Vanished (The Saved Series, A Military Romance)

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Vanished
B
y
Lorhainne Eckhart
Booklist
Western Romance -
Finding Love ~ The Outsider Series

The Forgotten Child

A Baby and a Wedding

Fallen Hero

The Search

The Awakening

Secrets

Runaway

Overdue

The Unexpected Storm

The Wedding

The Wilde Brothers

The One

*Coming Soon* Friendly Fire

Walk the Right Road Series

The Choice

Lost and Found

Merkaba

Bounty

Military Rom
antic Suspense – The Saved Series

Saved

Vanished

Young Adult

The Gift

A Father’s Love

Box Sets

Finding Love ~ The Outsider Series
– Volume One

Finding Love ~ The Outsider Series – Volume Two

The Outsider Series – The Complete Collection

Walk the Right Road Series – Danger ~ Deception ~
Devotion: A Box Set

From the Heart

Praise for
Lorhainne Eckhart

2013 Readers Favorite Award Winner

I'm an advocate for women in sexual assault, abuse and domestic violence, and I have to give this author
two
thumbs up for how she writes her stories.
– Amazon Reviewer- Jamie

Lorhainne Eckhart is a very prolific and talented writer. Get to know her work, you won't regret it.
– Amazon Reviewer - Karen

Lorhainne has a way of making you crazy about her characters, whether it's hating them or loving them...on the edge of my seat for both and can't wait for the next.
Amazon Reviewer – Beverley

This author has mastered the art of developing and telling a complex, realistic story
… Lee Ashford, Readers Favorite

Chapter 1

“Push. Come on, baby. You can do this.” Eric was behind Abby on the hospital bed so she could lean against him. Her hands gripped his with a strength most men didn’t have. She was damp and sweaty, and she was exhausted from being in labor all night, more than twelve hours.

“Almost there
, Abby. Just give me one more push.” The military doctor, Chase Hargrove, was a young, round-faced man of medium height and build with light curly hair. He glanced at Eric and lifted the baby, setting him on Abby’s stomach. “Here he is, your boy.” Chase grinned, flashing two dimples, and stood up, glancing at Abby through his round, fashionable glasses. “How are you doing, Abby?”

“I’m
okay.” She set her hand on the baby’s back, trying not to nudge her IV. She watched the baby, and Eric leaned down and kissed her forehead, brushing back the long blond hair that was tangled and stuck to her skin. She gazed up at him with heavenly blue eyes that appeared tired and a little glassy. Exhaustion—it had to be.

“You did good
, baby. You okay?” he asked. His arm was around her, and she leaned against him. Her knees were still up as the doctor finished delivering the placenta. She lifted her hand from the baby and rubbed her forehead, pressing her cheek into Eric’s chest.

“I’m just tired. Can you take the baby
?” She had lifted her hands as if the baby lying on her was a burden. She sounded off, too, Eric thought, or maybe she was just tired and he was reading too much into it.

The doctor glanced
up but didn’t seem concerned. A nurse set a blanket over the baby and wiped off most of the blood, and Eric lifted him as another nurse set a white cotton hat on his head. Eric stood up, and Abby lay back down, the head of the bed raised as high as it could go, as a nurse started to check her vitals.

“We’re going to get you moved and settled pretty
quickly. You should be able to go home at the end of the day,” the doctor said.

Eric held his newborn baby
, so tiny, in the crook of his arm. He flicked his gaze away from his quiet son, who had yet to make a peep. He had round cheeks and a pink face with a tiny button nose just like his mama’s. His eyes were still closed. Eric smiled until he noticed Abby looking away, appearing uninterested in what the doctor way saying. Eric added, “How about some sleep first? With Rachel at home, we risk a very happy two-year-old climbing all over Mommy. I don’t think Abby is anxious to get back just yet.”

“It’s al
l right, Eric. I just need some sleep,” she said from where she lay, turning her head toward him.

