He's waited four months for this day … for his wife to wake up … for everything to go back to normal … a normal life she can’t remember … a life that might not have been as perfect as everyone thought ...

Deputy fire chief Oliver Wolfe had everything he ever wanted. A beautiful wife, two adorable (if rambunctious) sons, a job he loved, a comfortable home, and family and friends in his hometown of St. Caroline, Maryland ...

… until the day he has to stand by helplessly and watch his wife’s unconscious body gets cut from the mangled wreckage of her car.

Serena Wolfe was a blissfully happy newlywed with a tall, dark, and handsome firefighter for a husband and a honeymoon baby on the way …

… until the day she wakes up from a coma to discover that she’s actually thirty years old and has two adorable (if rambunctious) boys, a house, and friends … none of which she can remember.

That’s alarming enough. But Serena might have had a secret former life … which she also can’t remember …

I’m dead.
And I don’t know why.
Serena Wolfe blinked hard. She was surrounded by harsh light, a light that was so white and pure it could mean only one thing. She had died. She closed her eyes again to contemplate this unexpected turn of events. A moment ago, she was alive. 
She was at her cousin’s wedding on the eastern shore of Maryland, a welcome weekend break from her job on Capitol Hill. She’d been working as a legislative assistant for one of New York’s senators since graduation. “Since graduation” meant all of a month and already she was bored out of her mind. 
“It will get better once you’ve settled in, learned the ropes, and met some people,” her mother said. Her father had said nothing. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing to be said. She had graduated from Princeton in May, now she was working on the Hill, in a year or two she would head off to law school somewhere. Columbia or Harvard—those were the only two options in his worldview. 
Her life had been mapped out for her since before she was born. Boarding school in Connecticut, summer internships in Europe, the Ivy League and a respectable career until she married a nice young man, preferably one who worked in finance like her father. They would buy a co-op on a nice street on the Upper East Side, just like the one she had grown up on. Then she would pop out a few babies and join her mother on as many charitable boards as there were hours in the day. 
Never mind that her mother had been utterly miserable for as long as Serena could remember. Her father was happier, but only because he distracted himself with alcohol and affairs. Not necessarily in that order.
So spending a weekend in some tiny waterfront town for the wedding of a cousin too minor for her parents to attend? Hell to the yeah. Serena RSVP-ed to that invite so fast she practically chased down the mail carrier before he got to the end of her tree-lined block in DC.  
And so far it had been one glorious weekend off the radar of her usual life. She hadn’t felt this alive since … well, since never. So she couldn’t be dead! 
I just met the most hot damn gorgeous man on the face of the earth. No way am I dying yet!
Oliver Wolfe was one long cool drink of tall hot fireman. And right before she had opened her eyes to that infernal light, he was rolling his eyes at her lame attempt to win a stuffed animal at the tiny town’s fireman’s carnival.
Yet ... it felt like such a long time ago, too. She tried to move her arm. Then her leg. Neither moved. She tried the other arm and leg. Nada. She opened her eyes just a hair. Yup. That awful bright light was still out there. She scrunched her eyes shut as tight as she could. Don’t go toward the light. Even though a snarky voice was telling her she was obviously already at the light. She tried moving again—and again, nothing.
So she really was dead. Maybe that part where Oliver Wolfe was rolling his eyes at her had been her life doing the proverbial last moment drive-by. In that case, she was going to ignore the light for as long as she could and let herself sink back into the life she was enjoying a moment ago. Because Oliver Wolfe … mmm, mmm, mmm …
She turned to Kayleigh, standing next to her. Kayleigh was another distant cousin and one of the bridesmaids from yesterday’s wedding. She and Serena had hit it off at the reception. Plus, Kayleigh had been up for a night on the town. 
“Do you have any more tickets?” Serena asked.
