“Push. Come on, baby. You can do this.” Eric was behind Abby on the hospital bed so she could lean against him. Her hands gripped his with a strength most men didn’t have. She was damp and sweaty, and she was exhausted from being in labor all night, more than twelve hours.
“Almost there, Abby. Just give me one more push.” The military doctor, Chase Hargrove, was a young, round-faced man of medium height and build with light curly hair. He glanced at Eric and lifted the baby, setting him on Abby’s stomach. “Here he is, your boy.” Chase grinned, flashing two dimples, and stood up, glancing at Abby through his round, fashionable glasses. “How are you doing, Abby?”
“I’m okay.” She set her hand on the baby’s back, trying not to nudge her IV. She watched the baby, and Eric leaned down and kissed her forehead, brushing back the long blond hair that was tangled and stuck to her skin. She gazed up at him with heavenly blue eyes that appeared tired and a little glassy. Exhaustion—it had to be.
“You did good, baby. You okay?” he asked. His arm was around her, and she leaned against him. Her knees were still up as the doctor finished delivering the placenta. She lifted her hand from the baby and rubbed her forehead, pressing her cheek into Eric’s chest.
“I’m just tired. Can you take the baby?” She had lifted her hands as if the baby lying on her was a burden. She sounded off, too, Eric thought, or maybe she was just tired and he was reading too much into it.
The doctor glanced up but didn’t seem concerned. A nurse set a blanket over the baby and wiped off most of the blood, and Eric lifted him as another nurse set a white cotton hat on his head. Eric stood up, and Abby lay back down, the head of the bed raised as high as it could go, as a nurse started to check her vitals.
“We’re going to get you moved and settled pretty quickly. You should be able to go home at the end of the day,” the doctor said.
Eric held his newborn baby, so tiny, in the crook of his arm. He flicked his gaze away from his quiet son, who had yet to make a peep. He had round cheeks and a pink face with a tiny button nose just like his mama’s. His eyes were still closed. Eric smiled until he noticed Abby looking away, appearing uninterested in what the doctor way saying. Eric added, “How about some sleep first? With Rachel at home, we risk a very happy two-year-old climbing all over Mommy. I don’t think Abby is anxious to get back just yet.”
“It’s all right, Eric. I just need some sleep,” she said from where she lay, turning her head toward him.
It had been ten days since Eric stepped off the destroyer in homeport, met by his very pregnant wife, Abby, and their two-year-old plump little girl, Rachel, whom he had delivered after rescuing Abby in the middle of nowhere in the Persian Gulf. She had escaped her abductor, Seyed Hossein, the man who’d bought her, kept her, and abused her until, one night, she escaped. She had been eight months pregnant. Abby was a human trafficking success story. Of the women who disappeared in Europe, most were never found again, but Eric had found her and saved her, and she was now his wife.
Rachel had dark hair and olive skin, and she didn’t resemble Eric at all, with only hints of Abby. She was the only reminder of what Abby had survived, and Eric loved the precious little girl as if she were his very own.
Eric cuddled his son, a light-haired baby who fit in the crook of his arm. He glanced down at Abby, and her eyes were closed. The baby was settled and seemed so comfortable, as if he knew his daddy would always keep him safe. His tiny hand rested over his eyes, and he started to work his lips.
Eric was about to wake Abby when the doctor said, “No, let her sleep. The baby’s good. We’ll send him into the nursery, and the nurses can give him a supplement of formula if he needs it.”
There was a tap on the door, and a nurse poked her head in. “Captain Hamilton, there are people out here to see you.”
Eric started to the door because he knew who was out there. “Well, let me go show off my son,” he said, heading to meet his old friend Joe, who was his current XO, and his wife, Mary-Margaret.
She could smell the blood, the antiseptic, and hear voices: deep, low, close whispers. She told herself to pretend to be asleep, to concentrate, to keep breathing in and out, nice and easy. She relaxed her eyelids. She couldn’t let them see she was awake. The floor squeaked with footsteps, and the door closed. She heard someone walking away just outside the door, but she also knew someone was still there, waiting quietly in the corner. She felt as if she had suddenly been thrown into the middle of a cat-and-mouse game, and she could feel the room, the locked door, the stiff mattress she lay on. She was so cold, and, try as she might, she couldn’t stop the chill that racked her body. She trembled.
A hand touched her, and she jumped. Her eyes flew open, and she gasped at the dark-haired woman standing over her. Who was she? Where was she? She winced as she sat up. The woman’s hand was still on her shoulder, and she took in the small, box-like hospital room. It was dim, though the curtains were open.
“Are you okay?” the woman asked. She was wearing a pink scrub top, and Abby stared at the V cut of the neck and wondered why the woman hadn’t covered herself. She had pale bare arms, too, and she took Abby’s wrist and glanced at her watch. Abby stared at the door—a locked door, or was it?
The door opened, and Eric, her tall, dark-haired husband with vibrant blue eyes, entered and frowned. “Abby, you’re awake,” he said. “I just showed off our son to Joe and Mary-Margaret. They’re here now, and they wanted to come in and see you, but I thought you were sleeping.” He glanced down at the tiny baby in his arms. Eric was so happy, as if he was staring at the most precious thing ever. He was so strong, her husband, her man. He was out of uniform, wearing blue jeans and a snug black T-shirt that showed off the finest biceps, triceps, and six-pack abs, as well as the rock-hard chest that had always comforted her.
She watched as he held his son, and her heart pounded with each step closer he took. She couldn’t take her eyes off the blanket and the bundle he was holding. She couldn’t see it—she didn’t want to see it. She feared the face that would stare back at her. His footsteps became slow and drawn out, and all she could hear was an echo as they came closer. She could feel a pressure on her arm as she stared at the blur in front of her: white, closer now. There was a hand on her face, touching her, warm and strong and familiar, and she grabbed hold.
She could hear him, and she stared into a demanding, strong, and a worried expression. Another man appeared, with glasses and light hair. A light flashed in her eyes, and it burned. She pushed his hand away.
“I’m okay,” she said to a room that seemed suddenly full of people: nurses, doctors. The lights were on now, bright above her.
“Abby, what happened?” It was Eric. He was beside her on the bed, his arm around her. She leaned against him, just him, no baby. Then she looked up at the dark-haired nurse holding her son. She pulled back the blanket and the wool cap on his head, and Abby sagged in relief at his light red chubby cheeks and the light hair plastered to his head.
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