It was a Saturday morning, and the snow came down at a blizzard pace. There were no birds outside chirping, no wildlife skittering around, no deer grazing in the pasture behind the house. Danae and Andy slept soundly in their bed, naked, wrapped around each other. If someone looked at them, other than the differences in their skin color, it would be difficult to see where one of them ended, and the other began. A soft cry crackled over the baby monitor, and Danae awakened.
Gingerly, she peeled herself away from Andy, pulled her pajama pants on and her shirt over her head. The room seemed chilly, and she hoped the nursery felt more pleasant. As soon as the bedroom door opened, a blast of warm air hit her, and she felt a sense of relief. The children were warm and toasty in their room. Her four-month-old son cooed at her as she approached his crib. Elyse, her twenty-one-month-old daughter, was still soundly sleeping.
“Good morning, little man,” she chirped quietly at her son and plucked him from the crib. She quickly changed his diaper and walked to the rocking chair, where her dad once sat to rock him. She lifted her shirt, positioned the baby to nurse him, and he clamped down on her as he latched on. “Ouch, Eamon!” she yelped. “You and I are going to have a little talk about that, young man,” she cooed at him. She loved to hear the soft grunts and whimpers he made as he ate. She crossed her legs and began to gently rock him, singing a lullaby as she fed him.
In the bedroom, Andy reached for Danae, found an empty spot, and groaned. Dang it, he thought. She always wakes me, even when she’s not here. A look at his watch revealed the time. 4:47 am. He grabbed his robe, and he tied it around him as he walked from the room. And there, in her favorite chair, he spotted his beloved nursing their infant son. “Good morning, my sweet,” he greeted her sleepily.
“Andy! What are you doing up? You don’t have to work today, love.” She adjusted Eamon as he ate. His suckling seemed extraordinarily strong that morning, and it was uncomfortable.
“Your absence wakes me every time. I wish you’d bring the baby back to bed to nurse him, as you did with Elyse.” Andy stretched and yawned—his black hair was messy.
Danae winced in pain. “I might be done with this sooner than I thought. I’m sore, and he is going to town on me this morning.” She adjusted her breast once again and tried to ease the pressure, but it was no use. She sat him up, even though she knew he wasn’t finished on that side and patted his back.
Andy looked at her. “Wow, he’s got you all inflamed and red. It looks like it hurts.”
“Yeah, it does. The other side should be good, but that doesn’t help me at all.” Eamon burped a little bit, and she settled him onto her other breast. “Now, easy son,” she laughed. “No biting!” Luckily, the baby settled down and nursed comfortably on the other side. “Maybe he wasn’t getting much on the other one, and that’s why he was fussy.” It made sense. She was incredibly tender.
“I could always help to unblock your ducts, baby,” Andy offered.
Danae made a face. “Oh, yuck, Andy! That’s just nasty.”
He laughed. “It’s not like I haven’t tasted it before,” he quipped. “We have sex. These things happen.”
“Really?” she made a face and shuddered. “What does it taste like?”
“It’s sweet. Creamy—like you.” He flirted madly with her. “You know, I don’t have to play with them anymore if you—”
“No, no,” she laughed. “It’s not that weird. Please don’t let that stop you.”
He smiled. “Once he’s finished nursing, come back to bed.” He gave her his best ‘come hither’ look.
“Wow, with an offer like that,” she teased. “I’ll be in shortly.”
When they awakened later that morning, Danae checked her phone and saw one missed call with voice mail. It was a number she didn’t recognize, but she dialed voicemail anyway and listened on the speaker:
Danae, this is Dave Petrillo, you know, from Sim State. I heard about your dad, and I’m sorry for your loss. I’m in town and wondered if you wanted to meet for a drink, maybe, you know, mess around and have some fun. I’m staying at the resort in the eastern hills, room 12. I miss you, and I want to make everything up to you. Hope to see you soon.
“Who is Dave, my sweet?” Andy asked as he came from the bathroom, wrapped in a towel.
She couldn’t lie to him. “He’s an ex-boyfriend.”
“Nothing. I just never heard you mention this Dave guy before now.” Andy sat down on the bed next to her. “Why is that? I told you about Kaitlyn.”
He was right. “I don’t know, babe. He just wasn’t important enough to mention.”
“Did you love him?”
