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Chapter 85 – Lingering Doubts

"Whooo! No more dancing, no more hooks! No more Kevin's dirty looks!" AJ shrieked as he burst into the living room of the hotel suite. Gyrating his hips wildly, he grabbed Austin, spinning her around before flopping onto the couch. "Ah, shit! I have to show up for y'alls honkytonk wedding, don't I?"

“If you don’t want flogged, you better damn well show up,” Austin answered, outstretching her arms to stabilize her upright posture. She was dizzy from the quick spins and knew she’d end up falling on top of AJ if she wasn’t careful… Grinning wickedly, Austin flopped onto him, rustling his hair as she slightly tugged to get him to whine. It was his own fault for starting all the wild commotion, especially while everyone was trying to rest from the final show of the tour. Tomorrow would be a series of long flights home. “And it ain’t honkytonk! It’s sophisticated and classy! Just like I want! Honkytonk is the reception!”

"Are you inviting me up early to share in the bachelorette festivities? I make a mean cowboy, Baby Girl," he promised, flopping his arms around her waist lazily as she played with his hair. "And I'll be more than happy to perform an erotic, oily-chested strip show for you and your friends!"

Austin snorted with derision. "Like Pretty Boy would ever let you strip for me! …How much would you charge?" she questioned in a stage whisper a Kevin came into the living room, reluctantly carrying a hyper Katie on his shoulders. Glancing up, she laughed when she saw the girl's hands were over his eyes, and she was telling him which way to turn.

"Left… Wait! Too far! Go forward! …Watch out for the—" Katie cut off into a loud squeal when Kevin tripped over Moth's carrier.

“DAMNIT TO HIGH HEAVEN!” Kevin growled in shock as he went flying forward, ending up face down on the plush carpet with Katie on his head. The rest of his curses muffled against the fibers of the carpet as Katie giggled hysterically, pushing on his shoulders to get him to repeat the action. But, he wanted nothing more to do with the spawn of Satan (what he called Katie when Austin wasn’t around). Turning onto his stomach, he grasped her tightly by the shoulders, popping her off his chest and onto the nearby couch. “I cannot wait to get home to peace and quiet… Away from children…”

Austin sighed. "I thought you were coming with me to Carolina for a few days? Momma and Daddy are coming to visit, and… Well, if you're coming, you won't be away from children… They're bringing some of the kinfolk along with them…" she trailed with a smirk. "Haven't I told you that I have fifteen cousins under the age of ten?"

Fifteen under the age of ten?” Kevin grimaced, suddenly recalling how small the girls’ ranch house was. Especially for Austin’s population of ‘kinfolk.’

“And you can’t forget those other ten that are above the age of ten and under the age of fifteen. The pre-pubescent-hormonal to the hormonal teenagers. Hysterically entertaining,” Cheyanne announced as she slipped out of Howie’s hotel room with Olivia nestled in her arms. They had just taken a long bath together, but Olivia was still fussy. At seven months of age, she was finally starting to cut teeth, making her far more miserable than anyone anticipated. It ached Cheyanne’s heart to see her daughter in such pain, but she did her best, nestling the fussy infant onto the floor for a moment. Though, Olivia instantly cried out at being separated from her mother, especially when Cheyanne disappeared into the kitchenette to retrieve her frozen teething ring. She clutched a tiny hand into a fist as her fingers were thrust into her mouth in attempts to soothe the pain, crying for her mother. “I’m coming, Cinnamon Sweetness!”

"You have twenty-five cousins coming to your house?!" Kevin questioned, eyes wide in disbelief. "Where the Hell are they going to sleep?!"

"Would you mind putting your eyes back in your head? They're not all staying at the house… Just the hormonal teenagers who have the hots for Chey. Momma and Daddy have a place on the other side of the lake, and that's where everyone else is going to be. But… Aren't you coming?" Austin requested, continuing to play with AJ's hair. Though she usually couldn't stand the man, the past few days he had been upbeat and almost sweet towards her, and let her play with his hair, which Kevin rarely allowed her to do.

