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Excerpt: More Than Memories Kristen James @writerkristenj

More Than Memories

Kristen James

http://amzn.to/MoreThanMemories

Can she love him if she can't remember him? Molly Anderson returns "home" to a town she doesn't remember, hoping it will spark a memory. She runs into Trent Williams, a Ridge City police detective, and something else definitely sparks.

He wants to know why she left town, with her parents, but without a word to anyone. She doesn't remember that life. She can only tell him she knew her parents briefly before they died . . . or were murdered, she's not sure. She hopes regaining her memory will help answer that question.

Trent has his own secrets, but they have a mystery to solve. As they work together and Molly meets their old friends, she realizes their relationship went deeper than memories. In fact, she grew up in Ridge City, even though her parents had said they lived there just a few years. How could she have forgotten her lifelong friend and love? Can she love him again if she doesn't remember him? There's also the possibility that she did something awful -- and maybe that's why she's afraid to remember her old life.

Molly knows she wants him now, but the truth might destroy their love.

Chapter One

“Maybe this is the one,” Molly whispered, hoping against the odds that people in this town would know her. She’d stopped by three towns already and asked if they remembered her living there, as her parents had told her. But no one had.

She drove her Honda Civic north on I-5 through the softly falling rain, watching for the Ridge City sign. She thought about the dangers of triggering her memory to return, but she had to do something to figure out what happened to her parents. Regaining her memory might give her those answers, plus she didn’t want to spend her life without a memory of her first twenty years.

The exit came and she veered to the right. A few miles later, the road ran along the top of a hill, giving her a view of the town below. A sign announced Entering Ridge City. The rain was just a mist now, letting the sunshine through for a minute.

The town’s houses crowded together until they reached the top of the hill, overlooking the generous farm land below. Molly had read as much as she could find on the place, which wasn’t much. The town sign said population five thousand. She saw a long main drag, a mill, the usual fast food and family restaurants, and a touristy section with billboards advertising Oregon gifts. If only she could remember this quaint little place. Had she been happy here? Would anyone recognize her?

She followed the main drag and parked in a free parking lot close to the police department, where she planned to go first. As she opened her car’s door, she felt pummeled by Oregon spring weather: fat rain drops and a cool wind. In like a lamb, out like a lion. This March, however, seemed to be starting like a lion. Molly pulled her raincoat’s hood up to protect her hair from falling flat. The weather wasn’t style-friendly at all, and her hair was curled and pulled up except for a few curls she left loose. Her black hair might draw some attention. If anyone here knew her, she didn’t think they’d miss seeing her today. Both her parents were a mix of American Indian and English, so Molly had light brownish red tone to her skin. Maybe someone here could tell her why she’d ended up in California without a memory or any family besides her parents.

The weather cleared and the wind died down to a gentle breeze that teased the curls by her temples. A few brave trees had blossomed, but the wind blew their petals all over the pavement like snow.

Seeing the police department sign, she slowed, hesitated, and then pushed herself to quickly walk inside. At the desk, an older and kind looking blonde smiled. “How can I help you?”

Molly liked her soft blue eyes and motherly appearance.

“My name is Molly Anderson,” she started with a shake in her voice. She cleared her throat and straightened herself, trying for confidence. “I might have lived here about five years ago, before I was hurt and lost my memory.”

The woman’s smile remained, but her brows pulled together and her eyes gained this intense focus. “Did you say Molly Anderson?”

Even while Molly nodded, the woman grabbed her phone. “Trent, get up here.”

Molly’s heart jumped into double time while her stomach squeezed into a ball. She crossed her fingers behind her back but also wanted to run right back outside.

A door opened to her right and a man stepped out, actually a broad shouldered cowboy about six feet tall, built like a bulldog, with deep brown eyes that lit up all shiny and bright when he spotted her. He looked genuinely happy to see her, but his size and posture startled her.

“Molly?”

She jerked, jumped out of her skin really, upon hearing the rugged voice. “Uh…”

The excitement faded. “Mol?”

Now that someone actually recognized her, she didn’t know what to say. This man didn’t speak either, but stared right back at her. He was clean-shaven and neat with dark hair and eyes, a strong face that fit this build.

He glanced at the receptionist and back at her as if he didn’t believe what he was seeing in front of him.

Flip—flop went her stomach. Those eyes … wow. Molly didn’t remember ever feeling a burning and tingling excitement like this, but she knew what it was.

His chocolate-brown eyes gazed into hers like he was looking at Elvis back from the dead. Suddenly aware that her lips were parted in surprise, she pulled them shut, trying to pull her desperate hope back inside her before he saw. She saw a million emotions swirl in his eyes as he took her in.

“Molly, why don’t you come with me so we can talk?” He swung the door open. She didn’t move, and noticed he looked either confused or hurt. “You’re perfectly safe here.”

