For days she’d been anxiously waiting for Riley’s return. They’d parted in anger, and she had no way of knowing what his mood would be once he returned. After the horrible way they’d treated each other, he might wish to end their marriage. The pains had started early that afternoon, long before she’d had anything to eat – small, barely distinguishable cramps that she’d dismissed as nerves, which in fact they were.

It was later, during dinner, that the sharp, hard, contractionlike spasms had started. Not knowing what they were, she’d tried to ignore them, hide them from Riley, hoping they’d go away. Instead they’d grown more intense while she was doing the dishes. Not wanting to alarm her husband, she’d excused herself as soon as she could and gone into her bedroom. If she lay down and rested, she’d reasoned, it might help to ease the pain.

Instead the cramps had grown steadily worse, so piercing and constant that she’d convinced herself she was suffering a miscarriage. Her fear and panic had added to her physical distress – at least that was the doctor’s explanation. Nevertheless she felt like such an idiot, frightening Riley the way she had. He’d driven like a madman in his rush to get her to the hospital, and it had been for naught.

"Hannah?" Riley pulled back the white curtain and stepped inside. How pale he looked, colorless and stricken as if he’d aged ten years in the last thirty minutes.

She held her arms out to him, and he hastened to her side, gathering her in his embrace and holding her so tightly against him that he nearly stole her breath.

"You’re all right?" he asked, brushing the hair away from her face, examining her as though he could read in her eyes everything he needed to know.

She blushed and nodded. "The baby, too."

He grinned at that. "I heard." He pulled a chair to her bedside and sat down. He took hold of her hand, gripped it in both his own and pressed it to his cheek. "Tell me what happened."

"I…I’m not exactly sure. I started feeling pains earlier this afternoon."

"Why didn’t you say something? I’m your husband – you should have told me." He sounded so angry, and with good reason, she supposed; but that didn’t restrain the tears from flooding her eyes, brimming and spilling down her face.

"I’m sorry," he added quickly, once he viewed her distress. "I didn’t mean to shout. It’s just that…"

"I’m the one who’s sorry," she said between sniffles. "I feel just dreadful putting everyone through this trouble for… for a case of nerves."

"Nerves," Riley bellowed loud enough to shake the windows. He slumped back down into the chair and rubbed his hand down his face. "Nerves," he repeated, as if he hadn’t heard her correctly the first time.

"Hey, buddy," the corpsman said, walking abruptly into the room, "I told you before, you’re going to have to move your car. You’re blocking the roadway."

Riley looked at him as though seeing a ghost, then turned back to Hannah. "Are they going to let you come home?"

She nodded eagerly. "The doctor gave me something to settle my stomach, but he wants to check me in another ten minutes and see how I’m feeling."

"You gonna move that car? Or are you going to force us to tow it away?"

"I’ll move it," Riley answered without looking at the impatient corpsman. Riley paused long enough to kiss Hannah, shook his head and then turned and walked away.

She might have imagined it – in fact Hannah was sure she had – but as her husband started out the door, she thought she’d heard him mumble something about indigestion and God not playing fair.

Sunday morning the alarm woke Hannah. She reached out, turned off the buzzer and pulled the blankets over her shoulders, wrapping them around her.

Three days had passed since her episode at the hospital, and she still hadn’t forgiven herself for creating such a terrible fuss and alarming Riley the way she had.

He’d taken it all in good humor, teasing her about it, but always in fun, being careful not to embarrass her.

They were much more at ease with each other now. The terrible tension that had existed between them the first awkward weeks of their marriage had disappeared.

As she lay in bed, savoring the warmth, she mulled over the strange events of the past few days. Riley had been so gentle with her, solicitous, making few demands on her.

Too few.

She’d hoped once he’d returned from sea duty that he’d say something or make some token gesture toward inviting her into his bed.

Thus far it hadn’t happened. If Hannah were more worldly or a bit more sophisticated, she would have approached him herself. But she’d hoped her husband would make it apparent that he wanted the two of them sharing a bed. Perhaps she’d ruined everything early on when he’d asked her to make love and she’d callously rejected him. A hundred times since, Hannah had regretted it. She’d been so foolish. Her pride was hurting them both.

Perhaps Riley, disgusted by her attitude, didn’t intend to ask her again. Perhaps he was waiting for her to voluntarily come to him. She mulled over the thought several moments, wondering how she’d go about it. Should she broach the subject herself? Hannah didn’t know how she’d do it without becoming flustered and red-faced.

While he’d been at sea, she’d often gone shopping with Cheryl. One Saturday, a week before the men were due home, the two had gone into a lingerie shop at the Kitsap Mall. Cheryl had bought a skimpy black nightie with a fur hem. She’d joked that the hem was there to keep her neck warm.

