Walking into the living room, Riley sat in his chair and reached for the evening paper. He scanned the headlines three times without comprehending a word of what he was reading.

Ten minutes, he decided. He’d give her ten minutes to come to her senses, and if she didn’t, then he was going in after her. He’d demand to know what the hell he’d done that was so terrible, if it came to that.

The frustration ate at him like acid. Usually, when he arrived home from any length of time at sea, he stopped in at the apartment just long enough to drop off his duffel bag and change clothes. Then he’d meet up with his friends and they’d hit the streets and celebrate. This time, not once, from the moment he’d stepped off the Atlantis, had he considered leaving Hannah.

His own ten-minute deadline passed. Tossing aside the evening paper, Riley braced his elbows on his knees and rubbed his hands over his face. So this was what it meant to be married, Riley mused, sighing heavily. To hand a woman his heart and his soul and then have her trample upon it for some imagined wrong.

He knew what she wanted. He hadn’t been fooled by her sweet, docile ways. Everything she’d said and done had been computed to convince him of his wrongs. Now she was looking for him to meekly follow her into the bedroom and beg her forgiveness.

Like hell. If he’d committed some terrible crime, then she’d have to tell him face-to-face instead of hiding herself away in her bedroom, waiting for him to come and grovel at her feet. He’d gladly suffer her indignation before he’d lower himself to that.

Riley’s heart beat high in his throat as he soared to his feet. It would serve her right if he were to disappear, leave her to wonder and fret while he stayed out half the night, carousing with his friends.

He toyed with the idea, fueling it with angry frustration, when his gaze happened upon the oil painting above the fireplace. His breath came in jagged bursts as he recalled the pride and eagerness that had flashed from her eyes as she’d studied his reaction, so eager for his approval.

Had everything she’d said and done been calculated to bring him to his knees? Riley found it hard to believe. Difficult to fathom. Hannah knew little of subterfuge.

He stepped over to the sofa, his steps slow and measured. Picking up the crocheted pillow, he ran his hands over the surface, admiring Hannah’s work. His thoughts were in turmoil, torn between what his heart was saying and what his head was shouting.

Hannah could never love anyone like him. He was too crude, too coarse for someone as gentle and sweet as a preacher’s daughter.

Anger and bitterness swelled up inside him, nearly choking off his breath. Venting his frustration, he bunched up the soft pillow in his hands and tossed it back down to the sofa with a fiery vengeance.

So that was love! he decided, feeling neglected and abused, irritated with himself for peeling open the gates of his heart. The emptiness inside him had never seemed more hollow. He was left vulnerable and alone, and his pride gave him damn little solace.

He’d go to her, he determined, if that was what it took. Have this out, once and for all.

Two steps into the kitchen, he found Hannah. Her hands were gripping her stomach, and when she glanced up at him he found tears in tier eyes. He’d never viewed such stark terror in anyone.

"Riley," she moaned, reaching out to him, "something’s wrong. I’m losing the baby!"

Chapter Nine

Rileys heart dropped to his knees. Without a word he moved forward and swung Hannah into his arms. Not stopping for his coat or anything else he rushed out the front door, slamming it closed with his foot.

Panic clawed at him like a shark’s jaws, but for Hannah’s sake, he dared not reveal his fear. One look at her ashen features told him she was frightened half out of her mind and a hairbreadth from hysteria.

Once she was safely deposited in the front seat, he raced around the car, jumped inside and started the engine. The tires squealed as he roared down the street, leaving a cloud of black smoke in his wake.

"We’re about ten minutes away from the hospital," he said, praying he was able to keep the fear and trembling out of his voice.

"Hurry, please hurry," she begged.

Hannah bit into her lower lip and turned her head away from him, pressing her hands against her stomach, determined to hold on tightly enough to save their child.

"I don’t want to lose my baby," she sobbed. "Oh, Riley, I love him so much." She was in terrible pain, he realized. Her breath came in quick rushes, each accompanied by a small animallike cry. His fears became rampant as he worried that she might hyperventilate.

Riley pulled into the emergency entrance at the hospital in record time and slammed on the brakes. Leaping out of the car, he didn’t even bother to close his door as he sprinted around to Hannah’s side. Scooping her up in his arms, he ran toward the double glass doors that automatically flew open for him.

"My wife!" he shouted when a physician approached. "She’s having a miscarriage." An orderly rushed forward with a gurney, and Riley laid Hannah on it, gripping her hand as they raced down the wide corridor.

Once they were inside a cubicle, the emergency-room staff pulled closed the curtain surrounding the bed. The physician, calm and professional, patted Riley on the shoulder. "It’d be best, son, if you waited outside."

Riley looked to Hannah for confirmation, but her eyes were tightly closed and her lips were moving and he knew she was lost in a world of pain and prayer.

"The baby?" Riley pleaded.

