Chapter 5 – Dreams or Reality?

Mom’s Macaroni-N-Cheese

Macaroni (or your child’s favorite pasta) – boiled
100 g. Cream cheese (half a tub)
1 Tablespoon Butter/margarine
4 Cheese triangles or 2 oz. of good old fashioned American Velveta
1/2 cup sour cream/crème freche/natural yogurt
1 1/2 cup of grated Extra Strong Cheddar cheese
Splash of milk (if necessary)
Salt and pepper to taste
Bread crumbs

While your pasta boils, mix together the butter, sour cream, cream cheese, cheese triangles/Velveta, and 1/2 cup of cheddar in a saucepan and melt over low heat. This can also be done in a microwave, but check on it and stir often to prevent burning. Add a splash of milk to thin to the consistency of come (yes, I said cum). Drain pasta and mix together with the sauce in a glass baking dish. Cover with the remaining 1 cup of cheddar cheese and sprinkle lightly with bread crumbs. Bake in the oven until the cheese is melted a golden brown.

Daniel raced along the beach, the surf crashing about his boots, sucking them and him deeper into the soft sand. Neither the wet, squishing inside them nor the ninety-pound pack on his back registered. He was a man driven. Driven by demons that had haunted his dreams for over two weeks. Visions of soft, welcoming flesh that turned suddenly still and icy cold. The thoughts had even begun to invade the waking hours. And for a man whose job could cost him or his friends their lives, it was something he could not allow.

“What the fuck is your problem?” spat Samuel as he finally caught up with him.

It was after one. The sun was high in the sky. The soft breeze off the Atlantic Ocean did absolutely nothing to mitigate the blistering summer heat. They had been at this since four in the morning. Daniel had always trained hard. Trained his men hard. These past few days, he knew he had pushed them and him further than ever before. But demons were sometimes harder to outrun than even the enemy.

“If you’re getting too old to keep up, maybe it’s time to get out, old man,” he accused his friend.

Samuel put out his arm, his hand resting on Daniel’s shoulder as he stared at him. “I mean it. What’s eating you, man? You weren’t even this bad after…”

Daniel turned away. He knew what Samuel meant. He had not been this tormented, not even after Rachel’s death. He stared out at the rough ocean. It was as volatile as he felt, churning and pounding. In a moment, it could wipe away billions of grains of fine sand that had taken millions of years to form. Just as he could without knowing how or why destroy the women in his life.

Sixteen days as a husband and except for a very awkward encounter in the kitchen the morning after their wedding, they had spoken less than three dozen words to one another. She was avoiding him.

Oh, she was always around; cooking, cleaning, and caring for the girls. But he was cast off to the sidelines, doomed to watch the game. The hardest moments were when he caught her laughing and playing with his daughters. No, the hardest was when he watched her hug or kiss them with such soft, tenderness.

How could he be so fucking jealous of his children? But he was. He would give anything for just one of those touches. If Jill would just brush her fingers across his cheek and give one of those smiles over some stupid accomplishment that no one else even noticed. If she would bend and kiss him good night, then perhaps the nightmares would disappear as surely as the mythical bed bugs that she dispatched with her reassurances each night.

But that tenderness and care were reserved for his daughters. For him, it was a polite formality and stiff uncertainty that seemed to border almost upon fear. It was driving him insane. If he did not get out into the field soon, he knew he would explode.

He just shrugged and said, “Nothing. I’m fine.”

The blow to the side of his ribs came out of nowhere. It took the air out of his lungs in a single whoosh, just as the sight of her in that damned white lace and satin nightmare had. He went to the ground instantly. A massive wave hit him, taking him under. The pack weighed him down as he struggled to the surface. He broke through gasping and gurgling to clear his lungs from the nasty saltwater.

Samuel stood gloating over him. “No, buddy, you are not fine. Otherwise, I could not have done that, and we both know it.” He held out his hand and helped Daniel to his feet, “So spill it now. What’s wrong? I mean, shit, we left you with your half-naked wife, and instead of thanking us, you try to drive us all to our deaths with training exercises that start hours before dawn and last past dark.”

“Yeah, well, you guys have gotten soft over the past few months. Just because I could not go into the field or exercises, you thought you could fuck off, and it shows.”

Samuel held up his hands in surrender, “I think we both know that was not fair, man. We know what’s at stake here. And we take our jobs seriously. You know that.”

Daniel shook his head. He could not allow this. Even during the worst of his marriage to Rachel, he had always been able to compartmentalize. Home was home.  And work was work. You left your shit where it belonged.

So, why was she different? Why did a few bad days with her have him taking his best friend’s head off and unfairly accusing his men of the worst of sins in their eyes?

“I’m sorry,” as they walked silently back to where the others were beginning to assemble near a pile of rocks. Looking at their sweaty faces, he knew that he could ask for no better group of men. Soldiers. Or friends. “Go home. Day’s over, guys. You did good.”

He hung back, smiled, and chatted with a couple of them as they dispersed, taking packs and equipment back across the beach to waiting vehicles. Most headed home to the one thing he would not find, the smiling welcome of a wife happy to have him back after a short day.

He watched as one of the newer members of the team brushed aside his friends’ taunts. Lieutenant Zane Rogers had the makings of a good leader. Not since Dwayne had the unit been blessed with a mind like his. Oh, all his guys were smart, above average intelligence was as important a skill as their physical prowess, but these two were certified geniuses.

He heard one of Zane’s friends mention hanging out by the pool and looking for that ‘hot number you screwed the other day.’ The look of barely concealed rage that the young man tried to mask evoked a sense of camaraderie in Daniel.

He remembered how he had instinctively pulled Jill closer that night to keep the prying eyes of his friends from seeing too much of what was his. But that was the problem: she wasn’t his. Not in any meaningful way, at least.

He straggled behind long after the others were gone. He would go back to base, spend some time over paperwork that was more than caught up after almost a year of virtual desk duty. But it would give him an excuse, something to do until dinner time perhaps. At least the thought of dinner time brought a smile to his face. He smiled, definitely dinner time.

If what the woman had said was true, about cooking when she was thinking, she had been doing a hell of a lot of it lately. The menu had been unforgettable. Each night better than the last. Her macaroni and cheese, in particular, had captured his daughters’ hearts, it seemed.

