Lori sets up the scene: This is a Christmas scene which features characters from different books: The two main characters are Armie & Merissa from Fighting Dirty, book 4 in the Ultimate series; and the secondary characters are Cannon & Yvette from No Limits, book 1 in that same series.
As a side note: the Men of Honor series led into the Love Undercover series, which led into the Ultimate series, which led into the Body Armor series. Each connection linked by a carry-over character.
After getting the new batch of cookies in the oven, Merissa peeked out of the kitchen to the living room. Her heart swelled at the sight of Armie, stretched out on the floor wearing only pull-on athletic shorts, lifting baby Emerson into the air on strong, straightened arms.
Twinkling lights on the live Christmas tree played along his features, making his blond hair lighter, his eyes darker, the tats on his forearms bolder…
Gawd , it wasn’t fair. How did he get better looking every day while she just lost her edge? After weeks of intense prep, he’d traveled for a fight as the headliner, demolished a rising star, then travelled again to come home, and yet he looked as energetic – and gorgeous – as ever.
As a stay-at-home mom now, she should have had it all in hand. After all, Emerson was such a good baby and the house wasn’t so big that she had to work overtime to keep it tidy. And yet she looked like a tired hag.
Of course, she had other reasons for being tired, too. She put a hand to her stomach, then smiled. Armie, who was currently blowing raspberries on Emerson’s belly, was going to be so surprised. Happily surprised…she hoped.
“Mommy’s eyeballin’ me again,” Armie said to Emerson. The baby squealed, kicking her pudgy legs and flailing her arms. He pretended to drop her – making Emerson and Merissa both gasp – then the baby laughed and laughed, while Merissa scowled at him.
“That wasn’t funny.” She stalked into the room.
“Emerson liked it.” He lowered the baby so he could growl against her belly again, and her giggles filled the air. Armie sat her on his rigid abs, talking to her seriously now. “You smell mommy’s cookies? Daddy loves mommy’s cookies.”
The emphasis on “cookies” had Merissa smirking. “Why do I get the feeling you’re talking about something else?”
“Because I usually am?” He grinned.
When he lifted Emerson this time, Merissa watched the bunch and flex of his incredible biceps, and how his always-defined abs tightened. He had a few bruises thanks to his recent MMA fight, but nothing too serious.
He’d knocked out his opponent in the first round.
Suddenly Armie drew the baby close to his chest and, in a display of core strength and agility, rolled easily to his feet without using his hands. To Emerson he said, “You see how Mommy keeps looking at me? I’m a very lucky daddy – which means you need to take a nap, sugar.”
Blast the man, he was always so attuned to her. As an excuse for not being able to take her eyes off him, she said, “You were gone for a week.”
“And I missed you like crazy, Stretch.” Cradling the baby in one arm, he reached for her, drawing her in for a soft but hot kiss – that is, until a small hand grabbed his nose. “In case you didn’t get the message last night,” Armie whispered while disengaging Emerson’s grip, “I’ll give it another go soon as the munchkin dozes off.”
Being nowhere near ready to nap, Emerson caught his chest hair and pulled, making him grimace – something she found hilarious.
“You laugh at my pain, child?” He raised her to chew playfully on her belly once more. That only caused more hilarity.
Merissa pointed out the obvious. “She’s already had her nap hours ago, and besides, dinner is almost done, I have cookies in the oven, and Cannon and Yvette will be here shortly.”
Armie made a face of disappointment. “Damn. I do love your brother, you know that, but I was gone for a week.”
“And I missed you like crazy,” she said, giving his words back to him. Tonight, she would most definitely reiterate just how much she’d missed him. But before that, she had other business to take care of and she really should quit putting it off. She drew in a deep breath. “Armie-”
A soft knock sounded on the front door before it opened. Cannon peeked in, smiled when he saw them, and stepped inside with her absolutely wonderful sister-in-law, Yvette, close behind him. Snow dusted their hats and the shoulders of their coats.
“It’s snowing?” Merissa asked, her gaze looking past them.
