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Chapter 35 – Keeping You Forever

“Go fish, Darlin’,” Cheyanne announced with a sweet smile as she watched Baylee furl his light brows to the fact that she had no purple fish in her handful of cards. He had seemed convinced she was tucking them away or that Olivia was stealing. He had even lifted Cheyanne’s tank top to assure that Olivia wasn’t doing as he assumed. Everyone found the scene quite adorable, lounging about the luscious living room with no plans to do a single thing. Leighanne had been the only one looking for freedom, taking another day at the spa, making sure not to invite Austin nor Cheyanne. Not that the girls minded. Cheyanne was quite happy playing with Baylee and Austin was far more delighted just lounging on the couch between Kevin’s legs, both reading different novels.

"Darn it," Baylee grumbled, sitting back to pout as he added a card to his growing pile. His hands were clutching the cards tightly, and with each turn he seemed to accumulate more. "Your go, My Angel?"

“Thank’ya much, Darlin’,” Cheyanne agreed, glancing over her small number of cards while hearing Brian’s faint chuckle. She glanced up to see him occupying his expensive video camera and tried not to blush, fixing her attention back to the cards. It seemed like someone was always taking pictures or videos during this stay in the city. She was just surprised that Nick hadn’t brought a camera into the bedroom when he flopped between her and Howie, insisting on taking turns sleeping with her. “Do you have any fishies with stripes?”

Poring over his cards with deliberate attention, Baylee poked out his bottom lip. "Uh huh. Here," he said, holding it out. As she took it with a smile, he set his remaining cards down, remembering what he'd overheard Nick and AJ talking about days before. Standing, he wriggled out of his striped polo shirt, dropping it to the floor before giving Cheyanne an enormous grin. "You win!"

Cheyanne’s sapphire eyes popped open in surprise as he jumped upward with his arms outspread, puffing out his bare chest for her. Her glossed lips formed a small ‘o’ of surprise as Brian zoomed in his camera, trying not to laugh too hard. AJ and Nick even pulled their attention away from their game, though their faces deadpanned with horror. Cheyanne just shook her head in disbelief, reaching to take the little boy in her arms. “I win, huh?” She laughed as Baylee giggled. She immediately bent to press kisses to his chest with loud raspberries. “I win!”

"Who the Hell taught him how to do that?" Austin murmured, watching Cheyanne and Baylee with amusement. Her glance skipped over to Nick and AJ, and when she saw AJ biting back a laugh, she shook her head. "I should have known it was you, Skinny."

“Nick was the one talking about his royal hard-on when Chey was down to her skimpies. Ain’t my fault!” AJ instantly defended over Baylee’s shrieks of sheer delight. “How was I to know that little sneaky bastard was running around outside?!”

Vaulting off the couch, Austin landed atop AJ, clapping a hand over his mouth. "We don't say things like that in front of little ones," she hissed, aware of Kevin's censuring glance. "Take it back."

AJ grinned against her hand, furiously shaking his head as a sign of war. He knew if he copped to a squeal, she would leave just as quickly as she had tackled him. But, as they argued and she threatened bodily injury, Brian watched Baylee giggle and shriek with delight, not once letting Cheyanne stop her raspberries. He found it absolutely adorable that Baylee was so attached to Cheyanne. Every time he watched them, he felt even guiltier about saying such mean things about Cheyanne. She was such a gift. “Hey, Scooper… What are you doing?”

"My Angel won, Daddy," Baylee choked out amidst his squeals. "Her win, I lose! I take my shirt off for her!"

"Take it back," Austin whispered, digging her knees in AJ's sides. Again the man simply shook his head, grinning wickedly behind her hand. "Don't make me hurt you…"

“I like it when it hurts!” AJ mumbled behind her hand.

“Scooper, you’re supposed to win so your Angel can take off her shirt,” Brian explained gently with a smirk as the raspberries slowly subsided and Baylee curled protectively into Cheyanne’s arms. Both of their faces were flushed pink with exertion. Their blonde curls wild with amusement. Brian couldn’t have imagined a sweeter picture as he reached for his camera phone, thinking it’d be the perfect background.

“If her take her shirt off, my Angel be cold, Daddy,” Baylee explained with concerned confusion.

"Then your Daddy will just have to keep her warm, won't he?" Brian said with a smirk, snapping the picture just before Cheyanne's head jerked up.

"I'll just bet you do, Aje," Austin whispered. "But I'm not talking about that kind of pain…"

“Princess, get off AJ! AJ, stop swearing in front of the young’ins. Brian, what the Hell are you thinking?!” Kevin suddenly snapped, rendering order as he watched the chaos brew. The darkness in his voice caused AJ to buck Austin from his hips, hurriedly scrambling to return to his game. Austin just stared at AJ in a daze, wondering why he was so scared of someone like Kevin. “Do you know what Howie would do to you if he heard that?”

