If she only knew, p.1
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       If She Only Knew, p.1

           Lisa Jackson
If She Only Knew


  “What my husband does is a mystery to me,” Marla said.

  “Don’t you think that’s odd?”

  Marla chuckled humorlessly. “My whole life is odd, Nick. A husband who doesn’t confide in me, a daughter who rejects me, a father who despises me and a brother-in-law who . . . who . . .”

  “Who what?”

  She couldn’t admit it. Couldn’t say the damning words—that she was attracted to him, that at his touch her knees went weak and her blood ran hot. “Who . . . bothers me. And yes, I do think it’s all strange. Real strange. I just hope that I can figure it out soon before I go out of my mind.”

  “Or before you get killed,” he said solemnly.

  A chill ran through her blood. “Killed?” she repeated. She’d considered the fact that someone might be trying to murder her, but she’d always tossed off the idea, condemned it as her own brand of paranoia. To hear it from someone else made it so much more real.

  Marla sighed and shook her head. “No way. This is too far-fetched. I was in an accident. Period. There wasn’t anything sinister about it,” she said, trying to convince herself. No one was really trying to kill her.

  Or were they?

  “Why would someone want me dead?” she asked.

  “Because someone’s afraid of you, of what you’ll remember. . . .”

  Books by Lisa Jackson























  Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation


  Lisa Jackson




  All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.

  Table of Contents


  Books by Lisa Jackson

  Title Page



  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Look for ALMOST DEAD in bookstores everywhere!

  Copyright Page


  I would like to express my thanks and appreciation to all those people who helped me with the research and structuring of this book. Without their help it would not have been possible. Thanks to all my friends and family and special thanks to: Nancy Bush, Ken Bush, Matthew Crose, Michael Crose, Mary Clare Kersten, Nancy O’Callaghan, Michael O’Callaghan, Ari Okano, Kathy Okano, Betty Pederson, Jack Pederson, Sally Peters, Robin Rue, John Scognamiglio, Larry Sparks, Linda Sparks, Celia Stinson and Mark Stinson, who is dying to be a villain in one of my books. You’re the best!


  Northern California, Highway 17

  “It’s the next car . . . she’s coming in the next car, a black Mercedes coupe, an S500, traveling south, just as we planned.”

  Crouching low in the underbrush, with fog creeping over the wet earth, he strained to hear the anxious voice crackling through the static of his two-way radio. “I thought she drove a Porsche.”

  “She’s driving a Mercedes,” the voice snapped angrily. “You’ve got about ninety seconds.”

  “Got it.” Eyes narrowed, he focused all his attention on the twisting road that cut through the canyons and hills in this part of California. Sure enough, through the mist and darkness, he heard the soft purr of a finely tuned engine. The car was, indeed, climbing. Getting nearer.

  She was getting nearer.

  His heart hammered. He remembered the scent of her skin. The look in her eyes. The depth of her betrayal.

  She deserved this, the self-righteous bitch. He only wished she could know that he was the instrument of her death.

  Adrenalin surged through his blood.

  “Don’t blow this. It’s our only chance,” he was instructed.

  “I know. I know.”

  “It’s worth a hundred grand.”

  A lot more than that, he thought but didn’t say it. A helluva lot more. “I’ll take care of it.” He snapped the walkie-talkie off, slammed down the antenna and stuffed the headset into a deep pocket of his jacket. Sweat prickled his scalp and ran down his neck, though it was barely forty degrees in this stretch of woods. Slipping his ski mask over a face already painted black, he jogged through a carpet of wet leaves, his old army boots still sturdy, his camouflage suit a perfect cover in the mist-shrouded night.

  Branches slapped his face. The air was dank and thick with the smell of wet earth and something else: His own fear. That he would fail. That somehow she would survive. That she would end up laughing at him.

  No way. No fucking way.

  Somewhere nearby an owl hooted, barely distinct over the pounding of his heart. And a rumble of low gears and a heavy engine . . . not that of the Mercedes. Coming from the other direction. The saliva dried in his mouth.

  Steady, he reminded himself as he emerged from the woods at the designated bend in the road. He hoped to God that the truck was a few miles away and hurried across the wet pavement with the stealth of a SWAT team member. He checked his watch. Thirty seconds. The damned car sounded close. He gritted his teeth; saw a flash of headlights through the fog and trees.

  Come on, bitch, just come on.

  Louder, from the south, the truck—a semi from the sound of it—was gaining speed. Shit.

  Crouching low on the narrow road, he positioned himself between the sharp S curves. Concentrating hard, he heard the whine of the coupe’s tires singing on the wet pavement. Hurry, he silently urged, his eyes narrowing. You can beat the truck. You have to.

  The car sounded closer.


  He glanced at his watch again, the illuminated dial counting off his heartbeats. Everything was going as planned except for the truck. A few more seconds . . . He licked his lips in anticipation.

  Brakes whined in the night. Too close. Too damned close. He swung his head southward, toward the oncoming roar. There was a catch in the eighteen-wheeler’s engine as the driver shifted into a lower gear.