“No, but I liked him a lot.” No, she thought, that wasn’t true. “Okay, yes, I loved him. But nothing ever happened between us. I wanted it to, but it never did.”
“Well, apparently he still wants to, you know, ‘mess around.’”
“Well, he can want to mess around all he wants. I’m not going to call him back.” His was the very last phone call she ever expected.
“No, I-I think you should, Danae. But I will go with you.”
“That is a horrible idea, Andy.”
“I can’t believe you never told me about him.” Andy was a little hurt. “I have been nothing but honest with you.”
“Babe, please drop this. I don’t want anything to do with Dave. He’s a slime ball, and I never want to see him again.”
Danae sighed. “If you must know, he cheated on me. And I caught him in the act, with someone else. On the day I was going to—give into him.”
“I had no idea you were so serious about him.” Andy clenched his jaw.
“It all worked out like it was supposed to.”
“So, when I met you, I was a rebound.” Andy stood and paced, his arms in the air.
“Babe, why does this bother you so much? I am with you. You are the one I love. You are the father of my babies.”
“I don’t know.” He felt like fighting with her, and at the same time, he didn’t want to. “I don’t know what I feel.”
“I know what I feel,” Danae said softly. “I feel love for you, and only you. I feel desire for you, and only you.” She looked at her feet and sighed softly.
He just looked at her. She was saying everything right, and yet he was angry. He was afraid to speak because all he wanted to do was spew venom at her. But Andy remembered his dying promise to Travis.
“I’m going to go for a jog. To clear my head.”
“But it’s snowing, Andy.”
“Please, let me go, Nae. I need this.” He got dressed in his sweat pants and jacket and tied his running shoes onto his feet. He took his phone. “If you need me, call me.” He didn’t kiss her goodbye.
Danae was lost in herself, terrified Andy might not come home when she heard Eamon cry in the nursery. His hungry wails brought her back to reality, and she picked him up—she needed to nurse him. Elyse was quietly playing in her crib, and was content, for now.
Why didn’t you tell him, Nae? She thought to herself. He was right to feel how he did. She sat down in her rocking chair and nestled their son into her arms. The blockage from earlier felt much better, and Eamon settled into nursing peacefully and comfortably. Quietly, Danae wept.
“Mama!” Elyse called to her from the nursery. “Up!”
She knew those two words very well. “Just a minute, sweet pea,” Danae called to her, and she heard the happy babbling that followed. Just a few more minutes, Elyse, she thought. Please be a good girl.
Danae sighed. She could use an extra set of hands now. “Just a minute, honey. Mama will be there.”
Maybe Eamon had enough to hold him for a bit while she fed Elyse. She would have to take a chance. She quickly walked downstairs and put the baby into his swing and set the speed to low. Then she ran back up to the nursery to retrieve a now crying Elyse. “Aww, sweetie, Mama’s here,” she soothed her. “Let’s go get breakfast!”
“Bek fist!” Elyse clapped excitedly. “Pakes!”
Danae sighed. “You would want pancakes.” She took the ingredients out and started the batter, hoping Eamon would be appeased in the swing long enough to cook. And she almost made it through the first batch before he cried. For a second, she thought of calling Andy home, but she wasn’t sure he’d come so soon. She turned the griddle off, prepared the cakes for Elyse, and set them in front of her.
“Tak ooh!” She offered, digging into her plate of cut-up pancakes. And Danae smiled at her.
“You’re welcome, sweet pea.” Eamon was crying louder, and as she approached him, he calmed somewhat. “Come here, son,” she cooed as she lifted him. “We’re going to sit in the kitchen and help sissy with breakfast, yes we are!” She pulled a dining chair from the table and sat with Elyse, and with Eamon latched on and nursing, she felt like Super Mom without a partner.
After Elyse finished with breakfast, Danae left the mess on the counter and gave her a sippy cup with milk. She was much more interested in playing on the floor with her blocks than sitting still, so it gave Danae a chance to finish nursing Eamon. She looked at her watch—Andy left close to an hour ago. Danae couldn’t imagine where he had gone or when he would be back.
With Eamon in his swing, with a full belly and feeling sleepy, and Elyse safely distracted in her walker, Danae finished making the pancakes and cleaned up the mess from breakfast. She poured a cup of coffee and sat down by the fire and pondered her life, praying to whoever would listen that Andy would come home soon.
