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Chapter 12 – Welcome to My Heart

Austin grumbled incoherently with a long string of expletives as she staggered down the hallway of the warm cabin, wondering how it could physically be possible that she had such finally making love with Kevin last night but waking up with such a monstrous headache. She could only account for the thick, foamy beer Kevin had selected for their party the previous night, knowing that she’d never be able to challenge him to a drinking contest again if that was his choice of beverage. She still seemed to carry a bit of the buzz, too, attempting to hold onto the wall as a bit of leverage while she fumbled to stand upright. The whole house seemed to sway beneath her feet, but the brewing scent of strong coffee had pulled her from Kevin’s warm embrace. She looked like a zombie as she reached into open air, hobbling into the kitchen to find Cheyanne sitting a plate of light, fluffy eggs, toast, and a large mug of coffee fixed to her exact liking on the table. Moaning with ecstasy, Austin leaned to embrace Cheyanne, loudly smacking a kiss to the back of her head before falling into the open seat. “I love my Chey-Chey!”

“You’re welcome,” Cheyanne answered, running her fingers carefully through Austin’s wild locks as a bemused grin crossed her face. The older woman was always a sight the morning after a hard night of partying. And, like always, Cheyanne greeted her death-like appearance with a hearty meal that would settle her friend’s stomach without incidence. She had completely forgotten about the ugliness that had happened last night, too caught within her nurturing side to worry about pettiness. She wanted to make sure that Austin was well taken care of, Kevin and Howie, too. After all, she had woken up quite early with the child getting her violently ill. She had feared she might wake Howie, but he slept peacefully, turning onto his opposite side when she slipped away. But, after she had gotten sick repeatedly, she couldn’t curl back into bed. So, she went to work cooking, leaving Howie a note on his pillow with some of her favorite lyrics. “…Is Kevin right behind you?”

"I have no idea," Austin admitted, taking a hearty gulp of her coffee. "He was still asleep when I got out of bed…" A smile played at the corners of her mouth when she thought of his warm body curled next to hers the entire night. It had been such a comfort, waking up still in his embrace…

“Love’em and leave’em, that’s her motto,” Kevin jibbed with a groan, stumbling into the empty chair right next to his lover. As soon as Austin had left him, he had felt a difference within his sleep. Rolling over onto her slightly cooler portion of the bed had seemed to rouse him fully. He had actually feared she left during the middle of the night, until he heard her cursing in the bathroom, obviously missing the seat several times. So, he followed and he swayed slightly at the upright position, immediately bracing both of his hands on the table to steady himself. He attempted to blink rapidly to clear away the sleepiness, but feared that most of the symptoms were from the hangover.

“She did it to me first,” Cheyanne teased softly, getting up to serve Kevin a plate of food and a mug of coffee. Balancing them easily in her arms, she carried them back to the table, setting his place right in front of him and then revealing the two Tylenol in her hand. He looked genuinely surprised as he stared at her small hand, causing her to furl her light brows with confusion. “Tylenol… Those might help, too.”

"Thanks," Kevin said softly, taking the pills. Popping them into his mouth, he swallowed them quickly, turning his bleary gaze to the plate in front of him. Holy Hell… "You did this?" he asked, amazed. After the way he'd treated her, he wouldn't have been surprised to find a snake in his bed. "You're not trying to poison me, are you? Did I just swallow some death pills?"

“Why would I poison you?” Cheyanne questioned incredulously, moving to seat herself on the opposite side of the wooden dining table. She reached for her cold glass of orange juice, sipping easily so she wouldn’t upset her stomach. She had done enough vomiting to last her a lifetime, especially as she stared helplessly at her own piece of toast. She had no desire to put it into her stomach, though she knew she had to.

"I think that was my half-dead attempt at humor… After the way I acted last night, Angel… I haven't said I'm sorry yet, have I?" Propping his elbows on the table, Kevin blinked rapidly before focusing on her face. "I'm sorry. I was drunk and upset, which is no excuse, but I hope you can forgive me."

"Are you shouting on purpose, or is it just me?" Austin asked, holding her head in her hands.