“Just started,” Cannon said. “But the way it’s coming down, it’s definitely going to be a white Christmas.”
“Wonderful!” She did love snow, and she couldn’t wait for Emerson to see it now that she was old enough to notice. For her first Christmas she’d been a newborn.
Her brother held his adorable twins, Tucker in one arm, Tippy in the other. They were a few months older than Emerson. Tucker was big for his age, but Tippy was a tiny petite little girl. Emerson adored them both.
“Nos!” Tucker said, looking a bit awed by the white fluff on his mittens.
“Yes, snow.” Cannon gave him a kiss on his rosy cheek. “And we’ll break out the sled as soon as it’s deep enough.”
Loaded down with a green polka dot double diaper bag, her purse, and a tote full of favorite toys, Yvette said, “Sorry we’re early,” as she closed the door.
Since Yvette was one of her favorite people, Merissa said, “It’ll give us more time to visit.”
The second the twins spotted Armie, they excitedly reached out for him, babbling,
Grinning ear to ear, he went to his knees in the center of the floor, Emerson in front of him, and announced, “I’m ready. Turn them loose.”
Cannon asked, “You’re sure?”
“Don’t tease, Cannon. I’ve missed them.”
“Good, because I’m ready for a break.” Cannon lowered Tippy first, then Tucker, while still holding on to them. “You two monkeys ready to accost Uncle Armie?”
“Aw-me!” they sang together.
Laughing, Cannon let go and the twins shot forward. As they neared, Emerson bounced in excitement. Arm’s open, Armie caught them up for hugs and kisses first, resisting when they tried to crawl up his body.
“Not just yet, munchkins.” With Emerson on one knee, Tippy on the other, he stripped away Tucker’s mittens, coat and hat. Tippy tried to sidle away, one small hand outstretched for an ornament on the tree, but Armie caught her, saying with a laugh, “No you don’t,” and he removed her coat too. Emerson clapped her hands.
“Now,” Armie said, “we’ll check out the tree, but carefully, okay?” He gathered them close and, showing them how to gently touch, allowed each child to explore. A few unbreakable ornaments – the only ones low enough for little fingers to reach – landed on the floor. Enthralled, Tippy and Emerson plopped down to examine them more closely while Tucker bent to check out a few wrapped presents.
“He’s so damn good at that,” Merissa quietly complained.
Yvette nodded. “Makes me want to smack him sometimes, especially when I’m getting frazzled trying to keep up with them.” She heaved a sigh. “Ever since they started walking, I can’t even blink.”
Emerson toddled, but she didn’t get around as quickly as the twins, so she was easier to contain – unless the three of them were together. Then they seemed to conspire in mischief. In many ways, they were like siblings, born only a few months apart and spending a lot of time together.
“Cannon’s good with them, too,” Yvette said, watching as he caught Tucker trying to crawl under the tree. He handed him back to Armie. “He does bath duty a lot, giving me time for a relaxing shower. But he considers them a handful, too, while Armie always looks like he’s just having fun.”
“Because he is.” Merissa watched as he juggled the kids, playing, guarding, coddling and encouraging. That was one of his finger qualities, in her opinion – his rapport with children of all ages. They adored him, and he adored them in return.
When Armie groaned, falling to his back so that three little bodies could “pin” him down, Merissa felt silly tears sting her eyes. She’d loved Armie forever, and now he was all hers. After Emerson’s birth, she didn’t think she could be happier.
She’d been wrong.
Now she wanted Armie to be just as happy.
The kids’ high pitched giggles drew her from her emotional overload.
“Why,” Cannon asked as he approached for a hug and a kiss to her cheek, “is your husband always stripped down to his shorts? Has he forgotten that it’s winter?”
Yvette scoffed. “Look who’s talking? You know when we’re at home, you’re the same.”
“Not when we’re having company.”
“Company,” Armie scoffed from the floor. “You guys are family, not company.”
“And we’re early,” Yvette pointed out. “I’m sure he plans to at least wear a shirt for dinner. Isn’t that right, Armie?”
