"There is something about this author that makes me laugh. I just can't help myself. ... And while this author gives us ridiculous scenes, she also writes very dirty sex. It's a great combination."
-- Smexy Books
Unforgettable. That's what she's not.
Life is perfect for Samantha Lytton, big-screen superheroine. Her acting career flourishes, the bad guys from her past are in prison, and she's married her true love, be-dimpled ex-thief Sam. Everything is so rosy and idyllic, it's like a freaking princess movie. Well, an R-rated one. Nothing could mar Sam and Samantha's fairy-tale romance!
Except the moment in the emergency room when Sam, his head cracked open, turns to his beloved wife and asks, "Who the hell are you?"
He's suffering from...Samnesia! (At least he still laughs at Samantha's stupid puns.) How on earth did that happen? If Samantha is going to live her very own soap opera, she'd choose an evil twin over amnesia any day.
With no idea who has attacked Sam or why, Samantha is left in the depths of despair with a hunk who doesn't remember her, a creepy film director who's getting more threatening by the minute, and, oh yeah, the people who continue to try to murder Sam. How do you solve a mystery wrapped in a head bandage inside an empty skull? Nothing a little Norwegian fish porn and a lot of cleavage can't fix. Hopefully.
Samantha needs every ounce of her courage to win her husband back before their enemies catch up to finish them both off. She thought their love was written in the stars, but it might just be scribbled on an Etch-A-Sketch.
You know those moments that are so surreal, so nightmarish, that it seems you're trapped in a Lady GaGa video being forced to communicate with a spider wearing a dress made of bees, except you don't speak spider or bee? Or GaGa for that matter. That's what it felt like the day soon after New Year's when I arrived at the hospital, my best friend Ellen clutching my cold, stiff fingers, to hear the terrifying news.
The tall doctor whipped off her no-nonsense glasses with one hand and held a chart with the other. "Ms Lytton, I'm Doctor Mehta," she began in the grave voice one delivers spider-strewn news with, "I'm afraid your husband-Mr Ballitch?-is-"
"Dead!" yelled Ellen.
"Oh my God!" My knees buckled, and I collapsed into the chasm of horror that had suddenly replaced the floor.
"What? No!" The doc knelt down to my pathetic level.
I whipped my head up, hope flaring in my fluttering heart.
"Don't worry-he's just in a coma!" she finished with a smile.
They helped me into a plastic waiting room chair, and the doctor said more words to me about Sam. My brand new husband. We were supposed to leave for a honeymoon tomorrow, but now he'd experienced a 'blow to the head', had been 'found in the street', and lay in a coma-Just a coma! No big whoop!-induced by the doctors to reduce swelling in his brain.
Damn it, I loved his brain. It was one of my favorite parts of him.
"His name is pronounced 'Ball-itch'," lied Ellen. The witness protection people had a wonderful sense of humor.
"So, it's not a natural coma," Ellen said to me in the faux-happy tone one might use with a deranged cat. She petted my hair. "It's better, because the professionals are controlling it. Right, Doc?"
Dr Mehta made noncommittal utterings designed to not get herself sued when things took a catastrophic turn for the worse. I'm pretty sure that doctors nowadays refuse to verify anything whatsoever, including their own existence on this plane.
What she'd said finally began to seep into my synapses. No. No, no, no. Sam and I had a good life together now. No more criminals chasing. No more doubts nagging. And we had a cat. A beautiful black cat named Captain Taco. "I don't want my Taco to be raised in a single-parent household." The sobs came now like a tsunami.
Dr Mehta pursed her lips and stepped away from me and my wailing. "Do you need a sedative, Ms Lytton?" Her voice became softer, simpler. "Are you confused?"
My bestie waved her away and held me in her arms while I cried. The world had become a black hole, and its vast emptiness loomed on every side. I clung to Ellen, and she let me get mascara all over her cashmere sweater-that's love. She cuddled me close for what seemed like hours, until my body was an empty, aching husk. It was like Jesus had punched me in the soul with a fist made of tanker trucks. I told Ellen that, and she said it sounded like a country song.
