So where the fuck was she?
I could think of only two possibilities. Either she was terrified by what I’d done and had gone into hiding…or something unimaginable had happened to her. While I agonized over her whereabouts, my partner in crime was too busy working or disappearing to care about what had happened. Jax’s only concern was staying out of jail. As long as Alex didn’t surface, we were safe from being charged for kidnapping. He also suspected she’d had something to do with the shooting, which didn’t make him her biggest fan.
My amnesia ensured I didn’t remember shit, and it was frustrating as hell.
There was only one person in this new reality I trusted. Certainly not the stranger at my side, or my own brother. No matter what Adam said about reconciled differences or how he thought I should come back and work at Mason Vineyards—familiar routines and all of that—I couldn’t talk to him.
But fuck, I needed to get out of my own head or I was going to go crazy.
I took a deep breath and climbed the steep staircase that led to the front door of Nikki Malone’s house. It had taken some needling of old friends, but I eventually got her address out of a girl who’d had a crush on me in high school. Nikki’s place was up the mountain, nestled between clusters of Douglas firs. The Columbia River peeked through the branches, and I wondered if she had a view of the island from the porch wrapping around her home. The place was huge, built more recently if the modern angles and vinyl siding accented with stone was any indication. She’d done well for herself.
I hesitated, feet planted on the welcome mat, my fist poised to knock. She was engaged to the enemy. Jax would probably rip me a new one for trusting her, but I’d known her too many years not to. I rapped on the door and waited. A white BMW sat in the driveway, and I assumed it belonged to her. She had to be home.
I lifted my hand again, knuckles nearing the wood, and halted at the unmistakable thud of steps.
She pulled the door open, and her eyes widened, her mouth gaping. Same golden hair, same seductive brown eyes, but something fundamental had changed in them. Like most things these days, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Nikki was not the same Nikki I’d known before my mind decided to check out on me.
“Rafe,” she said with a smile that lacked the warmth I remembered. She ran a thumb along the edge of the door.
“I should’ve let you visit me at the hospital,” I said, figuring her less-than-enthusiastic welcome stemmed from my turning her away. “I’m an ass.”
“It’s okay. I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose so much of your memory. Confusing?”
“Something like that.” I gestured toward the door she held close to her body. “Can I come in? I really need to talk to someone, and you’re the only one I trust.”
“What about Jax?”
I tilted my head. “How much do you know about him?”
She shrugged. “We talked at the hospital. But he goes on about you like you’re his brother or something. Guess you guys are close.”
“Were close, maybe. I don’t remember him at all.”
She glanced over her shoulder, and something oddly familiar slid down my spine. Like I was the one who should have been watching my back…hiding something from her? I shook the idea from my mind. It happened often—a seemingly inconsequential phrase, gesture, or object, such as the table in my own damn kitchen. There was history on that slab of wood, and I wasn’t talking about the many years I’d spent there with my dad and brother. Something about it bothered me, yet excited me all the same.
“I could use some air,” she said. “Want to walk?”
Why did this seem so familiar? I nodded, shaking off the weird feeling.
As she slipped into a pair of sandals, I saw into her home. Open, airy, with vaulted ceilings, a stone fireplace, and wide windows that overlooked the river. The sun cast a beam of light into her great room. She stepped outside and pulled the door shut, then wrapped her arms around me.
“I’m so glad you’re okay.” Her lips brushed my cheek as she backed away. “Do you remember anything at all about that night?”
We reached the stairs at the same time. I indicated for her to go first, but she halted, lifting a hand toward my face. “Wait, you’ve got a little…” She brushed her thumb on my cheek. “Wouldn’t want people talking about how you were wearing my lipstick.”
“People here talk,” I said, thinking of the icy reception I’d received from the townsfolk—some who’d known me since I was a kid. “Regardless of lipstick malfunctions.”
“No need to give them more fodder.” Nikki withdrew her hand. “I think you’re decent now.”
The corner of my mouth curled up. “You and I both know I’m far from decent. The last memory I have of you proves that.”
“And what’s that?”
“Seattle.” I raised my brows.
She ducked her head, an unmistakable flush coloring her cheeks. “I remember Seattle.”
“What happened between us while I was locked up?”
“Let’s not get into all of that.” She descended the steps, and apparently that thread of conversation was off the table.
I followed, close on her heels. “How about we start with you and the sheriff then? Lyle Lewis, Nikki?”
“We already had this conversation.”
“Except I don’t remember that conversation.”
“Your brother and Jax say you’re pushing too hard. They’re worried you’re going to make the amnesia worse.”
Once we reached the bottom, I grabbed her hand and pulled her around. “You’ve been talking to them about me?”
“I’ve been doing the bookkeeping at the vineyard. Your condition came up.”
“It’s not a fucking condition, Nik. It’s not like I’m crazy. I’m still me.”
“Language and all,” she muttered, disentangling from my grip. She strode ahead several paces and gravel crunched under our feet until we reached the paved shoulder of the road.
“Are you and Jax friends?”
“I barely know him, but I guess you could say that.”
“Like you and I are friends?” I shook my head. “Were friends.”
She stopped and turned, hands on her hips. “We still are, Rafe. There’s too much history between us.” Her defensive stance eased. “I can’t imagine ever just walking away.”