Andy stretched once he was outside the gate and set his sights on the downtown area. It was cold, but he needed to run, to be one with the road, to get his frustration out, so he didn’t take it out on his wife. Carefully, Andy jogged down the hill toward the Hoi Polloi, navigating the back roads. The snow crunched under his feet as he ran. Why didn’t she tell me about this guy? He asked himself over and over. He must have meant something to her. Did she still love him? And more importantly, how much did they do together? He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answers to the questions that nagged at him.
The winter festival was ongoing at Verde Park, so he decided to run down by the coffeehouse. His mind went to Travis and his last interaction with his father-in-law. Every ounce of pain she ever had, I inflicted it on her. Don’t repeat my mistakes, Andy. He shook his head. She worries quickly and without reason. Don’t give her a reason. “Get out of my head, Travis,” he said aloud and slowed his pace as he approached the festival grounds. He wanted to call Danae, but he didn’t. He was still angry.
He went into the Flying V, bought a cup of coffee, and sat inside to warm up. He could listen to Danae’s phone message and possibly get Dave’s phone number, and Andy wanted to call him. So he opened the family app on his phone, checked her incoming calls, and wrote down the number that corresponded with her message. He dialed the number and pressed Send. He was surprised when a phone rang nearby. Andy’s head spun around and saw a blond man sitting in a corner booth by himself. He stood and walked toward the ringing phone.
“Dave Petrillo?” he asked as he approached the man.
“Who wants to know?” Dave looked up from his laptop.
“Do you know Danae Jones?” Andy asked him.
“Yes…” Dave said cautiously.
“My name is Anduin. May I sit?” He motioned to the seat next to Dave.
“You still haven’t told me why you’re asking about Danae.” Dave looked Andy over and scratched his chin.
“Let’s just say she’s a mutual friend,” Andy said smugly.
“Okay, have a seat, guy.” Dave nodded to Andy. “So, Anduin, tell me how you know Danae.”
“She’s a family friend. I’d like to ask you the same thing.”
“She and I dated briefly in college. I was a jerk and broke her heart. I thought maybe we could reconcile.”
“I see,” Andy pondered Dave’s admission. “Do you think she would be receptive?”
“Well, I always got the impression she was hot to trot. I screwed up my chances with her. Her sister once told me that she didn’t see Danae settling down with just one guy. So, I was hoping for my turn with her.” He leaned closer to Andy and nudged him. “You know, a quick ‘shag and bag.’” Dave was surprisingly candid and unnecessarily crude, and it infuriated Andy.
“I see.” What Andy knew about Danae for sure was that she loved him. What he wasn’t sure about was her feelings for this blond man who sat in front of him. “Well, I hear she is happily married.”
“No way! I did not see that coming.” Dave chuckled. “She sure was a passionate little thing. I hope her husband can handle her. If it turns out he can’t, tell her to call me.”
“I hear they’re quite happy.” Andy continued to bait Dave.
“So, you know the Jones family, eh?” Dave finally asked. “What was Travis Jones like?”
“He was an incredible man. I was proud to call him a friend.” And father-in-law, he thought. “Tell me more about Danae, Dave.”
“Why are you so interested in her? You probably know more about her than I do, being a family friend and all.”
“Because I know her husband. He is wildly protective of her.” Andy looked down at his coffee cup with his teeth clenched, trying to stifle his anger.
“Wait,” Dave said, pointing at him with recognition. “You’re Andy Murphy. The manager of the Llamas.” He looked different out of his work uniform, how he always looked on television.
“You’re more than a family friend. You’re Danae’s husband.”
“Congratulations. You can put two and two together.”
“I’m sorry, man. I shouldn’t have called her. I forgot she was married, I see now, to a big, big man.” Dave swallowed hard and hoped Andy would not pound him into a pulp.
“You should know, Dave, that I love that woman more than I love my own life. She has given me two beautiful children, a son and a daughter. And I will die to protect her and those babies from anything or anyone. I am not afraid.”
“Point taken, Andy. I will not contact her again, and as I said, I’m sorry I called her. Thank you for setting me straight peacefully.”
“Not a problem, Dave. It was pleasant speaking with you.” Andy extended a hand to shake.
