Chapter 16

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Barlow was awakened by the rustle of covers and Caroline's warm body spooned against his back. Her arm reached around him, and her hand came to rest against his belly. He opened one eye to check the time. The digital alarm clock on his nightstand read 5:14.

He would soon have to get up and go to work. The wind rattled the windows of his apartment. It would be a cold day laying shingles. He was tempted to bask in Caroline's warmth a little longer.

While making the eight-hour drive back from Pennsylvania, Barlow had grown despondent. Seeing Pet should have provided him with some sort of closure. She was married, happy, and had moved on with her life. Isn't that what he had wanted for her? Wasn't that his motive for breaking up with her in the first place?

If so, why did he feel such regret? So empty inside? Why had he driven to The Eight Ball and thrown himself at Caroline, keeping her company until closing and then inviting her back to his place?

He felt guilty taking advantage of her, all the while thinking about Pet, wishing he was with Pet. It wasn't the first time he and Caroline had sex, but under the circumstances, sleeping with her last night had been wrong. Caroline was a sweet, nurturing young lady. She didn't deserve to be used as an object to satisfy his sexual longing.

Barlow carefully untangled himself, trying not to disturb her sleep, and headed for the bathroom. After stumbling through his morning shave and shower ritual, he exited the bathroom and found the bed empty. "Caroline?"

From down the hall, he heard her voice. "I'm in the kitchen."

He slipped into his work clothes and detected the pleasing aroma of bacon frying. Barlow found her at the stove, barefoot, wearing nothing but one of his flannel shirts. He did have feelings for her, it was just that...

She wasn't Pet.

He hugged her from behind. "I wish you wouldn't sacrifice your sleep to make me breakfast."

She giggled. "Is that your way of saying you don't like my cooking?"

"You know that's not true."

"Don't worry. After you leave, I'm going back to bed and sleep until noon." She paused to flip the eggs in the fry pan.

Barlow took a seat at the table.

She set a plate in front of him. Two eggs over easy, toasted wheat bread, and six strips of bacon. His favorite breakfast combo. She poured a glass of orange juice for him and started the coffee.

Guilt dampened his appetite, but he wanted to show his appreciation. He forked eggs into his mouth. "You're too good to me. You spoil me."

"That's the general idea." She sat across the table and watched him eat. "I'm not going to have breakfast yet, because it'll keep me from getting back to sleep." She regarded him. "Barlow, I'm sorry about your dad. Did you get everything squared away while in Pennsylvania?"

He set down his fork. "No. I'm going to have to go back after Thanksgiving to finish up."

Caroline ran her fingers through her long, thick mane of gorgeous hair. "I worry about you. You didn't seem yourself last night. Distant." She took a breath. "I know you served. If it's PTSD from your time deployed with the Marines, that's okay and it won't scare me off, but you should tell me about it so I can understand when you get this way."

Crap. She had noticed he had been distracted. Her words made him feel even more guilty. She was sweet and accommodating. She always tried so hard to please him. "It's not PTSD. I was deployed over there, but my unit was tasked with guarding sensitive military facilities. Other than a few half-hearted attacks by hostiles, I never had to engage in prolonged combat."

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