“Rufus,” she whispered. Images of a sweet, brown-and-black German shepherd flickered in her mind like snapshots. Her mouth went dry. “Did I—?”
“You trained him, Ruby. He was yours,” Liam said, his voice suddenly tender.
Ruby wrapped her arms around her middle. The memories flashing before her eyes were poignant and powerful. Rufus as a puppy trailing after her in the snowy yard. Aidan playing with him. Liam taking him for walks. Ruby training him as a certified search-and-rescue dog.
And he had died on that mountain in her arms.
She heard Liam’s voice through a fog. He was telling his father it was time for him to leave. Out of nowhere it felt like she couldn’t breathe. She began to breathe rapidly, her chest rising and falling with the effort.
Suddenly she felt Liam’s strong arms around her. He was rubbing her back and trying to soothe her. Liam was holding her against his chest and it felt so good to be held in his arms. It was like refuge from the storms of life.
“Ruby. Are you all right? You’re scaring me.”
“I saw it. In my mind’s eye. It felt like I was reliving it. Rufus located several climbers who were trapped. And then he slipped off the ledge. I rappelled down to see if I could help him, but it was too late. And then I remember hearing this horrific noise. It was coming at me so fast...and then there was nothing. Just nothing. I was gone.”
“It’s going to be okay. You’re safe now,” he crooned as he caressed the side of her face and pulled her against his chest.
“I remember you walking with Rufus...and Aidan,” she cried.
“It’s good to remember, Ruby, but I don’t want you going through this emotional turmoil. It can’t be good for you.”
She pulled away from him. “You can’t protect me from this, Liam. It happened. I lived it. And through God’s grace I survived it.”
Liam shook his head. “My father blew into town like a tornado and stirred everything up. I never wanted you to have to relive your darkest moments.”
“I can’t pick and choose what I remember,” she said with a shrug. “I’m actually grateful to Gareth. It’s painful, but what I just remembered is a huge event. And it gives me hope that I can remember other crucial moments in my life. And who knows? Maybe I can return to search and rescue if I’m healthy enough to do so.”
Liam’s entire body stiffened. His expression darkened. “How can you even consider doing that? I won’t let you put yourself in harm’s way. It’s not going to happen!”
Liam had just thrown down the gauntlet. It simmered in the air between them.
“If I ever decide to go back to search and rescue, that’s my decision, Liam. I never gave you permission to run my life,” she snapped.
Hurt flared in Liam’s eyes. She hated to see that wounded look, but he’d cornered her and forced her to stand up for herself. Over the last two years she’d had to make decisions for herself in her day-to-day life. Liam couldn’t expect to just step in and make all her choices for her, especially when it came to something as huge as her former career.
“Point taken, Ruby,” Liam said in a clipped tone. “I’ll remember next time not to care if you decide to put yourself in harm’s way and make Aidan a motherless child all over again.”
Ruby sucked in a shocked breath. Liam’s words served as a punch in the gut. They bordered on being cruel. Deliberately hurtful.
Ruby turned away from Liam without a single word more and made a fast retreat to the guest bedroom. In the past few days it had felt as if they were growing ever closer, despite her stalled memories. Now, it seemed as if rushing rivers stood between them. And she had no idea how they were going to bridge the distance.
Liam settled into his seat at the Moose Café. He looked around the place, admiring the festive Christmas decorations that were now on full display. Sprigs of holly hung by the window while a fully decorated pine tree sat in the corner. Gaily wrapped presents were scattered beneath it. Holiday tunes softly emanated from speakers. Liam tapped his foot to the beat underneath the table.
The café really had become a favorite of almost everyone in Love. He admired his younger brother for reaching for the stars and making his dream come true.
As he did at least a few times a week, he was treating himself to lunch at his brother’s establishment. He looked up at the door just in time to see Boone striding through with his best friend, Declan O’Rourke, by his side. Declan, Boone’s lifelong best friend, was the owner and one of the pilots for O’Rourke Charters, a private plane company he ran out of Love. Just married to the town librarian, Annie Murray, Declan was an unofficial member of the Prescott family.
“Hey, Liam,” Declan greeted him. “Thanks for the lunch invite.”
“Hey, bro,” Boone said as he settled into his chair. “I’m starved.”
“You’re always as hungry as a bear. Poor Grace must be sick of cooking for you,” Liam said, chuckling. “She probably can’t keep up.”
Boone peered at his brother from behind the menu. “I cook just as many meals as Gracie. I consider myself a Renaissance man.”
Liam and Declan looked at each other and burst out laughing.