by Maree Anderson
When Andie Brennan meets Jake Knight she thinks he could just be her soul mate. Only trouble is she’s already got a boyfriend–even if he is a manipulative control-freak–and Andie doesn’t do cheating. But before she can fully explore why the sound of Jake’s voice and his crooked smile make her feel happier than she’s been in years, death strikes in a searing instant, sizzling a few million neurons and arresting her heart.
Andie wakes up in hospital. Her injuries are completely healed and her recovery is being touted as “miraculous”. But she can’t remember a damn thing about her past–not even her name–and there’s a voice inside her head claiming to be a Lightning Rider Elemental named Karylon. What’s truly miraculous is that voice is real. Andie is not insane; she’s hosting an alien. What neither Karylon nor Andie know is the future of the Lightning Rider elemental race is at stake, and the omniscient Keeper of Portents has no qualms about using elementals and humans to further its hidden agenda. How much will Karylon’s ex-lover Novik risk to be with her again? And who else is the Keeper willing to sacrifice?
|Length:||Novel, approx 75,000 words|
|Price:||US $4.99 (or US$ equivalent)|
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Reviews of Lightning Rider:
“This book held me captive from the first chapter, and mesmerized me for the next couple of hours. I couldn’t put it down!” ~ A reader from Utah, Diesel eBooks
“Great Book! I really enjoyed reading this book! Couldn’t put it down. Different, interesting theme & lots of my kind of humour. I so hope there will be more of the Lightening Riders. Definitely not one to miss!” ~ rebel raiser, Amazon UK
Cover design by Rob Anderson
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Read an excerpt from Lightning Rider
By Maree Anderson
What woman with a pulse could resist sneaking another look at that magnificent, shorts-clad male butt? Not Andie Brennan, that’s for sure. She paused, supposedly to ease her aching legs, and let him go on ahead. After all, there was nothing in the rules that said she couldn’t look her fill.
And, look her fill, she did. Jake wasn’t just easy on the eye, he was ruggedly gorgeous. They’d only met a couple of days ago but she’d instantly connected with him. To be honest, as the weekend had progressed, she’d gone way past mere “connection” and headed straight for teetering on the edge of falling for him big-time.
It was unlike her to be all giddy and bubbling over with happiness that couldn’t be contained, acting like some schoolgirl crushing on a boy. A smile tweaked her lips upward as she watched his progress.
Nope. She couldn’t regret a single second of this weekend. And damn, but she was glad her parents had pushed her to sign up for this tour instead of lounging ’round the family home, bickering with her sisters, and trying to figure out why she was so damn miserable when she had everything she’d ever thought she wanted. Great apartment, well-paid job, rich boyfriend….
Her smile dissolved and she heaved a sigh that brimmed with regrets and what-ifs and might-have-beens.
If things had been different, she and Jake—
No “if” about it. If things had been different, she knew exactly where this weekend would have ended. In bed. Draped all over him like a blanket.
Her shoulders slumped. It was going to be tough saying goodbye to him. But dammit, she wasn’t going to ruin their last day together by dwelling on how much it would hurt to never see Jake again. She was simply going to enjoy every last second of being with him.
She tucked a stray lock of hair back into her ponytail and pasted on a smile, determined not to let what she truly felt show on her face. But despite her resolve, the thought of severing all contact and trying to forget Jake, resuming her life and pretending everything was peachy, made her stomach roil and her chest tight and achy.
Jake glanced back over his shoulder and bellowed, “Andie. Quit gawkin’ at the scenery, sugar. We need to find shelter, STAT.”
A thunderous rumble punctuated his words.
Andie glanced up at the rapidly darkening sky. A flash seared her eyes. Whoa. Jake was right. Time to take cover. “Be right with you,” she called.
His reply was drowned by a boom so strident that it rolled through her body, reverberating through her sternum. Yikes. That sounded close. She hopped on her mountain bike and pedaled for all she was worth.
In the distance, a dazzling flare of lightning lit the hunched forms of the rest of Andie’s tour group. Another discordant grumble of thunder spurred her to even greater effort. In her haste, she shifted gears while freewheeling and threw a chain. On cue, the lightly pattering rain swelled to a downpour.
“Shit.” She dismounted to peer at the rear wheel of her bike. The rain tormented her, mocking her efforts to realign the chain. She swiped a hand over her face and blinked water from her eyes. When she glanced up, she could just make out Jake and the other members of her group huddling in the lee of the towering rock spires.
Lightning crackled. Vivid, sizzling bursts of color outlined the terrain, transforming the previously muted terracotta palette with lurid otherworldly tones.
Jake’s shout sliced through her. She instinctively dropped into the lightning crouch. But curling her five-foot-five self into a smaller package, didn’t fool a billion volts traveling at two hundred thousand miles an hour through the air, looking for a convenient place to earth.