While they’d been in the shop, a lovely peach-colored silk gown had caught Hannah’s eye. Cheryl had convinced Hannah it was perfect with her coloring, and with a little encouragement from the saleslady, Hannah had purchased the gown.

The night before, she’d trifled with the idea of putting it on for Riley. She hadn’t, caving in to her insecurities instead, convinced her pregnancy was too advanced to be sexy.

Sexy. She smiled to herself. Women who were nearly six months pregnant weren’t seductive looking no matter what they wore to entice their husbands. No, the peach gown wouldn’t work at this late date. She needed something else – something that would convince her husband she wanted him. Only she wasn’t sure what.

"Hannah?" Riley knocked politely at her door. "Are you up?"

"Not yet," she answered, surprised that he was.

"You’d best hurry or you’ll be late for church."

He was right, although she hated to crawl out of a toasty bed. She didn’t have time to dally this Sunday. After Riley had gone to sea, she’d joined the church choir and had been asked to sing a solo for the first service.

With a limited wardrobe to choose from, Hannah shed her nightclothes and slipped the olive-green street-length dress over her head and adjusted the waistband. In another couple of weeks, she wouldn’t be able to wear this one, either. Sighing, she ambled out to the kitchen, pleasantly surprised to find the coffee brewed and waiting for her.

"You’re up bright and early," she said to her husband, bringing down a mug.

He nodded, more interested in reading the Sunday paper than conversing with her. Hannah watered down her coffee with a generous portion of milk, then carried it into the bathroom with her while she worked her hair into a French plait.

When she’d finished, she went back into her bedroom for her coat. Normally she fixed herself something small to eat – a piece of toast with a piece of fruit – but she didn’t want anything to coat her vocal cords before she sang.

Buttoning up her coat, she reached for her purse, prepared to leave the house. As she walked through the living room, Riley set aside the morning paper and stood. He was dressed in slacks and a sweater.

"You ready?" he asked.

"Yes." Hannah wasn’t sure she understood. It wasn’t until they were in the car that it dawned on her that Riley meant to attend the church service with her.

His wife continued to amaze Riley. He’d been taken by surprise when she had stood in the middle of the church service, following the communion meditation, and approached the piano. She slipped onto the mahogany bench and skillfully ran her fingertips over the keyboard. Riley hadn’t had a clue she could sing, any more than he’d been aware that she possessed such extraordinary talent at the piano. As he’d sat back and listened to her hauntingly beautiful voice, his heart had filled with a renewed sense of appreciation for the incredibly gifted woman he’d married. The poignant words of the song had touched him in ways that were completely foreign, and he’d sat for several moments afterward, pondering their meaning.

Following the worship service, he’d suggested they go out to breakfast.

"Why didn’t you tell me you could sing like that?"

Hannah finished spreading jelly on her toast before she answered. "You never asked."

He frowned and reached for the syrup. "How long have you been playing the piano?"

She shrugged. "I started lessons when I was about six, maybe seven. I don’t remember. My mother was the pianist for the church until she died, and I took over for her."

"I had no idea you were so gifted."

"Oh, Riley. Honestly, you make it sound like I’m another Chopin or something."

"You’re damn good. Have you ever thought of doing anything with your music?"

She smiled sweetly up at him and shook her head. "Heavens no. I played the piano because, well, because it was expected of me. Don’t misunderstand me. I love it – in fact I miss it quite a lot. But music isn’t my life."

Riley thought about this and nodded when the waitress came by with the coffeepot to refill his cup. "Are there any other talents you possess that I don’t know about?"

Hannah mulled that over and shrugged once more. "I’m quite a good seamstress."

"Where’s your sewing machine?"

"I left it at my father’s house when we… married. I was hoping to pick it up over Christmas. You might have noticed the stack of material I’ve been buying lately. It’s on the floor in the bedroom. I’ve got to do something about clothes."

"Buy yourself anything you want," he offered, not understanding why she hadn’t before now. It was apparent she was growing out of almost everything she owned.

"It’s much cheaper to make them, and I enjoy it."

"Will you have the time?"

"Yes, Mr. Worrywart."

She grinned, and Riley swore he could drown in her eyes. She’d smile, and his heart would melt. She had the uncanny talent for making him feel like a schoolboy – flustered and inexperienced. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for her. He’d practically given up drinking, and he hadn’t even noticed. With the exception of Steve, he was losing touch with his friends. There wasn’t anyone he’d rather spend time with than Hannah.

There were problems, however. He wasn’t keen on them maintaining separate bedrooms. He wanted her sleeping by his side. Damn it all to hell, that was where she belonged. He just hadn’t figured out how he was going to get her there. The first night he’d been home, she’d been rummy with the medication the doctor had given her and had fallen asleep on the return trip from the hospital. The following afternoon he’d been assigned duty and she was in bed asleep by the time he arrived home. Asleep in her own bed. Copyright 2016 - 2024