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Excerpt: Just Once More

Excerpt: Just Once More

Book 7: Escape to New Zealand

Drew Callahan sat bolt upright in the dark, his heart hammering, his body wet with cold sweat.

“Shit.”

It was nothing more than an explosion of breath, but it woke Hannah anyway.

“Drew?” She struggled to heave her body up, and his arm went out reflexively to support her. “Is something wrong?”

“Nah.” He had himself back under control now, his galloping heart finally slowing. He lay back down, pulled her gently along with him. “A bad dream, that’s all. You OK, though? Baby not coming or anything?”

“What?” She still sounded sleepy. “Of course not. I’d have woken you up. Why?”

He shrugged, tried to shove the dream aside. Its dark tendrils still lingered despite his efforts, sticky cobwebs of fear and dread brushing across his mind. “Just a bad dream. Sorry to wake you. I know sleep’s coming hard now.”

“What kind of dream?” She settled herself a little more comfortably on her side, put a hand onto his chest and stroked him there. The touch of her hand, the sound of her voice began to smooth the jagged edges left by the nightmare. His muscles released some of their tension, his body settling into the mattress.

“People who tell their dreams, gah.” He felt nothing but foolish now. “Anything more annoying than that? Never mind. Doesn’t matter.”

“Tell me. Because it scared you. Your heart’s still beating so hard.”

He tried to laugh. “Can’t hide anything from you, I guess. OK. It was … I was in this … tunnel. With you. And somebody was coming. I couldn’t quite hear, but I could tell. Somebody who meant to hurt us, I knew that.”

Because he had known. He’d known it for sure, and it had scared the shit out of him. Not for him. For her.

“I was waiting,” he went on. “Couldn’t stand up­—too low. Too narrow. In this little space, with somebody coming. Crouched down in the pitch black, listening and waiting, seconds going by, holding my breath so I could hear him breathe.”

He stopped, forced himself to relax again, but the tension took hold all the same. “And then I felt him come, just this whisper in the air, and I was grabbing for his hair. Stabbing at his eyes, punching at him in the dark as best I could, trying to bang him into the rocks, and he was fighting back. Fighting so hard. He was so strong, and I was scared …” He swallowed, the fear gaining the upper hand again, tightening his muscles, shortening his breath even as he told himself it was a dream. Only a dream. “Scared that I’d lose. Scared that he’d get through me. That he’d get through me to you.”

“Sounds terrifying,” she said softly. Her hand was still there, stroking over his skin. “I’ll bet you saved me, though.”

“No.” He felt her hand still for a moment in surprise. “I mean, I did, I guess, because he was gone, and I was lying there, beat to hell from having my head bashed against the rock and that. But I’d had my hands around his throat, and I’d either killed him or he was gone, don’t know which. You know, dreams. But then I was still there, in the dark, in the tunnel, and I couldn’t find you. And I knew you were having the baby. Right there. I knew it, and I couldn’t get there. I couldn’t get to you.” His body remembered exactly how it had felt. Because she was right. It had terrified him.

“Which has happened,” she pointed out practically. “Twice now. Though without the tunnel, thank goodness. And I’ve had them all the same. I know you think you’re necessary, and no question, you’re pretty important at the start, aren’t you?”

She was trying to tease him, doing her best to ease his unquiet mind, and he was embarrassed. She should be the one being nervous, and he should be the one doing the comforting, not the other way around.

“But when it gets to that point, you know,” she reminded him, “I pretty much have to do it myself. An anxiety dream, that’s all it was. But it’s all right.”

“Going to be there for this one all the same,” he told her. “Shouldn’t have missed the last one. Should never have gone, not after the first time.”

“No,” she said instantly. “How could we have known it would be that fast?”

Because it had been fast. Too fast. He’d been here, talking to the Bay of Plenty club about the coaching job, and she’d been back in Auckland with their three-year-old. And his mum and dad, thank God.

“It’s only three hours away,” she’d told him when he’d vacillated about going. “It’s not going to happen faster than that, for heaven’s sake. You need to talk to them, I’m not due for more than ten days, and the midwife says nothing looks imminent. Go.”

So he’d gone, and once again, he hadn’t made it back in time, because three hours had been too long after all. He’d broken every speed limit to get to her, and it hadn’t mattered. He hadn’t made it.

“It’s going to be me holding your hand this time,” he told her now. “Not my mum. Me. So don’t be thinking you’re going anywhere without me for the next couple weeks, or that I’m going anywhere without you. No arguments.”

“I’ll be happy to have you there holding my hand, believe me,” she assured him. “I want you there. And meanwhile, I guess we probably shouldn’t go caving for the next couple weeks after all. Better cancel that blackwater rafting booking, you think? Shoot. I was really looking forward to that.” She still had her hand on him, and she was smiling, he could tell.

He laughed. Reluctantly, but he laughed all the same. “Stupid, I know it. It’s just …” He said it, in the dark. “My biggest fear, isn’t it. That I won’t be able to take care of you. You and the kids.”

“And you might not be able to, someday, somehow,” she said, no laughter in her voice anymore. “You’re not always here, even now. But I manage all the same. And I would manage. To take care of myself, and the kids too, no matter what. Don’t worry, Drew. It’s all right.”

“I know,” he said. “I know. It’s just …” He rested a hand on the taut roundness of her belly. “Too close, I reckon. I’m always nervous when you’re this close. It matters too much. And besides, I’m used to being able to do things, to take care of things, and when you’re having the baby, I can’t. So hard to know you’re hurting, and not be able to help.”

“Somebody said that. That when you have a child, you give a hostage to the world. When you love somebody that much.”

“A hostage. Yeh.” He felt his son kick under his hand, held safe there under his wife’s heart, and knew how true it was. “You, and the kids.”

“True for me too, you know,” she said. He’d turned onto his side to face her, and he could see her now that his eyes had adjusted to the darkness. The gleam of her pale hair, her eyes on him, her face so gentle. “True for both of us. Love is a risk. But you’re worth it, Drew. Always.”

He did his best to speak around the lump in his throat. “Yeh. So are you.”

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