Helen Renault has started her life over thinking that her Navy SEAL husband Gabe was dead, but when Gabe returns he seems different and more caring, until the memory of the past three years starts to come back to him.
A Hero's Nightmare.
Gabe Renault doesn't know why he was in a prison camp. He has no memory of the past three years or of the Navy Seal mission that went wrong. Only two things kept him going: thoughts of his wife and the certainty that he must escape.
A Sudden Homecoming.
After Gabe is presumed dead, Helen pulls the tattered pieces of her and her daughter's lives back together. Married young and for all the wrong reasons, she's standing on her own two feet at last-and proud of it. Then comes the biggest shock of allGabe returns home. Gone is the distant, secretive husband he once was. This new Gabe is a man she could easily, finally, lose her heart to. But his memory is slowly returning, exposing a trail of government treachery...and jeopardizing his and Helen's second chance at love.
About the Author
A Golden Heart and RITA finalist, she has written ten books since first becoming published in 2002. The wife of a retired Navy veteran, Marliss finds writing military romantic suspense to be a perfect fit. She lives with her husband and many children near Virginia Beach, where she is inspired by real-life stories of Navy SEAL's sacrifices and their struggles to combat terrorism. You can check out her website at www.marlissmelton.com.
Read an Excerpt
Forget Me Not
By Marliss Melton
Warner ForeverCopyright © 2004 Marliss Arruda
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHelen immersed herself in the bath so that only her eyes and nose cleared the layer of bubbles. Gazing down the length of the tub, she studied Gabe's picture, standing amid a ring of dancing candles. Mixed emotions stormed her heart as she stared into his eyes.
Even from a distance of a few feet, the eyes in the eight-by-ten portrait mesmerized her, just as they had when she and Gabe first met. Light green with a gold starburst at the center, Gabe's eyes had given him his code name, Jaguar. They were uncannily direct, making her blush whenever he'd stared at her, which had been quite often in the beginning. But by the time he'd disappeared last year, only two years into their marriage, he'd scarcely given her the time of day. He was too wrapped up in being a SEAL platoon leader and in saving the world.
Helen blew the encroaching suds away from her mouth, sending a bubble into the air. It drifted a moment and then disintegrated. Like my love for you, she thought, addressing the man in the picture.
He'd disappeared a year ago. The Navy wouldn't reveal where he'd been or the circumstances surrounding his disappearance. For twelve long months, they'd referred to him as MIA, missing-in-action, never as deceased. But all that changed last week when a young officer appeared on herdoorstep bearing a flag.
With twelve full months gone by, the Navy was ready to declare Gabe dead. The flag made it official. Strange that a brand-new banner with crisp red stripes and bold stars would send Helen into shock. Not that she'd expected Gabe ever to return, but the way the flag had been folded in military fashion drove home the reality of his death like nothing else. Seeing the flag so tightly bound made it possible to imagine that Gabe's vitality had also been subdued.
Yet, on the heels of her shock came an inordinate sense of relief. She wouldn't have to surrender the newfound independence she'd discovered in recent months. She wouldn't have to give up the job that gave her so much satisfaction. She would raise her thirteen-year-old daughter alone, as she should have done in the first place.
It wasn't easy to admit, but her marriage to Gabe had been a mistake, an unnecessary detour. She'd thought she needed him to redeem herself in her parents' eyes. She'd wanted Mallory to have a father. But Gabe, with his drive to save the world, hadn't had time for a wife, let alone a stepdaughter.
Within a year of their marriage, the man who should have been her knight in shining armor had practically forgotten her. Three years in, he was dead.
So now it was over.
The mighty, indomitable Jaguar was gone, taken out by some faceless enemy. The flag made it evident. It was time to put the past behind her and to let it go. She didn't need Gabe Renault to make her whole. She'd done just fine this past year on her own. Better than fine. And yet ...
Even with her ears underwater, the words of the Natalie Cole CD playing in her bedroom reached her clearly. "Unforgettable, that's what you are ..." A pang of regret pierced Helen's heart.
She missed him from time to time. Closing her eyes, she could still feel his hands on her, his hot, scandalous tongue. He'd known every pleasure point on her body and used his knowledge to his advantage, calling her back to him whenever her heart began to drift away.
"Unforgettable, in every way ..."
He wasn't here to call her back now. She was free to go, to live her own life. With a deep sigh, she released her regret and sank into the water. Emerging moments later, she reached for the shampoo.
The telephone rang in another part of the house. Helen waited for Mallory to pick it up. She'd taught a step class in the morning and body sculpting in the afternoon. Arriving home this evening, she'd desperately craved a long, hot soak in the tub.
"Mom, it's for you." The bathroom door slammed open as Mallory marched in without knocking. In the light of the candles, her face looked waxen. Maybe it was just her complexion against the dye job she'd just given herself.
