“You still haven’t told me what you want for Christmas,”
Jack murmured as he carefully squeezed Grace’s warm backside to his front-side. Few things felt better than making love to his wife. Giving her slow thrust, he reveled in her sweet and snug pussy, determined to take his time.
“Mmmm,” Grace purred as she rubbed her luxuriant, warm ass against him, tightening her grip on their entwined fingers. With a round and not very subtle undulation of her hips, she said, “Right now, I’d be thrilled if you would fuck me until I see stars. You have no idea how much I’d love to get this show on the road.”
Jack chuckled, but held his libido in check. There was nothing he’d like more than to give her exactly what she wanted. A good fucking. A hard orgasm. And maybe a kick-start to labor. Poor Grace wasn’t overdue but she was definitely ready to be done.
Grace reached back and caressed his ass. “You want to fuck me, don’t you? I know you do,” she purred. He could hear the smile in her voice as she urged him on.
He caressed the lower swell of her mounded abdomen
before reaching for the hot, slick haven between her thighs. “Darlin’, nothin’ would make me happier. Don’t worry, I’m gonna give you what you want, but you’re gonna let me be in charge.”
As he kissed the fragrant flesh beneath her ear he flexed his hips, thrusting slow and deep. Her moan and sigh were music to his ears and he smiled as he leaned forward enough to watch her face. Her eyelids slid closed and she caught her lip between her teeth as she arched back against him.
Breathing her in, he focused his stroking on the hot, slippery and swollen bundle of her clit, sliding his fingers back and forth, side to side, just the way she liked it, according to her answering moan. “Yes, like that.”
Keeping his thrusts even, he nibbled at her earlobe and said, “You make the sweetest sounds when I fuck you just right, Grace. I’ll never get enough of you. All of you.”
The tap of a small foot or elbow at his inner forearm
told him that their early morning play had awakened their unborn daughter, currently nestled beneath Grace’s heart.
Love, overwhelming in its strength and depth, brought an all over flush of heat to his body and he groaned with pleasure even as his vision misted momentarily. Making love to Grace was a spiritual event, even more so than in the past. He truly loved her more with each passing day. Every single thing about her turned him on, and made him even more determined to give her what she needed.
When he changed up the stroking pattern over her clit, she gasped and cried out, “Yes, oh yes! More, just like that. Fuck me, Jack. Please, oh please!” Her sensual moans were his undoing and he increased his thrusts as she arched back against him. Her hot, lush pussy was just too hard to resist and he gave in to her, fucking her until she dug her nails into his buttocks. “That’s it! Oh, I’m coming! I’m coming!”
“Yes,” he growled as he held her to him with a firm grip and pumped hard. Ecstasy created a haze of rapture he gave in to, falling over the brink of lust. Searing shards of pleasure blazed through his nerve endings and he gave a loud groan as he came, thrusting hard with each orgasmic surge.
When his senses returned, it was to find she was giggling.
Gently pulling out, he leaned over her so he could look into her beautiful flushed face. His extremities still tingled and she looked up at him with those bright blue eyes of hers. “Woman, you are spoiled. You know that?”
Giggling some more, she nodded. “Are you still going to get a tree for me?”
“I’m not sure I can feel my legs at the moment. Give me time to recover from servicing my demanding woman and I’ll consider it. In the meantime, you still haven’t told me what you want for Christmas.”
With slow, careful movements, she turned from one side to the other, a maneuver that took longer in her advanced state of pregnancy. When she was situated, he pulled the covers over her. Before she’d awoken, he’d gotten up to start a fire in the mistress suite fireplace to take away the early morning chill, but he didn’t want to risk her being cold anyway. So he was a little protective. Her smile as she snuggled closer to him told him she appreciated the effort.
Resting her golden head on his bicep,
she played his chest hair and then looked up at him. “All I want for Christmas is a woobie under my tree.”
With a chuckle, he replied, “Lucky for you, you’ve got three of them. If you count Grant-boy, you’ve got four.”
Grace chuckled. Their son Grant was proving to be just as protective of his mama and sister as Jack, Ethan, and Adam were, although he was thoroughly sick of being Rose Marie’s roping dummy. “I can hardly ask for more.”