Sliding off the couch, Katie shot a defiant look at Kevin before settling in front of Olivia. "It's okay," she whispered, reaching for the hard plastic rattle on the coffee table. "This'll help," she offered, smiling slightly when Olivia grasped it, instantly biting down on the end of it, her cries slowing into soft whimpers.

Kevin made a face. “Of course I’m coming, I love your parents… I just didn’t want to be stuffed in a sardine can with all those damn kids, especially if I have to protect my daughter from the potential peeping toms--”

“They do not have the hots for me,” Cheyanne scorned as she hurried back into the living room with the frozen teething ring to appease Olivia’s inflamed gums, finding Katie tending to the infant. She smiled sweetly as she crouched down to the two girls, reaching to run her fingers through Katie’s dark curls. “Thank you for taking care of her, Katie…” Cooing towards her daughter, she outstretched her arms and briefly glanced back to Kevin and Austin. “…They just like trying to find ways to unlock the bathroom door while I’m showering…”

"…Not to mention learning that if they lay on the floor outside her room just right they can catch glimpses of her walking around her room naked…" Austin trailed with a smirk as Kevin flopped down next to her and AJ. "And if Skinny's coming up before the wedding, I'll have to shoo them all out so we three can have a repeat of Stockholm—"

“Hell no!” Kevin growled, tugging Austin away from AJ.

"OW!" AJ howled, clapping a hand to the top of his head. "She had a handful of my hair, dildo!"

Katie's eyes widened. Reaching over, she tugged on Cheyanne's shirtsleeve. "What's a dildo?"

“That is a very special question that you need to ask your Daddy… Tell him that Allie gave you the new word, okay?” Cheyanne told Katie with a bemused grin, seating herself on the floor just before Olivia. The infant had been quite clingy to her since starting to cut teeth. She would curl up tightly in the big bed, keeping close to her mother and actually pushing her father out of the way. In fact, that’s what Cheyanne attributed Howie’s recent mood swing to. “Cinnamon Sweetness, Momma has your teething ring. Want some cuddles?”

In reply, Olivia scooted closer, reaching for the frozen teething ring her mother held. "Maa Maa!" she cooed, slapping her thigh.

Austin snuggled in Kevin's lap, reaching over to smooth her hand over AJ's hair. "I still don't understand why you're so uptight when I mention Stockholm. It's not like we never—"

“He’s just upset because he doesn’t want it getting out where AJ’s member disappeared to… Not knowing that his sweet fiancée already passed that information around like wildfire,” Cheyanne interrupted with a sweet coo, reaching for her daughter after handing over the teething ring. Olivia immediately launched the cold ring in her mouth, happily chewing on the soothing coolness. She then snuggled close to her mother’s chest, clamping a hand on her shirt to assure that she wouldn’t leave again.

"I have not," Austin immediately defended, even as AJ began to snicker. Glancing up, she saw Howie coming from his bedroom. "City Boy! Have I been blabbing about AJ and Kevvykins doing anything?"

“You told me they were the best of butt-buddies,” Howie murmured, disappearing into the kitchenette.

“You want us to snuggle with Daddy, Cinnamon?” Cheyanne requested of Olivia as she curled onto the corner of the plush sofa, watching Katie race off in search of Baylee.

"I take that as a no," Austin murmured as Olivia snuggled closer to Cheyanne with a soft whimper. "What's his problem? Did he get drunk and let Skinny into his room?"

“No…” Cheyanne trailed as she rubbed Olivia’s back in a soothing circular motion, offering the softest of kisses to her forehead. She felt the slight elevation in temperature, knowing it would be time for some children’s Tylenol before attempting to lay Olivia down for the night. Though, that never lasted long, usually ending up with Cheyanne crawling into bed early with her daughter for the remainder of the evening. Olivia was pacified as long as she had Cheyanne. “I don’t think he likes seeing Cinnamon so upset…”

"Maybe he's so freakin' moody 'cause you gals are 'bout to head off to Carolina and he's going to be stuck at his crib in Orlando with only his hair to occupy him?" AJ suggested seriously, popping to his feet to head into the kitchenette.

