Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Romance excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded this one already, you’re in for a treat!
Can she love him if she can’t remember him? Molly Anderson returns “home” to a town she doesn’t remember, hoping it will spark a memory. She runs into Trent Williams, an off duty police officer, and something else definitely sparks. He wants to know why she left town, with her parents, but without a word to anyone. She doesn’t remember that life. She can only tell him she knew her parents briefly before they died . . . or were murdered, she’s not sure. She hopes regaining her memory will help answer that question. Trent has his own secrets, but they have a mystery to solve. As they work together and Molly meets their old friends, she realizes their relationship went deeper than memories. In fact, she grew up in Ridge City, even though her parents had said they lived there just a few years. How could she have forgotten her lifelong friend and love? Can she love him again if she doesn’t remember him? There’s also the possibility that she did something awful — and maybe that’s why she’s afraid to remember her old life.Molly knows she wants him now, but the truth might destroy their love.
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
“Maybe this is the one,” Molly whispered, hoping against the odds that people in this town would know her. She’d stopped by three towns already and asked if they remembered her living there, as her parents had told her. But no one had.
She drove her Honda Civic north on I-5 through the softly falling rain, watching for the Ridge City sign. She thought about the dangers of triggering her memory to return, but she had to do something to figure out what happened to her parents. Regaining her memory might give her those answers, plus she didn’t want to spend her life without a memory of her first twenty years.
The exit came and she veered to the right. A few miles later, the road ran along the top of a hill, giving her a view of the town below. A sign announced Entering Ridge City. The rain was just a mist now, letting the sunshine through for a minute.
The town’s houses crowded together until they reached the top of the hill, overlooking the generous farm land below. Molly had read as much as she could find on the place, which wasn’t much. The town sign said population five thousand. She saw a long main drag, a mill, the usual fast food and family restaurants, and a touristy section with billboards advertising Oregon gifts. If only she could remember this quaint little place. Had she been happy here? Would anyone recognize her?
She followed the main drag and parked in a free parking lot close to the police department, where she planned to go first. As she opened her car’s door, she felt pummeled by Oregon spring weather: fat rain drops and a cool wind. In like a lamb, out like a lion. This March, however, seemed to be starting like a lion. Molly pulled her raincoat’s hood up to protect her hair from falling flat. The weather wasn’t style-friendly at all, and her hair was curled and pulled up except for a few curls she left loose. Her black hair might draw some attention. If anyone here knew her, she didn’t think they’d miss seeing her today. Both her parents were a mix of American Indian and English, so Molly had light brownish red tone to her skin. Maybe someone here could tell her why she’d ended up in California without a memory or any family besides her parents.
The weather cleared and the wind died down to a gentle breeze that teased the curls by her temples. A few brave trees had blossomed, but the wind blew their petals all over the pavement like snow.
Seeing the police department sign, she slowed, hesitated, and then pushed herself to quickly walk inside. At the desk, an older and kind looking blonde smiled. “How can I help you?”
Molly liked her soft blue eyes and motherly appearance.
“My name is Molly Anderson,” she started with a shake in her voice. She cleared her throat and straightened herself, trying for confidence. “I might have lived here about five years ago, before I was hurt and lost my memory.”
The woman’s smile remained, but her brows pulled together and her eyes gained this intense focus. “Did you say Molly Anderson?”
Even while Molly nodded, the woman grabbed her phone. “Trent, get up here.”
Molly’s heart jumped into double time while her stomach squeezed into a ball. She crossed her fingers behind her back but also wanted to run right back outside.
A door opened to her right and a man stepped out, actually a broad shouldered cowboy about six feet tall, built like a bulldog, with deep brown eyes that lit up all shiny and bright when he spotted her. He looked genuinely happy to see her, but his size and posture startled her.
She jerked, jumped out of her skin really, upon hearing the rugged voice. “Uh…”
The excitement faded. “Mol?”
Now that someone actually recognized her, she didn’t know what to say. This man didn’t speak either, but stared right back at her. He was clean-shaven and neat with dark hair and eyes, a strong face that fit this build.
He glanced at the receptionist and back at her as if he didn’t believe what he was seeing in front of him.
Flip—flop went her stomach. Those eyes … wow. Molly didn’t remember ever feeling a burning and tingling excitement like this, but she knew what it was.
