Jill was on her second brownie and third cup of coffee. She never drank it after noon. She was confident that the double kick of caffeine and sugar would keep her up all night. Not that she needed another excuse to be up this night. Marrying a man you barely knew was reason enough for a sleepless night. Despite the past half hour of Simone’s reassurances, her doubts still ate like a worm at the apple of happiness that should be this day.
The back door burst open, and Jess ran through the utility room to the kitchen, standing in front of the chair where Jill sat. The teen’s face was bright pink, and her blues eyes were flaming. “You will never be my mother,” she screamed before racing down the hall. The slamming of another door punctuated her remarks.
Daniel, Samuel, Althea, and Bel followed behind through the open door. Jill looked at Daniel, but he only shrugged. She stood up, ready to go after Jess. Uncertain what she should say or do, but her motherly instincts told her someone should do something.
Before she could follow, Bel ran over. Her face shone with a light on par with her sister’s dark countenance. “This means you’re my forever friend. You won’t leave me ever? Promise?” pleaded the little girl as she wrapped her tiny arms about Jill’s waist.
Jill’s eyes filled with tears that she held back as she returned Bel’s embrace. “I promise, sweetheart.” At that moment, she found the answer that she sought and the resolve she lacked. Oh, doubts still niggled at her mind, but they took back seat to the needs that she felt in this unique child. She would cling to them as she clung to the little girl.
Althea slowly stepped forward, turning to her mother, “I’ll go talk to Jess.” The reserved young beauty smiled at Jill, “Excuse me, please. But I’m glad you came. Honest, I am,” she said before following her friend’s trail down the hallway.
Jill nodded after the girl, “Thank you, Althea.” The words seemed inadequate, but she did not know what else to say.
Bel stirred in Jill’s arms. She had had enough reassurance, it seemed, as she turned to her father. “Can I wear my pretty pink dress that Grandma Janice bought me this time? You said it was in..in-appro,” the child fumbled for the word.
“Inappropriate,” Jill and Daniel said at the same time. The small group laughed at the faux pas.
“That’s right. That big word. You said it was in-a-pro-pri-ate,” Bel pronounced each syllable carefully, “when they took Mommy and put her in that box. But it isn’t for a wedding, is it?”
Jill choked on the pain in the child’s simple words. Jess might be angry, but one thing was certain; this little girl needed her. She needed a woman, a mother. To pick out dresses. To play Barbies. To mend torn bears. To love her…unconditionally.
Looking at the man who would be her new husband in less than twenty-four hours, she saw him smile weakly. As Simone had said, the children were not the only ones that could use some unconditional love. The question was, would this proud man bend enough to share the heavy load he had shouldered alone for so long? And how the hell did she reach him?
With David, it had all been so easy. They were young. She was barely nineteen to his worldly twenty-five. And he had seemed so worldly then. His accent. His career as a Royal Marine. The glamor of his home in faraway England, foreign land that had been the setting of so many of the romance novels she read as a young teen. Looking back, she had probably been as in love with the romance of it all as she had been the man himself.
Of course, the reality of being his wife had come soon enough. They had been married less than a month the first time he had one of ‘those’ dreams, nightmares. It had taken her almost two years to pry the briefest of details from him - the Falklands. His friend torn to pieces by an exploding missile just yards from where David hunkered with the anti-aircraft gun against his shoulder. In all their almost twenty years together, she had never gotten anything more from him.
But it was enough. Sometimes words did not matter as much as the feelings they conveyed. The two of them, over the years, grew into their love. Grew up together. She had learned when to hold and when simply to give him space. Staring at Daniel, she wondered. While she could not deny the similarities between the two men, there were differences too.
Perhaps the most significant difference was in her. Gone was the care-free young beauty with the boundless confidence that she could conquer anything. Jill had her own secrets. Her own pain. And at that moment, she wondered if it was not too big. How could she ever be any kind of wife to this man if the very idea of being naked with a man, any man, let alone this Adonis, scared the ever-loving shit out of her?
She was about to bolt at the thought of it, when Bel tugged at her top once more, “So, can I wear the pink dress?”
Jill smiled weakly. “You may wear whatever you like, Isabella.”
Simone stood up, “Lordy me; we have so much to do. You men make yourself useful and go out for some chicken for dinner. Take the child with you too. Us girls have more planning to do.”
