The garden. She’d see if she could find it. She elected to take the stairs instead of the elevator. The grand circular stairway ended in the foyer. Maintaining her sense of direction, she turned and walked toward the back of the house. Surely there was a back door.
And there was. It opened at her touch, and she stepped outside into the morning light. Just ahead of her was a huge pool with a hot tub. It was surrounded by natural stone, banana trees and other exotic plants, which gave it a tropical feel. To the left was the huge waterfall, with more tropical ferns and plants growing at its base. Following her instincts, she rounded a corner of the mansion, and there it was: a floral garden set into an alcove.
It was even better from here than from the terrace. Peeking into the water that formed a stream at the base of the falls, she spotted beautiful gold, red and white fish. She didn’t know how she knew, but these were koi. She knelt down on the thick grass and watched them with delight. Between the concentrated scents of various flowers and the roar of the waterfall, she felt more relaxed than she had since leaving the hospital. Stretching out on the luscious lawn under the rays of the morning sun, she closed her eyes.
* * *
No one had seen her leave. She’d all but disappeared. What was Victoria doing, and where was she doing it? While the housekeeping staff searched inside the house, Wade followed a hunch that led him outside. As he rounded the back corner, he immediately spotted her. Lying on her back in the grass with one arm thrown over her eyes, she appeared completely relaxed. It was a sight he’d never imagined seeing. Victoria was not one to embrace nature in any size, shape or form. Apparently that had changed. At least temporarily. He noted she wore no shoes. Perhaps a call to Dr. Meadows was warranted?
Wade approached slowly, not wanting to startle her, but needing to know she was all right.
“Hi,” she responded but didn’t move. “This is so great.”
“We do have chairs.”
“Not out here. Only around the pool. You don’t have a bench, remember?”
She had him there. “No. No bench.”
Using her arms, she pushed herself into a sitting position. “I think over there, under that tree, would be the perfect place to put one.” Intending to scramble to her feet, she winced and grabbed her left side, the site of the bruised ribs. Pushing on, she got to her feet and walked over to the place she’d suggested. “About here. You can see the waterfall and most of the flower beds from this location. It’s shielded by water ferns and banana trees. It’s quiet, private and beautiful. What do you think?”
Wade wasn’t sure what to think. Her behavior was anything but normal for Victoria. “Yes. I agree. It looks like a perfect place.”
He watched as she once again lowered herself to the ground. “Come and join me.” She patted the grass next to her.
Hesitantly, he ambled over and looked around for an alternative place to sit.
“Sitting on the grass won’t hurt you.”
“It won’t help either,” he muttered, then lowered himself to the lawn. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d sat on the ground. She was right: it wasn’t bad. He was surrounded by the smell of rich earth and flowering plants. Images sprang to his mind of the ranch where he and his brothers had grown up. The rolling hills, the unbelievable palette of color in the fall, trail riding for days, campfires at night. It was long ago, but those memories he would keep forever. Their mother had insisted her brood be raised in the country, believing a child needed to feel a bond to the land. His father had reluctantly agreed, so their sons had grown up on a ranch, learning about cattle and beef prices and what it took to operate a spread of enormous size.
He had always envisioned raising a family on the Masters ranch. He pictured his wife loving it there as much as he did and their kids spending their days on horseback exploring the countryside. In his early years, he’d hoped to find someone who shared his heart as well as his dreams. Finally, he’d given up and made himself settle on a wife that shared nothing except what was required in the contract. A facade for all to see.
“Victoria, do you remember any part of your past? Childhood? Adolescence?”
“Intermittently. I have mental glimpses of people and things. Like I recognized the Dallas skyline. I don’t know how I knew it was Dallas. I just knew.” She was quiet for a few moments. “I think I used to work with my hands.” She held them up in front of her face. “They feel...empty.” She sighed.
This was the first he’d heard of such a thing.
“And I’m pretty sure I used to like being outside.”
“That I can assure you was not the case. At all.”
“No?” She frowned and seemed to let the thought roll around in her mind. “I’ve been getting these feelings that just seem...right.” She glanced at Wade. “I can’t explain it better. I wish I could. But being here, outside, feels right.”
Wade didn’t have an answer to that, so he didn’t try. “Sit up and let me see your face,” he said.
The bruising was almost gone and the cut on her lower lip had pretty much healed. “Better,” he stated and was gratified to see her smile. “How do you feel, generally?”
“Good,” she said and looked up into his eyes.
Less than a foot separated them and the temptation to lean toward her and put his lips against hers was overwhelming. What was wrong with him? This was Victoria. How out of place was any temptation to touch her? She raised one hand and placed it against his cheek and he shuddered at the sensation.
“You have such a handsome face,” she whispered. Her gaze lowered to his mouth. Wade could feel himself harden at both her touch and the implication of her words.
Pure lust shot through his body as his mind fought to hold on. As hard as it was to believe, he wanted her.
“Your lips are very...”
Wade’s tentative hold on his self-control grew thinner. His hands cupped her face, and he eased her toward him. For an infinitesimal moment his face remained a breath away, his lips open, ready to taste her. He wanted to kiss her. Hell, he wanted to do more than that. His subconscious mind screamed no! Just behind her moist lips, perfect white teeth guarded the nectar he knew he would find there. He could feel her soft breath on his face, saw her eyes close as if in preparation for his kiss. Heaven help him. Slowly he placed his lips against hers, and the grip on his desire slipped away.
He pulled back and for a few seconds fought to hold on to the control he desperately needed. The raw hunger for this woman rose in his gut. This was insanity. He could not—would not—be attracted to Victoria. He damn sure wouldn’t have an affair with her. She would use it against him eventually, somehow. Yet all he wanted to do was make love to her right there. Near the flowers she apparently loved. Right in front of God and everybody.
Anger at his own weakness overcame the temptation. He rolled to his feet. She was watching him, a look of confusion in her eyes. He took a deep breath and tried for normal.
“Have you contacted your mother?” he asked after clearing his throat.
She frowned. “Yeah,” she whispered, then took a deep breath. “It was awkward. I didn’t know how to address her.”
Victoria claiming she didn’t remember that vile woman could be a good thing. Still, he knew when the memories came back, more than likely her mother would be among them.