“You should go too,” the voice said.

“I will,” he lied. “Just have a few things to do back at the office first. Tell Simone not to get used to this, though. Damned witch,” he cursed.

“White witch,” his friend smiled, remaining silently by his side for several moments. He seemed lost in thoughts all of his own, just watching the waves crash in and slink back. “She says that Jill fits right in with the others. Says that it’s like the woman belongs.”

Daniel sighed. Another thing to be jealous of. His wife’s affection for the other spouses. Why was it that he was the only one she did not seem to have any real care for? But he knew he was a bit harsh there as well. She was polite to a fault, asking if she could get him something, if he needed anything.

But after that night, it was not like he could just say, ‘Yeah, I need you.’ No, it was pretty clear that while his wife might have enough love to instantly bond with his daughters and even the other wives, the woman was still very much in love with another man. There was simply no place for him. He was locked on the outside looking in.

“I mean it, man, if you ever need to talk about something, I’m here for you,” his friend once more put his hand on his shoulder.

Daniel shook his head, “Some things just can’t be fixed. Sometimes people just aren’t cut out for a job.”

Samuel frowned, “You talking about Clay Dodd? What that bastard do now?”

“Nothing that I know of, but that wasn’t what I was talking about.”

“Then what? I know it isn’t always easy to talk about things. But man, if you don’t do something you gonna explode soon,” he could see the genuine concern in his friend’s dark eyes. It was almost his undoing.

Instead, he turned back towards the sea, picking up a stick and tossing it across the waves. It did not work the same as when he had skipped stones across the still pond on his father’s ranch. But nothing was as simple as it had seemed back there. Silence hung for several minutes.

He knew what Samuel was doing. Wearing him down. He wanted to think it would not work, but the truth was, the man was right. If something did not give soon, he was not going to be fit for duty or anything else.

“Jill,” uncertain what more to say.

Samuel laughed, “I figured out that damned much. It don’t take a fucking genius like Dwayne to know that. What about her? When we left you, things seemed to be going pretty damned well. Seemed, your new wife was more than ready for the job.”

“Yeah, well, certain parts of it maybe,” Daniel tried to find words to explain the delicate situation.

“Gees, man! You mean?” Samuel pinned him with a stare that would have done Simone proud. “You mean, after all, that you didn’t seal the deal?”

“Seal the deal? What the fuck is that? This some fucking high school locker room now?” He boiled over, “If you mean, am I fucking my wife? The answer is no. Seems the missus still has a thing for her dead husband.”

Daniel did not know what he had expected from his friend, but raucous laughter that had the man doubled over was not it. Anger coursed through him that his pain should be the object of his friend’s mirth. He repaid several debts with a roundhouse kick to the man’s head that sent him sprawling backward into the sand.

Samuel quieted and rubbed the side of his head. “Alright, I suppose you owe me that one after Simone’s meddling and what I did earlier.” He stood up slowly. “But that’s it, buddy, no more. If this isn’t the locker room, you want to give me some Intel here? What makes you think that?”

Daniel was still reeling with pent up rage and frustration, “I don’t fucking think. I know. She called out his name when…” his screams trailed off.

Samuel stood and took several steps back, but the broad smile and chuckles that he could barely contain had his friend going after him anyway. He tried throwing up his hands in surrender once more, “I give, man. I give.”

“You think it is fucking funny?” Daniel said as he ran at him, slamming into the larger man and taking them both to the ground. The men were fairly equally matched. It had been one of the strengths of their working relationship. This wrestling match was more intense because they knew one another so well they could almost anticipate the opponent’s next move. They tussled for several moments in the sand. When they rolled once more so that Daniel was atop his friend, he drew back his fist to deliver the final blow but stilled it in mid-air.

What the fuck was he doing? Samuel was not the enemy. He had been, until a minute before, the best friend Daniel had ever had. And despite the crass behavior, he still did not deserve a beating. Daniel rolled to the side. “It wasn’t fucking funny, man.”

His friend sat up next to him. “I’m sorry, Danny boy. I didn’t mean it like that.” Samuel turned and looked at him, “I just see things a bit differently from where I’m sitting.”

His friend contemplated the waves for a moment. His voice was deeper when he spoke again, “You know we all face the truth sometimes. We know each time that this might be it. That this time we might not be coming back. We don’t talk about it, of course, but we all live with it.”

“Truth is that I long ago faced those facts. And I’ve told Simone that I expect her ass to find another good man to love.” He turned and looked at his friend then.

Daniel could see the mist in his eyes as he chuckled, “It beats the hell out of the woman having a string of boy toys.” Daniel joined in the painful laughter with his friend at the image of the big beautiful woman surrounded by a bevy of beefy young studs.

“But my friend, let me tell you this. After twenty years of the best loving of my life, that same thing damned well better happen once or twice at first. Or I swear I’ll haunt every fucking séance that woman gives,” he smiled. “Now I don’t know what happened exactly, and I don’t want to. But I know from what Simone has told me that those two had just about as happy a marriage as we do.”

Samuel’s next words knocked the oxygen from his lungs as surely as the man’s roundhouse kick had. “So, have you thought for even a half-second that this might just be a good thing? That if when she’s drunk off her ass, she confuses the two of you, maybe, just maybe things could be heading in the right direction for you? Cause I can tell you one thing, it wasn’t just the alcohol and old memories going on that night. Even a blind man could see that you had your missus more than a little hot and bothered on your wedding night?”

Daniel sat in silence for a moment. His friend’s words washed over him like the waves. It was not a perspective that, even for a second, had entered his mind. Not one that would enter most men’s in the situation. But as Samuel said, he could see it more from David’s point of view.

He paused for a moment. A thousand questions about the other man ran, like a marathon, through his mind. But the cold hard fact was that none of them mattered. He was dead, and Daniel was the one left holding his wife. Their wife. “So, where the fuck does that leave me? What the fuck do I do now, smartass?” Daniel continued to stare across the ocean that separated his wife from her old life.

Samuel chuckled again, “Well, first of all, make sure she ain’t drunk next time.”

They both laughed then. “Yeah, I suppose that would be a good idea.”

