"It's so good to be home!" Cam popped the door open on her side of the Jeep Wrangler and got out before Charlie could help her out.
He refrained from rolling his eyes; all the way here from Staten Island, whenever they'd stopped somewhere to eat, at a gas station to fill up, whatever, he'd been careful to help her get out of the car; he didn't want her to hurt herself. She was now making a subtle point of letting him know she was fine and she didn't want him to hover.
Which was fine; he also knew that even though her village looked deserted, there were probably eyes watching them out of every window. They would recognize Cam—and since he'd shucked the military fatigues for his favorite button-down shirts and jeans and boots, knowing no one here in New York was going to ask him for his tribal registration—they would have recognized him as another Native American, and the medicine man and shamanic talismans he'd carefully arranged to hang outside of his shirt would tell them that although he wasn't Iroquois, he was a member of another Native American tribe, and a highly-regarded, high-status member at that. It would reinforce Cam's status to anyone who might have downgraded her after the fiasco with Adam Barefoot and her subsequent abrupt departure from the tribe.
He grabbed his one small bag from the back of the Jeep, carried it to her front step and deposited it there, then turned to help her with her duffel bag and backpack. He'd been gratified to find she traveled light too; her swords, flute, ballet shoes and the faded pink diary were pretty much the only items she had with her, and other than that she had several changes of clothes and one set of her fatigues and that was it.
The first thing she did was to empty her pack and take that diary, with the adoption paper carefully folded inside it, and tuck it into a metal ammo box that held some things she obviously considered personal. He looked at it, heart aching at the thought that she hadn't had enough in her life to fill even that small box, and determined that would change.
They'd taken the scenic (read: long) route to western New York, driving through towns and picturesque roadways, looking at and enjoying the glorious colors of autumn around them. The last time Cam had seen trees, they'd been in full green leaf; the hurricane that had traveled up the East Coast of the United States had delayed the fall riot of color. Now, as she stretched in the sun and enjoyed her freedom again, the scarlet, saffron, and ochre of the tree leaves around them reflected in her dancing eyes and happy laughter.
Her cottage was small, spartan; there was very little of the useless knickknacks and bric-a-brac that most women seemed to love to clutter their houses with. He liked that simplicity, the uncomplicated order, but as she turned on the small lamp in her bedroom and started to pull down the folding cot from the corner, he did see something they were going to have a problem with. "Uh, Cam. There's not enough room for both of us on that bed."
She gave him a single, startled glance. "I thought you'd sleep on this and I'd take the couch in the living room."
"I thought we'd sleep together. Part of the reason I was upset with Frank last night is because I was comfortable, that was the first time we'd been able to sleep together and I wanted it to last…a bit longer."
She stopped trying to unfold the cot and gave him her full attention. "Charlie, all that joking we were doing back in General Hawk's office aside, I understand that you said it because Shana and Allie were expecting to hear something like that, and not necessarily because you actually wanted to…to marry…someone like me. I know you like me, and I like you too, but I don't want you to think that I expect you to tie yourself down to…to a frigid—"
"Hold it right there." Charlie cupped her chin in his hands, placing his thumbs over her lips to silence the rest of what she'd been about to say. "I have never met another woman like you. You have been through so much, but you just get back up after you've been knocked down and you keep going. That takes guts and courage and it's not easy to find those qualities in a woman, much less another of the People. Yes, I know you are not of my people, but neither am I of yours, and yet we're all Native Americans together.
"Even after everything that's happened, after what you've been through not only at the hands of the military parting you from the only family you'd ever known at Osan, then your Aunt and Uncle, and then the Army again during SERE training and at Walker's hands and while in ICE detention, you can still find it in your heart to forgive, to reaffirm your commitment to give your life and serve a career in the army, for a country that largely hasn't shown anything but its bad side to you. It takes courage and commitment and I'm honored to be able to know you, and determined to make your life a part of mine so that for the rest of yours I can try to balance the wrongs that have already been dealt you." He took his thumbs away from her lips.
Her eyes were glittering with tears. "Charlie…please…I can never thank you enough for what you just said, but I don't want you to be here forever." He looked at her, hurt in his eyes, and she tried to explain as she started to shake with sobs. "Not…not like that. Charlie, please, it's…you deserve better, deserve more, than to be tied down to a useless half-woman, who pushes herself to be a warrior because I don't feel like a woman, because I'm physically incapable of being female. After knowing what I look like under the clothing, knowing I'm deformed and ugly and-"
"There you go again with that word. You aren't ugly. You're the most beautiful woman I know. Not the outside, but inside. I'm not that handsome myself, you know."
She stared at him round-eyed. "But…yes you are, and you deserve better than me…"
"I don't want better than you. I just want you." He leaned in and kissed her to stop her next words.
She resisted; he felt her stiffen with surprise, felt her tense. He waited, not deepening the kiss, not pulling back, waiting for her to decide if she wanted to try it or not. He wouldn't demand, Great Spirit, she'd had too many men already demand—and take—from her what should never have been theirs to take and only hers to give, too young and too often, and he would never, ever demand from her.
And then her lips softened, and he felt her tentatively reach out, wrap her arms around him, and he felt her body relax against his, and his heart sang as he deepened the kiss, intensified it, trying to make her feel the passion, the desire, for her that he felt. He understood that she'd been hurt by too many people in her life thus far and he was not going to hurt her again.
He could feel her relax against him but she wasn't really responding. She'd built a wall inside herself, shutting herself away from the core of her femininity, no doubt a result of the extended horrific abuse she'd suffered as a vulnerable young teenager trapped in a basement repeatedly brutalized. And he wondered if that was why she kept calling herself 'frigid'—had that idiot boy Adam Barefoot felt that wall inside her? Had he looked at it as something to be overcome by gentleness and care, or had he looked at it as frustrating his own desires and she was therefore unacceptable as a mate?
He allowed his hands to come up, caressing her tentatively, feeling her clothing slide against the smooth scar tissue of her torso. He could feel his own body straining toward her, yearning for her, but he was determined that he would break that wall down, release the fire and passion and desire he knew was inside her somewhere.
"Not here," he whispered. "Come out into the family room."
The folding army cot was much too small for her to sprawl and be comfortable on, but the bear fur would be more than adequate. Ignoring the packs that still waited to be attended to, he shoved them aside, stripped the couch of its cushions and pillows and arranged them on the floor, then spread the bearskin over top of them. When he turned around after finishing that operation, she was standing there uncertainly in the dim lamplight, undressed. Her shoulders were slightly hunched, as if still afraid of his reaction at seeing her body.
He took her hand, drew her down onto the bear fur, stretched her out on it. "Make yourself comfortable," he told her, his own voice husky with desire. "Lie still and enjoy this. Just feel. Let me do the work." She nodded, her eyes studying him uncertainly as she forced herself to relax; he felt touched that she would allow herself to become that vulnerable for anyone, even him, again, and it reinforced his belief that she was one of the strongest women he'd ever known… and reinforced his desire to not hurt her…..
They collapsed in a heap long moments later, gasping and spent and exhausted, tangled in the bear fur, all sweaty limbs and exhausted breathing. Charlie finally moved first, untangling him from her, peering down her body to make sure that she hadn't been hurt, no, she was fine, and he lay next to her, then grabbed the edge of the bear fur and pulled it over them. She lay still, dazed, panting as she came down off that incredible climax, then she opened her eyes. "You're right. I need a bigger bed."
Their laughter filled the little cottage.