"Hannah?" He spoke her name softly when he noticed the moist trail of tears that streaked her face. "Would it help any if I told you I was sorry?" He didn’t know what he was apologizing for, but it was apparent he’d hurt her, and knowing that didn’t sit right.

She stopped and looked up at him through narrowed, suspicious eyes.

"Whatever I said, I didn’t mean it," he tried once more.

"You don’t remember?" She sounded incredulous.

"No," he admitted, reaching for her hand. "Come back to the house and we’ll talk about it. All right?"

She seemed to be trapped with indecision. He raised his hands to her face and gently rubbed the tears from her cheeks. Each one was an accusation against him. His heart constricted at how pale her features were, how fragile she looked. It demanded every ounce of control he possessed not to take her in his arms and beg her forgiveness. He was a reckless bastard to inflict his drunkenness on so delicate a soul, and he silently vowed never to do it again.

"Come on," he urged, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and steering her back toward the house. She resisted momentarily.

"You aren’t wearing socks," she apparently felt obliged to point out.

"I didn’t have time to slip them on. My wife took off on me," he said as a means of making a small joke. "I had no idea where she was headed."

"Church," she admitted in a tight whisper.

"Church," he repeated wryly as the fear evaporated within him. From the determined way in which she was running away from him, Riley had been convinced she was walking out of his life. He’d rushed after her, nearly paralyzed with the fear that she was going to disappear again. He couldn’t allow that – not if it was within his power to stop her.

"Come back with me?" he asked, looking down the street to their house.

"I’ll…I suppose I could attend the second service," she answered softly.

He kept his arm around her as they strolled back to the house, savoring those few moments that he could hold her in his embrace. There were so few opportunities to feel close to her. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling, needing Hannah, wanting her. She’d have done them both a favor if she’d chosen someone else that night; but despite everything, he was pleased she hadn’t.

"How’s Junior this morning?" he asked, wanting to make light conversation.


"And Junior’s mommy? How’s she feeling?"

"About as good as Junior’s daddy."

Riley grinned and rubbed his chin across the top of her head. "That bad?"

"I… I didn’t sleep much last night."

"We’ll both take a nap this afternoon," he promised, and in his mind he was thinking how good it would be if he could convince her to lie down with him.

The first week after they’d settled into their new home was a busy one for Hannah. She scheduled her first appointment with the Navy physician and went looking for a part-time job.

It was a rainy, cold morning on Thursday, and Hannah had just put some kidney beans on the stove to soak, thinking she’d make a batch of chili for dinner, when there was a knock at the front door.

She opened it to find a tall, slender woman with bright brown eyes standing on the other side. "Hello," she said, grinning broadly. "I know I’m supposed to wait for our husbands to introduce us, but I couldn’t stay away a minute longer. I’m Cheryl Morgan, Steve’s wife." She extended her hand to Hannah.

They exchanged a brief handshake while Hannah led the way into the kitchen. "Steve," she repeated, then remembered. "He helped us move."

"Right," Cheryl said with quick nod. "I would have come along, too, but I was working." Hannah noted they were around the same age and knew immediately that she was going to like Cheryl Morgan.

"When Steve came home and told me Riley was married, I couldn’t wait to meet you. I hope you don’t mind me stopping in unannounced this way."

"Of course not. I’ve been bored to tears all morning." Hannah put the teapot on to boil and brought down two cups and saucers. "I suppose…Riley’s marriage must have come as a shock."

"I’ll say," Cheryl agreed, reaching for one of the sugar cookies Hannah had set on the table and crossing her long legs. "I plied Steve with questions, but he seemed rather close-mouthed about the whole thing."

Not wanting to explain their marriage and the pregnancy both at once, Hannah busied herself readying the tea, attempting to disguise her uneasiness. "It happened quickly."

"A whirlwind courtship. How romantic."

Hannah wasn’t sure how to respond to that. A whirlwind was right, but it hadn’t been much of a courtship. Not with her father and Chaplain Stewart running the show.

Once the water was boiling, Hannah added it to the teapot, leaving it to steep a few moments before pouring. "I’m so pleased you stopped by. I was beginning to wonder if I was going to meet anyone on the base."

"I’m glad I stopped by, too." Cheryl paused and slowly shook her head. "That Riley is a sly dog. He had me worried sick he was going to marry – "

"Judy," Hannah supplied for Cheryl when she stopped abruptly. For a moment her newfound friend looked as though she wanted to stand up and grab back the words.

"Then you know about her?"

Hannah nodded without elaborating. She knew her name and that Riley claimed she didn’t mean a thing to him, but beyond that she was in the dark.

Cheryl slapped her hand over her chest. "You’ll have to forgive me. I have this terrible habit of saying whatever’s on my mind. I can’t seem to stop myself."