The lightning struck.
In one searing instant, Andie died.
Andie crumpled to the ground and Jake instantly reacted, exploding from the shelter and sprinting toward her with his heart in his mouth and desperation pounding through his veins.
And then he reached her, discovered she wasn’t breathing and her heart wasn’t beating. The scorched rags of her clothing horrified him but he shoved all emotion aside. He was too darn busy compressing her chest, breathing for her, willing her to live, to fully comprehend that the woman of his dreams had fallen victim to a lightning strike, that she might die before he could tell her he loved her…. Or who he really was.
Jake had hoped to meet Andie’s folks some day, but not like this. Never like this.
It’d taken all his powers of persuasion to convince the distraught couple to leave him to watch over their daughter while they checked in to their accommodation and called Andie’s sisters with an update. He hoped Andie’s sisters got here soon, just in case she….
He shook himself, refusing to so much as think the words. But as his gaze switched back to Andie, reality sucker-punched him so hard in the gut that he pressed a fist to his belly, holding in the pain while he gasped for a breath.
She was a mess.
Her skin was peppered with freckle-sized weals, like some bastard had shot a load of buckshot down her throat and the shot had done its darnedest to exit her body from the inside out. She had second-degree burns on her left wrist from the voltage passing through the stainless steel backing on her watch, and a raw wound ringing her neck where the gold chain she’d been wearing had superheated and melted into her skin.
She lay there like some damaged waxwork model. Too still. A tragic parody of the vibrant woman he’d fallen in love with.
God. He’d only just found her again. She couldn’t die. He buried his face in his hands, struggling to keep the anguish inside him.
A nurse entered the room to check Andie’s chart.
Jake scrubbed his face with the sleeve of his shirt. He wasn’t ashamed to be found shedding tears over Andie, but all the same, he was mighty thankful the woman gave him a moment to get his shit together before she spoke.
“Are you the boyfriend?” she asked.
Jake nodded, and wished with all his heart it was the truth.
“It’s a miracle she’s alive,” the nurse said. “She’s a fighter, this one. She’s breathing on her own, now.”
She seemed to realize she’d stated the obvious for she frowned.
Jake guessed she was searching deep inside her for something else encouraging to say.
“That’s a good sign. It gives her a much higher chance of recovery.”
“Yeah.” A much higher chance of living the rest of her life as a vegetable according to the doc Jake had overheard discussing Andie’s case.
The nurse’s sharp gaze raked his face, noting the misery and hopelessness that he knew was etched on his features. Her no-nonsense expression softened in sympathy. “Just talk to her—about anything at all. It’ll help.”
“You really believe that?”
She imbued those two simple words with such absolute belief that Jake had to believe it, too. Had to. Because the alternative wasn’t something he could deal with right now. Or maybe ever.
The nurse finished making notations on Andie’s chart. Jake waited ’til she exited the room, closing the door behind her. He cleared his throat, swallowing the huge lump of despair that had lodged there.
What the heck could he tell Andie that might make a difference?
He hadn’t a clue. So he just started talking. And everything spilled out from deep inside him. All his hopes and dreams—hopes and dreams that included Andie. Hopes and dreams he’d hidden deep in his heart and hadn’t had the courage to tell her to her face. Hopes and dreams he’d harbored since the first time he’d spotted her, six years ago, standing outside his old man’s lodge. He’d glanced out a window and spied her raising her face to the sky, laughing as the heavens opened and licking the raindrops from her lips, and he’d felt dizzy, like someone had smacked him upside the head with an iron fist. His heart had skipped a beat, then pounded like he’d sprinted a mile. And when he could breathe again, idiot that he was, he’d turned away. He’d gone back to his desk, told himself it was lust—the kind of lust any red-blooded man felt for a pretty girl, when deep down he’d known it was something far stronger than mere lust.
He told Andie how he wished he’d had the balls to find out her name from one of the staff and track her down, instead of coming back from out of state to find her gone and shrugging it off and taking it like a man. And how hardly a day had gone by that he hadn’t thought of her, wondered how she was getting on.
Man, he’d thought all his Christmases had come at once when the girl of his dreams showed up out of the blue and he discovered she’d signed on to his bike tour. His heart had done more than skip a beat, it’d done cartwheels. And even though he’d guessed by the way she behaved she had a significant other, no way was he gonna let her vanish from his life, like she’d done before.
Jake wasn’t the sort to hit on another man’s girl—his old man had taught him better’n that—but he’d made it pretty darn clear he liked Andie a whole lot. What happened next would’ve been up to her, of course, but Jake believed fate, capricious bitch that she was, had big plans for him and Andie. He believed they were meant to be.
