Had he somehow segmented his relationship with Rena, as well? Dating, one switch. Flick the switch to husband, another mind-set, being a provider like his father.
Recreation had never played a big role in his life. He'd found a job he enjoyed, productive hobbies like rebuilding his house or his car. And for smiles? Light? He had Rena.
But what had he given her for light in return?
Well, hell. He stared down the empty road. A few weeks ago he'd been beating his head against the wall at the prospect of entering the "dating" world again. But now, the idea sent one helluva thrill through him—when the right woman was involved.
The romance gig wasn't a crapshoot, after all. As much as he wanted to present Rena with diamonds and fancy vacations, the incredible woman he loved enjoyed circus peanuts, too.
He wasn't giving up on draping her in a diamond or two someday. But he'd finally learned he could also drape her in plenty of romance now.
J.T. fished into his back pocket for his cell phone. After twenty-two years, it was about time he asked his wife for a date.
Rena rapped two knuckles against her son's open bedroom door.
"Yeah?" Chris called from his bed, pitching a magazine to a floor already covered in clothes, a towel and schoolbooks.
Her heart rate still thumped an extra couple of beats every time she remembered how close she'd come to losing J.T. and Chris today.
Rena tiptoed over a discarded backpack on her way to her son's bedside. "Are you okay, hon?"
"Still a little wigged out, but it'll be better in the morning. Just need to sleep. Maybe swim some laps tomorrow. Get my head together."
She perched on the edge of his bedside table. "Swimming laps is a good way to relax."
"Yeah. Gotta work out the stress somehow." He crooked both arms behind his head. "Dad's probably down in his office veging with the Bard."
"You know. How he always reads Shakespeare and junk like that to chill."
But she didn't know.
How could she have missed that about her husband? A sad commentary on how little she and J.T. had communicated over the years. She would have cried her eyes out over the discovery a couple of days ago. Now it only fueled her resolve to learn more about this fascinating man she'd married. And along the way let him learn some more about her, as well.
"'Night, hon." Rena leaned to skim a good-night kiss on her son's forehead. "I love you."
He hooked an arm up and around for a hug. "Love you, too, Mom." He pulled back, mock surprise on his face.
"Gee, when did you get so little?"
"When did you get so big?" She grinned.
Laughing, a deeper sound these days, he flopped back. "G'night."
"Good night, hon."
Clicking off the overhead light, she left, closing his door on her way out. Finally, she and J.T. could be alone. Would they talk? Or just cut straight to mind-blowing sex? Or pass out from exhaustion?
Her tummy tumbled in nervous flips.
Rena padded down the stairs, toward the computer room, refusing to let the ghosts of their afternoon horror haunt her home. She peeked into the office. No J.T., but sure enough, right beside the butt-ugly green chair rested a thick tome.
She stepped closer, her hand falling to rest on the volume of Shakespearean plays. She thumbed through, some pages highlighted, her husband's spiky scrawl beside passages. She let the book fall open as if it might give her a glimpse into J.T., a hint for what she should do next.
"Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt." Measure for Measure. Rena traced a finger along the words. No more waiting. She knew exactly what she needed to do and finally had the confidence in herself to go for broke.
Rena snapped closed the book. She had a husband to welcome home.
Making tracks back up the stairs, she headed straight for the bedroom closet. First on her welcome-home agenda, clear room for his flight suits and Hawaiian shirts.
A swoop of her arm smooshed her work dresses to the side. She didn't intend to give up pushing for marital counseling. But in the meantime, she could still go on her own, work through some of her issues from her childhood. Straighten out her insecurities and need for control.
A starting place.
Kneeling, she lined her heels up in double rows to empty space for his boots and gym shoes.
The phone jangled from beside the bed.
A call? This late?
She eased to her feet and rushed to scoop the cordless phone from beside a pot of minimums. "Hello?"
"Hi, is Rena there?" her husband's deep voice rumbled through the line.
Huh? Had he hit his head harder than she'd thought? Maybe she should have insisted the flight surgeon take another look at him. "J.T.? Are you all right?"
"I'm totally all right. In fact, I've been more than all right since I saw you at that air show."
Okay, now she was really getting worried. "J.T., where are you?"
She spun—to find him lounging against the hall door, cell phone at his ear. One black leather hoot pressed to the wall, his knee bent. His flight suit stretched across mile-wide shoulders. "I was hoping you'd remember me, because since the second I saw you, I've been hoping like hell you'd go out with me. So, I decided to give you a call, see if you're free this Friday for a date with a local flyboy."
God, as much as she drooled over those shoulders of his, he really took her breath away when he smiled. Damned if she didn't feel eighteen again.
Phone pressed to her ear, she smiled back at him, flicked her hair over her shoulder, played along. "I might be free, if the right flyboy asked."
"Well, babe, I'm asking." He angled away from the door frame, ambled closer, his big, muscled body drawing nearer, filling her eyes and her heart. "And I intend to keep right on asking until I can convince you to go out with me."
