“You are going straight to bed when we get in these doors, you realize that, right?”
“Huh?” Cheyanne murmured in surprise, glancing up from her private thoughts to see that the taxi had finally pulled into their long driveway. She furrowed her light blonde brows in confusion as she looked to Austin, who was stepping out to gather their bags. Holding Moth’s pet carrier close, Cheyanne followed after giving the cabbie the necessary amount of cash needed. She winced sharply at the pains invading her abdomen at the small amount of movement, trying to ignore the fact that these pains kept getting sharper and more frequent as the days progressed. Only two months left before Olivia was due to be born and Cheyanne was in agony. She longed just curl into Howie’s embrace and fall asleep permanently, but knew that wouldn’t happen. He was currently flying to Canada to continue the promotional tour for the new album. She knew from the very beginning this is how it would have to be. So, she couldn’t complain.
"You're going to bed. Feet propped up, Moth at your side and a cup of ice on the bedside table. You're not moving an inch until your appointment tomorrow--"
"Well shut my mouth and slap my gramma!" a voice cried from the door. "Jeff, our girls are home!"
“Billy!” Cheyanne exclaimed in delighted surprise as she and Austin were hurriedly ushered inside their home. Billy wasted no time in throwing the bags Austin was holding to the floor, seizing her small stature into a tight bear hug. He whooped with a slur of southern slang, causing Cheyanne to giggle. It seemed like forever since Jeff and Billy had come to visit, especially since she had been on bed rest. But, they had overdone it this time. She smiled with appreciation at the sight of their home spotlessly clean, Billy and Jeff obviously going to great lengths to assure that everything was perfect. Moth even seemed to stir in his pet carrier, wriggling to get out at the smell of dinner cooking in the kitchen.
"What are you guys doing here?" Austin asked, tousling Billy's red hair as he moved to set Cheyanne on the sofa. It was a lovely surprise, not having to deal with straightening up and cooking after such a brutal day. Stooping, she let Moth out of his carrier, and he immediately set off for the kitchen.
"Had to be here to welcome our girls home from the big city!" Billy exclaimed. "Y'know, you really need to find another hiding place for your spare key. Didn't take Jeff but a minute to--"
"You dumbass! Chey told me where the key was!" Jeff cried from the kitchen. "Austi, come get this little pisser out of here!"
“Can’t big bad Jeff handle a little Chihuahua puppy?” Austin teased with a smirk as Jeff came prancing out of the kitchen, Moth latched tightly to the cuff of his wrangler jeans. He looked thoroughly disturbed by the little creature, attempting to shake him from his leg. And, it was a sight to both girls, because Jeff was a tall, lumbering cowboy with a degree in business so he could take over his father’s cattle ranch. He was taller than Kevin with a muscular form with beautiful light blue eyes and wavy honey locks that he kept cropped close. He looked as if he could crush Cheyanne, though he was gentle as a kitten when it came to her.
"He just left a puddle the size of Billy's ass in the middle of the floor!" Jeff informed her with a glare that instantly turned into a grin. He swept Austin into a hug as Moth scampered back to the kitchen. "And if that little pisser--"
"Moth! His name is Moth!" Cheyanne squealed from the sofa.
"Sorry. If that little Moth gets on the table and starts eating the supper I've slaved over all day--"
"You? Slaved? My ass! Who's Momma do you think cooked the roast? And talked you through the potatoes three times 'cause you kept burning them? My Momma! Like she ain't got nothing better to do!"
“He’s just jealous ‘cause his Momma loves me more,” Jeff boasted with pride as he smacked a kiss to Austin’s cheek, ruffling her chestnut locks. “But, don’t get mad, ‘cause I need to go love on my Chey, alright, Austi?”
"Love me and leave me," Austin groaned with a pout, sliding from his arms. "I guess soon Billy will be casting me aside for Chey's sweet love."
“Hell no!” Billy roared with a loud snort, scrambling over the back of the couch he had been occupying with Cheyanne. He wasted no time sweeping her into his arms, lumbering back the hallway toward her bedroom with a wild bellow as if he were calling for his pigs. “I want some hillbilly hay Austi lovin’!”
“I don’t think I can offer you that, Jeffie,” Cheyanne observed with a rueful smile as a loud crash and hysterical laughter filtered from the bedroom, causing Moth to go running in source of the action.
Dropping down next to her, Jeff eased his arms around her, patting her stomach once before resting his head on her shoulder. "Yeah… I know," he said with a shake of his head. "But if that city boy ever treats you wrong, you know I'm just a--"
"What's burning?" Cheyanne asked suddenly, her nose wrinkling in distaste.
“Dad-burn-it!” Jeff cursed loudly as he scrambled off the couch, rushing toward the kitchen in order to save dinner. Only, he slipped on the puddle Moth had caused, crashing sharply into the side of the counters next to the oven. He yelped with a frustrated pain as he yanked open the oven, coughing against the billows of smoke and he ducked inside to yank away the hot pan. Without shielding his fingers, he cursed yet again as they burned, him throwing the pan onto the top of the stove. The meat was ruined. “Shit’s burnt-slap-up!”
“Y’know, I was kind of hungry for pizza anyway?” Cheyanne offered with sweet hope, watching Jeff throw the charred roast into the sink with obvious disappointment and frustration. Cooing softly, she shuffled over to wrap her arms around Jeff’s waist, though they never fit all the way around. She nuzzled her face into his back, squeezing gently. “I still love you, Jeffie.”