“You hear me, Andie? I’m stickin’ around for the duration. Even if we can never be more than friends, I’m stickin’ around.”
He waited, hoping she might hear him, hoping for some tiny reaction. But she lay there in that hospital bed, trapped in some dark place where he couldn’t reach her.
When his voice gave out, he sat mutely by her hospital bed, holding her hand and watching her breathe. He stayed until the nurse kicked him out and told him to go get some rest.
That night, slumped in an easy chair in his lounge with the TV blaring, Jake cursed himself for being such a goddamn coward. He should have been upfront with Andie right from the start—about so many things.
And, as the uncaring night closed in around him, he prayed for a second chance.
Voices pierced her consciousness, needling her brain like buzzing mosquitoes. For the most part she ignored them, but one voice—the one the others called Jake—piqued her slumbering senses. This one didn’t chatter about people she didn’t know, places she didn’t remember, things she didn’t recall doing. It described different things—intimate things. Remembered smiles and laughter. Sweat-soaked clothes and aching muscles and fierce joy at difficult challenges overcome. Hopes and dreams that couldn’t possibly be hers… could they?
A tiny, restless part of her was curious, eager to know more. She tried to swim through comfortable darkness and claim the light, but she was too weak.
Her failure provoked a helpless frustration that woke something inside her. She split apart at an elemental level to accommodate a slowly unfurling alien presence. Even though she didn’t consciously understand what was happening to her, some part of her instinctively fought the benign invasion.
Be calm for Light’s sake! the thing inside her muttered. You’re not making this easy. It wrestled with her, snatched control and set to work bolstering her strength and coordinating her body to perform the tasks her brain was desperately signaling it to do.
When her eyelids fluttered open, the alien presence recoiled, overwhelmed by a riot of too-bright colors. She blinked, and when she could finally focus, realized that she lay with her head lolling to one side, gazing at a table laden with bunches of colorful flowers. Hence the major visual overload.
“Lovely,” she croaked, then coughed and groaned because her skull throbbed and pulsed, threatening to explode. Before she could voice another groan the pounding headache eased to a dull, bearable ache.
“Drink this.” Cool, capable hands gently turned her head and popped a straw between her lips. She sucked up a few mouthfuls of water, whimpering as it soothed her parched throat.
She nodded and the straw was withdrawn.
She concentrated on the face hovering above her, blinking at the blotches dotting the man’s nose and cheeks, wondering what was wrong with her eyesight.
Oh. The blotches were freckles. “Who are you?”
“I’m Dr. Ross. And you’re a patient here at Saint Mark’s Hospital.”
“Oh. Okay.” Where the heck was that?
“Do you remember your name?” Dr. Ross flicked on a tiny penlight and shone its beam into her left eye. She opened her mouth to respond but not a word came out.
As he waited for her response, his forehead creased. He flicked off the penlight. “First name? Surname?”
Her stomach twisted with panic. How could she not know her own name?
The creases on the doctor’s forehead deepened to furrows.
She sucked in a deep breath that shuddered through her body. Her own name. How hard could it be to remember? Her gaze darted round the room, seeking inspiration.
Your name is Andrea Marie Brennan.
The words echoed in her mind and she grasped them like a lifeline. “Brennan! Andrea. Marie. Brennan. That’s my name.” The syllables flew from her mouth in staccato bursts that ended with a gasp of sheer relief. But the relief choked off as the wrongness jolted her.
The name didn’t feel right, it didn’t fit her.
Her gaze skittered to Dr. Ross’s face. He appeared satisfied by her outburst, so Andrea Marie Brennan would do for now. It would have to.
“Very good.” He switched the beam to her right eye. “Do you remember what happened to you?”
Andrea’s body remembered. That cellular memory was visceral and overwhelming. It rounded her eyes and overflowed them with horrified tears. It dug icy-cold fingers into her spine, and clenched her gut into a tight, agonizing knot. She widened her mouth in a silent plea of denial but the words spilled from her throat regardless. “I died!”
The instant she uttered the words it was as though a switch inside her flicked, cutting her off from the emotional trauma. She sank back against her pillows, drained and numb and confused.
Dr. Ross awkwardly patted her arm. The shocking intimacy of his fingers on her bare skin grounded her. “You didn’t die, Ms Brennan. At least, not permanently. You were struck by lightning and your heart failed. But one of your companions gave you CPR. He kept you alive until the medics could get to you. You owe that man your life, Ms Brennan. Utah has the second highest number of fatal lightning strikes in America. So in my opinion, you had a lucky escape. Do you remember anything at all about what happened to you?”
“I—I remember bits and pieces. But there’s a few, uh, blanks.” That statement didn’t come close to describing the terrifyingly huge blank where her memories should be.