Jill was exhausted as she folded the last of the laundry. It was after ten. She knew that she should take a shower and head to bed. But she knew too that it would all be futile. She was confident that sleep would not come this night. Why torture herself by lying in bed and staring at the ceiling with every question and insecurity racing through her fertile imagination? No, better to keep herself busy. Hell, perhaps she could even exhaust herself out so much that she would simply drop into sleep in the early hours of the morning.
Folding the last item, a pair of white boxers, she ran her hand across the warm cotton. The image of Daniel standing in the kitchen doorway wearing nothing but these boxers danced through her mind. Her nipples pebbled instantly at the memory. She had not lied when she told Simone the man was beautiful.
Hell, he belonged on the cover of one of her cheesy Mills and Boone romance novels. Harlequin, she corrected herself again with a chuckle. Actually, he was too sexy for those. Something more in line with the racier ebooks that she bought these days. Too hot to handle, sprang to mind.
In some ways, he reminded her of David when they had first met. She smiled at the memory of her first husband, rising like Poseidon from the clear Gulf waters of Cancun. But even at twenty-five, David had not looked half as good as Daniel did that morning. David had been… She searched for the word. Comfortable. From the moment they met, David had been comfortable like a pair of old jeans. Sure, he was good looking, but he was also easy to talk to and approachable. Things that Daniel was not.
But more than that, the two of them had been equals. At nineteen, Jill had been a late bloomer. After a horrible experience of high school, braces, glasses, and acne, she was finally maturing into a beautiful young woman, and she knew it. Over the years, as time and pregnancies had taken their toll on her body, so too had the years softened her husband’s once firm muscles and added a touch of padding about his waistline that despite all he and the Marine’s attempts to combat it seemed destined to remain.
Yes, she and David had grown up together. They had grown together as individuals and as a couple. But they had also been growing old together. Before. Before that day, seven years ago. Now was not the time for those demons that sometimes still haunted her.
She had enough other worries right now. She looked down at the sundress she had worn all day, the one that hid the soft jiggle of the muffin top that came with four pregnancies in less than five years. The rolls of flesh that never went entirely away no matter how much weight she lost or how many sit-ups she did.
Of course, that was not all of it. She knew that the breasts, which might look so lovely in the tight confines of the halter top of this dress, sagged a bit too much. Another side-effect of her pregnancies and breastfeeding four hungry sons. But her pregnancies were not to blame for the wide hips or slightly dimpled softness of her thighs. The cooking that Daniel seemed to love so much was totally to blame for that cellulite.
‘Jill, my friend, you need a crash diet and six months at the gym…before tomorrow,’ she thought as she caressed the cotton one last time before turning to leave the cramped laundry room that was off the kitchen. Her mind was preoccupied with the thoughts of quick liposuction and miracle diets as she stared at the brown stone tiles of the floor.
The woman had a way of making him feel like an intruder in his own home. As he watched from the doorway, Jill smoothed invisible wrinkles out of his shorts. His mind immediately went places it should not go.
He imagined her caressing those same wrinkles out of his boxers, but this time he was inside them. His cock hardened immediately at the thought. Needs and desires that he had thought long since conquered seemed to rise to the occasion as quickly as his penis. He gave into them then, closing his eyes and letting the fantasy take over.
How would those hands that so lovingly cooked, cleaned, and cared for his daughters feel caressing his hard cock? Were they soft or slightly roughened by her work? Would she hold him as tightly as she had clung to Bel that afternoon? And those breasts? What would they feel like to pillow his head on after a long night of making love?
He was jarred back to reality when the object of his fantasies slammed directly into his chest. His reaction was automatic. His arms wrapped about her waist to steady her. But his natural reaction brought their bodies into perfect alignment. If he was half-hard from the fantasies, his cock sprang to life entirely at this seemingly innocent contact.
“I’m sorry. I should look where I’m going,” she stammered.
“No, it’s my fault. I was so caught up in,” his voice trailed off. He could not say erotic fantasies about you. “The girls are all down for the night,” he stammered as a diversion while he tried to regroup. To come up with a plan, a way to broach the subject that had lingered in his mind all day, that consumed his mind and his body.
Of course, Jess had insisted on staying with the Jackson’s, refusing to stay in the house with ‘that woman’ as she called her, but Jill did not need to worry about that right now. He would deal with it all after tomorrow. Right now, he had other things on his mind.
He knew he was screwing it all up again, but talking with women had never been easy for him. When he was younger, things just seemed more manageable. He and a few friends went out to a bar. The women were more than happy to make the first move and often more because they were SEALs. Rachel had been no different; she had most definitely done the picking. He had just followed along…until it was too late. And after over thirteen years of marriage, he was more than a little rusty.
