Authors: Jillian Hart
Danielle didn’t know how it could possibly be that she was a stranger to the man she’d loved so fiercely, who’d been her best friend and husband for more than seven years and the father of their two children. She hadn’t realized how much she had hoped the sight of their house would spark something for him.
There was no recognition in his eyes as he turned to her. “We live here?”
“We moved in right before Tyler was born.”
“Tyler.” Sad lines crinkled around Jonas’s eyes. “I wish I could remember my own kids.”
Tyler pounded into the room just then, threw his arms wide and wrapped them around Jonas. “Daddy, you’re home!”
Jonas’s eyes filled with emotion as he ran an awkward hand over the top of his little son’s head, affectionate and sweet and devoted.
What truly mattered
His Hometown Girl
A Love Worth Waiting For
The Sweetest Gift
Heart and Soul
For the Twins’ Sake
A Handful of Heaven
A Soldier for Christmas
Every Kind of Heaven
A McKaslin Homecoming
A Holiday To Remember
Her Wedding Wish
Love Inspired Historical
makes her home in Washington State, where she has lived most of her life. When Jillian is not hard at work on her next story, she loves to read, go to lunch with her friends and spend quiet evenings with her family.
See, I am sending an angel ahead of you
to guard you along the way and to bring you
to the place I have prepared.
anielle Lowell had never felt so cold as she followed the desk nurse along the dimly lit, tomblike corridors of the hospital. Their movements echoed along the barren walls like heartbeats—first the muted pad of the nurse’s rubber-soled shoes, and then the tap, tap of her open-toed sandals.
When she looked down, she saw, in contrast to the scuffed beige floor tiles, the cheerful cotton-candy pink of her toenails. She had painted them just this morning, both hers and her daughter’s while holding the toddler on her lap. Madison had giggled and babbled with glee. Danielle had been happy, as warm as the cheerful June sunshine.
Now, hours later, it was as if the sun had gone down forever. Her veins had turned to ice, her heart to a glacier.
An eternity had passed since that afternoon when she’d answered her cell phone to the sound of Jonas’s supervisor’s voice. She’d known it was bad news even before Rick had said the words. She’d felt a warm embrace, as if comforting arms had wrapped around her chest, as if someone was holding her tightly.
At the back of her mind she wondered if her husband was dead and she felt his spirit, his soul, somehow come to tell her goodbye. But the touch didn’t feel familiar, and maybe it was the effect of too much sun.
Either way, she knew the words before Rick spoke them.
Jonas has been shot in the line of duty.
“You have ten minutes.” The nurse’s voice startled her, although she spoke in a modulated, almost whisper. “Your husband is unconscious, so don’t be alarmed. The equipment can look frightening at first. Hold his hand. Talk to him. He’ll hear you.”
“How can that be? They told me he’s in a coma. Has he woken up?” That faint hope flickered like a new flame in a harsh wind and died.
“No, he’s in a deep coma, I’m afraid. That hasn’t changed. But studies have taught us that hearing is the last of the senses to fail. Besides, I believe our hearts are always listening. His will know yours. God bless.” She led the way into the small isolated room.
Danielle stumbled at the sight of the stranger on the bed, waxy looking and motionless.
Her heart cracked and, like the edge of a glacier, sheared off.
This was her husband? Her knees failed and she hit the ground, kneeling at his side. The beep of the monitors, the ticking that marked his heart, the whir of a ventilator were out of a nightmare. She stared at the bags of fluid and drugs that hung like Japanese lanterns around his bedside. Shock took what little life was left in her.
My poor Jonas. His face was different—two already bruising black eyes, a stitched gash over his cheekbone and his hair shaved to his bare scalp, marred by a zigzagged suture line and bandages.
He looked already gone, despite the rise and fall of his chest.
Lord, don’t let him go.
It was a plea that tore up from her soul. Without words, she gathered Jonas’s cool hand carefully in hers. It didn’t feel like his hand, which had always been so big and capable, and was now feeble and still.