“Don’t fret about it,” Dr. Ross said. “Aside from being… ah… unconscious for four days, you’re recovering nicely. Now, please follow the movement of my finger with your eyes.”
She dutifully did as she was told.
“Good. In fact, excellent. Your recuperative powers are nothing short of miraculous. Even the welts on your skin have healed with no scarring.” He shook his head. His eyelids drifted closed and he pinched the bridge of his nose. Firmly. Hard enough to leave finger marks.
“If I hadn’t seen you with my own eyes when you were first brought in, looking at you now, I’d find it impossible to believe you were the same woman.”
That last was muttered under his breath. He blinked, focused on her again, and grinned—rather too brightly for her comfort. It seemed too forced to be genuine. And despite the grin his brow was wrinkled, like she was some strange and unusual puzzle to be solved. “If you’re feeling up to it,” he said, “there are some visitors who would like to see you.”
Uh oh. She pleated the sheet with her fingers. “O-okay. Sure.”
Dr. Ross strode to the doorway and beckoned. “I’m afraid I can’t allow you to stay long. She needs her rest.”
Four people surged past him, only to catch themselves and halt in an untidy bunch at the foot of Andrea’s bed. Raw tension thrummed about them as they waited, their eyes shadowed with concern, facial muscles taut and stiff, bodies screaming barely constrained anxiety.
Andrea scanned their faces. These people were important to her, that much she instinctively understood. But although their faces tormented her with I-know-you-from-somewhere-and-your-name-is-on-the-tip-of-my-tongue recognition, she came up with nothing but blanks.
Panic blossomed into nausea so acute that she pressed her palms to her stomach and clamped her lips shut. Within seconds, the nausea—like her headache—eased. But she had no opportunity to ponder that strangeness. She had visitors. And from their raised eyebrows, nervous chewing of lips and fluttering of hands, they were waiting for her to do something, say something.
Andrea hazarded a guess a delighted smile was what these people wanted from her. She delivered, and the effort it took to force that smile made her facial muscles throb and ache.
“Hi.” Her greeting sounded more like a thready sigh than a word.
She cleared her throat and tried again. “Hello.”
The older woman’s red-rimmed eyes blinked back tears as she moved closer to tuck a stray lock of Andrea’s hair behind her ear.
Andrea forced herself not to shy away from that gentle, intimate gesture.
“Andie. We’ve been so worried about you, sweetheart.”
Ah. It must be a diminutive of Andrea.
Andie. She liked it, preferred it. This name fit. The knowledge lightened her heart, and she smiled again—genuinely this time.
“How are you feeling, sweetheart?” the woman asked, all maternal concern and misty-eyed tenderness.
Andie’s stomach knotted again, and her throat felt raw and tight. She was supposed to know this woman. But instead of memories there was only that frightening nothingness.
She felt an uncomfortable probing sensation inside her head, and then the helpful voice inside her head whispered, Her name is Jane Brennan. She’s your mother. Everyone calls her Janie.
Thank you, God! Her subconscious was filling in the blanks and—
Hang on. Why did her subconscious sound like some sexy starlet of yesteryear with a pack-a-day habit? Weird. But then, everything about this situation was a little weird.
Andie fixed her gaze on the woman who was supposed to be her mother, searching for something familiar in the worried green eyes, the facial features with their cap of curly dark brown hair.
“I’m okay,” she finally said.
An awkward pause lingered. The unsaid word hung over her, shamed her, but her tongue balked at forming the word “mom”.
“Oh, sweetie!” Janie—her mother—caught her in a gentle hug.
Andie fought to relax and accept the embrace from a virtual stranger.
“It’s so wonderful to have you back with us.” Janie sniffed and the threatened tears spilled over. “When we heard, we were so afraid— We thought— We never should have pushed you into taking that bike tour. We should have respected your wishes and let you be. This is all our fault.”
“It was just a freak accident,” Andie croaked. “Could have happened to anyone.”
“Lord.” Janie squeezed her eyes shut and clasped her hands together. “I don’t profess to be a religious person, but thank you! Thank you for bringing our little girl back to us.”
This experience, this moment, was both incredibly touching and horrible. On the one hand, Andie basked in a sense of belonging. Having someone care about her so much the prospect of losing her had been agonizing was a comfort. But she also felt like a huge fraud. She didn’t deserve to be cared for so deeply because she didn’t remember Janie Brennan, the woman who was supposed to be her mother. Heck, she didn’t remember any of these people. To them, she looked like Andrea Brennan, sounded like Andrea Brennan, maybe even acted like the Andrea Brennan who liked to be called Andie. But she wasn’t that woman.
Not yet. But I’m working on it.
Andie jerked and bit back a gasp. That thought had definitely not been hers. And yet it had been uttered inside her mind, as clear as day, by that husky alto.
