How could she be so stupid?
Austin couldn’t even count the number of times she uttered those words as she sped along the familiar dirt road to the ranch house, spinning her wheels along the gravel with an extra push to the gas pedal. She had just dropped Cheyanne off at the airport for her beautiful vacation in Florida, threatening the woman and her fiancé with bodily harm if they didn’t call with updates on her condition twice a day. But, as hard as that had been, it seemed so trivial compared to her search through the feminine products of the local drugstore. Never in her life had she had to buy a pregnancy test. Yet, there she was, hurrying into the house and rushing to the bathroom, anxious to hurry the process along. Bill and Jeff had gone out for awhile to celebrate a new herd of cattle Jeff was purchasing. Austin had declined the offer to celebrate for obvious reasons. Why hadn’t she realized she had been late? And, why had she let Kevin make love to her all those times without using a condom? Cheyanne had always nagged at her that birth control wasn’t a hundred percent effective.
“Well, a-fucking-parently she was right!” Austin cursed, dumping the contents of the pregnancy kit into her sink. She hurriedly reached for the directions, but screamed when the phone sharply rang.
Rushing into the living room, she grabbed the cordless, tripping over an anxious Moth as she turned back down the hallway. Slamming the bathroom door behind her, she turned the phone on. "What?" she barked, reaching with one shaking hand for the directions once more.
“Princess?” Kevin called in surprise. “What’s wrong?”
"Nothing!" she squeaked, letting the paper drop to the counter at the sound of his voice. "Are you--Are you still coming?"
“I’m just waiting for the taxi to take me to the airport. I just wanted to call and tell you, seeing as how you’d be so worried about Angel, I didn’t want you to worry about me… Are you sure you’re okay?”
"I'm fine," she lied, glaring at the directions. She had to piss on a stick? Holy Hell… "Airport? Look, Kevin, maybe it'd be best if you just stayed where you are…"
“Stay?” Kevin stopped. “What do you mean?”
"I mean… I have loads of paperwork to do and it's going to take me all weekend to get through it all. And having you here won't help," she said, hating herself for lying to him. It was true, she did have paperwork, but nothing that couldn't wait until Monday. But the last person she needed to face right now was him. Not now.
“…We’ve been planning this for two weeks, Princess… I miss you…”
"I know… I miss you, too… But I need to get some work done…"
“I can stay out of your way if you need to get work done. I mean, I have my ticket and everything…” Kevin sounded immensely hurt by Austin’s mere suggestion. “I’m just waiting on the taxi, Austin.”
"Kevin," she sighed, examining the stick closely. "Even if you wanted to stay out of my way, I wouldn't let you… Why don't you transfer your ticket and go visit your Momma?" she suggested, transferring her weight from one foot to the other in an attempt to gauge how long it would be before she had to use the bathroom.
“Why don’t you want to see me?” Kevin asked plainly, his defenses starting to rise. He had already shown his hurt, now he would try to salvage his pride, becoming sharp and aggressive. “Besides the work, because that’s bullshit. You told me just a few days ago that you’ve been laying in bed with Angel, working so far ahead that they want to promote you.”
"They laid a bunch of extra shit on me yesterday. I have to go through about two hundred old case files. I do want to see you, I really do, Kevvy… Just not this time, okay?"
“Yeah, you sound like you’re really upset, Austin.”
"I am upset, damnit!" Austin cried, dangerously close to tears. She couldn't tell him, especially after how they'd discussed children before. "Kevin…"
“Don’t even try to give me excuses, Austin, because I’ve heard them all before… The taxi’s here, I better get to the airport and change this fucking ticket…”
"Kevin, please… Don't be mad at me," she murmured, tapping the sink with her fingers. She wouldn't be able to bear it if he hung up angry. "I love you."
“I’m sorry if I don’t believe that right now, Austin. Have a good weekend.”
And the connection terminated.
"Damnit, Kevin. I do love you," Austin murmured, throwing the phone to the floor. Hot tears splashed her cheeks as she moved to take the test. Setting the stick on the counter next to the directions, she stared at it, knowing the next five minutes would be the longest in her life.
Despite the cool air sweeping through the airport, Cheyanne was wiping sweat from her brow as she slowly followed the stream of passengers coming off the plane. Her gaze moved over the stand of people waiting to greet their loved ones, searching for a glimpse of Howie. Though she knew he wouldn't be there, she still hoped… He had told her he would try, but to look for Drew instead, just in case. With a wistful sigh, she began looking for the burly sweetheart.