After the crying had trickled, and the dry heaves had stopped, Ellen rubbed my back. "The doc says you can see him in a little while. The neurologist is with him now."
I pushed against Ellen's shoulder and swiped at some of the snot on my face. "Why did you say it that way? 'Dead!' Like you just won the Sam-hating sweepstakes?"
Ellen had always disliked my ex-art thief, and not just because she didn't enjoy penises in general.
"I mean, sure, I dreamed of this day," Ellen began with a swish of her long, brown hair.
I fell over onto the bank of waiting room chairs.
"Don't put your face on those! Or your hands. Ugh, Lytton, come here."
She held me again and said, "I'm kidding, of course. I don't want Sam to-"
I stiffened, and she didn't repeat the horrible 'd' word.
"-be in a coma or anything else. I want him to continue screwing up your otherwise ideal life for decades to come."
My life had been ideal for the last two years. My film career was amazeballs. I'd become a superhero with my own spoofy franchise-The Ovarian Hellion: The Sword of Cockmore. It had debuted this past summer with record-setting box office and fabulous reviews. Sam-now on the straight and narrow-and I had lived a blissful life free of criminals, men with guns and stolen art. I brought home the bacon, and he'd rediscovered the painting he'd given up long ago. And he was good. Damn good! Kind of in the Kandinsky or Pollack school-all strong lines, splatters, wild colors and passion. He would come to me from an afternoon of painting, covered in smudged rainbows and sauntering all sexy, frustrated artist-like…
Fresh tears sprang to my burning eye sockets. "He was trying to get a gallery show for the spring." I slid back down, my muscles physically incapable of doing anything but twitch and regret.
Ellen let me lie there this time-she patted my hip and wondered aloud where the bar was.
After a couple of hours, during which I stared into space, and Ellen tried not to act bored by cracking dumb jokes at me, they finally let me see him. Hope and dread combined in my gut to form a confusing new emotion that felt like kittens bathed in sewer sludge.
I entered the white room full of whirring machines and nearly buckled again. Sam's head was bandaged like Boris Karloff, his eyes framed by purple circles. The neurologist said he'd taken a blow from a blunt object to the medial cranial area, then landed in the street on his face not ten blocks from our apartment on the Upper East Side. I asked Dr Brains what the prognosis was, and he danced a soft-shoe, complete with spins- "Well, it's difficult to say-we hope that there may be some, perhaps, improvement of a sort-but, of course, dying and/or death might occur. We'll try to bring him out of the coma tomorrow-the apocalypse could happen is all I'm saying-no guarantees!"
I leaned over Sam, his beautiful hazel gaze shut away, giant tube things snaking out of his arm, his hair-what they hadn't shaved-as pointy as my insides.
"I'm the only one who's supposed to hit you, baby," I said. I had a long history of accidentally assaulting Sam. Most of the time, he deserved it.
Dr Brains did not find the humor in my joke. He shot me a stare of alarm and took that moment to tell me the cops wanted to talk to me.
Cops. Hospitals. How many times had I performed this scene? I needed to start burning sage to chase away evil spirits. Wait, I lived in New York now-I needed some damn Ghostbusters to get rid of whatever demonic wraith prevented us from being great. I thought I'd left my Lifetime movie days behind me. I opened blockbusters now! But being a movie star didn't stop the bad shit, it just helped the bad shit occur in a cushy, private room.
An Italian-looking older man shuffled in wearing a brown suit that I'm pretty sure was prized off Lenny Briscoe.
Right behind him followed, "Nicolette!" I cried.
Ellen ran to the room's doorway but stopped in her tracks at a pointed eye-flick from her fiancée.
"Ellen, Samantha," Detective Nicolette Fitzgerald said smoothly. "I'm sorry this has happened," she said directly to me.
