She heard him swallow so hard, she worried he might need to open the door fast too.
“Amelia will help us if there are any legal aspects to my already being pregnant.” If Amelia and Joshua were even alive, and just the thought of that choked her with panic. She forced steady breaths. “We—or I—will reach out to every resource possible in order to be a good mother to both of these children.”
“Children,” his voice cracked.
And something cracked inside her at that simple show of emotion from him. She held his face until he looked at her, really looked, and she was sure he could see the sincerity in her eyes. “I understand you have fears—And shhh! Don’t go all macho guy on me because I dared say you’re afraid of something. I understand you’re a geneticist. I realize you have concerns about the kind of… person your father was. But Aiden, just as you’re not your dad, neither is this baby.”
“But who he is… who he was… It still messed me up inside.” He thumped his chest. “I’m not… right. What I said about bonding, about kids with messed-up pasts, I wasn’t talking about Joshua.” His voice went raspy with emotion. “I was talking about me.”
Shock radiated all the way to her toes. All this time she’d thought he was afraid to have children for fear they would turn out like his dad, and instead, he was worried he wouldn’t be a good enough father? Incomprehensible to her. “Good God, Aiden, you’re the most noble man on the planet. You’re so damn perfect, it’s tough to be married to you sometimes.”
He laughed, a harsh and strangled sound. “Thanks for the compliment, but I’m not buying that and neither would the folks on my staff who call me the cold fish.”
“Because they don’t know you the way I do.”
“Do you? Do you really know me?”
Something in his voice warned her he wasn’t being flippant. “What am I missing here, Aiden?”
He toyed with a lock of her hair, twining the curl around his finger. “We’ve never really talked about my father, you and I. Amelia was the one to tell you.”
“Because you wanted it that way.” She would have welcomed the chance to have him open up to her. She would gladly carry part of the burden for him, although now her throat was closing up from fear of what he would say.
“The night before my father was going to accept the plea bargain, I confronted him. Not because I doubted he was guilty, but because I just needed some kind of… hell… I don’t know what I needed. There wasn’t any way to erase having a pedophile for a father.”
She rested her head on his shoulder and let him talk, taking each word in and listening to his heart. The nurse in her registered all the signs of extreme stress while the wife in her hurt right along with him.
“He told me what he’d done, not out of guilt but as if he could explain himself, justify it… God…” He ground his teeth audibly.
She didn’t dare move or speak for fear any interruption would stop him from saying things he’d bottled up for decades, even holding back from her.
“He said he would rather be dead than go to jail,” Aiden continued, his voice returning to the unemotional tones she knew he used to stay in control during his most heartrending cases. “I told him to do it, then. Save his family more pain. Save the state some money. And I gave him a gun.”
She must have gasped, because he finally looked at her. His magnificent blue eyes glimmered in the dark with unshed tears. And in those tears she could see the image of the boy he was then, only a teenager himself, disillusioned and betrayed by his father in such a horrible way.
“I went to the gun cabinet, loaded the shotgun, and placed it in front of him on the coffee table. Without saying another word to my father, I walked away. As soon as I closed the door behind me, he pulled the trigger.”
She’d known his father killed himself. Amelia had told her about the suicide, about how their father had raped at least four young teenage girls. But no one had said a word about this.
Because no one had known. Until now. And she’d better get talking fast, because if she knew her husband at all, he was about five seconds from shutting down, and she feared if he did, there might not be another window into him again.
Lisabeth slid on top of him and grabbed his face in both hands, urgently this time, firmly. “Listen to me, Aiden Bailey. You were a kid then. And even if you’d been older, you are not responsible for your father’s actions. You may be scarred by the things that happened in your past, but you’re a good man, a tender man.”
“I knew what I was doing. I knew what he would do.”
“What he chose to do. And damn him for being a selfish bastard by sharing his suicide wish with his child. What kind of monster does that? If he was crying out for help, there were dozens of other people that made much better sense.”
Aiden’s brow furrowed and she realized she’d made some traction with that last argument, so she pushed ahead. “I don’t even claim to know all the answers or have perfect insights for what you went through with your father. But I do know that you’re too good a man to walk away from your own children when they need you. Your children need you. And we’ll do whatever it takes to build a strong, healthy family together.”
Aiden stayed silent, as she expected. But she couldn’t deny she’d hoped for something different, something more from him this time. The stakes were so much higher now, more than ever for the baby inside her and for their child she prayed was still alive. She wanted to hold him, to comfort him, but past experience told her that he would shut down, pull away, and block her out.
His jaw went tight, tendons flexing so blatantly in his neck she could see them even in the dim moonlight. His eyes squeezed closed, a tear sliding free from each. And then her reserved husband did the last thing she would have expected at such an emotional moment.
He reached for her.
