Hugh had come back. The first visit she could chalk up to curiosity and following through on his mission. The fact that he’d come a second time moved her more than it should. She’d sworn never to let a man’s presence matter so much again. Damn it all, she felt too vulnerable, too exposed and raw after her ordeal. That had to be the reason for her out-of-control reaction to this man.
She stepped into the hall where he waited, the brighter lights bringing into sharp focus his face—his eyes that burned with a wild and untamed look. Her stomach took a tumble.
His gaze held hers for another of those lightning-crackle moments, which felt all the more powerful in the night quiet of the hospital.
She wished she’d brought her water bottle to wet her dry mouth. “Why are you here? Did you find out something about my brother?”
“I’m sorry, but no.”
Disappointment stung, then shifted to confusion. “Then why are you back?”
“How much longer are you stuck in here?” He crossed his arms over his chest, big, unapproachable, and all the more confusing.
“I’m no longer a patient.” She crossed her arms defensively as well. “The doctor said Joshua can leave in the morning. I begged my way into the nursery so I could stay with him.”
“They probably welcome the help.”
Silence stretched, broken only by the occasional whimper from a baby or the subdued shuffle of distant feet. Finally, she blurted, “Why are you here in the middle of the night?”
“Why did you walk out of the cafeteria without saying good-bye?”
She blinked in surprise. “You’re here because I hurt your feelings?”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“Then what would you say, exactly?” She stepped closer, frustrated by whatever game he was playing but unable to walk away from him again. She clenched her fists by her side to keep from reaching for him. To keep from indulging in the crazy need to find out if his chest was as solid as she remembered from when he’d covered her body during the shooting.
He scooped up one fist, his thumb sketching over the bandage on her cut hand. “I’m here because I owe you an apology.”
Now that wasn’t what she’d expected to hear. “I’m not sure I understand.”
She didn’t pull away. Yeah, it was silly, but she needed the comfort of human contact. Of contact with him.
“It’s the real reason I’m here, I guess. Unfinished business with you.”
Unfinished business. The two words hung in the air between them, filling the space with possibilities until she could have sworn their bodies shared a link.
His dark eyebrows pinched together and a shiver skipped down her spine, pooling in her stomach. They weren’t flirting exactly, but she was fast realizing they were engaging in a dance of sorts here. She was not alone in feeling this draw, in needing something tangible to hold on to in a world turned upside down.
“Hugh? And this unfinished business would be?”
“I apologize for doubting you earlier when you told me Joshua was alive.”
She exhaled hard and hadn’t even known she was holding her breath. “I imagine you’ve seen so much in your job, you would get jaded. The worst-case scenarios would be more vivid for you.”
“You could say that. I’d think your job would do the same to you.”
“Sometimes… Mostly when it comes to trusting adults with a history of larceny, armed robbery, and so forth, but you get the idea. I could have just as easily been wrong about Joshua.” The truth of that clogged her throat for a second. “Reality was questionable down there. I had no idea I was trapped for two days—which you were wise not to clue me in about, by the way. My mind obviously was playing tricks on me so I wouldn’t panic.”
Was her brain toying with her now? Leading her to imagine what it might be like to explore every inch of that muscled strength that had saved her today.
“Your mind was doing its job helping you survive, and if your brother is half as tough as you, I predict he will be fine.”
“You have a way of instilling confidence. That’s quite a gift. You pulled me through in more ways than one.” A big battery-operated clock ticked behind her, stirring fear of passing time and how soon he would walk away. Every second that passed reminded her of the precious gift of being alive tonight. With him.
Thanks to him.
“It’s my job.”Her eyes fell to his survival vest stretched across his broad chest.
“Somehow I don’t think it’s in your job description to shoot the breeze under tons of rubble. You could have left once you found me and put in that IV. You didn’t need to come here to check on us. And you definitely didn’t have to give up sleep to sing to a cafeteria full of children.”
“What can I say?” He shrugged, his green eyes glittering in the dim night. “I’m a softie.”
She snorted her disbelief. “Hardly.” Although the way he’d pushed aside the exhaustion from his face to distract traumatized children with songs had been mesmerizing. She didn’t trust easily, especially not after her father and her ex, but she desperately wanted to believe in what she’d seen in Hugh then and now. “Was the story about the Siamese cat and the little girl next door true? Or were you just shooting from the hip with stories to keep me calm?”
A flash of something shadowy whispered through his eyes.
“The story was true.” He released her hand and fished in his pocket. “I should leave, let you sleep. If you need anything, there’s a number here where you can reach me. Hopefully, cell phones will be working more reliably soon. And if not, just go to any of the military personnel and they’ll be able to track me down from this info. I’ll be on the island working for at least a week, maybe longer.”
“Thank you. That’s generous of you.” She took the folded paper from between his fingers. Was it her imagination or had he held onto the doubled-over slip for a second longer than necessary?
She thumbed open the paper. His handwriting was dark and angled, as if he pushed through the words hard and fast. He’d written a phone number and a local address.
