Brothers of Cooper Ranch

By: Leslie North

She didn't know why that suddenly felt, to her, like the most imperative question to ask. Before Dr. Billson could respond, a long shadow passed across the frame of the doorway. Bella strained to look past her doctor's shoulder and gasped at what she saw.

Sawyer stood in the door. The moment his eyes locked with hers, he crossed the threshold and walked rapidly to her bedside. Bella tried to sit up again, inexplicably drawn to his approach like a ball bearing to a magnet, but Dr. Billson's gentling hand stopped her once more. "Lie back, Bella," her doctor said more firmly this time.

Bella, even more firmly, ignored him.

Sawyer's golden hair, normally tamed and combed back from his forehead and ears, was a collection of natural cowlicks that almost translated as curls. He looked rumpled, maybe even fatigued; there were dark circles under his intense blue-green eyes, but even a lack of sleep couldn't make Sawyer Cooper appear anything less than Adonis-like. A dusting of stubble darkened his jaw and crept along his neck. Bella's eyes followed it down, and she noticed the black plaid shirt unbuttoned at his collar and showing off a deep patch of his sun-browned chest. If it had been hard to think before Sawyer entered the room, it was pretty much impossible now.

"Sawyer? What are you doing here?" she whispered. She didn't seem able to speak in anything above a murmur without making her head hurt.

"What do you mean, what am I doing here?" He looked caught between the urge to laugh and the urge to dispatch whatever joke he thought she was trying to make.

Bella shook her head again. Big mistake. Someone was wielding a rubber mallet inside her skull, and she cringed as the dull pain behind her eyes worsened. "We were just at the art gallery. You were talking to my father. You were being kind of badass, actually." She blushed appreciatively at the memory. No one had ever stood up to her father the way Sawyer had, especially not in defense of her.

For some reason, Sawyer seemed unwilling—or unable—to immediately answer her. Yes, it was the second one, Bella thought, as she watched a flicker of astonishment pass across his features. Lacking vital answers, she was forced to try and assemble a picture now through every minor detail and subtle movement of his face.

"Bella, where do you think you are?" Sawyer asked her.

"Don't be ridiculous. We're in Boston," she said confidently. If this was Sawyer's idea of a prank, then she really didn't appreciate it.

The room went suddenly silent. It was only then that Bella noticed the lack of familiar sound, or any sound at all—there was no hum of activity, no blaring of car horns, that indicated the morning traffic of Back Bay.

"We're in Montana," Sawyer said. "At my family's ranch. You took a tumble off a horse yesterday morning and hit your head."

"I…I don't…" I don't remember any of this! she wanted to scream. "I was on a horse?" was the pathetic question that managed to eke out past her trembling lips.

"After a fall like hers, it's perfectly natural to experience some memory loss," Dr. Billson was saying, but Bella could barely hear him through the sudden, panicked ringing in her ears. "It's uncommon, of course, but not unheard of. I was told the doctors at the hospital discussed the possibility of it with you, Mr. Cooper, before I flew in."

"Are you saying Bella has amnesia?" Sawyer demanded through clenched teeth.

"Stop talking like I'm not here!" Bella tried to force her voice louder, but even a whisper-shout made her head ring. "What the hell happened to me?" Her eyes shot between Sawyer and Dr. Billson, desperate to make sense of what they were saying. A sharp pain flared in her forehead as a result of the rapid eye movement, and she touched her temple with a wince. Her fingers pressed a tender spot covered by a bandage. She drew her hand away and stared at it as if it might be covered in fresh blood.

Sawyer swooped in. He dropped down into the chair by her bedside and reached for her, but she cringed back. Sawyer had never reached for her before. He only barely acknowledged her half the time at parties. It was all part of the game.

When had their relationship, and the rules, changed so drastically? Where had she been?

"Bella, it's been a month since the art opening in Boston," Sawyer murmured.

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