"You know how I've always loved the rain. There's nothing cozier than seeking shelter from the rain with someone you love."
"I would trade all the presents I've ever gotten for one of your kisses. One of those long, slow kisses that fulfills and tantalizes."
"Sometimes I think you aren't real, that you're someone wonderful that I dreamed up. I love you with all my heart . . ."
The letters Kyla sent to her husband, Sergeant Richard Stroud, stationed a world away, spoke of a love that stretched across the ocean and held the young couple together. But when tragedy ended their marriage too soon, Kyla was left a widow with a newborn son. And Richard left behind only a metal box filled with his wife's declarations of love.
Trevor Rule had been Richard's best friend. Returning home from military duty, he carried with him the letters Kyla had sent. And with each one he read, he fell more in love with the gentle, passionate woman who had penned them. Now he needed to convince Kyla of his feelings, and that they both had the right to be happy, to move past the tragedy of Richard's death.
But Trevor was harboring a secret, one with the power to destroy the love he was trying so hard to protect.
Sandra Brown is a New York Times bestselling author who creates marvelously entertaining love stories. There are close to seventy million copies of her books in print worldwide, and her work is published in over thirty languages. She and her husband live in Texas.
Read an Excerpt
"You're doing fine, Kyla. Take quick, light breaths. That's right. Good, good. How do you feel?"
"I know, but hang in there. Go with the pains now and push. That's it. A little harder."
The young woman on the delivery table ground her teeth while the labor pain held her in its fierce grip. When it subsided, she forced her body to relax. Her face, though flushed and mottled, was radiant. "Can you see him yet?"
No sooner were the words out of her mouth than another pain seized her. She pushed with all her might.
"Now I can," the doctor said. "Give me one more push . . . there . . . here we are. All right!" he exclaimed when the new life slipped into his waiting hands.
"What is it?"
"A boy. Beautiful. Heavy son of a gun, too."
"And he's got great lungs," the obstetric nurse said, beaming down on Kyla.
"A boy," she murmured, pleased. She let the blessed lethargy steal over her and sank back onto the table. "Let me see him. Is he all right?"
"He's perfect," the doctor reassured her as he held up the squirming, crying baby boy where his mother could see him.
Tears stung Kyla's eyes when she saw her son for the first time. "Aaron. That's what we're naming him. Aaron Powers Stroud." For a moment she was allowed the privilege of holding him on her chest. Emotion welled inside her.
"He's a boy his daddy can be proud of," the nurse said. She lifted the baby from Kyla's weak arms, wrapped him in a soft blanket and carried him across the room to be weighed. The doctor was attending Kyla, though it had been an easy, routine birth.
"How soon before you can notify your husband?" the doctor asked.
"My parents are standing by outside. Dad's promised to send Richard a telegram."
"He's nine pounds three ounces," the nurse called out from across the room.
The obstetrician peeled off his gloves and took Kyla's limp hand. "I'll go out now and break the news so he can get that telegram on its way. Where did you say Richard was stationed?"
"Cairo," Kyla replied absently. She was watching Aaron kick angrily as he was footprinted. He was beautiful. Richard would be so proud of him.
Considering that Aaron had been born at dusk, she spent a reasonably peaceful night. They brought him to her twice during the night, though her milk hadn't started and he wasn't hungry yet. The pleasure of holding his warm little body against hers was immense. They communicated on a level that was unlike any other she had experienced.
She studied him, turning over his tiny hands and examining his palms when she could pry open the fingers he stubbornly kept clenched in a fist. Each toe, each fine strand of hair on his head, his ears, were investigated and found to be perfect.
"Your daddy and I love you very much," she whispered drowsily as she relinquished him to a nurse.
Hospital sounds -- squeaky laundry carts, rattling breakfast trays, clanking equipment dollies -- roused her early. She was in the middle of a huge yawn and a luxuriant stretch when her parents entered her private room.
"Good morning," she said happily. "I'm surprised you're here instead of at the nursery window with your noses pressed against the glass. But then they don't open the curtain --" She broke off when she noted their haggard expressions. "Is something wrong?"
