Dr. Liam Prescott had always loved Christmas. When it came right down to it, there was no place he would rather be celebrating the holiday than in his hometown of Love, Alaska. Candy canes. Twinkling lights. Peppermint hot chocolate at the Moose Café. Pine trees at the ready for decorating. Caroling from door to door. Normally there wasn’t a single thing about it he didn’t enjoy.
He’d been putting up a brave front these past few weeks, but he still felt as if he had a huge hole in the middle of his heart. It was especially hard over the holidays to deal with the loss of a loved one.
This year he would focus on Aidan. It would serve as a distraction from everything they had lost two years ago. The sound of his four-year-old son’s tinkling laughter as he enjoyed the spirit of the season would be the highlight. To see it unfold through Aidan’s eyes would be wonderful. Despite the fact they were still grieving, he wanted to give his son the most memorable Christmas ever. Although he would try his best to enjoy the festive season, it was still incredibly difficult. The loss of his wife in an avalanche search-and-rescue mission two years ago continued to sit heavily on his chest like an anchor.
Liam walked down Jarvis Street, pausing to peer through the window of the five-and-dime so he could check out the toys on display. So far he had a few items stashed away for Aidan, but nothing that would knock his socks off. He needed something fantastic that Aidan could rip open on Christmas morning and feel ecstatic about. Maybe if he focused on his son’s joy he wouldn’t have to deal with his own pain.
He regarded the red toboggan with a critical eye. Red was Aidan’s favorite color. His son was getting to the age where he wanted to fly down the smaller hills in town without his father cramping his style. I’m a big boy, Daddy. Aidan’s words buzzed in his ears. His pluck and grit made him smile.
Every day Aidan was growing, both physically and emotionally. He was starting to ask questions about his mother and the tragedy that had befallen her and irrevocably changed both their lives. Liam always tried to be as honest as possible, while still protecting his son’s innocence. He wished that he could tell Aidan that he himself understood why Ruby had been taken from them. But he didn’t understand. Not one little bit.
People often said losing a loved one was like navigating a treacherous, winding river. As far as he was concerned, it was much worse. He knew he should have pushed past the initial overwhelming grief stage, but every time he thought about his sweet, beautiful Ruby, he found himself floundering in a tidal wave of loss.
How did a person ever make peace with losing the love of a lifetime? He still hadn’t found an answer to that question. Liam had come to terms with the idea that he had to move forward with his life, but he still ached for Ruby. He still agonized about the things he could have done differently. He continued to ask God why He hadn’t spared her.
The insistent buzz of his cell phone had him digging in his coat pocket. A quick glance at the screen displayed his brother Boone’s number at the sheriff’s office.
He tapped the phone with his finger. “Hey, Boone,” he answered as he took the call “What’s going on?”
“Where have you been? I’ve been calling you for the last hour.” Boone’s voice had a frantic quality.
“I’m right here on Jarvis Street, heading back to the clinic,” Liam explained. “I just finished eating a few minutes ago.”
Liam had stopped in to eat lunch at his other brother’s coffee bar, the Moose Café. No doubt the din inside had prevented him from hearing his phone ring.
“Can you come by the sheriff’s office right away? It’s important.” He hadn’t imagined it. Boone’s voice sound
ed tight with strain.
“What happened? Is it Jasper?” Liam asked, inquiring about their grandfather, Mayor Jasper Prescott. His pulse began to race wildly. As patriarch of the Prescott family, Jasper was well loved. At times irascible and feisty, he could also be tender and wise. And due to his heart problems, they had almost lost him not too long ago. His health was a constant source of worry.
“No, it’s not Jasper. You have to prepare yourself—” The line crackled. Boone’s voice was swallowed up by static.
“Boone! Boone!” he called out. “I can’t hear you. The call is breaking up.”
“Urgent. Need to tell you—” A crackling sound came across the line. Suddenly the call dropped.
Something was wrong. Liam had heard it in his older brother’s voice. The sheriff’s office was only a few minutes away. Rather than call Boone back, Liam decided to head straight over to his office. Please, Lord. Let my family be safe and sound. We already dealt with the worst when we lost Ruby! Don’t let anything take us down that road again.
Liam raced down the street, barely pausing to say hello to passersby as they greeted him. As a doctor here in town, he had a lot of clients who loved to stop him for a chat whenever he passed by. There was no time for that today. There had been something strained in his brother’s tone that Liam had found alarming. He pushed open the door to the sheriff’s office and rushed inside. Shelly, Boone’s receptionist, stared at him with wide eyes. Fear skittered through him. Normally she greeted him effusively.
What in the world is going on?
Shelly pointed toward Boone’s office without saying a single word. With his heart in his throat, Liam thrust the door open without even knocking. Boone was standing in front of his desk, his head bowed. There was a woman seated in the chair facing his desk. All Liam could see was the back of her head and shoulders.
“Sorry to interrupt your meeting. The call cut out, so I headed straight over here.” The words tumbled from Liam’s lips. His chest was rising and falling rapidly. He felt almost breathless.
Boone held up his hands. “Liam. Let’s go in the next room. I need to talk to you.” His face had a gray tinge. His jaw was tightly clenched.
Just as Boone stepped toward him, the woman turned her head around, allowing him to see her face head-on. It was a face that had been seared to his heart, mind and soul for eight years. Long, dark brown hair. Brown eyes flecked with caramel. Café-au-lait-colored skin. A heart-shaped face.
Liam let out a guttural cry. He felt a falling sensation, as if someone had pushed him off the highest branches of a mighty oak tree. For a moment he couldn’t get a breath. There was no way he could utter a single word.
“Steady!” Boone said, grabbing hold of his arms as his knees buckled underneath him.
The room began to spin. He pressed his eyes closed. What was happening to him? Nothing was making sense at the moment. Everything in his world had turned upside down.
When he opened his eyes again, she was still sitting there, regarding him with a shuttered expression on her face. Ruby. His wife. The only woman he had ever loved.
Although she had been declared dead approximately two years ago in a failed search-and-rescue mission in Colorado, she was now sitting in Boone’s mahogany chair, looking very much alive and well.
* * *
Ruby stood from her chair, wanting to be on the same level as the sheriff and the man he’d referred to as Liam. It already seemed as if she was at a distinct disadvantage in this situation. Having amnesia meant she had no tangible memories of this fishing village in Alaska, nor did she recognize the man named Liam who looked as if his legs might buckle underneath him. She was still getting used to the name Ruby. For the first year after her accident she’d called herself Kit until she had remembered her real name.
Sheriff Prescott hadn’t told her who he had been on the phone with earlier, although she had heard him speak in an urgent tone. Next thing she knew, Liam had crashed into the room like a man on a mission.
All she felt at the moment was an overwhelming sense of fear. It was the same emotion she’d been battling for the last two years. Her legs were shaking like crazy. Coming to Love, Alaska, had been an act of pure bravery on her part. She had wanted to face her nebulous past so she could move forward with her life. And now, caught in this uncomfortable moment, she found herself wishing she had stayed back home in Colorado.
Home? That was a misnomer. She hadn’t yet found a place to call home. Perhaps she never would. After seeing a story on the news about a matchmaking program called Operation Love, she had experienced a strong feeling of connection with the town featured in the report—Love, Alaska. As a result, she had ventured all the way there in the hope of getting answers. And standing here before her was a man who might be able to provide them for her.