Well, by popular demand, here it is…an epilogue! You all can thank my beta for this as she's the one who had the idea of showing them living their life on their own terms. And, she won't let me close the story. She's convinced we'll come up with more for this…and I've learned not to argue! I hope y'all are well and no, you haven't heard the last from me. I've got something nearly completed and a couple other ideas boiling. Stay tuned! Love and kisses, Chris
Tobias shuffled down the long, narrow corridor of the Temperance, each step dogged by exhaustion. This trip was entirely different from Helping Hands' previous relief efforts. With their new co-directorship, Johanna and Tobias had expanded the scope of Helping Hands to not only respond when disasters struck but to also help support the rebuilding efforts once the clean-up process was complete. The expansion of its initial charter was one of the biggest reasons they had pushed so hard to separate Helping Hands from Prior-Eaton. Now they were helping to rebuild the earthquake-torn areas of Turkey they'd responded to months before, allowing them to maintain their connections and expand their reach by partnering with other organizations as well as build upon the trust they'd established with the local community.
The Temperance had continued to be an asset for Helping Hands. It not only offered them the ability to safely and efficiently carry its volunteers into disaster areas accessible by ship with its own built-in lodging, it also provided plenty of cargo space to carry additional resources such as food, medicine and equipment.
Of course, they also responded to disaster situations not accessible by ship when needed. In those instances, Tobias' global connections usually allowed them to be able to work out an arrangement to use another non-governmental organization or hire local help to move people and supplies. Using locals was a good way for Helping Hands to employ people and inject some needed money back into the disaster area's recovering economy.
As co-director, technically Tobias supposed that he didn't have to physically pitch in and lend a hand anymore, but he wasn't the type of leader that would send his people off to do something he himself wasn't willing to do. In his opinion, there would be plenty of time for him to glad-hand and schmooze donors when there wasn't a major disaster that needed attention, though he was fortunate that Johanna enjoyed that aspect of the foundation and was more than willing to take it on so that he could be hands on; they were a perfect team in that sense.
As he finally reached the door to his suite, Tobias sighed gratefully as he opened it. The last time he'd stayed on the ship, he'd used one of the interior cabins while the exterior suites were being renovated. In its cruising days, the Temperance had boasted several executive suites complete with a master bedroom, luxury bathroom, living/dining rooms and a wet bar. Keeping those suites as well as the larger outer cabins allowed for a comfortable lodging space for the volunteers while they traveled and worked. They'd converted many of the interior, windowless rooms into storage space and added workrooms for small construction projects, but the ship could still carry nearly two thousand volunteers. They hadn't quite reached that capacity of volunteers yet, but Tobias had hope.
He smiled when he spotted Tris at the dining room table and felt some of his fatigue melt away. Something about seeing his wife never failed to lift his spirits, especially at times when he would catch her like this—totally absorbed in her writing. She was sitting in her usual writing posture; hunched over the table, her legs curled around the rungs of the chair legs. Her hair was piled into a messy bun on top of her head while her eyes were glued to the computer screen, lost in her own world. The initial sales and reviews of Tris' first novel had been good enough for Tori to sign her to an additional three book deal so Tris was already working on her next one with the plans for at least three or four more in various stages. He had loved watching her blossom under the accolades she'd received for her first novel. Tris had fully grown into her own skin and as a result, Tobias found he grew more intrigued, more delighted, by her with every passing day. Nearly a year into their marriage and Tobias felt they were still discovering new things about each other all the time.
As if feeling his eyes on her, Tris looked up, her eyes taking a moment to focus on him before she gave him a slow smile. "Hey, you're back." Pushing away from the table, she stretched a little. "How was your day?"
"Long but it's looking better right now," he said, closing the door behind him and crossing the room to drop a kiss lightly on her lips. As he straightened, his back protested and he gave a slight grunt.
"Hey, you okay?" she asked, her expression growing concerned.
Waving off her concern, Tobias nodded. "Yeah, fine. I just tweaked my back a little as we were hauling some of the lumber for the new houses."
Rising onto her tiptoes, Tris put her hands on his chest and brushed another kiss across his lips. "I grabbed us dinner from the dining room. I hope you don't mind if I keep you all to myself tonight."
"I'm more than happy to be all yours tonight. I'm all yours every night." Tobias grinned and wrapped his arms around her waist, hauling her against his body. Tris all but purred. His body had always been well built and hard but in the last few weeks they'd been in Turkey, Tris could swear the physical labor was sculpting his body even more. She certainly wasn't complaining.
