1 large cucumber, thinly diced
1 bunch spring onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 container of plain yogurt
Dash of extra virgin (something oughta be, right?) olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Pour olive oil and squeeze lime over the top. Stirring again. Serve as a dip with tortillas, fresh bread, or vegetables. This is one of those things that tastes better the next day.
Jill forced herself to hum softly for Britney and Ashley. The twins were as cranky today as she felt, and being restrained in their stroller did not help. “It won’t be long, princesses. We just need to pick-up Jess and Bel,” she promised as her tummy did a little flip. It had been a couple of weeks since the worst of the morning sickness had passed.
As they approached the sign that marked the designated school bus stop, she waved to Simone. She tried to force a smile, but none would come. There was not much to smile about these days. Three months and twenty-five days since Daniel’s unit had been deployed.
If that was not bad enough, both she and Simone received almost daily calls from Sergeant Martin about Trish. The woman had disappeared, even before Jill was released from the hospital. She had simply woken up the next morning and signed herself out of the hospital. She had gone straight to Chloe’s before either Jill or Simone knew what was up and sweet-talked the young woman into handing over her son.
Not that they could have stopped her, Jill supposed. T.J. was her child, but still, they all felt awful that in her time of need, Trisha had not turned to them. At least they knew she was safe. Simone had called her family in Lubbock to tell them what had happened, only to discover that she and the baby were there. She steadfastly refused to talk to either of them, though. That hurt, considering how close the women had been.
But Jill had big problems closer to home to deal with. Jess had become more withdrawn every day since her father left. She rarely came out of her basement bedroom except for meals and school. Jill had thought it was just missing Daniel and had tried to talk to her, but the girl just pushed her away.
The biting wind off the ocean cut through Jill’s coat. She supposed she understood some of the girl’s angst. Halloween and Thanksgiving had come and gone without her father, then Christmas. Even though Daniel’s parents had come to spend the holiday with them, it was not the same. Jill had been pleased that her father-in-law had been in remarkably good spirits.
They would be stopping in New York City for a few days. A specialist there offered a new type of chemotherapy that might buy them more time. Time for that cruise in the New Year. But none of it was the same as their summer barbeques had been. Who knew how much beer-swilling men added to an event?
Simone held out her hand as they approached the stop. “Whatever that thought is, keep it. I haven’t seen that smile on your face in weeks.”
“I was thinking about beer-swilling men.”
Simone wrapped arms about her. “Oh, sugar, it won’t be long now.”
Jill brushed back tears and cursed her weakness under her breath. “Damned hormones.”
Simone ran her eyes up and down her friend. “Yeah, well, the boys better get back soon, or your little efforts to keep this whole thing under wraps will be for nothing.”
Jill pressed her hand over her tummy, where a pair of Daniel’s grey sweat pants and an old Naval Academy shirt peeked out from between buttons on her coat that would no longer close. She sucked it in as much as she could, but then exhaled loudly.
“I know, it’s no fucking use. This baby must be another bruiser like D.J. was. I swear I have not been this big, this soon since he was born. I refuse to gain seventy pounds this time.”
Simone laughed, “Any luck finding your Turkish doner kebabs?”
Jill stared at her, a look that would freeze most people’s blood but only made her friend laugh harder. “No, damn it. I never thought I’d miss anything about that place, but I’d kill for a doner from the little shop down the road from my flat. I’ve resorted to making riata and eating it straight from the bowl, no bread even, just spoon after spoon after spoon.”
The big yellow school bus came down the road then. “Yeah, well, back to pretending, gurlfriend. Although how you manage to keep that a secret from a curious teenage girl is beyond me,” Simone added, pointing to Jill’s protruding abdomen.
“If she were out of her bedroom for more than five minutes, I probably couldn’t.” Bel bounced off the bus and ran to hug her. She squeezed the girl and listened as she droned on and on about the new girl at school.
Althea stepped from the bus. Her head was down as she went to her mother. Jill waited for a moment until the doors of the bus closed. “Althea?” she asked, turning towards her friend.
Jill froze as she noted the tears cascaded down the young girl’s face. Althea trembled in her mother’s arms as she turned towards Jill. Her voice broke as she began, “I begged her not to go. Honest, I did, but she wouldn’t listen. She said if her dad could find a…” The girl stopped and looked up into her mother’s eyes.
“What, Althea? What did Jess say? We need to know everything,” her mother prodded.
The girl turned towards Jill, “She’s just mad. You have to understand. About you marrying her dad, taking over everything she used to do for Bel and even the babies. And now you’re having another baby. She didn’t mean it. She’s just not thinking right?” Her eyes pleaded for understanding.
Jill nodded slowly as the revelation that Jess knew about her pregnancy sank in. The girl began again. “She said if her father could find a whore on the Internet, then she could too.”
Althea looked at the ground and sighed, “She’s been talking to this boy from Richmond online for months now. Since before you came. He’s asked her to meet him several times, but she always refused. But this time, well, she’s really mad at you and her dad. Said he promised no more babies.” The girl blushed when Jill’s hand went protectively to her stomach.
“Go on, Althea. Where is Jess now?” demanded Simone.
“I don’t know. She swore that she would be back before the school bus left. She snuck off at lunchtime, said she was going to meet him at the mall, that neither of us would get into any trouble because she would make it back before anyone knew. He is seventeen and has a car, or so she said.”
The color drained from Jill’s face. “Seventeen? Jess isn’t even thirteen yet?”
Althea nodded, “I know, but she told him she was fifteen.”
Bile rose as Jill realized that it would be just as easy for the man to lie to her step-daughter. “Oh, my god.”
Simone hugged her daughter, “You should have told us sooner, little lady, but we will discuss that later.” Turning towards Jill, she forced a smile, “I’m sure everything will be fine, sweetie. You go home and call that police sergeant. I’ll take Althea and go to the mall. I’m sure we’ll find her there, but just in case, get the police involved as quickly as possible.”
Jill closed her eyes and fought back the tears as Britney began to fuss in the buggy. Daniel would never forgive her if something happened to his daughter. Hell, she would never forgive herself. She felt tiny arms about her legs and looked down to see Bel’s golden curls pressed against the swell of her stomach. She rubbed the girl’s back and murmured soothing words that she did not believe herself. That feeling was eating at her gut once more as she turned her small troop back towards the house.
“Open the fucking door, bitch,” he growled as he yanked hard on Jess’s hair. She fumbled in her school bag, trying to find her keys. Tears swirled in her eyes. This was not what she had planned. This man. She hated him. She had since her mother first brought him into their lives.
Now, it was hard for her to process the fact that all these months, it had been him on the other end of the computer. She felt sick at all the secrets she had shared, the things she had told this man about her family, but she choked it back. She had to keep her head clear. It was their only chance against Clay Dodd.
His grip tightened, then he pushed her aside and fumbled with his free hand in his jeans pocket. He withdrew a set of keys and inserted one into the lock on her front door. He smiled at her when it turned, and the loud click announced its opening.
“Thank your crazy bitch mother for the key. She gave it to me herself.” His smile widened, “Or your stupid father for not having the locks changed after she died. Aw, don’t go all soft on me, princess. Who knows how many other men the whore gave keys to?”
Jess wanted to fight him, to deny his words, but he was right. Her mother had been a whore. She knew that from the moment she had brought this man into their lives. It was why she had never really grieved the woman’s loss.