“Daddy, I keep my Angel warm!” Baylee objected with a growl, wrapping his arms tighter around Cheyanne’s neck.

"It was a joke?" Brian returned with a shake of his head. "Scooper, I think we should let Howie keep Chey warm…"

"No! I keep her warm!"

"Pussy," Austin whispered to AJ before going back to the sofa with Kevin. Settling against him, she reached for her book, fairly content to resume the peacefulness they had been enjoying earlier. Only… "Kevin!" she screeched, jerking around to look at him. "There's a young'in present," she muttered, pushing his hand from beneath her shirt.

“There are three young’ins present and you still felt the need to straddle AJ. So, why can’t I enjoy myself, too?” Kevin murmured loudly in her ear, drawing her back against his chest. He removed his hand as she wished, locking them around her waist instead. He was done with the novel he had been enjoying. Austin always seemed to arouse him far too easily.

“You know you’d be all over Chey if you had the chance, B,” Nick whispered loudly as AJ punched his shoulder, telling him to start the game again. “We all would.”

Turning in his embrace, Austin scooted up until her lips met his. "You realize, don't you, that you were supposed to hit your sexual peak about thirteen years ago, right?" she whispered, pulling the blanket off the back of the couch and over them for a tiny bit of privacy. "And I have yet to hit mine…"

"I would not, Nick," Brian sputtered, shaking his head in disbelief. "I'm a married man, for heaven's sake!"

“Married to Medusa. Just be honest for once, B. If you had a chance, you would dump Leigh for Chey,” Nick demanded with amusement. “She’s freaking hot-shit. Without any of the wraps, botox, breast implants, or whatever the Hell your wife does to make herself young…”

"Enough!" Cheyanne cried, beyond mortified at the turn of the discussion. What had been a simple morning was quickly turning into something far different. Reaching for Baylee's shirt, she eased it over his head despite his protests that he'd lost it.

Dropping into and armchair, Brian shot his friend a rueful grin. "Y'know… You're--"

"Brian!"

“Just admit it!” Nick howled, tackling his best friend in a tight headlock. “You’ve got a hard-on for little Chey! Just like I have a major hard-on for little Chey! Just like J has blown wad for Austin! C’mon! Admit it!”

“Where’s Howie?” Cheyanne questioned meekly, glancing up to Kevin and Austin for support. Only, she noticed the roaming lumps underneath the blankets, immediately realizing what they were doing without detection. Her cheeks burned furiously at the turn of events, wanting means of escape.

"Him's on the balcony," Baylee whispered conspiringly. "I not s'posed to know… He making a surprise for My Angel," he added, his brows furling at the thought. "We go in my room and watch Nemo?" he asked hopefully, wanting to keep her from Howie as long as possible.

"Get your sweaty armpit out of my face!" Brian shouted, pushing at Nick vainly.

"Admit it!"

"Never!"

“On the balcony?” Cheyanne questioned the little boy, furrowing her own brows with confusion, though her nose wrinkled as well. Baylee smiled at her adorable facial features, hopping out of her embrace in order to grasp her hands. He helped her stand and wanted to tug her back the hallway, but she stopped halfway, making sure to avoid the carnage of the living room. “Maybe I should go see Howie, Darlin’--”

"No! He come get you when he ready!" Baylee insisted. "We play hide n' seek wit' Uncle Howie!"

"Just go with Baylee already," Austin muttered from under the blankets. "And take those three stooges with you…"

“Why don’t you go to the bedroom where you belong?” Cheyanne scoffed with disbelief, though Baylee was already tugging her back the hallway.

"Can't," Austin replied simply, peeking out from under the blankets. "I'm not… Decent…"

"Is she ever?" AJ asked with a smirk.

“You little pissfucker--”

“Just hold the blanket,” Kevin groaned, interrupting Austin’s vile words. He immediately pulled them up from the couch, making sure the blanket shrouded them as he tucked her legs against his waist. He glanced up to see Howie appearing from the balcony, making sure the curtains were drawn tightly. “Angel’s right. We belong in the bedroom.”

"But I wanted to watch!" AJ cried.

“THEN PAY THE COVER CHARGE!” Austin bellowed with a wicked smile, poking her tongue out at AJ’s shocked face.

"I got the money!" AJ called, digging for his wallet.

"What the Hell…" Howie trailed, shaking his head in disbelief. Kevin was toting Austin down the hall like some hormonal caveman, Nick and Brian wrestled in the middle of the floor, and Baylee was tugging Cheyanne into his room. "Honey?"

“Tea!” Cheyanne burst with soft relief, attempting to stop though Baylee wrenched her into his bedroom, hurriedly shutting the door and locking it.

