The Wife He Couldn't Forget (Harlequin Desire)

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9780373733941: The Wife He Couldn't Forget (Harlequin Desire)

A husband's amnesia means a second chance at love in this story by USA TODAY bestselling author Yvonne Lindsay 

After an accident leaves Xander Jackson with no memory of the past several years, he doesn't realize he walked out on his marriage. And his wife, Olivia, grabs this chance to start over with the man she still desires. 

Allowing Xander to believe they're still the passionate, loving couple they once were is one thing. But Olivia must also hide all evidence of the devastating loss that destroyed their relationship. It's the biggest gamble of her life...and everything depends on reclaiming Xander's heart.

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About the Author:

New Zealand born, to Dutch immigrant parents, Yvonne Lindsay became an avid romance reader at the age of 13. Now, married to her ‘blind date’ and with two children, she remains a firm believer in the power of romance. Yvonne feels privileged to bring to her readers the stories of her heart. In her spare time, when not writing, she can be found reading a book, reliving the power of love in all walks of life. She can be contacted via her website www.yvonnelindsay.com

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

She hated hospitals.

Olivia swallowed hard against the acrid taste that settled on her tongue and the fearful memories that whispered through her mind as she entered the main doors and reluctantly scoured the directory for the department she needed.

Needed, ha, now there was a term. The last thing she needed was to reconnect with her estranged husband, even if he'd apparently been asking for her. Xander had made his choices when he left her two years ago, and she'd managed just fine, thank you, since then. Fine. Yeah, a great acronym for freaked out, insecure, neurotic and emotional. That probably summed it up nicely. She didn't really need to even be here, and yet she was.

The elevator pinged, and its doors slid open in front of her. She fought the urge to turn tail and run. Instead, she deliberately placed one foot in front of the other, entering the car and pressing the button for the floor she needed.

Damn, there was that word again. Need. Four measly letters with a wealth of meaning. It was right up there with want. On its own insignificant, but when placed in the context of a relationship where two people were heading in distinctly different directions it had all the power in the world to hurt. She'd overcome that hurt. The pain of abandonment. The losses that had almost overwhelmed her completely. At least she'd thought she had, right up until the phone call that had jarred her from sleep this morning.

Olivia gripped the strap of her handbag just that little bit tighter. She didn't have to see Xander if she didn't want to—even if he had apparently woken from a six-week coma last night demanding to see her. Demanding, yes, that would be Xander. Nothing as subtle as a politely worded request. She sighed and stepped forward as the doors opened at her floor, then halted at the reception area.

"Can I help you?" the harried nurse behind the counter asked her, juggling an armful of files.

"Dr. Thomas, is he available? He's expecting me."

"Oh, you're Mrs. Jackson? Sure, follow me."

The nurse showed her into a blandly decorated private waiting room, then left, saying the doctor would be with her shortly.

Unable to sit, Olivia paced. Three steps forward. Three steps back. And again. They really ought to make these rooms bigger, she thought in frustration. The click of the door opening behind her made her spin around. This was the doctor, she assumed, although he looked far too young to be a neurological specialist.

"Mrs. Jackson, thank you for coming."

She nodded and took his proffered hand, noting the contrast between them—his clean, warm and dry, hers paint stained and so cold she'd begun to wonder if she'd lost all circulation since she'd received the news about Xander.

"You said Xander had been in an accident?"

"Yes, he lost control of his car on a wet road. Hit a power pole. His physical injuries have healed as well as could have been expected. Now he's out of the coma, he's been moved from the high-dependency unit and onto a general ward."

"And his accident? I was told it happened six weeks ago? That's a long time to be in a coma, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is. He'd been showing signs of awareness these past few days, and his nerve responses were promising. Then last night he woke fully, asking for you. It caught the staff by surprise. Only his mother was listed as next of kin."

Olivia sank into a chair. Xander? Asking for her? On the day he'd left her he'd said they had nothing to say to each other anymore. Were they talking about the same man?

"I…I don't understand," she finally managed.

"His other injuries aside, Mr. Jackson is suffering from post-traumatic amnesia. It's not unusual after a brain injury—in fact, studies show that less than 3 percent of patients experience no memory loss."

"And he's not in that 3 percent."

