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He wasn’t even on my radar.
He was my husband’s best friend—forbidden.
But my husband is dead and I’m alone. I ache for him and I reach for Liam.
One night with Liam changed everything. Now I have to decide if I truly love him or if he’s just the consolation prize.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written consent of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or publisher.
“Oh, Chloe, if you’d like to come out, please wait until your Daddy gets back,” I insist, holding my belly as another Braxton Hicks contraction hits. I grip the dresser and try to breathe through it. It seems like they’re coming more frequently.
Once it passes, I try to finish what I came in here for. Aaron is away, but I want the nursery done so we can enjoy the next few weeks once he returns. I walk around what will be her room, putting a few more of the pretty pink dresses in the drawers. Aaron and I have fought about the vast array of pink things that are now strewn around the house—he hates it, I love it.
He insisted we paint her room in camouflage. Brown, green, and black camouflage for a girl? No. I almost sent myself into labor with that argument. I got home and he and Mark were drawing it out on the walls. I launched various household items at Mark while throwing him out of the house. My husband found out shortly after how much he could suffer by my hands. I may not be a SEAL, but you don’t mess with me either. In the end, I won with purple walls and the sheer netting around her white crib.
“Daddy’s going to love this room, Chloe. I can’t wait to see his face when he sees the pretty butterflies.” Needing to take another break, I sit in the rocking chair and rub my stomach. It soothes me knowing she’s in there. I can protect her—it’s my job. I love being pregnant and it’s a miracle we were able to conceive her. I’ve already told Aaron I want to try for another one as soon as she’s born. I close my eyes and sink, allowing the world to fade away.
I imagine holding her in my arms, sitting here in this chair, soothing and kissing her. I picture Aaron with her asleep on his chest as she gets to hear his heartbeat. She’ll own his world and have him wrapped around her finger.
Knock, knock, knock.
I hear the door, but it takes me a few seconds to get out of the chair.
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.
They bang louder this time.
“Coming!” I yell at the door. Jeez, give me a second.
Waddling to the door takes me a minute since I’m the size of a whale.
I open the door and see Mark Dixon, Aaron’s boss and close friend. He works at Cole Security Forces with Aaron and served with him for years. His head is hanging low and when he looks up, his eyes are full of sorrow.
“Lee,” he chokes on the one syllable of my name. The one Aaron uses. Something is definitely not right.
“What happened?” I ask again as I begin to shake.
Tears fill his eyes and I know. I know my life is never going to be the same. I know everything I’ve ever feared is about to come true because Mark doesn’t cry. Mark wouldn’t be at my door if something weren’t really, really wrong. “It’s Aaron.”
My heart stops beating and the world I live in ceases to exist. “Don’t,” I beg with tears blurring my vision and my breath accelerating.
This can’t be happening.
“Please, don’t, Mark. Please,” I beg him again, because once he says it…but I know it’s futile. It doesn’t matter because he can’t stop it. It’s already happened.
“Natalie, I’m so sorry.”
The dreaded words that every military wife fears. Only I wasn’t supposed to have to worry about this anymore. We were done. We got out. I wasn’t supposed to ever fear this again.
Please, God, don’t take him from me. Please!
“But, I’m p-pregnant. I’m having a baby,” I stammer as if that will somehow make none of this real. “He said he’d be back. He said he…” I trail off as it becomes difficult to breathe. My hand flies to my mouth to stifle the scream about to escape. Everything goes colorless.
“It was an IED. I’m sorry,” Mark says as his eyes glimmer with unshed tears.
But he’s there, cradling me in his arms. “I’m so fucking sorry.”
“No. No. No.” Mark holds me as I sob clutching my stomach. “You’re lying,” I hiss, tearing myself out of his embrace.
“I wish I were,” he says as I struggle to get up.
“It was a mistake. He’s having a baby. He said it was a simple in and out!” I scream and throw my hands against his chest. “You’re lying!” I scream, even knowing it’s not a lie.
“Stop saying you’re sorry!” My sorrow turns to hatred. I hate him. I hate everyone in this moment. I hate Aaron and everyone who was there. I hate this house and everything in it. I hate the air that he no longer breathes. Hate consumes me. Hate smothers me. “Get out!” I yell and push against his chest. “Get the fuck out of my house! Aaron will be back in a few days and then we’re going to get ready for our daughter to be born.”
“Please,” Mark beseeches and I refuse to look at him.
This isn’t happening because Aaron’s alive.
He’s not dead. How dare Mark lie to me.