"Looks like he stole your woman, D," AJ commented as Kevin's bedroom door slammed shut. Kicking Nick's leg, he cleared his throat. "You two stop fighting over Brian's hard-on for Chey. D's here…"

“Howie!” Nick exclaimed with triumph, sitting on Brian’s chest so he couldn’t squirm away. After all, everyone had done their best to get him in trouble with Cheyanne during her visit. It was time for him to cause some havoc. “B wants Baylee to play Strip Go Fish with her! And when she looses her clothes, he so invitingly offered to keep her warm! He wants her bad, D!”

"I don't even want to know about it, Nick," Howie muttered with a wave of his hand, moving towards the room Baylee had taken Cheyanne into. It would only cause the fire of jealousy to grow, why bother?

"But--"

"Ha! Get your fat ass off me!" Brian shouted, pinching his friend's arm.

"HOLY SHIT!" Nick roared, leaping off Brian's chest. Graceless as always, he tumbled over the coffee table, banging his knee and shin in the process, before colliding with Howie. Instantly the two fell to the floor in a heap, the older man spewing expletives as he struggled to free himself from his friend's cumbersome form.

The thunderous crashes startled most of the occupants in the penthouse, including the one being held ransom in Baylee’s room. Only, Brian and AJ found it amusing, laughing hysterically at the predicament, more so entertained that it briefly stopped the thumping in one of the back bedrooms. But, not for long. Having been trained not only as an Emergency Medical Technician and a Registered Nurse, Cheyanne was acutely aware of her surroundings and safety measures. Tucking Baylee within the safety of the room, she hurried out to find Howie and Nick struggling. Holding her abdomen, she immediately bent down, fully prepared to offer whatever care she could muster. Her sapphire eyes shined over with worried tears as she reach out to the two men, more concerned about Howie than Nick for the time being. “Are you hurt?”

"I am," Nick whined with a slight pout, sliding off Howie in hopes of some sympathy. "I banged my knee… And I think my leg's bleeding a little…"

"It's his own fault," Howie muttered, sitting up to cast a hateful glance at his younger friend. Of all the stupid shit…

“Nicky…” Cheyanne trailed with a hard sigh, offering a small smile at how much he actually reminded her of Baylee. He could be a sweet guy when overly prompted. Though, it truly did seem like he was hurt. Only, she turned to Howie first, brushing her hands over his cheeks. As much as she was taught and drilled into taking care of the worst case scenario first, she couldn’t help but focus on her lover. “Are you okay, Sweet Tea?”

"I'm fine," Howie assured her with a smile, reaching to catch her hands. Lifting them to his lips for a quick kiss, he felt his heart trip a beat when she smiled at him. "Take care of the baby here… Then I've got something for you out on the balcony…"

“You’re not lying to me?” Cheyanne questioned, leaning forward to brush her lips against his forehead. Nick was quite a large man when compared to Howie. He was several inches taller and probably thicker as well. Howie taking the full brunt of Nick’s weight scared her. There was no telling what could have possibly happened. She didn’t want him hurting. Not in the least. “Howie, right? You’re sure you’re not hurt?”

"I'm fine, really. Nothing bruised but my ego." Lifting his head, he brushed her lips with his. "Seriously, I'm okay. It's not the first time his fat ass--"

"I am not fat!"

"--landed on me, surely it won't be the last. I've built up quite the stamina… Now go, kiss his boo-boos so I can give you your surprise."

“Howie, if you’re lying to me…” Cheyanne’s voice trailed faintly as she watched him carefully stand. He immediately braced a hand against his side, slowly walking back toward the balcony. It was obvious that more than his ego had been bruised. She wanted to call out to him to ask for a physical assessment, but Nick’s hands reached out to her, lingering against the side of her breast. She immediately glanced back to him, making him clasp his hands in his lap as she reached to bunch his windbreaker pants. “No matter how much you try to take Howie out of service, he’s still going to get all my loving, Nicky. I promise.”

"Would I ever try to take your loving away from Howie?" Nick asked innocently, his gaze moving to where she pulled his pants leg up. "Oh god," he moaned, closing his eyes at the sight of blood.

"Shit, dude, it's just a little scrape! Baylee gets cut up worse than that playing in the park!" Brian exclaimed.

"Beat it, Brian," Nick muttered, opening his eyes long enough to shoot a glare at his friend. Honestly, he was cramping his style.

"I got a wife, remember? Looks like you'll be the one beating it," Brian said before heading for the kitchen, whistling jovially.

“Your unmentionable lover can help you with that later,” Cheyanne teased softly as she lifted the pant leg higher to assess his knee. She thanked AJ quietly when he brought the first aid kit over, setting it at her side. Fishing inside the contents, she removed some cotton balls and the alcohol. Dumping some on the cotton balls, she began to wipe away the blood. Nick instantly howled with pain, far worse than what Baylee would conjure. Rolling her eyes secretively, she bent to blow softly on the scrape to cool the pain. “And, you try your hardest to steal away Howie’s loving from me. You’ve made that painfully clear considering how many times you’ve kicked Howie out of bed.”

