Authors: Annabel Wolfe
“I need to talk to you about that.”
That had an ominous ring to it. So far they’d been civilized to the extent they spoke through their lawyers for the most part, and besides, Peter had been gone, so there wasn’t much of a chance for them to actually
to each other. He really hoped that, if nothing else, it wouldn’t get ugly. Kathy—the one he loved and married—was not a venal person, but he’d been told by just about everyone he knew that there was no such thing as a pleasant divorce.
“You said you didn’t want the house.” He shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it over a chair, realizing she still hadn’t really looked at him. She wore some kind of a sundress with thin straps, and in the semi-gloom, her shoulders were bare and smooth, her shining dark hair a sleek fall down her back.
As always, she was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen.
“I’ve changed my mind about that. I want it after all.”
“A simple phone call to tell me that would have sufficed.” He wasn’t irritated precisely, but he was tired and travel worn and a long hot shower followed by a stiff bourbon would be nice. “Why are you sitting here in the dark anyway?”
“I…” She stopped, and then shook her head. There was a suspicious hint of tears in her voice.
Suddenly, he didn’t think this visit was about the house at all. Just what the hell was up?
He went over and switched on the bedside lamp.
She looked at him for the first time, and he hadn’t been wrong about the tears. There were crystalline drops on her long dark lashes and just a hint of smudge in her mascara. At thirty-two she was as striking as they day he’d met her a decade ago, and his focus strayed to her trembling lips as he remembered what it was like to make love to her…
Shock rolled over him in a wave then as his gaze dropped lower.
To the very rounded contour of her stomach, her hands clasped protectively over that conspicuous curve.
He stared at her, speechless, his arms at his sides, his brain on total lockdown.
Kathy lifted her chin a fraction and wiped away a stray tear with a finger. “I swear to you, if you ask me if it is yours, I will never speak to you again. I’m almost seven months. Do the math.”
That was nearly impossible considering he felt as if the whole universe had shifted, but he said in a hoarse voice, “Our trip to Brown County…that little bed and breakfast? Jesus, Kathy, were you ever going to tell me?”
“I’m telling you now.”
“Half a year later?” He was incredulous and couldn’t hide it. She was pregnant and hadn’t
“Have you been here so we could have this discussion?”
That was hard to argue. And why she’d walked out in the first place. He floundered for a defense and really couldn’t find one. “A big operation,” he said finally. “We had a team trapped behind enemy lines…maybe you saw it on the news. We thought they’d all been killed but then found out they were POWs. I inherited the problem when Rankin retired for health issues… Boy or girl, do we know?”
We? Wrong choice of words, buddy
For all you know you only get the privilege of the sperm donation and a chance to pay child support for next eighteen years
His wife—she was still his wife—managed a tremulous smile. “Boy.”
What did he say now? They were in the middle of a divorce…this was seriously not an easy moment to manage, and he was used to making decisions that could be life or death for many people.
But his own life? That was not at all under control.
He had a million questions…that went without saying.
How have you been feeling? Is this an easy pregnancy? The baby is healthy, right? Names, have you thought about names? When exactly are you due, because I’m supposed to fly back to Washington in a few weeks, and…
He sat down next to her and hesitated for a moment before he reached over and slid his fingers along the curve of her cheek and then touched her mouth briefly. She allowed it, and that was something. “What do we do now?”
She whispered, “I don’t think I know. That’s why I’m here.”
Tentatively, he laid his hand over her belly. A child. He was moved beyond words. “I think I understand now why you want to keep the house.”
She nodded. “The big back yard, four bedrooms… I will have to move from my apartment anyway and you are never home.”
He winced. It was true. “Can’t we negotiate?”
“I’m not the leader of a terrorist cell, Peter.”
“Everything in life involves compromise. And I am the father of your child and still your husband at this moment. I’d like to bring to the table I never wanted the divorce in the first place.”
For an influential man who did so many things right, Peter did a few things wrong.
It wasn’t intentional, but it still happened.
On the plus side, he was sensitive—it made him a talented commander—but yet able to see past the small costs as opposed to the big ones, and at the end of the day, one of the casualties was their marriage.
Kathy didn’t just love him—he was the love of her life, and she knew it. The day she’d found out she was pregnant she’d already made the decision to leave him, so the joy had been bittersweet. There was nothing she wanted more than to have his child, but she wasn’t sure she could live with his job.
But he was blind too often to the nuances of mundane reality, like his life at home was an afterthought. She’d felt set aside one too many times and it rankled.
There was no doubt she was torn.
Into one million pieces. She realized he was not intentionally absent, but there was a devotion to duty that surpassed his devotion to her.
Some men are born great and some have greatness thrust upon them
In his case she thought it was both.
He certainly wasn’t ordinary, in any way. The physical part of it was undeniable, and even now, as they sat there in this particularly transitional moment in their life, she felt the pull of his magnetism. There was nothing she wanted more than for him to take her in his arms and promise it would all be different.
Which was exactly why she hadn’t contacted him before now.
She cleared her throat and gently extracted her hand from his clasp. “Let’s make sure we understand each other. There is no table. Got it, Colonel?”
As if she hadn’t thought about this for the past six months. The moment she realized she was pregnant, she’d had to make decision after decision, but not just for herself. Now she was deciding for two.
Or three, if Pete counted, and he did.