Clif and Meg Powers glanced at each other. Meg gripped the handle of her purse so tightly that her knuckles turned white. Clif looked as though he'd just swallowed bad-tasting medicine.
"Mom? Dad? What's happened? Oh, my God! The baby? Aaron? There's something wrong with Aaron?" Kyla threw off the covers with flailing arms and pumping legs, unmindful of the pinching soreness between her thighs, intent only on racing down the hospital corridor to the nursery.
Meg Powers rushed to her daughter's bedside and restrained her. "No. The baby's fine. He's fine. I promise."
Kyla's eyes wildly searched those of her parents. "Then what's wrong?" She was on the verge of panic and her voice was shrill. Her parents rarely got ruffled. For them to be so obviously upset was cause for alarm.
"Sweetheart," Clif Powers said softly, laying a hand on her arm, "there's some distressing news this morning." He silently consulted his wife once more before saying, "The American embassy in Cairo was bombed early this morning."
A violent shudder shimmied up through Kyla's stomach and chest. Her mouth went dry. Her eyes forgot how to blink. Her heart thudded to a halt before sluggishly beginning to beat again. Then, gradually gaining momentum as she assimilated what her father had said, it accelerated to a frightening pace.
"Richard?" she asked on a hoarse croak.
"We don't know."
"We don't know," her father insisted. "Everything is in chaos, just like the time this happened in Beirut. There's been no official word."
"Turn on the television."
"Kyla, I don't think you should --"
Heedless of her father's warning, she snatched the remote control from the bedside table and switched on the television set that was mounted on the wall opposite the bed.
". . . extent of the destruction at this point is undetermined. The President is calling this terrorist bombing an outrage, an insult to the peacekeeping nations of the world. Prime Minister --"
She changed channels, frantically punching the buttons on the remote control with trembling fingers.
". . . costly, though it will probably be hours, even days before the death toll is officially released. Marine units have been mobilized and, along with Egyptian troops, are clearing the rubble looking for survivors."
The camera work on the videotape was substandard and testified to the pandemonium surrounding the ruins of what had been the building that housed the American embassy. The shots were jerky and out of focus, random and unedited. "Taking credit for this abomination is a terrorist group calling itself --"
Kyla changed channels again. It was more of the same. When the video camera swept the area and she saw the bodies that had already been recovered neatly lined up on the ground, she threw down the remote control device and covered her face with her hands.
"Darling, don't give up hope. They think there are survivors." But Meg's soothing words fell on deaf ears. She clutched her weeping daughter's body hard against hers.
"It happened at dawn Cairo time," Clif said. "We were notified just as we were getting up this morning. There's nothing we can do at this point but wait. Sooner or later, we're bound to get word of Richard."
It came three days later, delivered by a Marine officer who rang the doorbell of the Powers's house. Kyla realized the moment she saw the official car pull up to the curb that subconsciously she had been waiting for it. She waved off her father and went to answer the door alone.
"Mrs. Stroud?" "Yes.
"I'm Captain Hawkins and it is my duty to inform you . . ."
"But, darling, that's wonderful!" Kyla had exclaimed. "Why are you so downcast? I thought you'd be jubilant."
"Well, hell, Kyla, I don't want to go off to Egypt while you're pregnant," Richard had said.
She touched his hair. "I'll admit I don't like it for that reason. But this is an honor. Not every Marine is selected for guard duty at an embassy. They chose you because you're the best. I'm very proud."
"But I don't have to do it. I could apply --"
"This is a chance of a lifetime, Richard. Do you think I could live with myself if you turned down this honor on account of me?"
"But nothing's more important than you and the baby."
"And we'll always be here." She hugged him. "This will be your last tour and it's a fabulous opportunity that will only come around once. Now you're going and that's final."
"I can't leave you alone."
"I'll live with Mom and Dad while you're away. This is their first grandbaby and they'll drive me crazy calling and checking on me. I might just as well make it easy on us all and move in with them."
He framed her face between his hands. "You're terrific, you know that?"
