I sit at the kitchen table, and Evie takes her usual seat across from me. Our eyes meet, and we grin at the same time. “Hot tub?” I suggest, licking my lips.
“I was hoping you’d say that.”
A night with Evie in the hot tub under the stars is exactly what I need after spending a week in the studio with the band, hammering out new songs.
The front door opens and shuts, and we exchange a surprised glance as Winter enters the room, holding hands with a guy with dark hair almost as long as mine, a half-sleeve tattoo, and snake-bite piercings in his lips.
I slowly put down my fork and look at my seventeen-year-old daughter—a young replica of Evie with her black hair, sweet smile and light eyes—wearing pink chucks, one of my old black leather jackets, and a white T-shirt that says “I love bad boys” across the front.
Oh, fuck no.
“Mom, Daddy…this is Kody.” Her face lights up with pride like she’s presenting a prestigious award.
“And he is…?” I ask.
Evie kicks me under the table. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Kody,” Evie says. “Winter’s told me all about you. Are you two hungry?”
“We’re going to the diner, Mom.”
“No, thank you, Mrs. Valentine. Winter just wanted me to meet you both now that we’re dating.”
“Dating?” I repeat.
Kody steps toward me and holds out his hand for me to shake. “Mr. Valentine, it’s an honor to meet you. I’m a huge fan. Ashes & Embers was the first band I ever saw in concert. You’re why I started playing guitar.”
This kid should know that making me feel old isn’t exactly a great first impression. I shake his hand but narrow my eyes at him. “Is that why you’re dating my daughter?”
“No, sir. I didn’t even know who she was when I met her.”
I lean back in my chair and check this kid out. I knew someday my little girl was gonna show up with a guy just like this. She grew up with a family of rock stars; it made sense she’d be drawn to a little metal-head. I just don’t want her being used because she’s related to famous musicians. I’ll kick this kid’s ass if he hurts my firstborn.
Chewing the inside of my lip, I cock my head to the side, not sure he’s telling me the truth. “How’d you two meet, then?”
“Um…” he glances nervously at Winter. “She backed into me on my motorcycle with her car in a parking lot.”
Winter jumps in. “I was barely moving, Daddy. I didn’t see him.” She leans closer to Kody. “He didn’t even get hurt, I swear.”
“I had a wicked bruise on my leg, but it’s no big deal. She was freaking out, though, worried she broke my leg or that she wrecked her car.” He talks faster under my stare. “It was just a little dent in her fender. I stayed with her until she calmed down, and I offered to fix the dent for her, and we just kinda kept seeing each other.”
Evie and I look at each other and smile, shaking our heads at the irony. We already know how this story ends.
“What kind of bike?” I ask him.
“It’s a Harley, sir.”
“Did she fuck it up when she hit you?”
Kody laughs. “Just a few scratches.”
“So…we’re going now. Okay?” Winter asks anxiously.
“Have fun,” Evie says. “Try to be home by midnight.”
“Not before then,” I add. I want my alone time with my wife.
“I’ll have her home at midnight,” Kody says as they turn to leave.
“Hey, Kody?” I call out. “Next time you’re here, we’ll jam a little.”
“Wow, seriously?” he asks.
Winter drops his hand, runs to me, and throws her arms around me. “Thank you, Daddy. I really like him,” she whispers.
“I know, sweetheart. I know.”
After they leave, Evie smiles at me, reading my mind. My wife always knows what’s going through my head. She stands and comes over to hug me reassuringly. “It’s okay for her to grow up, Storm. She’ll always be your little girl.”
“I know…it’s just happening so fast.” I feel like just yesterday I was pushing her around in a stroller; now she’s going on a date with a guy in a car with long hair and tattoos and fucking piercings.
“They remind me of us,” she says. “She tells me all about him. He’s a lot like you.”
I blow out a long breath. “I think we just met our future son-in-law.”