This, naturally, caused my tears to bubble up. Her brown gaze shone with sympathy, and I couldn't believe that I'd be receiving the help of my-practically once removed or something-sister-in-law, the cop. She said, "This is Detective Pirelli, my partner. Joe, this is Ellen, my fiancée, and her friend, Samantha Lytton."
"That cock and swords movie was hilarious," Joe told me. "Made me want to run around in pajamas all day."
The Ovarian Hellion wears a sensible outfit of pajamas and sneakers to fight injustice in, because she was written by a woman. I wished I had that outfit right now-it's the uniform of everyone in a depression medicine commercial. "Thanks," I said. "What the hell happened to him, Nicolette?"
Nicolette sighed. "Well, a passer-by found him around midnight, just lying in the street, bleeding from the head. The assailant left Sam's wallet in his pants and didn't appear to take anything. I have a feeling-"
She laid on feeling because she knew that Sam used to be an art thief. However, she couldn't tell her partner that because Sam was in witness protection.
"I mean, I think this was personal." She paused, almost didn't shake her head, and asked, "Does Sam have any enemies?"
I laughed. She raised her eyebrows. I raised mine higher. A recounting of Sam's enemies would take all day and require a chart.
What was I allowed to tell her in front of old Joe here? Before she'd arrived, I'd called Sam's handler with the US Feds, but nobody had responded to tell me what the hell to say. "None that I know of currently," was what I told Nicolette now. That was as safe an answer as any. I told them he'd gone out to an art opening last night, alone, as I'd had a date with Ellen for her final wedding dress fitting. We'd had a private appointment with one of Manhattan's more snooty dress shops. My ass still had lip prints on it. When I'd gotten home, Sam hadn't been back from the event yet. I'd begun worrying around one a.m. when he wouldn't respond to texts. The cops had called at two.
Joe asked, "Do you have any idea why he'd have been wearing a ski mask?"
"What?" I tried to keep the suspicious shriek out of my voice. I failed.
His eyes narrowed. "He was found in a full ski mask. Is that normal for him to wear in the cold?"
"Yes." I smiled and nodded. Then I did it again, because that's normal, right? A fucking ski mask? "Yes, yes. His face is…delicate."
Nicolette seemed unconvinced of my husband's chap-prone skin.
The detectives wrote stuff down-not that I had much to tell them. If Sam had gotten into new trouble, I possessed no knowledge of what it might be. He couldn't have, though. He'd promised to leave his life of crime behind him. For me.
But why the hell had he been wearing a ski mask? There was one possibility…
Nicolette interrupted my jumbled thoughts to say they were off to retrace Sam's steps. She gave me a bolstering shoulder squeeze and left. Joe stopped at the door and said, "Don't worry, my aunt was in a coma once. After six and a half months, she woke up with half the use of her face!"
Did nobody understand what the words 'Don't worry' meant?
Because of the zip code and the equally-fancy price tag of this hospital, I was able to stay with him. I slept fitfully from sheer exhaustion in the other bed, awaking every time a nurse came to check on him. I made Ellen go home for a while-there was no point in witnessing my cold sweats and hot tears.
Sometime later-afternoon, I think from the mild light seeping through the windows-the neurologist came back. Dr Brains checked Sam's intracranial pressure monitor-a series of words I wished I'd never heard-but that basically boiled down to a brain tube. The doc made pleased noises, so I shuffled to my feet and dragged my depression-hungover ass to stand beside Sam. "Is he better?"
"He seems to be."
"Is that a yes?"
"These appear to be signs that are not bad."
He nodded sagely. "Yes."
"The swelling has come down."
The stale air in my lungs whooshed out. "Great! How much?"
"A… An amount."
My intracranial pressure was rising by an amount, too. Sam had experienced a moderate traumatic brain injury, which is like saying he was a little pregnant. "I'll bring him out of the coma later this evening," the doc told me. "Probably."