“It’s you,” Kevin promised, watching Austin attempt to reach her hot mug of coffee, only miscalculating the distance and completely missing. He attempted not to laugh as Cheyanne actually giggled, causing Austin to curse with annoyance. Trying to muster his composure so he wouldn’t be slapped, he glanced to Cheyanne again. “Angel, you will forgive me, right?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Cheyanne easily replied with her charmingly sweet smile, waving her free hand to show him there was no animosity between them. “But… Angel?”

"Angel," Kevin repeated with a smile, pushing Austin's mug into her hand. "I rarely lose my temper like that--"

"My ass," Howie muttered good naturedly as he strolled in. Grinning, he crossed the kitchen to drop a kiss on Cheyanne's head before moving to the coffee. "Did you two sleep well?" he asked with a chuckle.

“Extremely well,” Kevin promised as he felt Austin’s hand drop to his thigh with a tender massaging motion. His lips curved into a lazy smile as he watched Howie prepare his coffee while Cheyanne stood to give him the rest of the breakfast waiting in the pan. Turning, he watched as Cheyanne shifted her weight to one foot, curling her opposite foot behind her so she could reach to faintly stroke Howie’s calf. And, like lightening, Kevin’s memory flashed backward to the previous night. He remembered making love to a screaming Austin as Howie tentatively snuck in, murmuring something about needing help. Kevin had to stop everything he was doing with Austin just to catch Howie’s drift, though he caught more of Howie’s erection than he cared to see. Devilishly, he couldn’t resist as he languidly sipped on his coffee. “I bet you’re exhausted.”

Cheyanne's eyes widened as Howie turned to stare at Kevin. "Excuse me?"

"Chey, I had the craziest dream last night," Austin announced, nibbling on her toast. "I dreamed that Howie came in asking Kevin for a condom or something." Shaking her head, she reached for her fork, muttering a curse when she knocked it into Kevin's lap.

Kevin chuckled as he reached to grasp the fork for her, knowing she’d probably pinch him far too hard or possibly stab the fork into his crotch if she did it. “That’s really funny, Princess, because I dreamt the same thing. And Howie had a really huge--”

“You two were so plastered last night, no wonder you had crazy dreams,” Cheyanne interrupted with a furious blush, handing Howie his plate of food before ducking into the fridge to retrieve the carton of orange juice. Holding her breath, she carefully walked back to the table, making sure to busy herself with filling her glass so she didn’t have to look to Austin. “Besides, I’m not allowed to be with him. So why would he need that? Right, Austi?”

"Actually," Austin said, sneaking a glance at Howie, who still stood by the coffeepot, "I'm starting to think he's a decent guy."

"Starting to?" Kevin repeated, giving her a look that told her she was nuts.

"He's good for you, Chey," Austin went on, giving her friend a smile. "Hell, I can't throw stones, I've been sleeping with Pretty Boy here," she said, pointing at Kevin with her fork. Leaning over the table, she whispered conspiringly, "Go for it, Chey."

Already did, Cheyanne thought with a furious blush creeping to her cheeks, but she nodded with a soft, shy smile nonetheless. It was easier to let Austin think that Cheyanne had waited for her approval, so she wouldn’t have to ruffle her friend’s feathers. It may have been a small white lie, but she was used to them by now unfortunately. Clearing those thoughts, however, Cheyanne leaned to kiss Austin’s cheek. “Thanks, Austi.”

"What's on the agenda for today?" Howie asked, hoping to change the subject as he moved to take a seat. Glancing at Cheyanne's plate of toast, he raised a brow. "Is your stomach still troubling you, Honey?" he asked worriedly.

“I don’t eat that much in the morning,” she answered meekly, pushing the plate away as any desire for food drowned within Howie’s darkly troubled eyes. She hated lying to him and keeping such a large secret, especially when she had given all of herself to him the previous night. It made her feel so unclean. So unwholesome. She attempted to drop her gaze to her glass of orange juice, rubbing her index finger along the rim, listening to Austin and Kevin bicker about what they wanted to do. “Did you get my note this morning?”

Howie smiled as he remembered her sweet note, scrawled in her curvy hand. "I did," he affirmed, gazing at her. "What song were those lyrics from? They were… beautiful."

"Horseback riding?" Austin suggested with a yawn. "No offense, Pretty Boy, but I'm sure you've never been on the back of a horse in your life."