“He ain’t stuck…” Cheyanne trailed, biting down on her bottom lip as she reached for the blanket draped over the back of the sofa. Curling it protectively around Olivia, she glanced to Kevin and Austin. “He hasn’t said a word about that… He said he was excited to go home and see his family…”

"Don't worry, Chey… I'm sure he'll talk to you tonight," Austin assured her with a quick glance at Kevin. She could only hope.

In the kitchenette, AJ pulled a can of soda from the fridge. Leaning against the counter, he watched Howie putting together an elaborate sandwich. His friend looked tired and worried, and judging from the size of the sandwich, was either extremely hungry or very depressed. "Alright, D… What's up?" he questioned after a moment of complete silence. "You're moodier than Mom when she gets PMS…"

“Nothing is up,” Howie lied as he waited for AJ to retrieve what he wanted, quickly taking his place to fish for further condiments. Though, examining the sandwich, Howie knew his mouth could already barely take a fair bite out of the beastly creation. He just didn’t want to look at AJ, knowing the man could easily ascertain the truth with one look. But it wasn’t any of his business.

"And Austin's a virgin," AJ muttered, taking stance in the doorway. "Are you and Chey having problems? Baby Girl breathing down your neck about something? Your Mom whining about the fact you're using condoms?" he questioned without hesitation, idly leaning against the doorframe as he opened his soda.

“I’m not having problems with Honey. Badonkadonk is always breathing down my throat. And Momma doesn’t even know I use condoms let alone that I’m intimate with Honey…” Howie answered easily, drawing in a cold breath from the fridge before standing up to glance in the freezer, finding a tray of teething rings. “My daughter’s sick, alright?”

"She's teething, man… Ain't the end of the world," AJ assured him. Taking a sip of his soda, he scratched his chest, watching Howie pull out a container of potato salad from his and Cheyanne's deli lunch earlier in the day. "What is it? Are you being a little shithead because Chey and Ollie-Oil are going to Carolina without you?"

“I am not being a little shithead!” Howie growled, slamming the potato salad down on the counter, causing the top to pop off.

“Right…” AJ trailed with a snort of laughter. “Why don’t you bend over so I can see that sunshine shining out your ass with the little daisies then.”

"You know what, Aje? You can kiss my ass while you're down there. Just don't go trying to do anything else to it," Howie grumbled, stooping to pick up the top off the floor. Slamming it onto the counter, he began his search for a spoon.

“Why? Afraid you might actually like it? ‘Cause I know Kev did… He may act all tough, but I know... That little face he made...”

Howie shuddered at the thought, finally locating a spoon. "And how would you know what his face looked like? Wait! Don't answer that. I really don't want the image of the three of you doing some acrobatic sexual position burned in my mind right now." Staring at the sandwich, he felt his stomach roil at the thought of trying to eat it all. "Um… Want some?"

“You should definitely see the tape,” AJ enthused as he grabbed the mayonnaise from the fridge before rummaging for a knife. Smearing several heavy globs of mayonnaise on the sandwich, he sliced it in half, taking the larger piece before hopping onto the opposite counter. “So, level with me, asshole. You’re worrying Chey and she’s got enough to deal with since my baby-blonde is persnickety…” AJ grinned at Howie’s confused look. “The things you learn when you’re forced to play Scrabble without dirty words…”

"There's a tape?" Howie blanked, pulling himself onto the counter. "Badonkadonk didn't mention a tape… What the Hell persuaded you to do all that to begin with?" he questioned, hoping to avoid AJ's persistent questions about his moods.

“The tape is in Kev and Baby Girl’s hands. Considering it an early wedding present… And, why not do it? Baby Girl is a sweet piece of ass and Kevin needed something besides a stick in his ass,” AJ answered with a mouthful of the sandwich, extending a leg to trap Howie within the corner of the kitchenette. “What the fuck is your problem, Dorough? Do I need to call Momma D?”