He grinned toward the ladies. “Pretty sure Stretch will insist.”
Since Merissa was 5’11” – nearly as tall as Armie – she used to detest the nickname. Most of her life she’d felt gangly, and she’d often been taller than any of the boys she knew. Now, though, Armie took every opportunity he could to prove that he adored her body, so the nickname only felt affectionate.
Just then, Tippy slipped away from Armie and came over to Merissa, arms raised, to demand, “Up.”
“So you finally remembered your aunt?” Merissa lifted her up for a nuzzling smooch to her sweet-smelling baby neck. Tippy caught her ears and tried to turn her face so she could kiss her lips.
“It’s something new,” Cannon explained. “She thinks all kisses are supposed to be on the mouth.”
“Oh.” Merissa did a quick peck to Tippy’s rosebud mouth that must have satisfied her because she turned her head and said to her brother, “Kiss!”
Tucker crawled – hands and knees – over Armie’s face before getting to his feet and racing to Merissa where he stated, “Kiss!”
Grinning, Merissa knelt down to draw him close. Unlike Tippy, he was happy to put a wet smooch to her cheek. While she hugged the twins, Armie handed Emerson over to Cannon.
“Show your uncle some lovin’, honey, while Daddy finds a shirt.”
“And jeans,” Merissa said.
“Socks wouldn’t hurt,” Cannon added.
Yvette held up her hands. “That sounds like enough clothes to me, so I won’t add to it.”
He winked at her, then said to Merissa, “Do I smell cookies burning?”
“Oops!” She left the kids with her brother and Yvette and raced to the kitchen.
Seated at the dining table, surrounded by good friends, kids in high chairs, and the love of his life, Armie had to wonder how the hell he’d gotten so lucky. His childhood had been shit, which was added incentive to work with kids at the rec center that he ran with the other local fighters. “Who’s going to be at the rec center tomorrow?” he asked Cannon.
“Pretty much everyone.” Cannon forked up a big bite of stew. “You’re a hell of a cook, Rissy.”
Merissa smiled. “Crock pot food is always easy.”
“And homemade cornbread,” Yvette added as she slathered butter onto a warm slice.
“And those cookies,” Armie added. He stared at her, saying softly, “I do love your cookies.”
Yvette quickly put her hands over Tucker’s ears, making Armie laugh.
Cannon smirked. “The ladies tend to think everything is dirty.”
“Because they have dirty minds,” Armie teased. “Makes us lucky bastards.”
“Armie!” Yvette had just started to remove her hands, but quickly put them over
Tucker’s ears again.
“Sorry,” he muttered. Watching his language was the hardest part of having kids – and now both Emerson and Tippy were staring at him, no doubt trying to figure out how to say the bad word. To distract them, he asked, “Who wants to see Santa tomorrow?”
They blinked at him.
Armie said, “He’ll have toys.”
“Toys!” Tucker cheered, proving his mama’s hands were no match for his hearing.
Cannon swallowed another bite, then asked, “Who’s going to play the jolly old elf?”
“You hadn’t heard?” Armie leaned in. “Justice.”
Brows shooting up, Cannon laughed. “So we’re having a giant Santa?”
“Lots of kids will fit on his tree-trunk thighs,” Yvette pointed out.
Justice, a good friend and a fighter-turned-bodyguard, could imitate the hulk, he was so massive. He was also a big softie at heart, though he did his best to hide it.
“I tried to talk Stack and Miles into being elves, but they refused.”
Cannon choked on his drink.
Smiling, Armie admitted, “I talked Cherry and Vanity into doing it instead.”
“Which just means Stack and Denver will be looming over them to ensure no one looks too long or hard,” Cannon said with a wicked grin.
“True.” Armie picked up a carrot that Emerson dropped on the floor and put it in a paper napkin. Dropped food was a regular part of dinner these days. “Everyone arranged their Christmas dinners and stuff for later in the day so they could work with the community earlier.” He was fortunate to train with some of the most generous and conscientious men. They gave freely of their time and attention, each according to his availability.