She didn’t care about winning some silly stuffed animal. She was almost twenty-two years old, way past that stage of life. And if she hadn’t managed to loop a plastic ring over one of the painted wooden stakes by now, a few more tickets weren’t going to make much of a difference. But she didn’t quite want to leave the presence of the hunky fireman manning the booth just yet. There was something just so … earthy and … primal about him. Unlike the guys she had gone to boarding school and college with, guys whose idea of dressing down was sporting Gucci loafers with bare feet. She couldn’t see what Hot Damn Firefighter was wearing on his feet, but it certainly wasn’t a pair of suede slip-on shoes. She’d bet the absolute last dollar in her promised trust fund on it. 
“Here.” Kayleigh thrust her last strip of tickets at her. “This is how gambling problems start,” she laughed.
Serena was in a betting mood tonight. She peeled off three tickets. “Give me three more,” she said to the firefighter. 
Hot Damn Firefighter took the tickets from her outstretched fingers and gave her three plastic rings in return. The skin on the back of his hands was a map of tiny scars, but his nails were neat. Not manicured and buffed like her father’s, but simply clean and precisely trimmed. 
She twirled the rings on her fingers as she stared down the landscape of wooden stakes. Most of them had already rejected her advances. She narrowed her eyes, zeroing in on a target.
“Wax on, wax off,” Kayleigh bantered next to her.
“Oh, hush. I am not leaving this town without a prize.”
She flicked her wrist and watched as the first plastic ring sailed over the stakes and … bounced onto the grass just like all its compadres that had gone before. 
“And her first shot goes wide,” Kayleigh mimicked a golf announcer’s low, ponderous voice. 
“First shot?” Then Hot Damn Firefighter pointed to a faded red stake. “I would try for that one.”
Serena coolly lifted one eyebrow at him. “You would, eh?”
“Yes, ma’am, I would.”
She zinged the second ring toward the red stake. It too bounced off and onto the ground.
“She has one more shot,” Kayleigh murmured.
The third ring sailed smoothly over the stakes but Serena immediately realized she had put too much spin on it. She’d be lucky if it hit any rings at all before sailing off into the sunset, so to speak. At the last minute, though, Hot Damn Fireman’s hand rose up and gently bumped the ring. It fell neatly onto the red stake. He looked across at Serena and winked.
“You didn’t see that,” he said.
“The crowd goes wild,” Kayleigh said in her golf monotone.
“But I get to pick the prize,” he added.
He turned to the pegboard behind him and scanned the colorful array of stuffed animals. His gaze settled on a row of white and black dalmatians near the top. As he stretched an arm up to grab one, his black fire department tee shirt rode up his back, revealing a slice of hard tanned back. Serena felt an overwhelming urge to lick his skin. 
By the time he turned around, she had retrieved a pen from her purse and scribbled her room number on the back of a gas station receipt. She slipped it into the palm of his hand as he gave her the stuffed dalmatian. He glanced down at the receipt, then at her.
“Chesapeake Inn,” she said quietly. 
“I’m stuck here until eleven.”
“I’ll wait up.” She smiled as he stuffed the crinkly slip of paper into his pants pocket.
“Did you just give him your room number?” Kayleigh asked as they walked away from the game. 
“I did. Why not? He’s hot, don’t you think?”
“You think he’ll show?”
Serena shrugged. “Probably not.”
They wandered around the carnival for a while, gorging on funnel cake and rating the hotness of the many firefighters working the game booths and rides. It looked like every last person in the tiny town was there, like it was the social event of the year. It was charming, in away. And certainly more fun than the social events her parents went to in New York. Fundraisers for the private schools she and her brother had attended, museum galas for big money donors, dinner parties with people who looked like they slept in black tie.
Ugh. That lifestyle held no appeal for her, even as she knew her parents would probably be successful in roping her into it. They were successful in everything they did. 
“Let’s get on the Ferris wheel,” Kayleigh suggested. “I haven’t ridden one of those since I was a kid.”
“I haven’t ridden one of those since … never.”
Kayleigh’s head swiveled toward her, a look of disbelief on her face. “Never?”
Serena shook her head. “I’m not real crazy about heights.”
