his hand for the file the man was holding. “Jesus, Johnny. What is it? You’re making me nervous.” Johnny took a long drink, then sat back on the couch. Zach watched as a wide smile spread across his face. “We found him, Zach! We found out who paid your wife’s hospital bill in Memphis.” Zach stared at him, waiting for the name. “You did.”

Zach looked up to find Amy rushing toward him, visibly upset. He climbed from the car just in time to catch her as she threw herself into his arms. “Zach, I’m so glad you’re here,” she said, her voice thin and breathless. “What did Erica do?” he asked warily. He should have known she’d make a beeline for Kendall the second his back was turned. He wanted to be angry, but he couldn’t. He knew if the situation was reversed, nothing would keep him away.

“No, it’s not Miss Kane.” For a moment Amy forgot what she was afraid of and her eyes lit up. “You missed her, Zach. She already left. But she was so nice to me. Of course, I didn’t know who she was,” she said, her face coloring slightly. “But everybody was so excited to have her come in, I found out very quickly.”

Zach leaned back against the car, needing a second to catch his breath. For a second he’d been afraid that Erica had blurted out everything. But apparently she just wanted to see for herself. Zach could understand that. “I hope she left you a big tip,” he teased, amused by Amy’s reaction. She nodded and flashed him a wad of bills. “Good,” he said. “I’m sure you earned it. I hear she’s a real diva.” Amy’s eyes widened. “You know her?” “I’ve seen her around,” he answered casually. Before she could ask him to elaborate, he pulled her close and kissed her, smiling when he felt her instantly relax against him.

“Hello to you, too,” Amy said when Zach released her. “Now I remember why I was so glad to see you.” Zach smiled arrogantly. “Some kiss, huh?” Amy looked distracted. “What? Oh yeah, the kiss. It was nice,” she said as she looked back toward the diner. “Nice!” Zach replied, clearly not pleased with her description. That got Amy’s attention. She turned to him, finally realizing what she’d said.

“Oh, no, Zach. I didn’t mean that,” she stammered as she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him again. “Very nice. Great. Perfect.” She wiped her lip gloss from his mouth and took his hand. “You already know that. Didn’t I make a big enough fool of myself the other day to prove that?” He started to say something, but she interrupted him.

“He’s here, Zach. He’s inside, sitting at the counter.” Zach quickly adjusted to the topic change, noticing that the worry was back on her face. “Who’s here?” he asked. “My husband. At least I think it’s him. He hasn’t said anything, but he keeps staring at me, Zach. And he’s smiling like he knows something.”

Zach felt like he’d been punched in the stomach. Her husband? That was impossible. His shock was quickly replaced with anger. Who the hell was inside that diner ogling his wife? He followed Amy inside and waited for her to point the offender out. Then he had to turn away from her so she wouldn’t see his reaction. Sitting across the room, trying his best to hide behind a menu, was Josh.

Once again, Zach wanted to be angry, but how could he be? He’d do the same thing and they both knew it. “At first I thought he might be the one, you know, but ... but I didn't feel what I ... well, what I feel for you,” Amy said shyly. Zach turned his back on the man at the counter and smiled down at Amy. “I can see Gus getting ready to yell, so you go back to work. I’ll take care of the guy at the counter. Trust me, he is not your husband.” She nodded, but she still looked worried. Zach kissed her temple and tilted her chin up so she would look him in the eye. “Trust me,” he said. Amy nodded again, glanced over at Josh, and went to greet a new customer.

“Is Bianca in the ladies room?” Zach said as he leaned over his brother-in-law’s shoulder. “What, no hello?” Josh said, grinning unrepentantly. Zach moved to block Amy’s view, knowing she was probably watching them.

“What are you doing here, Josh?” he asked bluntly. “I heard the pie was good,” Josh answered sarcastically. “What do you think? I came to see my sister.” “Well, your sister just sent me over here to see if you came to steal her away from me. “Yeah, right. I’m not man enough for that job,” Josh said, his mouth full of pie. “Or big enough,” Zach said under his breath. “Ouch!” Josh laughed.

Zach watched as Josh’s eyes went to Amy. “She looks good, Zach.” He followed Josh’s gaze. “I know. It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?” Josh drained the milk in his glass. “If anybody deserves it, it’s you two,” he said, turning serious.

“Get out of here,” Zach said. “No, Zach. I mean it. After all you and Kendall have been through …” Josh began, only to be interrupted. “No, really. Get out of here. You’re making Amy nervous,” Zach said, stressing her name to remind Josh of the situation.

“Was it tough getting used to calling her that?” Josh asked. “Could you get used to it?” Josh looked at his brother-in-law, noticing for the first time the strain he was under. “Are you kidding? I’ll call her any name she wants, just as long as we have her back.” “So will I,” Zach agreed.

“Has she seen the boys?” Josh asked. “Not yet. I don’t want to push her too fast. And I don’t want to confuse them. Especially Spike. He's old enough to remember her.” “That makes sense. So what about -“ “Josh! Stop stalling,” Zach said. “It’s time to take your pie on the road. You’re scaring my wife,” he added with a smile.

“Okay, okay. I’m going. I guess somebody has to keep Cambias from going under while you spend all your days out here in the boondocks.” Josh dropped some money on the counter and stood to leave. “I’m really happy for you, man. For both of you,” he said. “Thanks. Now wipe that smile off your face before you go. You’re leaving me enough questions to answer.”

*************************

Amy walked out of the Marigold Sky, ready to drown her sorrows in a log hot bath. Zach had left rather abruptly the day before and she didn’t understand why. He’d said all the right things. And he’d kissed her several times. But he still seemed distant. She decided to let Calgon take her away from it all, at least for one night. But Zach had other plans.

Amy couldn’t help but notice the shiny black limousine parked in front of the motel, but the windows were so dark she couldn’t see inside. She walked past it, her curiosity peaked, and wondered who the lucky girl was.

When she walked through her door, she was surprised to find Zach standing in the middle of the room, wearing a black tuxedo and a crisp white shirt. Amy hadn't heard from him all day and was sure she'd done something wrong. Well, she thought to herself as she walked toward him, she had done something wrong. She'd allowed herself to fall head over heels in love with this man, knowing they could never be together. And now it was too late to protect her heart.

“You look great,” Amy said as she looked him over from head to toe. “What’s the occasion?” Zach pulled her into his arms and kissed her. “You are. Unless you’re too tired.” Amy’s eyes lit up. “Me? Too tired? No way. I’m never tired. Where are we going?” She tried to look past him when it became obvious he was hiding something, but he wouldn’t let her. “It’s a surprise. You ready?” Amy laughed. “Sure, just let me grab my purse,” she said, looking down at the stained uniform she was wearing.

Zach watched as her smile faded. She ran her hands over his chest, holding his lapels between her fingers. “Seriously, Zach. I don’t have anything as nice as this to wear. You’re gonna be prettier than me.” Zach shook his head and tightened his grip around her waist. “Impossible. You could wear a towel and still be the prettiest girl in the room. In fact,” he added as his finger traced her collarbone, “I think a towel is my favorite look for you. Well, second favorite,” he amended as he kissed her ear.

“Zach,” she groaned, forgetting for a second what they were talking about. “This is all very nice, but it doesn’t solve the problem,” she said when he moved down her neck. He muttered something she couldn’t hear and stood up straight. “There is no problem, and you worry too much.” He stepped aside so she could see what he had laid across the bed: a beautiful black dress.

Kendall gasped and ran to touch it. “I’ll be outside,” Zach said, pleased with her reaction. “Take as long as you need.” He glanced over his shoulder on his way out the door and saw her gently running her fingers over the shimmery fabric as if she was afraid it would fall apart in her hands.

*************************

Less than 30 minutes later, the door Zach had been staring at opened and the vision standing in front of him took his breath away. He knew the dress was perfect for her, and he’d been right. It wasn’t a dress just any woman could wear, but Amy had the neck and shoulders to pull of the halter style and the plunging neckline. Zach’s eyes were immediately drawn to the hollow of her throat, that one spot that always drew him in. He had the sudden urge to touch her, so he pulled himself away from the car and started walking towards her.

She stopped when she was only a few feet away and did a slow turn. Zach was speechless. He let his eyes roam across her bare back and noticed how the soft material clung to the curve of her hips. “You like?” she asked as her eyes found his. “You’ll do,” he said as he continued to look her over. The dress was long, with a slit cut high on her thigh, and there was a diamond-encrusted dragonfly pin resting at the apex of that slit, drawing his attention to her long, shapely legs.

