“I’m not either and the timing is horrible, but I think it’s our only good option.” He softly brushed my hair back from my face with a gentle touch. “I’m willing . . . and I think you should at least consider it.” He gave me the eyebrow look. “I’m not enduring another episode like we had tonight at the National.”
I started to protest but he shushed me with another demanding kiss that was so very typical of him. He held me beneath him, pressing me into the soft mattress and stroking into my mouth with a skilled tongue. I let him kiss me and just floated along for a bit, trying my best to process what he’d shared.
“Before you get all feisty and worried, I want you to just think about it for now. We could have a long engagement, but the announcement is what will make people sit up and take notice. We had a tough night and there’s a ton of shit to be sorted, but in the end, we’re together and that won’t be changing.” He kissed me on the forehead. “And you’re moving in with me.”
I just stared at him and took in his words.
“That last part is not a request, Brynne. What went down tonight was utter madness and we cannot be living in two places.”
“God, what am I going to do with you?” I stifled a yawn and realized the pill was making me sleepy. I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue this conversation much longer. The idea flashed through my mind that he might have used that fact to his advantage. Ethan wasn’t good at poker for nothing.
“You’re exhausted, and quite frankly I am too.”
I yawned again and agreed with him. “I am . . . but I still don’t know what to even say about what you’re suggesting,” I told him, speaking into his eyes, which were just inches from mine.
He snuggled me against his body in preparation for sleep and buried his face in my neck. “You’re going to go to sleep right now, and think about it . . . and trust me . . . and move in with me officially.”
“Just like that?” I asked.
“Yeah, just like that.” His lips moved against the back of my neck. “It’s simply the way things have to be.” I felt his stubble graze my skin as he pressed close. “I love you, baby. Now go to sleep.”
Ethan’s strong arms folded around me did feel magnificent, despite the fact that I thought he was out of his ever-loving mind. But knowing that he would do something so drastic for me just to keep me protected, that he loved me that much, made the small smile on my face feel quite f**king fabulous, to quote my soldier-mouthed lover.
I did sleep then, safe in his arms.
Out on patrols we saw all kinds of horrifying shit. Democracy is something most people never really have the opportunity to appreciate. I suppose that’s a lucky thing for much of the world, but still food for thought for those who don’t even know how good they have it. The thing that bothered me the most was the incredible waste of potential. People suppressed and terrorized have very little potential—just the way third-world dictators like them to be.
We’d seen her around begging on the streets of Kabul before, but never with the boy. Servicemen were restricted from interaction with the Afghan women. It was far too dangerous, and not just for the troops, but horny men are the most predictable, stupid creatures on the planet. They’ll go looking for pu**y and find trouble just about every time. It was fair to assume she was a prostitute. Although not common, brothels did exist in Kabul, not that I’d ever be caught dead in one. But some of the men took the risk, morons that they are, thinking with their cocks. I made do with p**n and the occasional secret shag with a “fellow” enlisted when it could be managed on the sly. I had a fair bit of interest and enough offers from women in the army. Discretion was key for any sex on base. Female troops had reason to be wary when they were so vastly outnumbered by men.
The woman’s name was Leyya and she died an inhumane death. The Taliban executed her in the town square for her crimes. The crime of working to feed her child. The bawling boy alerted us of the situation. He was about three years old and sitting in his mother’s blood in the middle of the street. I later wondered if anyone in the town would have ever picked him up, or if they would’ve left him to die right there with his mother’s desecrated body. In the end the point was moot.
It made me insane leaving him there while the possibility of a suicide bomb was ruled out. Took f**king hours. I was the one who set out to go get him off her corpse. I went in quickly and scooped him up. He didn’t want to leave her and clutched at her burka, dragging it away from her face as I lifted him up. Her throat had been slit from ear to ear, her head mostly severed. I dearly hoped he was too young to remember seeing his mother like that.
I got a terrible feeling almost immediately. A coldness swept through me as I ran him out of there. And then his crying stopped abruptly. A whoosh of air passed my ear and then . . . blood. So much blood for such a tiny little body. A moment later all hell broke loose . . .
“Baby, you’re dreaming,” a voice said gently in my ear.
I turned toward the voice, straining hard to find it. The sound soothed like nothing else before. I wanted that voice.
And then again, “Ethan, baby, you’re dreaming.”
I opened my eyes, sucking in a breath as I saw her, and took in her words. “I was?”
“Yeah, just some mumbling and moving around.” She reached a hand up behind my head and held my eyes to hers. “I woke you because I didn’t want you to dream anything terrible.”
“Fuck, I’m sorry. I woke you up?” I still felt disoriented, but I was coming out of it quickly.
“It’s all right. I wanted to wake you up before it got . . . bad.” She sounded sad to me and I could only imagine that she’d try to get me to talk about this dream like she had the last time.
“Sorry,” I repeated, feeling shamed for doing this shit again and disturbing her with it.
“You don’t have to be sorry for having a dream, Ethan,” she said firmly. “But I’d really love it if you told me what it was about.”
“Oh, baby.” I drew her close and smoothed over her head and hair with my hand. I pressed my lips to her forehead and inhaled. Just breathing in her scent helped me immensely, as did the feel of her br**sts against my thudding heart as I held her close to me. She was real, right here, right now. Safe with me.