Chapter 7 – Secrets

Make Everything Better Chicken Soup

A couple of pieces of chicken, leftovers work fine, deboned
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup green onion, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon of fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon of fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon of fresh sage
2 chicken stock cubes
1 cup carrot, diced
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup of frozen sweetcorn
1 cup of cooked pasta
Dash of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

This recipe works best in a large ceramic stew pot. Sautee the chicken, garlic, and onion in olive oil, adding the herbs until your kitchen smells like heaven. Boil water in a kettle and add to the pot, stirring in the stock cubes until dissolved. Add carrots, celery, and corn, cooking until vegetables are done to your taste. Add chopped peppers and pasta. Cook for another five minutes. Broth can be served alone in severe cases of upset tummies such as Bel’s, adding the solid ingredients later as they improve.

Jill stood in the doorway of their bedroom. Her breath caught in her lungs as it always did when she looked at him. He sat on the side of the bed, wearing nothing but his boxers. She smiled as she thought of that first morning that she had seen him in the white cotton. His shoulders slumped as he spoke on the phone. His voice was low, and his brow furrowed, the soft lines more pronounced.

“Yeah, Mom. I understand. I might be away for a while in a couple of weeks, but Jill will be here if you need anything. Promise me, you’ll call if you do?” She slipped into the room and curled up on her side of the bed. Her hand automatically went to his shoulder and softly squeezed the tense muscles.

“Maybe. It would be nice. Let me see if I can get a few days leave. I know the girls would love it, and it would give you a chance to meet her. We’ll talk about it tonight.” She scooted across the bed and wrapped both arms about his waist, pressing a soft kiss between his bare shoulder blades.

“Alright, I love you both,” Jill’s heart rose in her throat at how easily those words came to her husband. For his parents. For his daughters. But not for her.

She told herself to give it time. That was how these things worked. Love that grew over time, as Ubah had said. Still, the doubts ate at her mind, taunted her. Dodd’s words, ‘Nothing like Rachel,’ had become the newest litany among all the others that undermined her confidence, her womanhood.

She drew back as she heard him saying his farewells. She snuck back to her side of the bed, grabbing her tablet, and bringing her knees up to her chest as she leaned against the headboard and pillows. She pretended to be engrossed in it even though she could not remember a word she read.

Daniel put the phone on the nightstand and rolled over, wrapping his arm about her waist. “Unless that is the karma sutra put it down for a bit.”

Jill could not help but laugh as she put it back. “How is your dad?” She turned in his arms to face him. The worried look on his handsome face answered her question before he spoke.

“Mom says that he made them stop the chemo. Said he didn’t want to spend what time he had left sick as a dog. So, they are just giving him what pain meds they can,” his blue eyes were misty as he stared at the buttons on his shirt that she had kidnapped and worn to bed most nights.

Her fingers brushed across his cheek. “I’m sorry, Daniel.” She wanted to take him into her arms, into her body and heart. But those damned words would not stop their song in her mind. So, she satisfied herself with the soft caress.

“Mom asked if we could get away for a few days. To visit,” Jill could hear the unspoken words in his voice as it cracked, ‘say good-bye.’ Tears filled her eyes for his pain, for his mother’s, the woman without whom she would never have met this remarkable man.

“Can you get some time off? I know that the team is going to deploy soon. Is there time?” Her fingers moved down his neck to caress his bare shoulder. She fought back the temptation to move lower, to play with the firm muscles and wiry chest hairs that always entranced her.

Daniel shook his head, “Normally, I wouldn’t. But this is different. I’ll talk to the command tomorrow. If I can swing it, you think you and the girls are up to a long drive?” Those eyes looked up at her; the smile on his soft lips was weak and forced.

Jill nodded, “We’ll manage,” she bent and brushed a kiss across his forehead. Trying to lighten his load any way she could, “And I have a surprise for you.”

Standing, she padded barefoot over to the dresser and rummaged in her purse for a moment before pulling out the small card. She smiled as she tossed it to him. “I got this yesterday. I figured I’d need it while you’re gone. So, you have a relief driver, commander.”

He smiled as he picked up her new driver’s license, but then she remembered the photograph. Typical of all the grainy pictures, it showed her age and weight. She lunged and tried to snatch it back. “Oh no, you don’t. The picture is horrible.”

He rolled to the side, the license still firmly in his grasp as she collapsed on top of him, stretching and reaching for it. “Oh no, you gave it to me. So, no going back now, Missus Monroe.” He brought it up to his face. “What? You look fine.”

Jill rolled over so that he could not see the mist that clouded her vision. ‘Fine,’ was not the word that she wanted to hear on his lips. Then again, maybe it was time for her to face reality. Sometimes ‘fine’ just had to do. And her marriage was just that…fine.

Daniel was not sure what he had said or done, but the look on his wife’s face told him it was something big. As good as things had been the past four weeks since Jill had moved into their bed, he still did not know how to handle moments like this.

Like a fucking hurricane, she had blown into his world and changed everything. It had long since stopped being just the way she loved and nurtured his daughters, or the delicious meals, or clean house. It was not even the best fucking sex of his life. It was the way that she was there. Just there. He knew that no matter what, he could talk to her, or just snuggle up next to her. He felt safe. He knew that she would never turn him away. Never.

So, why did he keep fucking things up? Even when he did not know how, he managed to screw things up. To hurt her. And that was something he never wanted to do. He could not find the words then, any more than he could any of those other times. So, he did the only thing he knew; he reached for her.

Wrapping his arms about her waist, he pulled her back against his hard body. He spooned with her as he brushed her hair back from her neck and began to kiss along the pulse that beat loudly there. The immediate increase in its tempo told him that once more, his miracle welcomed him with open arms. Even now, when he had hurt her, even when he least deserved her.

His tongue flicked at the vein, throbbing beneath it, as his hand moved from her waist up to cup the fullness of her breast. His thumb played with her nipple through the cotton. He ground his hips against the softness of her ass, “I need you.”