“Yeah, you can, darlin’.” He admired her appreciation for what she already possessed but he wanted to do his Christmas shopping soon and he really needed to know what was on her secret wish list.
“Charity has a list, because she knew you would all be asking. There’s one item you’ll have to take her shopping for since she knows exactly what I want.”
Charity was a good sister-in-law and wouldn’t steer them wrong. “You’re really determined to put up a Christmas tree today?”
“Yes. I want to have it up early this year, so it’s already done for Thanksgiving, and so I can enjoy watching Rose Marie and Grant decorate it. Once I have my hands full with the baby, I’ll be more likely to miss things like that. I wanted to take pictures of the three of you helping them put the ornaments on.”
“Well, all right, then. Adam is supposed to come with me to the tree farm to pick out a good one.”
“A nice, tall one, please.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he murmured and then kissed her throat again. “Whatever you want.”
“Rose Marie, hold the door for your daddy,”
Grace said as she caught Grant by the collar of his barn coat before he got trampled by Angel, Ash and Joaquin as they moved the sleeper loveseat to the other side of the living room. The thing weighed a ton, and just because the little squirt could move like a basset hound on steroids, quick and low to the ground, didn’t mean he wouldn’t get squished if he tripped them.
“Thanks, sugar,” Adam said as he, Ethan, and Jack wisely stamped their boots on the back porch mat before inching the huge and fragrant tree through the doors. No need to track dry leaves and dirt on her just cleaned floors.
“Watch the door frame. I don’t want to have to repaint,” she said, reaching out but then standing back as Jack caught her eye and nodded at her. They wouldn’t let the door frames get dinged. His patience with her neat freak tendencies, made worse by advanced pregnancy induced nesting instinct, warmed her heart.
“Okay, Gracie,” Ethan said, bringing up the rear, carrying the stump of the tree in gloved hands. The scent of fresh cut fir filled the crisp air drafting in through the door all around them. Her heightened sense of smell also picked up notes of clean, hard-working men,
and her inner sexpot purred contentedly.
Jack cleared his throat, gaining her attention, and she giggled when she caught him staring at her, recent carnal knowledge in his eyes. He probably knew exactly what she was thinking. “Darlin’, it’s getting heavy.”
“Oh! Sorry! Pregnancy brain! Over there.” She pointed across the room. “Try it over there first.”
Joaquin snorted softly at her word choice as he and the other two helpers stood by. They’d probably had to go through the same ritual with their women at home. Positioning the tree just right was important. It had to be visible through the back windows, not too close to the fireplace or the stairs, out of the flow of traffic, and far enough from the wall she could decorate the backside and be able to reach the switch for the tree lights, as well. Location, location, location!
“How’s that?” Adam said as he held it steady for her.
“Move it a foot to the left. It’ll snag everyone’s pant legs where it is right now.”
They moved it without a single grumble.
“How’s that?” Adam asked, switching hands on the tree and catching Grant as he ran forward and grabbed him about his long thigh.
She beckoned them to bring it forward. “I need to get the bumpers out for the bricks on the hearth. The last thing we want is Grant busting his head open if he trips.”
Grant frowned at her. “I not no baby, no more, mama.”
“You mean, ‘I’m not a baby anymore, mama.’ And it’s not up to you young man.”
“I ain’t a baby! I ain’t!”
Ethan growled softly and tapped his son
on the back of his head. “Don’t sass your mama, son.” To Grace, he said, “We gave the bumpers to Presley, Jared, and Kendry.”
“Oh. Oh, well, just be super careful, Grant. Bring it forward and away from the fireplace just to be on the safe side.”
“How’s that?” Adam asked with a soft sigh.
She backed up and took in the room as a whole. “You know what? I think I’d like it better over there next to the staircase.”
Jack nodded once, and they lifted the tree to heft it across the living room while Angel, Joaquin and Ash hurriedly moved the loveseat out of the way again.
“No, wait. I’m sorry. If it’s over there it won’t be as visible from the backyard.”
“Why does it—never mind,”
Ethan said and then grunted as he repositioned the stump in his gloved hands and nodded at Adam to proceed.
“Which way, baby?” Adam said, not budging even though Jack and Ethan had started to back to the original spot.
