The thought of never feeling this again, of never having him in her life in this way, made her ache to scream in frustration. Made her burn to hold on to this moment, hold on to him all the harder.
He drove into her again and again, the angle, the friction sending electric tingles from between her legs, showering higher. As the bliss tore through her, she bit his shoulder to keep from crying out, her mouth and her nails marking him in an outward way just as he’d marked her heart.
Fighting back the need to finish, she squeezed her eyes closed, her fists gripping and unfurling against his shoulders. He whispered along her neck, and she felt the words more than heard them. Perceived his own ravenous need to make this last, to milk every ounce of ecstasy until the sensation sharpened, gathering not just in the tight bundle of nerves but also inside her, converging, exploding.
She came apart in his arms, her body writhing against his, and thank God, he held onto her, covered her mouth with his. Wave after wave rippled over her, longer and more drawn out until the force of it left her limp and replete in his arms.
In some distant part of her brain, she realized his face was in her neck now as his arms convulsed around her, his hoarse groan of completion sending a fresh tingle along her oversensitive skin.
She held onto him, or maybe they just held onto each other and let the crate behind her support them. As the sweat dried on her body, she knew time was passing. Their time together was passing. Physically and emotionally she was completely hollowed out. Unable to form thoughts, walk another step.
Withstand another loss.
Losing Joshua today had almost been more than she could take. She wasn’t sure how she could stand to let go of Hugh when the time came to step on that plane and leave him behind.
His release still shuddering through him, Hugh held onto Amelia, or maybe she held him up. He wasn’t sure, as the aftermath of their explosive sex left him on shaky ground. So he dragged in breath after ragged breath, still buried inside Amelia while resting his forehead against the splintery crate.
Right now, he would give just about anything for a bed where they could both lie quietly while he got his head together regarding what had just happened. Because the olive green canopy and the dirt floor just weren’t cutting it. He and Amelia had been through a lot, slept together, been through even more, but still, something different had happened here. A connection had formed. He’d lost his heart to a woman before, and he knew what sex with love was like.
It was different from sex just for sex’s sake, different on some kind of transcendent plane that he couldn’t explain, but God, he recognized it well. He’d felt that distinction while making love to Amelia.
He fit her against his shoulder, her silky hair trailing down his arm. Her scent, her softness, it was all imprinted on him and in him now.
There was no replacing Marissa in his heart. No one could be a substitute for her. Just as no one could be a substitution for Amelia. She was her own person, amazing and unique in her own way. There was no hiding from the truth any longer. He had done the one thing he’d vowed never to do again.
He’d fallen in love.
Now he had to figure out what the hell to do about that. Telling her in a drab military tent with their pants around their ankles seemed like a bad idea. And damn it all, he still needed to get his head together on this. He should be happy, the path simple and clear.
Instead, he was scared deep in his gut. Which was saying a lot for a guy who didn’t think twice about parachuting into a minefield.
A rustling at the front of the tent yanked him out of his freaked-out self-indulgence. “Shit,” he whispered, easing from her body and already feeling the loss. “Someone’s coming inside.”
He yanked her shirt into place as she pulled up her khakis. He made fast work of his own pants, then smoothed her hair back, finger-combing the silky strands quickly.
Kissing her hard and fast, he palmed the small of her back and steered her past the maze of crates. At the front, canvas flap open, he came face-to-face with one of the military nurses from… He couldn’t quite place where, but his brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders right now.
The sun was setting, security lights flickering off and on as sensors wrestled with the transition between day and night settings. A C-17 sat next in line to load up and head out. He even caught sight of his teammates Brick and Cuervo talking with a med tech as a couple of patients were loaded up.
Amelia stopped in her tracks just past the tent, gnawing on her kissed-plump bottom lip. “Can we hang out here for a second longer? I’m not ready to face my family just yet.”
“Do you want something to eat? Somewhere to, uh, freshen up?” There weren’t a helluva lot of options and little or no privacy now that they were out of the storage tent.
“I don’t have much time, actually.” She looked around the bustling temporary airfield. “I’m supposed to get on that plane with them and go back to the States. Aiden and Lisabeth are meeting me here in about fifteen minutes with Joshua.” Pain smoked through her eyes. “I needed a few minutes to collect myself, so I told them I was going to get an update on you.”
Leaving? Her announcement knocked the wind out of him. Sure he wanted her out of danger, but he’d expected to have a little more warning on saying good-bye, a chance to figure out how he wanted to handle things after they both returned.“But you’re going tonight. That’s good. Really good.” So why did acid still churn in his gut? “I want you out of this godforsaken wasteland, the sooner the better.”
And it would be hard as hell to watch her leave, even accepting it was for the best. He also knew how tough it would be for her to acclimate to regular life after the trauma she’d experienced. He wished he could be there to help her make that transition.