Black? "Oh, Mal," Helen cried, "what have you-"
"It's urgent," Mallory said, holding the phone out.
The size of Mallory's green eyes made Helen hesitate. She took the phone and leaned out over the edge of the tub. "This is Helen," she said quickly.
"Mrs. Renault, this is Commander Shafer over at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, Traumatology."
Helen lifted her gaze to her daughter's shocked face. This had to be about Mallory. She'd acted out again, had to be.
"Ma'am, I'm calling to let you know that we've got your husband here. It's a remarkable story, actually. He washed ashore in South Korea, just below the DMZ. He was in pretty bad shape considering ..."
The commander kept talking, but Helen couldn't hear him over the ringing in her ears. "I'm sorry, I think you've made a mistake," she said, cutting him off. "My husband's dead. He's been missing for a year."
"He's not dead, ma'am. The man we have is Lieutenant Gabriel Renault. He's been in North Korea all this time."
It couldn't be Gabe. Her mind flashed to the officer giving her the flag. It had been folded so tightly, so permanently. "Have you positively identified him? How can you be sure?"
"I understand that this is coming as a shock," the commander soothed. "But you can rest assured we IDed him thoroughly before making this call. His commander has been in to see him. All that's left is for a family member to do the same. He is alive, ma'am, and in pretty good condition, considering what he's been through."
Helen swallowed convulsively. Shock and amazement competed with powerful denial. The freedom she'd relished this last week was an illusion. Gabe was back. He'd been alive all this time!
"I'm sure you'll want to get down here right away," the commander prompted.
"Of course," she said, though she wasn't nearly as sure as he was.
Maybe they'd made a mistake. How could Gabe have survived a year in North Korea, of all places?
"There's something you should know, ma'am, before you see him."
She braced herself for awful news. He'd tell her now that Gabe had been tortured or mutilated.
"He's lost a portion of his memory, apparently. He doesn't have any recollection of a family of any kind. This sort of thing is normal, I want you to understand. It's an indication of post-traumatic stress disorder, nothing that can't be dealt with. We've got him on meds that keep him calm. Why don't you come down to the hospital tonight, and I'll go into more detail with you?"
Shocked into silence, Helen stared up at her pale-faced daughter. He doesn't remember them?
"Yes." She forced herself to say. "I'll be there in about an hour."
"Great. We're on the third floor. Just ask for Commander Shafer, and I'll escort you in to see your husband. Maybe someone should come with you?" he suggested.
"I'll bring my daughter."
The commander hesitated, no doubt picturing a young child. "Okay, we'll see you soon."
The phone clicked in Helen's ear. It fell out of her numb fingers and hit the bath mat with a thud. The flames of the candles seemed to bleed together. Maybe she'd drowned in the tub and was experiencing some kind of hallucination.
"Mom!" It was Mallory, bending over her with midnight hair instead of chestnut. "It's Dad, isn't it?" she demanded. Her pasty complexion wasn't solely a result of the dye job. "He's back, isn't he?" Mal asked in a tight voice. Helen couldn't tell if she was overjoyed or upset. It probably wasn't that simple.
Poor Mallory. When Helen and Gabe were married, she'd been euphoric with the expectation of finally having a father. It had been a painful disillusion to discover that her new father had no time for an adolescent daughter.
"He doesn't remember us." Helen related what the doctor had just told her. "He's suffering some kind of amnesia from being ... um ..." She couldn't bring herself to say it.
"Tortured?" Mallory supplied.
"I think so. We need to get to the hospital." Helen levered herself upward.
"Mom, your hair's full of soap."
Helen cranked on the faucet and stuck her head under cold water. She dressed in record time, brushed the tangles out of her hair, and jammed her feet into her tennis shoes while Mallory waited on her bed.
"You want me to drive?" Mal asked, looking suspiciously composed.
"Yeah, right." Helen forced a laugh. For someone who wasn't even related to Gabe, Mallory was a lot like him. She took blows without a blink, seemingly unaffected by the harsh realities of life. But then the stress manifested itself in some self-destructive behavior that sent Helen scrambling for a counselor.
"It's not that hard to drive," Mallory insisted, following her down the hall and out the front door.
Helen drove the silver Jaguar that had been Gabe's exclusive property. It was nearly nine o'clock on a gorgeous August night. They chased the sun that was sinking fast behind the trees. Helen took Route 264 at eighty miles an hour, her fingers so tight on the steering wheel she had to pry them loose to turn up the radio.
Just pretend everything is normal, she told herself. She was aware of the fact that she wasn't feeling grateful. It wasn't every day that a missing serviceman reappeared. What kind of wife was she not to be thrilled?
She was wary, that was all. She didn't know what to expect. Gabe had been held captive for a year, caught by the enemy in what must have been a weapons seizure gone bad. North Koreans were notoriously unfriendly to outsiders. No doubt they'd worked him over good for information that could be used against the U.S.A. God knew what kind of effect that would have on his personality.