The woman smiled. Jill smiled; he corrected himself. He had to quit thinking of her like that. In a few hours, she would be his wife. The word stuck in his mind, his second wife. And he hoped like hell, Samuel was right. That this worked better than it had the first time.
“That’s good.” Her green eyes went to the pile of clothes that she clutched tightly to her chest. “I was just doing a bit of laundry. Tidying up.”
Daniel could tell that she was as nervous as he felt. He wanted somehow to reassure her, to comfort her. But he had no idea what to say or do. His mind had continued to battle all evening long. After dinner, he and Samuel had once again been kicked out of the house by Simone, retreating with the children to the beach. They had walked and talked for some time as the girls played in the sand and surf. But Daniel had been uncertain how to broach the question that taunted him the most. Then, with his best friend, or now with the one person that could honestly answer it.
“There’s something I wanted to talk to you about. Well, ask you, I guess would be a better way of saying it.” He stuttered over his words. Reaching out for the pile of clothes like a security blanket, “Here, let me take those.”
Jill nodded her head, “Yes, commander. What is it?” She reluctantly surrendered her burden.
Daniel clutched the warm clothes, bringing them to his chest. He studied them, uncertain how to proceed. “About this marriage thing,” he pushed the words that had been bothering him all day past the lump in his throat, “is it a ‘real’ marriage?”
“Are you trying to ask about sex, commander?” she asked bluntly.
Daniel felt the heat rising up his neck, spreading across his face to the tips of his ears as he fumbled, “Yeah, sort of.”
She shook her head, “I keep forgetting that you did not write those emails. I’m sorry.” She drew in a deep breath before continuing, “Just because this situation is,” she paused for a moment, “unconventional, does not mean it can’t work, commander. I know that, as Americans, we are raised on the ideals of love and romance. But I know you have seen enough of this world to know that is not the only way. In fact, we are probably in the minority in our illusion that love conquers all.”
She stepped back into the laundry room and leaned against the washing machine before she continued. “My best friend for the past couple of years was an amazing woman. She was also Muslim and had fled the civil war in Somalia. It was Ubah that first introduced me to the whole arranged marriage thing.”
She laughed again, “And given the fact that it was your mother and Simone that wrote those damned emails, I guess this is more of a traditional arranged marriage than even I had realized.”
She shrugged her shoulders, “Anyway, I’m sure that you can figure this one out, commander. We don’t have to rush things or jump headlong into it, but in the end, most arranged marriages are very much ‘real’ as you say.”
Daniel watched as this time, pink stains spread up her neck and face from that ample chest. Her eyes were glued to a spot on the floor as she stammered through the speech. “We are both adults, commander. If this thing is going to work, we need to recognize the power of certain needs. It would probably be best for everyone if we kept those needs…” She sighed, “If we…” She paused again.
“I know I’m not beautiful like Rachel was, but I also know enough about men to know that certain,” the stains deepened to bright scarlet, “urges make those things less…essential.” She finally raised her eyes to his face, “So, the answer, commander, is while there is no need to rush things, yes. Over time I hope that we become friends…and more.”
Daniel nodded. “Thank you. I suppose I should have waded through a few more of those damned emails, as you called them before I put you on the spot like that. I’m sorry.”
Jill smiled, but he could tell it was forced. “Forget the damned emails. How about we just agree to take this thing one day at a time and get to know one another the old fashioned way, by talking?”
Daniel smiled, a genuine one. “I’d like that very much, Jill.”
She held out her hand, “It’s a deal, then?”
Daniel shifted the clothes he held and took the hand she offered. “Deal.” His heartbeat increased when he saw the genuine smile light those green eyes at his words. He knew that he had made her uncomfortable. And he knew that he should make a strategic retreat just then. But he did not, “Tomorrow…”
She sighed, “Yes? What about tomorrow?”
“When the minister pronounces us man and wife, it’s traditional,” he felt his palms getting sweaty and wondered if she noticed it as well, their hands still intertwined as they were. “It’s just; I’m not sure I want our first kiss to be in front of three dozen or so rowdy SEALs and their WAGs as I think they call them in England.”
She giggled, “They do call them that. And I see your point, commander. What are you proposing then?”