“Don’t leave me, Jonas.” Fear shattered her. Choking on grief, she leaned her forehead against the palm of his cool hand.
What had occupied her thoughts earlier in the day—balancing their monthly budget and their minor disagreement this morning and the overgrown hedges needing clipping—slipped away. Nothing mattered but her husband and his life.
Please, Lord, don’t take him,
she prayed, but she heard no answer above the noise of the machines. So she held on to him tight, as if she had the impossible strength to hold his soul to his body.
She felt arms wrap like comfort around her again, but she saw no one and nothing in the translucent light. Jonas’s pulse slowed a beat, as if his heart became aware of hers through the void.
One year later
anielle slowed the minivan and turned into the driveway. As she eased her foot onto the brake she turned her attention to Jonas in the front passenger seat, a stranger to her now after his coma and brain injury. She wished she could control the quake of her pulse as she watched his face, his dear, handsome face. His forehead furrowed in thought as he studied the house in front of them—the home they’d fallen in love with together.
Oh, Lord, let him remember.
It was a lot to ask, she knew. From the moment he’d woken from a deep coma and through a long stay at an intensive rehabilitation clinic in Seattle, he hadn’t had a single recollection of their lives together. All the memories they’d made together were lost to him. And without those memories, he looked at her with a stranger’s gaze. The doctors had been very sure his memory would not return.
She didn’t know how it could be that she was a stranger to the man she’d loved so fiercely, who’d been her best friend and husband for over seven years and the father of their two children. She didn’t realize how much she had hoped the sight of their house would spark something for him.
No recognition flared in his eyes as he turned to her. “We live here?”
“Yes.” The word scratched like sandpaper against the inside of her throat. She tried hard not to let her disappointment show as she hit the remote on the visor. The garage door opened. “We had the house built and we moved in right before Tyler was born.”
“Tyler.” Sad lines crinkled around Jonas’s eyes. “Is he waiting?”
“He’s not home right now.”
“Yes, that’s right.” He released a heartfelt sigh and rubbed his forehead as if it were hurting him. He looked truly distressed, but maybe the worst pain wasn’t physical. “I wish I could remember my own kids.”
“Me, too.” She eased the minivan into the garage. “My sister Katherine will be bringing them home in a little while. She was thoughtful enough to offer to take them a bit longer, so you could face things one step at a time.”
“Katherine is the one in college?”
“No, that’s Rebecca. Katherine is my older sister.”
“Oh. Okay.” He gave a wobbly half smile, half frown. The left side of his face still troubled him. “I
“You will. Don’t worry.”
She pulled the emergency brake and shut off the engine, deliberately concentrating on each task because it was predictable and familiar. Unlike her marriage. She’d been praying for this day to come for so long, it had begun to feel unreal and impossible.
Now, after a long hospital stay and a longer period in rehabilitation, they were alone together. The garage door slid shut behind them. She was alone with her husband, the man she no longer knew. The man who could not remember the simplest things about their marriage. When he turned his questioning gaze to hers, she knew that he did not know what to expect. He remembered nothing new.
Disappointment sifted through her. She didn’t realize she was holding her breath until she felt her lungs burn. She had to remember to breathe. She had faith, and it would lift them both up, right?
Right, she told herself, fighting off a world of doubt, despite her strong belief. The journey ahead of her—of them—seemed monumental.
“Let’s go inside, and maybe once you’re in the house things will seem more familiar to you.” She grabbed her keys and her purse and forced a smile.
His dear face, the same in many ways and changed in others, stared back at her. “What if it doesn’t? I’m—” He grimaced. “I don’t know the word. I’m—” Frustrated, he stared down at his gnarled hand.
“It doesn’t matter, Jonas. It’s okay.” She wanted to believe that.
As she stepped from the seat and closed the door behind her, she realized he was still sitting in the minivan, with tension on his face and sadness in his eyes. What must it be like, she wondered, to come home to a place you could not remember? To feel the weight of a wife’s need and expectations?