“I think that given some time and a hell of a lot more patience than you’ve been showing lately, the rest will work itself out, my friend.” He turned and stared at Daniel, “You do have an amazing wife. Second best woman I know, in fact.” 

“At least mine, don’t meddle in things she shouldn’t,” Daniel replied boldly.

Simone, Trisha, and a couple more of the wives giggled around the kitchen tables as toddlers and babies scooted, crawled, and cooed on the floor at their feet.

“Damn girl, you still ain’t givin’ no details. Don’t make us use our interrogation skills,” smiled Trisha around the steaming cup of sweet black coffee.

The plate of homemade cookies and scones in the middle of the table was practically empty. Over the past two weeks, it had become common for the homemakers of the group to come back to the house after the morning school bus run. They laughed and gossiped over the continental breakfast before cleaning, cooking, and running whatever errands their days held.

Jill was wise enough to know that this frivolity would not last forever. Oh, the laughter might continue, but it would take a decidedly different turn in a few days or weeks. Anytime their husbands were away, she knew that the mood would change as well. It would become nothing more than a cover for the worry, loneliness, and pain that was the other side of their lives.

That was why it was so important to build these bonds now, during the good times, because in those darkest of hours, it would have to sustain them all through whatever lay ahead. Chloe and Thad’s occasional presence among them was a stark reminder of just how dark things could get. Jill’s memories only deepened her resolve…no woman left behind, she pledged. And this was part of it, part of her new/old role as the leader among the wives that kept it all going on the home front.

But how to answer that particular question still plagued her thoughts and dreams. She remembered little of that night after the intimate dance they shared. Just bits and pieces of an erotic fantasy. The truth was she did not know how it went, but it could not have been well. The cold shoulder that Daniel had given her since that night spoke volumes.

Looking back, she realized the embarrassment that she must have been for him. Prancing around in that naughty lingerie like one of these much younger, more beautiful, and thinner women. She must have looked like a clown. A proud man, a leader, Daniel had tried to save her from the embarrassment to them both. But in her drunken stupor, she had chosen not to listen.

So, now she was paying the price. His anger was wholly justified, and she had no idea what to do to get him to forgive her lapse in judgment. But she could not tell these women that, so instead, she smiled around the pain. It was something you got good at over the years, especially in this job. She laughed it all off with a simple, “I don’t kiss and tell.”

Trisha, though, was like the prize bull at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, she would not give up when she had her rider cornered. Bucking and jumping, she took Jill for a long ride, “Now, girl, don’t be shy. I mean, come on. We’re all green with envy. Oh sure, our hubbies might be hotties,” the woman looked around the table at her co-conspirators and made a big show of fanning her perfectly manicured hands back and forth. “But damn, yours is unforgettable. And that kiss. Holy hell, it was hotter than the West Texas Hill Country on the fourth of July.” Everyone laughed at the woman’s flair for drama.

Jill was searching for a comeback that would deflect this line of conversation, one that had been coming up over and over during the past couple of weeks. Thankfully, the woman that was rapidly becoming her best friend and confidant handled it for her.

“What girl? You having problems at home? You so desperate to hear all the naughty details cause your man ain’t takin’ care of bid-ness? Just send him to my Samuel. Dat man knows all the tricks for keepin’ it fresh like these two newlyweds.” All the others roared with laughter at Trisha’s friendly takedown.

Jill smiled her thanks to Simone as she began to clear the table. The last cinnamon bun winked its tempting smile at her, but she kept fast to her resolve. “Anyone for the last of my buns?”

Trisha’s wicked sense of humor still smarting from the put-down responded. “Is that how you get him going? With your buns? Must say there’s plenty of them.”

Simone reached over and took the sweet off the plate, taking a massive bite out of it. “Yeah, you know what my man always says, ‘more cushion for the pushin.’ Maybe I should give you this, Trisha, sweetie? With that skinny ass of yours, maybe that’s the problem, Travis getting stuck in all the wrong places. Ain’t nothin’ us real women have to worry bout.” She purred as she held out the bun to the other woman.

Jill stepped in between them, smoothly. “Trisha, you’ll have to take me with you to the gym sometime soon. I could use some pointers from you on how you keep your runway figure. I mean Miss Lubbock and all.”

The woman’s flaming red head turned from glaring at Simone with a smile, “Sure, suga. I know it can’t be easy. After four babies and all. That’s why I put my foot down. Trav got his son, and that’s it for me. One is definitely enough for this girl.”

Jill shivered at what she recognized was another dig at Simone, the couple’s difficulties conceiving another child after Althea was the only thing that marred their otherwise perfect marriage. She had already hugged Simone through a couple of PMS days with chocolate cake and an extra-large box of tissues.

She knew that this day was getting personal, and she had to step in. “Well, my ladies, if you’ll excuse me, I’m afraid I have some errands to run myself. So, I’m afraid I’ll have to scoot you off today,” she lied.

They all nodded and hugged. Most headed off down the street in groups of two or three. Only Trisha struggled alone with her terrible two-year-old T.J., short for Travis Junior. Jill shook her head at the sight, remembering how hard little boys could sometimes be.

“You never cease to amaze me, girlfriend,” Simone put her hand on Jill’s shoulder. She held out the cinnamon bun. “Here, you should finish this. You didn’t eat a thing this morning.”

Jill shook her head as she walked over to the sink with the plate. “No, it’s alright. I’m on a diet anyway,” she replied as she put the plug in the sink and ran hot water, adding a few drops of washing up liquid, detergent, she corrected herself for the millionth time in three weeks since she had been home.

Home? She asked herself. Was this place truly home? Sure, she kept the house and loving the girls had come almost as naturally as it had each time they placed another of her pink-faced sons into her arms. Even this sometimes rowdy group of wives seemed to embrace and welcome her, accepting her as one of their comrades, a leader even. But that night still haunted her.

“What’s really wrong, sweetie?”

The tears flowed down her cheeks, adding to the growing pool in the sink, absorbed by it, becoming just as much a part of it as she was of these people. So, why was it all not enough?

“I don’t know,” she whispered.

“I think you do. Something is bothering you, and I have my ideas. It’s him still, ain’t it?” The woman reached over and turned off the water. Taking Jill’s hands in hers, she led her back to the table and placed her in a chair before sitting down across the table. “Tell Simone all about it.”

