After a car accident, Alaina Rutger can't remember her husband or their newly adopted baby. But her amnesia also means she's forgotten the disaster they made of their marriage.
Her husband, Porter, knows he's made mistakes. Now he'll do whatever it takes to rebuild the family he nearly losteven keep their near-divorce from his wife. This Christmas he'll convince Alaina to stay. But will a secret she's kept for years resurface and put them to the ultimate test?
Enjoy a special Texas Cattleman's Club: Lies and Lullabies
bonus prequel short story from Janice Maynard
Reclaimed by the Rancher
About the Author
In 2002 Janice Maynard left a career as an elementary teacher to pursue writing full-time. Her first love is creating sexy, character-driven, contemporary romance. She has written for Kensington and NAL, and is very happy to be part of the Harlequin family--a lifelong dream. Janice and her husband live in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains. They love to hike and travel. Visit her at www.JaniceMaynard.com.
Read an Excerpt
Alaina Rutger was living her childhood dreama family of her own. Her charismatic husband was driving her home from the hospital with their infant son strapped into a car seat. She had the perfect life.
If only she could remember the man who'd put the four-carat diamond wedding ring on her finger.
A man who called himself Porter Rutger. Husband. Father of her child. And a man who'd been wiped from her memory along with the past five years of her life.
She tore her eyes away from his broad shoulders and coal-dark hair as she sat in back with their baby. Her baby. Alaina tucked the monogrammed red blanket over the infant as he slept, one foot in a booty, the other in a cast that had begun the repair on his clubfoot.
Another person she didn't remember. Another heartbreak in her upside-down world. A week ago, she'd woken in the hospital with no memory of the man sitting by her bedside or of the blue bundle in the bassinet.
Waking up from a coma had felt a lot like coming to after the worst hangover ever, her head throbbing so badly she could barely move. But a quick look around showed her a hospital room rather than a bedroom.
And a hot man sleeping in the chair, his dark hair rumpled. His black pants and white button-down wrinkled.
Her own Doctor McDreamy? "Hello," she 'd croaked out, her throat raw for a sip of water.
McDreamy bolted awake quickly. "Alaina?" He blinked, scrubbed his hand across his eyes in disbelief, then shot to his feet. "
"Oh, God, you 're awake. I need to get the nurse."
"Water," she rasped out. "
"Please, a drink."
He thumbed the nurses' call button. "
"I don't know what the doctors will want. Maybe ice chips. Your IV has been feeding you. Soon, though, I promise, whatever you want, soon."
The nurses? Doctors? He wasn't Doc McDreamy? Then "
"Who are you?"
He looked up from the control panel of buttons slowly, his eyes wide with disbelief. "
"Who am I?"
She pressed her fingertips to her monster headache. "
"I'm sorry, but I feel like hell. What happened?"
"Alaina " He sank slowly into the chair, his voice measured, guarded. '"We were in a car accident."
"We?" She knew him?
"Yes," he said, leaning closer to cover her hand carefully. "Alaina, my name's Porter and I'm your husband."
The shock of that revelation still echoed through her.
Once the nurse and doctor had checked her over Porter had further explained they'd been in a car wreck a month prior, after picking up little Thomas from the adoption agency. Her husband Porter. Porter Rutger. God, she still struggled to remember his name. Porter told her the baby had a birth defect and had spent the past month going through surgeries while she'd been in a coma from the accident.
Too soon, before she felt ready to handle this life she'd landed in, it was time to leave the hospital. She'd been told many first moms felt that way.
But not all new mothers had amnesia.
Her throat burned with bile and fears that hadn't abated since she'd woken from the coma a week ago thinking it was November, only to find it was December.
Five years later.
Five years of memories simply gone, pushed out of her head in the course of a month. Most devastating, she'd lost the four and a half years Porter had been in her life.
How was it that four weeks asleep could steal so much of her life? That coma had left her mind missing a substantial chunk of memories and yet her body felt 100 percent normal. She'd even been attracted to her stranger husband, so attracted that the aches and lethargy left over from her coma hadn't dulled the shiver of awareness she'd felt at the brush of his hands against her as he helped her from the hospital bed and into the car.
She swallowed hard and turned to look out the window at the rolling waves as the Mercedes traveled the Florida coastal road toward what Porter had told her was their beach mansion. They also owned a home in Tallahassee but they'd been closer to the beach home when picking up the baby, then having the wreck. Traveling with their infant son so fresh from surgery and her so recently out of a coma hadn't seemed wise. The doctors had advised they stay close for the short term at least.
Porter had quickly suggested they stay at their nearby vacation home. Apparently her tall, dark and studly husband was wealthier than Midas, thanks to his construction empire that won major contracts to build corporate structures around the country. They had no financial worries as she recovered, he'd told her. Another reason to be grateful.
But instead of gratitude, she could only feel fear at the imbalance of power between her and this man who was her husband. She was adrift with only the facts he told her about her past. No family since her parents were dead. No friends, other than people she apparently hadn't seen in five years, since her breakup from an abusive boyfriend. She'd cut herself off from everyone then.