It had been ten days since Eric stepp
ed off the destroyer in homeport, met by his very pregnant wife, Abby, and their two-year-old plump little girl, Rachel, whom he had delivered after rescuing Abby in the middle of nowhere in the Persian Gulf. She had escaped her abductor, Seyed Hossein, the man who’d bought her, kept her, and abused her until, one night, she escaped. She had been eight months pregnant. Abby was a human trafficking success story. Of the women who disappeared in Europe, most were never found again, but Eric had found her and saved her, and she was now his wife.

Rachel
had dark hair and olive skin, and she didn’t resemble Eric at all, with only hints of Abby. She was the only reminder of what Abby had survived, and Eric loved the precious little girl as if she were his very own.

Eric cuddled his son, a light
-haired baby who fit in the crook of his arm. He glanced down at Abby, and her eyes were closed. The baby was settled and seemed so comfortable, as if he knew his daddy would always keep him safe. His tiny hand rested over his eyes, and he started to work his lips.

Eric was about to wake Abby when the doctor said, “No
, let her sleep. The baby’s good. We’ll send him into the nursery, and the nurses can give him a supplement of formula if he needs it.”

T
here was a tap on the door, and a nurse poked her head in. “Captain Hamilton, there are people out here to see you.”

Eric started to the door because he knew who was out there. “Well
, let me go show off my son,” he said, heading to meet his old friend Joe, who was his current XO, and his wife, Mary-Margaret.

***
*

She could smell the blood
, the antiseptic, and hear voices: deep, low, close whispers. She told herself to pretend to be asleep, to concentrate, to keep breathing in and out, nice and easy. She relaxed her eyelids. She couldn’t let them see she was awake. The floor squeaked with footsteps, and the door closed. She heard someone walking away just outside the door, but she also knew someone was still there, waiting quietly in the corner. She felt as if she had suddenly been thrown into the middle of a cat-and-mouse game, and she could feel the room, the locked door, the stiff mattress she lay on. She was so cold, and, try as she might, she couldn’t stop the chill that racked her body. She trembled.

A hand touched her
, and she jumped. Her eyes flew open, and she gasped at the dark-haired woman standing over her. Who was she? Where was she? She winced as she sat up. The woman’s hand was still on her shoulder, and she took in the small, box-like hospital room. It was dim, though the curtains were open.

“Are you okay?”
the woman asked. She was wearing a pink scrub top, and Abby stared at the V cut of the neck and wondered why the woman hadn’t covered herself. She had pale bare arms, too, and she took Abby’s wrist and glanced at her watch. Abby stared at the door—a locked door, or was it?

T
he door opened, and Eric, her tall, dark-haired husband with vibrant blue eyes, entered and frowned. “Abby, you’re awake,” he said. “I just showed off our son to Joe and Mary-Margaret. They’re here now, and they wanted to come in and see you, but I thought you were sleeping.” He glanced down at the tiny baby in his arms. Eric was so happy, as if he was staring at the most precious thing ever. He was so strong, her husband, her man. He was out of uniform, wearing blue jeans and a snug black T-shirt that showed off the finest biceps, triceps, and six-pack abs, as well as the rock-hard chest that had always comforted her.

She watched as he held his son, and her heart pounded
with each step closer he took. She couldn’t take her eyes off the blanket and the bundle he was holding. She couldn’t see it—she didn’t want to see it. She feared the face that would stare back at her. His footsteps became slow and drawn out, and all she could hear was an echo as they came closer. She could feel a pressure on her arm as she stared at the blur in front of her: white, closer now. There was a hand on her face, touching her, warm and strong and familiar, and she grabbed hold.

“Abby! Abby…”

She could hear him, and she stared into a demanding, strong, and a worried expression. Another man appeared, with glasses and light hair. A light flashed in her eyes, and it burned. She pushed his hand away.

“I’m okay
,” she said to a room that seemed suddenly full of people: nurses, doctors. The lights were on now, bright above her.