She grinned back at him. "Why don't you take a shower? Then I can give you a massage. I made sure to pack some of that muscle cream Johanna swears by."
Tobias considered which appetite he wanted to sate first. Lunch felt like an eternity ago but the idea of a massage from his wife brought a completely different hunger to the forefront. "What's for dinner?" he asked.
Tris began pushing his t-shirt up over his torso before Tobias helpfully elevated his arms overhead, pulling it the rest of the way off. "I think Reggie has fallen in love with Mediterranean food. He's been experimenting like crazy." While urging Tobias backwards towards the bedroom, Tris began unbuttoning his jeans. "Tonight's offering is a version of Lebanese ouzi but he used a variation of a Turkish bread as the shell instead of puff pastry or filo dough."
Tobias paused a moment thinking of the flavorful dish, which was a dough stuffed with shredded lamb, vegetables and spicy rice then baked to a golden brown. It was one of his favorite recipes and for a moment actually competed with a hot shower and even hotter sex. However, thoughts of food fled as Tris reached into his now open jeans to grasp him firmly. With a groan, Tobias tangled his hands in his wife's hair, tilting her head up for a deep kiss. "That'll keep. Why don't you join me in the shower?"
Tris smiled into the kiss. "Mm…tempting, but you'll feel a lot better if you just stand under that warm water. Then I'll rub that muscle relaxant on you and you'll be all ready for dinner." Her wicked hand moved slightly and Tobias' hips bucked.
"You're making it tough to think about a solo shower," he said, his hands sliding under her shirt then upwards towards her bra.
Tris broke away from the desire to give in, her eyes twinkling. "Good things come to those who wait," she teased. "Now, I'm going to get your shower ready."
Tobias sighed as Tris moved into the bathroom and he reluctantly finished undressing. As he bent slowly to pull off his jeans, he had to admit he might feel a bit better once the warm water had relaxed his back muscles. He started to bend down again and pick up his discarded clothes, grunting this time as his back twinged.
"Hey, I'll get that," Tris said, re-entering the room. She placed a warm hand on his back and even that small amount of heat felt terrific. "You go get in the shower."
Nodding, he made his way into the bathroom and into the walk-in shower. He moaned out loud as the hot water beat down on his aching muscles. Closing his eyes, he leaned his hands against the wall, letting the heat seep into his skin. He hated to admit it, but Tris might have been right about letting him just concentrate on the water easing the soreness from his muscles. He wasn't sure how long he stood there but eventually, he roused himself enough to soap up and finish showering.
Tris had left a fluffy towel on the rack just outside the shower and he gratefully pulled it down, drying himself off. He had to admit, the shower had done wonders and he felt a lot better. Wrapping the towel around his waist, he strolled into the bedroom and grinned when he saw Tris curled on the bed, dressed only in a simple t-shirt lounging dress. "I take it the wait is over?" he asked, his voice rich with sensual amusement.
Tris rolled her eyes and gestured to the bed. "On your stomach, lover-boy."
Tobias caught her gaze and slowly let the towel fall. His grin widened when he saw the flush bloom over her cheeks as Tris' gaze roamed over his body. He loved how she looked at him, as though he were everything she'd ever wanted. Naked, he stretched out on the king-sized bed next to her. He felt her move alongside him and before he could say anything, Tobias felt the cool menthol cream being worked into his back. Tris' hands, surprisingly strong, dug into the still-tense muscles of his shoulders. Tobias couldn't stop the groan and he heard Tris' chuckle behind him.
"Don't gloat," he mumbled, his face buried into the pillow.
"Who me? I never gloat," came her amused response.
"Uh-huh." Tobias grinned to himself and groaned again as she dug into his muscles. "Oh, man, that feels good."
Tris gave a husky chuckle, enjoying the view as her hands roamed over her husband's muscular back. His skin was tanned, his normal golden-brown now warmed to a deep bronze. She smoothed her hands over him, stopping to concentrate on the knots she could feel tangling his muscles. Her smile widened as she felt him melt under her touch. That she could make this strong, brave man weak was the headiest feeling she'd ever had. The last eight months had been happier than she'd ever thought they could be. They still had their disagreements occasionally, but they weren't often and after their first fight as a married couple, they'd vowed to always talk to each other. Keeping the lines of communication open proved to be the best decision they could have made.
She kept working on his back, drifting over every inch until she felt him completely relax. Once she was sure she'd worked out the kinks, Tris decided to move on to the next part of her agenda. Shifting, she moved to straddle him, pressing down against his naked bottom. She knew the second he realized she wasn't wearing underwear as she felt a different tension in his body. Leaning forward, she whispered in his ear, "Feel something you like?"
