Emily glanced toward the front door when she heard it open. She waited to see her daughter’s happy face as she entered the house after school. It was hard to believe Annie was twelve, and already in the seventh grade. She’d always be her little baby, but she was growing up fast.
But instead of Annie coming into the kitchen, pulling herself up on one of the chairs at the table and chattering happily about what happened in school that day, she clomped right past the doorway and headed for her room without a word.
“Annie?” Emily called out.
In response, she heard her daughter’s bedroom door slam shut.
Blinking in surprise, Emily stood in the middle of the kitchen, frowning in the direction of the hallway where Annie had disappeared. Deciding to give her some time, Emily turned back to the lasagna sauce she was putting together for dinner. Fletch should be home from the base in an hour and she needed to get the pasta in the oven if it was going to be ready by the time he arrived.
Ethan, their son, was two and currently occupied by a video on the TV. Emily was doubly concerned about Annie because one of her favorite things in the world was her little brother. She doted on Ethan. Ever since he was born, Annie was like a second mother to him.
Emily remembered when they’d first realized the depth of Annie’s love for her brother. Ethan was around four months old, and Annie had begun to eat much less at dinner. It took her and Fletch a couple weeks to figure out what was going on. Annie thought her brother wasn’t getting enough to eat, so she was hiding food and bringing it to him at night, after everyone went to sleep.
Apparently, she remembered how Emily would forego food so Annie herself could eat, and was attempting to do the same for her brother.
Fletch had a long talk with her, explaining that they had plenty of money to buy food for all of them and, as Ethan was a baby, he could only eat formula.
Annie constantly looked after her brother, even after that. Another time, while doing yardwork, Fletch found around a hundred of Annie’s little plastic Army men on the ground outside Ethan’s window. When he asked her about it, she told him they were there to protect Ethan from anyone trying to break into his room.
She also had a tendency to climb into his bed in the middle of the night. Even now, when Emily or Fletch went into Ethan’s room in the morning, they’d sometimes find their daughter sleeping curled around her brother. She read to him regularly. Would sit with him for hours, reading the same book over and over again and never seeming to get tired of it.
So the fact that Annie came into the house and completely ignored her baby brother said more about her mood than anything else could.
After putting the lasagna into the oven, Emily washed her hands and, making sure Ethan was still occupied, headed for Annie’s room. She lightly tapped on the door.
“Go away!” her daughter said, her voice sounding muffled.
Emily frowned. “I’m making lasagna for dinner,” she told her daughter, knowing how much Annie loved the dish.
“I’m not hungry!” was her response.
“You want to talk about what’s bothering you?” Emily asked. “I’m a good listener.”
“No! I just want to be alone!”
She sighed and backed away from the door. Annie was usually a very happy-go-lucky kid. Not much got her down. Emily had been warned about the pre-teen years, and about seventh grade girls especially, but she’d hoped, Annie being the tomboy that she was, she might avoid some of the turbulent emotions that came with being a teenager. It seemed that wasn’t the case.
Emily spent the next hour hoping Annie would come out of her room and go back to being her normal happy self, but that didn’t happen. She sent a text to Mary, knowing how close her daughter was to the other woman, and asked if she and Truck might want to come over for dinner.
Luckily, Mary agreed immediately, making Emily sigh in relief. All her friends were awesome. They never hesitated to
babysit when she wanted some alone time with her husband, and she did the same for them. Rayne and Ghost had just had their first child, a boy they’d named Billy. Kassie and Hollywood’s daughter, Kate, was a year younger than Ethan, and watching the two toddlers play together was adorable and heartwarming.
Their husbands were a big help with the kids as well, now more than ever. They were all transitioning to administrative roles within the Delta Force organization, and Emily couldn’t say she was upset about it. Fletch loved serving his country, but Emily, and the rest of her friends, worried obsessively about them when they were deployed on dangerous missions.