His chocolate-brown eyes gazed into hers like he was looking at Elvis back from the dead. Suddenly aware that her lips were parted in surprise, she pulled them shut, trying to pull her desperate hope back inside her before he saw. She saw a million emotions swirl in his eyes as he took her in.
“Molly, why don’t you come with me so we can talk?” He swung the door open. She didn’t move, and noticed he looked either confused or hurt. “You’re perfectly safe here.”
She nodded, tried to give the kind woman a smile and walked through the door. He shut it behind him and gestured down the hall. They went into a small room with a table, chairs and a shelf with a coffee maker. Nervous again, she turned to him in surprise.
“Please, relax,” he said softly, “I just want a quiet place for us to talk. I’m here to help you.”
“You know me?” She barely managed the words as she sat down.
His raised eyebrows and bewildered eyes turned to pleading at her words. But pleading for what? For her to recognize him, of course. He knows me!
“Molly Anderson,” he said or asked, she wasn’t sure. He had a strong face, she thought again, though caring. A sense of comfort filled her, bringing some confidence with it.
“Yes, I am.” She remembered herself, or at least the memories of herself over the last four years, and recited her usual explanation. “I lost my memory several years ago, so I don’t remember you.”
His eyebrows rose, his eyes full of disbelief. Not the suspicious kind of disbelief, but he looked like she just told him he had cancer. With puzzlement, he said, “You sure have changed.”
“I have?” This was her opportunity. She’d found a link, maybe some answers. “I’ve been visiting towns where I lived before. This is town number four and the first one where anyone knows me. Maybe if you told me how we knew each other, something will come back. Could you start with your name?”
He almost smiled. “Trent Williams.”
Molly repeated the name, but it did nothing for her. How could she have known this impressive man and not remember him? That didn’t feel right.
“Everyone said you were gone,” he said. “No one thought you’d come back except Alicia and me.”
She sat back and then realized how tense her shoulders were. “You said I’ve changed. How so?”
“You’re not the Molly I remember.” His eyes looked all over her face. Molly wasn’t used to having a man gaze at her like that, like he was memorizing and meeting her at the same time. Suddenly, she wondered at their relationship, how close they had been. Darn it, isn’t it a little late to worry about that now? Trent continued, “Your hair’s curled, done up, your jewelry looks pretty expensive, and you’re wearing perfume that nobody in this small town can afford.”
Molly tugged at her earring which had actually been her mother’s. Without her memory, a cool air about herself had been her only way of putting a buffer between her and the world. She still clearly remembered how frightened she’d been when she’d first awoken, and how everyone around her could see her fear.
“I wasn’t ….” She broke off. Wasn’t what? “I wasn’t like this when you knew me?”
“You were a down-to-earth, jeans-wearing free spirit.” A faint smile danced on his face, and his speech fell smoothly with a small hint of a southern accent adding to his slight drawl. She wanted to see his full smile. She’d glimpsed his white teeth and knew he must have a persuasive, slow grin.
He watched her like he was putting that person together with the person sitting in front of him. “I want to know where you went, what happened,” he said.
“Aren’t you going to tell me how we knew each other first?” Why this banter, she wondered. Trent rubbed his hands together and clasped them, almost as if he was buying time.
“We were friends. Hung out in the same circles.”
Was that all they were? And if so, was it all he had wanted from her? If they had been dating and she didn’t remember a man like him, maybe something was wrong with her.
“So why’d you leave?” He brought her back. “Why didn’t you call anyone here? Why didn’t your parents call? None of this makes sense.”
“I know, but I just don’t remember.” She heard the frustration in her voice and reminded herself that she was sitting here with someone who finally recognized her. Trent’s intent look, those brown eyes a shade darker than hers, didn’t leave her anywhere to hide. He wasn’t going to look away until she answered him. “I have about four years’ worth of memory. I remember waking up one morning in a strange house and finding a couple who said they were my parents. I became hysterical, not believing them until they showed me our family picture albums.”
“Where was that?”
He nodded, leaning forward.
“Northern California. I tried all kinds of things to get my memory back. Then it hit me maybe I should visit other places where I had lived.”
Trent leaned back, giving a soft hmm. He lowered an eyebrow, tilted his head to one side. “Seems to me that seeing me would make you remember. We used to be friends. And this town. Nothing?”