“We’re bringing the playpen,” Yvette said, “so I’ll help Rissy pass out drinks and cookies.”
It hurt Armie’s heart that some kids wouldn’t have a Christmas if it weren’t for the rec center and the way the guys and their wives all pulled together. The tree that Miles donated might be the only one they’d see. During one of the after-school classes, they’d all made ornaments and hung them. Even the older kids had taken part, some defiantly, some moodily, some glad for every crumb of affection they got.
Armie glanced at the tree he and Rissy had decorated, using ornaments from her own childhood. It made his throat feel tight every time he saw it. She’d given him so much, more than she’d ever know. Thanks to her, he had a real home full of traditions, old and new. Sometimes chaotic and messy. Often loud with laughter and debates, or quiet with respect. A home made safe for their baby – their baby. God, he couldn’t look at that little miracle, a part of him and a part of Rissy, without emotion squeezing his throat. Every day, he thanked God for her, and thanked God that she would never know the lacks from his own childhood.
Rissy had given him a life full of affection and… Acceptance.
Of course they sometimes argued; they were both strong-willed, after all. Honestly, he enjoyed the conflicts and resolutions because even then he felt her caring and knew – down deep in his bones knew – that she might occasionally disagree with him, but she’d never leave him.
Best of all, she’d shown him the full meaning of love. It was all-consuming, sometimes so sweet his teeth ached, and always so hot it could singe him. He hadn’t known he was empty until Rissy’s love filled him up and made him whole.
What kind of man would he be if he didn’t pay that forward to others?
Tippy made a sound, breaking his introspective spell, and he realized he’d been staring at Rissy, probably with a sappy, love-struck look on his face.
She wore a blush and her brother smirked. Yvette, being a real sweetheart, gave all her attention to her plate, but he saw her small smile.
Yeah, he loved them, too. Hell, he was so happy these days, he could love just about anyone, because he loved life.
Now that he was drawn back to the real world and their dinner, he saw that Tippy had food not only around her mouth, but her nose, too. Amused, all but bursting with affection, he rose from the chair with his napkin in hand. “You’re supposed to eat it, sweetie, not breathe it in.” He cleaned her off, then asked, “Anyone want anything while I’m up?”
Yvette put a hand to her stomach. “I’m stuffed. You’re too good of a cook, Rissy.”
“Yes, she is.” Armie bent over her, brushing her cheek with his mouth and inhaling the stirring scent of her skin. It was because he loved her so damned much that he knew something was different.
“Makes staying in shape a little harder,” Cannon said.
Laughable, since Cannon was as shredded Armie. Whenever they ate the sweets Rissy often made – and really, who could resist them? – they just worked a little harder at the gym.
Smiling at them both, she deftly deflected the attention. “Did I tell you guys that Sahara donated a bunch of toys for the party tomorrow morning?”
“I’m not surprised,” Cannon said.
Sahara owned the Body Armor agency where Leese and Justice now worked since leaving MMA for various reasons. She was a unique type of boss, intrusive but caring, expecting a lot while being generous to a fault, gorgeous but tough, and sharp as a tack. She had an enormous heart, and a hefty bank roll.
“She’s bringing everything by tomorrow morning,” Rissy continued.
Cannon lifted a brow at his sister. “She’s joining us at the party?”
Rissy nodded. “I told her it was okay.”
“Well yeah, of course it is. I just figured she’d be busy.”
“I thought so too,” Rissy admitted. “But she doesn’t have plans until later that night, so I think she’d have been alone otherwise.”
“The more the merrier,” Yvette said.
Rissy rose from her chair. “If no one wants dessert, at least let me send some cookies home with you.”
That offer was met with a lot of approval, even from the kids.
Less than fifteen minutes later, Armie was alone with his own small family. Holding a sleepy Emerson against his shoulder, he watched as Rissy loaded the dishwasher. She looked pensive – and beautiful.
“Why don’t you let me do that,” he offered.
She glanced over her shoulder, her long dark hair shimmering and sleek. “It won’t take me long.”