If her moan was not response enough, the way that she arched her chest into his caress, her nipples hardening as she pushed her bottom back against his hard cock, set any shreds of doubt aside. His wife wanted him. Almost as much as he wanted her. Still, it was not enough. His fingers moved lower to work more of the buttons free. He wanted his wife naked and needy beneath him. He wanted, fuck no, he needed all of her. Her total and complete surrender.

Jill pushed his hands away from the cotton as she turned in his arms. “Turn out the lights,” she whispered against his lips.

It was the only thing she denied him. As spectacular as the sex had been the past month, it was always the same. Hot and heavy comings together of their bodies, their afternoon delights, with clothes pushed up or aside just enough to get the job done. Kitchen countertops, rug burns from living room carpets, hell, even the garage, bent over the hood of the car. Anywhere was fair game for the two of them. 

Or it was slow, sweet making love in their bed after tucking the girls in for the night. But still, it was the same. Sexy lingerie, his god damned shirts, something was always between them. Even on the occasions when he had reached for her in the middle of the night. When his need for her loving comfort was stronger even than the need for sleep, it was not enough. It never would be.

He shook his head as he rolled her beneath him, “Not tonight, sweetheart. Tonight I want to watch you as you come for me.” His fingers brushed the material back from her shoulders. “I want to see how red your chest gets as you ride my hard cock.” He pulled at the edges, intent on ripping the damned thing off his wife if he needed to. Then the soft whine broke from the pink and white box on the bedside table next to them. “Fuck,” he spat.

Jill pushed at him and jumped up quickly. Too quickly, panic showed in her eyes as she mumbled, “Let me go check on them.”

He watched her round bottom swoosh back and forth beneath the edge of the shirt as she practically lunged for the bedroom door and the safety of the nursery across the hall.

“Fuck,” he cursed again as he collapsed back on the bed to stare at the ceiling. What the fuck was wrong? Why would she never let him see her completely naked? Hell, why did it bother him so fucking much? Everything else about their lives was just about perfect. Why did this one little thing matter so much? “Because, buddy, it’s the one thing your wife always denies you.”

Not the only one. Daniel heard her horrendous voice on the other end of the monitor, crooning a lullaby to his daughters. It was tender as she whispered, “I love you.” His chest tightened uncomfortably at the soft admission that was not for him.

Jill watched Britney fall back to sleep. She bent to kiss the soft blonde curls about the angelic face. Brushing a stray lock back, “I love you.” ‘Especially for this one, angel.’ She owed the baby for a reprieve this night. 

What would she have done? She had never seen him like this. Over the past month, when he tried to take off her dress or shirt, she had always been able to distract him. Move things forward quickly until his mind was on something else, but the look of determination in his eyes tonight had scared her. If Britney had not cried out, she did not doubt that he would have ripped the shirt open, buttons be damned.

‘Nothing like Rachel.’ ‘What man could ever really want you?’ ‘Fat whore.’ The words played like a brain worm, painfully taunting. She felt the hot tears course down her cheeks. It was the one thing she could not allow. If the words in her mind brought pain, she knew that she could never survive the look of disappointment that was certain to show on his face.

She tiptoed across the nursery, looking back one final time at the babies sleeping peacefully in their cribs. She loved them. No matter how hard she had tried to protect her heart, the truth was that she probably had from that very first night as she watched Daniel and Samuel put the sleeping angels into their pink car seats.

But she knew one thing, she could never live with that look. Not even as much as she loved them, as she loved him, she could never stay and see disappointment, disgust, in the eyes of only the second man she had ever truly loved.

Looking at the closed door to their bedroom, her hand trembled on the knob. She could not. Not just yet. She needed time to think. Time alone to clear her head. Get her feelings back under control. So, instead, she padded softly down the hall and through the kitchen. She stopped for a moment in the small laundry room; her fingers brushed against her lips as she remembered that first sweet taste of him. Daniel. Her husband.

She forced her feet to move. She opened the back door and sat down on the top step. Tears flowed unchecked down her cheeks in the pale moonlight. What a mess she had made of this whole thing? Falling in love with a man she could never really have. Not the way she wanted anyway.

She would never be a raving beauty like Rachel. Hell, even when she was that young girl first discovering her womanly power and sexuality, she had never been anything more than the girl next door pretty. Now at forty-five and after four pregnancies, her body was not even that. Round, soft, full…those were the kind words. Fat, cellulite, sagging were more appropriate.

Looking up at the moon, she wondered once more for the hundredth time since coming to this place, why? Why would someone so beautiful, so perfect, not find happiness in his arms? Alright, so maybe this place was not New York or glamorous. But still, Daniel was amazing. Gorgeous. Considerate. Strong. Funny.  A good friend. A great dad. Not to mention, a fantastic lover. Wasn’t that enough? What more could there be?

Of course, there were the girls too. Rachel’s daughters. How could she leave them like this? It just did not make any sense. If she had been half as pretty as Rachel, hell, a tenth as perfect, she would grab it all and never let it go. Never let him go. Why had the other woman? Money and possessions simply could not be that important.

Jill sat on the back steps thinking for some time. The yard about her was cast in shadows as the tears flowed down her cheeks. She played her predicament over and over in her mind. She wished a thousand different things, but none of them changed the simple reality. She was head over heels in love with a man that would never feel the same way about her.

Oh, he needed her, perhaps even wanted her, but that was just simple biology. A hungry man would eat anything, after all. How long would this passion last? It was something she did not want to think about. Not now. Now she would enjoy him while she could.

His face kept haunting her. The hunger and the need that she had seen, reflected so raw in the depths of those blue eyes, would not leave her alone. His father was dying, another loss in little more than a year. And all too soon, they would face the first separation of their new marriage.

She wanted and needed to offer him what comfort she could. Solace and yes, as much of her love as she dared to show. She fought the battle in her mind until only one truth remained. She could deny him nothing. Well, almost nothing, she thought as she sent a silent prayer upwards and slipped back into the house, re-tracing her earlier steps until she grasped the doorknob in her trembling fingers. Her resolve almost fled as she opened it and saw him collapsed across the foot of the bed, precisely as she had left him.

