“Who is that woman?” Mark asked in shock, peering through the blinds of the sheriff’s office the next morning. Emerson had tried to tell him to take the week to get settled in, but Mark was ready to work. He’d spent the morning filling out forms, but as far as he was concerned, he was on duty. And the woman walking down the street looked like she was in trouble. The temperature outside was dropping and the rain was starting to freeze on everything. The woman was covered in a big coat, a hat pulled down over her ears and was wearing mittens, so she was physically protected from the elements, but…
Emerson glanced at the clock. “It’s ten o’clock. So, that’s probably Skye Thomas. She walks…”
Mark swung around at the mention of that name. “Who?” he demanded urgently.
He was talking to air. Mark was already out of the room, the door to his office bouncing off the wall behind him.
Emerson walked over to the window and, sure enough, a moment later, he saw Mark jogging across the street at an intercept angle towards the pretty woman. Emerson’s mind blanked for a moment, but then a memory came to him. Months ago, right before Emerson had left New York to take this job, he and Mark had discussed a woman that had caught Mark’s attention. His friend hadn’t ever mentioned the woman’s name, but through the grapevine, he’d heard that she’d left New York City for parts unknown. What were the odds that the woman who had showed up in LowPoint months ago and discovered she was pregnant was none other than the woman who had left Mark?
Pretty good, Emerson thought as he watched Mark approach Skye. Damn, his friend was heading for a massive surprise once he realized that Skye was pregnant. With twins!
Skye walked carefully back towards her apartment, not willing to risk falling just to get her three miles of exercise in today. It was early November and rainy, but the temperature had dropped unexpectedly and the rain was turning to ice on the sidewalks. Not good when her balance was already off with these little ones growing in her tummy.
“Hey there!” Skye called out, resting her hand on her swollen belly as she gripped the back of the park bench with her other hand.
“Woman! Why are you out here alone?”
Skye laughed. “Exercise. I need to walk every day. You know that. With twins, I’m at a higher risk of gestational diabetes.”
As if she hadn’t noticed! “I know. That’s why I was heading back home.”
“Let me walk with you,” Jane suggested, glancing to the right and left to make sure a car wasn’t coming before stepping out to cross the street.
“I’ll take care of her,” a deep voice announced from behind them.
Skye froze. She gripped the bench more tightly as she turned around. It wasn’t him, she thought firmly, trying to rein back her imagination. It couldn’t be Mark! Not after all these months, after searching numerous databases trying to find him. The possibility that he was here, in LowPoint, was too crazy.
“Sheriff!” Jane sighed. “Thank goodness. Skye thought it would be a good idea to go for a walk.”
Mark walked around to the front of the ladies. He’d only heard part of their conversation, but he still wasn’t sure that this was “his” Skye. She looked twice as big as the woman he’d been trying to find over the past several months. And she had a thick, wool cap pulled down low over her ears. But as soon as he stood in front of them, he recognized her.
“Skye,” he murmured, his heart pounding as he looked down at her. She was all bundled up but her cheeks were rosy. She looked…oddly beautiful. More beautiful than he remembered, and he wanted to pull her into his arms and tell her he loved her, that he could fix whatever had gone wrong. Yet, he also wanted to yell at her for leaving him without an explanation, furious with her for not giving them a chance. Both reactions warred within him and he wasn’t sure which would win.
Apparently, Skye was having just as much trouble as he was. They stared at each other for a long moment, the cold rain ignored as the rush of…whatever…hit both of them. He wanted to pull her into his arms. He wanted to shake her and yell at her! He wanted to lift her up and carry her some place warm to protect her.
“Mark. What are you doing here?” she finally gasped, coming to her senses.
Jane looked between the two of them. “You two know each other?” she asked, pulling her coat closer as she blinked, the rain hitting her face with icy shards. Something must have hit her, the pieces of the puzzle falling into place, because her mouth fell open. “Skye, is this…?”