She nodded, tried to give the kind woman a smile and walked through the door. He shut it behind him and gestured down the hall. They went into a small room with a table, chairs and a shelf with a coffee maker. Nervous again, she turned to him in surprise.

“Please, relax,” he said softly, “I just want a quiet place for us to talk. I’m here to help you.”

“You know me?” She barely managed the words as she sat down.

His raised eyebrows and bewildered eyes turned to pleading at her words. But pleading for what? For her to recognize him, of course. He knows me!

“Molly Anderson,” he said or asked, she wasn’t sure. He had a strong face, she thought again, though caring. A sense of comfort filled her, bringing some confidence with it.

“Yes, I am.” She remembered herself, or at least the memories of herself over the last four years, and recited her usual explanation. “I lost my memory several years ago, so I don’t remember you.”

His eyebrows rose, his eyes full of disbelief. Not the suspicious kind of disbelief, but he looked like she just told him he had cancer. With puzzlement, he said, “You sure have changed.”

“I have?” This was her opportunity. She’d found a link, maybe some answers. “I’ve been visiting towns where I lived before. This is town number four and the first one where anyone knows me. Maybe if you told me how we knew each other, something will come back. Could you start with your name?”

He almost smiled. “Trent Williams.”

Molly repeated the name, but it did nothing for her. How could she have known this impressive man and not remember him? That didn’t feel right.

“Everyone said you were gone,” he said. “No one thought you’d come back except Alicia and me.”

“Who?”

“My sister.”

She sat back and then realized how tense her shoulders were. “You said I’ve changed. How so?”

“You’re not the Molly I remember.” His eyes looked all over her face. Molly wasn’t used to having a man gaze at her like that, like he was memorizing and meeting her at the same time. Suddenly, she wondered at their relationship, how close they had been. Darn it, isn’t it a little late to worry about that now? Trent continued, “Your hair’s curled, done up, your jewelry looks pretty expensive, and you’re wearing perfume that nobody in this small town can afford.”

Molly tugged at her earring which had actually been her mother’s. Without her memory, a cool air about herself had been her only way of putting a buffer between her and the world. She still clearly remembered how frightened she’d been when she’d first awoken, and how everyone around her could see her fear.

“I wasn’t ....” She broke off. Wasn’t what? “I wasn’t like this when you knew me?”

“You were a down-to-earth, jeans-wearing free spirit.” A faint smile danced on his face, and his speech fell smoothly with a small hint of a southern accent adding to his slight drawl. She wanted to see his full smile. She’d glimpsed his white teeth and knew he must have a persuasive, slow grin.

He watched her like he was putting that person together with the person sitting in front of him. “I want to know where you went, what happened,” he said.

“Aren’t you going to tell me how we knew each other first?” Why this banter, she wondered. Trent rubbed his hands together and clasped them, almost as if he was buying time.

“We were friends. Hung out in the same circles.”

Was that all they were? And if so, was it all he had wanted from her? If they had been dating and she didn’t remember a man like him, maybe something was wrong with her.

“So why’d you leave?” He brought her back. “Why didn’t you call anyone here? Why didn’t your parents call? None of this makes sense.”

“I know, but I just don’t remember.” She heard the frustration in her voice and reminded herself that she was sitting here with someone who finally recognized her. Trent’s intent look, those brown eyes a shade darker than hers, didn’t leave her anywhere to hide. He wasn’t going to look away until she answered him. “I have about four years’ worth of memory. I remember waking up one morning in a strange house and finding a couple who said they were my parents. I became hysterical, not believing them until they showed me our family picture albums.”

“Where was that?”

“The house?”

He nodded, leaning forward.

“Northern California. I tried all kinds of things to get my memory back. Then it hit me maybe I should visit other places where I had lived.”

Trent leaned back, giving a soft hmm. He lowered an eyebrow, tilted his head to one side. “Seems to me that seeing me would make you remember. We used to be friends. And this town. Nothing?”

Molly shook her head. “I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Can you tell me what happened to make you forget?”

Trent’s question didn’t have an answer, at least not one Molly knew of yet. Shaking her head, she thought that if she could remember why her memory disappeared to begin with, maybe all of her memory would return.

“I just have questions and no answers. This was a long shot to come here, but I didn’t know what else to do.”

Trent tried again. “Didn’t your parents tell you anything?”

“They told me we moved around a lot. We lived here for a year and a half before my father’s job took him to California. I fell and hit my head, I guess. The doctors didn’t find any damage, but I couldn’t remember anything before that.” The fear she must have felt flickered in her eyes for a brief moment. “You’re the first person I’ve met besides my parents that knew me before.”

Trent’s hmm sounded louder this time, and he sank into his own thoughts for a few minutes.