“The dress is beautiful, Zach. How did you know my size?” He gave her a quick kiss, then offered her his arm and led her to the waiting limo. “Lucky guess,” he said with a nod to the chauffeur. “Uh-huh. I bet you do this all the time. Let me guess. You always go to the same store where the same salesgirl helps you pick out gifts for all the women in your life.” Zach waited for the limo to pull out of the parking lot, then he took Amy’s hand.

“Her name is Vivian and she’s very good at what she does,” he teased. His mind went back to him poring over every rack in the boutique. “In fact, she says to thank you for having the body to pull off this dress. She’s been trying to unload it for months!” Amy elbowed him but refused to laugh. “Are you jealous,” Zach said, lowering his head so he could whisper in her ear. His low, husky voice sent chills down her spine. “Why should I be jealous? She got the commission, but I got the dress. And the man,” she added with a giggle when he began to nibble on her earlobe. “Damn right,” he growled.

Amy completely lost track of the time. She didn’t know if they’d been in the car for five minutes or two hours. Zach’s fingers were stroking the base of her neck where a few curls had escaped from the clip that held the rest of her hair on top of her head. She could have sat there all night, just enjoying the magic of his touch. But all too soon it was over.

“We’re here,” Zach said when the car came to a stop. “Already?” Amy was clearly surprised. “What do you mean already? It was a long ride.” She waited for the chauffeur to open the door before answering. “Was it? I didn’t notice,” she said coyly. Zach grinned at her as he helped her from the car. “Shameless.”

“Where are we?” Amy asked as they made their way around the marina. “We are someplace where I can have you all to myself … at last,” he said. His eyes told Amy he was teasing her, but she didn’t get the joke until she saw the name of the yacht. “Is this yours?” He nodded, trying to hide his disappointment. He’d secretly hoped that seeing the place where they were married would spark a memory, but she didn’t seem to recognize it at all.

His disappointment quickly vanished when he saw the look on her face. She may not recognize it, but she obviously loved it. She ran her fingers over the railing and threw her head back so the wind could blow on her face. The sun was setting behind her, casting a beautiful pink glow on her skin. She was the most beautiful thing Zach had ever seen. And she was his. The rest was just details, he reminded himself. Besides, tonight wasn’t about old memories, it was about making new ones.

*************************

“Oh my God, that was the best meal I’ve ever eaten,” Amy said as she pushed her plate away. “At least in the last several months,” she added sheepishly. She and Zach were sailing along the coastline underneath a star-filled sky. It was a bit cool on deck, but the view was too beautiful to be denied. Besides, it just gave her an excuse to move closer to Zach.

“I wonder if I liked lobster before,” she continued. “I think it’s my new favorite thing. Well, except for the dessert.” Zach looked confused. “But we haven’t had dessert … oh, you mean the chocolate cake.” Amy blushed, just like he knew she would. Part of him wanted to tell her that these were all of her favorite things, but he was enjoying the experience of seeing her discover them for the first time.

He took her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing the spot where her wedding rings should be. He hated not seeing them there, wondering for the hundredth time what had happened to them. Johnny’s men has scoured every pawn shop in the country looking for them, but they were nowhere to be found. Not yet at least. Zach had promised to double the salary of whoever could find those rings. He shook off the thought and turned his attention back to the beautiful woman in front of him. The song changed, so he asked her to dance.

Amy felt more at home that she’d ever felt before. At home in Zach’s arms, but also in Zach’s world. At least this part of it. There was something so familiar about this place, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She didn’t recognize it, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d been here before. Only in your dreams, she chided herself. The song was also familiar, but she didn’t know where she’d heard it before. She didn’t know the words, something about a lonely star, but the tune was very familiar. So familiar she was humming along.

Zach listened with tears in his eyes as Amy hummed in his ear. He wondered if she even realized she was doing it. This was their song, at least it was once. He knew that those memories were in there, trying to make their way to the surface. He wanted her to remember. He needed her to. As much as he wanted her body, he wanted her soul, too. He wanted the woman he married. He needed her to remember him, to love him … to make love to him. Her husband. Not the man she barely knew but was attracted to.

The spell was broken when Zach’s phone started to vibrate. Amy cocked an eyebrow at him, but her laughter ruined the effect. He reached into his pocket, cursing under his breath. “I said no calls,” he muttered. “Amy watched while he tried to maneuver the tiny phone with his big hands, and she could see he was getting frustrated.

“Need some help?” she asked, trying to keep the laughter from her voice. “No, I can do it.” She watched him mash a few buttons, and the vibration was replaced by an annoying chirping sound. “You could just answer it,” she said. “It’s not the ringer. It’s just an alarm that tells me I have unchecked messages. My assistant, Lily, set it up so I wouldn’t miss any important calls.” Zach dropped the phone on the floor and lifted his foot. “I know how to stop it,” he said, his voice threatening.

Amy scooped up the phone before he could smash it. “Here, let me. I’m pretty good with these things,” she said. “Let me guess, you read about it while you were in the hospital,” Zach said dryly. “Do you want me to fix it or not?” Amy asked, frowning up at him. He nodded, then hovered over her while she worked, their heads almost touching. He was so close he heard her indrawn breath when she saw the picture of the boys he was using as his wallpaper. “Oh, Zach, are these your sons?” she said, already knowing they were. Zach didn’t bother to answer. He just watched her as she studied the faces of the two most precious things in their lives.

“Spike,” he said, pointing to the oldest, “and Ian. This was taken a few months ago at Spike’s birthday party.” Amy felt a flood of emotions that she didn’t understand. She could feel the tears forming, but she didn’t know where they came from. She fell instantly in love with these two beautiful boys. She looked up at Zach, who had tears of his own, and wondered how hard it must be for him.

“Do you have other pictures?” she asked. Zach quickly took the phone from her. He did have other pictures, and she was in every one of them. He didn’t think she was ready for that. “Sure. I bet there’s a photo album around here somewhere. Let me check the bedroom,” he said as he went below deck.

Amy followed behind him and starting searching the living room. She opened a few drawers, but found nothing. Suddenly, something at her feet caught her attention. She looked down to see a large, leather-bound book poking out from underneath the sofa as if someone had stashed it there in a hurry. She picked it up and ran her fingers over the letters on the front. “Team Slater,” she read aloud. “Zach, I found it,” she yelled. She opened the first page of the book and her heart fell into her stomach.

She turned another page and then another and another. “It can’t be,” she said. There, on all the pages, were pictures of Zach and his boys and the woman who was obviously his wife. And the woman in the pictures … was her!”

TBC

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Roseann

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Reply with quote  #32 
Karen, this "novel" is absolutely the best!  We sure need this right now.  Thanks...I don't want this one to end....
Roseann
Purdue0612

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Reply with quote  #33 
This is one great story! You have me waiting for the next chapter before I even finish reading the last one!
come back soon!
momofboys

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Reply with quote  #34 
I really wish I was seeing this on my tv rather than what these other "writers" are giving us.  Wonderful story, I can't wait to read more.
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Chapter 9

Amy felt like she was trapped in a dream. The truth was right in front of her, but it didn’t make any sense. Zach was the man she’d been waiting for? It felt too good to be true, so did that mean it wasn’t? Was she seeing what she wanted to see? She turned the pages more slowly now, taking time to study each picture. None of the captured moments were familiar to her. She felt nothing. Not angry, not happy. Just numb. She was looking at pictures of her own family, and all she felt was emptiness and confusion. She felt the tears gathering in her eyes as she ran her fingers over the smiling faces of her baby boys.

“Are you angry?” Zach sounded so far away. She closed her eyes against the emotions that his voice brought on. Suddenly the numbness was replaced by sadness. But also joy. And, most of all, by a longing that was so strong it took her breath away. She wanted desperately to feel what Zach felt when he looked at those pictures. She wanted to belong, not just anywhere. She wanted to belong here. With him.

“No. But I am confused.” She turned to look at Zach and found him standing right behind her, his eyes pleading. “Have you been lying all this time, Zach? Why didn't you tell me?” He reached up to wipe away a tear that had begun to roll down her cheek. He cursed himself for leaving her, for not being there when she found out. More than anything he’d wanted to share that moment with her. To make sure she understood.

