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Chapter 17 – The Sound of His Heart

Kevin yawned as he stretched languidly across the couch, smirking appropriately as he adjusted his head on the pillow that lay in Austin’s lap. Each was engrossed in a thick novel of their own, but felt connected just the same as Kevin played with Austin’s fingers, bringing them every so often to his lips for a kiss. Every so often, each would look up from a chapter to catch the others sight. Then, exchanging smiles, they would turn the page. Kevin couldn’t recall the last time he had such an intimate moment with another human being that required such simplicity. He could lay in Austin’s lap all day, perfectly content with the world. Not a thing could go wrong, till he heard the incessant chirping of Howie’s cell phone. Glancing up from his novel, he shifted. “Howie! Your phone!” Only, he received no reply and grimaced with annoyance. Howie had been laying in bed with Cheyanne all day, refusing to let her stir even for something to drink. He wanted her to rest, which meant he wasn’t leaving her side. So, Kevin reached to grasp the phone, never bothering to check caller ID. “Hey?”

"Holy shit! You're alive? To hear Kristin talk, you're lying in a ditch somewhere!" Brian's ever-cheerful voice shouted in his ear. Kevin had to cringe at the sound, holding the phone away from his head slightly. Brian had never learned to speak into a cell phone as he would any normal phone, therefore it was impossible to carry on a private conversation with the man.

“I’m alive and Howie’s alive… My phone, however, is buried at sea… Well… Lake, actually,” Kevin murmured, glancing up at Austin who just smiled coyly. He rolled his eyes at her smirk, sitting up fully and tossing his book to the coffee table. “Why are you calling, B?”

"Dude… Where the Hell are you? Kristin's been ragging on Leigh and me for days! I can't get a moment's peace around here without her calling and asking if I've heard from you, if I've talked to you. It wouldn't kill you to call her and let her know you're okay!" In the background Kevin could hear Baylee squealing excitedly over something. "Bay, shush… I'm on the phone with Kevin."

“She’s actually pulled her head out of her ass to care?” Kevin stated bluntly, unable to hide the disgust and contempt in his voice. In fact, he couldn’t believe that she had actually dragged herself from her assistant’s bed to make a decent phone call. Although, if she was allowed to play the victim, Kristin would drink that up as if it were a vital liquid.

"Kev… Don't say things like that. She cares, she really does. We all do," Brian said with emotion. "I don't understand why you two decided to just jet off to places unknown--"

"We're in fucking North Carolina, not some island in the middle of nowhere, okay? And if she cared, she would never have--" Kevin cut off, running a hand over his face as he remembered Austin sat next to him, listening to every word.

Brian actually gasped in surprise at Kevin’s sharpness, which made Kevin imagine as if Brian had sucked his entire face inward, scaring Baylee immensely. But, that didn’t keep Brian from talking. “You don’t have to be so callous, Kev. We’re just trying to help.”

“Yeah? Trying to help? Well, where were you when Howie thought about committing suicide. Huh? When he ran out of the room ready to leave everything behind, because he didn’t feel wanted. Huh?” Kevin growled, standing in order to rush into the kitchen, unable to hold his temper. “Where were you then?! Where was AJ when he should have been calling Howie’s mother?! Huh?!”

"Kevin," Brian sighed. "How were we supposed to know that anything was going on with Howie? You yourself said before that he keeps everything bottled up inside. Hell, I'm surprised you noticed anything was wrong with him. We had no idea he was upset about stuff until he stormed out of the studio. And you two just hopped on a plane, leaving us to deal with management and family. How the Hell did you expect us to explain that you two just left? Neither of you would answer you damn phones, and I had to hear so much bitching and whining from each end I was ready to walk out myself."

Kevin took a labored breath, leaning his head against the wall so he didn’t put his fist through it. He was flabbergasted that Brian had managed to turn everything around so quickly. How he easily laid guilt at Kevin and Howie’s feet without a concern for what Howie was doing. Or how he was at that very moment. “You won’t ever understand… Besides, what did you want me to do, B? Wait till we found him in the bathtub with his wrists slashed?”

The only sound coming from Brian's end was the muffled chatter of Leighanne. Kevin could only imagine what she was saying. He heard Brian clear his throat, then, "I didn't realize it was that bad. Is he okay now?"
“He’s getting better…” Kevin murmured, watching Howie shuffle into the kitchen in search of Hawaiian Punch and a large mixture of ice chips, something Cheyanne loved to munch on. He smirked thoughtfully as Howie took great care to perfect even the simplest drink, knowing a few weeks ago he was close to digging his own grave. But, suddenly, Kevin didn’t feel like talking to Brian anymore. “He’s happy… Finally… Do you want to talk to him?”

"Well, uh--"

Without waiting for a reply, Kevin shoved the cell phone into Howie's hand, giving him a dramatic eye rolling before going back to the living room. Dropping onto the couch, he flopped his head on Austin's lap, needing her now more than ever before. "My cousin is going to drive me crazy," he groaned.

