Piper leaned in and saw a middle-aged man with a protruding belly hanging over his faded jeans, a dirty, bushy blond mustache with matching beard and nicotine-stained fingers.
“Sir, my name is Piper and I’m an EMT. I was told your back is hurting. Can you stand?”
He nodded and slid out of the car as Piper backed up. When he came to his full height, he winced, grabbing his lower back—whether for show to get the officer’s sympathy or because the pain was indeed real, she didn’t know. Yet again, not her place to judge.
“If you’ll come this way, we can set you in the back of an ambulance. You may want to go to the hospital just to make sure nothing else is wrong, but I can get your vitals over here.”
“I appreciate that, ma’am.”
As she led the man toward the nearest empty ambulance, her eyes scanned the crowd for Ryan. Had he already been taken to the E.R.? Were his injuries life-threatening? The unknowns were killing her.
She knew a life flight chopper hadn’t been dispatched to the scene, so that was a mild comfort. Not only for the fact Ryan didn’t need a medevac, but that none of the others involved in the accident did, either.
Another ambulance arrived on the scene as Piper assisted the truck driver into the back of a vacant one. When fresh paramedics hopped from their emergency vehicle and made their way toward the group of injured people, she jogged back over to assist.
But froze in her tracks as one head lifted and a familiar set of dark eyes met hers. He was amid a group of Mexicans, but this man... She knew this man.
Dear God. How could this... What the hell...?
“Alex?” she whispered to herself.
Piper took off at a dead run and stopped beside Alex Santiago. Her bag dropped at her feet as she held her breath.
Was she honest to God seeing the man who’d disappeared months ago without a trace? Could it truly be him?
The man glanced up at her, holding his hand over his eyes to block the glaring afternoon sun.
My God. It was him. The hair was a shaggy, unkempt mess and the scruff on his cheeks and chin indicated he hadn’t shaved in a few days or even weeks. But this was Alex... The man who’d been missing from Royal, Texas, for months.
The man most people assumed had become a victim of foul play, maybe even at his best friend’s hand. But here he was, living and breathing.
“Alex, what on earth are you doing here? Where have you been?” she asked, eyeing the knot on the side of his head.
He winced as she slid her fingertip over the swollen bump. “You must have me confused with someone else. My name isn’t Alex.”
Piper’s hand stilled above his head as she leaned down to look him in the eyes. She was pretty sure she knew what her friend looked like. Just because she hadn’t seen him in months didn’t mean she was clueless.
She looked closer. Um...yeah, this was Alex. If he didn’t think he was Alex, then he’d hit his head too hard in that crash. But at least he was alive.
“Your name is Alex Santiago,” she told him, making sure to keep her eyes locked on to his, waiting for a spark of recognition from his end.
His brows drew together and he slowly shook his head. “I’ve never heard that name.”
“Then what do people call you?” she asked, worry growing deeper with each passing moment.
Alex’s eyes searched hers; he opened his mouth, closed it and sighed. “I don’t...remember. That doesn’t make sense. How could I not know my own name?”
“You have a good bump here on your head,” she reminded him as her eyes traveled down to the wrist he cradled in his other hand. “Looks like you may have broken your wrist.”
He glanced down and simply nodded. Piper worried shock may be setting in. Between the accident and the apparent memory loss, she had no doubt Alex was shaken.
“Let’s get you to an ambulance and see what the doctors have to say once you get to the hospital,” she said gently. “I’m sure you’ll remember you’re Alex Santiago in no time. I’m Piper Kindred and we’ve been friends for a while. Can you at least tell me how you got into that truck?”
Piper lifted her duffel bag, helped Alex to his feet and held an arm around his waist when he started to sway. “Easy,” she told him. “No rush. We’re only going to that ambulance a few feet away. Think you can make it or should I bring a gurney?”
“No, I’m okay.”
She didn’t quite believe him so she kept him leaning against her side as she led him to the waiting ambulance.