I looked down, and then to Jared. “I guess we better find something to eat.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t say anything sooner. You haven’t eaten since yesterday.”
“I’m surprised the baby didn’t say something sooner,” I said, extending my hand to Jared when he stood.
He tugged on my hand. “I can see I’m going to have to take better care of you.”
We made our way to the eating lodge, where just a few other patrons sat at a table across the room. I dove into the fresh fruit bowl on the table, and then eagerly waited for the waiter to arrive.
An hour later, empty or nearly empty plates of Grouper, Cal aloo, Conch Fritters and other Caribbean cuisine lay all over our table. For someone that didn’t feel hungry, I couldn’t seem to stop eating.
I mashed the leftover crumbs from the banana bread we requested for dessert with my finger and then licked them off.
“Wow,” Jared said.
“What?” I said.
“You’ve always had a healthy appetite, but this is impressive.” He grinned.
“I suppose so,” I smiled. We both knew finishing the ridiculous amount of food I’d ordered was above and beyond anything I’d accomplished meal-wise before. Our table looked like we’d had a dinner party with ravenous wolves.
“Ready for a nap?” Jared said, laying a large bil on the table.
“Let’s go exploring,” I smiled. “Or snorkeling.”
“Snorkeling? Stil not tired?”
“No. I feel amazing,” I grinned. Jared frowned. “What? I’m not supposed to feel amazing?”
“No. To me, you feel tired. You were hungry an hour before your stomach growled. I can’t decide if I’m losing my senses or that your body isn’t responding normal y because of Bean. If it’s the latter, I don’t want you overdoing it.”
“Okay, so I’ll take a nap. Or at least rest a while if I can’t fal asleep.”
“Real y. Why?”
Jared fidgeted. “It’s just that...you’re rarely this agreeable. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m in an alternate reality.”
“Wow. I’m sorry I’ve been such a pain in the ass. I thought couples are supposed to get along on their honeymoon?”
Jared’s brow rose. “So that’s it? You’re just being affable?”
“No, I trust you. You know my body better than I do, and I don’t want to do anything that could hurt the baby.”
Jared took a deep breath, and blew it out. “It’s good to hear you say that.” When I frowned, he shook his head. “No, I’m serious. Sometimes I wonder.”
“You think I would do something to hurt our baby?”
“No!” Jared said, hugging me and chuckling at the same time. “No, that you trust me.”
“Of course I do,” I said against his chest. “Let’s go to the casita and lay down for a while.”
Jared nodded, and then took my hand. He strol ed down the dirt path, and we laughed and joked as we made our way to our whimsical y painted tin hut. His eyes were brighter than I’d ever seen them, free of any clouds. When we reached the door, Jared lifted me in his arms and carried me to the bed, careful y lowering me onto my back.
“You know,” he said, brushing my hair away from my face. “I’ve always thought you extraordinarily beautiful, but this way,” he touched my rounding bel y, “I can’t stop looking at you. You’re stunning.” His fingers returned to my hairline to sweep my bangs back, and then again, his fingertips gentle and soft against my skin. It felt so good, I could have melted into the bed I was so relaxed, but I wasn’t sleepy.
“You’re not supposed to say that until I’m big as a house and need a little encouragement to be seen in public every day.”
“I can’t wait to see that. I’ve been all over the world, but that wil be the most marvelous, beautiful thing I’m ever going to see.”
“Until you see our child,” I noted.
Jared beamed. “I have a lot to look forward to.”
I cupped my fingers behind his ears and pul ed him toward me, tasting his lips. “So do I.” I tugged at Jared’s shirt, and pul ed it over his head.
Jared pressed his warm chest against me, and I sighed. At least that part of our lives could return to normal.
“You should rest,” Jared whispered against my skin.
“I wil ,” I promised.
Just as I had closed my eyes, they were open. The sun stil shined, and Jared sat on the edge of the bed, pulling his T-shirt over his head. He turned to me, puzzled.