“Yeah,” Skye answered quickly to her friend before Jane could reveal anything. She’d confided in both Jane and Julia about her past with Mark. They knew how she felt. Well, mostly. And they’d been the shoulder she’d cried on whenever she’d become overwhelmed with the future. The reality of having a baby was frightening. Add in a future with twins and…well, Skye had lost it a couple of times over the past few months.
“So…you’re okay?” Jane asked, her eyes moving between Mark and Skye nervously.
Jane turned to look at Skye, waiting for confirmation. “Skye? You okay?”
Skye touched Jane’s arm, reassuring her that she’d be okay. “Yeah. I’m heading home now. I’ll be fine.”
Jane accepted her friend’s word, but she turned to glare at the big guy. “You be nice! She doesn’t need any additional stress right now, understand?”
Mark looked at the pretty blonde woman with curls dancing around her jawline. She was cute and protective. And he didn’t want to mess with her, especially since he’d just connected her to the huge basket of baked goods he’d already devoured. “I’ll be on my best behavior,” he promised the blonde woman solemnly.
It took another reassuring glance from Skye before the pretty baker headed back to her store. He then turned to face Skye. “We need to talk,” he said, still not sure if he was happy or furious. She looked scared and every protective instinct inside of him wanted to wrap his arms around her and tell her that it would be okay. But she’d left him. She’d made love to him one night, and by the time he’d woken up the following morning, she’d been gone. Packed and out of the city, never to contact him again.
“Let’s go,” he said and turned. “Which way to your place?”
She pointed to the right. “I need help though.”
He looked down at her. She was still gripping the bench and her fingers were turning white. “What do you need?”
He hesitated, but those damn protective instincts kicked in. “Here,” he said and took her hand.
She shook her head. “Sorry. I need more than that. I’m off-balance and a hand isn’t going to do it.”
Mark had no idea what she was talking about, but he offered his arm. “What’s going on, Skye?”
He didn’t answer, but silently gave in to her request. She turned up the sidewalk of a beautiful, old Victorian, obviously restored, but it looked like apartments instead of the bread and breakfast he’d seen on one of his drives through the town, getting to know the streets of the area he was going to protect.
She seemed to waddle up the stairs, using him as leverage to step up each stair and he couldn’t figure out why. She’d always been hearty and healthy, eager to walk everywhere in New York, even when he’d tried to convince her to catch a cab.
Inside her apartment, he looked around. It was small, but cozy and neat. Just one bedroom. He could see a soft quilt covered the full sized bed. There were a few dishes rinsed off in the sink and a large bowl of fruit on the countertop.
He watched with hungry eyes as she unbuttoned her coat. She’d put on weight, but he didn’t care. He wanted to care. He wanted to feel nothing for her, but the reality was, he still wanted her. Ironic that he’d finally made a move to get over Skye, only to find her in the town he’d moved to.
That’s when she turned to hang her coat up on a hook. And he saw her. Truly saw her. She hadn’t put on weight. She’d….
“Skye, what the hell…?” he growled, staring in shock at her stomach.
She put a hand to her belly where the long cardigan parted. Sighing, she waddled over to the couch and lowered herself down. “Obviously, I’m pregnant,” she began.
There was a long moment while she breathed slowly. Finally, she said, “I tried to reach you. To tell you about the babies.”
His mind was still in shock mode. “You mean, after you left without a word?”
She looked up at him and her eyes were sad. “I left you a note, Mark. I explained.”
Her eyes flashed with anger at his comment. “I tried to find you! I called three different stations and was laughed at when I asked if there was a bull-headed, oversexed cop with too many muscles and no brains called Mark.” She huffed a bit and forced herself to relax, but the anger, the resentment, was still there. “Do you want to know how many Marks there are? And apparently, a lot of them are obnoxious!” She visibly tried to calm down, taking deep breaths and blowing it out through pursed lips. “The only thing I really knew about you was how creative you were in bed.”
“That’s not really the issue we need to discuss, Mark,” she pointed out, rubbing her stomach as if she was in pain and trying to soothe herself.