She walked over and switched the lights off. She would go as far as she could this night, she decided as she began unbuttoning each of the tiny white buttons along the front of his shirt. She let it slip from her shoulders but wrapped it about her like a security blanket as she saw him turn over.

“Jill?” he whispered.

She closed her eyes and prayed for strength to answer the unspoken need she heard in his voice. She let the shirt slip the rest of the way down her arms until it pooled about her feet on the floor. “I’m sorry, Daniel.”

He reached for her, and she went willingly into his strong arms. His lips moved over her bare shoulders and breasts as they rolled and tumbled on the bed they shared. When his mouth moved over the turgid peak of her nipple, she pushed him onto his back. Her hands made quick work of his boxers, the only barrier between them. When those were tossed carelessly across the room, she rose over him. Taking his already hard cock inside her once more.

She gritted her teeth and held her breath at the intense pleasure of it stretching and filling her. Fireworks of desire burst over her as she came almost immediately. Her body squeezed his as her fingers scratched at his shoulders. She rode wave after wave of it as she gave him everything she could in the haven of the pale moonlight that drifted through the small window in their room.

For a moment, Daniel thought that it was a fantasy. Another of his torturous dreams. His wife close, so fucking close, but always just out of reach. When she slowly dropped his shirt from her lush curves, he thought he would explode. The moon cast a hypnotic spell about her, about it all. Half dream, half reality, all heaven.

When she took him inside her welcoming depths once more, he fought back the need to come immediately. The way she felt when she came was something he was not sure he would ever be able to resist fully, clenching him tightly, milking him. But he was not ready for it to end this quickly.

He watched her as she rode his cock. Her head thrown back, and her eyes closed. He could not see the depths of those bright green eyes or the red that stained her face and chest, but he could hear her labored breathing, feel her heart pounding as his hands cupped and weighed those perfect tits.

He thrust his hips up, driving deeper into her and was rewarded with a soft moan – his name on her lips. “Daniel.” But god damn it, it still was not enough. It was irrational. Unlike him. But he needed all of this woman. He wanted complete control of his wife.

He pushed her off him. He gloried in the soft whimper that the denial of his body brought to those sweet lips. He reached up and pulled one of his pillows down. He slapped her soft ass, and the sound vibrated around the quiet room.

“On your hands and knees, Jill.” He caught a brief glimpse of the surprised look in her eyes. He cursed under his breath once more that in the moonlight, he could not see their pure green.

But this night, he would settle for what she offered. Take more than perhaps she had meant to give. He swore, though, that he would not allow these games to continue, not for much longer. She was his wife. His. And she was about to find out all that meant.

“Daniel,” she whispered over her shoulder as she moved into the position he had commanded. The pillow under her hips, lifting her bottom high into the air as she knelt over it. Presenting herself, open and ready to him.

Taking his cock in his hand, he stroked it as he moved behind his wife. Something inside of him begged to be released, pleaded with him to bring his hand down hard upon those ivory globes until they would twinkle scarlet even in the dim light. To go far beyond the quick taps that he had used a moment before.

But a lifetime of rules stopped him. She was his wife, he never wanted to hurt her, he respected her, he…he needed her. He refused to allow his mind to take that next plunge, off the cliff without so much as a tether line to prevent his descent into the deepest darkest depths of her oceans.

Instead, he took another type of plunge into her depths, as he positioned the head of his cock between the impossibly hot and wet folds of her body. It was his turn to groan as its tightness gripped him once more. His hands firmly about her waist, he dug his fingers into her. He was in no mood for gentle this night as he plunged deeper and faster inside her.

He felt her trembling beneath his hands, heard the low keening as she bent forward into the mattress. It muffled her screams, but not enough that he could not listen to her begging and pleading. And it was not for him to stop. Her body and her words begged him for more. His own body echoed her pleas. But his mind needed even more than she was offering.

He lunged forward, pushing his cock deep in her and holding it there. He waited as he felt her orgasm ebbing and flowing around him. She whimpered and tried to move her hips against him to continue this roller coaster ride that was their bodies’ need for one another, but his hands about her waist were firm, denying them both the release they sought.

“Please, Daniel, I need.”

His right hand moved up her body to grasp her breast as it dangled just above the blanket. His fingers tugged firmly at the hard point. “What do you need, Jill?”

“You,” she moaned as she tried to move again, but his arm wrapped about her waist held her still as he toyed with her breast, his cock buried balls deep inside of heaven.

“Whose pussy is this?” He circled his hips, adding enough friction to send her body higher, but not high enough for the release he knew she craved.

She whimpered at his movement, and he could see her fingers clutching the covers above her head. Her head came up, and she arched her back into him, but he pulled back, denying her what she craved once more.

“Damn it, Daniel. Quit screwing around.”

He smiled and pulled back just a fraction more, “You sure you want me to stop screwing you, Missus Monroe?” He gave another gentle circle of his hips.

“God damn it, you know I didn’t mean that,” she roared, and she turned her head to look at him. “Fuck me, Daniel. Fuck me hard.”

He gave another slow circle, “You haven’t answered my question, sweetheart. Whose sweet little cunt is this?” To encourage her, he rocked his hips forward as he tweaked her nipple.

“Daniel,” she whimpered. “Please,” she begged.

“Wrong answer, baby,” He drew back until just the head of his swollen cock rested inside her.

“Yours, god damn it, yours,” she almost screamed. “Now fuck me,” she demanded as she moved her hips back against him. This time his hold about her waist lessened, allowing her to move backward, swallowing the length of his cock as he plunged forward at the same time.

He pounded into her. He felt those demons riding his back once more. As good as her admission felt, it was not the one he craved. He gave up his hold about her waist, his hand moving up, his fingers wrapping themselves into the soft lengths of her hair. He used it to tug her back until her face was just inches from his. “Say it again, Jill. Tell me whose pussy this is!”

