Identity unknown, p.1

Identity_Unknown, page 1

 part  #10 of  Seal Team Ten Series



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  He froze, staring at the face in

  the mirror.

  He turned his head to the right and then to

  the left. The face in the mirror moved when

  he moved. It definitely belonged to him.

  But it was the face of a stranger.

  A wave of dizziness hit him hard and he

  grabbed at the sink, lowering his head and

  closing his eyes until the worst of it passed.

  How did he get here? Almighty God, he

  couldn’t even remember his name.

  Suddenly feeling something in his shoe, he went

  into a corner of the room and started to pull off

  one of his boots. And then he quickly pulled it back on again.

  He was carrying a side arm. A .22-caliber.

  In his boot.

  Dear Reader,

  Once again, Silhouette Intimate Moments brings you an irresistible lineup of books, perfect for curling up with on a winter’s day. Start with Sharon Sala’s A Place To Call Home, featuring a tough city cop who gets away to the Wyoming high country looking for some peace and quiet. Instead he finds a woman in mortal danger and realizes he has to help her—because, without her, his heart will never be whole.

  For all you TALL, DARK AND DANGEROUS fans, Suzanne Brockmann is back with Identity: Unknown. Navy SEAL Mitchell Shaw has no memory of who—or what—he is when he shows up at the Lazy 8 Ranch. And ranch manager Becca Keyes can’t help him answer those questions, though she certainly raises another: How can he have a future without her in it? Judith Duncan is back with Marriage of Agreement, a green-card marriage story filled with wonderful characters and all the genuine emotion any romance reader could want. In His Last Best Hope, veteran author Susan Sizemore tells a suspenseful tale in which nothing is quite what it seems but everything turns out just the way you want. With her very first book, New Zealander Fiona Brand caught readers’ attention. Heart of Midnight brings back Gray Lombard and reunites him with the only woman strong enough to be his partner for life. Finally, welcome Yours Truly author Karen Templeton to the line. Anything for His Children is an opposites-attract story featuring three irresistible kids who manage to teach both the hero and the heroine something about the nature of love.

  Enjoy every one of these terrific novels, and then come back next month for six more of the best and most exciting romances around.


  Leslie J. Wainger

  Executive Senior Editor





  Published by Silhouette Books

  America’s Publisher of Contemporary Romance

  Books by Suzanne Brockmann

  Silhouette Intimate Moments

  Hero Under Cover #575

  Not Without Risk #647

  A Man To Die For #681

  *Prince Joe #720

  *Forever Blue #742

  *Frisco’s Kid #759

  Love with the Proper Stranger #831

  *Everyday, Average Jones #872

  *Harvard’s Education #884

  *It Came Upon a Midnight Clear #896

  *The Admiral’s Bride #962

  †Undercover Princess #968

  *Identity: Unknown #974

  *Tall, Dark and Dangerous

  †Royally Wed

  For Lee Brockmann


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 1

  “Hey, hey, hey there, Mission Man! How ya doin’, baby? Rise and shine! That’s my man—open those eyes. It’s definitely the a.m. and in the a.m. here at the First Church Shelter, we go from horizontal to vertical.”

  Pain. His entire world had turned into a trinity of pain, bright lights and an incredibly persistent voice. He tried to turn away, tried to burrow down into the hard mattress of the cot, but hands shook him—gently at first, then harder.

  “Yo, Mish. I know it’s early, man, but we’ve got to get these beds cleaned up and put away. We’re serving up a nice warm breakfast along with an A.A. meeting in just a few minutes. Why don’t you give it a try? Sit and listen, even if your stomach can’t handle the chow.”

  A.A. Alcoholics Anonymous. Could it possibly be a hangover that was making him feel as if he’d been hit by a tank? He tried to identify the sour taste in his mouth but couldn’t. It was only bitter. He opened his eyes again, and again his head felt split in two. But this time he clenched his teeth, forcing his eyes to focus on a smiling, cheerful, weather-beaten African-American face.

  “I knew you could do it, Mish.” The voice belonged to the face. “How you doin’, man? Remember me? Remember your good friend Jarell? That’s right, I tucked you into this bed last night. Come on, let’s get you up and headed toward the men’s room. You could use a serious washing up, my man.”

  “Where am I?” His own voice was low, rough and oddly unfamiliar to his ears.

  “The First Church Homeless Shelter, on First Avenue.”

  The pain was relentless, but now it was mixed with confusion as he slowly, achingly sat up. “First Avenue…?”

  “Hmm,” the man named Jarell made a face. “Looks like you had yourself a bigger binge than I thought. You’re in Wyatt City, friend. In New Mexico. Ring any bells?”

  He started to shake his head, but the hellish pain intensified. He held himself very still instead, supporting his forehead with his hands. “No.” He spoke very softly, hoping Jarell would do the same. “How did I get here?”

  “A couple of Good Sams brought you in last night.” Jarell hadn’t gotten the hint, and continued as loud as ever. “Said they found you taking a little nap with your nose in a puddle, a few blocks over in the alley. I checked your pockets for your wallet, but it was gone. Seems you’d already been rolled. I’m surprised they didn’t take those pretty cowboy boots of yours. From the looks of things, though, they did take the time to kick you while you were down.”