"God, no," Howie breathed. "Momma doesn't need to worry about me…"

“Then what the Hell is wrong? Do I need to call a psych-ward?”

"I'm worried, okay? Honey and I don't have a good history with the whole long-distance thing… And I don't want to go through that again, Aje…"

“Nick high-tailed ass back to Florida as soon as the last song finished. And the way you hammered his ass a couple months ago, I doubt he’s looking to sneak back into your territory, D.”

Howie sighed, stabbing his potato salad with the spoon. "I'm seriously considering saying to Hell with what Momma thinks and asking Honey and Cinnamon to live with me until the wedding… 'Cause I'm an ass when I don't have Cheyanne by my side…"

“Damn straight,” AJ grumbled, glancing up when he caught Howie’s surprised glance. “I was just verifying… And why the Hell can’t you live together? She’s been on tour with you this whole entire time not to mention all those long vacations you guys take together. Hello, it ain’t like you’ve got a little sleeping bag for her or anything…”

"That's different…" Howie trailed, clearing his throat. "Besides, Momma thinks that Honey and Badonkadonk were sharing a room the whole tour…"

“You are so whipped with apron strings it’s fucking ridiculous!”

"Like you can talk! Your Mom still does your fucking laundry!"

“But if I wanted, I could move in with Chey!”

"Fine! I'm moving in with Chey!" Howie shouted decisively, nearly falling off the counter when Austin stepped into the kitchenette.

“I thought that was a big Catholic no-no?” Austin questioned as she reached into the freezer to retrieve another teething ring. Olivia had stationed Cheyanne on the sofa, refusing to let the woman budge an inch. She wanted her mother’s entire attention and Cheyanne was devoted. Though, leaning against the fridge, she stared at Howie with disbelief. There was no way he was moving in. This would be the only time she had left alone with Cheyanne before Howie took complete control.

"I thought it was a big everything no-no?" AJ returned, offering her some of his half the sandwich. When she accepted it, breaking off a piece, he reached for his soda. "Besides, Howie's an adult. He can do what he damn well pleases, can't he?"

“His mother would kill him. Besides, Chey-Chey is talking about taking Ollie to Pennsylvania for a mini-vacation. Ain’t no need to come barging into our house when my wedding is in a few weeks,” Austin continued to disagree.

"Howie can't go to Pennsylvania? And who the Hell said anything about him barging into y'all's house? He has a place of his own, y'know," AJ informed her, reaching for his sandwich.

“Well she sure as Hell ain’t going to move down to Hell itself sooner than she has to,” Austin continued, completely ignoring Howie as she fixed her gaze on AJ.

"Florida's not Hell… Besides, you could come with her for a quick visit," AJ suggested with a sweet smile, handing his soda over when she motioned for it. "Get yourself a mini-vacation before the wedding…"

“Kevin said that our sexual encounter was a one time only deal, Skinny,” Austin warned.

“Thanks for completely making this conversation about you two,” Howie breathed with disgust, yanking the teething ring from Austin’s hand, knowing Olivia would need a switch soon. Even if she didn’t want her Daddy.

"That ain't what Kevin was saying in Stockholm," AJ told Austin in a sing-song voice, sliding off the counter to follow Howie. "So? Are you going to tell Chey to move in with you or what?"

“Tell me to move in with you?” Cheyanne repeated in surprise as AJ’s voice carried loudly while he followed behind Howie. Glancing up from her brooding infant, Cheyanne felt lost while Kevin stifled his own shocked state. Everything had been settled beforehand. Cheyanne would go back to North Carolina with Kevin and Austin. They would live together till the Richardson wedding and then Cheyanne would spend the week with Howie while Kevin and Austin were on their honeymoon. Then, when they came back, Cheyanne would stay with them till her own wedding. What had changed?

