Who the hell was this man and what had he done with her husband?
"We need to talk."
And now he wanted discussion?
The world was totally screwed up. Maybe his trip into base would mark a shift from all those night flights to day flights so he wouldn't be around to entice her during waking hours. "About what?"
He slowed onto the exit ramp off the highway at the base exit during lunch rush hour. "Do you think everything's okay with Chris?"
That sounded more like her husband, focusing on the kids. Safe territory.
She considered his question through an entire traffic light. She'd traveled this familiar parental route with her husband often in the past. He would ask her how he should approach one of the kids. She would give him advice that he always followed. She felt needed.
But he would be parenting alone during his weekends and vacations with Chris. Even though she was close now to help, what if he was transferred? He couldn't pick up the phone every time he had a question about what to say to their son.
He was a loving father, worked hard at being there for his kids. But only now did she realize how he always acquiesced to her way when it came to parenting.
She'd let him rely on her. Had she wanted him to need her on at least some level? A painful notion because then she would have done her children a disservice.
Damn it, she'd tried her best to balance everything. He was gone so often, most of the daily parenting fell to her. They couldn't afford a slew of phone calls. The Internet and e-mails helped with keeping him in touch with his kids, but that hadn't been a major-player option until they were older.
She circled her jumble of bracelets round and round her wrist. No use beating herself or him up about the past. Just do the best she could with their present and future.
Concentrate on the present, improving the right now. Instead of giving advice, she would ask his opinion. "What makes you think there might be something wrong with Chris?"
"He was late coming home the day of your accident, then again the night you were released from the hospital. Sure he mouths off sometimes like any teenager, but he keeps close to home."
"Have you asked him what's wrong?"
"He's had plenty of chances to talk and no dice. I know I haven't been around much, but I sure as hell tried this week, worked out with him, jogged. I even showed him how to fix stuff around the house."
So Chris could repair things after his father left again? "Did you ask him what he's feeling?"
His jaw tightened in familiar defensiveness as he down-shifted along the pine-lined entry road leading up to the base. "Men aren't into all that touchy-feely emotional crap."
He rubbed a hand along his neck. "Back down, babe. I respect what you do. God knows, anyone who'd drag her wounded self up there to work is obviously devoted."
Sure he respected her job. Just didn't believe in it and wouldn't touch a penny of her paycheck for so much as a family vacation to blow off steam created by his job. "Some clients could wait a couple of weeks without setting back progress. With others, it's not so simple."
Not nearly as tough as getting through to her own husband, but then he wasn't a patient, and she couldn't heal her family. She knew that. But accepting it? Not so easy.
J.T. flashed his military ID at the security gate and the guard waved him forward. "I'm not looking for you to break confidentiality. Just expressing interest in your world."
"Thank you." She twisted sideways toward him. "You know that's borderline touchy-feely."
"Touch?" He echoed the word that had been plaguing her all day—for days, actually. Was he a mind reader now, too? "We probably need to stay away from that subject if we're going to lay some new groundwork for taking care of this little one."
Of course he was right. She totally agreed. So why was she cranky? She'd won, after all.
J.T. turned off toward her office, red brick building sprawling in front of her, while he hunted for an empty spot in the jammed lot. She was confident in her job, but still her own screwed-up home life made her question her judgment. And, oh, this man did so have a way of jumbling her mind. "Just as well Chris interrupted last week. We're too old for the over-the-kitchen-counter quickies."
"We weren't too old for it three months ago. And you sure as hell weren't too old for the table, the stairs, the shower—"
"Sex was never our problem, J.T."
Steam filled the truck's cab. He shifted the truck into park. The packed parking lot of empty cars offered a pseudo sense of solitude in spite of the public locale, blue minivan on her left, an RV on the right, even a Humvee in front of them. Still, he didn't reach for her.
But his hands shook from the restraint.
Rena launched into his arms. Couldn't help herself. No surprise.
Did he meet her halfway? She didn't know, and with his lips and hands finally on her, she couldn't think or reason. Only feel. Savor. His touch licking fire through her veins.
He palmed her back, molded her against his solid body, soft br**sts yielding against hard chest.
And taste, oh, the taste of him as she explored the warmth of his mouth. Talk about cravings. One apparently he suffered from, as well, his tongue delving deeper, sweeping, heating. She could almost forget they were in a public lot.
Rena inched closer, her calf-length skirt tangling around her legs, scrunchy fabric rasping against skin suddenly over-sensitive to the least sensation. How incredible it would be to park somewhere private and toss away inhibitions, pretend they were both twenty-two years younger.
Strong hands gripped her shoulders. Eased her back, broke their kiss, but not the touching. His forehead rested on hers. "God, babe, I've missed you."
Her eyes stung and she knew full well it had nothing to do with pregnancy hormones. "I've missed you, too."