Molly shook her head. “I don’t know what to tell you.”
“Can you tell me what happened to make you forget?”
Trent’s question didn’t have an answer, at least not one Molly knew of yet. Shaking her head, she thought that if she could remember why her memory disappeared to begin with, maybe all of her memory would return.
“I just have questions and no answers. This was a long shot to come here, but I didn’t know what else to do.”
Trent tried again. “Didn’t your parents tell you anything?”
“They told me we moved around a lot. We lived here for a year and a half before my father’s job took him to California. I fell and hit my head, I guess. The doctors didn’t find any damage, but I couldn’t remember anything before that.” The fear she must have felt flickered in her eyes for a brief moment. “You’re the first person I’ve met besides my parents that knew me before.”
Trent’s hmm sounded louder this time, and he sank into his own thoughts for a few minutes.
“That’s what your parents told you?” he finally said. Molly’s brows creased. She had no idea what Trent was really asking with his question, but she sensed that he disagreed with her story somehow.
He stared at her like she might be lying. The hurt she felt both stung and surprised her. “Wait, did you know my parents?”
“Yes, I knew you and your parents.” He leaned forward, his dark eyes earnestly pleading. “Everyone did, Mol.”
“I . . . I don’t know what to say about all this.”
“I guess it’s only fair that I share about myself, maybe that’ll help.” Trent relaxed back into the seat, even though it looked a little forced. “I joined the police force after high school, and I just got my first promotion when you ran off—”
“Ran off?” she interrupted. He hadn’t mentioned that before.
“You were just gone, no word, no call to anyone. Just gone.”
This news didn’t sit well with her.
“Maybe you need to ask your parents a few questions,” Trent said.
After a short and involuntary intake of breath, she said, “They’re dead.”
His head shot up to stare at her. “When?”
“Two years ago.” After an unsure pause, she explained. “A car accident, or maybe it was tampering, but the police never decided.”
She shrugged, looking away. “I didn’t know them that well. Just those two years.” What a lie. They were her world, the only people she’d known. “I mean, I should have known them all my life.” Molly was surprised to see her pain reflected in Trent’s eyes. Could he possibly understand what she’d been through?
“Mol, I’m so sorry,” he whispered, and he meant it – they both could tell that. Oh no. He really did know her. The trueness of it hit her, taking her breath away. For some reason this hadn’t felt real to her until this moment. Hot tears stung her eyes but she bit down on her lip to stop them. Shocking her even more, Trent reached across the table and placed his hand over hers, a warm and friendly gesture. This is what she’d come looking for. She longed to walk around to his side of the table and lean into his arms, almost as if by instinct. If only she could stop time with his hand on hers…
“I can help,” he said.
“But I’m sure you have a life of your own to live.” She suddenly felt like a lost puppy tagging along with the first friendly stranger it found. While she wanted, and maybe needed his help, she wasn’t sure if it was asking too much.
“I’m a cop, and I know a few good detectives. The Anderson case is cold, but now you’re here to help solve it. Don’t you want to know why you and your parents disappeared? I’ll help you.”
She almost laughed. “You can’t take time off to do this, and it’s been two years since the accident.”
“I don’t care.” His determination wouldn’t sway. “I’ll ask to use some of my vacation. I’ve got over a month accrued.”
“Don’t you ever take time off?”
“No, haven’t had a reason to. But now I want to help a friend. Maybe you’ll remember your old life, but if you don’t, maybe we can find out what really happened to your parents.”
She pulled in a long, deep breath. “Okay.”
Back in her room an hour later, Molly went in the bathroom and stared at her reflection saying her name several times. “Molly Avery Anderson.” She’d tried that many times without results, so this time she added, “Trent Williams.”
This name sent her head and heart twirling. Rethinking her day, she wondered if fate had sent her into that police station. Of course, she had visited several other stations and towns before that one, but it’d been a gut feeling that she’d find the help she needed there.
Turning, she walked from the bathroom and stood looking around the hotel room. It was clean and impersonal, the way these rooms usually are. She felt a connection between this room and her life—she didn’t feel comfortable in either. However, it felt like a good place to sit and talk to Trent simply because it wasn’t too personal.
Meeting Trent and hearing him say how she was different made her look at herself anew. She’d taken on her mother’s style, she supposed, since she didn’t remember dressing the way Trent described.
