“Good morning, Dorian,” Sloan greeted his friend with Dr. Delaney and Dr. Finella looking on. “I’d say you’re looking good, but it’d be a lie.”
Dorian’s grin was more of a grimace, but it was obvious that his spirits were improving. “All they’re telling me is that there was an accident and I’m at Whitehall; the last time I was in Whitehall was when I interviewed with the law firm. What am I doing here now?”
Having been briefed by Finella on what to expect, Sloan took this unsettling question in stride. “You’ve been hired by Manning and Associates.”
Dorian’s face broke into a haggard grin. “This is great! We’ll be working together! I’ll never forget your help in landing me this job.”
“They need to know your date of birth for some of the paperwork.”
“November twentieth. I told the doctors that yesterday. Where am I going to live when they let me out of here?”
“You have an apartment.”
“It’s a long commute from Denton.”
“Dorian, the Mannings want to know where you grew up.”
“All over the place,” Dorian chuckled. “A variety of foster homes.”
“Where did you go to college?”
“And law school?”
“Pembroke. And I’m sure I put all this information on my resume.”
“Your current employment is where?”
“Rawlings, Scott, and Simpson.”
“Aiden and Conrad are anxious to see you in the office.”
“I can’t believe I’ll be working with those two; it’s a dream come true, Sloan.”
“Brietta asked about you.”
“It’s a pretty name, but I can’t place a face with it.”
“How about Shayla?”
“What have I been missing?”
“She’s the secretary at the law office; I met her when I interviewed.”
“Any recollection of Brie yet?”
Dorian’s expression had become cautious with this barrage of questions; now a mulish look settled over his face. “I don’t know any Brie... or Brietta either. What’s going on here?”
Sloan looked to Dr. Delaney for help. The doctor recorded some notes, then met Dorian’s gaze.
“You seem to have some memory lapse which is not totally unexpected considering the blow you took to your head.”
“Memory lapse...you mean like amnesia?” Dorian queried.
“Retrograde amnesia,” Dr. Delaney clarified. “You seem to have lost part of the recent past. Whether this is permanent or temporary, only time will tell.”
Dorian’s eyes met Sloan’s. “You’ll have to fill me in. What don’t I remember?”
* * *
“So I’ve been working here for months now, you say?” Dorian had been listening to his professional life unfold since he had left Denton for Whitehall. “This is so weird.” He closed his eyes, trying to assimilate all the facts that Sloan had drilled into him. Suddenly his eyes popped open. “I vaguely remember a pretty mare sitting by my bedside... lavender with purple mane and green eyes. Do you have any idea who that might be?”
“Umm... she’s another lawyer at the Manning firm; she’s also the daughter/granddaughter of the owners,” Sloan imparted warily.
Dorian looked relieved. “Thank goodness; for a moment there I was afraid that I might have gotten myself committed to someone.”
“There’s that too,” Sloan admitted guardedly, but it would do no good to stall. “Brietta Manning is your fiancee.”
Dorian looked aghast. “How did that happen, Sloan? Was I in love with her?”
“She thought you were... you are, Dorian! This will kill her if you don’t remember who she is!”
The two stallions stared at each other for a long moment before Dorian could reply. “Brietta Manning,” he repeated slowly. “Well, she’s pretty enough. What do you think, buddy? Did I make a good choice or not?”
“A very good choice, Dorian. Now, I think you’d better get some sleep so you can remember her when you wake up.”
* * *
Pacing the hospital hallway outside the intensive care unit where Dorian was still being held, Brietta was becoming more testy by the minute. How long would it take for Dr. Delaney to finish the exam this morning? Having been denied admission to the room by Nurse Alana- she was sent to the cafeteria instead- Brietta had plenty of time to fidget. She had eaten breakfast and had drunk more cups of coffee than was good for a pony while waiting for the time to pass. All the while, she had been berating the hospital. She was Dorian’s fiancee- wasn’t she?- and should be included in anything that had to do with his recuperation.
Hearing voices, Brietta spun around to see Sloan coming from the direction of Dorian’s bedside, accompanied by Nurse Alana. Sloan smiled when he saw her, but Brietta was in no mood to be polite. “I was told that I wouldn’t be able to see Dorian until ten o’clock, but you were allowed in?” She scowled at Sloan and virtually glowered at Alana.
“Brietta, Dr. Delaney wants to talk with you in his office,” Nurse Alana relayed.
“Well, he can just wait; I’d like a chance to see Dorian.”
