I woke in the morning, and before I even yawned or stretched, I reached out to touch the figure beside me, familiar now after many months together. I anticipated every ridge of muscle and the hollows of more tender spots. I knew J.D.’s smooth skin and gnarled scars as well as I knew my own body’s curves. I would never see the form I touched, but I knew it intimately. I knew him intimately, my boyfriend, lover, best friend. There was nothing hidden, no more secrets between us.
That had been a hard-won battle since we met and fell in love in the midst of a web of lies. But a lot of discussion had brought us to an understanding that J.D. would never again withhold information from me, not so much as a surprise birthday party. After he’d secretly faced violent criminals alongside his brothers, I’d drawn my line in the sand. Total honesty or we were through.
J.D. had become much more open after that. If he’d had a crappy day, he simply said so instead of getting all brooding, forcing me to blindly read his silence. As for me, I was pretty much an open book. I had nothing I wanted to hide from the man I planned to spend the rest of my life with.
Except one pretty huge thing I would share with him soon—when the time was right.
After my little morning ritual of mapping J.D.’s body, I climbed out of bed and made my way to the bathroom. When I returned with morning breath brushed away, I slipped in between the covers and sidled up close to my sleeping man. I kissed his neck, his shoulder, his chest, and by the time I reached the parts below his waist, J.D. was stirring.
“Morning.” He rested a hand on my head and stroked my hair. “You’re up early.”
I released his cock to reply. “I couldn’t sleep anymore. I’m too excited.”
“I can hardly believe it’s happening,” he said.
I started to move up beside him.
“You don’t have to stop. I’m fine with what you’re doing down there.” I heard the smile in his voice, and it made me smile back.
“We should probably pick this up later. There’s too much going on today.” I gave his erection a playful squeeze. “Sorry to rev your motor, then leave you to idle.”
He cupped my face in his hands and kissed me. “We’ll have plenty of time for sex later. Like the rest of our lives.” His warm whisper made me quiver. So much happiness wasn’t possible. Sometimes I had to fight off the fear that something would happen to ruin our blissful relationship.
I laid my head on his chest and listened to his heart beat, inhaling his scent and feeling the texture of his skin. What I couldn’t see, I could experience with my other senses.
“I suppose we should get ready,” I said after a bit. “We have a lot to do.”
J.D. wrapped his arms around me tighter and grumbled, “Mm. No place I’d rather be than right here.”
I settled down. Another few minutes wouldn’t make us too late, and there was no place I’d rather be either than lounging in bed with my sexy boyfriend. If it weren’t for the big news that loomed over me and clouded the horizon, I would be perfectly content.
Maybe I should tell him now. Get it over with, I thought. Maybe it wouldn’t be an unwelcome disaster but a happy surprise. But then I wavered back the other way again, determined to wait until after the wedding.
“Seriously? Seriously?” I threw balled-up socks at Micah as he entered the bedroom. “You choose today of all days to cruise in at the crack of dawn? What the hell?”
He dodged the socks, which flew past his head and bounced off the doorframe, and gave a huge, jaw-cracking yawn. “We’ll be ready in time. Don’t freak out.”
“I am freaking out. We’ve had this discussion before. You can’t just stroll in any time you want like some frickin’ alley cat.”
Micah’s sense of time was elastic to say the least. He was getting better about remembering to call if he was going to be late or to change plans, but he still pulled crap like this sometimes. At what point was it a deal breaker? I loved the man, and I was willing to cut him a lot of slack because I could see how he’d changed, but Micah Wyatt might always be a little more unreliable than I could put up with.
“I texted. Did you check your phone?” he asked.
I hadn’t, but I was so mad right then that I wanted to chuck the phone at him more than I wanted to read messages. “Just hurry up and pack,” I grumped. “We have a long trip in front of us, and we need to get on the road.”
Micah stole up behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist, nuzzling his lips against the side of my neck. Angry prickles turned to arousal as I melted against him.
“If you’d checked your messages, you wouldn’t be yelling at me. Don’t you want to know what I was doing all night?” he murmured as he found the exact spot he knew drove me wild and nibbled on it.
I sighed and closed my eyes. “What?”
“Getting a wedding present. After I closed the bar, I went to see a guy who introduced me to this other guy who had what I wanted. It took some time. Then it was late, and I decided to crash for a couple of hours at my place and shower before coming over here.” He kissed my neck again, tickling my skin. “It’s all in the text.”
I felt like an idiot. I’d been caught up with getting ready and so busy being annoyed with Micah, I hadn’t even bothered to check my messages. I’d worked myself into a temper for no reason. Although, I didn’t like the sound of him meeting strangers in the night to pick up some mysterious gift.
“Did this wedding present fall off a truck or something?”
He chuckled. “No. It’s not stolen. But it’s sort of unusual, so it took some doing to find it.”
“You’re not going to tell me what the present is?”
“And ruin the surprise? Nope. You’ll see when everyone else does.” He swayed me from side to side, and the last of my annoyance evaporated.
“Well, how are you going to pack it? Is it bigger than a bread box?” I asked.
“You’ll see,” he repeated.
With Micah, everything was always a game, a mystery, a scavenger hunt, a fun time. He kept life interesting, and I wouldn’t trade him for any other guy in the world—even when he drove me nuts.
I turned and slipped my arms around his neck, giving him a proper good morning kiss that nearly turned to a tumble into bed before we broke apart.
“Okay.” He sucked in a breath. “We should probably get going.”
He was dressed Sinatra-style, from dress shirt and vest to a fedora with its brim cocked low. His auburn hair gleamed redder than usual below the hat. His tie hung loose, and I held on to it as I pressed a necklace of kisses on his throat between the crisp points of his shirt collar.
“They’ll wait,” I whispered after I pulled back. “Come on.”
