"Of course," she answered, pleased he’d chosen the gift she’d made for him. It was a small painting, one of a small loaf of french bread and a chalice of wine set on a rough-hewn wooden table. Although the entire focus of the painting was the bread and wine, she’d worked hard to depict the symbolic nature of the simple elements that had been part of the Last Supper.
"Hannah," her father said, awed as he held up the painting, "this is fabulous. Where did you ever find it?"
She beamed with pride and joy as she told him.
Hannah couldn’t remember a Christmas she’d enjoyed more. The meal was excellent, and they ate early in the afternoon. She sat at the old upright piano and played Christmas music for her father and Riley, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy singing the timeless carols. Afterward she took a nap and woke to discover that Riley and her father had done the dishes. While she’d been resting, Riley had loaded the car and seemed anxious to return to the base.
They bade their farewells while it was still light outside. Riley was quiet during the long ride home, but when she asked if there was anything bothering him, he smiled, assuring her there wasn’t.
As they approached the base, she realized he was speeding. Riley was a responsible driver, and she couldn’t understand why he seemed in such a hurry.
Once they pulled up in front of the house, her husband made an excuse about unloading the trunk and insisted she go inside ahead of him. She offered to help him carry something, but he wouldn’t let her.
Not knowing his thoughts, she did as he said, pondering his strange mood. She inserted the key into the front door and pushed it open. Turning on the light switch, she was halfway through the living room before she saw it.
There, against the wall, was a beautiful mahogany piano decorated with a huge red bow.
Hannah stood frozen, unable to speak or move. A piano! A beautiful new piano that Riley had bought just for her. When she could move, she walked across the room and ran her fingers over the polished ivory keyboard. The joyous sound of her music filled the room. She continued playing while she scooted out the bench with her foot and sat down.
She proceeded with every Christmas song she could recall from memory, filling the house with music the way it did her heart and mind. When she finished, she laid her hands in her lap and exhaled a deep sigh.
Turning around, she found Riley leaning his shoulder against the wall, his powerful arms crossed over his chest, studying her.
"How… when?" She couldn’t seem to ask a coherent question.
"I take it you’re asking about the piano?"
She nodded, knowing she’d only make a mess of it if she were to try to explain. Her heart was full, bubbling over with love and excitement. Not once had she suspected. He’d been so closemouthed about it.
"After hearing you sing and play in church, I decided we needed a piano," Riley explained in that relaxed way of his, as if they were discussing a minor purchase.
"There are no buts about it. You’re too talented not to have one. You enjoy it. The way I figure, you can sing Sam to sleep."
"Oh, Riley, I can’t believe you." She could think of no way to thank him. Nothing she could do or say would ever be enough. She walked over to him and kissed him the way that had been their habit of late, brushing her lips over his. Lightly. Briefly. First on his cheek, then his lips. But the all-too-hasty contact left her feeling empty and wanting. Standing on the tips of her toes, she leaned into him and wrapped her arms around his neck. Kissing him long and hard on the lips, she opened to him, introducing her tongue into his mouth until she created a warm, wet, gentle demand.
Riley held himself stiff against her, then groaned from deep within his throat. He sounded like a man absorbed in pain, and Hannah wondered if she’d done anything to hurt him.
With another groan he wrapped his arms around her waist, lifting her effortlessly from the floor so that her face was level with his own. Their gazes met for an instant before he directed her mouth to his. She’d been the aggressor, but that changed abruptly as he took control.
His tongue circled hers as his lips nibbled at her own. Riley was experienced in the ways of love; Hannah had known that from the first night they’d met. She’d responded to that experience, helpless to refuse him anything. To refuse herself. He seemed to need some kind of response from her, something more, she realized; otherwise he wouldn’t be holding himself in check the way he was.
Stroking her fingers through his thick, dark hair, her lips fluttered open, granting him everything she had to give: her mind, her heart, her soul.
Riley’s kiss was hungry and demanding, until slowly it began to happen. Her sensations were drowning in warm feelings – feelings she’d experienced so rarely in her life and only with this man. She ached in places she’d never thought to ache. Her breasts throbbed, and she recalled with vivid detail the night on the Seattle waterfront when Riley had taken her nipples in his mouth; and she wanted that again. Anything to ease the heavy swollen feeling that controlled her. The sensation didn’t stop there, but sank lower – much lower – to the juncture of her thighs. She felt hot and quivery, hot and excited; needy in ways she barely understood. Suddenly Hannah knew what she wanted. What she needed.
An electric shudder passed through her. Riley must have felt it because he abruptly broke off the kiss.
Hannah sighed. Riley’s lungs emptied of air as he slowly released his hold on her waist. His hands reached for hers, which were gripping his neck, and he gently pulled them free.