She pointed to the original spot with an apologetic smile. “Back where you had it. Okay, now turn it. Turn it. Just a little more—stop. She backed up and looked at the room as a whole. “Right where you have it is perfect. Don’t move it or turn it. Angel can you help him with the base?”
“Sure thing, Grace. You know the water is going to have to be filled every day, otherwise it’ll dry out before—
“Oh, I’ll keep up with filling it,” she said, smiling at the beautiful symmetry of the tree they’d chosen. It had to be nine feet tall.
“Uh, no, I’ll be filling it,”
Jack said, watching the bulge of her abdomen as it lurched.
Grace sighed at the corresponding pressure to her bladder and said, “I’ll be right back.”
She bit her lip, and paused, hand on the couch to steady her, as Calliope Elizabeth squirmed and did ‘the thing.’ Unable to speak, she breathed carefully as Callie stretched, pushing a tiny foot against her much abused lower ribs.
“She’s doing ‘the thing’?” Jack asked, coming near.
Grace gave a thumbs up, back still turned. Give the man a prize!
Peeing could wait as Callie ground her hard little Warner head against Grace’s tender nether parts.
“Grace, you okay?”
Adam said, sounding concerned when she didn’t speak.
Just as quickly as Callie started her yoga routine, she relented, curling back into a tiny tight ball, giving her mama enough room to draw a breath.
She turned and smiled. This had only happened umpteen times in the last few days. “No biggie. Callie’s just squirming around a lot. Must be that orange juice I drank. I’ll be right back.”
The trip the bathroom was all good, if one counted having to balance carefully to sit down on the toilet because her abdomen made bending a bit dicey. Getting up was actually easier. Then she looked down. “Well, fuck a duck. Nope. Not right when I’m getting my tree decorated. I’ll call Emma later.”
Jack watched Grace
when she returned from using the bathroom. He studied her expression, looking for signs of discomfort or worry. She was as serene as she could be, and then she smiled at him. “Did we get the tree in the base?”
“Yeah, Ethan’s filling a bucket right now. Is this how you wanted it?”
No other woman had ever made a pregnant waddle look sexier, he thought as she moved to the center of the room, gazed at the tree, moved to the back windows, gazed at the tree some more, and then waddled back to the stairs, eyeballed that tree once more, and then gave them the thumbs up.
Relief filled him, and he turned to Rose Marie. “Sugar, can you close the back doors? We don’t want Mama getting chilled, do we?”
Horror dawned on Rose Marie’s face. “Oh, no. I wasn’t thinking.” She ran back to the doors but Grace stopped her.
“No, sweetie, leave them open for me. The crisp breeze is nice.” Grace tilted her head and looked at the tree and he dutifully turned it one millimeter to the right when she asked him to.
Ethan came in from the kitchen carrying a mop bucket and said, “Who left the door open? Gracie’s going to get chill—” He turned to look at her and paused mid-step. “Gracie? You okay?”
she assured him, her hand smoothed over her burgeoning middle as their daughter squirmed again, and what he thought had to be her little butt shifted visibly from Grace’s left side to her right side.
Angel chuckled and said, “There is another reason why the women have the babies, because we weak-spirited men would be wetting our pants if we had to experience that. The women are the stronger sex, no doubt.”
Joaquin nodded silently and fist bumped his brother.
“Is it time, Mama?” Rose Marie said as she and Grant bounced up and down beside the stacked boxes containing ornaments.
“Yes, it’s time. Once box at a time, and let your daddies help you with the box marked ‘fragile’. I’m going to get my phone so I can take pictures.”
Ethan watched her as she waddled into her office, and then looked at Jack and Adam, suspicion in his eyes. Angel and the others said their goodbyes and ventured out the back doors.
They watched her like a hawk,
while helping the kids open the boxes of ornaments. He set the box of fragile ones aside because he knew they were extra special to Grace, and he didn’t want to be responsible for any of them getting broken on his watch, especially the spun glass ones. She’d loved those when they’d given them to her their first Christmas together.
With the back door open, the sounds of the working ranch filtered into the house, and Rose Marie giggled when they heard one of the dogs barking. Barney looked a bit like a bloodhound but Jack swore up and down there was a little bit of mastiff in him. And he had a bark that pierced the thickest walls, and eardrums.