She had a point, but he was too angry and stunned to accept that. “You should have tried harder! You knew my name and badge number.” He turned around, running his fingers through his hair with frustration. Taking deep breaths, he turned back to face her. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be yelling at you but…”
“No Mark. I didn’t know your last name! And your badge number? I barely ever saw you in uniform and when I did, your shirt was dumped onto the floor pretty quickly. And in those five seconds before your shirt fell to the floor, you were kissing me. So there wasn’t really any point in time when I could have stopped to examine your badge and last name.”
Images flashed through his mind and he silently conceded that she had a point. Too often, she’d open the door with a smile of greeting and that was all it took for him to be pulling her into his arms, kissing her. “I object to the oversexed comment though.”
His eyes moved lower and Mark didn’t say another word. Hard to argue about being oversexed when the evidence was right there.
Skye nodded, rubbing her belly more. “I’m sorry, Mark. I didn’t know your last name. And yes. I probably should have tried harder to find you. But seriously, the police force protects you guys. They’re not going to accept the word of a random caller saying that she needs to talk to ‘Mark on the SWAT Team’. Apparently, there are a lot of prank callers out there who are trying to hurt you guys.”
He conceded her point again. “Why didn’t you ask Emerson to help find me?”
She stared up at him strangely. “How could he have helped me find you? He’s the sheriff.”
Mark laughed, but it wasn’t a humorous sound. Shaking his head, he rubbed a hand over his face, the irony in this situation pretty shocking. “Skye, he and I were both on SWAT in New York. He was my boss for years. He could have given you my contact information at any point. How do you think I ended up here?”
Skye looked up at Mark, stunned by this latest revelation. “He was your boss?” she asked softly. When he nodded, her shoulders slumped. “Oh. I didn’t know that,” she admitted. “I’ve only been in town for about six months and…to be honest, Sheriff Jansing scares the bejeezus out of me.” She sighed, rubbing her belly again. “His wife is a good friend, but I don’t really ever talk to the man.”
Mark stared at her and she wanted to shift under his steady gaze, but it was too hard to move now. “What are you doing here now?”
Her mouth fell open. “Here? In LowPoint?”
“Yep.” He smiled grimly. “How’s that for irony? You tried to get away from me and we end up in the same small town.”
She shook her head. “I didn’t try to get away from you, Mark. Not you personally.”
Dark eyebrows went up fast with that statement. “Really? Sure feels like that’s what happened.”
She bit her lip, fighting back the tears. Skye reminded herself that she wasn’t in love with Mark. “I couldn’t handle your job, Mark. I wasn’t running from you personally. You…you were different. You weren’t your job. I fell…got to know you as a person. But that night…when I heard that a member of the SWAT team had been killed, that scared me. It was really the first time that I’d remembered that you were a police officer.” She sighed, her fingers curling at the memory of that fear. “I was running from the fear of your job.”
“What the hell were you afraid of?” he demanded. “And stop doing that!”
She looked up at him, startled. “Doing what?”
He gestured at her huge belly. “Rubbing your belly. It makes me feel guilty.”
“That I wasn’t here for you. That you’ve gone through all of this alone.”
She noticed that he didn’t doubt that he was the father and that warmed her heart. “I haven’t been alone. You’ll start to understand this, but here in LowPoint, everyone helps everyone. There really aren’t any strangers here.”
“I’m the father of that child, Skye and…” He stopped, staring at her for another long moment. “What the hell?!” he whispered. “You keep saying babies.” He got down on his knees beside her. “Are you…” His hand hovered over her belly, almost as if he were afraid to touch her. “Skye?” he choked out.
He continued to stare and Skye knew exactly what he was going through. She took his hand and pressed it against her tummy.
He didn’t move for a long moment, just letting his fingers slid gently over her huge stomach. But then one of the babies kicked. “What the…?!” he asked, jerking his hand away.
He didn’t speak for a long moment, just stared at her belly. “Yeah. Weird.”