He felt her body begin that incredible magic of its release as she looked into his eyes, “Yours. It’s yours, Daniel.”

He roared his victory into the depths of her sweet lips. He plunged harder and faster into her as she milked and squeezed his hard cock. He felt his come rising, he tried to hold back, he wanted to push her further, he needed more. But as always, her body mastered his, drawing forth that which he was not fully ready to give. And all he could do was ride the wave of his release as he emptied himself once more inside her.

As the power drained from them both, she collapsed forward onto the bed, and he followed. He rolled enough to take his weight off her, but their lower bodies remained entwined, their legs pieces of a puzzle that fit perfectly. His arm fell across her lower back, and in the moonlight, he noticed it for the first time. The faint blue lines of a tattoo just above the round curve of her bottom. He recognized it instantly. The Royal Marines Corps crest.

“Per mare, per terram,” his fingers outlined the other man’s symbol of ownership upon his wife. The man, who had held far more of her than he ever would. He might have her body, but he knew this ghost still held her heart.

She stirred in his arms, turning her head towards him. “What did you say?” Her eyes looked drowsy and barely open.

Daniel bent and kissed her nose, “It’s nothing. Nothing important,” he lied as he rolled away from her. He walked over to the closet and pulled out the spare blanket. As warm as the night was, it would be enough.

His wife rolled into his arms as he spread it over them. He drew her head to rest as it did most nights against his heart. He placed another soft kiss on the top of her head as he wrapped his arm about her, holding her close. But not close enough. It would never be close enough.

The tattoo was just another reminder of that fact, as he stared at the ceiling. His body far more relaxed after their lovemaking than his mind. He knew that sleep would not come quickly this night, as the ghost of that other man lingered in his mind and heart. He shook his head, “It’s never going to be enough, is it, buddy?”

Jill folded and packed, although she was not sure what. Her mind was somewhere else. Things had been different since the other night. He was avoiding her again. He said it was because of the trip. He needed to make certain that everything was ready before they left. So, of course, their nooners were gone. He barely made it home in time for dinner each night.

And maybe that was it; she knew the demands that the military placed upon a marriage. Perhaps too, it was this trip. It could not be easy on him, knowing that this was almost certainly the final farewell to his father.

It was something that she had never gotten; her parents were killed suddenly in a car accident when she was a senior in high school. Then again, she had never been close to them, her free-spirited hippie academicians, who had accidentally given birth to their only child of the sixties. But it must be eating Daniel up inside, this final farewell.

The one fear that ate at her mind was that she had allowed herself to go too far the other night. That in her need to comfort and please her husband, she had revealed too much of herself. Not just her less than perfect body, but the wildly sexual creature that beat just below the surface of her calm exterior.

She had learned the hard way, that type of wanton behavior did not appeal to all men. Perhaps she had gone too far. Maybe the dirty talk that she was barely able to stifle most times and had failed to muffle that night was too much. Too bold. Too whorish. Or perhaps the moonlight had not been as kind at concealing her many flaws as she thought.

The truth was that for the past three days, he had not touched her at all. Well, not intentionally anyway. They awoke each morning a tangled mess of arms and legs. His hard-on pressed against her was a temptation she could barely resist.

She was piling another something into the case and staring out the small bedroom window when she felt the tug on her dress. “Jill, my tummy hurts,” whispered Bel.

She knelt and drew the little girl towards her, brushing a kiss across her forehead. The heat emanating from it caused her to pull back in alarm. The child was burning up. She placed her hand at the back of the girl’s neck and was greeted with more heat. “Where does it hurt, sweetie?”

“All over. It so bad,” the copious tears that glistened as they flowed down her rosy cheeks told Jill the truth of her words.

“Let’s put you in bed; then I’ll get you some medicine and something to drink,” she started to reply when the little girl turned pale. Bel’s soft blue eyes, that always reminded Jill of his, grew large before the onslaught of projectile vomiting that covered everything in the suitcase. Jill held the little girl, whispering soothing words until the violent vomiting stopped. Their bed, the floor, the suitcase, and Bel were all covered.

Jill picked her up and carried her down the hall to the bathroom. Bel was crying and whimpering, “I sorry. I didn’t mean to make a mess.”

She knelt next to the girl as she began to strip her soiled clothes off. “Sweetie, don’t worry about it. I know that. I’ll clean it up after we get you tucked in bed.” The child continued to sob as Jill finished undressing her and lifted her into the tub. She heard a noise behind her and turned towards the door.

“What’s wrong with her?” demanded the petulant pre-teen, staring around the room.

“Your sister is not feeling well.  Could you get me the children’s Tylenol out of the closet in the hall and a glass of water, please Jess?” Jill asked as she picked up the cup that she kept near the tub for washing the twins’ hair. She began pouring the tepid water over Bel’s head even as the child shivered.

“I know it’s cold, sweetie, but we need to get your fever down.” She poured a bit of shampoo into her palm and began to lather Bel’s hair, removing the bits of food and bile that hung to the blond curls.

She heard the older girl sigh as she left, “Sure, I’ll check on the little ones, too.”

Jill smiled up at her step-daughter. “Thank you. I can use whatever help you’re willing to give here.”

Jess shrugged, “Don’t worry about the babies. I’ll take them downstairs with me. I’ve kind of been missing the little brats since you and Gran showed up. They used to be my responsibility when Dad wasn’t around.”

Jill frowned at her words, “What about…” She began to question the girl about her mother, but another round of violent vomiting put an end to it. She turned back to the younger girl, pulling the plug from the tub and starting all over.

She had just finished a second rinse of the girl’s hair when a bottle of medicine and glass of water appeared on the sink next to her. “Thank you,” she said without looking up.

“Do you want me to call Dad at work?”

Jill shook her head, “He should be home soon anyway. If you can manage the babies, then I’ll take care of Bel and try to clean things up a bit before he gets home. Would you mind getting me a big bowl or pot from the kitchen?”