"I certainly do." Moving swiftly, he turned over, knocking her gently off of him and onto her back. Before she could react, he'd covered her body with his. He grinned at her triumphantly before claiming her lips with his. It was Tris' turn to melt under his hands as he slid them down her sides. He lifted off her slightly, just enough to pull the dress up over her head and throw it over his shoulder, uncaring where it landed. Giving her a wicked grin, Tobias bent his head and sucked on her collarbone before he began working his way downward. Tris groaned and tangled her fingers in his thick, wavy hair.
"I was supposed to be helping you relax, remember?" She groaned as his teeth grazed her nipple.
Tobias chuckled against her skin, the ticklish sensation causing her to half laugh, half groan. "Oh, believe me, this is relaxing me."
"Funny…it's having the opposite effect…on me…oh…" Tris' voice trailed off into a moan as Tobias reached her hips. Hitching one of her legs over his shoulder, he shot her a look of love with a heavy dose of lust. "Just give me a second. You'll be putty in my hands in no time." He lowered his head.
Tris' back arched and she gave a deep moan as Tobias's lips, tongue and teeth began their wicked, yet magical, work. She tangled her fingers further into his hair and willingly gave herself over to the sensations he was a master at invoking in her. She moved against his face, enjoying the slow ascent towards nirvana. When he added his fingers, she shot over the top so quickly that all she could do was emit a high-pitched moan. Before she could recover, Tobias surged up her body and buried himself deep inside her.
Tris couldn't control the trembling of her body. The added stimulation prolonged and spun out her orgasm, pushing her higher and higher to the point where the pleasure was so sharp, it was nearly painful. Her breath caught and she arched her back again, pressing her breasts firmly against Tobias' chest; the friction enhancing the sensations that pummeled her. She was deaf and blind, the entire world narrowing only to the places where their bodies met. Wrapping her arms and legs around him, she held on tightly, squeezing her inner muscles around him and was rewarded with hearing his groan match hers.
Tobias loved the tight grip Tris had on him, loved feeling her body moving in conjunction with his; a slave to the same sensations that held him captive. He moved as fast as he could, pushing ever deeper until he couldn't hold on any longer, tumbling over the cliff with her, his body pressed tightly to hers. He squeezed his eyes shut, his moan long and loud as the pleasure he only found with her overtook him.
They lay there panting, their hearts racing together as they slowly descended back to earth. After several long moments, he lifted his head up and kissed her deeply. "That's the best thing that's happened to me all day," he said.
Tris chuckled, the movement making him groan. "Mm, it was certainly the highlight of my day." She kissed him, sinking into him, until his stomach gave a loud growl. They broke apart, laughing. "How about we put round two on the back burner until after dinner?" she suggested.
Tobias grinned sheepishly. "Might be a good idea." They got up but rather than getting dressed, they pulled on robes and made their way back to their dining room. Tris reached into the small refrigerator, pulled out the individual-sized pastries and slid them into the compact convection/toaster oven on the counter above it.
"Putting those little ovens in was the best idea I ever had," Tobias remarked, opening the bottle of wine Tris had left on the counter and poured them each a glass.
Tris nodded. "Makes it convenient, especially since you don't all come back at the same time. After a long day, I sure wouldn't want to have to drag myself all the way to the dining hall." Once the oven was started, Tris accepted the glass and leaned back against the counter. "By the way, I heard from my dad today," she remarked, sipping the red blend.
Tobias raised an eyebrow as he swallowed. "Everything good?"
She cradled the wineglass between her hands. "He read my book."
"He said he loved it." She gave a little incredulous laugh.
"That's great!" Tobias put his wineglass on the counter and bent his head to brush his lips across hers. "I knew he would."
"I didn't think he'd actually read it," she confessed.
"He's really been trying, Tris."
She nodded. "I finally think he's accepted that we're living life on our terms and he can either be a part of it or not."
Taking the glass from her hands, Tobias wrapped his arms around her. "It's a good thing."
"A very good thing." She hugged him tightly then looked up at him, smiling. "If you'd told me a couple of years ago, I'd not only be a published author but my parents would be happy about it, I wouldn't have believed you. But here I am, living the life I never knew I wanted, with the man of my dreams."
Tobias bent his head and brushed his lips over hers, then reached over and picked up each of their wineglasses. Handing one to her, he said, "Well, as that goes double for me, I say we drink to that. Here's to living our dream."
She smiled then touched her glass to his and added, "And we always will."
He smiled back at her, agreeing, "We always will."