Erin pulled out a jar of applesauce and a pack of crackers. “All you’ve been through?”
“Right after his adoption”—she thought back to what she’d told Jocelyn when she’d claimed Joshua was hers—“Joshua and I got lost in the earthquake chaos.”
Erin tore open the crackers and passed one to Joshua. “You both obviously got out unscathed.”
“Thanks to Hugh,” Amelia said simply, watching as Courtney played with Joshua’s toes until he giggled. “You’re really good with him.”
Courtney looked up, smiling. “I have a son. He’s twenty now, living on his own.”
“You must miss him.” She picked up the pack of crackers casually to take with her when she walked out of the room. Soon. But first, if she could gather a little more information about the people here and keep them occupied while Hugh was outside…
“I keep busy with work,” Courtney said, sipping her juice.
Amelia took an unopened bottle from the counter and tucked it under her arm. “What do you do, Courtney?”
She blinked nervously. “I teach preschool.”
In the middle of nowhere? Amelia’s eyes flashed to Erin, who quickly busied herself with looking into a cabinet. Something felt off. Wrong. And she wasn’t about to let on about the weird vibe she was getting here.
“No wonder you’re so good with children.” Amelia’s inner alarms were clanging away even as she flattered her hostess’s niece. These two women were hiding something, and the chances of them revealing it were very slim. She needed to get Joshua back upstairs as quickly as possible.
“I’ll just take the crackers upstairs.”
Erin passed a bottle to Joshua. “Hey, there’s also plenty of juice. Why don’t you take another upstairs with you in case he gets fussy again?”
“Thanks, you’ve all been more than generous.” Amelia backed out of the kitchen and raced up the stairs.
Once safely back in her room, she looked around quickly and found it still empty. She reminded herself of Hugh’s certainty. He’d managed to keep them alive so far.
She set the juice on the table along with the crackers and lowered Joshua to the floor. Once he was steady on his feet, she rose… and looked at the bottles again. What was it about them that niggled at her? She traced the label…
And as if a bomb had gone off in her brain, she remembered those crates in the back of the van. Surely plenty of people had crates of it stocked in their pantry, especially on a remote island where supplies had to be shipped in and groceries were limited. It had to be coincidental that brand was exactly the same that had been stacked in their kidnappers’ van.
Chewing her lip, she watched Joshua playing on the rug in his new borrowed clothes. Another “coincidence” snapping into place. Her T-shirt here with its touristy lettering looked so very close to the one Joshua had been given in the hospital. Again, it had to be a fluke, all these connections between here and the hospital where they’d been kidnapped.
And if it wasn’t just a quirk?
Her eyes shot to the balcony doors. Hugh couldn’t return fast enough.
If she kept her eyes closed, Lisabeth could almost convince herself she and her husband were in a car, at home, cuddling romantically by the seashore.
In reality, they were still on an earthquake-ravaged island in the Bahamas. Given the shortage of private places to sleep, they had opted to bunk outside the hospital in the back of a church van that no longer ran, thanks to the telephone pole that had landed across the hood. Aiden had pulled out the seat and spread two bedrolls in the back. The windows were tinted. It felt like their own private nirvana.
She rested her head on her husband’s shoulder, exhausted, but hungry to hang onto the peaceful moment. God only knew what tomorrow would hold. The smell from the pine air freshener dangling off the rearview mingled with the clean bleach scent of the bedrolls brought in by a humanitarian group today for the volunteer doctors.
Aiden stroked along her arm. “I’m sorry Major McCabe didn’t have more reassurance for us.”
She’d been so hopeful the air force officer might point them directly to Joshua and Amelia after one of the nurses at the hospital later remembered him visiting. They hadn’t found out anything during their first visit to the other hospital, due to all the rotating staff. But information had worked its way back to them later.
There was some comfort in that, even if it didn’t bring all she’d hoped for. “I’m relieved to know Joshua and Amelia have someone so well trained in survival looking out for them.”
He turned her head ever so slightly until she had to look him in the eyes. “You do understand they must have been taken? They may not even be al—”
“Shhh…” She placed her hand over his mouth. “There’s no need to say it. I’m not delusional. I realize the state of things. But I also know that they made it through the earthquake and that for the first time in days, I have real hope. Let yourself have that too.”
He kissed her fingertips. “For you.”
His mouth against her skin felt so good and familiar in a world gone insane, she ached for more. Sliding her hand around, she urged him closer until her lips met his.
The bedroll rustled in the dark interior as he shifted to be closer, carefully cradling her face in his palms, deepening the contact.Deepening the moment.
She needed this, needed her husband. She gripped his surgical scrubs tighter, pulling him to her. Or rather, she tried to, but he held back.
“Aiden, it’s dark. We’re alone. I need you.”
“I need you too,” he said, kissing her gently.
So gently she wanted to tug his hair and scream in frustration.
“I won’t break, you know.”
“What’s wrong with wanting to be tender with my wife?”