Craning her neck slightly, she adjusted the somewhat thick Adidas duffle bag over her shoulder, wondering how she’d ever be able to find Drew amongst the hordes. It looked as if everyone in her county and the ones on either side could fit into this large airport. She didn’t know if she’d ever be able to adjust to living in Florida. And it was so hot! She felt as if she were on fire as she tugged lightly on her white spaghetti tank sporting the phrase ‘What’s Kicking’ beneath two pink feet in order to provide some air. Tugging slightly on her short jean shorts, she released a soft whine, praying to God that Howie had an astonishingly masterful piece of air conditioning that would make it feel like Antarctica. Though, that thought dissipated when she reached the waiting area, realizing there was no way that she could find Drew. Not in this mess.
"Excuse me, aren't you Cheyanne?"
Whirling around, Cheyanne was face to face with a young woman close to her age, grasping the hand of a little girl who was eyeing her warily. She had no clue who this woman was. "Yes… Do I know you?" she asked carefully.
“I don’t think so,” the woman laughed softly, reaching down to seize her little girl up to her hip. She smiled excitedly at the revelation, though her dark eyes sparkled as if she had known all along. “Are you here to meet Howie?”
“Are you with Drew-Drop?” Cheyanne questioned hopefully, not understanding why any stranger would know that information.
"Drew-Drop? No… I saw your picture on the internet. It was one of you and Howie together in New York," she said simply.
"The internet?" Cheyanne repeated softly, eyes widening at the prospect. Taking a step back, she winced when she was roughly pushed aside by a passing man, placing a hand over her stomach protectively. What if this was one of those women who hated her?
“Are you okay?” the woman quickly stated, reaching to grasp Cheyanne’s shoulder in order to help steady her. “You’ve really got to be careful with your condition and all.”
“My condition?” Cheyanne wheezed softly, somewhat freezing in the woman’s hold. Her eyes hurriedly darted around the airport, wishing that Drew would come to her aid. She felt her stomach cramp tightly with her nerves, which Olivia kicked at with displeasure. Everything seemed to fall in sequence.
"The placental abruption? I had the same thing with Katie here… It's all over the fan sites, about how bad everything is for you. My friend and I were chatting about it the other night, and she was saying that all the mean stuff people are saying about you is so wrong. I agree… Are you okay?" she asked again, here eyes full of concern. "Do you want me to go get someone to page Drew for you?"
“No, I’m okay,” Cheyanne quickly promised, relaxing slightly within the woman’s hold. She smiled gratefully when she realized this fan wouldn’t be one to harm her. She was safe. This time. Knowing that, she rubbed where Olivia had been kicking quite sharply, knowing she could wait for Drew. “…I don’t believe you told me your name?”
"Oh, I'm sorry. My name's Josephine," the woman said, releasing her gentle grip on Cheyanne's shoulder. "And I know you probably think I'm some psycho, but…" Her gaze fell on Cheyanne's engagement ring. "Ohmigosh! He proposed?!"
Cheyanne hesitated greatly on answering as Josephine reached for her left hand, anxious to view the fine piece of craftsmanship. She and Howie had never really spoken about what she should say. He hadn’t made the engagement public knowledge, she knew that much. And, Cheyanne felt it was his place to say anything or nothing. After all, he was the one in the public’s eye. Not her. She didn’t want to upset him as she bit down softly on her glossed bottom lip. “I--”
"There you are! I've been looking all over for you!" Drew announced, making his way through the throng to her side. Clapping his arm around her shoulder, he easily took her duffel bag from her, eyeing Josephine warily. "Everything alright?"
"That's so beautiful," Josephine said softly, dropping Cheyanne's hand. Giving her a bright smile, she glanced at Drew. "Drew-Drop?" she questioned.
Drew immediately stiffened with embarrassment, glaring playfully toward Cheyanne. “You told?”
“It was an honest accident?” Cheyanne retorted with a puckered bottom lip.
"I think it's cute," Josephine said with a smothered giggle.
"Dew-Dwop toot," Katie said softly, batting her eyelashes at the man.
