Second Chances Ch. 04byharemgirl©
Naomi lay huddled in her bed, miserable and alone. She had cried until she had no more tears, and she felt thoroughly spent. Her stomach was clenched in a tight knot. Even after Nathan's death, she had never felt so bereft, so hopeless, so empty.
Heavy rain pounded on the roof of the tiny cabin, and the walls shook with the frequent claps of booming thunder, but Naomi didn't care. The entire structure could have come crashing in around her, and it would have seemed no more disastrous than her current state of affairs.
She loved Aidan. She barely knew him, and she certainly hadn't been seeking him, but in her soul she recognized that he was the only man who could ever make her happy. He had unexpectedly come into her life and replaced all the hollowness and sadness in her heart. He had made her laugh again, more joyfully than she had ever laughed before. And now he was gone.
She heard the door rattle, but she attributed it to the strong gusts of wind. The pounding that followed made her start as she jumped up from the bed. She ran to the door and yelled to be heard over the storm outside.
"Who is it?"
"It's me, Aidan."
Heart pounding, Naomi threw open the bolt and opened the door a crack. Aidan stood with his dripping hair plastered to his head and rivulets of rain running off his sleeves and hands. His brown eyes were unreadable as they searched her widened blue ones intently.
"What are you doing here at this hour?" she gasped. "It must be nearly midnight."
"I couldn't sleep," he muttered. "Can I come in?"
Realizing that she had kept him standing in the freezing rain, she pulled the door wide and motioned him inside. She peered into the darkness outside but didn't see a horse anywhere in sight.
"How did you get here?" she asked, closing the door and bolting it against the wind.
"I walked." Seeing her confusion, he ran a hand through his hair, shaking drops of water onto the floor. "It's only a mile or so from my house to yours."
Her eyes widened further, as she took in his soaked clothes. "You walked a mile in this storm? Are you out of your mind?"
"Yes! No." Aidan searched her eyes again, trying to gauge her mood as he groped for the right words to say. He finally settled on the naked truth. "Yes, I am out of mind. I've been worried sick about you. I couldn't rest until I apologized for the things I said to you. I didn't mean them, and I'm sorry if I hurt you."
Pleasure flooded through Naomi as she stood staring at him. Even in his current condition, soaked and muddy, she had never seen anything so beautiful as the sight of him.
"I'm sorry too," she whispered. "I know you were only trying to be helpful."
"So you forgive me?" he asked.
Naomi flew into his arms and pulled his head down for a kiss. She was only distantly aware of the icy chill from his wet clothes as he clasped her in a fierce embrace and ravished her mouth. The world around them was forgotten, as they struggled to get as close to each other as possible.
They undressed each other with fevered hands, and while Aidan carried her to her bed, Naomi lavished heated, open mouthed kisses along his throat and over his chest. Their lovemaking was wild and impetuous, much like the storm that raged outside the cabin. Their hoarse screams were echoed by the thunder, and the relentless rhythm of their bodies straining and cleaving together was reminiscent of the steady rain pounding on the roof. When the tempest had finally run its course, they collapsed on the soft bed, lulled to sleep by the sound of the thunder retreating over the mountains.
It seemed like only moments later when Naomi awoke, dragged from peaceful slumber by the movement of Aidan rising from the bed. She sat up in bed, brushing her tangled hair back from her face. She frowned in confusion as he donned his sodden clothes, shivering from the cold as he pulled his breeches up over his hips.
"What are you doing? What time is it?" Her voice was husky from sleep.
"I have to get home before my brothers wake up," Aidan answered.
He tucked his shirt into his pants and yanked on his boots before bending over to give her a searching kiss. She threaded her fingers through his hair, clutching his face close to hers to prolong the kiss. When he drew back, he savored the view of her sitting naked in the middle of the bed with the blankets pooled around her waist. Her nipples were hardened from both arousal and cold, and he cupped one lush breast, teasing the tip with his thumb. He smiled when she shivered.
"I'll be back before you know it," Aidan whispered.
Then he was gone, slipping out into the predawn darkness. Naomi listened to his footsteps squishing through the mud until they had faded into the distance before she snuggled back under the covers. She stretched and sighed as she relived the moments of the previous night. Simply by appearing at her door, Aidan had made everything right in her world once again.
