Pacing the small waiting room, Howie listened to the nurses chatting away at the desk nearby. Unable to sit, he leaned in the doorway, his eyes on the door they'd wheeled Cheyanne through immediately upon their arrival. She'd put on a brave face, for him he was sure, but he could tell she was worried and in pain. Glancing at his watch, he sighed miserably. They'd been here for what seemed an eternity, yet it had only been an hour. Running his hands through his hair, he closed his eyes briefly. This was his entire fault. He should have asked her to stick to the open trails, not veer off into the forest. Should have kept an eye out for things that would spook a seemingly gentle mare. Should have… God, if anything was seriously wrong, he didn't think he could ever forgive himself.
Unable to lean for long, he immediately pushed off the wall and walked toward the nurses’ station. He continued to check frequently with them about any information they might have on Cheyanne. They had been very docile and sweet tempered despite his distress. He knew if this was Orlando, they probably would have flipped him off at least a dozen times. But, like always, they couldn’t provide him with any news. The worst part about the ordeal was not knowing what was wrong. He couldn’t deny how antsy he was within the small confines, wanting to just run back the hallway without any regard for any of the professionals in the small hospital. He was only concerned about being there for Cheyanne. He knew she would want him close by. After all, why would they keep Cheyanne for over an hour if something wasn’t wrong?
"Excuse me, sir? You're here with Ms. Lorde?"
Turning, Howie was face to face with an older man. Seeing a stethoscope around his neck and a battered looking clipboard in his hand, he belatedly realized he must be a doctor. Of some sort. Nothing like any doctor he'd come in contact with before, that was certain. "Yes?" he asked softly.
"She sure is a sweet little thing, your little lady. Lying back there bruised and in pain and all she can worry about is how you're fairing out here. Wanted to make sure we was taking good care of you." The doctor had a friendly smile, and jutted out his hand quickly. "Dr. Walker."
“Howie Dorough,” Howie quickly returned, shakily grasping the man’s hand. He wasn’t exactly ready for the warm formalities that the doctor was attempting to bring. He was far more worried about Cheyanne’s condition. He wanted it straight and even. “How is she?”
Dr. Walker chuckled as he leaned on the nurses’ station. “Calm down, Daddy. Momma and Baby are going to be just fine. She suffered from something we call placental abruption. It’s where the placenta, what nourishes the baby through the pregnancy, detaches from the uterus’ wall. This can cause serious bleeding and can sometimes cause the Momma quite a bit of trouble. But, Cheyanne’s detachment was minimal and the blood pocketed in like a little bubble. There was only minimal bleeding outside, so I have an IV to give her some extra fluids right now. In a few hours, we’ll let you take her home. She’ll need to be on rest throughout the rest of the pregnancy to make sure that the placenta doesn’t rip away anymore. And I’ll forward the documents to her obstetrician so she’s aware when you are ready to give birth. Don’t know what you two were thinking riding horseback when she’s nearing the end of her first trimester… Young kids these days…”
"Baby?" Howie repeated, gripping the edge of the counter. Baby? Cheyanne was pregnant? First trimester? Placental abruption? His brain struggled to keep up with what the doctor was saying, but all he could think of was Cheyanne. "You're sure she'll be okay?" he asked softly.
“As long as she makes sure to rest and doesn’t overexert herself, she will be perfectly fine. She’s just got to take it a bit easier. And there might be some mild discomfort. I’ve given her some pamphlets on recognizing signs of when the abruption could be worsening. If she notices any bleeding, she really needs to get to the hospital as soon as possible. It’s considered a medical emergency until stabilized. But, I’m sure we won’t have to worry about that. Daddy will take care of her. So, she’ll be fine. They both will be.”
"Can I see Chey?" Howie blurted. Surely she would straighten everything out for him. He had to see her. To touch her, to hold her. To know for sure that she was okay. Baby. His sweet little Cheyanne was going to have a baby. When the doctor nodded and told him to go straight on through, he rushed away. Baby. Baby. Baby. Holy Hell in a hand basket, as Brian would say.
Bursting into the private room had startled Cheyanne greatly. She looked lost as she glanced up from the fetal monitoring system, reaching to cover her exposed abdomen with the stiff, starched white sheet. Tears had already wetted her pale cheeks as she did her best to wipe away the remnants. The nurses had cleaned her cuts and washed away the dirt, minimal bruising noted on her arms and face. Her abdomen was still somewhat rigid from the bleeding and ached feverishly, but she had been so enchanted by the monitor. She had finally listened to her child’s heartbeat, which had somewhat soothed the pain. That is, until she saw the look in Howie’s dark eyes. He knew, but she tried her hardest to keep composed. “…Sorry they made you wait so long, Howie…”
"Chey…" Stepping forward, he stopped halfway between the bed and the door. His gaze swept over the equipment surrounding her, and when he heard the gentle thump-thump-thump he felt tears gather in his eyes. Her baby. "Oh, Chey," he whispered, moving to stand at her side. Reaching for her hand, he brought it to his lips for a gentle kiss. He felt an overwhelming relief sweep over him when she smiled slightly. "She sounds healthy," he mused softly, his gaze moving to her abdomen. All the clues he'd been given since meeting her hit him suddenly. The way she covered her stomach with both hands and the vomiting every morning. The way she'd reacted when he'd said he didn't want children. Oh Lord, she must have thought he was the biggest asshole in the entire world. "Honey… Why didn't you tell me?"