"Baylee started it. Ow! Sweetheart, that hurts!" he cried, jerking his leg back. She was trying to kill him. He knew it. She was going to poison him, right here and now, make him pay for all the things he'd done wrong. "Kiss it better?" he asked hopefully.

"Jesus, Nick," AJ muttered, shaking his head.

“I’m sorry it hurts, but I had to clean it,” Cheyanne chided softly, holding his leg as still as possible, knowing she still had to make sure his knee wasn’t hurt. She continued to blow until the burning fire subsided in his leg, smiling gently as she reached for a Band-Aid to cover the scrape. “That’s all done, alright? …Now your knee…”

"I've got something else that's hurting pretty bad--"

"NICK!" AJ screamed.

"What the fuck is your problem, J?" Nick snapped with a scoff of disgust.

"You better hope Kevin keeps Baby Girl tied down until Chey-Chey finishes your knee, or she'll make sure you hurt real bad. Besides, Howie's waiting for her, and you know how impatient he gets. He comes back in here and sees you flirting with his Honey, there'll be Hell to pay." With a curt nod, AJ turned his attention back to the movie he'd turned to. "Besides, you're making so much fucking noise I can't hear Baby Girl no more…"

“And here I thought he was actually being protective of me,” Cheyanne sighed with a rueful groan. She should have known better. AJ was obsessed with Austin. In fact, somehow, they were almost extensions of one another. Extreme opposites, but still extensions nonetheless. Cheyanne brushed those thoughts away as she tested the strength of Nick’s knee, assuring there were no weak ligaments, tendons, or whatnot. “Does that hurt, Nicky?”

"No… Feels good," Nick murmured, biting his lip at her gentle touch. When she pulled her hands away, he quickly grasped them, returning them to his knee. "Don't stop."

"What the Hell do you think you're doing?" Austin's voice thundered suddenly.

“I knew Kev was only a minute-man,” AJ prided with amusement. “But boy is your ass grass, Carter.”

"For your information, I heard all the fucking commotion out here and had to come investigate," Austin said, pulling the blanket tighter around her naked form. Kevin was no doubt pouting, but he'd get over it. She'd had to make sure Cheyanne was okay. "Kevin is far more than a one-minute man." Whirling to glare at Nick, she saw his petulant gaze. "Get your grubby dickbeaters off Chey-Chey. Now."

“SHE WAS TAKING CARE OF MY PAIN!” Nick squawked in disbelief, squirming in attempts to get far away from Austin and her lethal hands.

"Get him, Baby Girl!" AJ urged from his place on the couch.

"The only reason you're telling her to 'get him' is so you can see her naked," Cheyanne observed softly, extricating her hands from Nick's so she could gather the trash. "And there's no need for her to 'get him' at all. He fell and scraped his leg, Austi. I was just taking care of it for him," she assured her friend.

“Please, he was damn close to putting your hands on his filthy little--”

“It is not little! It’s monstrous!”

“Hey! It doesn’t matter, I’m going outside!” Cheyanne answered quickly, tossing the trash into the garbage before moving to stand.

"Chey? Um… Thanks. For the Band-Aid and all. And…" Aware of Austin's threatening stance, as well as the fact that AJ was rooting for her to throw off the blanket and kick his ass, he cleared his throat, standing. "I'm sorry for being such a jackass."

Smiling sweetly, Cheyanne leaned up, pressing a quick kiss to his cheek. "You're a sweetie pie, Nicky. Thank you," she murmured before walking towards the balcony.

"You are so damn lucky she's a forgiving person," Austin muttered, turning on her heel and heading back for Kevin's room. Shutting and locking the door behind her, she released a low rumble of expletives, shedding the blanket as she crossed to the bed. Kevin was sitting up, waiting patiently, a look of slight concern etching his brow as she crawled into his lap.

"What now, Princess?" he murmured, smoothing his hands down her back as she buried her face in the crook of his neck. Her warm breath coursed over his skin, rekindling the fire she'd doused moments before in order to see what the noise was all about. He'd tried his damnedest to make her stay, using every little trick imaginable, but still she'd slipped from the bed. "What was it?"

Heaving a sigh of frustration, Austin shook her head. "Boobah was being a pain in the ass. As usual." Curling next to him, she wriggled against the sheet concealing what she longed to get at. "But I don't want to think about him now… Where were we?" she murmured against his ear, letting him roll her to her back.

*~*~*


Smoothing his shirt, Howie turned to look up at the sky when the sun peeked behind a cloud. Glancing around at the setting of the balcony, he took a deep, calming breath. Everything was perfect. The white roses on the table, surrounded by floating candles in bowls of water, casting a soft glow on their surroundings. He'd even managed to have some sheltering bushes brought up, after speaking to the concierge. Taking a deep, calming breath, he placed the small box on the table next to the roses, reaching to adjust the pillow on the chair he would usher her to. He couldn't blow this. He'd waited a lifetime to find the woman he would be willing to give his heart and soul to, and he wanted to make sure his proposal was perfect.

