Authors: Barbara Kaylor
Elliot squinted at her inference. “You believe Olivia framed you?”
“I can’t prove anything, Elliot,” Geneva said in a sigh. “But, it was no secret she was more than a little angry that Dave Knight had agreed to meet with me. At first, she just accused me of using my Christianity to win his friendship. I thought that was absurd and didn’t respond to it. The closer I became to Dave and his wife, the more combative Olivia became in the office. When you showed me those photos and accused me of unethical conduct, I knew immediately what had happened. Only one person was devious enough to go to all the trouble it took to make it appear as if I’d done something wrong. When in fact, I’d worked very hard and had been completely ethical in all my dealings with all my accounts.” Geneva’s voice rose with renewed anger and frustration as she pled her case.
Elliot was disheartened. How could he have been tricked like that? It didn’t make sense. He was supposed to be smart, but his actions hadn’t shown it. His jealousy had distorted his judgment. He’d behaved like a lunatic. Nausea hit his stomach. How could he ever make it up to Geneva, the woman he loved?
He glanced at her from across the table. She was visibly shaken. Unshed tears cast a watery shadow across her emerald green eyes, the same way they had the day he’d fired her. Only then, they were the color of acorns.
“I was a jerk for firing you.” Shame weighed in Elliot’s tone.
“If you had let me explain the photos, you would have understood. They were all innocent, but anyone could have fabricated sordid stories to go with them. It takes an evil mind to do that.” Geneva cleared the table. She didn’t want to play the blame game. It’d been seven years since the firing. She’d moved on with her life.
Elliot sat quietly at the table, tracing the rim of his cup with a forefinger. His expression wasn’t hard for Geneva to read. She consoled him with a forgiving smile.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Elliot,” she told him. “It was all in God’s plan. If you hadn’t fired me, I wouldn’t have come back home and opened Serenity Bed and Breakfast. It was all meant to be.”
“That doesn’t excuse what I did to you, Geneva.” Elliot stood and faced her. “I should have listened to your side. It wasn’t fair of me to jump to conclusions and accuse you of wrongdoing without letting you defend yourself.”
“Why didn’t you let me explain the photos?” Geneva leaned against the counter and crossed her arms. “Your ballistic reaction always puzzled me. Up until then you were always pretty reasonable. Strict, but reasonable. You encouraged discussion. I was really caught off guard that morning by your tantrum. That’s the only way I can describe your behavior.”
Elliot took a deep breath. “Earlier, I mentioned I had remembered more about the confrontation with you.” He was walking out on a limb.
“What is it?” Geneva didn’t like the flushed look on Elliot’s face.
Elliot turned away. He threw his glance out the window where clouds teased the sun. Embarrassment overwhelmed him.
“Last night when I dreamed about that morning with you, I felt a strong emotion,” Elliot began, his back still turned. He couldn’t face her. “It was strange because I had not felt it before last night. I’m not sure what it means, but it explains why I was so angry.”
“What emotion?” Geneva prodded. “Why were you so angry with me? We always got along. At least I thought we did. After that morning, I wasn’t so sure.”
“And I’m not sure what the emotional outburst means,” Elliot sounded confused. He rubbed the back of his neck then turned to Geneva. “It may mean nothing. It may not even be real.” Elliot winced at the lies he was telling her. The emotion had to be real. It was too strong not to be.
“Does it have something to do with Olivia?”
Elliot used Geneva’s question to dodge what he had planned to say.
“I’m not sure,” he lied again, but then, how could he be sure it was a lie? His memories were gone, and his emotions couldn’t be trusted without them.
“Did you remember something about her?” Geneva pressed.
“I shouldn’t have bothered you with this, Geneva,” Elliot started for the front door. “I’m too confused. I’m not sure about it anymore.”
“Not sure about what?” Geneva followed him.
Elliot yanked the door open. He was frustrated. “About me and what I’m feeling!” It came out as a shout. “I need more than just this one memory to help me figure out my life.”
Geneva frowned. As much as she hated for Elliot to leave, she hated seeing him distraught and confused even more. He had to return to Orlando. The answers were there, not here. They’d made their peace. It was time for him to get on with his real life. And it was time for her to let him go.