“That’s what your parents told you?” he finally said. Molly’s brows creased. She had no idea what Trent was really asking with his question, but she sensed that he disagreed with her story somehow.

He stared at her like she might be lying. The hurt she felt both stung and surprised her. “Wait, did you know my parents?”

“Yes, I knew you and your parents.” He leaned forward, his dark eyes earnestly pleading. “Everyone did, Mol.”

“I . . . I don’t know what to say about all this.”

“I guess it’s only fair that I share about myself, maybe that’ll help.” Trent relaxed back into the seat, even though it looked a little forced. “I joined the police force after high school, and I just got my first promotion when you ran off—”

“Ran off?” she interrupted. He hadn’t mentioned that before.

“You were just gone, no word, no call to anyone. Just gone.”

This news didn’t sit well with her.

“Maybe you need to ask your parents a few questions,” Trent said.

After a short and involuntary intake of breath, she said, “They’re dead.”

His head shot up to stare at her. “When?”

“Two years ago.” After an unsure pause, she explained. “A car accident, or maybe it was tampering, but the police never decided.”

“How horrible.”

She shrugged, looking away. “I didn’t know them that well. Just those two years.” What a lie. They were her world, the only people she’d known. “I mean, I should have known them all my life.” Molly was surprised to see her pain reflected in Trent’s eyes. Could he possibly understand what she’d been through?

“Mol, I’m so sorry,” he whispered, and he meant it – they both could tell that. Oh no. He really did know her. The trueness of it hit her, taking her breath away. For some reason this hadn’t felt real to her until this moment. Hot tears stung her eyes but she bit down on her lip to stop them. Shocking her even more, Trent reached across the table and placed his hand over hers, a warm and friendly gesture. This is what she’d come looking for. She longed to walk around to his side of the table and lean into his arms, almost as if by instinct. If only she could stop time with his hand on hers...

“I can help,” he said.

“But I’m sure you have a life of your own to live.” She suddenly felt like a lost puppy tagging along with the first friendly stranger it found. While she wanted, and maybe needed his help, she wasn’t sure if it was asking too much.

“I’m a cop, and I know a few good detectives. The Anderson case is cold, but now you’re here to help solve it. Don’t you want to know why you and your parents disappeared? I’ll help you.”

She almost laughed. “You can’t take time off to do this, and it’s been two years since the accident.”

“I don’t care.” His determination wouldn’t sway. “I’ll ask to use some of my vacation. I’ve got over a month accrued.”

“Don’t you ever take time off?”

“No, haven’t had a reason to. But now I want to help a friend. Maybe you’ll remember your old life, but if you don’t, maybe we can find out what really happened to your parents.”

She pulled in a long, deep breath. “Okay.”

Back in her room an hour later, Molly went in the bathroom and stared at her reflection saying her name several times. “Molly Avery Anderson.” She’d tried that many times without results, so this time she added, “Trent Williams.”

This name sent her head and heart twirling. Rethinking her day, she wondered if fate had sent her into that police station. Of course, she had visited several other stations and towns before that one, but it’d been a gut feeling that she’d find the help she needed there.

Turning, she walked from the bathroom and stood looking around the hotel room. It was clean and impersonal, the way these rooms usually are. She felt a connection between this room and her life—she didn’t feel comfortable in either. However, it felt like a good place to sit and talk to Trent simply because it wasn’t too personal.

Meeting Trent and hearing him say how she was different made her look at herself anew. She’d taken on her mother’s style, she supposed, since she didn’t remember dressing the way Trent described.

He knocked and her stomach tightened as she went to the door and opened it. He seemed shy coming in, without the hat this time, and his hands in his pockets. “I got the time off pretty easy.”

“Good. It’s really nice of you to help me out like this.” She felt clumsy and sat down in a chair by the table, gesturing to the chair across from her. He, too, looked uneasy. She said frankly, “I want to know the facts about that day, when I disappeared.”

“Okay. On July 23, 2007 your house was found empty. A neighbor went inside because the door was open. He could tell all of you tore out of there in a hurry, leaving it a mess. Drawers were open, things thrown around, clothes missing. He called 911, said he had a funny feeling about it.”

When Trent paused, she asked, “No note? No call to anyone?”

“No. Nothing. That’s why most people think you and your parents decided to skip town for some reason, though we never found that reason.”

“And that’s all there is to it still?” She couldn’t believe that. She wanted answers.

“There were traces of blood on the floor.”

Blood? Did she hear him correctly? “Whose?”

“We don’t know that either. Everyone in town was tested for a DNA match.” He watched her closely to say, “I even got tested. We couldn’t get a DNA match on anyone that knew you. It appears likely it was a relative, though, because it was close, but not exact, to DNA taken from samples in the house.”

“I’m completely puzzled. I have no idea what happened.” If it didn’t match any of them, who could it be? She didn’t have any relatives that ever visited her in California. Of course, there could have been relatives before that.

