After the hearing before the judge, Aimee had been shaken to the core, and Erin had suggested they go out for lunch instead of rushing back to the office. Aimee hadn’t said much, and the two had eaten in silence. It was the same throbbing silence Erin had experienced earlier in the courtroom.

Now, hours later, in the wee hours of the morning, it was back again, nearly suffocating her with its intensity, and she hadn’t a clue why.

Sitting at his desk, Brand had a vague uneasy feeling he couldn’t quite place. He’d heard regularly from Erin since her return to the mainland.

When it came to dealing with his sweet Irish rose, he was playing his hand close to his chest. Being patient and not pressing her for a commitment was damned difficult.

He loved her, there was no question in his mind about that. He also knew it was asking a good deal of her to love him back. It would be a whole lot easier if he wasn’t navy. Erin wanted stability, permanence, roots. All Brand had to do was prove to her she could have all that and still be his wife. The military had provided more security than he’d ever known as a civilian.

The navy was his life, and Brand believed that, in time, Erin would come around to his way of thinking. She loved him. A smile courted the edges of his mouth as he recalled their time together in the surf and Erin’s eager response to his touch. They’d never come closer to making love than they had that night. It was something of a miracle that they hadn’t.

When they’d first met and dated, the physical attraction between them had been nearly overpowering. He’d never experienced anything like it. If they were together for any length of time, he could be assured that the magnetism between them would reach explosive levels. That hadn’t changed, but another dimension had been added in the months they’d known each other. They’d bonded emotionally. Erin had become a large part of Brand’s life. She’d helped define who he was, how he thought and the way he governed his actions. She was the first person he thought of when he rolled out of bed in the morning. Generally, he woke regretting that she wasn’t at his side, and mused how long it would take for her to come to her senses and marry him.

Thoughts of her followed him through most of the day. He lived for the mail. If there was a letter from her, he read it two and three times straight through, savoring each word. Often right then and there, with his concerns fresh in his mind, he sat down and wrote her back. Brand had never been much of a writer. Letters were time-consuming, and he sometimes had trouble expressing himself with the written word. Not wanting to be misinterpreted, he’d opt for a quick phone call instead. Sea duty this last time around had been a challenge for him in more ways than one, but he’d learned some valuable lessons. He needed to hear from Erin.

Not wanted. Needed.

While on duty aboard the Blue Ridge, he’d been forced to admit for the first time how much he did need her. He’d tried not to love her, he’d attempted to put her out of his mind and his life, but he’d discovered to his chagrin that he was unable to do so.

Erin MacNamera was the most important person in his world. Since he couldn’t give her up, he had no other option but to be patient and bide his time.

The vague uneasy feeling persisted most of the afternoon.

Catherine’s news was equally unsettling.

"What do you mean you’re being transferred to Bangor?" Brand demanded. He didn’t use profanity often, but he couldn’t hold back a couple of choice words when he learned Catherine was being stationed in Washington state.

"Hey," she argued, "I didn’t ask for this. Personally, I’m not all that thrilled about it."

"You didn’t ask for it, I did." Brand would have been willing to surrender his commission for the opportunity to move closer to Erin. It seemed he was thwarted at every turn when it came to loving her.

A letter from Erin was waiting for him when he arrived home that evening. He stared at the envelope, grateful that something good had come of this day. He’d been beginning to have his doubts.

Standing in the middle of his compact living room, he tore open the letter with his index finger and read:

"Dearest Brand,

This is the most difficult letter I’ve ever written in my life. I’ve started it so many times, tried to make sense of my feelings, praying all the while that you’ll understand and forgive me.

I woke up early the other morning, weeping. Aimee had needed me to go to the courthouse with her for her settlement hearing. I had waited outside in the hallway for her, and while I was there I saw a woman in her early twenties crying. Never have I had any experience affect me more profoundly. There was so much pain in that hallway. It seemed to reach out and grab hold of me. Perhaps it was because Aimee’s settlement hearing followed on the heels of an episode with Margo. She’s had her ups and downs over the last nine months, small triumphs followed by minor setbacks. I’ve worked with so. many divorcing women since I started my job. I’m beginning to wonder if anyone stays married anymore. How can Margo’s husband walk away after thirty years of marriage? How could he possibly abandon her now? It doesn’t make sense to me.

Even Aimee surprises me. I knew she and Steve were having problems, but I never dreamed matters would go this far.

I suppose you’re wondering what Aimee’s settlement hearing and Margo’s problems have to do with the fact I woke up crying. Trust me, it took a long time for me to make the connection myself.

