Chapter 10 – Hot Bun & Cold Reality

Jill’s Sweet Buns

2 packages yeast, (1/2-ounce or 2 scant tablespoons)
1/2 cup hot water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup milk (warmed)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 cups flour

Dough topping:
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup granular sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon

1 pound powdered sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
2 drops butter flavor extract

Turn oven on, to 100 degrees. Dissolve 2 packages of yeast in 1/2 cup of hot water (test on wrist to make sure water is not too hot) and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Let sit while you mix other ingredients. Melt 1/2 cup of butter and combine with 3/4 cups of warm milk (warm not hot, think breast milk fresh from the tit). Mix together with dissolved yeast. Slowly add 1/2 cup of sugar, then 1 egg. Add salt and 2 cups of flour slowly mixing together either with mixer, bread machine or your hands. Slowly add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time until the dough is firm and comes away from the side of bowl easily.

Turn off oven. Put dough onto floured counter top. Knead until it doesn’t stick to your hands. Place in a greased bowl. Cover with damp cloth and let rise in the warm oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until it doubles in size. Turn oven back on to 100 degrees.

Remove dough from bowl and place on a floured counter. Roll out in a 12 by 24-inch rectangle, not too thin. Brush with 1/2 cup melted butter. Mix together the cinnamon and sugars, then sprinkle evenly over dough. Roll dough into a log. Cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch widths. Place in round cake pan so that the rolls almost touch one another. Put back in oven to rise to desired height. Remove from oven after they have risen. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown and firm. Remove from oven – let cool.

FROSTING: Combine 1 pound of powdered sugar, 2 to 3 tablespoons of milk (this may vary, add or subtract to your desired consistency), and 2 drops of butter flavor extract. Stir with spoon until very smooth and drizzles easily. Drizzle onto completely cooled cinnamon rolls.

Sunlight was just beginning to filter through the curtains in their bedroom. Jill stared up at Daniel as he snored softly. He had been asleep for the last hour or so, but she could not. Instead she had lain in his arms and watched him sleep. She smiled as she hummed softly, “I don’t want to close my eyes, I don’t want to fall asleep.”

Her fingers brushed his hair back from his temples. She felt the rough stubble that was close now to being the full beard that he had in those first pictures she had seen. She was powerless to stop the scalding hot tears that coursed down her cheeks, but at least she was not breaking the number one rule. ‘Never let them see you cry,’ it was the motto she had lived by what seemed like her whole fucking life.

So why did it feel so impossible this time? These good-byes should be old hat for her. She had survived over a dozen deployments in almost twenty years. Why should this one be any different? The truth stabbed her in the heart like a butcher’s knife. After last night, she ought to feel better, she thought. Not her flawed body, not even Mistress J had scared him away. His admission of how easy he found it to talk to her echoed in her mind.

But none of it was enough as she stared at the lies, the secrets, the very mockery that she had made of it all. Truth was that ‘this arrangement’ was eating her alive. She was head over heels in love with her husband. And despite their friendship, their passion, the ups and downs they had shared over the past two and a half months as a family, he had never once said anything that gave her hope the feeling was reciprocated.

They had, over that short time, built everything her friend claimed was a more solid basis for marriage, but the companionship, respect and shared goals that Ubah had espoused was leaving her cold. Perhaps it was her ‘limited’ Western sensibilities as her friend had called them, but she wanted those three simple words. It felt as if she physically needed them, she thought as for the first time she fought back what felt for the world like morning sickness.

She brushed her fingers across his soft lips. Lips that had explored every inch of her body last night. Lips that had taken her to the stars and the darkest depths of the universe. ‘Why did it matter so fucking much?’ she asked herself. They were just words. People said them all the time, even when they did not mean them. She knew that.

She sighed as she fought back the nausea. She should get up, start breakfast. Her cinnamon buns would take a good hour, perhaps two to bake, but the other wives had come to love them so much from their morning coffees that it was almost expected this final time before…

The house would be full of their friends in a couple of hours, a farewell brunch. She had lots to do before they arrived. Besides there would be plenty of time later for her to come to terms with this situation. To learn to lie in the bed that she had made for herself as the old saying went. To lie in this bed all alone.

She leaned up a bit, felt the slight soreness in her bottom and smiled. Damn, the pain should not be so delicious, but it was. Once given permission, her country boy had quickly caught on to the games of Domination and submission. She smiled as she brushed her lips lightly across his, making certain not to awaken her husband.

She choked on the tightness in her throat. She was a coward and she knew it. Cheating, perhaps not in the same way that Trisha had, but it was a lie all the same. She could not bring herself to reveal this final secret. And it was killing her to face the fact that in a few short hours he would be gone and as hard as it was to admit she knew there was a very real possibility he might not return, might never know how she really felt.

“I love you, Daniel,” she whispered as fresh tears spilled down her cheeks. She rolled over and rushed from their bed, running for the bathroom as she felt the bile rising in her throat. It did not taste half as bitter as this secret.

Daniel was free falling. He had jumped from hundreds, no thousands of planes. He knew the exhilaration of the wind hitting your face so hard it felt like tiny knives, hitting your body so hard that it actually slowed your fall. But this time was different. This time he saw the ground coming up fast. And there was no parachute.

He wanted to jump from their bed, follow her. He wanted to look into those amazing green eyes as she said those words again. After waiting so long to hear them, they were ricocheting inside his head like a hollow point bullet, ripping and tearing his mind to shreds. God, how he wanted to hear them again. How he wanted to watch her face light from within as he kissed her softly and returned them. He played the fantasy on that wide screen in his head.

But that was all it was, a fantasy. If his wife knew the truth, if she knew what happened that night, if Jill ever found out that he was the reason David never made it home to her and their sons, he knew it would evaporate. Be gone in a heartbeat. Be transformed, morphed, into hatred that burned brighter than the sun. That was what kept him lying in their bed. His arm slung across his face as he felt the tears burning the back of his eyes.

