Read Back in the Soldier's Arms Online

Authors: Soraya Lane,Karina Bliss

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary

Back in the Soldier's Arms (2 page)

BOOK: Back in the Soldier's Arms
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“So when your mommy is away, we have to be brave, because even though we miss her she’s a very important woman. Lots of other people need her, too.”

Gabby threw her arms around him, tucked her little face into his shoulder and started to sob.

Penny looked as though her heart was broken in two, like she was shattering into a million tiny pieces inside. She swayed back on her haunches before rising, pressed her palms to her cheeks.

Daniel would have said sorry. Felt guilty that he held Gabby when Penny was clearly so desperate to touch, to hold, their daughter.

But there were only so many times he could say sorry. And the next time he said it, he wasn’t going to stop until Penny was convinced he meant it.

The short car journey home passed mercifully quickly, Penny content to sit in the backseat alongside Gabby and listen to her chatter away about her life. Daniel sat alone in the front, focused on the road, but that didn’t stop him from casting the occasional glance in the rearview mirror at the tender and somehow blissfully normal scene taking place in the rear of the car.

Penny helped Gabby out of the car and let Daniel get her bag this time. She kept hold of her hand, listening to her babble, pleased she was so happily unaware of the tension in the air. As soon as they were through the front door, Grabby dropped her hand and shot ahead down the hall.

It was a strange feeling, coming home. After so long away and so long imagining what it would be like to be back, it was strangely foreign. It was her home and yet it wasn’t all at the same time.

“It is great to have you home, Penny.”

She turned at Daniel’s words.

“I’m pleased I came back.”

He looked hurt, but she wasn’t going to feel bad.

“Gabby was so excited when she found out you were coming to her party.”

Penny walked to the kitchen bench, spying a cake box. She lifted the lid and smiled when she saw what sat beneath.

“Dora the Explorer, huh?”

Daniel stepped closer. She fought not to move back. Stood her ground.

“It’s her favorite,” he said, voice low.

Penny hated that she didn’t know these kinds of things. What her daughter loved most right now, the things that they didn’t talk about over the phone. The things she’d missed out on. Her favorite television shows, dolls, that sort of thing.

She’d never imagined herself as an absentee mother. Had always wanted to be hands-on and at home, and she still did.

“The cake’s beautiful,” Penny said.

And it was. Pink and purpnde ak and pule swirls of icing surrounded the center figure—every little girl’s dream.

“It’s exactly the kind of cake I would have chosen for her, Daniel.”

They stood, not saying anything. Penny’s eyes were still trained on the cake. She didn’t want to look anywhere else. Was too afraid to look elsewhere.

“Penny, do you want me to move out while you’re here?”

Daniel took her by surprise. Move out? She hadn’t even thought beyond arriving home, let alone how they’d manage to spend the coming days together. “Maybe,” she said, unsure.

“I’ve made arrangements to crash at Tom’s place, if you want me to.” He paused. “I’ll understand, you just say the word.”

Penny watched as he swallowed, could see the movement of his throat, like he was nervous. Like he was hoping she would say no. Or maybe he was hoping she’d say yes so he didn’t have to be under the same roof as her.

“Maybe that would be best,” she said, forcing herself to stay calm. Not to get angry.

Although then they’d have to explain to Gabby. Figure out what to say to her, how to tell her.

“Sure,” he replied, voice strained. “It’s not a problem.”

Argh. It was so difficult. The entire thing was just so messy.

Daniel nodded. Looked somehow like the wind had been blown from his sails.

She wanted to stare at him, then shake him. Slap him. Yell at him. She had so much pent-up anger that she needed to release, but it was all trapped within her. And she wasn’t going to let it go, not when Gabby was within hearing distance.

“I’ll hang around for a bit, then head off.”

She gave him a half smile. While they were under the same roof, around their daughter, what she wanted was to be civil. To maintain her dignity.

“Coffee?”

Penny nodded and walked over to the pantry. She opened it and looked at the party supplies. He’d made a big effort. “So you’re all set for Saturday?”