“That was your cousin?” Austin questioned in surprise, furrowing her dark brows as she reached to massage his temples. She could feel the intensity just in his muscles, causing her to smile sadly at her lover. Bending down, she teased his lips with a gentle kiss, rubbing it in with her thumb. She had so many questions running through her mind. Who was Brian? Who was Leigh? Who was Kristin? Who was Bay?

"Yes. He's… taking care of the business while we're away," Kevin said, covering her hand with his. Holding it to his lips, he kissed it softly. "And he's being a total ass about everything." Kristin had been worried. Bullshit, he thought, glaring hard at the pale reminder of his marriage. Groaning, he closed his eyes. He didn't want to think about her now. Especially not with Austin loving on him.

“And that would be Brian?” Austin guessed.

“Yes, the asshole would be Brian.”

“Who’s Bay?”

“His son, Baylee.”

“Leigh?”

“His wife.”

“And Kristin?”

Kevin took a deep breath as his stomach churned into several tight knots, especially as Austin’s fingers moved around the pale reminder of his previous commitment. It was her subtle way of telling him that she recognized it. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that he was married, because, in a metaphorical sense, he wasn’t. He just needed to stall for a bit longer as he brought Austin’s lips to his own. “Someone I used to love but never loved me. And never will love me like you do.”

"Damn straight," she murmured against his lips. "No one can ever love you like I do." Sliding her hand down over his chest, lightly rubbing his tense muscles. "Do you and Brian usually get along?" she asked softly.

“When we were younger, yes…” Kevin answered, releasing a groan that mixed into a pleased moan at the skill of her tender hands. He smiled as he brought her down for another sweet kiss. He loved Austin so much. “Until we went into business together. Then things changed. He took the spotlight, y’know? And took that for granted…”

"Mm… I hate him already," Austin said softly, running her fingers over his stomach. "Have I told you, though, how much I love you?" she asked with a smirk.

“No, but thank you for just mentioning it,” Kevin chuckled, pulling her down for yet another kiss. Every time she attempted to inch away, he just cupped her face to bring her closer. “Have I told you that I think we need another bath together? Now?”
Giggling, Austin tossed her book aside with a thump. "Sounds like a perfect plan to me…"

*~*~*


Rolling over to his side, Howie watched Cheyanne crunch on the last of her ice as she flipped through a magazine. Letting his gaze travel her body, he smiled when he saw her left arm curved over her stomach. Impulsively, he leaned down, lifting her arm so he could place a gentle kiss on the patch of bare skin above her lounge pants. "Do you think she can hear us?" he murmured thoughtfully.

“Studies have been done that say babies can hear in the womb,” Cheyanne answered appropriately, trying not to shiver at the soft feeling of his lips against her abdomen. She adored how he was already referring to the child as if she were a little girl. As if there was no possibility she could be a little boy. In fact, she was just amazed at his attentiveness to her pregnancy in whole. When Noah reacted so violently, threatening an abortion, Cheyanne had naturally assumed that pregnancy was dreaded by the male species. After all, it’s not like her father had stuck around for the end results, either. She never knew this side of a man before. “…So, I talk to her all the time… I even downloaded some soft classical music and put my headphones on my belly at night… Well… When I slept alone…”

"Can we listen to her heartbeat?" he asked softly, hoping she would say yes. He'd seen her fiddling with the little machine earlier, but had yet to see her actually use it. "And maybe later… would you mind if I sang her a song?"

“Yeah, we can listen to her heartbeat,” Cheyanne agreed, holding a hand to her mouth when Howie excitedly hopped out of the bed. She watched as he hurried to lock their bedroom door, though both knew neither Kevin nor Austin would be dragging their wrinkled bodies from the bath tub any time soon, and then reached to grab the machine he had purchased. Marking her place in her magazine, she laid it on the nightstand and then moved to lie on her back. Gently, she eased down her lounge pants a bit more and then bunched up her camisole, only grimacing slightly at the twinge of pain. “But, how come she gets to hear all your songs instead of me now?”

"Sweetheart… How about I sing to both of you?" Howie offered, sitting next to her. Looking down at the monitor in his hands, he gave her a smirk. "I have no idea what to do," he admitted, handing it to her. "But I could do this forever," he said softly, tracing the gentle curve of her stomach with his finger. "Lying here with you, being with you… it just makes things seem right."

“You’re tickling me,” she giggled softly at the light movement of his finger against her bare stomach. Shyly, she pulled away from his touch, sitting up slightly to prepare the fetal monitor. Hitting the proper buttons, she leaned back down and gingerly felt her still cramped abdomen for where they had pinpointed her child’s heartbeat. It took only a few minutes to find before pressing the monitor to her skin. There was a distant crackling, then, softly the couple was able to hear the familiar lub-dub-lub-dub of the child’s heart. Cheyanne’s lips curved into a pleased smile at the treasured sound, but more awed by the look on Howie’s face. He looked so enchanted as he concentrated on her stomach; his dark eyes glittering with delight. Cheyanne felt herself flush with adoration, reaching with her free hand to tenderly rub Howie’s arm. She cherished how he always made life seem so new and beautiful. How he made her feel so beautiful.