"Does that mean I don't have to worry about you with those mysterious eastern women?"
He had pretended to ponder it. "Do you know how to belly dance?"
She had socked him in the tummy. "That would be a sight to see, with the belly I'm going to have soon."
"Kyla." His voice was tender as he threaded his fingers through her hair. "Are you positive you want me to do this?"
That conversation, which had taken place seven months earlier, played through Kyla's mind as she stared at the flag-draped casket. The soulful notes of taps were snatched from the lone trumpet by an unkind winter wind and scattered over the cemetery. The pallbearers, all Marines, stood rigidly at attention, resplendent in their dress uniforms.
Richard was being interred beside his parents, who had died within a year of each other before Kyla ever met him. "I was all alone in the world before I met you," he had told her once.
"So was I."
"You have your parents," he had reminded her, perplexed.
"But I've never belonged to anyone, really belonged, the way I do to you."
Because they had loved each other so much, he had then understood.
His body had been shipped home in a sealed casket that she had been advised not to open. She didn't have to ask why. All that was left of the building in Cairo was a dusty pile of twisted stone and steel. Since the bomb had exploded early in the morning, most of the diplomatic corps and clerks had yet to arrive for work. Those who, like Richard and the other military personnel, had had apartments in the attached building, had been the victims.
A friend of Clif Powers had offered to fly the family to Kansas for the burial. Kyla could only be away from Aaron for several hours at a time because of his feeding schedule.
She flinched when she was handed the American flag, which had been removed from the coffin and ceremonially folded. The casket looked naked without it. Irrationally she wondered if Richard were cold.
Oh God! she thought, her mind silently screaming. I have to leave him here. How would she be able to? How could she turn and walk away and leave that fresh grave like an obscene, open wound in the ground? How could she get into that private plane and be whisked back to Texas as though she were deserting Richard in this stark, barren landscape that she suddenly hated with a passion?
The wind whistled with a keening sound.
She would and she could because she had no choice. This part of Richard was dead. But a living part of him was waiting for her at home. Aaron.
As the minister recited the closing prayer, Kyla offered one of her own. "I'll keep you alive, Richard. I swear it. You'll always be alive in my heart, I love you. I love you. You'll always be alive for Aaron and me because I'll keep you alive."
He was cocooned inside a cotton ball. Once in a while the world would intrude on his cloudlike confinement and these were unwelcome interruptions. All sounds were clamorous. The slightest movement was like an earthquake to his system. Light from any source was painful. He wanted no part of anything outside the peacefulness of oblivion.
But the intrusions became more frequent. Compelled by a force he didn't understand, finding handholds and footholds in sound and feeling, clinging precariously to every sensation that hinted he was still alive, he slowly climbed upward, out of that safe white mist to greet the terrifying unknown.
He was lying on his back. He was breathing. His heart was beating. He wasn't certain of anything else.
"Can you hear me?"
He tried to turn his head in the direction of the soft voice, but splinters of pain crisscrossed inside his skull like ricocheting bullets.
"Are you awake? Can you answer me? Are you in pain?"
It took some doing, but he managed to coax his tongue to breach his lips. He tried to wet them, but the inside of his mouth was as dry and furry as wool. His face felt odd and he didn't think he could move his head even if the pain hadn't been severe. Tentatively he tried to raise his right hand.
"No, no, just lie still. You have an IV in this arm."
He struggled valiantly and finally managed to pry his eyes open to slits. His lashes, forming a screen across his field of vision, were magnified. He could almost count them individually. Finally they lifted a trifle more. An image wavered in front of him like a hovering angel. A white uniform. A woman. A cap. A nurse?
"Hello. How do you feel?" Stupid question, lady.
"Where . . ." He didn't recognize the croaking sound as his own voice.
"You're in a military hospital in West Germany."
West Germany? West Germany? He must have been drunker than he thought last night. This was a helluva dream.
"We've been worried about you. You've been in a coma for three weeks."