"What the Hell is going on in here?" Austin asked as she stormed into the kitchen, her shirt and shoes missing. "Billy," she whined, taking in the scene. "Can you mop up Pisser's mess for me?"
"Do you think you can nurse my hands?" Jeff asked Cheyanne, poking out his bottom lip as his fingers turned bright red from contact with the hot pan. "Don't look like I'll be giving anybody finger loving--"
"Okay that's just gross," Billy said, moving through to get the mop. Giving Cheyanne a censuring glance, he stared pointedly at her stomach. "Aren't you supposed to be off your feet?"
“I have to take care of Jeffie’s hands,” Cheyanne defended softly as she gingerly folded her hands into Jeff’s, delicately kissing his reddened fingers. “Besides, what did you do with Austi’s shirt?”
"Oh, it got ripped off in a moment of passion," Billy said with a smirk.
"He wishes," Austin muttered, pulling herself up on the counter. "I had to take it off 'cause he was almost ripping it with his big sweaty paws." Peering into the sink at the ruined roast, she shook her head. "Jeffie, you're buying the pizza, right?"
"Can we get one with lots of pepperoni?" Billy requested, stepping around Jeff and Cheyanne to get to the mess. "And, if you're buying, get Pizza Hut, 'cause I want some cheesy breadsticks. Do you think you can order me some hot wings, too?"
“Why don’t you buy the damn pizza since you seem to know exactly what you want, you damn horn toad. I need to be nursed,” Jeff retorted with a scowl, kicking gently against the backside of Billy’s knee, causing him to crumple to the floor. Satisfied, Jeff swooped to cradle Cheyanne in his arms, making sure to keep his fingers away from any contact, going to search for the first aid kit.
“Can I go with you to get the pizza?” Cheyanne questioned hopefully.
"No!" Austin and Billy shouted simultaneously.
“Damn,” Cheyanne pouted with hurt as Jeff plopped her on the couch after retrieving the first aid kit. He handed her the box and then settled his large hands into her lap, waiting patiently for care. She looked quite pitiful as she retrieved the necessary items, glancing mournfully to Jeff. “Can you make them go get the pizza, then? ‘Cause I don’t want you to leave, Jeffie.”
"Aw, did my Chey miss me?" he cooed, leaning to kiss her cheek. "Billy! You and Austi go get the pizza!"
"Alright, alright, alright! Damn!" Billy grumbled, tossing the mop into the corner. "No hillbilly loving from Chey," he warned.
"Don't you have two phone calls to make?" Austin asked on her way to retrieve her shirt. "I'll call Pretty Boy on Billy's phone so I don't have to pay…"
"Pretty Boy?!" Billy repeated, heading after her with a laugh.
"You've got two people to call?" Jeff asked Cheyanne, raising one eyebrow critically. "Does your city boy know you're fooling around on him?"
“He only knows about you, Jeffie,” Cheyanne answered as she secured some Band-Aids and antibacterial cream over the fingers that had blistered from the pan. She was fully concentrated on her care, oblivious to Billy chasing Austin out the door with promises to bring back the best pizza in town and the phone ringing at Jeff’s side. Instead, she was looking to his other hand, making sure it was okay, so Jeff reached with his now fixed hand, grasping the cordless.
“Howdy, you’ve reached Baby Making Central and you’re speakin’ to the Chief Baby Maker, Jeff. I am proud to say that I’ve already began the brewing of a beautiful blue-eyed, blonde little girl who’s going to be just as adorable as her hot Momma. So, what can I do ya for?” Jeff answered, smirking when Cheyanne wrinkled her nose in distaste.
"I think I've dialed the wrong number…"
“Yeah, you definitely got the wrong accent for our breed of babies…” Jeff trailed, laughing lightly when Cheyanne smacked him sharply. “Alright, alright, this is Cheyanne and Austin’s private, rodeo cowboy—Ow! Alright, alright, Chey, just get back to kissing my fingers instead of pinchin’em! You’re damn lucky you’re cute, kitten…”
"Could I speak to Chey?"
"And who, may I ask, is calling? After all, Chey here has a boyfriend in--OW!"
"Howie?! Whoooo! You're the--Ow! Chey, damnit--" Jeff cut off with laughter as Cheyanne wrenched the phone from his grasp.
"Howie?" She was breathless with excitement, her heart flipping over itself at the fact he had called first.
“You said you were going to call when you first got home,” Howie murmured faintly. “…Actually, when your feet touched the tarmac…”
“I didn’t even know what a tarmac was,” Cheyanne firstly attempted to explain, tucking her feet into Jeff’s lap as he started to undo the laces, knowing she loved to be barefoot. “Then I slept on the taxi ride home ‘cause it’s so long. Then when we got here Jeff and Billy had fixed dinner and cleaned our house. Only Jeffie burned dinner, so Austi and Billy ran out for Pizza Hut and—Are you mad?”
"It's not my fault dinner got burned," Jeff muttered under his breath.
"So you're there alone with a man?" Howie asked softly.