“God, Amy, I didn't know what to do. If I filled in all the blanks, would it matter? Could you be happy with just my memories? I thought it would put too much pressure on you, and I never wanted you to feel like you needed to do a certain thing or act a certain way because you thought I expected you to.” He ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. He’d imagined this moment so many times, and it had never gone like this. In his dreams, she’d always thrown her arms around him and thanked him for finding her at last. He growled low in his throat, angry with himself and his silly dreams. He’d tried to be so careful with her, but in the end, he’d blown it.

“I didn't want you to think I knew you better than you know yourself,” he said as he moved closer. "Don't you?" she asked softly. “I don't want anything from you, Kendall,” he said, using her real name for the first time. “I've just been so happy being with you again, whatever part of you I could get back. I guess I hoped you would start to remember,” he added with a shrug. "And if I don't?" Amy asked, her eyes boring into his. “Then we'll make new memories. Together. That's all I need. You are all I need.”

“You make it sound so simple, Zach.” She tried to turn away from him, but he held her arm. “It can be, if we don’t get in the way,” he said softly. “You called me Kendall. How long has that been hovering on your lips? My name is Amy.” Zach winced at the anger in her voice. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Being back here with you has stirred up old ghosts. I feel us here.”

Amy walked over to the sofa and sat down, still holding the photo album. “It’s not me, Zach. She looks like me, but it’s not me. It can’t be. I wish it was, but it’s not.” She looked so lost, Zach wanted to wrap his arms around her and force reality to wait. “You say you don’t want anything from me, but you already have expectations. You just said it,” she said when be began to shake his head. “You said ‘being back here’ and I don’t even know where ‘here’ is. It’s obviously a place that means something to you and Kendall, but not me. I don’t belong here.” She jumped up and hurried toward the door, only to have Zach hold it closed with his arm over her shoulder.

She could feel him standing right behind her - the heat emanating from his body, his breath on her neck as he bowed his head. Her heart was bursting with love for him. She would never deny that. She did love him and she did want to spend the rest of her life with him. But she couldn’t be what he wanted. She couldn’t be Kendall.

“Nobody belongs here more than you,” Zach said. The pain in his voice broke her heart, but she had to be strong. Pretending to be somebody else would never make either of them happy. It was best to put a stop to their relationship right now, before it was too late. She laughed bitterly. Who was she kidding? It was already too late.

Zach reacted to her laughter, misunderstanding her reason. He turned her around to face him so he could see her face. “Don’t do that,” he said angrily. “Don’t make a mockery of what you can’t remember. We had a life together, a good life. Don’t throw it away.” He led her back to the couch and picked up the photo album that she’d dropped. He sat down and glanced at the open page, trying to imagine what it would be like not to recognize himself in the pictures he saw. Frustrated, he slammed the book shut. It was just as impossible for him to forget as it was for her to remember.

“Please, Amy, let me help you. Tell me what I can do?” Zach pleaded. He looked up at her and in that moment she saw his suffering. She wanted to take it all away. She wanted to go back to being blissfully oblivious. Rewind the clock and forget the last half hour ever happened. But that wasn’t really fair to him, was it? He’d never had the luxury of oblivion. He’d known the truth all along and been trapped by it.

“Convince me, Zach.” She began to pace in front of him, suddenly nervous about what he would say. “Make me believe that I really am your wife.” She stopped pacing and stared at him, waiting for him to offer some irrefutable proof that she really was the woman in those pictures.

Zach thought for a moment, his mind somehow blank and racing at the same time. “We could look through the pictures,” he offered. He settled himself against the cushions and patted the space beside him. She looked uncertain, so he opened the book and began to scan the pages. “This is a good one. It’s a bit grainy because it came off a security video. But this was the first time I ever laid eyes on you. It was at my casino in Las Vegas.”

“Las Vegas, huh? I’ve always wanted to go there,” Amy said, moving closer. “In fact, I was planning to when I got released from the hospital in Memphis. I’m not sure why. I just felt lured there. But then I saw the ad for Pennsylvania and decided to come here instead.” Zach looked up at her and smiled. “I can understand why you wanted to go back to Vegas. It was love at first sight, at least for you,” he teased as he turned the page and pointed to another photo.

“This one is my favorite. We were in Florida for your mother’s wedding and I found you sitting on the beach all by yourself. The wind was blowing your hair away from your face, and your clothes up against your body,” he added with a sly smile. “You were so beautiful.”

As he talked, Amy moved closer and closer until she was sitting on the couch beside him with her feet curled under her and the photo album partially in her lap. “This was Spike’s first Christmas.” Amy laughed at the shot of Zach and his son wearing matching conductor’s hats as they played with a train set that wound around a beautifully decorated tree. “Did I get a choo-choo ride?” she asked, caught up in the silliness of the moment. Zach stared at her so long it made her uncomfortable. “What did I say?” she asked when he continued to watch her. “Nothing,” he said quietly. “And yes, as I recall you got multiple train rides.”

“Bowling? You took me bowling for Valentine’s Day?” Amy laughed as Zach tried to explain to her just how romantic bowling could be. “What? You loved it! Besides, I let you win, and I gave you a diamond necklace.” “What did I give you?” she asked, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “Ian,” he said seriously. “And your heart.”

After a while of browsing through the photo album, Amy began to get restless. “This is all fine and good, Zach. It proves that you and Kendall were very happy together. But it doesn’t prove that I am Kendall. How can you prove that?” Zach scratched his chin and thought for a moment.

“You have a scar behind your right knee from a bicycle accident when you were nine years old,’ he said at last. For a brief moment, his mind flashed back to those horrible pictures he had hidden in his office safe at the casino. He wondered how many other scars she had now. “How would I know? I can’t see the back of my knees,” Amy said, interrupting his thoughts. “Trust me, it’s there,” Zach said.

“Maybe that’s the problem. Can I trust you, Zach? Have you been making fun of me all this time?” Amy asked as she stood up and resumed her pacing. “Laughing at my silly stories about somebody out there who loves me and won’t rest until he finds me? “You know me better than that,” he replied quietly. “No, Zach. I don’t. Kendall does. But I’m not Kendall.”

“Yes, you are,” he said. He walked over to her and put his hands on her shoulders. “You are Kendall. And you’re Amy. And why would I laugh at your story about somebody coming for you? I was the one looking and I wasn’t going to stop until I found you. Do you know why?” he asked, tilting her chin up so he could look into her eyes. “Because I love you.”

“No, you don’t love me. You love your wife. You love Kendall. I don’t know her. And I can’t be her,” Amy said in an anguished voice. When she felt Zach’s hand cupping her face, she leaned into his palm, desperate to feel the connection she’d felt with him earlier. She felt like she’d lost her lifeline and was drifting in a sea of confusion and doubt. And fear. For the first time in months, she was angry about what had happened to her. She wanted her memories back. If her past was going to stand in the way of her future, she needed to confront it. But how could she fight this? She couldn’t. All she could do was trust Zach. And as much as she wanted to believe him, she didn’t know how to give up the only smart part of her that she had left. Amy.

“I love the woman standing in front of me right now. The one who knows just how I like my coffee and how to fix my temperamental cell phone. The one who loves baseball and has an encyclopedic knowledge of 70’s rock music. I also love the woman who gave me two beautiful children and a real home for the first time in my life. The woman who made me a better man. They just happen to be the same person.” He could tell she wanted to believe him, but wasn’t able to let go. He kissed her softly, then moved to stand behind her. He wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on the top of her head.

“Look at those roses,” he said as he pointed to one of the vases that he’d scattered around the room. “They’re Kendall’s roses,” Amy said. “No, they’re not. I know that Kendall likes pink roses, but Amy knows the significance of the colors. Red. I love you. And over there. Orange. Desire. That’s for Amy, not Kendall. And what about the song that played all through dinner?” he reminded her.

“Far Away, it’s my favorite song,” Amy said, her brow knitted in confusion. “It’s Kendall’s favorite song too,” Zach replied as he retrieved the cd. He popped it into the player and watched Amy’s face as the song started. “She wanted to play it every time we made love. You wanted to play it. You said that even though I was right there - a part of you - you still felt like I wasn’t close enough. You said that.” He was standing behind her again, his arms wrapped securely around her waist as he lowered his head to whisper in her ear. “Tell me you don’t feel that way right now.”

Amy didn’t know what to say. He was right, she did feel like she couldn’t get close enough to him. She had from the moment she met him. But did that prove anything? She leaned back against him, smiling when he tightened his grip. She wanted to melt into him, to be surrounded by his strength, his presence, his love. She wondered if there was a chance for them. If Zach and Kendall were gone forever, could Zach and Amy live happily ever after.

