“Good.” His laugh vibrated against her, through her. “Me neither.”

She tipped her face up toward him just in time to meet his kiss, opening, and what a time to realize there hadn’t been the luxury of time for making out. They’d shared life-and-death moments, deep personal secrets, and even mind-blowing sex. But somewhere along the line they’d missed out on this…

Careful not to break the passionate connection, she angled around and onto her knees until she straddled his lap. Water sluiced over the sides again as she settled on top of him. Facing him, she explored him with her hands and the soap. The shower sprayed on her back, sprinkling around onto him and swishing away the suds. She kissed her way over clean manly flesh. And God, she loved the way his pecs twitched under her lips. So she flicked her tongue, tasting, savoring as she worked her way across until the texture changed with his musical tattoo.

Abruptly, he stood, turned the shower off, and scooped her up into his arms in a move so smooth she barely had time to loop her arms around his neck before they reached the bed. His arms bulged with unmistakable strength under her legs and along her back.

He lowered her on the wide mattress, the crocheted spread enticingly abrasive against her bare skin. The moonlight streamed in through the windows, pouring down his naked body. Hugh stretched out over her, settling on top of her as he captured her mouth. And as much as she was enjoying the make-out session, she was ready for this to move forward.

Her fingernails dug into his flanks and she ached to have him inside her.

“Hurry…” She arched against him, wriggling her hips.

“We’re not rushing it this time.”

“Can we have fast”—she nipped his chin—“then slow?” She flicked her tongue over the same spot.

“Or slow… and even slower still.” He shifted positions with athletic fluidity, lifting her as he slid underneath her.

His erection pressed against her, nudging the tight bundle of nerves that screamed for attention and relief. He rocked his hips, sliding along her but not in her, a sweet torment, so much so, she grabbed his shoulders in a white-knuckled grip to keep from melting over him, off him.

His hands spanned her waist, steadying. “I’ve got you. Just relax and go with it. Let everything fly loose from the past few days.”

He sounded so in control, a part of her wanted to take the control away from him, make him as insanely on fire as he made her.

Faster and faster he guided her until a flush of anticipation prickled over her skin. Her br**sts went tighter, her whole body gathering into a knot of need. She rocked more fully against him and reveled in the groan that slipped from between his gritted teeth.

That deeply growled sound of appreciation snapped the tension inside her. Her head flung back, her damp hair grazing her spine. Each brush stimulated and electrified her every heightened nerve, sending her closer and closer to completion. And he watched her as if reading her face, her body, as he stroked her while laving her breast with his tongue, tugging lightly with his teeth.

The bliss built… and built… until… release unfurled inside her. Pleasure shimmered over her nerve endings as if he touched every part of her at once. Her fingers dug into his shoulders, her trembling arms all that kept her from collapsing on top of him. He’d pleasured her to the roots of her hair and still she wanted more of him…

“Protection,” she gasped. “We need protection. Or maybe I could—”

“Hold on.” His hand left her breast to scoop his survival vest from the bedside table. “I’ve got this.”

She remembered their conversation from the supply closet about a condom being kept in the survival vest, a more compact way to keep a water carrier. He pulled the packet and tossed aside the vest. Hugh sheathed himself before the last glimmer of ecstasy seeped from her. And then he was inside her, wringing fresh spasms of pleasure from her with each forceful thrust. She came again and again, and thank God for his bracing hold that kept her upright, taking him deeper, because she couldn’t have stayed upright without him.

Biting her lip, she held back the need to shout. While the curtain shielding the cubby room gave them privacy, they still needed to stay silent or risk waking the sleeping little one… not to mention everyone else in the sprawling stucco home.

Finally, finally, the last spasm wrung through her, leaving her limp. Replete. Her fingers unfurled against his chest and she hadn’t even realized she’d scored his skin.

Aftershocks shivered through her until she found herself clutching his shoulders tightly again. She wasn’t the scratching, screaming sort—or rather she hadn’t been before Hugh.

She slumped against his chest. His whispers flowed hotly against her ear as he thrust faster, his voice more urgent. His arms banded around her as he hissed his own release. Muscles bunched and gathered in his arms, tendons tight in his neck.

Once the last shimmer faded, she considered rolling off him, cuddling, but she couldn’t will her body to move. The wind whispered in through the open window, cooling the perspiration on her skin. She drifted in and out of that hazy afterglow.

Her toes skimmed along the tiny green footprints inked on his calf. “What are all the little footprints?”

“It’s a work thing.” His voice vibrated against her, through her.

“Such as?” she asked, enjoying the normalcy of talking as they lingered in the afterglow.

“During Vietnam, pararescuemen were most often transported in a big-ass helicopter called the Jolly Green Giant,” he explained while drawing lazy circles along her back. “Green footprints became our signature tat.”

“Big-ass helicopter?” She chuckled. “Is that a technical term?”

“HH-3 and HH-53, actually. But big-ass chopper just paints a more vivid picture.” Moonbeams through the windows illuminated his grin.