“Barney must be chasing a rabbit again,” Rose Marie chirped as she showed him the shiny red ball ornament. “Let’s hang all red ornaments on the tree, Daddy.”
“Nooo,” Grant groused in his grump-old-man voice. “Red and green, cuz it’s Christmas.”
“You mean, “Red and Green, because it’s Christmas,’” Grace said, shooting video of the kids and the three of them. “I wonder what Barney is after,” she said, keeping the phone trained on them while looking out the back doors. “He’s chasing a cat. Is that Jake? I haven’t seen him in ages.” She turned checked her phone screen’s position and then looked back out the doors. Barney and Jake had a love-hate relationship.
The sound came closer and closer, Jack looked over to see what the ruckus was, and suddenly Grace shouted, “Oh, no you don’t! Not my clean floors!”
In her advanced state of pregnancy she couldn’t move fast enough to reach the doors to shut them, and Jack wouldn’t risk knocking her over to get to them. He wouldn’t have been in time anyway.
Jake the barn cat was a huge, orange, fuzzy streak as he zipped through the back door with Barney hot on his tail, jowls flapping, drool flying everywhere as he dogged the cat right to the Christmas tree. Like a feline missile, Jake got vertical, sloshing the water in the tree base everywhere, before rocketing straight to the top of the pristine, perfectly positioned fir tree.
Rose Marie and Grant stood stock still, jaws hanging open. Then Jake snarled at Barney, who was barking so loudly it shook the rafters and vibrated in the center of Jack’s sternum.
With every hair on end
until he looked twice his normal above-average size, Jake fixed Barney with a green-eyed glower and yowled and hissed like a cobra.
The tree tilted slightly out of kilter because Ethan hadn’t had a chance to fix it more steadily into the base yet. Jake’s weight at the top of the tree made it shake as he tried to maintain his balance.
“Barowwwwrrr-rowr-rowr! Baroooooooooo!” Barney howled, having successfully treed his quarry.
Not relinquishing victory that easily, Jake hissed, spat and growled, struggling to maintain his high perch, unsuccessfully as it turned out, since the tree finally toppled to the floor.
Jake leaped at the dog, the dog shrieked in fear, and the cat chased the squealing dog around the living room twice, unseating Grace’s bric-a-brac and books from their shelves before racing at top speed right out the back door.
All eyes turned to Grace.
She was still holding the camera, and had caught at least part of the event on record. As if for added affect, the base containing the water for the tree, which had managed to stay on its edge that whole time, finally toppled over, spilling water all over the floor.
Grace blinked a couple of times, and then looked around the room at all their shocked faces.
“Heh-heh,” she snickered as she pointed at him, Ethan, and Adam, and the kids. They were all watching her as if she was a ticking time bomb. “Heh-Heh-heh,” she continued. “You should see your faces.”
She looked back at the tree, and then burst into great, belly-rolling laughter. Pointing at the door, she said, “The cat ran in the…and the dog…then Jake went ‘reeeewr! So Barney howled…and kaboom!” She mimicked the tree falling with a sweep of her arm, starting to sound a little hysterical. Her laughter was infectious and soon they were all laughing.
By the time she finished laughing
and let out a big sigh, they had the tree back in an upright position, and were holding it firmly as Ethan bolted the base to the stump. That done, he picked up the bucket and headed back to the kitchen.
It was Jack that noticed something was up when he glanced over at Grace. She had a towel and was trying to soak up the water on the floor, and he said, “Darlin’, don’t worry about that. We can mop up the floor after we’ve got the tree secured. Don’t worry, we’ll have it all picked up in…” He noticed she was mopping up a puddle that was nowhere near the one that surrounded the tree.
He caught her eye and she shrugged and grinned at him. “Guess we got that show on the road after all, baby.” She stood upright and then gasped as she braced one hand on the couch and held her abdomen with the other. “Well, that was fast.”
The baby is coming?
It was time for his baby girl to be born? Just like that? So suddenly?
Ethan grabbed Jack and shook him out of his idiotic stupor. “We’ve got this. Her labors go fast. Take her to the hospital. I’ll call Emma—
“She’s already on alert. I called her from my office. I lost the mucous plug last time I peed. She said to get my ass to the hospital at the first contraction.”