He tipped his head, hearing unsaid words. “And?”
Her gaze held his. “And we’ll talk when I’m done.”
Coming closer, he clasped a hand around her nape and pressed a kiss to her temple. “Whatever you want, babe.” Her eyes closed and he realized that she looked tired. In a near whisper, he said, “I’ll get the munchkin ready for bed.”
She nodded. “She had a b-a-t-h earlier, but she’s pretty messy again.”
His mouth twitched. Emerson would get wide awake if she heard that word. She loved to splash enthusiastically in the tub. “I’ll clean her up at the sink and get her in her jammies if you want to grab your own b-a-t-h.”
“Mm, that does sound nice. Thanks.”
He frowned a little. “Hey, you don’t have to thank me for doing my part.” He slid his hand down her spine and onto her derriere. “Take all the time you need, okay?”
Now she frowned, and Armie had to fight his smile. She probably expected him to start grilling her about “the talk.”
Silly woman. Did she think he didn’t know her at all?
He kissed her again, this time on the mouth, lingering just long enough to confuse her before carrying his small, warm bundle down the hall.
Emerson was the most amazing child. She could be on full-go…right up until she wound down. Now she looked more asleep than awake as he cleaned her face and hands, and moved a soft toothbrush over her few teeth – teaching good habits, or so Rissy claimed. In her bedroom, he changed her diaper and tucked her into her one-piece footed pajamas. He’d just finished that when he heard the bath water start and knew Rissy was getting her bath.
You’d think that being married, on top of knowing her most of his life, would have blunted some of the feelings. Instead, the familiarity enhanced it all.
He wanted to see his wife – God, how he loved that word – naked and wet, her long dark hair pinned up, her lean body lounged in the tub. He’d wanted her forever, and yet every day he wanted her even more.
Emerson’s eyes drooped sleepily, but she waited for her story. Never, not for any reason, would Armie shortchange his daughter, so he sat with her in the padded rocking chair, her little body cuddled close against the curve of his shoulder, and read one of her favorite books until he heard her soft snore.
Now that she was fast asleep, he carefully put her into her bed and eased from the room.
As he headed down the hall, anticipation skated up his spine. It was a very nice thing to lust for a wife.
Just as quietly as he’d left Emerson’s room, Armie entered the bathroom. Rissy looked exactly as he’d pictured her: silky hair caught up in a loose knot at the top of her head, dark lashes resting on her cheeks, her extra-long legs bent a little so that her knees peeked above the water. Her arms were limp, one along the ledge of the tub, the other hand resting over her belly.
He stared at that hand for long moments, her delicate fingers protectively curved. The most amazing sensation spread inside him, like endorphins exploding from his heart and racing beneath his skin to encompass every single nerve ending until he almost couldn’t breathe, the joy was so powerful.
Without making a sound, Armie went to his knees on the tiled floor.
Sensing his presence, Rissy’s lush lips curled a little. “Emerson asleep?” she asked very quietly.
“Yes.” She hadn’t opened her eyes, but there was a new alertness about her. “Have I told you lately how much I admire this smokin’ hot body of yours?”
At that, she looked at him, not really self-conscious, thank God, but with an edge of curiousness, maybe caution. “My pregnancy still shows in places.”
“Mmm,” Armie growled low, reaching into the tub to cup a hand around one breast. Thanks to breastfeeding, she was fuller now, and her sensitive nipple immediately tightened. “Somehow you made perfection even better.”
“Armie,” she laughed. Her hand covered his. “You know what I mean.”
“I know you’re so fucking sexy I’m about to help you finish your bath so I can do everything I’ve been thinking about doing all through dinner.”
Interest flushed her cheeks and made her eyes heavy. “What were you thinking?”
“You know me, Stretch. I’m sure you can guess.”
She smiled. “Probably something kinky.”
Yes, she knew him. “You want to hear me say it?” He moved his hand down her body, over the remaining slight curve of her belly – he lingered there a moment, his hand cupping in wonder – before he continued on, pressing his palm over her sex. “You like it when I talk dirty, don’t you? Admit it.”
