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Chapter 84 – Holiday Mischief

"I can't believe you got the same cabin," Austin breathed, hugging herself as she stood on the front porch of the cabin at the mountain resort. "What'd you do? Slip Ms. Harrison a couple hundred bucks so she'd kick out whoever already had the cabin?" she teased, nudging Howie gently. Gazing out at the magnificent view, she felt all her worries leave her. "This was a great idea of yours, City Boy… Just us five, like it was last spring… Freaking sweet!"

“I didn’t slip Ms. Harrison anything. She just has a soft spot for Honey, so I used that to my advantage. I just didn’t think it’d be so damn cold,” Howie explained with small grin, furiously rubbing his bare hands as his mouth billowed with puffs of his breath. It was Christmas Eve and the sun had already ducked low into its bed hours ago, leaving the air cool and crisp. A fresh glisten of powdered snow lay atop several inches already as snowflakes were starting to accumulate once more. But, Howie wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Not that he had a choice, because Kevin and Austin refused to miss Olivia’s first Christmas.

"Poor City Boy… You've been spoiled by all that Orlando sunshine," Austin cooed, scooping up a handful of snow off the railing of the porch. Packing it gently, she took a bite, sighing blissfully. "I love snow… How'd your family take the fact you whisked off Chey and Ollie for Christmas?"

“I’d rather not relive that conversation…” Howie trailed with a shudder and not from the cold.

"Your father's not going to have a swarm of swat team members fly in on us tomorrow morning, is he?" Austin teased, stepping across the porch, gathering more snow in her hands.

“I sure as Hell hope not… Though, I have already promised to pretend that Christmas is next Saturday when I’m strongly inclined to bring Honey and Cinnamon for another visit… Y’know, Momma offered for them to stay with her and Dad till we’re married…”

"I know…" Austin trailed, tossing the perfectly formed snowball from one hand to another. "And she turned her down…"

“Don’t you think it’d be easier for Honey and Cinnamon to just stay in Florida?” Howie questioned as he tucked his hands into the pockets of his fluffy coat, glancing sideways toward Austin. Cheyanne had been so timid about refusing his mother’s offer, actually getting teary eyed at the thought that Paula would be disappointed. But, Howie knew that she did it for Austin and he respected that. Somewhat…

"Easier for whom?" Austin returned softly, glancing through the front window of the cabin to see Kevin working on the fire.

“Honey and Cinnamon,” Howie answered, making sure to avoid eye contact. “All that flying is just exhausting…”

"Kevvykins and I are planning on flying down with Ollie and Chey to spend a nice long vacation in Orlando," Austin sang softly with a smile. "'Cause I know it's going to be hard on both of you, being apart for so long…"

“You could just tell her to move in with Momma and Dad…”

Austin waited until Howie had turned to look out at the scenery again before flinging her snowball at him, giggling when it slammed directly in the back of his head. "Score!"

“Badonkadonk!” Howie flinched in shock as the light, fluffy snowball exploded against the back of his head. The hit was cold and calculated, though Howie shivered terribly as the snowy material slid down his neck. He absolutely hated being cold and now his body was freezing. “That’s it! You’re going over the railing!”

"You've got to catch me first!" Austin squealed, leaping past him when he lunged for her. "You can't fight evolution, City Boy! I was built for speed!"

“You were built for annoyances!” Howie sputtered with disgust, diving into the bank of collecting snow when he tried to grab her. “Damnit, Austin!”

“What are you two doing?” Cheyanne questioned in surprise, stepping out onto the back porch with a fresh cup of hot chocolate for herself. She had just sang Olivia into a peaceful night’s sleep, having every intention of sprawling on the couch. That is, until she heard the sharp squeal from her friend and had to investigate only to find Howie practically submerged in snow.

"Chey! He's trying to attack me!" Austin cried, giggling hysterically as Howie pulled himself out of the embankment. When he started up the steps, his glare threatening, she skipped behind Cheyanne. "You better be thanking me! Now Chey'll be obliged to share that big hot tub with you and warm you up!"

“I think you might have instigated it,” Cheyanne told Austin with a small smile, though it instantly turned to a pout when Austin stole her warm mug of hot chocolate. “Austi, that’s mine--”

"You have a man to warm up," Austin reminded her, backing into the cabin as Howie shook the snow off. "And you'll be thanking me tomorrow."

“And what about Cinnamon when you and Kevvy get engaged on the rug in front of the fire?” Cheyanne questioned as she stepped to brush the clumps of snow away from Howie’s coat.

"Kevvykins and I got engaged on the rug in front of the fire while you and City Boy were giving Ollie her bath. Now go… We'll baby sit," Austin assured her, glancing at Kevin for confirmation.

Cheyanne made a face. “Remind me not to sit on the rug tomorrow morning…”

"For God's sake, Chey, we used a sheet! Sheesh…"

“Hello, I’m freezing over here!” Howie announced with a hard shiver.

