Page 26

Spike swung a door open to a small interrogation room, sparse, stark and a helluva lot less dirty and dark than its counterpart in Rubistan. They'd already exchanged the basic info on Chris's situation out in Spike's office before the OSI agent had gone silent, then suggested they take the rest of the conversation to a more secure part of the building.

J.T. dropped into one of the unrelenting chairs in the windowless room in a completely windowless building. "Thanks again for coming in early after pulling an all-nighter."

"No problem." Spike sat across from him, coffee cup in hand, dark circles of sleeplessness lining sharp, clear eyes. "Had to come in anyway after how things shook down last night."

"I'll take that as a good sign." J.T. downed the dregs of his java, his fourth cup of the day.

"You'd be right." Spike tipped back his coffee. "DEA cameras confirmed the boats were picking up the drugs and coming back clean. Until last night, we couldn't figure out how they were offloading the drugs. Turns out, they were packaging up the stuff and placing it in the shrimper nets. They cast the net out, but with the webbing loose on one side so the drugs drop into the harbor. Net comes back empty. Looks like a bad throw to the casual observer. They repair the net and keep right on trawling for the rest of the day—or in this case, evening."

"And how's the exchange made?"

"We're still tracking that, but we're pretty certain a small underwater craft, minisub, retrieves it and runs it up the coast. It's freaking genius when you think about it. Without this tip-off, who the hell knows how long it would have taken us to figure it out? Now we just need to pinpoint who's receiving on the other end. We've already connected two independent shrimpers and a market here. We expect more to fall."

"And do you think this ties in to what Chris saw?"

"Could be. Based on your message, I made a few calls before you got here. The young woman, Miranda Casale, has already been picked up for questioning. Everyone at the restaurant will be questioned sometime today. A lot of base kids work at that place. Could be coincidental. Could be someone looking for a new contact. With any luck, that common symbol on the bumper sticker, the brick and the girl's necklace will lock in the final connection."

J.T. nodded, crumpling the disposable cup in his fist. These bastards had come after his wife and kid. He hoped they fried. His job might have brought stress to his home life, but at the moment he couldn't help being damn glad he'd played a part in bringing down scum like these.

Spike placed his cup on the table. "Hey, dude, no matter how this shakes down, you're going to be okay and your son's going to be okay. Chris stepped up in time. Plenty of military kids get in trouble—just like anybody else's kids. He gave us a heads up on another lead. He's a good kid who got stuck in a bad situation."

"Thanks for looking out for him."

Memories of those days in a Rubistanian cell hummed in the air, whispers of the minor victory they'd all silently celebrated by diverting their captors enough to buy Spike an extra couple of hours before his round of questioning.

Now the time had come for J.T. to buy some of that time for his family. To keep the heat off them until the threat passed.

Spike smiled. "Hey, dude, it's what we do for each other." He drained his coffee and stood. "Your part's finished here. Go home and hang with your family."

Chapter 14

Exchanging her work clothes for stretch pants and an over-long T-shirt, Rena turned her back on her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Facing herself and her mistakes wasn't easily done, and she would have plenty of that soon enough.

Time and excuses had run out. She and J.T. would have to come to a firm decision on their future. It wasn't fair to Chris to string things out.

The trip to and from the base had been quiet, as if J.T. understood any talk would require full attention—and likely be too long to accomplish during the short ride.

She tugged her hair free from inside the overlong T-shirt and searched through a basket by the sink for a matching hair scrunchie. Purple? Black? No. Gray, like her mood. Maybe she could just entice J.T. into having a quickie before they opened Pandora's box. Rena gathered up her hair and—

Huh? She focused all her attention inward—

There it was again. The tickle inside her. Gasping, she dropped the hair scrunchie and savored those butterfly whispers of life within her she'd never expected to feel again.

She pressed a hand to her stomach and didn't even breathe for fear of missing repeats. Her baby became all the more real—hers and J.T.'s—this new person who deserved so much more than a couple of parents who pitched plates and stormed out of rooms.

"Are you all right?" J.T. asked from the open door connecting the bathroom to their bedroom.

She hadn't even heard him walk up.

Rena nodded, her hand still cradling the sensation inside her. Her lip trembled. "The baby moved. I'd forgotten what it felt… How incredible… I just…" Her chin trembling, she shrugged. "Our baby moved."

His throat convulsed on a long swallow. His hands clenched and she knew he wanted to touch her, even if he wouldn't be able to feel the flutters yet.

She hated that he had to be hesitant, but if he touched her right now, she would weaken. She would forget all about her resolve and give in when she needed to make a stand more than ever for the baby. For them.

Still, this was his child, too.

She angled past into their bedroom and slid the ultrasound photo from her dressing table. "I never got the chance to show you this last night."

He took the slick black-and-white image and stared at it for so long she grew dizzy holding her breath.

A smile dug dimple brackets around his mouth. "You're right. This is incredible. Even more than I remembered. Thank you."

