Under the mistletoe with.., p.12

Under The Mistletoe With John Doe, page 12

 

Under The Mistletoe With John Doe
 


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  He sat up in bed, the sheet dropping below his waist. A glimmer lit his eyes and he grinned. “It was good, wasn’t it?”

  Their gazes locked, which made her pause for just a beat. “It was the best.”

  There hadn’t been any reason to keep her opinion to herself. John had figured it out. He’d seen it in her eyes, heard it in her whimpers, felt it in her arms.

  As she reached the doorway that led to the hall, a hint of apprehension whispered over her as she thought about what they’d done, about the unspoken commitment they’d made last night.

  If truth be told, she’d feel a lot better if she knew who John really was, if she had more details about his past. But she’d seen how good he was with Doc, how good he was with the horses.

  How good he’d been with her.

  Surely that counted for something.

  As she began to pass through the bedroom doorway, she glanced over her shoulder, stealing one last peek at the naked man sitting on the edge of her bed, the tall, dark and handsome stranger who held her heart in his hands.

  His smile told her not to worry, that everything would be okay.

  She just hoped she could believe that.

  As Betsy disappeared down the hall, John waited for the bathroom door to click open and shut. Then he threw off the covers and climbed out of bed.

  He wished she’d been able to stay home this morning, but he, more than anyone, understood job obligations and professional commitments. Again, he wasn’t sure how he knew that-he just did.

  He’d no more than placed a bare foot on the cold hardwood floor when voices from the past blasted through the wall that had been holding back his memories.

  Please don’t go, a woman said. Not today.

  I have to. There’s an executive board meeting this morning.

  I don’t care about that. Call your secretary and tell her you’ll be late. I need an hour of your time, and for once, you need to give it to me.

  The board meeting had been important, though. And his presence was critical. Several attorneys had cleared their calendars for the day just to be on hand.

  I’ll tell you what, he’d said to the woman. I’ll leave the office early. And then we can-

  No, she’d shouted, her voice loud, her anger clear. Those sweet-talking promises of yours aren’t going to work on me anymore, Jason.

  Even now, in Brighton Valley, Texas, John was reeling, trying to make sense of the conversation.

  Then her voice dropped to an ominous and threatening decibel, as her threat echoed in his mind. If you go now, it’s over. I’ll be gone before you get home.

  He’d never appreciated ultimatums, never fell for them. Not even those issued by…?

  Suddenly it was gone-the vague memory, the voices.

  Had he been the man in question? The one she’d called Jason?

  Yes, he had to be. But who was she? A girlfriend? A wife?

  Had she made good on her promise to move out? Or had John-or rather, Jason-given in to her demands?

  And when had that blasted conversation taken place? Last week? Last month? Last year?

  He ran a hand through his tousled hair, as if that would clear his mind and gather his thoughts. But it didn’t free him from the darkness that had swallowed his memory and had shot his reality full of holes.

  More frustrated than ever, he headed for the kitchen, intending to put on a pot of coffee and to fix Betsy something to eat.

  At least he could follow up on that particular commitment.

  But were there others he should have kept?

  Two days later, while sitting in Doc’s pickup in the parking lot of Miller’s Market, John-or rather, Jason-didn’t have any more answers than he did when he’d remembered that snippet of conversation between him and a yet-to-be-remembered woman.

  For that reason, he’d kept the knowledge of that particular memory flash to himself, as well as all the questions it had served to stir up. After all, how could he explain anything to Betsy when he couldn’t understand any of it himself?

  Still, he’d been relieved to have finally gotten a solid clue to the man he really was. At least he’d thought he had. He’d assumed that he was a businessman of some kind, but then he’d realized that might not be a safe assumption.

  What if he’d just needed to attend that board meeting as an invited guest, like the attorneys who’d cleared their calendars?

  Apparently, even his most telling revelation to date hadn’t been all that helpful.

  The morning after he and Betsy had first made love, he’d managed to make coffee, scramble some eggs and send her off to the hospital without her realizing that he was being unusually pensive.

  At least she hadn’t said anything about it then.

  After she’d left for the hospital, he’d kept himself busy. He’d fed the stock, mucked the stalls and rode the perimeter of the ranch, checking the fence for places that needed repair. But in spite of his productivity that day, his mood had been crappy.

  But why wouldn’t it be? He hadn’t been able to figure out what to do about his relationship with Betsy. He’d certainly wanted to make love to her again, but how could he if he wasn’t sure if he was involved with someone else or not?

  Of course he’d been able to come up with quite a few reasons to believe the woman who’d issued him the ultimatum had done so ages ago. And that he was free to continue a relationship with Betsy.

  Trouble was, if he didn’t give a rat’s ass about the possibility of a prior romantic commitment with someone else, it wouldn’t make him any better than Betsy’s lousy ex-husband had been.

  Still, when she came home that night, he’d been waiting for her on the porch. And after a quiet dinner, they’d gone to bed-together.

  The same scene had played out the next night, although he’d found himself growing more and more pensive-and more frustrated by the amnesia that plagued him. In fact, that’s why he continued to sit in Doc’s pickup, just thinking about the things that were happening in the present.