"Would you go to the hot tub already? Jesus," Austin breathed, shaking her head. "Kevvykins, we have baby duty," she announced, hopping onto the couch.

“Which means nothing, considering her Momma just snuggled her and sang her to sleep,” Kevin chuckled as he finished stoking the fire, clapping his hands together to get rid of any excess dirt from the wood. Though, his hands were already clean, so he just crawled onto the couch with his fiancée. “She sleeps like our daughter sleeps – forever.”

Snuggling close to his side, Austin offered him the hot chocolate. "Exactly…" she trailed with a smirk, gazing at him. "Don't let me forget to flip you on your ass while we're here… I want to relive all the old memories…"

“How about we forge new memories and I toss you on your ass?” Kevin suggested as he took a long swallow of the hot chocolate, smirking when he tasted the melted marshmallows Cheyanne was obsessed over. “’Cause I doubt we’ll be finding snakes during this visit.”

"Despite the vast padding I have on my ass, I have no desire to be thrown on the hard frozen ground. I know! I can get one of those fake ones in town and throw it on the ground… Chey nearly killed me when I hid one in her bed a couple years ago…"

“You keep bringing up all these old memories about Angel,” Kevin pointed out as he settled his cup on the coffee table, shifting to curl Austin protectively into his arms. “You’re going to miss her a lot, huh?”

"I… I always get sentimental around the holidays," Austin murmured, glancing at the amber flames licking the stone fireplace.

“Right…” Kevin trailed, leaning up to kiss her softly. “Or you’re really upset that we’re going to be living in Kentucky while Cheyanne is with Howie in Florida.”

"Maybe a little? I won't be able to see our granddaughter grow up…"

“You’re going to be able to see her grow up. That’s what video cameras, pictures, and visits are for--”

"It won't be the same as having them right there with me. You've got to understand, Kevin… Chey's the greatest thing that's ever happened to me. Ever. And I honestly don't know how I'm going to cope with her living halfway across country," Austin admitted, biting back the tears that seemed to come so frequently since Thanksgiving. "I'm scared…"

“Scared about what?” Kevin questioned gently, sitting up and pulling her with him. Once she was nestled securely in his lap, he reached to brush away the few tears that had slipped. He had been trying so hard to get her to communicate with him over the issue for the past month. Seeing her so miserable made him anxious as well as upset. He wanted to do everything in his power to make the pain go away, but feared he wouldn’t be able to. Cheyanne was special to Austin. Too special to just get swept away as a part-time friend.

"She'll be surrounded by all those rich Florida people… And Howie's sisters are going to be all over her like white on rice… She's going to outgrow me, and that scares me to death," Austin admitted, burying her face against his sweater. "I don't want to lose my Chey…"

“Princess, I promise that you’re not going to lose your Chey. I would never let that happen,” Kevin sighed, rubbing her back.

"So you're really going to build them a vacation home a stone's throw away from our backyard?" she requested between sniffles. She felt so stupid for crying. It seemed just the slightest thing opened the floodgates…

“I think you might have to entice Howie into doing that,” Kevin suggested, lightly kissing the top of her head. “After all, without you, he probably wouldn’t even have Angel in his arms…”

"Yeah… City Boy owes me…"

“I’m sure he’d be happy to get a vacation home in Kentucky. He’s always been a redneck… Y’know, deep under…”

"Which is why he cringes at the idea of fishing and hunting? Not to mention the way he got pale when I told him that he had to go find mistletoe when we got here? Please… He's about as country as Paris Hilton…"

“And yet our little one is still madly in love with him…”

"He must have some wonderful redeeming quality…" Austin trailed thoughtfully. "Must be the Latin blood in him. 'Cause you know, that makes for an excellent lover—"

“Austin…” Kevin quickly warned. “Like I need to hear about these erotic fantasies of yours…”

"Oh, just wait… You're going to be thrilled when you see what I'm giving you tomorrow," she informed him with an impish grin, leaning to kiss him softly.

“You wrapped in a pretty bow?” he questioned hopefully against her lips, lifting her up by her waist and helping her to straddle his as he carried her to their bedroom.

"Oh no… That's tonight—Damnit, Kevin!"


"You ruined tonight's surprise! Which has to wait, considering Chey and Howie are going to be in the hot tub for a while…"

“Why would it have to wait?”

"Well…" Austin squeaked when he tossed her onto their bed, immediately crawling over her. "Ollie may be sleeping, but knowing our luck, the moment you start unwrapping me, she'll start a-bawlin'..."

“Not my little La-La, she knows better,” Kevin promised, obviously deciding that he wanted his present now as he bent to nip at her neck, slowly popping the buttons of her flannel shirt.

"I can just see it… Our child's first words are going to be 'Yeah baby, just like that, that's really good'…" Austin giggled, lifting up slightly so he could remove her shirt. "And we'll be wondering why the kid's not crying…"

“Every boy loves a good porno,” Kevin enthused.