“Well then we have a problem��—she scratched her chin absently, her eyebrows furrowing together as if her lawyer brain was putting together something big—“because I don’t want to go. I need to stay and help, even if it’s just giving out those little half-pint cartons of orange juice to thirsty children.”
Her face smoothed, and she jabbed him in the chest with one finger to make her point. “By some quirk of fate, I survived unscathed, and now I want to give back by helping those who haven’t been as lucky.”
He tipped his head, certain he couldn’t have heard her correctly. “Listen, I understand where you’re coming from. It’s tough to walk away from people in need, but there aren’t many chances to get out of here.” And he was damn well going to make sure she was on that plane. “Right now, it’s just your adrenaline talking.”
She laughed lightly, but her sky blue eyes still weren’t smiling. “Don’t you think you’re carrying the he-man stuff a little too far?”
Hands hitched on his gun belt, he measured his words to keep from snapping. Because right now what he really thought, what he really felt, was that he’d dodged enough of a bullet having her remain safe so far. Any more would be tempting fate. He’d done well in not thinking about Marissa or his daughter, but he knew damn well his own adrenaline letdown was due and it was going to be a helluva night trying to process everything that had happened.
He needed to be assertive about her next move. “If you stay, you will be in the way of rescue workers who need to do their jobs.”
“You’re trying to get rid of me.” Hands falling on his chest, she brushed cotton wrinkles flat.
He clasped her fingers, stopping her. “I’m trying to keep you safe. Keep you alive.” Frustration roiled inside him, searing along already-raw nerves. He needed her safe, damn it. He grasped her shoulders and willed her to understand how important it was for her to get on that plane.
“I love you, Amelia. Okay?” The words were damn near ripped out of him. He hadn’t had the time to sort through what it all meant, but in weighing the cost, he hoped it would help the cause. “I’ve been through the hell of losing someone I loved once and I can’t go through that hell again. I can’t take having you here where something could happen to you.”
She went still, her eyes stunned and giving him no hint of what she was thinking or feeling. “You love me?”
“Yeah, I think I do. Wait,” he held up a hand, needing to get this right. There was no quibbling to give himself an out. There was no going back for him now. “I know I do.”
“Oh, Hugh,” she said with a hint of regret, her eyes turning sad. She bracketed his face in both her hands, even though they stood in the middle of a busy airfield. “What you’re saying is beautiful, don’t get me wrong. But I’m not so sure you’re thinking clearly now. I believe this past week with Joshua and me has stirred up the pain of losing your wife and child.”
He bristled, her rejection stinging, especially after what they’d just shared. Or what he’d thought they shared. Damn it all, he was certain she’d felt it too. “I know that you and Marissa are not the same. In fact, you’re nothing alike.” He tugged her by the arm, pulling her out of the path of troops marching past, and stopping under a half-uprooted tree. “If you don’t love me, then say so. Don’t try to make up some bullshit excuse about me not knowing my own mind.”
“Can you deny that you’ve been thinking of her? Everything that’s gone on has to have been tangled up in your feelings for what happened then.”
“Okay, I get it,” he said bitterly. “You’re the one who’s tangled up in the past. Just because your ex was a jackass who couldn’t tell one woman from the other doesn’t mean I’m a clueless bastard too.”
She shook her head. “I’m over him, and you know it.”
“And I believe you about as much as you seem to believe me.” He stepped back, feet planted, shoulders braced. “It’s time for you to get on that plane.”
“That’s it? One minute you’re in love with me and the next you tell me to get out of your life?”
“This isn’t about saying good-bye forever. It’s about you staying somew—” He ground his teeth as a trio of Red Cross workers passed, carrying stacked boxes of meals. “This isn’t the time or the place for an argument.”
“Yeah, well, I disagree. If I’ve learned anything over the past week, it’s that we can’t take a minute for granted. I want to be here, to help, and yes, to be with you.” Her scraped chin jutted, her sunburned cheeks peeling, and still she was magnificent. “I’ve also learned I’m a lot stronger than I realized. I’m not just a fighter in the courtroom, and then a wimp when it comes to facing the rest of the world.”
“I could have told you that.” Although her stubborn strength was a pain at the moment.
“Then why are you the only one who gets to be a crusader here? Why do I have to be shuffled aside to a safe little corner? Hell, it’s not like I’m going to be crawling under collapsed buildings the way you are. What if I were to ask you to take on a safer role?”
“That’s ridiculous. This is my job. My calling.”
“Well, while this may not be my job, believe me when I say I do feel called to be a part of the cleanup efforts here, to do something for the place that gave my family Joshua—”
Her voice cracked, and she looked away fast.
Realization seeped into his brain. “You don’t want to get on the plane with them. Do you?”
And as much as he knew it was going to hurt her, he said the words he hoped—he prayed—would make her get on that plane anyway. “I’ve heard there are no more planes carrying civilians out for God only knows how long, because they’re locking down the island until Jocelyn can be found. We’re almost certain she has one child with her and there could be more.”