Authors: Barbara Kaylor
“You’re probably not her favorite person, Elliot,” Rick had cautioned.
Elliot knew that from his memory. The hurt and humiliation in Geneva’s expression haunted him. He’d had no peace since waking up in the hospital room two weeks ago. When the doctors finally released him, he’d gone to his mom’s home to recuperate, but nothing had jarred any other memories to light. There was nothing to take away the sting of Geneva’s face.
Olivia had stormed over every day to lambaste him for not remembering her. When she learned of his plan to visit Geneva, she went ballistic, accusing him of pretending so he could get out of the wedding. Elliot couldn’t believe her audacity and unsympathetic nature. He wanted to call off the wedding, but, truth was, he wasn’t sure that’s what he really wanted to do or not.
Without any memory of love to guide him, Elliot’s attempt to calm Olivia down came out cold and robotic. It didn’t achieve its purpose. Olivia vowed to get back at him if things didn’t go her way. Her constant belligerence made Elliot question his decision to hook up with such a vile woman.
Olivia was the furthest thing from Elliot’s mind when he stepped onto Geneva’s property with a mix of dread and peace. He was finally there, but for what? The patchwork quilt of blooms in the yard dusted the sunshiny air with sugar and spice. A sleeping dog stirred and stretched on the porch then began barking. Elliot froze.
Do I like dogs?
Elliot wondered. Everything was guess work. The dog bounded off the porch and charged toward Elliot, wagging his tail. Elliot squatted down to greet the mutt and was relieved to discover the dog was friendly.
“Hey, boy.” Elliot rubbed the dog around the neck. “Some guard dog you are,” he teased.
Geneva paused from her work when she heard Russell barking. Mondays were laundry days at the inn. She’d washed all the bed linens, bath towels and cloths, and even bath rugs. She never bothered fixing herself up on work days. Folks were blessed if they caught her with her hair brushed and shoes on her feet.
Today was no different. Dressed in work clothes, her hair clamped in a sloppy bun at the top of her head, Geneva headed to the porch to check on the ruckus. When she opened the door, she smiled at the sight of Russell jumping all over a stranger who seemed to be enjoying her dog’s attention.
“Good afternoon,” she called out. “Welcome to Seren—wh—what!” She froze in the middle of her greeting and gasped. She’d know Elliot Starling anywhere. Even after seven long years.
Elliot stood to his full six feet and widened his eyes at the frazzled woman, standing on the porch. She was nothing like the stunning beauty in his memory. Instead of a stylish, slender brunette with soft, brown eyes in a silk blouse and tailored suit, this woman was a curvy, green-eyed redhead in denim leggings and long, floral tunic. Her website photo didn’t do her justice. Geneva’s beauty was more breath-taking in real life. Elliot felt an instant connection to her.
“Geneva Passion?” Elliot asked, even though all his senses told him she was.
Geneva shook away the shock. The sight of Elliot had wiped the smile right off her face.
“Are you lost?” Sarcasm peppered her tone as the sparkle in her eyes dimmed.
“No, I came here to see you.” A bout of shyness seized Elliot as he crept closer to the porch.
Geneva leaned against the porch rail and crossed her arms over her mid-section. “What for?” Her attitude wasn’t as Christian as she’d like it to be, but the man brought out the worst in her.
“May I come in?” Elliot’s head began to pound. He’d avoided all pain medicine for the past two days. He was trying to do without it, but the stress made it difficult.
Geneva was on the verge of ordering Elliot off her property when her grandfather appeared from the side of the house, strolling from the church.
“Who’s here, Geneva?” He asked, politely.
“Nobody important!” Geneva snapped.
Elliot frowned. He’d been hoping and praying Rick would be wrong about the welcome he’d receive. Disappointment flickered in his eyes. He ran a nervous hand through his thick, wavy, brown hair.
“I won’t take up much of your time,” he managed to utter over the deluge of pain, throbbing between his temples.
“Uh-huh.” Geneva’s combative tone puzzled Perry. It wasn’t like his granddaughter to be rude to visitors. She was usually soft-hearted when it came to stragglers, looking for water and food. Always cautious and alert, Geneva never gave strangers the cold shoulder. If she thought they were troublemakers, she’d send them on their way with a piece of fruit, a bottle of water, and a Bible verse to think about then would alert the sheriff’s office of her suspicions.