I sagged under the weight of my probable relief. Dr Brains began rattling off a laundry list of all the horrid things that could have happened to Sam's noggin, but I hummed Xanadu in my head instead of listening. What's the freaking point of speculating? Did this jackass want me to leak more on the pricey rugs? Any tissue he handed me would likely have added twenty-five bucks to my bill, because this was America.
Ellen returned and brought me a change of clothes. She reported that the press were clogging the entrance of the hospital like hair in a shower drain. Right now the theory online was that one of the several criminals I'd defeated had returned to haunt my family. But Scott Coulter-asshole number one who threatened to kill my family over a Picasso-was still in prison, and Valerie-asshole number two who shot me because I'm awesomer than her, and also over an ancient gold cape-was currently rotting in women's maximum security, so they were out. But facts or no, the press corps adored my real-life derring-do. Better they speculate about that than the size of my ass.
"Oh, they're still doing that," Ellen assured me.
Of course, for women are communal property that everyone is free to simultaneously lust after/hate.
We sat. We waited. Not one, single cell of my body didn't hurt. I ached from some deep place I barely knew existed. To avoid the pain, I talked to Sam nearly nonstop. I told him I missed him-that he was really falling down on his job to bang me. I begged him to be okay, I begged God for him to be okay, I begged Captain Kirk for him to be okay. Somehow, I knew Sam would put the bulk of his faith in the latter. When Ellen would begin to see me deflate while considering the what ifs, she'd bonk me on the head with a stuffed unicorn that she'd ostensibly bought for me, but wouldn't let me cuddle. After a while, she went and purchased a second one from the gift shop so that we could both revert to third grade. Frankly, not screaming on the floor and tearing out my hair was as adult as I was willing to be.
They came, at some point in the endless yawn of time, to wheel him away in order to take him out of the coma. I nearly did collapse then, but Ellen wouldn't let me clutch the wheels of the gurney and drag behind, the traitor. Nicolette returned, off duty, to tell me that Sam had left the art opening just fine, traveling in the direction of our apartment, which is the opposite way from where he was found. They were trying to hunt down surveillance footage from banks and the like in the area to pick up the trail. I checked my phone again to search for a message from Sam's personal Fed.
I lay down and stared at the empty Sam bed while my friends chatted with each other. I smiled a little to see Ellen talking to someone who wasn't me. Somebody ought to be happy. The wedding dress Ellen had picked out was beauty itself-a subtle column of cream silk that turned her into Jessica Rabbit. It made me think of my own wedding dress, worn not two weeks ago. Most people recount their wedding day among the best in their lives, and mine was, but that's not exactly it. Every day waking up with Sam was the best day of my life, even when he behaved like an annoying ass. His jokey texts or curmudgeonly frowns were the highlights of my day-he gave me so much joy.
Upon my renewed waterworks, Ellen climbed into the bunk with me and spooned me like the awesome best friend she was. I spooned my unicorn. We lay like that until well after I stopped shaking, the warm cocoon of her making it better, a little. I started, my eyes popping open when I heard them wheel Sam back in.
"How is he?" I nearly shrieked as I sat up, crushing a disgruntled Ellen's arm in the process.
The nurse, a lady even shorter than me named LaTonya, said, "Still asleep, but we expect him to wake up just fine at some point. We need to keep him here for a couple of days for observation, and we'll know more once we can talk to him."
"To see if he can talk, right?"
"There's no reason to think that he won't be able to. But I am obligated to tell you, anything I say is not a guarantee."
"Of course not. Do I have to sign a form to that effect?"
LaTonya tapped the bed frame and considered this. "No-the stuff they have you sign at admittance binds you forever."
"Wait-forever, as long as he's here? Or for-"
LaTonya blurted, "We're always careful with head wounds! The swelling has subsided, we drained the blood, and now we wait for him to wake up and give a big smile to see you here. We hope. Not for certain."
Her non-binding optimism gave me hope. I began sniffling and patted LaTonya's arm. I moved in to give her a hug, but Nicolette pulled me away, saying, "Okay, don't smother the messenger. Thank you very much, Nurse."