“Where You Are, Rascal Flatts,” Cheyanne answered softly, before turning to catch Kevin launching into a spiel about how he was raised in Kentucky as a matter of fact. She quickly cleared her throat, not wanting to listen to their bickering this early in the morning. “No offense. But, I don’t think either of y’all should get anywhere near a horse’s back today. Austi can’t even reach for her coffee cup without grasping at air and Kevin can’t even concentrate on an object without his eyes crossing.”

"Why don't we go?" Howie suggested, reaching to cover her hand with his. Though the idea of getting on a horse didn't appeal to him, if it would mean spending peaceful time alone with Cheyanne, it would be worth it. Anything to get away from Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

“Are you sure your crotch can handle that much pressure two days in a row, D?” Kevin tormented, causing Cheyanne to cringe with embarrassment. He didn’t mean to put such pressure on the young girl, finding her adorable, but it was the first time in awhile that Kevin actually could make Howie squirm. Something to get their minds off the pain at home. To actually enjoy themselves.

"What the Hell… What are you talking about Kevin?" Austin asked, looking around the table. She had been eating her food between her bickering with Kevin, and now felt lost at this turn in the conversation. Cheyanne's cheeks were crimson, and even Howie looked to be blushing. Draining her coffee, she got to her feet, bracing herself against Kevin's shoulder. "I think I need a shower," she muttered. "Y'all have fun with your riding."

“I’ll join you!” Kevin announced, hurriedly shoveling the rest of the food into his mouth. Once he was finished, he yanked the napkin against his face before stumbling onto his wobbly feet. He seemed to head in two different directions at once as he attempted to catch up to Austin’s slow pace. It looked as if neither two were leaving the cabin that day.

“Do you really want to go riding?” Cheyanne questioned offhandedly as silence consumed her and Howie. Unable to sit still, she reached to gather Kevin and Austin’s plates along with her own, carrying them to the sink. She pressed a hand to her forehead as she heard a loud thump within the bathroom, knowing there was no way in Hell that she’d step into that bathroom. Even if they both had fallen into the toilet at the same time.

"It sounds like fun," Howie assured her, digging into his eggs. "I remember seeing something in the brochure about different trails around the mountain. I'm sure it would offer quite a few breathtaking views." None would compare to her, surely. Hearing another loud thud from the bathroom, he rolled his eyes. "It'll get us away from that for a while," he added with a smirk.

“You don’t exactly look like a man who likes to straddle a horse…” Cheyanne trailed with a soft smile, seating herself at the table again to finish her orange juice for the added nutrients. Off handedly, she started to rub her index finger around the rim of her glass again, wincing at the loud sound of Austin’s already wild moans. “But we definitely should get away from that… There’s a swimming hole down the ways with a dock in the middle… Sunbathing and swimming?”

"Sounds perfect," Howie murmured, watching her finger against the rim of her glass. "How about we-"

"Kevin!"

"Leave right now?" he suggested with a chuckle.

*~*~*


“Chey, I will never understand how you can manage to learn those dances and look good. As southern as I am, I still look like fruit-cup line dancing,” Austin laughed heartily, shaking her head in sheer disbelief as she collapsed back on the couch. Twilight was approaching yet again and the women were lounging in the large living room, oblivious to the fact that both men had finished changing for bed and were watching in the hallway. They hadn’t expected to see much. Only, Cheyanne had gotten antsy with just the sound of the fire crackling, putting on Blake Shelton’s She Doesn’t Know She’s Got it on the boom box. And, when the twang of country melodies filled the air, Cheyanne couldn’t resist. Standing up, she easily moved her petite body into the sassy steps of the familiar line dances, adding her own twist into each movement. It was a modernized version of classics that she loved to perform, especially when Austin dragged her to various bars for evenings.

“Just act like you’re stomping on snakes, Austi,” Cheyanne teased, beckoning her friend up from the couch. She bit down on her bottom lip coyly as she curled her index finger in a ‘come hither’ manner. Howie found her alluring within the hallway, loving how innocent she looked despite the facial expressions in her Tinkerbell cami and baggy, light green, lounge capris. The seduction could only last for so long as Cheyanne started laughing again, reaching to grasp her friend to pull her up, though she went down to the couch for tickles instead. “Austi! That’s my favorite song!”