A coma? For three weeks? Impossible. Last night he'd gone out with that colonel's daughter and they'd hit every night spot in Cairo. Why the hell was this dream angel telling him he'd been in a coma in where? . . . West Germany?
He tried to take in more of his surroundings. The room looked strange. His vision was blurred. Something --
"Don't become distressed if your vision is fuzzy. Your left eye is bandaged," the nurse said kindly. "Lie still now while I go get the doctor. He'll want to know that you're awake."
He didn't hear her leave. One instant she was there, the next she had vanished. Maybe he had imagined her. Dreams can be bizarre.
The walls seemed to sway sickeningly. The ceiling swelled and then receded. It was never still. The light from the single lamp hurt his eyes . . . eye.
She had said his left eye was bandaged. Why? Disregarding her caution, he raised his right hand again. It was a Herculean effort. The tape holding the IV needles in place pulled against the hairs on his arm. It seemed to take forever for his hand to reach his head and when it did, he knew the first stirrings of panic.
My whole damn head is covered with bandages! He raised his head off the pillow as far as he could, which was only an inch or two, and glanced down at his body.
The scream that echoed through the hall seconds later came straight out of the bowels of Hell and set the nurse and doctor flying down the corridor and into the room.
"I'll hold him down while you give him a shot," the doctor barked. "He'll tear up everything we've done so far if he keeps thrashing that way."
The patient felt the sting of a needle in his right thigh and cried out in indignation and frustration over his inability to speak, to move, to fight.
Then darkness closed in around him again. Soothing hands lowered him back to the pillow. By the time he reached it, velvet oblivion had claimed him again.
He drifted in and out for days . . . weeks? He had no point of reference with which to measure time. He began to know when IV bottles were changed, when his blood pressure was being taken, when the tubes and catheters entering or exiting his body were monitored. Once he recognized the nurse. Once he recognized the doctor's voice. But they moved around him like ghosts, solicitous specters in a soft misty dream.
Gradually he began to stay awake for longer periods of time. He came to know the room, to know the machines that blipped and beeped out his vital signs. He was increasingly aware of his physical condition. And he knew it was serious.
He was awake when the doctor came through the door, studying a chart in a metal file. "Well, hello," the doctor said when he saw his patient staring up at him. He went through a routine checkup, then leaned against the side of the bed. "Are you aware that you're in a hospital and pretty banged up?"
"Was . . . I . . . in an accident?"
"No, Sergeant Rule. The American embassy in Cairo was bombed over a month ago. You were one of the few who survived the blast. After you were dug out of the rubble you were flown here. When you're well enough, you'll be shipped home."
"What's . . . wrong with me?"
A flicker of a smile touched the doctor's mouth. "it would be easier to say what's right." He rubbed his chin. "Want it straight?"
An almost imperceptible nod encouraged him to proceed in a blunt, no-nonsense manner. "The left side of your body was crushed by a falling concrete wall. Nearly every damn bone you've got on that side was broken, if not mangled. We've set what we could. The rest," he paused to draw in a deep breath, "well that will take some doing by the specialists back home. You're in for a long haul, my friend. I would say eight months at least, though twice that long would be a more accurate guess. Several operations. Months of physical therapy."
The misery reflected on the bandaged face was almost too poignant to witness, even for the doctor who had earned his stripes on the battlefields of Vietnam.
"Will I . . . be . . . ?"
"Your prognosis at this point is anybody's guess. A lot of it will be up to you. Sheer gut determination. How badly do you want to walk again?"
"I want to run," the Marine said grimly.
The doctor came close to laughing. "Good. But for right now, your job is to get stronger so we can begin patching you up."
The doctor patted him lightly on the right shoulder and turned to go. "Doc?" The medical man turned at the hoarse sound. "My eye?"
The doctor looked down at his patient sympathetically. "I'm sorry, Sergeant Rule. We couldn't save it."
The doctor's stride was brisk and businesslike as he strode from the room, and belled the tight lump in his throat. The most eloquent sign of despair he'd ever seen was that single tear trickling down a gaunt, darkly bewhiskered cheek.
Copyright © 2004 Sandra Brown