Seventy days. Hannah’s mind went blank. Spring was when their baby was due. Alarm gripped her chest, and she struggled to conceal the apprehension. It was bad enough being cut off from her father and friends and from all that was familiar to her, but knowing she’d be facing the birth of her baby without Riley terrified Hannah. She pushed her fear aside, determined to deal with it later.

"I wish I could be here Friday night," Cheryl added, downing the last of her tea. "I would have been content to meet you then, but I’m scheduled to work. The next time the guys get together for poker, the two of us will have our own night out."

Hannah managed a smile and nod. "That sounds like fun."

They spoke a few minutes more, then Cheryl had to leave for the hospital. Hannah saw her to the door and impulsively hugged her, grateful Steve’s wife had taken the time to stop by and introduce herself. Their conversation had been a fruitful one.

For hours afterward Hannah felt numb. A disquieting, uncomfortable knot lodged itself in her stomach. In three short days Riley would be leaving for a lengthy patrol, and he had yet to say a word to her about it. Nor had he mentioned it was likely he’d be at sea during the birth of their child. Surely a wife should be entitled to such information. Hannah felt she had a right to know. Every right.

She was frying up hamburger for chili when Riley walked into the house two hours ahead of schedule. He hesitated when he saw her. "You’re not ready," he said, his tone lightly accusing.

"For what?" She had a difficult time burying her sarcasm. Perhaps there was something else he’d purposely forgotten to mention. He seemed to think she was a mind reader.

"The doctor’s appointment."

"Oh… dear." After her conversation with Cheryl, her appointment with the Navy physician had completely slipped her mind.

Flustered, she headed toward the bathroom. "I’ll only be a minute." She ran a brush through her hair, applied a fresh coat of lip gloss and changed her top all within five minutes. When she returned to the kitchen, she found Riley adding the cooked meat to the simmering kidney beans. He replaced the lid on the Crockpot.

As they drove to the clinic, Hannah glanced over at her husband several times, amused by how well his personality was portrayed in his facial features. His chin was nothing short of arrogant. His jaw was as sharply chiseled as his pride. His eyes and nose and mouth – every part of him gave the overall impression of strength and power. Yet he was a stranger to her, sharing little of his thoughts and even less of himself. She felt like an intruder into his life, extra baggage he was forced to drag around with him.

Riley must have felt her scrutiny, and when he returned her look, she blushed and dropped her gaze to her lap, then waited a moment before nonchalantly glancing at him again.

She felt dangerously close to repeating everything she’d learned that morning from Cheryl Morgan. She would have if she hadn’t been anxious to learn how long it would take Riley to tell her of his plans. She was his wife, although she was more certain than ever that he didn’t want her in his life and only tolerated her presence. No, Hannah decided, she’d say nothing. She would play his waiting game.

Riley was anxious about Hannah’s health. He’d never known anyone could be so pale. Her coloring had something to do with it; but it was more than that, far more, and he was concerned. He intended on talking to the doctor, to reassure himself she’d be all right while he was out to sea.

The fact he’d be gone for a few weeks didn’t sit well with him, either. He hadn’t broken the news to her yet, delaying the inevitable as long as possible for fear of upsetting her. There’d been enough upheaval in their lives in the past few weeks without this. When it came right down to it, Riley realized he’d rather not leave Hannah, but the training schedule wasn’t optional. Damn little in the Navy was.

Riley loved the sea, loved life aboard the nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Atlantis. But he didn’t want to leave Hannah. Not so soon. Not yet.

He’d had several days to assimilate what he’d learned about her and her former fiancé. It didn’t sit well with him that Hannah loved another man. He tried not to think about it, to push the other man to the far reaches of his mind and pretend Jerry had never existed. It was the only way Riley could deal with knowing Hannah might be married to him, but she would never truly belong to him.

Hannah made Riley feel vulnerable. He didn’t understand what it was about her that touched him in ways no other woman ever had. One hurt look from her had the most curious effect upon him. It was as though someone had viciously kicked him in the solar plexus. The irony of it all was that the person Riley sought to protect her from most was himself. His insensitivity. His pride. His anger.

If what he felt for Hannah was love, Riley couldn’t say. His brushes with the emotion were best described as brief. He cared about her in ways that had never concerned him with others. That was understandable, though; no other woman had ever carried his child. He was anxious about her health; she was a fragile thing, delicate and rare. It seemed all he could do was make her as comfortable as possible, and that felt like damn little.