“He’ll be back. He wouldn’t leave me. He promised.” Aaron wouldn’t lie to me. He never does. When he left for missions, he would always say goodbye like it could be our last. But this time he kissed the tip of my nose and said, “Now don’t have that baby until I get back.”
“Can I call someone? Your mom?”
“No, you can’t call anyone because he’s not dead! Go get him, Mark! Go get my husband and bring him home.” I step back pointing my finger at him. “You all promised. He promised.” I clutch my stomach as a sharp pain radiates, but it’s nothing compared to the agony sitting on my chest. Tears flow relentlessly as I struggle against his hold. “He promised.”
“I know he did,” Mark says as he holds my head against his chest.
My life is gone.
My heart is dead.
I’m a widow at twenty-seven.
Aarabelle sits in her highchair as I feed her dinner. She’s growing so fast. Already she’s eating cereal and a little baby food. Soon she’ll be crawling and I have no one to celebrate with. Her father will never see these milestones and it breaks me apart.
“You should really lock the door,” Liam huffs as he throws his coat over the chair.
“But then I’d have to get up to let you in,” I state matter-of-factly and go back to feeding the baby, trying to put aside my worries. The fact is…this is reality. I have to deal with it.
“Uh huh. Hey, Pumpkin,” his eyes alight as he crouches down by Aara. It’s adorable hearing grown men use a baby voice. It gets a little softer and higher pitched.
The corners of her mouth lift and she throws her arms in the air when he gets close. My heart sputters seeing how happy she gets seeing him. Liam kisses her head and she giggles.
“At least someone is happy to see me,” he says playfully.
“I’d be happy if you brought me a present,” I joke.
He laughs and goes into the pocket of his coat. “Just so happens I did, but since that’s the only way you’ll be nice, I’ll hold on to this until you’ve earned it.”
Practically leaping out of my chair, I rush over. “What is it?” I try to peer around his back as he holds the mystery item.
Liam’s lips curl as he sees how much I want this. I don’t even know what it is. Jeez, I’m an idiot. “Nope. We eat first, then maybe you’ll get it.”
“Watch, it’s a freaking Pez dispenser or something stupid.”
“Guess you’ll have to be nice to find out.” He shoves the item into his back pocket and I fight the urge to reach and get it. “How was work?”
We spend the next thirty minutes going over my day and Jackson’s return. Liam never mentioned that they spoke, but he’s surprised to hear he’s in Virginia. After we finish the pizza, Liam somehow convinces me we should watch a movie. I get Aarabelle to bed and come down to find him sprawled out on the couch.
“By all means, make yourself comfortable.”
Liam pulls his beanie higher on his forehead and his eyes glimmer with amusement. He sits up and puts the TV on. “I picked the movie.”
“What?” I ask with mock incredulity. “It’s my house. Why do you get to pick the movie?”
“Ummm, I’m the guest.” He shrugs as if this should be an obvious answer.
I groan and lean back. “What crappy, shoot-‘em-up movie do I have to endure?”
“You’ll see. It’s a classic.”
I lift my head and press my lips against his. His hand cradles my cheek and he holds me as we kiss. I grab his neck and feel the weightlessness from letting a little part of myself go. He kisses me adoringly and cautiously, allowing me to lead but still commanding me. I lose myself a little more as I moan when his hand presses against the small of my back.
“Let go,” he says against my mouth. “Let me take it for you.”
Before I can say anything, his mouth is on mine again. Our tongues thrash against each other as the kiss becomes hungry. He pulls me close so there’s no space between us. The low sound resonates through his chest, sending shivers down my spine. It’s sexy, and before I know it, my hands are traveling to his chest. I pull his shirt out and my fingers trail up his chest. I want to feel his skin.
Liam breaks the kiss. “Natalie,” my name is both a plea and a request.
“Shhh,” I instruct him as I unbutton his shirt. “I want to feel your heart.”
My hands glide up and he trembles beneath my touch. We stand here with my fingers resting on his chest, feeling his heart beat beneath me. He’s alive and here with me. His hands stay at his sides as he once again lets me decide where I’m going with this.
“I want to touch you so bad,” he admits and his hand lifts then drops. “I’m fighting every muscle in my body right now.”
“Stop fighting,” I say without thinking.
Both her maternal and paternal grandmothers were librarians, which only intensified her love of reading. After years of writing short stories, she couldn’t ignore the call to finish her debut novel, Beloved. Her alpha Navy SEALs are broken, beautiful, and will steal your heart.