“Sure, no problem, is she gonna be alright?”

Jill nodded as she smiled at the little girl, “You’re going to be fine, angel girl.” She placed another kiss on the child’s forehead. It was still much too hot. She poured a spoonful of the medicine and tried to get the child to drink it, but Bel just cried and shook her head. “Please, sweetie, girl?” Jill pleaded.

“She hates the stuff. Mom always gave it to her when she wanted to make sure she would stay asleep, not wake up and disturb her and…” The girl looked away as if she had said too much. “Bel, quit being a baby. You need it this time,” she commanded her younger sister.

Jill wrapped the towel about the child and drew her into her arms. “Shh, sweetie girl, it’s okay. Let’s get you to your bed, and we’ll try again.” She scooped Bel up in her arms. “Would you bring the medicine and the glass of water before getting that bowl, please, Jess?”

The usually moody girl nodded her head and picked up the items, following them down the hall to the bedroom that she had shared with her sister until a month before. “You sure I shouldn’t call Dad,” she whispered with what Jill could tell was genuine concern.

Jill smiled, “It’s probably just a tummy bug. I’m sure the two of us can manage fine until he gets home.” But the moan from the child in her arms, as another pain doubled her over, had even Jill doubting her words.

“Need toilet,” cried her bundle.

Jill barely managed to get the child to it before the loud pop announced that this bug was one to be reckoned with. “Jess, you manage Brit and Ash. I’ll handle Bel.”

She was so busy trying to reassure the younger girl that she did not realize how pushy she might sound until the words were out. “Jess, I appreciate your help here. Thank you,” she tried to correct her mistake, smiling weakly into the girl’s face as she turned to leave.

The next half an hour was spent in the bathroom with her step-daughter, alternately being violently ill into the sink or tub or doubled over the toilet holding her tiny tummy. Jill was at her wit’s end, worried about the fever that just would not come down, despite the cool clothes she kept applying to the girl’s forehead and neck.

She heard voices down the hall as she held the little girl’s shoulders, which were shaking as she vomited again. She recognized the pounding of feet down the corridor. A second later, he filled the tiny doorway, just as wholly as he filled every corner of her fantasies.

“Is she all right?” He observed his daughter wrapped only in the towel as she dry heaved over the sink.

Jill shook her head so that the child could not see the worry on her face or in her voice. “I think we should take her to the hospital,” she said in almost a whisper.

He nodded and pulled out his phone, pushing a single button, he barked orders to their friend, “Bel’s sick. I need you over here now. Jill and I are taking her to the hospital.”

Jess stepped up behind him, “I can watch the babies, daddy.”

He shook his head at her. “I know you can, sweetie. But Simone will be here in a couple of minutes. You and Althea can do whatever you girls do these days, while we have the doctors check out your sister.”

Jill saw the disappointment on the girl’s face. She recognized how hard it must be to be pushed aside, have duties that were once yours taken away by a stranger. “Jess, would you mind one more favor for me? Can you grab a t-shirt and knickers for your sister? Nothing heavy just enough to cover her bits.”


“Sorry, underwear, panties. I’m still re-learning the American language.”

“Sure, whatever,” Jess sulked away.

Daniel shook his head, “You are fucking amazing, sweetheart. I didn’t even realize how all this must seem to her.”

“Teenagers are an experience. Let me tell you. D.J. was nineteen when his father was killed. Even though he was already in the Royals, he thought that made him the man in the house. It wasn’t easy,” she smiled as she hugged her bundle closer, her eyes filling with tears as the worry of the past hour gave way to sharing this burden. “We’ll make it through in the end.”

Daniel cradled his daughter’s hand as she slept. They were still waiting to see the doctors. But they had started an IV almost the moment they arrived and administered medications that brought his Bel some relief from the vomiting and fever.

Through it all, she had been there. Her voice soothed and calmed even when the nurses had poked the child’s tiny veins, three times. Daniel had turned away. He might know how to start one himself should he or any of his men need it, but he would be damned if he would watch them torturing his baby girl.

Hell, she’d even managed somehow to find Cindy, the damned bear that had been his daughter’s favorite for as long as he could remember. The teddy was clutched tightly in her tiny arms as she slept peacefully now.

The gentle hand on his shoulder came as a surprise. He chuckled as he turned and looked up into her face. He saw his own worries reflected there as he brought her soft hand to his lips. “Are you taking lessons on sneaking up on people, Missus Monroe?”

“Well, there is this uber hot SEAL that I know. Think he might give me a few?”

Her attempt at humor touched him. How did she do it? Bel? Jess? Him? She seemed to know exactly what to say and do to bring each of them the care their hearts yearned for. He kept her hand in his as he drew her to sit on his lap.

“I’m sorry I’ve been such a dick the past couple of days,” he whispered. “It’s just,” his voice trailed off. It is just that I am fucking green with envy for a dead man. But there was no right way of admitting that.

She did not give him time to think of some plausible lie. “It’s alright, Daniel. Your father. The deployment. I understand.” She looked over at Bel, “Now this. I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“You’re doing it already, sweetheart. Just being here. For her. For me. It’s all we need right now.” He bent to brush a kiss across the frown that marred her perfect features.

He fought back the need to take it further, to deepen the kiss. But he knew how quickly things could flare between them. And the last three days of self-enforced abstinence was not helping at the moment. Despite his worry for his child, the trip that would have to be canceled, the bright lights and sounds of the hospital, he was rock hard in his jeans. His body cried out for her; the rest be damned.

He was thankful for the metal on metal squeak of the curtain being pulled aside. A young lieutenant in scrubs stepped into the room. He recognized the man from another visit to the Emergency Room. That one for far different reasons. He blushed at the memory of things that were said that night.

“Commander, Missus Monroe,” the man nodded towards them with a smile. “Well, we are still waiting for some test results to come back to confirm it, but it looks like your daughter may have food poisoning.”

