Always Kiss Your Fake Amnesia Christmas Fiance by Taylor Hart
Bear Snow, country music sensation, knew coming back to Snow Valley was a mistake. He’d known it before he’d gotten off his plane in Billings only to be greeted by a winter storm warning. He’d known it before he’d bought his ticket from Nashville to Billings three days ago. He’d known it even before he’d answered his grandfather’s call as he’d stepped off his bus after a six-month cross-country tour. The moment he’d answered that call and heard his grandfather guilt him into coming, it’d been too late to refuse.
Guilt had been his constant companion for the past ten years. He’d been living with that guilt even more since his grandmother had passed away two years ago and he hadn’t come to her funeral. Yet that guilt had a silver lining: it had been the catalyst for him to get clean and stay clean. Absently, he reached up and grasped the two-year sobriety coin that was strung around his neck. He could do this. He could come back to Snow Valley and face his grandfather. Plain and simple.
He chastised himself for doubting that he could, but doubt was difficult to avoid. Sure, he’d done the twelve steps over a year ago, but he could never make up for the past.
As he drove through the blizzard on this overly decorated Snow Valley Main Street, everything felt surreal. It felt impossible that he’d grown up in this town, impossible that at one point he’d loved this place so much he’d been willing to make it his home.
His mind’s eye flitted to the face of the woman he’d loved. Jade. It’d been ten years since she’d left him at the altar. Ten years since this town had faded in his rearview mirror. Ten years since he’d lost everything. No … not everything. He thought of his group counselor’s support, and he remembered how in the past year, he’d spent lots of time learning how to tap into that higher power of faith. He hadn’t lost the Lord, even though he’d done almost everything under the sun when it came to trying to forget God.
Pain stabbed into his chest as he considered the reason he’d turned his life around: his grandmother’s death. He’d been on tour when it’d happened, and he’d been too stoned out of his mind to realize that he should have come. It had taken a couple of days before he’d been sober enough to realize he’d missed it. He sucked in a long breath. Keep it together, man. Keep it together. He was here to make things right with his grandfather, and he had to focus on that.
As he drove through town, he took the first right off of Main Street and his tires slipped in the ice and snow. Pfft. Rental cars. He yearned for his four-wheel-drive truck back in Nashville, although he never really needed the four-wheel drive for the city-slicker neighborhood he lived in. At least, he was pretty sure that’s what his grandfather would say about his neighborhood.
It was amazing how even after ten years, he pretty much knew what his grandfather would have to say on every topic known to man. That’s what he got for growing up on a farm, spending most days with his grandpa. All. Day. Long. He couldn’t help but smile, and he felt a spark of anticipation at the thought of seeing the crotchety old man. So what if Bear was a prodigal son type? So what if he wasn’t sure how the master of the house would receive him? He still wanted to see his grandfather.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the huge lit-up Christmas tree next to the Snow Valley hospital, surrounded by a bunch of people. He rolled to a stop at a nearby light and let his gaze rove across the busy crowd, realizing the tree-lighting ceremony must be tonight. Each year during his youth, he would come to the lighting ceremony with his grandparents. His grandmother had loved it and always insisted on making a million lemon bars for the event. He’d always complained that lemon bars weren’t Christmas cookies, but she’d always pointed out that every year, no matter how many she brought, they all got eaten, so they were Christmas cookies.
For a second, he couldn’t breathe as he remembered the feel of her soft hand on his cheek before he’d left Snow Valley that fateful day. She’d said to him, “Don’t waste your life being angry, Bear. There must be a good reason she didn’t show.”
No. He shouldn’t be reliving all these memories about this town. Sure, okay, fine, maybe he could allow himself to think about his grandmother. In itself, that was harmless. The frustrating thing was that everything in this town, every memory, always circled back to Jade.
Another image of her flashed into his mind. He could see her sitting on the swing in her front yard. She was laughing, and her face was lit up. Despite himself, he grinned. She always used to threaten him when he pushed her too high. Of course, he always took that as a cue to push her higher, because he wanted her to come after him.
He thought of her deep sky-blue eyes, which he’d dreamt about for the past ten years, whether he wanted to or not. Those same eyes seemed to haunt him, leaving him hollow. Hollowness had led him to drinking and drugs and homelessness. He caught himself before he could spiral down that train of thought. He wasn’t going there. He wouldn’t allow himself to go there.
He scoured the cozy little gathering at the hospital. It was a flurry of activity. There was a stage set up, and he could see people playing music. There were booths, and if he were to try hard enough, there were probably people he would recognize, but he wouldn’t try. No. He was here to make amends with his grandfather and help him out. That was all.
