"I see," she whispered, and took a step back, away from him. "You want us to wait six months until you return from this tour?"
It made a hell of a lot of sense to Rush, and when he spoke his voice was soft yet inexorable. "Of course."
"Would you quit saying that like I’d just suggested we live in sin?"
Rush could tell that she was struggling to compose her thoughts. Confusion and another emotion he couldn’t define tightened her brow, and she looked to be on the verge of breaking into tears – but these weren’t tears of sudden happiness.
"I need to think," she announced, stiffly turning away from him and hurrying down the concrete stairs.
Rush, watching her run away from him like a frightened doe, held up his hands in a gesture of utter bewilderment. They couldn’t get married so soon. For God’s sake, they’d known each other less than three weeks.
Lindy walked as fast as her legs would carry her, and her heart was pounding so hard she could feel it all the way to her toes. She was a little embarrassed, because she’d assumed that Rush meant for them to marry right away, and she was troubled, too. She didn’t want to wait, and she couldn’t think of a way of explaining to Rush all the strong and conflicting emotions that were churning inside her.
Within a matter of seconds, Rush’s quick-paced steps joined hers.
"For God’s sake will you tell me what you find so damn insulting?" he demanded.
Lindy stopped and looked up at him, loving him so much her heart threatened to burst. His eyes seemed unusually dark and, as always, unreadable as he buried his thoughts and his pain deep within himself.
"Insulting? Oh Rush," she whispered contritely, "never that."
"Then why did you take off like a bat out of hell?"
She dropped her gaze to the sidewalk. "I don’t want to wait…. When you leave Saturday I want to be…"
"Lindy, that’s crazy."
"… your wife," she finished.
Rush’s jaw clamped shut, and Lindy saw the muscles in his lean cheek jerk as a hodgepodge of doubts clouded his mind. She didn’t blame him, but if he was willing to make a commitment to her now, it seemed fruitless to wait six months.
"I’ve been through one long engagement," she whispered fiercely. "I have no desire for another. I’ll marry you, Rush, and consider myself the luckiest woman alive. But when you place a ring on my finger there will be two, not one."
"Do you realize how ridiculous you sound?"
She watched him intently, her eyes riveted to his. "Yes, I suppose I do, from your point of view."
"In other words, it’s all or nothing?"
"No," she answered softly. "I’d marry you tonight if I could, or six months from now if that’s what you choose. But if you love me enough to want me as your wife then why should we wait? That’s what I don’t understand."
His eyes hardened. "But you might regret…"
"No," she cut in, shaking her head so hard her hair whipped across her face. "I swear to you I’m not going to regret it."
Rush inhaled and cast an imploring look to the dark sky as though seeking guidance, and if not that, then divine intervention.
"I don’t even want to discuss it."
"Fine," Lindy said with a sigh.
The remainder of the walk was completed in silence. When Rush unlocked the apartment door, Lindy stepped inside, intent on going to her bedroom to give them both space and time to think matters through.
Rush’s hand reached for hers, stopping her before she’d gone more than a few steps.
Surprised, she glanced up at him, the light so dim she could barely make out his features.
"It’s not right to hurry this when we’ve only begun to know each other," he said in a tone that was low, husky and deliberately expressionless.
Gently Lindy brushed her fingertips across the taut line of his jaw. "I’m not going to repent at leisure, if that’s what you’re worrying about. You seem to find it so important that we wait, so we will. But I love you enough right now. I don’t have a single doubt that our marrying is the right thing, and nothing is going to change my mind."
"Lindy, it’s crazy."
"Marry me now, Rush."
He shook his head. "Six months is soon enough. You need…"
"Me? You’re the one who seems to be having all the doubts."
"I’ll marry you in six months, Lindy," he said sternly.
Maybe, her mind tossed back. Maybe he would.
Rush studied her for a full minute. "I want you to wear my engagement ring."
The ring finger on her left hand remained dented from the year in which she’d worn Paul’s diamond. Unconsciously she rubbed her thumb back and forth over the groove now, reliving anew the desolation that engagement had brought her. The emotion rippled in her chest, each wave growing broader in its scope. She didn’t want to be Rush’s fiancée – she’d been Paul’s for so long. She’d lost Paul and she could lose Rush, too, in a hundred different ways.
"Will you?" he asked, his voice as unemotional as if he were requesting the time.
Once more Lindy would be forced to face the truth. Rush loved her enough to want a commitment from her but not enough to make her his wife. She would be a fiancée. Again. But not a wife.
A strange light flared in his eyes that she faintly saw in the darkness. "It’s important to me."
