1. A twinge pinched the center of his chest, causing his breath to hitch at the memory of his wife, barefoot and in cut-off jeans and a tank, glass of wine in her hand that she sipped. She’d have her feet propped up on the railing inside their screened-in back porch. Maybe have the overhead ceiling fan on if the weather was a tad too humid. She’d beg him to come join her, then be waiting for him when he inevitably did.
2. Still being cautious, he managed to get to his feet and took inventory of himself. Other than a few scrapes and bruises, he was miraculously intact. Reaching up, he touched his hair and realized his helmet was gone, which explained why his head was killing him. The harness was still in one piece, but parts of it had been shredded. The walkie was shattered, and the flashlight was missing. He ran a hand over his thigh and winced. Yep, he’d have one hell of a welt there, but he could walk.
3. Brix got to his feet, pushing through the momentary wooziness, and turned to face his counterpart. “Listen, I don’t need any more noise with my head the way it is. Either you two take this outside, or one of you leave.” Realizing that Samra would most likely take him up on the suggestion, he pivoted around to face her. Again, his heart nearly fluttered to a stop as he stared at her. He knew the curve of her face, the sweetness of her lips, and every curve of her body. He knew her likes, her dislikes, and her favorites. He knew how to make her laugh, as well as how to piss her off. But more than anything, he knew how to make love to her in that special way that always left her breathless and begging for more.
4. Brix frowned. He could put the wet clothing back on, but he detested the idea of the cold, clammy uniform against this skin. It wouldn’t have time to dry before he reached the caverns, and the temps in those tunnels would chill him even more. He wondered what to do next, when he remembered her telling him Brixton kept a few changes of clothes at the apartment. Returning to the bedroom, he spotted the pile of folded items where she’d left them on top of the bureau. He grabbed them and went into the living room to change into the sweatpants, crew socks, and plain white short-sleeve undershirt. After retrieving his holster and boots from the bathroom, he found her purse lying on top of the breakfast bar where she always set it. He took the keys to her car. “Forgive me, Sam. I need it to get back to the crater, and to prevent you from following after me.”
5. An errant gust of wind blasted him sideways. Brix scrambled to keep from losing his grip, when something exploded and zinged off the side of his helmet. He faintly heard a scream and glanced back to see Brixton standing at the tunnel entrance. The man tried aiming a pistol at him for a second shot, but was having difficulty as Samra fought to free herself from the suffocating arm he had around her neck. She strained to reach for the man’s face, but she was succumbing to the pressure on her windpipe. Angrily, he whacked the side of her head with the butt of the pistol. When she ceased fighting him, he aimed again at Brix.
6. “You’re parents died long ago. I have no idea where your brother is at the moment. As for my side of the family, there’s just my dad. He’s been my rock through all this. He picks up Mollie from daycare and keeps her whenever I’m out on maneuvers.” Running a thumb over her full lower lip, he whispered, “We’ve both been given a second chance, and we’re not going to waste one minute of it.”