With a start, he realized that the light had been green for a while. He put on a little gas to get him through the town, and he headed out on the back highway toward his grandfather’s ranch. One of the many “Snow Ranches” in the area.
He passed Jade’s house and resisted the urge to take a peek. Growing up, he’d always looked to see if she was home. That was ridiculous to think about now. Why would he look at the house of the woman who’d left him at the altar?
All Bear knew about Jade’s current situation was that she lived in New York and she was at a law firm. His grandmother had mentioned that to him in one of their Sunday check-in phone calls before she’d passed away.
As if drawn by a powerful magnet, all the memories of her snapped back to him, accompanied by the bitterness of that day, that hour of mortification when she’d failed to show up to their wedding. The whole town had been gathered. Pastor John was standing next to him. Bear had been anticipating her walking down the red carpet and into his arms, but he’d been deeply disappointed.
He thought of what her life would be like now. Undoubtedly, she wore her brilliant red hair in a bun on her head, looking prim in a suit and glasses. She probably carried her laptop everywhere and rushed into a tall building every day where she could live out her dream.
No. He didn’t want to think about that. He gripped the coin on his neck and told himself he was done with Jade Harmony and he didn’t have to be held hostage to thoughts about her.
He could do thought replacement. Yes, that’s what he could do. He could think about a new up-and-coming artist he’d met on his recent tour, Marissa Martin. With considerable effort, he dislodged his nostalgia in favor of the image of Marissa: a woman with long, blond hair falling to her waist and red lips that parted distractingly when she sang into the microphone.
A touch of excitement lightened his mood. The woman had asked him if he wanted to attend her New Year’s party in Nashville. Yes, he did.
As he got closer to his grandfather’s ranch, he slowed and the tires on the rental car slipped again. The falling snow seemed to thicken and pile against his windshield like a blanket. He clicked on his window wiper at a faster speed and hissed under his breath when he felt his car slide. His foot put pressure on the brake, and he let out a sardonic laugh. This was Montana. The people who permanently lived here wouldn’t bat an eye in this weather. It was a way of life, and the residents didn’t grumble about it too much.
That was one of the things he missed about Snow Valley type of people. They took life, even with all its challenges, and moved forward, working hard and helping their neighbors. It was a far cry from the loneliness of his last five years with his music career and the way he traveled from city to city. At least he had his band members, who had become good friends of his. He dated on and off. No one serious. Most of the time, they were other artists or people he was introduced to at parties.
His phone buzzed, and he noted that his agent, Michael, was calling. He pressed the answer button. “Hello,” he said, squinting as he spotted something on the road ahead of him. Flashing lights?
“Bear, I’ve got great news for you.”
“Montana Cruz wants you to go to Jackson and be one of five country artists to perform at a special Christmas concert for his immediate family and friends.”
Bear perked up at the news. Montana Cruz was the king of country music; performing for him would be a dream come true. Yet Christmas Eve was four days away, and Bear had promised he’d spend the week with his grandfather. He took his foot off the brake and eased forward, trying to figure out what the flashes meant. It didn’t seem like cops.
“Bear, did you hear me?”
“I heard you,” he said, wanting to say yes, that of course he would be there, but … the guilt held those words back. “I can’t. I’m spending the week with my grandfather.”
“Really?” his agent said with sarcasm in his tone. “I thought you didn’t have family.” That was the line he’d given in the past ten years when anyone would ask.
“Well, I do,” he said shortly. He had no desire to explain himself to his agent.
“Hmm. Well, Marissa Martin will be there, and she mentioned how amazing it would be to do a duet with you.”
That got his attention. “Marissa?”
The turn for his grandfather’s ranch was up ahead somewhere, but he wouldn’t get to the ranch before he dealt with whatever was happening with all the lights. He slowed, realizing that the flashes were actually hazard lights and there had been a bad car crash. As he got closer, he saw a diesel truck stopped on the side of the road and another car on the opposite side of the road.
“Accident! Gotta go!” He hung up on his protesting agent and parked on the side of the road, pressing 911 as he bolted out of his rental.
“Help! Help!” someone called out from the car on its side.
“911, what’s the emergency?”
Half of the car was crumpled. “Car crash! Out by old man Henry Snow’s place! People hurt! Send ambulance stat!” Bear hung up and tried to open the driver side door, but the metal was too bent and wouldn’t give.
“Help!” the driver repeated. It was a woman’s voice, but the glass was so shattered he couldn’t see inside.