“Aiden, you’re an amazing lover, generous, and you have the most talented surgeon’s touch.” She kissed each of his long fingers to punctuate her words. “You know I’m a satisfied woman. I just want to make sure you’re as happy… As completely happy as I am.”
“What makes you think I’m not?”
She squeezed his hands harder, her fingernails digging in half moons. “You are not your father. And you don’t have to make up for what he did every single day of your life.”
He rolled away from her onto his back. “It’s not that simple.”
A part of her wanted to kick herself for bringing this up now. Without a doubt, there wasn’t a faster way to douse the romance than to mention his father, the man who’d raped his son’s fourteen-year-old girlfriend. “You need to find some kind of peace with what happened with your dad. Don’t let it steal your joy at finally becoming a parent yourself.”
The need to see this settled within him grew more urgent than ever. Aiden was already stressed to the max with the adoption. But hearing she was pregnant as well? She didn’t even want to think about his reaction.
And there was no doubt about it. Aiden, her brilliant husband who traveled to the most dangerous parts of the world to help others, was terrified of becoming a father. He’d always told her it was because he had no role model of his own and he refused to shortchange a kid by being a crappy parent. She’d thought she was okay with that. She’d been sure their devotion to helping others would fill her life, and how could they continue with that life’s work if they had children to consider?
Except over time, she’d changed her mind. Not about their work. But about being a mother. Aiden had agreed because he loved her. She’d convinced herself the man she’d seen shed tears over the pain of a tragically deformed infant in Somalia could surely be a tender, caring father.
She’d held onto that hope, until she’d seen the unmistakable tension in him when he’d held Joshua for the first time. She felt that same tension radiating from him now. In that moment, she’d realized things weren’t going to get better. Wishing wasn’t going to make this magically all right. They were so isolated from one another now, despite being twined together in the dark, she had nothing to lose by telling him the truth.
Rolling to her back, she stared at the stars into the near pitch-darkness and said, “I’m pregnant.”
The inside of the car went so still she could hear her own heartbeat mix with the distant sounds outside, rescue vehicles and generators, the occasional shout. But nothing was as loud as the silence hammering between them.
Aiden still didn’t speak, so she went ahead and filled the void. “Birth control fails sometimes, even for mature adults who are medical professionals.”
“How far along are you?” he asked in a voice so controlled, she wondered if words could shatter like ice.
“Only a couple of months. With the excitement and preparations for Joshua, I missed the signs, then chalked it up to stress. Deluding myself, I guess. But I’m sure now.”
A soft pop, pop, pop echoed in the vehicle and she realized his knuckles were cracking as he opened and closed his fists.
“Lisabeth, you do realize the adoption counselor advised giving Joshua time to bond with us before adding other children?”
She rolled onto her side again, resting a hand on his heart that—oh God—was beating so damn fast in spite of his calm voice. “Believe me, Aiden, I know and I want Joshua to have the very best we can give him.”
“There are very real reasons why they advise against having a baby so close to the adoption.” His eyes slid toward her, even if his body wouldn’t. “So many abandoned kids or children from troubled backgrounds have bonding issues.”
She held his gaze and refused to let him look away. “Do you think it would be better for Joshua to spend another six months in an orphanage in a country devastated by an earthquake? That’s if I could even bring myself to give him up, which I can’t.” Her fingers dug into his chest as she gripped more than his shirt. “He’s already mine, damn it. He is my son every bit as much as this child I’m carrying. To me, there’s no difference.”
“I wish it were that simple for me.”
A chilling possibility iced through her brain. He couldn’t possibly be thinking…
“Are you actually suggesting I have an abortion?”
He stayed conspicuously silent.
Her whole world fractured. Her whole understanding of Aiden, of her marriage, twisted like an image in a funhouse mirror. Distorting unrecognizably and making her so dizzy, the ground trembled beneath her more fiercely than it had when the earthquake came.
“Oh, God”—she reached for the door, fumbling with the lock—“I think I’m going to be sick.”
Reaching past, he whipped open the handle with one hand and scraped back her hair with the other. She vomited onto the cracked parking lot, heaving until her stomach emptied out and her eyes filled with tears.
Finally, once her gut settled and the world steadied, she straightened, her wrist pressed to her mouth. Aiden silently passed her a water bottle. Her hands shaking, she dug through her duffel and pulled out a cheap plastic toothbrush. Their whole world right now was contained in a bag at their feet. Rinsing and spitting out the door, she wished her mess of a life could be as easily cleaned.
She twisted the cap back on the bottle. “I know that you didn’t want to have children because of your father, but I really thought you’d come to peace with that when we decided to adopt.”
Adoption had seemed like such a perfect answer, as they’d seen so many children who needed homes—as her own longing for a child grew so big she couldn’t contain it anymore without it exploding. And now it appeared to have exploded her marriage.
“Aiden, I’m going to have this baby, even if it means losing you.”