“You promised to nap if we—”
“I did,” I yawned. “I slept so good. What time is it? I feel like I’ve slept all day.”
“Nina, it hasn’t even been twenty minutes.”
Jared frowned. “This is disconcerting.”
“Why? I’ve never real y been a nap-taker.”
“Yes, but when you do, you’re out for three hours.” Jared leaned down, pressing his ear gently to my stomach. He stayed there for a moment, and then sighed. “Something’s different. I can’t put my finger on it. You’re different.”
“I’m not. I told you I wasn’t sleepy. Let’s go snorkeling. I’m bored.” I stood and picked a bathing suit from the suitcase, and hurried Jared to do the same. I prodded him to the beach, eager to have some fun. We snorkeled, we swam, we splashed each other and explored the farthest corners of the island. At night, we spent time together in the outside shower, and then snuggled in bed. If I hadn’t already been pregnant, by the end of our honeymoon I surely would have been. Jared was insatiable, and it seemed that with every quiet moment, I whispered suggestive things in his ear.
Just like our last visit to Little Corn, the week went by too quickly. Jared noted the familiar sadness in my eyes as I packed.
“We can come back. When you graduate, after the baby is born, we can come back and stay as long as you’d like.”
“I have a company to run, you forget.”
“That wil run just fine if you decide to take a leave of absence.”
I shrugged, repeating the tedious cycle of stuffing my wedding dress into the garment bag and then smoothing it out. “Maybe.”
Jared seemed to be out of sorts as wel . We didn’t speak much as the hired help stacked our belongings in the truck, and then again in the boat.
Jared held me as the boat bounced across the waves to the main island, and relied on smal talk as we waited for the plane to depart from Nicaragua. It was like saying goodbye for the last time to an old friend. It felt like loss. This time, there would be no ring to cheer me up, only the ominous thoughts of what might be waiting for us at home.
The fairy tale was over.
Once we were in U.S. airspace, I immediately dialed Beth to see what the situation was at Titan. Sasha worked to make life difficult for everyone, and Grant was more than ready for me to return so he could leave for his own vacation. Just a few weeks of school left, and then summer hours would be enforced.
Ryan was stil recovering in the hospital. Beth noted that Claire never left him alone for a moment. Her comment made me think about the times I visited Ryan in the hospital after he was attacked, and I wondered if he had taught her the Logo game. I couldn’t imagine Claire sitting beside his bed giggling and being sil y. She was more likely to pout in the corner, trying to ignore his vies for attention and incessant questions. I hoped that I was wrong.
The pilot announced on the overhead speaker that we would make out descent soon. Jared tightened my seat belt and kissed the tender skin in front of my ear, whispering that it would be okay. I didn’t feel particularly nervous about the landing, but I assumed he meant life in Providence. With everything that had happened in Little Corn, it was easy to get lost in that other world, and pretend real life in Rhode Island was just a bad dream.
But the bad dream was real, and we were about to live it.
Descending the stairs of the jet, and then walking across the tarmac to the waiting car was eerily similar. The ground was wet from a late-spring thunderstorm; the air was so thick it seemed palpable. Samuel stood a hundred yards away, staying in the background, but all owing us to see him.
Jared already knew he was there, so I knew his presence was for me. This time, though, Jared didn’t go to him. He walked with me to the car, and nodded to our driver, Robert, as he held the door.
My cel phone buzzed and I answered. Grant wasted no time updating my schedule, hinting that I should come in right away. An important meeting was scheduled during one of my classes the next day, and he wanted to go over some key points with me to compensate for my absence.
I hung up the phone and sighed. “Maybe I should—”
“You’re already looking forward to several days of makeup work and tests, and don’t forget Finals coming up soon. Grant can handle it.”
I nodded. “You’re right. I’ll meet with him this evening. He has an hour, and then I’ll hit the books.”
Jared shook his head.
“What? What did I say?”
“You. Agreeing with me without a single argument. It’s something I’ll have to get used to.”