Deep down, in the innermost part of my being, the trauma involving Aimee and Margo forced me to face up to my true feelings regarding our relationship. I do love you, Brand. So much so that it sometimes frightens me, but we can’t continue, we can’t go on pretending our differences are all going to magically disappear someday. Falling in love caught us both unaware. You certainly didn’t intend to leave Seattle caring about me, and I never intended to love you. It happened, and we both let it. Now we’re left to deal with the way we’ve tangled our two lives.

I realize my thoughts are all so scrambled yet, and you don’t have a clue of what I’m trying to say. I’m not even sure I can explain it myself. I suppose I recognized it first when I talked to Margo late one evening when she was suffering from a bout of deep emotional pain. Following on the heels of that was Aimee’s settlement hearing.

I know you’re hoping we’ll soon be married. You’ve been so patient and understanding. I knew how much you truly loved me when you stopped pressuring me to become your wife."

In the last few weeks, I’ve given a good deal of thought to your proposal, and to be honest was leaning in that direction, I’ve made my decision, and it was the most heart-wrenching one of my life. I can’t marry you, Brand. It came to me recently why. It isn’t because I don’t love you enough. Please believe that. Learning not to love you will likely take me a lifetime.

If we do marry, someday down the road we’re going to divorce. Our differences are fundamental ones. You’re a part of the navy. I honestly believe that what attracted me to you so strongly was your likeness to my father. You certainly don’t resemble him physically, but on the inside you two could be mistaken for blood relatives. You think so much alike. Your lives don’t belong to yourselves, or your family. They belong to good old Uncle Sam.

I had eighteen years of that, and I can’t and won’t accept that crazy lifestyle a second time. I hated it then, and I’ll hate it now.

This isn’t a new issue. It’s the same one we’ve been pounding out almost from the moment we met. The problem is, I grew to love you so much I was willing to give in on this, thinking that if we married everything would work out all right. I was burying my head in the sand and pretending. But someday in the future, we’d both have paid dearly for my refusal to accept the truth. By then there’d probably be children, too. I couldn’t bear for our children to suffer through a divorce.

It’s ironic that I work almost exclusively with divorced women. Month after month, class after class, and it still didn’t hit me how ugly and painful it is to dissolve a marriage until I saw what’s happened to Aimee. She and Steve are in so much pain. It hurts me to see her suffer. I barely know Steve, and I hurt for him, too. My attitude toward marriage has gotten so sarcastic lately. I’m beginning to question if anyone should willingly commit their lives to another.

Aimee’s so bitter now. I think she’s convinced herself she hates Steve. The woman in the hallway at the courthouse, too. I felt something so strongly when I saw her. That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Everyone there was in such deep emotional pain. When I thought about it, I realized that so many of those men and women started out just the way we are. At one time they’d been as deeply in love as we are now. Only we’d be starting off with a mark against us, feeling the way I do about the navy.

Please accept my decision, Brand. Don’t write me back. Don’t call me. Please let this be the end.

It’s been the most painful and difficult decision of my life. Yet deep in my heart I know it’s the right one. You may disagree with me now, but someday, when you look back over this time, I believe you’ll realize I’m doing the right thing for us both, although God help me, it’s the most painful decision I’ve ever made.

Thank you for loving me. Thank you for teaching me about myself. And please, oh, please, be happy.


Brand closed his eyes. He felt as though a two-by-four had been slammed into his stomach. For one frenzied moment he thought he might be sick. It was the oddest sensation, as though he’d been physically attacked, badly injured, and was experiencing the first stages of shock.

It took him a couple of minutes to compose himself. His heart was pounding inside his chest like a huge Chinese gong. He paced back and forth in fruitless frustration, sorting through his limited options.

Before he leaped to conclusions, he needed to reread Erin’s letter and determine how serious she actually was. He did so, sitting himself down at his desk and digested each word, seeking… hell, he didn’t know what he was looking for. Loopholes? An indication, any evidence he might find, that she didn’t mean what she wrote. A glimmer of hope.

The second reading, and later a third, told him otherwise. Erin meant every single word. She wanted out of the relationship, and for both their sakes, she didn’t want to hear from him again.

* * *

A week had passed since Erin had mailed Brand the final letter.

"Coward," she muttered under her breath. This was what she got for not confronting him over the phone. She’d known from the first that she was taking the easy way out. Originally she’d told herself she was looking to avoid any arguments or lengthy discussions. Only later was she willing to admit that she was a wimp.

"Are you back to talking to yourself again?" Aimee muttered from her desk across the aisle from Erin’s.

"What did I say this time?"

"Something about being a coward."

"Oh…I guess maybe I did." It was funny, really. Ironic, too, that she’d made the most courageous, and by far the most difficult, decision of her life, and a week later she was calling herself a coward. Copyright 2016 - 2023