“Brietta,” Sloan said, taking her foreleg and edging her away down the hallway toward Dr. Delaney’s office, “Dorian’s exhausted from this morning’s lab work and the regimen Dr. Delaney put him through; he was asleep before I left his side.”
“Figures,” Brietta muttered under her breath. Was she never to have a chance to have a private conversation with Dorian?
When they arrived at the office, Sloan accompanied Brietta and saw her seated before taking a chair next to her. Dr. Delaney took off his glasses and stared at Brietta from across his desk.
“How is Dorian doing?” Brietta asked, leaning forward in her chair. A sinking feeling caused her stomach to churn. Why was the doctor looking so somber? A quick glance at Sloan did nothing to alleviate the fear she felt.
“Physically, Dorian is doing very well. He’s young and healthy and will heal without any troubles. However, he did take a severe hit on the head, and that is a more elusive problem to delineate.”
“So there is a problem?” Brietta felt the blood drain from her face and took a firm grip on the arm of the chair.
“It appears that Dorian has amnesia, Miss Manning. As I said, the strike to the head was brutal.”
“So he doesn’t remember what happened to him that night?” queried Brietta, finding comfort in the fact that it was probably for the best that Dorian did not remember the horrible experience he had been through; she could not imagine the nightmares he would be subject to for having lived through it; hers were bad enough just having seen the results of Hazard’s actions.
“No, he doesn’t. But it goes beyond that... he doesn’t seem to remember any of the time he has spent in Whitehall.”
Brietta opened her mouth to speak, but no words came as her mind raced with that tidbit of information. The time he spent in Whitehall would involve all his clients at the law firm plus all his friendships. A stricken look crossed her face as understanding settled in and her voice was barely audible when she asked, “Does he remember me?”
The glance Dr. Delaney sent Sloan was answer enough even before he replied. “At this time, he does not.”
“At this time? Does that mean this is a temporary thing?” Brietta’s face perked up slightly.
“Amnesia is a touchy thing. With any physical trauma like Dorian experienced, amnesia may result from bilateral damage to parts of the brain vital for memory storage, processing, and recall. Dorian has lost some of his past memory- specifically that time period associated with his life in Whitehall. As to its duration, we have no way of knowing that.”
“So he may or may not recover that knowledge?”
“Only time will tell. In the meantime, we will subject Dorian to some psychological testing to determine the extent of the amnesia and the memory system affected and repeat the MRI to see if there is any brain damage that we’ve missed; of course, we’ll also run blood work to exclude metabolic causes or chemical imbalances.”
“So what you find would determine what treatment you would give him?”
“Essentially. However, bear in mind that this may be a permanent condition; Dorian may never recover those lost months.”
“How does this affect his recovery?”
“As I said, his physical recovery should progress quite satisfactorily. And as to the amnesia, he will appear normal in all aspects of his life, except for not remembering events from the recent past. His motor skills and previous conditioning will be retained due to the fact that the brain has multiple systems for processing, storing, and drawing on memory. It’s quite a complex thing, actually, and we still have a lot to learn.”
“So for now, all we can do is wait?”
“Yes. We’ll go ahead with our tests and lab work, but the final outcome is beyond our control.”
Laying her hoof on the engagement ring that solidified the relationship that had grown and prospered between herself and Dorian, Brietta looked at Dr. Delaney and smiled. “Well, then, I guess I have some praying to do.” With that, she stood and allowed Sloan to escort her from the office.
“I’d like to sit by Dorian even if he is asleep,” she informed the stallion. Swiftly she cast a sideways glance at Sloan. “He knows who you are, obviously.”
“He remembers our days at school and right up to his interview with Aiden and Conrad, but he hasn’t a clue as to any of the work he’s done at the office.”
“So he’ll be more comfortable seeing my father or grandfather than he will seeing me.”
“Would you like me to wait with you until he wakes up again? Your father said I could take as much time as was necessary.”
“Sloan,” Brietta groaned, “I’m neglecting my responsibilities! But I couldn’t concentrate on anything at the office anyway until I’m sure that Dorian is going to be okay.”
“Don’t let it bother you, Brietta. Our workload is so befuddled due to Dorian’s absence that at this point it looks like it’ll take forever to get things straightened out anyway.”
“I’ll be at the office as soon as I talk to Dorian.”
“Don’t rush; we really are making do... our clients are very understanding. And it’s important for you to be here; that’s unmistakable.” He flashed her a grin. “Now, do you want me to referee your meeting with Dorian or not?”