He listened as she flushed the toilet. Had she been ill again? It was another worry to the growing pile. He heard the shower turn on as he rolled to the side of their bed. He should check on her. He smiled at the convenient excuse. Truth was that even if the secrets kept him from doing the one thing he wanted most in this world, nothing would stop him from holding her one more time, trying to show her what he could not allow himself to say. What he had no right to feel. Not under the circumstances.

He ran his hands through his hair. He was going to miss this bed, and it had nothing to do with sleeping on the cold, hard ground and everything to do with not holding his wife in his arms all night long. He sat on the side of it for a long moment. “What the fuck are you going to do, man?” he asked.

He thought he had found those answers at the cabin. Their situation was so complicated. It was not just him; the girls, even the other wives needed her. And this secret was not his to share, not really. But his resolve to bear this burden alone was weighing him down as no command decision or pack ever had.

He sighed, he would have weeks, even months to come to terms with it. Long weeks when his arms ached to hold her and thousands of miles separated them. Time to clear his head and come up with a battle plan, for the rest of their lives. Because whether he deserved her or not, there was no way in hell he was letting her go. He couldn’t. Not and still breathe.

The warm water cascaded down her face. It mixed with more tears until her head ached, pounded under the pressure of all the half truths. She breathed deeply trying to calm her rolling stomach again. She leaned her head against the cool tiles and tried to focus on just one thing. She sobbed softly when that one thing became his face in her mind. “Oh Daniel,” she whispered.

She felt his strong arm about her waist and allowed herself to collapse against him. “Shh, sweetheart, I’m right here,” he whispered as he buried his face between her shoulder blades. His other hand brushed dripping wet hair back from her face. “How bad is it?”

She shook her head, “I’m fine.”

He chuckled against her skin and she felt it vibrate down her spine to curl her toes. “You’re a lousy liar, baby.”

She smiled, if only he knew. Everything about their lives was rapidly becoming a lie and the biggest one of all stared her in the face this morning.

“Really, I’ll be fine. I just need a couple of minutes. A warm shower and I’ll be fine,” she said as she leaned back against him. She was quickly distracted from her rolling stomach by the wetness between her thighs as she rubbed her bottom against his growing erection.

His arm about her waist tightened as he tried to still her movements. “Damn it, Jill. Not now. I might not be able to stop my body from reacting to holding you naked in my arms, but damn it I’m not some selfish bastard. I didn’t come in here to take advantage of the situation, sweetheart. I came to make sure you are all right.”

She moved her hips against his hard flesh, “You’re not taking advantage of me, Daniel. I’m taking you,” she whispered as she placed her hands flat against the tiles above her head and pushed back taking the head of his cock in her wet cunt. She moaned, “Oh god, that feels so fucking good.”

“Jill, stop it. We can’t,” he tried to protest, but once more she took control of his body. He gently thrust forward, as she trembled around him. “Oh god, baby, you’re driving me crazy,” he whispered as he buried his face against her back. “What kind of monster am I? I just had you four times last night and even with you sick I can’t stop myself from wanting you again.”

“Shut up and make love to me, Daniel,” she whimpered as she moved her hips back, taking him deeper inside of her. “It’s what I want too,” she threw her head back, the water running down her face and chest, dripping from her hard nipples. “I need you. Oh god, I need you.”

She felt his other hand cover hers on the wall. He laced his fingers through hers. “God forgive me, but I can’t resist you, baby. I need you too,” he whispered in her ear as he surged forward, taking her over the edge and lifting her feet from the tiles. His arm about her waist held her tightly, suspended a couple of inches above the tub as he pounded into her. Their bodies found a frantic rhythm that left them breathless.

She squeezed his fingers as he pushed her body higher, another intense orgasm building inside of her. “Please, Daniel, oh god please,” she whimpered.

“Please what, sweetheart? Please fuck you? Make you come again and again,” he demanded.

She nodded, “Yes, oh god, yes.”

“Say it, Jill.”

“Fuck me. Fuck me hard,” she begged.

He stilled inside her. His fingers that were laced through hers trailed slowly down the wet surface of her arm. Then her side, until his hand was cupping her breast. Her nipple ached as she bit her lower lip to keep from crying out as he softly kneaded her flesh.

“That’s not what I meant, sweetheart,” he whispered as his thumb brushed across it. She jumped at the power that surged through her body at his tender caress.

She shook her head and whimpered. “Please, Daniel. Anything. Anything, I need you so bad.”

His tongue trailed down the side of her neck, fire licked at her skin as he consumed her. “Anything, baby?” He whispered as his teeth nibbled at the same spot that had borne his mark of possession after their first encounter.

She moved her hips, trying to take more of him inside her, but suspended as she was, she was powerless. Her nails raked across the cold tiles, “God damn it, Daniel, make me come. I need to come. Please.”

“Tell me again, Jill,” he whispered against her shoulder as his thumb tortured her nipple, brushing lightly back and forth across its hard surface. “What you said earlier,” his hips made a slow circle, increasing the pressure, but not enough to take her over. “What your sweet lips whispered when you thought I was asleep, baby.” He surged forward then, pushing her higher.

Jill’s eyes flew open. Her fingers clutched desperately at the smooth surface. Her heart pounded so fast that she feared it would burst from her chest. “Oh god,” she moaned as she hung on the very edge, suspended above a dark pool of love and need that threatened to consume her.

Then he was moving in her again. One arm wrapped about her waist, crushing her against him as he took them both on the wildest of rides. The other hand abandoned her aching breast and wound its way through her long, dripping wet hair, tilting her head to the side as his teeth found their mark. “Say it, god damn it,” he commanded as he pounded harder and faster inside of her.

Jill whimpered as fresh tears flowed down her cheeks. The water was turning cold or perhaps it was fear coursing through her. She shook her head as she felt her body surrendering to its Master once more. She dropped her head against his chest as he sucked and bit her shoulder. Her body trembled and ached as it took him deeper still. One orgasm rolled into the next and it seemed it would never stop.

His teeth released her flesh. His tongue licked at it, then moved slowly up to her ear. It swirled and teased as he slowed the pace. “Please, baby,” he whispered as he sucked her ear lobe into his hot mouth.

Jill felt the tightness not just in her throat, but her chest as well. There was no hiding. Not this time. And truth was…she did not want to. “I love you,” she whispered.