Still, she was missing the months following that breakup, the months leading up to her meeting Porter. Falling in love with him. Marrying him. He said after they married, they'd moved to southeastern Florida, away from her hometown in North Carolina. She believed what he said, but wondered what parts he might not have mentioned. Men could be so brief in their explanations, leaving out details or emotional components a woman would find crucial.
Porter glanced in the rearview mirror, his brown eyes as dark as undiluted coffee full of caffeinated energy.
"Alaina, is everything all right?" he said, his Southern drawl muted by some experience in another region.
Something else she didn't know about him unless he told her.
What kind of answer did he expect from her? More of the same dodgy responses they'd given each other over the past week since she woke up? Guarded words spoken in front of doctors or said out of fear her fragile world might shatter into a somnolent fog again?
Each mile closer to a vacation home she couldn't recall stretched the tension inside her tighter until she snapped softly, "Did the doctor give you any more insight as to why can't I remember the past five years? Nearly a quarter of my life is just gone."
"The doctor spoke with you. He has an obligation to be honest with you. You're his patient." The man in the front seat who called himself her husband was unfailingly polite but lacked the kind of warmth that Alaina would have envisioned in a man she'd married.
What had made her choose this coolly controlled male for a mate? Another question she couldn't begin to answer. In spite of the spark that seemed to arc between them amidst the questions.
"I haven't forgotten that conversation. It was more of a rhetorical question because there are so many other things I don't understand." She glanced down at her sleeping son in his impossibly cute elf pajamas. "Such as, how could anyone forget a child this precious?"
Her heart swelled to look at Thomas, his tiny nose and Cupid's-bow mouth calling to her every maternal instinct. She'd always wanted children, dreamed of having a big family after growing up an only child. If she and Porter had been married for almost four years, what had made them wait to start their family?
"You'd only known him for a couple of hours before the accident." Porter turned onto a secluded drive where mammoth houses were hidden by manicured privacy hedges on one side, although she knew the other side opened to the water.
"The length of time shouldn't matter. He's a child, my child" she paused, brushing her fingers across the top of an impossibly small and soft hand "our child. That's life changing. A minute. An hour. A couple of hours. That should be burned in here." She tapped the front of her head.
"Even if your marriage wasn't?" he asked wryly.
Contrition nipped. This had to be tough for him, too. "I'm sorry. This can't be easy for you, either."
"You're alive and awake, more than I ever expected to have again." He said the emotional words with a harsh rasp as he guided the car along the palm tree-lined road. "I can deal with the rest."
"You make me feel as if I shouldn't be frustrated."
"Give yourself time." He kept both hands on the wheel, the late-day sunshine glinting off his Patek Philippe wristwatch. "You've been through a lot."
How did she know the brand of his watch but not know if the band on his ring finger had an inscription? But then, she remembered studying art history when she'd got her bachelor's degree. Recalled a love of finely made things and beautiful objects. Maybe that was why the watch resonated and the ring nothing.
"What about you? What have you been through this past month? It must have been horrible, with a child in surgery and a wife in a coma."
"That doesn't matter," he said, his voice clipped. "I'm fine now."
Her mouth twitched with amusement as the car braked at a stop sign wrapped in garland. "Are you one of those men who's too tough to be vulnerable?"
His eyes met hers solemnly in the mirror. "I'm a man who thought he'd lost everything."
And just that fast, she felt her terrified heart melt a little for this stranger husband of hers. "You still have, in a way," she said sympathetically, "because of me and how I've lost any sense of us and our memories."
At the deserted intersection, he twisted to look over the seat at her, his elbow resting along the back and tugging his button-down shirt across his muscular chest. "You and our son are alive. That truly is what's most important to me."
There had been tension between them since she'd woken up in the hospital. He still held all the answers she couldn't access. But now, with the sincerity shining in his eyes, she wanted to hug him, ached to wrap her arms around him and have him do the same to her. Most of all, to have that feel familiar. She stretched a hand out to touch his elbow lightly
A car honked behind them and she jerked her hand back. What was she thinking? Except for the few things he'd told her, she knew nothing about him or her or what kind of life they'd built together. Or what kind of future they might have because these events had changed them. Undoubtedly.
However for Thomas, she and Porter had to try for a level of peace between them. Could the Christmas spirit work a miracle for her family?
Shifting nervously in her seat, Alaina toyed with the reindeer baby rattle, gathering up her rapidly fraying nerve. "May I ask you questions about the past?"
"Why didn't you question more before?" He kept his eyes on the road this time.
In some ways maybe that made this conversation easier.
"Because I was scared you wouldn't answer."
"We're not in the hospital. There are no doctors who make me do all the work thinking, insisting I should only remember what I'm ready to know. They kept asking me not to push to remember, but that's causing me even more stress, wondering." She needed to know. How could she be a real wife to Porter and a mother to Thomas if she didn't even know who she was or how they'd become a family?
"You trust me to answer truthfully?" He glanced back at her, his eyes darkening.
"What do you have to gain by lying?"
Now wasn't that a loaded question? One that called for total trust in a man she barely knew. But she had no other choice, not if she wanted to reconnect as a family. "How did we meet?"