“What if I never remember?” she asked. “If you never unlock your past, Amy, then we’ll start over again … right here, right now,” Zach said. “We’ll build a life together on new memories. And love. You do love me, don’t you?”

Amy stepped out of his arms and turned to face him. Her eyes drifted slowly over his body as she imagined him naked. Her blush intensified when she made her way back to his eyes and found him watching her. A brow arched upward as his eyes darkened. He grinned wickedly.

Amy realized she was picturing him naked, only it wasn’t her imagination after all. She was flooded with sensory memories. She remembered the way his body looked underneath the expensive armor he wore. She remembered his touch, his taste. The feel of his lips. She still didn’t remember their life together, but she did remember making love to him. Clearly. Vividly. And she ached for him. His touch. His strong arms around her. His body joined to hers. She knew she could never get enough of him.

“Yes, I do love you, Zach. I love you more than I ever thought possible.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him. “And I never want it to stop. No end, no limit, and no fear.” She pulled away when she felt Zach stiffen. He looked stricken. “What did I say this time?” she asked. She suddenly felt self-conscious and off balance.

Zach pulled her into his arms, sorry for his reaction but unable to control it. He held her while he waited for his heartbeat to return to normal. When he had calmed, he released her and looked into her eyes. “Do you remember hearing those words before?” he asked.

Amy shook her head absentmindedly, but was clearly lost in thought. “I remember you,” she said slowly. “Your hair was shorter, and you looked like you were in pain. I think I hurt you, Zach. I don’t know how or why, but I’m sorry.” She didn’t understand it, but Amy had to laugh at the smile that spread across Zach’s face.

“Now what?” she said when he picked her up and spun her around. He didn’t answer, just put her back on her feet and kissed her. Not a quick, chaste kiss this time. This kiss was deep and thorough. He took his time, which was fine with Amy. She never wanted it to end. When it did, she repeated her question. “What was that for?”

“That was because you make me so happy. And because I love you,” he said. He brushed his fingers across her cheek and down her neck. “Did I remember correctly? Did I hurt you?” she asked. Zach nodded. “Yes, you remembered it right. I was devastated that night. But,” he added when she started to interrupt, “I didn’t let it stop me. I got the girl in the end.”

“If I remember something else, will you kiss me like that again?” she teased. “I might,” he said. “What have you got?” Amy thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I’ve got nothing.” “Close enough,” Zach said as he pulled her into his arms for another kiss. Amy’s mind replayed Zach’s comments from earlier concerning the song she and Kendall had in common. In that instant she knew he was telling her the truth. She felt exactly the same way he said she would. She was wrapped in his arms, with only a few thin layers of clothing between them, and it was too much. She needed more. Much more.

She needed to feel his skin against hers. As she stood against him, aching to get closer, responding to the feel of his hands on her bare back, she began to be bombarded by images of them together. She couldn’t really call them memories, because she had no sense of time or place. But she remembered the feelings he invoked in her. She remembered how her body responded to him, and how his body responded to her. She remembered what it was like to have her husband make love to her, and she needed him to make her feel that way again.

As if reading her thoughts, Zach eased her away from him and gazed into her eyes. He saw something there that made him want to shout. And it made him want to cry. It made him feel powerful and invincible. He saw his wife. And she wanted him. He could see the desire and the love in her eyes. It was all a man could ask for.

He held out his hand, leaving the decision up to her. He didn’t want her to be swept away by emotion and end up doing something she’d regret later. He wanted this to be right, for both of them. She smiled up at him, placed her hand in his, and followed him to the bedroom.

“Are you sure about this? Is it too soon?” Zach asked as he stopped just outside the bedroom door. “Too soon? I’ve been waiting my whole life for you, Zach.” He smiled at her, the urge to touch her nearly overwhelming him. But he knew once he took her in his arms again, he would never let her go. So he put his hands on her shoulders and told her to stay put. He started to open the door, but couldn’t resist the slight pout she was giving him. He kissed her anyway, and found that he’d been right all along. He didn’t want to stop. But his need to make the night special for her overrode his own desire. He drug his lips from hers and shook his head at his own weakness. “Don’t go anywhere,” he said as he disappeared behind the door.

Amy stood outside the closed door and tried not to let her fear overtake her. She wasn’t afraid of him, and she wasn’t afraid that she was making a mistake. She knew what she wanted. But she did worry that she was taking advantage of him. He remembered everything about who they were as a couple. All she remembered were some fleeting moments of intimacy between them. Spectacular, to be sure. But not real memories. Was she cheating him by going through with this?

Before she could work herself into too much of a frenzy, the door opened and Zach was standing in front of her. One look at him and all her fears vanished. He had removed his coat and tie, and the tease of his naked chest make Amy feel weak in the knees. He stepped aside so she could enter, then watched as her eyes scanned the room. If she had looked at him, she would have seen how nervous he was. He wanted everything to be perfect.

Amy looked around at the candles that surrounded the room. There were dozens of them in all shapes and sizes, casting a warm, sensual glow. There was music playing softly from speakers she couldn’t see. And there were flowers everywhere. Roses, of course. In every color she could think of. She made a mental list of all their meanings. She was moved by the amount of thought that he’d obviously put into this evening. She smiled at the rose petals on the bed. All pink.

She knew he wasn’t thanking her this time. He wanted Kendall. The thought that angered her before now comforted her. I am Kendall, she thought to herself. I am the one he wants. Amy is just an imaginary friend who helped me find my way home. And that’s where I am now. Home.

She looked up at Zach and saw him looking at her with his heart in his eyes. She remembered seeing that look before. He was wearing a tuxedo that night, too. There was music and balloons. So why did he look so sad? She didn’t understand the setting, but there was no denying the look in his eyes. It was the same as what she was seeing now. Nervous and afraid, but desperate to please her. It was the look of a man who was hopelessly in love.

She ran her tongue over her suddenly dry lips and looked him in the eye. She’d never wanted anything in her life more than she wanted him. This was her husband and she loved him more than anything else in the world. She wanted to tell him, but the words wouldn’t come. She’d have to show him, and let him show her in return.

“Is something wrong?” Zach asked. He could see the wheels spinning in her head, but her face was unreadable. “Amy?” Zach said when she continued to stare up at him. “Amy is gone, Zach. For better or worse, Kendall is back.”


TBC


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Purdue0612

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Reply with quote  #36 

This is a really great story! Please don't leave us in suspense for long. It has so much emotion in it.

Puppetwrangler

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Reply with quote  #37 

Thanks.

Roseann

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Reply with quote  #38 
Thanks, Karen...great bedtime reading..
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Auntinette

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Reply with quote  #39 

This is such a romantic love story, thank you and hurry back.


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brownpenny

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Reply with quote  #40 
Thanks again for the great story.  Can't wait to read the next chapter. 

I would love to read your version of a different twist where Zach has amnesia and finds his way back to Kendall.  After Richie pushed Zach out of the car and Zach hit his head on a rock, I thought he was going to have amnesia.
zendall44

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Reply with quote  #41 

Thank you Karen!  This is such a beautiful story.


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Reply with quote  #42 
Soooooo sorry for taking so long to update. I hope this chapter will be worth the wait. I wanted to take this one a little bit further, so I went to the expert. Thanks, Liz, for helping me fill in the blanks!



Chapter 10

“Amy is gone, Zach. For better or worse, Kendall is back.”

Without realizing it, Zach was holding his breath. As many times as he’d told himself that her name didn’t matter, he still found himself reacting to her words. “Kendall,” he said, his heart pounding, “you don’t have to…” His voice faltered as she brushed her lips against his. “I love you, Zach,” she said. “And I know exactly what I’m doing.” She lowered her hand to his chest and moved closer.

Zach froze, unable to take his eyes off of the vision standing in front of him. He had waited so long, and now she was here, staring up at him with more love than he deserved. He reached out and twirled one of the wispy curls at the nape of her neck around his finger. He glanced up, wanting more than anything to feel the weight of her hair in his hands. He wanted to smell it, to feel its softness against his skin, to bury himself in it.

But her hair was forgotten when he returned his gaze to her face and saw a single tear rolling down her cheek. “Kendall,” he said again, his voice low and husky, as he pulled her to him and covered her mouth with his.

