Which vow to keep: forsake all others, or take care of the children?
eBook ISBN 978-1-60174-242-1
"You're back," he said, as he relocked the door.
"Yes." Burdened by despair, Meredith crossed the threshold, her shoulders hunched.
"Yes. It's pleasant out now." She reached down and clawed a mosquito bite, belying her assertion. She couldn't bring herself to address the issue weighing on her like an anchor.
Her steps ponderous, she walked to the bed. She opened her mouth and closed it. She dropped to the mattress. Her clasped hands fell between her thighs.
"You're leaving," he said. His words were stark, filled with pain.
She hung her head, guilt a heavy mantle on her shoulders. "No. Not yet anyway."
The taut muscles in his face relaxed. His shoulders sagged. He swallowed hard. "You'd better explain."
She drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I can't be a substitute mother for the children, Quinn. I can't! At the same time, I can't bear to lose you and what we have together. I've mulled everything over and come up with a compromise. If...if you're agreeable."
"I'm listening," he said, sinking into the chair as if his legs wouldn't hold him any longer.
"Well--" Jumping up, she sucked in another deep breath, and strode to the window. "With both of us working, we'll have to share the responsibility for the children. I'll do the scut work--"
"The laundry and cleaning--even the cooking--if you'll handle the nurturing part. In other words, I'll do my share as housekeeper and you'll be their parent."
"And when I'm not there?"
Meredith glanced over her shoulder. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped. "Not there?"
"Have you forgotten my Reserve commitment? Monthly weekend drills, two weeks active duty. I can't promise I'll always be there when the kids need me."
She paced back to the bed and sagged into the pillows propped against the headboard. "Are you saying this won't work?"
"No. I'm saying I can't let you off the hook entirely. We can limit your 'mommy' time as much as possible, but I won't always be home. If you can see your way clear to take over on those times when I can't be there, then I think your idea has merit."
She faced him, her shoulders slumped, sadness permeating her soul. "I'd forgotten about your weekend duty."
"We have to take my drills into account. You'd be ticked if I trotted off one Saturday morning and left you with the kids when you weren't prepared."
Meredith grimaced. Yes, she'd be more than ticked. She suspected she'd feel betrayed, ready to wring his neck. He'd shown a great deal of honor by bringing up the obstacle now. She couldn't help but admire him. It would've been easy for him to leap at her solution without pointing out its flaws. She owed him the same honesty.
"I'm not sure I can handle them without you there."
"I don't understand. I've watched you the last couple of days. You like those kids."
Oh, yes, she liked them, too well. Leave it to Quinn to notice the one thing she didn't want to reveal.
Her gaze zeroed in on his wide shoulders. She wanted to bury her head against his strength and forget the last few days. She grasped a fistful of the bedspread, fighting a wave of helplessness. She must find a way.