“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” for the first time, she breathed her true feelings aloud.
The man threw back his head and laughed as he shoved her through the door. “Yes, well, I’m about to finish taking out the trash, princess.”
Jess froze, standing by the couch. “What do you mean?”
Daniel, Samuel, and Travis were joking as they stepped from the military transport plane, but all laughter quickly faded at the sight of four Marine MPs.
The men approached them. “Lieutenant Travis Hall?” they asked as Trav nodded slowly. “You are wanted for questioning in the attempted murder of your wife, Trisha Hall. Hands behind your back, sir.”
The whole unit froze in shock as the color drained from Travis’s face. “Attempted murder? Trisha?” His arms went automatically behind his back. His face was blank as he attempted to process their words. “Oh, holy fuck, T.J.,” he screamed as the realization hit him. He began to struggle with the Marines.
Daniel felt as if he had been kicked in the stomach. After almost four months in the desert, heat and cold combining to numb the senses, then the excruciatingly long flight home on the uncomfortable transport, he had been looking forward to a warm shower and the first night back in his wife’s arms. This turn of events changed all that.
He stepped forward and caught Travis’s eyes. The men exchanged a glance, “Go with them, man. Get this straightened out. Samuel and I will check on T.J. and Trisha. Find out what is up from Jill and Simone. Okay, man?” Daniel turned to the MPs, “Where are you taking him?”
The oldest, a Staff Sergeant, answered. “Our orders are to deliver him to the Hampton Roads Police Department, sir.”
“Thank you, Sergeant,” he replied as he turned back to his friend. “See you there in a couple of hours, buddy. Until then, keep it cool.”
Travis nodded, “Just find out about my son.”
“I will, man, I will.” Daniel watched as the Marines took his friend away in cuffs. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Samuel. “What the fuck is up, man?”
Samuel shook his head, “I don’t know, but you’re right, the girls will be able to tell us. We should head home as soon as possible. Right after the debriefing.”
Daniel shook his head and walked away, “Fuck the debriefing. We’re needed at home more.”
The short walk back to their home had never seemed so long. Bel chattered even faster than usual. Jill smiled at each word, adding a few sounds here and there to reassure the little girl, but she heard nothing. Britney and Ashley fussed in their double stroller, and not even the motion seemed to calm them.
Just as nothing could calm Jill’s troubled mind, Jess was gone. With some mysterious boy from the internet. If it was a boy at all. Dozens of horrible headlines about young girls lured to their demise by adult predators swam through her murky mind. She struggled to control nausea that she thought was a thing of the past as she had entered her second trimester.
She paused on the front porch. The door was ajar. Relief and worry swamped her as she pushed it open and rushed in. The first thing she saw was Jess, and her heart leaped in joy that the girl was safe. “Jess!” But her step-daughter was frowning, her eyes wide with… Fear?
Then Jill noticed the man that stood off to the side by the fireplace. He held a gun in his hand. A weapon that was pointed directly at Jess. The scene took on a surreal slow motion feel as Bel pushed past her and rushed to the man’s side. “Unca Clay, Uncle Clay, did you bring me more strawberry ice cream? You know it is my favorite.”
The man’s face contorted in disgust as he pushed the little girl down. She fell back and hit her head against the corner of the fireplace. Bel slumped there with blood pouring from a cut on her forehead.
Jill rushed to the child’s side. She felt for her pulse, but while Bel did not respond to the sound of her voice, the child was breathing steadily, and the pulse in her neck was strong. Jill took off her coat and wrapped the sleeve tightly about the cut then used the rest of it to make a pillow of sorts.
She looked up as the twins began to cry in their seats. But Dodd was beside them in an instant. She watched as he unwrapped lollipops and handed them to the toddlers. It seemed silly given the gun in his hand, but she fought back the urge to lecture him for giving sweets to the girls.
“It’s alright, my girls. Daddy’s here now.” He bent and brushed a curl out of Britney’s face before he turned back to face Jill. “I just have a few nasty details to take care of. Then we can be together forever.”
Jill shook her head, as details that she had forgotten, flooded back. Brakes. Her brakes would not work. She had been rushing to the hospital because she realized that it had been Clay, who pushed Jess.
Strawberry ice cream. The red stains on Cindy bear’s tummy after they brought Bel home from the hospital. It had always bothered her, but with the trip, then her own illness that she had assumed for so long was confirmation of the food poisoning diagnosis, and finally, Trisha.
With the concussion from the car accident, it had just slipped her mind. But not anymore, the room tilted as all the pieces to this very nasty puzzle fell into place.
“Now, you see. It took you long enough, you stupid bitch,” he waved the gun.
“Daniel won’t let you get away with it. You can’t take our daughters.”
“Your daughters? Your fucking daughters? These babies are mine. They always have been. That stupid cow thought that she could use them to manipulate me the way she did her weak-ass husband.”
“Thought she could have it all. My money, friends back in New York City, the parties, and drugs. But she showed her hand too soon. She was a lousy mother, not worthy of my seed. I only let her live long enough to bring them into the world.”
Jill held onto the arm of the couch to steady herself. Bel moved in her arms, a reassuring sign. But it was the pale, blank stare on Jess’s face that worried her most. The man was making accusations that the girl had no business hearing. She needed to stop him somehow before any more damage was done.
“What do you intend to do with us?”
Another laugh echoed around the room, “A little accident, a gas leak, a big boom. Image the pain that the loss of his whole family will do to the commander. Does he know?” he pointed the gun at her stomach.
Jill shook her head, “I wanted to tell him face-to-face.”
Her eyes sought Jess’s as her mind tried to formulate an escape plan. The girl was on the other side of the room. Dodd was between Jill and the front door, but if she could somehow catch Jess’s attention, perhaps the girl could make a run for the back door, alert the neighbors.
Jill laid Bel’s head gently on the floor. “Why? Why do you hate Daniel so much?” She moved so that he could not see her motioning towards the door behind her back.
The man stared at her with pure hatred, “Because he took from me what was mine. Now it’s time I did the same. And this time something that he will give a damn about, a wife he truly loves and his children. Just like he killed my son.”
His words made no sense. She knew her husband, the man would have no part of murder and certainly not a child.
Daniel saw the light in the living room and smiled as they drove up to his house. “You go see what you can find out from Simone. I’ll check with Jill. Call you in five, old man.” He hopped out of the car.
Neither had even bothered with their gear, leaving it at the airfield. Their only thoughts had been to help their friend. Daniel practically ran up the sidewalk to their house. He did not even pause as he threw open the door.
He stopped just inside the door when he saw Clay Dodd standing next to his daughters’ stroller. A gun pointed at his wife. Bel lay unconscious, it seemed, on the floor, and Jess was virtually catatonic in the doorway between the kitchen and living room. His spine stiffened when the man laughed.
“Well, well. Welcome home, Commander.” Dodd smiled, but it was a look that turned Daniel’s stomach. “I don’t think this can get any better. The great war hero comes home, kills his whole family, and then commits suicide. Oh yes, so much better than I had even imagined.”
Daniel watched as Jill gripped the couch even tighter. Her face went even paler at the man’s words. His heart tightened. Dodd moved to stand next to Jess, who remained frozen. He wrapped his arm about her waist and brought the gun to her head. She whimpered, but that was the only sign of life.
“Come in, Commander. Close the door and join the party. I was just explaining to your lovely wife here how you killed my son.”
