He took the bloom from between her fingers and tucked it behind her ear. Memories of their time together at the hospital filled his mind, hell, even seemed to pack the space between them. “Your jerk of an ex didn’t appreciate how lucky he was.”
“That’s nice of you to say.” She cupped his hand against her cheek for a second before starting out again. “I can’t even hate his new wife, because she’s stuck with him.”
“You should hate her,” he said forcefully. “She screwed a married man, and the jackass had such a small, uh… ego, he couldn’t handle being married to one of the strongest women I’ve ever met.”
“Only one of?”
“By the end of this, I may be willing to give you top honors.”
She laughed wryly. “Heaven knows, I work for grades.”
“It’s a wonder you don’t have ulcers.”
“Yet. Give me time.” Her smile faded. “What I really hate is how those people—Oliver and Tandi—caught me unaware. I should have been smarter than that. I should have been on guard.”
“How? How could you have seen that coming?” Thank God she’d caught them in time. The thought of the kid at the mercy of those two… Anger turned the sunset a deeper haze of red.
“It’s my job as a lawyer to see through crooks. I put puzzle pieces together in a flash all the time to get to the truth.”
“You got two loud screams off without dying.” The echo of those in his head still sucker punched him. “That’s pretty impressive.”
“But what if I missed something because I was distracted… from earlier?”
No doubt about it, the memories weren’t just in his mind anymore. They were out in there in front of them, as tangible as the sand and waves. “From when you walked out on me before I could zip my pants?”
“If I’d stayed with Joshua”—her hand gravitated to the sleeping boy’s head as it rested on Hugh’s shoulder—“none of this would have happened. He would be safe.”
He needed to keep her spirits up, as important as her energy on a trek like this. “People like those are determined. They would have found another opening when you went to the bathroom or fell asleep. You’re human, you know.”
“Easy for Superman to say.” She picked her way over a fallen tree. “I’m sorry for how I handled things afterward, back at the school. Being with you wasn’t what I expected.”
“What did you expect?”
He just smiled, ready to take this conversation down to a less serious level, to ease the stress lines on her face.
She smacked his shoulder. “That wasn’t a size comment, you Cro-Magnon.”
“Hey, just an attempt at some lightheartedness.” Except he wasn’t usually the one to crack jokes in a crisis. That was squadron funnyman Liam McCabe’s forte. “It’s been an intense time, with the earthquake, that time underground. We were both on edge and those aftershocks just sent us over. We needed an outlet and we found it. Together.” He held her eyes with his. “I don’t regret that.”
Yet rather than being reassured, her faced scrunched with even more worry. “I just wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t walked away. Or if I had made it back to the nursery. Or never left in the first place.”
“Life is so full of what-ifs, you can drive yourself crazy.” He knew all about regrets and self-recrimination. He should have realized he couldn’t make this any lighter for her.
Just as he’d failed to lift her spirits, he’d also failed to get them back to civilization before dark. He couldn’t ignore it any longer. He was going to have to spend the night in the jungle with Amelia…
And the baby.
Feeling helpless as hell, Aiden stood outside the tent shower and listened to his wife cry. And there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to fix this for Lisabeth. He could only stand outside this crummy refugee-like bathhouse and make sure his wife was safe while others filed in and out of the shower stalls and latrines.
His hand rested on his 9 mm, now in a leather shoulder harness he’d been given by a local cop who’d insisted, after Aiden stitched up a gash in the guy’s arm. The policeman said he hadn’t wanted Aiden shooting his foot off with that weapon tucked in his waistband. The weight of leather and metal seared through his scrubs.
He eyed the shift and shuffle of shell-shocked humanity under the umbrella of halogen lights. Generators droned along with night beasts.
His wife cried softly on the other side of the tarp curtain.
They’d arrived at the temporary hospital at the school only to learn that both Amelia and Joshua had gone missing. No one seemed to know what had happened to them. They’d even sent out a search dog, only to have the dog lose the scent in the parking lot.
Their best bet? They’d gotten into a vehicle to leave. But with whom? To go where?
Even though he’d heard that the search and rescue dog handler had given up, he and Lisabeth still spent hours more questioning people at the hospital. They’d passed around the one photo of Joshua that had survived the earthquake, a picture Lisabeth had carried in her purse for the weeks prior to the adoption. Since she’d had her bag with her, it hadn’t been lost in the hotel.
No one remembered seeing the boy after the middle of the night. But he’d been there with a blonde-haired woman who must have been Amelia.They’d been so close. Just a couple of miles away this whole time, only to learn too damn late. He just had to hang onto that hope that they were out there, safe and searching as well.
Meanwhile, he didn’t know how much more stress Lisabeth could take. There was a tension in her worse than anything he’d ever seen in his normally unflappable wife. He’d taken comfort from her serenity from the start of their relationship. She thought him such a calm man, but he just kept a steely band around his emotions because with the least fissure, all would overflow like acid on everything.