“You should give her your number, Drew-Drop,” Cheyanne egged impishly, glancing briefly to the woman’s hand to see that she wasn’t wearing a ring.
"Like he wants a single mother," Josephine muttered as Drew's face reddened. "I should let you go, I'm sure Howie can't wait to see--"
"Dew-Dwop!" Katie squealed.
Cheyanne smiled as she tucked her hand into her small Tinkerbell purse, withdrawing a pen and a scrap of paper. Using Drew’s muscular arm as a writing station, she scribbled his number on the piece of paper. Cooing toward the little girl, she offered her the scrap. “You give that to your Momma, okay? That way she can call Drew-Drop for a date… And, he could even set it up now if he wanted… I could wait in the car while you fix everything up? Unless my Sweet Tea is here?”
"Cheyanne, really--" Josephine began to shake her head, but her daughter cut her off.
"Tank you," Katie whispered, clutching the paper in her fist. "Momma! Call Dew-Dwop!" she cried, ignorant of her mother's embarrassment.
"Howie's in the private lounge by the information desk," Drew said softly, shaking his head. "And I am so going to kill you later for this."
“Actually, you’re probably going to love me forever,” Cheyanne chirped sweetly, popping onto her tip-toes to kiss Drew’s cheek. She then smiled happily toward Katie and Josephine, thanking them for helping her. Though, Drew was already working his charms by then, so Cheyanne moved through the large airport. Several people crashed into her during the process, but she ignored them, keeping a firm hand to her stomach for protection. Reaching the information desk, she softly identified herself and asked to be let into the private lounge.
"Of course, Miss Lorde. Mr. Dorough is right inside," the clerk said, motioning to the door. "Go right in."
“Thank you very much,” Cheyanne replied, ducking herself inside the elegant lounge. Her heart rate naturally accelerated as she played with the engagement ring on her finger. She always got nervously excited when it came to seeing Howie again. Olivia even seemed to recognize the difference, shifting within her womb in obvious anticipation. It had been two very long weeks with minimal phone conversation between them. Only, she didn’t know how to react when she was finally inside, just looking at him. She felt her heart leap to her throat as she blushed. “…I thought you weren’t going to come with Drew-Drop…”
"Don't I rate a hello?" Howie asked with a grin, stepping over to sweep her into his arms. "And Drew told me there was no way in Hell he was coming to get you without me." Pressing his face against her neck, he held her close for a moment before leaning back. "You're sweating like crazy, Honey. Do you want something cold to drink? What did you do with Drew?"
“I can wait for something to drink. It’s just hot as Hell in this place,” Cheyanne promised softly, leaning forward to catch Howie’s lips in a gentle kiss. She wanted to apologize for not saying hello as much as she just wanted to taste him again. She missed him so terribly in North Carolina that her heart would literally throb with pangs. She wanted him to hold her for a minute longer. “And… Drew-Drop’s getting a date. One of your fans caught me before Drew-Drop did…”
"A fan? Did she hurt you? Are you okay. A date?!" Howie asked incredulously, his lips dancing over her cheek. "What did he do? Dump the fan away and go after some chick?"
“No, she didn’t hurt me,” Cheyanne quickly promised, her mind swirling at the millions of questions. She shook her head at his naturally worried state, tilting back to find his lips with hers again. He tasted so good to her. “…She helped me when this guy bumped into me… She’s really sweet, so Drew-Drop is getting a date with her. He threatened to murder me, but I know he’ll still love me… She asked about my ring…”
"Your ring," Howie murmured against her lips, his hand moving to her stomach, gently rubbing. "Did you tell her the news? And should I slip out there to thank her for saving you? Wait…" Leaning back, he gave her a confused look. "Are you saying you hooked Drew up with a fan?"
“Yes, I hooked Drew-Drop up with a fan, because she seemed very personable,” Cheyanne trailed with her usually southern honey dialect, furrowing her light brows at Howie’s continuous questions. “I don’t mind if you want to slip out there and thank her for saving me. And, no, I didn’t tell her the news, ‘cause I didn’t know if you wanted me to. It’s your place to divulge that...”
Before Howie could reply, Drew came into the lounge, clearing his throat noisily so they would know his appearance. "Are we ready?" he asked, quickly looking away when Cheyanne gave him a knowing smile.
"All hooked up with a fan now?" Howie questioned with a grin.