"We could always just pop in our tape from Sweden…"

“And you’ve officially killed the mood…”


"I swear by all things holy on this holiest of nights, I'm going to murder Austin before she can finish her New Years' resolutions list…" Howie trailed with a groan as he sank into the hot tub. Despite the warmth of the water surrounding his body, he could still feel the iciness of the snow as it had slid down the back of his sweater, leaving a freezing trail all the way down to the waistband of his boxers. Glancing up at Cheyanne as she slid in next to him, he smiled slightly. "Unless, of course, one of her resolutions is to stop torturing me…"

“Austi never finishes her New Years’ resolutions, Tea, so don’t count on that wish to come true,” Cheyanne answered as she gathered her long, glossy curls into a twist, securing them with a clip. She then sunk down into the warm, bubbling waters with a soft sigh. She absolutely adored the hot tub. She didn’t know how she had lived so long without one. Though, glancing over to Howie, she couldn’t imagine how she had lived without him either. Especially considering how adorably amusing he was when he fussed about Austin.

"She never finishes her resolutions?" Howie sighed, shaking his head. "…And she wants to be a mother…"

“She’s going to be a wonderful mother,” Cheyanne instantly defended, pushing hard on Howie’s shoulder. “She’s been like a mother to me ever since college, Tea. I don’t know who would possibly make a better mother than her. She’s so protective and warm and supportive… She’s the best. The absolute best. And what are silly New Years’ resolutions anyway? They’re pointless. Everyone breaks them…”

"I was being funny?" Howie suggested, reaching to rub his shoulder. He loved when Cheyanne got defensive about someone she loved dearly. The defiant jut of her jaw, the way her sapphire eyes glowed with emotion and stared him down, as if daring him to say another word against her best friend. "Austin's going to be a spectacular mother. Just like you are."

“I’m hardly spectacular,” Cheyanne snorted softly as she pushed on Howie’s shoulder again with a roll of her eyes, hating when he pushed her buttons. “Cinnamon’s a Daddy’s girl, remember? I’m just… A feed bag…” Cheyanne smiled ruefully at Baylee’s term.

"If she's such a Daddy's girl, why does she want nothing to do with me when we're all snuggled together in bed?" Howie questioned, pulling her into his lap so she would stop pushing on his shoulder.

“You’re just trying to make me feel better,” Cheyanne sighed as she draped her arms over his shoulders, leaning to press a heartfelt kiss to the center of his forehead. “Cinnamon loves you so much. She’s always babbling about her ‘Daa.’”

"Yet when you're gone, her babbling turns into 'Maa'," Howie informed her, wrapping his arms around her waist to hold her close. "I suppose next she'll be thwarting us both for Bay?"

“I really hope not, since Austi keeps insisting that Darlin’ is officially betrothed to Katie…”

Howie snorted with laughter at the thought. "Those two are mortal enemies… What's Katie going to do? Whack him over the head with a frying pan?"

“Austi flipped Kevvy onto his behind and they’re getting married in a few months…” Cheyanne trailed as she slipped to cuddle against his chest, tucking her head underneath his chin.

"And according to Brian, Vivian pelted him with oranges when he was walking across a parking lot…"

“Maybe we’re the ones that got it wrong and are destined for trouble…”

"I hope not… We've been through so much already, Honey…" Howie trailed softly, squeezing her tighter.

“Yeah…” Cheyanne agreed, not really wanting to dwell on the pains of her past. “…Are you warm enough yet?”

"If I say yes are you going to leave me?"

“Why would I leave you?”

"I don't know… I just want to snuggle with my fiancée in the hot tub for as long as possible…"

“It sounds good to me… I like the feeling of pruned skin…”

Howie chuckled, kissing the top of her head. "Do you think I bought Cinnamon too many toys for Christmas?" he questioned suddenly, remembering Cheyanne's expression at the mountain of gifts he'd piled into the back of their rental car.

“I think her whole entire family has bought her too many toys…” Cheyanne sighed ruefully as she turned to offer his chest the barest of kisses. “But, the look on your face when you were telling me what you bought her… God, Howie, you’re just so cute… And as long as we make sure she appreciates them as she gets older…”

"Mm hmm," Howie replied, shivering at the delicate touch of her lips.

“But you’re still spoiling her rotten.”

"I just handed her the toy catalogue… And whatever pages she ripped out I bought the things on them…" he trailed, sliding his hands up to cup her bare breasts. Flicking his thumbs lightly over her nipples, he turned his head, lightly nibbling at her ear.

“Glad to know she actively participated… Did you buy two of the ones she attempted to chew on as well?” Cheyanne questioned, closing her eyes as she smiled with delight. Just the simple touch of his hands and little nibbles at her ear where enough to cause tiny shivers to ripple over her body despite the heat of the tub. She loved him so very much, wanting to show him as she brushed her hands against his chest.