“Thanks for the offer; and I’m sure that Dorian would be more comfortable in your presence, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t. What will I say to this stallion that I’m going to marry if he doesn’t even know who I am?”
“He can fall in love with you all over again,” Sloan softly stated, brushing a hoof through her purple mane. He dropped it suddenly as if just then realizing what he was doing. “Just be yourself, and he’ll take it from there.”
Looking at him with more than a little doubt in her eyes, Brietta forced a tremulous smile. “Well, I’ll do my best.”
She marched toward Dorian’s bedside with Sloan watching her from hooded eyes. How could Dorian help but fall in love with her? he asked himself... and jumped as Finella materialized before him.
“Are you still here?” she queried.
“I was just about to leave,” he countered. “Work is piling up.”
“How about a late supper at my place later, then? I won’t even expect any brilliant conversation,” Finella said, a winning smile on her face.
Sloan’s face broke into a grin. “Sounds like an offer too good to resist. Shall we say nine o’clock?”
“I’ll be waiting.”
* * *
Sitting by Dorian’s bedside, Brietta relived every pertinent detail of their friendship from the first moment she had seen him in the dining room at Whitehall Place. The instant rapport between them had been unmistakable, and that affinity had soon grown to affection. Dorian had softened the anguish she had suffered in seeing Sloan become more firmly entrenched in Finella’s web; and his kindness had been a salve that had healed her, allowing her trust to unfold and grow into something permanent and beautiful.
Gazing at the face of the stallion who had won her heart, Brietta yearned for the moment when he would gaze at her once more with his eyes softened with the love he felt for her; how she ached for the feel of his lips on hers and the security of his embrace. She drifted back to some of those kisses they had shared...
“A jangle for your thoughts.”
Dorian’s voice cut through her daydreaming like a sword, and a delicate blush darkened her cheeks.
“Dorian...” She saw by the look in his eyes that he felt constrained, and she realized that she was hanging over him, ready to kiss that face that had such an allure for her. She forced herself to back off and simply smiled instead. “It’s good to see you awake.”
“I understand that I owe you a debt of gratitude; if you hadn’t found me when you did, I’d... well.. things could have turned out differently.”
“Do you remember... anything?”
Reaching up with his one good hoof, Dorian caressed her cheek lightly. “Do I remember you? No.” He saw the pain in her eyes and continued. “Nor do I remember my accident or anything leading up to it.” Not liking the anguish he was causing her, he added, “I’m sorry, Brietta.”
The use of her given name was like a blow to the mare, and she left Dorian’s bedside to hide her distress from him. Blinking back ready tears, she managed to say, “Dr. Delaney says there’s a chance that your memory... will come back in time.”
Hearing the crack in her voice, Dorian flinched. What must it be like for this mare who was expecting something more from him than he was capable of giving? If he had been willing to take her for his wife, he must have been captivated by her; but now, he could not evoke an iota of personal feeling toward her beyond that which he would experience for any pretty mare who might cross his path- for indeed, she was beautiful with her lavender coloring accented by the purple mane curling around her face. But were not all the mares he had seen easy on the eyes? He randomly thought back over those he had encountered in the last few days- Nurse Alana with her saucy emerald eyes; Dr. Finella, an angel in white; Sara, the night nurse; the lab assistant who was always after his blood. He smirked.
Quickly realizing that Brietta was now watching him closely, Dorian looked contrite. “I keep trying to piece together the hole in my memory, but it’s not working. I promise you, Brietta, that I’m doing my best.”
Coming to take his hoof in hers, Brietta smiled. “Of course you are. This isn’t something you have any control over, however.” She looked down at her ring, then up to his face. Dorian was staring at the ring as if it were an evil serpent.
“I gave you that?”
“Yes, you did. We were under the willow tree along the lake at my home, and you told me that you’d never loved anyone but me.” A gentle smile softened the worry lines in Brietta’s face as she gazed down at the diamond as if reliving within its sparkling depths every nuance of that special moment with Dorian. Looking up to catch his embarrassed expression, she shook the romantic thoughts away and added, “You picked it out yourself.”
“I have good taste in diamonds; it’s beautiful.”
“I think so myself.”
“We had set a wedding date?”
“I must have loved you very much,” he said softly, instantly regretting the choice of the past tense as he saw tears slip down Brietta’s face.
Brushing away the tell-tale signs of the despondency his words had triggered, Brietta forced a smile. “And you will again, once your memory returns. In the meantime, Sloan suggested that we begin filling you in on some of the cases you were working on... if you feel up to it.”