Her jumbled emotions didn’t know what to make of this. Part of her still believed they’d shared a unique connection during their time together, and another part doubted herself on any number of levels. She only knew one thing for sure, she needed closure with him after all they’d shared underground. Maybe that’s what had brought him here as well.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Hugh, but is it okay if I hug you?”
“A hug? Uh, sure.”
He looked so uncomfortable, she almost lost her nerve. She closed the last step between them and wrapped her arms around him. God, he was so much bigger than she’d even realized. Her head tucked under his chin and her arms couldn’t make it all the way around his back. And he smelled so damn good, like Dial soap and vital man. He palmed the middle of her back, but other than that made no move closer. Somehow that turned her on all the more. She could hear his heart beating faster. The heated gusts of him breathing harder steamed through her damp hair. He was every bit as moved—hell, as turned on—as she was. Yet still, he restrained himself.
That honorability stroked her as firmly as any bold touch.
She inched back but didn’t let go of him. She couldn’t. Her brain clamored for the ultimate outlet to the frenzied storm inside her. And with an answering lightning crackle all but radiating off him, her words from their time together underground, about missing sex, came roaring back to fill the wake of her adrenaline letdown. What would it be like to grab him by the shirtfront, haul him into the nearest private nook, and give herself a temporary respite from the worries, the fear, the horror of the past days? Something dark and wild in his glinting green eyes said he could deliver everything she needed and more.
Was she making a fool out of herself even thinking these thoughts and holding on to him this way, this long? And if so, what the hell did it matter? She wouldn’t see this guy again once she left the Bahamas.
Right now, she was overwhelmed and confused and needing to take charge of something in her life. She needed to feel alive, as tangibly strong as the beat of his heart against her chest, a reminder of his health and vitality, the sheer force of his will that had driven him to find her. To stay with her.
Without him… She shuddered. Words weren’t enough to express what she felt for him.
It wasn’t just gratitude that flowed through her veins right now. Her whole body hummed with a primal need to celebrate the moment and the man.
“Hugh?” Her fingers moved restlessly along his shoulders. “About that thing I said when we were stuck together, about how I miss…”
“Sex.” He chuckled lightly against her hair before stepping away. “Hey, I know that was just the stress and the situation talking.”
She looked up and met his glittering green eyes boldly. “What if I was serious? What if I’m hoping you feel the same way?”
He went still, his slow blink the only sign he’d heard her. “I would worry that I might be taking advantage of a vulnerable woman. I would be concerned you are mixing up feelings of gratitude with something else. That you’re in need of an adrenaline outlet.”
Possibility hummed through her veins. He wasn’t laughing. He wasn’t leaving. He was only spelling out questions about her motivations, more concern for her.
“I have to cop to the adrenaline thing. I could definitely use an outlet for all I’m feeling. And yes, I’m grateful, but I’m also grateful to your friend who pulled out Joshua, and the doctor who took care of my hand. But believe me, I’m not imagining what sex would be like with them.”
His eyes flamed at her words, but he stayed silent, apparently not yet completely convinced she knew her own mind.
“What if I assured you I am completely aware of what I am saying, of what I need more than anything? And right now I want to have life-celebrating sex with you.”
Straightening, he towered over her, his eyes glowing with unmistakable heat. “I would find the nearest supply closet and take you up on that offer faster than you can say ‘Let’s get naked.’”
His body in overdrive, wanting, needing to be inside Amelia, Hugh kicked the supply closet door closed and turned the lock. For extra security, he yanked a trash can across the room and jammed it under the knob.
The place was private, quiet, a hall away from the staff. Even the antiseptic scent of cleaners burned off the hellish stench outside their haven. He hadn’t come here expecting this, but he also couldn’t think of anything he wanted more than to be here with her.
His eyes adjusted to the dark just as she yanked a string overhead. The single bulb flickered to life inside the eight-by-ten closet full of shelves that had been stocked full of hospital supplies, with a small utility table wedged in a corner. Amelia stood in front of him in her borrowed scrubs, her hair still damp.
His hand gravitated to stroke a strand, finding it even silkier than he could have imagined. Everything about her was so damn delicate, he had to remind himself this woman was tough. He’d come here to check up on her, just to lay eyes on her. He couldn’t trust anyone else’s word. And now it appeared he was going to lay more than his eyes on her. If he had his way, he would explore every inch of her body with his hands, his mouth.
And she was in his arms again, not just to hug but to hold on, to caress and explore his body. He angled his head toward her just as she arched up on her toes, her face tipped. Mouth to mouth they met, tasted. Her tongue explored just as fully as his did. She tasted like toothpaste and coffee. Her hands scaled along his back, shoving his survival vest to the ground.
His mind shouted this was a damn stupid idea in spite of everything she’d said. She was still reeling from the trauma. He wasn’t all that steady either. During that aftershock at the beach cottage, his mind had filled with images of Amelia and the kid trapped again, needing help, calling out to him. He’d been off like a shot to check up on her. And yeah, he knew this was tied up in the past.