She took another deep breath and opened his car door. Poor Jonas. She helped him out and unfolded his walker. His right hand gripped the walker’s handles with white-knuckled force while his left one struggled to do so. All the love in her heart flooded out, filling her with sweet tenderness. This was hard for her, but it was harder for him, and at least he was here. He was
She was deeply grateful for that.
She slipped her purse strap onto her shoulder and her keys into her jacket pocket and took Jonas’s frail arm. “This is going to be tricky. It’s a long way to the door for you, so lean on me.”
“I can get it.” He looked so determined as he moved his nerve-damaged leg.
While the Good Lord had been gracious in bringing Jonas back to her, the bullet had not been kind. Her heart broke as he struggled so hard to cross the garage floor, even with her help. By the quiet steely set to his jaw, she could tell he hated it. Her once-strong, invincible husband, who rarely missed a workout at the gym the entire time she’d known him, was now forced to lean on her and his walker.
“Don’t tell me,” he quipped between struggled steps. “I used to do this faster.”
“Yes, you did.” Danielle unlocked the garage door. “But I always said our lives were going by too fast, we were always rushing here and there. It’s nice to slow down and take in the sights.”
He stopped to smile, and his grin was lopsided and strained. “I’m taking the, what is it, slow—something?”
“It’s the scenic route.” She hit the remote on her key ring and the security system stopped beeping. She held the door patiently while he struggled to get his walker and then his feet over the doorstep. She stopped him with a touch of her hand to his. “Look around. You made it. You’re home.”
He was silent for a moment, gazing down the hall as if taking in the details of woodwork and walls, of the living room ahead and, to the right, the archway leading to the kitchen. “The kids.”
At first she didn’t know what he meant, but then she realized he was commenting on the framed photographs marching along the wall. “Yes. These are the pictures I have taken once a year at a professional photographer.”
“That’s why they’re tidy.”
“Yes.” She looked at the carefully posed photographs with rich backgrounds. “The kids are in their best clothes. It was a challenge keeping them that clean and neat for the short drive from here to their appointments.”
“No ice cream in the car?” There was that lopsided grin again, but this time with a hint of his old smile, too.
Her heart filled at the glimpse of her husband she knew and loved so well. “No ice cream,” she agreed. “They had to wait until after the sitting. I have more pictures throughout the house, but they’re snapshots.”
“Not as tidy.”
“No. In fact, there are some very messy pictures.”
“Pictures of you, too?” His smile faded. Something serious, and maybe a little bit fearful, came onto his face.
I wish I knew what he was feeling, she thought wistfully. Once, she’d known him so well, there would have been no question. She would have known what he was thinking even before he did.
Determined to stay upbeat, she laid her hand on his broad shoulder. “Yes, there are pictures of me. And of you.”
“I want to see them.”
“Sure, but it’s going to take a long time to go through them. There are so many.”
“I’ve got time. Lots of time.”
She watched the pain on his face and didn’t know what more to say. “Down the hall is the living room. Let’s get you sitting down.”
“I need to rest.” He nodded once in agreement and set his chin. After gripping the handles of his walker tightly, he concentrated on stepping forward. The carpet absorbed most of the thunk and shuffling sounds as he painfully made his way down the short hallway. He was out of breath by the time he reached the living room. She supported his elbow as he dropped, exhausted, onto the couch.
“I’ll be right back.” She smiled at him.
There wasn’t the zing of emotional connection that had always been between them, and as she hurried to the kitchen, she fought deeper frustrations. Why had she thought things would be better once they were home?
It wasn’t fair to put so much pressure on him, she realized while she filled his favorite mug with water and zapped it in the microwave.
She needed to give him all the time he needed, no matter how hard that would be. He’d asked for pictures, and that’s where they would start. As the water heated, she grabbed a small book of snapshots from the corner hutch in the dining room. She caught her husband watching her as she came toward him.