“It’s all your fiancée’s fault,” Drew growled as he leaned down to drop a friendly kiss to Cheyanne’s cheek. He then wrapped his arm around her shoulders, leading her out into the busy airport. He stopped briefly at the information desk to give his proper thanks, allowing Howie to take Cheyanne under his care. And, as always, he walked behind, watching them closely.
"So… Are you going to call her?" Howie asked casually as they made their way through the airport.
"Tea, I gave her his number--"
"She gave me her number, okay?" Drew relented with a sigh. "Can't you two find something else to talk about now?"
Howie and Cheyanne shared a look. "Nope!" Howie informed him with a laugh.
“Look, once I get you two knuckleheads home, I’m going to get presentable and take her out for dinner. We’ve decided on a nice Italian Restaurant that she knows her daughter will enjoy, too. Now, that’s all you need to know… And, Chey is going to pay dearly for this torture. Because, as I recall, she’s on strict bedrest and I’m going to be the one to enforce it. With duct tape,” Drew threatened, handing the valet the ticket for Howie’s red convertible.
"She has a daughter?" Howie asked, looking at Cheyanne, pulling her closer to him.
“A very adorable daughter,” Cheyanne confirmed, wrapping her arms tightly around his waist for protection. She inhaled the soft scent of his sweet cologne, smiling with the familiarity of it all. That is, until the valet whisked Howie’s expensive convertible in front of them. Her sapphire eyes widened in true shock, immediately glancing up to her fiancé. “That’s your car? Lord Almighty, send Drew-Drop home in a taxi ‘cause he can’t possibly fit!”
"Hey! I'm not that big!" Drew exclaimed, moving to put her bag in the trunk. "I'll drive, you can sit up front, and we'll put little Howie in the back," he explained as Howie slipped a folded bill into the valet's hand. "But, if you like, we could put Howie in the trunk…"
“I’ve rode in the trunk before,” Cheyanne exclaimed with excitement as Howie opened the passenger door, crawling in as Drew requested. Both men reached to fix the front seat for Cheyanne, allowing her to gingerly climb in before Drew lumbered inside. She squeaked slightly at his massive shoulder pressing her to the door, but adjusted quickly as she reached for her seat belt, Howie leaning up to help her. “I said something to Jeffie ‘bout his cattle… He was so spittin’ mad at me. Tickled me to death, threw me in the trunk, and took me for a bumpy ride down the road… It was a lot of fun.”
"And this is the man who's hanging around to help you?" Howie asked with a shake of his head. Dropping a kiss on her cheek, he leaned back in the seat as Drew eased the car towards the exit. "What did you say about his cattle to make him do that?"
“Told him they had better asses than him, but I was referrin’ to the donkey he just bought,” Cheyanne answered with a true air of impish innocence, causing Drew to burst with laughter.
Laughing, Howie felt himself relax as Drew maneuvered the car into traffic on the highway. He was looking forward to a quiet evening with Cheyanne. The next morning they would head over to his parents' for the rest of her stay, and he knew the only time he would have her to himself was at night. Leaning forward, he reached past Drew's shoulder to crank up the air conditioner. "Is that alright?" he asked Cheyanne, letting his hand fall to her shoulder in a gentle caress.
“That’s absolutely beautiful,” Cheyanne promised with a light breath of delight, reaching to angle the vent to blow directly on her. She then reached for her low ponytail, adjusting it so her curls were higher and not touching her neck. “It’s so hot here… I really hope your house is frigid, Sweet Tea.”
"Well, if it's too hot, you can lay around in your RN undies," Howie teased with a chuckle.
"Hey! Remember me? Don't want to hear 'bout my Chey's underwear, really."
Cheyanne shifted in her seat to shoot Howie a smirk. "He's too busy thinking about Josephine's underwear," she murmured.
“Get out of the car,” Drew immediately ordered, pulling into Howie’s lavish estate. He glared at the two menacingly, killing the engine and stumbling out to retrieve Cheyanne’s duffle bag. Hurrying toward the passenger side, he opened the door to help her out, shoving the duffle bag into Howie’s gut once he was outside too. “I don’t want to see either of you until I have to pick Chey up for the airport. Drive me nuts. The both of you! And, for your information, it wasn’t her underwear, it was that lace bra strap slipping down her shoulder.”
