Hannah must have read his fears. She captured his hand and brought it to her mouth, kissing his palm. "No…you don’t understand. It was so…beautiful. What took you so long, my love? What took you so long?" She draped her arms around his neck and snuggled against him, engulfing him in tenderness and warmth. Her warmth. Her love.

Within minutes she was sound asleep.

Not so, Riley. He lay there, soaking in her nearness, savoring these few precious hours. Drinking in her gentle ways, her generosity and her love. He’d never thought to experience this time with a woman.

If it hadn’t been for Hannah, he probably would never have married. He’d rejected the idea years before, not wanting a woman complicating his life. Instead he had brief affairs, so that he could walk away with callous indifference whenever he chose. He preferred it that way, he’d assured himself. He wasn’t interested in commitment; he didn’t want demanding relationships.

He’d never realized, he’d never known all that he’d been missing until Hannah came into his life. Hunger claimed him – not a physical craving, but an emotional one – for what he’d learned, for what he’d discovered because of the woman asleep in his arms.

Resting his hand on the rounded curve of her stomach, Riley closed his eyes to the wealth of love and emotion he experienced for their child. With everything in him, he regretted he’d be gone when his son or daughter was born. The thought of Hannah in pain, struggling to give life to his child, sent cold chills down his spine.

He knew little of the ways of a woman’s body and even less about babies. He had heard the birthing process was often difficult and always painful. It wasn’t unheard of for a woman to die while in labor. The mere thought of losing Hannah sent his heart into a panic. From the first visit, Dr. Underwood had assured Riley that Hannah’s pregnancy was progressing normally; as far as he could judge. And he’d delivered hundreds of babies. Hannah’s delivery would be routine.

Riley fretted about her being alone, but he’d spoken to Cheryl Morgan, who’d faithfully promised him she’d keep in close contact with Hannah.

From a few subtle questions she’d asked and the odd look she’d given him, Riley knew his friend’s wife was openly curious about how someone like him had married a sweet innocent like Hannah. It remained a mystery to nearly everyone. Only a handful of people was aware of the story – his commanding officer, the chaplain and a couple of others. For Hannah’s sake, Riley strove to keep it that way. The less anyone knew, the better. Not that he felt the need to protect Hannah’s reputation. Hannah had more admirers than she knew. His single friends would have welcomed the opportunity to defend her honor, especially Don and Burt.

Riley got a kick out of the way they acted around her. Both were foulmouthed, hard-drinking cusses who welcomed an excuse to fight. Riley found it downright comical the way they stumbled over one another looking for a reason to do things for her.

The baby shower was a prime example. Riley knew Cheryl Morgan had organized it, but he’d never thought he’d see the day Don and Burt would sit around making small talk and eating cake with a bunch of Navy wives. Hell, he’d never thought he’d see the day him- self. Nor would he ever believe he’d hold up tiny little sleepers and ooh and ahh over them like a softhearted woman. But he had, and his burly friends with him.

Riley could feel welcome sleep coaxing him into a soothing void. Sam would be born with or without him sometime within the next two months; and God willing, all would go well.

"Riley," Hannah whispered in the early-morning light. He slept soundly at her side; the even rise and fall of his chest had mesmerized her for the past several minutes. She scooted closer and pressed her head against his chest.


"I love you." She had to say it, had to let him know what had been in her heart all these weeks. Tell him or burst with emotion. "Fm so proud to be your wife."

"After the incredible sex we just shared, I’m proud, too." His arms cradled her against him, and he wore a silly, lazy grin. "What time is it?"


"What are you doing awake at this hour?" His eyes were closed, and he seemed far more interested in sleeping than carrying on a conversation with her.

"Watching you. I have a… question." She was pleased it was still dark, otherwise he’d know she was blushing.


"That night… in Seattle?"

"Yes?" Slowly, reluctantly, he opened his eyes and looked at her.

"We… you know… made love twice?"

Riley frowned, as though he weren’t sure he understood what she was asking. "Yes."

"Do…men and women often do it twice in one night?" Her finger made lazy circles on his chest, curling the short, kinky hairs around her index finger. Her eyes purposely avoided his.


"Oh." She released a long, meaningful sigh.

"Why do you ask?"

"I was curious."

"I’m curious, too," he whispered hoarsely, and tunneling his fingers through her hair, he brought her mouth to his, slipping his tongue inside. While their mouths were joined, he rolled onto his back, taking her with him so that her legs were straddling his torso.

She raised questioning eyes to his, slowly, meaningfully. "There are other ways?"

He grinned, his look almost youthful as he nodded. "Plenty. With you like this there’s less likelihood we’ll injure the baby."