Daniel turned and closed the front door. His mind began to tick off the moments. Samuel was expecting a phone call. He would know something was up when he did not get one. If he could just buy some time, then they all stood a good chance.
The problem was collateral damage. And there was too god damned much of it, spread across too vast a distance. The way Dodd held Jess meant that his knife would do him no good. Of course, he might be able to get off a kill shot between the eyes, but that was risky with his wife and daughters so near. His only choice was to play along, bide his time, and look for an opening.
Dodd waved the weapon at Jill, “You, bitch, go get that rope you have in your dresser drawer. And do it quickly.” He pulled Jess tighter and pushed the gun into her temples until she let out a shrill cry of pain.
He turned towards Daniel and motioned him to the chair. “Take a seat, Commander. We might as well have a little chat. There’s a few things I want to get off my chest before I kill you.”
Jill practically ran down the hall to their bedroom. For a moment, she considered calling the police or Simone but thought better of it. The man had a gun to Jess’s head, and given all that she knew he had done and the things that she suspected him of, murder did not seem that far off.
She reached into their toy drawer and pulled out the coiled length of rope. Her stomach turned again when she realized the truth. How did he know about this? But she did not have time to dwell on any of it. Her family’s lives depended on it.
She had never been happier to see Daniel, between the two of them, they would figure a way out of this. Right now, she was more focused on getting the man to confess as much of his crimes as possible. Beginning with what he did to Trish.
She squared her shoulders and walked back into the living room. Her eyes did a quick check, watching the rise and fall of Bel’s chest. The twins continued to fuss, but she noted that they were quieting slowly, sucking on the lollipops that Dodd had given them.
The man smiled, “Yes, maybe, you aren’t as stupid as I thought, Missus Monroe. A mild sedative, but I can assure you it is perfectly safe. I would never do anything to harm my daughters.”
Jess struggled a bit in Dodd’s arms. As if the words woke some part of her shattered mind. Glancing where her husband sat like a tiger watching its prey, Jill registered the leashed anger in every muscle of his body.
Dodd followed her eyes, “Tie him up, bitch. I’m sure you know what you’re doing. My little research on the internet was quite enlightening, Mistress J.”
Jill squared her shoulders and held her head up proudly. She had never been ashamed of the profile that she and David shared on the alternative lifestyle website. Even though she had just begun to reveal that side of herself to Daniel, she would not allow this man to humiliate her. That had always been one of her hard limits. That was not about to change now.
“Yes, so I’m sure you know the things that I want to do to you, asshole.”
She walked over to the chair and knelt by Daniel. She knew that it was too risky to speak, even to whisper, she just hoped that they were on the same page. She made quick work of the rope work, realizing as she did that he would eventually unravel each knot just as he had that night.
That night, oh how she wished they were back there in their room, alone, the girls safely tucked into their beds. But she was determined that they would be again – soon. She stood as she finished off the last knot.
“Take his gun out of his belt, round back. And the knife out of the top of his boot.”
As she did, the men’s eyes locked, “What didn’t think I would remember, Commander? Oh, I think we should all share a little walk down memory lane before you all head towards the pearly gates or the fires of hell in your case, bastard.”
Dodd turned towards her, “Does the little woman know your part in her beloved David’s death, Commander?”
Jill tried hard not to give the man the satisfaction he sought, but the stabbing pain in her chest at his words was too much. Her hands flew to her chest, and she gasped aloud.
Daniel watched the color drain from her face as his worst nightmare came true. His wife knew. Or she would shortly, thanks to Dodd. He wanted to make excuses, to tell her that the joint commission had exonerated him, but the words would not come, because if he did not believe them himself. Why should she?
“Oh, I see she doesn’t,” Dodd laughed.
“Well, Missus Monroe, let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there were two troops of brave knights. Knights from different kingdoms, but friendly knights. They were after the same evil overlord. They had him in their sights. There was new magic, too, a magic that would allow them to blow the bastard to kingdom come from miles away. They had only to plant a small device on the evil overlord’s magic dragon.”
He smiled at Daniel, “The bravest of knights volunteered to go alone into the evil overlord’s encampment. The other knights would surround it and come to his rescue if anything went wrong. But nothing did. Or so he thought.”
“But the magic did not work. It was not the evil overlord that was blown to hell, but the other troop of brave knights. Their leader killed, the others wounded. And the evil overlord made his escape once again.”
Jill shook her head, “So, what? Do you think that is anything new? Something the Ministry of Defense didn’t tell me? It was an accident, just like they said. No one could have known. Not David. Not Daniel. Nobody could have done anything to stop it.”
She looked at him as she finished. Daniel’s throat tightened at the look of conviction in her eyes. The worst had come. Damn, but he hated to admit it, but the old man was right. His wife had understood. Better than he ever had, he smiled weakly at Jill.
But the moment was interrupted by another laugh, “Oh, but you would be so wrong, dear queen. For you see, what neither brave leader realized was that among the knights was one, who held special powers, new magic.”
“The magic that might supersede all other, but it had yet to be tested. This young knight had meant only to plant the magic among the rocks that surrounded them, but then the other troop’s leader found him sneaking away. He threatened to tell his captain. Called it a dereliction of duty, would have the young knight punished. Except he never lived to do it.”
Daniel’s mind poured over the man’s words. The incident was not the last of the misfires. Several other drones had failed to hit their targets. A couple had even hit civilian strongholds causing embarrassment and trouble with their allies.
There had been some discussion that perhaps someone had developed a device to mimic the tag’s signal. But they had not considered it would be their own supplier, selling secrets to the enemy. Although what he knew of Storm Breakers and the Dodds, Daniel was not all that surprised that they would stoop to treason.
Dodd turned towards Jill, “You have a way of choosing real black and white assholes, you know that?”
His wife stuck out her chest and smiled, “Thank you, Mister Dodd. It’s called honor, something that you obviously know nothing about.”
The man moved so quickly that Daniel could only manage to loosen the first set of bonds. Without releasing his hold on Jess, the man backhanded Jill. The gun grazed her cheek and opened a small wound that oozed blood down her face. But his wife simply squared her shoulders and glared at the man.
“I could not be prouder of either of them. You, Mister Dodd, are a traitor.”
“Perhaps. But it won’t matter, no one will ever hear our little tale.”
Daniel swore that the man was wrong. The command needed to know about this new technology and the Dodds part in it. He sought his wife’s eyes as he loosened the next layer of rope. It would still be a couple more moments before he was free.
Of course, it was just as likely that somewhere beyond that closed door, Samuel was lurking, assessing the situation, and looking for an opening. They just needed to give him one.
As if sensing his thoughts, Jill spoke up. “If we are dealing in the truth, Mister Dodd. How about the other? Trisha? It was you that beat and raped her, wasn’t it?”
“Rough sex. You should know plenty about that Mistress J. The bitch is no better than the other one was. A bad fuck. The first time, I thought it was the damned drugs. The way she just lay there the whole time. But that second time, all she could do was blubber and cry for her fucking husband.”
“At least, your bitch did not do that when I was screwing her,” he said as he turned back to Daniel. Jess whimpered in his arms, and the man turned, planting a chaste kiss on her forehead right next to the barrel of the gun.
“I think the little princess is trying to apologize for not telling you sooner, daddy. See, your wife made no bones about our affair. Every time you were away, I came and went in this house like it was mine.”