I pressed my lips together in a hard line, trying not to smile. I must have been a true nuisance to him. I owed him a nice, long vacation from my stubbornness.
“I can’t believe I’ve been so awful to you. I’m sorry.”
Jared took my hand in his, and turned to face me. “You have not been awful. You’ve had an incredible amount to deal with, and doing things on your terms was important to you. Making choices was the only shred of control you had in this entire, crazy situation. I’ve never begrudged you that.
In fact, it’s one of the things I love about you.”
“Regardless, consider it significantly toned down.”
Jared smiled. “You don’t have to apologize for coping. It’s been tough for everyone. It’s been a lot. However, I won’t lie and say I’m not going to enjoy the new attitude.”
I leaned in and kissed the corner of his mouth. “You’re going to see a lot of new from me. I don’t want to be a victim, anymore. I am now an active participant in what happens to me and my family. We’re going to get through this together or not at all .”
Jared beamed. “You amaze me every day.”
“Wel , if you’re quite finished being amazed, I need to go into work for a bit. Robert? We’ll need the Escalade.”
Robert glanced at me in the rearview mirror with his wrinkled, kind eyes. “Yes, ma’am.” He made a turn, taking us to our home. That was one thing very different from our last trip to Little Corn. Home was no longer the loft.
The tires crunched across the gravel drive, and Robert slowed the car to a stop next to Jared’s SUV. The door opened, and Robert lent me a hand. “It’s good to have you back, Miss…,” Robert seemed flustered for a moment before speaking again, “I deeply apologize. Mrs. Ryel.”
I smiled. “Just for that, you get a raise, Robert.”
He nodded to Jared, and then popped the trunk, pulling our bags from the back. “I’ll have your things laundered and returned to your room.”
“Thank you, Robert,” Jared said. He grabbed my hand and led me to the Escalade, pulling open the door. He lifted me into his arms and placed me gently in the passenger seat. “Since I don’t have time to carry you across the threshold, I suppose this wil have to do.”
I laughed. “It’l do,” I said, placing each of my hands on his cheeks for a quick kiss.
Providence seemed different. Remnant rain dripped from the trees, the beautiful buildings stil loomed over the streets, and the traffic stil made walking across the post-storm street a chal enge for pedestrians who wished to remain dry. But it was foreign somehow. Providence would always be home, but for now it was a battleground—a place to stand off with those who would harm my child. For the next months until I gave birth, I would walk the streets on guard, in constant suspicion of everyone I came across, and cautious of every dark street. Having no idea when Hel would act, or what they had in store for us, it was important now than ever to be prepared and vigilant. all things considered, I was glad it was on my own turf.
My ancestors weren’t just Rhode Islanders. I was Nephilim. We survived King David, the flood, and the yel ow fever epidemic of 1797. My husband was half angel. I could stand up to whatever they could throw at me. That was what I would keep tel ing myself, anyway. No sense in worrying myself to death about it.
“What is that?” Jared said, referring to whatever emotion he was sensing.
I shrugged. “Courage, I think,” I said. “We can do this. I believe in you. I believe in us.”
Jared’s eyes darkened a bit, and he reached over the console to grab my hand. The muscles under his jaws twitched, and his fingers tensed as they intertwined with mine. “I definitely like the new attitude.”
Titan’s tal , block-and-mortar façade loomed over Fleet Rink. Summer was just a few weeks away, and the rink had been transformed from its usual icy amusement to a popular hangout for local rol erbladers. Jared parked in his usual spot, kissing my lips before I stepped out onto the sidewalk and to the front entrance of the lobby.
I paused, the first few steps without Jared felt strange. Except for the few hours I spent getting ready for the wedding, Jared and I had been side by side every day for a week. An unsettling feeling came over me, as if I’d forgotten my cel phone or locked my keys inside the car.
I pushed through the front door and walked across the lobby, dismissing my unease. Jared remaining in the car meant that everything was just fine. If he sensed even the slightest bit of danger, he would be next to me.