"Pretty Boy!" Austin cried as Kevin walked in. "Do you play the guitar?" she asked, gently pushing Cheyanne off her. She'd seen the guitar resting in the corner since their first night, but not once had she seen either of the men play it. Pulling Cheyanne into a hug, she rested her chin on her friend's shoulder, enjoying the peacefulness of the evening. She watched Kevin move to sit in front of the fireplace and couldn't help but admire the dampness of his hair highlighted by the amber flames.

“You are obsessed with him,” Cheyanne attempted to hiss with amusement toward her friend, but her mouth was quickly clapped shut by Austin.

“Actually, I don’t play the guitar,” Kevin answered with a chuckle, flexing his hands toward the crackling fire as he glanced behind him. He held an amused smile as he watched Austin wrap her legs around Cheyanne from behind, pressing kisses to the side of her younger friend’s face. The two girls interacted so sweetly toward one another and he found it charming. Though, Austin kept her gaze on him as she playfully tickled Cheyanne. “It’s Howie’s… If you ask him really nice, Princess, I bet he’d play…”

"You play the guitar?" Cheyanne asked excitedly as Howie lowered himself on the opposite end of the couch. "Would you play something for us?" Leaning against Austin, she tickled the bottom of her feet, giggling when Austin squealed.

"You have to turn off the boom box first," Austin said in a singsong voice, disentangling herself from Cheyanne. "And you know I hate having my feet tickled!"

Howie couldn't help but grin at their exchange, loving how familiar and at ease they were when with each other. "I think I can play something," he said, glancing worriedly at Kevin. What, though? All the millions of songs he knew, none of them seemed appropriate for the moment. Kevin gave him a gentle nod, and when he reached for the guitar he realized what song he should play.

“Please?” Cheyanne asked hopefully, hurrying off the couch to reach the boom box continuing to play Blake Shelton. Tapping the off button, she moved to sit on the floor as Austin stretched herself out on the rest of the couch. Her sapphire eyes sparkled against the soft lighting of the fireplace, excited to hear Howie play the guitar. She loved music. She was practically infatuated with music, finding her stomach knotting with passionate delight as Howie strummed a few chords in order to assure the guitar was tuned.

"I'm not saying it'll be good, Honey," Howie said softly, his stomach knotting with worry. What if she didn't like the song? "I just need Kevin's help," he added, glancing at his friend. Worse, what if they laughed at it? As Nick had the first time he'd heard it. Sucking in a deep breath, he pushed thoughts of Nick away as he began to play.
Cheyanne smiled just the same, reaching over to tenderly rub Howie’s knee for encouragement. She could see the glimmer of nervousness hiding with the depth of his dark eyes, but she knew, somehow, he’d be beautiful. And, with just a touch of encouragement, he began to strum the familiar chords. Cheyanne sucked in a small breath to hold as she felt her heart connect with the soft, delicate sweetness of the notes. Then his voice sang above the chords, causing her hand to move to her mouth in sheer amazement.

“Darkness falls I thought I heard you call / Or was it just a dream? / I'm a little scared knowing you're out there / So far away from me / It's been so long since you've been gone / Every day I miss you more / And I wanna know / Why did you have to go?/ What were you looking for? / And I hope you find your way / But I can't wait to say,” Howie sang softly, allowing his eyes to drift closed so he wouldn’t have to see Cheyanne’s face if she was disappointed. His heart hammering hard against his ribcage as he listened to the soft pat of Kevin’s hands offering a rhythm before they both joined in the chorus.

“You're home now, not alone now / These arms are here to hold you / No need to be afraid / So come in 'cause I've been / Waiting for the moment to open up this door/ And I know that it's not much / Welcome to my heart…”

Austin sat up slowly, pushing back a lock of hair so she could better see Kevin. He leaned against the hearth, his gaze on her. She felt a delightful shiver go through her at the timbre of his voice as he sang. The silhouette caused by the fire behind him gave him an almost ethereal quality, and she was so transfixed on him she didn't hear Howie as he continued to sing.

