A miracle to mend a marriage
Jack Campbell slipped into the hospital room and closed the door. Muted sounds of the emergency department filtered through to him, the jingle of an instrument trolley, the squeak of a rubber-soled shoe.
The pungent smell of antiseptic. A decades-old aversion leaped across the years to roll nausea through his stomach. For a split second, he was thirteen years old again - wretched, angry, useless listening to nurses discuss the rapidly failing infant that had just come in. His sister, his family.
He blew out a breath, made a conscious effort to push down the unwelcome, unhelpful recollection.
He was here to see Liz.
Dr Elizabeth Campbell... his wife... He clenched his jaw. Soon to be ex-wife if she had anything to do with it.
She lay on a gurney, her back towards him. A grey blanket skimmed the curves of her shoulder and hip. Dark curls tumbled across a small flat pillow. His fingers curled involuntarily with the memory of the silky strands slipping across his skin. They had a lot of talking, a lot of healing to do before he could look forward to that intimacy.
A louder clatter outside the door. So used to the background noise of the hospital, Liz still didn't wake, didn't even stir. She always slept serenely, such a contrast to the snapping vitality she radiated when she was awake. The duty nurse said Liz had been up for most of the night treating the victims of a nasty car accident.
He suddenly realised the nurse's welcome had been much warmer than he deserved. Hadn't Liz told her colleagues that her marriage their marriage was on shaky ground? His spirits lifted briefly. Then plunged as he wondered if the state of their relationship was simply an insignificant detail to her, not worth mentioning.
He leaned back against the door and ran a tired hand over his face. Whiskers scraped his palm, reminding him that he should have showered and shaved at the airport after the long flight from the States. Instead, he'd hired a car and driven more hours to be here.
To see the woman who slept so soundly just a few steps away.
So why was he delaying the moment of confrontation?
Dread spasmed in his gut. Because he didn't know how she was going to handle his return. Now that he was here, his five months away with minimal communication felt unreasonable even given their mutual separation. Stilted phone calls, always with the unspoken knowledge that once their marriage was dissolved, they had no claim on each other. How would she take the decisions he'd made without consulting her? Accepting the position of captain in Dustin's Fire Brigade.
Not giving her the easy divorce he'd promised before he'd left.
Somewhere in the last few months of battling fires in California, he'd realised how important Liz was to him. What a fool he'd been to think it would be easy to move on.
He'd even come to the conclusion he could handle discussing parenthood. He tried to imagine Liz heavy with pregnancy and failed. Tried to picture himself holding a baby and an icy chill speared out of his heart. He swallowed hard. All he had to do was overcome that instinctive rejection. That was all.
He wanted to fight for his marriage, to tackle their problems. And when they were done, if she still wanted him out of her life, then he'd go.
He touched the pocket that held two open airline tickets to New Zealand. Tickets to the place they'd begun their marriage. Tickets to paradise. An inspiration... or a crazy idea born of desperation.
Squaring his shoulders, he pushed away from the door. Long strides took him to the gurney.
He reached out to touch Liz, his hand hovering over her shoulder before slowly dropping to his side. His eyes lingered on her profile, the curve of her cheek, eyelashes curled in smudgy purple shadows that spoke of tiredness. She took on so much responsibility, worked too hard. But there was no telling her to slow down. A bittersweet longing pierced his heart to see her looking so young and vulnerable.
On impulse, he leaned down and pressed his lips to her cheek just in front of her ear. Her skin was warm and soft. She sighed. He inhaled the heady fragrance of the woman he loved, intended to love for the rest of his life. If he could find a way to turn things around, if he could find a way to overcome his fear. He had to believe it was possible. She rolled slightly, reaching up to hook a hand around his neck. Her fingers threaded through his hair, tugging his head closer as she offered him her mouth.
He wrestled with his conscience. Her invitation was hard to resist. But she still seemed half-asleep, which was unusual since she was used to waking instantly. "Liz?"
"Jack," she murmured, her hand stroking across the nape of his neck.
His heart swelled. She knew who he was. He stopped questioning, touched his mouth to hers, sinking into the welcome taste and texture. He was home.
Lips moved on hers. The wonderful, clever, knowing lips of her husband, her lover. At once familiar and unbelievably exciting, flooding her body with sensual need. Kissing her, nibbling and rubbing sensitive nerve endings to life. The familiar feel, a haven conjured up by a dream.
She parted her lips in invitation, wanting more and after a moment the light kiss became more demanding, firm and masterful. The taste of him, the feel of him, so infinitely beloved. Something she never wanted to lose. The thought brought a lump of emotion to her throat. Hot tears pushed at her eyelids before seeping out to trickle down her temple into her ears.
The lips drifted away to work their magic along her jaw.
Arching slightly, she gave him access to her throat and the delicious caress was instantly there to please her. Bliss. She ached for his touch everywhere.
Stubble rasped across her chin as he moved back to her mouth, a mixture of pleasure and discomfort. Why couldn't she have dreamed him up after he'd shaved? She tried to push the fretful thought away, not wanting to spoil the precious moment.
"Liz," groaned her dream lover. Her eyes flew open as the word smashed away the last vestiges of sleep.
"What the-? Jack!" The rhythm of her heart bounded, painful and erratic with panic. She sat up abruptly, her head connecting with something hard.
"Hell, Liz!" The muffled protest behind her registered as she swung her feet to the ground and stood up. She put a hand on the gurney's metal frame and gulped down the slide of queasiness crawling up her throat.
Steadier, she took a deep breath and folded her arms protectively across her body. She turned slowly to stare at the man on the other side of the narrow mattress.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" She'd meant the words to come out strong, determined. Outraged. Instead, she sounded almost husky, breathless.
Jack's hand stopped moving his lower jaw and fell to his side. The room seemed to lurch again as he gave her a lop-sided smile.
"Kissing my wife?" The sexy voice stroked along her auditory nerves. So much more potent when he was in the room with her than on the other end of a phone line.
She scowled as his answer drew her attention to his mouth. The gorgeous shape with its full bottom lip still tilted up at one corner. In her semi-conscious state, her lips had recognised him, welcomed his much-loved caress, responded to him. And if she was honest, she'd known on some level that her dream was too good, too real. But in the ultimate self-betrayal, she'd resisted the push to full awareness.
"I'm not your wife" Her lips felt swollen, tremulous. Her traitorous body still hummed with the need his kiss had created.
"Yeah, you are"
Muscles tightened around her chest. She wasn't prepared for this scene. "Technically, yes. In reality, no"
"Technically is what we've got, babe" He watched her through narrowed eyes as though trying to gauge the emotion underlying her negative response. "And what we have to talk about"