“You need to go back to Orlando,” she reiterated yesterday’s suggestion. “There’s nothing more for us to say to each other. You’ve apologized for your actions, and I’ve forgiven you. Maybe that’s all there was to this memory. Go back to Olivia. She’s waiting for you. All your memories are in Orlando. You won’t get them back staying here.”
Elliot looked at Geneva through a haze of confusion. Did he really love her or had the head injury planted the notion in his brain?
“You’re right.” He nodded. He needed time away from her. “I’m stuck in this one memory, and I’m getting nowhere with it. I feel like a dog, chasing his own tail.”
“I’ll be praying for you, Elliot.” Geneva leaned close and kissed Elliot on the cheek.
The gesture rendered Elliot speechless. He touched his cheek as if the kiss was his first.
“Thanks,” he finally uttered. “I’ll be back. I’m not going to abandon the lake and beach project.” Mentioning neutral ground relieved Elliot’s tension. His life wasn’t all about lost memories and love.
Geneva responded with a stiff smile. Elliot hadn’t promised not to abandon her. She felt cheated.
The moment turned awkward. Saying goodbye had come too quickly. Their gazes lingered on each other as if both were painting mental images of the other to remember. Russell romped up the steps and broke their trances. Elliot squatted down and said goodbye to the pooch then he was gone.
Geneva crawled onto a sofa, devastated. She missed Elliot already. Tears flowed down her cheeks as she wondered if she’d ever see him again. Her heart felt shattered for life. There was no use pretending she could ever have a future with Elliot Starling. His life was in Orlando with Olivia Swanson.
Geneva’s emotional state troubled her. Sure, she’d had a crush on Elliot back then, but why was she suddenly heartbroken as if they’d meant something to each other? She needed a dose of truth. Elliot Starling was a victim of amnesia. As soon as his memories returned, he wouldn’t have anything to do with her or Holly Park.
God had given them this time together to clear the air and make peace. That’s all. Nothing more. Geneva dried her eyes with the back of her hand as reality set in. She rushed to the kitchen and pulled out her cleaning supplies.
Go to work, Geneva! Elliot Starling is just a silly fantasy!
“Get a haircut and shave off that scruff!” Olivia ordered with hurricane force. “You look like a bum!”
Elliot cringed at Olivia’s abrasiveness. She’d started flinging insults at him the moment he’d stepped inside her apartment, and she hadn’t stopped yet. His casual, discount-store outfit had set her off.
“You’re a successful executive for Pete’s sake! Look it!” She had snapped when he defended the faded jeans and Henley-style tee he wore. “I’m not going out with you dressed like that!”
That would have suited Elliot fine. He didn’t really want to be with her, but the consensus was— being with Olivia might help him remember something. Elliot wasn’t sure he wanted to remember his life with Olivia. Geneva had spoiled him to the down to earth, friendly, well-mannered, gracious, selfless type. He found Olivia hard to stomach. Even her prettiness seemed forged by steel and effort. Geneva’s beauty was skin deep and natural. It came from within and radiated all over her. He missed her smile, her long, curly hair, and soft-spoken ways.
“I suppose you visited your family before coming to see me!” Olivia had chided him for that, too. “I’m supposed to come first, but it seems I’m always last.”
They’d finally settled down on the living room sofa. Elliot couldn’t remember anything about the room. He found the black and white décor cold and impersonal like Olivia. Geneva’s house was colorful, cozy, and warm. Her country décor evoked good feelings. Olivia’s futuristic style made him feel stranded on a faraway planet with no life forms of any kind.
“I’m sorry if I offended you, Olivia.” He pacified her to ease the tension. “I got back late yesterday afternoon. I spent the time with my family, hoping I could remember something.”
“Did you?” Olivia grilled.
“No.” He didn’t mind telling her. “I’m still hanging onto that one memory.”
Olivia rolled her eyes. “You mean the one of Geneva!” A sardonic smile contorted her lips. “I can’t believe you, Elliot, wasting your time with a loser like her.”
“Don’t call her that!” Elliot flared.
Olivia coiled like a snake. “Don’t take that tone with me! I’m your fiancée, the woman you’re going to marry. You can’t run off and not expect me to be angry!”