“Yeah, but he’s my best friend… And Moth is here, too…” Cheyanne trailed in confusion, not really understanding why Howie sounded so disappointed. It only served to make her nervous, tensing every muscle fiber as her brow wrinkled with worry. The excitement long since dissipated with the subtle tones to Howie’s voice. She winced sharply at the pain invading her lower abdomen, causing Jeff to reach in order to rub her feet in attempts to soothe her. Only, she squirmed away, trying to tell him to stop, putting Jeff on a defensive streak with Howie. “…What’d I do wrong?”
"Nothing, Honey… I was just worried, is all," Howie said. "Did the flight go okay? Are you in--Are you sitting or laying down? This Jeffie, he's responsible, isn't he? He won't let you hurt yourself, will he?"
“I’m not going to hurt myself,” Cheyanne defended softly with a hurt offense lacing her usually delicate tones. As much as she appreciated everyone watching out for her, it was coming to the point of making her claustrophobic. After all, she was the nurse in the bunch. The one with all the medicinal knowledge. She knew how to take care of herself. “And, I’m sitting on the couch with him. Do you want to talk to him and go over my lists of do’s and don’t’s or what?”
"Honey… I'm sorry. I'm an ass. Forgive me?" Howie asked, a tinge of hopefulness creeping into his voice.
“I’ll be right back, Jeffie. Can you get me something to drink?” Cheyanne requested as she moved to stand from the couch. One hand immediately reached to brace her contracting abdomen, mustering a pained smile. Jeff quickly followed, standing up to place a kiss on her forehead, promising some Hawaiian Punch, 7-Up, and crushed ice – her favorite. Smiling with thanks, she shuffled back to her bedroom, carefully shutting her door before laying flat on her bed, attempting to control her breathing. “I forgive you, but I don’t understand…”
"Don't worry about it, Honey. You don't need all this added stress now… How do you feel?"
“I’m fine,” she lied brazenly, holding her breath as a deeper contraction hit. Tears actually sprung to her eyes by the overwhelming sensation of pain, but she refused to even make the slightest whimper. She knew they had to be false labor pains. Just something that occurred with her stress. And, she waited for it to subside before she spoke again. “…But how do you not expect me to worry when something’s obviously bothering you?”
"Don't lie to me," Howie warned softly, and she could hear his worried sigh. "You're in pain, aren't you? Don't you think I know you well enough by now to hear when you're in pain? I knew I shouldn't have let you go home…"
“Knew you shouldn’t have let me go home?” she questioned, biting down hard on her bottom lip to keep from crying out and throwing Jeff into a hysterical fit. She could only hope that they would stop before Austin and Billy came back home, otherwise she had a sneaking suspicion she’d be in the Emergency Room with an IV and a squawking best friend. “What were you going to do, Howie? Lock me in a plastic bubble in the back of your tour bus?”
“And you know that I wouldn’t be able to fly during the last weeks of my pregnancy. Airlines get a little uppity about near bursting women in their aisles… Not to mention one who’s considered a high risk pregnancy…” Cheyanne muttered hurtfully as she curled onto her side, squeezing her eyes shut. She really didn’t want to fight with him. She just wanted to be in his arms, letting him soothe the pain away. It just hurt so badly. And, in fact, she was more worried about what was bothering him. His blatant refusal to tell her just seemed to agitate her more. “Howie,” she finally whimpered with hurt, “I just...”
"Honey, I'm so sorry. Do you--"
"Is 'dat My Angel?" Baylee asked excitedly in the background. "I want to talk to My Angel!"
Cheyanne winced with a soft groan. “I forgot to call, Darlin’.”
"Do you want to talk to him?" Howie questioned softly, barely audible over Baylee's squeals. "If I don't give him the phone he'll probably yank my arm out of my socket…"
“Sure,” Cheyanne promised as she curled close to her pillow, shifting uncomfortably. She heard the shuffle of the phone and finally Baylee’s loud squeals of triumph. She masked happiness with a soft laugh. “Darlin’! I’m so sorry I forgot to call, Sweetheart. Uncle Howie called me first and caught me.”
"I miss you so much, My Angel," Baylee informed her. "Nicky keeps lookin' for pictures of you on the inner-net and Uncle Howie's mopin' like an ol' hound dawg. Mommy tol' Daddy she was goin' home if you talk to me on the phone, and Kevvy keeps playing sad songs. When I see you again?" he asked breathlessly.
“I miss you so much, too, Darlin’,” Cheyanne promised, feeling her body slightly relax with Baylee’s enthusiasm. She closed her eyes briefly in order to concentrate on his happy voice, smiling. “I had Uncle Howie email me those pictures of us so I can put them on my computer, so I always have you close…”
"I gots your picture in my new wallet Daddy gave me," Baylee whispered. "I took Mommy out and put you in…"
“Oh yeah? Which picture do you have of me in your new wallet?” Cheyanne laughed softly, imagining the mischievous grin he was offering. She missed him almost as much as she missed Howie.
"Da picture Uncle Howie took of us," Baylee murmured. "Daddy, go! Me talk to My Angel!"
“Darlin’, you might have to go somewhere. It’s okay, you know I’ll call just before you go to bed, like I promised,” Cheyanne assured softly, not wanting to get the little boy in trouble.
"He tryin' to talk to you, too. I run to the baffroom!" Baylee squealed.
Cheyanne had to giggle at Baylee’s excitement, almost as if the little boy were under siege at a major battlefront. “Darlin’, you are way too cute, but you took Uncle Howie’s phone...”