The doctor shook his head. "Post-traumatic amnesia is a phase people go through following a significant brain injury, when they are confused, disoriented and have trouble with their memory, especially short-term memory loss. Although, Mr. Jackson's case is a little more unusual with some long-term memory loss evident. I take it you were unaware of his accident?"

"I rarely see anyone who is in regular contact with him and I was never particularly close with his mother. I'm not surprised no one told me. I haven't seen Xander since he walked out on our marriage two years ago. We're just waiting for a court date to complete our divorce."

Olivia shuddered. Even now she couldn't keep the bitterness from her voice.

"Ah, I see. That makes things problematic then."

"Problematic?"

"For his release."

"I don't understand." Olivia furrowed her brow as she tried to make sense of the doctor's words. "He lives alone, does he not?"

"As far as I know."

"He believes he's coming home to you."

Shock held her rigid in her chair. "H-he does?"

"He believes you are still together. It's why he's asking for you. His first words when he woke up were, "Tell my wife I'm okay."

Dr. Thomas began to explain the nature of Xander's injuries, but his words about loss of physical form due to the length of his coma and difficulties with short-term memory on top of the longer-term memory loss barely filtered through. All she could think of was that after all this time, her estranged husband wanted her.

"Excuse me," she interrupted the doctor. "But just how much does Xander remember?"

"As far as we can tell, his most recent clear memory is from about six years ago."

"But that was just after we married," she blurted.

That meant he remembered nothing of them finishing renovations on their late 1800s home overlooking Cheltenham Beach, nothing of the birth of their son five years ago.

Nothing of Parker's death just after he turned three. She struggled to form the words she needed to ask her next question.

"Can he…does he…will he remember?"

The doctor shrugged. "It's possible. It's also possible he may never remember those lost years or that he may only regain parts of them."

She sat silently for a moment, letting the doctor's words sink in; then she drew in a deep breath. She had to do this. "Can I see him now?"

"Certainly. Come with me."

He led Olivia to a large room on the ward. There were four beds, but only one, near the window, was occupied. She steeled herself to move forward. To look at the man she'd once pledged her life to. The man she'd loved more than life itself and who she'd believed loved her equally in return. Her heart caught as she gazed on his all-too-familiar face, and she felt that same tug anew when she saw the similarities to Parker. They'd been like peas in a pod. She rubbed absently at the ache in the center of her chest, as if the motion could relieve the gaping hole there.

"He's sleeping naturally, but he'll probably wake soon," the doctor said at her side after a cursory glance at Xander's notes. "You can sit with him."

"Th-thank you," she replied automatically, lowering herself onto the seat at his bedside, her back to the window and the sunshine that sparkled on the harbor in the distance.

Olivia let her eyes drift over the still figure lying under the light covers. She started at his feet, skimming over the length of his legs and his hips before drifting over his torso and to his face. He'd lost weight and muscle mass—his usually powerful frame now leaner, softer. A light beard covered his normally clean-shaven jaw, and his hair was in dire need of a cut.

She couldn't help it. She ached for him. He would hate being this vulnerable and exposed. Xander was a man used to action, to decisiveness. To acting rather than being acted on. Lying helpless in a hospital bed like this would normally drive him nuts. Olivia started in shock as Xander's eyes opened and irises of piercing gray met hers. Recognition dawned in Xander's gaze, and her heart wrenched as he smiled at her, his eyes shining in genuine delight. She felt the connection between them as if it were a tangible thing—as if it had never been stretched to the breaking point by circumstances beyond both of their control. Her lips automatically curved in response.

How long had it been since she'd seen his smile? Far, far too long. And she'd missed it. She'd missed him. For two awful, lonely years Olivia had tried to fool herself that you could fall out of love with someone just as easily as you had fallen in love with him, if you tried hard enough. But she'd been lying to herself. You couldn't flip a switch on love, and you couldn't simply shove your head in a hole in the ground and pretend someone hadn't been the biggest part of your life from the day you'd met him.

She loved him still.

"Livvy?" Xander's voice cracked a little, as if it was rusty and disused.

"It's me," she replied shakily. "I'm here."

Tears burned in her eyes. Her throat choked up, and she reached out to take his hand. The tears spilled down her cheeks as she felt his fingers close tight around hers. He sighed, and his eyes slid closed again. A few seconds passed before he croaked one word.

"Good."

She fought back the sob that billowed from deep inside. On the other side of the bed Dr. Thomas cleared his throat.

"Xander?"

