Under the mistletoe with.., p.13

Under The Mistletoe With John Doe, page 13

 

Under The Mistletoe With John Doe
 


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  “I’m sure he will be.” They hadn’t actually talked about it, but where else would he go?

  “It will be nice to have him with us on the holiday,” her mom said. “He seems like a very personable young man.”

  Personable wasn’t the half of it, and the thought put a smile on her face.

  As her mother sliced into the lettuce, she asked, “Do you like him?”

  Betsy knew she wasn’t just talking in terms of friendship. And while she and her mom didn’t keep many secrets from each other, her relationship with John was too new and tenuous to make any announcements just yet.

  “For what it’s worth,” Betsy did admit, “John and I have gotten pretty close lately.”

  “I’m glad to hear that,” Barbara said. “Your father and I have been worried about you spending too much time alone.”

  “I’m pretty busy.”

  “We love you, honey. And we’re enormously proud of the woman and the physician you’ve become. But you’ve been too busy if you ask us. There have to be other doctors who can cover some of the shifts you’ve been taking.”

  Deciding to let that comment slide, Betsy finished grating the cheese and then transferred it into a serving dish that matched those holding the lettuce and tomatoes.

  “Are you going to start frying the tacos shells now?” Barbara asked.

  “No, I’ll wait to do that until right before we eat. In fact, why don’t we take some iced tea to Dad and watch the game with him until John arrives?”

  “All right.” Her mother pulled the walker close to her chair, then slowly got to her feet.

  Betsy had no more than prepared four glasses and carried them into the living room on a tray when she heard Doc’s pickup drive into the yard.

  “Oh, good,” she told her parents. “He’s back.”

  Moments later, John entered the living room with a grocery bag, his expression guarded, his eyes lacking the spark Betsy had grown used to seeing.

  Her father stood and extended his arm in greeting, and while John smiled and took the older man’s hand, Betsy couldn’t help sensing that something was wrong.

  “John,” she said, as she placed the tray of drinks on the coffee table, “will you please help me in the kitchen?”

  “Sure.”

  When they were out of earshot and alone, she asked, “What’s the matter?”

  “Nothing.”

  She crossed her arms, not at all convinced. “You’ve been pretty quiet lately. And right now, I’m picking up some serious vibes.”

  “I’m sorry, honey.” He blew out a sigh, then brushed a kiss on her brow. “I’ve had a couple of things come back to me, but not enough to know anything for sure. I think my name is Jason, though. And I’m from California.”

  “That’s it?”

  “For the most part.”

  Something didn’t quite jive. Did he remember more than he was telling her?

  She didn’t know why she thought he was holding back. Something in his eyes, maybe.

  “Do you have a last name?” she asked.

  “It might be Alvarez. I’m not sure. So far, my thoughts are pretty scattered. And I’m not ready to talk about any of it yet.”

  She could understand that-and she could sympathize with it. So, feeling just a bit better, she offered him a smile and gave him a hug. “I’m glad to hear that. I can’t imagine how difficult the amnesia is for you.”

  “Hopefully, it’ll soon be a thing of the past.”

  She sure hoped so. She was just about to suggest that they open the chips and salsa and take it out to the living room when she stole another glance at him, saw his furrowed brow.

  He was looking down at the floor, but it clearly wasn’t just his boots or the tile pattern that had caught his attention.

  Was it something-or someone-in California?

  Her heart sunk at the thought, yet she didn’t think it was fair to quiz him.

  When he looked up, he caught her gaze, twisting her heart into a tight little knot. “I’m not going to stay, Betsy. I want to go back to Doc’s and be alone for a while. I need to do some thinking.”

  She could understand that. Really, she could. But she sensed him pulling away, just as Doug had once done. And it left her uneasy, her emotions a little too frantic for comfort.

  “All right,” she said, calling on her professionalism and everything that made her a good doctor. “I’ll get dinner on the table. You can eat with us, then take off.”