  Betsy hadn’t gone in to work today, which was what brought him to the market now.

  Earlier, she’d gone to see Doc and had returned to the house with a couple of bags filled with groceries.

  “Need some help?” he’d asked, heading toward her.

  “No, I’ve got it.”

  She’d kissed him, then carried the groceries into the house. “I invited my folks to dinner tonight. I hope you’re okay with that.”

  “Of course.” He liked her parents. But he had to admit that he was a little uneasy about making any kind of public statement about their relationship-at least, until he knew where it was going.

  Or what might keep it from going anywhere.

  “I thought we’d have tacos,” she’d said. “How does that sound to you?”

  “Great.”

  As she began to put away her purchases, she paused and looked him over. Really looked. “You’ve been awfully quiet the past few days. Is something wrong?”

  “No,” he lied, not wanting to admit that he was burdened by guilt, which could really be for naught.

  It was entirely possible that he was unattached. And if he learned that he had a wife or fiancée, he’d end their sexual relationship immediately.

  “Are you sure?” she asked.

  “I’ve just got Doc on my mind. I probably should have gone to see him today, but I got caught up with chores and the time just slipped away.”

  Okay, so that wasn’t entirely true. He was concerned about Doc, of course. And he’d been busy. But that wasn’t the cause of his silence.

  “Doc is actually doing better today,” she said.

  “I’m glad to hear that.” He tossed her a smile, which seemed to put her mind at ease.

  Why should they both be miserable and stressed?

  “He’s having some speech problems,” she added, “but he was able to communicate. And you were right. He definitely wants to sell the ranch.”

  John nodded, his mind still
on other concerns, like whether he should come right out and admit what he was struggling with.

  “Doc asked if you would oversee things until it’s all said and done,” she said.

  “I’d be happy to. I owe him a lot for providing me with a job and a place to stay.”

  She seemed pleased with his answer. But he hadn’t been blowing smoke. He did feel an obligation to Doc, and he really enjoyed working outdoors.

  Was that a contradiction to the theory he’d had about being a businessman?

  There was also a part of him that didn’t care whether he remembered his past life or not-the part of him that had fallen for Betsy, the part that didn’t want to be with another woman, no matter who she was.

  “I also stopped by the admission office at the Shady Glen Convalescent Hospital. When Doc is discharged from the medical center, he can transfer there. And once he recovers more fully, he can move into one of the apartments.”

  “How soon do you think that’ll be?”

  “If he’s lucky, in the next couple of weeks.”

  John watched her fold up the bags and put them in the pantry.

  For a moment she froze. “Oh, shoot.”

  “What’s the matter?”

  “I forgot to get chips and salsa.”

  “Do you want me to go back to the market and get that for you?”

  “Would you mind?”

  “No, not at all.” Maybe getting away from the house and the ranch would help him shake the blue funk he’d been in ever since that last memory had surfaced. He’d tried his best to make sense of every image that had fluttered past him, but he hadn’t gotten a very good handle on any of them, especially that partial, heated conversation between him and a woman.

  Instead, he’d felt increasingly unsettled, as though he should be somewhere, as though he had a job to do, as though he might be failing someone. And that didn’t sit well with him at all.

  And now, here he was, turning off the ignition and heading into the small mom-and-pop-style grocery store to pick up chips and salsa.

  As he made his way through the aisles, he found the Mexican food easily enough, but as he scanned the shelves, he spotted a display of Abuelita brand tortilla chips, which sent a good, hard jolt to his memory.

  Several images, sights and sounds began to clamor in his mind and he froze in his tracks. As he realized what was happening, he lifted a bag of chips and studied the smiling old woman on the label, her cheeks flushed with pride. And as he did so, a spark of recognition struck. Rosa Alvarez.

  The woman whose recipes and cooking skills had started a company.

  A big company.

  Jason…Alvarez?

  Was that who he was?

  He turned the bag over, reading the label. But he skipped over the nutrition facts, instead searching for the processing details: Packaged by Alvarez Industries, San Diego, California.

  This was, he realized, the first significant clue he had received. Yet the images were still flickering in his mind like an old nickelodeon that skipped a few photos.

  Find Pedro Salas.

  Go to Texas.

  But why?

  He reached for a jar of salsa-another Abuelita product-and carried it as well as the chips to the checkout stand.

  “That’ll be eight dollars and forty-three cents,” the checker said.

  John-no, Jason-pulled out a ten and waited for his change. Then he went out to the pickup. But instead of heading home, he searched the area for a pay phone.

  He spotted one by the nearby Laundromat and crossed the parking lot to reach it, digging through his pocket for change.

  Once inside the booth, he dropped in a quarter, dialed 4-1-1 and asked for the number for the Alvarez Industries corporate office in San Diego. Then, realizing he didn’t have enough coins to handle the long-distance charges, he directed an automated operator to place a collect call.

  One ring later, a woman answered, “Alvarez Industries. How can I direct your call?”

  “I have a collect call from Mr. Jason Alvarez. Will you accept charges?”

