He was nervous for Nora, nervous for a healthy baby to come into this world. Damn it, he’d even bought the baby a Christmas present even though she wouldn’t be here in time for Christmas. He couldn’t stop himself when he’d seen the little purple stuffed elephant in the grocery store the other day. One minute he’d been getting milk and bread and the next he found himself in the baby aisle looking over everything from wipes to puff snacks. Then a small section of plush toys had caught his eye and the purple elephant had ended up in his cart.
He was a total goner and he hadn’t even met the baby yet.
With her eyes locked on to his, Nora eased up the hem of her sweatshirt and placed his hand against her warm abdomen. The slight movement had him spreading his fingers, wanting to feel more, wanting to hold this moment forever.
Resting her hand over his, Nora’s smile spread across her face, her eyes lit up. “I never get tired of feeling her move.”
Guilt slid through Eli as he slid his hand away and came to his feet. Damn it. He couldn’t get more entangled. He already wanted too much.
“Something wrong?” she asked, her eyes meeting his as she tugged her shirt down. “I just assumed you didn’t mind, but I know some guys are grossed out by pregnant women.”
“Those guys are idiots,” he told her, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. “I love feeling your baby, Nora. I just… Damn it, Todd should be here. He should be the one experiencing this. I feel like I’m invading his space.”
Nora shoved her hair back away from her face, untangled herself from the sheet and eased back against the headboard. “You’re not invading his space, Eli. To be honest, if he were still alive, I don’t even know that we’d be together.”
Shock rippled through him. Surely she didn’t know. Waiting to see how much information she let out would be best. God knew he didn’t want to hurt her any more than she’d already been.
“Why wouldn’t you be?” he asked.
Nora toyed with the stitching on the edge of the old quilt on the bed. “We weren’t like most married couples,” she whispered. “The love…it just wasn’t there. Not the way a husband and wife should love each other. I loved him as a friend and he felt the same with me, though neither of us quite came out and said it that way.”
Eli eased back down on the edge of the bed and laid a hand on her leg. What could he say? She sounded so vulnerable, so torn. Empty words wouldn’t help, wouldn’t repair the broken marriage or bring Todd back.
“When he came home the last time I was determined to fight for our marriage.” Her eyes came up to meet his. “I only planned on marrying once, having one family with one man. I wanted that security, that bond.”
Yeah, he knew all about that stability she’d craved. Never once in her life had she had someone to fully depend on. Everyone had left her—from her parents, to Todd…to him. He was just as guilty.
“So I tried to do everything for him when he came home,” she went on. “I made his favorite meals, seduced him trying to build a romance…but I could feel him slipping away. I blamed the army. I can’t imagine what you guys see, what you all do, when you’re gone. I wanted him to know I was here for him no matter what. But a piece of him was missing and he wasn’t even acting like my friend anymore.”
Eli clenched his fists, hating how broken she sounded. Those unshed tears in her eyes pierced his heart, which was nothing less than what he deserved.
Eli’s anger for his late friend sent rage through him. What the hell kind of coward did that?