"Isn’t that blue dress a knockout?" Cheryl asked, pausing in front of Mary Lou’s Dress Shop. "I should try it on, just for the fun of it. Something like that would drive Steve wild. Not that he needs much." She laughed at her own joke. "Hannah?"
"Oh, it’s cute, real cute." The dress was that and more, although Hannah had given it only a fleeting glance.
"No…" Hannah wasn’t sure.
Cheryl gripped her arm, dragging her to the thick polished bench in the middle of the mall floor. "Let’s sit down."
"I’m all right," Hannah protested. "I’m just feeling a little… strange."
"Strange as in how?"
"Strange as in…oh…oh." Her eyes rounded as she shot her gaze up to her friend. "If I’m not mistaken, that was a… labor pain."
Riley had been on edge all day. As Hannah’s due date approached, the weight of their separation pressed on him unlike anything he’d ever experienced. To love a woman, to care so deeply about her well-being was foreign to him. He was at a loss to know how to deal with his worries.
Others around him slept without a qualm. But the escape of slumber evaded Riley. Rather than fight it, he’d lain back in his berth and stared into the dark. His thoughts were heavy, his anxiety high.
In the last two family grams he’d received, Hannah had claimed all was well with her and Sam. But no matter how many times he’d read the words, analyzed the few sentences she was allowed to transmit, Riley was left with the feeling something wasn’t right. His fears were widespread, and once again he silently cursed the necessity of being at sea during these last worrisome months of her pregnancy.
His friends were little help. Steve wasn’t a father yet, so he knew little of the…
A father. Riley hesitated as the word passed through his mind with the speed of a laser beam. He was about to become a father. Funny, from the time he’d learned of Hannah’s pregnancy, he’d never thought of himself in those terms.
He knew little of such matters, he acknowledged, frowning. He’d never had the opportunity to know the man who’d sired him. From what Riley understood, his own father had been unaware of his birth. The man, who would forever remain a mystery to him, had contributed little to his emotional and physical well-being. The only male influence Riley had received had come from his stepfather, an abusive alcoholic who’d paid him little attention.
Riley experienced an overwhelming surge of gratitude that he’d learned of Hannah’s pregnancy. In different circumstances he might never have known of it. He would have gone about his life blithely unaware of Sam’s existence, and would have missed so much more than he’d ever thought to experience.
Considering the responsibility that awaited him with his child’s birth overwhelmed Riley. He knew so little of the ways of a father, and even less of love. But Hannah had taught him the very meaning of the word, and he was confident Sam would give him all the instruction he’d need to be a father.
A daddy, he amended, grinning.
A sigh quivered through his lungs, and he closed his eyes, content for the first time that day. He could sleep now, entrusting the well-being of his wife and child to a far greater power than his own.
"Lieutenant Commander Kyle would like a word with you."
Riley’s heart skipped a beat, then raced with such velocity he went dizzy and weak. There was only one reason the executive officer would want to speak to Riley.
The rush with which he moved through the tight quarters of the nuclear submarine caused more than a few stares. His eyes connected with the other man’s, and the lieutenant commander grinned broadly.
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
Lieutenant Commander Kyle was the best kind of officer. Riley had known him several years and liked him immensely. There wasn’t a man aboard the Atlantis who didn’t. Word had it the executive officer had been divorced for nearly two years and then had reunited with his wife. He’d been to hell and back, according to those who knew him best. Whatever the cause of his problems, he’d solved them and took an interest in his men and their lives.
The CO’s grin broadened as he held his hand out to Riley. "Congratulations are in order. We received word a few minutes ago that your wife has given birth to a healthy eight-pound three-ounce boy. Mother and son are doing well."
"A…son." The words barely worked their way past a lump in his throat that was so large it made it painful to breathe.
"According to the wire, she’s fine."
Riley nodded. He’d heard the CO say it once, but he needed to be sure, to calm the doubts and the fears that crowded his heart and mind.
"Big and healthy." The lieutenant commander slapped him across the back. "You look like you need to sit down, Murdock."
"I feel like I need to."
The commanding officer chuckled. "I understand that well. My second child, Patrick, was born while I was at sea. I wasn’t a damn bit of good to the Navy until I knew Carol had had a safe delivery."
A numbness had claimed hold of Riley, starting in his chest and radiating outward, paralyzing his lungs.
"A son," he repeated when he could.
"I take it you wanted a boy."
Riley didn’t answer right away. "I suppose I did, but I wouldn’t have been disappointed with a daughter."