“Food poisoning?” Jill’s hands covered her mouth. He could see her mind clicking over the possibilities.

“But none of the rest of us got sick?” Daniel quizzed.

“She could have picked it up anywhere. School. The playground. Anything. It could have even been something she ate days or weeks ago. There is no telling with these things. But you did the right thing. Bringing her in quickly like this. These things usually work themselves through, but especially in little ones like her, well, things aren’t always so good,” he tried to reassure them. “We’d like to keep her overnight just to be sure. But I think the worst of it is over. She should be fine in a couple of days. Weak, but fine.”

Jill stood up, “We had a family trip planned tomorrow.”

The man shook his head, “Afraid you’re going to have to re-schedule it, ma’am.”

Daniel nodded. His heart tightened in his chest, but as much as he loved his father, he knew his priority lay here in this hospital bed.

His wife, though, was tenacious, “I’m sorry, lieutenant. But you don’t understand. The commander’s father is ill,” she smiled softly at him. “Terminal.  Daniel’s team is deploying next week. Is there any way?”

The man shrugged, “Normally, I wouldn’t recommend it, but I understand what you are saying. Let’s keep her here tonight. Then if there is no more vomiting or diarrhea, you can take her home tomorrow morning. If she can manage to keep some liquids down without any problems, then maybe we can think about it. A day, maybe two,” he looked sympathetically at Daniel. “I’m truly sorry, sir. But it is the best we can hope for.”

“Thank you, lieutenant,” he replied as the man walked out, pulling the curtain closed.

His wife walked back to him. She knelt on the floor and wrapped her arms about his shoulders, pressed her forehead against his, “Take Jess and go tomorrow. I’ll stay here with Bel, Brit, and Ash.”

“No way, Missus Monroe. This is a family trip. Besides, it isn’t just me that dad wants to see. He wants to see his grandbabies and meet you too.” He chuckled, “Mom would make me sleep in the barn if I showed up without you. She’s been dying to meet you since…”

Jill giggled, “I’m not sure I’m ready to meet her. Simone and your mother know things about me that no one else does.”

His eyebrows shot up, “Such as?”

Jill swallowed hard. He watched pink spread from her cheeks to her ears and down her neck. She just shook her head. “Nothing important. Just girl stuff.”

But Daniel had the feeling that he needed to pull that damned password out of the drawer and give those things a more thorough read. Perhaps they could explain it. Explain why his giving and caring wife pulled back every time he tried to get her out of her clothes. But not this night. This night would be spent in the hospital, again. “I’ll take you home, sweetheart. Then come back here, so someone’s here when Princess wakes up.”

She shook her head, “No, if we have any chance of still making this trip, you need your sleep. It’s a long drive from Virginia to Omaha. You go home and relieve Simone. I’ll stay here with Bel.”

He tried to argue, “No way, that bed’s too damned big and cold without you.”

“You men are such wimps. How do you think we feel when ya’ll are gone for months? I always told David that women were the stronger sex. We keep it all together while you boys pound your chests.”

He could hear the teasing tone in her voice, but even the mention of the other man had him on edge. He fought to keep his jealousy under control. He reminded himself that it was his bed that she slept in. His arms that she filled. And his chest that she used as a pillow every night.

But all the pep talks in the world could not erase those blue lines of another man’s mark on his wife’s body. Or his memories from her mind. Worse, they could not push him aside in her heart. No, the truth was that he was the one left out in the cold in this marriage, at least in the only way that mattered.

He simply nodded, “Alright, you win. I’ll head home.” He lifted her reluctantly from her place on the floor. He wanted to wrap her in his arms and kiss her senseless, but what would it solve?

There was no doubt in his mind that he could have his wife’s body any time he wanted. He even had her loyalty, and this night proved that as much as anything. But each day, it got harder to take the crumbs of affection from the other man’s table. Instead, he simply kissed her nose. “See you first thing tomorrow, sweetheart.”

Jill sat on the edge of the bed. She brushed back the golden hairs, thankful that Bel’s forehead was cool. She had still been asleep when Daniel arrived that morning. The young doctor had smiled as he checked her out and told them to play it by ear, but as long as there was no more vomiting or diarrhea, he did not see why they could not leave tomorrow morning for their trip.

It was the news that Jill had hoped for. Bel had even managed to keep some of her homemade chicken soup down this evening. It was the final green light for the trip in her mind.

She stretched and yawned. She was tired, bone tired. She had not gotten much sleep last night in the stiff chair at the hospital. Then, she had spent the day caring for Bel, cleaning, and packing. Thankfully, she had come home to find that the worst of the mess was already gone. Simone and Daniel had cleaned the bathroom and bedroom, including several loads of laundry, but there was still more packing to do. Most of it was done now, just a few more of her things to pack tomorrow morning.

She bent and kissed the child, “I love you, Bel,” she whispered as she stood to leave. Looking down, she saw Cindy bear and smiled. The threadbare stuffed toy could use a wash as well. She brushed her fingers across the tummy of the toy and felt something sticky there.

Moving closer to the hall door and its light drifting into the room, she brought it closer to her face. She saw the dark red stains there. Smelling it, she recognized the scent of strawberries. But that could not be right. She had not made anything with strawberries recently, and it could not be from school either since Cindy was not allowed to attend.

Warning bells were once more ringing in her head, her gut clenched in tight knots. She was probably mistaken. The stain could be the spaghetti sauce from a couple of nights ago. It was likely nothing, but since no one else in the family had gotten ill and the school assured her there were no other reports of food poisoning, Jill’s mind could not just let it go. She reminded herself to mention it to the child tomorrow.

Tomorrow, she thought as she walked back to the sleeping child and tucked the toy back under her arm. A long two-day drive in the tight confines of the car, squeezed between an angry pre-teen and a man, she could not stop lusting after. Although that was not entirely accurate, if it were merely lust, she could handle it all much easier.