She started to slide her arms around him again. Surely they could hug without getting arrested for a public display. She reached, her bracelets jangling to her elbow. He pulled away.
He opened the door. Where the hell was he going? For the first time in months there was a hint of real emotion and he decided they should head on into work.
She longed for one of his books to throw. Breathe. Think. Don't let the angry, passionate—pained—emotions clamoring through her reign.
Rena clamped a hand around his arm. "Hold on a minute. Jesus, J.T., you throw that land mine in my lap, clam up and then wonder why I explode."
Tension rippled under her fingers. "I'm not going to fight with you today."
"I don't want to fight." She really, really didn't want to fight at the moment. But a public parking lot wasn't the place for what her body demanded. "We were talking. That's good. Why do we have to stop?"
His smoky gray eyes brushed her lips as surely as his kiss, lingered, finally fell away. A long exhale cut the silence before he swung his feet back into the truck. "Okay, fine. We'll talk. We never did come up with anything concrete about Chris, anyway."
Her hands clenched. She didn't want to talk about their children. She wanted to hear more about how much he'd missed her. And why. Silly, frivolous words, considering her age and how long they'd been married.
All the more reason they were better off talking about their children. Safer for them. Safer for her heart.
J.T. slammed the truck door. "I'm not sure what's up with the boy anymore. I have tried to talk to him. Guys just approach things … differently."
"Guess that's why men have more heart attacks than women."
He draped his wrist over the steering wheel. "I'll try to talk to Chris. If you have any ideas for conversation starters, I'm not adverse to listening." His gray eyes lit. "Then I can translate them into manspeak."
"Sure. You've seen those lists that float around on the Internet. Guy says 'uh-huh' and it means—"
"It means, 'I'll agree to anything if you'll quit blocking my view of the football game."'
"Busted." He grinned.
"So if I asked Chris if he's upset and does he need to share what's bothering, you would ask…?"
"Something pissing you off?"
"Or if he's suffering from any anxiety about his parents splitting?"
"You okay about everything?"
Ah. Understanding hummed through her as clearly as the airplane's drone overhead. "Your question is a third as long as mine. And vague. What if he misses the point because of that vagueness?"
"What if I'm missing the point and he tells me something I never expected?"
Surprise at his insight stunned her quiet. What else might he have offered up if she'd asked his input on the parenting more often? "Valid thought."
"Yeah, I just made it up."
A laugh snorted free. His dry wit always snuck up on her like that. "But women need those extra words. Otherwise how are we supposed to know when you're in pain?"
"There's your logic flaw. A man's never in pain."
"That he'll admit."
What else could she pry out of her reticent husband with a few more questions? "So how does a woman know when a man needs something?"
A slow smile dimpled his rugged handsomeness seconds before his smoky gray eyes steamed over her. "Oh, babe, trust me, you'll know."
The truck cab fogged all over again, heavier this time since it sparked the barely banked heat of their kiss moments prior. She wanted so much from him, and she was right in demanding he pony up more in their relationship.
But she'd hit a wall so many times with her clam-up husband. Regardless of whether they stayed together, they would be together in many ways because of their children. She needed to understand J.T.'s hidden emotions if she ever expected to survive without combusting into flames—from both anger and passion. "What does it mean when a guy stumbles on his wife in the kitchen and when she offers to share her precious chili, he says, 'What the hell are you doing up?'"
He stared outside at the red brick building for so long, she thought he wouldn't answer her. No surprise. However, she was mega-surprised by how much she wanted that answer.
Finally, he turned, resigned, like a man heading to the gallows, scouring guilt over her for having sent him there. "You want more words, Rena? Here they are. In this case, the snapping then and now means a guy is horny as hell since he hasn't been with a woman except for one weekend in six months. It means he misses coming home from work to his wife, being able to slip up behind her, wrap his arms around her, fill his hands with her breasts. Fill her body with his."
The steam came straight off her overheated flesh this time. He missed her, missed what they had together. And even as she knew they needed so much more to hold it together, it felt so good to know he'd found some comfort, happiness, something in their life together.
He cupped her chin, his touch not quite gentle, but then the emotions stinging through her were anything but gentle. "It means he's damn tired of life being so complicated. But it is. And he's got to deal with it the best way he knows how, which means keeping things uncomplicated."
His fingers threaded up into her hair. "And we both know, babe, sex between the two of us is never uncomplicated." He drew his hand back, gentle, insistent, tugging against tangling curls, long, slow. "Sex for us is intense and messy and mind-blowing."
Her breaths came in heavy bursts of need, nerves along her scalp tingling with awareness. If he leaned forward, she would kiss him again. Let him kiss her, maybe more, because his words touched her as firmly as his hands.
But he didn't kiss her. "And we both need a clear mind now more than ever."