"I'm not going to tell Cheyanne to do anything, Aje. Unlike some people, I don't need to be a grunting Neanderthal to get my way," Howie hissed in exasperation.

“Well, it don’t matter what you say or tell or whatthefuck ever, because she ain’t going to!” Austin bellowed as hurried to stop the potential downfall of her plans.

“What are you three yammering about?” Cheyanne questioned as she gestured toward the teething ring that Howie was holding, already seeing that the ice was melted from the previous teething ring.

"Apparently, City Boy thinks that just because he's in a pissy mood you'll do whatever he wants and move in with him in Florida," Austin supplied, flopping down on the couch next to Kevin. "And apparently, Skinny here's talked him into it.”

“He’s been fighting with this from the very beginning. He just finally got the balls to do it!” AJ answered, sprawling out next to the couple. “So shut up and let him do what he’s determined to do. She’s going to marry him sooner or later, Baby Girl, which means they will be living together. Unless you think marriage by mail is acceptable?”

"…Only to you," Austin muttered with a sigh, looking over at Cheyanne. "The next few weeks were going to be our bachelorette time, Chey…"

“Kevvy’s going to be with us the whole time…” Cheyanne answered as she leaned to grasp the teething ring from Howie’s hand. Leaning back, she changed the teething ring for Olivia, eliciting the smallest of smiles from the baby. Cooing softly, Cheyanne leaned down to place several kisses on Olivia’s forehead. “I know you don’t feel good, Cinnamon Sweetness. That’ll feel better, huh?”

*~*~*


Brian smiled with admiration as he slipped into the back of the private luxury jetliner where the king sized bed was concealed with a private bathroom. The group was finally traveling back to the states from Australia, the tour officially over, though it was a long flight. Over twenty hours. So, Kevin suggested it might be easiest for Cheyanne and Olivia to take the bedroom to rest. And, of course, Baylee had insisted he join. Curious, Brian found Cheyanne curled on the bed with Baylee tucked close to her side and Olivia curled on her chest. The child was still teething quite painfully and abundantly miserable. She just wanted her mother and no other, though somehow Baylee had managed to creep into the picture. He had conned Cheyanne into reading him several books, though as the last page was turned, Baylee was already fast asleep.

“…The end…” Cheyanne trailed softly, leaning to kiss the top of Baylee’s head before tucking her chin to her chest in order to view Olivia, who was also fast asleep.

"I'll just go get Bay's adoption papers now so you can sign them," Brian teased gently, shutting the door so AJ and Austin's exuberant video game marathon would not disturb the peacefulness of the bedroom. How Kevin and Howie managed to sleep through all the noise was beyond Brian, who had been very close to chucking them both out into the ocean. "You don't mind if I sit here with y'all, do you?" he murmured.

“If I adopted Darlin’, you would want me to move into your house to make it legally binding… So, we better just stay away from the paperwork,” Cheyanne returned with a soft grin as she reached for the blanket folded on the opposite side of the bed. Draping the warm blanket over herself and the children, she motioned toward Brian. “Pull up a pillow.”

Flopping down, Brian pulled a pillow over as he rolled to one side. "I can't wait to get home and sleep in my own bed…" he trailed with a weary sigh. "And if I don't feel like it, I don't have to shower, and I can walk around in nothing but my boxers… And why do you look like you have to make a choice between good and evil?" he questioned, noting how Cheyanne kept twisting the edge of the blanket between her fingers.

“Do I look that lost?” Cheyanne sighed, forcing herself to lace her hands over Olivia’s back to keep herself from playing with the edges of the blanket. She hadn’t meant to get herself into a nervous flitter, but the mere mention of going home sent butterflies exploding around her stomach. That’s the one reason Cheyanne made no fuss about staying in the bedroom alone. Just so she didn’t have to bear Howie and Austin’s glares toward one another and expectant glances toward her.