“I’ll pass, respectfully. But I did enjoy our talk until I recognized you. Now, I’m a little afraid of you.”
“No need. Just stay away from Danae, and we’ll be good.” Andy nodded toward him. “I need to be on my way. I left her at home with the kids, and she probably needs me.” He stood to stretch. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Dave said, relieved he was leaving.
Andy had a challenging run on the way home. It was all uphill, and he considered calling a cab to go home. But, he was feeling better and could use the run, so he started back up the hill, headed for Foothill Drive. Halfway up the hillside, he looked at his watch. Andy left the house three hours before, and chances were, she would be worried sick about him. Half of his day had been spent angry, and suddenly he was remorseful. It was time wasted, not spent with their kids, not spent with her. He quickened his pace and pushed through the soreness and fatigue. He wanted nothing more than to be home with her.
Danae had just finished nursing Eamon and had him sitting up to burp him. Elyse was napping in her crib, and Danae was tired. “Come on, sweetie pie. Give me a big burp so that I can lay you down for a nap.” A few more steady pats and he delivered a belch that would have made his daddy proud, and she laughed through the tears. “Good boy,” she praised him. She stood and walked to the nursery to lay him down in his crib. The baby yawned at her and closed his eyes as she backed out of the room. She padded softly down the hallway to their bedroom and flopped down on the bed face first and cried, convinced Andy left for good. Her sobs wound down to quiet weeping, and she fell asleep shortly afterward.
Andy returned home and entered quietly, kicking his shoes off by the front door. “Nae?” he called softly, but there was no answer. He decided to jump into the shower in the spa room, and when he finished, wrapped a towel around his waist and walked upstairs to the nursery. He peeked his head in the door and saw both of his babies sleeping peacefully, and he smiled. Andy walked to their bedroom, opened the door, and saw Danae sleeping—his heart filled with love for her. But when he moved closer and saw the tears that stained her face, he felt sick. One broken promise and Travis hadn’t died more than a month ago. He took the towel off, hung it in the bathroom, then laid down beside her. Andy scooted closer and wrapped around her. He kissed her neck and buried his face into her hair and felt her awaken.
“Andy!” she exclaimed and started to cry. “I didn’t think you were coming back.” Her body shook with sobs as he held her.
“Why would you think that, my sweet? I just needed to think for a while. To go clear my head.” He kissed her shoulders and caressed her gently. “I’ll always come home to you.”
“I’m so sorry I never mentioned Dave,” she cried. “I was so angry with him. The pain was so new. I wanted to forget him, and I just didn’t see a reason to cause myself any more hurt.”
“Shhh, it’s okay, Nae.” He held her tightly. “I’m not angry with you.”
She turned over to face him, gasping for breath in between sobs. “You could have fooled me.”
“Baby, I…” he needed to say it. “I ran into Dave down at the Flying V.”
Her tears stopped suddenly. “How did you know it was Dave?”
“I called him, and unbelievably, his phone rang at the coffee shop. I figured out who he was.”
“How did you get his number?”
“From the app.” He knew he had to come clean, and she would probably be spitting mad. It was a chance he had to take. “Baby, I know I shouldn’t have, but I had to know.”
“I want to be angry, but I don’t have any basis for it. I’m the one who caused this, not you.” She sighed deeply. “What did he say?”
“Well, he was interested in getting back together with you, but not for a relationship. He just wanted you for sex. A fling. A one-nighter.”
“And you let him live?” she chuckled and then stopped. “I mean—Oh, Andy, I don’t know what I mean.”
“Well, I didn’t introduce myself as your husband at first. Just as a family friend. He figured out who I was after a while. I just asked him nicely to leave you alone. He was quite agreeable.”
“Well, you are much bigger than he is. At least, he was a pretty small guy when I knew him.”
“Small is a good description.” Andy meant in size and personality. “He claimed he didn’t know you were married when he was talking about getting back with you. But when he recognized me, he suddenly recalled it. I wasn’t buying it.”
She held his face in her hands and looked into his caramel brown eyes. “I love you, Andy. Only you. Forever.” Her voice sounded desperate. She needed him to know it.
“I love you, Danae. I’m sorry I walked out on you without telling you where I was going or when I’d be back. I was angry, but I didn’t want to be angry with you. I didn’t want to take it out on you.” He caressed her cheek. “I should have called you.”