“What does this gentleman want, Geneva?” Perry saw nothing worrisome about the casually-dressed man.
“Grandpa, meet Elliot Starling.”
Perry took a second, longer look at the man. He appeared harmless, certainly not the fire- spewing beast Geneva had described.
“Welcome to Holly Park, Mr. Starling.” Perry stuck his hand out in a friendly fashion. Elliot shook it while Geneva blew a gasket.
“What are you doing, Grandpa?” She hissed. “I’m not about to invite this man inside my house.”
“It’s my house, too,” Perry reminded, gently. “Come in Mr. Starling. I was just coming over to have a glass of Geneva’s fresh lemonade. Why don’t you join us?”
Elliot followed the older gentleman inside, but locked gazes with the hostile Geneva with the flaming curls and jeweled eyes. Her unique beauty captivated him. The woman glowed with confidence, honesty, and energy. He liked her immediately. Her belligerence wasn’t on the same level as Olivia’s. Geneva had a gentle persona that showed through her fiery temper. Still, Elliot was guarded.
“Thank you,” Elliot turned to Perry with a polite smile. “Please call me Elliot.”
“And I’m Perry.” Perry showed Elliot to a grouping of comfy sofas in front of a stoned fireplace and gestured for him to sit. “What brings you to our neck of the woods, Elliot?”
Geneva stomped over and plopped down in a chair. She was floored senseless by her grandfather’s generous greeting. Her eyes never left Elliot, and it had nothing to do with the surprised he’d just given her. The man was as handsome as ever, but there was something different about him that flustered Geneva’s emotions. Her heart somersaulted inside her chest. She could hardly breathe.
Elliot glanced from Perry to Geneva then gulped. He’d made it there, but words failed him.
“Well?” Geneva demanded, impatiently. “Why are you here?”
“Let the man get comfortable, Geneva.” Perry slid his granddaughter a grainy look that told her to mind her manners. “Why don’t you get us that lemonade, dear?”
“What on earth for?” Geneva gasped, her cheeks flushed from all sorts of reasons. Some, she couldn’t identify. Some, she didn’t want to own up to.
“It’s okay, Perry.” Elliot rose. He turned to Geneva. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Too late for that!” Geneva leapt up with hands on hips like a gunslinger.
“Geneva! Where’re your manners?” Perry scolded. “Please sit back down, Elliot. I’d like to know the nature of your visit.” Perry sensed a need in the man, and he never turned away someone in need.
Geneva stewed in place for a second or two then slung a frustrated expression at her grandfather.
“Since you’re throwing out the welcome mat, I might as well add the lemonade to this little party.” She stomped to the kitchen.
When she returned a few minutes later with a tray, Perry and Elliot were standing in the middle of the room. Perry took a glass of lemonade. “I’ll take mine to the office. I’m working on next week’s sermon.” He was leaving her alone with Elliot.
“Wh—what,” Geneva stammered, dumbstruck
“I think Elliot would prefer speaking with you alone, Geneva,” Perry told her. On his way out, he leaned down and whispered in Geneva’s ear. “Invite the man for dinner, dear. It’s the Christian thing to do.”
Geneva had enough. Her grandfather was barely out the door when she set the tray with glasses of lemonade on the coffee table with a hard thud and turned on Elliot with a snap. “What do you want from me?”
“Please sit down, Geneva, and I’ll explain everything.” Elliot’s somber tone pecked at Geneva’s curiosity.
She relented and sat down, but only because he’d asked nicely, and no matter what he’d told her grandfather, she wasn’t inviting him to dine at her table.
“Go ahead, speak your peace,” Geneva commanded with a thorny face.
Elliot perched on the edge of the sofa cushion, his hands linked in front of him.
“I don’t know where to start,” he replied, wistfully.
“The beginning will do.” Geneva crossed her legs and folded her arms across her chest, defiant as a cornered bull.
Elliot took a deep breath. “My beginning started a couple weeks ago when I woke up in a hospital room with amnesia. I was in a car accident. I can’t remember who I am or anything about my life.”
That got Geneva’s attention. She uncrossed her legs and unfolded her arms.