Kevin smiled with approval toward Austin, knowing exactly what she was thinking as the dark coffee color of her eyes began to brew. But, both sat at opposite sides of the living room somewhat, appropriately waiting as Howie continued through the song and Kevin filled in with the chorus when appropriate. Kevin was proud of his younger friend. So very proud. Usually he was frightened to sing by himself, especially in front of those who mattered most. After being broken down for being the shadows in the Backstreet Boys, Kevin honestly didn’t blame him. But he looked so comfortable with the guitar underneath his hold, singing one of his favorite songs. One of the songs that he had written.

“So you lost your way but that's yesterday / And I don't care where you've been / 'Cause every step taken since you left / Has brought you back again / And I hope you see it clear / My love's always right here…”

Cheyanne was near tears as the beautiful words and melody flowed through her. His voice struck something in her. He sounded so sincere, as though each word came from the heart. His words echoed in her mind. Welcome to my heart. Howie had quoted his song to her. Tears brimmed, and she hugged her knees to her chest, wanting only to wrap herself around him and never let go.

“And I'm glad you found your way / And I hope you're here to stay… Welcome to my heart…” Howie finished softly, his fingers easily moving across the strings to end the lovely melody. And when the final string was plucked, silence evoked both couples in the middle of the living room, only the fire crackling softly against the background. But, Howie took that as a dreadful sign, tensing his entire body as he settled the guitar over in its place again. Glancing to Cheyanne, he noticed the unshed tears glistening her sapphire eyes. It felt as if someone had kicked him in the gut. Yet another disappointment when it came to something he thought he loved to do. He took a deep breath, fumbling with a hurt smile as if it didn’t matter. “I told you it wasn’t good…”

“Howie,” Cheyanne breathed with disbelief, shaking her head fiercely as she stood. She wasted no time crawling into his lap, pressing the most tender kiss against his forehead as she curled her arms around his neck. She couldn’t believe he thought that it had been disappointing. She couldn’t believe that he hadn’t sang to her earlier. “It was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. I just… Howie, it’s beautiful…”

"Beautiful…" Austin echoed, sliding from the couch with a thump. Moving to sit next to Kevin, she placed a gentle hand on his arm. He was looking down at his clasped hands, and she covered them with hers. "That's a song sure to win a girl's heart," she murmured. As though he hadn't won hers already. Resting her head on his shoulder, she softly kissed his cheek. "Among other things," she added coyly.

“I already took a shower…” he warned with a smile, reaching with his hand to cup her cheek, brushing his thumb along her cheekbone. He loved the way her dark eyes had brewed into a sweet, light mocha. Burning for desire for him. Only him. And he wanted her just as much as he leaned to capture her lips in a thankful kiss.

Holding Cheyanne to him, Howie slid his arms around her waist, pressing soft kisses on her cheeks. "Did you really like it, Honey?" he asked softly, needing her reassurance. Needing to know that she wasn't just saying it to make him feel better. Though he knew she would never lie to him, he had to know. "I sang it just for you," he murmured in her ear.

“Sweetheart, it was amazing,” Cheyanne promised, cupping his face within her hands as she pressed their foreheads together. She couldn’t erase the delighted smile from her face, even as she listened to Kevin heave Austin in his arms, walking toward their favorite place in the cabin – the bedroom. She didn’t care though, oblivious to whatever they might do as she rubbed her thumbs against Howie’s soft cheeks. “It was so beautiful. I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you had such an amazing voice… Or that you wrote songs… If I had known, I would have let you do the humming and the singing… I mean, my God, you can always sing to me, okay?”

Smiling, Howie turned his head to kiss her palm. "If you're sure, Honey. Shoot, if it'll get this kind of sweetness from you, I'll sing forever," he said with a chuckle.

“Are you trying to say that I’m normally not sweet to you?” she pouted, attempting to hide a giggle at the light feeling of his lips against the center of her palm. She couldn’t deny the shivers racing down her spine, not only from the kiss, but his beautiful voice. It seemed like such a shame for him to waste such a fantastic gift.

"You're too sweet sometimes," he mused, moving his lips to her wrist. "Don't ever change, Honey. I love you sweet and innocent, just as you are."

"Not so much innocent anymore," she teased with a giggle, lifting his head for a sweet kiss, hoping he wouldn't see the flush creeping into her cheeks. Her stomach fluttered lightly at the touch of his tongue, and she knew it would only be a matter of moments before they followed Kevin and Austin's lead.
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