  Every muscle tightened as he listened. He couldn’t risk a witness. Sweat ran down his spine.

  He could abort. There was still time.

  But when would he get another chance?

  A hundred grand. And just the beginning.

  Besides, she deserves this . . . and it fucking fell into your lap.

  The truck’s engine growled loudly, reverberating through the forest of sequoia and oak. An eighteen-wheeler hurtling down the steep grade.

  In the opposite direction, the Mercedes, if his information was right, was purring ever-upward, the driver innocently una
ware that she was about to die.

  His breath came in short gasps. Slow down. Think of it as an exercise—just as you did years ago when you were with the special unit. You can do this. A few more seconds and you’re home free. His heart was a drum; his hands soaked in sweat beneath his tight-fitting gloves.

  Twin beams rounded the curve from downhill. The truck’s brakes squealed from uphill.

  Now! He sprang, stood in the middle of the southbound lane. The sleek car accelerated, caught him in its headlights and swiftly he lifted the cover on his belt, exposing the mirrors he’d fastened to his torso.

  The driver slammed on her brakes.

  With a squeal, the Mercedes’ tires locked. The car swerved to the right, hit the gravel on the shoulder and spun. He caught a glimpse of the driver, a horrified expression on her beautiful face as she screamed and desperately cranked on the wheel. There was another person—someone in the passenger seat beside her. Shit! She was supposed to be alone. He’d been assured she would be alone!

  He jumped into the northbound lane. Avoided being hit by a speeding German-crafted fender by inches. Stumbled. Fell. The mirrors on his belt cracked. Glass splintered. Glittered in the headlights’ glare. Hell. No time to do anything about it. Gasping, he was on his feet. Running. Toward the timberland.

  Get out of here.

  The semi rounded the corner, pinned him in its huge headlights, flooding the wet pavement with near blinding light. He jumped and caught sight of the driver’s panicked face. He was bearded, a big bear of a man, yelling over the scream of brakes. Eighteen thick tires screeched, burning rubber. The cab twisted, the truck jackknifed.

  Oh, shit, oh, shit, oh shit! Run, you bastard!

  Rolling over the guardrail, he launched his body into the protective cover of oak and redwood. He landed hard, his ankle twisted, the joint popping painfully, but he couldn’t stop. Not now. His heart pumped furiously. Sweat poured down his face beneath the mask. From the corner of his eye he saw the Mercedes scraping along the guardrail on the far side of the road. Sparks flew. With an agonizing shriek, polished steel sheared.

  He catapulted down the hill and heard the groan of metal rending as the car hit the weakened spot in the guard rail, then broke through, barreling through the trees.

  As planned.

  But the truck, the damned truck was out of control, careening down the hillside.

  He was running now, his ankle screaming in pain, his lungs on fire. The semi blasted down the hill. Tires locked. Metal shrieked. The entire forest shook as the big truck slashed through the guardrail, following his path, an angry metal behemoth chasing after him, tons of twisted metal chewing through the brush. His heart thundered, his legs pumped faster. The semi roared.

  Run, run! His ankle hurt like hell, his lungs were about to burst.

  He rolled, raced, ignored the agony of shredding tendons, while zigzagging through the trees. Where the hell was it? His Jeep. Where? Desperately he tried to avoid the path of the jackknifed death trap. He dived headfirst over a fallen log, then scrambled to his feet as berry vines clawed at his clothing. He hoped to hell he could get to the Jeep in time, start the damn thing and put some distance between himself and the wreckage.

  The ground shuddered.

  His feet flew out from under him, and he landed facedown on the ground.

  In a blinding flash, a fireball shot upward from the trees, billowing bright red and orange. Night was suddenly day.

  Tortured screams, horrid, agonizing sounds that would haunt him forever, pierced the night as the truck exploded and sparks showered the forest, raining down to singe his hair, ski mask and jacket. Smoke, smelling of diesel and charred rubber, spewed through the forest. For a second he thought he’d die.

  God knew he deserved it.

  Then he saw it. As if delivered from hell. In the fiery illumination he caught sight of his Jeep, blood-red flames reflected in its tinted windows. Parked just where he’d left it on the abandoned logging road.

  Lurching to his feet, he unzipped his pocket, fumbled for his keys. He reached the rig and yanked open the door. He’d made it. Almost. Smoke clogged his throat as he threw himself into the Jeep’s interior. He was shaking, his ankle throbbing as he twisted on the ignition and the engine caught. The forest was bathed in eerie light. He kept the ski mask on as a precaution and slammed the door shut.

  Ramming the Jeep into first, he gunned the engine. Tires spun in the muddy tracks. “Come on, come on!” The Jeep lurched forward. Shimmied. Mud flew.

  Shit, he needed a cigarette. Bad.

  Finally the damned tires caught. He glanced into the rearview mirror and glimpsed the aftermath, fire and smoke billowing upward in the misty night.

  She’s dead. You killed her. Sent her black soul straight to hell.

  And she fucking deserved it!