  He brought his hand to the side of his head. His hair was filthy, and it felt crusty, as if it were caked with blood and muck.

  “Come on and wash up, Mission Man. We’ll get you back on track. Today’s a brand-new day, and here at the shelter, the past does not equal the future. From here on in, you can start your life anew. Whatever’s come before can just be swept away.” Jarell laughed, a rich, joyful sound. “Hey, you’ve been here more than six hours, Mish. You can get your six-hour chip. You know that saying, One Day at a Time? Well, here on First Avenue, we say one hour at a time.”

  He let Jarell help him to his feet. The world spun, and he closed his eyes for a moment.

  “You got those feet working yet, Mish? That’s my man. One foot in front of the other. Bathroom’s dead ahead. Can you make it on your own?”

  “Yes.” He wasn’t sure that he could, but he would have said nearly anything to get away from Jarell’s too-loud, too-cheerful, too-friendly voice. Right now the only friend he wanted near him was the blessed, healing silence of unconsciousness.

  “You come on out after you get cleaned up,” the old man called after him. “I’ll help you get some food for both your belly and your soul.”

  He left Jarell’s echoing laughter behind and pushed the men’s-room door open with a shaking hand. All of the sinks were occupied, so he leaned against the cool tile of the wall, waiting for a turn to wash.

  The large room was filled with men, but none of them spoke. They moved quietly, gingerly, apologetically, careful not to meet anyone’s eyes. They were careful not to trespass into one another’s personal space even with a glance.

  He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He was just another one of them—disheveled and unkempt, hair uncombed, clothes ragged and dirty. He had the bonus of a darkening patch of blood on his dirt-stained T-shirt, the bright red turning as dingy as the rest of him as it dried.

  A sink opened up, and he moved toward it, picking up a bar of plain white soap to scrub the grime from his hands and upper arms before he tackled his face. What he truly needed was a shower. Or a hosing down. His head still throbbed, and he moved it carefully, leaning toward the mirror, trying to catch a look at the gash above his right ear.

  The wound was mostly covered by his dark shaggy hair and…

  He froze, staring at the face in front of him. He turned his head to the right and then to the left. The face in the mirror moved when he moved. It definitely belonged to him.

  But it was the face of a stranger.

  It was a lean face, with high cheekbones. It had a strong chin that badly needed a shave, except for a barren spot marked by a jagged white scar. A thin-lipped mouth cut a grim line, and two feverish-looking eyes that weren’t quite brown and weren’t quite green stared back at him. Tiny squint lines surrounded the edges of those eyes, as if this face had spent a good share of its time in the hot sun.

  He filled his hands with water, splashing it up and onto his face. When he looked into the mirror again, the same stranger looked back at him. He hadn’t managed to wash that face away and reveal…what? A more familiar visage?

  He closed his eyes, trying to recall features that would’ve been more recognizable.

  He came up blank.

  A wave of dizziness hit him hard and he grabbed at the sink, lowering his head and closing his eyes until the worst of it passed.

  How did he get here? Wyatt City, New Mexico. It was a small city, a town really, in the southern part of the state. It wasn’t his home…was it? He must’ve been here working on…working on…

  He couldn’t remember.

  Maybe he was still drunk. He’d heard about people who’d had so much to drink they went into a blackout. Maybe that was what this was. Maybe all he’d have to do was sleep this off and everything he was having trouble remembering would come back to him.

  Except he couldn’t remember drinking.

  His head hurt like the devil. Heaven knew all he wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sleep until the pounding in his brain stopped.

  He leaned down into the sink and tried to rinse the cut on the side of his head. The lukewarm water stung, but he closed his eyes and persisted until he was sure it was clean. Long hair dripping, he blotted himself dry with some paper towels, gritting his teeth as the rough paper scraped against his abraded skin.

  It was too late to get stitches. The wound had already started to scab. He was going to have a scar from this one, but maybe some butterfly bandages would help. He’d need his first-aid kit and…And…He stared at himself in the mirror. First-aid kit. He wasn’t a doctor. How could he be a doctor? And yet…

  The men’s-room door opened with a bang, and he spun around, reaching beneath his jacket for…Reaching for…

  Dizzy, he staggered back against the sink. He wasn’t wearing a jacket, just this sorry T-shirt. And sweet Lord help him, but he had to remember not to move fast or he’d end up falling on his face.

  “The Ladies’ Auxiliary is having a clothing drive,” one of the shelter workers announced in a too-loud voice that made many of the men in the room cringe. “We’ve got a box of clean T-shirts, and another one full of blue jeans. Please take only what you need and save some for the next guy.”

  He looked up into the mirror at the stained and grimy T-shirt he wore. It had been white at one time—probably just last night, although he still couldn’t remember back that far. He pulled it up and over his head, gingerly avoiding the wound above his right ear.