"Chey, I got your drinks," Jeff announced, pushing the door open with his foot. Looking inside, he grinned. "Are you decent?"
"Who dat?" Baylee asked quickly.
“That is my friend, Jeff, he’s helping me take care of my baby while you’re not here,” Cheyanne explained, moving into a somewhat seated position, ushering Jeff in. He entered without complaint, though he looked confused. Smiling when he set the drinks on the bedside table, she motioned toward her laptop. He grasped it and she fiddled with the pictures folder to bring up a photograph of herself with Baylee, then gestured to the phone.
"He sounds old," Baylee said critically, followed by the echo of a slamming door. "I locked in the baffroom now!"
"Gotcha," Jeff whispered. Motioning to the door, he mouthed that he would be in the living room if she needed him.
“He is old,” Cheyanne agreed, blowing a kiss toward Jeff. “But I love him very much.”
"I am not old!" Jeff proclaimed before going down the hall.
"As much as you love me?" Baylee asked.
“I don’t think I could love anyone as much as I love you,” Cheyanne promised. “I won’t even take off your ring when I go to take a tubby, Darlin’.”
"Uncle J swored to me it won't turn your finger green," Baylee assured her with a grunt. "Ut-oh! Nicky has to use the baffroom!"
“I think you’re caught, Darlin’,” Cheyanne laughed, feeling tears of joy spring to her eyes at the very thought. “’Cause you don’t want to be in there with Nicky, that’s for sure.”
"Hell no," Baylee muttered. "Nicky! My Angel want to talk to you!" he announced.
“What did you tell him that for?” Cheyanne exclaimed in horror, flabbergasted that she heard Baylee swear.
No answer was forthcoming. "I love you, My Angel!" Baylee squeaked, followed by a rustling.
"Ow! Damnit, B--"
"Give me the phone!" Howie commanded.
Cheyanne winced at the loud crashes and squeals exploding from the opposite end of the phone. It was so loud that she had to hold the phone away from her ear, even hearing Kevin bellowing to keep it down so he could speak to Austin. It was ironic, Cheyanne thought, but she waited patiently. Nick seemed to squeal like a girl as Howie actually growled. Then it grew quiet, letting Cheyanne bring the phone back to her ear. “Hello?”
"Sorry about that," Howie said. "It's just Nick's been such an ass--"
"Daddy! Howie said 'ass' and he was talking about Nicky!" Baylee squealed.
"--and I love you so much, Honey," Howie finished softly. "Did talking to Bay cheer you up?"
“Are you going to get mad at me if I say yeah?” she drawled, listening to the soft click of a door followed by a loud locking. She had to smile at the thought of Howie barricading himself away from the others, hearing Nick’s muffled whines. Though, she wished that she had heard all of what Howie said.
"Honey, if talking to him makes you feel better, I'll kidnap him and hide him in your arms, okay?"
“Okay,” Cheyanne whispered, feeling her eyes grow teary at the remembrance of how she first treated her fiancé. “But I’d be a lot better if you just brought yourself here to stay… Even though I know you can’t… And I probably shouldn’t have said that… Nor the other things I said… My cramps are just really bad, Tea…”
"Maybe you should go to the Emergency Room? Kevin's talking to Austin, I'll tell him and then she can--"
“No, I don’t want to go to the Emergency Room,” Cheyanne immediately refused. “I don’t want to be stuck in a hospital all night with an IV in my hand when they can’t do anything anyway. I just want to stay home. I’m stressed and that’s why they hurt more than normal. That’s all.”
"I wish I was there… Two weeks are going to be Hell."
“How can it be Hell when it’s what you love to do?”
"Because I love you and our little Cinnamon more."
“You’re always going to have us,” Cheyanne chided softly. “You put that ring on my finger, remember? But your career comes first, Tea. You love singing and performing… Don’t let me ruin that joy, please?”
"Honey… I love what I do for a living, but it doesn't come first. You do. You and our baby come first. Never forget that. If you said you needed me, I would walk off the stage right between 'all I' and 'have to give'."
“I couldn’t do that… Not to your fans or your career,” Cheyanne whispered softly, squeezing her eyes shut as she felt the tears start to streak down her pale cheeks. She wanted so badly to test his offer. To ask him just to come, because she missed him so terribly and it had only been mere hours of them being apart.
"I know you couldn't," Howie whispered. "Just knowing that makes me love you all the more."
“I hope you love me for other reasons than just the ability to push me under the carpet,” she teased with a soft laugh that sniffled at the end.
"You want them alphabetically or in the order they made me fall in love with you?" he asked.
“I don’t need to hear them… Just knowing you love me makes me feel better,” she promised, rubbing away the tears from her eyes.
"I'll love you forever," he promised. "I'll just have to hide you away for good when Baylee turns eighteen," he teased with a chuckle.
“I take it you’re making sure Baylee is long gone from Florida when I fly in, huh?”
"I have it on very good authority that he will be in California with Leigh."
“I bet you paid Brian handsomely for that.”
"I just promised Bay could be Cinnamon's prom date…"
“Now how is that going to work when Baylee is angling a divorce for his father so I can be his new Momma?”