He stopped inches away.
She clicked off her phone but kept it cradled against her neck, soaking up the silly romantic gesture a little while longer. "You are so crazy sometimes."
"Not often." He set his phone on the end table. "And only for you, babe. Only for you."
He reached for her phone, as well, and placed it beside his before lifting her hand, kissing her palm.
Definitely eighteen again, but with a forty-year-old's wisdom on how to do things better this go-round. "I want you to come home. For good."
"That's where I want to be." He folded her hand against his chest, against his heart thumping along at a pace as fast as hers. "Not just because you're pregnant, but because I can't stand the thought of living the rest of my life without you beside me."
She gathered the beautiful words up into her heart with surety and happiness, because, by God, J.T. never lied.
He stared down at their linked fingers and rather than pushing him to talk, she knew now to wait. He would come around to filling the silence if she simply gave him the chance.
"I spoke with the flight surgeon when she checked out the lump on my head."
Her racing heart stopped. "You're okay?"
"Totally fine." The twinkle in his eyes jump-started her heart again. "Although you'll have to keep me awake all night."
She sagged closer, her h*ps rocking against his. "I think that can be arranged."
"Thank God." His forehead fell to rest against hers. His chest expanded with two hefty sighs before he continued, "About my discussion with the flight surgeon. I asked her to recommend a marriage counselor."
Rena's throat went as tight as her chest. She'd been prepared to wait, work, hope, pray that things would work the way that she wanted. But to have him make the huge step on his own… Oh God, she loved this man.
Steady gray eyes stared down at her with no doubts to cloud their beautiful-sky appeal. "Up the stakes as high as you want. I'm not walking again."
Sometimes hormones were a wonderful thing. Letting all those happy tears well up and flow free, Rena flung her arms around his neck. "Oh God, J.T., I love you."
J.T. felt her words rocket right into him, straight for his heart—where she belonged. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against his chest—also where she belonged. "I know, babe. And I don't ever intend to take that for granted again."
He dropped a kiss on her head while her sighs caressed through his flight suit, still so damn stunned and glad to see over her shoulder where she'd made room for his clothes in their closet again.
"Hell, I can't believe I'm the lucky bastard who stole your heart when you could have had anybody." His fingers tangled in her hair. "There are so many things I wanted to give you over the years. Still things I wish I could give you. But you can be certain I love you. Always have, and it only gets stronger with time."
"Things?" Her stunned response drifted up. "Yeah, a bigger house, trips, a grocery budget that didn't include coupon clipping."
"I never asked for any of that."
"But you deserve it all."
She angled back, hints of her fiery temper sparking in her chocolate eyes. "Do you really think that little of me?"
She thunked his chest. "Do you believe I'm so shallow that I would only be happy if we had more money? I think I'm insulted here, J.T."
Rena clasped his flight-suit collar in two determined hands, strong hands that nurtured, loved and, yes, even demanded. "Do you have any idea how proud I am of you, hell, of myself, too, for that matter, and everything we've built over the years?"
The words rolled out of her, ringing with a conviction he couldn't fight even if he tried. And he definitely didn't want to fight with her anymore.
Her soft hands caressed up to his face. "We started with nothing, and in twenty-two years you've risen to a rank most in your profession never see. You've given me three precious babies, and we've brought up two of those children. They may not be perfect, but then neither are their parents and I'm still proud of who Nikki and Chris are becoming. Even our house, we did this from the front porch you replaced to that ivy I stenciled."
Those words rolling from her settled into him with a rightness that brought peace. Yeah, he still wanted to give her more, but now knew he could keep her happy while they waited.
He turned his face to kiss her hand again. "I'm partial to that ivy."
"Me, too." Her arms looped around his neck. "You've given me something I never had as a child. The chance to hold up my head. To be proud of who I am."
Studying her dark eyes, he found flecks and sparks of pain he'd seen reflected in the mirror and in the eyes of his crew-mates. He'd understood about Rena's upbringing and had been determined to take her away from the ugliness of that world. But he'd never realized until now that his wife had also spent time in a war zone. With guns. Deceit. Danger. What a scarring way for a child to grow up, now that he actually thought about it.
In flipping his switch, maybe he'd closed off the chance for his wife to share some burdens with him, too. Something he now knew to fix.
Rena's arms slipped forward and she lifted his hands, kissed each palm as he'd done to hers. "I love your hands and what they do for me, but I need you for so many reasons that have nothing to do with what your body can provide." She tapped his forehead. "What are you thinking?"
A thousand things, about their past, her past, all things they could share later in bed. And with the counselor. And on moonlit nights by the shore.
For right now, he'd settled for the obvious, most important answer and a piece of himself to share with her. "You reminded me of a quote from a Shakespearean play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, I think. It goes something like, 'Thou art as wise as thou art beautiful.'"