On a deserted mountain in the Rockies, two men are beaten, shot and left for dead. Smug and secure in their success, the assailants head home to Philadelphia, eager to reap the rewards for their efforts. But their plan develops a critical flaw--one of their victims survives.
Marnie Grant, a lonely, insecure physiotherapist at Calgary's Foothills Hospital, develops an attachment to the nameless victim found beaten and bloodied on a mountainside. With no memories of his past, and no family to claim him, he is dubbed Luke, and Marnie takes it upon herself to care for him. She is charmed by his innocence and wide-eyed wonder as he rediscovers the world around him.
Eventually she becomes his teacher and mentor and Luke begins to show her the depth of her beauty. But even as Marnie struggles to help Luke adjust and remember, his enemies stalk him. And Luke and Marnie never guess the dangers and unsavory truths that await them as they seek to fill the void that is his past.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Beyond Innocence by Nikki Soarde
Marnie's steps were heavy but it had nothing to do with the weight of Luke's arm across her shoulders. Actually, he hardly leaned on her at all. The cane took the majority of his weight, but she suspected he needed her for more than physical support. She still marveled to think of what he faced over the next few months, and she certainly didn't begrudge him a little human comfort.
Of course, if she were honest with herself she'd have to admit she enjoyed it. She'd never really had a boyfriend, hardly even held hands with anyone other than her father or brother. And while she had no intention of viewing Luke as anything other than a friend, she couldn't ignore the effect his physical proximity had on her pulse and respiration. Despite the weight loss and weeks in a hospital bed, his body was still firm and strong. His hands were broad and warm--always so warm. She had caught herself imagining what it would be like to have hands like that touching parts of her body other than her hands. Like perhaps her cheek, her throat, her shoulder... And then she would have to snap her mind shut on the images that followed.
She had no business fantasizing about Luke. He was as guileless as a child. She might even have to educate him about the mechanics of intercourse, eventually. Who knew what scattered bits of knowledge he had retained where that was concerned? She had thus far been hesitant to broach such a sensitive subject. Perhaps she would never have to. Hopefully, he would eventually remember. And if not maybe she could find a man who would be willing to explain that one to Luke, should the need arise.
Those thoughts brought back the heaviness Shawna's visit had left behind. No matter how much she dreamed, no matter how hard she wished, there were facts she had just better face up to. Facts of genetics and physiology, facts that had to do with hormones and perception, facts that had been drilled into her from childhood up and that could not be ignored. There were certain ways of the world, and humanity, and socialization that couldn't be changed. And she had just been unfortunate enough to end up on the wrong side of the physiological fence.
They stepped out into bright sunshine and a balmy summer breeze. She breathed deeply the scents of peonies and honeysuckle. A row of the colorful bushes lined the walkway that led away from the hospital doors. She led him down the path a few steps before lifting his arm from her shoulders. "Okay, you're on your own now. Show me your stuff."
But he didn't move. He just stood there with the wind ruffling his dark hair and tugging at the T-shirt and shorts she had brought him a few days earlier. That unnerving stare made her distinctly uncomfortable and made her insides feel like melted Jell-O.
"What? What is it?" she finally asked.
"What's wrong?" he said with that cock of his head that disarmed her and every nurse on his floor with alarming regularity.
"You're too quiet. I know there's something bothering you, but...you're being tactful, aren't you? You're lying. Why?"
She had to chuckle at that. He had turned the tables on her quite neatly. "It's nothing, Luke. Nothing you need to worry about." She motioned for him to walk with her.
He took a few faltering steps before settling into a nice easy rhythm with his new cane.
But he wouldn't let it go so easily. "It has something to do with that Shawna, right?"
"She wasn't pretty, you know. She thought she was, but she wasn't."
"I'm afraid you're in the minority, then. Most men think she's hotter than a chili pepper."
"Well, they're nuts. They--" He suddenly stopped walking and reached out to grab her hand. "That's it, isn't it?"
"You don't think you're pretty."
She closed her eyes against his insightful stare. "I'm not, Luke. But that's okay. Not everyone can be pretty. Not everyone can be on the cover of Vogue. I'm happy the way I am. I'm--"
"Don't!" The conviction in his voice startled her. But what he did next just about knocked the breath out of her. He dropped his cane and, standing on unsteady feet, he placed his hands against her cheeks, gently framing her face with his fingers.
His eyes mere inches from hers, he whispered, "Don't. Don't say that. You're beautiful."
She began to protest but he pressed a thumb to her lips and his eyes held hers so tightly she couldn't breathe. She had been right. The warmth of his palms and the strength in his fingers seeped through her skin, soaking into her blood and branding her soul as surely as a hot iron on new calfskin. "You're a wonderful, caring, honest person. You're beautiful on the inside. But you're also beautiful on the outside. Your face..." He seemed to be struggling. "It's... It's..." He dropped his hands and stepped back, his frustration obvious. He clenched his fists until his knuckles whitened. "I hate this. I need for you to understand and I can't find the words. I know they're in there." He tapped the side of his head with a stiff finger. "But I can't get them out."
She just kept looking at him, feeling oddly pleased and overwhelmed and completely at a loss for words herself.
"You'll just have to believe me," he insisted. "I look at you and I can't believe what you've done for me. And that you care. You're so perfect I could just go on looking at you forever."
She wanted to scoff at that but he was so obviously sincere she couldn't belittle him by questioning it. His declaration was eloquent in its sincerity and simplicity. It made her want to cry. "I think that's the most wonderful thing anyone has ever said to me."
"Well, that sucks."
And then she laughed. She laughed so hard she could barely breathe. Tears were sliding down her face by the time she got control again. And she was pleased to see a wide smile stretching at Luke's mouth.
"I like when you laugh. And you smell good, too."
Sometimes he talked like a twelve-year-old, and if it hadn't been for his eyes she could have almost believed that he was a child. Innocence and wonder shone through those eyes, but even at his most cheerful, his most buoyant, there were shadows behind that innocence--shadows of the past. There were secrets behind those eyes and sometimes she worried what would happen when those secrets found their way out again.
Shaking her head, she reached for his hand. "Come on, you old sweet-talker. You're not getting out of your walk that easy."