"Oh, so you would divorce me for Baylee, huh? I knew it!" Howie chuckled; Cheyanne could sense his earlier tension had left him. "Besides, Honey, I'm Catholic, and we can't divorce."
“Technically, we’re only engaged at this point and I wouldn’t be divorcing you for Baylee. I would be divorcing you for Brian.”
"Well, fine. I'll just go make Brian give me a check for the engagement ring now…"
Cheyanne rolled her eyes at Howie’s pathetic attempt to make her feel guilty, but she knew she had a choice to make. She could coin her best friend’s attitude and tell Howie pointedly that he would never do something so foolish. Or, she could play to his ego and put him at ease during their separation. Naturally, her lips curved to a soft smile as she searched through the photographs Howie had sent her. “Would you really do that? Let me suffer with Brian when it’s you who I love so dearly? I’d be miserable with him on tour, knowing your bed was just a few feet away… Your arm draped over the empty side, just beckoning for me to find you. To kiss your sweet skin… To love you like no other…”
"Maybe we could work out a swapping deal?" Howie suggested with a chuckle.
"A swapping deal?" Cheyanne immediately countered in confusion.
"Sure. I get you a couple days a week, and Brian could get my new girlfriend."
“New girlfriend?” she asked, her voice void of emotion.
"Who am I kidding? Without you by my side I'd wither away to nothing and spend the rest of my days sitting in a corner, too depressed to speak to anyone."
“You lucky bastard, I was about to slam the phone in your ear…”
"Aren't I allowed to get cocky with my fiancée?" Howie questioned softly.
“Not that kind of cocky…” Cheyanne mused thoughtfully.
"Well I would suggest I become a different kind of cocky, but I wouldn't want Jeffie to get jealous…"
“Sounds like you’re the one who’s jealous… Which seems ridiculous considering how many women scream your name every night, promising you the world for just five minutes in your hotel room…”
"Five minutes? I'd like to think they would need more than five… After all, I am the Latin Lover."
“Are you always this much of an ass? Because I definitely missed these glorious moments when I accepted your proposal.”
"I think I've been hanging around with AJ and Nick too much lately. Forgive me? I'll buy you jewelry. You like jewelry, don't you?"
“Oh, no, you can’t backtrack on that sentiment,” Cheyanne whistled, easing her tender body off the bed. She waddled toward the living room to see Jeff sprawled over the couch. He immediately sat up when he saw her, allowing her to crawl into his lap with a firm pout. “Howie is promising to let his fans into his hotel room for more than five minutes and he’s also suggesting that he get a new girlfriend and swap me with his friends every few weeks. Not to mention he wants to sell my engagement ring to his good friend to get rid of me, Jeffie.”
"Here, lemme talk to this city boy," Jeff said, grabbing the phone. "Howie?"
“Jeffie?” Howie deadpanned.
"Call me Jeff. I only let my girls call me Jeffie. What's this about letting some little whores into your hotel room? Don't you think that would break my little Chey's heart?"
“I was just teasing--”
"Oh Hell no. There is no teasing with my little Chey. And this bit about swapping her with your friends? I don't think so. If you're going to be swapping her with anyone, it'll be me. And if you want to sell this rock of Gibraltar she's got on her hand, I'll be more than happy to take you up on that offer."
“W-Why do you want to buy it?”
"Chey and I go way back. If you're not willing to treat her right, I'll just have to sweep her away and never let her go. After all, and I'm sure you'll agree on this, Cheyanne deserves the best." Pressing a noisy, sloppy kiss to her cheek, Jeff rested a hand on her stomach.
“But you’re just friends--”
"That can be changed, if need be. Now, if I give the phone back to Chey, do you promise to be sweet to her? Or do I have to call Bill and Austi and tell them you're being a jackass?"
Cheyanne grinned with triumph as Jeff handed her the phone with a proud smile, reaching to kiss her once more as he gently rubbed her swollen stomach. She pressed the phone to her ear as she leaned back against Jeff, accepting the remote. “Do I win yet?”
"Hands down," Howie said with a nervous chuckle. "Next time, just tell me I'm being a jackass, Honey…"
"But that was so much more effective..."
"He all but handed me my nuts on a silver platter. I like him, he's overprotective of you."
“I like him, too…” Cheyanne agreed, jumping around the stations on TV. “But I love you.”
"Hey! Go back! I haven't seen that episode of Bass Fishing!" Jeff protested.
"I love you, too. But I should let you go, we have an interview in a little bit, and I know you need your rest."
“I’ll be resting quite comfortably with Jeffie. No worries,” Cheyanne yawned, knowing she’d be out in mere minutes if she was forced to watch this drivel. “…Can’t we put on a horror movie, Jeffie?”
"Call me later?"
“How will I know if you’re busy or not? I don’t want to bother you if you’re tired…”
"Just call me, okay? If I'm busy I'll call you back when I finish whatever. I just have the interview, and that should be over before too long. I love you."
“Okay, I love you, too,” Cheyanne murmured, hearing the gentle click of disconnection.
"Dude," Nick breathed, reaching around Baylee to attach the mouse to his laptop, enabling him to surf the internet easier. Shifting the boy in his lap, he clicked on the search result, the tip of his tongue poking out as the page loaded.
"Dat My Angel!" Baylee squealed excitedly, leaning forward to look at the picture on the screen.