"I… Can't really remember right now," he admitted softly, one hand gliding down her stomach to grasp her hip. Shifting her slightly in his lap, he smiled in satisfaction when her legs straddled him. Despite having made love to her twice since their arrival that morning, he was hungry for her again. "I love you… So much," he breathed against her neck.

“I love you, too, Sweet Tea,” Cheyanne promised with a content sigh, brushing her lips against his forehead as her hands gently massaged his neck. Despite the chilly breeze sweeping over her upper body, she flushed with warmth at Howie’s lips against her neck. “Oh, Tea… I’m so glad that you’re mine forever…”

"Me too," he whispered, leaning back slightly so he could look into her eyes. Reaching up, he cupped her cheek gently. "I can't wait to spend the rest of my life with you, Honey… But I really don't think forever's going to be enough for me," he murmured before catching her lips in a gentle kiss.

“We might have to make a special request to God, then,” Cheyanne cooed softly against his lips, deepening the kiss as her arms tightened slightly around his neck.

"I'll look into that later," he stated gently, lightly coaxing her tongue into his mouth. Nibbling gently on it, he slid his hands to her hips, pulling her body tight against him. Her puckered nipples pressed against his chest, sending a wave of desire over him, pooling quickly in the pit of his stomach.

“You’re a little excited, huh, Tea?” she questioned within his mouth, gently pulling back so he would follow her. Soon, she felt his tongue dart between her lips, anxious to find hers once more. She couldn’t help her impish grin as she allowed him entrance, nipping his tongue once before sucking on it. Running her hands down the ripped muscles of his back, she felt his arousal start to grow beneath her. “It has something to do with being back at the cabin…”

"I'm always a little excited around you," he informed her, moving his lips to nuzzle her neck. "And now I can certainly understand why Kevin and Austin monopolized the hot tub last spring…"

“You’re hardly little,” Cheyanne rushed in a sharp whisper as his arousal hardened considerably and his lips teased her sensitive neck.

"Chey, Honey…" Howie trailed, one hand sliding between them.

“Yeah?” she questioned softly, moistening her bottom lip anxiously.

"I need you," he whispered, his fingers seeking out and parting her soft folds.

“There’s nothing stopping you,” she promised as her breath caught against her throat, her lips searching for his.

"Do you want me to use a—"

“Whatever you want,” she interrupted inside his mouth, purring softly to elicit a tremor that made him shiver with anticipation.

Nodding, Howie lightly stroked her, felt her nails dig into his shoulders as he caught her bottom lip between his teeth. A soft moan escaped her when he pulled his hand away, and he quickly sheathed his arousal within her, holding her tight against him.

“God, Howie,” Cheyanne breathed in disbelief at his swift entry, tightening her body in order to draw him in deeper as she sought to kiss him harder. “I love you. I love you so much.”

"I love you," he whispered, reaching to grasp her hips gently. "Honey, please…"

“Please, what?” she asked, slowly starting to rotate her hips against him, bringing him deeper with a soft whimper.

"Move… Faster," he urged softly.

“Okay,” she agreed, doing as he requested, rocking harder and faster against him as she bit down hard on her bottom lip. “Oh, Lord…”

"Chey…" Howie trailed into a soft whimper, lowering his head to her chest. His lips sought out one nipple, and he nibbled gently at it, tugging it into his mouth as he guided her hips harder against him.

“I love you,” Cheyanne breathed, knowing she could never express how deep that love ran within her heart. She could only hope that repeating those words would help him understand, especially as the passion rose within her body. She was trembling as she moved with his body, pressing the sweetest kisses to the top of his head, twining her fingers within his dark locks.

"God, Chey…" Howie moaned against her breast, lifting his head for a quick kiss. He could feel the desire starting to swell within him, arching up to meet her. "Don't stop," he begged softly.

“I won’t,” she promised, though she eased the rock of her hips to long, hard slides, then quickening, only to slow again. “Mmm…”

"Chey," Howie cried, his voice echoing in the alcove off the back porch of the cabin. The delicious torture she was inflicting was about to drive him over the edge, but he held tight, wanting their time together to last as long as possible. "Oh, God…"

“You like it?” Cheyanne panted softly, seeking out his lips for several hard kisses, feeling his body start to tighten. She smiled against his lips before nibbling affectionately, priding herself on being able to intensify the desire and pleasure sweeping through his body. Knowing that she could please him like no other.

"Yes… Love it," Howie breathed, his fingers digging into her hips. "…Love you…"

“I love you,” Cheyanne promised, biting down gently on his bottom lip before murmuring. “Let it go…”

"Not without you," Howie nearly panted, lifting his head to gaze into her eyes.

“I’m ready,” she promised, stroking his tongue with hers in order to coax him further.