Jill chuckled at the soothing voice that she would have used after Bel had a bad day. “No, really. The problem is, I don’t know. I don’t even know how to answer that woman’s damned question because I was so fucking drunk I can’t remember what happened after you guys left that night.”

Simone chuckled and shook her head, “Then I’m guessing not much. Because I’m purty damned sure if that man had made love to you, you’d be remembering it, girlfriend.”

“God, sometimes you’re as bad as she is, you know that?” Jill teased as she swatted at Simone’s hand. “But seriously, I remember the dance and parts of you girls getting me ready,” she blushed at the memory of some of the more ribald comments from that night. “And I remember…” her voice trailed off, and the blush deepened.

Simone fanned herself, “Oh yeah, that kiss was pretty unforgettable. Almost made up for that shit in the chapel, didn’t it?”

Jill chuckled that she and her friend thought so much alike. “Almost.”

“So, what? You just forget the rest? Don’t you remember anything? I mean, I know the guys call him Superman, but I never did buy that whole thing with a single kiss and Lois Lane forgetting the whole damned thing, Ice Crystal Palace, making love, even the fact that Clark Kent was Superman. Oh, come on, nobody kisses that good.”

“I don’t know about that,” Jill whispered in confidence.

“Shit, girlfriend. Now you have me curious.”

Jill giggled as she reached for her cup of coffee, even knowing that it would be cold by now. She needed something to hold on to, and the mug was as good as anything. “I woke up the next morning in his bed.” Simone’s brow arch at her words. “Alone,” she clarified. “I found him asleep on the couch with an empty bottle of Southern Comfort curled in his arms.”

Simone winced, “This ain’t good, child. But it sure as hell explains why he’s acting like an asshole and driving the guys mad right now.”

The guilt of Simone’s admission weighed on Jill like the world on Atlas’ shoulders. She knew her job: keep the home front quiet so her man could stay focused on all that it took to get his job done. And it was evident to her even before that slip that she was not doing it very well.

“Shit, I’m sorry. It’s all my fault. I told you this wasn’t a good idea. I should have listened to those second thoughts. I mean, what guy like him would ever look at a woman like me,” she brought the cup to her lips. The cold liquid did nothing to extinguish the burning pain in her gut.

“Oh, don’t give me that shit. You know damned good and well that there is no faking a kiss like that. You had that man tied in knots all damned night long. When we left here, I was sure that everything was going to work out just perfect. All we got to do now is figure out what went wrong, then we can fix it,” she placed her hand over Jill’s. “You must remember something else?”

Jill shook her head. “No, really, I don’t. It is all a blur…” she blushed. “The only thing I could remember when I woke up that morning was having the most erotic fucking dream of my life.”

Simone threw up her arms, “That’s it then. Something did happen. I’ll just hypnotize you, and we’ll get to the bottom of this whole thing.”

Jill felt the heat rising in her cheeks once more. The last thing she wanted was to share that dream with anyone, even her new best friend. “It’s alright. You don’t need to do that. The dream I remember just fine.” What she did not say was that she could not stop having it.

Every time she closed her eyes, it was there again. Lips and hands were moving over her. Her body on fire like it had never, ever been before. Never. And that to her was the worst. How could she respond like that? Like a slut and slag, begging and pleading for the touch of a man she barely knew. Alright, so that man was her husband. It did not excuse her behavior. Her betrayal of David.

“So, what aren’t you telling me?”

“Nothing really,” Jill lied.

“Oh, there is plenty you ain’t saying, honey. You got that boy’s balls in a vise. And as much as I love you, this shit’s got to stop soon. I’m tired of seeing what’s he’s doing to those guys. Hell, even after that bitch offed herself…good riddance and god rest her soul…that boy weren’t this bad.”

Seizing the opportunity to learn more about the mysterious ghost that fueled her demons, and more than a bit happy to divert her friend away from the other topic, “Tell me about her.”

Simone shook her head that was tied in a scarf between hairdressing appointments. “I know what you doing, girlfriend. You ain’t getting away with it that easy.”

Standing up, she walked across the kitchen to the window and picked a couple of leaves from the planters of herbs that Jill had growing in the window. She reached into the utility drawer next to the sink and pulled out a lighter.

“What’s that for?”

Putting the leaves on one of the empty plates, Simone lit them until they smoldered, filling the room with a musty warmth. “Sage clears bad spirits away,” she explained as she took her seat. “You know I’m not one of the gossips, and usually I wouldn’t do this. But one thing I know. The past is forever entwined with the present…and the future.”

Reaching across the table, she took both of Jill’s hands, enveloping them in one of hers. “What I’m about to say stays between us, do you understand me? Not even our husbands. I want your word.” She held out her other hand, little finger extended. “Pinky swear.”

“Pinky swear,” Jill noted that Simone’s usual smile was nowhere to be seen.

“You get that stupid reality television show about those spoiled rich girls over there?”

Jill laughed, “Which one?”

“Suppose you right, ain’t much else on the damned thing anymore. But I’m talking about the one with that crazy chick that married and divorced that sport’s star in the space of a breath.”

“Never watched it, but who can help but read the headlines on the internet or in the newspapers. So I know the basics. What’s that got to do with Rachel, though?”

“Like Esther and I said in those emails, she was a spoiled, rich girl that never grew up. Daniel’s marriage to Rachel wasn’t much different than that.” Simone sighed as she stared at the burning incense.

“She was not yet twenty. A bunch of her friends was slumming it for the summer in Ocean City instead of the Hamptons.” Jill smiled at the sarcastic note in her friend’s voice. “Anyway, he met her at one of the bars. He and the guys had gone out for a few. Like you say, the boy is drop-dead gorgeous, and that one noticed quick enough. The rest as they say…”

Simone waved her chunky hand over the herbs, fanning the embers. “By the end of the summer, she was pregnant. Me, I always said she did it on purpose, to keep the one guy that could not be bought with her daddy’s money. Those first couple of years were pretty tough. That one was high maintenance and liked to be the center of attention. Not the best attributes for this type of life.”