His hand in her hair tugged harder, turning her head until she was looking up into his face. His eyes held hers until she was certain that she would never breathe again.

He lowered his head until their lips were practically touching. “Again,” he whispered. “Say it again, baby.”

Her lips took his, her tongue plunged deep inside his mouth as she felt him moving inside her body. She drank at his lips, moaned into his mouth as his body pushed her over the edge, another powerful orgasm sliced through her body, touching the depths of her soul. “I love you,” she breathed into him.

“Yes,” he roared. “Oh god, yes.” She felt his body trembling as he emptied himself.

Her head spun a bit as he staggered under the power of his release. She clutched his arm about her waist, afraid for a heartbeat that they might fall. But he did not. They stayed like that in the shower for what seemed forever. The water was most definitely turning cold. As cold as her deepest fears in that moment.

He leaned his forehead against hers. His arm about her tightened even as his hand in her hair released its hold. He twitched inside of her a couple of times before he slipped slowly from her body, lowering her until her feet touched the bottom of the tub. He brushed her hair back softly, “I,” Jill held her breath. She held it and waited. Hoped. Prayed.

“We should probably get moving,” he said a moment later as he reached up and turned off the water. He grabbed a towel and wrapped it tenderly about her shoulders, drying them. She stared at his chest as she nodded silently.

“The girls will be up soon,” she heard his voice from somewhere far away.

‘Never let them see you cry,’ took on new meaning as she wrapped the towel tighter about her. She felt him lifting her from the tub, but the moment that he sat her on the floor she turned her back to him. Silence echoed off the walls of their tiny bathroom. It enveloped them like the fog rolling off the Thames on the coldest, winter’s day. Jill choked on it.

“I’ll get dressed in the bedroom,” he said as he bent and kissed her shoulder. She nodded as she clutched the towel tighter about her body. The moment she heard the bathroom door close, she dropped to the floor in tears.

Their backyard was full again. The early morning sun was blazing overhead, but its early fall warmth left a slight chill in the air. By afternoon it would be gone, but not the chill between them, he thought as he watched his wife fuss over cutting up Britney’s pancakes at the little table. She was smiling and laughing but it did not reach her eyes, that green sparkle was missing and Daniel knew why.

His wife deserved an apology. She deserved a hell of a lot more than an apology, like a husband that did not keep fucking everything up, he thought. He wished that the cup he held contained something stronger than steaming black coffee, but it was too early for a beer. And alcohol was off limits today. His throat tightened at the thought. In a few hours, they would be gone. For weeks. Months. He sighed, maybe forever. It had never bothered him. Not like this.

“Have you told her?” Samuel asked.

Daniel shook his head, “What are you talking about now, old man?” he sighed heavily.

“That you love her.”

Daniel closed his eyes and shook his head harder. “It’s not that simple.”

Samuel laughed, “Yeah, it is, buddy.”

“No, you don’t understand.”

His friend put his hand on his shoulder and guided him back towards the house. “So enlighten this old fool,” he said as he pushed Daniel through the side gate and into the less crowded drive-way.

A couple of late arrivals smiled and waved as the two men made their way to Daniel’s SUV. Samuel waited until the guest slipped into the backyard before turning on his friend, “All right, smart ass, how about you tell me what’s so god awful more important than telling your wife how you really feel about her? Cause buddy I hate to tell you this, but god forbid this might be your last fucking chance.”

Daniel sucked in a sharp breath at the power of the statement that echoed his own thoughts. He sought for words strong enough to counter balance them, but came up virtually empty. He slumped against the hood of his car as he stared at the cold, hard grey concrete beneath his boots. Finally, he found the courage to whisper, “Do you know who her husband was?”

Samuel shrugged, “Some British soldier. What does that matter? It’s not who her dead husband was that’s important, it’s what an ass her live one is being, if you ask me.”

Daniel shook his head, “Try Sergeant Major David Smith, Four-Two Commando, Her Majesty’s Royal Marines,” he whispered staring at a long crack in the driveway.

“Fuck,” was Samuel’s only response for several minutes.

“More like fuck me,” replied Daniel as he brought the cup of coffee to his lips and drank a long swig.

After a couple of moments silence, Samuel shook his head. “It still doesn’t matter, man. You were cleared. It was a fucking accident. It could have been us instead of them, just one of those things. The risks we all live with.”

“I set that tag on the drone myself,” he whispered. “Or I thought I did. So if something went wrong then yeah, it’s my fucking fault and no bunch of paper pushers can make that go away.”

“Quit being a fucking martyr. Those bastards wanted to hang you and there was not a fucking shred of evidence, nothing that pointed to anything other than a technical malfunction. If they couldn’t find anything, why the fuck can’t you let this one go?”

“Because a man died,” he shouted in a whisper. “A good soldier.”

Samuel nodded as he took another drink of his own coffee. “He was that,” he smiled.

Daniel turned and placed his palms flat against the hood of his car. “It’s been hard enough these past seven years. You don’t know how many times I’ve replayed that whole thing, tried to figure out what I did wrong.”

He paused, “But now? Fuck, it’s eating me alive. Knowing that if it weren’t for my mistake, he would have finished that last tour, gone home to some fucking cushy desk job for a couple more years and then retired with her to that fucking house in sunny Spain.”

Samuel put his hand on Daniel’s shoulder, “You did your job and he did his. It was a fucking accident. One of those things. Something we all have to live with. You aren’t god, buddy. You’re going to have to give this one up sometime or it will eat your lunch.”

Daniel shook his head, “But can you at least see, how impossible it makes everything?”

Samuel shook his head, “No, not really. You think he would blame you? Think David would have rather she married that snooty, pansy professor she was engaged to? He was my friend, not yours. And, I fucking promise you, he would have chosen you hands down.”

Daniel chuckled, not that it surprised him that his friend knew things about his wife that he had just discovered, but at the frankness that had always been the man. “How the fuck did she get messed up with a guy like that anyway?”