Now it was Kendall’s turn to hold her breath. She was so afraid she would wake up from this wonderful dream and find herself back in a lonely hospital room in a world full of strangers. She shrugged off the thought and concentrated on the amazing man standing in front of her. She was humbled by how much her decision touched him. She hadn’t stopped to consider what tonight would mean to him.

Parting her lips under his, she lost herself in the kiss and the feelings it stirred within her. She never wanted the moment to end. If it was a dream, she prayed she would never wake up. But all too soon it was over. Zach pulled away from her, but smiled as his hands returned to her face, his fingers tracing the soft curves he knew so well. He let his hands drop to her shoulders as he continued to watch her, the music playing softly in the background the only thing that existed besides the two of them.

He took a step back and studied her, his eyes traveling the length of her body and back again. Slowly. Deliberately. But this wasn’t foreplay. His look wasn’t hungry, it was more than that. He wanted her, there was no doubt about that. But a small part of him just wanted to look at her for the rest of the night. He thought of the many nights he’d spent lying awake, his hand resting on her pillow, willing her to come back to him. And now she was here. Flesh and fantasy.

Unable to help himself, he pulled her closer and kissed her, closing his eyes as he touched his forehead to hers. His heart was racing, his breathing ragged. He had dreamt of this moment for longer than he cared to remember, and now that she was here with him, he wanted time to stand still.

He reached out, his hand trembling as his fingers found the hollow of her throat. He traced the indentation gently, his brow furrowed in concentration. Lifting his head, he was touched by the love he saw in her eyes. “Do you have any idea how much I’ve missed you? God … so much.”

Kendall heard his voice break and took his hand, placing it on the center of her chest and covering it with her own. Hearing Zach’s breath catch, she looked up at him, but his gaze was focused on their hands. The overwhelming sense of warmth and security that filled her as his hand moved in a comforting circle was so familiar that she wanted to wrap herself up in it. It was familiar to him as well, she noticed, when he lifted his head and she saw the emotion in his eyes. Taking a deep breath, she removed her hand and placed it on his chest.

The feel of his warm skin beneath her fingers gave her courage as she held his gaze. “From the moment I woke up in that hospital, lost and alone, I knew that I was loved. And I knew that the one who loved me would come for me.” He watched her blink back tears. “All this time, it’s been enough. I was content to wait.” She tried to continue, but she couldn’t seem to swallow the lump that had formed in her throat.

“But then I met an incredible man,” she continued, “and I no longer wanted to be found. Now I get it, Zach. Now I understand why I couldn’t walk away. I—I was waiting for you,” she said as she lifted her hand to his face. “I was waiting for you.” When he covered her hand with his, she moved closer, pressing her body against his. “I don’t want to wait anymore.”

“No more waiting,” he murmured. “Not ever again.” When she smiled up at him, the love in her eyes undeniable, he covered her lips with his.

This time, This place
Misused, Mistakes
Too long, Too late
Who was I to make you wait
Just one chance
Just one breath
Just in case there's just one left


The kiss went straight to Kendall’s head. And to her heart. The feel of Zach’s lips pressing against hers made her heart ache in her chest. She didn’t have the words to express the love she felt. Slipping her arms around his neck, she locked her fingers. He deepened the kiss, wrapping his arms tightly around her waist.

Zach couldn’t have said how long they stood there, exchanging kisses as if they were making up for lost time. Her touch, her taste … it intoxicated him, and he couldn’t get enough. He growled low in his throat when she broke the kiss and took a step back. Her lips were swollen from his kisses and her cheeks were flushed. He thought she had never looked more beautiful. “Kendall,” he breathed, as she wordlessly reached out and began unbuttoning his shirt.

Kendall managed three buttons before she paused, drawn by the irresistible pull of the skin she’d uncovered. Parting the fabric with her fingers, she slipped her hand inside. She stilled when she felt his heart race beneath her fingertips and closed her eyes as a picture flashed in her mind. She’d done this before, only Zach had been wearing a different shirt. A peach one, she thought as she tried to recapture the memory. Opening her eyes, she looked up at him and caught her breath. The eyes looking back at her now were the same as they were then, a heady mix of love and desire.

Zach wondered what she was thinking. He had watched her close her eyes, and was waiting when she opened them. There was something there, something he couldn’t identify. Longing, maybe? He tried to regulate his breathing as he met her gaze, captivated by the way her eyes seemed to glow in the soft candlelight. He forced himself to remain still when she moved her fingers back to the buttons of his shirt.

“I need you, Zach,” Kendall admitted softly, her hands pushing the shirt off of his shoulders and down his arms. She watched Zach take it off and toss it onto the floor, his eyes never leaving hers. Moving closer, she slid her hands over his chest, feeling it rise and fall rapidly beneath her fingers. She leaned forward and touched her lips to his skin and felt him shudder. Her eyes dark, she kissed him again, and whispered against his lips, “I need my husband.”

Husband. The word brought such a rush of emotion that Zach brought her lips back to his for another kiss, this time hungry and urgent. His body had been reacting to her nearness all night, but her words sent a jolt of electricity through him. The look in his eyes told Kendall everything she needed to know. She was again struck by the power her words had over him. He needed her just as much as she needed him. She could see it in his eyes, feel it in his touch, sense it emanating from him. And now she realized that it had been there all along.

Suddenly self-conscious, Kendall turned around slowly and offered him her back, closing her eyes as she waited for his touch. When she felt the warmth of his hands on her shoulders, she held her breath in anticipation and bent her head forward.

Zach didn’t move right away. He was too busy enjoying the view as his eyes swept over the soft expanse of skin and the tendrils that had escaped from the clip in her hair. When he did move, he slid his hands inward slowly, his fingers relearning the shape of her shoulders on their way to the tie of her dress.

He was filled with the sense of unwrapping a precious gift as he grasped the ends of the tie and pulled, watching as the bow slowly disappeared. With a low groan, he pressed his lips against the exposed nape of her neck and gently stroked it with his tongue. She shivered as he slowly moved his open mouth along her skin.

“Zach,” Kendall moaned, letting her head fall to the side in invitation, and gasping when he found the sensitive spot behind her ear. She could feel his hands on her back, his fingers following the curve of her spine until they reached her zipper. Her back arched involuntarily as his finger dipped beneath the back of her dress and moved back and forth, making her skin tingle, before slowly dragging down the pull of the zipper.

His eyes were riveted to the skin he revealed as the teeth of the zipper parted. At the tease of black lace, he felt his body heat and he pulled her back against him and closed his eyes. Kendall caught her breath, reveling in the warmth of his chest against her bare skin, his breath in her ear, and his unmistakable arousal pressed against her. Unwilling to wait any longer to be together, she stepped out of his arms and turned to face him.

Zach found himself staring at a wayward curl that rested against Kendall’s cheek. Reaching out, he wound it around his finger. Reminded of his earlier plans, he reached for the clip that held her hair atop her head and waited, his eyes darkening when she shook her head to loosen the curls, sending them tumbling down over her shoulders. He reached for her, burying his fingers in her hair, and brought her mouth to his.

When Zach finally raised his head, Kendall swayed on her feet, her mind trying to wrap itself around what her husband could do to her with just a kiss. Her thoughts were scattered and every nerve ending in her body was crying out for his touch. And she realized that he knew it—she could see it in his eyes. But she saw something else. Restraint. He was holding back. Blushing slightly, she took a step backward.

“Kendall, I…” Words failed him as she released her hold on her dress and the shimmery fabric slithered down her body and landed in a pool at her feet. Their eyes lingered on the dragonfly pin that adorned the dress as it lay sparkling against the black fabric.

For the first time in a long while, the symbolism didn’t make Zach sad. Nothing had been as it seemed for the past 18 months, that much was true. And he had always known he would find her. But the agony of waiting, of not knowing where she was or what she was going through, had robbed him of any peace. He was as close to hopeless as he’d ever been in his life. Many times he’d brought out Kendall’s own dragonfly pin – the one he had given her so many years before – but it always left him feeling lonely and unbearably frustrated.

But not anymore. The wait was over. Kendall was home. And while things still weren’t exactly as they seemed, this time he could handle the difference. He could handle anything as long as Kendall was by his side. He considered telling her the significance of the dragonfly, but the idea quickly vanished when he looked up to find her watching him.

She held out her hand to him. Wordlessly he took it, slowly bringing her back to him. Bending slightly, he swept her up into his arms and began the short walk to the bed … their bed.