“Because it wasn’t your problem to worry about,” she stated softly, immediately dropping her gaze to her still somewhat flat abdomen. Unable to take her hand away from Howie’s grasp, she slid her opposite hand against her belly, rubbing gently to soothe the child. It would only be a matter of weeks until she started to round with the ripeness of pregnancy, then all Hell would break loose. She had just hoped maybe the vacation would be her final farewell to the goodness of life. Afterwards, she would tell Austin, when they were at the ranch. But, that plan had failed miserably. She had almost killed her child because of her foolishness.
"Cheyanne… I love you, Honey. Anything that's going on in your life I want to know about." Lowering himself next to her carefully, he reached with his free hand to cover the one laying protectively over her stomach. "Did you think me knowing this would make me love you any less?" he whispered, kissing her fingers again. "Do you expect me to yell and scream and storm out of your life forever?"
“The thought had crossed my mind,” she whispered softly, unable to stand the pressure of lifting her gaze to meet his dark eyes. Tears of frustration, sadness, and a slight pain of happiness started to gather in her murky sapphire eyes. The feeling of Howie’s hand over hers which protected her child was indescribable. It was what she had dreamed about for so long. For Howie to love her and her child. She had never thought in a million years that Howie would be so understanding, which made the guilt so much worse. She could only start to worry now that maybe he was just trying to be nice because the baby had been in trouble. That he was just going through the motions so she didn’t get any sicker. She immediately bit her bottom lip as a cramp tensed across her stomach. “You said you didn’t want kids...”
Howie felt her tense and slipped his hand beneath hers, gently caressing the tightness of her stomach. "I said that after dealing with two drunken morons," he murmured. Leaning over her carefully, he gently kissed her cheek. When she lifted her head and met his eyes, he saw the fear and worry there. "I'm just full of corniness, you know that, right?" At her gentle nod, he rubbed her stomach gently. "You're not alone now… These arms are here to hold you… No need to be afraid…" he sang softly, placing another gentle kiss to her cheek. "I love you, Chey, no matter what. You and your baby."
“We have definitely got to get plastered more often and then threaten bodily harm to Angel in order to get the cabin to ourselves,” Kevin murmured as he reached for the loofah Austin handed him, already soaped. Gently, he eased it against her bare back, combining just a touch of warm water to make her moan with delight. After sleeping for several hours, the couple decided that a shower was in order. But, when neither found they could stand without stumbling a few steps in either direction, they decided for a jacuzzi bath. And, Kevin couldn’t have asked for a better afternoon as Austin leaned comfortably between his legs, allowing him to pamper her as the water jets massaged their bodies.
"Sounds like a plan," Austin said, leaning her head back to look at him. Sighing gently, she felt the weariness seep from her muscles under his gentle hands. "How did you and Howie meet?" she asked suddenly. "I know you two are business partners, but… You grew up in Kentucky, and he grew up in Florida…"
“Um…” Kevin trailed for a moment as he bent down to kiss her damp back, hoping to give himself a few moments to think. Howie had never really gave him background and Kevin felt guilty for not telling her the truth. But, Howie had wanted it this way. So, he did his best. “…I wanted a change of scenery from the country, so I moved to Florida. I was actually working at Disney World as Aladdin for awhile… Flying carpet was my specialty… But, we had a mutual friend who introduced us. We seemed to hit it off right away… He’s my little brother…”
"You? Aladdin?" Austin couldn't help but giggle at the thought. "I can't see you dressed up as Aladdin… How did it come about that you two sang together? I just can't picture two real estate agents belting out tunes while showing a house," she teased, turning to face him.
Kevin rolled his eyes as he reached around to offer her the loofah, gesturing for her to lather it so he could continue. She was far too quick when it came to him making up stories. Especially when he was still slowly sobering from the alcohol. Rubbing his face with wet hands, he suddenly sparked an idea. “We went out to a bar one night after a really bad day. Somehow he conned me into karaoke… But, for a pretty penny, we do break it out in the condos for possible customers.”
Chuckling, Austin lathered the loofah up for him, wriggling closer to him. "Did you learn how to play piano in a bar as well?" she continued, suddenly eager to learn everything there was to know about him. "Oh, what song was that you played last night? Did you write it?"
“My father taught me to play piano. We had this old rickety piano at the campground my parents used to run. Plopped my behind down and just started teaching me. Some of the best times in my life,” Kevin answered wistfully, abandoning the loofah just to simply massage her shoulders. “And, yeah, I wrote that song last night.”