He wanted desperately to grasp the absolution that his friend offered. Samuel was right, he knew the other man far better than Daniel had. But the guilt he had lived with for so long had grown bigger still over the past couple of weeks. His eyes darkened and he quieted. “But if she knew,” the whispered words hung in the cool air.

“If she knew what? You think it would change things? You think she’d blame you?” Samuel voiced his deepest fears. Daniel heard the words that had echoed off the walls of his own mind for days. Spoken aloud, they sounded so much worse. He could not force his mouth to respond so he simply nodded.

“Then you are a hell of a fool. That girl knows the score. She knows the risks he took. Fuck, the risks you’re taking. And she lives with them. More than likely she’d want to kick his ass for needing one more adrenaline fix before he retired.”

His friend slapped him on the shoulder, “The only thing you ought to be worried about is making damned sure she doesn’t live through that nightmare again. You thought about that one, smart ass? Losing one man you love is bad enough. How would she feel if you didn’t come home? You really want to take that risk without telling her how you feel?” Samuel chuckled, “That, he’d kick your ass for.”

Daniel shook his head in denial. “Fat lot you know. You’ve been too fucking happily married it makes everyone sick for too god damned long to understand,” Daniel teased.

Samuel laughed, “And that, my friend, is why you should listen to this old man. Like I said good loving and the occasional sweet talking and life is good.”

The uproarious laughter behind him drew their attention, “Don’t be buyin’, his shit. I’s the reason this marriage works. Puttin’ up with his sorry ass,” Simone purred as she wrapped her arms about her husband’s waist.

When she stared at him, Daniel’s heart stuttered in his chest at her words, “I told you once, Danny me boy, de stars being shinin’ on you. Why you still be questionin’ tings you should just be grateful for?”

“Just don’t send any ‘lucky’ charms this time, Simone,” he smiled.

“Hey, they kept the mosquitoes away better than any bug spray,” chuckled Samuel.

“I better go check on my wife. See if she needs any help,” Daniel made his excuses as he looked with envy at the open and genuine love between his best friends. What he would not give for that with her? “You two stay out of trouble.”

Simone grinned and rubbed against her husband. “But trouble is what makes life fun. You run along now and check on your wife. Last I saw her, she was heading to the bathroom again. Said the smell of the bacon was bothering her.” She winked at her husband, “That food poisoning is sure hanging on. Makes you wonder, don’t it?”

Daniel frowned, “I tried to get her to see the doctor when we were at the hospital with Jess. Will you promise me you’ll make her go if she isn’t better in a couple more days, Simone?”

“Trisha and I been tryin’ too, suga. I think you ain’t the only one in dis marriage that don’t want to face de truth sometimes.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Aw, come on, smart ass,” Samuel chuckled. “You’ll figure it out, buddy.” He brushed a kiss across his wife’s lips as Daniel walked away confused.

Jill was feeling better. Her trip to the bathroom and the cold water had done its job. She watched the people milling about the yard. The atmosphere might be jovial on the surface, but it was not the same as their reception had been. That air of concern and worry were already cracking through the veneer.

She frowned when she noticed Travis helping T.J. up the slide. She looked around for Trisha, but did not see her friend. She had not seen her at all this morning. She crossed the yard and picked the little boy up as he squealed at the bottom of the slide.

“Hey, Trav, have you seen Trisha?” she asked.

The man looked down as he reached out for his son, “She isn’t coming.”

Jill frowned, “Why not?”

“Said she isn’t feeling well,” he replied as he took the boy in his arms, hugging him tightly.

She nodded, “I see. And it has nothing to do with the affair she had with Dodd?” she whispered.

Trav looked up at her. His eyes glinted with anger but then he shook his head, “Why am I not surprised?”

She smiled softly and brushed a lock of bright red hair out of T.J.’s eyes. “I understand how you feel, Travis. Far better than you know. Take a walk with me, please.”

“No offense, ma’am, but I really don’t see how you can understand. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to just spend what time I have left with my boy.”

“You’re right, I might not understand the specifics. But I know it feels like someone stabbed you with a knife. Like you don’t know how you can go on. Like your world and everything you thought you knew were gone. Just suddenly gone, vanished in the blink of an eye,” she said in a low voice.

“Ma’am, pardon me, but how do you know that shit?”

She chuckled softly, “Don’t worry, Trav. It isn’t what you think. I know I have Daniel’s loyalty,” if not his love, she thought with a frown. “But everyone keeps forgetting, I was married before. So now that I have your attention, would you like to take that walk, perhaps listen to what I have to say?”

The man frowned before he nodded slowly, “Yes, Ma’am, I guess so.”

She led the man, still carrying his son out through the side gate. She smiled and waved as she watched Simone and Samuel slink away down the street towards their house.

“Can I count on the two of you?” he asked as he too waved at the couple. “Will you keep an eye on Trisha for me?”

Jill nodded, “But not for the reason, you’re asking, Trav. Your wife made a mistake. A bad one. But she’s paying, she’s hurting too. And you aren’t helping.”

“Ma’am, I appreciate you watching over my wife, but I don’t really think you have the right to tell me what I should or should not do.”

She nodded, “You’re right, Travis. No one has the right to tell you what to do. But let me tell you what I did when it happened to me.” She smiled at the shocked look on his face.

“My husband, David, and I had been married about seven years. That itch everyone warns you about, I suppose. I guess it was worse because we had four young boys under the age of five and had barely had any time as a couple. Royal Marines deploy for a hell of a lot longer than you guys do,” she tried to lighten the mood. “Anyway, I was cleaning in his study one day and when I dusted the keyboard of the computer the screen lit up,” she sighed heavily.

“Ma’am, you don’t have to talk about it, if you don’t want.”

“Thanks, Trav, but it was a long time ago. Just goes to show though that no matter how long or what happens it’s something that’s still going to be there. You just learn to live with it,” she stared at him, “Or you don’t. But one thing I learned you can’t have it both ways.”

She pinned the man with a stare as she continued, “Anyway, it was an open chat. My husband and some woman called sub-Girl. What I read that morning shocked the shit out of me. It was way beyond my comfort zone,” she watched him fidget and chuckled.

