Page 17

"How could you know that?"

"Because there wasn't a chance in hell I intended to die without making love to you at least one more time."

Her chin trembled just before she covered her mouth with a hand shaking twice as fast as that delicate pointy chin of hers. Strategy went out the open window on the marshy wind. He raised his hand, glided his knuckles along the waves of her hair.

All the want tamped down from their kiss earlier, from months, from the first time he laid eyes on her, powered to life. He held himself in check. Barely. Now his hands weren't much steadier than hers, so he let his fall to cup the sides of her neck. Her shaky fingers slid to rest on his chest.

And the next thing he knew, they were kissing again.

Not frenzied, like the out-of-control exchange in the parking lot earlier. But slow. Deliberate. No mistaking the mutual intent.

A growl rumbled low in his chest, the instinctual sound of primal possession he couldn't have stopped if he wanted to—and he didn't want to stop anything.

Apparently, neither did his wife.

She melted against him, her arms slung over his shoulders, her bracelets cool against the overheated skin along his neck. Her body flowed over his while she kissed him with all the sweet passion she'd poured over him twenty-two years ago the first time he'd persuaded her to join him in the back seat of her BMW.

Heaven help him, he would have more restraint now than he'd shown then. Even if her soft hands were crawling into the neck of his flight suit with hungry persistence.

Still in control. He could take this a little further. No problem.

Slanting his mouth over one corner of her lips, then the other, he lowered her back onto the seat, careful to keep his weight off her, for the baby, for her fragile frame. Although her hands felt anything but fragile in their strong grip on his back, his wildcat wife's fingernails digging tiny moons into his shoulders.

He deepened their kiss, explored the warm moistness of her, wanted to explore more, now, sooner, but damned if he would screw up this chance by rushing. She wriggled closer, soft body and softer br**sts driving him freaking nuts. He had to touch her. More of her.

Any of her.

He stroked up her side along the loose blouse. No objections from his wife. He skimmed his hand forward and palmed her breast. A groan of contentment rolled though him in sync with the sigh escaping from her lips into him.

She arched to fill his hand, rolled her shoulders so his touch became a firmer caress. Pregnancy plumped her br**sts and damned if he hadn't forgotten how it also increased her sensitivity, something they'd enjoyed to the fullest in those early days of marriage.

What a waste not to make the most of it now, and he was anything but wasteful.

He worked his thumb back and forth over the peak straining through even a bra and thin cotton, tugged it gently between two fingers. She nearly came up off the bench seat. Rena's breathy, needy whimpers encouraged him to charge ahead. Her h*ps rocked up and against him. She wrapped a leg around his hips.

Still in control? Barely. And fast on his way to not at all. Hell, forty-two years old and he felt as horny as at twenty. So desperate to have this woman, so tempted to let the past replay.

But even then he'd known it was wrong. He was wrong for her. Still, he'd lost his hold on reason the first time Rena—totally hot and caught up in the moment—brushed a hesitant touch over the crotch of his flight suit.

Like now. Except not in the least hesitant this time, instead confident in exactly what turned him inside out with wanting her.

Stop. He had to stop if he ever wanted a chance at more. And he definitely wanted more.

He kissed once, again, drawing away in increments, a man addicted to the taste of her and unable to make a clean break. All the more reason to pace himself.

He lifted his head and found a new resting place against the velvet skin where her neck met her shoulder, a spot he happened to know turned her inside out.

Her fingers threaded through his hair, her touch anchoring him and making him fly all at once. She pressed her cheek against his head. "I'd forgotten what a great kisser you are until you reminded me this afternoon. And now."

"I'm not sure whether to be complimented or insulted, babe."

"Definitely complimented."

"If I was that great you wouldn't have forgotten."

"It's just been so long."

"Only three months." And he remembered everything about her from that time. The shape of her hip under his palm. The taste of her skin. The flowery scent of her shampoo that reminded him of all her flowers filling the dark, empty places in their lives.

"We stopped kissing a long time before that, J.T."

Hell. Turbulence ahead. And he didn't have a clue what to say next. He'd pretty much blown his wad on sensitivity with the comment just before she'd kissed him. "I kissed you, damn it."

Crap. Sergeant Sensitivity? Not.

She stiffened under him, shoved against his shoulders. "Obligatory pecks on the cheek on your way out the door don't count. And when we had sex, we pretty much went from smoldering looks to clothes off in under two seconds."

Time to shift tactics. Humor maybe. He angled up and off her. "Hey lady, are you accusing me of being a quick trigger?"

"You know better than that and don't try to change the subject." She smoothed her skirt back into place, running her thumb along the waistband. "I'm actually having a bit of an epiphany moment here and I would like to play it through if you don't mind. Besides, weren't you the one who said you wanted to talk today?"

Bitten on the ass by his own good intentions. Why the hell had he thought he wanted to talk in the first place? He should have gone straight for the one way he always managed to get through to this woman. With sex.