Naomi buried her face in his pillow and breathed deeply to enjoy his lingering scent. She definitely loved him. While the depth of feeling she had for him was surely dangerous to her future happiness, she was determined to relish every moment of their time together before she was forced to let him go. With that decision firm in her mind, she fell asleep, dreaming of the hours she had spent in his arms.
Over the next two weeks, Aidan and Naomi settled into a routine. In addition to his duties at home, Aidan spent every spare moment of his time at Naomi's farm, helping her to prepare for the coming winter. He brought her a cow and six chickens, along with sufficient feed to last for several months. She insisted on paying him, although he didn't tell her that he had charged her far below the fair market value for the animals. He taught her how to care for them, how to milk the cow and gather the eggs. He made repairs to her small stable, ensuring it was sound enough to keep the animals warm and dry. He chopped firewood and piled it beneath the overhanging roof. He hunted game and showed her how to smoke the meat and pack it in salt. He strung a rope between the house and the stable to be used in case of a blizzard. He didn't like to think about how he would find his way to her house if such an event occurred.
Each day, he gleaned a few tidbits of information about her past. Careful not to question her too openly, he gradually filled in the details until he had a sketchy idea of why she had come to Oregon entirely on her own. He admired her courage. He was deeply grateful that she had come into his life. He wondered about the feelings she might still be harboring for her dead husband.
Naomi learned quickly, and her keen mind and healthy interest made her an apt pupil. Thanks to Aidan, she had mastered the basics of running a small farm, although she had yet to learn about planting or harvesting. Aidan brought her baskets of fall vegetables and said she would be doing him a favor if she would preserve some of them for him and his brothers. Of course, he insisted that she keep some for herself as payment for her efforts. She knew that his real reasoning was to ensure she had adequate food stores, but she didn't question him. She cheerfully pickled and canned jars and jars of vegetables, and soon, her cupboards were overflowing.
Each evening, Aidan would trek back to his home to perform his nightly chores and have dinner with his brothers. As soon as his brothers were soundly asleep, Aidan would race back to Naomi, to spend the stolen hours of the night in her arms. He would arrive back home just in time to emerge from his bedroom to greet his brothers and share breakfast.
Aidan could have saved himself the trouble of going back and forth. His brothers were not idiots. Brian and Liam noticed their brother's exhaustion, and they shared many grins and winks over his efforts to hide his nighttime ventures. Still, they kept silent about it, allowing him to think he had fooled them. They knew him well enough to understand that his feelings for their new neighbor were serious, and they didn't want to say anything that would later cause her or Aidan any embarrassment about their relationship.
Naomi was content with their arrangement. She hated the time when Aidan wasn't with her, but she enjoyed every moment they were together. She didn't like to think about the time when he would either tire of her or want more from her. She was happy to live in the present, taking each day as a lovely gift.
Aidan grew increasingly dissatisfied. Every time he left Naomi, the chore became more difficult. He wanted to claim her openly as his wife and wake up beside her every morning without having to rush off to hide their relationship. Sneaking off into the dark went against his very nature. It always made him feel dirty somehow, while he viewed his time with Naomi as anything but tawdry or shameful. He loved her, and he suspected that she was beginning to love him. He dreamed of a time when he would know for certain. That's when he would ask her to become his wife.
The opportunity came unexpectedly a few nights later. Their lovemaking that night was tender and poignant. Every caress was imbued with feeling, every sigh and moan conveyed a wealth of emotion. Aidan turned Naomi onto her side and lifted one of her supple thighs over his shoulder so he could sink into her welcoming heat. He shuddered with delight as she clenched her inner muscles around him to hold him deep within her. In this position, he could reach even further inside her, and they both moaned with pleasure as he forced his way deeper. Their eyes met and held as he thrust into her repeatedly, butting against her womb with every probing stroke.
Their mutual tension mounted until they could barely breathe as he plumbed her depths with increasingly demanding thrusts. All the while, he held her gaze, willing her to understand how much she meant to him. They climaxed in unison, and she gasped as he bathed her womb with hot, pulsing waves of his seed.