Instead, she said, “I like everything about you.”
He gently stroked, delving over her, into her. “Especially the way I make you feel?”
“Armie,” she said again, this time with that sexy little catch in her voice.
Damn. The talk would have to wait just a bit longer. “Bath’s over, Stretch.” He shifted, catching her under the arms and easily lifting her to her feet. “I need you. Right now.”
She laughed a little, reaching for the towel he picked up.
He held it back. “Let me.” In a hundred different ways, he’d show her how her body affected him. Still on his knees, he took her hand and said, “Step out.”
She did, water sluicing down her body and onto the fluffy rug outside the tub. Oh, those long slim thighs, the dip of her narrow waist, her high breasts and rosy nipples… He wrapped the towel around her even as he leaned in to lick – over her ribs, higher, until he could circle a nipple with his tongue.
Her hands sank into his hair as she sharply inhaled.
Looking up at her, Armie whispered, “You’re sensitive, aren’t you, baby?”
“Y…yes.” She clutched him tighter. “Armie…”
He latched onto her, suckling gently while stroking the towel down her body. From one breast to the other, he teased her while drying her body. Only when he drew the edge of the towel between her thighs did he sit back to watch her. “Open your legs, Rissy.”
Trembling, she drew in a breath and stepped one leg out to the side.
Armie smiled indulgently. “More.”
With her gaze locked to his, she breathed deeper… and widened her stance the way she knew he liked.
Ever so gently, his touch a mere brush, he moved the towel over her. “I’ll never tire of your body, babe. Do you know that?”
She nodded shakily.
“Do you?” He ran his tongue along a hipbone. “I loved your body when you were too young for me to lust after you. I loved it when I finally got to see you naked. I especially loved it when you were big with Emerson, when I could feel her moving inside you.”
She bit her lip.
“When we’re in our eighties and need walkers to do this, I’ll still love it, because it’s you.” Reverently, he kissed the soft skin beneath her navel. “Don’t ever doubt that, okay?”
Her eyes flared in sudden comprehension. “You know, don’t you?”
Armie opened one big, calloused hand over her. “That you’re going to give me another child? Yeah, I’m not an obtuse ass, not anymore anyway, not with you.”
Tears welled in her eyes. “But…how?”
“Oh, Stretch.” He wrapped his arms around her, his cheek to her belly. “You’re my life. How could I not notice when you get quiet?”
She tugged at his hair, tipped his face up so she could see him. “But how did you know I’m pregnant?”
“The way you rested your hand over your stomach.” He stood and lifted her into his arms. There was a time she would’ve squawked over that, but not anymore. Now she knew how much he enjoyed holding her, carrying her.
And they both liked it when he carried her to bed.
He went down the hall and to their bedroom. “You’re a fiercely protective mama and it shows.” Pausing by the bed, he kissed her long and deep, before lowering her to the mattress.
While looking at her body, he shucked off his clothes with haste and got into the bed with her. Careful not to put too much weight on her, he kneed her legs open so he could settle fully against her. Gaze intent, he stretched her arms up high and held both her wrists in one hand.
With his other hand, he stroked down her side to her hip, then between their bodies so he could prepare her. Going slow wasn’t easy, not when he so badly wanted to be in her, sliding deep, thrusting hard and fast. But Rissy’s pleasure, her own release, was an enormous turn-on for him, stoking his own lust. He wouldn’t willingly miss out on that.
With her already swollen and hot, he teased his fingertips over her, lightly tracing her slit until her legs opened more in encouragement. Relishing her reaction, he smiled – and bent to her breast, closing his mouth around one nipple.
She tipped her head back, her whole body going taut.
While softly sucking, he parted her lips and pressed one finger into her heat. Her legs came up and around him, squeezing him tight.
Armie worked her, slowly adding a second finger and moving his thumb to circle her clitoris.
She gasped, her hips shifting beneath him.