  “No.” He took a step back. “I’m not in the mood to socialize tonight at all.”

  Why was that? Was he remembering things that didn’t concern her? Things he didn’t want her to know?

  A chill settled over her as she realized he was shutting her out, just as Doug had seemed to do when their marriage was falling apart.

  “Are you coming back later?” she asked. “After I take my parents home?”

  “I’m not sure. I’ve been getting a lot of fleeting thoughts and images, but I can’t quite make sense of them. And I think it’s better if I just go home where it’s quiet.”

  Go home? Just days ago he’d started referring to her house as home. And now he was talking about Doc’s.

  Or did he mean California?

  She couldn’t explain just how she knew it, but he was leaving her. And he hadn’t even taken a step.

  Jason headed back to Doc’s place to await a call from California. He’d hated the fact that he’d cut out early on Betsy’s dinner party, knowing that it was rude. But he wasn’t sure when one of his brothers would call back. And he wanted to be there when it happened.

  Fortunately, while he was making a bologna sandwich for dinner, the telephone rang.

  He waited a beat before answering so that he didn’t appear to be too anxious. “Hello?”

  “Jason? Where the hell have you been? We’ve been worried sick. You flew to Houston to find Pedro, and then that’s all we heard.”

  “I…uh…haven’t found him yet.”

  “But where are you? After not hearing from you for a couple of days, we filed a missing person report. We also sent a private investigator to Texas, and he tracked you to a rental-car company in Houston, but he didn’t turn up anything. You never returned the car, and it was reported stolen.”

  “It was stolen.”

  “By whom?”

  “Whoever mugged me and stole my wallet, I suspect.”

  “Damn. Slow down, little brother. Are you okay?”

  “I’m all in one piece, but I suffered a head injury and had amnesia for a while.” Actually, he still had it, he supposed. “I seem to be getting my memory back in pieces, so you’re going to have to help me out with a few reminders.”

  “Okay. I’ll help any way I can. Have you been able to find Pedro?”

  “I don’t think so. The problem is, I’m not sure why I was looking for him.”

  “Damn,” his brother said again. “Where are you? I’m going to come out there and take you to the hospital. I want you to have a full evaluation by specialists.”

  “I’ve already had one. And I’ve been under a doctor’s care.” His thoughts drifted to Betsy, to the hands that touched him in so many different ways. A healer’s hands. A lover’s hands.

  “I’m still going to fly out there,” his brother said. “The corporate jet has been getting serviced, but I’ll take a commercial flight. Where, exactly, are you?”

  “I’m in a small town in Texas. But you don’t need to come out here.”

  “You sure about that?”

  Jason wasn’t sure about anything, but something told him he didn’t want his brother to come to his rescue. That he’d never needed him to.

  “Yeah,” he said, repeating himself. “I’m doing just fine. But I have a question for you.”

  “What’s that?”

  “Which brother are you?”

  The silence over the line was almost deafening. “Are you kidding me? This is Mike. Your oldest brother.”

  “O
ldest of how many?”

  “Oh, for cripes’s sake. What the hell town are you in? Where’s the closest airport?”

  “Settle down. I’m fine. Really. It’s all coming back to me. I’m just trying to piece things together. Can you catch me up to speed?”

  Another pause. Then Mike blew out a ragged breath. “Cheryl Westlake filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against me. And a couple of her friends have corroborated her story.”

  “Is it true?”

  “What are you implying?” his brother asked, his tone short, clipped. Annoyed.

  “Oh, hell,” Jason snapped back, as if used to sparring with the guy. “The lawsuit alone implies that. I just asked whether her charges are true.”

  “You questioned me about that already, before you flew to Houston. And I’ll tell you the same thing I told you then. I didn’t fire Cheryl because she wouldn’t put out. She wasn’t doing her job. She came in late nearly every day, and she couldn’t cut it as an HR director.”

  “So tell me about Pedro Salas.”

  “He’s an alcoholic, and we fired him for coming to work three sheets to the wind. You don’t remember that, either?”