“Oh, Missus Monroe, if you were wondering how I got in, how I knew about your little collection, shall we call it? I have a key. The dumb bitch gave me one.”
Dodd turned back towards Daniel, “I would suggest you change the locks, you never know how many men the slut gave keys to. But none of you will be around to worry about that.”
“Oh, and while we are clearing the air,” he continued. “I was the one that convinced the lazy cow to kill herself. Well, not exactly. I convinced her that she should fake a suicide attempt, that it would finally get you to leave the Navy and come to work for Storm Breakers. I was even here, you know.”
He motioned with the gun down the hall towards the nursery. “I fed her the pills. Praised her for being brave and strong. Promised her that we and our daughters would be together at last, if she did this one last thing for me.”
He put the gun back to Jess’s temple as he continued, “Of course, it was all lies. She was a lousy mother, wasn’t she princess? You did most of the fucking work. Caring for your sisters.”
Clay Dodd turned towards Jill, “You, on the other hand. You are a worthy vessel for my seed, too damned bad the asshole beat me to it.”
“But oh well, once I’m finished here, me and my girls might head over to Texas. See how the other bitch is doing. She might be as vain and self-centered as Rachel, but at least that one knows how to be a mother. Hopefully, our two day fuck fest will pay off. She should just about be showing by now.”
Jill closed her eyes as Trisha’s words in the hospital came back to her. That was what frightened her so much, the possibility of carrying this man’s child. Jill could not blame her. Her hand curled protectively over her precious cargo.
The man’s attention was centered on her husband as he continued. “You should have seen the fear in the bitch’s eyes when she realized that I had lied. As her eyes began to close, I whispered what a worthless cunt she was. Told her how you were not coming, that you never loved her anyway.”
“It was priceless, man. But you know what’s fucking ironic? Her last words were for her daughters. How the fuck is that for a shocker? The slut wasn’t such a horrid mother, after all.” He caressed the side of Jess’s face with the gun. “Is it nice to know that in her final moments on this earth, mommy dearest thought about you, princess?”
Jess whimpered and nodded. Jill noted it was the first sign that her step-daughter was coming out of the daze that she had been in. “I knew she loved you all, Jess. That’s what never made sense. Why would she leave you girls?” She hoped that the sound of her voice would reach a little further to bring the girl around.
Jill turned her attention back to Dodd, “And the accidents that have been happening to us all? Bel’s food poisoning? Jess’s fall? My car accident? That was all you, wasn’t it?”
He laughed again, and she was getting damned tired of it. She wished Mistress J had the cat of nine tails that David had bought her for their fifteenth wedding anniversary. She would strip the skin right off the man’s back. She supposed that just this once, it would be alright to break the cardinal rule of BDSM. Never lose control, never hit out of anger.
“You might not have her beauty, but between the super hot Mistress J shit, the mother of the year act, and that brain, damn, but you aren’t sexy in your own way.”
Jill winked to her husband, “If you only knew, Mister Dodd. Care to leave this lot here. Mistress J would love a chance to show you what she’s got.”
“I don’t think so, sweetie. Unlike your two fuck-head husbands, I’m not switch. I’m all Dom. Of course, from what I read on your profile that could suit you just fine too.”
“Sorry, I’ll have to decline your offer. As I’m sure you know, the lifestyle is all about trust and respect. I am very picky about to whom I offer my submission. And traitors, rapists, and murderers don’t make the cut.”
“I never bought that whole offering submission shit. It is something that you take. Women were put on this earth to be used and bred. Of course, you’ve more than fulfilled your role, haven’t you, sweetheart?”
“I have nothing to apologize for if that’s what you mean. I have loved and been loved by two amazing men, raised eight children, and in my own way, served my countries with honor. Too bad you can’t say the same, shithead.”
“Oh, is that a small taste of Mistress J?”
“You could not take Mistress J. She would have you whimpering like the coward you are inside of two minutes.” Jill hoped that Daniel was using the time she was buying him wisely. “So, anything else you need to confess before we end this thing?”
“Oh, I intend on ending it. Soon. I’ll begin with that weak little cunt over there,” he motioned with the gun towards Bel. Then he pressed the weapon into Jess, but this time it was her side, not her temple. “Then this one. I figure watching the girls die will shut up that fat mouth of yours, bitch.”
“Then again, maybe I will shut it up another way before I kill you. Right in front of him,” Clay motioned towards the chair where Daniel sat, a little too quietly. Jill met his eyes, and somehow she knew he was ready, waiting for her to give him the opening he needed.
“Oh, commander, since the cunt reminded me. There is one more little thing. That chopper accident that killed Thad and put Dwayne in a fucking wheelchair. That was me too.”
“Remember, you had already forced me out of the unit, but I was there with Storm Breakers. It was so fucking easy to get access to the hanger, reverse a couple of wires, and as they say…Botta Bing, Botta Boom.”
“So, let’s see the count on this one, commander. You, one unborn baby, and my career. Me, two comrades dead, two wives, and two daughters dead and you too, of course. When I’m done here, I’ll call us even and move on to handle that other two-faced bastard, your Master Chief Petty Officer.”
“Not that I have any interest in that fat cow he calls his wife. But I never got to taste this sweet young thing,” he said as he licked along the side of Jess’s face. “She probably would have been as bad a fuck as her mother anyway. But I hear that Simone for all her blubber is a decent fuck, so maybe I can taste some sweet young chocolate cherry before I kill them all.”
Daniel caught a slight movement in the kitchen. ‘What the fuck took you so long?’ he thought as he loosened the final bonds around his wrist. He might not be armed, but he knew Samuel would be. But could the man get the shot off without endangering Jess? They needed a diversion.
Jill saw the look in Daniel’s eyes. She knew that he was calculating, looking for an opening, and she was too. At that moment, Bel moaned and tried to sit up. She began to move to the little girl, thankful that she and the babies had slept through the nastiness.
Looking briefly at Jess, she wondered if the girl would ever recover from what had happened here. The defiant pre-teen was gone.
Bel moaned again, and the man raised the gun, “One down.”
Jill moved without thought, throwing herself between the man and her daughter. She heard the bang. Then she felt the burning pain rip through her side as she fell next to the child. She could barely breathe, but the child was smiling down at her. Was this heaven?
The world began to explode around them. Worse than any battle or warzone that Daniel had ever witnessed. The shot rang out like thunder over the Amazon. Then another.
Daniel watched as red stains spread across the man’s shirt. A large gaping exit wound covered his shoulder that was opposite Jess’s head. Dodd’s arm hung limply at his side as he howled in pain. Jill had called him a coward, and he was proving her words correct.
Samuel rushed the man from behind, knocking Jess free as she fell over the couch. He pushed the man’s face into the carpet and twisted his injured arm up high behind his back, pinning him to the floor.
“Taste some sweet chocolate cherry, asshole? I’m thinking some brothers are going to be all over this thick white ass every time you’re in the shower where you’re going, mother fucker.” Samuel punctuated his assessment with a slap to Dodd’s bottom like he was a bad boy who had been caught cheating at school.
Daniel looked at Jess, who was curled into a ball on the couch now, crying softly. He wanted to rush over and scoop her up, reassure her that so many things the man said were not true. That the others did not matter. Then he heard the frantic cry from the fireplace.