Other than a few slips, Riley was working hard at gaining her trust. Convincing her to share his bed was motivation enough. He longed to have her by his side, to rest his head upon her stomach and feel for himself the new life her body nurtured. Every once in a while he’d lie awake and grow wistful, dreaming of the time she would willingly turn into his arms and snuggle her lush womanly body next to his own. Marriage had made him fanciful, Riley decided. He’d enjoyed the physical delights a woman’s body could give him from the time he was in his teens, but he seldom spent the night with a woman. Hannah had been an exception from the first. He’d wanted her the night he met her in Seattle, and nothing had changed. The fact she was in love with another man didn’t seem to matter.

The time Dr. Underwood, the obstetrician, spent with Hannah added to Riley’s concern about his wife’s pregnancy. The doctor took several minutes to talk to them both, and ordered blood tests for Hannah.

Riley’s concern must have registered because Dr. Underwood took a few extra minutes to explain the reasons for the additional tests. He strongly suspected Hannah was still anemic, and as soon as the results were available he would write a prescription for a higher dosage of iron tablets. There were several questions Riley had, as well, although it was apparent Hannah felt it irrelevant to have Riley bring up her sleeping habits and the fact she still suffered from occasional bouts of morning sickness.

Riley was silent on the short drive back to the base. His mind was digesting the answers the doctor had given him. If the truth be known, he was worried. Damn worried.

"You’re being awfully quiet," she said as they exited the freeway. "Is something troubling you?" Casting anxious glances his way, she seemed to be waiting for him to make some declaration. Riley hadn’t a clue what she wanted him to say.

"I’m fine," he answered shortly.

She gazed out the window then, turning her head away from him. Feeling bad for the brusqueness with which he’d responded to her, he reached for her hand, lacing her fingers with his own. "I’m concerned you’re not eating the way you should be," he said as an explanation.

"I’m very conscious of everything that goes into my mouth."

"You pick at your food. I swear you don’t eat enough to keep a bird alive."

"That’s ridiculous."

Riley swallowed a tart reply. The last thing he wanted to do was argue with her, although she seemed to be looking for an excuse herself. They’d done too much of that in the past few days. He didn’t want to leave for the training exercises with matters strained between them – at least not any more strained than they already were.

"I’ve gained two pounds since I was in to see my family doctor," she said, apparently unwilling to let the matter rest.

He didn’t respond, knowing it wouldn’t help to chastise her further. "You promise to take the iron tablets?"

"Of course," she returned, then hesitated before adding, "Junior is my baby, too, you know."

Junior. Riley cracked a smile. He’d nearly forgotten there was a baby involved in all this. His primary concern had been for Hannah, so much so that he’d forgotten the very reason she was sitting at his side.

When they got back to the house, there was a message on the answering machine informing Hannah of a job interview scheduled for the following afternoon. If she couldn’t make the appointment, she was to contact the personnel office first thing in the morning.

Hannah’s eyes brightened as she listened to the message, and she smiled over at Riley.

"The job’s right here on the base," she said, sounding pleased.

"Doing what?" In an effort to disguise his uneasiness about the whole issue of her working, Riley opened the refrigerator and brought out a chicken leg, munching on it although he wasn’t the least bit hungry.

"Secretarial work. I…was employed at an insurance agency before… before we were married."

Riley nodded. "Is the position you applied for full-time?"

"I… I think so. It must be."

"I see."

Hannah glared at him as though he’d attacked her family’s heritage. "Why’d you say it like that?"

"Like what?" He pretended not to understand, although he had a fair idea what she was talking about. He wasn’t keen on her taking on a forty-hour workweek – not when her health was so delicate. Riley swore he never knew anyone who required nine hours of rest a night the way she did, although Dr. Underwood claimed this need for extra sleep would soon pass.

"Like… like you don’t approve of my working."

"I don’t." There, he’d said it, bold as could be. "I don’t happen to think it’s a good idea."

"Why not?" Hannah demanded. "Because of the baby?"

"Yes. And other factors."

"What other factors?"

Riley sighed. Already their voices were raised, and he could see he wasn’t going to be able to extract himself from this easily. He tossed the chicken leg into the garbage and washed his hands, carefully considering his words. Hannah was staring at him, impatiently waiting. "You claimed you needed some time to adjust to our marriage."

"What’s that got to do with anything?"

"I feel you should put your efforts into our relationship."

She took her own sweet time to digest his words, but when he looked in her direction, he noticed she didn’t seem pleased with his straightforward answer.

"In other words, if I agree to sleep with you, you’d approve of my working."

That wasn’t what he’d meant in the least. Yes, he’d been honest enough to admit he wanted to make love to her. He’d made that fact abundantly clear on their wedding day. A brother-and-sister relationship didn’t interest him then, and it appealed to him even less now. Copyright 2016 - 2024