  Was that why Jason had been looking for Pedro at the Stagecoach Inn? Had he expected to find the guy crying in his beer?

  “It’s all coming back to me,” he lied.

  “Well, if you don’t find Pedro, that’s fine. It was a long shot anyway. We’ll call the attorneys and tell them it didn’t pan out. They’ll just have to take another approach for our defense.”

  Our defense?

  Apparently, Mike’s problem had become a family issue, and Jason wondered how he felt about that. Or rather, how the old Jason felt about it. Was he bothered by the inconvenience? Was he ready to battle anyone who attacked the family?

  A sense of irritation washed over him. He wasn’t sure if it was due to frustration over the fact that his amnesia wasn’t lifting as quickly as he wanted it to or if it had something to do with his brother and the dynamics of their relationship.

  Time would tell, he supposed. He just hoped he had the patience to wait it out.

  “When are you coming home?” Mike asked.

  “I’d fly back to San Diego tomorrow, but I’m short of funds. My wallet, my ID and all my cash were stolen.”

  “Did you cancel your credit cards?”

  “Until today, I wasn’t even aware of my name. So, no, Mike, I haven’t gotten around to it yet.” There it went again, the irritation.

  “I’ll take care of that for you.”

  “Thanks.”

  When the call ended, Jason sat in the living room for the longest time, hoping that more of the voices and images would come back to him. But the only thing that came to mind was anger and annoyance at his older brother. And he wasn’t sure what that was about.

  Twenty minutes later, when the sun had set and the room had grown dark, the phone rang again. And this time, it was another brother who’d gotten the message and was returning his call.

  “Hey, Jason. It’s David. What’s going on? Where are you?”

  He gave him the lowdown, and this time, he handled the amnesia news a little better. Or maybe, thanks to Mike’s clarifications, the conversation went a little smoother.

  “So what do you think?” Jason asked, clearly unable to let go of the questions that had been dogging him. “Do you think there’s any substance to Cheryl’s allegation?”

  “You know how Mike is,” David had said. “He’s a big flirt and he doesn’t always keep his hands to himself or his mouth shut.”

  “So it’s possible that he did say or do something that Cheryl could call sexual harassment?”

  “Sure, I suppose it’s possible. But we’re family. So we’ve got to stick together, right?”

  He supposed so.

  “Besides,” David added, “Mike claims he didn’t do or say anything wrong. And I’ve got to believe him.”

  Did Jason feel the same way? Until he found some of the missing parts to his jigsaw puzzle, he wasn’t sure.

  “I’m hopeful that this is all hype on Cheryl’s part,” David said. “But she’s got a couple of former employees to back up her statement.”

  “And Pedro should be able to testify on Mike’s behalf?”

  “Before you left San Diego, you told us that you had reason to believe that he’d overheard a conversation that would prove the so-called witnesses were involved in a scam.”

  But Pedro had been fired for drinking on the job and had moved away, Jason thought, cobbling the pieces he remembered with those he’d been told.

  “Did you find him?” David asked.

  “No, not yet. But I’ll take up the search again tomorrow.”

  “Good.”

  Jason gripped the receiver tighter. “So what happens if I don’t find him?”

  “The lawsuit won’t break us. We’ve got EPLI.”

  Employer Protection Liability Insurance, Jason realized.

  “But the family has always had a great reputation, and no one’s happy about the claim, false or otherwise.”

  That made sense.

  A pause stretched across the phone line, and Jason began to think that of his brothers, he might be closest to David.

  “Hey,” he said. “I’ve got a question for you. And it’s going to sound crazy.”

  “What’s that?”

  “Am I married?”

  “Not anymore.”

  “So I’m divorced?”

  “Yes. Don’t you remember Renee?”

  No, but he wanted to. “Just give me a quick recap.”

  “Okay. Renee Perez. Five-six, a hundred and twenty pounds. Shapely, brunette with green eyes and a great smile, thanks to the set of veneers you paid for.”