A frown creased Simone’s forehead as she continued, “Actually, they were right on the edge of divorce when 9/11 happened. And of course, everything changed then,” she smiled weakly and squeezed Jill’s hand, realizing how much it had transformed her own life as well.

“But it suited that one’s purposes real fine. She took off back to New York with Jess still in diapers. Said she needed to do what she could to help out too. And of course, over the past decade, our guys have been away more than they been home.”

“So, Rachel holed up in her daddy’s penthouse in Manhattan while Daniel was off fighting. Anytime the team had downtime, he’d store his gear at ours and catch a red-eye up there to see his little girl. Of course, that couldn’t have suited Miss Perfect any better. Nannies, Daddy’s money, and the big hero husband around just enough to make all her friends green with envy.”

She paused for a long moment as if gathering the courage to go on, “Then she got pregnant with Bel. Daniel was pretty tired already of watching the way that lot was spoiling his oldest child. There was no way he was having two of them up there. So, he put down his foot. Demanded that Rachel move back here.”

Jill nodded as Simone brought her cup of coffee to her lips. “But she hated it here. I mean, really hated it. There was this guy from Daniel’s unit. His daddy owns one of those private security firms, mercenaries, if you ask me. Anyway, he offered Daniel and a few others big money to come to work for his daddy.”

“Of course, Daniel and Samuel said no, but that was not the answer that one wanted to hear. For over two years, she made that boy’s life living hell going on and on about how he didn’t owe this country, the Navy, or his team anything. About how she and his daughters should come first. Like they didn’t already?”

Another dark look came across Simone’s face, and she made the sign of the cross, “She got pregnant again. This time I know, it was on purpose. Told him that now he would have to take up the Dodds’ offer. That they could not afford another baby.” Simone smiled weakly, “Of course, fate pulled a big joke on her. It was not one more baby but two.”

Simone reached across the table and squeezed her hand gently, “What I’m about to say, no one on this earth knows except me and Daniel. She was about six months along when she got drunk one night, took some damned pills too. Daniel asked me to come over and take care of Jess and Bel so he could take her to the hospital. Have the doctors check her and the babies out to make sure everything was all right.”

“The things that woman screamed at the poor man in her drunken stupor would chill your blood. She told him that if he wasn’t quitting the Navy, she didn’t want any more of his bastards.”

Jill’s hand flew to her mouth in shock at the cruelty of the woman. But the tale only got worse when Simone spoke again. “She told him not to bother coming home from the next mission. Then she would at least have a nice little paycheck from the insurance company. But that he should make sure he did it right because she didn’t want to be left with half a man to take care of like Dwayne.”

“Oh my god,” Jill breathed around her hand. “How could she?”

Simone shook her head, “Thing is I always felt sorry for her. Until that night, anyway. She was like some lost child, who just could not handle not getting her way. Except for Daniel, no one had ever said ‘no’ to her.”

“Why didn’t she just get a divorce if she hated it here so much? Hated this life?” Jill wondered aloud.

“Like I said, a couple of times, I thought for sure that was the way things were going. But I think in some perverse way, Rachel liked having someone say ‘no.’ It gave her boundaries.”

Jill’s brow furrowed, “Why didn’t he? I mean, divorce her.”

“The girls mostly. He knew he was not always around, but at least me or one of the other wives would always check in on them. Besides, sweetie, in case you ain’t figured this one out, your husband is an old fashioned country boy to the core.”

“Nothing he’s seen in this crazy world has managed to change the fact that his parents, who been married almost as long as we been alive, raised that boy to take those vows seriously. Raised that boy on truly solid ground,” she tightened her grip around Jill’s hand once more.

“So, that brings us back to the other. What we gonna do to make sure that those vows don’t bite him in the ass again?”

Jill swallowed past the foul taste in her mouth. The story that Simone had shared raised as many new questions as the ones they answered, maybe more. Some piece of the puzzle was still missing. The woman that Simone described seemed far too selfish to take her own life, too self-centered. But Jill pushed those thoughts aside for now in favor of more pressing matters. She stared at the bottom of the empty cup. “I acted like a fool,” she whispered.

Simone giggled softly, “We all do that. What do you mean exactly?”

“In the dream, we’re…” Jill blushed, unable to continue. “Let’s just say doing things that I would not do back in High School unless I were going steady with someone. Going steady…for a long time,” she stretched out the words.

“Don’t need to ask if it was good. Look on your face answers that one, girlfriend.”

“That’s the problem. It was too good,” Jill confided in a whisper.

Her friend looked at her in shock, “Too good? There ain’t no such thing.”

Jill sought answers at the bottom of the empty cup again. “There is if you barely know someone. I mean… It wasn’t that good…even with David.”

Simone’s loud laughter chimed about the room. “So, that’s what’s bothering you. Guilt?”

“Not guilt, I suppose. It all just seemed to be happening too fast. And of course, well, there’s the other. You know?” She frowned, thinking about her insecurities.

Simone rolled her eyes, “I think we can safely put those worries aside, sweetie. If things were moving so damned fast that you got scared, I don’t think there’s much doubt that your husband is into you.”

Jill shook her head. Simone could afford to be so sure of herself, her beautiful full figure. She had known nothing but the loving support of her husband for almost twenty years. Jill had faced other things. And despite her friend’s reassurances, the idea of exposing herself to another man was terrifying.

“Besides, right now, the question is more about what we gonna do to get things back to moving too fast?”

“Moving forward at all would be nice. Slow and steady wins the race, they say.”

“You think that man knows shit about slow and steady?” Simone chuckled.

Jill brought her fingers up to her lips as if she could still feel the scalding heat of his kisses, “I suppose you’re right.”

“No, the thing we got to plan, for now, is how to release these floodwaters from behind that dam without taking out all those downstream.”

“How do we do that?”

“Aw, sweetie, that one’s easy. You just have to seduce your husband.”

Jill choked on the air in her throat. That idea alone was enough to send her scurrying like a mouse when you turned on the kitchen light.

Daniel opened the backdoor quietly. Stepping into the laundry room, he was assailed with memories of her taste. The feel of those soft curves pressed against him. He was already half-hard as he tossed his tack bag in the corner and stepped into the kitchen. Britney and Ashley sat giggling with delight in their highchairs. Food was thrown about the floor as she stood by the sink. Her hands were wringing out a dishcloth, preparing to clean up the mess.