“Oh.” Kayleigh’s face fell.
“But I’ll get on it.” Serena looked up at the top of the ride. “This one doesn’t look that high.”
They bought another strip of tickets and boarded the metal car. As it slowly rose into the night air, Serena began to doubt the wisdom of her choice. But hey, she was off the grid for a weekend. If ever there were a time and a place to do wild and crazy things, this was it. Monday morning, she’d be back in her office, behind a desk, pushing paper while breathing in recycled air. 
She took a deep inhale as the car reached the top of the wheel and they began going backward. The Ferris wheel was a good bit higher than it had looked from the ground. But she refused to close her eyes, even as a prickly ball of panic started to take shape in her chest. She squeezed the stuffed dalmatian tighter. She could handle this. Besides, it was for a good cause. The carnival was raising money for … well, for something. The fire department, probably. 
As they rounded the wheel a third time, the ride slowed and they stopped at the very top. The car swung gently back and forth. It was quieter up here. The shrieks and screams from the other rides sounded more distant. The tinny music playing from speakers hung up on poles around the carnival was fainter. She looked out over the miles of the earth around them, marveling at the way she could see where the lights of the town ended and the black of the countryside began. 
It was never completely dark in New York. She didn’t realize that until she went to Princeton. She took another deep inhale. The air here was clean—no toxic perfume of car exhaust and garbage. No noise pollution either—no sirens and car horns blaring all night long—unless you counted the squawking of birds first thing in the morning. Which she didn’t.
After another moment, the Ferris wheel stuttered to life and their car began its slow descent.                   
“Well, that wasn’t too bad,” Serena admitted as they walked away from the ride, although her legs felt a little wobbly. 
“How did you grow up in a city where every building is a skyscraper?”
“It was rough.” Serena laughed. “I always took it as a sign that I wasn’t meant to be a New Yorker.”
Up ahead, a small crowd was gathered around a dunk tank, jeering and catcalling the unfortunate fellow inside. As they got closer, Serena saw that it was Hot Damn Firefighter.
“Oh I am so doing this,” she said. “How many tickets do I need?”
“The sign says three.”
“Perfect. I have three left. Must be a sign.” She handed the stuffed animal off to Kayleigh and got in line. In the thick of the crowd, she was too short to see him get dunked every time. But over and over, she heard the splash of water, followed by loud cheering and shouts. His name was Ollie, apparently.
He didn’t look like an Ollie. What he looked like was the most gorgeous man she’d ever seen. Tall. Dark. Handsome. And when he had smiled and winked at her, her insides damn near melted. 
At last, she made it to the head of the line and handed off her last three tickets to the teenaged attendant. The crowd quieted down, as she hefted the first softball in her palm. There was no way she could dunk him. She couldn’t throw a ball to save her life. She had just wanted to see him again. 
Sure enough, her first throw sailed wide. Way wide. Her cheeks grew hot with embarrassment. At least at the other game, there wasn’t an audience beyond Kayleigh. But she couldn’t back out now. The teenaged boy handed her the second ball. 
Wide again.
She took the third ball, keeping her eyes on the round metal target attached to the lever that should—in theory—dunk Hot Damn Firefighter in the water. She felt his gaze on her, felt its intensity flicker over her skin. There was no chance he was going to turn up at her hotel room that evening—not after this pathetic incident. Just as well anyway. It wasn’t like she was in the habit of picking up random strangers and engaging in one-night stands.  
The crowd was growing restless. Conversations that had stopped were now resumed. She wiped her sweaty palm against her plaid Bermuda shorts, then cocked her arm and hurled the ball with all her might. To her surprise—no, to her complete and utter shock—the ball clipped the edge of the metal target. But not enough to trigger whatever mechanism governed the lever. 
She stole an embarrassed glance at Hot Damn Firefighter just in time to see his arm reach behind the narrow seat he was perched on. A second later, he dropped into the water with a splash.