“Yeah, like that. Anyway, here I was twenty-five years old, living in a foreign country, with four small sons and no real family, not even back home. I had no idea what the fuck I was going to do. What I even could do. I felt trapped and hurt and so fucking alone.” She fought back the tears, until she realized she was losing the battle and wiped them with the back of her hand.

“I moped about the house for days. I cried every time I was alone. And I fumed about how unfair it was. Basically, I pitched one hell of a pity party for myself. And things got worse. He spent more time in his study and I spent more time alone with the boys. I would go to sleep each night alone in our bed, knowing what he was doing downstairs.”

“So what happened?” he asked. “Did you get a divorce?”

She shook her head, “No, we had a dozen more glorious years, better than we had before. And I would not trade that time for anything in this world.” She smiled softly, “Well, almost anything.”

The man frowned, “But how?”

“Forgiveness and more than a bit of fighting fire with fire.”

“I don’t understand, ma’am. Fighting fire with fire?”

She laughed, “I decided if my husband wanted a kinky affair with a sub-girl then I’d give him one.” She chuckled as his brows arched and his eyes went wide. “That’s right. I created a profile on that same site and started seducing my husband. It took me far longer than I thought to convince him to meet face-to-face, but imagine his shock when he discovered that his sexy little submissive was the wife he had been taking for granted all this time.”

She paused as her words sunk into the man. “I know that our story is different. You may even think it isn’t the same, that what David did on the internet wasn’t cheating. But let me tell you, it sure as hell felt like it.”

She studied him for a moment, realizing how little she knew about this man, who was her friend’s husband. “Trav, you need to make a decision, just like I did. I know how hard that is. Like you, I did it for my sons. I didn’t want them growing up without their father, well anymore than the fucking Marines took him, anyway. I didn’t want to hurt them with a bitter divorce.”

“So I decided to forgive him, to find a way to make it work. And we did. Like I said things were actually better than before. If you’re going to stay in this marriage, even for T.J.’s sake, then you have to find that way too, Trav. You have to forgive Trisha. And quit punishing you both.”

He dropped his head, “I’m not sure I can, ma’am.”

“Then you have some hard decisions to make, Trav, because a marriage can’t survive without balance. One person cannot spend their life loving another, giving everything to try and make it work the way I think your wife has these past few months, while the other person pushes them away, denies that love. It won’t work. It can’t. So, how about I take T.J. back inside to play with Brit and Ash while you go have a talk with your wife. See if you can’t find that way before it’s too late.”

He was silent for so long that Jill feared he would just turn and walk away, ignoring her words. Finally, he passed his son to her arms. “I’ll be back, little man,” he said as he brushed a kiss across his son’s forehead.

“Hopefully, with your mama,” Jill smiled. “Tell her otherwise, Simone and I are coming looking for her ass. And trust me, you guys aren’t the only ones that know a thing or two about search and rescue.”

He saluted her as he turned to leave, “Yes, ma’am. If you don’t mind me saying so, we’re all damned glad you came.”

Jill hugged the little boy as tears slipped over the rim of her eyes once more, “I’m glad I did too, Trav. Now go, get your wife. There should be a law against two stubborn red-heads getting married. Poor kid doesn’t stand a chance.”

Daniel stepped back from the gate, closing it quietly as his wife turned back towards the yard carrying the little boy. Things were moving too fast again. The world spinning and rotating on its axis too quickly. It seemed it had, ever since she stepped off that fucking plane. Waving her arms with that smile that could draw you back from the darkest night, light the path and lead you home, nothing and everything made sense.

He had spent so much time living with the ghosts, seeing the other man as human and fallible was new. But his wife’s other words rang in his ears, she would not trade that time for anything. It only solidified his deepest fears. How would she feel if she knew the truth? Knew his role in destroying her world? No matter what Samuel might say, he doubted his wife’s sense of duty would extend that far. No, if she knew the truth, those sweet words of love that his soul craved like a man’s last breath would turn quickly to hatred and anger.

And in the coming weeks, that was what he needed to deal with it. How to wrap it all up neatly, hide it in the deepest corners of his mind and learn to live and love with this amazing woman who was a gift he would never deserve. Because that was the only option.

He smiled as she bumped into him, cooing and holding the little boy. His hands gripped her upper arms and kept her upright. “We really do have to stop bumping into one another like this, Missus Monroe,” he teased as he bent to kiss her softly.

He felt her stiffen in his arms, feared for a moment that she would pull away. But with a weak smile and a slow shake of her head, she wrapped her free arm about his neck and giggled, “Oh yes, commander, I can think of lots more interesting ways of bumping into you,” she teased.

He relaxed a bit at her words, enjoyed the feel of holding her in his arms. “You or Mistress J?” he whispered against her ear. Even with his unit and their families around, he found it difficult to control the intense need he felt at the very mention of her.

“Both of us.” She drew back out of his embrace and bent down, putting the little boy on the ground and pointing to where Brit and Ash were tottering towards their playhouse. “Go on, give those two some of your red-headed willfulness, my little hellion.”

Daniel chuckled as he held out his hand to her, “Don’t think my girls can’t stand their own, sweetheart? Those two beat the crap out of your little hellion the other day.”

“Two on one. They should save those games until they’re a bit bigger,” she teased. His frown at her words was greeted with soft laughter as she took his hand and stood up, “Oh, my sweet little farm boy.” Her face went white and she stumbled a bit.

His arm wrapped about her waist steadying her. “Woe, sweetie, are you all right?”

She nodded, “Yeah, I just stood up too fast, I guess.”

He frowned. “Maybe I should,” he began until her finger once again stilled his words.

“Shut up and kiss your wife?” she teased again.

He shook his head, “You’ve already won one battle this morning with that one, Missus Monroe. Don’t try it again. You should go lay down for a bit. I kept you up most of the night, then you’ve spent all morning cooking. And you’re still sick with that damned food poisoning. I’ll entertain our guests while you rest.”

She shook her head almost violently, “No, I don’t want…” She paused and looked at the ground.

He drew her closer, “Don’t want to miss a moment?” he breathed against her ear. “The feeling is mutual.”