"Don't worry—he's sleeping again. One of the nurses will be by soon to do observations. He'll probably wake again then. Now, if you'll excuse me.?"

"Oh, yes, sure. Thank you."

She barely noticed the doctor leave, or one of the other patients shuffling into the room with his walker and a physical therapist hovering beside him. No, her concentration was fixed solely on the man in the bed in front of her and on the steady, even breaths that raised his chest and lowered it again.

Her thoughts scattered to and fro, finally settling on the realization that Xander could have died in the accident that had stolen his memory and she might never have known about it. That she might never have had another opportunity to beg him for one more chance. It opened a whole new cavern of hurt inside her until she slammed it closed. He hadn't died, she reminded herself. He'd lived. And he'd forgotten that he'd ever ended things between them.

Xander's fingers were still locked around hers. As if she was his anchor. As if he truly wanted her to be there with him. She leaned forward and gently lifted his hand up against her cheek. He was warm, alive. Hers? She hoped so. In fact she wanted him as deeply and as strongly right now as she had ever wanted him. A tiny kernel of hope germinated deep inside Olivia's mind. Could his loss of memory allow them that second chance he'd so adamantly refused?

Right here, right now, she knew that she'd do anything to have him back.

Anything.

Including pretending the problems in their past had never happened? she asked herself. The resounding answer should have shocked her, but it didn't.

Yes. She'd do even that.

Two

Olivia let herself in the house and closed the door, leaning back against it with a sigh as she tried to release the tension that now gripped her body. It didn't make a difference. Her shoulders were still tight and felt as if they were sitting up around her ears, and the nagging headache that had begun on the drive home from the hospital grew even more persistent.

What on earth had she done?

Was it lying to allow Xander to continue to believe they were still happily married? How could it be a lie when it was what he believed and when it was what she'd never stopped wanting?

You couldn't turn back the clock. You couldn't undo what was done five minutes ago any more than you could undo what happened in the past two years. But you could make a fresh start, and that's what they were going to do, she argued with herself.

It might not be completely ethical to take advantage of his amnesia this way, and she knew that she was running a risk—a huge risk—by doing so. At any moment his memory could return and, with it, Xander's refusal to talk through their problems or lean on her for help of any kind. Yet if there was a chance, any chance that they could be happy again, she had to take it.

She pushed off the door and walked down the hall toward the large entertainer's kitchen they'd had so much fun renovating after they'd moved into the two-story late nineteenth-century home a week after their marriage. She automatically went through the motions, putting the kettle on and boiling water for a pot of chamomile tea. Hopefully that would soothe the headache.

But what would soothe the niggling guilt that plucked at her heart over her decision?

Was she just doing this to resolve her own regrets? Wrapped in her grief over Parker's death and filled with recriminations and remorse, hadn't she found it easier to let Xander go rather than fight for their marriage—hell, fight for him? She'd accused him of locking her out of his feelings, but hadn't she done exactly the same thing? And when he'd left, hadn't she let him go? Then, when she'd opened her eyes to what she was letting slip from her life, it was too late. He hadn't wanted to even discuss reconciliation or counseling. It was as if he'd wiped his slate clean—and wiped his life with her right along with it.

It had hurt then and it hurt now, but time and distance had given her some perspective. Had opened her eyes to her own contribution to the demise of their marriage. Mistakes she wouldn't make again.

The kettle began to whistle, momentarily distracting her from her thoughts. Olivia poured the boiling water into the teapot and took her favorite china cup and saucer from the glass-fronted cupboard where she displayed her antique china collection. After putting the tea things on a tray, she carried everything outside. She set the tray down on a table on her paved patio and sank into one of the wood-and-canvas deck chairs. The fabric creaked a little as she shifted into a more comfortable position.

Bathed in the evening summer sun, Olivia closed her eyes and took a moment to relax and listen and let the sounds of her surroundings soak in. Behind the background hum of traffic she could hear the noises of children playing in their backyards. The sound, always bittersweet, was a strong reminder that even after tragedy, other people's lives still carried on. She opened her eyes, surprised to feel the sting of tears once more, and shifted her focus to pouring her tea into her cup. The delicate aroma of the chamomile wafted up toward her. There was something incredibly calming about the ritual of making tea. It was one of the habits she'd developed to ground herself when she'd felt as though she was losing everything—including her mind.

She lifted her cup, taking a long sip of the hot...

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