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Between Two Lives

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Upon waking, it took Nate several seconds to figure out what was lying on his face and then remember why a book would be there, blocking out the fluorescent ceiling light and possibly absorbing any stray drool. He'd lain down to rest and catch up on a book he'd bought months ago and never gotten around to read in all his obsessive chasing after Drake's trail, and made it maybe three pages before falling asleep. Apparently he was still paying down the sleep debt he'd built up over three days alone in the desert and the exhausting activities that had followed.

Well, whatever. It wasn't like he had anything else he needed to be doing. At least it hadn't been a hardback; that might have suffocated him.

Muffled voices from the living room caught his attention. Nate was tempted to go join Elena and Sully, but he was too relaxed to move from his sprawled position atop the covers of the guest room bed. His room, once, years ago and then months ago when he'd left. And now his and Elena's, at least temporarily as they figured out the next step.

The sounds of laughter floated under the door and he smiled. Let them talk and catch up without him. He'd never allowed himself to dwell on it after he'd given in to obsession and showed up at Sully's door, but they must have missed each other too. Sully adored Elena and, well, he was basically her father-in-law, strange as it was to think of it in those words. He'd never asked Sully to choose sides, but he knew he didn't have to. That friendship was one more thing he'd wrecked.

It was going to be right again, he promised himself. He and Elena would fix their marriage, he'd show her that he could do things right this time, and Sully could come over for dinner as much as he wanted. Permanent guest of honor at the dinner table.

The door swung open then, interrupting his train of thought. Elena was already smiling as she came in, but her smile broadened when she saw him.

"Hey, you're awake," she said. She perched on the edge of the bed and ran her fingers through his hair, and he tried and failed not to make a noise of pleasure. "Good nap?"

"I think so," he said. "I didn't plan on taking one. How long was I out?"

"A while. I didn't want to wake you." Her hand moved from his hair to his chest, flattening above his heart. "It's only been a couple days since we got back. You're still recovering."

Oh, he knew that look of concern. It was way more familiar than he wanted. "I'm fine." He pushed himself up so he could at least slouch against the headboard. "Just catching up on rest."

She gave him a long look, and then nodded. "Good." She smiled. "You didn't wake up with gross nap-mouth, did you?"

"No," he said, immediately, only then pausing to evaluate the state of his mouth. Eh, mostly true.

The side of her mouth twitched, as if she could read his mind. "Good," she said again, and leaned over to kiss him.

He remembered that, too, and god, had he ever done a number on himself to ever think he didn't need it. His eyes fell shut and his arms came around her, pulling her down against him. God, he'd missed it. When things had started going bad, the fact that they'd stopped touching each other should have been a wakeup call. He'd always been a tactile guy; even if the touching didn't lead anywhere, it was a way to connect to another person.

It was leading somewhere right then, though. The kisses got deeper, Elena pressed herself harder against him, and he was more than a little breathless when she pulled back. He smiled up at her through low-lidded eyes, and reached up to tuck some loose hair behind her ear. She smiled back—and slid her hand under the waistband of his jeans. Whatever she had planned next went on hold as the startled noise caused her to pause and give him a look.

"What? You're not in the mood?" There was amusement mixed with skepticism in her voice, but he thought he could detect a note of uncertainty.

"No! I mean, yes. It's good—you're good." He pushed himself up on one elbow, wincing at his own lack of articulation. Words were her forte, not his, but he could do better. "It's just...don't you think this is a bad time?" He glanced toward the closed door. "Sully's still up."

The corner of her mouth twitched, and the skepticism melted away to leave pure amusement. "You're worried about scandalizing Sully?"

"It's not that!" he protested. "But the walls are kind of thin, and I don't want feel like putting on a show." He loved the guy, and neither of them were prudes, but knowing there was a chance he could hear them was a real boner killer.

Elena sighed, and he got the distinct sense that it was out of exasperation, not resignation. "Nate, we're going to be here for at least a few weeks," she pointed out. "Do you really not want to have sex until we find a new place of our own?"

Well. When she put it like that, of course he didn't. They'd already broken the long dry spell that was born of their estrangement after a long talk in a Lisbon hotel. It had been good—it had been great—but it had also been more cathartic than it was romantic or passionate. Nate didn't want it to be like that every time; he wanted to find their way back to how they used to be, when all that mattered was that they loved each other.

"No," he said. Elena smiled victoriously and promptly began pulling her shirt off over her head. "Let's just try to be quiet, all right?"

She snorted as she tossed the shirt and draped her arms around his shoulders. And yeah, this was more like it; even before he got his hands on her, he could feel the warmth of her skin, and his concerns about Sully overhearing began to drift away.

"We'll get him a box of earplugs tomorrow," she informed him. "We've got too much time to make up for, cowboy, and I'm going to do my best to make them necessary. You can bite a pillow or something if you really need to."

Farther and farther away. "I've got a better idea," he said with a grin.

Her eyebrow arched. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah."

He pulled her against him and rolled them both so it was Elena on her back this time, and anything else she might have wanted to say was interrupted by the press of his mouth to hers. She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck, holding him there. And they earned the earplugs.