He felt her relax against him, wanted to lift his hand and wave it all away, be alone with her once more. But he could not. Duty was closing in on him. He wanted to push it back but he knew he could not. He needed to focus, to compartmentalize. His life depended on it. The lives of his men depended on it. But, for this one moment, he would live in the present and simply hold onto his wife. “Promise me you will see the doctor if this doesn’t get better soon,” he asked.

“Stop worrying about me, Daniel. I’ll be fine. The girls will be fine. You focus on doing what you need to and coming home to us. That’s all that matters.”

He laughed, “More orders?”

“The most important ones, commander,” she whispered as her arms wrapped about his waist and squeezed tightly. She rested her head on his shoulder, “Just come home to me. That’s all I ask, Daniel.”

His throat tightened as he nodded. Would she ask the same if she knew, he wondered.

Jill washed another plate as she stared out the kitchen window. Only a handful of people still remained, milling about in their backyard. Daniel, Samuel and Travis were huddled in a corner near the gate. She could see from the serious look on their faces that it was all business already.

“How you feeling, suga?” purred the soft Texas twang behind her.

Turning slowly this time, she smiled at her friend. “Better, now that you’re here.” She held out her soapy hands for the pile of dishes in Trisha’s. “How are things?”

The woman shrugged, “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know, Jill.” She watched as huge tears spilled from the woman’s eyes. “He says he wants to make this work for T.J., but what’s the point? If he can’t forgive me? If we can never move past it?”

Jill nodded her head. “I know, sweetie. But these things can take some time. What you did hurt him pretty damned bad. And who you did it with only makes it worse.” Jill shivered, “Okay, I just have to ask. What the fuck were you thinking? Clay Dodd? That man gives me the creeps.”

Rich laughter rang behind them, “Yeah gurly. With your pretty face and hot body, why fuck a weasel like that one?” asked Simone.

Trisha chuckled and shook her head, “I’ve been asking myself the same fucking question for months. I don’t know I guess the attention was nice. I mean it all started out with him stopping by occasionally to talk about the Storm Breakers’ offer. Then he suggested dinner one night, said I could use a night out on the town and that it would all be a tax write-off for him.”

Simone looked at the floor, “Was that the night I watched T.J.?” she whispered. Jill reached out and wrapped her arm about her friend, understanding the other woman’s guilt at her part in it all.

Trisha’s eyes filled with tears as she nodded, “I’m sorry, Simone, but, honestly, I never meant for anything to happen. I’m still not sure how it did. He took me to a nice place by the ocean and like he said, most of dinner was talking about getting Trav to quit the Navy and come to work for his daddy.”

“Then when we left the restaurant, he said he had forgotten to bring some paperwork about the benefit package. He said it was back at his place, said it was just around the corner. So I thought nothing of stopping by there to pick up it all up. But when we got there,” the woman dropped her head into her hands, sobs shaking her body.

“I swear it was only that once. And I still don’t know how it happened. One minute I was standing on the deck watching the waves and drinking wine and the next I’m naked in his bed. Oh god, I hate myself,” she cried. “How stupid can I be? It wasn’t like it was anything special. He just kept bragging how I wasn’t the only wife that needed a little attention when the guys were away.”

“Well, don’t be looking at me, gurly. I’d break the little bastard,” Simone giggled nervously as the three of them hugged by the sink.

Jill blushed. She was beginning to have suspicions of who else might have graced the man’s bed, but now was not the time to dwell on those things. “Have you tried to tell him any of this? Tell him how you feel?”

Trisha grabbed a dish cloth from the counter and passed it over her face as she nodded. “Yeah, but not sure it helps. Nothing seems to.”

Jill squeezed her friend’s shoulder, “How about telling him that you still love him? Tried that one?”

Red hair swung about her face as she shook her head violently, “No. And I’m not going to. What would be the point? Grovel and humiliate myself when it’s pretty damned clear he doesn’t feel the same?”

Jill swallowed past the pain, the woman’s word cutting a little too close to home. She was thankful when it was Simone that spoke up.

“Gurlfriend, let me ask you something? If you had to walk a mile in Chloe’s shoes, if that boy didn’t come back this time? Would your pride matter a hill of beans? Or would you rather have given him the ultimate gift…your love, no strings attached.”

Jill fought the tightness in her chest as another round of nausea assailed her. ‘Your love, no strings attached,’ echoed in her mind as she realized how many of those strings she had put on her declaration that morning. It was not just Trisha that had some thinking to do it seemed as she turned back to the sink. “Well, unless you two are helping with the dishes, I suggest you go find your husbands and kids.”

Simone shook her head, “No way, sweet cheeks. You ain’t getting off that easy either. Those dishes will wait. You’re coming with us,” she smiled grabbing both their hands and dragging them towards the back door.

Daniel barely registered anything that the two men were discussing. He knew that he should be the one leading the discussion, but his heart simply was not in it. No, his heart was decidedly somewhere else. He looked up just in time to see Simone come through the back door, laughing and giggling, pulling Jill and Trisha behind her.

Even though she was too pale and dark circles showed beneath those green eyes, his wife had never looked more beautiful. He stared at her, trying to memorize every line of her face, every curve of her ripe body. He had spent most of last night doing the same, tracing and mapping it all with his hands and lips. But it was not enough. He feared it never would be. He sighed and smiled weakly as Simone led her little group towards them.

“All right, you big baddies, you have plenty of time for de he-man shit later. Right now, us gurlies need your atten-shun,” Simone said as she slung Trisha into her husband’s lap. Trav frowned and went to pull back, but then reluctantly wrapped his arms about Trisha’s waist.

Samuel laughed and shook his head as his wife repeated the process, slinging Jill into Daniel’s lap. “What you up to, girly mine?” he teased. His wife sashayed up to him and swung her round bottom in his face until he reached out and wrapped his arms about her waist, drawing her into his lap with a giggle.

“Just think you boys need a reminder of what you’re fighting for, that’s all,” she said with a wink as she wrapped her arms about his neck and drew him down for a lingering kiss.