“Jill, please. Mommy, pwease. Pwease don’t weave me again,” Bel sobbed. Then he saw his wife, pale and not moving in the child’s tiny arms. He realized then that the second shot had not been Samuel’s. The bastard had gotten off a round before his friend took him down.
Daniel rushed to their side. He gently brushed his daughter aside and lifted his wife’s head. He caressed her face and brushed back her blonde hair. Bile rose in his throat. Blond hair just like in his nightmares. He almost choked as he remembered that other nightmare, the one where Rachel’s face became Jill’s. He closed his eyes as pain gripped his chest. He had survived the first, but he would not, not this time. Not if he lost her.
He drew in a deep breath and forced his brain back to the moment. The stain spreading across his old tattered Academy sweatshirt was dark, almost black. His medical training kicked in. He knew what that meant. His wife had been shot in the liver. Blood mixed with bile was pouring too quickly from the wound. He reached up to the couch and grabbed a throw pillow. He had to slow the blood loss.
Samuel was busy holding the man down, Bel was too young, and he could not release the pressure on Jill’s wound. Someone needed to get a fucking ambulance here. Now. He looked at his oldest daughter, still crying on the couch. “Jess,” he called out. “Damn it, Jess, I need you.”
The girl whimpered, but she rolled over and looked at him. “That’s my girl. I need you to call nine-one-one. Now.” For a moment, the girl just stared at him numbly. He sighed in relief when she nodded and ran to the kitchen.
He turned his attention back to his wife as he noticed Samuel reaching for the rope that Daniel had dropped by the chair when he broke free. The movement stretched Dodd’s arms back further, and the man screamed louder.
Daniel choked back glee as he stared down into his wife’s face that was almost translucent now from the blood loss. She was going into shock. “Bel, sweetie, I need a blanket. Can you get me one from your room? Please, baby girl,” he pleaded.
“Is she going away the way my other mother did?” His daughter asked as she stood up.
He choked on bile as it rose higher in his throat as his child voiced the fear that he could not. “No, sweetie, she’s going to be fine. But she needs that blanket, please,” he lied. He watched as the little girl staggered down the hall, moving slower than she should. Fuck, the child was still reeling from the blow to her head.
Anger and hatred tightened his gut into knots. He looked at his wife’s face, remembering another time, another face. For the first time, knowing the truth about that as well. He wanted Dodd dead. He deserved to die for all the lives he had ruined.
He felt a slight movement in his arms and looked down as Jill’s green eyes fluttered open. “Lay still, my love. The ambulance is on its way.”
She winced in pain. Her hand moved towards the pillow that he held over the wound but fell short, instead resting lower. She tried to say something. He bent lower to listen.
“Sorry. Sorry, I could not keep them safe,” tears spilled from the corners of those green pools.
“You did fine, sweetheart,” he kissed her forehead. He did not even try to stop the tears that blurred his vision. He felt her go limp in his arms. “Goddamn it, Jill, you can’t do this to me. You can’t make me love you, then leave me alone. Fight, damn it, fight. I need you. The girls need you. Please, baby, please,” he cried as he felt hands pushing him aside.
Daniel paced the cramped waiting room. Simone had called in the reserves when the doctors decided to admit both the twins and Bel for observation. A couple of the wives were with them in the pediatrics ward. Simone scurried between there and the waiting area bringing him frequent updates until the children had fallen asleep an hour or so ago.
He looked at the clock on the wall again. It was almost midnight. Fuck, Jill had been in surgery for over seven hours. That could not be good. He reached the back wall, turned and headed in the opposite direction.
He saw Jess huddled silently in Simone’s arms; tears trailed down her cheeks. He knew he should go to his eldest, but he simply could not, not yet anyway. It would be one more sin that she would have to forgive her old man. Although he supposed after some of what Dodd had said that afternoon, forgiveness would be a two-way street.
But right now, all he could think about was his wife. Would Jill be all right? The doctors had let him see her only briefly before rushing her into surgery, but she had been intubated and unconscious. IV lines ran out of both arms. It was not any more reassuring than the doctors themselves had been. They simply would not know how bad it was until they got in.
Daniel looked up as Samuel and Travis walked in. The police sergeant that had investigated Rachel’s death had reluctantly allowed him to go with his wife in the ambulance, but only on the condition that Samuel accompany him to the station for a full statement. The frown on the man’s face could not mean good news.
But the dark scowl on Travis’s reminded him of a late summer storm rolling in off the mountains, the kind that spawned tornadoes. He nodded at them. Travis nodded back but did not say anything.
The younger man walked away. Travis took a chair in the corner of the room, away from Simone and Jess as well as the half dozen or so other friends from the unit. They had all gathered to await news.
Samuel approached him cautiously. The apprehensive look on his friend’s face had him wondering, did he look as much like a wounded, caged animal as he felt. “You look like shit, man.” Damn, Samuel, as honest as always.
“Fuck you, old man.”
“Want to get a cup of coffee or something? Simone will call if there is any news,” Samuel put his hand on Daniel’s shoulder.
“No, I need to be here when they come out. It shouldn’t be much longer,” he stared once more at the clock on the wall, whose hands seemed to be slowing with each pass.
“They released Trav when I told them what Dodd had said. But he’s in pretty bad shape. Well, his head is pretty fucked up right now. Realizing that he’s been a real son of a bitch to the woman he loved and that there was never any affair, really. Add to that the fact that the cops had already shown him some pretty fucking graphic pictures of her taken after the second assault. Well, he wants to kill Dodd.”
“Tell him to take a fucking number and stand in line,” Daniel replied as his eyes caught Dwayne holding Chloe’s hand while she sobbed quietly. So fucking much destruction. “We should have killed the bastard when we had the chance.”
“Then we would have been no better than he was. Alright, maybe we should have let the woman press sexual harassment charges, instead of just arranging a quiet transfer for her. But what difference would that have made? Other than ruin her life even more.”
Daniel choked as he acknowledged the truth of his friend’s word. But it did nothing to quiet the hatred that boiled in his gut. “David. Thad and Dwayne. Rachel. Trisha. All those fucking accidents that kept happening and now this. He was responsible for it all.”
Samuel looked at the floor, “I know, man.” He hesitated for a moment before continuing, his hand on Daniel’s shoulder squeezing lightly. “I should probably tell you now before you hear it from anyone else.”
“NCIS was at the police station, but they don’t think they will find enough evidence to bring him up on charges for either the drone attack or the helicopter accident. And without Trisha to testify, the Hampton Roads district attorney won’t proceed with rape charges either. I’m afraid they are only charging him with kidnapping and attempted murder for what happened at your house today.”
Daniel shook his head in denial and clutched his fists at his side, “Fucking bastard’s going to get away with it.”
“No, man, they have him on those charges, and no lawyer his daddy can buy will be able to get him out of them. The man is going to do time, real time. And they might not have enough evidence to bring him up on charges, but trust me, NCIS was very interested in the drone technology. I don’t think Old Man Dodd is going to have many military contracts renewed anytime soon.”
“Not much justice for the lives of two good soldiers, well half a dozen counting Dwayne and the other British Marines that were injured.”
Samuel frowned and nodded solemnly, “But you got to move on, man. Learn to live with it.”
Daniel shook his head as he strained to see down the hall. ‘Got to move on. Learn to live with it.’ He was not sure if he wanted to live with anything. Not if something happened to her. His throat tightened, and his eyes clouded over once more. He felt the hand on his shoulder squeeze until it was almost painful. He looked up at his friend.