Ethan sighed, which sounded remarkably like a growl.
“What? I wanted to finish the tree first.”
“Woman,” Adam murmured.
“The baby and I fine. I’ll go now, since…kasploosh!” she mimicked a puddle splashing out around her and then winced at another contraction.
“I’m calling the hospital to let them know you’re on the way,” Adam said.
Ethan gave him a gentle push toward the door. “Take her now. We’ll get this tidied up. I’ll call Charity to come stay with the kids and we’ll bring Grace’s bag to her just as soon as Charity gets here.”
Damn it, it isn’t like I’ve never done this before. Why did he feel like he was having an out of body experience?
What finally galvanized him into action was the gentle grip of Grace’s hand on his forearm. “I’m ready, Jack.”
He turned to her. “Can you make it to my truck?” Thank goodness it was parked right out front. “I can carry you.”
Grace smiled and took his hand. “I think I can make it. Let’s go do this.”
“Mama?” Rose Marie said as she went to her mother and gentle patted her swollen abdomen. “I can’t wait to see my sissy.”
“Me, too, Mama!” Grant chirped, reaching out to be picked up, but Adam caught him up in his arms so Grace didn’t have to form a refusal. “I wanna see Sissy! Can I come, too?”
“You can come when she gets here, okay?” She took a breath and squeezed his hand hard. “We need to go.”
Jack guided her out to the truck and helped her into the cab. She buckled herself in while he ran around to the driver’s side.
On the wild tear down the driveway,
Grace giggled and pointed at one of the pastures, where Barney had Jake treed in an old oak, baying and jumping to get at him.
She took out her phone and began tapping on the screen.
“What are you doing?” he asked, keeping both eyes on the road as they turned onto the state highway.
“Texting Charity. I want her to take pictures of the kids putting the decorations on the tree. They’ll have a little sister the next time I see them. I wanted them to have that memory of when it was just the two of them in pictures.” She sniffled.
His sentimental sweetheart.
“Darlin, this time next year they’ll still be Mutt and Jeff, arguing over whether he should still be the roping dummy or not. It’s gonna be great. You doing okay?” he asked as she started blowing out in slow breaths.
She nodded, and when she could speak, she said, “Step on it, handsome, your little girl is in a hurry to meet you.”
Only the fact that he was behind the wheel, and the man in charge of getting her to the hospital in time, that kept him from totally losing it at her words.
This was his baby girl and the woman he loved more than breath.
Super-focused on getting them to the hospital safely, he said, “Well, I can’t wait to meet her, too. With you for her mama, she’s one lucky little girl.”
Grace tapped her phone and put it to her ear and said, “Hey, it’s me. Yes, they’re not even—” she paused what she was saying to blow out a long breath, over and over. “Yeah, that’s what I was trying to tell you. I’m blowing through them. I feel it. Be ready when we get there. Awesome. Bye.”
At the emergency entrance to the hospital, Jack spotted Eli Wolf waiting with Emma. Jack screeched to a halt and Eli opened the door and spoke calmly to Grace as he unbuckled her seatbelt and lifted her carefully from her seat. He glanced at Jack and grinned. “Hey, Jack. We got her safe. Park and come inside. Tracey will suit you up and show you where to go.”
Grace looked back at him and beamed as Eli placed her with utmost care on the gurney and they began rolling toward the automatic doors. Grace blew Jack a kiss and in between blowing breaths, she called out, “Hurry.”
Jack couldn’t see Nurse Tracey’s mouth because she wore a mask, but her eyes were smiling as she held out a pair of surgical scissors to him. He fumbled them in his gloved hands and chuckled. “My hands are shaking so much I can hardly get my big ol’ fingers in the grips.”
Adam stood behind him at his left shoulder, sniffling. A little sob snuck out the big guy as Emma cleared the mucous and fluids from Calliope Elizabeth Warner’s mouth and nose and then lifted her so they could see her in her pink, chubby-cheeked glory, howling to beat the band.
“Meet your daughter, guys.
Jack? Care to do the honors?”
“Huh?” he asked dumbly as he gazed at Calliope’s cherubic face.
Grace chuckled softly and reached out. “Can I have her?”
Ethan gripped Jack’s shoulder and said, “Time to cut the cord.”