“Unless the police missed someone in Ridge City, which could happen, someone was there that other people didn’t know about, someone from out of town.”

“Why did you say the police might have missed someone in Ridge City?” she asked.

“It’s possible someone was there and lied about it, but it’d have to be someone who usually wouldn’t visit you.”

“Oh.” She paused for a long minute. “I suddenly don’t want everyone knowing I’m here, not right away. You’ve told me so much. I don’t know what to think.”

Trent looked like he wanted to touch her, reach out to her. He didn’t, of course. Maybe she was being silly.

“That’s fine,” he said. “Just in case someone is looking for you, it might be a good idea. And maybe you’ll remember now that you’re back in your hometown.”

“Hometown?”

He looked puzzled now. “Oh, I was going to ask you about that. Mol, you lived your whole life here.”

Molly felt stunned and knew it showed. Why had her parents told her they moved around often? She had to blink back sudden tears.

Looking up, Molly saw the concern on Trent’s face. She couldn’t miss how rugged and handsome he was, or how he made emotions swirl through her. She didn’t remember feeling attraction in the last four years. Her neighbor in Redding sure felt it for her and wasn’t shy about it. She just didn’t feel the same, and had tried to tell him she only wanted to be friends. She needed friends.

“I searched all over for you.”

Why would you do that? She didn’t respond, and was glad she didn’t when he continued.

“We followed all kinds of empty leads.”

She realized he was speaking as a police officer. All this time, she’d wondered why no one seemed to miss her.

“We got coverage in the news, sent your pictures to police here and in Washington, California, and Idaho.”

The conversation lagged. She didn’t want him to leave, though. “So who are you, Trent Williams?”

“Me?” Trent studied her like she was somehow the answer to her own question. “I grew up here, too, on a farm a little ways out of town with my one sibling, Alicia. I grew up wanting to be a cop, and now I am. That’s about it.”

She didn’t believe that. “I’ve noticed a few things about you.”

He gave her a small, slow smile. “So tell me.”

“The way you stand.” She pulled her body up straight, demonstrating, and started laughing without any unease at teasing him. It made him grin.

“It’s not about being cocky, you know. I know what you’re thinking. But stand up and I’ll show you.”

She rose, arms folded across her chest because she felt like she was under a microscope now that his attention was on her.

“See?”

“I don’t get it.”

He gave her a nudge and caught her by the arm before she stumbled. He pointed down to her feet. “Put your feet out like this.” He nudged her again. “It’s about safety. Now pretend you have a gun under this arm and you don’t want me to get it.”

“Can I run?”

He didn’t smile or laugh, so she looked up at him, wondering what he was thinking. She had to look away so his eyes wouldn’t hypnotize her.

“Put this foot back. It’s your gun leg.” He tapped her thigh. “Keep this side of your body turned away.”

“So if I ever carry a gun, I’ll know how to keep it safe,” she said.

“Well, now you know why cops stand the way they do.”

She liked that smile of his. It felt so nice to be laughing and talking with someone like him. They sat again and he told her about Mark Stone, his friend and fellow cop, who was a few years older than him but single as well, so they hung out often and had things in common. He told her, “We’re the only single guys on the force in this one horse town, so we stick together.”

There was a hint of loneliness in his voice that made her want to reach out to him. She didn’t feel so alone anymore with him sitting by her. This time, it was her that reached for his hand. Their gazes met and held until he cleared his throat.

“I came here meaning to tell you something important.” His tone scared her, so she reminded herself she’d come to Ridge City to discover who she was. “The department is reopening the case now that you’re back. It’s strange anyway, but it’s even more complicated now that we know your parents died. This could possibly be a double murder.”

The uneasiness she noticed when he had first arrived returned, and she had to say, “I don’t know why we left.” She didn’t add that it could be her fault. Or maybe she did something awful that forced them to leave. She felt in her heart it couldn’t be true, but she didn’t remember. One look at Trent’s eyes told her he didn’t know, either.

“We don’t know much at this point, but I’d like to answer these questions for all of us.”

Did he trust her? And could she trust him? Her words were about to gush out, when he said, “I’ll let you go to bed now, but I’ll come back tomorrow.”

They rose in unison and slowly walked to the door.

“Goodnight, Molly, and welcome home.”

Get the book at http://amzn.to/MoreThanMemories

Kristen James www.writerkristenjames.com

Also by Kristen James:

Point Hope

A Cowboy for Christmas

Embers of Hope, Bk 1, Second Gift Series

More Than a Promise, Bk 2, Second Gift Series

The Cowboy Kiss – novella

A Special Ops Christmas – novella

A Spy for Christmas - novella

Point Hope Cover

Buy Now @ Amazon

Genre - Romance (women’s fiction/ family drama)

Rating – PG13

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