I pushed my suitcase off the bed and dragged Micah down onto it with me. Impossible to stay mad at this guy. And after all, he had sent me a text.
I woke to the sound of Travis beating on pots with a wooden spoon. It was his new thing. I could already foresee some Christmas when my son would ask for a drum kit. I’d brought it on myself by allowing him to play percussion while I cooked in the kitchen, but I’d created a monster. Now he wanted to bang at all hours of the day, including the butt crack of dawn. At least we didn’t live in the apartment anymore so I didn’t have to worry about him waking up neighbors, but I still sprang out of bed and hurried to the kitchen.
Travis sat in the midst of several overturned pots with a wooden spoon in each hand. When he spotted me, he grinned and twirled his drumsticks with amazing dexterity for a four-year-old. “Listen, Mama!” He pounded a rhythm that sounded pretty sophisticated to my unmusical ears.
“Cool. But, honey, you can’t play so early in the morning when people are trying to sleep.”
He squinted. “Nobody’s here but you and me.”
“But usually Jonah would be here, and he’d like to sleep in a little later than”—I checked the clock on the stove—“six thirty. We have guests coming today who’ll be spending the night. Promise me you won’t make noise tomorrow morning.”
Travis’s lower lip protruded in a ledge of disappointment. “I promise,” he sulked. “Who’s comin’?”
“You know. We talked about this. Jonah’s brothers and their girlfriends. Do you remember their names?” I asked as I made a beeline for the coffeemaker.
He shook his head.
“You’ll meet them when they get here.” I decided not to bother telling their names again. They’d mean nothing to him without faces attached. “Hungry?” I asked.
“For pancakes.” Travis hit a pot. “Pancakes.” Another smack. And then he pounded out a beat as he chanted pancakes over and over. I was really glad I’d had the clever idea to let him play on a kitchen drum set.
Ignoring the noise, I moved around, getting out ingredients and heating the griddle. Keep moving and I could stop being nervous about the day ahead and meeting all of Jonah’s family. I’d missed being introduced to his brothers last time they were in town. Jonah and I weren’t really a thing then. Now they were returning along with their girlfriends.
It was exciting and scary. I’d never had a family of my own before, no siblings and only my grandma and sometimes my mom around. These people would soon be my relatives, more or less. I wondered what they’d be like and if we’d get along.
I’d made friends with Leah on Facebook. She was the only one who had a profile. So we’d messaged a bit, and I was starting to feel like I knew her a little. Leah vouched for her good friend Gina, promising me she was easy to get along with. But I only knew what Jonah had told me about his brothers, filtered through his perception of them. Today I’d be meeting a lot of new people all at once, and I feared they’d privately judge me based on my past occupation.
I hadn’t said anything about that to Jonah, but he’d sniffed out my fears anyway. He told me not to worry, claiming his brothers weren’t judgmental. But I was still nervous as I anticipated this meeting.
I’d just gotten Travis seated at the table with his smiley face pancakes beaming up at him when my phone rang. A thrill of happiness bubbled up inside me as it always did at Jonah’s ringtone. I ran to get the phone from my nightstand and answered breathlessly. “Hi. You’re calling early.”
“Couldn’t sleep. I knew you’d be up. How’s everything going?”
I smiled. “Nothing new to report since last night. No last-minute changes from the caterer or florist. I think everything’s on track.” I lowered my voice even though Travis was a room away. “Missed you last night.”
“Me too. I wanted to come home.”
“This is dumb. We don’t have to sleep apart.” Whose idea had this enforced pre-wedding separation been anyway? I couldn’t remember.
“It’s only for a couple of nights.” Jonah sounded as if he was trying to convince himself.
“At least you could sleep here on the couch or something. You’re going to want to hang with your brothers.”
“We’ll get plenty of hang time during this ridiculous bachelor party Micah has planned. Probably more than I want,” Jonah said.
“I feel weird having Leah and Gina mix with my friends,” I blurted. “They’re gonna assume the girls are a bunch of hos just because they work at a strip club. And they’d be kinda right about Cyndi.”
“Don’t worry about what they think. It’s their problem. But I’m sure they won’t judge. If they can put up with a pair of chuckleheads like my brothers, I’m sure Leah and Gina are cool with a few strippers.”
“Mm,” I grunted, unconvinced. Both these women were from normal families and had normal-type jobs. Somehow I doubted they’d actually accept someone with my screwed-up background into their close friendship. But I figured we could all be polite for the few days the Chicago group would be here in Lexington. That would be good enough…even though it would be really nice if we clicked.
In the other room, Travis started hollering for me.
“I gotta go. The prince needs more syrup.”
“Let me talk to him,” Jonah said.
I carried the phone to Travis and watched him listen to Jonah’s voice and smile as if God himself were speaking to him. Another wave of pure joy swept through me. Not only would I soon be married to this wonderful man, but my boy finally had a father who loved him. A year ago, I would never have imagined my perpetual bad luck could change. Now, I was on the verge of having everything my heart yearned for—a complete family and a happy home.
I retrieved my phone from Travis’s sticky hand and scrubbed it clean at the sink. The phone chimed as a message came in. I smiled, imagining Jonah had sent me another of his adorable love texts.
When I read who the message was from, I felt like I’d been punched in the chest. For a moment, I seriously couldn’t breathe. Clay Peters.
Of all the times for my ex to show up in my life again, just days before my wedding! And demanding paternal rights after all the years he’d been content to let me and Travis make do on our own. Not that I’d wanted or asked for anything from him. I was the one who’d run away from that destructive relationship.
Now Clay had found us here in Lexington. Damned if I’d let him back into our lives or ever have Travis call him Daddy. Jonah was the only father I wanted Travis to know.
But from the sound of Clay’s note, it might not be as easy as just telling him no.