This baby was giving her new hope and there was no way she would let her little girl down. Unlike her own free-spirited mother.
“I’ll find a way to help you keep your house,” he vowed. “Trust me.”
“I don’t want to talk about this,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.”
Sighing, Nora closed her eyes, not wanting him to see her own pain…her growing feelings toward him.
“You must think I’m the weakest person.” She laughed. “Every time you’re around I’m an emotional mess. I swear it’s the hormones.”
Eli gripped her hands again and smiled. That smile lived in her mind, her heart. That warm smile never failed to make her happier and bring back memories of better times.
“You’re one of the strongest people I know,” he told her. “Man or woman. You get crap thrown at you and still continue to come out on top.”
Yeah, well, she felt like she was at the bottom of that crap pile and slowly crawling her way out.
As she raised her gaze to Eli, she smiled. Maybe he was just the hope she’d been needing. Maybe this attraction wasn’t dead, after all, even though time and hard life lessons had kept them apart.
Nora didn’t want to get her hopes up, but she couldn’t deny she still felt that stirring in her gut whenever Eli was around. And from the way he looked at her, cared for her, she knew the attraction wasn’t one-sided.
So what would they do about it?
Listening to Nora declare her marriage wasn’t all she’d wanted was like a punch to the gut. He’d heard Todd say things about Nora back home, but Eli assumed that was just Todd talking through depression of being in the war.
Eli knew Todd’s secret, but he’d always assumed that at home Todd and Nora were happy—because Nora was in the dark, mostly. Wasn’t this baby proof of their wedded bliss?
“I didn’t mean to upset you,” he told her. “I guess I just assumed you and Todd had a good marriage.”
“We did…at first.” She let go of his hands to swipe at her damp face. “But we grew apart, out of love—if we ever truly loved each other beyond friendship. It happens. I would’ve stayed with him because it was the right thing to do. I mean, he was off fighting for our country and had a great deal of stress. I think the love just wasn’t there. We were better at being friends than playing house.”
And war would test even the strongest of relationships. Eli had hated hearing about Todd’s time with Nora over the past few years, but what could he say? Eli had walked away from the woman who would’ve spent her life with him. So all the torture had been his own fault.
“He did love you,” Eli stated. It was so important that she knew because Eli never doubted that Todd loved Nora; he just happened to love another woman, too. A secret Nora could never know. “He talked about you all the time, so don’t doubt it.”
Eli may have fudged the truth a tad, but he didn’t want Nora’s memories of her late husband to be tainted or for her to feel guilty for the marriage that wasn’t everything she wanted, everything she deserved.
Nora smiled. “Thank you for telling me.”
Gripping her hands again, he pulled her to her feet. “I know it’s late, but I have an idea.”
Nora laughed. “You’ve got that look in your eyes.”
“The one that says you’re up to something. Remember, I knew you and your brothers when you were troublemakers. I know when you’re plotting.”
Eli shrugged. “I’m older now and a little more reserved than I used to be.”
Nora quirked a brow. “Reserved? The St. John boys are anything but reserved.”
“Well, we’re calmer now.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and steered her toward the kitchen. “What do you say we make a batch of Snickerdoodles?”
Nora groaned. “You know my weakness.”
“Hey, who said anything about you? I didn’t have any dessert tonight and I can’t remember the last time I had homemade Snickerdoodles.”
Smacking his chest playfully, Nora laughed again. Music to his ears. Anything he could do to keep her smiling and not living in the past full of heartache was worth it. Besides, he still wanted an excuse to be with her, to talk to her, look at her. He’d missed so much time with her because he’d purposely distanced himself, but right now the last thing he wanted was distance.