By: Brenda Jackson

Zane had reiterated that regardless of the reason, Bane hadn’t made contact with his wife in almost five years and doubts would have crossed Crystal’s mind regarding Bane’s love and faithfulness.

He had appreciated everyone’s advice. And while he wished like hell he could sweep Crystal off her feet and head straight for the nearest bedroom when he saw her, he had enough sense to know they would have to take things slow. After all, they had been apart all this time and there would be a lot for them to talk about and sort out. But he felt certain she knew he would come back for her as he’d promised; no matter how long it had taken him to do so.

He was back in her life and didn’t intend to go anywhere. Even if it meant he lived with her in Dallas for a while. As a SEAL he could live anywhere as long as he was ready to leave for periodic training sessions or covert operations whenever his commanding officer called. And as long as there was still instability in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, his team might be needed.

Thinking of his team made him think about Coop. It was hard to believe his friend was gone. All the team members had taken Coop’s death hard and agreed that if it was the last thing they did, they would return to Syria, find Coop’s body and bring him home. His parents deserved that and Coop did, too.

For the longest time, Bane had thought he could keep his marriage a secret from his team. But he found it hard to do when the guys thought it was essential that he got laid every once in a while. Things started getting crazy when they tried fixing him up with some woman or another every chance they got.

He’d finally told them about his marriage to Crystal. Then he wished he hadn’t when they’d teased him about all the women they were getting while he wasn’t getting any. He took it all in stride because he only wanted one woman. His team members accepted that he intended to adhere to his wedding vows and in the end they all respected and admired him for it.

Now the SEAL in him studied his surroundings, taking notice. The one thing he appreciated was that Crystal’s home appeared to be in a safe neighborhood. The streets were well lit and the houses spaced with enough distance for privacy yet with her neighbors in reach if needed.

The brick house where she lived suited her. It looked to be in good condition and the yard was well manicured. One thing he did notice was that unlike all the other houses, she didn’t have any Christmas decorations. There weren’t any colorful lights around her windows or animated objects adorning her lawn. Did she not celebrate the holidays anymore? He recalled a time when she had. In fact the two most important days to her had been her birthday and Christmas.

He’d made her birthday even more special by marrying her on it. A smile touched his lips when he recalled how, over the years, he had bought her birthday cards and anniversary cards, although he hadn’t been able to send them to her. He’d even bought her Valentine’s Day cards and Christmas cards every year. He had stored them in a trunk, knowing one day he would give them to her. Well, that day had finally arrived and he had all of them packed in his luggage. He had signed each one and taken the time to write a special message inside. Then there were all those letters he’d written. Letters he’d never mailed because he hadn’t a clue where to send them.

He’d made Bailey promise not to tell him because if he’d known how to get to Crystal he would have gone to her and messed up all the effort he’d made in becoming the type of man who could give her what she deserved in life.

Five years was a long time and there had been times he’d thought he would lose his mind from missing her so much. It had taken all he had, every bit of resolve he could muster, to make it through. In the end, he knew the sacrifice would be worth it.

He figured he would give Crystal time to get into the house before he got out of the car and knocked on the door, so as not to spook her. No need to give her neighbors anything to talk about, either, especially if no one knew she was married. And from the private investigator’s report, her marital status was a guarded secret. He understood and figured it wouldn’t be easy to explain a husband who’d gone AWOL.