She stopped when she saw him. “Daniel, I wasn’t…” She blushed. “We didn’t expect you home this early.” Nodding her head towards the toddlers, “I was just about to put these two down for their naps.”

“Don’t let me stop you,” he stammered, feeling like that stranger in his own house yet again.

She smiled nervously. “I’ll just be a couple of minutes. Let me clean and change them, then I’ll make you something for lunch. You must be hungry.”

“Sure, I’ll just grab a shower while you put them down.” He fled the room as quickly as he could. A nice, long ice-cold shower. He would need it.

What the hell had he been thinking? Even after his conversation with Samuel, he should have headed back to the office. But like a fool, he had turned the SUV towards home, hoping for once to be greeted with the same enthusiasm Samuel and the others could count upon.

Stripping away his sweaty and sandy clothes, he threw them into the basket and stepped beneath the spray. The water was cold, but not cold enough. He felt it slide down his body and imagined it was her fingers. Remembering how soothing her touch had been that night when her fingers danced across his bare chest as she swayed against him. “Fuck,” he spat, picking up the bottle of shower gel. Pouring some into his hands, he began to lather his head and body.

To make things worse, she was wearing another one of those damned dresses again today. This one was long and black.  It was a perfect contrast to bring out the creamy color of her skin. There was no halter top to untie this time. But the low V-neck revealed the swell of those impossibly full breasts. His hands ached to feel them once more.

“God damn it,” he cursed again as he rinsed the suds from his body. He was tempted, more than tempted to tarry a few more minutes. Take certain matters into his own hands. But he knew that she would probably be done with putting the twins down for their naps by now, and he did not want to keep her waiting.

Besides, he had been doing that for over two weeks, and it brought no real relief. What he needed was far more than a quick jerk-off in the shower. He needed his wife. Not like he was going to have her.

But the least he could do was make some headway using the advice that Samuel had offered. Some conversation over lunch was as good a place as any to begin. He grabbed the towel and wrapped it about his waist. His mind was decidedly somewhere else as he opened the bathroom door and walked straight into his wife. 

As usual, Britney and Ashley had fallen asleep almost before their blond curls hit the pillows. They no longer took morning naps, so by this time of day, they were more than ready, having run out all the energy their little bodies had saved up from the night before. Jill smiled as she bent and kissed them each.

Simone’s words echoed through her head. How could anyone have felt that way about two such precious gifts? She thought as she closed the door to their room and turned. Directly into the bare, wet chest of her husband.

She swallowed past the lump in her throat as she took in the view of bronzed muscles that rippled and played beneath what she knew from that night was impossibly hot skin. She did not know what she was thinking. Problem was she was not thinking at all as she reached up to feel the soft steel once more.

The growl from his throat brought her back to reality. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have,” she mumbled as she stared at the carpet. Anything to keep from looking at the one thing that tempted her beyond all reason. “I should go make you something to eat,” she turned to head down the hall.

The arm about her waist stopped her. “Why shouldn’t you, Jill?” he whispered just behind her. “Why the hell shouldn’t we both?” His hand moved up to cup her breast. She blushed as she realized that she was bare beneath the thin cotton of her favorite sundress. She had not thought for a moment that he would be home early, so with the late summer heat, she had opted for comfort once more.

His fingers discovered that fact as they toyed with her nipple through the impossibly thin barrier. She leaned her head back against his shoulder and closed her eyes. She gave into the total pleasure that his hands were drawing forth from her body.

Fire and lightning coursed and strummed through every nerve ending from the hair on her head to her toes that were curling into the wiry carpet. She bit her lower lip to keep from moaning as his lips and tongue danced along the pulse pounding like Native American drums in her throat.

She arched back into his embrace as she felt the pressure building inside her. She had read somewhere once that some women could achieve orgasm from merely having their breasts played with. She had thought it was complete rubbish. Until that moment.

Damn it, she hung right over the edge. Still, he made no further move. Finally, in desperation, she whimpered, “Daniel, please.”

“Yes,” he virtually roared as he turned her in his arms. She did not have time to say anything more, to finish her pleas. His mouth descended upon hers, capturing whatever she would have said. His tongue warred, and it was war, against hers. This was certainly not their first kiss, but there was an undeniable hunger to it that transcended anything they had tasted before, making the others seem tentative and tame.

She felt as if she were falling for a moment. Then she realized that they were moving. He was guiding them across the dark, tiny space of the hall. The few steps from the nursery to his room seemed an impossibly long journey. Too long.

Some sane part of her argued that she should slow things down. The tortoise and hare, it said. But this day, the hare was winning that race as her tongue tasted his moans. She trembled a bit as she felt her back hit the hard, cold surface of the door. She knew there was no turning back if she crossed its threshold.

But when he released her breast long enough to fumble with the knob, she made no move to slow things down. A moment later, she felt it give at her back, and then his hand and fingers were once more on the heated flesh of her left breast doing things, making her feel things that she probably should not. Things that she wanted more than her next breath.

The distance between the doorway and the bed seemed shorter than it had in her hazy dream that night. Or perhaps they were just moving faster, she reasoned. And they were moving fast. If some part her still screamed for reason and sanity, it was silenced by Simone’s words, ‘seduce your husband.’ Just that neither of them imagined how quickly she would be given that opportunity. Question was, did she have the guts to follow through on it?

She felt the edge of the bed against her calves and put her hand up to the heat of his shoulder. Uncertainty and her demons flared to life, and her mind finally jumped started. She pushed gently, but it was lost in the momentum of their fall to the bed. If his kisses and caresses had not already taken her breath away, the pair of them landing upon the firm mattress would have.

When she came back to reality, she was sprawled beneath him, and the hand that had been holding her, guiding her, was now around her ankle, moving slowly up her calf beneath her dress. She panicked for a moment as it reached her knee. What would he think when he discovered that she wore no underwear. But the worry was just a blip on the radar as his other hand tugged firmly at her nipple. His mouth swallowed her moans before continuing its journey along her jaw and down her neck.