It was in her mind to assure him they hadn’t earlier, but the need for assurances was taken from her as Riley directed her mouth down to his. The only words either murmured after that were sighs, and moans, and whimpers of pleasure and love.

"You’ve got the doctor’s phone number by the bed stand?"

"You know I do," Hannah answered. He’d asked the same question no less than three times in the last ten minutes. She sat on the edge of the mattress, leaning back on her hands, while he finished packing his duffel bag.

"Your bag is packed?"

"Riley," she said with an exasperated sigh, "the baby isn’t due for another eight and a half weeks. Worry about your own packing. I’ll be doing mine soon enough."

He stalked to the far side of their bedroom and stuffed what remained of this gear into the thick canvas bag with enough force to punch out the bottom. "I don’t want you lifting anything heavier than three pounds, understand?"

"Aye, aye, sir." She gave him a mocking salute behind his back.

"Your job?"

"We agreed when I was hired it would only be for a few months. I won’t work past February. I promise." Once again she smiled.

"Dammit, Hannah, this isn’t a laughing matter."

"I’m not laughing," she assured him, giving her voice just the right amount of con triteness to convince him she was sincere.

"Then why do I have the feeling you find this all a big joke?" He straightened and plowed his fingers through his hair. It was so rare to see Riley ruffled that Hannah honestly enjoyed it. Now that he was only a few hours from deployment, the realization he’d be leaving seemed to have hit him like a sledgehammer.

"Honest to God, Hannah," he whispered, "I’ve never been more terrified in my life and you’re handling the whole thing like some…"

"Joke," she finished for him. "The baby and I are going to be just fine. There’s nothing to indicate we won’t be, so stop worrying."

"I know. But things could go wrong."

"They won’t."

"I wish I could be here."

"I do, too. I’m sorry you can’t, sorrier than you know. But it isn’t the end of the world." She did her best to give the appearance of being cool and collected. No one knew better than she how overwrought her husband had become in the last few days before deployment.

"You’ll keep in touch?"

Like everything else, he’d explained how the family grams worked a dozen or more times. Half the instructions he’d given her had been repeated so often that Hannah could recite them in her sleep. "I’ll send one every available opportunity."

He sighed once more. "You realize the chaplain’s office might not be able to contact me right away."

"Yes," she said patiently. "You already explained that, too. If the Atlantis is in an ‘alert’ status, then it could be some time before you’re notified of Sam’s birth."

"I won’t be able to contact you even when I am told."

"I realize that, too," she assured him softly. The teasing banter she’d hidden behind earlier vanished as the reality hit her. She wasn’t frightened – not of the actual birth – but everything within her longed for Riley to be able to share the experience with her.

"I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you," he whispered hoarsely.

"Nothing will. I promise." She bravely attempted to console him with a smile.

"Take care of yourself?" His gaze had never been more tender.

"Every minute of every day."

He moved across the bedroom and sank to his knees in front of her. He gripped both her hands and pressed his lips against the tips of her fingers. His shoulders heaved as he exhaled a sharp, anxious sigh. Gently, lovingly, he moved his hands over her abdomen and leaned forward to gently, sweetly kiss her stomach.

"Chinese, again?" Cheryl asked.

Hannah giggled. "I have this incredible urge for pork-fried rice, and before you ask, I wouldn’t even think of using soy sauce."

The two were spending a lazy Saturday afternoon in the Kitsap Mall, window-shopping. Hannah’s due date was a week away, and she’d never felt more hearty. In the last week she’d accomplished more than in the past several that Riley had been out to sea.

The days had sped past on winged feet, one often blending into the next. She was so busy that despite dreadfully missing Riley, the days piled on top of one another like professional football players.

Her visits to Dr. Underwood were weekly now. Hannah had felt huge at seven months. Months eight and nine were like nature’s cruel joke. No longer could she stand upright and view her feet. She’d given up wearing shoes that entailed tying; it would be simpler to wrestle a crocodile. If there was anything to be grateful for, it was that Riley wasn’t there to fuss over her. If he’d been solicitous at seven months, she hated to think how he’d behave now.

She was miserable, true; but not overly so. If she had anyone to complain about it was Cheryl, who’d become as much a mother hen as Riley had been. Hannah honestly thought Cheryl had taken lessons from Riley.

Hannah swore her friend would follow her into the bathroom, if she would let her. The only thing she could figure was that Riley had gotten hold of the nurse and made her promise on her mother’s grave to take care of Hannah.

For a nurse who dealt daily with the birthing process, Cheryl behaved as though Hannah were the first woman alive to become pregnant.

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