He looked down at the scissors in his hand and then understanding dawned. “Oh. Me. Okay. You know, I remember catching Rose Marie when she was born, but for some reason my legs hardly work.”
“It’s okay. Take your time, Jack. Mama and baby are just fine,” Emma murmured as she rose from the stool at the end of the birthing bed and gently placed Calliope on her mother’s bare chest. The infant squinted and squawked as she was rubbed gently with a cloth.
“What a pretty girl,”
Ethan said as he came around on Grace’s other side and stroked the babies tiny ear. “Look at all that dark hair, will you?”
Adam squatted down and Tracey shook her head at him and pushed another stool in his direction. He’d never live down nearly fainting at Grant’s birth. He chuckled and took it as he rolled to the head of the bed opposite from Ethan and caressed
Grace’s cheek. “Thank you, baby. You’re amazing. She’s beautiful.”
Grace kissed him and beamed. “She is pretty isn’t she?”
“Calliope is a mouthful for a tiny little baby,” Tracey said. “Is she going to have a nickname?”
“What do you think we ought to call her, Jack?” Grace asked as she stroked the baby’s little pink cheek.
Emma touched the top of his hand to galvanize him into action, as she held the clamped cord and showed him where to cut.
His hands still trembled
and Emma said, “Sometimes if I’m shaky it helps to take a slow breath and cut as you let it out. You’re golden, Jack. This is a huge moment, no matter how many times you have a baby.”
He nodded, unable to speak as he severed the cord and Emma gave him a thumbs up and took the scissors. Wow. She’s really here.
Grace gazed at him as he came close and laid his hand on Calliope’s back. “What should we call your daughter?”
“Callie Beth,” he whispered, the syllables crackling as his throat constricted. Her tiny little body was so warm, so vital. And then she squawked again as she started rooting in earnest.
“That’s a determined little girl, guys,” Emma said with a chuckle as she went about her work.
Tracey slid a little stocking cap on Callie’s head and said, “She looks like a little Callie Beth, doesn’t she? I love romantic names. She’s going to be a heart-breaker, I bet. I can snap some pictures for you real quick while Emma finishes up, before I take Callie to be weighed. You can come with me for that, Jack, if you want?”
He wasn’t sure if he could make his legs move
but he nodded and handed her his cellphone with the camera turned on. The guys got their phones out as well.
Exhausted from birth, Callie Beth fell asleep before finding success with the whole nursing thing, and that was okay. It was a big day. Tracey took the opportunity to wrap her in a receiving blanket and then popped her right into Jack’s arms, like he knew what he was doing.
Wait. I do know what I’m doin’. This isn’t my first rodeo. Get with the program, Jack!
Callie Beth mesmerized him. Her tiny hands were a carbon copy of Grace’s in miniature. She opened her eyes briefly and gazed up at him, so serious and still, inspecting her daddy for the first time.
Grace chuckled as he moved close to the head of the bed, the baby held securely in his arms. He leaned down to kiss Grace, and tears he didn’t know he was shedding dripped onto her hospital gown.
She was sniffling, too, as she reached up and stroked the moisture from his cheeks. Her lips were so warm under his and he lingered there before resting his forehead against hers.
“You done good, mama.”
“We all did. Congratulations, daddy. Daddies. I love you.”
They each responded in kind and even Tracey was sniffling as she moved around quietly snapping pictures. At times, Ethan and Adam caught his gaze and their happiness practically radiated from them.
All three of their kids belonged to all of them, by choice, but because of family resemblances, and timing, Grace was comfortably certain that Rose Marie was Adam’s daughter. She had the Davis green eyes and the family nose.
Ethan was most certainly Grant’s father, because of busy schedules and the fact that Grace had been charting her fertility. Grant also showed an amazing sense of intuition, like his father, when he wasn’t being a toot.
And this one…this little dark headed-angel.
Grace and the guys had done everything they could to make certain it was Jack who had fathered this baby, even giving their blessing for a Hawaiian getaway for just the two of them at a time when Grace was likely to be fertile. Callie Beth’s hair was the same color as his.
He lifted Grace’s hand into his and stroked her palm with his thumb. “Grace, you’re our every dream come to life. Thank you so much for this blessing.”