She bit her lip harder to keep from moaning as he brushed the material back from her breast. His hand covered the bare flesh, kneading it softly. But she could not stop the whimper a moment later as his other hand completed its journey. Her dress was bunched about her upper thighs as his fingers grazed over her mound. When he slipped them lower and brushed the rough, calloused surface of his thumb across the too-sensitive nub, she arched off the bed. “Daniel,” she almost screamed.

She was not prepared for the sensual assault that followed. He bit down hard on her shoulder as he squeezed the tender flesh of her breast. Her thighs opened a bit more as she squirmed against him, breathy at the oddly familiar edgy sensation of pleasure/pain. His fingers slipped just inside her, and she whimpered in need like a puppy seeking the attention of its master. “Please,” she begged.

“Say it again,” he growled as his fingers stilled, remaining perched right on the edge of fulfilling her every fantasy and need.

“God damn it, Daniel. Please,” she begged unashamedly.

“Yes,” he roared once more as he plunged them inside her. It took her instantly over the edge as she arched against his hand, riding the intense wave of pleasure like a surfer hanging ten on the big one. His teeth on her shoulder held her upper body in place as he continued to toy and torment her breast.

She was reminded of the documentaries of wild animals mating. This was something so primal and powerful that she was frightened for a moment. She feared that she was in way over her head this time. Except that her body was betraying her. It responded to each of his demands in a way that it never had before. It gloried in his mastery of her as she came hard over and over and over again. Still, it was not enough, “Please, oh, please,” she pleaded and whimpered. Her mind wondered at who this wild woman was? What had taken over her body and mind?

“Please what, Jill,” he whispered low as his teeth gave up their hold on her flesh. His tongue and lips took over, trailing further down towards where his hand lifted her breast. Presenting it to them like some trophy for the taking.

The moment his lips curved around the tingling tip of her nipple, she felt her body clamp tightly around his fingers once more. How it was possible, she did not know, but this orgasm was even more potent than the dozen he had already given her. “Daniel,” she screamed.

The fog cleared for the briefest of moments. For a split second, she was overcome with a sense of déjà vu. This felt so familiar. The dream. Except this time, his fingers between her legs were not stilling. They were plunging faster and deeper inside her. As if powered by some steam engine, driven by the demons of hell itself. Her orgasms, as consuming as they were, did not seem enough. She felt empty. She felt needy. And only one thing would fill that void. “Please,” she undulated against the palm of his hand once more.

This time those fingers did still. His mouth released its prisoner, her nipple puckered as the air brushed over its wet flesh. She felt him shift.

“Look at me, Jill,” he demanded.

There was an edge to his voice, something powerful and in control, yes. She fought herself, her every submissive tendency, to turn her head to the side as she bit her lip with indecision. Her skin flamed even redder with embarrassment as much as the desire that lay just beneath the surface. His fingers caressed her cheek. She could feel the wetness of her body, and the blush spread even more at her wanton behavior. She fought him as he turned her head towards him.

“Jill, please, look at me,” the need and pain that she heard in his voice this time did what even the demands could not. She could not deny him. She did not want to. It hit her then like the proverbial ton of bricks. “Oh my god,” she whispered at the revelation as her eyes flew open to meet his blue ones. To look into the handsome face of the stranger that was her husband. The man she loved.

Daniel sighed at the look of utter fear in his wife’s eyes. Fear was a look he knew intimately. It was more powerful than the cold shower, doing what it could not, instantly extinguishing the flames of hell that had driven him for two weeks. He rolled to the side, bringing his arm up to cover his face as he regrouped. His mind raced with a million thoughts, but only one of them stuck. ‘You blew it again, buddy.’

What he did not expect as he played that tape-recorded message over again in his mind was to feel the warm, soft swell of his wife’s bare breast pressed against his side. Or her arm draped casually about his waist. When he felt her long silky hair spread across his chest, he stiffened a bit. He knew that laying like this, she would feel his heartbeat. Know precisely what her gentle touches were doing to him.

But he honestly did not give a damn just then. After weeks of coveting the tenderness that she showed to Britney, Ashley, and Bel, he was finally on the receiving end, and it was not an opportunity he was going to pass up. He lowered his arm and wrapped it about her shoulders. Drawing her even closer, he placed a tender kiss on the top of her head.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

He felt her body tremble as she chuckled softly. “You damn well better be. That’s the second time you’ve left me hanging.”

He lifted his head and met the gaze from those unforgettable green eyes, “I thought you didn’t remember that night.”

She sighed, “I didn’t. Not really. Not until…” He watched as pink spread across her cheeks once more. “Until just now,” she whispered so low that he had to strain to hear it.

He nodded his head, knowing that this time he was the one blushing. He tugged her gently back towards his chest. He would be much more comfortable staring at the ceiling than into those eyes for this conversation. Thankfully, for once, his wife acceded to his wishes. Her hair once more spread across his skin, caressing it as he fought back the needs that were even then just below the surface.

“So, where does that leave us, sweetheart?” he echoed the question that he had asked Samuel earlier in the day.

His wife seemed full of surprises this day as he felt her hands begin to move slowly across his chest, down his stomach that went taut as he held his breath. “Jill?”

He could almost see her smile against his chest. “A wise woman told me I should seduce my husband.” Her tiny hands wrapped about his hard flesh, and it was he that was arching off the bed this time with each rhythmic stroke of those soft hands up and down his hard cock. He was barely thinking as he felt her slipping from his arms, moving lower as she whispered, “What do you think about the idea?”

His answer was a guttural moan as his cock disappeared between her soft lips. His fingers clutched at the sheets, bunching them within his grasp as he fought back the need to run them through her hair. The need to lift his hips more and plunge his cock deep inside the warm wetness of those sweet pink lips that tasted like heaven but knew how to take him to the very edge of hell at the moment.

He grounded his teeth and fought it all as she tortured and tormented him for several minutes. He knew his body was on the very edge. He could feel the need to come pulsing like life itself through him as fundamental an urge as breathing. And one that, at the moment, was about as difficult to control. As sweet as her mouth was, as delicious as this felt, it was not what he wanted most.

His fingers wrapped at last through those soft lengths, but this time not to guide her head in tempo that would take him over that edge, but to draw her away from his burning flesh, “Please, Jill,” it was he that was doing the pleading this time.