When straitlaced Cassidy Trevor and playboy Matt Wolfe are volunteered to co-chair St. Caroline’s first-ever Winter Festival, no one expects sparks to fly. Some opposites are just too opposite to attract ...

Cassidy is the backbone of her family’s quilt shop, the one everyone relies on, the person who makes the trains run on time. But she’s harboring a secret no one is going to like—she’s making plans to leave St. Caroline …

Matt Wolfe has spent his entire life living down to everyone’s expectations. As a member of a firefighting family, he’s also seen too many people lose everything in a heartbeat. He knows it’s easier to let go of things if you never let yourself really want them in the first place …

… or are they?

For Cassidy, a short fling is perfect. There’s no chance of love ’em and leave ’em Matt Wolfe tying her down. It’s ideal for Matt, too. Cassidy’s plans to leave town mean no messy breakup and no disappointment when expectations aren’t fulfilled.

Then the unthinkable happens …

The one person who supports Cassidy’s dream to leave St. Caroline becomes the one person she can’t bear the thought of leaving. And for the first time in his life, Matt is discovering expectations he wants to live up to … his own.

Can their secret relationship survive the opposition of their families?
Will it survive their own dreams for the future?

“Hey. You okay, buddy?” The guy standing next to Matt Wolfe at the hotel bar clapped him on the shoulder. Dave, the guy’s name was. Matt had met him exactly six days ago at the nearby fire training academy. Matt was in Texas taking a week-long seminar. Today was the last day and everyone in the class was out to celebrate.
“Yeah. Fine,” Matt replied, squinting harder into the hotel lobby’s weird orange mood lighting. It made the space look like a science fiction movie set. Or like the whole place was on fire. Maybe that was why the fire training instructor had dragged them all here.
“Because you got a weird look on your face.” Dave wasn’t letting this go, and Matt really wished he would. It had been a long week. Matt wanted to drink a few beers to be polite, catch a cab to the hotel where he was staying, and fall face first into bed. His flight left early in the morning.
“I think the beer goggles have kicked in,” he said.
“Oh yeah? Who you checking out?”
“I see a woman over there who looks like someone I know. From back home. But I don’t know what she’d be doing way out here.” It probably wasn’t her. It was hard to tell in the orange light, and her face was turned down toward the phone in her hands.
“Which one is she?”
“The one in the pink dress, cowboy boots. Blonde hair. Glasses. Sitting alone in one of those big chairs.” Big enough for two, he thought.
“Whoa. Not bad. Well, if you do know her, introduce me.” He clapped Matt on the back again.
“If that’s really her, she’s an ice princess. I’ve known her all my life and no one has ever been good enough for her.”
Dave laughed. “Well, I love a challenge. Let’s head over there. You can either introduce me or we’ll just introduce ourselves.”
For a split second, Matt considered not following Dave over to the woman in the pink dress and cowboy boots. Chatting up women used to be one of his favorite pastimes. Or, as his brother Jack was fond of saying, his only pastime. But lately, nothing engaged his enthusiasm. His mother had succumbed to ovarian cancer the month before and his older brother’s wife lay in a hospital in Baltimore, comatose from a car accident. It had been a rough year and Matt was frankly exhausted. Physically, emotionally, mentally. He was wiped out.
Dave took three steps with his long legs, then turned to look back at Matt. “You coming?”
Matt pushed away from the bar and followed. “Yeah, sure.” He’d let Dave do all the talking.
As they got closer to the woman in the pink dress and cowboy boots, he saw that she was, in fact, the person he thought she was. Cassidy Trevor. One of the Trevor girls. The sister of his brother’s fiancĂ©e. The daughter of his parents’ close friends.
For all those reasons—and probably more than he was forgetting—Cassidy Trevor was forever off-limits to Matt. All the Trevor sisters were. As Dave strode determinedly toward her, Matt wondered whether that prohibition applied to him too.
You’re not Cassidy Trevor’s keeper. Plus, she really was an ice princess. In fact, that should probably be in capital letters. Ice Princess. And maybe neon lights, just for good measure. She was going to shut down Dave’s advances like nobody’s business.