"A little… Are they still fighting over you like you're a pizza at a Weight Watcher's convention?" Brian asked, hoping to elicit a smile from the woman. "'Cause, if they are, you're more than welcome to come stay with me and Snookie…"

“BB… Like I honestly need another potential place of residence at this point…” Cheyanne trailed with a rueful sigh, though she offered a timid smile. “I think Cinnamon and I just need to run off. Join a circus… Do something…”

"What do you want to do? And if you say that you don't know…"

“And if I honestly don’t know?” Cheyanne returned, shifting slightly as Baylee curled closer, draping his small arm over her concave stomach. “It ain’t like deciding between a city and the country… Or… It has to do with the people, BB. I’m going to be marrying Howie and I know he’s worried about having to do the long distance relationship again… I can tell ‘cause of his eyes… And it’s what I’m thinking, too. But, I’ve lived with Austi for so long… And she’s getting so emotional lately. I know it has to do with the stress of the wedding and I know Kevvy ain’t leaving her side… But she wants me there…”

"Would I be an unfeeling bastard if I suggested you go do your trip to Pennsylvania alone with Skipper? And then when it's time to go home, you just flip a coin?" Brian questioned, leaning over to adjust the blanket so Baylee's feet were uncovered.

“That’s like putting a Band-Aid over a festering staph infection without antibiotic treatment…”

"Whatever that means… Come on, Chey. I know you really try to be sweet and accommodating to nearly everyone, but you've just got to stand up and tell them what you want. Just burst out there now, slam something and say, 'I'm mad as Hell and I'm not going to take it anymore'!" he suggested with a goofy grin.

“And you’re going to take care of the grumpy infant who can pinpoint the exact time her body temperature drops without mine? Not to mention calculate the exact missing beat of my heart--”

"I'm a Daddy, remember? I know all about soothing a teething baby…"

“I have no doubt in your abilities to take care of a teething baby, but Cinnamon won’t even let her Daddy near her--”

"I'm not her Daddy, y'know. But I've got that good Daddy vibe. Good grief, are you always such a procrastinator?!"

Cheyanne grinned impishly. “You should have seen me in college…”

"I'll bet if you weren't such a sweet-talker you'd still be a freshman…"

Cheyanne’s sapphire eyes widened in shock. “I made Dean’s List every semester, thank you!”

"Then carry your little buns in there and put your foot down, Missy!"

“Hell no, do y’think I’m stupid walking into that fire?” Cheyanne shuddered at the thought of getting in that war. “Besides, the second I hand over Olivia, she’s going to cry. She has a temperature and I ain’t leaving her.”

"Okay… So what are you going to do? Wait 'till we get to the airport and let them fight over you some more?" Brian leaned over, kissing Olivia's forehead softly. "And if you shifted her onto Baylee she'd never notice… We all know his heart beats with yours."

“BB…” Cheyanne trailed with a soft smile at his adorable nature. “I just figured Cinnamon and I would high-tail it out on some parachutes when we’re over Florida…”

"Do I have to go drag Austi and D in here?" Brian warned.

“Do you want to risk waking up a peaceful toddler and infant?”

"I've got earplugs…"

“It’s not your problem?”

"I count you as a close friend and seeing you so worried sick upsets me, so it is my problem?"

“And Vivie would probably kick your ass if she found out you didn’t do something to assuage the situation,” Cheyanne breathed with a playful smirk, though that left her face instantly when there was a soft tap on the door and Howie appeared. “…Your duties are relieved…”

"Saved by the Latin man!" Brian cried softly, hopping off the bed. "Just keep your voices down," he warned before heading back up front. Though he instantly turned around at a loud shriek of disgust from Austin. "Can I stay and listen to y'all?"

"Would you just go?" Howie sighed, moving to lie down next to Cheyanne.

“Apparently, you ain’t wanted, BB,” Cheyanne cooed as Olivia shifted on her chest, reaching to tuck her tiny hand underneath her mother’s shirt to feel the warmth of her skin. “Be sure to cheer loud to wake Kevvy up…”

"If they start groping and doing all that disgusting crap they call play-fighting, I'm coming back here to snuggle with y'all," Brian warned before finally leaving them alone.