“I need you. Andy, make love to me?”
“Oh, baby, you know I will. You don’t even have to ask.”
She put the finishing touches on the tree and turned the lights on. “It looks beautiful,” Andy said, watching the lights reflecting in her eyes. Snowflake Day was just a week away, their first without their parents, but their first with Eamon. “You did a great job decorating it, darling.”
Danae adjusted a few ornaments and fussed with the light strands, trying to get everything perfect. “There’s a lot of decorating left to do, but my heart isn’t in it this year. But, we have two little ones waiting for Father Winter to come. They are who this holiday is for anyway.” He walked to her and wrapped his arms around her waist. “You don’t have to do the outside lights, though,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, and it’s been bitter cold outside.”
“Are you sure?” He kissed her neck. “I don’t mind.”
“Yes, I’m sure. I have things to do inside. You can help me with that. Plus, I want to get a sitter so we can go shopping together. Time is growing short.”
“Why don’t we do that tonight? I could call ahead and get a table at The Tower, and we could go shopping afterward.”
“I know you love that place, but I’d rather go to the place Mama and Daddy loved. It’s casual. It’s comfortable. No snooty waiters, no celebrities.”
“That would be okay, too. As long as we’re together, it doesn’t matter where we go.”
Danae dialed the sitter and arranged for her to come within the hour. “I need to pump so that the baby will have dinner,” she giggled. “He will be a disappointed little man if Mama doesn’t leave milk for him.”
“I’ll go shower. Do we need reservations at this place, Nae?”
“I don’t think so, but it probably wouldn’t hurt.”
“I’ll call after I finish upstairs.” Andy padded upstairs and blew her a kiss.
Danae was happy with her output and was able to fill a bottle for Eamon. The sitter showed up early, and she took notes on where things were, their cell phone numbers, and the kids’ routine. “My husband will be down shortly. The kids are in the nursery. I need to go shower, and we’ll be ready to leave after that.”
“No problem, Mrs. Murphy.” The girl, named Leslie, looked young. “The baby is Eamon? And your daughter is Elyse, right?”
“Yes, honey. They’re good babies. I don’t expect you’ll have many problems with them. Elyse has books upstairs in their room. She likes to hear stories, and she’ll sit for a while if you read to her. Eamon should settle down if you put him in the swing at low speed. He loves that.”
“I won’t let you down, Mrs. Murphy.”
“You can call me Danae,” she said, smiling. “Relax. You’re going to do great.”
Andy walked down the stairs, dressed in a business casual outfit, and he smelled awesome. “You’re wearing the musk,” Danae noted. “It smells amazing.”
“All for you, my sweet.”
“I’ll be down soon, love.” Danae showered and dried her hair, putting it up in her favorite updo, dabbed some vanilla perfume onto her skin, and dressed in a warm sweater with jeans. As she walked down the steps, Andy’s eyes went to her.
“Wow, my sweet. You are breathtaking.”
Danae blushed. “You need glasses.”
“Let’s go.” He held his arm out for her. “Thanks again, Leslie, for watching our children. We shouldn’t be out late.”
They drove to the off-strip restaurant, and valet parked the car. Andy took the ticket, and he led Danae inside. “Murphy,” Andy told the host.
“Ah, yes, Mr. Murphy! A pleasure to see you, sir!” He took two menus and led them back to a secluded room with only three tables in it. There was no one else in the room but them. “May I get you something from the bar? Wine? Spirits?”
“How about some wine? Dry, please.” Andy asked.
“Certainly, Mr. Murphy!”
“So, my sweet, what is good here?” He perused the menu, impressed with the selection.
“Mama always used to get the scampi, but I’ve heard the filet mignon is their specialty. Daddy loved it.”
“Hmm,” Andy thought. “What looks good to you?”
“Well, I’m always partial to lobster thermidor, but anything looks good. Be creative.” She winked at him. “You’re good at choosing for me.”
“How about, liver and onions?” he suggested playfully and laughed when she made a face. “Okay, not the liver.” His eyes widened as he spotted something special, and he immediately knew what he would order for her.
“I know that look,” she said and laughed. “You found something good.”
“Oh, I did, love. We’ll share like we usually do. Don’t worry. I know what you like.”
“I’m not worried in the least.”