She glanced at Mallory and wondered if her daughter felt as tumultuous as she. Mallory looked composed, staring out the window at the Norfolk and Portsmouth skylines. It was impossible to tell what she was thinking.
"It's going to be all right, Mal," she said, if only to keep them on line and communicating. The counselors had all stressed the importance of communication.
Mallory said nothing. Glancing down at her lap, Helen saw that Mallory's fingers on both hands were crossed for luck. She tore her gaze away, wondering what Mallory was wishing for-that Gabe would be okay? That he'd remember them? Surely she wasn't naive enough to wish for more than that.
How awfully he must have suffered, so badly that he'd repressed his memories! She quailed to think of his agony. More than that, she shuddered to think how he must be now, a terrorized, mental wreck.
She could see her newfound freedom flying out the window. Just an hour ago, she'd admitted to herself that her marriage to Gabe had died of neglect. How ironic that the moment she'd put his memory to rest, he returned to her, perhaps to wring that last drop of commitment out of her before he shook her off again.
She wouldn't turn her back on him, not in his time of need. She'd do everything in her power to see Gabe healthy again. And when he was finally whole, she'd give him back to Uncle Sam, who owned him anyway. She'd tell him then that their marriage was over.
It wasn't like the news was going to destroy him. Gabe didn't need her any more than she now needed him. It'd hurt his pride more than it would his feelings.
Blowing out a long, steadying breath, Helen felt better for having made a decision. This reunion was just temporary.
The knock on the door startled Gabe out of a drug-induced lethargy. He'd been staring at the empty TV screen envisioning a baseball game he remembered watching four years ago, wondering how he could remember that and not remember the three years in between. "Yeah," he called, pushing himself into a sitting position.
The knock had been charged with purpose. Gabe held his breath, thinking it just might be his wife and kid-the ones he couldn't remember. Dr. Shafer had warned him they were on their way. He'd bathed and shaved for the occasion, but he still didn't feel ready. How did a guy prepare for that kind of thing anyway?
A bouquet of flowers preceded his visitor through the door. Over a bright orange spray of lilies, he recognized the leader of SEAL Team Twelve, Commander Lovitt, and he started struggling out of bed to salute him.
"At ease, Lieutenant," Lovitt called, making formality unnecessary. Marching in, he deposited the flowers on Gabe's bedside bureau. "From the office," he explained, dusting a few fallen petals off his dress whites, as meticulous as ever. Obviously, Lovitt was on his way to some function. "How's the patient today?"
Lovitt had asked the same question yesterday, only Gabe had been too tranquilized to answer. "Better, sir," he said. "I apologize for not responding yesterday ..."
Lovitt waved away his apology. "There's no need to explain, Lieutenant. You'll have bad days and good days. At least you remembered me." Lovitt's gray eyes sharpened, an implied question in his statement.
"Yes, sir. I remember being stationed here, working primarily with Echo Platoon, but that was three years ago."
Lovitt's long stare struck Gabe as grave. "Mind if I draw up a chair?" he asked.
Gabe's heart sank. "No, sir. Please do." Lovitt's somber expression made him nervous. It made him think his commanding officer was going to cut him from the team without giving him a chance to get his memory back.
Lovitt hitched up his perfectly creased trouser legs and sat, military straight, in the visitor's chair. "Tell me what you remember, son," he exhorted.
Gabe swallowed hard. "Of the mission, sir?" He'd been through this just yesterday, with an analyst from the Defense Intelligence Agency, a man whose questions had worked him into such a state of anxiety he'd had to be tranquilized. Gabe didn't want to be put through that particular wringer again.
"No, no," Lovitt corrected. "I mean everything. Start with the beginning. Where were you born?"
The tension in Gabe's shoulders eased. He had no problems with his long-term memories. His childhood-as much as he'd like to forget it-seemed like only yesterday. "I was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, 1968."
"Go on," Lovitt prompted, giving him a patient nod.
"My grandmother raised me," Gabe continued, wondering just how much detail the CO wanted. Did he need to know that his young mother had died in a car accident when he was just six, that he'd never known his dad?
"We, ah, we lived in a tenement house on Acushnet Street." His grandmother had been an alcoholic who lived off her dead husband's pension. As far as parenting was concerned, she was about as influential in Gabe's life as Santa Claus. Gabe had bluffed his way through school and was heavily into street crime when his first real father-figure interceded-Sergeant O'Mally of the New Bedford Police.
Gabe was certain Commander Lovitt didn't need to hear about Sergeant O'Mally, but it was chiefly due to him that Gabe had joined the Navy in the first place.
Excerpted from Forget Me Not by Marliss Melton Copyright © 2004 by Marliss Arruda . Excerpted by permission.
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