He knocked and her stomach tightened as she went to the door and opened it. He seemed shy coming in, without the hat this time, and his hands in his pockets. “I got the time off pretty easy.”
“Good. It’s really nice of you to help me out like this.” She felt clumsy and sat down in a chair by the table, gesturing to the chair across from her. He, too, looked uneasy. She said frankly, “I want to know the facts about that day, when I disappeared.”
“Okay. On July 23, 2007 your house was found empty. A neighbor went inside because the door was open. He could tell all of you tore out of there in a hurry, leaving it a mess. Drawers were open, things thrown around, clothes missing. He called 911, said he had a funny feeling about it.”
When Trent paused, she asked, “No note? No call to anyone?”
“No. Nothing. That’s why most people think you and your parents decided to skip town for some reason, though we never found that reason.”
“And that’s all there is to it still?” She couldn’t believe that. She wanted answers.
“There were traces of blood on the floor.”
Blood? Did she hear him correctly? “Whose?”
“We don’t know that either. Everyone in town was tested for a DNA match.” He watched her closely to say, “I even got tested. We couldn’t get a DNA match on anyone that knew you. It appears likely it was a relative, though, because it was close, but not exact, to DNA taken from samples in the house.”
“I’m completely puzzled. I have no idea what happened.” If it didn’t match any of them, who could it be? She didn’t have any relatives that ever visited her in California. Of course, there could have been relatives before that.
“Unless the police missed someone in Ridge City, which could happen, someone was there that other people didn’t know about, someone from out of town.”
“Why did you say the police might have missed someone in Ridge City?” she asked.
“It’s possible someone was there and lied about it, but it’d have to be someone who usually wouldn’t visit you.”
“Oh.” She paused for a long minute. “I suddenly don’t want everyone knowing I’m here, not right away. You’ve told me so much. I don’t know what to think.”
Trent looked like he wanted to touch her, reach out to her. He didn’t, of course. Maybe she was being silly.
“That’s fine,” he said. “Just in case someone is looking for you, it might be a good idea. And maybe you’ll remember now that you’re back in your hometown.”
He looked puzzled now. “Oh, I was going to ask you about that. Mol, you lived your whole life here.”
Molly felt stunned and knew it showed. Why had her parents told her they moved around often? She had to blink back sudden tears.
Looking up, Molly saw the concern on Trent’s face. She couldn’t miss how rugged and handsome he was, or how he made emotions swirl through her. She didn’t remember feeling attraction in the last four years. Her neighbor in Redding sure felt it for her and wasn’t shy about it. She just didn’t feel the same, and had tried to tell him she only wanted to be friends. She needed friends.
“I searched all over for you.”
Why would you do that? She didn’t respond, and was glad she didn’t when he continued.
“We followed all kinds of empty leads.”
She realized he was speaking as a police officer. All this time, she’d wondered why no one seemed to miss her.
“We got coverage in the news, sent your pictures to police here and in Washington, California, and Idaho.”
The conversation lagged. She didn’t want him to leave, though. “So who are you, Trent Williams?”
“Me?” Trent studied her like she was somehow the answer to her own question. “I grew up here, too, on a farm a little ways out of town with my one sibling, Alicia. I grew up wanting to be a cop, and now I am. That’s about it.”
She didn’t believe that. “I’ve noticed a few things about you.”
He gave her a small, slow smile. “So tell me.”
“The way you stand.” She pulled her body up straight, demonstrating, and started laughing without any unease at teasing him. It made him grin.
“It’s not about being cocky, you know. I know what you’re thinking. But stand up and I’ll show you.”
She rose, arms folded across her chest because she felt like she was under a microscope now that his attention was on her.
“I don’t get it.”
He gave her a nudge and caught her by the arm before she stumbled. He pointed down to her feet. “Put your feet out like this.” He nudged her again. “It’s about safety. Now pretend you have a gun under this arm and you don’t want me to get it.”
“Can I run?”
He didn’t smile or laugh, so she looked up at him, wondering what he was thinking. She had to look away so his eyes wouldn’t hypnotize her.
“Put this foot back. It’s your gun leg.” He tapped her thigh. “Keep this side of your body turned away.”
“So if I ever carry a gun, I’ll know how to keep it safe,” she said.