"Have fun," Cheyanne said, leaning up to kiss him on the cheek.
"No hanky panky in front of her daughter!" Howie called as Drew headed for his own car.
"Yeah, wait till she puts Katie to bed before you try getting that lace bra strap any lower!" Cheyanne added, giggling hysterically.
Drew glowered at the couple, obviously muttering a few choice expletives as he reached his car. Pushing the button to unlock the doors, he turned to flip them the royal bird. Then, grinning manically, he ducked inside the large SUV to fire up his engine. Shocked, Cheyanne turned to Howie, who ushered her toward the front door, obviously wanting her off her feet. “He’s never flicked me off before...”
"Get used to it," Howie said with a chuckle, reaching to key in the security code on the panel by the door before turning the key. "Welcome home," he murmured, pushing the door open for her. He had left the air on full blast, and felt a chilly rush of air as Cheyanne stepped into the foyer.
“I think I love you,” Cheyanne breathed with delight as her skin prickled at the chilliness. Turning back to smile at her fiancé, she allowed him to lead her further into the house. And, immediately, she was overwhelmed by the lavish exquisite nature of the entire place. Howie had spared no expense, draping himself in the comforts of home. It was beautiful decorated in warm tones – creams, golds, burnt oranges, and deep reds. It truly suited Howie’s personality, especially the salt water tank which could be seen from every room and the warm fireplaces. “Now I can really snuggle under the blankets with you without dyin’ of heat stroke.”
"You think you love me?" Howie asked, moving her towards the stairs. "Why don't we go upstairs for a rest before I give you the grand tour?" he murmured.
“I know I love you, but I think you need proving apparently,” Cheyanne corrected, slowly climbing the stairs with Howie at her side. She pressed the back of her hand to her mouth, attempting to smother a soft yawn. Though, she kept her eyes open to the beauty of Howie’s house. It was just so breathtaking, even if she was exhausted. “And, I wouldn’t say no to a rest. Or a long, hot bath later…”
"I was thinking a dip in the pool… But a bath is good too," Howie said with a smile, escorting her into his bedroom. Leaving her side for a moment, he set her bag down at the foot of the bed before moving to open the curtains. "I had them shut to keep the hot sun out, but I thought you'd like to see the view," he said, turning to look at her.
“My God, Tea…” Cheyanne whispered softly, cupping her hands to her mouth as she looked toward the glass doors, watching the waves crash against the sandy white beaches. It was so very different compared to her small home in North Carolina. Almost as if she were in an entirely different world. And Howie’s bedroom… She was afraid to even touch anything. It was so neat and organized. So clean in its creamy, neutral colors.
"Honey…" Howie gave her a concerned look, stepping over to take her hand in his. "Come on," he whispered, leading her to the doors. Sliding one open, he ushered her out onto the terrace, his gaze on her as the ocean breeze kissed her skin. The soft tendrils that had loosened themselves from her ponytail floated in the air, and he felt himself relax when she closed her eyes, breathing deeply. "Do you like it?" he asked softly, dropping his head to kiss her bare shoulder.
“I love it,” Cheyanne promised, shivering at his kiss against her skin despite the warm temperatures. The mist from the ocean spray wafting within the breeze cooled her considerably as a variety of new sounds invaded her senses. She naturally assumed that she’d be living in Florida when she agreed to marry Howie and found herself relaxed at the thought. It was so beautiful here. But, what was more beautiful was the man beside her. And, she couldn’t resist telling him as she curled her arms around his waist, kissing his throat. “But the reason I love it all is because you’re here. This entire place just emanates your very essence… I missed you so much.”
"I missed you too," he murmured, sidestepping to get her back inside. Pushing the door shut, he flipped the lock and closed the curtains with one hand, the other resting on the small of her back. It had been miserable, not being able to hold her like this for the past two weeks. "I love you," he whispered in her hair, easing her onto the bed. "Now… Do you want me to undress you?" he asked with a wicked grin.