Then he reconsidered. Dave wasn’t a local St. Caroline boy. Cassidy had always turned her nose up at the guys in town. As a teenager, she had spent summers chasing after the summer kids. The rich summer kids. Which had always seemed like a losing proposition to Matt, since the summer kids all went home at the end of the, well, summer.
Not that it mattered to Matt, of course. He had been under strict orders for years to leave her alone. That was fine with Matt. There were plenty of fish in the sea, and he was an excellent fisherman. Gifted, some might say. And by “some,” he meant himself.
She looked up from her phone, seeming to sense their impending arrival. Confusion darkened her eyes for a moment, then she smiled one of those big Trevor smiles. Broad with blinding white teeth. He realized why he hadn’t been entirely certain of her identity from across the lobby. Her blonde hair was done up in some curlicue hairstyle. He’d never seen her wear her hair that way. Usually, it was long and loose around her shoulders or pulled back into a simple ponytail. Occasionally, a neat bun. Once in a while, a thick braid down her back. But never this loose, curly do. He wasn’t sure whether he liked it or not.
“Matt. Hi,” she said when he and Dave reached her. Dave immediately perched himself on the edge of the wide leather chair. The familiarity of the gesture rankled Matt. But Cassidy didn’t seem to mind. She glanced at Dave, then looked back to Matt. “What are you doing here?”
“Training at the fire academy nearby. Since I’m taking over some of Oliver’s duties while he’s on a leave of absence.”
Cassidy nodded somberly. “How’s Serena?”
He shrugged. “The same. Ollie’s too distracted to be at work right now.”
“Yeah. So what are you doing out here? All dressed up?” He looked down at her boots. They were a roughed-up brown leather, with pink flowers embroidered on the toes.
“My college roommate got married this afternoon.” She smoothed her pink dress. “I was on bridesmaid duty.”
Dave cleared his throat. Oh right. He wanted to be introduced.
“Cassidy, this is Dave. He’s a firefighter from Kansas City.”
Cassidy shook Dave’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“So you two know each other?” Dave was taking charge of the conversation. Matt was too tired to object.
“We grew up together in Maryland,” she answered. “Our parents are friends.”
That barely scratched the surface of their connections, Matt thought. Or maybe Cassidy didn’t see them as being all that connected.
Dave reached over and lifted her drink from her hand. “Whatcha drinking?” He sniffed at the glass, another act that irritated Matt. He didn’t exactly consider Dave to be a friend. It wasn’t like they were going to stay in touch or anything.
“Just water,” she answered, then trained a big flirty smile at Dave. “I think I had one too many pomegranate martinis at the wedding.”
“Pomegranate martinis? That sounds either really good or really awful.” Dave flirted back, his hand touching her shoulder for an instant. Her bare shoulder, Matt noted, since the straps of her bridesmaid’s dress were so thin as to be nearly non-existent.
“They were pretty good.”
“Hmm.” Dave made a show of studying the bar. “I wonder if the bartender here will make us some?”
“You should go ask.” Cassidy winked theatrically at Dave. “Hint, hint.”
“I think I will.”
Matt resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Dave was practically puffing up his chest at his success so far with Cassidy.
“You want one, man?” Dave asked Matt.
Matt held up his near-empty beer bottle. “Nah. I’m good.” He watched as Dave threaded his way through the increasing crowd and back to the bar.
“So how long are you out here for?” Cassidy asked.
“I leave tomorrow morning. And what about you?”
“I’m renting a car and driving over to Austin and San Antonio. I’m going to spend a few days checking out some quilt shops. See if I can find any good ideas to steal for mom.” She flashed that blinding Trevor smile at him again, which had the same effect on him now that it had when he was in middle school and she was the glamorous eighth-grader, the “older woman” a year ahead of him.
O Cassidy, Cassidy! Wherefore art thou Cassidy?
Yeah, he remembered a few lines of Shakespeare from middle school, too.
“So how was the wedding?”
“It was good. Fine. Fun. You know.” She shrugged.
Was conversation with Cassidy always this awkward? It wasn’t as though they didn’t see each other back home. They were friendly, if not exactly friends. But right now, he felt like he was chatting up a woman he’d just met in a hotel bar.  Look for conversational openings. He glanced down at her short cowboy boots with the pink flowers.
“Did you wear those in the wedding?”
