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A part of himself was missing.
Lost in thought, Quinn McAllister guided his black Probe down the two lane highway flanked by Kansas farmland. Another twenty miles to Fort Riley. Dusk deepened by slow degrees on this June evening, bathing the sky in soft shades of lavender and mauve. The peacefulness of the passing scene could have been a balm to his aching heart, but he barely noticed anything beyond the ribbon of blacktop winding through the wheat and corn fields.
Memories flooded his mind. Steve Dutton... Football on the Boys Town High School team, puckish pranks they'd played on their Family-Teachers, the rigors of Army basic training. Then the separations, which somehow had only strengthened their bond. He blinked to ease the burning in his eyes. He wouldn't, couldn't, cry. Once he started he wasn't sure he could stop, and he had to see the road. He must reach the children safely. He was all they had now.
Meredith had offered to drive. She would've taken over and done everything to get them to Fort Riley if he'd let her, but Quinn needed to keep busy. Bad enough having all this time to think. If he were sitting in the passenger seat with nothing to do with his hands for over three hours, he'd go stark raving mad.
It seemed like weeks rather than hours since he'd awakened this morning snuggled next to his beautiful bride. He stole a glance at her dozing in the seat next to him, her head resting on the window.
It had been an endless day. Before leaving their honeymoon retreat in Colorado, he had contacted the authorities at Fort Riley by telephone and relayed their travel plans. He and Meredith then flew intoOmaha and took a taxi straight to their apartment to pick up the car and clean clothes. Two and a half hours after touchdown at Eppley Airfield, they headed south.
Quinn wasn't sure how he'd make it through the next few days, but he knew he must. He cast another glance at his wife of five days. At least he wasn't alone. So far, Meredith proved a tower of strength. He needed her support. There were funeral arrangements to make and the kids to see about.
The kids. Something tore and bled deep inside him. How could he have gotten himself in such a mess? Two pledges, both given in good faith.... To keep either, he must break the other. And yet, what choice did he really have?
Could their marriage survive the upheaval in their carefully made plans? Would Meredith accept the inevitable changes? He shook his head. Time enough to deal with that later. Right now he had more immediate problems to consider.
The post gate loomed before him. Like most US Army installations, Fort Riley was an open post, the gate unmanned except on rare occasions. Quinn drove through, heading for Steve's assigned quarters in one of the housing areas. He'd learned that the couple who shared their duplex were caring for Brett, Wynne and Brittany.
He parked in the Dutton's driveway and touched Meredith's arm. "Honey, we're here."
Meredith sat up with a start and rolled her shoulders. Guilt surged through her. A whole lot of help she'd been, sacked out. "Sorry. I didn't mean to fall asleep. Why didn't you wake me?"
"No problem. You needed the rest."
She couldn't deny his statement. Their lovemaking had lasted well into the early morning hours-again.
"Let's go," Quinn said.
He swung out of the car and straightened his spine, as if preparing himself for the ordeal ahead. Accustomed to decisive action, Meredith hated feeling so helpless. There must be something she could do to make things easier for Quinn. But what? When it came to the military, she didn't have the least idea how to proceed.
She rounded the car and grasped his hand, giving him the only thing she had to give, her love and emotional support. They crossed the lawn, heading for the opposite side of the duplex. Before they reached the porch the door opened, the void filled with a tall, wiry man black man.
"Quinn McAllister?" The man pushed the screen open. "Come in. I'm Joe Jamison."
Quinn placed his hand on the small of Meredith's back, indicating for her to precede him into the house. "Joe," he acknowledged. "This is my wife, Meredith."
"How do you do," Meredith murmured.
A pretty woman with a short Afro hair cut and cafe au lait skin entered the living room from the hallway. Her red-rimmed eyes expressed her grief before she said a word. "They're all asleep."
"Hon," Joe said, "Quinn and Meredith are here." He turned to his guests. "My wife, Anita."
Anita flashed a fleeting smile. "I'm so sorry we have to meet under these circumstances." She directed her gaze to Quinn. "I know how close you and Steve were."
Copyright © by Virginia H. McBlain, 1999