He took her hand and kissed it. “You look so beautiful tonight, my sweet. Your freckles are just too cute.”
She shook her head. “Not my best feature, but okay.”
“I beg to differ,” he countered. “I love your freckles. I know where you got them. Frances—I don’t know how many greats she was—she had freckles.”
“How do you know that?” Danae was amazed. “Babe, not many pictures of Grandma Frances survived.”
“I have my ways. Besides, don’t you have red hair in your ancestry? Wasn’t your Nana Destiny a redhead? And your uncle Chris? Your Nana Bella? Naturally, freckles would be in your family.”
“I love that you know my family better than I do.” Danae took a sip of wine.
“I can’t help it, love. Everywhere I look in the house, there they are. It’s like living in a museum. It’s the most awesome thing ever, and I love that our children will grow up loving and knowing their heritage. We just need to get some pictures of my dad and mom and hang them, too.”
“Of course, we will!” The waiter came around, and in Andy’s authentic style, he ordered for both of them, just pointing at the menu, keeping everything a secret. “Okay, now you’re just teasing me.”
“I’m glad you noticed. Hang onto that for later.” He side-glanced at her and smiled.
“You’re incorrigible,” she flirted.
“You’re beautiful,” he flirted back. “Would you like to dance?”
“You know I would,” she replied, waiting for him to stand. He led her to a small wooden dance floor in the room, the only music came from speakers mounted on the wall, but it didn’t matter.
“We need to go to The Grind soon. I need to work out some tension on the dance floor.” He winked at her.
“We don’t need a dance floor for that, babe.” She winked at him.
“Are you sure we need to go shopping after this?”
“That was the plan.”
“Plans can change,” he suggested.
“But that won’t get gifts under the tree,” she protested half-heartedly.
“You need to stop making so much sense.” He kissed her fingers tenderly. “Let’s go sit again. I’m getting uncomfortable,” he suggested. She knew what he meant and only nodded her head.
“So,” she began, hoping to change the topic, “What do we get for Elyse? Next year should be fun with her, but I still want to make sure she has things to play with.”
“How about a dollhouse?” he suggested.
She nodded. “That could be cute. I never had one.”
“Or a rocking horse? She’s too little to play on the one in the yard, but a small wooden one would be enjoyable for her.” Andy was impressive with his gift picking skills.
“I like that idea, too! What about Eamon?”
“Well, he’s too little for much of anything yet. Maybe something musical. He loves that old antique music box.”
Danae got choked up. “That music box is at least a hundred years old. I’m surprised sometimes that it still works.”
“Really? It’s in such great condition for being that old.”
“I remember Nana Bella telling us when she wound it to play one night. We couldn’t have been more than six years old. Nana Destiny got it from her Grandpappy Farmer in Appaloosa Plains. I don’t know how old it was before she got it.” She wiped tears away. “I miss Nana Bella.”
“I’m sorry, my love. I never knew my grandparents that well. My dad’s parents were older, and they died when I was little. I don’t remember my mother’s parents, either.”
“I have forgotten a lot about her and Pop-Pop. We were only seven when they died. Devin was a baby. I know he doesn’t remember them at all. Mama told me I’m a lot like Nana Bella, though.”
“In what ways?”
“Well, she was… sexually aware. That guy she dated in high school wasn’t necessarily a good influence on her.”
“Is that why she started the tradition with the purity rings?”
“That was started by Papa Arthur. Nana had a ring, but she pushed it.”
He chuckled. Yes, you are like your Nana Bella, he thought. “Is that something you’re going to want for Elyse someday?”
“I’m not sure yet. I think so, but it’s going to depend a lot on her.”
“So, am I a good influence on you?” Andy winked at her.
“No comment,” she flirted and took a sip of wine.
Their dinner arrived shortly after. Andy’s surprise was oysters, something he knew Danae loved. “Are you surprised, my sweet?”
“Yes! I didn’t even see them on the menu! I knew you’d outdo yourself.” Andy had ordered chicken risotto for them to share, and both meals were outstanding. The oysters came three ways: fried, Rockefeller, and on the shell, raw. Andy couldn’t bring himself to try the raw ones, but Danae loved them.
“I’m not sure I want to kiss you now,” he teased. “I know what you’ve been eating, and it’s nasty, to borrow your term.”
