"Well?" she asked, demanding a response from him.

"I don’t want to quarrel over this, Hannah." He was smart enough to recognize a loaded question when he heard one. Smart enough to extract himself as best he could, too. "All I’m saying is that I’d prefer it if you invested as much time in our relationship as you would in a job. There are only so many hours in a day. You can’t do everything, you know."

"In other words you wouldn’t be willing to help with the cooking or the housework?"

Riley was quickly losing his grip on his patience, which had always been in short supply. Hannah seemed to be looking for an excuse to pick a fight with him by tying him up in verbal knots. She had been from the moment he’d arrived home. Hell if he knew what he’d done that was so terrible now.

"I’d be willing to help with the cooking and housework." He fully expected his answer would take the starch out of her arguments. How willing he actually would be to help around the house was another question entirely. Having her there when he walked in the door after a long day with dinner prepared and waiting was a luxury he could easily become accustomed to enjoying.

"What about the times you’re out at sea?"

"What about them?" Frankly he couldn’t understand why that would make any difference. If anything, it was a strong argument to keep her home. With him away, no one would be around to make sure she wasn’t overworking herself.

"I’ll… be bored without a job."

"What makes you say that? The other wives seem to have plenty to do to occupy their time. You will, too."

Once again she seemed to need time to assimilate his words. For several minutes she said nothing. Then, as if by rote, she stepped over to the cupboard and brought down dishes and began to set the table.

"Do you want any help?" He felt downright noble asking. It seemed like a husbandly thing to do.

"No," she said softly, shaking her head. "Dinner will be ready in a few minutes."

Apparently this was the end of their discussion. "What about the job interview?" he asked, trying not to let his feelings on the issue leak into the question.

True, he’d rather she didn’t work, but he wouldn’t stop her if that was what she truly wanted. Once again he felt the fleeting twinge of being truly virtuous.

"I… I’m not sure what I intend to do about the job yet."

Riley felt encouraged by that. At least she wasn’t going to openly defy him, and was willing to take his concerns into consideration. Other than a few rocky places, their marriage was coming along nicely. They were learning the give-and-take necessary to make any relationship work, and Riley couldn’t help feeling good about that.

Dinner was ready twenty minutes later. There was a batch of steaming corn-bread fresh from the oven, and the tureen of hot chili con came. All homemade. All delicious. Riley eyed the table with appreciation, complimenting her.

They ate in silence, and once again Riley noted how she continued to glance his way several times, as though expecting something. What, he wasn’t sure. He complimented her once more on the excellent dinner and made some fleeting remark about never having eaten better, which was true. Before he’d married Hannah, dinners had consisted of microwave specials or something he could grab on the run. Nothing like the home cooking he’d enjoyed since their marriage.

When they’d finished, he helped clear the table. He rinsed the dishes and set them in the dishwasher. With only the two of them, the task was complete in a matter of minutes.

Hannah stored the leftovers in the refrigerator and wiped down the counters. The evening news was on, and Hannah sat on the chair across from Riley’s recliner and picked up her knitting. The sight of her needles working the soft pastel yarn into a blanket for their child had a curious effect upon his heart. It warmed him in ways he was only beginning to understand. It dawned on him suddenly that she loved and wanted this baby.

Glancing up, Hannah found his eyes on hers. She openly glared at him before looking away, as though she deeply resented it was him sitting across from her and not Jerry, the real love of her life. The good feelings he’d experienced a few moments earlier drowned in a sea of resentment.

A heavy dose of anger simmered in him for several minutes before he stood and made himself a cup of instant coffee. Reaching for the evening paper, he worked the crossword puzzle.

"I’d like to visit my father over Christmas," Hannah said, working the knitting needles with a vengeance. She jerked hard on the ball of yarn, then looked up at him as if she fully expected an argument.

"Fine." He rarely made plans for the holidays. Frankly, they didn’t mean that much to him. "Am I included, or would you rather I stayed away?"

Once again she glanced upward, obviously surprised by his question. "Included, of course. We are married."

Riley didn’t know what to read into that comment, if anything.

Following the brief snatch of conversation, the only sound in the entire house was the gentle hum of the dishwasher and the noise coming from the television. Riley thought of several topics he wanted to discuss, but dismissed them all. It was apparent Hannah wasn’t in any mood to chat.

Looking away from her, Riley realized that despite everything, he wanted this marriage to work. For their child’s sake, for Hannah’s sake, for his own peace of mind, Riley was determined to do everything he could to ensure its survival.

He’d taken the biggest gamble of his life by agreeing to marry Hannah. He’d done it without realizing he was playing with a loaded deck, but he was coming to grips with her love for Jerry. The stakes were too high to back down now. Something told him, something deep and primal, that Hannah and their child represented his one chance for finding happiness, and he was taking hold of this opportunity with both hands and holding on tight.