"Chey!" Howie cried loudly, clinging to her as the dam broke. Ecstasy flooded him, sending wave after wave of pleasure through his body. Collapsing against the side of the hot tub, he struggled to draw in a clear breath as he felt her body tremble.

Cheyanne’s release was softer than Howie’s as she buried her face into the crook of his neck, digging her nails into his back for stability. She shuddered with pleasure as she bit on his skin lightly, muffling a soft cry of utter delight. She took several deep breaths as she slumped against Howie, feeling the bounding of his heart against her. Tilting her head, she kissed his throat with a soft sigh. “I love you so much, my Sweet Tea... Just don’t drown…”

"I love you," he breathed softly, holding her close. "So much… And I won't drown…"

“Can we stay like this?” Cheyanne questioned softly, kissing his throat once more.





Cheyanne shifted beneath the thick covers of the bed at the sound of her daughter’s imploring voice, though she refused to allow her eyes peek open. Instead, she reached to pull the covers tighter around her body, convinced that Howie would get the infant. She wanted to sleep for a few more hours, but that seemed impossible as there was a shift in the mattress, followed by a pair of tiny feet on her back. Groaning, Cheyanne pulled the covers completely over her body to make a protective cocoon. But, there was another shift in the mattress and her daughter’s tiny hands grasping at the covers.

“Maa? …Maa… Maa!”

“Olivia Austin Dorough,” Cheyanne softly growled, peeling the blanket away to peek one eye open. Sure enough, her daughter was laying on her stomach just beside her, hurriedly reaching out with her beautiful, toothless grin. Her golden curls were already combed and she was dressed in an adorable purple, flannel sleeper. She then glanced quickly toward the clock, realizing it wasn’t even six in the morning yet. “Your Daddy is a dead man…”

"I didn't do anything," Howie defended immediately, lying down on the bed, looking crisp and wide-awake in his festive red sweater and green turtleneck paired with dark jeans. He wasn't about to admit to scooping Olivia out of her crib, tickling her feet and changing her diaper to rouse her. She had awakened the moment the cool diaper wipe touched her bare bottom, however, instantly asking for her mother. "Merry Christmas, Honey," he cooed, leaning close to offer a kiss.

“Merry Christmas,” Cheyanne answered as she accepted the kiss before muffling a yawn against the back of her hand as Olivia squealed for her attention. “But you’re still a dead man. You know she doesn’t wake up till at least eight in the morning…”

"She was excited," Howie offered as explanation, jumping slightly when Cheyanne's cell phone began to ring from the bedside table. "Who the Hell…"

“I told Raphael not to call this weekend,” Cheyanne sighed dramatically as if she were having a secret love affair, motioning toward the cell phone behind her fiancé as Olivia giggled, reaching for her mother once more. Forcing herself into a sitting position, Cheyanne swept Olivia into her arms, kissing her cheeks merrily.

"Raphael? I thought his name was Coco, the sexy Brazilian house boy…" Howie trailed in amusement, reaching for her phone. Glancing at the display, he handed it over with a grin. "Nope… Not Raphael or Coco…"

“Awe, it’s my most favorite man in the whole wide world,” Cheyanne cooed with approval of the name on the display. Flipping the phone open, she cradled it against her ear and shoulder as she unbuttoned the first few buttons of her silk nightshirt, knowing her daughter would be hungry. “Merry Christmas, Darlin’.”

"Well, now… Merry Christmas to you too, Sugarplum," Brian returned, lowering his voice to a husky baritone.

“I told you it was my most favorite man in the whole wide world, Tea,” Cheyanne laughed softly as she pulled the blankets up to cuddle Olivia as she suckled her breakfast. “…I really like your voice like that, BB… Very sexy…”

"Yeah?" Brian questioned in his normal voice. Followed quickly by him clearing his throat. "I mean… Yeah?" he repeated deeply. "Well then, I'll have to talk like this more—"

"For heaven's sake, Bear, let Baylee talk to his Angel," Vivian admonished softly in the background.

“Oh! So that’s why you called me,” Cheyanne chided, clicking her tongue with another soft laugh.

"No… I called to hear how sexy you sound when you first wake up, your voice all laced with sleep… Very nice, Chey. I may have to call you this early more often," Brian teased, keeping his voice low.

"Daddy? My Angel?" Baylee implored.

“Y’know, I might actually be flattered if you were serious, but, you better let me talk to my favorite man. I miss him.”

"Who said I wasn't serious?"

Before Cheyanne could reply, there was a light tussling in the background on Brian's ear, followed by heavy panting. A slight fumble, then, brightly, "MY ANGEL! MERRY CHWISMUS!"

“Merry Christmas, Darlin’,” Cheyanne immediately returned with a loud coo, laughing when Olivia reached up to grasp the phone with a grin, though she continued to suckle. “Cinnamon says Merry Christmas, too! Did Santa come visit?”