He chuckled. “Yeah, as set as you can be for a fifth birthday party.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

Daniel caught her eye when she looked over at him. She didn’t look away. Something within her stirred, if only for a moment.

Something deep inside flickered when his pupils locked on hers.

She swallowed, hard, then focused on the window instead. Forced herself to.

Because she didn’t have to wonder what that something was.

It was love.

No matter how much he’d hurt her, no matter how much pain hammered at her heart, she still loved Daniel. And she probably always would. “Penny, I …”

She shook her head. “No, Daniel. Let’s not, okay?” He squared his shoulders. “Penny, please.” “Mom!”

She dragged her eyes away from Daniel as Gabby called out. She wasn’t ready to have that particular conversation. Not yet.

Daniel sighed. Sh ai asighed. e saw it and heard it, but ignored it.

“Coming, honey.”

Penny didn’t look back at him.

This trip home was about her daughter. There was no room for nostalgia, for thinking about what could have been. She was home for Gabby’s birthday, and in less than seven days she’d be getting back on a plane, not coming back until her tour was over for good.

Until then, it was all about Gabby.

No matter how much she ached inside.

Daniel watched Penny move down the hall. He ignored the burning pain in his fingertips as the steaming-hot mug stung his skin. It only made him grip the ceramic handle tighter.

I’m sorry. That’s what he’d wanted to say. I’m so damn sorry and I don’t know how I’ll ever prove it to you.

He’d told her over the phone, but he had wanted to look her in the eye and tell her to her face. Even if it didn’t make a difference, it was something he wanted to say. Needed to say. To convince her that he meant it, that it wasn’t just something he felt he should say.

Instead he watched her walk down the hall toward their daughter’s room. His wife. Powerless to stop her, no matter how much he wanted to beg for her forgiveness.

“Daddy!”

Gabby was hollering down the hall at him now. “Yeah?” he called back. “Come over here!”

Daniel put down the mug after taking a sip and followed in Penny’s footsteps.

They were sitting on the bed when he walked in, Gabby cross-legged with toys around her and Penny perched on the edge, a doll in one hand.

Penny looked up at him, gave him that look again, and he stared straight back at her. Would have done anything to have looked into her eyes all day, whispered to her and promised to do better, convinced her how much he loved her.

But he couldn’t say anything, and he knew she didn’t want to hear it anyway. Not right now.

“You showing Mom your things?”

Gabby nodded, her eyes bright. “She didn’t even know about my new favorite toys.”

Daniel moved slowly across the room and sat on the far edge of the bed. “That’s why you have to tell Mommy about all the things you do when she’s away. Every time she calls you.”

Gabby shook her head. “But she’s home now.” In complete denial.

Daniel cringed. If only she were. Home for good, that was. It didn’t seem to matter how many times he told Gabby, she was holding on to her mother being back forever.

“Remember we talked about this, hon,” he told her. “Mom is only back for a week.”

Gabby looked down, fingering the doll on her lap.

“Do you want to play with me?” she asked, shyly watching her mother.

Daniel turned away as Penny shuffled across the bed on her knees to sit beside their daughter.

“I’d love to.”

He stood up and walked from the room as Penny spoke, not wanting to see the tears in Penny’s eyes as she snuggled up besidack ad up bese Gabby.

Because he would have done anything to snuggle right up beside his two girls.

Instead he was heading back down the hall to confirm his accommodation arrangement for the night. Preparing to be alone, instead of with his family.

Daniel squared his shoulders and went outside, needing the fresh air.

He had been such an idiot. A fool.

If he could turn back time, change the decision he’d made, he would do it in a heartbeat.

But there was no changing the past.

Even if it did seem like a long shot, no matter how strained things might be between them, he still believed.

In the power of love. In the strength of their marriage.

He dug his heel into the top of his other foot. Stomped down hard, trying to fight the hot rush of tears as they pressed down hard, burning at the backs of his eyes.

Daniel wiped hard at his face, knuckles into his eyes.

He wasn’t the kind of guy who cried, couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt the sting of tears pierce his eyeballs.

He only had six and a half days to make Penny fall in love with him again, and he was going to make the most of every single minute.

Because he loved his wife and he wasn’t going to walk away without a fight.