No way was that her subconscious. It was too alien, too unlike her. Too much like….
Too much like a fully cognizant, separate personality. Which could only mean—
Ohhh crap. There was no other explanation. She was nuts—the victim of a lightning strike who’d died, been resuscitated, and developed a split personality from the trauma.
Stinging, horrified tears trailed down her cheeks, dampening her hospital gown and mingling with those shed by the woman who was her mother—the mother she didn’t remember having, but yearned to remember so desperately it hurt.
Panic compressed her chest like a vice. Her breathing hitched and faltered. Her vision wavered, mirage-like. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t move.
She. Couldn’t. Breathe.
That voice. It rolled through her and her panic receded—washed away and faded like some calming drug injected into her veins had just taken effect.
The male visitor, a grizzled bear of a man with piercing green eyes and iron gray threaded through his auburn hair, offered up his gruff brand of comfort. “Now, now, Janie. Crying all over her won’t do her no good. Our girl’s gonna be just fine. Got the constitution of an ox—gets that from my side of the family.”
His gaze seemed be pleading for Andie to do something—anything—to ease Janie’s distress.
The big man is Dave. He’s your father.
The panic over hearing that voice in her head surged, threatening to break free of whatever held it leashed and overwhelm her. Again it was smothered and soothed, along with her crazily tripping heartbeat, and the adrenaline that had been zinging through her veins and leaving a metallic taste in her mouth.
She did her utmost to ignore the implications of that too-helpful voice and the physical reactions she could not explain away. She had to concentrate on what was real and true.
Janie was her mom, and this sweet, older guy was her dad. They seemed like nice people—good people. Their concern for her warmed the chill of fear frosting her heart.
Okay. She could do this. She could pretend that everything was peachy keen. She was good at pretending. She didn’t know how she knew that, but she did.
“I’m okay. It’s all right… Mom. I’m okay.”
Dave winked at her. “Told you we didn’t need to book the Candlewood for an entire month,” he said to his wife. “The way Andie’s recuperating, she’ll be outta here, and we’ll all be back home in Moab in a coupl’a days.”
Janie rolled her eyes. “Yes, dear. But Dr. Ross did say it would be longer, and we did get an emergency accommodation rate when we booked for the month. Really, who could have imagined our Andie would recover so quickly?” She slanted Dr. Ross a sideways glance, as if begging for reassurance.
“Not me, that’s for certain.” Dr. Ross’s smile was a tad rueful. “But this is one of those times I’m very pleased to be proven wrong. No more than half an hour, okay? Your Andie might be making a miraculous recovery but she still needs to take things easy.” To Andie he said, “I’ll check in with you a bit later, Ms Brennan.”
“Thank you, Doctor, for everything!” Andie’s mother was quick to say.
The other two people in the room—both young women—took the doctor’s exit as permission to crowd around Andie’s bed and grin down at her.
Your younger sisters, Sherrilyn and Marnie, the voice whispered.
Andie didn’t know whether to be grateful for the knowledge, or whimper because the way it was being delivered scared her spitless. She swallowed and tried to force her frozen-with-shock facial muscles into a welcoming smile.
“Hey, sis, couldn’t you’ve come up with a better excuse to take time off work?” The question came from the one who, so far as Andie could tell, seemed to be the younger of the two women.
Her hazel eyes sparkled with mischief. “Your hopefully-soon-to-be-ex boss, Supreme Asshole of the World, was none pleased when I told him you wouldn’t be coming back for a while.”
“Geez, Sherrilyn,” the older of the two piped up. “Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten quite so riled up if you’d told him Andie almost died before you told him she wasn’t gonna be back at work on Tuesday.” She sniffed, nose in the air and nostrils flaring, the gesture successfully conveying disdainful superiority. “I told Mom I should’ve been the one to ring him. I’m much more professional on the phone than you—being almost a fully qualified receptionist and all.”
“Yeah, and being almost a fully qualified receptionist and all—” Sherrilyn mimicked her sister with devastating accuracy “—you would’ve just told him straight out. Whereas my way was heaps more fun. Andie, I wish you coulda heard ole Dickwad ranting and raving about how much you were ‘inconveniencing’ him. It was a massively impressive load of codswallop.”
The older girl—Marnie—opened her mouth, as if to make some pithy retort, then promptly dissolved in giggles. “Gosh, Andie. Did Sherrilyn ever wind Dickwad up something chronic. She had him on speakerphone, and I swear he sounded like he was gonna have an apoplexy.”
“A what?” her dad asked.
Marnie giggled. “Pop something in his brain, Dad.”
“Oh,” Dave said, pursing his lips and nodding. “Dickwad nearly had a brain-fart. From what I hear, the man has ’em quite often.” He winked at Andie. “Ain’t that right, Sweet-Pea?”