Daniel shifted uncomfortably on the hard plastic chair. The feel of his wife’s round bottom combined with their friends’ intimacy had him half hard in a heartbeat. He leaned his head into her hair and nuzzled against her. His wife turned to face him, wrapping her arms about his neck.

“Can’t argue with a wise woman, can you, commander?” she teased as she lowered her head to brush a soft kiss against his lips.

“Gees, could you people get a room?” boomed Trav.

Simone looked up and pinned him with one of her stares. “Fool,” was all she said as she turned back to her husband with a smile. “Now where were we?”

Samuel laced his fingers through her long braids and drew her back down for another kiss, “Just about here, my little witch.”

“Aw, fuck it,” Trav whispered as he looked up at his wife. Daniel smiled as he watched the silent interplay. Trisha was the first to move, drawing her husband towards her.

He turned to his own little distraction, “I’m going to miss you.” It was not the admission he wanted to make, but given the circumstances, it was more of one than he had any right to make.

Jill smiled at him as she toyed with her lower lip, biting it the way he longed to. He knew it meant she was thinking. Funny, how much he had come to learn of this woman over such a short time. But he knew it was not enough. If he had a thousand years, it would never be enough.

But he did not. He had one lifetime and that could be shorter than either of them wanted to admit. His throat tightened as his hand caressed her lower back, just beneath the heated cotton of her dress lay a reminder of how impossibly short that time might be…and all the reasons he had no right to her.

None of it mattered though, because his wife felt too damned perfect in his arms for him to ever let her go. Closing his eyes, he said a silent prayer asking forgiveness before he sought the sweet taste of love once more on her lips. When she moaned softly as his teeth bit at her lower lip, he took it as a sign from the heavens and swept inside the deepest recesses of her mouth. His tongue waging battle with hers, demanding surrender, total and complete.

“Yuck, you old people are disgusting,” whined a petulant voice.

Daniel reluctantly broke the kiss and looked up at his pre-teen daughter. He offered her a half-apologetic smile, but she just shook her head.

Althea, who stood just behind Jess, just giggled. “Get used to it, girlfriend. I’ve been putting up with those two for almost thirteen years,” she nodded towards her parents.

“Like we don’t put up with you too, missy,” huffed Simone with a wink at her daughter before she opened her arms. “I think you’re just jealous. Don’t worry, you’re still daddy’s favorite little girl. But mommy is his favorite big girl.”

Samuel chuckled as he shifted in the chair with the added weight of their daughter. “Big girl is right,” he said as he slapped his wife’s bottom.

“Oh yeah, baby, just more of me for the loving, old man.”

“How do you put up with it?” asked Jess with a frown.

Althea looked at her parents with a smile. “I don’t know. You get used to it, I guess. Actually, it’s kind of nice sometimes. Better than those stupid romance novels you like to read all the time.”

Daniel raised his eyebrows, “What novels is she talking about, Jessica?”

Jill softly nudged him in the ribs and he looked up into those green eyes as she shook her head. “We’ll talk about this later, young lady,” he said.

Turning to his friends, “Hate to rush you guys off, but I’ll be seeing enough of your ugly faces soon enough. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll spend these last couple of hours with my girls,” he nuzzled the side of his wife’s face and whispered, “All of them.”

Samuel nodded and pushed his wife and daughter up. “That’s the smartest thing I’ve heard out of your mouth in weeks, buddy.”

Trisha blushed and stood up, “Well, girlfriends. See you tomorrow?”

Simone wrapped her arms about her husband’s waist and nodded. “You remember what I said.”

The redhead nodded and snuck a glance at her husband, “I’ll think about it.”

Simone shook her head as the younger woman scurried away to pick up her son, who was once more being bested by the tiny twin terrors.

“Aw, man, I told you, it ain’t fair. Two against one,” moaned Travis.

Jill chuckled, “Yeah, like any man would complain about those odds.” The guys’ mouths fell open as Jill and Simone laughed.

Jill finished washing the last plate and put it in the dishwasher. Her hand trembled as she closed the door and pushed the start button. She stared out the kitchen window as the soft whir of the machine ricocheted around the empty room.

“Britney and Ashley are down for their afternoon nap,” his deep voice washed over her like the incoming tide. She merely nodded past the lump in her throat. She felt his arms wrap about her waist and leaned back against him. His other hand ran slowly up and down her arms.

“I said good-bye to Bel, but it might not be a bad idea if you spent some time with her later. Maybe let her sleep in the bed with you.” His voice broke as he added, “She asked if I was going away forever the way her mother had. I guess she was so young the last time I deployed that it doesn’t make sense to her.”

Jill fought back tears and squeezed his hand where it rested on her upper arm. “I’ll talk to her. When they are this age, time does not mean much. But I’ll try to help her understand.”

He brushed a kiss on the juncture of her neck and shoulders, what had become a favorite spot since that first afternoon they made love. “Of course, Jess is acting like it’s no big deal, but keep an eye on her anyway.”

She nodded. “I know D.J. was always the same way, like it didn’t matter. But when his dad,” her voice failed. She felt his arms wrap tighter about her, squeezing her tenderly. “Yeah, I’ll see what I can do, if she’ll let me.”

“I’ll speak to Simone as well, ask her to see if she can talk to her.”

Jill swallowed the foul tasting bile as another round of nausea hit her. She squared her shoulders, refusing to give into it, worry, or self-pity. She plastered a smile on her face and turned in his arms. “Do you always fuss like an old woman when you leave, commander?”

His laughter zinged down her spine to curl in the pit of her stomach, churning with everything else. “I do,” his fingers brushed hair back from her face and sent shockwaves of need to her tight nipples and lower still. “But I know you will handle it all, Missus Monroe,” he smiled.

She nodded as she looked down, “That’s the arrangement, commander. What this is all about,” she whispered as she fought to hold back the flood that threatened to break the carefully fortified banks of her heart and mind.

He sighed and caressed her shoulders. “Jill, this is about so much more than some stupid arrangement that you brokered with my mom and Simone. I think we both have known that for a long time, sweetheart.” He drew her closer to him and pressed a tender kiss to the top of her head. When words failed her, she nodded slowly.