  “Dirty laundry goes into this basket over here,” the shelter worker trumpeted. “If it’s labeled, you’ll get it back. If it’s torn, throw it out and take two.” The worker looked up at him. “What size do you need?”

  “Medium.” It was something of a relief to finally know the answer to a question.

  “You in need of jeans?”

  He looked down. The black pants he was wearing were badly torn. “I could use some, yeah. Thirty-two waist, thirty-four inseam, if you’ve got ’em.” He knew that, too.

  “You’re the one Jarell called the Mission Man,” the shelter worker remarked as he searched through the box.

  “He’s a good guy—Jarell. A little too religious for my taste, but that wouldn’t bother you, would it? He’s always giving everyone nicknames. Mission Man. Mish. What kind of name is Mish anyway?”

  His name. It was…his name? It was, but it wasn’t. He shook his head, trying to clear it, trying to remember his name.

  Dammit, he couldn’t even remember his name.

  “Here’s a pair what’s got a thirty-three-inch waist,” the shelter worker told him. “That’s the best I can do for you, Mish.”

  Mish. He took the jeans, briefly closing his eyes so that the room would stop spinning around him, calming himself. So what if he couldn’t remember his name? It would come back to him. With a good night’s sleep, it would all come back to him.

  He told himself that again and again, using it like a mantra. He was going to be fine. Everything was going to be fine. All he needed was a chance to close his eyes.

  He went into the corner of the room, out of the line of traffic around the sinks and stalls, and started to pull off one of his boots.

  He quickly pulled it back on again.

  He was carrying a side arm. A .22-caliber.

  In his boot.

  It was slightly larger than palm-sized, black and deadly looking. There was something else in his boot, too. He could feel it now, pressing against his ankle.

  He took his jeans into one of the stalls, locking the door behind him. Slipping off the boot, he looked inside. The .22 was still there, along with an enormous fold of cash—all big bills. There was nothing smaller than a hundred in the thick rubber-banded wad.

  He flipped through it quickly. He was carrying more than five thousand dollars in his boot.

  There was something else there, too. A piece of paper. There was writing on it, but his vision swam, blurring the letters.

  He took off the other boot, but there was nothing in that one. He searched the pockets of his pants, but came up empty there, too.

  He stripped off his pants and pulled on the clean jeans, careful to brace himself against the metal wall the entire time. His world was tilting, and he was in constant danger of losing his balance.

  He slipped his boots back on, somehow knowing how to position the weapon so that it wouldn’t bother him. How could he know that, know what size jeans he wore, yet not know his own name? He put most of the money and the piece of paper back in his boot as well, leaving several hundred dollars in the front pocket of his jeans.

  He came face-to-face with his reflection in the mirror when he opened the door of the stall.

  Even dressed in clean clothes, even washed up, long, dark hair slicked back with water, even pale and gray from the pain that still pounded through his battered body, he looked like a man most folks would take a wide detour around. His chin had a heavy growth of stubble, accentuating his already sun-darkened complexion. His black T-shirt had been washed more than once and had shrunk slightly. It hugged his upper body, outlining the muscles of his chest and arms. He looked like a fighter, hard and lean.

  Whatever he really did for a living, he still couldn’t remember. But considering that .22 he had hidden in his boot, he could probably cross kindergarten teacher off the list of possibilities.

  Rolling up his torn pants, he tucked them under hi
s arms. He pushed open the men’s-room door and skirted the room where breakfast and temperance were being served. Instead, he headed directly for the door that led to the street.

  On his way out, as he passed the shelter’s donation box, he dropped a hundred-dollar bill inside.

  “Mr. Whitlow! Wait!”

  Rebecca Keyes headed for Silver at a dead run, swinging herself up into the saddle and digging her boots into the big gelding’s sides. Silver surged forward, in hot pursuit of the gleaming white limousine that was pulling down the dude ranch’s dirt driveway.

  “Mr. Whitlow!” She put two fingers in her mouth and whistled piercingly, and finally the vehicle slowed.

  Silver blew out a loud burst of air as she reined him in next to the almost absurdly stretched-out body of the car. With a faint mechanical whine, the window came down and Justin Whitlow’s ruddy face appeared. He didn’t look happy.

  “I’m sorry, sir,” Becca said breathlessly from her perch atop Silver. “Hazel told me you were leaving, that you were going to be gone a month and I…I wish you had informed me earlier, sir. We have several things to discuss that can’t wait an entire month.”

  “If this is more of your wages garbage—”

  “No, sir—”

  “Thank God.”

  “—because it’s not garbage. It’s a very real problem we’re having here at the Lazy Eight. We’re not paying the ranch hands enough money, so they’re not sticking around. Did you know we’ve just lost Rafe McKinnon, Mr. Whitlow?’

  Whitlow stuck a cigarette between his lips, squinting up at her as he lit it. “Hire someone new.”

  “That’s what I’ve been doing with staff turnovers,” she said with barely concealed frustration. “Hiring someone new. And someone else new. And…” She drew in a deep breath and tried her best to sound reasonable. “If we’d simply paid someone solid and responsible like Rafe another two or three dollars an hour—”

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