Arii and I ended up crashing on the couch, snuggled up next to one another; it was nice when I woke up and felt her head nuzzled against me, heard her soft sigh of happiness. Contentment. I smiled.
I could easily imagine waking up next to this girl for the rest of my life. I thought to the ring box nestled snug in my pocket and pulled Arii closer, one arm wrapped around her waist. My fingers played with the hem of her shirt and she opened those blue eyes at me, her lips gently curving.
“Hello there.” Her voice was husky with sleep.
“Hi.” With that simple word, I kissed her. She smiled against my lips, her hands trailing up around my neck, her fingers twining through my hair. I broke away first, looking up as Mom, showered and dressed in a nice blouse and jeans, headed into the kitchen. I gave Arii one last, lingering look—this would have to wait—and headed into the kitchen. She padded barefoot after me.
“Need some coffee?” Mom asked lightly, filling a couple of cups. I noticed the way her hands shook. I took the coffee pot from her grip, filling the mugs the rest of the way. Then I pulled her into a hug. She resisted for a moment, then melted against me, taking deep breaths.
“I…I’m scared, Kia,” she admitted. “I don’t even know what to say to him.”
“What about ‘hello’?” I asked around a smile. “I’m sure he’s nervous to see you too. It’s been a few years, yeah?” I hugged her again and then eased away, picking up a mug and sipping at my coffee. I took the others to the table and we sat around and chatted until a little after ten.
Shae flounced down, all pep, her hair braided neatly. She grinned and poured herself a cup. “Shotgun!” she announced with a wicked smile when we piled into Mom’s beater Ford. The ride seemed to drag on forever, though it was only a few miles, and I noted the way Mom’s fingers jumped against the steering wheel.
When we parked, Arii looped an arm in Shae’s. “She’s coming with me to visit Aliel.” Shae blushed a little and grinned it off, waving to us as Arii tugged her down the hall.
I reached for Mom’s hand. “You ready?”
“No,” she said, nibbling on her bottom lip. I took her hand anyway and we signed in and made our way to room 510. I squeezed her fingers in mine once in reassurance, then pushed against the door.
Kitane laid in bed, reading a tattered Nora Roberts paperback, his eyes skimming up to greet us as we walked in. He grinned at me. “Well hey, Kia—” he started, and then his gaze locked with Mom’s and his lips broke into a wary smile.
“Tasha,” he breathed out, struggling to better sit up. Mom’s hand dropped away from mine as she moved forwards, staring down at him in surprise. “You’re still as beautiful as ever.”
“Ever the flatterer.” Mom chuckled, nervous. “Mind if I…” She motioned to a chair.
“I’d love it.” When she sat, he reached out for her hand. She gripped his, tears brimming in her eyes as he kissed her knuckles. “There hasn’t been a day when I didn’t think of you. It’s been so long, love,” he whispered. “I know you must hate me. I hate me sometimes for leaving you like that, without warning, but I couldn’t tell you the truth.”
“Kia told me…everything. That you were kidnapped and…abused.” She winced and dropped her gaze. “Can I see?”
Kitane slowly nodded and I helped him pull up the sheets to reveal his amputated leg. Mom sucked in a breath and again her eyes watered. “That’s horrible.”
“I’m alive, Tasha. That’s the important thing. I prayed, so hard, that I would be alive long enough to see my son. And I did. Our son saved my life. And I’m sorry—I’m so sorry for leaving you all those years ago. You were my world. And Shae… How old is she now? Fifteen?”
“Fifteen going on twenty.” Mom grinned through her tears. She gripped both of his hands in hers. “So…what now? Are you going back, too? To your other world?”
Kitane frowned. “No. Perhaps that’s foolish of me. They’re my people, my family but…my time is over there. Maybe it’s the bad memories, but I think I’d rather live a happy life with a prosthetic leg and a loving wife than go back there.”
At his words, Mom froze and Kitane slowly smiled. “If I could get down on my knees right now, Tash, you know I would. I want to try again. If you’ll have me. I want to be a doting husband. I want to make you—us—happy together. I swear to God I’ll never leave you alone again.”