"I gots so much! And Daddy let me open your 'resent, My Angel! T'ank you for th' blocks! I gots 'dem spread all over Snookums' living room!" Baylee squealed with excitement. "Me an' Daddy's makin' the doffins!"

“You are very welcome, Darlin’. The dolphins were my favorites, too,” Cheyanne admitted as she smiled at the excitement exploding from Baylee’s high-pitched voice. She had probably spent the most on the children this Christmas, which was understandable. She had managed to find the most adorable Mega-Blocks set featuring Noah’s Ark with a variety of animals, both land and sea. It was adorable and she couldn’t resist.

"You tell Uncle Howie I likeded his 'resent too? Him gots me a box to hold ALL my blocks in! An' it's gots doffins and fishies painted on the sides!"

“You can tell your Uncle Howie that yourself if you like. He’s sitting right here…”

Baylee sucked in a deep breath. "THANK YOU UNCLE HOWIE!" he screamed.


“I meant I’d hand him the phone,” Cheyanne explained, wrinkling her nose at the squealing pitch ringing in her ear.

"Oh… Sorry," Baylee apologized softly.

"I think he woke up Austin with that one," Howie chuckled, smoothing his hand over Olivia's back as several thumping footsteps were heard across the hall.

“You’re telling me you didn’t wake them up as well?” Cheyanne countered incredulously, smirking at Howie’s frown. “I think Kevvy and your Princess are up, Darlin’. Which means it’s time for us to open presents…”

"Otay… You call me later?" Baylee requested hopefully. "Merry Chwismus, My Angel! I love you!" he shouted before disconnecting the call.

“He is a pint-sized version of his father through and through,” Cheyanne sighed ruefully as she shifted to grasp the phone, closing it as she tossed it back onto the nightstand. She then lifted Olivia to her shoulder to conceal her partial nudity, patting the infant’s back to release a soft burp, knowing Kevin and Austin would soon enter without warning.

"That bad?" Howie questioned with a smirk, glancing up when the door was flung open so hard it banged against the wall. "What the—"

"Merry Christmas!" Austin greeted them brightly as she burst in, fully dressed and eyes shining with excitement. "Pretty Boy and I just got back from our sunrise hike to the top of the mountain, and—"

“At least they knew how to get outside the house and blow off their excitement without purposely waking up others,” Cheyanne interrupted with a sickening sweet tone to her voice as she glanced at Howie, buttoning up her nightshirt as Olivia cuddled happily against her.

"I did not purposely wake up—"

"You think I wanted to go tromping up the side of the mountain in the dark?" Austin questioned as she flopped onto the bed. "Kevvykins insisted I go with him, and I thought surely it was some plot to get some snow loving, but look what he gave me!" she insisted, holding out her right hand for Cheyanne's inspection.

“That’s lovely,” Cheyanne breathed softly as she reached out to hold her friend’s hand for a moment. Kevin had bought a sterling silver ring with a large oval sapphire gem as its centerpiece. Then, surrounding the sapphire were several smaller diamonds, outlining the sapphire like a gorgeous flower. “Beautiful, Austi…”

"It was so romantic," Austin murmured to Cheyanne as she eagerly scooped Olivia into her arms. "There I was, teeth chattering and vowing I would sell his testicles on Ebay when he pops this thing on me…" she trailed with a smile, cooing at Olivia. "It's your first Christmas, Ollie! And your Gramps won't be a grumpy Gus today, I promise…"

Howie turned to stare at Kevin as he entered the room, carrying a tray of steaming mugs. "Had to buy her a fancy ring, didn't you? Trying to show me up or something?" he teased, sitting up to accept his hot chocolate.

“I don’t have to try to show you up, D. I do it naturally,” Kevin answered smugly as he offered Cheyanne the last mug of hot chocolate, filled to the brim with marshmallows. “And just wait till you see what I got my Angel. You’re just going to be burning.”

"Don’t get so riled, City Boy… It's just a brand new Ferrari…" Austin teased with a smirk, holding Olivia in her lap as she sipped her hot chocolate. "Why are we sitting around here talking?! Ollie's got ten million presents to open!"

“You mean ten million presents to gum to death,” Cheyanne mused as she offered Howie her mug of hot chocolate, crawling out of the bed. Once she was settled and her silk nightshirt properly adjusted, she reached to take Olivia from Austin. “And we’re not getting dressed, huh, Cinnamon Sweetness? Momma and baby are just going to lounge around all day in our pajamas… Like normal people.”

"Oh! I have to go get the turkey in the oven," Austin reminded herself, hopping off the bed after Olivia was secure in her mother's arms. "Kevvykins, go turn on the tree lights?" she requested, popping up on her tiptoes to kiss him softly.

“No problem, Princess,” Kevin murmured against her lips, waiting for her to depart before slipping out himself to do as he was requested.