"Maybe Badonkadonk should look into finding a place where she can have Aje and Kevin?" Howie suggested lightly, leaning across to kiss Olivia's cheek softly. "How's our little Cinnamon doing?"

“Better,” Cheyanne promised as she twisted one of Olivia’s fair curls around her index finger. “You can actually see the white of her first bottom tooth. It’s so cute… Y’know, if it wasn’t causing her so much pain… I think it’ll be better once she’s home instead of in all these new scary places…”

"Honey… I was thinking…" Howie trailed softly, propping himself on one elbow so he could look down at mother and child. "If… If you want to spend the next few months with Austin, I'll understand. She's your best friend and your protector, and I know you'll be safe with her and her overly abundant family… But, I hope you'll have room for me so I can come for long visits," he murmured.

“Tea…” Cheyanne trailed with a sigh, knowing this conversation was inevitable. He had been sleeping on one of the couches so peacefully, so she thought maybe he had forgotten. But, that was impossible. And, glancing up at him, slightly rumpled from sleep, so hazily alluring, Cheyanne wanted to tell him that she desperately wanted to live with him. But, Austin meant a great deal to her, too. It just didn’t seem fair. “You don’t really want to…”

"I want you to be happy, Honey. That's all that matters," Howie stated emphatically. Though he longed to whisk her to Florida, he knew she would be miserable there. "Besides, you'll be living with me forever soon enough…"

“But you’re scared about the long distance…” Cheyanne answered, biting down on her bottom lip as she averted her gaze from his. It was agony to weigh the decisions. No matter what happened, she would be hurting someone that meant a great deal to her.

"I'll be coming up a lot, Honey… At least every weekend, if not more," Howie assured her. In fact, he had already planned on spending the next two weeks getting their new house in order and making some decisions for the foundation before flying up to join her in North Carolina until Kevin and Austin's wedding.

“You know I would move to Florida in a second if it wasn’t for…” Cheyanne carefully moistened her bottom lip as she sought his dark brown eyes again. “I don’t want your mother to get upset at me for moving into Florida with you… And Austi… I love you so much, Tea. So very, very, very much, but Austi is my everything. Without her… She’s just so moody lately and she’s so upset about me moving to Florida already. She won’t admit it flat out… But I know… She doesn’t want to let go of me any sooner than she has to… Even if Kevvy is spending the whole time with us…”

"I understand, Honey. I really do. It's… It's going to kill you, being so far away from her, isn't it?" he murmured, leaning down to kiss her cheek. "I think I'd better look for some property near their place in Kentucky…"

“It’s going to hurt being so far away from her at first,” Cheyanne admitted as she reached to flatten her palm against the side of Howie’s face. Tenderly, she rubbed his cheek with her thumb as she smiled apologetically. “But your entire life is in Florida and Kevvy and Austi decided together that they wanted to live in Kentucky. Momma left North Carolina a long time ago, so it makes sense to go to Florida when nothing’s really tying me down… ‘Sides, it was bound to happen anyway… Austi and I can’t live together forever… I’m just going to be slightly miserable living in that big city with all the noise…”

"Everything's going to be okay, Honey. I promise," Howie whispered. "And you know Austin will be coming down a lot… And we'll be going up so she and Kevin can spoil Cinnamon properly."

“So, I guess you already made my choice for me… Huh?”

"Did I?"

“It sounds like you did…”

"Okay… Would I be an ass if I suggested you slip Cinnamon to Badonkadonk and Baylee to Brian so we can spend a couple hours alone?"

“I would if I could, but I don’t think Cinnamon is going to want to go to Austi…” Cheyanne trailed as the door to the bedroom suddenly popped open. Jumping slightly, she glanced up to see Brian scurrying in to pull Baylee into his arms. And she immediately rolled her eyes, knowing he had been listening.