“Why would you ask me such a silly question when you’re going to do it anyway?” she teased lightly, unable to hide the blush starting to creep to her pale cheeks. She even had to release the delighted sigh at the softness of the mattress and comforter beneath her, pulling Howie close for another kiss. He may have lacked in initiating the kisses, but she wouldn’t, knowing that’s the farthest they could probably extend at this point. Otherwise, Austin would slaughter her… After Jeff…
"I can't undress you if you keep kissing me," he warned, his hand sliding beneath her tank top. "Sweetie, you're on fire," he whispered, leaning back to ease the shirt up her body. Leaving her for a second, he moved to the thermostat on the wall, adjusting the temperature a bit. Immediately nearly frigid air wafted into the room through the vents, and he returned to her side, leaning down to slide the sandals she wore off. Gliding his hands up her smooth legs, he felt her shiver, heard her small gasp when his lips brushed her thigh. "Too much?" he asked softly, lifting his head to look into her eyes.
“N-No,” she stammered with promise, her breath nearly catching in her throat as she arched her back in surprised appreciation. Howie had never kissed her inner thigh before, despite their numerous occasions of making love. And the sensation was powerfully overwhelming, sending a quake of ecstasy rippling through her body. She released a quiet whimper of enjoyment at the sensation, biting down her bottom glossed lip to keep from crying out. He knew just how to manipulate her body to send her in delirious elation. “…That felt so good…”
"Would you like more?" he whispered, his fingers toying with the hem of her shorts. "I know we can't go all the way, but… Well…" His cheeks burned at even thinking it, and he quickly lowered his head, brushing his lips down her thigh to her knee, allowing himself to taste her skin.
“Well what?” Cheyanne questioned in confusion, though her voice trailed with a soft yelp of delight, the muscles in her thigh contracting at the feeling of Howie’s lips and tongue. She immediately reached to grasp the bedspread in hopes to anchor herself. Howie truly didn’t understand how sensitive she was at this stage in her pregnancy. Not to mention how much she ached for him.
Wordlessly, he slid his hands up, gently unbuttoning her shorts and sliding them down, unable to resist removing her panties as well. "Well… Don't you remember the frequent showers we took in New York?" he asked softly, his hands resting on her hips as he leaned up to sweetly kiss her lips. "Or do I…" he trailed off, glancing over at the clock, "Holy Hell, I have to go put the chicken on the grill," he muttered, moving to stand.
“Right… Chicken…” Cheyanne mumbled, attempting to keep the disappointment from tingeing her accent. She felt as if a cold bucket of water had been thrown over her body, killing whatever romantic passions that had been building. But, she didn’t like this kind of cold, especially as she reached to pull her underwear back on. Lord, she wasn’t even hungry. “I’ll just call Jeffie then…”
"Jeff?" Howie questioned, his hands stopping hers. "…The chicken can wait," he promised, capturing her lips once again.
“Now wait a damn minute,” she breathed against his lips with a laugh, grasping the hem of his t-shirt to booster him up somewhat away from her body. “If I said I was just going to lie here, you would have gone down and started the chicken right away. But the mere mention of Jeffie puts you in the mood again? If that isn’t the most egotistical--”
"Shut up and kiss me," he whispered, gently easing her legs around his waist. "But hey… If you want me to stop…" he trailed softly, his fingers lightly tracing her contoured backside.
“If I wanted this kind of mean spirited love where you just want to play games with my heart strings, I would have dated Nick,” Cheyanne told him straight forwardly, deciding she could torment just as easily as she arched against him with his touches.
"Mm hmm," he mumbled against the hollow of her throat, one hand sliding to cup her breast. "But you don't want the games, do you?" he asked softly, dragging one spaghetti strap down her shoulder with his teeth. "Because I do love you," he promised against her collarbone, moaning softly when her hands slid under his shirt, her fingers digging lightly into his skin. "More than anything," he whispered.
“No, I don’t want the games,” she answered, curving her leg against the back of his powerful calf, stroking it tenderly with her foot. Her hands easily sliding up until Howie’s t-shirt was just another garment lying on the floor. She smiled wryly as she lightly scratched his back with her fingernails, leaning up to kiss and nibble his broad shoulder. “I already gave you my heart, Sweet Tea. There’s no need for the games anymore. Anything that’s mine, is yours.”
"Same here," Howie murmured, leaning over her. Feeling her stomach pressed against his, he smiled, pressing one hand against the baby that was lightly kicking him. "But this… and this," he added, his other hand moving to rest over her heart, "I just want these two things right here," he told her. "That's all I'll ever need."
“Well, you have them both,” Cheyanne promised, cupping Howie’s face to bring him down for a kiss.