"Howie?"

Her voice from inside the doors; surely the angels in Heaven couldn't sound sweeter. His heart soared just from hearing his name pass her lips, and he had to quell the nervous flutters in his chest before turning to greet her. Nothing, he decided upon looking at her, nothing was more beautiful than the woman before him. Her soft curls hanging past her shoulders, a slight flush to her cheeks, the beautiful glow about her. The way her eyes twinkled with happiness, her lips curving into a sweet smile. The way one hand covered her abdomen, gently smoothing over it through the t-shirt she wore. Glancing down, he saw her bare feet, smiling when she wriggled her painted toes.

“No wonder Darlin’ wanted to hide me in his room so you couldn’t show off your surprise. He knew when I saw what you did, I was going to fall even harder in love with you all over again,” Cheyanne breathed softly in true adoration as she took in her surroundings. It was so beautiful. So breathtaking. So perfect. So like her lover to do something so warmhearted. But, as beautiful as the decorations were, Cheyanne was still far more enchanted with Howie. He had been wearing a white tank top and khaki shorts when he first appeared, but had quickly pulled on a light blue button down t-shirt to appear more formal. He looked nervous, but Cheyanne smiled at his adorable nature. Wondering if he knew how he affected her so just by the simplest smoldering look from his dark eyes. “You’re so handsome, Howie.”

"And you're so beautiful," Howie murmured, drawing her onto the balcony. The nerves hit full force when she flashed her sweetest smile, and he quickly brought her to the chair. "Cheyanne… I love you so much. You know that, don't you?" he murmured, taking her hands in his.

“I had an inkling?” she questioned with a teasing note to her melodious voice, glancing down to their interlocked hands. Gingerly, she rubbed her thumbs over the backs of his, unable to hide her smile. She was delirious with delight, never expecting any man would cater to her in such a fashion. To work so hard just to see her smile. It endeared him to her. Forever.

"I… I had it planned, all the words I was going to say. But everything simply pales in comparison to you, Honey." Taking a deep breath, he looked up into her eyes. "All I can say is how much I love you, and even that I can't put into words properly. How much joy you've brought into my life, how a simple smile from you can make all my worries disappear. How much I look forward to spending the rest of my life with you, raising a family…"

“Cinnamon is going to be a great big sister,” Cheyanne approved with another endearing smile, taking one of her hands to brush down the side of his silky soft cheek. She didn’t really understand what he was doing. Perhaps faintly aware, but not wanting to get her hopes too high just in case. “And you’re going to be a wonderful father.”

"With you by my side, how can I be anything less?" he asked softly. "Chey, Honey…" Reaching over with one hand, he grasped the small box. Lowering himself to one knee before her, he rested their clasped hands on her leg, brushing her fingers with his. "Would you… Are you crying?"

“Am I not allowed?” she sniffled softly, tilting her head slightly to wipe away the tears on her t-shirt. It was surreal, seeing Howie down on one knee. He was truly was her knight in shining armor. A traditional romantic. Everything she wanted and everything she thought she could never have. His money didn’t matter. Nor did his stardom. The only part of him that mattered to her was his heart, which he seemed to be offering. She couldn’t help the tears that fell, because they were for joy.

"I think it's cute," he murmured, reaching up to brush her tears away. "I… I called your mother the other day, and we had a very long talk about love, honesty, trust, all the things you and I have between us. Before you ask, I didn't mention Cinnamon. And, well, in case you're nervous about her answer, she emailed me her approval… I can print it out if you want?"

“You called my mother?” Cheyanne questioned with a small giggle, obviously bemused by his clumsy yet endearing quality of apprehension in making this proposal perfect. It didn’t shock her that he wanted her mother’s approval above all else. After all, he was a proper gentleman and her mother absolutely adored that quality in the man. Especially considering all the gifts he lavished upon her unborn grandchild. “She must have been reeling… She’s been so anxious about me getting married… Wants six grandchildren, y’know?” Cheyanne glanced up to see Howie exhale another tight breath and she smiled warmly. “I don’t need the email, but I’d like to know what she said.”

"Something along the lines of 'Chey better say yes', I believe," Howie said with a teasing tone, giving her a slight grin.

“I wouldn’t put it past her to say something brazen,” Cheyanne promised with another laugh. “She loves you. She better have told you that.”

"She did. Quite a few times, in fact. Now…" Clearing his throat, he squeezed her hand gently. "Cheyanne, would you do me the greatest honor and be my wife?" he asked softly, his eyes never leaving hers. He held his breath in anticipation of her answer. Flicking his tongue over his lips quickly, he opened the small box, saw the reflection of the sparkling diamonds and sapphires in her eyes.