“If you have amnesia then why are you here?” Geneva’s tone softened.
“Because I do have one memory. Only one.”
Geneva shook her head with confusion. “Wait a minute. You have just one memory?”
“Yes,” Elliot replied, gaining courage in her calming spirit.
“What’s it got to do with me?”
“The one memory I have is of you, the day I fired you from the company.”
Geneva was stunned. She snickered. “You’re kidding right? This is a joke, isn’t it?”
Elliot frowned. “I wish it was, but no, I’m not kidding. The only thing I remember about my life is firing you.”
Geneva leapt up. Her legs wobbled like jelly. She almost collapsed.
“I don’t believe you!” Geneva admitted, bluntly. It was too strange.
Elliot stood and pulled out his phone then punched in a number. “Rick, I’m here with Geneva. She doesn’t believe me.” He handed the phone to Geneva. “Rick will back up my story.”
Geneva took the phone. “Hello.” She remembered Rick from company parties and meetings, but never got to know him. He stayed in the manufacturing part of the company. Rick repeated what Elliot had told her.
“Thank you,” she said, politely, then gave the phone back to Elliot.
“Now do you believe me?” He stuffed the phone back in the pocket of his pants.
Geneva nodded quietly, still stunned by the news. “What do you want from me?”
They both sat back down and faced each other with ragged nerves.
“I’m not sure.” Elliot shrugged. “I guess I just want a connection to my life, and you’re it for now. I don’t blame you for not wanting to be after the way I treated you.” He gazed at Geneva with wonderment, hoping to stir loose more memories. His concentration sent sharp pains exploding throughout his head. He pressed on his temples and moaned.
“What’s wrong?” Geneva jumped.
“It hurts whenever I force memories to come,” Elliot told her.
Geneva handed him a glass of lemonade. “Here, drink something, and don’t try to remember anything. I don’t want you passing out in my living room.”
Elliot took the glass and sipped from it. The lemonade was refreshing and calming. “I’m trying not to take any pain killers.”
“Where are you staying?” Geneva steered the conversation to a trivial area while Elliot composed himself.
“I rented a cabin across the road.”
Geneva nodded, approvingly. “The Palmers can use the business.”
“They seem like nice people.”
“Yeah, they lost their only son in Iraq a couple years ago. It’s been hard on them.”
Elliot looked confused. “What was he doing in Iraq?”
“You really do have amnesia.” Geneva explained the war.
Elliot rubbed the back of his head. “That’s depressing. Makes me wonder what else I don’t remember.”
Geneva’s heart went out to him. She remembered her grandfather’s whisper.
“Uh—would you like to come to dinner tonight?”
“You don’t have to entertain me, Geneva. Is it okay if I call you that?”
“Everybody else does.” She flashed one of her friendly smiles. A slice of her easy-going nature had returned. “It’s just a casserole, nothing fancy.”
“I’d come for the company. My appetite hasn’t been that great since the accident. I’ve lost a few pounds they tell me.”
Now that the initial shock had worn off, Geneva observed Elliot more closely. He was a leaner version of his former self. The weight loss didn’t take away from his good looks. His nose was still straight and classic, his coffee-colored eyes were still dreamy under thick, dark lashes, and his jaw was still square with just a thin layer of stubble, something the old Elliot wouldn’t be caught dead wearing.
His hair was longer and more tousled than the Elliot she had swooned over. The other Elliot Starling went to great lengths to keep his hair styled neat and short. He was an every-strand-in-place kind of guy. Now, thanks to the fringe of waves overlapping his forehead and ears, he looked more like an outdoorsman than an executive. His looser style disarmed her.
Except for the stress displayed evenly in his features, Elliot’s face had a more relaxed, friendlier set to it than Geneva remembered. He was different. But did that make him better or nicer? The jury remained out on those points as far as Geneva was concerned.
His shy, pleasant demeanor charmed Geneva. She was reminded of her crush on him. The lost look in his eyes bothered her, though. He looked vulnerable and achingly sad. Geneva wasn’t used to this version of Elliot Starling. It scared her.
“How long do you plan to stay in Holly Park?” Geneva asked, trembling.
“That depends on my progress, I suppose. I can’t do anything else right now. Rick told me to take as long as I needed away from the business.”