He looked terribly serious, and she wondered if he was disappointed in her. She was painfully aware of the wash-worn jeans she’d put on this morning—the laundry was woefully behind—and the favorite summery T-shirt was hardly high fashion.
She’d been spending so little thought and even less time on her appearance. What if she looked like Frankenstein’s bride after standing all night in the rain? Worse, when was the last time she’d glanced in a mirror? Who knew what her hair was doing? And what about the big dark bags under her eyes from long-term sleep deprivation?
No wonder he was looking a little panicked. She slid the small book onto the coffee table that separated them. “These were the pictures we took on our last vacation. Maybe that will be a good place to start.”
“Vacation.” He stretched out his hand, straightening his fingers, and snagged the book from the table. “Where’d we go?”
“I’m not telling. See if you can figure it out.”
“Someplace important, then.” He watched her carefully, and his emotion was unreadable to her. “I’ll see what I can do.”
The bing of the microwave saved her. “I’ll be right back.”
She spun on the heel of her sneakers and retreated to the safety of the kitchen. This was worse than starting out on a first date with someone, she thought as she rescued the steaming mug. Back then, she’d felt comfortable with Jonas right from the start, so their first date had been familiar, as if meant to be.
But this, now with him, was painful in too many ways to count. She plucked a bag from a tea box and dropped it into the water to steep. In the next room, she could hear the slight creak of the photo album’s binding and the first squeaking turn of the plastic-coated pages.
She’d spent hours on that book—before Jonas’s accident she’d been a serious scrapbooking fanatic. It had been the last project she’d finished before he’d been shot. She didn’t dare think about the others in progress stuffed in the back of her downstairs craft closet. Yikes. Considering the importance of those pictures now, maybe she should find the time to finish them.
After dunking and squeezing the tea bag, she added a teaspoon of honey. It was silent in the living room, so she peered around the kitchen corner just enough to see him on the couch. Jonas, her husband, looked different from the man he’d been—his hair was too short, his big physical frame no longer imposing or strong. Yet there was much that had remained the same—that tensile, decent goodness of his that she loved so much.
Her heart filled, watching as he studied the first page. His face lined with concentration, he lifted his right hand—he used to be left-handed—and ran his finger across the plastic-sheathed page. Emotion welled in his eyes, and she felt it like a bolt of lightning. Stricken, she pulled back into the kitchen, longing, just longing for everything to be all right. For the pieces of their lives to be put back in place.
She hurried about, putting his favorite chocolate cookies on a plate. By the time she’d loaded everything on a small tray and carried it into the living room, Jonas had leaned back onto the couch and had the book open on his knees.
He looked up with a grin on his face. “That sure smells good.”
“I hope so.” She slid the plate onto the coffee table first and then handed him a soft cookie.
He paused before he took a bite. “I liked the ones you sent in the box.”
When he’d been in rehabilitation, she’d sent weekly care packages, when she hadn’t been able to make the long trip to Seattle. “The oatmeal-raisin cookies didn’t break when I shipped them,” she explained as she eased beside him onto the couch. “I was saving these for a homecoming surprise.”
He took a bite. “Good. Very good. I like them.”
She knew he wouldn’t remember they were his favorite, or that she’d made them all the time for him when they’d been dating. That he’d said—oh, her heart cracked deeply remembering—
“I can see why I married you.” He held up the remaining half of the cookie. “Why? What did I say?”
The room suddenly blurred, and she shook her head, blinking hard. She reached for a cookie. “That’s what you used to say before you proposed to me.”
“Yeah? What else can you make? Maybe I’ll have to propose again.”
There was that ghost of his grin. How good it was to see. She relaxed against the cushions. “You’ll have to wait and see. What do you think of the pictures?”
“I sure got a pretty wife.”
“Now you’re just trying to get more cookies.”
“Sure, but it’s true.” He took another cookie from the plate with his awkward fingers. “I’m a lucky man.” He tapped the page with his knuckle. “What’s that?”