By eight-thirty, right on schedule, she was yawning. Although he pretended an interest in a television program, Riley was aware of Hannah with every fiber of his being. He’d hoped by this time to be able to kiss and hold her whenever the mood struck him, which he knew would be often. Looking at her now, busy tearing out several rows of stitches, her back ramrod straight, Riley marveled that in two weeks of marriage that he’d been allowed to kiss her as often as he had. She’d never looked more untouchable than she did at this moment.

"A penny for your thoughts." Riley couldn’t believe he’d said that. He hated the ineptitude he experienced, attempting to deal with his wife. He felt like a bungling youth when it came to understanding her moods.

"You don’t honestly want to know what I’m thinking," she replied stuffing her knitting into the wicker basket resting on the carpet next to her chair.

"I would," he countered sharply.

She stared at him, and Riley was shocked to read the stark emotion marred by a glistening veneer of tears. Although she battled to conceal the stubborn pride, it burned from her eyes. With some difficulty, she managed to keep the tears at bay. "I… I was just thinking I’d adjust to our marriage a whole lot easier if you behaved more like a husband."

Riley didn’t have time to react before she stood and hurried to her bedroom, closing the door. He intended to follow her when he heard the lock slip noisily into place. Sharply expelling his breath, he stood alone in the living room, wondering what the hell she’d meant by that. Maybe, he mused, he would start acting more like a husband when she started behaving like a wife.

The interview went poorly. As childish as it seemed, Hannah would have liked to blame Riley for that. She’d slept fitfully all night and felt nauseous the moment she lifted her head from the pillow. The bouts of morning sickness had all but disappeared of late, and she delayed getting out of bed as long as she could. By sheer determination she managed to hold down her breakfast until Riley left for work. The last thing she needed or wanted was him fussing over her.

Hannah wasn’t proud of the way she’d acted the night before. She’d been cranky and unreasonable and on the verge of weeping. Her emotions were playing havoc with her, and she hated being so thin-skinned. Riley had hurt her. He didn’t know or understand that, which only complicated matters. If only he’d tell her he was leaving. She’d done everything she knew to prompt the information out of him. It hadn’t worked, and she battled a deep sense of betrayal and regret.

Although she felt physically wretched, she dressed carefully for the interview and went into the office with high expectations. Her credentials were excellent, as were her skills, but as soon as the interviewer learned she was pregnant, everything had taken a turn for the worse. It seemed the office was interested in someone older. In other words, a secretary beyond her child-bearing years.

Riley was home by the time she returned. He stood when she walked in the door, glancing anxiously in her direction.

"I didn’t get the job," she announced on her way through the living room. Her voice shook slightly, and she did her level best to ignore him. Dealing with one disappointment at a time was her limit.

He followed her into the kitchen. "What happened?"

"It seems they aren’t interested in a secretary after all. They want a… a grandma."

"A what?"

"Someone who isn’t pregnant," she explained tersely. "Only they dressed it in more delicate terms. I could sue them."

"There’ll be other job interviews."

Hannah had fully expected Riley to gloat when he learned she hadn’t gotten the job. He didn’t want her working, and had said as much. Having him gently reassure her only served to confuse her. Her throat thickened – something she’d always hated because it was a sure sign she was close to tears. Hannah hated to cry. Some women had perfected the art of weeping with a natural feminine grace. That wasn’t the case with Hannah. Her skin got blotchy, her nose ran, and if she tried to speak, her words sounded as though they were coming out of a pepper grinder.

"I’ll never get a job," she said, hating it when her voice cracked.

"Sure, you will."

Hannah glared at Riley. She was depressed and miserable. The last thing she wanted was for her pragmatic husband to pretend to be Mary Sunshine, especially when she was fully aware of the fact he didn’t want her to take the job in the first place.

"I…1 find your optimism to be downright hypocritical." She tossed the words at him with a vengeance.

"Hannah, whether you decide to take on an outside job is entirely up to you. I voiced my concerns and left the matter in your hands. Better than anyone, you know how much you can or cannot do."

"You’re singing a different tune than you were yesterday."

He nodded. "I talked it over with a friend."

"Steve, I suppose. After all, Cheryl’s employed full-time, isn’t she?"

His eyes flew to hers. "How’d you know…?"

"She stopped in the other morning to introduce herself." Hannah refused to look away, hoping he could see the pain that was in her heart. She was doing everything she knew to be the best wife she could to Riley Murdock. More than anything, she longed for this marriage to work, but they didn’t stand a chance if her husband insisted upon keeping her emotionally at arm’s length. He should have told her he’d be leaving for six weeks the minute he’d learned that he’d been assigned sea duty. It cut deep slices against the grain of her pride whenever she realized how short a time they had left to be together. In a matter of hours he was scheduled to leave for heaven only knew how long – weeks, possibly months – and he hadn’t seen fit to so much as tell her. But then she was holding him at arm’s length herself, refusing to make love with him.

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