When you were a little girl, you loved eating peas straight from the pod.
Andie bit her lip to prevent herself from screaming aloud, and begging that terribly knowledgeable voice to shut up and leave her in peaceful ignorance. She noticed Dave’s expectant expression and made a real effort to pull herself together. “Uh, yeah. He, uh, sure does.”
When Dave Brennan smiled, he smiled with his whole face. It was infectious. And Andie couldn’t help it, she smiled back without any effort at all.
“Dagwood misses you something dreadful, sis,” Marnie said. “Pity you’re not allowed dogs in that fancy schmancy Salt Lake apartment of yours. He’s just not been the same since you upped and moved.” Her tongue lolled out and her eyes rolled sideways as she whimpered a truly pitiful imitation of the dog.
“I-I miss him, too.” Andie wondered what sort of dog Dagwood was. And why she’d left him behind.
He’s a soppy ole black Labrador.
God. She clenched her fists and counted to five beneath her breath. She was not going to lose it in front of these people—her family. She’d put them through enough already.
“Maybe when you’re discharged, you could come home with us and stay a spell.” Janie’s tone was trying for casual, as if she didn’t mind either way, but her expression was so hopeful it was painfully obvious she wanted Andie to agree. “Just until you’re fully recovered,” she blurted, dropping her gaze and picking non-existent lint from her skirt.
Janie’s suggestion was greeted with such enthusiasm by the rest of her family, that Andie found herself nodding and smiling in agreement. And wondering why it meant so much to them that she came home.
Had she left under a cloud and torn this close-knit family apart? She wished she could ask. But she didn’t have a chance to brood, because her family’s joy washed over her, warming her heart while she strove to follow the conversations, to keep track of who was who, and commit all their names and faces and quirks to memory.
Janie and Dave. Mom and Dad. My mom and dad.
Sherrilyn. Youngest sister.
Marnie. The middle child. Almost-qualified receptionist.
And herself, Andrea-Andie. A woman with a dog named Dagwood, and a boss named… Dickwad?
While its Host was distracted, the entity inside her chipped away at the mental barriers Andrea Marie Brennan had erected—the protective barriers that walled away her memories, her hopes and her dreams. It was easier going when the Host’s mind was distracted.
Andie’s heart rate monitor hiccupped, and then resumed its steady blipping. She barely registered the strange little anomaly, for in the blink of an eye, twenty-five years of memories and knowledge gushed out to take up residence in her mind. Everything she had ever learned, everyone she had ever met who’d made an impression on her, memories of the child she had been, knowledge of the woman she was now and the woman she yearned to be—
This immense information dump might well have tipped Andie over into true insanity, except that the consequences to her frail human psyche were tempered by the entity trapped inside her. It helped Andie assimilate and endure everything she had experienced, every significant encounter that had molded and shaped her. And it helped her to cope with the remembering—especially the one memory that was so heartbreaking, Andie had not yet come to terms with it. The entity could have erased that memory-thread, but although it wished its Host could be spared the pain of loss, it knew that grief and endurance and acceptance were an essential part of being human.
It did hold something back, though. After all Andie had been through, it believed it would be harmful for her to face the truth about one significant person in her life. So for now, it reduced him to a phantom from her past, someone who had barely made an impression.
This thing inside Andie was not a figment of her imagination, a voice inside her head. The presence was real—very real. It was an Elemental. And its name was—
A name formed in her mind and Andie blurted it aloud. “Karylon!” She sat bolt upright, heart thudding, skin clammy. Karylon. She even knew how it was spelled.
“Who’s Carolyn?” Andie’s mother wondered. “Someone from your Slickrock Bike Trail group? Was she the one who did CPR on you?”
“Mom, you’re hopeless.” Sherrilyn shook her head in mock-despair. “That was Jake. And boy, did you ever luck out, sis. He’s, like, a maaajor hottie.”
The image of a tall, built, Hugh Jackman-type with laugh lines round his eyes, strutted through Andie’s mind.
Hot stuff, all right, that throaty voice inside Andie’s head chuckled. Suggestively. His ass would make a nun weep. Truly stellar.
Andie’s mind formed a vivid image of the ass in question, its shorts-clad owner squatting by his bike as he tinkered with the brakes to stop them squeaking. She pressed chilled and shaking hands to her burning cheeks. What the hell was wrong with her?
Marnie fanned herself with both hands. “Phwoar. That Jake can mouth-to-mouth me anytime.”
“Keep it seemly.” Dave’s tone was gently chiding but Andie recognized the underlying amusement of a doting father.
“Jake’s visited you every day, Andie.” Marnie quickly changed the subject in a blatant attempt to redeem herself. “He sat with you for hours, just holding your hand and talking to you. What a sweetheart, huh?”