Except damned if she wasn't in the process of telling him how he'd screwed that up, too. "Okay, so you're saying I didn't kiss you enough. I thought I had the foreplay thing covered, but I'm sorry if I—"

"Good God, J.T., would you get your testosterone out of this conversation for a second and listen? I'm not accusing you of anything. I'm saying we stopped kissing a long time ago. You know full well you're an incredible lover, generous, sexy."

"Okay, Cro-Magnon level lowering, returning to the modern age." Tension waning, he winked. "And thanks."

"You're welcome." A smile quirked her kissed-poofy lips. "All I'm saying is that in some ways kissing is much more intimate than sex, and somewhere along the line we let that get away from us. It scares me to realize that because then I have to accept that we started falling apart a long time before I saw it coming, which means there's even less hope."

She was hoping?

"Rena, babe, I'm going to be straight up with you. We have our problems. I know that. But damn it, I want us to give it another try. I'm not saying we should jump right back into things. We can take it slow. Keep on like we are for a while. Cokes, circus peanuts and family dinners. More kisses."

"More kisses?"

Ah, he'd breached the defenses. He could read her so well sometimes. He leaned to kiss her again because she'd made her wishes on that clear, even for a dense male like himself. And kissing his beautiful wife was sure as hell no hardship. Her lips moved under his.

Bullet dodged. He could already envision his boots marching across the hall to their rightful place beside her heels lying lopsided, cast off beside their bed.

He skimmed a hand down her satiny arm, linked their fingers, curved them forward to rest on the slight swell of her stomach. "It's gonna be okay, Rena. We'll work it out, make it right, this kid's going to be a new start for us. We'll be there for it just like we were there for Nikki and Chris."

She stiffened against him, even more rigid than before when she'd shoved him off her. "You want to come home for the baby."

What a damn odd question. "Of course."

Her fingers untwined from his. The fading sunset rays cast shadows across her face while somehow showcasing the ones in her eyes. "Did you ever really love me?"

Talk about stunned stupid.

Rena wasn't sure who was more shocked by the question, her or her immobile husband.

He recovered faster, though. "I told you I did."

The tide shushed along the shore, reminding her she should have kept her mouth shut.

"Forget I asked." She'd known he was coming home for the baby, but hearing it confirmed seconds ago hurt even more than she'd expected. "I'm being a hormonal, sentimental pregnant woman. I just want to eat my circus peanuts and go home."

How could she trust his answer now that he knew what she expected to hear? She'd given away her whole hand of cards because of a few kisses. Some things never changed.

She hooked her elbow on the open window and popped a circus peanut in her mouth just as the first stars overcame the setting sun.

"No way, babe." He tipped her chin toward him, his touch gentle, his gray eyes filling with storm clouds, all the more powerful considering how rarely her controlled husband lost his cool. "You brought this up and there's not a chance you can deny that I said the words. I know I told you. I may not have said it every time I walked in the room, but I know what came out of my mouth."

Rena swallowed down the lump of sugar too thick for her constricting throat. Did he have to sound so harsh? Pain, betrayal, frustration shifted to anger, mostly with herself for laying her emotions bare before this man. Again. "Oh, get real, J.T. 'I love you, babe, please, please let me get in your pants' doesn't carry much of a romantic punch once the horniness wears off a couple of hours later."

"But it worked," he snapped, then cursed. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

She bit back the urge to call him a bastard, since she'd been the one to lash out first with the "getting into her pants" comment. Totally unfair since she'd been just as eager to get into his then—now, too.

His chest rose and fell with regulated frequency. Back in control. Overly so. "I'll try to translate this manspeak into something you'll understand. I gave you the best I had. I know you deserve better, but this baby limits our choices."

"This is exactly why it won't work, J.T. We haven't even been in the house together for two weeks and already we're tearing each other up again."

"And about your question…" He plowed ahead without acknowledging her point.

She didn't want to know. Either way, yes or no, truth or lie, the answer would slice through her. "I said never mind."

"But you said something else after that. Yeah, there was nothing I wanted more than to be inside you, and I intended to make damn sure once you let me get there, you wouldn't be sorry or left wanting. And then when we were together, I found all that locker-room wisdom didn't matter. I didn't need it, not when I had those breathy little sighs of yours guiding me if I just listened." He dipped his head to her neck. "Do you still like it when I kiss you right here?"

The edge dulled on her anger, and God, but she resented him, herself, for the predictability of her body's betrayal.

He sketched higher to her ear. "Or when I do this? You usually purr for me when I do that."

J.T. nipped the lobe, continued to vulnerable patches of skin too long neglected. His hands traveled down her spine in a sensual massage that sent her bowing against him again until finally he cupped her bottom and brought her even closer. "And what about that?"

She whimper-purred her assent and frustration.

"Yeah, babe. I heard you." He stared down with narrowed eyes. Pissed. Insistent, and yes, even aroused. "And maybe I was just meeting some elemental itch you had, and I missed the big picture. But at least I was listening and trying my damnedest."

He withdrew his hands, his body, moving away, the muggy air suddenly chilly in comparison to her overheated flesh.