The Christmas party at the Divine Creek Ranch
was a little more subdued that year, but not by much. Because of scheduling they were having it on Christmas day instead of Christmas Eve.
Jessica Bright’s wedding and binding ceremony with Tank Drummond and Troy Burns had happened the day before and everyone had stayed for the reception. Some faces were missing, because they had to travel to see their families, but Jack thought it was still a great turnout.
It was his protective side that hoped it didn’t go too late. Rose Marie and Grant were their usual energetic selves, and he’d been watching Grace for signs of fatigue. She’d given in to their badgering to rest because she hadn’t bounced back quite as quickly from the birth. She pushed herself so hard sometimes, thinking she needed to handle things for everybody else.
After the overwhelming success, and accompanying behind-the-scenes stressful drama, of the charity fundraiser, she’d finally given in and taken it easy, allowing them to do for her for a change.
With any other woman that might’ve meant being available at her beck and call. With Grace, it meant movie nights, long talks in bed, back rubs and brainstorming sessions for future stories she’d write in the coming years. Who knew he, Ethan, and Adam had such romantic creative sides? Jack honestly enjoyed being of help to her in a way he never had before.
He handed her to tall glass of ice water she’d asked him for and she thanked him with a kiss. Little Callie Beth was watching the goings on of the gathering from the security of the sling Grace was wearing, a gift from Presley Ann McCulloch, who had also given birth to a baby girl a month or so before Callie Beth had come into the world.
Callie Beth gazed out at the group
from the comfy security of her mother’s warmth, before burrowing close to her mama again. Warmth filled his chest and when he looked up it was to find Ethan and Adam watching her as well, twin sappy grins on their faces, probably matching the one on his.
Ethan brought him a beer and the three of them clinked bottles and Ethan said, “To Grace.”
Ash Peterson and his wife Juliana came in through the back door, looking a little flushed, and judging by the twinkle in Ash’s eyes, and the blush in Juliana’s cheeks, they were feeling a little more than just the crisp chill from the outdoors. Good thing for them, they lived nearby.
“What is all that racket?”
Juliana asked as she turned and peeked out the opened doors.
A commotion in the backyard got everyone’s attention. Ace and Kemp were on it immediately, coming from the kitchen where they’d been conversing with Duke and Gage, Dr. Emma’s husbands, reaching in to their sports coats by reflex, but showing no other sign they were armed.
After the security breach on the ranch the night of the charity dinner and double bachelor auction, they were all much more vigilant about disturbances, especially with little ones running around everywhere.
“Just the dog barkin’ somewhere nearby,” Ash said, nodding and smiling at Ethan when he lifted a beer bottle in inquiry. “I’d love one, thanks. Need to wet my whistle.”
Juliana snorted and nudged him with her elbow. “It’s important to stay hydrated, right?”
“You hush, woman,” he said, but his affectionate, gentle squeeze led Jack to believe he enjoyed it when she got feisty. Their relationship had been fireworks from the get go, as Jack recalled and maintaining that spark was good for a marriage.
They were just closing the French doors when Erin, Ethan’s baby sister snuck in, looking a little disheveled.
“Hey, Erin. I was wondering if you were going to make it or not,” Ethan said as he handed Ash his beer, and then squinted at her. “What’ve you been up to?”
“Nothin’. Mind your own beeswax, dude. I need a drink.”
“A good stiff one? Here,”
Charity quipped as she sauntered over and held out a shot of what looked like tequila. “Careful, there’s a song that talks about tequila making a girls clothes fall off.”
Erin growled at Charity but took the shot with a nod of thanks anyway. Ethan’s sister was a spirited woman, and it wasn’t his place to say so, but Ethan’s protectiveness was just making her even more determined to do as she pleased. She’d recently decided to move out of the ranch house, even though they had plenty of room. Jack could understand her wanting her independence.
Charity looked over at Teresa, who was standing nearby with Angel and Joaquin bracketing her like bookends. “Hey Teresa, where’s Luka and Matthias? I heard they were going to be here tonight?”
“They should be here already,” Teresa said, casting her husbands a questioning glance. Their brothers were always game for a party but didn’t always show up when they said they would. “I’m not sure where they are.”
Erin groused under her breath and headed for the kitchen as the sound of boot steps stamping on the porch signaled another arrival.