“Oh, yeah.” Sherrilyn pretended to swoon. “What a sweetheart. Andie, why can’t you be in love with someone like Jake, instead of a self-centered douche-bag like Braaadley.”
Bradley? Who the heck was Bradley? Andie frowned and gnawed on a fingernail as she sifted through her memories.
“My Andrea in love with someone else?”
The unpleasantly nasal voice sliced through her reverie.
“There’s not the slightest possibility of such a thing happening. Is there, darling?”
Andie’s gaze cut to a man who had posed as if expecting applause in the doorway of her hospital room. His expensive suit screamed “I’m loaded”. Ditto with his fine cotton shirt and what she’d bet were Gucci loafers.
She took an instant dislike to him. Full of himself. Arrogant. Not her type at all. Who the hell did he think he was?
Bugger. Just my luck he’d show up. And he’s even more ghastly in person. Even the poker up his butt’s got a poker up it. Sheesh, Andie, whatever were you thinking hooking up with him?
Andie shut out the disgruntled voice whispering inside her mind. She stared at the stranger, unimpressed, thinking him rude for eavesdropping and ruder for barging in on a private gathering. She opened her mouth to tell him to leave and—
Damn the Light, the voice whispered. I guess it’s now or never.
The lights in the room flickered. Off-on. Off-on. The diagnostic equipment missed a couple of beats before settling back into a steady blipping rhythm. And then the rude, arrogant stranger was no longer a stranger. Intimate knowledge of him had somehow been shunted into Andie’s brain—every memory of every encounter from the moment she’d first met him until now.
He was Bradley Jameson Winters III. He was a lawyer. He came from old money and never let anyone forget it. And he was her longtime boyfriend.
Oh. My. God. Andie uttered a strangled gargle and flopped back against her pillow like a landed salmon.
Before she could muster a protest, Bradley ushered her family from the room in his efficiently I-don’t-take-no-for-an-answer way. He perched on the side of her bed and leaned in to plant a moist kiss on her lips.
She felt no spark of attraction, no thrill at seeing her significant other finally here, at her bedside. No squirming in her stomach or curling of her toes. His kiss left her cold. She resisted the desire to wipe her mouth with the sheet.
“Andrea. Darling. I thought I had lost you. You’ve put me through hell. It’s been such a harrowing few days. You have no idea.”
Her jaw sagged. This, from a man who was intimately involved with her, and supposedly deeply concerned about her welfare? It was as though she was seeing the truth of him for the first time. Andie didn’t much like what she was seeing, either. She couldn’t for the life of her understand why she’d fallen for him.
Her sister had been right: Bradley was a self-centered douche-bag. And now she had to deal with him in the flesh?
Sheesh. It was hardly fair, seeing as she’d only recently died and all.
You’re the one freakin’ well lying in a hospital bed, not him. Where does he get off?
Andie shuddered. That voice—she agreed with it. Heck, it was like having someone on her side, barracking for her, ready to prop her up if she folded. And it felt good—real good. Next thing she’d be begging her secondary personality to be her BFF. Pathetic. She really was a total nut-job.
You. Are. Not. Insane. And I have a name, you know. Like I told you before, it’s Karylon.
“I flew back as soon as I finished up with my clients,” Bradley said.
Something about that statement jarred and Andie gave him her full attention. She looked him over. Open-necked shirt. No tie. For Bradley, that smacked of casual public attire. Guaranteed he’d gone home to unpack, shower and change, before “rushing” to her side.
Gee. Sure is nice to know how far down the list of your priorities I am, Bradley.
Light save you, the Karylon personality whispered in her mind. You seriously need to reconsider your taste in men.
Bradley finally noticed Andie’s blank-faced lack of response to his passionless declaration. An unattractive frown pleated his brow. “You do know who I am, of course.”
A statement, not a question. His tone implied he couldn’t possibly envision her forgetting him, her oh-so-significant other.
“Bradley. Thank you for coming to see me.” There, that sounded sincere enough. Good to know she hadn’t lost the knack of lying convincingly when she had to. Which had been rather often since she’d hooked up with Bradley, she was forced to admit. Lots of little white lies. Lies of omission to smooth the way. Nothing major, but lies all the same.
Her stomach twisted. She hated lying, hated the deception.
“Your doctor said he thought there might be some memory loss,” he said.
If you like, I could help you develop a case of selective memory loss and edit dear Bradley from your life for good. Can I, Andie? Pretty please?
“No!” she said, spluttering with indignation.
All right, all right. Keep your panties on—not that you’re wearing any under this stylish hospital gown.
“I beg your pardon?” Bradley’s frown deepened, etching grooves in his forehead that made him look bad-tempered and sullen.