“Howie…” Cheyanne whispered, her throat constricting in awe as she glanced down to the beautiful ring. It was in a platinum setting, a large round sapphire sitting in the middle to represent their present with two somewhat smaller diamonds nestled beside to represent their past and future. It was gorgeous, catching against the beautiful natural lighting of the sun. She was suddenly so thankful that she hadn’t picked out the ring, because Howie already knew exactly what she wanted. And, the tears fell yet again as she leaned forward to kiss him deeply. “There’s no way in the world that I would ever say no. The honor’s all mine. To take your last name. God, yes!”

Pressing his lips against her cheek, Howie felt his own tears start to fall as he released a soft sigh. Plucking the ring from its blue velvet resting place, he took her shaking hand in his, easing the ring on. "Do you know how hard it was to get your size? I had to measure your finger with a hair then call the jeweler back yesterday evening. Good thing you're a heavy sleeper," he mused. Lifting her hand to his lips for a soft kiss, he leaned back, gazing down at the ring on her finger. "It looks more beautiful on you than I had imagined," he whispered, tracing her knuckles with his lips.

“It’s perfect. Maybe too expensive, but beautiful and an extension of your heart,” Cheyanne told him, shivering at the soft touches of his lips against her delicate skin. She was smitten at the tears falling from Howie’s eyes, reaching with her opposite hand to brush them away, making sure to even catch the tear that had fallen to his lips. “You didn’t have to do it so soon, though. Work so hard and stress yourself out to make it fit so quick. I said when you were ready, Tea.”

"I was ready the first time you told me you loved me," he admitted sheepishly, turning to kiss the soft skin of her palm.

“I can’t believe…” Cheyanne shook her head gently as she wetted her bottom lip with disbelief. “I’m going to be Mrs. Cheyanne Dorough… Howie, I’m so happy… More than you’ll ever know… I love you. Heart, body, and soul… And, you can’t laugh at me, okay?”

"I promise never to laugh at you… Unless you give me permission," he assured her, tears springing anew in his eyes. Mrs. Cheyanne Dorough… She was his. Forever. Just as he'd dreamed for so long… Part of him felt like leaping to the balcony rail, shouting for all who could hear what a lucky man he was. Part felt like bursting into the penthouse, exclaiming his glee to his friends and band mates. Yet, the largest part wanted to sneak her into their bedroom, snuggle with her under the blankets, whisper to her how much he loved her… "I love you, Chey…"

“I love you, too, and I have to quote something for you, okay?” Cheyanne explained softly, leaning forward to kiss him once more. To show her appreciation, dedication, and adoration. “When we went to the premiere, I was terrified. But, Austi helped me remember this poem that I love so much. That reminds me so much of you. So, I’m going to be the sappy one, okay? For tonight?”

"Alright," he murmured, his lips tingling from her kiss. "…As long as it's not an N Sync song…"

“Pablo Neruda was around long before the dirty-dish-gang,” Cheyanne promised, threading their hands together again. She smiled at the feeling of the cool platinum against her forth digit, knowing it would never leave her. That he would never leave her. Seductively moistening her lips, she glanced upward to make sure she had Howie’s dark, concentrated gaze. “I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz, / or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off. / I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, / in secret, between the shadow and the soul. / I love you as the plant that never blooms / but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers; / thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance, risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body. / I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. / I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride; / so I love you because I know no other way / than this: where ‘I’ does not exist, nor ‘you,’ / so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

"Honey," Howie breathed, trembling at the beautiful words. Her heartfelt expression assured him that each word was true. Pulling himself to his feet, he pulled her up as well, wrapping his arms around her before capturing her mouth in a searing kiss. "Chey," he whispered against her lips, sliding his hands to her neck in a gentle caress. Wanting so badly to make love to her then he almost cried out. "God, Chey… I love you so much… Let's go to bed…" Whoops. He hadn't meant to say that…

“Don’t tempt me,” she whimpered, curling her fingers in his silky shirt to steady herself. Her heart flamed for him in the worst of ways. She wanted him inside her. To feel his heartbeat against hers, uniting them as one. And, she couldn’t help herself as she nibbled on his bottom lip before slowly taunting his lips with her tongue, wanting him to come to her.

"Would… Do you think… God, I can't believe I'm about to suggest this…" Howie trailed, sliding one hand beneath her t-shirt. He felt a shiver go through him when he cupped a bare breast. "Chey…"

“Suggest what?” Cheyanne whispered, her voice catching at the feel of Howie’s warm fingers on her overly delicate breast. She arched naturally at his touch, brushing herself against him without any true intentions of doing so. A rosy blush accentuated her cheeks as she gazed into his chocolate eyes. She wanted him so much.

"If I promise on my love for you that I'll be gentle," he murmured suggestively, not sure he could voice his entire thought. Already he felt his arousal growing at her delicate touches. His thumb brushed her sensitive nipple and he heard her soft gasp, her eyes widening in realization.