“I agree.” Her fingers skipped along the scratches on his chest. Then from there to the other tattoo, which she suspected held an even deeper story—a staff of musical notes scrolled across his heart. “And this tattoo?”

His hands went still on her back.

“Hugh?”

“Yeah, uh…” He shifted from under her and pulled the sheet over them both. “It’s, uh, a riff from my daughter’s favorite song.”

His answer knocked the wind out of her. She eyed each musical note, a lump settling in her throat. She sagged onto the pillow beside him. No matter how hard they tried, the past was a part of who they were now.

He stroked her wet hair behind her ear. “Aren’t you going to ask me what the song is?”

Patting his chest, she shook her head. She couldn’t probe that wound.

His hand closed over hers. “It’s from a Jimmy Buffett song called ‘Little Miss Magic.’”

“I’ve never heard it, but it sounds…” Sweet? Heartbreaking? “Special.”

“Yeah…” He squeezed her fingers once gently, and moved them away to his shoulder.

“We should, uh, sleep.” Her cheek rested against his shoulder, slick with water, sweat. The light welts of her scratches pressed against her face with a reminder of how easily she’d lost control. How quickly she became someone different with him, a man who was still deeply locked in grief for his dead family.

***

Amelia slept like the dead.

Hugh wished he could stare at her all night long, learn more about her. The way a person slept said a lot about them. She curled on her side, knees tucked tight and protectively. He wished she could be more relaxed, free in sleep, but her body told a different story. But then after all she’d been through, he shouldn’t be surprised. He just wanted to stick around and learn more, be there when she uncurled with security again.

Her rebandaged hand was stretched out toward him.

He smoothed the overlong night shirt over her hip. He could just make out the word Bahamas printed across the front in twisted cartoon palm trees. The scrolled letters made him think of that night back at the hospital when he’d seen Joshua sleeping in her arms, wearing a similar tourist T-shirt.

His eyes slid from Amelia to Joshua.

Shoving to his feet, Hugh tugged on a pair of khakis and walked to the nursery nook. He scratched the old tattoo, just over the tightness around his heart. Stress. He knew the cause, but he hadn’t figured out how to get past it.

He reached for the curtain three times before he found the guts to pull it back. Joshua sucked on his fist in his sleep, completely relaxed. As a child should be.

Before Hugh even registered the thought, he held the guitar Jocelyn had left behind. It felt right there. He played a riff and tuned it, the old Lyon & Healy a bit worn around the edges, but with a little tuning, the notes took on a full, warm tone.

His fingers plucked along the strings, not Tilly’s tune, but another Buffett song… slow… “Son of a Sailor”… and yeah, he wasn’t a sailor and this boy wasn’t his son. But the music leveled him out, easing the knot in his chest.

“You’re good with him,” Amelia said softly from the bed.

His fingers slowed, then stopped. He looked over at Amelia. She sat hugging her knees, her chin resting on her hands.

“Instinct, I guess.” He rested the guitar on the ground and spun it. The polished rosewood glinted in the moonlight.

She slid from the bed, her bare feet barely making a sound as she crossed to the nook. She rested her arms on the rail of the white crib. “A kid is a pint-sized package of possibility. Stare at a baby and you start thinking about what he or she will look like down the road, what they’ll do with their lives.”

“What do you envision when you look at him?”

Amelia sketched a finger over his fine, dark eyebrows. “With his face all scrunched up like that, I can envision him with little round glasses and a calculator.”

“Sure, I can see that.”

She kissed her fingers, stroked Joshua’s forehead, before turning back to Hugh. “I liked what you were playing for him.”

“I wouldn’t want to wake up the kid.”

“He didn’t seem disturbed when you played before, or with us talking now.”

He stepped away from the nursery nook, swinging the guitar back up to play softly, notes that went through his head when he thought of Amelia. He settled on the edge of the bed.

She sat beside him, her legs tucked up underneath her. “That’s lovely, but I don’t recognize it.”

“Just some chords that went together for the moment.” He played on while talking. “My mom was determined to bring up well-rounded sons. So my brother and I didn’t just play sports, we took music lessons too. My younger brother picked piano and I chose guitar because I thought guitar would be easier. Wow, was I wrong. She signed me up with a classical instructor.” He plucked through a few bars of Bach. “And it was forever before he would let me near the pieces I wanted to play.”

“And you wanted to play?”

“Clapton. Hendrix.” Ah, Hendrix. The songs he would play for Amelia if they had days and days together. His fingers found a classic blues riff, morphing into a Muddy Waters tune. “Hindsight, it was smart of my teacher, since it forced me to practice my fingers raw to get to what I wanted.”

“What sports did you play?”

“Football and track, field events. Lots of sitting around after the shot put and discus. I played. The girls gathered around. And then I really practiced, especially for the girl next door.”

His fingers moved easily over the fretboard, the changes and notes coming naturally from the training and practice, much like what happened when he was out in the field, on a mission.

She paused, frowned for moment before her blue eyes went wise and wide with realization. She slumped back against a bedpost. “You married the girl with the kitten.”



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