By the time Fletch arrived home, Emily still hadn’t seen her daughter, and she was a nervous wreck. This wasn’t her Annie at all, and Emily hated that her daughter wouldn’t talk to her. For the first six or so years of her life, they’d only had each other. They were best friends. Even after meeting Fletch, who her daughter completely adored, the bond between her and Annie remained strong. So her daughter not speaking to her felt incredibly wrong to Emily.
“What’s wrong?” Fletch asked the second he saw his wife.
Emily wasn’t surprised he could tell something was up.
He gathered her close, wrapping one arm around her waist and palming her cheek. “Ethan okay?” he asked.
Emily nodded. “Yeah. It’s Annie.”
“Annie?” Fletch asked in surprise. “What’s wrong with her?”
“I don’t know, she won’t talk to me. She came home from school in an awful mood. Went straight to her room without even greeting Ethan.”
Fletch frowned. He also knew how much her brother meant to her. “Is that why you invited Mary and Truck over for dinner?” he asked.
Emily couldn’t help but smile. Mary had probably texted Truck, who’d most likely asked Fletch what time they should come over. “Yeah. She’s always been close to them. I figure if she won’t talk to me, maybe she’ll tell one of them what’s bothering her.”
“I’m not ready,” Fletch sighed.
Emily frowned in confusion. “For what?” she asked.
“For Annie to grow up. I want her to be my sprite forever.”
“She will,” Emily reassured him.
Fletch shook his head. “No. She already doesn’t look to me for everything anymore, which I hate. I’m no longer Daddy
Fletch, I’m ‘Dad.’ She’s gonna go to high school, and her friends are going to be more important than spending time with us. It won’t be cool to hang out with her dad, crawling all over the tanks at the motor pool on base. She’s gonna marry Frankie, move away, and we’ll have to beg her to come home every now and then to see us.”
Emily couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re being as dramatic as our pre-teen,” she scolded.
“I know,” Fletch said morosely. “I just love her so much and hate to think of the day she’ll leave to go to college. I have no doubt she’s going to do amazing things, but still…” His voice trailed off.
“How about we get through one crisis at a time before we think about her moving out and getting married?” Emily suggested.
“Have I told you today how much I love you?” Fletch asked.
Emily smiled up at him. “Today? Yes. This morning before you left for work. But this afternoon? No.”
“I love you,” Fletch said immediately. “So much it’s almost scary.”
Emily beamed. “I love you too.”
“I want another baby.”
Emily blinked in surprise. “What? Like, right this second?”
Fletch chuckled. “Not sure that’s possible, but eventually, yes. At least one more. Maybe two.”
Ethan was an easy baby, but Emily wasn’t sure she was ready for another just yet. Though she couldn’t deny she wanted more children. “I want that too. I’m thinking spacing them out is a good thing though. Let’s get Ethan potty trained, in preschool, then we’ll talk about having another.”
“Four years apart,” Fletch said with a nod. “That sounds good. We can get one graduated from high school before the next starts. They won’t be in each other’s shadow. And you won’t have too many babies in the house at the same time.”
Emily loved this man so much. Even when they were planning their family, his first thought was about her.
“But no more girls,” he said sternly. “Boys.”
Emily rolled her eyes. “It’s your sperm that decides, not my reproductive organs,” she told him.
Fletch nodded. “Boys it is then,” he said decisively.
Emily shook her head in exasperation. She couldn’t deny that boys were easier in some ways, but she couldn’t help but think
about how amazing Fletch was with Annie. He was protective—overprotective, at times—but understanding and gentle. He also had no problem letting Annie be herself. If she wanted to play in the dirt, he let her. If she wanted to wear pants instead of a dress, he didn’t push. Anything his Annie wanted, she got.
“So, Ethan’s two. If we want four years between them, that gives us a little over a year before we start trying to get pregnant again. So you should probably go off birth control in thirteen months or so.”
Emily chuckled. “You’ve got it all figured out, huh?” she asked. She couldn’t help but squirm in his hold, thinking about the act of making their future babies. When Fletch got it in his head to do something, he was one hundred percent committed. Before Ethan was conceived, her husband was insatiable in the bedroom. Doing everything in his power to knock her up.