  “Yes, we will.” When the call went through, she said, “Please hold, Mr. Alvarez. I’ll get your brother’s office.”

  Too bad Jason hadn’t known he had a brother. He blinked a couple of times, hoping it would all come back to him before his brother answered.

  “Michael Alvarez’s office,” another woman said.

  Here goes nothing, he thought, as he said, “This is Jason. Can I speak to Michael?”

  The woman sucked in her breath. “Oh, my God. Are you okay?”

  “Yes, I’m fine.”

  “Michael isn’t in right now. And his cell won’t do you any good. The corporate jet was tied up, and he had to take a commercial flight to Denver. He’s not due to land for another…” She paused, apparently checking the clock or Michael’s itinerary. “Well, he just took off, so it’ll be at least two hours. Are you sure you’re okay, Jason?”

  “Yeah, I’m fine.” At least he hoped that he would be-now, anyway.

  “David’s playing golf at Torrey Pines today with a couple of execs from the J.R. Stein Group. He never takes his cell on the course, so he’s not available, either. Can you leave a number so one of them can call you back as soon as they check in with me?”

  “Sure.” He gave her the number at the ranch.

  “Are you sure you’re all right?” she asked. “They’re going to ask. All they knew was that you went to Texas. But you never checked in.”

  Was that because of the accident and the amnesia? Or did he have another reason for being away?

  Jason didn’t want to admit to the woman that he’d been involved in a mugging, that most of his memory was still lost to him. After all, he wasn’t sure what kind of relationship he had with his family or why he was in Brighton Valley in the first place.

  After the police had questioned the patrons of the Stagecoach Inn, they’d said he was looking for someone named Pedro Salas. But he had no idea why. And because the secretary hadn’t mentioned the man or hinted at his quest, he decided to keep that information to himself for the time being.

  “I’m fine,” he repeated. Hopefully, he’d get more clues after he talked to one of his brothers. “Will you just have one of them call me?”

  “Yes, Jason. Of course.”

  When the line disconnected, he stood outside the market for the longest time, trying to sort through the facts he’d just learned.

  But when push came to shove, he still didn’t know much more than his name.

  Chapter Ten

  Betsy brought her parents home from Shady Glen around four that afternoon. Because her father was a football fan, she left him in the living room watching the Cowboys and Redskins game while she and her mother went into the kitchen.

  She waited for her mom to maneuver the walker into the room, then she had her sit at the kitchen table. Whenever possible, she tried to give her mom a job to do, allowing her to feel as though she’d taken part in the food preparation.

  Working together had always been a special time between them, whether it was baking cookies as a child or learning how to fix one of her mom’s favorite recipes.

  Betsy had cooked the hamburger earlier, so all she needed to do was add the seasonings and the tomato sauce, then let it simmer on the stove.

  “Will John be eating with us, too?” Barbara asked.

  “Yes, he went to pick up some chips and salsa at the market, but he’ll be home soon.”

  If her mother had thought it odd that Betsy had referred to John coming “home,” she didn’t mention anything, which was a relief.

  It’s not that she meant to keep any secrets about the two of them becoming lovers, but they really hadn’t talked about what the future held for them. How could they when John’s past was still in question?

  They’d probably get around to it soon, but he’d been a little introspective the past couple of days. And she wasn’t sure what was going on with that. Of course, she might be
reading something into nothing. And it might be the upcoming holiday that had him pensive.

  It was a struggle not to compare him to Doug, though. And she realized that whenever she did so, it was a result of her own past and baggage coming to light.

  And speaking of the past, her biological mother’s attorney had contacted her again, asking if she’d be interested in a meeting before Christmas. “It would mean so much to her,” the man had said.

  But Betsy had put it off again. “Maybe after New Year’s,” she’d said. Then she’d taken the man’s number and said she’d call him after Christmas.

  “What can I do to help?” her mother asked.

  “Do you want to chop tomatoes and lettuce? Or would you rather grate the cheese?”

  “It doesn’t matter. You choose.”

  Betsy placed a couple of small serving bowls, a paring knife, the cutting board and the previously washed produce in front of her mother. Then she grabbed the cheese from the fridge and a grater from the drawer.

  Dinner would be ready soon. So where was John?

  She glanced at the clock on the microwave. He’d left for the market at the same time she’d gone to get her parents.

  “Have you decided on a menu for Christmas dinner?” her mom asked. “Turkey might be nice again, even though we had it for Thanksgiving. And I can make that cranberry Jell-O salad again.”

  Christmas was only a week away, and Betsy had been thinking a lot about the holiday, although she hadn’t gotten a tree yet.

  “Do you mind celebrating twice?” she asked her mom.

  “What do you mean?”

  “I’d like to do something special for Doc. And because he probably won’t be able to leave the convalescent hospital, we’ll have to do it there. But I’d like to have something special at home, too.”

  John didn’t have a family with whom he could celebrate, so she wanted to go out of her way to make it nice for him-and to make him feel as though he was a part of her family.

  Who knew? Maybe someday he would be.

  Her mother placed the chopped tomatoes into one of the bowls. Then she focused on the lettuce. “Will John be joining us for Christmas?”

 
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