He released her nipple to switch to the other breast, feeling her clench around his fingers. Her scent intensified, filling his head. Their skin grew damp, their breaths labored.
When her groans ran together and her whole body strained against him, Armie adjusted himself to enter her. “So soft and hot and wet,” he murmured, rubbing the head of his cock over her before pressing a little inside.
She twisted, trying to take more of him, rushing him in the best way possible until he broke, driving deeply into her with one long thrust.
Her arms came down, holding him close, and he felt her teeth on his shoulder. It fired his blood even more and he began the fast, steady rhythm, angled just right, in the way he knew would quickly push her over the edge.
Her heels pressed into the small of his back, her hips moving in time to his, faster and faster. When he felt the racking shudders of her body and heard the low, raw cries she muffled against his shoulder, making sure she wouldn’t disturb their daughter, he lost control.
Pressing his face into her neck, his hips tight to hers, Armie pumped out a powerful release. As the pleasure gradually faded and her body went lax beneath his, he rolled to his back and drew her against him.
Eyes closed, body still throbbing, he imagined the future – a future with Rissy and their children, and he knew it didn’t get any better than this. Long minutes later she came up on an elbow over him. Smiling at her, he smoothed back her hair. “You are so incredibly gorgeous, Stretch.”
Ignoring that, her beautiful blue eyes searched his face. “You’re really happy about it?”
“About the baby, I mean.”
“I knew what you meant.” His thumb brushed the corner of her mouth. “Happy is such a weak word for how I feel. Thrilled doesn’t cover it either. Overjoyed?” He gave it quick thought, then shook his head. “Ecstatic..? Maybe. But it still doesn’t completely cover how you make me feel.”
“I’m glad,” she whispered as she put a hand to his jaw. “It’s just that you’re already juggling so much…”
Armie cocked an eyebrow. “What am I juggling, Stretch? Marriage to a woman I can’t live without? Getting to be dad to our little angel? An awesome career?”
Her laugh sounded disbelieving and teasing. “Only you, Armie Jacobson, wouldn’t find it difficult to have a full plate with non-stop work and community commitments.”
“Blessings aren’t difficult, babe. Trust me, I’m grateful for my blessings every day.”
Her eyes filled with tears, nearly stopping his heart. It suddenly occurred to him that they talked only of how another child would affect him, but not how it might affect her. He groaned. “God, I’m a selfish bastard.”
She blinked at him in obvious surprise. “Why would you say that?”
“Two kids will be a lot of work for you, especially since I do travel sometimes – meaning you have to carry the whole load alone. You’ve already put your career on hold-”
“Armie.” She caught his ears, much as Tippy had done to her, and kissed his mouth. “I’m thrilled about the baby. Never think otherwise.”
With the edge of his thumb, he removed one glistening tear. “Then why are you crying?”
Her voice broke on a shaky laugh. “Because my hormones are going insane.”
“Ah.” Well, that wasn’t so bad. He remembered she’d been weepy during the first pregnancy too. He’d found it endearing, though she’d definitely not felt the same. “Always tell me what I can do to help, okay?”
She nodded, whispering, “You just did it.”
“Great sex?” he guessed.
That made her laugh again, this time without the tears in her voice. “Sure, but I meant the understanding. I never doubted you’d love another baby, but I was worried that the timing was off, that it’d be a strain, something of a problem to work out.”
“Ah, babe. There’s only one problem I see.”
She waited, her eyes still a little liquid, her lips soft and full from his kisses.
“Last Christmas you gave me Emerson, and I thought that was the best present ever. This year you topped that with news of a second child.” Grinning, he cupped her face. “You’re going to be hard pressed to find a better gift next Christmas.”
Rissy grinned too, then pushed him to his back so she could straddle his hips. “Oh, I don’t know.” Her fingertips trailed down his chest. “I’m pretty sure I’ll think of something.”
It amazed him that a man could survive so much happiness. He grinned, and whispered, “I look forward to your efforts. Every day – for the rest of our lives.”
The end… Or maybe I should say, “they lived happily ever after”.