“I got you!” He rushed around to the passenger side and wondered how she’d spun so badly that she’d crashed and ended up on the side. He hadn’t gotten a good look at the vehicle clear off the road. In these parts, it wasn’t uncommon for large trucks to lose control of their speed, especially in winter. Was that what had happened?
He yanked on the passenger side handle, using both hands and putting his boot against the side of the door to try to yank it open.
A moaning sound rang through the air. “Help.” Her voice was weaker.
“I’m coming, don’t you worry!”
The smell of gas hit him, and suddenly the front of the car burst into flames. In the midst of the chill winter air, the wave of heat was nearly enough to bowl him over. Crap! No time to wait to get her out. On impulse, he lifted his foot and kicked the driver’s side window. Glass shattered from the impact, and by wrapping his coat around his arms, he was able to reach through and heave himself inside.
The woman was fastened in place by her seat belt, but her head lolled against the airbag and off to the side. “Oh gosh,” she muttered. “Thank you. Please get me out. I’m stuck.”
Bear pulled out his pocketknife and quickly cut her seat belt. “We’ll get you, ma’am, don’t worry.” The fire turned brighter, and Bear realized he might not be able to go back out of the front window. Maybe he’d need to push through the side.
“It’s burning?” she asked. “Is it burning?”
Her hair was in front of her face, and he thought that was just as well, since the flames would only freak her out. “You’re okay. You’re going to be okay.” Bear helped her pull the seat belt off and then punctured the airbag. The flames were getting hotter, licking at the front of the car.
“Okay,” she whispered.
Bear’s hands stilled. This close, he could identify the voice. “Jade?”
It was her. The woman from his dreams and nightmares. The woman he’d grown up with. The woman who’d left him standing at the altar and nearly broke him. When they’d been in high school, her hair had been cut in an A-line around her face. Her red hair was dyed a deeper auburn now, but those amethyst-blue eyes were hers for sure.
Blood streamed down her face, but she was able to peer at him through the smoke. “Bear? Bear?” she half laughed. “I knew you’d come to save me.”
Shock coursed through him. He didn’t know why she would say that. But the fire and the blood needed to be dealt with first. “Are you okay? Can you reach up and hold on to me?”
Gently, he started pulling her toward him.
She cried out in pain. “My arm. It’s stuck.”
He quickly let go. Her arm appeared to be stuck between the door and the seat. Carefully, he took hold of her arm and tugged it free.
“Sorry! Okay, I’m going to try and get you out again. Just hold tight. I’m going to be careful.” Bracing himself, he made another attempt to pull her out.
Bear was dismayed to see a lot more blood on the back of the seat and her headrest. He realized that there was a huge gash on the back of her head. Worry coursed through him. Shouldn’t he be waiting for a neck brace and all of the stuff they showed on television? But they didn’t have time. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” He leaned back and tried the side door behind him. By some miracle, it opened and he was able to back out through the passenger side door, then lift her whole body in his arms and run away from the car.
To his shock and horror, the car exploded behind him, and the blast forced him into a snowbank with her in his arms.
Sirens echoed from behind him as he gently pulled her out of the snow. “Are you okay?”
She didn’t answer; she simply leaned on his chest as the blood continued to stream down around her eyes.
“Jade?” he asked loudly. “Are you okay?”
She winced, then opened her eyes. Her head tipped upward, and she brushed her lips against his.
Every part of him froze. Her lips were coated with a rust-like taste. He stared at the blood coming down her face. “We have to get you help.”
She closed her eyes. “I missed you, Bear. Don’t leave me again. Promise.”
He felt her body go limp. “Jade?” he screamed out. “Jade?” His head swam, overwhelming him with panic. She couldn’t die. She couldn’t die.
The ambulance arrived. Bear hardly noticed. He could feel himself shaking, and he tried to process that he was holding Jade Harmony. The woman who had once been his. Jade. Jade. Jade. His mind was on repeat.
“Sir, we’re going to take her and put her on the gurney now,” an ambulance worker said. There were two workers beside him who Bear didn’t recognize.
“Jade?” he called out again, but she didn’t respond.
The men lifted her up and put her on a gurney; they wasted no time getting her oxygen and putting something in her arm with an IV.
She couldn’t die. “I’m coming,” he insisted.
The ambulance worker put a hand up, not letting him in the ambulance. “Are you family?”
Tears burned in Bear’s eyes. “No.”
The ambulance worker grabbed the side of the door and tugged it shut. “Meet us at the hospital. Call the family, please.”