  He snapped on the radio. Through the speakers, throbbing over the whine of the Jeep’s engine, Jim Morrison’s voice rocked out familiar lyrics.

  “Come on baby, light my fire . . .”

  Yeah, well, never again. The bitch wasn’t ever going to light anyone’s fire again.

  Chapter One

  She couldn’t see, couldn’t speak, couldn’t . . . oh, God, she couldn’t move her hand. She tried to open her eyes, but her eyelids wouldn’t budge. They weighed a ton and seemed glued shut over eyes that burned with a blinding, hideous pain.

  “Mrs. Cahill?”

  Mrs. Cahill? There was a touch, someone’s cool fingers on the back of her hand. “Mrs. Cahill, can you hear me?” The voice, kind and female, sounded as if it was carried from a great distance . . . far away, from a spot on the other side of the pain. Me? I’m Mrs. Cahill? That sounded wrong, but she didn’t know why.

  “Your husband’s here to see you.”

  My husband? But I don’t have . . . oh, God, what’s happening to me? Am I going crazy?

  The fingers were removed and there was a heavy feminine sigh. “I’m sorry, she’s still not responding.”

  “She’s been in this hospital nearly six weeks.” A man’s voice. Clipped. Hard. Demanding. “Six weeks for Christ’s sake, and she’s shown no signs of recovery.”

  “Of course she has. She’s breathing on her own, I’ve noticed eye movement behind her lids, she’s coughed and attempted to yawn, all goods signs, indications that the brain stem isn’t damaged—”

  Oh, God, they were talking about brain damage!

  “Then why won’t she wake up?” he demanded.

  “I don’t know.”

  “Shit.” His voice was lower.

  “Give her time,” the woman said softly. “We can’t be certain, of course, but there’s even a chance that she can hear us now.”

  Yes, yes, I can hear you, but my name isn’t Mrs. Cahill, I’m not married and I’m dying from this pain. For God’s sake, someone help me! If this is a hospital, surely you have codeine or morphine or . . . or even an aspirin. The fog closed in around her and she wanted to give in to it, to feel nothing again.

  “Marla? It’s Alex.” His deep baritone voice was much closer. Louder. As if he were standing only inches from her. She felt a new pressure on her arm as he touched her, and she wanted to let him know she could hear him, but she couldn’t move, not at all. The smell of cologne assailed her, and she instinctively sensed it was expensive. But how would she know? The fingertips on her skin were smooth, soft . . . Alex’s hands. Her husband’s hands.

  Oh, God, why couldn’t she remember?

  She tried to recall his face, the color of his hair, the width of his shoulders, the size of his shoes, any little trait, but failed. His voice brought back no images. There was a faint smell of smoke that clung to him as his sleeve brushed her wrist and she felt the scratch of wool from his jacket, but that was it.

  “Honey, please wake up. I miss you, the children—” His voice cracked, emotion strangling him.


  No! There was just no way she had kids and didn’t know it. Or was there?
That was the kind of thing a woman, even a woman lying drugged and half-comatose in a hospital bed would immediately realize. Certainly her intuition, the female animal in her would sense that she was a mother. Trapped motionless in this blackness she knew nothing. If only she could open her eyes . . . and yet the cozying warmth of unconsciousness was so seductive . . . Soon she would remember . . . It was just a matter of time . . .

  Cold horror crept up her spine as she realized she couldn’t conjure up one single instant in the years that were her life. It was as if she had never existed.

  This is a nightmare. That’s the only explanation.

  “Marla, please, come back to me. To us,” Alex whispered gruffly, and deep in her heart she wished she felt something, one smidgen of emotion for this faceless stranger claiming to be her life partner. His smooth fingers linked through hers and she felt pressure on the back of her hand, the pull of an IV needle stuck into her arm. Dear God, this was pathetic, a scene from a schmaltzy World War II movie. “Cissy misses you and little James . . .” Again his voice cracked, and she tried to drag up some tiny thread of tenderness from her subconscious, a tiny bit of love for this man she couldn’t see and didn’t remember. The void that was her past gave her no hint as to what Alex Cahill looked like, what he did for a living, or how he made love to her . . . surely she would remember that. And what about her children? Cissy? James? No images of cherubic toddlers with runny noses and flushed cheeks or gangly adolescents fighting the ravages of acne flashed through her mind, but then she was sinking. Maybe they’d finally put something in her IV as she felt herself detaching from her body . . . floating away . . . She had to focus.

  “How long?” he asked, dragging his hand away from hers. “How long is this going to last?”

  “No one can tell you that. These things take time,” the nurse replied and her voice sounded far away, as if through a tunnel. “Comas sometimes last only a few hours or . . . well, sometimes a lot longer. Days. Weeks. No one can predict. It could be even longer—”

  “Don’t even go there,” he said, cutting her off. “That’s not going to happen. She will come around.” His voice was like steel. He was a man used to giving orders. “Marla?” He must’ve turned to face the bed again as his voice was louder once more. Impatient. “For Christ’s sake, can’t you hear me?”

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