The original plan had been to drive the twenty hours straight through, but with Bel still weak, they had decided to break the long drive into two days, spending one night in a hotel along the way. It would shorten their stay from a week to four, maybe five, days, but it was better than not going at all.

Standing in the hall, she stared for a moment at their closed bedroom door. She steeled herself for whatever awaited her this night. Would she find the sweet welcome that she craved in his arms? He had been more than solicitous all day as he went about the tasks of caring for the twins, helping with the packing and making sure that the car was in top mechanical order. He must have stopped to check on them two dozen times or more as she read to Bel or they played with her Barbie dolls.

It was better than the cold shoulder and avoidance that he had employed for the past few days. She still did not understand what precipitated these changes in his behaviors. The other night had been amazing, at least as far as she was concerned. His body’s dominance of hers had sent her soaring to new heights like a kite caught on an updraft. She had thought he enjoyed it just as much.

The doubts that held court unchecked in her fertile imagination would not be quieted. Whether it was her less than model-perfect body or her whorish behavior, she had clearly done something wrong that night. She just wished she knew what. She sighed heavily and built her courage as she opened the door.

What she saw there took her breath away. The room was lit only with a couple of candles on the nightstand. The bed was covered with rose petals. And he was lying in the middle of it, the white cotton replaced with red silk. She swallowed hard as she lifted her eyebrows. “What’s this?”

He moved to kneel at the foot of their bed. Reaching out, he drew her hands to his soft lips. She smiled at the slight roughness of his whiskers. He was once again growing a beard, in preparation for the deployment. “My way of showing you how fucking amazing I think you are.”

His blue eyes met hers, and she saw her insecurities reflected there. She leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his forehead as she squeezed his hands.

“Do you like?” he whispered with his face buried in her hair.

“I love it, but you shouldn’t have. The trip,” her voice trailed off as he brushed her hair aside and nibbled at the juncture of her neck and shoulders, the exact spot that had born his mark that first time. “Daniel,” she whispered as she pulled her hands from his and brought them up to lace through his soft hair.

He pulled back, “It’s not what you think, Jill.” He leaned back and grabbed a bottle from the bedside table.

“What’s that?”

“Massage oil. I know you are exhausted after last night and today. So, I thought a nice bubble bath and massage might help you to relax.”

Jill panicked. Bubble baths and massages usually involved being naked. As tired as she was, she could not think quickly enough. How could she divert him this time? The panic reached a crescendo quickly as she sought some excuse.

“I’ve filled the tub already. You soak for a bit while I grab the champagne and some glasses from the kitchen. When you’re done, just wrap up in the towel, and your masseur will be awaiting your every desire, madam,” he purred as he brought her hands up to his lips.

She smiled at her reprieve and hurried quickly down the hall. She would figure out how to hold onto that towel while she soaked.

Daniel watched his wife scurry out the door. It just did not make any fucking sense. If her marriage had been so damned great that seven years later, she was still in love with the man, why the apparent insecurities?

He understood viscerally how a lousy marriage and worse sex could wound your confidence. And his wife showed every god damned sign of that being the case. As much pain, regret, and guilt as he felt at Rachel’s death, he most definitely did not romanticize their life together or even pretend that he still loved her.

Yet what he saw in his wife was not pretend; he knew that she genuinely still loved that a fucking ghost. So, why the fuck would she if their marriage had left her so insecure that she clung to any scrap to cover far more than her naked body, but her wounded soul as well.

Her words, spoken the night before, echoed in his mind as he padded down the hall to the kitchen. He would find the time to talk with his mother about these secrets that she and Simone knew. And if she would not, then he would god damned well beat it out of the little witch when they got back.

One thing was for sure he was not going back there with any secrets between him and his wife. Not this time. Not with her. Not with someone he…the word stuck in his mind. He could not force it out, but neither could he force it away. Instead, he compromised, not with someone he truly cared about.

Grabbing two glasses out of the cabinet and the cold bottle from the refrigerator, he headed back down the hall. He stopped outside the bathroom. His hand on the doorknob. He wanted so badly to open it, step inside and draw her out of the tub. He wanted to hold her wet, naked body against his. The image of taking her fast and hard against the cold, hard tiles had him instantly hard inside the damned silk boxers. He gritted his teeth as the material rubbed softly against his erection, but not as softly as her touch.

He settled this night for tapping lightly on the wood, “Hurry up in there. Champagne and I are waiting down the hall, Missus Monroe.”

“I’m coming,” rang out her voice on the other side of the barrier. Daniel thought once more about kicking the damned thing in, just as he wanted to kick down the barriers that stood between them. But those were far greater than a simple piece of wood. So, he turned and walked back down the hall to their room.

He poured two glasses of bubbly and sat them next to the bottle of oil on the nightstand. Then he flicked through his tablet until he found the playlist he had created, plugging in the speakers, he hit a button, and soft music filled the empty room.

He felt nervous. More nervous than he had since… Well, since that morning, he had approached her in the backyard. Her dress clinging wetly to those perfect tits as he stammered out his proposal.

Had it ever been as fucking simple as the arrangement that his mother and Simone brokered with her? From his first glimpse of those round hips encased in denim and those high breasts hidden beneath the too-large sweater, had he ever had any real chance of resisting the web of his wife?

Bringing the glass of champagne to his lips, he drank it down in a single gulp and poured another. The truth was, he was that fucking fly caught firmly in her spider’s web. Its mystical, shimmering strands of love had encompassed his daughters, the other wives, and everything she fucking touched. His heart included, he finally admitted as he swallowed another glass of the sweet liquid.

He swore he needed something far more potent when he looked up to see her standing in the doorway wearing nothing but a towel. Her long hair held up off her neck with a clip, had soft tendrils falling about her face. He watched the pink stains spread across her cheeks in the pale candlelight. “You look beautiful.”

Jill froze in the doorway. His words washed over her like the soft caress of the water had in the bathtub. She could see the honesty in those misty blue depths, but she could only look away as the doubts battered her once more.

