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"Oh, if Frank should get in touch, should I give him your regards?" Father Gruning inquired distantly.
Ben managed a wicked, mocking grin. "Do that, Father. Tell him Ben O'Hanlon wishes him well. Come on, Rachel."
He didn't say a word as they made their way back out of the terminal, only relinquishing his hold on her hand when he started the car. He dropped the small package in her lap, put the car in gear, and started driving.
He didn't stop until they reached the secluded beach where he had first taught her how to snorkel. He put the elderly Land Rover in Park, leaned back against the seat, and draped his hands across the steering wheel. His tough, graceful body still radiated tension, and she sat there, unmoving, not knowing what to say, what to do to break the silence.
And then he let out a deep sigh, and with it the anger and tension seemed to drain from his body. He turned then, a warm, free smile reaching his hazel eyes. "I love you too," he said simply. And she went into his arms, as sweetly and trustingly as a child. Or a woman in love.
They held each other for a long, healing eternity, and the relief and love flowed between them like the tide. She wanted to move even closer to him, and she shifted, pressing against his enveloping warmth, when the small package on her lap slipped to the floor. Slowly, reluctantly he released her, nodding toward the small package. "Aren't you going to open that?"
She stared at it, curious and a little afraid. She didn't want to bring Emmett back between them, but the soothing hand on the back of her neck reassured her. "Go ahead, Rachel. It's okay. It'll be another butterfly, won't it?"
Her fingers were clumsy with the ribbon, ripping the paper nervously. "It should be. For fifteen years he's sent them to me." She dropped the top of the box onto the seat beside her, staring in wonder inside the box. "Oh, Ben," she whispered.
He looked down. Nestled in the box were two crystal butterflies, dancing together in a perfect flight of love. Trust Emmett, he thought wryly. Reaching out, he put his arm around Rachel's shoulders, drawing her against him.
She came happily, resting her head against his chest, the butterflies still clasped loosely in her hand. "I guess Emmett approves," he said softly.
She looked at them for a moment longer, a smile lighting her face. "I guess he does." And then she closed the box, putting them away, turning a look of such love and joy on him that it took his breath away. "Let's go home, Ben."
"Yes," he said. "Let's go home."
It was Rachel Chandler O'Hanlon's twenty-ninth birthday, a cold day in April. The dirt on the winding gravel drive scrunched beneath her heavy boots as she climbed back up to the house from the mailbox, and the wind bit through the heavy woolen sweater she'd filched from her husband that morning. The small package was there, regular as clockwork, postmarked El Salvador.
"Did it come?" Ben poked his head around the corner of their rambling, always-under-construction house. He was in the midst of adding a mysterious wing of rooms off their bedroom and, as always, refused hired help, making do with the intermittent visits of newspaper friends. He looked tough and lean and fit in his faded jeans and flannel shirt, and she smiled brilliantly at him.
"Of course. Direct from El Salvador."
He moved forward onto the deck, untying the nail apron and dropping it on the railing. "I really wondered whether we'd ever hear from him. For months I've been expecting a letter, a message, something. But not a word, even when Emmett Chandler was declared legally dead and the inheritance split among your family."
"I wasn't surprised," Rachel said serenely. "He isn't Emmett any more, he's Father Frank. There'd be no reason to get in touch with us. Besides, he probably thinks you still might turn him in."
"Don't tempt me," he growled. "Open it up." He slid an arm around her in spite of his gruff tone, watching with interest as she tore off the heavy wrappings.
"Oh-oh," she murmured, looking into the box.
Ben grinned. "A baby crystal butterfly to match the two larger ones. Do you suppose he's trying to tell us something?"
"Well, he is a priest, you know. It's his duty to encourage people to procreate," she replied, keeping her eyes averted. It was something she had wanted so very much, she'd been afraid to bring it up, and now Emmett, with his usual lack of timing, had done it for her. She could only hope the ensuing discussion wasn't going to ruin her birthday.
"That reminds me," Ben whispered in her ear, that slow, sexy drawl, demoralizing as always. "Would you like your birthday present?"
She smiled up at him. "What is it? A table saw?"
"I thought you liked the belt sander I gave you for Christmas?" he protested.
"I did, I did. Even if you use it more than I do. But twenty-nine is getting perilously close to thirty, and I'm feeling a little ancient this morning. I hope you have something to make me feel more youthful."
"I have just the thing. We're going back to the cottage on Kauai for two weeks." His hand was kneading the small of her back in that way of his that never failed to make her knees weak.
"Ben!" she turned an overjoyed face to him. "When can we go?"
"I thought next week. The book's coming out on the fifteenth, and I wanted to make myself scarce when it did. A lot of people are going to be pretty unhappy with the way I portrayed the American government in the sixties. And they're not going to be much happier with the radicals. I thought it would be a perfect time to go back to the cottage—there are a lot of things I still want to try there."
His hand had slipped lower, beneath the waistband of her jeans, and she leaned back against him, sighing.
Turning her around, he pulled her into his arms, pressing her hips against his. "Like making love on the beach. We never did, you know."
She made a face. "Sounds uncomfortable. All that sand ground into your skin."
His grin was a savage slash of white in his tanned face. "I'll be on the bottom," he said, biting her lower lip with a sudden, darting move.
"That sounds like an offer I can't refuse," she murmured against his mouth, her arms encircling his waist. "Why the sudden interest in the great outdoors?"
"I want to make babies with you by the ocean," he whispered, and her heart leaped. "Lots and lots of babies." His mouth trailed damp, nibbling kisses along her cheek, ending with her delicate earlobe. His teeth sank in, lightly, and she moaned. "What do you think I've been building?"
"Another bathroom?" she murmured dazedly against his hair.
She felt his slight headshake. "A nursery. That is"—he pulled away, looking down at her with a smug grin—"if you want one."
He knew her far too well. "I want one," she said. "Can we make babies in the ocean, too?"
"We can only try," he murmured wickedly. "And I promise to have the house finished by the time you're three months along."
"Sure you will," she said, knowing of old how long it took him to finish anything. It wasn't that he didn't work hard; he was just easily distracted. With Ben's arm tightly encircling Rachel's waist, they strolled back into the house, heading for one more distraction. Her forehead was wrinkled with concentration, and he paused outside the doorless entrance to their bedroom to look down at her.
"Penny for your thoughts," he queried, cocking his head to one side.
Reaching up on tiptoes, she brushed her mouth against his. "I was just wondering whether we could make babies in the hammock." And she joined him in his shout of laughter before tumbling onto the unmade bed.
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