She sucked in a deep breath and felt all the resistance inside her collapse. Gone was her pride; gone was her conviction; gone was her stubbornness. He wanted to wait. She would. He wanted her to wear his ring. She would do that, too.
"Yes," she whispered brokenly. He needed that assurance. It was Lindy who required more.
Hours later something woke Lindy. Unsure what had stirred her from slumber, she rolled onto her side and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Across the room a shadow moved and she noted Rush’s profile outlined in the doorway of her bedroom. He was leaning against the frame of her door, his head dropped as if he were caught in the throes of some terrible quandary. Something about him, about the way his shoulders slouched and his head drooped, told her this was the last place in the world he wanted to be… or the first.
"Rush, what is it?" She raised herself up on one elbow.
Her words seemed to catch him unawares, and he jerked his head up and straightened. Moving to her side, he sank to the edge of the mattress. Tenderly he brushed the unruly hair from her forehead, his face so intense it seemed knotted. He didn’t speak, and Lindy had no way of knowing his thoughts. He groaned then, and his mouth claimed hers in a fiery kiss that threatened to turn her blood to steam. He lifted his mouth from hers and tucked her head beneath his chin, rubbing his jaw back and forth over her crown as if to soak in her softness.
Lindy dragged in a shuddering breath, her senses fired to life by his touch. She’d assumed when she first woke that he wanted to make love to her, but that wasn’t his intention. No lover would hold a look of such torment. His eyes were fierce, savage and yet unimaginably tender.
He studied her, and his warm hands stroked her face as though to memorize each loving feature. The smile that touched the edge of his mouth was fleeting. And still he didn’t speak. His thumb lightly brushed over her lips, and he closed his eyes briefly as if to compose his troubled thoughts.
"I love you, Lindy," he whispered, in a voice that was at once gruff and soft. "I love you so much it scares the hell out of me."
His arms went around her, holding her as close as he could with the blankets bunched between them. Inhaling a deep breath, he buried his face in her neck.
Lindy’s fingers riffled through his dark hair and she lowered her lashes, cherishing this moment, although she wasn’t sure she understood it.
"Tomorrow," he told her. "I want you to take off early. We have an appointment at the courthouse."
The longest – and shortest – days of Lindy’s life were the three they were required to wait before their wedding. Rush made the arrangements with a navy chaplain, and Jeff and Susan Dwyer stood up for them. The ceremony itself lasted only a few short minutes. Rush stood close at Lindy’s side, and she couldn’t ever remember him looking more handsome than in full-dress uniform. When he repeated his vows, his voice was strong and confident. Lindy’s own was much softer, but equally fervent.
Afterward they went to an expensive restaurant for dinner and were met by several other couples, all navy people, all friends of Rush’s. Names and faces flew past Lindy, and after a while she gave up trying to keep track of who was who. She managed to smile at each one and made the effort to thank them for coming to share this day with her and Rush.
Once they were seated, Lindy placed the bouquet of baby’s breath and pink rosebuds in her lap. Susan sat on her left and Rush on her right. Rush was talking to Jeff who sat on the opposite side from him. Rush’s fingers closed around Lindy’s and communicated his frustration at being trapped with all these people when he wanted to be alone with her. Lindy felt the same way. Rush was her husband and she was dying with the need to be his wife in every way. They had such little time left together. Three days and two nights to last them half a year.
"Do you think we’re both crazy?" Lindy leaned over and whispered to Susan. There’d been so little time to talk before the ceremony.
"I think it’s the most wildly romantic thing I’ve seen in years." Her new friend’s eyes sparkled with shared joy. "A blind man could see how much Rush loves you."
"I honestly didn’t think he’d do it," Lindy confessed.
"What? Marry you?"
"Yes, before he left anyway. He wanted to wait until he returned in December, and… then he didn’t. I hardly had time to think once he made up his mind. The past three days have zoomed by. I feel as if I’ve been on a spaceship – everything’s a blur. We’ve been up every night past midnight discussing the arrangements."
"Didn’t you have to work?"
Lindy nodded and suppressed a yawn. "I didn’t dare ask for any days off since I’ve been working such a short time. I regret that now, because I think my supervisor would have understood. But Rush didn’t want me to jeopardize my job."
"You’ll need it once he’s gone," Susan said with a wisdom that must have come from her years as a navy wife. "It’s important for you to keep busy. Rush knows that. Having a job to go to every day will help the time he’s gone pass, all the more quickly. The transition from being together almost constantly to being alone will be smoother, too."
"What about you?" Lindy knew that Susan didn’t work outside the home. Her friend couldn’t with Timmy and Tommy still so young.
"I manage to do some volunteer work with some of the other navy wives," Susan explained. "We help each other. Once everything settles down, I’ll introduce you around."