by Karen Erickson
A devastating house fire cost Jane Clark nearly everything: her husband, her confidence, and her looks, with the physical scars marbling her body. Now, two years later, she’s living and healing back in her childhood hometown of Lone Pine Lake. The upcoming holidays are the perfect opportunity to bring some Christmas cheer into her young children’s lives, starting with a visit to the firehouse, where her brother’s best friend has offered to help quell their residual fears.
Lone Pine’s resident playboy, fire captain Christian Nelson is happy with his single-guy lifestyle. He’s an everyday local hero, so he’s never wanting for attention around the holidays. But when Jane Clark shows up, Chris is immediately drawn to the beautiful widow—even though kids and commitment have never been his style.
Despite her brother’s warnings about his friend’s playboy status and dangerous occupation, Jane can’t help but fall for the gorgeous fire captain. The holidays are a time of new beginnings, but can two scarred people find the strength to let go of their pasts to live in the present, when a lifetime together might be the sweetest gift of all?
Praise for Jane’s Gift:
“A touching, emotional journey of not only the body’s ability to survive, but the heart’s.”
- Shelli Stevens, NYT bestselling author
© 2012 Karen Erickson
Someone called her name. Repeatedly. An echo in her head, it didn’t stop. Hurt her brain. Hurt her entire body.
It all hurts so much…
“Jane. Wake up.”
She tried to lift her lids, but it felt as if concrete blocks sat atop them. Where was Stephen? Where were her children? Usually they were tackling her in bed by now. At least one of them slept wedged between her and Stephen on a nightly basis.
“You’re in the hospital.” The gravity in the new person’s voice was severe. The sound of the voice was familiar; she thought it might be her brother. But why would Patrick be in her bedroom?
“You were hurt in an accident.” Her brother drew closer—she heard him, smelled him—and she swore he spoke directly into her ear. “Wake up, Jane. You’ve been asleep long enough. We need to talk to you. You need to come back to the living.”
Slowly she opened her eyes, slamming them immediately shut again when she caught the light. “Too bright,” she croaked, her throat painfully dry. It felt as if she hadn’t spoken or drunk for months.
“Close the curtains,” Patrick ordered. He sounded upset. But why?
“Why…are…you…here?” Every word was a struggle, and the pain that radiated throughout her body was excruciating. Yet she couldn’t move.
It was as if she were strapped down in the bed. She noticed a continuous beeping noise, the quiet murmur of other voices talking. Inhaling, she caught the unmistakable antiseptic scent of a hospital.
Panic flooded her veins, making her forget the pain, the confusion. “Where are the children?” All weakness in her voice was gone. She struggled to sit up, but gentle hands touched her shoulder and settled her back down.
“The kids are fine, Jane.” Another familiar voice, this one her mother’s, and she heard the transparent sadness. “They’re staying with us for the time being.”
“I don’t understand.” She opened her eyes once more, her vision out of focus, though she saw the beloved shape of her mother sitting right next to her. “I don’t know what’s happening to me.” Confusion swamped her, so overwhelming she didn’t want to face it.
“Your house was on fire.” Patrick spoke again, terse and strained. “You’ve been in the hospital.”
“The house?” She tried to frown but it hurt too much. And was there a bandage on the side of her head? “Where’s Stephen?”
Patrick started to speak, but their mother cut him off. “Don’t. She needs to be eased into this.”
“Eased into what?” Jane tried to reach for her mother but she couldn’t. “What happened to me? What happened to Stephen? And the children?”
“Shhh,” her mother soothed, reaching out and resting her hand on top of Jane’s arm. “Your babies are fine, I promise. But they miss their mother. We need you back.”
“I—I didn’t know I was gone.” She closed her eyes, exhaustion threatening to take over. Since when had speaking a few words worn her out so quickly? What was wrong with her? She didn’t understand.
“We need to tell her the truth, Mom. She deserves to know.” Her big brother touched her, a brief brush of his fingers over the top of her head. Sadness engulfed her before he even said the words. “The house fire—it happened two months ago. The kids got out right away; Stephen made sure of that. He ran back inside to get you and…”
“Stephen’s dead, isn’t he.” It wasn’t a question. She knew it; she could feel it. He was gone. She was alone.
A muffled sob sounded out and she knew it was her mother crying. “He’s gone, Jane,” Patrick whispered. He sounded as if he might break down as well. Her big strong brother—had she ever heard him cry?
She closed her eyes tight, tried to ignore the sounds of her mother sobbing. What did her brother mean, the fire happened two months ago? Why didn’t she remember it? Why couldn’t she remember being in the hospital that long?
“You’ve been in a medical-induced coma,” Patrick said, as if he could read her mind. “You burned over thirty percent of your body…”
His words faded as her mind drifted. It was as if she couldn’t feel or think or talk, as if she wasn’t a whole person, just a shell. Her Stephen was gone. Her life as she knew it was over.
“Don’t leave us now. You need to be strong. You need to get better for your kids,” Patrick urged, his voice firm, almost scary. “Jane. Jane!”
She could hear him but she couldn’t answer. Didn’t want to. Would rather slip back into that safe, warm place where she didn’t have to think, didn’t have to feel.
Didn’t have to be.
Two years later
“I want to ride in the truck!”
Jane smiled at her six-year-old son, Logan, as she watched him in the rearview mirror. His eyes were wide as saucers and energy radiated off his body in waves. He couldn’t stop fidgeting in his seat and even his voice shook. She knew he couldn’t wait to get to the fire station. “I don’t know if they’ll take you for a ride, but they’ll defi