She smiled as she lifted her head. Devilry danced in the green pools. “Yes, commander,” she teased as her hands continued to torture his steel length.

His fingers laced tighter through her hair as he tugged her up his body. The damned witch, took her time, sliding those soft curves along every single millimeter of his smoldering flesh. By the time they were eye to eye, the only thought left in his muddled brain was wiping that smug look off her face, and he knew one way to do that.

His lips stormed the beaches of her mouth once more as his hand about her waist held her to him. He rolled them until he was once more on top. In the exchange, she lost hold of his cock, but that suited his purpose perfectly. His hand slipped beneath that damned temptation of black cotton. He had just one thought, tearing it to fucking shreds as he pushed and pulled it up her legs, baring smooth, soft skin as he went. 

But the goal of that mission was forgotten as those soft fingers found his throbbing erection once more. His hand stilled as she whispered, “Please, Daniel, I need you,” against his neck. Her tongue licked softly at the pounding pulse that raced faster still at her admission.

Later, he promised himself. Later, he would be skin-to-skin with his wife. Hard muscles against soft curves. But right now, he needed to give his wife the one thing he could. He felt her shift on the bed beneath him. Her tiny fingers guided him home. He ground his teeth to keep from screaming as that warm, wetness enveloped him.

His hand reached back and wrapped her leg about his hips as he bent to kiss her sweet lips once more, “Hold on, sweetheart. This ride’s about to get rough and fast,” he whispered as he surged forward into her depths just as hard and fast as he promised.

For a millisecond, he worried that it was perhaps too much. The tightness of the muscles that greeted his invasion only confirmed that. His mind told his body to slow down, to give her time to catch up, to adjust to him, but it seemed a battle that was destined to be lost.

Only the soft mewing against his neck and the upward thrusts of her generous hips to meet and match each downward one of his own offered solace and forgiveness for his rashness. But it was the sharp bite of her nails into the corded flesh of his back, when she bowed even higher, those blond tresses covering his pillow as her eyes closed and he felt her body tighten into an impossible vise that refused to let him go. He took it as an ancient invitation to do what he had been aching to do since the moment her lips touched his cock. He surged as deep as possible inside her and emptied his very soul into her welcoming depths.

When at long last a tiny bit of sanity returned, he rolled just enough to take his weight off of her but held her tight, drawing her against him. His body was satisfied. But somehow, it did not reach the depths of his soul. He tightened his hold about her waist, needing to hold on for as long as possible.

“Wow,” he felt her giggle beneath him. The movement drove his still hard cock further inside her.

He turned his head back towards her and smiled. “Can I take it that you enjoyed that, Missus Monroe?” He kissed the end of her nose and brushed her hair back from her face. It was spread across his pillow like a spider’s web of fine silk threads. He could easily get sucked into the erotic and loving web his wife was weaving. Those long blond strands spread across his pillow or his shoulder. It was another thing he could definitely get used to. For the rest of his life.

Her smile lit those green fathoms as her fingers toyed across his shoulders. “Are you fishing for compliments, commander?”

He chuckled once more driving his cock home, this time he held it there, giving a small circle of his hips that had his wife moving against him and meowing like a hungry kitten. “It takes a lot of fish to feed a hungry SEAL, sweetheart,” he teased as he began to move in earnest once more within her.

Anything that she might have said was lost against his tongue as he kissed her and took this thing where they both wanted to go once more.

Jill lay replete against his side. Her head rested against his shoulder, his strong arm wrapped about her, his hand still curled around the underside of her breast. His fingers occasionally brushed against her nipple, teasing them both. Her body was satiated like a day spent at the all-you-can-eat buffet, but it was looking forward to the next meal already.

When had she become such a sex addict? Oh, from the moment that she had given David her virginity, she had enjoyed the act. Theirs had been a happy and satisfying life in more ways than one.

But, hell, nothing had prepared her for this. Was it an addiction? Or was it just that after the other, it felt so amazing to once more feel like a woman? Looking up into his smiling face, those sky blue eyes closed, she wondered, or is it him? She swallowed past the lump that formed in her throat. It was most definitely the man.

“I should get up and make you a sandwich or something. Britney and Ashley will be up soon, and I have to pick Bel up at the bus stop too.” The truth was that she needed a strategic retreat to think and come to terms with the latest revelation.

He turned and looked at the clock on the nightstand, but he took her with him. His hold on her tightened rather than loosened. “Fifteen hundred,” he sighed as he stared into her eyes. “I can wait for dinner.”

His husky command followed a playful tweak at her nipple that sent a tingle of electricity shooting straight between her legs, “You get a shower, and I’ll pick up the girls after school.”

She nodded her head, suddenly reluctant to leave this erotic fantasy. “Might be a good idea.” She winced just a bit as she rolled away from him and sat on the edge of his bed.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have lost control like that. Taken things slower,” his lips pressed a soft kiss to the small of her back. She felt the heat of those sweet lips to her very core even through the safety of the thin material.

She chuckled as she straightened out the top of her favorite dress, tucking her breast back inside it. “If I remember right, commander, it was a two-way street.”

He laughed at her admission. “You should probably change into something that covers your top a bit better too.”

She turned and stared at him, her brows raised. “What? You seemed to enjoy the view earlier.”

His fingers brushed softly over her shoulder, and she winced at the tenderness there. “Oh, I do. But I don’t think either of us is ready for the comments of a smart-mouthed teen if she caught sight of that.”

Jill blushed, “Oh, that. I forgot.”

“I’d say sorry again. But you got your own back, she-cat. I won’t be going shirtless anytime soon with the map those fingers left on my back,” he reached over and drew her hand to his lips, placing a tender kiss in the palm. “It’s a good thing that you aren’t into those damned fake claws like Simone, Trisha, and…”

His voice faded, and his face darkened before he turned over and rose off the other side of the bed. He stood in all his naked glory, and her breath froze in her lungs. She tugged her dress a bit further down her thighs before rising slowly.

“I’ll get that shower now,” she walked carefully across the room. She felt the wetness of their lovemaking slide slowly down the inside of her thigh, as she opened the door to reality and a thousand doubts that awaited her on the other side of this fantasy island.

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