“Well, now you know why cops stand the way they do.”
She liked that smile of his. It felt so nice to be laughing and talking with someone like him. They sat again and he told her about Mark Stone, his friend and fellow cop, who was a few years older than him but single as well, so they hung out often and had things in common. He told her, “We’re the only single guys on the force in this one horse town, so we stick together.”
There was a hint of loneliness in his voice that made her want to reach out to him. She didn’t feel so alone anymore with him sitting by her. This time, it was her that reached for his hand. Their gazes met and held until he cleared his throat.
“I came here meaning to tell you something important.” His tone scared her, so she reminded herself she’d come to Ridge City to discover who she was. “The department is reopening the case now that you’re back. It’s strange anyway, but it’s even more complicated now that we know your parents died. This could possibly be a double murder.”
The uneasiness she noticed when he had first arrived returned, and she had to say, “I don’t know why we left.” She didn’t add that it could be her fault. Or maybe she did something awful that forced them to leave. She felt in her heart it couldn’t be true, but she didn’t remember. One look at Trent’s eyes told her he didn’t know, either.
“We don’t know much at this point, but I’d like to answer these questions for all of us.”
Did he trust her? And could she trust him? Her words were about to gush out, when he said, “I’ll let you go to bed now, but I’ll come back tomorrow.”
They rose in unison and slowly walked to the door.
“Goodnight, Molly, and welcome home.”
Molly couldn’t help the grin on her face as her brown and tan horse trotted beside Thunder, Trent’s charcoal colored stallion. They rode side by side at the edge of the pasture, next to the tree line. “I know how to do this. I still can’t believe it!”
Trent had told her how much they used to ride together and she’d been intrigued. The experience felt new and yet familiar when she placed her foot and swung up on Galaxy like she’d been riding for years.
She was too afraid to venture away from her parent’s home in California, but riding through the countryside took her mind off her problems and new worries that coming to Ridge City had brought. Sitting atop the horse, she felt free and happy, and she wondered, even hoped, the feeling was a memory of how she felt years ago when she rode.
“This sure beats yesterday,” she said with a giggle and then realized her slip. “I mean, this is a lot more fun than visiting the police station.”
She had been thinking about how nervous she was at first. Now Trent wore casual clothes and they laughed with ease.
“Galaxy sure was happy to see you,” he said. “And you hopped up there before I showed you how, so you must remember some things.”
He had noticed. Molly tingled with pride in herself. It felt so good knowing she could do something. She smiled at him. “Things like walking, riding a bike, and I guess riding a horse.”
While Trent smiled back, it wasn’t a sure smile as he searched her face. He seemed to shake himself and look away. Maybe, when she’d felt so comfortable about mounting the horse, he thought she remembered everything. If only she could.
Molly looked down at Galaxy’s shaking tan mane as they rode. When she first saw the horses and how majestic they looked dancing around each other, she knew she loved to ride. Maybe she didn’t remember, but she felt it. The horse had whinnied and danced when Trent brought her from the pasture to see Molly.
“Did I tell you that Alicia let you help name him?”
“Really?” Molly looked forward to meeting his sister, sometime. That name still didn’t bring any emotion back except anxiety about meeting someone who had known her so well.
She patted her horse and breathed in a deep breath of moist forest smell. She wore blue jeans and a pink sweater, enjoying the soft feel of it since warmer weather was on the way. Spring daffodils bloomed beside their trail. The trees were still wet from a recent rain, but everything was budding or starting to bloom. The sun shone through the leaves for parts of the day, and the wind wasn’t as cold as when she first arrived.
“Yesterday and today went by so fast,” Molly mused out loud. “Everything went by so slow in California.”
“Life here did, too.” He didn’t look at her so she couldn’t see the emotion in his eyes, but his soft tone sounded sad.
Trent nodded to their right and they turned the horses to follow the trail, winding uphill through the pine and oak trees. He moved his horse ahead of hers on the path lined with ferns. Water drops fell out of the tree branches, landing on them and creating their own personal rain shower. Molly giggled.
“It’s beautiful here,” she told Trent, knowing she didn’t need to. She could see how much he loved the land and his horses.
“We spent half our childhoods out here in these woods.”
“Was I a tomboy?”