"Another hate site, Nick?" Brian asked with a weary sigh as he passed. "Aren't you sick of those yet?"
"For your information, B, I found a fan site with a page dedicated to Cheyanne and Austin," Nick said with a proud smile, scrolling down. "Whoever this chick is, she says she met the girls with Howie and Kevin in the park in New York…" he let his sentence trail as he read, glancing up when Howie came in the room, followed closely by Kevin.
"…I'm just saying, I can't understand why you're so upset about it," Kevin was saying, shaking his head. "I talked to Billy when Princess called me, he seems like a decent guy. And she assured me that Jeff wouldn't try anything on Angel. Hell, she's going to see if he'll let me come out and do some roping when I'm down there in a couple of weeks."
“Dat me and My Angel!” Baylee exclaimed happily yet again, poking the thin screen of the laptop to emphasize his point. He grinned excitedly as he glanced back to Nick and his father, who had dropped onto the side of the couch to observe the search. Sure enough, Baylee was right. It was a photograph of Cheyanne sitting on a swing with Baylee tucked against her, both smiling happily as they gently moved. “Daddy! What dat say ‘neath us?”
Leaning over, Brian peered at the caption under the picture. "Good God!"
"You've got some secrets from us, B?" Nick asked with a cackle, waving Howie and Kevin over. "Get this! 'Apparently, Leighanne isn't Baylee's Momma'!"
“My Angel is my Mommy?” Baylee questioned hopefully, glancing up at his father while Kevin and Howie leaned over the back of the couch for further examination.
"No," Brian said softly, shaking his head slightly.
"He wishes," Nick muttered. "But, damn! They look just alike in that picture! Shit, even their hair!" Turning his head to look at Howie, he grinned. "Maybe Chey is Leighanne's baby sister?"
“Hell no!” Howie and Kevin breathed with horror simultaneously, causing Brian’s brows to arch in confusion, though Baylee didn’t seem to care.
“Roll down! Roll down! More me and My Angel!” Baylee demanded, slapping his hand against the hand cover the mouse. His sapphire eyes glittered with excitement as several more photographs were presented from various sites in New York.
"Stop! Go back! That was a picture of Princess!" Kevin said, reaching to grab the mouse.
"Would you stop? This is my laptop, y'know!"
“Does it look like they honestly care? Besides, you’re just upset that you can’t find photographs of you and Cheyanne at the premiere,” Brian mused with a grin as Baylee started to argue with Kevin, wanting to see more pictures of himself and Cheyanne.
"No, but here's a picture of her kissing your cheek!" Nick shrieked, pointing at the screen. "What'd she do with Leigh? Tell her there was a discount boob job place nearby?"
“You’re a real asshole, y’know that?” Brian growled with a fixed scowl. “And, just because she likes me better doesn’t mean you have to try to get me in trouble!”
"Your bi--wife's not even here! How can I get you into trouble?" Rolling his eyes, Nick scrolled down, scanning the paragraph about the two women joining them at the premiere. "Whooo! Check that out!" His face lit up with glee at the next picture that came up. "Somebody got a picture of me and Chey out by the pool!"
"You son--" Howie cut off when he saw that Austin was between Nick and Cheyanne in the picture, and it just showed the three of them walking away from the pool area.
“Little jealous, D?” Nick cooed with obvious amusement over the situation. His dark sapphire eyes glittered as Baylee continued to holler at Kevin, both ignorant of the fact that the pictures had long passed. “I told her to wear that maternity tankini. She looked damn hot in that… But who’s this Jeff guy Kev was bitching about?”
"Some friend of hers and Austin's that was there when they got home," Howie answered bitterly. It still smarted that Cheyanne had passed the phone over to the man, who had given Howie a cutting down he had not expected. Hadn't his Honey realized he was only teasing? "And Kevin was talking to Billy, who apparently is his new best friend. And now the dumbass wants to go rope cattle with Jeff when he goes down."
"Are you stupid?" Brian asked his cousin, eyes wide.
“What do you mean am I stupid?” Kevin snorted, cupping a hand over Baylee’s mouth to keep him from starting a screaming match. “I’m just going to rope some cattle. It’s not like I’m hopping on a damn bull, which Princess and Angel does mind you! …And the only reason Howie is calling me a dumbass is because he’s jealous of Jeff. Seriously jealous of Jeff, because he can’t get his mind fixed on the fact that they’re engaged and he doesn’t even want to think about planning a wedding yet!”
"Damnit, for your information, I'm thinking of planning the wedding when we go down to Florida! The only reason you're not jealous of that Bill guy is because he wasn't loving on Austi while you were on the phone with her. How would you have liked it if you'd heard some other man kissing her?"
"Whoa, Chey was kissing some other man?" Nick asked incredulously.
"He was kissing her on the cheek while I talked to her. At least, I'm guessing it was her cheek…" Howie trailed when he saw the strange looks everyone was giving him. "What?"
"You are so fucked up, D," Nick said, turning back to the computer.
“Jeffie is too old for My Angel,” Baylee piped up, pinching Nick when he hurriedly clicked through more photographs of the little boy and Cheyanne in the pool. “ ‘Sides, she no love him like she love me! She wear my ring in the tubby!”
"Don't you think Cheyanne's a little better than that, Howie?" Kevin asked softly, wiping Baylee's spit off his hand and on Nick's shirt. "Hell, she's not the type to get engaged to you and then run off to be with another guy."