She laughed. “The oysters are not lost on me, mister. You will want to kiss me, believe me.”
“I’m going to want a lot more than that,” he flirted madly, as he watched her turn a deep, dark red.
“So,” she said, clearing her throat, “did we decide on a rocking horse or dollhouse for Elyse?”
“Maybe a rocking horse this year. Elyse might be too young for a dollhouse just yet,” Andy suggested.
“Do you want to go home now?”
“I so want to go home right now,” she purred. “I’ll run out tomorrow and get the rocking horse.”
“Or I can,” he suggested. There was one more thing he wanted for Danae, and he preferred that she was not with him when he bought it. She couldn’t take her eyes from him. He noticed her unrelenting stare. “Are you okay, love?”
“I’ve never been better,” she flirted. “Let’s go home.”
“As you wish,” Andy agreed.
Snowflake Day had arrived, and the Murphy family was expecting Darcey, Clint, and their two boys for gift exchanges and dinner. Elyse didn’t quite get the hang of opening presents, but she sure did love playing with the boxes more than the toys. Danae got up to get a second cup of coffee and checked the turkey while she was in the kitchen.
“Here, my sweet. I have something special for you,” Andy sparkled with anticipation. It was something he had his eye on for a long time, and he was excited to surprise her with it. He held out a long, thin box, carefully wrapped and tied with a red satin bow.
Danae took it from him and felt guilty immediately. They had already exchanged gifts, and she had nothing special for him. “What is it?”
“You’ll have to open it to find out,” he beamed.
She smiled at him and untied the red bow, opening the box. “Oh, Andy!” she exclaimed. “This is exquisite!” She picked up and admired a golden charm bracelet with charms for their wedding, engraved with their wedding date, birthstones for both of them, and a charm for each child, engraved with names and birthdates. “How did you think to do something like this?” She was truly touched.
“I tried to think of something that you would wear, and think of us each time you wore it. The wedding charm has our wedding date on it. The ones for the kids have their names and birthdays. And those two diamonds are our birthstones. If we happen to have another baby, we can add another charm or two!” He was beyond happy. “Do you like it, Nae?”
“I’ve never seen anything as beautiful, Andy.”
“I have seen something more beautiful,” he smiled at her.
“No, this is it,” she insisted.
“The woman who will wear it is the most beautiful creature who has ever walked the earth.” His sweet words melted her heart.
She hugged him, tears of joy in her eyes. “I love you, Andy.”
“I love you more, Danae,” he whispered in her ear. “Here, let me put this on your wrist,” he offered, taking the bracelet from the box and fastening it for her. “It’s gorgeous, just like you.”
Andy watched the kids while Danae showered, preparing for company, and they switched when she finished. Eamon was in his swing napping when Darcey opened the front door. “Happy Snowflake Day!” she greeted her twin, with Clint behind her, Noel and Shan between them.
“Happy Snowflake Day!” Danae beamed and hugged her family. “There’s my little man!” she cooed at Noel. “Come see Auntie Danae!” The young boy ran to her and planted a kiss on her cheek. Shan, Darcey’s younger son, wrapped himself around her leg, giggling. And Elyse heard them and toddled toward the boys.
“Happy Snowflake Day,” Clint hugged Danae and kissed her cheek. “It smells wonderful in here.” He looked around for Andy but didn’t see him. “Where’s my favorite brother-in-law?” he joked.
“He’s in the shower. He’ll be down very shortly,” Danae replied. “Make yourselves comfortable. There’s fresh coffee in the kitchen and some pastries if you’re hungry.” Darcey picked up Elyse and cuddled her, covering her face in kisses, while Clint got on the floor and played with the boys.
A few minutes later, Andy walked down the stairs and spotted Clint. “There’s my favorite brother-in-law!” he chirped, and they both laughed.
“Hey, brother,” Clint beamed. “Good to see you, man. Come join me at the cool spot,” he joked, surrounded by little boys and one little girl.
“It would be my honor,” Andy said and plopped down on the floor with the kids.
Darcey and Danae were in the kitchen, cooking together. “This brings back memories, Darce,” Danae quipped. She noticed Darcey watching the guys playing with their children. “Andy and Clint are awesome daddies.”
“Yeah, they are. I think Clint would have liked a daughter, too. But he sure does love those boys.”