“No, but you didn’t mind getting dirty.” He got a gleam in his eyes, and she wanted to stare but needed to watch where she was going. He said, “I feel a little selfish, keeping you all to myself. Other people are going to be glad to see you. My sister Alicia has been waiting for you as much as me.”
As much as me? The phrase caught her off guard, and he probably saw it when she turned to stare at him. She didn’t need a memory to know her eyes usually told everyone what she was feeling. His gaze searched her again, looking for the old Molly, she guessed, and she had to look away. Alicia would look at her and want to see her old friend as well. Could Molly give them that person? Could she face them knowing they so desperately wanted to find the person they knew? Again, she felt the urge to run back to California and just move on, pretending her old life hadn’t existed.
No, she couldn’t live like that. She knew she couldn’t hide from Alicia and the other people she no doubt knew here, but she liked spending time alone with Trent too.
She sighed. “I’ll have to see them at some point, and I did come here to remember things, didn’t I?”
Trent watched his Molly as he led them through the forest, still blown away that she was back alive and healthy… and happy for the moment. Yet, so many questions and doubts stood between them. Why did she disappear? And why did she come back now? He wanted the truth, and he wanted Molly to get her memory back. If she remembered their time together from childhood, maybe all those moments would mean something. Right now they were just pictures in his head.
He watched her sway with the horse and throw him a smile. Yeah, she was having fun, and they were making a new picture, a memory that both of them knew about. Still, the unknowns haunted him, even in the quiet, misty woods.
He wanted everyone in the town to believe in him again, and Molly could do that for him if she knew what happened. A few people were still suspicious and blamed Trent for the Andersons’ disappearance. Things that big don’t happen in small towns and people needed someone to blame.
She glanced his way and smiled. “I’m so glad we came out here.” She spoke softly, her eyes glowing with pleasure.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “It’s real nice riding with you again.” It felt right. It almost felt like they hadn’t lost the last four years. For a minute, he tried to pretend they hadn’t. But maybe he wouldn’t appreciate this so much then. As things stood, he had her back, in a way. A big way, but he needed to get to the bottom of this too.
He’d spent the last four years searching for her and praying that one day she’d come back to him and clear up all the doubt. How could she without her memory? She had walked right by him without recognizing him. Talk about a heart breaking moment. Then, he heard her story and swore he’d find a way to bring her memory back. Or more importantly, bring her back to all of them.
Mark Stone questioned Molly’s story and raised doubts at the precinct. That was his job, plus he was acting in Trent’s best interests by playing the devil’s advocate, but Trent still felt stabbed in the back. They’d traded a few angry words over the subject, so it was probably for the best that he was off the case, and work, for a while. Besides his two weeks of vacation time, he could also take personal time. His boss made that clear, if he needed it to deal with all this.
Trent felt relieved to keep away from Mark for another reason: Mark had asked what Molly had said when Trent told her about their relationship. Thing was, he hadn’t. He couldn’t tell her about them now that he knew about the car accident that took her parents’ lives. If he revealed some of their relationship, she might realize he was a suspect in her parents’ case, just as she was. Her reappearance caused some of the old suspicions about him to come back to life. She needed a friend to trust right now, and the truth would scare her.
“Look!” She whispered loudly, pointing at a spooked deer as it jaunted off.
“I’m surprised that’s the first one we’ve seen today.”
He could tell she enjoyed the quietness as they rode the horses slowly through the forest. Pretending to get lost in the beauty around them, Trent thought back to when he and Molly were together. About a month before Molly disappeared, he’d proposed and she’d been waltzing around with a modest diamond on her ring finger. There weren’t many people in Ridge City who had a diamond on their wedding band, which made Molly even more proud.
This new Molly wasn’t anything like the wild one he knew then. He couldn’t forget how she looked as she sashayed down the sidewalk, her hips swinging slowly under her nice pants. She looked polished, like a city girl. She seemed to have more money now than before. Maybe her parents had life insurance.
Today she looked more like the old Molly, in blue jeans for riding and her hair damp from the misty air. Whether in jeans or slacks, she always looked good. She smiled when she caught him looking her way, but they still didn’t speak. They were on the back end of the path heading toward the stables, and he sadly realized the ride hadn’t triggered any memories for her. Unless she just hadn’t told him.