Aiden pulled his wife close, needing to anchor himself, needing her. His arms banded around her. Tightly. Tucking her to him as they lay in the back of a crappy van in the middle of an earthquake disaster zone. She held on just as strong, her face buried in his shirt, which was growing damp from her tears.
Coming to the Bahamas, adopting Joshua, already had him in shaky ground—figuratively and literally. And now this latest revelation about a baby on the way as well had knocked his feet out from under him entirely.
For so long, she’d stood quietly by him even though she knew about his father. He’d asked Amelia to tell Lisabeth, since he’d found it easier to keep himself together by never speaking of it.
But no one knew about the night with his father and the shotgun. Until now. He’d carried that around inside him not out of fear, but because he’d thought it would be selfish of him to unload that pain onto someone else in hopes of making himself feel better.
And as he held his wife close, he wrestled with guilt, pain, relief, then more guilt. What kind of ass answered pregnancy news with horror stories from the past? A bout of tenderness shot through him for his wife and what she’d gone through on her own, worrying about how he would handle the news. And God forgive him for even letting her think for a second he would want her to get rid of the baby.
“I’m sorry for how I acted, for what I said and didn’t say—”
“Aiden? You don’t need to apologize to me.” She stroked away his damned tears.
Shit. “Yes, I do. I love you and you deserve a helluva lot better from me.”
He scrubbed a wrist over his face and pulled himself together. Or tried to. He didn’t have jack shit emotionally to give Lisabeth right now, especially not some touchy-feely reassuring words. He didn’t trust himself to speak, since God only knew what else would come pouring out of his mouth against his will now the lid was off. So he held her closer, sprinkled kisses across her forehead, over her eyes, until he brushed her mouth.
She gasped softly. “Are you sure this is what you want right—?”
“Shhh…” He silenced her with another kiss. Undoubtedly, she would have other questions she wanted to ask, and he owed her more than he’d given tonight. “I’m talked out for now. Later, okay? Anything you want to talk about, just later.”
“All right,” she whispered, her lips moving against his.
Again he kissed her, so damn thankful she understood. Her fingers slid from his arms around to his shoulders, her mouth parting—the kiss, the connection changing. He shoved aside any hesitation. The best realization of all was that now that she was already pregnant, no need to be careful. That freedom sent him into overdrive. He couldn’t deny the need to claim her after the things he’d said that drove a wedge between them.
One kittenish sigh from her was the only encouragement he needed to roll to his side, pull her more firmly against him. Passion flamed inside him, sparking in the air until he was almost certain he could see the static energy snapping through the van. She draped her slim, long leg over his, locking him to her. He hadn’t been planning on making love when he’d scrounged up this place for them to sleep, away from the crowded tents full of cots. He’d been more concerned with finding a way to ease the dark circles under Lisabeth’s exhausted eyes.
But now that she moved against him, tugging at his shirt, he couldn’t think of anything except having her. Here. Now. Watching her come again and again, giving them both at least a temporary escape.
The moonlight outside was muted by the tinted windows, but let in enough light for him to see the shadowy writhing of his wife’s beautiful body. The spiral curl she could never quite keep out of her eyes. The long elegant neck that made her look like a foreign princess.
And thanks to those darkened windows, the place was private. The doors were locked, and the night was cool enough to be comfortable. The scent of bleach from the fabric bedrolls eased the thick air that made standing outside damn near unbearable.
His hand nowhere near surgeon steady, he tunneled inside her shirt, loose surgical scrubs, until he found the soft curve of her breast. And then touching her wasn’t enough anymore. He had to see her. Taste her.
He swept off her top and palmed her br**sts with a satisfied growl—cut off as she hooked her finger along the waistband of his pants, the tip of her finger brushing the head of his throbbing hard-on. But he wasn’t off balance long. He teased her ni**les with his thumb and forefinger. The tightening, her moans, the restless thrash of her head against the bedroll, urged him on as he lowered his face to take the pebbly crest into his mouth.
He knew every inch of her well, but now noticed the changes pregnancy had already begun to bring. The increased fullness—and sensitivity—of her breasts.
Her body moved against him with a sleek familiarity that never failed to turn him inside out. And she was even more stunning now than when he’d met her. A lithe exotic beauty, she’d glided into his life during fall semester, senior year in college. He couldn’t even remember which class, because the second he’d seen her, his mind had short-circuited until he was oblivious to anything else around him.
He did remember exactly what she’d worn—gray workout tights and a pink tank top. She’d told him later how she’d overslept that day and come straight to class in the clothes she’d worn pulling an all-nighter study session. But God, the way she’d carried off the most casual clothes with a regal grace… He’d wanted that serenity in his life, wrapped all around him, like now.
And she seemed every bit as eager for this stolen night together, a chance to block out the world and forget everything except each other. He slid down her scrubs, and as she kicked them free of her ankles, he yanked aside his own pants. He lived to lose himself inside her. And there was no way in hell he would risk losing her.