“Please?” she questioned hopefully, obviously opening the invitation. She obviously forgot all about the warnings from her physician, deciding to tempt fate. Wanting to tempt fate for him. It was such a special night and her dreams of him had been so passionate, considering she’d be leaving so very soon. “I’ve missed you so much… Having you inside me… Us being one…”

"I've missed that too… But, Honey, the baby…"

“You were the one that just said…”

Taking a deep breath, Howie covered her lips in a deep kiss. "Promise me… If you feel the slightest twinge, you'll tell me, okay?" he whispered between soft kisses, his lips trailing down her neck, nibbling slightly at the chain there.

“I promise,” she exhaled with delight, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck.

"Then we'd better get inside, before there's a video floating around the internet of us making love on a balcony…"

“You’d enjoy that too much,” she squealed in surprise as he lifted her from the ground, helping her to wrap her legs around his waist. She kept her arms wrapped delicately around his neck, leaning down to press the softest kisses to every inch of his face. She could wait to meet his family and begin the planning process. To know that she would be married made her life so utterly complete. “My Sweet Tea, I love you so much… So very much…”

Howie's hopes of taking her quickly to the bedroom with no interruption were dashed the moment he stepped inside the penthouse. The instant he shut the door behind him, Baylee rushed forward, his face pursed into a pout. Skidding to a stop a few feet away, he placed his small hands on his hips and glared at Howie. "Uh oh," Howie whispered to Cheyanne.

Cheyanne’s light brows creased with confusion as she turned slightly in Howie’s embrace, glancing down to catch Baylee’s defiant stance. He may have been small, but he blocked their means of escape, looking as if he might go right for Howie’s shins. Shifting, Cheyanne offered the little boy a small smile, thinking Howie would let her onto her own two feet, but he didn’t. “What’s wrong, Darlin’?”

"Howie marry My Angel?" Baylee asked piteously, blinking rapidly as he looked up at her.

“He would like to,” Cheyanne answered gently with a sympathetic smile, squirming until Howie finally relinquished his hold. She was all too aware of what the rapid flutter of Baylee’s eyes meant, knowing how upset he was. And the little boy wasted no time in rushing into her opened embrace, burying his face tightly against her chest for protection. Cheyanne cooed sadly for him, rubbing his tiny back as she picked him up to cuddle close. “He should have asked your permission first, huh, Darlin’?”

Nodding against her chest, Baylee wrapped his arms around Cheyanne's neck tightly. "He no love you like me, My Angel," he whispered.

Oh, for the love of… Taking a deep breath, Howie cleared his throat. "Bay? Would you feel better if I asked your permission to marry your Angel?"

“I feel better if you no marry My Angel. Let me marry My Angel,” Baylee suggested stubbornly, turning to rest his cheek on Cheyanne’s chest, keeping a deathly stare on Howie. “Keep My Angel for me and my Daddy. Not you.”

"Darlin'…" Cheyanne breathed softly, smoothing his hair. Glancing up, she saw Brian in the doorway, his gaze on his son. "Your Daddy has your Mommy… He can't have me, too," she murmured.

“Then I keep you for me’self,” Baylee declared, holding a hand out to keep Howie from stepping any closer while his other hand threaded into her golden curls to play with the tendrils.

“Darlin’,” Cheyanne sighed softly, shifting Baylee in her embrace so their similar gazes locked. Both had dark sapphire eyes that always seemed to twinkle with mischief. Though, now they both expressed sadness with the situation. She hadn’t realized how opposed Baylee would be to the marriage. If anything, she had been far more worried about Austin’s reaction. But, for now, she had to make sure Baylee wouldn’t be upset with her. She couldn’t handle that pain. “You’ve got to listen to me, okay? I love you so much, Baylee. You are so cute and I would keep you forever if I could. But, you have to stay with your Mommy and Daddy, because they love you so much, too… And I also love Howie very much. He has my heart and I would really love it if you agreed to let him marry me. That way, I have someone to love me extra when you have to be with your Mommy and Daddy. Please, Darlin’? It doesn’t mean that you’re not always going to be my special little Darlin’… Howie can never take that away from you…”

Looking at Howie, his expression the utmost of seriousness, Baylee heaved a sigh. "You take care of her?"

"I promise," Howie said, holding a hand over his heart. Never had he dreamed he would have a two year-old to contend with. "She'll be safe with me. I'll never hurt her, and I'll make sure she has all she needs."

“D’ank you, Howie,” Baylee conceded, reaching to wrap his arms around Cheyanne once more. “I still be you Darlin’, right? I snuggle with you and Moth? I get kisses and wet tummy kisses? Even if you marry him, you still my Angel?”

“You’ll get all of that and more,” Cheyanne promised with a soft laugh, kissing him several times. “Can you go give Howie a hug for me?”