She reached out, “Is one of those for me?” She needed the false courage of the alcohol if she was to make it through this night. She willed herself to follow through with the plan that she had formulated in the warm depths of those sweet bubbles. She would not have her new life burst like they had, popping one by one until the water was chilly, and there was barely enough left to make a thin film across the surface.

He handed her one and watched as she gulped it down. She held out the glass, “More?”

“How about you slow down on this one? I don’t want you falling asleep on me like you did that first night.”

Jill blushed; whether from the memory of that first disastrous night, or his almost psychic guess about her secret plans for this evening. She brought the glass to her lips and drank more slowly this time as she looked deep into his eyes.

He smiled and held out his hand, “How about that massage I promised you, sweetheart?”

She returned his smile as she allowed him to arrange the pillows upon the bed and guide her down to the mattress. The sweet smell of the rose petals crushed beneath their bodies assaulted her nostrils. She inhaled the musky fragrance as she closed her eyes.

She almost jumped when she felt the slight shift of his weight upon the bed and then felt the warm oil poured across her shoulders. She moaned when his fingers began to knead softly at the tight muscles of her neck and shoulders. “Screw Dodd’s offer. When you finally decide to retire, I’m putting you out as a masseur.”

He chuckled as his fingers dug deeper into the tender flesh near her spine. “It would be more honest work.”

“No doubt about that.”

“But I don’t want to talk about that man tonight, sweetheart.”

“Then what do you want to talk about?” she teased as she sank deeper into his touch. The light massage should have relaxed her muscles after the hard night and long day. She had honestly thought it would not take much for her to feign sleep.

But the way he had her skin tingling at each stroke undermined her confidence in the plan. If she allowed him to keep this up much longer, she might well throw off the god damned towel and push him back onto the bed, maybe even rape her husband, so quickly was her need for him growing.

His lips caressed the side of her cheek as he pushed the towel further down her back, “I don’t want to talk. I want to feel.” His hand left her shoulders, and she moaned. But a moment later, she felt the mattress shift once more and his calloused hands moving firmly over the heel and arch of her foot. When she moaned again, it was the sound of joy that the angels made in heaven.

“Oh, yes,” she groaned as he worked his way down each toe. She thought she would die from the intense pleasure of his touch until she felt the wet sucking upon her big toe, then she knew that she would. “If you keep that up much longer, I’m gonna come,” she purred against the pillow.

“That’s the idea, Missus Monroe. The massage. A couple of orgasms. A couple of dozen more like it with you, sweetheart,” he teased as he moved on to the next toe. “Then, you should sleep like a baby.”

Jill raised her head from the pillow and looked over her shoulder, “But what about you? I thought…” It was what she had planned. What she supposedly wanted? Why then did it seem so inadequate?

He kissed the arch of her foot as he massaged it more firmly. “Tomorrow morning before we pack up. I’ll wake you up early, sweetheart. But tonight is about you. All you. So, lay back down and just enjoy.”

Jill reluctantly obeyed. He made good on each of his promises as he moved slowly up her legs, kneading and massaging each tense muscle and setting fire to the last of her reserves. She was moaning and pleading by the time that his hands reached the soft globes of her buttocks. He lifted the towel and poured oil into the small of her back and between the crack of her ass. She was half afraid and half hopeful that he would change his mind as his fingers and hands worked the tender flesh.

She felt him tracing something on the small of her back. For a moment, she did not make the connection. But his soft voice brought it all together.

“How long have you had it?”

Jill frowned as she realized what his fingers had been tracing. Memories flooded her. “Seven years. It was going to be an anniversary present.”

“Going to be?”

“David didn’t make it home from that tour,” she fought back the clouds that threatened her vision. How could it be so easy to talk to him…even about this? Especially about this.

“What happened?” his lips blew the words across the mark.

“You know they never tell you everything. The Ministry of Defense. It’s a reality I lived with from the beginning. Sometimes we just don’t ever know the truth,” she choked on the words.

Fear ate at her gut. This was not the reminder she needed at this moment. The reality of her world then and now was too stark beneath his touch. But it was a reminder nonetheless. Could she do it? Could she live through that again? If she lost him as she had David, could she survive? She fought back the bile in her throat.

“Friendly fire was all they said. Some damned drone that hit the wrong target. David was killed and the three others with him seriously injured.”

She felt his hands still on her back, perhaps it was too close a reminder for him as well. She clutched the towel about her chest tightly and turned over. “He never got to see it.”

He nodded as he rolled over. “Are you relaxed enough to sleep?” Daniel blew out the candles.

Jill was not sure what to say. What had she said wrong? But once again, it was back to the cold shoulder. She nodded as she clutched the towel and reached for the shirt that lay on the dresser.

His hand on hers stilled it. “Forget that. I want to hold you tonight. Skin to skin,” he whispered as he brushed a chaste kiss across her lips.

As confused as she was by his words and his actions, she simply nodded as she lifted the covers and crawled beneath them. Only then did she loosen the towel and throw it out from under the sheets. She opened her arms and held them out for him as his dark head came to rest over her heart.

“Good night, Daniel.”

His heavy sigh that blew heat across her breast was the only reply.

Daniel listened to the soft beat of her heart. He felt the gentle rise and fall of her chest beneath his cheek. And he hated himself more with each soft pitter-patter.

It was not bad enough that he was jealous of a dead man. No, fate had to have a final laugh. Because the harsh reality was that man’s blood stained his hands. If it had not been for his mistake, the man would have come home once again to this miraculous woman. She would be spending this night and all those others for the past seven years in the arms of the man she loved. Not an ocean away with a stranger she barely knew.

He cursed himself for the hundredth time in the past couple of hours. How had he failed to make the connection before now? Her dead Royal Marine husband. The mysterious David. And Sergeant Major David James Smith, Four-Two Commando.

Life sucked sometimes, and this was one of those times. Sleep finally overtook him, only to be filled with the sound of explosions, the smell of bombs and burnt flesh. 

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