Andie grit her teeth, wondering how the hell she could manage two conversations at once without cluing Bradley in to her rather dubious mental state. “No, uh, memory loss. I’m fine, Bradley. Everything’s fine.”
Huh. Fine schmine. What a blah, nothing word. Unfortunately, it pretty much summed up the blah, nothing life she’d been living since leaving her beloved Moab and moving to Salt Lake.
“Good. I’ve missed you dreadfully, darling.”
Yeah. Riiiight. That must be why it took him four whole days to find the time to fly down to see you in hospital. But hey, having him say he missed you dreadfully makes everything all peachy-keen again, right?
Andie groaned, and hid her clenched fists beneath the thin coverlet to stop from clapping her hands over her ears.
“I phoned the hospital every day.”
He phoned the hospital every day. Gee whiz. That must have really inconvenienced him. Poor baby.
“That was nice of you. Thanks.” She mustered what she hoped was a reasonable facsimile of a smile for his benefit.
“Now that I’ve got rid of, er—” He clamped his lips shut and fiddled with his cuffs, composing himself before flashing his artificially whitened teeth in her direction.
Now there was an insincere smile if she ever saw one. And she didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to guess what he’d been about to say. The jerk.
Just as well he didn’t finish his sentence, Karylon muttered. If he utters one more nasty word about your wonderful family, I swear by the Light I’ll make you do him bodily harm.
Andie had to agree with this Karylon persona. Again. Dissing her family wasn’t earning Bradley any points.
He cleared his throat, doubtless preparing another round of veiled insults. “I must say, I do believe that your doctor—”
“Should have imposed the two-person-at-a-time visitor limit. Those sisters of yours—”
“Marnie and Sherrilyn.”
“Can be rather excitable. They’ll tire you out and impede your recovery, Andrea. And we can’t have that, can we?”
“Actually, yes we can. My excitable sisters are just fine, Bradley. I like having them here. They make me laugh. And you know what they say about laughter being the best medicine.”
He stared at her, his gaping mouth proclaiming him taken aback that she had dared contradict him.
You go, girl, Karylon said. Don’t let him bully you.
Andie scanned her memories and concluded she had probably shocked Bradley right out of his monogrammed cotton socks. Bradley got his own way about almost everything. Everything that mattered, anyway. She’d gotten used to him riding roughshod over her, and anyone else whose opinion differed from his. It had become second nature for her not to contradict him or speak up for herself.
That sort of wimpy carry-on might have been acceptable to the person Andie had been BTLS: Before The Lightning Strike. But the new and improved Andie wasn’t having any of it.
She resisted the temptation to cackle hysterically. Insane or not, she promised herself to contradict Bradley a heap more in the future.
In fact, now was good.
You are not insane. What do I have to do to convince you?
Hmmm. Let me think. How about shutting up? Or going away?
Andie stifled a giggle. Apparently her other persona was sulking.
Bradley continued on as if she hadn’t spoken. Or worse, as if her opinion didn’t matter. “I’ll have a word with the doctor about restricting your visitors before I leave.”
Her nostrils flared. She ground her teeth and fought to control her temper. Self-important, arrogant ass. If she’d accurately interpreted the torrent of memories that had rushed through her brain—and she was pretty damned sure she had—Bradley Winters treated her like she didn’t have a brain in her skull and couldn’t possibly have enough smarts to look after herself.
What had she been thinking, getting involved with a man who thought so little of her?
“I believe I’m recovered enough to have a say about who visits me, Bradley,” she finally said, resorting to icy politeness rather than shrieking at him. But only because she suspected that if a nurse or resident came running, Bradley would browbeat them into giving her a sedative because she was “overwrought”.
“Really.” He glared down his patrician nose, the weight of his gaze daring her to crumble.
She sat straighter in her bed and stared him down. “Yes. Really.”
His gaze slid away. He removed his glasses, polishing them with his handkerchief.
Hah. She knew in her bones she’d won that round. Just as she knew that winning a round with Bradley was a rare thing. Too rare.
What’s happening to me?
What? You think I’m growing you some backbone and helping you stand up for yourself? Maybe I am. Then again, maybe I’m not. Maybe you’ve always had the potential and just needed to get pissed off enough to find it. About time, I reckon.
Andie rolled her eyes. Just her luck to get stuck with a split personality with delusions of being an amateur psychiatrist. Why couldn’t she have had a mild-mannered, librarian-type or something like that?
Light save me!
A breathy sigh blew through Andie’s mind. When are you going to get it, Andie? I’m not your alter-ego. I’m not some split personality caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain, or a head injury. My name’s Karylon and I’m an alien. I’m the Lightning Rider Elemental who rode the lightning strike that killed you.
Lightning Rider by Maree Anderson
© Copyright 2012, Maree Anderson