The crunching sound of his footsteps on the snow-packed ground filled the silence with every step he took. Ruby swung her eyes toward him as he approached. With her red coat and white, tasseled hat and matching mittens, she looked utterly charming.
“Hey, Ruby. What’s going on out here? It’s pretty cold to be outside now that the temperatures have dropped.”
She waved her mittened hand toward the woods. “I heard something out there. It sounded like an animal crying out. Aidan is watching television, so I figured I’d check things out.” She shrugged. A sheepish expression crept over her face. “I thought maybe I could save whatever creature was out here raising a ruckus.”
Liam cast his eyes toward the woods. “It was most likely a bird of some variety. A loon or owl. Or a beaver perhaps.”
She bit her lip. “It was such a plaintive cry. Heartbreaking really. It stopped right before you drove up.”
“You don’t want to venture out in the woods at night, Ruby. I should have remembered to tell you that. It’s fairly common to come up against wolves or even bears in these parts.” He felt like kicking himself for failing to warn his wife about the potential dangers in Alaska. It was still hard to wrap his head around all of the things she no longer remembered.
Her eyes widened. “Yikes. So most likely a wolf was hunting its prey.”
He smiled at her. “Most likely. They’ve been known to go after moose and caribou, as well.”
Ruby nodded. “And they’ve gone after humans, too, which makes it foolish for me to have come out here to investigate.” Her expression radiated frustration.
“Not foolish,” he corrected. “Caring about animals is compassionate. Part of living in Alaska means being aware of the risks, however small they might be.”
She huffed out a small breath. “It’s strange to not remember such vital things.” Ruby ducked her head. He could see her lip trembling.
He reached out and tipped her chin up, acting on impulse. “I know this whole experience must be scary for you. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to not remember so many things. For what it’s worth, I think you’re a brave woman, Ruby Prescott. You always have been.”
They locked gazes. Her warm brown eyes flared with uncertainty. “That’s the thing, though. I don’t feel courageous. You told me earlier that I was a brave person, but maybe that was the old Ruby. Most days I feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark without a flashlight. I wish I could remember Aidan’s favorite foods and the things that scare him.”
“It’s understandable that you feel that way. When I first opened my clinic here in Love, I had a lot of people questioning me.” He let out a throaty laugh. “There were residents who still viewed me as a kid, even though I was a fully grown adult who was a medical doctor. It got to me. Pretty soon I was doubting my own qualifications and skills. I wondered if I’d bitten off more than I could chew.”
Ruby’s eyes blinked furiously as she looked at him. A fragile hope glistened in her eyes. Ruby wanted so badly to get her memories back. It shimmered from deep inside her like a beacon.
Liam ached for her. Had he been so worried about Aidan’s feelings that he’d minimized how difficult this whole process must be for Ruby? Was he guilty of being selfish?
“And obviously you worked through it, right?” she asked, drawing him out of his thoughts.
“I did. Time worked wonders on my self-confidence. And with every day I became a little braver, just like you are.”
“I’m trying to be patient, but sometimes I just wish all my memories would come flooding back to me. There are so many questions rattling around in my brain. I’m excited about the tea party invitation, but I’m also fretting about it. What if I don’t know what to say to them?”
“I know you’re still getting back fragments of your memory, so you don’t remember them just yet. But those ladies love you. Honor. Hazel. Paige. They’d walk through fire for you.”
Tears welled in Ruby’s eyes. “It humbles me to hear that.”
“And don’t worry about not knowing what to say. There’s a saying that true friends know the song in your heart and can repeat it back to you if you’ve forgotten the words. That’s the type of friends you have in your corner.”
“That’s a beautiful sentiment,” Ruby said with a nod, the corners of her mouth lifting ever so slightly in a smile. She wiped her hand across her brow. “Phew. I guess that means I was a pretty decent human being,” she quipped. “If I had been a total nightmare, I wouldn’t have such amazing friends.”
“You’ve always led with your heart,” he said in a low voice. “And your kindness and loyalty to everyone in your circle never wavered.”
Liam looked down at her, admiring the stunning beauty of his remarkable wife. He knew he was staring at her, but he couldn’t help it. It might take him the rest of his life to get his fill of her after being under the belief that she was gone forever.
“Maybe we should go back inside,” Ruby said, looking toward the house. “I’m sure Aidan is wondering where I am.”
Liam chuckled. He could just imagine Aidan transfixed by his favorite science-fiction television show. “He’s probably still glued to the screen.”
Ruby giggled, showcasing the sweet sound of her laughter. “I have noticed that he can’t be disturbed at this time of night. He really loves all the space travel and extraterrestrials.”