"Don’t worry. You haven’t offended me." Hannah smiled as she added sugar to her tea and stirred lightly. "I’ll admit I don’t know a lot. Riley hasn’t said much. But from what I gathered, they’d been seeing each other regularly."

"They were pretty thick in the beginning of the summer," Cheryl explained, sipping from her cup. "Then the relationship cooled. Judy is… nice, don’t get me wrong. But she’s accustomed to getting what she wants, and she’d set her sights on Riley. I don’t think she took kindly to his sudden loss of interest."

Hannah wasn’t sure how to comment, so she simply nodded, hoping that would suffice.

"I know why Riley married you," Cheryl said, not unkindly.

Hannah dropped her gaze as color crept up her neck. Naturally Steve would have told his wife about the pregnancy; that only made sense. Cheryl was probably also aware Hannah and Riley weren’t sharing a bedroom, too.

"You’re perfect for someone like Riley."

"I…am?" It came out in the form of a question rather than the positive statement she’d intended.

"Absolutely perfect. He’s this rough-and-tough macho guy. The strong, silent type who’s too stubborn for his own good. I’m sure you know what I mean."

Hannah was quick to agree with a nod.

"For a long time after I first met Riley, he made me uncomfortable," Cheryl admitted, glancing anxiously toward Hannah. "He isn’t an easy man to know. It’s impossible to figure out what he’s thinking. He keeps everything to himself. Even though Steve’s probably his best friend, he didn’t know about you."

No one knew about her, but Hannah understood what Cheryl was saying. Riley kept most of his thoughts to himself. It was what had made these past few weeks so difficult. They’d sit down across the dinner table from each other and he’d ask her a few questions about her day and share nothing of his own. Her few attempts at drawing him into conversation had been met with silence. Yet he was genuinely concerned about her. Solicitous. Hannah knew he was trying as hard as he knew how to make everything right for her.

Sunday morning had been a turning point. They’d both seemed to regret the events of the day before and worked hard at overcoming the hurt they’d inflicted on each other. Riley had driven her to church and then returned later to pick her up. They’d talked more that day than the entire previous week. When she’d set dinner on the table, he had raved about her efforts and then insisted upon doing the dishes himself.

"It took me a year or more to feel at ease with Riley," Cheryl continued.

A year! Hannah groaned inwardly. They maintained a fragile peace even now. He was concerned about her health and that of their baby. He was the one who insisted she make a doctor’s appointment and that she schedule it at a time when he could go in with her. He hadn’t argued with her about finding a job, but she knew from his lack of enthusiasm that he’d prefer it if she remained home. But he hadn’t insisted she not look for employment.

Thus far, her efforts had been restricted to part-time office positions at the base. Several were available, and she’d gone in to fill out the paperwork and was told she’d be contacted for an interview sometime soon. For now, all she could do was be patient.

"As I said earlier, you’re a perfect complement to Riley," Cheryl remarked, munching on her second cookie. "You’re gentle and sweet. What I want to know is how that crusty hardheaded sailor ever met someone like you."

Chapter Six

"How we met?" Hannah repeated slowly. Rather than confess the truth, she glanced shyly in Cheryl’s direction and said, "That’s rather an involved story, and if you don’t mind, I’d prefer to leave it for another time."

"Of course," Cheryl returned, easily appeased. She glanced anxiously at her watch. "I’ve got to be at the hospital in an hour. If I’m not careful, the time will slip away from me."

"You work at the hospital?" Cheryl nodded. "In Labor and Delivery." Hannah brightened. "Really? That must be interesting work."

"Believe me, it is. I find it incredible how many babies decide to be born while Daddy’s out to sea. Speaking of which," she said, waving her hand as she hurriedly finished a sip of tea, "isn’t it the pits Riley and Steve are leaving for that training session? I hate it when the Navy does this, but then I should be accustomed to the way the military works by now. Steve isn’t any more thrilled about this than I am, and I bet Riley feels the same way."

Hannah hadn’t a clue what Cheryl was talking about, but she didn’t want the other woman to know it. If Riley was going on deployment, he hadn’t shared the news with her. Hannah felt lost in the dark, groping around, searching for meaning. She forced a smile when she noticed Steve’s wife anxiously studying her. "The pits is right."

"So soon after you two are married."

"Do they know exactly when they’ll be going?" Hannah hoped she effectively disguised the eagerness in her voice. She felt hollow inside, as if a giant void had opened up and exposed what a farce her marriage really was. It hurt more than she thought possible for Riley to have hidden this from her.

"It looks like they’re scheduled to head out Monday morning, but I doubt it’ll be a full cruise. At least, that’s what the scuttlebutt claims. They should be home before Christmas, at any rate, although I fully expect them to be gone the entire seventy days this spring."

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