The brothers in question grinned and waved in greeting as they came in through the back door and slipped their coats off and put them on the tree with their hats. “Hey,” Luka called, shaking hands with Duke Rivers who had come into the living room. “How is everyone?”
Grace gasped and blinked as everyone turned at the commotion on the back porch. She opened her mouth to speak and turned imploring eyes to him. “Close the doors before they—”
A furry snarling orange rocket ran between Luka’s booted feet and shot into the house.
“Jake, out!” Grace called as he shot past her. “Someone catch him. Oh, not again!”
“What the—” Luka shouted as all one hundred and twenty pounds of Barney barreled into him from behind, knocking his legs out from under him, missing landing on the tile floor only because Matthias caught him from behind.
The cat dog combo looped the living room twice as the party-goers tried to catch them, the kids laughing and adults shooing them toward the door before any real damage could be done.
The cat went airborne over the couch,
while Grace watched in consternation. Like a safety-seeking missile, the feline made a beeline for the only vertical perch in reach. Straight up the fully decked out Christmas tree. The ornaments trembled and shook on the tree as he scaled the heights to the angel perched on the top, knocking it askew.
Ethan made a made a mad grab for Barney and got dragged across the living room for the effort, before the coffee table stopped his progress and he let go or risked hitting Grace with the furniture.
Jack felt like he was moving in slow motion. The spun glass ornaments swung wildly as the tree teetered with Jake’s attempts to gain some balance. Each step around the room took forever. Barney was headed straight for the tree. It was one thing to knock over the tree when it was bare. It was another mess of shit to do it when it was full of Grace’s precious glass ornaments.
Barney attacked the base of the tree, knocking it off kilter, and Jake leaped from the top, rebounded off Jack’s shoulder and flitted out the still open door. The tree was a lost cause as Barney attacked the red furry tree skirt, evidently thinking he’d caught his prey. But Jack could still save the decorations.
Nope. The tree fell on him.
And for his efforts, he got a face full of Barney’s dirty paws and slobber as he climbed over him and shot out the French doors. When he regained his breath, he looked up at the crowd of faces ringing him.
Grace rose from the couch and told someone that she needed a towel and for the men to lift the tree off of him carefully. A sparkle caught his eye and he lifted the spun glass ballerina from his chest and showed it to Grace.
“Well, darlin’, at least I saved one of your ornaments.”
Holding one hand to Callie Beth’s head to keep her settled in her sling, she got down on her knees and took the ornament from him, as well as another he spotted in the branches squished against his chest.
“Are you hurt?”
“Nope. I wanted to save your glass ornaments from being broken.”
Grace grimaced. “You could’ve been impaled on broken glass,” she said as they lifted the tree off him and the round ball ornaments made tinkling sounds as they bounced and rolled across the floor. The kids giggled as they chased after them.
Jack grinned, and then picked a dry tree bristle from his shirt front when it poked him. He nodded his thanks when the guys helped him up. In turn, he helped her to rise, and showed her that he was fine, except that the water from the tree base had soaked the back of his jeans.
“It’s all good. Lookie there, the other two of your special ornaments are still hanging on the branches, undamaged.”
“Jack, I was teasing when I said I wanted a woobie under my Christmas tree.”
When he stopped laughing, he caught Ethan’s attention and said, “Let’s make sure those doors are shut good this time.”
The tree was restored to something resembling its former dignity, with only a few ornaments damaged beyond repair. Barney and Jake streaked past the back door, playing their endless game of cat and dog.
The lights from the tree sparkled and reflected on the windows and Jack thought of Grace’s care in making sure the tree was positioned so the lights shined out.
Standing talking with her friends and their family and acquaintances, she caught his glance and smiled at him as she caressed his daughter’s dark head.
The house shone with a light that had nothing to do with artificial tree bulbs. The warmth he felt was the light that was reflected by of the woman he loved with all his heart.
©Heather Rainier 2017 All rights reserved
This short story describes events that took place during the course of Operation Ginger Avenger. For the full story, visit the book page and you’ll find info and links to various retailers. Click here to purchase at Siren BookStrand Right now
If you enjoyed this Christmas-themed short story, check out The Woobie Spirit of Christmas Past