“Abby
, what happened?” It was Eric. He was beside her on the bed, his arm around her. She leaned against him, just him, no baby. Then she looked up at the dark-haired nurse holding her son. She pulled back the blanket and the wool cap on his head, and Abby sagged in relief at his light red chubby cheeks and the light hair plastered to his head.

Chapter
2

“Look
, something happened. Maybe it’s not a good idea she goes home just yet. Did you see how freaked out she was? Her eyes, I haven’t seen her like that since…” Eric paused. Well, since he’d rescued her, when she first opened her eyes on the deck, or in sick bay after a nightmare had forced her into early labor. He remembered the wildness, the fear, the panic that had come over her, pulling her back into the ordeal she had lived through. Each time, Eric had been able to soothe her and yank her from her fear, reassuring her she was safe.

The doctor scribbled something
on a chart. “She was exhausted, in labor for how long, and even you told me she hasn’t been sleeping,” he said.

“You’ve been her doctor for how long?” Eric asked
, pacing the hall of the maternity ward of the naval hospital in Norfolk. He knew that Dr. Hargrove had transferred in only a week earlier.

“Okay
, I may not know her, but I’ve been an OB long enough that I’ve seen how exhausted some of these new moms come in. Military wives have it a lot tougher, especially with other kids at home and no support. Exhaustion is all it is. She just needs a few nights’ rest. Make sure she has support at home, and she’ll be fine in no time.”

Eric wasn’t so sure. There
had been something in her eyes when he walked into the hospital room, with the way Abby had been sitting in that bed. Even with the nurse holding her wrist, touching her shoulder, and talking to her, Abby hadn’t responded. She had stared off at the door, sweating above her lip and on her forehead, and Eric knew this wasn’t from the labor. He had seen her trembling, with goose bumps on her arms. For a moment, her eyes hadn’t seemed to register, and when she saw him, she hadn’t relaxed as always. It had taken her a minute, and he’d had to pass the baby to the nurse. He knew he could bring her back and steady her from whatever fears plagued her, but this time, as he approached the bed, her eyes had been locked on to the bundle in his arms. She had worn a cold look filled with apprehension and fear, the opposite of what should have been on a new mother’s face. Even after Rachel was born, she’d never looked like that.

“Look
, I’ll check in on her again. We’ll keep her overnight. The baby is in the nursery. Sometimes a good night’s sleep is all that’s needed.” The doctor set his hand on Eric’s shoulder. “Why don’t you go home, get some rest?”

H
e left Eric standing outside the closed door of Abby’s room, thankful there were no patients in the other beds. Eric wiped his hand over his face, which scratched like sandpaper, and then ran it through his cropped hair. He needed to get cleaned up after being here all night with Abby in labor. He was pretty sure he looked rough. He pushed open her door and spotted her on her side with her back to him. When he stepped closer, she didn’t move, didn’t turn, and he was sure she was sleeping.

He should really pick Rachel
up from Joe and Mary-Margaret. Taylor, their eldest, was twelve, and he’d been babysitting Rachel, but then, all Joe’s three kids loved her. He would swing by later, after he was sure Abby was all right. He crossed his arms and walked around the bed, freezing when he realized Abby’s eyes were open and she was just lying there, staring straight ahead.

“I thought you were asleep
,” he said.

She glanced up at him but didn’t move. “I’m trying. I’m so tired I can’t sleep.”

Eric moved the bar down and sat in the chair beside the bed. He took her hand in his and slid back her rumpled blond hair over her plump cheek, which had a hint of color again, before resting his hand against the side of her head. Her blue eyes were dim and appeared weary and dull. The tiny lines around her eyes, which hadn’t been there before tonight, seemed deeper. There was a hint of gray under her eyes, and her eyelids appeared puffy. As he looked closer, he wondered if she’d been crying.

“What’s going on?”
he asked.

She slid her hand over his, the
one with the gold band he’d slid on her finger, a reminder she was his. She shut her eyes, but he could feel her hanging on to him in a way that was different from before. “I don’t want you to go,” she finally said.