He finally withdrew from her and pulled her against his side. His heart was bursting with love for her, and he kissed her hair, glorying in the feel of her soft curves pressed against him.
"I love you, Naomi," he said softly, stroking her hip with his fingertips.
"I love you too," she whispered, her voice already growing drowsy.
Aidan went totally still for a long moment before he grasped her arms and lifted her onto his chest. He clutched the sides of her head and searched her startled eyes. Her expression was full of confusion.
"What's wrong?" she questioned with a frown.
Aidan burst into laughter, giving her a gentle shake. "Wrong? Nothing's wrong. You've just made me the happiest man in the world."
He rolled to pin her beneath him and kissed her until her head was spinning. When he released her lips, his eyes were shining and he was grinning from ear to ear. He cupped her jaw and caressed her cheek with his thumb.
"Marry me, Naomi. Do me the honor of becoming my wife."
For a brief moment, Naomi's heart swelled with joy. To know that he loved her and wanted to marry her was the sweetest feeling imaginable. Then, reality crashed down on her, and her heart felt heavy in her chest. Reading the emotions on her face, Aidan grew increasingly concerned as he waited for her to answer him, and his smile disappeared to be replaced by a watchful frown.
"Thank you for asking, Aidan, but I can't marry you."
Aidan tensed, swallowing hard against the lump in his throat. "Why not?"
Naomi closed her eyes against the pain on his face and drew a tight breath. She couldn't bear to tell him that she was barren. She didn't want to see his expression turn to one of rejection or pity. She wouldn't be able to stand it, knowing that he thought she was less than a woman.
"I just can't," she said dully.
Aidan watched her for another few moments before he rose to sit on the side of the bed. "That's not an answer, Naomi. Tell me why."
Naomi stared at his forbidding back and blinked back her tears. She sat up, pulling her knees up to wrap her arms around them forlornly.
"Aidan, I would love nothing better than to marry you, but I can't. That's all there is to it."
Aidan shot her a glare from over his shoulder. "Can't or won't?"
Naomi struggled not to shrink away from the accusing light in his eyes. "Both, I guess," she said quietly.
Aidan hated to ask, but he had to know. The thought that she still loved her dead husband more than him tortured his thoughts. "Is it because of your husband? Do you feel like marrying me would be dishonoring his memory or something?"
Naomi frowned and shook her head. "No, of course not. Nathan would want me to be happy."
Her answer was far from satisfying, and Aidan growled low in his throat. He turned his back to her once more, running an agitated hand through his hair. His emotions were roiling in the pit of his belly, a mixture of pain, jealousy, anger, frustration and confusion. Sensing his feelings, Naomi bit her lip and rose on her knees behind him. She wrapped her arms around him and laid her cheek against the back of his shoulder with a shuddering sigh.
"Aidan, please understand. I do love you, with all my heart. Please don't ask something of me that I can't give you. Can't we just forget that you ever asked me and go back to the way things were?"
Aidan pulled her arms from around him and whirled to face her. He gripped her upper arms so hard that his fingers bit into her skin as he looked at her with anguished eyes.
"No, we can't! I can't go on like this, sneaking in and out of your bed, pretending that what we have is enough for me. I want you to be my wife. I want to build a life with you, to raise a family with you. If you truly loved me, you would want that too."
Naomi gave him a bittersweet smile as she stroked his cheek. "I do want that, Aidan. But sometimes in life, we have to be happy with what we can have and forget about the things that are out of our reach." She watched as his lips firmed into a thin line of disagreement, and she leaned into him, compelling him to meet her eye. "Aidan, listen. I love you. More than you can ever understand. I am grateful for every moment I have with you, and for as long as you want me, I will be here for you."
Aidan shook his head slowly. "I want a wife, not a mistress, Naomi. It's not enough for me."
Naomi searched his eyes and then sank onto her heels with a sigh of defeat. "I understand. I'm sure there are plenty of lovely young ladies who would love to marry you, Aidan. I wish you every happiness when you find one."
Aidan's face registered his shock and disbelief. "That's it? You say you love me, but you're happy just to send me off to find another woman to marry?"
