Looking her over, I could see the signs of fatigue and felt guilty for not noticing earlier. She was pregnant and needed rest for two people. I saw my window of opportunity and grabbed it.
“Goodnight, everyone. Time for us to be off. My woman is begging me to take her to bed.” Brynne gasped and thumped me in the arm. “And seeing as I’m a semi-intelligent bloke, I think it’s best if I let her have her way just now.” I rubbed my arm where she’d busted me and spoke with exaggerated emphasis to the group: “Pregnant women—insatiable all the time.”
I grunted when she kicked me in the foot, but the laughs I’d gotten were worth it.
“You are so dead, Blackstone,” she told me on the way out to the car.
“Hey, now, it got us out of there, didn’t it?” I snaked my arm around her and leaned down to steal a kiss. “And everything I said about you was true.”
She turned her lips away to avoid my lips and laughed. “You’re an idiot and you won’t be so smug in about five months.”
“What happens in five months?” I asked, confused.
“The insatiable pregnant female thing?” She cocked her head and shook slowly from side to side. “That goes away. Completely.” She made a cutting motion with her hands. “Think no sex. At all. For months.”
Well now, that’s a very unpleasant thought . . . “Wait. Are you joking? You are, aren’t you?”
“You should see your face right now!” She laughed some more at me, giddy at having had the last word. Yeah, my girl was competitive and she didn’t go down without a fight.
“That bad, huh?” Praying she was indeed winding me up about the dry spell because that would truly be torture.
“Yep,” she said, snaking her hand back around to grab my arse. “And you totally deserved it, even though I love you, Blackstone.”
And what a lucky, lucky bastard am I. “You were baiting me with the five-more-months thing, right?”
She laughed again, looking very smug and sexy as hell, but she never answered my question.
“No, you cocksucker! I said no video! No f**king video!”
Ethan woke me with his shouting. He was dreaming again. No—definitely make that nightmaring.
The stuff he shouted really scared me. He’d said the same sort of thing before on other occasions. The words “no video” over and over in a begging voice. It frightened me because he was so out of himself when he had these nightmares. He became like another person—a complete stranger.
I knew his nightmares were related to something from his time in the war when the Afghans held him prisoner. He would never talk about it with me, though. It was something terribly horrible. That much was clearly evident.
“Ethan, you need to wake up.” I shook him as gently as I could but he was moving erratically all over the place, in another world and very unreachable.
“He’s gone . . . awww Christ! A baby! Just a little f**king baby, you medieval f**ks!”
“Ethan?” I shook him again, rubbing harder up his arm and to his neck.
“No! You can’t do this . . . No . . . no . . . no . . . please no . . . don’t—don’t—they can’t see me die in a video—”
“Ethan!” I smacked him a little on the jaw, hoping the sting would bring him out of his nightmare.
His eyes flew open, wild and terrified, and he lunged up in the bed. He hung there bent over, heaving in great breaths of air, his head at his knees. I laid my hand on his back. He flinched from my touch but I left my palm there. His breathing grew more ragged and he didn’t say anything to me. I didn’t know what to say to him.
“Talk to me,” I whispered to his back.
He left the bed and started dressing—throwing on some sweatpants and a shirt.
“What are you doing?”
“I have to go outside now,” he said weakly.
“Outside? But it’s cold out there. Ethan, stay here with me and talk about this. You have to talk to me!” I begged him.
He acted like he didn’t even hear me, but I think he did because he came over to where I was sitting up in the bed and touched my head. Very gently and for just a moment, but I felt him shaking. His hand was shaking violently, and he looked so lost. I reached my hand up to take ahold of his but he pulled it away out of my reach. Then he walked out of the bedroom.
“Ethan!” I called after him. “Where are you going? Come back here and talk to me!”
I got silence.
I laid there for a moment and tried to decide what to do. Part of me wanted to confront him and force him to share with me, but another part of me was scared to death of doing that. What if I caused him more pain and suffering, or made things worse for him? Ethan needed some professional help to deal with this. If he’d been captured and tortured while in the army, then he was most likely suffering from a full-blown post-traumatic stress situation. I should know about that.
I made my decision and dressed myself in some leggings and a sweater to go and find him. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see where he was. He’d told me the truth. He was outside. Smoking his clove cigarettes.
I stood behind the glass and watched him for a moment. Stretched out in the lounger, his bare feet hanging off the end because he was so tall, the curl of smoke twisting and floating above him, the bright city lights in the foreground creating a glow around his body.
The smoking didn’t bother me, really; it never had. I loved the way his brand smelled and Ethan rarely tasted like cigarettes. He was a fanatic brusher and always tasted minty and good to me, but the spicy scent would cling to him and I could tell when he’d been having a clove. His brand of cigarette wasn’t typical, though—Djarum Black. Clove-spiced tobacco, imported from Indonesia.I still didn’t know even why he smoked cloves. Ethan wouldn’t talk about his smoking much—or his dark place with me.
My Ethan was certainly in his dark place right now, and it utterly broke my heart to see him this way. I slid the door open and stepped outside.
He didn’t acknowledge me until I sat beside him on the other lounger.
“Go back to bed, Brynne.”
“But I want to be with you.”
“No. Go back in the house. The smoke isn’t good for you or the baby.” His voice was eerily detached and scared the shit out of me.
“It’s not good for you either,” I said firmly. “If you won’t let me be here with you, then put out the cigarette and come back inside and talk to me. We need to talk about this, Ethan.”