Glad to turn the conversation to something less personal, Dorian agreed. “That’s a good idea; maybe something that we touch on will set me recollecting the past.”
Setting aside her own feelings that yearned to regain her fiancé, Brietta began a discussion on several of the cases that Dorian was handling that she was also familiar with, which filled the course of the afternoon. It was the arrival of Shayla, accompanied by Lena, that moved the topic to talk of family and friends and events around Whitehall, with Dorian seemingly enjoying the chatter of the three mares, often offering his comments concerning tidbits of gossip and information that were bandied about. Brietta was relieved to see him enjoying the company, but she was disconcerted to note that he did not seem to favor her over the others, treating all three of his visitors with the same polite cordiality.
The arrival of Dr. Finella induced Shayla and Lena to end their visit; once they were gone, Dr. Finella went through the motions of checking Dorian’s bandages and assessing the injuries. “Your lab work is normal; no problems there.” She grinned at him, and Brietta’s heart shrank a little as she observed Dorian’s reaction; he seemed infinitely more comfortable in Finella’s presence than he was in hers. She shook off the despondency that knowledge caused her by telling herself that his ease in addressing her was warranted because the two of them had very little association in the past, whereas Dorian was very aware of the expectations that Brietta had of him. Finishing her ministrations, Dr. Finella revealed one piece of good news. “You’ll be moved to a private room tomorrow morning,” she informed Dorian. “You’ll feel right at home.”
“Sloan was wondering when you’d kick me out of intensive care. I guess it’s a move in the right direction.”
“I’ll be seeing Sloan this evening, so I’ll let him know to ask for your room number when he stops by tomorrow,” Dr. Finella offered. Then, with a wicked glance at Brietta, she added, “I’m fixing all his favorite dishes to make up for the extra work he’s handling now.” Her job done, she slipped off to continue her rounds.
Dorian looked amused. “So Sloan and Dr. Finella are...”
“Dating,” a bristling Brietta stated brusquely.
“I see...” the stallion said, his eyes drifting to the doorway through which the attractive doctor had just passed.
* * *
Forcing herself to put in a morning’s work, Brietta did not arrive at the hospital until nearly lunchtime the next day; and once she had located Dorian’s new room, she was startled to find several visitors with Dorian- one being Officer Neil and the other the chief of police, Roberts. Dr. Delaney was also in their midst as well as a mare with whom Brietta was not familiar.
Checking her pace as she saw the crowd, Brietta was reassured by a motion from Dr. Delaney calling her forward. It was Officer Neil, however, who spoke.
“Miss Manning, your timing is perfect.” He closed the notebook in his hoof in a idle manner and crossed the room, saying in a low voice as he passed her by, “Dorian has had a revelation which has proved helpful; quite convenient for you both, I might add.” His raised brow accorded him a satanic look.
Brietta looked questioningly at the stallion in the bed, but he only shrugged. It was Chief Roberts who filled her in on the latest development.
“Dorian has regained a window of recollection, Miss Manning; he awoke this morning with a clear impression of the stallion who was responsible for his predicament. It verifies what you and McClere suspected... Hazard was the malefactor.”
“Was there anything else?” Brietta directed at Dorian, but the stallion shook his head in the negative.
“Nothing, other than the moment of impact of that metal rod.” He leaned back against the pillow and closed his eyes at the traumatic memory. The blow that night had caught him unawares, his entire attention being focused on his main antagonist, Hazard. The resultant jolt had exploded his mind like a star-burst that had faded into welcome oblivion. Now, with the return of that bitter experience, Dorian felt exhausted.
Brietta came to his bedside and draped her hoof over his. She longed to kiss his cheek, to comfort him, but not in front of an audience. She directed a question at Dr. Delaney instead. “Is this a positive sign that the rest of his memory will return?”
“There’s no way of knowing.” He glanced at the mare that Brietta did not recognize, then back at Brietta. “I’d like you to meet Dr. Kearn; as a psychiatrist, she’s better able to explain to you the workings of the equine brain. I think it would be a good idea for you and her to sit down and discuss any questions you might have. Dr. Kearn, Brietta Manning.”
Before Brietta could acknowledge the introduction, Chief Roberts interrupted. “Miss Manning, have you recalled any further information that may prove helpful to our investigation? I’m especially interested in the phone call you received before you went rushing to the ledge. Was there anything about that call that made you suspicious?”
“There’s nothing I can add to what I’ve already told you- the voice was close enough to Dorian’s that I truly believed it was him on the line; I assumed that he’d had a restless night and had come up with something he wanted to impart to me before we sat down to discuss Hazard’s threats with my father and grandfather. As I told you before, he seemed excited and spoke very quickly; I didn’t have time to question him before he hung up the receiver on his end.”