"My firm was handling building an addition to a museum where you worked. You saw me flex my muscles and here we are."
He sure did have muscles, and if they'd enticed her half as much then as they did now she could see how he would have caught her attention. His humor made him even more appealing. "You're funny, after all, Porter."
"You think I don't have a sense of humor? You've wounded my ego."
"There hasn't been a lot of room for levity this week."
She'd been so damn scared in the hospital. Walking the halls at night when she couldn't sleep. Obsessively checking on the baby and praying she would remember something, anything from the past five years.
Most of all, wondering about the mysterious, handsome man who'd spent hours with her each day.
"True enough. Hopefully we can fix that. We have the whole holiday season to relax, settle our child and get to know each other again." Through the rearview mirror, he held her eyes with a determined intensity. "Because, make no mistake, I intend to remind you of all the reasons we fell in love in the first place."
His words made something go hot inside her, a mixture of desire and confusion and, yes, nerves. She swallowed hard. It didn't help. But even if she didn't remember it, this was her life. There was no choice but to push on. To regain her memories and her life.
And figure out just what this manher husbandmeant to her. Not just in the past. But now.
Porter Rutger had been through hell.
But for the first time in a long time he saw a way to climb back out.
His hands clenched the steering wheel as he drove his wife and son home from the hospital. The past monthworrying about how Thomas would recover from his first surgery for his clubfoot, wondering about possible hidden effects of the accident on the baby.
And all the while his wife had been in a coma.
Porter's jaw flexed as he studied the familiar beach road leading to the vacation home they'd chosen after their third in vitro failed. Before they'd adopted Thomas, their marriage had showed signs of fraying from years of struggling with the stresses of infertility.
He and Alaina had been in hell for a long time, even before the accident. He'd thought they'd hit rock bottom when they'd contacted a divorce attorney. They'd been so close to signing the divorce papers when the call came about a baby to adopt. A special-needs baby, difficult to place, an infant who required surgeries and years of physical therapy. While foster care would have provided the basics, the search for a home would have to start all over again if they backed out, leaving the baby adrift in the system.
They hadn't made the decision to adopt on a whim. They'd started the adoption process two years ago when the reality of infertility had become clear. Then they'd faced more heartache waiting. Their already strained marriage hadn't fared well under the added stress.
To this day, he couldn't remember which of them had asked for a divorce. The words had been thrown out during an argument and then taken root, growing fast, lawyers involved. It had damn near torn him apart, but their constant arguments had made it impossible to envision a future together bringing up the family they both wanted so much. Even marriage counseling hadn't helped.
They'd reached the endand then the call had come about Thomas.
He and Alaina had put their differences aside to adopt the baby and stay together temporarily. Her soft, open heart had welcomed the baby from the second the call had come. Thomas needed them. That had cinched the deal for Alaina.
Then the accident happened and the possibility of losing her completely had made him want to shred the documents. Maybe he could have that family he wanted after all.
And he'd had no idea how quickly that little bundle in the back would steal his heart. He would do anything for his son. Anything.
While he would also do anything to have Alaina healthy, he couldn't ignore the fact that he had a second chance to win her overfor himself and for their son. This could be a fresh start, a way to work through all the pain they'd caused each other in the past.
Yes, he'd made mistakes in their marriage, but this was a new opportunity to build the family he'd always wanted. Growing up with a single-mom lawyer who worked all the time and husband-hunted during her hours off, he'd craved stability, love.
If he could only gain Alaina's forgiveness, or convince her that he was in it for the long haul this time, that he'd changed. Hell, if he could just make Alaina realize he wasn't the man he'd been a few weeks ago, then he could have the family he'd always dreamed of. The one they'd both wanted.
He'd never been one to procrastinate or waste time. He was a man of action.
And the stakes had never been more important than now.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A Christmas Baby Surprise by Catherine Mann pens another delightful story that will touch your heart. Alaina Rutger is slowly recovering from a terrible car accident. The accident affected her memory and causing her to forget her husband and her newly adopted son. Putting her trust in this virtual stranger that says he is her husband is asking a lot but Alaina feels some type of connection to him. Porter Rutger is delighted to have his wife back any way he can get her. He knows the truth about the state of their marriage before the accident and wants to give Alaina and himself a fresh start. But they both are keeping secrets, will this fresh start before over before it even has a chance to grow? Catherine Mann’s stories are always special and this one is no exception. Porter and Alaina fight their way back to each other and to give their new son a perfect life. The bonus story by Janice Maynard Reclaimed by the Rancher is an added treat.
Catherine Mann’s latest, A Christmas Baby Surprise, gives readers a chance to remember what it was like to fall in love for the first time. When Alaina Rutger wakes up in a hospital room she has no memory of past five years. According to Porter, the man sitting next to her bed, they were in a car accident, are married and have just adopted a baby boy. As Alaina tries to regain her memory, Porter tried to win his wife a second time. Alaina and Porter’s relationship is a slow build. It is fun to watch them fall in love all over again. The loss of her memory provides a nice point of conflict that is resolved well by the end. If you are a fan of first love, this is a book for you.