"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.

"Something’s wrong?"

"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."

Chapter Thirteen

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.

A father.

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.

"Eight pounds?"

"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."

The other man nodded. "Our first was a girl, and I couldn’t have been more pleased, although I’d convinced myself I wanted a son. Somehow, once they arrive, all pink and soft, it doesn’t seem to matter."

They spoke for a few minutes more, then Riley returned to the torpedo room. He felt fiercely proud, an emotion so profound it was all he could do not to throw his arms in the air and shout for the sheer joy of it. The crazy part was, the desire to fall to his knees and weep was just as compelling.

He had a son. Samuel Riley Murdock. Moisture blurred his vision, and Riley realized it was tears of jubilation; his heart felt so full of love he couldn’t contain it any longer.

He had a son.

* * *

Hannah studied the clock on the wall of her hospital room, which was partially obliterated by two bright-blue helium balloons that were tied to the foot of her bed. Cheryl Morgan was scheduled to go on duty in fifteen minutes and had promised to stop in for a short visit beforehand.

Hannah had been waiting to talk to Cheryl all afternoon. Her mind was on her son, who was sleeping serenely at her side. She’d been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and attention she’d received after Samuel’s birth. She hadn’t lacked for visitors. Cards lined her nightstand, and her small locker was filled with gifts.

"So how’s it going, little mother?" Cheryl asked, stepping into the room. She was dressed in her uniform and a soft blue sweater.

The minute Hannah saw her, she couldn’t help herself – she burst into tears. "I’m fine," she wailed, and reached for a tissue, blowing her nose.

"New-mother blues?" Cheryl asked sympathetically, handing Hannah the entire box of tissues. "Don’t worry, it’s to be expected. With so many hormones swimming around, your emotions are bound to be in upheaval."

"It’s not that," Hannah sobbed, pointing toward the window ledge where a beautiful bouquet of a dozen red and white roses was perched. "Riley had one of his friends on the base send them to me… The card…"

"The card was sweet and sentimental?" Cheryl coaxed.

"No," she wailed. "The next time I see that man I’m going…to…slap him silly. I’m…so angry I could just spit."


"Read it for yourself. Then you’ll know." Hannah picked up the small envelope and handed it to her friend.

Cheryl’s gaze narrowed as she slipped out the card and read the few scribbled words. Slowly she raised her gaze to Hannah, her look wide and questioning. "It says, ‘I love you.’ It’s signed, ‘Riley.’"

Hannah sobbed once more and in a fit of righteousness tossed the damp tissue to the foot of her bed. "See what I mean?"

"Those are certainly fighting words if I ever heard them," came the sarcastic comment. "Are you going to torture him with the silent treatment once he arrives home?"

"I should." Using the heels of her hands, Hannah rubbed the moisture from her burning cheeks, irked all the more. "He hasn’t even got the common decency to tell me to my face," she announced, and swallowed a hiccup.

"Let me see if I understand this," Cheryl said, pulling up a chair and sitting down. "The card claims he loves you, and that makes you angry?"

"Yes," Hannah snapped.

"He’s not supposed to love you?"

"Well, of course he is."

"I see," Cheryl replied, frowning.

It was apparent her friend didn’t understand anything of what had happened. "You don’t see," Hannah argued- "Otherwise you’d be as outraged as I am."

"Maybe you’d better explain it to me." Cheryl crossed her legs and leaned back as though convinced it would take considerable time to explain why Hannah had taken such offense at Riley’s card.

Actually, Hannah wasn’t eager to rationalize her outrage, but there didn’t seem to be any help for it. "It’s Riley."

"That much I gathered."

"He…had his friend send the flowers with the card."

"I’m with you so far," Cheryl prompted with one solid nod of her head.

"It’s what he said on the card – that he loves me."

"I understand that part, too, only I seem to be missing some key link."

Hannah’s eyes filled with fresh tears. "I love him so much and… and he’s never told me he loves me. Not even once – and then he has to do it in a stupid card when I can’t be there to look in his eyes."

"Ah," Cheryl murmured after a significant pause. "So you doubt he truly loves you?"

"Not really. It’s just that he’s been too stubborn to realize it. I knew he would in time – It’s just that I wanted to be there when he finally got around to admitting it."

"Ah." The light was dawning in Cheryl’s expressive eyes.

"You know what he is? A coward," Hannah answered her own question, without giving Cheryl the opportunity. "Riley Murdock is a living, breathing coward. If word got out what a…"

"Coward," Cheryl supplied.

"Right. If the Navy knew what I do about him, they’d ask for his resignation." She looked to Steve’s wife for confirmation and was disappointed.

"I don’t agree."

"Come on, Cheryl. You can’t join my pity party if you’re going to be obstinate about everything."

Her friend’s face broke into a wide smile. "Anyone with one good eye would know how Riley feels about you. The man’s so bewitched it isn’t even funny."

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