"There's nothing to thank me for."

Slowly, he set down the photo, his gray eyes somber. "There are many things to thank you for."

Oh God, he could be so sweet sometimes. She walked into his arms, where she'd wanted to be all day anyway. Tension left his bunched muscles, his eyes softening but losing none of their impact.

She guided his hand to her stomach, placed and held it against their child. Cars drove past outside. Trees rustled in the breeze. But they both stood still and quiet for—she had no idea how long.

His hand slid away and up to sketch knuckles along her cheekbone. "I've loved you since the first time I saw you. No matter what happens, no matter what else we might say to each other, I want to make sure you know that."

She melted. Like a bowl of peach ice cream abandoned on the table, she melted into a puddle of emotions. Arching up, she met him as he angled down to kiss her.

With her defensiveness washing away, the hope shone clearer. Tempting her. Maybe things really would be okay this time without pushing him.

But then she remembered his words to Chris in the kitchen about fear and bravery. In the face of J.T.'s strength and courage, how could she be anything less? This was her defining moment. If she wanted to be a woman worthy of this so very special man, she needed to be brave enough to make the tougher choices.

Resolve stronger than her shaky knees and quivering belly, she eased down from her toes, broke the kiss. She caressed J.T.'s bristly jaw up into the silver flecking his temples. "I'd like us to attend marital counseling."

Predictably, he turned stone still in her arms. "Why? Things are back on track now. Didn't you hear what I just said?"

Hear? Of course she'd heard. And it scared the spit out of her because she wanted to chicken out and just take what she could. But she knew now that would only delay the inevitable. "On track? J.T., we had great sex."

He quirked an eyebrow, not smiling. Already she could feel the restrained irritation resurrecting within him.

"Fine. Incredible sex." Better than anything she could remember, sex that touched places of her soul she didn't know existed. "That hasn't helped us before."

Still, he kept his temper reined, cupped her shoulders, his hands on her always a distraction. He almost certainly knew that and was using it, damn him.

"I get your point, babe, but we're talking like you always wanted. Hell, I've talked more in the past two weeks than I did the whole time I was growing up."

He had a point, and she wanted to be swayed as much as she wanted to dig in her bare feet and stand her ground. Problem was, when this man finally decided to speak, he could talk her out of her good sense as fast as he could her clothes and heart. "We need an impartial third party to help us sort through some tough issues."

"I figure we've passed a few landmarks," he continued as if she hadn't even spoken. "Sure we've had arguments, but I haven't walked out of the room and you haven't thrown a dish. That's progress."

"Not funny."

"Yes, it is."

Her lips twitched. "Maybe a little."

"So what's the problem? We've got a good thing going. Let's roll with it."

"Yes, things are improving. We both still have feelings for each other." She kept her eyes on the neck of his flight suit rather than risk falling into his smoky eyes. "But we're deluding ourselves if we think everything's magically going to get better. This—" she waved her hand in the general direction of their bed—a bed that was waiting too conveniently close for her peace of mind "—is wonderful, but it's a Band-Aid fix. What's changed to keep us from landing back in the same hurtful place?"

"We're older. Smarter."

She snorted. "We're older, anyway." Grabbing hold of her resolve while sticking strong to her decision not to grab hold of him, she stared straight into his eyes. "Jesus, J.T., can't you see that even with progress, we're also still making some of the same mistakes?"

He exhaled long, slow, pissed. "So use the counselor degree and tell me what I should do."

She forced her own arms to stay at her sides as much as she wanted to cross them, close herself off. "It's not you. It's us. And you know I can't do that, anyway. It's like telling a doctor to diagnose and treat herself. There's no way to obtain impartial distance."

"You're great just the way you are."

"Quit BSing me, J.T." She resisted the urge to stomp her foot, which would only hurt and not accomplish squat except to give away her frustration level when it came to this infuriating, sexy, heartbreakingly wonderful man. "I may not he able to heal my own family, but I know enough to realize it takes two to make or break a marriage."

"We can't afford it," he said, thumbing the ultrasound photo off the dresser, "especially not with a new kid on the way."

"We can't afford not to, especially with a new baby on the way."

He replaced the photo, sliding a crystal ring dish to the side and out of her tossing reach, a smile playing with his dimples.

Damn it, she would not be charmed by his quiet humor. Not now. His dimple deepened.

Maybe she was a little charmed.

She closed the distance between them and flattened a hand to his chest. "It's free at the base clinic, covered as part of your benefits. Family Advocacy is there for a reason."

How could dimples turn to a scowl so quickly? "I'm not putting my problems on record there."

"Confidentiality applies."

"Yeah, right. Until someone sees me walking out of there. Fliers can't afford a hint of personal problems."

"And a broken marriage isn't a hint?"


Deep breaths. She toyed with straightening his collar while she regulated her breathing and organized her thoughts. "All right, you have a real problem with counseling. I'm trying not to be insulted that you think so little of my career field."