He’d just wet a rag to go over the stickiness on the counter when he heard Nora step into the kitchen.
“Wow, you made quick work of tidying up,” she told him, glancing around the room.
But he didn’t see anything but her, standing in a short, pale-blue fleece robe. The ties pulled together just above her rounded belly, showcasing the baby bump.
Even the little blue slippers on her feet were cute.
But it was the damp hair that hung in long, golden rope-like strands over one shoulder that drew him in. Her face was scrubbed clean and glowed with a soft pink tint.
She was everything he wasn’t—everything he’d lived without for years. Soft, delicate, almost innocent in her own sweet way. He hadn’t been lying the other day when he’d told her images, memories, of her is what got him through the hard times when he’d been overseas.
When her eyes landed on him, she froze. He couldn’t do this. The ache he felt for her was too strong, too much to bear while trying to hold on to some type of sanity.
Eli crossed the room to her, watching her eyes widen. She tipped her head up to keep her eyes on his. As his body brushed against hers, Eli brought his hands up to frame her face.
“I can’t lie to you, to myself,” he whispered. “I need to touch you, Nora.”
He didn’t give her a chance to stop him. Another second without her would’ve destroyed him. Eli captured her lips with his, relieved when she opened, letting him in.
Delicate hands slid up his arms, then clutched at his shoulders. The familiar taste, the familiar touch, of Nora sent sensations shooting through his body that he hadn’t felt since the last time he’d truly kissed her…and that peck the other day didn’t count.
A slight moan escaped her as he changed directions of the kiss. His hands moved to the tie at the robe and quickly had it falling open. Sliding his hands up her sides, encountering silky material, only made her moan again. When he reached her breasts, she arched into him.
This is what he’d missed. Nora’s instant response to his touch. Nora’s vibrant passion.
When he started to slide the straps of her nightgown aside, her hands came up to grip his wrists.
“Eli,” she panted against his mouth. “We did this once. It didn’t work and…I can’t do heartache again.”
Resting his forehead against hers, Eli closed his eyes and nodded. She was right. How could he be so selfish and try to take something she was probably willing to give, all the while knowing he’d walk away?
Hadn’t her husband done the same thing? Sleep with her and then leave, whether for deployment or another woman’s bed? Not that Eli would ever cheat on her.
Either way, Eli was no better because he was looking at the here and now instead of the future. A future for him and Nora simply didn’t exist.
As he eased back, he pulled her robe closed and tied it back above her belly. Once he met her eyes, his heart clenched.
Sadness, regret, passion—they all stared back at him.
“This is hard for me,” he admitted. “Being back here with you, discovering the woman you’ve become, makes me want more. This is so much different than before.”
He cursed under his breath and scolded himself for opening up too much. Letting that vulnerability seep out was a sure way to end up hurt.
Nora reached up, stroking his face with her delicate hand. “We each made choices of where we wanted to be, Eli.”
“I hated being torn in two. When I left here…”
He shook his head, knowing he couldn’t bare his heart too much more or he’d make an utter fool of himself.
“I’m selfish,” he told her, cupping her hand beneath his. “But I can’t think around you.”
“I know,” she whispered. “I feel it, too. I wish I didn’t, but I do. This is a complication neither of us need right now.”
He touched his lips slightly to hers once more because his willpower was pretty much nil around her. “I promise to be on my best behavior from now on.”
Nora looked up at him and smiled, nearly melting him on the spot. “I’ve seen your best behavior, Eli. You’ll have to try harder.”
Smoothing her damp tendrils from her forehead, Eli kissed her there. “For you, anything.”