She turned her light brown eyes on him. His body jumped, remembering her red lips on his, and how he tangled his fingers in that thick, dark hair. I can’t take this! He almost moaned and had to clear his throat to cover it. Next, he had to force his hands to loosen their grip on his reins. He shifted in the saddle, restless and tense with want for her. She sat so close but so far away at the same time.
Her eyes looked troubled when she glanced over several times in a row. She must have felt his mood. He couldn’t fake a smile so they remained silent as they emerged from the woods and turned onto the pasture path, heading back.
At the stables, he got the brushes and they cared for the horses together.
“This seems natural, too,” she told him, then added, “But I don’t think…”
“That you’re really remembering anything yet?”
She made an angry sound then.
“Mol, don’t rush it.”
A sigh. “There’s so much to be frustrated about.”
He knew it, but that didn’t change it. Not sure what to say, he led his horse to the gate and opened it for both horses to return to the field. They walked back to the truck and he reached an arm around her, hoping that would ease her tension.
She looked down and he wanted to pull her into his arms, love away her sadness. When they reached her door, he held onto her a minute longer.
“Thank you for today.” Her eyes looked a bit shiny as she looked up into his.
“Hey, there’s plenty more for us.” He caught himself at the very last second before he leaned down to kiss her. Shaken that he slipped like that, he stepped away from her and opened the truck door.
When he reached the main road, an older song came on that they used to sing together. Molly started humming and looked happier.
“We can come back and ride any time,” he said, deciding he needed to enjoy their time together instead of brooding over what they’d lost. He’d headed back to her hotel since they hadn’t discussed any plans. What was the protocol for this? Act like they had just met, or whisk her away to his house, like he would have done four years ago?
He settled on, “How about dinner?”
“Dinner sounds great.”
Grinning, he turned around and headed for a little diner by the bridge. “Does Sally’s sound good? Good country food.” He wanted to add how they used to eat there all the time, but he’d already decided to enjoy the evening and not push things.
Sally, the owner, wasn’t there that night like she was sometimes, and he suddenly knew that was a good thing. She’d known Molly pretty well. Their waitress tonight had been hired about two years before, so she knew Trent but didn’t ask Molly any questions. People had to be talking though.
Thankfully the two people who stopped simply said hi and welcomed Molly back. A group of college kids came in and were laughing pretty loud, so they had something to eavesdrop on and laugh about.
He had always loved her smile and how much her entire face lit up. She looked at him now, laughing softly. Then tears came to her eyes.
“I would have never guessed I’d find you here.”
Her serious words sent his heart spinning. “You remember now?”
Her smile fell, sending his hopes right after it. “No, I just meant I didn’t think I’d find anyone who would help me so much. I felt pretty alone, but you’re here.”
He smiled warmly at her then but caught sight of a tall brunette walking through the diner behind Molly. He stiffened, realized he was holding his breath and forced himself to let it out. Molly looked worried and turned to glance behind her.
It wasn’t Bev, thankfully, because she would throw a hissy fit right there if she saw them together. Molly watched him nervously now.
“Sorry, I thought that was someone else.” To explain, he added, “I didn’t want you to face that yet.”
He felt grateful she didn’t press for a further explanation. A few years ago she would have, but this was completely different. Like they were two different people, or maybe the same people starting over.
She’d been studying him and said suddenly, “This does feel familiar.” He could see her searching and reaching for a history to match this feeling between them. “Maybe,” she added at last with a sigh.
“But what were you thinking?”
“Well, I don’t feel out of place here at all. Maybe there’s something there. But then why did I forget about it? Why was I in California? Now I’m not sure my parents told me the truth.”
It seemed all her questions came crashing down on any hope of recovering her memory. He touched her hand on the table, wanting to reassure her but didn’t know what to say.
After dinner, Trent had the same urge to stretch the evening out, but it was getting late and, in reality, she didn’t know him that well any more. He pulled up to the main door of her hotel and let the truck idle. Mol reached for his hand first, just a light touch to say goodbye.
“Goodnight, and thanks for today and dinner.”
“Anytime, and I mean it.” He smiled, knowing she had to be thinking about kissing him. Right? Or maybe wishing he’d kiss her. Crazy.
She opened her door and slid out of his truck. He answered her wave with his own and left in the misty evening rain that started up. That was it, for today anyway.