'Cause you know,
you know, you know
That I love you
I have loved you all along
And I miss you
Been far away for far too long


Zach laid Kendall down on the blanket of rose petals, his lips finding hers as he settled himself against her. He kissed her forehead, her eyelids, and her cheeks, leisurely reacquainting himself with every feature of her beautiful face before returning to her lips. At her sigh, he groaned and deepened the kiss, his body hardening as she pulled his hips tighter against hers.

Kendall held on tight. His body felt so good, so right against hers, the feel of his weight pressing her into the mattress both familiar and exciting. As his lips moved to her neck, his hand cupped her breast and kneaded it gently, drawing a soft moan from her throat.

He kissed his way up to her ear and nuzzled it gently before tracing the outer shell with his tongue. “Mmm,” he growled, smiling as he felt her shiver. “Do you know how long I’ve waited to touch you?” “Zach,” she whimpered, biting her lip as his thumb brushed against her nipple.

Zach continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “To hold you against me, feel your skin, soft and warm against mine?” Lifting his head, he pushed a lock of hair away from her face. “I need you, Kendall. So much. I always have,” he breathed, and lowered his head to hers.

She needed him too, and though she was moved by his words, Kendall welcomed the hunger in his kiss and responded in kind. She wanted him closer, wanted him to touch her, be part of her. He’d been right earlier, he couldn’t get close enough to satisfy her. She wanted him to hold her and never let her go.

Zach slid his hand down her left side, stopping at her hip when he felt her tense. He broke the kiss and looked up in concern. “What’s wrong?” She had almost forgotten. Kendall shook her head, moved his hand, and forced a smile. “Nothing,” she whispered quickly, lifting her head and capturing his lips in a fervent kiss.

Zach responded initially, but pulled away. “What is it?” His eyes searched hers. “Did I hurt you?” He pushed himself back on the bed, his eyes scanning her body as his hands moved over her carefully. When his hand reached her hip, she tensed again and tried to turn away. “Kendall … honey … stop,” he soothed, trying to hold her still. His eyes flew to her face when he heard her soft sob. He watched helplessly as she closed her eyes and turned her head away. “What the…” His voice faded away as he saw the scar that ran down the side of her leg.

For a moment he closed his eyes, remembering the picture Johnny had shown him. …her left leg slashed open from hip to mid-calf… His throat tightened and he fought off the sting of tears. He should have been there with her. He should have kept her safe. He turned his attention back to her when he felt her body shuddering beneath his hands. She was crying.

“Kendall,” he said, reaching out to touch her cheek. Her whispered “I’m sorry” cut him to the quick and his heart stopped. She couldn’t possibly think this made a difference? Could she? Turning her face to his, he brushed away a tear before pressing a soft kiss to her lips. “You’re beautiful,” he said.

Feeling him move away, Kendall slowly opened her eyes. While she watched in confusion, he backed up to the edge of the bed. “What are -” she began, but stopped when she felt the whisper-soft touch of his lips on her hip. She watched, her view blurred by tears, as Zach placed soft kisses down the length of the scar.

Images of his broken wife flashed before him and Zach paused, trying to hold himself together. Blinking away his own tears, he moved to her right leg. “Beautiful,” he repeated as he first caressed her knee then kissed it.

When Kendall reached for him, he took her hand in his. “Zach,” she said brokenly. “I wish I could tell you …” she began, but he stopped her.

He let her pull him to her, kissing her gently before pushing her back against the pillows. His lips moved down her neck, before resting at the swell of her breast. The tears he had fought so hard to contain finally escaped, a warm drop falling on her skin as the reality of what she had endured overwhelmed him. An animal had tried to force himself on his wife. She’d been alone and vulnerable, and some evil bastard had hurt her because she wouldn’t give herself to him. Who could harm something so fragile, so pure, so perfect?

Slipping an arm beneath her back, he held her close, his damp cheek pressed tightly against her skin. If he closed his eyes he could still see them, the bite marks that had marred her perfect skin. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice laced with anguish. “Oh God, Kendall, I’m so sorry.” Turning his head, he rained tender kisses over her breasts.

Kendall wrapped her arms around him and held on tight, her heart so full that she was afraid it would burst. She was on the verge of telling him that she was the one who needed to apologize, when she remembered something. She’d felt like this before, another time in his arms. She was wearing one of those yellow paper hospital gowns. “You’re alive, you’re here.” It was Zach’s voice in her head, but it was her voice, her words that made her catch her breath. “It’s where I belong.”

She was struck by an overwhelming sense of longing and of loss. She had missed him so much. She still didn’t understand what had happened. She couldn’t remember anything about a trip to Los Angeles. But she remembered him and she felt the pain of missing him all this time. She felt it to the depths of her soul. But, along with the pain, came the joy of knowing he had found her at last. She was finally exactly where she belonged. “I love you,” she whispered through her tears. “I love you so much.”

Finally lifting his head, Zach reached out and touched her hair. “I love you,” he said hoarsely, sliding his hand into her curls and covering her mouth with his.

So far away
Been far away for far too long
So far away
Been far away for far too long


He loved her. Totally. Desperately. And he needed her just as much. Groaning, Zach deepened the kiss, his body pressing hers deeper into the mattress. He lost track of time, concentrating on the feel of Kendall’s fingertips touching his face as she kissed him back with equal abandon. Feeling her body arch and move restlessly beneath his, he automatically shifted his hips, his hand slipping beneath her to hold her against him. It was her breathless moan of his name that forced him to pull away in an effort to slow down.

Kendall sat up slowly, her passion-filled eyes filled with confusion. “Did I do something wrong?” Her words were cut short when he took her lips in a kiss that left her heart pounding. Unconsciously, she ran her tongue over her bottom lip, still tasting him as he backed away.

Zach slid off the foot of the bed, his eyes on hers as he stood and purposefully removed the rest of his clothing. He noted the soft blush on her cheeks as she watched him, her eyes seeing his body for the first time through new eyes.

He is beautiful, she thought to herself as the candles cast shadows on his body. Her brief flashes of memory hadn’t done him justice, especially now that she had seen him firsthand. And they hadn’t told her how amazing his skin felt against hers. She watched, mesmerized, as he stood at the edge of the bed and reached for her leg, resting her foot against his chest. He carefully unbuckled the thin straps of her shoe, removing it and tossing it aside. She saw him smile when she offered him the other foot.

Zach felt his heart squeeze in his chest as she rotated her foot in invitation, seeing a flash of the mischievous woman he had married. He remembered seeing that look in her eye another time, one night when she’d worn his Red Wings jersey and what she called her “lucky heels.” God, it seemed like a lifetime ago. He remembered how her eyes had sparkled, how she’d laughed when she managed to render him speechless. Tonight was no different, and after removing the other shoe and the scrap of lace that separated them, he once again joined her on the bed.

Kendall pulled him to her, her mouth finding his as his arms wrapped around her and gently pressed her backwards. “Don’t let go, Zach,” she breathed against his lips.

“Never,” he replied quickly before kissing her again, laying her down and slowly lowering his hips until his body nudged the entrance to hers. Reaching out, he softly stroked her cheek. “I love you, Kendall,” he said quietly. “Always, only you.”

His words brought tears to her eyes, tugging at something inside her. “Always, only you,” she echoed. “I love you,” she whispered, catching her breath as she felt him join his body to hers.

Zach held himself still, closing his eyes tightly as the memories and feelings overwhelmed him. She was really here, where she belonged, in his arms. Unwilling to rush the moment, he moved slowly, focusing on every sound, every move that she made. He made love to her, slow and sweet, wanting it to last forever, until she cried out, tightening around him as she shattered in his arms. He followed behind her, burying his face in her neck as his body shuddered against hers.

As their breathing slowed, Zach rolled them over carefully until Kendall was on top, her head resting on his chest. Grasping the loose sheet, he pulled it over their bodies as the pink rose petals fell all around them. “Welcome home, Mrs. Slater,” he said as she snuggled against him. After pressing a kiss to her temple, he tightened his arms around her and held her as she slept.



TBC


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Auntinette

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Reply with quote  #43 

Wow!!  Thank you, that was beautiful.  Does anyone know if TK ever reads any fanfics that are inspired by his portrayal of Zach?


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To walk through my life like a coat from the cold.
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Ann

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Reply with quote  #44 

Thank you Karen.  This chapter is absolutely mesmerizing and I can't wait for the next one. I think this is probably the best fanfic I have ever read and I have read some wonderful ones.


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Ann
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Reply with quote  #45 

Thanks again for the wonderful story! I will wait patiently for more.