Back in the Soldier’s Arms/Here Comes the Groom

CR!93BHZ3MAHS4NVAVVWQG1QCZMZ0ZB

CHAPTER TWO

PENNY made her way back down the hall. She didn’t know whether to be smiling or frowning. Laughing or crying.

Part of her was so overwhelmingly happy about being home, yet it was heartbreaking at the same time. She’d never resented her four years of service, not when the army had given her so much, but being here with Gabby made her realize how much she was missing out on. How much she just wanted to be a mommy.

She saw Daniel sitting on the sofa, feet up on the coffee table as he watched a game of football, volume down low.

“Hey,” she said, letting him know she was standing behind him.

He flicked the television off and swung his feet down. “Where’s Gabby?”

Penny moved slowly around the edge of the sofa and sat down in the chair opposite. She stifled a laugh. Getting Daniel to turn a game off wasn’t usually so simple as her walking into the room.

“She fell asleep while I was reading a story to her. I hope that’s okay?”

She had no idea if she even napped during the day still or not.

Daniel smiled. “Yeah, that’s fine. She wouldn’t go to bed until late last night because she was so excited about you coming home, and she was up at the crack of dawn this morning.”

“Me, too,” Penny said, yawning. “It’s been a long twenty-four hours.”

Daniel nodded, leaning back, like he was starting to relax.

“I still remember my last trip home. It seemed to take forever, but it’s worth it in the end, right?”

They stared at one another, so much unsaid. So much to say.

But right now it was easier to skirt around certain conversations.

“Do you miss it?”

She’d been wondering for so long.

“Yeah,” he said, and she could see the honesty shining through his eyes. “Yeah, I miss it, but I think being home’s worth the sacrifice.”

She bet it was. If she’d had the choice, she’d be home, too. Had thought she would have been.

“I love what I do, Daniel, but this whole stop-loss thing seems so unfair.” Penny rubbed at her temple, tired from thinking about the whole thing. “I’ll never forget that the army paid for my last three years of college, but I’ve done my time.”

“I know.”

She sighed and tried to relax. There was no point going over and over it again. They were entitled to extend her enlistment contract to retain her, end of story. Once this tour was over, she’d be home free, so she had to tough it out.

“Let’s forget my problem,” she said, pleased to change the topic. “How’s your job going?”

Daniel shrugged. “It’s fine, but it’s not the same.”

Penny leaned forward slightly, waiting to hear, wanting to hear what he had to say. Because even though their marriage was in tatters, and being near him, touching him, hurt, she still cared.

“I’m doing contract work for the navy still, and it cuts me up sometimes to see the boys going off for work. Seeing them all together, doing their thing, watching the other naval aviators heading out is tough.”

“While you’re stuck on the ground working on the choppers,” she finished for him.

“Yeah,” he said. “While I’m tinkering with them to get them running properly, and they’re out in the Seahawks.”

She didn’t miss the almost bitter edge to his voice.

They sat in silence, not looking at one another, yet not ready to stop talking either. To get up and walk away.

“Not that I’m complaining,” he quickly corrected himself. “It’s just, I don’t know, different.”

“It’s what we always planned, though, right?” she asked, knowing they were both thinking it.

Him in the navy serving out his eight-year term, her finishing her degree through the army scholarship program then serving for four years. Only she’d never expected to be deployed overseas, let alone retained beyond her specified term.

“Me as a helicopter mechanic and you as a physio with your own practice. The house with the big backyard, maybe even another little one on the way.”

His words seeped through her body. It was the picture-perfect description she’d always imagined. What they’d always talkeing qways tald about.

Penny looked down, couldn’t meet his gaze any longer. Up until a couple of months ago, she’d thought that was still what would be happening. Even if it was going to be a year or so later than they’d expected.

“Penny …”

She held up her hand, strength back, rippling in waves through her body. “Don’t, Daniel. Please, just don’t.” Penny knew what he was going to say. What he was going to bring up.

“I owe it to you, Penny,” he said, voice low now. Like he was in pain. “Please.”

BOOK: Back in the Soldier's Arms
11.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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