“Yup,” he said with a gleam in his eye.
“I’m thinking we’re gonna need to practice a lot,” Emily teased. “I mean, we wouldn’t want to mess up your plans and all.”
Fletch’s eyes dilated, and he moved his other hand to her face, tilting it up toward him. “I love seeing you pregnant,” he told her. “You seriously glow. And knowing I did that, that our love made a baby…it’s amazing. Not to mention, the knocking-you-up part is pretty damn exciting. Every time I come inside you, I can’t help but think about you getting pregnant. It’s…I can’t describe how it feels. Knowing our love might create another child for us to cherish. You’re my miracle, Miracle Emily Grant Fletcher, and I’ll do everything in my power to show you each and every day how much I love you.”
“You already do,” Emily whispered. How she’d ended up with this man, she’d never know. She thought back to when they met, when she was desperate for a cheap place to live, everything that happened with the man who was blackmailing her, and how scared she’d been. As soon as Fletch found out what was going on, he sprang into action. Making sure she and Annie were safe. He’d proven time and time again that he’d do whatever it took to give her a safe and happy life. Even through the bumps in the road, she’d always been able to count on him.
Fletch’s head dropped and he kissed her. It wasn’t a chaste kiss either. He took her lips with a passion usually reserved for their bedroom. He still held her face, and Emily grabbed hold of
his waist with both hands to keep herself upright. But Fletch wouldn’t let her fall. No way. He was her rock.
The sound of the doorbell surprised Emily, and she jerked in Fletch’s arms.
“Damn Truck and his shit timing,” Fletch grumbled, as he pulled away from her.
She couldn’t help but smile. Spontaneous sex was never something they’d had the luxury of indulging in. Not with Annie around. And now with two children, their lovemaking was confined to their bedroom, after their kids were fast asleep.
But the anticipation of making love to her husband was always enough to keep Emily on edge until they were finally alone. It somehow made sex even better.
“Tonight,” he whispered before kissing her forehead. “After Truck and Mary straighten Annie out, after our daughter is back to her smiley self, after we get Ethan put down, fat and happy in his crib, I’m gonna practice that baby-making. Gotta make sure I’m ready for the real thing in a few months.”
Emily simply shook her head. Fletch didn’t need to practice anything. He was already an expert at the whole baby-making thing. It was fortunate she lived now, and not in a time when there wasn’t birth control. She had a feeling she’d end up having a baby a year otherwise.
“Go let our friends in,” she told him with a shake of her head.
“You want to serve dinner before or after they talk to Annie?” Fletch asked.
“After,” Emily said without hesitation. “The last thing I want is a sulky daughter at the dinner table.”
“Good point.” Fletch leaned down, kissed her once more. A hard and fast kiss, before brushing his thumb over her cheek and turning to let Mary and Truck in.
Emily watched him go and sighed in contentment. Fletch was awesome, and she’d never get tired of having him look after her and their children.
She headed into the living room and picked up Ethan. He complained a bit, until he heard voices coming from the front of the house. Her son loved guests, probably because he got a ton of attention, which was his second favorite thing. The first being his sister.
Mary and Truck entered the living room, and Mary made a beeline for Ethan. Emily grinned as she held him out to her frie
“Hi,” Emily said. “Thanks for coming over.”
“Of course. I was just sitting there wondering what I was going to make for dinner when you texted. No one tells you when you’re little that you’ll spend half your life attempting to decide what to have for dinner. It sucks. So not having to make that decision for one night is heaven.”
Emily laughed. Mary wasn’t wrong. She didn’t have the heart to tell her it only got worse once you had kids. Because then, whatever you decided to have for dinner, someone inevitably turned up their nose and didn’t want to eat it. Truck and Mary were in the process of trying to adopt a pair of siblings from India. She figured it would be even tougher for her friend to come up with menus, considering their future kids would come from a different culture. But she said none of that, simply grateful they were here to try to coax Annie out of her doldrums.
“She in her room?” Truck asked.
nd. Ethan babbled happily as Mary bounced him on her hip.