“Nothing as drastic as this morning’s for sure. Just this,” he said as he closed the distance between them. Laying the neatly folded clothes on the dryer next to her, he lifted the hand that he had been holding for the last minute until it rested on his shoulder. His hand wrapped about her waist as he bent his head slowly, giving her every chance to stop him. But he hoped like hell she would not.
Their eyes held a heated gaze for several heartbeats before he watched the lids of hers close slowly. He felt her chest arch just slightly towards his. Her breasts that he had been itching all day to touch brushed against him. It was all the welcome he needed.
He had never been one to wade into anything. Storming the gates was more his style, and this kiss was no different. His lips captured hers. His hand about her waist tightened as he drew her body entirely against his. His fingers bit into the soft flesh as his tongue traced her lower lip. When she moaned a bit, he grabbed the chance to deepen the exchange. His tongue breached her defenses, tasting and teasing her depths.
His other hand came up to lace through the long, blond hair that hung about her shoulders. He used it to hold her in place as he drank deeper from her lips. When her tongue accepted the challenge and began a slow, erotic dance with his, it was Daniel that found himself moaning into her mouth.
His hips pinned her against the cold, hard metal of the washer as his fingers sought the prize they had coveted all day long. His hand slowly moved up her side from her waist until it trailed softly along the outline of her breast. He could not deny himself any longer. His hand encircled the underside of it, the heat of her skin permeated the soft, thin material of the dress. Daniel’s other hand found the knot that held up the halter top and began to toy with it, tugging impatiently at it.
He felt Jill’s hand on his shoulder softly pushing him away. His mind recognized that she was right. Things were moving too quickly. What had begun as a simple first kiss had too quickly become an all-out frontal assault.
But Daniel’s body wanted something very different. It wanted to push the god damned top aside and feel those gorgeous tits filling his hands to overflowing. It wanted to lift that round ass until it perched on the edge of the washing machine. Then it wanted him to push her dress up those long legs. In his wildest fantasies, he would find nothing beneath the dress except hot, wet woman. He would unzip his jeans that were already way too tight and plunge inside her warm, welcoming body until nothing else in this fucked up world mattered.
This night Daniel’s mind won. Even as his body protested, he loosened his hold on her neck and slowly retreated the way he had come until his other hand was softly draped about her waist. His tongue took one final long taste of heaven before he slowly lifted his head.
He watched her for a moment. Her eyes were still closed, and he could not help but notice that her chest rose and fell as quickly as his own. His fingers pleaded to trace her chest, seeing for himself that her heart beat rapidly in time with his own. He saw her bite her lower lip that was already swollen and reddened from his kisses.
Some primal part of him roared in triumph with the knowledge that she was as affected by their little interchange as he was. His eyes sought confirmation to this assumption and were rewarded with the hard nubs that strained impossibly tightly against the confines of that damned halter top. For this night, that telltale sign of arousal would have to be sufficient, but Daniel swore not for long. He wanted to feel and taste for himself the arousal of this woman, who was to be his wife.
He smiled broadly. This little arrangement of theirs was getting more interesting by the minute. He wondered for a moment what she would say if he suggested they continue this in his bed. But the shocked look in her green eyes when she opened them halted the brash words halfway up his throat.
“Yes, well, I guess it is a good thing that we did not have an audience for that,” her voice was deeper and more throaty. Another sign of his effects on her, he hoped.
Daniel chuckled and leaned his forehead against hers. Even though the erotic spell was broken, he was reluctant somehow to give up the close contact of his hand about her waist, their bodies touching intimately. It was just as well, the woman knew how strongly she was affecting him.
Because after two years of celibacy and despite her words earlier, he had every intention of ‘rushing’ certain things. In for an ounce, in for a pound. If he was going to be married, well, the sooner this marriage was real, the better as far as he was concerned. And from the looks of things, Jill had no real objections to his touch either.
“We should probably go to bed,” she stammered. Her cheeks flamed a deep red, and her free hand flew to her mouth. “I didn’t mean. I mean…” she stammered.
Daniel chuckled as he brought her hand from her mouth to his. He brushed a gentle kiss across her knuckles. “I know what you meant.” With a devilish grin, he could not stop himself from adding, “But the other has real possibilities too. Don’t you think?”
Jill blushed before twisting to the side and escaping his grasp. “Tomorrow is a big day. We should both try and get some sleep,” as she practically raced from the confines of the small room.
“Sweet dreams,” Daniel could not help himself from teasing as he watched that generous backside retreat, swaying softly beneath the clingy material of the dress. Oh yes, this little arrangement was most definitely looking up.