Howie couldn't hold back the grin on his face as AJ scurried in after Brian, climbing onto the bed. "Apparently we had an audience…"

“Which means Austi found herself far more entertained with Kevvy than AJ…” Cheyanne trailed as Brian disappeared as requested and AJ curled into Baylee’s spot, making sure to rest his head next to Olivia’s on Cheyanne’s chest.

"Nuh uh… She sent me to spy on Howie," AJ whispered conspiratorially. "'Sides… Baby Girl whipped my ass and is now seeing if she can beat Drew…"

“Well, Howie can’t do anything with our daughter snuggled against me… So I think the coast is clear,” Cheyanne mimicked.

"Can I steal Ollie-Oil for snuggles? And then you two can… Do your taxes or whatever?" AJ smirked, his eyes widening innocently up at Cheyanne.

"Do our taxes… What have you been smoking, Aje?"

“Apparently nothing good,” AJ snorted loudly, causing Olivia to jerk.

“AJ,” Cheyanne admonished as she sat up to curl Olivia close as she whimpered sleepily.

"I got her," AJ insisted softly, easily shifting Olivia into his own arms. Her body immediately tensed at the change, her face crumpling with dissatisfaction. "Shhh," he soothed, gently rubbing her back as he held her close to his chest. "Uncle Allie's got'cha… He won't let nothin' happen to his Ollie-Oil," he cooed, smiling slightly as Olivia relaxed against him, one hand clutching his t-shirt as he slid off the bed.

"Since when did Aje become good with babies?" Howie mused softly as his friend left the room, making sure to close the door behind him.

“I… I don’t know… But that’s the first time my arms have been free in days… Weeks… I think I’ve lost count…” Cheyanne murmured with true bewilderment, concentrating on the door as if she could still see AJ with Olivia. It had startled her at first, to see her daughter switch so easily when she had wanted nothing but her mother. She didn’t know whether to be relieved or hurt.

"I'm sure once she wakes up and realizes the person who's holding her is hairy and has no chest, she'll come to her senses and demand to see you," Howie assured her, snuggling close so he could wrap his arms around her.

“And my arms are filled again,” Cheyanne teased as reached to stroke his cheek again, resting her free hand against his heart. She had missed being so close to him. Olivia had separated them in bed every night, only seeming to remind Cheyanne of what she faced when they returned to the United States.

"I love you, Honey," Howie murmured, turning his head slightly for a soft kiss. "So much…"

“I love you, too,” Cheyanne whispered against his lips before obliging his request. “…Move in with me until we get married…”

"What?" Howie gasped in surprise, jerking his head up. "Move in with you?"

Cheyanne jumped slightly at Howie’s sudden movements, causing her to fall back slightly on the bed. She furrowed her honey brows in confusion at what had shocked him so much. Then she realized she had spoke without thinking, causing her to groan with disgust. “Sorry, Tea…”

"You didn't mean it…" Howie trailed softly, hoping to mask his disappointment.

Cheyanne frowned. “Of course I meant it--”

"I'd love to," Howie said hastily.

“What?” Cheyanne gasped.

"I'd love to move in with you," Howie murmured.

“It’s just… I know I can’t leave Austi until she’s married, but that don’t mean she won’t leave me. Her and Kevvy are going to be flitting between North Carolina and Kentucky till the wedding, then there’s their week of honeymooning and… I’m just going to be left behind… And I can’t even stand the thought of leaving you behind. Not to mention how expensive it is for you to fly up to Carolina all the time. I mine as well just call Dad and have him sweet talk Momma D, because she’d understand… Hell, I could talk to her. It’s just not fair that I have to pick when you most definitely need a vacation--”

"Honey, take a breath," Howie interjected softly, pulling her into his arms. "Everything's going to work out," he promised. "And I'll talk to Momma and Dad, don't worry."

“You deserve a vacation from the craziness… A vacation with me,” Cheyanne declared somewhat possessively as she wrapped her arms around him, resting her cheek against his chest. She couldn’t just leave him. Not again.
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