“Is Daddy coming?” Cheyanne inquired as she glanced back to Howie, who was still perched on the bed. She offered a soft smile as Olivia babbled happily against the side of her face, holding her hands to her mother’s lips for kisses. “I promise you won’t be dead till after our first Christmas.”

"I wanted to give you your Christmas present now… Before we get lost in the excitement of Cinnamon's gifts," Howie explained with a grin.

“I can wait--”

"But I can't…"

“Tea, I didn’t want anything,” Cheyanne chided softly as she sat on the edge of the bed, shifting Olivia into her lap momentarily. “I told you to just think about getting Cinnamon gifts…”

"I couldn't not get you anything, Honey…" Howie murmured, reaching into the nightstand drawer. "It's not much… Nowhere near as fancy as what Kev got Badonkadonk, but… I hope you'll like it," he explained softly, holding out a small wrapped box.

“You’re not supposed to compete with Kevvy and Austi…” Cheyanne trailed as she accepted the box, holding it in front of Olivia so she could hold the infant while she unwrapped the gift. Revealing a small wooden box, she flipped the clasp, opening the top to reveal a pair of beautiful earrings. The earrings were platinum with four marquise cut diamonds assembled into a four petal flowers on each with beautiful pear-shaped sapphires dangling from beneath. Cheyanne was simply astonished as Olivia cooed at the glistening pieces of jewelry. “Tea…”


“They’re beautiful…”

"Nowhere as beautiful as you," Howie informed her, leaning over to kiss her cheek.

“Howie…” Cheyanne blushed softly as she turned to look at him. “Thank you, very much…”

"Merry Christmas, Honey," Howie murmured.

"Daa! Maa!" Olivia squealed.

“I guess someone wants her presents, too,” Cheyanne laughed as she carefully closed the wooden box, offering it back to Howie to hold as she seized Olivia into her arms. Blowing a raspberry on the infant’s neck, Cheyanne laughed. “We didn’t forget about you, Cinnamon Sweetness. I promise! Daddy and Santa were on each other’s speed dials… They spoiled you rotten.”

"We did not spoil her rotten," Howie defended, ushering his fiancée down the hall towards the living room. "We just got her a few things…"

"Right," Kevin muttered from the middle of the living room. Pushing the coffee table to the side, he decided Olivia had plenty of room to become lost in her mountain of presents. "Princess… Something's missing," he called, surveying the piles of gifts.

“What could possibly be missing?” Austin snorted from the kitchen, cursing when her fingers were burnt by the oven.

"The gifts your parents sent La-La? The ones from Momma?" Kevin returned, stepping over to peep into the kitchen. He had to smile when he saw Austin had thrown on an apron, her messy dark locks tossed into a haphazard ponytail. "Not to mention the ones from AJ, Brian, Baylee—"

“Shit, they’re in the bedroom!” Austin called, kicking the oven door closed as she sucked on her fingers, knowing Cheyanne would complain the gifts were far too much.

"I'll get them… And watch your language, Princess, its Christmas!"

“That’ll last all of an hour,” Austin grumbled as she pulled off the apron, sauntering back into the living room. She smiled when she saw Cheyanne sprawled on the floor, leaning back on the couch with Olivia propped between her legs as means of sitting support. The little girl was babbling as she chewed on her mother’s silky leg, squealing when her father came near as she fell back against her mother to get away.

"And you say she's a Daddy's girl," Howie muttered as he settled next to Cheyanne. "When all she wants is her Momma…"

"City Boy… You're the Daddy, you're supposed to play Santa," Austin informed him as she flopped onto the recliner, pulling her legs under her as Kevin returned.

“Doesn’t Gramps have to help?” Howie suggested.

“As long as all those presents in his arms don’t have Cinnamon’s name on’em,” Cheyanne warned as she helped Olivia get back to a seated position, leaning down to kiss the top of her fine, honey curls.

Kevin lurched to a stop, the topmost present sliding from the stack to land in Howie's lap. "Well… Guess I don't have to help then, huh?" he suggested, setting the stack in front of Cheyanne. "Wait… Not all of them have La-La's name on'em… These are for you, Angel," he informed her, motioning to the presents on the bottom.

“Kevvy…” Cheyanne sighed as Howie retrieved the present that had practically crushed him, moving to sit on front of Cheyanne and Olivia. Smiling, he set the brightly packaged present in front of his daughter, watching her lips form a perfect ‘o’ of surprise.

"Don't blame me," Kevin warned with a playful smile as he moved to snuggle with Austin in the recliner. "Momma said it would have been rude not to send her Granddaughter a present as well…"

"What time are we leaving tomorrow to get to her place?" Austin questioned softly as she reached for the video camera, not wanting to miss a moment of Olivia's first Christmas. Across the room she saw Howie diving for his camera as well, and had to smile. It seemed as though they were prepping her for the paparazzi.