“I’m not going anywhere. You go to sleep
. I’ll stay right here.” He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her forehead, and she gulped and started fighting tears. “What’s going on?”

She shook her head as her eyes watered
, and she choked on a sob. “I just need to feel that you’re here.”

“Abby
, it’s okay. I told you I’m not going anywhere. You’re tired, and I know it’s been hard lately. You just need some sleep and you’ll feel so much better. I won’t let anything happen to you.” Her gaze flicked to his, questioning, wondering. He saw the worry, too. What the hell was going on with her? “Is there something else, something you’re not telling me?”

“When do you ship out?”
she asked.

Ah
, so that was it. He hadn’t told her because it was soon. “A week.”

She shut her eyes for a second
and took a breath. When she opened them, she seemed to have pulled herself together. “Well, that was quick.”

I
t was. He was supposed to be in port for three months, but he’d just gotten word he would be replacing the captain on the Vincent Carrier, and he couldn’t say no, not to this.

“It’s for two months
, Abby. It’s short this time. I’m just filling in. It was sudden. Joe and Mary-Margaret are here. They’ll be around to help.” He smoothed her hair back again, then rubbed her shoulder, and she stiffened, so he slid his hand over hers. “Look, Abby, don’t be mad. You knew what you were getting into when you married me. This is my life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”

She flicked her gaze back to him and frowned. “I know that
, but you were supposed to be home longer. I just feel better when you’re here.”


Have you been having nightmares while I’m gone?” he asked.

She glanced over his shoulder and wouldn’t meet his gaze. He always knew when she was holding on
to something. She’d become stubborn and wouldn’t look at him, and he knew she did that when she didn’t want him to worry. These two years of having her on base, in his home, as his wife, waiting for him when he came back, had changed something in him and filled him with a sense of purpose he didn’t realize he had been missing until he found it. The first deployment, he knew she’d struggled. He’d seen how straight and tall and proud she’d stood, but he knew her better than she knew herself. She was still finding her feet and her place. Mary-Margaret and the other wives helped, and he’d Skyped her as often as he could, but it was hard when he had little down time, commanding a destroyer.

“Abby
, come on.” He touched her hand, rubbing her arm until she was blinking back tears. “I know this is bad timing, but we’ll talk every day this time. When I’m finished, I’ll be home for six months.”


But I need you now,” she said. “Eric, I’m tired, and with the baby… I just wanted you here longer.” This time, she allowed him to hold her hand, playing with her fingers. Some of her tension relaxed.

“You didn’t tell me about
any nightmares. Have you been having them again?”

She flicked her gaze away again
, her mouth tight. Now he was sure she was holding on to something. He slid his over her cheek and turned her face back until she was forced to look at him, and he gave her one of the looks he knew made others nervous, everyone except Abby.

“Some. It’s hard
, Eric. I wake up and reach over and you’re not there. You make me feel safe. I’ll be okay, don’t worry.” She gave a smile that he knew meant she wanted him to drop it, but he couldn’t. He had a week at home to help her, and after that, he’d make sure Mary-Margaret and Joe stopped in every day. That was all he could do, and he didn’t like it one bit.


Let’s talk about it before we go,” he said, taking her hand in his again, holding it as she settled in. She seemed to relax some, and then her eyelids lowered. She blinked them open again, but he could tell she was so tired. “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.”

“You’ll stay here while I sleep
? You’ll hold my hand?” she asked, and he picked up the edge of worry in her voice.


Right here beside you.” He set his other hand on the side of her head and smoothed her hair back. “Go to sleep.”

He saw the relief fall over her
, as if everything she’d been holding on to—stress, worry—could finally leave, and Eric realized he played a huge part in making her feel safe. He continued to stroke her hair, her face, until he felt her breathing even out, until he knew she was asleep. Maybe the doctor was right: Maybe it was just exhaustion. After all, she’d just given birth. That had to be it.

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