“I was only gone a week, Olivia,” he countered with grit. Olivia wasn’t a pleasant person, and he was tired of coddling her. If he hadn’t been pushed by his family and Geneva, he wouldn’t be with her at all. He didn’t like Olivia, and he didn’t like the idea that his old self had wanted her to be his wife.
“Did you accomplish anything in the boonies?” Olivia flicked at her short, straight bangs with manicured fingers. Elliot saw the huge diamond ring sparkling. He gulped at the size. It must have cost him a fortune.
Elliot ignored the snide remark and the ring. It was time to get down to business.
“Actually, I did. I’ve come to the conclusion I was wrong to have fired Geneva,” Elliot admitted in a calm voice. “I think she was framed.”
“Really?” Olivia snickered. “Is that what she told you?”
“What can you tell me about it?” Elliot asked his own question.
Olivia responded with a phony yawn then curled her legs underneath her. “We’ve talked about this before, darling. That rumor spread all over the company until you finally put your foot down and shut it up.”
“Was there an investigation?”
“Why would there be?” Olivia was smug. “There was nothing to investigate?”
“Who took the pictures? And why?”
“I had them taken, Elliot.” Olivia examined the tips of her nails. “We’ve been through this. I explained it to you then. Why do I have to be interrogated like a criminal just because your memory is blank?”
“Tell me again.” Elliot scooted to the edge of the sofa, his temper rising.
Olivia eyed him with contempt. “If it will end your ridiculous obsession with that day then I will.” Her razor sharp voice scratched the air. “I saw Geneva and Dave Knight having dinner one evening at a restaurant. The way they were behaving struck me as odd so I followed them when they left. I watched as they went into a hotel in the downtown area. I knew Geneva was up to something. She wanted that account more than anything to impress you. I took it upon myself to watch her methods. I brought you the evidence the moment she won the account. You were furious. It was obvious Geneva and Dave were carrying on improperly. You fired Geneva and promoted me. I took over Dave’s account.”
Elliot was floored. He’d not only approved of Olivia’s actions, he’d rewarded her with Geneva’s promotion. A thousand jagged blades rotated in the pit of his stomach.
“Geneva said nothing was going on between herself and Dave,” Elliot stressed for all the good it did. It was Geneva’s word against Olivia’s.
“Well of course she’s going to say that,” Olivia scoffed with confidence. “Do you think Miss Goody-Two-Shoes is going to admit having an affair with a married man in order to win a huge account? Don’t be so naïve, Elliot. I thought you lost your memory, not your brains.”
Olivia’s harsh remarks stung Elliot. Was he like this? He couldn’t remember, but he certainly hoped not.
“Are you always so snotty, Olivia?” Elliot’s eyes narrowed with disgust.
The insult was taken as a compliment. “I don’t apologize for being strong and assertive.” Olivia’s stance was ironclad. “I didn’t get where I am today by being sweet, charming, and passive like Geneva Passion. I’ve always been upfront, bold, and critical. You approved of my tough style. You called me the female version of you. You said we were two of a kind. That’s why we were so suited for each other. Together we’re going to build an empire. I hope you remember that!”
Her cold demeanor rubbed Elliot in all the wrong ways.
“Do we love each other, Olivia, or is this marriage just a business deal construed by two greedy people looking for more wealth?” Elliot watched Olivia closely for signs of warmth. There were none.
“The love we share is based on mutual respect and admiration for each other’s abilities and accomplishments,” she boasted. “We share the same goals in life.”
“Which are?” Elliot scraped his forehead with a couple fingers, trying to make sense of her words.
“Make money, live independently but share the wealth we make with each other to advance our dreams and purposes, travel abroad, explore the world, expand our businesses.”
“What about home life and family?” Her list sounded dreadful to Elliot.
“We aren’t stay-at-home people, my dear, and we’ve decided not to have children since neither of us like them.”
Elliot straightened. “I don’t like children?” He enjoyed being around his niece and nephew even though he didn’t remember them.
“No, you don’t like children, Elliot,” Olivia repeated. “It’ll all come back to you soon.”
The idea frightened Elliot. Something became very clear to him. He didn’t like the old Elliot, and he didn’t want anything to do with him, either.