His fair hair was a little longer than usual, which spoke of his duty assignment, which meant out of the country at least half the time—she was a military wife and knew the signs. In contrast, his eyes were almost a topaz color, clear and amber, and she could see both the joy and confusion there. His features were chiseled—he was a very handsome man—and at the moment his expression was unreadable.
“Never in our lives,” she confessed, looking away, “did I think we’d be in a place where we did not know what to say to each other.”
“I love you.”
, she didn’t need. Not to mention the feathering of his touch over the curve of her stomach, at the moment swollen with their child as he grew inside her.
“Pete,” she whispered.
“I love you enough I can forgive you for shutting me out of something that should have been mine as well as yours.”
“I might be. I haven’t processed it yet…” His hand slipped to her thigh and then he removed it, his face somber. “I’ve missed a lot, but I am going to concede I wouldn’t have been here anyway.”
“No, you wouldn’t.”
Damn right, she was mad. Furious. He just never seemed to see it, and that had made everything worse. She’d tried playing nice. It didn’t work. Unless you held a nuclear bomb pointed at the United States of America, it was impossible to hold his attention. “You have to admit for the past thirteen months you’ve just been gone. Even when you were here, you were somewhere else.”
He audibly took in a breath. “Kath, the lives of a number of people were in my hands and I had to make some tough calls. I really can’t tell you much more than that. It is simple and complicated at once. I get it. Having someone tell you this is the limit of the information available has made me crazy more than once.”
He wasn’t crazy. That was part of the problem. He was entirely too intelligent and aware, and there was a part of her that wondered since the country needed men and women exactly like him, how selfish it was to not want to share him with everyone else.
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few
Only this wasn’t a
movie and he wasn’t just any heroic figure, he was her husband, and while she’d been fed up and frustrated and willing to walk out the door, she’d discovered something interesting in the past half a year.
“I don’t know if I can live without you,” she whispered, looking up at him, their mouths inches apart. “But I can’t promise you I can live with you either. If you have a suggestion, I’d love to hear it. Be honest with me, Pete…are we better off with you or without you? Every single time I told myself I should pick up the phone and tell you about the baby I stopped, and it took me six months to come to a decision and I still don’t know if it is the right one.”
His hand lifted to touch her hair, just a feathering of his fingers through the loose strands. “Does that mean you’re coming back?”
She was sure he had no idea how many hours she’d spent awake in the dark wondering about what she would say if she was asked just that question.
In the end, Kathy took in a deep breath. “I don’t know.”
“Please consider it. God knows I have leave coming. I’ll move heaven and earth to be here for the delivery.”
His smile was slow, and not quite too late, though she had been starting to wonder if it was ever going to surface. “I like you this way. It’s very sexy. I didn’t realize I would feel so…much.”
The opposite was true for her. She’d known exactly what she’d feel, and when he tentatively bent his head to brush his mouth gently against hers, she kissed him back, one hand coming up to rest on the muscled strength of his shoulder. Tears stung her eyes. “I missed you,” she whispered against his lips. “And I wish I’d never have to tell you that again.”
Nicole and Eric arrived separately, Eric parking his sports car far out on the grassy edge of the drive, a little bit away from the already long line of vehicles. By the time Nicole pulled in fifteen minutes later, the cookout was well underway, the backyard full of people both under the tent Jack’s mother had rented and strolling around in the grass.
At first he’d objected, half-laughing when she called it a “reverse wake”, but then he acknowledged it was just as well to see all his old friends and the relatives who could make it all at once. At least fifty people were expected, so he figured by the end of the evening he’d be weary of back slaps and affectionate hugs, but at least that would be over.
“This will be the hard part,” Eric murmured, standing next to him, casual in worn jeans and a Purdue T-shirt exactly like his favorite shirt from their college days, a plastic cup in his hand. “For the rest of this party how the three of us act toward each other is going to be under a microscope.”
Jack took a sip of his own beer. While his mother had promised she wouldn’t go to too much trouble, she’d ordered a keg of beer, there were coolers full of ice and bottled water, liters of soda, and his dad was at the grill already, flipping hamburgers and cooking ribs. Casual might apply, but “no trouble” did not.
He replied, “I hear you there, brother.”
Nicole found his mother first and they hugged for a long, poignant moment and when they released each other, Jack saw his mother wipe her eyes. The sun was warm on his shoulders, but he felt a small chill. He could have so easily lost all of this. All the laughter, the smell of freshly mown grass, and most of all the woman who glanced over and met his eyes. Of course she looked beautiful on this lovely afternoon, but he suspected she always would to him.
“I say we play it however she wants to play it.”
Eric glanced over at him. “I agree. Did you discuss it with her?”
“No. You?” Jack asked it neutrally. He’d talked to Nicole a couple of times this past week, but she’d been at work during the day and so had Eric, and besides, he was still trying to sort out his sudden return to life. Not all that simple when it came to the paperwork.
“No. Just trying to let her work through it.” His best friend also had that very same lack of inflection.
“We are on the same page then.”
Jack laughed ruefully. “Apparently when it comes to her.”
As usual, she didn’t flinch but walked toward where they stood together, the light picking up the golden glimmer of her hair. “Nice day for a party,” she said by way of greeting, her smile neutral and poised. She didn’t kiss either of them, or even offer a hug, and Jack wasn’t all that surprised.