"I didn’t mean it. Not a word."
"You don’t believe that I love you, do you?"
He waited a long time before he answered. "I don’t know. I think it’s too soon after Paul for you to know what you’re feeling."
Lindy closed her eyes in an effort to control the urge to argue with him. She did love him, and never more than now. She’d just learned he’d be sailing out of her life for half a year, and her only thought was how she would manage without him.
She watched as a small pulse started in his temple. "I don’t want to leave you, Lindy."
Her gaze shot to his, and her eyes widened with astonishment. Rush loved the sea. The navy was more than his career. It was his life, the very reason he got out of bed every morning. She’d listened for hours while he described for her the warm sensations that went through him when he was on the open seas. She’d felt his pride and exhilaration when he spoke of standing alone against the force of a fierce storm. He loved everything about navy life. It was his dream, just as the oceans of the world were his destiny.
And he didn’t want to leave her. What he felt for her was stronger than the lure of the sea.
Tears shimmered in her eyes and she bit hard on her lower lip to hold them at bay. Rush wouldn’t tell her he loved her – not with words. It would have been more than she could expect. But by admitting that he didn’t want to leave her, he said everything.
When Lindy had composed herself enough to look up at Rush again, she felt the tension in every line of his lovingly familiar face.
"I want you to stay at the apartment," he said, and his hand continued to rub hers, holding her fingers in a grip that was almost painfully tight. "Steve will be back soon, but he’ll only be here a few weeks, if that long."
"Then the place will be empty for months."
Again she acknowledged his words with an abrupt movement of her head.
"It would be better if there was someone living here. As it is now, an empty apartment is an invitation to burglars. You’d actually be doing Steve and me a favor if you agree to say."
"I’ll… I’ll want to start contributing toward the rent."
"Fine. Whatever you want. When Steve arrives the two of you can work it out."
"What about when Steve is here?" Lindy asked. "Where will I sleep?"
"He can have my room."
"But what about when you’re both here?"
Rush frowned, and then a strange, almost humorous light entered his eyes and a soft smile crowded his face. "Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it. Okay?"
"Anything else?" he asked.
She dropped her gaze to his hand, which was holding hers. "I love you, Rush, and Pm going to miss you like hell."
He raised her hand to his lips, closed his eyes and kissed it gently.
The coffee was ready by the time Rush met Lindy in the kitchen the following morning. Although she’d been physically and mentally exhausted, she’d hardly slept, managing three, maybe four hours of rest at the most. Now her eyes burned and she felt on the verge of tears.
Rush joined her at the table. He wordlessly reached for the morning newspaper and buried his face in it, not speaking to her – apparently pretending she wasn’t there. Lindy stood it as long as she could.
"Would you like some breakfast?" she asked.
He shook his head. The stupid newspaper still presented a thin barrier between them.
Whereas Lindy had felt loved and reassured after their talk the night before, this morning she felt lonely and bereft. Rush hadn’t sailed away yet, but he might as well have for all the companionship he offered.
"I think I’ll get dressed now," she whispered, hoping that would gain his attention.
"Stop it, Rush."
That worked, and he lowered the paper, peering at her over the top of the page, his face clean of expression. "Stop what?"
"That!" She pointed an accusing finger at the newspaper. "I hate it when you do this."
"What hideous crime am I guilty of now?"
"You haven’t left yet---I’d think you’d want to spend every minute you could with me---Instead you’re hiding behind the Post-Intelligencer so you won’t have to look at me."
"You’re being ridiculous."
"I’m not. It’s almost as if you can hardly wait to get away from me."
With deliberately slow movements he folded the newspaper and set it aside. "Is it because I didn’t want any breakfast? Is that what’s upset you so much? You know I seldom eat this early."
"No…of course that’s not it."
"What is it then?"
"I… don’t know." Lindy felt like such a fool. She didn’t know why she was acting like this, but she couldn’t stand it when Rush treated her this way. She could deal with his anger far more easily than this intolerable patience.
"What exactly do you want from me, Lindy?"
"I want some emotion," she cried.
"What?" he barked, clearly not understanding her.
"Not tears. I want you to…oh, never mind. Go back to reading your precious paper with that same stoic expression you always wear in the morning. I humbly apologize for having interrupted your reading time."
Lindy couldn’t get to her bedroom fast enough. She took small pleasure in slamming her door. Her intention had been to dress as quickly as she could and leave the apartment. Instead she found herself sitting on the edge of her bed, trembling and teary eyed, confused and suddenly feeling, utterly, desperately alone.
When her bedroom door flew open, Lindy gasped. Rush’s gaze pinned her to the bed as he silently stalked across the room.