Naomi felt the first stirrings of anger as she stared at him. "You needn't be so peevish about it. I never said I was happy to let you go. It's just that I understand your desire to take a wife. I can't be the woman to fill that need, so I won't stand in the way of another woman who will."
Aidan rose from the bed with an angry growl. He paced the confines of the tiny cabin, his frustration and anger warring for dominance as he clenched and unclenched his fists. Finally, he came back to the bed to scowl down at her.
"For your information, Naomi, I wasn't even looking for a wife until you showed up." He hauled her onto her knees until her breasts were pressed tightly against his chest. The feel of her in his arms soothed a small bit of his anger, and he struggled to make her understand his feelings. "I was content with my life before I met you. From the moment I laid eyes on you, I knew I needed more. My life isn't complete without you. You make me happy and whole and fulfilled."
Naomi didn't try to keep her tears from overflowing, and they streamed down her face as she held his gaze. "Then let's just carry on. I feel the same way."
"We can't just carry on! Even now, you may be carrying my child."
Naomi tensed in his arms and pulled away with a grimace. He let her go, watching as she wrapped her arms protectively around her middle and turned away. She shook her head in adamant denial. "No Aidan, I'm not carrying your child. I can't be. It's not possible."
Through his bitterness, hurt and anger, Aidan completely misinterpreted her withdrawal. "I see," he said flatly.
He stared at her only a moment before turning to retrieve his clothes. He dressed quickly, yanking on his garments and buttoning them as fast as he could. Naomi turned to face him, puzzled by his abrupt change of mood.
"Aidan, please don't leave like this. Can't we please just talk?"
"There's nothing left to talk about, Naomi. I finally understand. You have been stringing me along, content to have me as your lover, to appease your loneliness over your dead husband. And now, the mere mention of the fact that you could be carrying a child, a child that is not your husband's, makes you shrink with dread. You're so repulsed by the mere notion of me fathering your child, you have to deny that it's even possible. I think that about sums it up."
Naomi stared at him with mouth agape, horrified by his misunderstanding of the situation. "That's not it at all, Aidan. You don't understand! That's not what I meant when I said I couldn't be carrying your child."
She raced across the room, tugging on his arm when he would have opened the door. She gripped both his arms and shook him as hard as she could, frustrated when she was barely able to move him.
"That's not how it is at all," she protested. "I love you more than I ever loved my husband!"
Aidan raised one mocking brow. "Really? Then prove your love for me. Marry me."
Naomi released a frustrated squeal and stomped one bare foot on the floor. "I can't marry you, you stubborn man."
Aidan grasped her arms and pushed her slightly back. "Then, it's just like I said. There's nothing left to talk about."
Without another word, he yanked open the door and stalked off into the night.
Naomi stood in the doorway watching him go. She was naked and shivering, but she didn't care. "Aidan, wait! You don't understand, let me explain. Aidan, come back here this instant!"
Aidan disappeared into the trees, leaving her distraught. Naomi closed the door and leaned back against the cold wood. Her knees buckled, and she slid down to a sobbing heap on the floor.
She could go after him, explain her reason for refusing to marry him, and beg him to take her back. But would it solve anything? It would only prolong the misery. Sooner or later, a man like Aidan would want to marry someone, settle down and raise children. Didn't all farmers want lots and lots of children, strong, healthy sons who could help on the farm? She could never provide him with those sons, so there was no use in chasing after him.
When the chill from the door and floor finally seeped into her bones, Naomi rose to her feet and padded to the bed. She rolled into a tight ball beneath the covers, staring at the ceiling with dull eyes. She had known this day would come, sooner or later. There was no point in fighting the inevitable. She heaved a defeated sigh and closed her eyes in a futile attempt to find sleep.
The next two days were touchy around the McKenzie farm. Brian and Liam learned to be careful when they spoke to Aidan, or he was likely to bite their heads off. He was anything but his usual, cheerful self. He carried out his labors mechanically, and it was clear his thoughts were elsewhere. Although his brothers knew he hadn't slipped out for the previous two nights, Aidan seemed even more exhausted than before, and dark circles appeared under his eyes. By the third day, Brian and Liam were getting truly concerned.
"Aidan!" Brian shook his arm gently to gain his attention.