  “Where’d we meet?”

  “At a fundraiser held at the polo fields in Rancho Santa Fe.”

  So was that where he’d picked up his knowledge about horses? At the polo fields?

  “You honeymooned in Spain, but once you got home, you went back to work 24/7, just like the rest of us.”

  Suddenly, the angry woman’s voice came back to him, making sense this time. Those sweet-talking promises of yours aren’t going to work on me anymore, Jason. If you go now, it’s over. I’ll be gone before you get home.

  And apparently, she’d made good on her threat.

  “She liked the nice house, the beautiful clothes and all the money you provided her,” David added, “but she wanted more of your time.”

  “And that’s why we split?”

  “Pretty much. She called you an incurable workaholic, although it was that dedication to Alvarez Industries that ensured her a pretty damn good settlement.”

  “So how long have I been divorced?”

  “A couple of years.”

  “Am I dating anyone in particular?”

  David laughed. “I’ve never seen you at any function-business or otherwise-when you didn’t have a date. But just recently, you’ve had the same woman on your arm. She’s tall and blonde and, apparently, a lot more understanding than Renee was. I think her name was Katrina.”

  “Were we sleeping together?” Jason asked.

  “I have no idea. You never were one to kiss and tell.”

  Jason raked a hand through his hair. He didn’t have a clue who Katrina was-or what she meant to him. But he wasn’t married. That was good news, wasn’t it?

  Still, he had been seeing someone.

  After the line disconnected, he continued to sit in silence, thinking mostly.

  So now he knew something solid. He was an executive in a successful family business. A divorced workaholic who had no trouble getting dates.

  He also lived and worked…and played in California.

  What did that mean in regard to his having a relationship with Betsy, a woman who was firmly planted in Brighton Valley?

  Could they ever make a life together?

  Or would it be best if he just let her go?

  Last night, a
fter John left…

  Betsy paused in midthought to correct herself. His name was Jason now. She’d have to remember that. But the point she was trying to make was that she’d made excuses for his silence and his retreat to the ranch house.

  He was confused by the memories that were returning, she’d explained to her parents. And he needed to be alone.

  They seemed to understand why he’d left, and on an intellectual level, she did, too. He just needed a little time and space to sort things through. Within the next day or so, things would be back to the way they’d been.

  But that wasn’t true. Something had changed; Jason was different now, and she wasn’t sure in which way.

  When he’d left her house last night, their gazes had locked, and she’d seen a spark in his eyes, an emotion too difficult for her to decipher. And that’s when the remorse had settled over her. That’s when she’d faced the truth. And no matter how often she told herself that she was making something out of nothing, that everything would be okay, she couldn’t accept that reasoning.

  During the last few months of her marriage, she’d made excuses for Doug, too. She’d accepted those long hours he spent at work. And she hadn’t questioned all the times she hadn’t been able to contact him because he’d supposedly forgotten to take his cell phone with him.

  But Doug had also become cryptic and distant at the end, which had made it easier for him to maintain a secret life. And it was that past experience that kept niggling at her now, warning her, preparing her for the worst.

  At the end of the evening, she’d taken her parents home and then returned to the guesthouse alone. And even though she’d tried all of her tricks-a warm bath, a cup of chamomile tea-she hadn’t been able to sleep.

  Around midnight she’d peered out the window toward the ranch house, where several lights lit up the living room as well as the bedroom that belonged to Jason while he was staying with Doc.

  The fact that they’d both been awake yet apart left a lump in her chest that lasted throughout the night.

  Finally, as dawn spread its fingers over the countryside, she made a decision. She couldn’t leave things to chance. She needed to find out who Jason really was, and that meant she would have to be proactive.

  So early that morning, on her way to work, she stopped by the sheriff’s office. She would ask if they had any news, if there’d been any missing person reports, any stolen cars recovered. After all, Jason had to have gotten to the honky-tonk somehow. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that he had a vehicle?

 
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