"Damn it, Lindy." The words were ground out through his teeth before he sank onto the bed beside her. His arms tightened around her trembling body, pressing her down against the mattress. His hands found and cupped her breasts as he buried his face in her hair, spreading a wildfire of kisses along her cheeks and face, but avoiding her lips.
All Rush had to do was touch her and the desire curled in her belly like an anchor rope ready to plunge her into dark, inviting depths of passion.
His fingers tightened on her shoulders as he raised his head and stared down at her. He looked as though he were trying to stop himself but couldn’t. Then his mouth closed hungrily over hers, rubbing back and forth, his tongue probing hers.
Lindy’s arms found his back and she arched her spine, grinding her hips against him, needing him so desperately she could barely breathe. The longer Rush kissed her, the deeper she sank into the turbulent waters of desire. She felt like she was drowning, oblivious to everything except the primitive need to be loved by Rush.
"Oh, Lindy---" The words came out softly as he lifted his head from hers. He paused and dragged in a heavy breath, held it a moment then expelled it. "Well," he whispered, "is that enough emotion for you?"
Lindy liked Susan Dwyer the minute the two met. Susan’s reddish-brown hair was naturally curly, and although it was styled fashionably short, it managed to fall in an unruly array surrounding her pert face. She possessed the largest, liveliest brown eyes that Lindy could ever remember seeing on anyone. They sparkled with intelligence and vitality, glinting with warmth and curiosity as they studied Lindy.
"Jeff has talked of little else since he met you the other day," Susan confessed.
"It was certainly nice of you, to invite Rush and me over for dinner," Lindy returned. Twin boys, about eighteen months of age with reddish caps of curly hair like their mother’s stood at the edge of their playpen, silently regarding the two women through large, doleful brown eyes. They’d recently awakened from a late-afternoon nap and looked mournfully toward Susan in the hope that she’d abandon her dinner guests and play with them.
"A meal is a small price to pay to meet you."
Lindy smiled at that. "I take it Rush hasn’t said much about me?"
"Are you kidding? He’s been so tight-mouthed one would think you were top-secret information."
"That sounds like Rush." Lindy’s gaze sought him out and found him and Jeff on the back patio, lighting up the barbecue grill. Just watching him gave her a solid, warm feeling deep inside her breast. She’d found him attractive before, but now, set against this low-key social background, dressed casually in jeans and a striped shirt, looking relaxed and at ease, she found she loved him all the more.
"Rush and Jeff have been friends a lot of years," Susan went on to say. She opened the refrigerator, brought out a large bowl of potato salad and set it on the kitchen counter. "Jeff knew the first day after the Mitchell returned that something had happened to Rush. He mentioned it to me right away, but it wasn’t until last week that he knew that Rush had found a special woman."
"Rush is the one who’s special." Lindy continued to study him, trying to put the knowledge that he’d be leaving out of her mind long enough to enjoy this one evening with his friends.
Susan turned around and her gaze followed Lindy’s. "He’s happier now than I can ever remember seeing him. More serene. You’ve been good for him, Lindy – really good. I didn’t used to like Rush…. Actually I was only reciprocating what he felt toward me. I think I may have reminded him of someone he knew a long time ago. Although Jeff’s never told me this, I believe Rush may have tried to talk him out of marrying me."
"I’ve never known a man who can frown the way he does," Lindy said with a soft sigh. "I swear one of those famous looks of his could curdle milk a block away."
Susan hooted. "I know exactly the look you mean."
"How long have you and Jeff been married?" From everything Rush had told Lindy about Susan, and he’d spoken of little else on the hour-long ferry ride to Bremerton, Rush held his friend’s wife in the highest regard. She was surprised to hear he’d once felt differently.
"We’ve been married about two and a half years now."
Jeff said something that caused Rush to chuckle. The low, modulated laugh seemed to shoot into the sky. Then they both laughed.
Surprised, Lindy and Susan turned around.
"I don’t think I’ve ever really heard Rush laugh quite like that---So free," Susan murmured, as she gazed at the two men. "He’s always been so cynical, so stoic. I never really knew what he was thinking. When we first met he terrified me."
"I know what you felt," Lindy said slowly. "The first couple of days after I met Rush, I found myself wanting to thwart him. He can be such an arrogant bastard."
"And at the same time there’s something so appealing about him," Susan answered thoughtfully. "And I’m not talking about how good-looking he is, either, although God knows he’s handsome enough. But even when he openly disapproved of me, I couldn’t help admiring and respecting him. It took time to earn his trust, and despite everything I was glad he was Jeff’s friend. There’s something inherently strong about Rush. Strong and intensely loyal. I’ve always known Rush would look out for Jeff no matter what the circumstances. It helped when Jeff had to leave---Knowing he would be with Rush."