Desert Isle Keeper
To Have and To Hold
To Have and to Hold is the third story in Serena Bell’s Returning Home series, a selection of emotional romances that aptly describe some of the difficulties wounded soldiers encounter when finishing their tours of duty and reuniting with their loved ones. And this particular story is based on a situation that one would hope never to encounter – the loss of memory of that loved one.
Hunter is relieved to be reuniting with his twelve-year-old daughter Clara and his mother Linda at the airport following a harrowing injury that left him comatose. Finally on the mend enough to go home, he believes he is coping well with his physical injuries (no lost limbs like other teammates, and after all, he’s still alive). But it’s not until Hunter sees Trina and her daughter Phoebe looking at him with expectation in their eyes that he realizes something more is amiss. He can’t quite fathom why a friend of his deceased wife is waiting for him with his family.
Trina is stunned when Hunter looks through her with the eyes of a stranger. In the eight weeks before he left they had developed a close friendship that turned into a meaningful relationship. Hunter had asked Trina to move into his house and take care of the daughter she was already coming to love, promising her that his feelings wouldn’t change while he was away. But there are no guarantees, and the loss of Hunter’s memories of the months before his deployment have shattered Trina’s dreams of a future with him. Trina’s plan is to remove herself and Phoebe swiftly to allow Hunter and Clara time to reconnect, and to make a new plan for their future. But Hunter quickly realizes he needs help adjusting to being back home. And in the dead of night when the nightmares start, Trina’s voice is a soothing balm. Is the heart’s memory strong enough to rebuild their relationship?
Is it possible for a story to be heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time? Because those are definitely my feelings about this deeply emotional romance. From the moment that Hunter arrives home and realizes that a year of his life is missing, his struggle to adjust tears at the heartstrings. He had already survived the loss of his wife, also a soldier, in a combat accident years earlier when Clara was quite young. He’d adjusted, moved on, and had been thinking of ending his military career after this last deployment when the accident happened to force his hand. Trina and Phoebe are obviously very comfortable in his home and it’s clear that his daughter Clara has grown very attached to them in his absence. Trina tries to hide her devastation at the fact that the memory of their relationship now belongs to her and her alone, but Hunter can see what his lack of emotional response does to her. He has nightmares, and knows there is something about his accident that he is forgetting that holds the key to remembering what happened. Hunter has always known his place in the world – he’s a strong, loyal, and dependable man and while those essential character traits are still there, there’s no denying that his life has been forever altered.
For Trina, this devastating blow is proof that the only person she can really rely on is herself. Pregnant as an older teen, her boyfriend at the time wasn’t ready for fatherhood, and Trina ended up as a single mom while he went off to find fame and fortune as a Hollywood star. He still keeps in touch occasionally, but is in no way a father to Phoebe. In direct contrast, when Trina and Hunter started connecting in the past year, Hunter showed as much interest in Phoebe as in his own daughter, and while the two girls became like sisters, having Hunter as a father figure had been an added bonus. Hunter promised Trina his feelings wouldn’t change – but those promises have become like sand flowing through her fingers, gone with the rest of his memories of their time together. Knowing that no good will come of her staying with him any longer than necessary, Trina starts to make plans to move to L.A., Paige’s father having been able to get her a job there on short notice. After all, there is no reason for her to stay with Hunter anymore.
But when Hunter’s cries in the night draw Trina to him, she can’t help but offer him comfort. A soothing voice, a hand gently stroking his hair … and in that state of dream or memory, Hunter pulls her into a kiss, and then more. His mind may have forgotten her, but his body has not. One thing leads to another, and the sensual love scene that follows is intense but bittersweet – when Hunter comes fully awake and realizes what they’ve done, it doesn’t mean he remembers her. There is no magic ‘aha’ moment in this story. Hunter doesn’t suddenly regain all his memories at once, nor does the doctor try to give him false hopes. He might remember bits and pieces, or he might not. But what does happen (and this is the hopeful part), is that after that night together when their bodies connect the way they used to, Hunter begins to appreciate Trina for who she is now. She’s a caring and loving woman, obviously concerned about him and clearly worried about his daughter and the impact all of this will have on her. As the first few days blend into a few more, his attraction to Trina becomes deeper and stronger. He wants to hear about the things they did before, and finds himself actually getting jealous of the man she knew, the man he used to be. Their connection at the deepest level is still there, it just needs the time and patience to flourish. But time isn’t on their sides, not with Trina’s plans to leave soon, and Hunter unsure as to whether he can offer her enough to get her to stay. This gives the second half of the story some dramatic twists and turns as the clock ticks inevitably onward.
It’s safe to say that as much as there are tears of sadness for what might have been, there are also tears of joy when Hunter and Trina find their way back to each other. And this time around, they know without a shadow of a doubt that they are meant to be together. Their hearts won’t forget. To Have and To Hold is true to its promise – that in sickness and in health, in good times and bad, this couple will endure.