A vein began thrumming above her eye. “Those things may have changed. I’ve done a lot of research on my condition. Tastes can become altered after a brain injury. For instance, I love apples. I may not have before.”
Liam grinned. It made him happy to know that she hadn’t changed completely, despite the differences he noticed in her demeanor and personality. “You’ve always loved apples,” he said. “Ever since I’ve known you.”
“That’s good to know,” she said. A hint of a smile played around her lips. For a moment she looked less somber. Almost lighthearted. Within seconds, a shadow crossed her face. “I’m not sure about meeting Aidan. I don’t know how to act, what to say to him.”
/> Liam had to stop himself from reaching out and caressing her cheek. She looked so vulnerable right now. “You’re his mother, Ruby. For him, that’s going to trump everything else. Remember, he’s only four years old. He’s at the age where he accepts things at face value for the most part. Unless, of course, you’re trying to get him to eat his vegetables.” Liam let out a chuckle. “Aidan and broccoli have been having a tough time of it lately.”
Ruby scrunched up her face. “Broccoli? Yuck. The kid has good taste. I like him already.” She let out a sweet laugh.
“And I’m not an expert on amnesia, but as a physician, I know that certain things can trigger memories. Maybe seeing Aidan will cause you to remember something solid about your life before the head trauma,” he said. “Something that can ground you in the here and now.”
She chewed her lip for a moment. It seemed as if she was soaking in everything he had explained to her. “You’re right,” she said with a nod. “I owe him a shot at remembering. He’s mine, whether I remember him or not. I’m not sure if I know how to be his mother, Liam, but I know it’s not right to walk away from this. At least not without seeing him first.”
“I’m not asking for the moon, Ruby. I just want you to meet him, to see him face-to-face. We’ll cross the bridges as they come.”
“I’ll do it,” Ruby said with an emphatic nod of her head. “I want to see our son.”
Liam felt a tightening sensation in his chest. Aidan was going to be reunited with his mother! It was almost as wonderful as the moment the knowledge had seeped in that Ruby was alive. For the last two years he had been walking around like a man with half a heart. Now, for the first time in forever, he felt as if he had hope. Although he knew the odds might be stacked against Ruby getting her memory back, he couldn’t help but feel optimistic about their lives returning to normal. And, above all else, Aidan getting his mother back.
With Ruby back in their world, God had just presented him and his son with the best Christmas gift ever.
* * *
Ruby sat in the passenger seat of the big, midnight-blue truck and gazed in wonder at her surroundings. She almost felt like a little kid as she swung her eyes in every direction. Everything in this village was so beautiful. It resembled an old-fashioned postcard. Jarvis Street—the main area in town—had quaint shops lit up with sparkly Christmas lights and charming lampposts decorated in red and white.
A huge pine tree sat on the town green, adorned with colored lights and an abundance of ornaments. Couples were walking hand in hand down the street while a group of children had their noses pressed against one of the shop windows. A big sign with the words Operation Love hung on a shop door. Her attention was drawn to an establishment called the Moose Café. It looked festive and fun, judging by the moose logo above the door and the customers who sailed out the door with contented smiles on their faces.
“That’s my brother Cameron’s place.” Liam glanced over at her, as if waiting for her to react to the name he’d tossed out. It hadn’t registered at all. She felt a little dip in her stomach. It felt as if she might be disappointing him by not remembering names and places and this glorious town. But she could never pretend about her memories just to make someone happy—they were sacred.
“It started as a coffee bar, but it’s morphed into a pretty good restaurant,” Liam explained. “He serves up a mighty good mochaccino and a whole assortment of other fancy coffee drinks.”
“It seems like a great place,” she said, admiring the soft glow emanating from inside. It looked like the sort of establishment where friends gathered to share food, good conversation and fellowship. Who had her friends been in this small fishing village? Had they mourned her passing? Had they missed her?
“He built that place out of sheer grit and determination. You used to always say that Cameron could do anything he set his mind to.” A ring of satisfaction laced his tone.
“I guess I was right,” she murmured. “That’s quite commendable of him. How many siblings do you have?”
“Three. There’s Boone, who you just met. He’s the oldest. Cameron, who owns the Moose Café. And last but not least, is my sister, Honor. She’s the baby of the family.” He quirked his mouth. “I don’t want to make you feel any pressure, but my little sister always thought you hung the moon. She’s at the house now, watching Aidan, so she’s going to be very emotional about your return. I sent Boone ahead of us so he could tell her. Be prepared for a few waterworks. That one wears her heart on her sleeve.”
Ruby was thankful for the heads-up. There was nothing worse than being blindsided. She wondered if that’s how Liam felt about her showing up in Love without even the slightest warning.
He must be a strong person, she realized. Liam seemed to be handling the news incredibly well, much better than she was. Her own emotions were all over the place. She could feel something bubbling up inside her and threatening to overflow. She had been so used to stuffing her feelings down in an effort to minimize the pain of not knowing her identity. It was as if someone had pulled back her layers and exposed her core. All her nerve endings were tingling.
She bit her lip. Ruby turned toward him, admiring how good-looking he was in profile. “What about me? Do I have any brothers or sisters? And what about my parents? Shouldn’t you call them?”
Liam’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. “Your parents are both gone, Ruby. But you do have a brother, Kyle. You raised him after your parents died in a car accident. He lives in Alaska, but not here in Love. He’s a volunteer fireman. I’ll call him once we get home and see Aidan.”
“Were we close?” she asked. Her pulse began to race at the idea that she had a blood relative she had loved dearly enough to raise on her own.
Liam turned to her, a sheen of moisture in his eyes. “Very close. He was inspired to become a fireman after watching the work you did with search-and-rescue operations.”
Ruby felt a big smile take over her face. “That’s nice. It makes me feel good to know that I worked in a meaningful profession and that I impacted people’s lives.”
“You saved a lot of lives, Ruby. Even on that terrible day on the mountain, you rescued people. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?” Liam’s voice radiated a deep respect. “You were a hero.”
It was fairly wonderful, Ruby thought. A feeling of pride rose inside her. There wasn’t much in her day-to-day life to feel accomplished about. Back in Denver she worked at a restaurant as a waitress. It was a low-paying, boring position that left her feeling as if there had to be more to life than her current situation reflected. But with no past, no degrees to put on a résumé and no known skills, making a living had been difficult. Her boss paid her under the table and hadn’t pressed her for a social security number after she’d explained her circumstances. She was thankful she was able to live a modest life on her salary, but the work didn’t fulfill her in any way.
As Moose Crossing signs appeared on the road ahead and a magnificent mountain loomed in the distance, majestic and proud, the enormity of the situation crashed over her in unrelenting waves. She had stepped out on a leap of faith by making the trip to this lovely Alaskan hamlet. Leaving Colorado had pulled her out of the comfort zone she had established for herself in Denver. Despite her fears, Ruby couldn’t remember ever having felt this wonderfully alive and present.