“She’s a fighter. I know she’s going to be fine, man.”
Daniel could not speak past the knot in his throat, so he merely nodded.
The stoic look on the doctor’s face, as Daniel looked back to watch the doors open, revealed nothing. His green scrubs were covered in dark stains. Daniel was glad for Samuel’s hand on his shoulders as he felt his knees give. He had seen blood, too many fucking times. He had drawn blood, killed men. But it was not her blood, not the blood of the woman he loved.
“How is she?” It was not his voice, but the feminine accent of Simone that asked from just behind him.
“I won’t lie; it has been a rough few hours. The bullet ripped through her liver. We lost almost half of it before we could get the worst of the bleeding stopped. We also had to remove her gall bladder and repair a tiny hole in her diaphragm. The bullet fragmented on impact, which is how it did so much damage.”
He looked Daniel in the eye, “There is a large fragment lodged against her spine, but we thought it too dangerous to try and remove it just now. I’d rather have a specialist do that later.” The man smiled weakly, “But I am pretty confident, Commander, that your wife will make a full recovery.”
Daniel chuckled with relief, but the man’s face turned somber once more, “But I cannot be so certain about the babies.”
He shook his head in confusion, “No, the Lieutenant was here earlier. Bel and the twins are both recovering nicely in the pediatrics ward. I’m afraid you must be confused.”
If the man was mistaken about his daughters, might he also be confused about his patient? Could the man be speaking of another woman? Was Jill still in surgery or worse? Was she going to be alright? Or had something horrible happened?
He struggled to break free of Samuel’s hands until he felt the nails of a smaller one bite into the crook of the other arm. Simone looked up at the doctor, “Did she lose the baby?”
The man shook his head, “Babies, twins. And not yet.” He turned back towards Daniel without a smile, “As I was saying, your wife lost a lot of blood.”
The doctor put his hand on Daniel’s other shoulder. “The hole in her diaphragm meant her oxygen levels were pretty low for quite a while. That plus the whole shock process. Well, I’m sorry, Commander, but I can’t be as optimistic about your wife’s pregnancy. The next twenty-four to forty-eight hours should tell, though.”
Daniel swallowed, trying to work past the dryness that felt like a hairball so that he could speak. A baby? In the utter chaos that was their homecoming, he had even forgotten Samuel’s taunts, the nights he had lain awake dreaming of the possibility. A baby. No, babies. Another set of twins. Their twins. His and Jill’s.
But even as he learned of the miracle that had until that moment been nothing more than a dream, a remote possibility, he felt it being snatched away. More lives ruined by the man. His babies, he thought as he felt the scalding heat of tears running down his cheek. He could barely see as he finally found enough of his voice to plead, “May I see her?”
“Yes, she’s in recovery now. But I need to prepare you, Commander. Because of the repair to her diaphragm, we are going to leave her intubated for a couple of days. Save her body the strain of trying to breathe on its own. She still has the IVs, of course. And monitors for both her heart and the babies.”
“But she’ll live? You’re sure of that?” he pleaded.
“Commander, I don’t think I need to tell you that there are no guarantees in life. But yes, I’d give your wife excellent odds of making a full recovery.”
Daniel squared his shoulders and nodded as he shook off Simone and Samuel’s comforting hands. “Then we’ll deal with whatever else that comes together.”
He turned and looked at the small crowd that had gathered behind him as the doctor gave his update. “Go home, folks. Get some rest. I’m sure we’ll be needing whatever help you can give over the next few days.” The crowd mumbled words as they passed, some offering more reassuring squeezes.
As the room cleared, Daniel noted the stragglers. Dwayne sat silently in his wheelchair in one corner. The man’s best friend was dead, the use of his legs gone just as surely. If it had been hard enough to live with the doubts, wondering if he could have done something more, if he missed something, how must this feel? Knowing that they had been betrayed by someone they had once thought a friend and ally.
Travis cowered in the opposite corner. He looked like one of his father’s prize bulls caged and injured. Daniel knew what it felt like to stand by helplessly as your wife was hurt. But this man’s pain was more profound. The injuries that Trisha suffered went deeper than just her body, the damage that the man had done to her mind and their marriage might be irreparable.
And Travis carried his own guilt too. His betrayal of their love and vows was just as damaging as anything that Dodd had done, maybe more so. Daniel sighed as he thought about Rachel, his part in her death. He had more in common with Trav than he was ready to handle at the moment.
Another lone figure huddled near the door. Her legs were drawn up to her chest; her arms wrapped tightly about them. Her head rested on her knees. Another reminder of his failures as a husband and a father. How much had his oldest daughter borne the sins of her parents? What must it have been like, forced to choose sides? Betray your mother? Or lie to your father?
“You go ahead. We’ll do what we can here,” Simone whispered. “I’ll take Jess home with me for a few nights. Melinda and Beth are with the other girls in pediatrics. You just take care of her, alright?”
“Thanks,” he mumbled as he turned to face his best friend.
“You know you don’t even need to ask, man. I got those two as well. Not sure what I can do, though. Afraid only time can heal some wounds.”
“And some scars can’t be seen,” he whispered as he followed the doctor down the hallway.
Jill fought her way back up from the darkness that seemed to envelop her mind. She swallowed, and while her throat was dry, this time, it did not seem to be stuffed full of something cold and plastic that was much worse than any gag ball.
Her hand went automatically to the gentle swell of her abdomen as her eyes opened. She stared up into his. “The baby?” She whispered even though it caused a fiery pain in her throat.
Her husband poured water into a cup and lifted her head. A few drops parted the parched desert of her lips and slid down her burning throat. “Slowly, sweetheart. That’s the first thing you have had in three days. We don’t want it making you sick.”
She nodded to him to take the cup away. She looked around her at the hospital room for the first time. She had tried to wake up a few times over the past couple of days, but it had been too much. All she could remember were glimpses of his dark curls pressed against her hand. His fingers laced through hers. The pain seemed to bubble and burn inside her. Trying to speak and nothing coming out. And the incessant beeping from somewhere.
She tried to focus past the fog as the rest of it came back. Dodd was in their home. Bel was hurt. The twins drugged. And the man had Jess. Then Daniel was there to save them. The rest of it broke like rainwater over a dam.
David. The man was responsible for his death, but Daniel had thought it was his fault. Oh god, how that must have felt. Memories flooded her. The way Daniel’s fingers had stilled as he traced the tattoo on her back that night. Was that when he realized? Or had he known all along? Was their whole marriage nothing more than some sick sort of penance for a sin that was not even his own?
The accidents – those were all Dodd’s doing, too. And Rachel, the woman had not committed suicide. She had not willingly left her husband and daughters. Did that change things? Would Daniel’s anger at the woman be replaced with more guilt?
And Trisha, dear god, what the man had done to her friend? And Dwayne too. Her mind swam with all of it until it was hard for her to breathe. The damned beeping became a shrill alarm. She felt his hand on her shoulder.
“Breathe deep, sweetheart. Slow and deep. Follow me. In, one, two, three, four. Good girl. Now out, one, two, three, four. Again,” he squeezed her hand as he talked her through the worst of the panic attack. Oh god, it had been years since she had had one.
It took her a couple of minutes of the guided breathing exercises before she felt the worst of the panic recede. Daniel insisted she take a couple more sips of the water.