She tried to turn away, but his fingers under her chin lifted her eyes to his. “I’m sorry. I know I hurt you this morning and I had no fucking right to be so god damned selfish. You’re fucking amazing and you take my breath away sometimes. From the moment you stepped off that damned plane, nothing has been the same. The girls, the other wives and yes, me, we all need you, sweetheart. You deserve so much more than this.”

She held her breath as his fingers brushed softly across her bottom lip. “But I need some time to think. There are so many things I can’t even tell you.”

He was quiet as he stared up at the ceiling and held her for moments that felt like an eternity. “Just know one thing, Missus Monroe, this old sailor knows that you are so much more than I will ever deserve.”

Jill released the breath that she was not even aware she had been holding. Since their girl talk, her mind had been warring with Simone’s words. Her friend might have meant them for Trisha but she knew their wisdom applied equally to her own situation. And while Daniel’s speech was not the words she had hoped for, she felt the hurt and insecurity with each word he had forced out. Pain that she knew she held the power to soothe.

She stood on tiptoes and brushed a soft kiss across his lips. “One thing you don’t need to think about, commander, is the fact that your daughters and I love you very much. We’ll be waiting when you get back. So, go do what you need to and come home.”

Daniel nodded and deepened the kiss. Jill wrapped her arms about his shoulders and did all that she could to show him the truth in her words. They were both breathless when she drew back long moments later. “You better go or you’ll be late. I don’t think another romp in our bed is sufficient explanation for tardiness. That would be setting a bad example for your men, commander.”

She smiled at the lightness of his laughter. “I don’t know, I think that might be the best example of all, Missus Monroe.”

She swatted at his arm as she pushed him away. “Naughty boy.”

He winked, “So, does that mean Mistress J has some new kinky punishment awaiting my return?”

“Damn straight, she will if you don’t get that cute ass moving.”

“You think my ass is cute?”

“You’re fishing again, commander,” she teased lightly.

“It’s one of the things SEALs do best, ma’am,” he winked. “You were too sick to eat any, but I did quite well catching our dinner if you remember.”

She nodded, “I do and next time I’ll make sure not to have food poisoning on you.”

She knew that she should push him out the door, but she was as reluctant as it appeared he was to say their final good-byes. She enjoyed the gentle teasing that seemed so natural with them. She wanted to hold on to it, to him for just a moment longer.

Looking up into those blue depths, her heart froze in mid-beat. Her fingers brushed gently across the tiny lines that furrowed his brow. “I love you, Daniel,” she whispered as she forced herself to turn and walk from the kitchen, down the hallway that seemed so long that morning. Forced herself to not turn and run back into his arms.

Daniel stood frozen in the kitchen as he watched her soft bottom sway as she walked away. He knew he needed to get going, but everything inside him screamed at him to throw caution to the wind. To chase after his wife, spin her in his arms and kiss her until they were both silly. To spill every single word of his love.

But he did not. Now was not the time. And he was right earlier. Until he had gotten some things straight in his own mind, he had no right to tell her any of it. So, he let her go and watched as she knocked softly at Bel’s door before slipping inside. Just like she had slipped so quietly into his heart.

“Fuck. You’re getting too old for this shit, man,” he cursed as he headed out to the utility room just off the kitchen. Grabbing the duffle bag he had stowed there, he forced himself to open the back door, but he could not stop himself from turning for one final look at the house that she had made into a home.

“Home, damn straight, I’m coming home to you and the girls, Missus Monroe,” he whispered. He chuckled, “Mistress J and I have some unfinished business too.”

Samuel and Travis were waiting by the car when he pushed the gate open. “About damned time, man. Had to make sure the little lady had something to remember you by?” teased his best friend.

Daniel laughed, “Do you ever think about anything else?”

“Does any man?” Samuel replied as Daniel opened the back of the SUV and threw their bags inside.

“Sane ones,” replied Travis. “You two might have forgotten, but we have a little thing called a mission. A job that this country is counting on us to do. So, can you two pussy whipped bastards get it in gear?”

Samuel and Daniel exchanged stares as he threw his bag in with the others. Threw it a bit too forcefully.

“Everything all right, Trav?” Daniel asked.

“Yeah, just peachy keen, commander.”

“You sure about that?” Samuel replied.

“Other than the red fucking Ferrari that was parked outside my house when we got back this afternoon. Yeah. Yeah, everything is just fine.”

Daniel nodded. “There aren’t many of those around these parts are there.”

“No, no, there aren’t. So, if you two don’t mind, I’d just as soon get out of here and leave the Missus to her thing.”

“Trav, you don’t know it was Clay and even if it was, you don’t know what he was doing there,” offered Samuel.

“Come on, man, quit being so naïve. If I hadn’t gone back to get Trisha the way Jill suggested, my wife would not have even had the decency to wait until I left this time. As it was, the damned thing was circling the block when we got back. Like the fucking vulture, he is.”

“Well, as far as I’m concerned, the son of a bitch can have her. As soon as I get back, I’m filing for divorce, but if that lying, cheating bitch thinks she’s getting my son, she has another think coming,” the man’s face got redder and redder with each word until his skin was as dark as his hair and molten with anger.

Daniel sighed, “Trav, I know how you feel. Trust me, I really get it. And maybe you are right. But I have to ask, man, are you sure you can manage this? Hell, you know, I won’t blame you.  There’s no shame in taking some time off to take care of business at home. If I’m honest, maybe I should have done the same. Maybe Rachel would be alive today.”

The man shook his head. “No man, I need out of here. I need to fucking kill something. And it’ll be a far sight better if it is some self-righteous zealot than that slimy two-faced prick and my loving wife,” he said sarcastically.

Daniel and Samuel exchanged glances again as he closed the back of the SUV. He felt the weight of command as he pondered the decision. But in the end, he gave into Travis’s reasoning. “Keep your head out there, man. Don’t fucking make me regret this decision,” he said as he slapped the man on his shoulder. Travis nodded and muttered his thanks as he climbed into the back seat.

Daniel shook his head as he opened his own door, “I have enough fucking regrets as it is,” he whispered under his breath.

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