“You bastard!” Nick howled with disgust as he felt the wetness against his chest. He immediately pushed Baylee off his lap, setting the laptop to the coffee table, and launched a firm punch against Kevin’s shoulder. “Besides! Chey wouldn’t run off with another guy. She’d run off with me to escape all those damn death threats she’s been getting!”
"Death threats?" Howie repeated softly.
Kevin pushed Nick back down, glaring ominously at him. "Angel's been getting death threats?"
“Hey!” Nick yelped in shock as he fell back hard into the lush couch, causing Baylee to scramble into his father’s arms for protection. The youngest man’s dark sapphire eyes grew wide in shock as Howie and Kevin closed in on him and he threw his arms up in defense. “It ain’t like I’m the one sending her the fucking death threats! So get the Hell off me!”
"Why didn't you tell us about this before now?" Kevin asked, grasping the younger man's shirt and hauling him to his feet. "You knew about this shit when they were here and didn't tell us? What kind of sick fucking game are you trying to play?"
"She's been getting death threats?" Howie asked softly, eyes wide with worry. No wonder she had been so fearful of going out in public with him. Especially if she had known that. God, why hadn't she told him?
“There’s whole sites dedicated to the death of Cheyanne and some seriously sick fan fiction death!” Nick exclaimed with a firm yelp, grabbing at Kevin’s hands to keep him from pummeling them into his soft flesh. “And I’m not playing any sick fucking game! I was just goofing off and googled her name. We found that stuff and she made me swear not to tell! Said you guys would have a flipping cow when it’s not important. AND HELLO! SHE WAS RIGHT!”
"Ut oh," Baylee breathed. "Daddy, Nick said 'fucking'!"
“Baylee Thomas Wylee!” Brian scorned with horror, capping a hand over his son’s mouth as he heaved him upward. He immediately barreled toward the bedrooms, away from the murder scene. “Don’t you ever let your mother hear you say that!”
"Don't you think somebody wishing Chey was dead is serious?" Kevin growled, eyes narrowed. "Jesus, Nick! When Leigh had that shit going on, Brian was close to calling the fucking FBI. Not important?"
"Easy, Kev," Howie said, shaking his head. "If Cheyanne's not worried--"
"Howie, don't you dare tell me it's not important…"
“If you’re going to start bitching at Howie not caring that someone wants to throw Chey into the trunk of their car and then beat her like a piñata because Ollie isn’t Howie’s… Can I leave and get something to eat then make plans to take Chey on a date?” Nick voiced ignorantly.
"They want to do what?!" Howie screamed, launching himself at Nick. "And you didn't tell me?!"
“NOW YOU FUCKING CARE?! BIPOLAR MUCH?!” Nick shrieked in horror, curling himself into a tight ball for protection.
"HOW COULD YOU NOT TELL ME?" Howie screamed as Kevin pulled him off the younger man.
"Howie, calm down," Kevin soothed. Shooting a glare at Nick, he pointed to the laptop. "Show me the sites."
"But I don't know where--"
“Fucking bunch of bipolar psychos,” Nick seethed with a loud grumble as he was thrown to the floor in front of the laptop. He wanted to squirm away, but Kevin’s fingers dug deep into his shoulder, knowing he wasn’t getting away. Muttering another bunch of thick expletives, he keyed in what he had originally keyed in for the hate sites. Then, with much resignation, he pulled up the worst site. The one he had shown to Cheyanne first. “Here, can I go now?”
"You showed this… Trash… to Cheyanne?" Howie asked incredulously, eyes wide as he stared at a paparazzi shot of him with her, a red slash crudely painted over Cheyanne's head.
“Should have seen how pale she got when she was reading the fictions that had visual photoshop art, shit. Damn are our fans talented with that!” Nick whistled.
"That's it," Howie declared, leaning over to slam the laptop shut. "I'm sending Drew to stay with her."
“They live in the middle of fucking no where… Like it’s really going to be that big of a deal. Besides, if you need someone to stay with her, just give me your PDA and I’ll take a flight out… I think the fans would be happier with two blondes together instead of a bombshell with a troll,” Nick decided as Kevin relinquished his grip.
Immediately, Kevin's fist clenched, connecting with Nick's jaw, the force sending his body against the couch. "Don't ever say stupid shit like that again," Kevin threatened, towering over him as he held a hand over his face. "If you're that fucking desperate for a woman, go call up one of your many whores in town." Turning to Howie, he placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Let's go."
“Kev, I need to go to the airport…” Howie mumbled vaguely, staring at Nick sprawled out in horror at Kevin’s physical reaction. But, Howie was far too concerned with the recent unfolding of events to care about Nick’s obvious pain. Instead, he followed Kevin’s lead onto the veranda, immediately collapsing against the railing. He felt like such a fool. He should have known something had been wrong with Cheyanne in New York. How could he not have recognized that? No wonder she didn’t bother to tell him when she was in significant pain…
“Would you just take a deep breath?” Kevin suggested softly, rubbing Howie’s back in a brotherly gesture. He closed his eyes as he felt the soft, warm breeze of Canadian air, thanking the Lord that Austin was being well received. Then again, Kevin had been previously married, so Austin’s acceptance was easier. But Howie had been single for so long and Cheyanne was so lovable… In fact, Kevin had half a mind to call the local law enforcement in Asheville for a stake out. Cheyanne had to be protected.