“There was no background noise to pinpoint where the call came from?”
“Was Hazard brazen enough to return to Dorian’s apartment to make that call?” Roberts was silent while he contemplated that idea, then turned his attention back to Brietta. “You had certainly heard Dorian’s voice on the phone before. Was there no indication that this particular caller was not who he claimed to be?”
“The call came while I was fast asleep; once I answered, the words came fast; when I tried to question... him... he’d already hung up. I was curious as to what was so important that it couldn’t wait until the breakfast meeting Sloan, Dorian, and I had scheduled for that morning at Whitehall Place. And his switching to calling me Brietta instead of Brie nagged at me. But the call was so short, there was really nothing to do but honor the commitment he had asked for; I headed for the ledge. In hindsight, it appears I acted impulsively; but at the time, it was perfectly natural to respond to Dorian’s request.”
“It seems strange that Hazard stayed so near the scene of the crime up until the time he knew it would be discovered; it seems a brazen thing to do; I’d have expected him to high-tail it for Capital City to establish an alibi.”
“Then you don’t know Hazard,” Dorian remarked.
“I hope to have that dubious pleasure before this is through,” Roberts replied. “If what you’ve told us is true, Dorian, it looks like Hazard was willing to go to any lengths to insure your silence about his plans for Whitehall Place.” Nodding a courteous goodbye, Roberts ended his interview and left; Dr. Delaney accompanied him, leaving Brietta and Dorian with Dr. Kearn.
“Dorian,” the psychiatrist said, “I think it would be wise for you to get some rest; I’ll make a point of visiting you this afternoon when you’ve had a chance to recover from your morning.” She turned to Brietta. “Dorian’s move into his own quarters here plus the recovery of a very painful episode has taken its toll of him; maybe you and I could discuss some things while he collects himself.” She adjured Dorian once again to get some sleep, then guided Brietta from the room.
* * *
Dr. Kearn sat at her desk, her hooves steepled in front of her as she stared at Brietta. “How are you taking this turn of events in your life, Brietta?”
Brietta returned the doctor’s steady gaze. “I’m devastated that such a horrible thing had to happen; I also resent the fact that Dorian no longer knows who I am or how important we are to one another.”
“That sounds like an honest answer.” She dropped her hooves to the desk and leaned forward. “You’ve lost something very valuable to you.”
“It’s as if the Dorian I knew is dead,” Brietta acknowledged bluntly.
“You were truly in love with him?”
“Yes, and I still am; I can’t change my feelings... even though it seems Dorian can’t return them. That’s why it hurts so much to see him look at me as if I’m merely an acquaintance, someone he met at a party and then dismissed.” She dropped her gaze. “Before, he’d look at me as if I was the one thing in the entire world that meant anything to him; how I miss that!”
“Do you blame Dorian for what happened?”
“Blame him? How could I? He didn’t expect this Hazard to resort to violence. Dorian is the victim here.”
“It was Dorian’s involvement with Hazard that led to this situation.”
“Dorian had gotten mixed up with a bad element when he was young; but he had put that behind him and built himself a new life. He didn’t seek out Hazard; Hazard came looking for him!”
Rubbing a hoof against her chin, Dr. Kearn grew thoughtful. “By refusing to cooperate, however, Dorian brought Hazard’s anger down on him.”
“That is all too apparent, doctor. Dorian is not a violent stallion; I don’t think it even occurred to him that another pony would take such a brutal revenge.”
“I wonder... did it occur to Dorian that night as Hazard’s intentions became clearer to him that you also might be in danger?”
“Hazard couldn’t have suspected that I knew; it was only by chance that I learned what was going on as it was.”
“I was just thinking... if Dorian did fear for your safety, it might have been paramount to him to keep your involvement from Hazard. That might explain why the memory that was affected by the blow from Hazard’s minions was that which directly involved you, Brietta. Under duress as he was and with you as the one pony he would most want to protect- and then receiving such a traumatic blow to the head- Dorian’s defense might have been to obliterate those memories, to put you out of Hazard’s reach, so to speak.”
“If that were true, Dorian put me out of his reach, too,” Brietta murmured, absently cradling the engagement ring on her foreleg. She dropped her head to gaze at the diamond; an unbidden tear traced down her cheek and dropped on the brilliant stone, breaking into a prism of color. Was this a sign of vibrant hope... or a cataclysmic ending?