She felt the cobwebs clearing from her mind slowly. “The baby, Daniel? Did I lose the baby?” She stared at the pure white sheet that covered her body.
She felt his fingers under her chin as he lifted her head and turned it to face him. He reached behind him and pointed to the machine that was beeping. “They are doing fine, sweetheart. I think it shocked the shit out of the doctors, after all that the three of you had been through. But they are fighters, just like their Mommy.”
Jill shook her head, “They?”
“Hope you are getting used to the double diaper duty, Missus Monroe, because we’re having twins. Fraternal this time. Although the little cheats keep hiding from the ultrasound, so we still don’t know if they are boys or girls or both.”
Jill’s vision blurred with tears of relief, “Does it matter?”
“Well, D.J. and his brothers are placing bets on which way the four-four tie will go?”
“The boys?” she whispered reverently.
“They arrived a couple of days ago, well, all except for Darren. He was doing some joint training exercises with the Air Force in Colorado, so he’s been here almost since you came out of surgery.”
“Must have been bad then, if they all got emergency leave.”
“Let’s just say, don’t you ever fucking do that to me again,” his voice was gruff. She could see the film of moisture that covered those blue-grey pools.
More of the fog rolled back as she remembered his words. “Made you love me, Commander?”
“Yes, damn it. What else do you call it, sweetheart? Did I ever stand a fucking chance from the moment you walked off that plane and into our lives?” He bent until his forehead pressed against hers. She stared into those eyes that had captured her heart even in that grainy photograph, eyes that were ringed with dark circles.
“I love you, Jill,” he bent and brushed his lips across hers. Heat and longing instantly exploded, warring with the pain that gripped her abdomen as she lifted her head and parted her lips, taking the kiss deeper.
“Aw, man,” came the deep rumble from behind them.
Jill fell back against the pillow as Daniel curled up protectively, next to her. “I see what you mean, little sis. Those two are disgusting,” said the tall man with the laughing brown eyes that brought up the rear of the group.
“D.J.,” she whispered as she brought her hand to her mouth, and tears coursed down her cheeks. It had been over a year and a half since she had seen her eldest. Another long deployment in the land that had claimed his father’s life. Her breath froze in her lungs as she took him in.
Her mind flew through time and space to a warm beach. The demi-god that rose laughing and joking from the waves. Their son looked so much like his father in his fatigues that for a moment, she had trouble separating past from the present.
Until the gentle squeeze of her hand reminded her of the present, and the future as she listened to the steady beep-beep of fetal monitors.
D.J. laughed, “Trust me, Mum, I get that reaction a lot. You remember Major Reynolds, well Colonel now? I thought the man was going to have a fucking coronary the first time we met.”
Damien, her third son, stepped to the other side of the bed and brushed a kiss on her cheek. “Which is why I refuse to go anywhere near the pubs with him, Mum. He gets all the women.”
Although he was six foot one, he was the smallest of her sons. His hair that was close-cropped like a good Marine was a sandy blond like her own. His cheeks were ruddy, and his eyes a softer brown, flecked with green like her own.
“I think that has more to do with the bold American mouth he got from his mother than his father’s looks. You didn’t do so damned bad with those either, my dear. You just didn’t get your brother’s confidence.”
Her second son shoved the laughing man aside and made his way to the foot of her hospital bed. Declan was an inch or so taller than his eldest brother and at least twenty pounds heavier with hair that was a shade or two lighter, his eyes the same warm brown.
“Well, Mother, did you have to give us such a fright? If you wanted to see us all, you simply needed to wait until Her Majesty no longer required our services.”
Jill laughed even though it hurt her side, “Do you have to sound so posh, Dec?”
D.J. pulled Jess into the room. The two eldest seemed to have formed a bond, perhaps brought about by the shared responsibility of their positions. “Tell him, Mum. The little prat thinks his fucking degrees and position in Intel makes him hot shit. Damned officers.”
Daniel cleared his throat, “I thought we had this discussion about watching your language around your sisters, son,” his emphasis on the final word brought peals of laughter from his brothers.
“Yes, sir,” D.J. said with a blush and a salute.
Jill shook her head and giggled, “Oh god, what have I done?”
D.J.’s laughter rumbled through the room, “Gees, Mum, I thought you would have figured that one out by now.” He cupped his hands over Jess’s ears before continuing, “Do you need a refresher course in the facts of life? Seems you forgot your own condom lessons?”
Daniel speared his step-son with a glance and held up his wife’s hand. His fingers caressed the gold band on her ring finger, “I think this about covers it, don’t you?”
D.J. squared his shoulders, “Rings are cheap, old man. Taking care of what’s yours takes a real man. So unless you want to face me and the troops here,” his brothers once more surrounded him as if it was all part of the plan.
“I suggest you fucking re-evaluate your god damned priorities. It was one thing when our father got his ass blown up and left Mum to pick up the pieces of our lives and hers. But it is another when she’s the one left in harm’s way.”
Jill held up her other hand, “D.J., it isn’t your place.”
This son, the eldest, had always bottled so much anger, taken too many responsibilities upon his shoulders. It had worried her for years. After his father’s death, it had only grown worse as if he blamed the man for dying. When it came to her and women in particular, D.J. took protective to a new level. Then again, he had his reasons. He had seen too much, too young. That, also, was their fault.
Daniel captured her hand and brought both of them to his lips. “No, sweetheart. He’s right. This is a young man’s game,” he looked from one to the other of his step-sons. “I suppose, between my men and these young punks, I can rest assured that things are in good hands.”
“Besides, I missed you. Every damned night, all I could think about was falling asleep in your arms. Well, that and soccer games, Barbie dolls, and what other firsts I was missing.” His hand caressed the swell of her stomach, “I’ve missed enough of those. This time, sweetheart, I’m not missing any of it.”
“Gees, man, have some dignity. Don’t grovel like a pussy,” laughed D.J.
Daniel turned to him with a frown, “You might be a friggin’ Bootneck, but I know one thing. Your Mama taught you better than to use those kinds of words around your sisters. Consider this your last warning, son. I might be an old man, as you say, but I can still teach you a thing or two about manners.”
Darren stepped up and kissed his mother’s cheek. “I think that is our cue to leave you two alone for a bit. Get some rest, Mum. We have another week on leave so we can catch up more later.”
Jill caressed her youngest son’s cheek. Of all her children, he was the most like her. His hair a sandy blond, his eyes pure green, and his demeanor always calm under pressure. It was a characteristic that would serve him well as a pilot with the Royal Air Force.
One by one, the others stepped up and said their farewells too. As Jess and his brothers finished filing out of the room, her eldest stepped up to the bed. D.J. took her hand and squeezed it, “I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m tired of seeing men put you last, Mum. As the Commander says, this might be a young man’s game, but it should also be a single man’s one.”
“Oh, D.J., that damned vow again? You’re going to use this as another excuse to bully your brothers into it, aren’t you?”
“Ma’am, a man cannot serve two mistresses. Her Majesty or a wife, he should choose.”
“It isn’t always that simple, son,” she said through tears.
She knew that her oldest son had borne the brunt of his father’s many long deployments. That he blamed the man for abandoning them, even before his death. But hearing the bitterness in his voice tore at her heart for the laughing brown-eyed hellion he had once been.
The man before her bore the scars of too many responsibilities on his young shoulders. Some of that was her fault, hers and David’s. But some of it, they had been powerless to change.