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Wow, Ann! High praise indeed!! I'm honored. I'm glad y'all are enjoying it as much as I am.



Chapter 11

“I was pregnant, wasn’t I?” Zach opened his eyes to find Kendall leaning over him, holding the sheet up to her chest. Her hair was in wild disarray and her eyes were clouded with a combination of sleepiness and confusion. Zach, unable to resist the tempting image she created, pulled her down to him and kissed her. “What are you doing up there? Get back down here,” he muttered as he tried to keep her with him.

“Answer my question, first,” Kendall said. “Yes,” Zach said evenly. “Yes?” she repeated. He nodded. “I was pregnant?” He nodded again. “Twice.” Kendall poked him in the shoulder. “Zach! Stop teasing me. Tell me the truth.” Zach opened his arms to her and waited for her to take the hint. He didn’t have to wait long. She quickly settled herself against him and waited for him to explain what she was remembering.

“You see, when a man and woman love each other…” Zach began. She put her hand over his mouth and glared at him. “I’m serious,” she said. “I see that,” he mumbled from behind her hand. He finally won, she laughed.

“I remember being here with you,” she said, smiling when he kissed her palm and placed it against his chest. “You were wearing a pink shirt, and I was pregnant. Very pregnant.” “Peach,” Zach said matter-of-factly. “What?” “Peach. The shirt was peach,” he said. “What did I say?” she asked. “You said pink, but I would never wear a pink shirt. You know that.” He winced when she reacted to his words. “Sorry,” he offered, wishing he could cut out his tongue. The last thing he wanted to do was upset her. Not after the night they had shared.

To his utter relief, she smiled. “It’s okay,” she said. “I never figured you for the pink shirt type anyway. Although the peach was pretty hot, if my memory can be trusted.” Zach angled his head so he could see Kendall’s face. “No, you can trust it,” he said as he rubbed her arm. “And you were pregnant, very pregnant. And very beautiful.” He kissed the top of her head and continued to caress her, not willing to let her out his grasp.

“Tell me about it,” she said, turning to look at him. “How about I show you instead?” he offered, once again unable to resist the nearness of her lips. He rolled her underneath him and brought the sheet over their heads, growling in satisfaction at the sound of her laughter.

*************************

“That was a great demonstration,” Kendall said from her position against the headboard. “But I’d still like an explanation. What am I remembering?” Zach was lying on his back beside her, trying to coax her back into his arms. He was still waiting for his breathing to return to normal and she was ready to talk. He grinned. God, how he’d missed her.

He gave up on getting her to join him and pulled himself up beside her. “Only one of the most important days of our life together,” he said. “It’s a long story, but what you are remembering is the first time we made love. Right here, on this yacht. In this bed. Different sheets though,” he added dryly, lifting up the edge and peeking underneath. “I don’t understand. If it was our first time, how could I have been pregnant?” Zach opened his mouth to answer, but the words didn’t come fast enough. He watched Kendall’s eyes widen in disbelief.

“Zach, what did I do?” she began, but he wouldn’t let her continue. “Another long story, but it wasn’t like that,” he said. “You didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, what you did was the most generous thing I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the reasons I fell in love with you.” He took her hand and brought it to his lips, saddened by the doubt he saw in her eyes.

“Try to be patient, Kendall,” he said softly. “It will all come back to you, I know it will. You’re already starting to remember. Don’t rush it. And don’t let partial memories mess with your head. Okay? Trust me.” She nodded, but he could see she was still plagued with unanswered questions. She looked more vulnerable than he’d ever seen her and it tore at his heart. After giving her another quick kiss, he threw back the covers and jumped out of bed. “I have an idea,” he said as he ran from the room.

Kendall was a little upset and very curious, but neither of those things kept her from enjoying the view of her husband in his natural state. “Husband,” she said aloud to the empty room. Her smile faded as the significance of what had happened between them hit her. She was Kendall. Kendall Slater. Amy was gone. Her prince finally came for her. So why did she feel so sad?

“What’s wrong?” Zach asked as he stood in the doorway carrying the photo album under one arm and a breakfast tray in his hands. “You’re not hungry? It’s okay. You don’t have to eat if you don’t want…” His voice faded to silence when he got close enough to see the tears gathering in her eyes. “Kendall?”

“It’s weird, Zach,” she said as she waited for him to get settled beside her once again. “I know I’m who you say I am. I’m even remembering some things. But I still feel like Amy. Kendall is a stranger to me. How is this gonna work? Maybe we can’t do this. Maybe we can’t get it back.”

Zach caught the first tear that fell. “Honey,” he soothed, pulling her into his arms. “How can you ask that after last night? It’s hard, I know it is. And I won’t pretend to understand what you’re going through. But we’ll get through it … together. I promise.” She touched his face as his lips met hers. If only they could stay here, like this.

She already knew she loved him, but his next words sealed the deal. “And if you want to be Amy,” he said as he handed her a flaky croissant, “you can be Amy. I’ll call you whatever you want. Whatever makes you feel comfortable. Besides,” he added with a sly smile, “I kinda like that Amy.”

“Zach Slater, will you marry me … again?” Kendall said as a smile spread across her face. It was official: he was perfect. Everything really would be alright. “Again and again and again,” he muttered against her lips as he kissed her once more. “But how about we grab some breakfast first? You wore me out,” he said, eyebrows raised. Kendall laughed at the way he tore into the plate of bacon and eggs. “Sure. Go ahead. You’re gonna need your strength for later,” she teased, her stomach fluttering at the dark promise in his eyes.

*************************

“Tell me about Kendall,” she said suddenly. Breakfast was over and they were lingering over coffee, both still seated against the headboard, both naked except for the sheet that Kendall had tucked under her arms and Zach had pooled at his waist.

“Well, let’s see,” Zach said, warming to his topic. “You’re sweet and very docile. You dote on me and the boys. And you hang on every word I say. What else? Oh, yes. You’re a hockey fanatic, especially the Red Wings.” Kendall narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know. That doesn’t sound right,” she said. “Sounds a little too perfect.” “You are perfect,” Zach stated, but relented when she continued to shake her head. “Okay, okay. You got me. You’re not really a hockey fanatic. Not yet. But you’re learning. At least you were until this baseball thing happened.” He looked appalled. “Anything else?” she said, ignoring his protest of her new favorite sport.

“Why don’t I show you,” he said, moving the breakfast tray to the floor beside the bed. “Oh no, you don’t,” Kendall laughed. “That’s what you said last time and we got distracted for quite a while. I really want to talk about this, Zach.” He straightened up and held out the photo album he’d retrieved earlier. “What did you think I meant?” he asked innocently. Kendall took the book and scooted closer to him, essentially ignoring his act. “Kendall Slater, this is your life,” she muttered as she flipped it open to the first page.

*************************

“Yeah, right! I’m so sure Erica Kane is my mother. Come on, Zach. I’m not that gullible,” Kendall exclaimed. She and Zach had spent the last hour poring over the pictures in the album, and they weren’t even halfway through it. Kendall wanted to know the story behind every one of them. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Zach fumbled quickly through the rest of the pages, hoping to find a picture of his mother-in-law. But Kendall just thought he was stalling. “I can’t believe there’s not a picture of Granny Kane in here anywhere,” he mumbled as he went through the pages again.

“Give it up, Zach. I’m not buying it. Granny Kane. Now do you really expect me to believe that?” Zach gave up with a shrug. He knew she’d find out the truth soon enough, and he really wasn’t ready to share her with the world yet anyway.

Kendall gasped as she turned a page and saw a picture of Spike on the day he came home from the hospital. She didn’t know it, but they were standing in the condo, surrounded by all the things Zach had bought as a surprise. “Spike is so beautiful,” she said, her eyes meeting Zach’s like they did with every picture she saw.

“What?” she asked when he continued to stare at her. “How did you know that was Spike and not Ian?” She looked back at the picture and then back to Zach. She hadn’t even realized what she’d said. She just instinctively knew that it was Spike. “I don’t know,” she said at last.

“This is so strange, Zach. I don’t remember. I have children and siblings,” she hesitated, waiting for his confirmation. When he nodded, she continued. “And an entire life that I don’t remember.” She laid her head on his shoulder and sighed. He immediately put his arm around her and pulled her closer. He wanted to help her, but there was really nothing else he could say. He was convinced that she would get her memories back, but it would take time.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” Zach said after a long silence. “I don’t want to scare your boys … our boys,” she replied. She suddenly bolted upright. “Oh my God, Zach. I’m a mom!” She looked at him and he could see the cold fear in her eyes. “I know. You’re a great mom.” She nodded blankly and turned another page in the photo album. There was a picture of Zach holding a very tiny Ian in a hospital room. It immediately brought tears to Kendall’s eyes, but not just because of the fragile child. She was moved by the glow of pride on Zach’s face.