"I can't just stand here while some raving psycho is off plotting Honey's death! What if--"
"Would you feel better if I called Billy and asked him and Jeff to stick around the house?"
"Oh, sure. Jeff would just love to stick around, I'm sure," Howie said bitterly. "I'm going to North Carolina. Now."
“And how are you going to protect her, Howie?” Kevin asked carefully, leaning on the railing to gaze out at the beautiful view they were presented during sunset. As angry as he had been in the beginning, he knew he had to be level headed. Howie was far too emotional to think logically. “…I mean, honestly? If someone wanted to do something to Cheyanne, it wouldn’t matter if you were there or not… Besides, you taking off from this tour would only make it worse, wouldn’t it? They’d think she was just after your money and to pull you away from the group… And Angel would be so upset for you to just give up what we’re working so hard for…”
"I know," Howie said softly, nodding his head slightly. "And she would have my head on a platter if I sent Drew down there with her, wouldn't she? She hates anyone making a fuss over her. I suppose that's why she didn't tell me about that shit. All I want to do is take care of her and keep her from harm, you know? And what happens after a few months of being with me? Some little bitch wants to beat her like a piñata." Sighing, Howie rested his arms on the rail, immediately dropping his head atop them. "Maybe you should call Billy…"
“Are you sure?” Kevin questioned, knowing there was nothing he could really do for his best friend. In fact, it seemed useless to tell him anything, but figured he could dabble into reverse psychology so Howie wouldn’t feel so bleak. Maybe even rejuvenate his passion. Something. “And, I guess if you’re so worried about Angel getting hurt with you… Maybe you should let her go? Then you really wouldn’t have to worry about these sites cropping up…”
"What the Hell? Let her go?" Howie repeated, jerking up to stare at his friend. "I could never just let her go… She's my life, you know that." Eyes narrowing, he took a step towards Kevin. "Why? Do you want me out of the way so Nick can have her? Is that it? If so, Asshole, think again. I would kill her myself before I let that fucker put his hands on her. I love Cheyanne more than I love anything in this world, damnit, and nothing is going to keep me from her. Least of all some two-bit nutcase who calls herself a fan."
“Excuse me, I was the one that punched Nick for you,” Kevin answered, taking a step back despite the overwhelming strength he had over the younger man. He held his hands out in innocence, obviously not wanting to fuel the feisty Latin temper. “I was just trying reverse psychology, but that didn’t work… I’m sorry, I should have just come at you like a man… I mean, I’ll call Bill and have Jeff stay over with the girls for the two weeks… Then she’ll be in Florida with you for a few days… Once La-La’s born, she could probably finish out the rest of the tour with us… And, maybe, this is a kick in the pants for you… I mean, you’re engaged, yeah, but this will urge you to go down the aisle sooner?”
"Don't you think if I could, I'd marry her immediately? But, Hell, she hasn't met Momma yet, and even though I don't need my parents' permission to get married, I'd like to know I have it. And I have to meet her Momma, too. We've talked on the phone, but… Wait a minute. La-La?"
“If you can call Olivia by the name Cinnamon, then I certainly can call her La-La. She’ll be my Little Angel, y’know,” Kevin answered proudly.
"God help any kids you and Austin have," Howie said with a shake of his head.
“Why do you say that?” Kevin questioned, trying not to let his facial features darken at the thought of Austin’s previous admittance that she didn’t want children.
"Knowing you, you'll have some wacky nicknames for all of them. Bo-Bo, put that down! Me-Me let go of Mommy's leg! Bubba, if I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times…" Howie chuckled, his mirth fading when he saw the clouds in Kevin's eyes. "What? You've always said you wanted kids, Kev."
“Austin doesn’t want kids,” Kevin admitted, leaning back against the railing with a hard sigh. He had done his best to forget about it while Austin was visiting, not wanting to ruin their time together. But, these lonely nights made him focus on it more. “She wants to get started on her career, which I don’t blame her. She’s still a young woman. But, God, I’m in my thirties. I want to be able to play football with my boys without worrying about having to break a hip? But… Hey, that’s why we’re all going to share La-La, right?”
"But Honey said…"
“Angel said what?”
Howie gave a noncommittal shrug, not sure whether he should tell Kevin what Cheyanne had said. "Well, we were talking the other night, just laying in bed talking about everything. And she mentioned what you said about Austin wanting to start her career and not wanting kids right now. But then…" He saw Kevin's piqued interest, the hope waiting within that, perhaps, Austin had changed her mind. "She said that the last few days, Austin had started mentioning wanting a little baby of her own someday soon. That even though she would love Cinnamon to death, she knew she wanted to have her own…"
“Are you lying?”
"Would I lie about something I know is important to you?"
“I would hope not…” Kevin murmured softly, glancing sideways to his friend with a rueful smile. “Someday soon, huh?”
"Yeah. I guess in two weeks you'll be trading out her birth control pills for tic tacs?" Howie asked with a chuckle. "Cinnamon's going to need a little playmate…"
“If I did that, I’d feed the birth control to Nick for extra measure… But, I think I can wait for her to tell me,” Kevin answered with his own short laugh. “Yeah, I can definitely wait.”