"Are you and your dad close?" she asked softly, closing her eyes. "Campground, huh? That explains why you're so good with the outdoorsy stuff." Reaching up, she grasped his hands in hers, pulling his arms around her as she leaned against him. They had snuggled in bed for hours, but she couldn't get enough of having his arms around her. "Why hasn't some gorgeous woman snatched you up already?"
“My Dad and I were close… He passed away awhile ago. Colon cancer… I miss him every day though,” Kevin answered softly, kissing the back of her head as his fingers lightly traced over the flesh they rested against. “As for a gorgeous woman…” Kevin took a deep breath. “…Why would I let anyone snatch me up when I was waiting for you?”
"You're such a suck up," she muttered, caressing the backs of his hands. "The women in Florida must all be stupid. Or flaming homosexuals. Or blind. One of the three." Laying her head on his shoulder, she lightly kissed his neck. "My turn to scrub you," she murmured, reaching for the loofah.
“Should I turn around?” Kevin laughed at her sudden change, leaning back slightly when she turned.
"If you don't mind, Pretty Boy." Reaching for the soap, she lathered up the loofah, wiggling back so he could move.
“Watch all those nail marks, some broad’s been getting pretty rough on me,” Kevin teased lightly, doing as he was told. He had never washed himself with a loofah before, so it was slightly surprising when Austin applied it to his skin. He arched slightly at the graininess, but soon comforted with a low moan as it soothed the itches on his back. “Damn…”
"Yeah, yeah… I have hickeys up and down my body from some city slicker," Austin returned, unable to resist leaning forward and nuzzling his neck. "Have I told you, you're the only man who's ever left a hickey on me?"
“Well, you’re the only woman who’s ever let me lay over top her in a drunken stupor for the entire night,” he teased, shivering slightly at the feeling of her face against his neck. Turning slightly, he couldn’t help but draw her back into his embrace. He chewed thoughtfully on his bottom lip as he conjured the idea of her having other men. It drove him slightly insane till he remembered the man who almost killed her. He needed to know. “What about your other men, Austin? Like the one that broke you before I had a chance to mend you...”
Austin tensed slightly, attempting to draw away from him. "I… Kevin, why do you want to know? Steven's history now." Eyes downcast, she turned her face away, reaching up to wipe away the tears that threatened to fall. Just thinking of him made her feel useless, though she was in the arms of a man who made her feel so alive.
“Because I think if you hide it inside, you’re just going to die a little bit more every day. I… I want to know everything about you, Princess. The good and the bad. I want to kiss those tears away. Please?”
Taking a deep breath, Austin focused on the bubbles swirling around them. "We met in a bar my second year of school. Pre-med. Dazzled all the women there, and it made me feel special when he singled me out. We started dating, and things went fine for months. I knew he had a temper--I saw that a lot of times when we were out and other men would hit on me. But I had no idea… He never made it seem like we had a real future together, so I saw no harm in flirting with other guys. I guess it's just who I am." Hugging herself lightly, Austin closed her eyes, swallowing back the hard lump in her throat.
Kevin immediately reached to frame her face with his large hands, brushing away the heavy tears that were already starting to fall. He could only imagine what would progress from there as he pulled her into his embrace, allowing her to rest her face against his chest while he rubbed her wet back. He wished a thousand painful deaths on the bastard, knowing it would be a dark day in Hell if he ever crossed Steven’s path. “I love you so much, Princess.”
Nodding slightly, Austin wrapped her arms around him, needing his strength more than she had ever imagined she would. "He just blew up one night. We got home from a party and he was drunk, and went on and on about how all these guys kept undressing me with their eyes, and the next thing I knew I was waking up on the floor. I couldn't believe something like that could happen, and when he climbed out of his hangover long enough to notice me he started in on how he loved me, how sorry he was, how it would never happen again…" Sucking in a hard breath, Austin buried her face against Kevin's chest. "But it did, Kevin. It happened so many damn times, and I kept going back to him. I was so fucking stupid the entire time. I thought he loved me."
“But you got away from him and look how strong you are,” Kevin encouraged softly, bending to kiss her forehead repeatedly. “You knocked me on my ass in the first swing… Actually, flipped me on my ass.”
"Do you know what it took to get away from him? Two years of his bullshit, two years of Chey pleading with me to leave him, and he had to put me on my damn deathbed for me to see the light," Austin went on, unable to stop now she was actually telling him. She felt as though she had to explain why she was the way she was. "I still don't know that I'll ever be completely free of him. He was still calling me the day we left to come here."
“You’re not going back to him,” Kevin declared firmly, rubbing her back as she shuddered. “There is no way on this planet that I’d let you go back into his arms. And, if he comes near you, I’ll kill him. I swear to God, Princess. He’s written his death warrant. You’re safe. You’ll always be safe. Right here. With me.”
"Kevin… What'd I do to deserve you?" Lifting her head, Austin met his eyes with hers, moving closer to straddle his lap so she could wrap herself around him. "Are you this great to all the women who flip you on your ass, or is it just me?" she asked in an attempt to lighten the mood. "I love you…"
“It’s always been just you,” he promised, bringing her up for a sweet kiss.