“Ian was sick?” she asked as she reached out to touch his tiny body. “Yes,” Zach said, touched by her instinctive need to comfort her son. “The little guy had a pretty rough start. He was born too soon and he had a hard fight. But he’s fine now. Big and strong and healthy as a horse.” “I’m glad,” Kendall said as she studied the picture again.

“I want to meet them, Zach,” she said suddenly. “Okay,” he said easily. “Just that simple?” He cocked his head to the side. “Sure, why not?” “What will you tell them?” she asked. “About?” “About me,” she clarified. “I’ll tell them their mom is home,” he said. “Don’t they think I’m dead?” “Of course not,” he replied emphatically, turning to face her. “Kendall, honey, there is no gravesite for you, no marker with dates and cliches. Not for my wife.” He cupped her face in his hands.

“There was no tearful memorial service where we all talked about how much we would miss you. Nothing like that. And do you know why?” he asked, waiting for her to shake her head before answering his own question. “Because nobody here gave up on you, including your sons. They’ve been waiting for you to come home, just like I have … just like we all have.” He kissed her then, long and slow.

“You mean nobody gave me up for dead?” she asked when he broke the kiss. “A few people, maybe. Nobody that matters,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “The boys will be thrilled to have their mom back.” “They won’t remember me,” she said sadly. He looked at her soberly. “They know who you are? Did you think I’d let them forget?”

Kendall didn’t know how to answer that, so she remained silent. “I give your sons – our sons – a kiss from their mother every single day. Your picture is scattered all over our house and your name is mentioned often. They know you, Kendall. Your boys know their mother.” Kendall heard the emotion in his voice and responded to it by wrapping her arms around his waist and squeezing him with all of her might. “Thank you, Zach,” she whispered, not sure if he even heard her.

They continued to make their way through the photo album in what turned out to be an emotional morning. Some of the pictures evoked flashes of recognition for Kendall, but no real memories were uncovered. But that was okay with them. There was no rush. They had a lifetime to give it.

Zach noticed Kendall looking very closely at a picture of her and Ian and Josh. Suddenly he realized why she was studying it so closely. “Busted,” he said under his breath. Kendall turned on him. “Zach Slater! Oh God, I made such a fool of myself, thinking he was there to take me away from you.” She buried her face in her hands, mortified by her reaction to the handsome stranger. She tried to remember what she’d said to him, but drew a blank. She slapped at Zach’s arm. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“What was I supposed to say? ‘Hello, Amy. This is your brother, Josh.’ Besides, you met me with a kiss and scrambled my brain. How was I supposed to think clearly after that?” he defended. “Brother,” Kendall said. “I have a brother … a brother who thinks I’m a total idiot.” Zach pulled her hands away from her face and smiled at her. “Don’t worry about it. He understands. Just wait until you meet him. You’ll love him. You also have a sister, Bianca. She lives in Paris with her little girl. You’ll love her, too. She’s an amazing woman.”

Kendall froze. She stared up at Zach, reality hitting her hard once again. She had family beyond Zach and their sons. People who knew her and loved her, but were strangers. She suddenly felt overwhelmed. Zach, reading her thoughts, pulled her against him. “One step at a time, Kendall. We’ll do it together.” She gave him a weak smile and nodded. “Not yet though. Okay, Zach. I’m not ready for anybody but you and the boys. Okay?” He brushed the hair from her face and kissed her. “Whenever you’re ready.”

She pulled away from him and looked into his eyes, prepared to tell him just how much she loved him, when something distracted her. He had an eyelash on the edge of his eyelid that was about to go into his eye. “Hold still,” she whispered. He immediately flinched. “Is that still?” she snapped. “What is it? What are you doing?” he asked as she moved closer.

Kendall pursed her lips and blew the eyelash away from his eye. Then she picked it up on her finger and showed it to him. “Are you coming on to me?” he teased. He watched as her expression changed. Her smiled faded and a look of confusion took its place.

“Do we have a hammock?” she asked. “I remember you lying on the ground beside a hammock.” She looked to him for an explanation. “Oh that. We were on the beach and I ended up on the ground with sand in my eye. You were almost my seeing-eye wife.” “Were we on our honeymoon?” she asked, remembering how nervous and excited she felt. “Close. Our divorce.”

Zach couldn’t stop himself from laughing at Kendall’s reaction. He could tell she didn’t know whether to believe him or not, so her face was a mixture of “Yeah, right” and “What the hell?” The result was adorable. She waited for him to stop laughing at her before she began asking questions.

“We’re divorced?” She looked at him warily, still not sure whether she could trust his answer. “No,” he corrected. “We were divorced. But that was a long time ago … way before we made love for the first time.” Kendall’s mouth dropped open. “But,” she began, only to close her mouth without finishing her thought. She didn’t know where to begin. And the way Zach continued to laugh at her wasn’t helping.

“Do you plan to explain any of this, or are you just gonna sit and laugh at me all day?” she said. “Do I really get to choose?” he replied. “Sure,” Kendall said, her tone suddenly light. “And I get to choose if I want to stay here in bed with you or get dressed and head back to work. Isn’t it great the way life is so full of choices?” she finished breezily.

Zach’s laughter died in his throat and he launched into an abridged version of their history, from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. At some point during the recitation, he had draped his leg over hers in a subconscious effort to keep her from leaving. She smiled at the gesture, but didn’t dare interrupt him. When he finished, she kissed him.

“Thank you for that,” she said softly. “It sounds like we had a great life. I can’t wait to remember it all.” He brought her back to him for another kiss, this one deeper, and whispered in her ear. “We still have a great life. And all you need to remember is that I love you, Mrs. Slater.” Kendall sighed contentedly before returning his kiss. “I love you too.”

Kendall pulled away when she felt her body beginning to respond. She had every intention of spending the rest of the day making love to her husband, but she wanted to finish going through the photo album first. Zach groaned, but he didn’t complain.

The next set of pictures were of Kendall and Zach at a wedding. She couldn’t help but notice how gorgeous Zach looked, and thought it was very romantic that they were color coordinated. She was just about to ask him who was getting married when she noticed her hand, or more importantly, her wedding rings.

Zach heard her catch her breath, but he couldn’t imagine why. The pictures were taken at Ryan and Annie’s wedding, but there was nobody else in them but the two of them. He waited to see what she would say, but she remained silent.

In the back of her mind, Kendall was planning a little surprise of her own. Zach didn’t know it, but he’d opened up the key to their past and their future the night before with three little words … “Always, only you.”

Kendall turned the page, hoping to distract Zach from her reaction. But the next picture brought an even bigger reaction. She gasped and brought her hand to her throat, letting the album fall into her lap.

“What is it?” Zach asked, no longer able to wait patiently. “What did you see?” Kendall took a deep breath and tried to calm her racing heartbeat. It was probably a mistake. Or a misunderstanding. She picked up the book and pointed to a picture of Spike and his father, also taken the day of Ryan’s wedding.

“Who is he?” she said, pointing to Ryan. “Is he part of our family, too?” Zach looked at her, alarmed and confused. Her face had drained of color and her hands were shaking. “That’s hard to answer,” he said, not sure if it was the right time to get into the ugly details of Spike’s paternity. “Why? Do you recognize him?” Kendall nodded mutely. “Did he come into the Marigold Sky?” Zach asked, his voice soft and full of dread. He knew the answer. Dammit!! He knew the answer.

“No,” Kendall said at last. She looked into Zach’s eyes as she told him what he already knew. “I met him in Memphis.”


TBC


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Roseann

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Reply with quote  #47 
Karen, what a fantastic journey of the Slater's love...thank you taking us along.  
Roseann
Ann

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Reply with quote  #48 
OMG Karen! Just OMG!
The next update had better not take too long or I might have to hunt you down and pull it from your brain myself. LOL

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Ann
Purdue0612

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Reply with quote  #49 

Thanks for the great update! I am loving this story!

Auntinette

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Reply with quote  #50 

I am going to print off this when it all done, so when I get the urge to curl up with a good love story, I'll have this handy.  Thank you.


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But the lady beside me is the one I have chosen
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