Later that night, as we’re in the hot tub with our legs and arms wrapped around each other, the first snow flurries of the season start to fall in that slow, almost suspended-in-time way.
We gaze up at the sky together, watching the flakes come down and disappear in midair in the rising steam of the tub.
“The snow always reminds me of falling in love with you,” Evie says softly. “I wish I could catch one and keep it forever.”
“Hmmm…” I brush my lips across hers and linger there. “Do you need something to remind you?”
“Nope…how could I ever forget falling in love with you?” Her hands wander up and down my back, her nails trailing along my flesh. My eyes close, savoring the feeling of her touch, loving it just as much as the first time she touched me.
“Just checking.” I move my hands from her outer thighs to her waist. “Come upstairs with me. I want to give you your anniversary present.”
Her head tilts, and she looks just like the puppy does when I make a weird noise. “Now? Our anniversary is two months away.”
“I know, but tonight feels like the right time.” Her brow furrows and her hands halt on my back. “Don’t get yourself all amped up with worry, baby. It’s all good. I promise.”
The puppy follows us upstairs, her big paws clomping on the carpet behind us. I stop on the landing to look out one of the windows overlooking the driveway, and the puppy stops and sits at my feet, looking up at me expectantly. I’m still waiting for her to tell me her name.
Evie tugs at my hand. “Storm…its not midnight yet. They’ve got two more hours.” She kisses my shoulder. “Which means we have two more hours,” she hints.
I look at her out of the corner of my eye, still scanning the street to make sure that kid isn’t parked out there making out with my daughter.
“Good. That’s just enough time to lick you into an orgasmic coma. But first you get your present.”
“You went shopping early this year. I’m impressed.” She climbs up on the bed while the puppy grabs one of her bones and hauls it onto her dog bed under the window.
I disappear into my walk-in closet to get Evie’s gift from its hiding place. “Actually,” I sit on the bed next to her. “I wasn’t looking for this. I found it by accident when we played in New York a few months ago and I said, ‘Fuck, that’s perfect for Evie.’”
She looks adorable and sexy sitting cross-legged, wearing nothing but one of my soft flannel shirts, unbuttoned to the middle of her chest, teasing me with a glimpse of her cleavage.
“Found it? Like in the street?”
“No. In an antique store.”
“What were you doing in an antique store?”
“Asher and I were grabbing a quick lunch, and it was next to the deli. He’s always on the hunt for skeleton keys.”
She nods. “Ah. I can’t wait to see what it is.”
“Close your eyes.”
I can’t help but laugh when she screws her eyes shut tight and nibbles her lower lip, waiting, struggling not to peek.
Man, I love this woman.
I take her right hand and slowly slide the ring onto her finger.
Her mouth forms a surprised O.
I lean closer to her and kiss her lips. “Now you can look.”
Her eyes fly open, and she stares at the two carats of diamonds on her finger, cut and arranged in the shape of a perfect snowflake.
“Oh my God…it’s my forever snowflake!” She tears her eyes off the ring to look at me. “I can’t believe you found a diamond snowflake. By accident!”
“When you said that earlier about wanting one, I just couldn’t wait to give it to you.”
“I love it.” Her voice is soft and serious. “I know I tell you I love you all the time…” She looks down at the ring for a second then lifts her head to meet my eyes. “But it’s just not enough. You really are the most amazing husband, and the best father. You put up with all my quirks, and you always make me feel safe and loved. Every night I lie in bed and watch you sleep, and I can’t believe how lucky I am to share my life with you. I’m still falling more and more in love with you every day.”
I squeeze her hand. “Okay…since we’re confessing…every time you tell me you love me, it’s like hearing it for the first time again. You’re a kick-ass mom. You’re the hottest, sweetest wife on the planet. When you’re watching me sleep? I’m dreaming about you and how fuckin’ lucky I am. I’m not done falling in love with you either, and ya know what? I’m never going to stop.”