She twisted an ankle back and forth, and he tried to ignore the slender length of tanned leg between the boot and the hem of her dress.
“I did. We all did.” She laughed. “We’re out of context here, aren’t we? We’re not in St. Caroline anymore.”
“No, we’re not, Toto.” That made her laugh again. Cassidy had a big, hearty laugh. She was a girl who liked to have fun. Not a girl. A woman. There was a straightforward quality to her that Matt had always found appealing. “You look nice,” he added. “That color’s very pretty on you.”
“Well now, Matthew Wolfe. Aren’t you just the perfect gentleman?” Her voice was suddenly soft and flirty. “Though I have to say, you look like you’ve been rode hard and put up wet.”
It was his turn to laugh now. “It’s been a tough week. With the training and all.” Matt was about to ask whether she was staying at this hotel when Dave reappeared with two martini glasses.
“Yup. Bartender hooked us right up.” Dave handed a pomegranate martini to Cassidy. “Let me know if these taste as good as the ones you had earlier. If not, I’ll go give the bartender hell.”
Cassidy took a small sip. “Mmm. Tastes exactly the same.”
“Excellent.” Dave clapped Matt on the back. “Tom over there said to tell you he wants to talk to you.”
Yeah, right. Matt could tell from the bemused expression on Cassidy’s face that even she saw through that ruse. Dave wasn’t even trying to hide it. But fine. Cassidy wasn’t giving off any signs that she objected to Dave’s interest. And Matt wasn’t her keeper, he reminded himself for the second time that night. And for probably the millionth time in his life. But who was keeping count?
“Well, see you two later then.” Matt retreated to the bar and to Tom, who didn’t seem surprised to see him.
“Ol’ loverboy, eh?” Tom laughed.
Matt didn’t share the laugh. Too damn tired right now. The week had been nonstop work at the training academy. He drained the rest of his beer and, against his better judgment, ordered another. The thought of sleep was enticing, but he’d stay a while longer to say goodbye to Cassidy. He half-listened to Tom’s mostly idle chatter and added a few comments where it seemed appropriate or solicited. He ignored the interested stare of a woman at the other end of the bar. When his beer was finished, he turned back toward the lobby.
Dave and Cassidy were gone.
Well, can’t say you didn’t see that one coming. And like the world-class idiot he was, he had even facilitated it. He pulled out his phone to text his brother, Jack.
Just ran into Cassidy out here.
A moment later, a reply came. Oh yeah? Becca says she’s out there for a wedding.
Matt stuffed his phone back into his pocket. Of course, the Trevor sisters weren’t off-limits to Jack. Nothing was off-limits to Jack. The sky was the freaking limit for his younger brother.
For Matt, the ceiling had always been about thirty-five thousand feet lower. He was the workhorse in the family, the body that could always be counted on when another body was needed. Old reliable, that’s me. Not that he was complaining. When his father, the chief of the St. Caroline fire department had asked him to take over some of his older brother Oliver’s training and management responsibilities at the station, Matt had stepped right up. Being a firefighter was what it meant to be a Wolfe. His father, his uncle, both of his brothers—all firefighters in St. Caroline. He wasn’t taking over Oliver’s job permanently. As soon as his wife was out of the hospital, Ollie would be back at the station. And Matt would step back into his old job, where he’d been since college.
He knew people tended not to take him seriously most of the time. Yes, he liked to have a good time. And yes, he liked women. Why not? Interacting with the opposite sex had always come easily to him. Generally speaking, it had been his experience that he could have any pretty thing he wanted. As long as that pretty thing’s name didn’t have “Trevor” tacked on to the end.  


Julia Gabriel writes contemporary romance that is smart, sexy, and emotionally intense (grab the tissues). She lives in New England where she is a full-time mom to a teenager, as well as a sometime writing professor and obsessive quilter (is there any other kind?). If all goes well, she’ll be a Parisienne in her next life.

Her books have been selected as “Top Picks” by RT Book Reviews, and critics at RT Book Reviews, Kirkus, and others have called her work “nuanced,” “heart-wrenching and emotional,” “well-crafted contemporary romance,” and “deeply moving storytelling.”

My web site:

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