“Early afternoon,” Kevin answered, watching Olivia smack her hands against the box to elicit a twinkle from inside. Her sapphire eyes widened in delight as she glanced back to her mother, who encouraged her to continue. Grinning, Olivia attempted to pull the box closer, grunting until she succeeded and then nibbling on the edge.

“She’s going to have a Christmas ornament in her diaper by tomorrow,” Cheyanne sighed ruefully.

"They're good for digestion?" Austin offered with a giggle as Olivia smacked the box again, squealing when whatever was inside the box began to play a song. "Over the river and through the woods," Austin sang along, zooming in on Olivia's excited expression.

“Maa!” Olivia screeched with glee, repeating her actions continuously to get the full song.

“You are such a goofball,” Cheyanne laughed as she leaned forward, making the tiniest tear in the paper. “Right there, Cinnamon Sweetness. Help Momma tear it.”

"Kevin? You might want to call your Momma and tell her we'll be there in about six months…" Austin teased, draping her leg over his shoulder when he slid to sit on the floor.

"Are you insinuating that it'll take Cinny that long to unwrap all these presents?" Howie questioned, his eyes never tearing away from Olivia as she slowly peeled the paper off the toy, her face bright with excitement.

“No, she’s insinuating that that’s half the time it’ll take if we don’t help her a little,” Cheyanne answered with a soft smile when Olivia grasped one of her hands, pulling it toward the toy for help.

"So is that Momma's way of saying it's okay for all of us to just dive in?" Kevin asked, laughing as Olivia slapped her mother's hand in impatience.

“If you want Tea to gnaw your hand off with his teeth, go ahead,” Cheyanne answered with a wince at Olivia’s slap. Though, she did as requested, drawing Olivia close and opening the gift to reveal a brightly colored, small piano perfect for Olivia to bang upon.

Austin cooed as Howie reached to remove the piano from its package. "I thought you got her the piano that sounded like a real piano?" she asked, rubbing Kevin's chest with her foot.

“Ma bought that piano…” Kevin grumbled, upset that she had taken his idea.

"Well I didn’t know you'd bought her a piano until after I'd talked to Momma R…"

"Do you two mind not discussing who bought what and just enjoy watching her open her presents?" Howie suggested with a rueful sigh.

“Who let you chug spoiled eggnog?” Austin inquired with a snort as Olivia reached for another brightly colored package, whimpering softly at her father.

Howie stuck out his tongue. "I haven't—"

"Daa! Daa!" Olivia squealed, reaching for him.

“Told you she was a Daddy’s girl,” Cheyanne sighed as she reached for a few select presents, reaching back to hand them to Austin and Kevin.

"Chey, I thought you and I decided we weren't exchanging presents this year—"

Cheyanne tilted her head back to glance at Austin while Howie scooped up Olivia. “You decided and I broke the decision.”

"But I didn't get you—"

"Don't even finish that lie, Austin Leigh," Kevin interjected, already reaching for a stack of presents before handing them to Cheyanne. "These are for the both of you from us."

"But I didn't get Chey anything," Austin insisted with a sigh.

“It ain’t a big deal, Austi…” Cheyanne promised as she set the presents aside, watching Olivia coax her father into opening a few presents.

"Something tells me I'll be slipping and sliding down to the road to find a store open on Christmas day…" Kevin mused, jumping slightly when Howie's cell phone rang.

“You got that right,” Austin growled, glancing toward Howie as Olivia cringed at the sound. “Who the Hell is calling you?”

"What is it with you people and keeping your cell phones on in the mountains?" Kevin sighed, shaking his head. He had learned on his first trip that it was safer to leave it in the car.

"It's Momma…"

“Go ahead and take it,” Cheyanne urged, cooing toward Olivia so she would reach out for her. Smiling when Olivia did as she thought, Cheyanne cuddled her close, offering her another present.

"Merry Christmas, Momma," Howie answered, tucking the phone between his ear and shoulder so he could film Olivia's attempts at unwrapping her next present. "What are you doing up so early?"

“I wanted to wish my youngest a Merry Christmas and I knew you’d be up…” Paula trailed, overhearing mixture of Cheyanne and Olivia’s giggles. “And I knew you’d wake those two up way too early. You never were one to wait…”

"Momma! I didn't wake them up—"

"You lie, I peeked in at five and saw you tickling Olivia's feet!" Austin interrupted with a wicked grin.

"Badonkadonk… Alright, I woke up Cinnamon… But she woke Honey up," Howie stated defensively. "All I did was give her a push in the right direction!"

“You mean you snuggled her right up to her beloved mother, knowing she’d babble until she saw her Momma’s pretty eyes. Howard Dwaine, you should be ashamed!” Paula continued to chide.

"Momma," Howie groaned, feeling his cheeks burn at her scolding. No matter his age, he knew he would always turn into a little boy with just a few words from his mother. "It's Christmas!"