“Andy loves those two babies, but his job keeps him away from home too much. They’re going to start traveling again once the season begins next month. I’m not looking forward to that. It’s too soon.” Danae swallowed hard. “Daddy warned me they’d be on the road shortly.”
“That was such a freak accident, Nae. It’s not likely to happen again.” Darcey tried to settle her sister’s fears, but she knew it was a long shot. It was too close a call, and she understood.
“I still have nightmares about that, Darce. The ‘what ifs.’ What if he would have gone? What if he wasn’t here? It drives me crazy.”
Darcey walked to Danae and hugged her. “All those years, Daddy traveled with the team, and he always came home. Andy’s flight was a freak incident, Nae. He will come home.”
“If something happens to him, Darce, I’m not sure I could survive it.” She sniffled back tears.
“He’s going to be fine, Nae.” Darcey had to believe it for her.
While dinner was cooking, they let the kids tear into more presents and exchanged gifts among the adults, sharing coffee and companionship. Eamon woke and cried while the older kids were playing together, and Danae took him to nurse, still talking with her family.
After dinner, Darcey and Danae cleaned up the mess while the guys continued to care for the kids. But Elyse hadn’t napped, and she was cranky. So Andy excused himself to rock her to sleep and left Clint with the boys.
“As soon as Nae and I finish the dishes, Boo, we can bring the boys home. I know Shan is tired. I just don’t want to leave this for Danae to clean alone.”
“Oh, Bug, don’t feel obligated to stay and clean. Andy will help me when Elyse is asleep.” She dried her hands on a towel and took Darcey’s dishrag. “Take care of your family.”
“Are you sure, Nae? It is a lot for one person to clean.”
“Of course. It’s getting late, so I know the little guys have to be tired. As I said, Andy will help me.”
Darcey hugged her sister. “I owe you one, Nae.”
“Nonsense! It’s not a problem, honey.”
“Come on, boys,” Darcey called to her kids and Clint. “Don’t forget to thank Aunt Danae for your presents and a nice dinner, Noel.”
Danae kneeled and held her arms open for both her nephews and they went to her. One at a time, she covered them in kisses and tickled them. “Night night, termites!” She sang. “I love you!”
“I wuv you, Aunt Dae,” Noel said sleepily, and a similar, almost-two-year-old sentiment came from Shan. Darcey smiled at them. Danae loved those two little boys.
Danae hugged her sister and Clint, and they both yelled at Andy as they left the house. She picked up the scrubber and began to tackle the pots and pans. Danae knew Andy would spend some extra time with Elyse. She didn’t care, either. He had to be tired because she was exhausted.
The last glass went into the washer, and she started it. She took the damp, warm rag and wiped the counters down as Andy made his way downstairs for a sippy cup of water for Elyse. “Wow, you cleaned this whole kitchen yourself?”
“Darcey helped a little, but I knew she needed to get the boys home. It wasn’t that bad.” She took her apron off and walked to the bathroom to throw it into the hamper. “Now, all I have left to do is nurse the baby, and I’m going to sleep. I’m exhausted, babe.”
“I’m tired, too,” he admitted, “and I have to be at work early tomorrow for a video conference with Lionel. We’re making arrangements for our first away game.”
Danae sighed, but she didn’t want to get into that discussion. There was always time for that. She walked up to him, wrapped her arms around him, and placed her head on his chest. “Let’s go to bed,” she said, walking to the doors to lock up.
“That’s a great idea,” he said. “Why don’t you nurse him in bed, and I’ll put him in his crib when you’ve finished feeding him?”
“Thank you, babe. I could do that easily.” She picked up Eamon from the swing, and he laughed when he saw her. “Are you hungry, little man?” she cooed at him. And together, they walked up the stairs.
She settled into bed, placed a pillow beneath her arm for support, and got Eamon in position to nurse. Her new charm bracelet jingled, and it fascinated the baby as he nursed. “He likes your bracelet, my sweet,” Andy smiled, amused.
“It makes noise,” she replied, caressing the baby’s cheek softly. He snuggled up to her and kissed her softly. “I love you, babe. Thank you again for my beautiful bracelet.”
“Oh, honey, you’re welcome. As pretty as that bracelet is, you’re much more beautiful.” He kissed her again. “I love you, Danae.”
Up Next: Chapter Eleven, Generation Five