Carefully, she took his hand and led it back to her belly, pressing his fingers against the area where one of her babies was kicking. He jerked again, but she kept his hand there.
“Does it hurt?” he asked.
He stood up and stepped away, staring at her pregnant belly. Then turned away. Then turned back and stared some more.
Finally, he sighed and sat down in the rocking chair opposite her. “Explain.”
“I need to be drinking water. Lots of water. Which means that…” she stopped and blushed. “Well, you know.”
“Lots of bathroom breaks,” he finished for her.
“Yeah. Something like that.”
He went into the kitchen and opened cabinets until he found the glasses. Pouring her a glass, he carried it back to her, then resumed his seat. “Okay, go.”
She took a long swallow, more to give herself time to think than because she wanted water. When she set the glass down beside her, she found him still waiting, staring intently at her. “Do you do that when interrogating suspects?”
“Don’t try and change the subject, Skye. What happened?”
She rubbed her belly a bit more. “That night. The last night?”
“Yeah. I remember it,” he replied grimly. “I woke up and you were gone. All your stuff gone and just a note saying that you couldn’t do this.” He stood up and paced. “I needed more than that, Skye. What ‘this’ couldn’t you do?”
She swallowed, still able to remember that night. “The fear, Mark. That night, all I heard was that an officer had been shot.”
She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. It could just as easily have been you that had been shot. I couldn’t deal with that kind of fear.”
He turned and stared at her for a long moment, not sure what to say about the possibility of him getting shot. It was true. A fact of life every police officer learned to live with. They never dwelled on it, just went ahead and did their jobs. The instinct to protect was just stronger than the fear of being hurt. “So you just left? Without any conversation?”
Skye knew that he was angry. She was angry with herself. “Yes. I’m sorry. I took the coward’s way out and that wasn’t fair.”
“So what couldn’t you deal with? We were together for months, Skye. My job didn’t change in that time.”
There was silence for a long moment. “And what made it real that night?” he finally asked.
Skye stared up at him, wishing that she could redo that night. She’d talk to him. Explain. “The idea of you being hurt was…I couldn’t handle it, Mark. I couldn’t live with that insecurity. Of never knowing if you will walk through the door for dinner, if I’ll ever see you again. You could walk out in the morning and not come back at night.”
“That could happen to anyone.”
She waved that argument aside. “You know damn well that it’s more likely as a SWAT team member. Don’t even try to lie about that. Or brush aside the dangers you faced every time you put on that uniform.”
“Yeah. There’s an increased threat. But families do it all the time. Every day, my team members leave their houses and their husbands and wives don’t take off.”
“They aren’t me, Mark. I’m just not made that way.”
He was frustrated for a moment, walking back and forth. Then something occurred to him. He turned and looked at her, hands on his hips. “Guess what, Skye?” he said, his eyes bright with the anticipation of what she could only interpret as excitement.
“What?” she replied, wary now.
Mark moved closer, leaning down. “You’re going to learn to live with it.” He watched her eyes widen as their new reality materialized. “Yep. I’m here now.”
“In LowPoint?” she asked, her voice strangled.
“Yep. I’m working with Emerson now. One of his deputies.”
Mark straightened and nodded. “Yep. So start talking, Skye. I want to know what’s going on with…our children.” He sat back down in the rocking chair, leaning forward on his elbows. “When are they due?”
“What does that mean?” he demanded, feeling his stomach cramp with worry.
He was silent for a long moment, obviously thinking through that comment. “I thought a full term pregnancy was forty weeks.”
“It is. But a lot of twins are preterm. If I can make it to thirty-seven weeks, that’s much better and no longer considered pre-term.”
He nodded. “What do you need to be doing to make it that long?” he asked, still reeling from the fact that he was going to be a father. A dad! Damn! He needed to call his parents. He needed to tell them that they were going to be grandparents.
He needed to…he stopped and looked at her. “Skye, I’m not sure…this is all just…”
She took his hand with a gentle smile. “I know. It’s a lot to take in.”