Read an Excerpt
"Rosie? Good morning, sweetheart." The huskiness in his tone told her he hadn't been awake long. It was barely seven.
Dear God. Help me.
"I've been dreaming about us. Our cruise didn't last nearly long enough. The only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that you're going to be my wife in June. I wish you were here right now," he murmured. "Why don't you come over for a little while before you have to leave for work? I want to show you how much I love you."
She wouldn't be going to the university today; in fact, she'd already called Chow Ping, one of the graduate students, to cover her classes.
"Rosie? Why aren't you saying anything?"
A shudder passed through her body. She wished she could tell him everything he wanted to hear. But the last urgent message, one of many left on her answering machine by her in-laws, had turned her world upside down for the second time in her life. They'd called again from a hotel in Ogden, Utah—not five minutes after she and Cody had walked in the door from their trip with Zach.
"Zach…we have to t-talk!" She swallowed hard. "I'm just glad I caught you before you left for work."
"Sweetheart? Something's really wrong. What is it?" She could feel his concern. There wasn't a more understanding man than Zachery Wilde. But when she told him…
"Rosie?" he prodded. "Don't go all quiet on me."
"I-it's about Nick."
"What about him?"
Zach's voice had dropped to a lower register. Nick had been the ghost between them far too long for Zach's liking. Rosie was terrified of what this news was going to do to him, but she couldn't put it off any longer.
"H-he didn't die in the war, Zach."
As soon as she'd said those words, the silence on the other end was so eloquent with shock, Rosie didn't know if she could bear it.
When she'd been given that news, she'd gone into shock herself, unable to tell her in-laws what had happened on the cruise—that she'd accepted Zachery Wilde's proposal and would be marrying him at the end of the spring quarter, hopefully with their blessing.
She hadn't been counting on it of course, because Nick's parents were still in mourning over their only son's death. She was well aware that they would have trouble allowing Zach into their grandson's life on a permanent basis, let alone accepting him as her husband.
But with one phone call, everything had changed, and her world no longer made sense. After six and a half hours of soul-searching agony, it still didn't. She was in love with Zach, but she'd never stopped loving Nick.
The joy she'd experienced on hearing he wasn't dead, after all, that he'd be home in a few hours, was indescribable. Everything had taken on the properties of a fantastic dream.
When her normally sober Cody heard the news, he ran around the house making whooping noises, leaping in the air at odd moments—behavior so uncharacteristic she barely recognized him—while she'd been in a sort of stupor.
Not until she could function well enough to carry her suitcases into the bedroom did thoughts of Zach intrude on her consciousness. Then she was overwhelmed by guilt. Consumed by it.
Zach was in love with her. And she adored him. She couldn't wait to become his wife.
But Nick was alive! Her beloved husband who'd been missing in action and was presumed dead. The husband she hadn't seen for seven years.
Zach's sharp intake of breath sounded like ripping silk. "So what are you saying? Is he a POW?"
"He was." Rosie couldn't keep the tremor out of her voice. She couldn't stand the thought of what Nick had been forced to live through.
"He's been released, a-and is on his way home."
"You mean to Germany?"
"No. I—I mean he was in Germany for debriefing,
but that's over. The air force is flying him into Hill Air Force Base this morning."
Another ghastly silence. "I'm coming over."
"No, Zach!" She panicked. "You can't!"
The anguish in his voice devastated her.
"There's no time, Zach. His plane is landing at nine-thirty this morning. As it is, Cody and I are going to have to rush to make it. His parents drove up there yesterday. They're meeting us at the base."
God forgive her for putting off this phone call until the last minute, but she didn't know any other way to do it. She dreaded the idea of causing Zach any more pain when he'd waited two years for her to agree to marry him.
"I don't believe this is happening. I just put my ring on your finger ten days ago. Rosie…" he cried in agony.
She reeled, clutching the headboard of her bed for support. The bed she'd shared with Nick for seven years. In eight weeks she'd be sharing Zach's bed. Now Nick was coming home….
"Will you be wearing it when you see him?" She knew it was anger that had made Zach lash out, anger and pain.
This was only the beginning.
"Zach—" her voice shook as tears gushed down her cheeks "—you know how much I love you. You know it."
"Mom?" Cody hollered. "Hurry up! What if Dad's plane gets in early? I want to see him come in!"
"I'll be right there," she called.
Cody was in shock, too. Euphoric shock. The kind only a thirteen-year-old boy could experience. A boy who'd just learned that his hero father, the man whose memory he'd always idolized to the exclusion of every other male, including Zach—especially Zach—was alive.
To Cody, everything was so simple. His dad was coming home to be his dad again. Cody had huge plans for them, plans that toppled the foundation Zach had been carefully laying to reach some sort of understanding with her son.
One phone call had wiped out two years of work. Already Zach was a memory. No one could compete with Cody's flesh-and-blood father, who was coming home to stay. What more could one ask of life? End of story.
A groan escaped her throat. "I—I've put your ring in my jewelry box."
"And where are Nick's rings?"
She closed her eyes in fresh pain. "The same place."
"For how long?" he demanded, his voice fierce with hurt.
Dear God. That was a question she couldn't answer.
He muttered a few bitter curses, sounding as out of control as she felt. "I had no right to ask that of you. No right at all. But I'm warning you, Rosie. I haven't spent the last two years loving you, only to give up now. Remember that, even if you can't remember me after today!"
"Zach! I'm in love with you, darling. I swear I'll call you before the day's out. I swear it!"
"Don't make promises you can't keep."
"Have you so little faith in me?" she cried.
