“I’m okay, just really nervous and I wish you were here.”
“I’ll be there baby, I promise. What the hell is that noise?”
“Asher’s car engine.”
“You’re in the Porsche?”
“Yeah, he squished me in.”
“I’ll kill him. Why didn’t he take your SUV?”
Good question. “I don’t know. We weren’t thinking.”
“This is faster and cooler,” Asher says loudly enough for Storm to hear, winking at me.
“How did you get with Asher?”
“He just stopped by the house after you left.”
“As always with his weird lucky timing.”
“Storm, don’t drive like a maniac trying to get there. The baby’s not coming immediately,” I say, ignoring Asher’s look as another pain rips through me.
“Okay. I’ll see you there. I love you, babe.”
“I love you, too.”
“I forgot you had a car,” Asher says when I end the call.
“I did too.”
“This is a better story to tell everyone—your brother-in-law racing you to the hospital in a Porsche.”
God. I hope no one sees us. Social media will have a field day with Asher Valentine taking his pregnant sister-in-law to the hospital with Storm nowhere in sight. I wince and smile at him. I know he’s trying to make me laugh, but I’m too worried to have a sense of humor right now.
When we arrive at the hospital, Asher pulls right into the emergency entrance and jumps out to grab a wheelchair and sprints with it to my door to gently help me out of the car and into the chair.
I send Storm a text to let him know we’re here as Asher wheels me inside, yelling for a nurse.
“I better be this kid’s favorite uncle,” he says.
“I’m sure you will be.”
“Oh my God, is that the singer from Ashes & Embers?” I overhear a nurse say.
Another chimes in. “I think it is! He’s hot as hell. Maybe that’s his girlfriend!”
“He’s married,” the nurse shoots back.
“He can be married and still have a pregnant girlfriend!”
As I rub my forehead, hoping this doesn’t turn into a circus of rumors, my phone beeps with a text:
STORM: I’m almost there. I love you and baby bean. xoxo
The nurses whisk me into a private room, still whispering about who Asher is, while he waits just outside the door, calling family to let them know where we are. Meanwhile, I’m changed into a robe and hooked up to all sorts of monitors.
“Is that your husband outside?” one of the nurses asks.
“No…it’s his brother. My husband is on his way.”
“Are you really married to the Valentines? From the rock band?” the younger nurse whispers at me.
“Just one of them,” I reply. “Can we please just focus on the baby? And for the record, Asher is married and he doesn’t have a girlfriend.” I shake my head at them.
The contractions become more frequent, and Storm still hasn’t arrived. Asher pulls up a chair and holds my hand, letting me squeeze his through the pain.
“Where is he?” I ask. “Shouldn’t he be here by now?”
“He’s probably stuck in traffic. Don’t worry. I’ll stay here with you.”
We just came from the same direction Storm is travelling, and we didn’t see any traffic. Horrible visions flash through my mind. This is like the movies where the husband never shows up because he either skipped out of town or was in a horrible accident.
“Is he really okay?” I ask, searching Asher’s eyes for any telltale clues. He smiles reassuringly, his eyes staying on mine.
“He’s fine. Just relax and think about your little girl.”
“Has he texted you since we got here?” My own phone has been silent. No calls or texts.
His expression remains calm as he shakes his head. “No. But don’t worry.”
Asking me to not worry is like asking me to sprout wings and fly to the moon. It will never happen. It’s simply impossible.
I wipe the tears off my cheeks. “Okay. I’m trying. You don’t have to hold my hand.”
“I want to,” he says softly. “It’s nice feeling you squeeze mine back.”
I nod in silent understanding. I can’t even imagine how much he misses Ember and everything they had together. It’s heartbreaking to even think about. If anything ever happened to Storm, I don’t know how I could live through it.
And where is he? I glance at the clock on the wall and realize a lot of time has passed, more than an hour, at least.
Suddenly my room door opens, and Storm rushes in with the biggest smile on his face, all out of breath.