"I’ll do everything I can," the stocky man vowed. "I promise you." His hands gently pushed Riley from the room.

Feeling helpless and full of despair, Riley staggered down the hall, his heart pounding so loudly it stormed in his ears. He was trembling so badly he had to sit down. The waiting room was deserted, and he mechanically lowered himself into a molded plastic chair.

Over the years, Riley had routinely faced danger. Twice he’d stared death in the face and hadn’t flinched. Death had no grip on him, nothing to blackmail him into submission. Whether he lived or died was in the hands of the fates, and he hadn’t particularly cared one way or the other.

Now the bitter taste of fear filled his mouth, swamping his senses with dread that went soul-deep. His breathing turned shallow and he balled his fists, clenching and unclenching them as his heart roared louder than a jet engine.

Riley wanted this child more than he’d ever realized. He hadn’t given much thought to Hannah’s pregnancy while he’d been at sea. He’d been too concerned about his relationship with his wife to think much about their child. Although Hannah’s pregnancy had greatly impacted on his life, Riley had experienced no deep emotion concerning their baby. "Junior" hadn’t seemed real to him.

It wasn’t that way any longer. Riley had touched the bed where his son or daughter would sleep, had held the T-shirt that would warm his or her body. He’d viewed a scrambled photograph, a progress report of his baby’s physical development, and had seen for himself the perfection of this young life. His own hand had pressed against Hannah’s womb, communicating his love to his unborn infant.

Love Junior he did, with a weight that crushed him. A weight so crippling that tremors of fear pulsed through his body as he waited in agony. Waited for some word, some sign of what was happening behind closed doors. Of what was happening to Hannah, happening to Junior, happening to himself.

Whom did one plead with in instances such as this? Fate? Riley didn’t know. Fate had always been a joker to him, playing cruel pranks on him from the time he was born. He wasn’t about to plea-bargain with lady luck.

The stark terror he’d read in Hannah’s eyes returned to haunt him. He felt so damn helpless. Her desperation was as keen as his own. Her fear and pain had been alive in her eyes. And there hadn’t been a damn thing he could do. The last he’d seen before he was forced out of the emergency room was her lips moving in silent, desperate prayer.

God, Riley decided. One spoke with God when there was nowhere else to turn. He wasn’t a man accustomed to religion. There’d never been anything or anyone that he’d needed or wanted badly enough to risk going before the Almighty.

Until now.

He rose awkwardly to his feet, standing as he would before a superior officer. His shoulders were back, his eyes straight ahead, his hands dangling loosely at his sides.

A thick tightness gripped his throat as words escaped him. It didn’t seem right, somehow, to make so important a request without offering something in return. His thoughts stampeded ahead to what he might possibly have to bargain with, but there was nothing. Nothing.

Unable to hold still, Riley started pacing, his mind and his heart confused. "I don’t know why you sent Hannah into my life," he whispered. "But thank you."

He felt a little less inept once he started talking. "I promise you I’ll be a good husband to her---I’m probably going to need some help with that." His intentions had always been good, but he didn’t know much about the way women thought, so if God was willing to give him a few pointers along the way, then Riley would be more than happy to receive them.

Now that he’d breached the barrier of his own self-consciousness, Riley found it wasn’t so difficult to speak his mind.

"I’m not the kind of man who finds it easy to ask for something," he began again. "It seems wrong to come to You with a request and not be able to give something back in return. It’s about Hannah, God, and Junior. I can’t do a thing for either of them. It’s out of my hands entirely. If you’ll take care of them both, I’ll tell you what – I’ll start attending church services with Hannah." It was the best he could do. Heaven knew that would be sacrifice enough for someone who’d only darkened a church door for weddings and funerals. Twice now, she’d invited him to come with her. That sort of thing seemed important to his wife. But then Riley should have expected that; after all, she was a preacher’s daughter.

"If you can think of anything better, let me know," he ended, then in afterthought added, "Amen."

Riley felt a little better after that. He sat back down, analyzing the events of the afternoon. It didn’t take long for him to realize Hannah must have started feeling bad sometime during their dinner. She hadn’t said anything to him. Nothing. He continued to sort through his thoughts, adding up the obvious, when the physician approached.

Riley rose slowly to his feet, his heart beating so hard his rib cage ached. "How is she?"

The physician smiled. "Fine. The baby, too."

The wild sense of relief Riley experienced was beyond words. He went weak with it.

"You can go see her now, if you like."

"Thank you, sir," he said, reaching for the man’s hand and pumping it several times. He started toward the cubicle when the corpsman stopped him.

"Hey, is that car yours? You’re going to have to move it."

He nodded, ignored him and raced back to the small examining room where they’d taken Hannah.

Hannah felt like such a fool. She’d been convinced she was losing the baby, and the fear had struck terror in her heart. In fact, she’d been suffering from a bad case of indigestion.

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