LaTonya smiled and squeezed my hand. "I thought your ovary movie was hilarious. And it was nice to see a sister play the sidekick. We don't get too many superhero gigs."
I couldn't take any credit for that, although when the studio had inevitably wanted to turn the character white, I'd pitched a fit and threatened to complain publicly. "She's getting her own spin-off franchise. Don't tell anyone."
"Wow! Wait'll I tell my mom!"
"Um, no, please-"
LaTonya finished with a, "Call me when he wakes up," and bounced away.
After pulling up a chair, I willed Sam to awaken for I don't know how long. Wake up. Talk to me. I don't care if you have problems, baby, I will take care of you. I'll quit my job, I'll do anything. Wake up. Wake up. Call me an idiot. Mock me for clutching this unicorn. Just. Please. Wake. Up.
His eyelashes fluttered.
I jumped to my feet and screamed. Ellen lunged at me, her palm landing on my mouth, her foot tripping on the mechanism of the bed. She fell across Sam. A strangled groan escaped his mouth.
"Nurse!" I hollered, diving for the remote control thingie used to call her.
LaTonya came sprinting in, alarm pulling her features as Ellen slid off the side of the bed to land on my legs. Ellen grabbed at my knees, which yelled timberrrrr, and I crashed, hard, onto the floor.
"What? What!" LaTonya danced around us.
Nicolette sighed. "He's groaning."
"Jesus." LaTonya put a hand over her heart. Three more nurses burst into the room, and our buddy waved them away. "He's waking up. She's an actress."
The other nurses shook their heads and filtered out of the room.
LaTonya checked Sam's vitals and leaned over him. "Mr Ball… Um, Mr Lytton?"
"It's pronounced Ball-itch," supplied Ellen from the floor.
"No, it's not!" I got to my feet, stepped on Ellen, then returned to my rightful place by Sam's side. "Bale-ick. It's German. Or something."
That earned me a funny look. No matter, for Sam's eyeballs swam laps underneath his eyelids. Yes! Yes! He opened them, his amazing green and brown hazel peepers. They were dark brown right now, confused and tired.
LaTonya said, "Sam, you're in the hospital. You got hit on the head. Can you hear me?"
He groaned, but nodded, ever so slightly. Yes! Speech comprehension! We were on our way. I smiled and grabbed Ellen's hand. She grinned and held mine tight. Even Nicolette appeared relieved.
"Where am I?" Blessed words from his beautiful mouth!
Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, stuffed unicorn!
"The hospital," LaTonya repeated.
His eyelashes fluttered, and he turned his head away from me, toward the window. A snowfall had begun. "No." He swallowed, his voice dry and cracked-sounding. "Wha-? What place?"
"We're in New York, baby," I said.
He swiveled slow eyes in my direction. I laughed and grabbed his tube-strewn fingers. "You were out for a while. You got hit on the head, and they called me here."
Sam blinked once. Twice. He looked at Ellen, Nicolette and LaTonya, who said, "Mr Ballitch, what month is it?"
"W-? Who?" Then he got quiet, his forehead creasing the longer he glanced from one to the other of us.
Nobody knew what to say to that. "I'm going to get the doctor." LaTonya bustled out of the room.
I got closer to him, and he glanced back at me. "You have a tube in your head, it's super gross, try not to move too much."
He didn't reply.
"It's January. Just turned January. We're in New York City. We moved here about a month ago." I squashed the panic that came with these words. No wonder he was dazed! Didn't mean anything.
"Okay." His eyes shadowed, and he peered at my hand clutching his. He raised his fingers-his platinum wedding ring glinted in the harsh fluorescent lights of the room. His eyebrows narrowed together. "Did Jane send you?"
My lips parted, and a cold shiver swept down my gullet to pool in my gut. "What? No, Jane's not here. We haven't seen Jane in, like…two years."
"Who the hell are you?"