So how did he go about making this right for her when he had no experience to draw on in helping her? And wasn’t that a piss-poor testament to what kind of husband he’d been?
Nothing to do but dive in headfirst and try his best.
He parted the shower curtain and slid sideways inside, careful to block the opening with his body until he could seal the cubicle closed again.
Lisabeth gasped, lurching back and covering her nakedness with an arm around her br**sts and a hand between her legs. Then she sagged with relief. “Aiden, God, you could have given me a little warning.”
“I heard you crying.” He thumbed away a tear leaking from the corner of her eye as the pooling water soaked his shoes.
She swallowed hard, touching his chest. “All right, then. Thank you for letting me know so I won’t bother everyone else, but you could have just whispered a warning through the curtain. Have you gone crazy or what?”
“Just worried about you.” He unholstered his gun and set it on a shelf along with his glasses before moving closer, the spray soaking his head.
Sniffling, she shifted uneasily, the shadows in the corner playing peekaboo with the sleek body he knew intimately well.
“You should go,” she said. “You’re getting your scrubs wet.”
“At least they’ll be cleaner.” He braced his hands on the steel poles on either side of the curtain. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“This isn’t like you.” Frowning, she traced one finger down the leather of his shoulder harness on the shelf. “You’re not exactly an impulsive man.”
“Is that a problem? Like now?” He captured her hand in his and squeezed gently, trying to offer comfort. Trying to keep his eyes on her face and not on her nakedness. “I know you’re upset and there’s nothing I can do to fix this.”
She smoothed his damp hair. “I love you as you are, always. You know that, right?”
“I do.” He stepped closer, unable to resist the draw of her. His hands fell on her shoulders, warm and slick under his fingers. “Although I’m not always sure why.”
Her chin quivered as she swayed forward. Her naked body pressed against him, a perfect fit as always. “I just need to hear that you love me too, no matter what.”
Water beaded over her shoulders, trekking a sensuous path around and between her breasts.
Worry fragmented as his eyes took in her caramel, rich skin bathed in the glow penetrating through the mesh overhead. Droplets glistened, begging him to taste every inch of her. All the frustration of the past couple of days, of the weeks prior to this trip, gnawed at his gut, demanding an outlet. Somehow time and tension had stolen a month from them since they’d made love. And maybe it was crazy—maybe he was crazy—he needed to have his wife.
Aiden dipped his head, kissed her, gathered her nearer, his hands spanning her waist and lower. She melted against him with a soft sigh and he growled his approval into her mouth. His hands glided lower until he cupped her bottom, lifting her against him until she wrapped her legs around his waist.
He knew this wasn’t wise, and it wasn’t at all the way he allowed himself to behave. Losing control had never been an option for him. But right now he could feel his world spinning out of control and damned if he could do a thing other than hold on tight to the woman he loved. Because, God love her, she was holding on to him every bit as tightly. Always, always she’d been there for him. His fears the week before they’d come here must have been misdirected edginess from the adoption—
He didn’t want to think about the adoption or his missing son. He needed to ease the tension inside him before he snapped.
Lisabeth clung to his shoulders, kissing her way along his jaw, over his ear, until her face was buried in his neck. “I love you, Aiden, so much.”
“I know, baby, I know.” All he needed to do was inch down his pants and he would be inside her slick damp heat. She would be all around him. His wife. The honest-to-God love of his life, something he’d never expected to have…
The woman he’d vowed to protect.
His skin chilled and it had nothing to do with the water. His head fell to rest on her shoulder.
“Lisabeth, we can’t. I don’t have a condom”—his breath came out in ragged huffs—“and since all our luggage got lost, your pills are with it. We can’t risk pregnancy, especially not now.”
He twisted off the shower and yanked the fresh scrubs off a high shelf positioned out of reach of the shower’s spray. Her chin quivered, which sucker punched him so hard he almost caved and hauled her back to him again.
Then her jaw jutted and she yanked the clothes from his hands. She jerked the top over her head, tugging the hem over her hips. “If you feel so strongly about this, why haven’t you just gotten a vasectomy?”
Her question stunned him almost as much as the fierce anger in her hissed words. “I realize you’re upset, but the last thing we need right now is to fight with each other.”
“Why would you think we’re going to argue?” She stepped into the pants, her hands jerky, angry. “We never quarrel. Ever.”
She whipped aside the curtain and stormed out, leaving him standing in waterlogged clothes. He should be pissed off, but he was still so shocked by what she’d said he didn’t move. Why hadn’t he gotten a vasectomy?
And why hadn’t she ever mentioned it before, unless she was secretly hoping he would change his mind on not having biological children?
“Dude?” an impatient voice cut through his thoughts.
A soldier covered in mud stood waiting, looking every bit as exhausted as Aiden felt.
“Sorry.” Aiden picked up his gun and glasses.
“Yeah, well, as long as you left some warm water in there.” He stepped back for Aiden to walk out, water squishing from his shoes. “Your lady went that way, toward the chow hall.”