"Congratulations," Brian said with a smile, stepping forward as Baylee reluctantly moved to hug Howie. Despite all his first impressions of Cheyanne, he had come to realize how much his friend loved her, how much he needed her. Pulling Cheyanne into his embrace, he hugged her gently. "Howie's going to make such a wonderful wife!"

“He’ll look quite beautiful in that wedding dress… Of course, it’ll have to be beige…” Cheyanne teased as well, accepting the hug with obvious surprise. Brian had been quite sweet to her since their initial conversation upon her arrival. She had just taken it as a mere formality. As if Howie had begged him to be kind. But, Brian had come on his own this time. She could sense that much in his light blue eyes. “And, thank you.”

"'Nuff, Daddy," Baylee said, squirming between them. "My Angel needs rest!"

"That she does," Brian agreed, stepping away. "And you need lunch. Mickey D's?"

“Des!” Baylee agreed with excitement, turning to tug gently on Cheyanne’s t-shirt. “Want me bring you home some?”

“If you want to,” Cheyanne answered, not wanting to break his heart anymore today.

"We bring My Angel a Happy Meal, Daddy?" Baylee asked, reaching up to be held. "An' get Moth some chicken nuggets?"

“Sure, that’s exactly what we’ll do,” Brian accepted, tossing Baylee into the air before holding him close. He laughed at his son’s manic giggle, glancing sideways to his quiet friend. “Are you going to offer Howie something to eat, too?”

"We bring Uncle Howie a Mac?" Baylee questioned, glancing over at Howie for confirmation.

“Sounds great, Bay,” Howie confirmed with appreciation, reaching to tussle his curls lightly.

“You look a little pale, D…” Brian chuckled as he set Baylee down, patting his behind in attempts to usher him to gather his coat and shoes.

"I'm fine," Howie assured him softly, sliding his arm around Cheyanne when she leaned against him. "Be sure and play an extra long time in the ball pit for us, okay, Bay?"

"But… Me wanna hurry and bring back food!" Baylee insisted before rushing to the bedroom.

“I’ll keep him busy for awhile,” Brian promised with a bemused grin at Howie’s frustrated facial expression. Once again, he reached to hug the newly engaged couple, knowing everything would be changing for his older friend. But, finally, for the better. “And congrats, D. This is great… You two are great, even if Scooper is always going to try to steal Chey away.”

"Well, for a minute there I envisioned having to bow down to him in a recreation of a scene from the Godfather," Howie mused with a chuckle. Kissing the top of Cheyanne's head, he looked at Brian. "Thanks, B." It meant a lot to him, having his friend's approval. Not that he needed Brian's approval in any aspect of his life, but knowing he had it made life happier.

“No, you’re going to have to bow down to the Godmother,” Cheyanne teased as Brian laughed heartily, bidding his goodbyes as Baylee bellowed from the front of the penthouse. She curled her arms around Howie’s waist, tucking herself close to kiss his chest. “More specifically, Cinnamon’s Godmother.”

"Should I call Momma and tell her to plan my funeral now?" Howie asked lightly, ushering her towards the bedroom. "Or should I ask for the ring back and hightail it out of town?"

“Would you honestly take the ring away from me and just leave me?” Cheyanne questioned with a soft hurt, her bottom lip puckering. “ ‘Cause I’ll definitely toss Leighanne out on her silicone behind and be Darlin’s Mommy… Brian’s a good looking man… I could deal with him…”

"Sure, why not? Then you and Austin can be cousins," Howie teased, shutting the bedroom door behind them. Lifting her into his embrace, he carried her to the bed, resting his head in the crook of her shoulder as she lay back. "Do you really think I could ever leave you?" he whispered, his hands trailing her sides gently. "You, who I love so much," he whispered, his lips caressing her skin in a sweet, slow motion.

“So much for Brian…” Cheyanne whispered before her breath caught against her lungs, causing the man’s name to squeak slightly. Not that she cared, her body reacting to Howie’s kisses and caresses more than she had anticipated. So delighted, her back arched to bring her closer to him as she bit down hard on her bottom lip to keep from whimpering. He knew how to take full control of her body and work it to his pleasure.

"Brian who?" Howie whispered against her ear, gently easing her shirt up to her chest. Leaning back slightly, he gazed down at her, taking in her flushed face, the way her breasts rose and fell with each breath. Her tongue darted over her lips, sending a shiver through him, and the way her eyes shifted to a deep blue, glittering with passion. "Chey…"

“I love you,” Cheyanne murmured gently, tucking her hands underneath his t-shirt to caress the taunt ripples of his tight abdomen. The coolness of her engagement ring, causing a shock of excitement between their blazing skins. “I love you because I know no other way than this. And I never want to know no other way.”

"I love you… And I don't believe there is any other way," he said softly, leaning down to capture her lips in a fervent kiss.
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