"Mom?" Cody opened the door of her bedroom and poked his head in. "Hurry up!"
She nodded, signaling that he should close it again and leave her some privacy. He frowned his impatience before the door clicked shut. He knew she was on the phone with Zach.
"Lord, Rosie. This has nothing to do with faith and everything to do with the kind of marriage you and Nick once had. So let's not pretend."
She flinched from his bitterness. "I—I'm not pretending."
"Oh, hell, Rosie—"
"I have to go," she whispered.
"I know, and I'm being an insensitive bastard." She could hear the tears in his voice. "But I also know that the next time I see you, things'll be different. You won't be the same Rosie who finally made every damn dream of mine come true."
"I haven't been the same Rosie since I got that phone call," she admitted in a dull voice. "To be honest, I don't know who I am, Zach. Right now there's only one reality—I'm terrified."
"You don't know the half of it, sweetheart."
The line went dead.
"I've got a pit in my stomach bigger than Kennecott," R. T. Ellis muttered, his fingers clawing the armrest.
Nick Armstrong gazed dispassionately at the bandaged stump below his left wrist, then flexed his right hand, as if reminding himself it was still there. He leaned across the man who was closer than a brother to look out the window of their C-141 transport plane.
They were passing over the huge Kennecott open-pit copper mine, reputed to be the largest in the world. Nick surmised that heavy air traffic or high winds must have caused the pilot to swing this far south before turning around to make the rare southerly approach to the base.
In the distance the Great Salt Lake, surrounded by scorched desert, shimmered a pale blue. A few more minutes and they'd be landing at Hill. What an incredible irony that after six and a half years of being held prisoner in a godforsaken desert, they were returning to one.
He sat back and closed his eyes. "I know the feeling."
The plane engines droned on, filling the eerie silence that had been building the nearer they came to their destination. Both he and R.T had survived captivity at various locations inside Iraq, but they'd never known the names of places or the coordinates. The Iraqi soldiers had moved them by truck a total of fifteen times, and each time they'd been blindfolded.
Both Nick and R.T. had agreed that when they got out, they didn't want their family reunions to happen in Germany. They just wanted to be debriefed, receive any medical attention at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Colorado, then fly home without losing any more precious time.
There was to be no press coverage, no news leak that would result in their pictures being plastered all over the Salt Lake Tribune or Deseret News. No gruesome details to recount of an experience they preferred to forget. All they wanted was their privacy and the right to carry on with their lives.
The powers-that-be in Germany didn't like the idea, not with the politicians breathing down their necks. But Nick reminded them that there were POWs released in Vietnam who were able to arrive at their own front doors without prior notice. No one could refute Nick's argument, and he got his wish.
R.T. and Nick had discussed every conceivable problem they might face after being gone this long and presumed dead. All POWs did. The worst fear among the married ones was the very real possibility that their wives had moved on and remarried. The prisoners with children had the additional worry that some other guy was raising their family.
Nick's thoughts fastened on Rosie, who'd never been out of his heart for a moment. Theirs was the kind of love destined to last a lifetime and beyond. They'd talked about everything before he'd left with his unit, everything that could happen—except the chance that he might be taken prisoner, a subject Rosie refused to even contemplate.
But it didn't matter, because he knew she'd wait for him, till the end of time if necessary. That knowledge had been the only thing to keep him sane during his long incarceration.
But nothing—not hope or even faith—could have prepared Nick or R.T. for the hell of not being able to talk to their wives yet. Rosie had a new phone number and address, listed under R. Armstrong, which came as a jolt. All he got was a U.S. West answering-machine voice telling him to leave a message, which he didn't feel ready to do. He preferred his first contact with Rosie to be in person.
R.T. couldn't even find his old phone number. The operator had insisted there was no listing for a Cynthia Ellis or anything close.
He'd been raised by an aunt before his marriage to Cynthia. She was the only relative of his still living in Salt Lake. But when he called her, he'd been forced to leave a message, asking her to get in touch with his wife to inform her that he was alive and on his way home.
As Nick watched R.T. retch into a bag, he realized that the trauma of not knowing anything had finally caught up with him. The thrill of coming home had been swallowed up in the anxiety of being this close to loved ones without having made that first vital contact.
Neither of them spoke aloud what they were thinking—that his bride of a year had remarried. Nick grimaced; R.T. had lost his breakfast after leaving Denver and still couldn't keep anything down.
Not until Nick had undergone an emotional reunion over the phone with his parents did the tight band around his own chest relax a little. His overjoyed mom and dad not only reassured him that they were in good health, thank God, but they answered his single most important question.
Rosie hadn't remarried. She was doing a wonderful job of raising Nick's look-alike son, who was thirteen now and already approaching five foot ten. Nick's mother forgot her tears long enough to add laughingly that it wouldn't be much longer before Cody rivaled his father's six foot two.
Nick couldn't talk after that. Nothing else mattered. The details of their lives he'd catch up on later.
Rosie was still waiting for him. She'd never given up hope.
If there was a black cloud on the horizon, it hung over R.T., who had no idea what future awaited him. It wasn't fair, Nick thought, not when R.T. had just been released from the depths of hell, only to be thrust down all over again if it turned out he'd lost his wife because of a damn war over oil.
"She isn't going to be there, Nick."
They'd been through too much to lie to each other.
"Maybe, maybe not. If that's the case, plan on coming home with me."
As soon as he'dyanked on a pullover, Zach phoned his secretary at home, but she'd already left for work. When he called his office, he got the answering machine.
He waited for the beep. "Barb? I'm back from the Caribbean, but I won't be in until tomorrow. Reschedule all my apppointments for another day."