“I know she hurt you badly, worse than the others. But you can’t let what happened with Sarah, keep you from loving all your life.”
He shook his head and chuckled, “Trust me, ma’am. Nothing will ever stop me from loving that woman. Been doing it since the moment I saw her. Her daddy couldn’t stop it when he showed his mean side. Social services couldn’t stop it when they took her away.”
“Hell, ma’am, even joining the Royals didn’t help. I was seventeen, and I knew better than to be messing with a thirteen-year-old, but you had nothing to worry about Mum. Trust me, if none of that has stopped me loving her, then some stupid vow to a god damned church sure as hell won’t.”
Jill squeezed her son’s hand, “I wish things could have been different for you, sweetie. But you know, she’s running from the past, not you.”
He shrugged, “I know, and trust me, I know better than any of you just how bad that past is, but that won’t stop me loving her either. Hell, even those three little shits you saddled me with as brothers haven’t managed to stop it. If I didn’t know that they loved her as much as I do, I would have killed them for the way they looked at her. Brothers or not.”
“Give them a break, D.J. We all love her. If there were anything more your father and I could have done, trust me, we would have.”
“I know, Mum,” he bent and kissed her cheek. “Get some rest.”
“Yes, Sergeant,” she said, lifting her hand to her brow for a salute.
D.J. looked at the fetal monitor, “And for god’s sake, let those two be more girls.”
“I don’t know, I’m pretty damned proud of how my boys have turned out.”
Daniel nibbled at her shoulder, “Except for their foul mouths.”
She shoved playfully at him, and D.J. grumbled loudly. “I feel so fucking sorry for little sis. You two must be embarrassing as hell. Woman, didn’t Dad teach you anything about decorum? Keep that shit in the bedroom along with the whips and chains.”
Jill’s mouth fell open at his words, unaware that her son knew of the games she shared with her husbands.
“Oh, shocked, are we? That I know yours and dad’s little secret? Piece of advice then, Mum, either take the fucking profile down or update it.”
Jill blushed at the second reminder in the past few days of the profile that she had forgotten for so long. At first, it had been too painful. She had avoided that site and the memories it held. Then she had buried that part of herself for so long that it simply did not seem to matter, but Dodd’s words and D.J.’s were an impetus.
Her son was right. If she was going to be active in the lifestyle, if they were, it was only right that the old one come down. Maybe she and Daniel would even create one of their own.
“It’s embarrassing enough to see it on there every damned time I log in. Thank god, they don’t have relationship links the way Facebook does. I can just see it, Dark Dom Eighty-Four son of Switch-a-Duos.”
D.J. speared Daniel with a stare, “Dude, do better than my old man. Make us all happy and banish Mistress J.”
Daniel laughed and slapped his step-son on the shoulder. “If you only knew, the woman has charms of her own.”
D.J. shook his dark head, “Whatever, man. I prefer my women more pliable, true subs.”
Jill sobered, seeing her son’s pains through his crass words. “You never know, D.J. Maybe one day, Sarah will stop running.”
“And what? Then I’d have my three brothers to fight. For the only woman any of us have ever loved. Well, other than you, Mum.” He turned that stare on her this time, “Now, enough. Get. Some. Rest.”
“That shit won’t work on me, son. I changed your dirty diapers. It just ain’t the same.”
Daniel turned her head to face him, “Get. Some. Rest.”
Her world tilted on its axis as her stomach dropped to her knees. Her nipples and her womb tightened as moisture flowed between her legs. She felt a weakness that had nothing to do with her medical condition and everything to do with the man. “Yes, Sir,” she mumbled as she dropped her eyes.
“Damn, man, I might learn to like you, yet.” She heard her son joke as he closed the door, leaving them alone.
Daniel sighed as he drew her into his arms and brushed a kiss across the top of her head. So much had happened since he had last held her. It felt that the world was a completely different place, but the safety and security that he always felt when she was lying in his arms was the same. It always would be. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I know I should have told you myself. But I couldn’t.”
Jill placed her fingers over his soft lips, “I know. Operational Security. When did you connect the pieces?”
He heard the pain in her voice, old insecurities raising their nasty heads, he was certain. He hugged her tighter, trying to reassure them both as he began this painful tale, “Not until I saw the tattoo. His unit insignia. Then I didn’t know what to say or do.”
“I had already fallen in love with you, but I just found out that I was in love with the widow of a man whose death I blamed myself for. I was a bastard there for a while, I know.”
He smiled weakly at her and heard the beep-beeping increase. “I’ll answer whatever questions you have, sweetheart. National security or not, you have a right to the truth.”
“I know all I need to. I’m a lucky woman to have loved two such wonderful men.” She brushed his hair back gently, her words and the truth he heard in her voice gave him what not even the joint commission could – absolution and peace.
“But I’d appreciate it if you made that offer to D.J. I think my son still has some issues of his own with his father. If the details of what happened out there can help put some of those to rest, then I’d be grateful.”
He nodded as his hands moved down to caress her protruding stomach. Jill sucked in a deep breath, and Daniel frowned as they felt something flutter softly against his palm. “Holy fuck, is that what I think it is?”
Jill slapped at his hand, “And you were giving D.J. lectures for his language around the girls. You know, in a couple more weeks, they’ll be able to hear everything you say?”
His frown deepened, “Really? Holy shit,” his hand flew to his mouth. “Sorry. I guess I’ve still got some things to learn.”
“And some kinky fantasies to fulfill if I remember correctly, Commander.”
He blushed as his eyes grazed over the swell of her full breasts barely contained by the thin hospital gown. “Really?”
Jill laughed, the sound of his voice reminding her of a child in a candy store. But there were still other things they needed to discuss. “Are you going to have a DNA test?”
He frowned, “A DNA test? Whatever for?”
“Britney and Ash…” Daniel’s fingers over her lips stopped her before she could even finish.
“Do you love Bel one bit less than Declan? Or even D.J. more than Jess?” She shook her head.
“Then why the fuck would I want to do something so god damned stupid? Give the Thomas’s and the Dodd’s ammunition if they wanted to try and take the girls from us? Hell, no, those are my daughters as much as Jess and Bel or these little peanuts as Simone insists on calling them.”
His hand once more, caressed his babies growing inside her. He brushed a kiss across her lips and drew back to look into her eyes, “Are we together on this one, my love?”
She nodded as he drew her back into his arms. “You know you don’t have to,” she whispered against the warmth of his shoulder. “Quit, like you told the boys, I mean.”
“Yes, I do. I don’t think I could stand another night apart,” he turned her to face him. Jill marveled that they had become so in sync. “You’ve given me new nightmares, sweetheart.”
She brushed a finger across his cheek, “I never meant to. I’m sorry. But are you sure? I mean, you aren’t planning to take the Storm Breakers’ offer, are you?”
“Hell, no, sweetheart. After all this shit, I owe you a spanking for even asking. But how do you feel about West Texas?”
“Yeah, I met this crazy scientist, who thinks the world is about to come to an end. He’s building an eco-village, whatever the fuck that is, out in the desert. He’s already convinced Samuel to come to work for him. I was wondering if you might be interested too?”
“End of the world? Is the man that crazy?” her brows furrowed as her fingers played at the top button of her husband’s shirt.
Daniel shrugged, “Maybe not as much as it sounds.”