Staring at her stomach in wonderment, Howie felt his throat close up with emotion. It was so beautiful. The life she carried inside her, the sudden glow she had when she heard their child's… No, it was her child's heartbeat. But did that matter? Lifting his eyes to her face, he watched her eyes dance with joy, and decided it didn't matter in the least. He would love this child as though it were his, as though it were theirs, as long as she would let him. "I'm so proud of you," he murmured softly.

Cheyanne glanced up from the small machine on her stomach, arching her brows at Howie’s statement. At first, it had taken a moment to register that he had said anything at all. His voice had barely been above that of the child’s heartbeat. As if he didn’t want to disturb the moment. But, Cheyanne reached up the same to brush her fingertips underneath his somewhat rough chin from the shadow of facial hair starting to grow. Though, Cheyanne liked it that way. When she caught his smoldering chocolate eyes, she smiled with confusion. “Why are you proud of me?”

"Because… you're a young, bright, beautiful woman who's going to bring a child into the world. Not to mention, I love you. Isn't that reason enough?" he murmured, fascinated when the heartbeat calmed at his voice. "Do you think she likes my voice?" he asked worriedly.

“I think she loves your voice, probably more than I do,” Cheyanne confided with an amused smile, loving how concerned he became over the tiniest details. And, with a streak of brilliance, she removed the small machine from her stomach before easing herself into a sitting position. Howie looked as if he might actually push her back to the bed, but she shook her head defiantly, hitting a few choices buttons on the machine. She then motioned for Howie to lie down. When he complied, she eased his shirt up to place the machine over his heart. Hitting a key button, she started to record the gentle sound of his heartbeat which would be able to be played back for the child. One of the key features on the expensive machine that Cheyanne was delighted in. “I think she needs to hear her Daddy’s heartbeat…” Cheyanne grew deathly quiet at her explanation, however, blushing furiously. “I mean--”

"Do you think of me as her Daddy?" Howie breathed, reaching for her hand. "Chey…"

Cheyanne bit down on her bottom lip with obvious worry, glancing to their blending hands before removing the machine from Howie’s chest. The recording had finished, but left a large gap between them with Cheyanne’s confession. She felt her cheeks start to burn with embarrassment as she dropped her gaze, only to reach Howie with her worrisome sapphire orbs. “I want to think of you as her Daddy… I want you to be her Daddy… But it’s your choice…”

Astounded by this revelation, Howie could only stare at her. "Chey… Wow." That was all he could think to say. Sitting up, he gently cupped her face in his hands. "Honey… if you want me to be, I'd be more than happy to be her Daddy," he whispered.

Cheyanne smiled with relief as she moved to rest her hands on his forearms. “I want that more than anything. You’re the most loving, gentle man that I have ever met. What you bring to my heart could never even begin to compare to any of the most prized treasures in this world. I want my child to have a strong man in her life to admire. A strong man to protect her and love her. To give her everything in his heart. I want you to give her your heart, Howie, because there’s no greater gift in this world than you.”

Howie felt tears in his eyes at her words. "Chey," he whispered before the tears flowed freely. Pulling her close, he wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in the softness of her neck. Never before had anyone made him feel so important. So needed. So loved.

“I love you so much, Sweetheart,” Cheyanne promised softly, tenderly rubbing his back as she felt the hot tears splash against her somewhat cooler skin. She hadn’t meant to affect him so. She just wanted him to know how special he was to her. She smiled softly as she turned her head to kiss the side of his face. “You’re my Sweet Tea…”

"Sweet Tea," Howie repeated, smiling through his tears. "Sweet Tea and Honey. We go together just perfectly, don't we?" he mused, lightly kissing her neck. "And our little Angel," he added in a whisper, his hand covering her stomach. "See? Perfect."

“Maybe she should be a touch of Sugar?” Cheyanne teased with a giggle.

"Oh, sure, just pick on me now. How about our little Lemon Drop?" Howie returned with a chuckle, lying back with her in his arms.
“Lemon?” Cheyanne wrinkled her nose at the thought. “Then she’ll turn out sour. What about Buttermilk?”

"Buttermilk? So there can be a fly in her?" Howie lightly kissed the tip of her wrinkled nose. "How about Dumpling?"

“No… Tea isn’t good with Dumplings…” Cheyanne disagreed with a giggle. “What about Cinnamon?”

"Cinnamon," Howie repeated softly, smoothing the curls from her face. "Tea, Honey, and Cinnamon. I love it."

“We love you, too,” Cheyanne promised, leaning up to offer him a soft kiss. Only, it was shorter than she wanted, so, she drew his bottom lip into her mouth. Nibbling lightly to draw his attention to her, she then met his mouth entirely, offering a soft stroke of her tongue against his. Instantly, her entire body lighted with a passionate fire, causing her to tense slightly underneath his hold. “And I’d love to make love…”

"Chey, baby," Howie murmured, sliding his hands down her back. "I'd more than love to make love… As long as it's with you," he whispered before returning her kiss.
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