"I’d better finish unloading the trunk," he said, his voice so low it was a gentle whisper. Following that, he walked away.
Hannah was stunned. He’d wanted her as much as she’d wanted him, and yet he’d pushed her aside and given some flimsy excuse to leave her. She didn’t know what was happening, didn’t understand the significance of it. What she did feel was alone and lacking. And more needy than she’d ever felt in her life.
Riley stood by the car, letting the cold December wind slam against him. He drew in several breaths, sucking the air deep into his lungs. His head was swimming with the reality of how close he’d come to breaking his self-proclaimed code of honor and making love to Hannah. He opened the car trunk, and his hands shook. Not only his hands, but every part of him – his legs, his belly, his head. It was the kind of shallow-breathing, head-pounding shaking that comes when one realizes what a close brush one has had.
They couldn’t have gotten any closer. Another minute, and Riley would have hauled her into the bedroom and damned the consequences. If he were to make love to her now, needing her so desperately, he’d frighten her half to death. Hell, he needed her so damn much it frightened him. He was concerned, too, about hurting the baby.
He’d made a promise to himself, one he fully intended to keep. He’d woo Hannah, love her the way a husband loves a wife, but only after she’d delivered the baby. Riley had lain awake most of the night before, sorting through his feelings for Hannah and, more important, what he’d learned about Jerry. He’d never be the husband her fiancé would have been. The way Riley figured it, Jerry, having been the noble man he was, wouldn’t have pressured her to make love while she was pregnant, so Riley wouldn’t, either.
"Admit it," Riley said aloud. He clenched his hands into tight fists at his sides, resisting slamming them against the trunk lid. It was more than the pregnancy issue. "You’re afraid."
The psychologists probably had a fancy name for it. The irrational, inane fear of making love to one’s wife. It would take time for him to analyze what was going on inside his head. He didn’t doubt his love. Riley was crazy about her, and committed to her, their child and their marriage.
In some ways, as weird as it sounded, Riley felt that he had a responsibility to Jerry Sanders. It fell heavily upon his shoulders. The Atlantis would be leaving again in the middle of January, a short three weeks away. All he had to do was keep his pants zipped until then. If he avoided situations such as the one he’d just encountered, everything would work out fine. Once he was back, Sam would be born and he’d face the issue then. But for now, he’d be content to let matters rest as they were.
Hannah didn’t know what was different about Riley, but a subtle change had taken place in her husband since Christmas. He was attentive, generous, solicitous. Nevertheless Hannah couldn’t shake the feeling he was avoiding her physically. If she had to come up with a word for it she’d say he’d become stingy with his kisses. What kisses? she mused, feeling both abused and melancholy.
She was baking cookies, remembering a piece of sage advice from years past. It was said the way to a man’s heart passed directly through his stomach. Hannah swore that if chocolate-chip with walnuts didn’t do the trick, she was going to do something desperate… like seduce him.
The thought was almost comical. What did she know of seduction? Well, she determined valiantly, she could learn.
Riley walked into the house sometime after five. Hannah had planned it carefully, so the aroma of melting chocolate would have its greatest impact right around then.
"What’s cooking?" he asked, eagerly strolling into the kitchen. Absently he gave her a peck on the cheek and reached for a still-warm cookie.
Hannah had left her hair down, brushing it until it shone. She’d once read that men preferred it when women wore their hair loose. She’d dressed in her best pair of navy blue slacks and a pretty lavender top. There was no hiding her pregnancy, and she didn’t even try.
"How’d your day go?" he asked conversationally while sorting through the mail, keeping his back to her. He gave no outward indication that he noticed she’d taken extra care with her appearance. Hannah swallowed a sigh of disappointment. Apparently it was going to take more than freshly baked cookies and a different hairstyle. She wasn’t worried, however; there was always Plan B.
"My day went great. I got a call from the department store." She paused for effect and lifted the last of the cookies off the baking sheet. "The crib and dresser we ordered are in." She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. "The man said he could have them delivered tomorrow." She told him the last part, making sure her voice dipped significantly.
"Are you going to be around?"
Hannah nodded. "That isn’t the problem."
"Then, what is?"
"Well…it’s just that the baby’s bedroom is going to be terribly crowded." She raised her eyes meaningfully to Riley, her look heavy with implication. Riley was an intelligent man. It wouldn’t take him long to make the obvious connection and suggest she move her things out of her bedroom and into his. The chocolate-chip cookie he was eating stopped halfway to his lips. The bite that was in his mouth seemed to go down his throat whole – a lump moving in such tiny increments that she was certain he would choke on it.
"I was thinking," she continued, "I’d move my things into your room." If he wouldn’t suggest it, then she would. "You don’t mind, do you?" She smiled over at him, as sweetly as she knew how, and realized he’d gone pale.