As he drove to his parents’ house, Trent unsuccessfully tried to stop the summer four years ago from running through his mind. He fought this same war every day, trying to not think about Molly.
“But she’s here.” Styled, cultured, but still his Molly. His mind played games with him and envisioned her in a short pair of cut-off blue jeans, her long black hair flying around her as the sun shone on it. She loved anything active that kept her going. Her dark brown eyes held a mischievous gleam, but the small freckles dotting her nose gave her a little-girl look. He was really whipping on himself today, replaying the afternoon he’d proposed to her.
They were hiking up the hill for a picnic, and Molly was running ahead of him. She made it to the apple tree they always sat under, the one he carved their names into, and plopped down to wait for him, her arms resting on her knees.
“Slow poke!” she called with a giggle. “You can’t be a cop if you can’t chase down the bad guys.”
“Are you one of those bad guys?” he asked upon reaching her. He spread out a blanket and set down their bag.
“Hungry already?” she asked, her voice teasing that maybe she wanted something else.
“Well … hey, what’s this?” He pulled out a shoe box and handed it to her. It hadn’t been easy packing their lunch around that box, but he wanted to surprise her. A little box would have ruined it.
She threw him a glance, a half smile, and lifted the lid. Trent remembered how her face came up, those big brown eyes filling with tears. When he asked, she just nodded, and he slid the ring slowly onto her finger. A perfect fit, just like the two of them. She grabbed him in a fierce hug, kissed his cheek, his mouth… After a long kiss, Molly jumped to her feet, ran to the edge of the hill, and shouted down to Ridge City, “I’m getting married!”
He was sure the entire town heard her.
His daydream ended when he pulled up to his parents’ house and saw Beverly Marshall standing on the porch, arms folded, dark eyes set for a fight. It hadn’t been her at the diner, but it was her for sure now. Damn it. He didn’t like how she spent time with his parents, but so far he wasn’t able to shake her. She was distant family in a way, in his parents’ line of thinking. His sister Alicia had married David, Bev’s cousin, and that made it okay for her to hang around.
The porch light right above her cast shadows on her face in the dark, and he imagined a scowl on her face.
“What’s got you going this time?” He swung out of the truck, hoping he could soften her mood before telling her the good news.
“Molly Anderson, that’s what. Was it her?” Bev, he had to admit, was pretty, but when mad, she looked like a classic TV villain with her dark eyebrows, which were usually pulled together in a glare. She tended to overuse the pouting beauty look too.
He was taken aback that she knew so soon. “How?”
“Just got a call, Terry Hill swears he saw you walking with her on Main Street yesterday.” The door opened behind Bev.
Brenda, his mother, stepped out with an anxious face. Mom usually had a pleasant face, but Trent saw the question in her eyes as she asked, “How did today go?”
“Is it really her?” Bev questioned again.
“Yes, it is her. She’s back. Let me come in and explain.” He followed them inside and saw his dad. Of course he had called his parents about Molly’s reappearance, but he’d been so excited he probably didn’t explain everything well. Since Bev didn’t know any of it, he repeated the appropriate parts of Molly’s story while Bev kept her eyes narrowed and lips twisted.
“You’ll check into her story, right?” she asked when he’d finished.
Trent shook his head in disbelief, but upon glancing at his mother’s expression, said, “Already am. The case needs to be closed, you know.”
Bev sighed, sat back, and continued to glare at him. “We all know what she did to you by leaving, and now you’re welcoming her back, no questions asked. She could hurt you all over again.”
Trent sprang to his feet. “Didn’t you hear what I just told you? She lost her memory.”
“But they packed, all of them, and left.” Bev stood and left in a huff, stopping only to call out a goodbye to his parents. They packed. How did he get around that one? Molly didn’t know why she left, but just the same, she had packed and left.
Trent looked at them and found his mother teary eyed.
Downhearted, he tried to cheer them up. “I can’t explain it yet, but now we can try.”
His mom threw a look at his dad before she said, “I’m just so happy she’s back and safe.” She grabbed her son in a hug. “You know Beverly’s cynical about everything. She watches out for her friends, that’s all.”
“And you know she’s been trying to be more than friends since before Molly left. It’s pretty late, so I’m heading home.” He pulled his mom into his arms, squeezing her, before he walked outside.
“Just be careful, that’s all I’m saying,” she called from the front door as he climbed in his truck.