“I ran from the parking lot.” He throws his coat on the other chair and sits on the edge of the bed, taking my other hand and leaning down to kiss me. “I never should have gone to that fucking hardware store. I had a feeling she was coming today.”
I cling to him with relief, not wanting to let him go. “I was so worried,” I whisper.
“I ran out of gas, and my fucking phone battery died. I had to start walking.”
“Oh my God.” I can picture him walking down the side of the highway, cars flying by him, his long hair blowing in the wind.
“Are you serious?” Asher asks, letting go of my hand and rising from the chair so Storm can take his place.
“Dead serious. Some dude picked me up and recognized me. He was acting all crazy, taking pictures of me and asking me to go to a bar with him and sing karaoke or some shit. I told him I just looked like the guy from the band and I was really just a construction worker. I thought that nut was gonna kidnap my ass.”
“You’re a crazy-person magnet. I’m so glad you’re here,” I lace my fingers into his.
“I was getting here no matter what, babe. I would have walked the entire way if I had to.”
“Where’s your car?” Asher asks. “I’ll have it taken care of and brought here.”
“It’s down the road about twenty miles, by that new hotel.”
As soon as Asher leaves Storm kisses me again. “I didn’t mean to make you worry. Are you okay? Is the baby okay?”
“I’m fine now that you’re here. She’s early but the doctor said it’s okay,” I tell him.
He lets out a deep breath and grins, his entire face lighting up. “This is it,” he says. “Our baby bean is coming.”
This is it—we’re having a baby. Our lives will never be the same.
My labor lasts three hours, with Storm right at my side, breathing with me, crying with me, and making me and everyone else in the room laugh.
After a lot of pushing and quite a bit of pain, our little bean arrives—screaming, with a full head of dark hair —weighing five pounds and three ounces. Storm proudly cuts the cord, the nurses clean her up, and he takes her from them carefully, as if she were made of the finest crystal. Seeing him carry our tiny baby to me is a sight that will forever be burned in the memories of my mind. He kisses her wrinkled forehead before he lays her in my arms.
“She looks like a little angel,” I whisper as I check her itty-bitty fingers and toes and her perfect little ears and smooth her hair that insists on sticking right back up. She has huge soulful eyes, and I hope they’re green like Storm’s.
“This is Winter Raven Valentine,” he says softly, holding onto her little hand.
Oh, her name is so perfectly beautiful, I can’t think of any other name that would suit her.
“It’s perfect,” I murmur. “Just like her. And you.”
Lifting my chin, he softly kisses my lips. “And you. We love you.”
Seventeen Years Later
Her blue eyes are begging for it, following it hungrily as it sways back and forth in front of her face, letting it bump across her nose. She opens her mouth for it, pink tongue hanging out.
“No…” I warn. “Don’t touch.”
A tiny drip of drool forms in the corner of her mouth.
“You want that bone bad, don’t you?”
She whines and inches closer to me.
“No, no, no…you have to wait. The anticipation is the best part.”
Evie appears in the doorway and eyes me, lying on the living room floor. “Storm, stop teasing that puppy. Dinner’s ready, can you put her in her crate?”
“I’m not teasing her, I’m training her.” I hold my hand out to the puppy, with the bone in my palm. “Okay, take it.”
The malamute pup gingerly takes the bone from my hand. I rub her fuzzy head as she chews it; then I bring her to her crate in the corner of the living room so we can eat dinner without a twelve-week-old puppy running around.
I join Evie in the kitchen, hugging her from behind as she spoons chicken and dumplings onto two plates.
“That smells almost as good as you,” I whisper against her ear. “Where’s the kids?”
She turns and hands me a plate. “Winter is with a friend and Hale is at Jimmy’s house playing video games.”
“So we have the house to ourselves tonight?”
Her smile is sweet and sultry. “We do.”
It’s about fucking time. Now that the kids are teens, they’re in and out of the house like it’s a revolving door.