“Ah, it feels good to be back in Arizona.” As he steps out of the airport, Johnny lifts his face to the sky and holds his arms out to his sides.
“There they are.” I point and then take off for my best friend. She’s out of the Jeep and running to me the second she spots me.
“Oh my gosh, I missed you so much.” Reagan wraps me in a hug that steals the air from my lungs. She gives the best hugs.
“I missed you too. So much.”
She pulls back and then launches herself at me again. “Have you told him?”
I glance at Johnny. He and Adam are loading the suitcases in the back and catching up. “Not yet. He was so excited about seeing everyone. I didn’t want to ruin it.”
“You’re not going to ruin it.” She swats at me playfully. “He is going to be excited. I know it.”
“I don’t know.” My stomach is uneasy. Though it is most of the time these days.
I am eight weeks pregnant. Pregnant. We weren’t exactly trying, but we weren’t not trying either. We had one conversation about how sure it’d be great to have kids someday after Sienna had baby Ryan, and then that was that. No more condoms, no more birth control.
I thought it would take longer.
I think he thought it would take longer.
In hindsight, yes, I realize we should have really talked about it.
He won’t come out and say that he’s worried about being a father, but I can see it, the look of trepidation, every time we walk by a couple pushing a stroller or any time I’m FaceTiming with Sienna and her little guy is being absolutely adorable (which is always).
I get it. He didn’t exactly have the best role model growing up, but Johnny Maverick is a big kid himself. I can’t imagine wanting to have a baby with anyone else.
And we have Rhett and Sienna to guide us. I have to admit. I think it’ll be fun to have someone close by for playdates and parents’ night out.
Oh, and Jerry? He’s so excited he’s talking about moving all the way to Minnesota so he can be closer. He and Maverick are two peas in a very eccentric pod.
But this weekend isn’t about any of that. This weekend we’re celebrating Ginny, the youngest of our little group, graduating from Valley U!
“Are Sienna and Rhett already here?” I ask.
“Yep. And warning, Ryan’s sleep schedule is all out of whack, so I hope you brought earplugs.” Adam chuckles.
We load up in Adam’s Jeep and head to his and Reagan’s house.
The gang is all here, and we share hugs, and someone, probably my husband, pops champagne.
“Oh, uh, no thanks,” I say when Heath tries to offer me a glass. I hold my breath, certain he can see right through me, but he just shrugs and passes it to the next person.
Sienna waves it off too since she’s nursing, so I try to play it off like I’m not drinking in solidarity.
This is going to be a long weekend.
I’m so tired. Ryan hasn’t stopped crying since we got into Valley late last night. It’s a good thing he’s so cute. He has my dark hair and Rhett’s smile.
“I’ll take him,” Rhett says after I’m done feeding Ryan.
Neither of us slept much last night. We’re walking zombies today. My husband grins down at our son, and Ryan grins right back. Then he starts crying again.
Rhett winces at the loud wail.
“Thank you. I love you.”
“Love you too, angel.” He winks and disappears with our baby into the other room where the guys are hanging out.
I turn to Dakota. “How far along are you?”
She pales, and her mouth opens and closes several times like she’s trying to figure out how to tell a convincing lie.
I arch a brow. “No one passes on champagne.”
“I was being a good friend,” she hisses.
“Mhmm.” I smile. “Congratulations.”
“Are you doing it tonight?” Adam asks as he leans back on the counter, a beer in hand.
I find Ginny in the next room talking to the girls, and my chest tightens. “I don’t know. Maybe tomorrow after graduation?”
Maverick rubs his palms together. “You know what this calls for? A good ole brainstorming session, just like back in the day. Toss out your best ideas, boys.”
He rummages for paper and a pen.
“Where are you going to do it?” Rhett asks. He’s pacing the kitchen with a crying Ryan on his shoulder.
Reagan comes into the kitchen and motions for Rhett to give him to her. “Let me try.”
I can finally hear my own thoughts again as she leaves, and it’s just us guys. “That kid has some set of lungs on him. I think you have a future rock star on your hands.”
Rhett grins, then it falls. “He’s usually such a good baby.”
“He’s still a good baby.” Adam squeezes him on the shoulder. “Babies cry.”
Maverick hops up on the counter. “You should propose at graduation. She comes off the stage, and BAM, you’re right there on one knee.” He waves his hands and grins while talking. “How awesome would that be with thousands of people watching?”
A cool sweat trickles down my spine.
“You look like you’re going to throw up.” Adam chuckles and passes me another beer. “So, nothing public.”
“Nothing public,” I agree.
I’ve known that I wanted to marry Ginny for so long, but I never gave a lot of thought to the proposal. Turns out, thanks to lots of “helpful” advice from my friends, proposals are important to girls. So, I’ve got an engagement ring in my suitcase and no clue how I’m going to pop the question.
“You should do it tonight,” Adam says. “Everyone is here. It’s a nice night.”
“Oooh. We should play sardines!” Mav slides off the counter and tosses the pad of paper. “I’ll tell the girls.”
A rock star for a son? That wouldn’t be so bad. I might need hearing aids before I’m thirty, though.
“My turn.” Adam takes Ryan from Ginny.
It’s become a game of sorts, everyone passing my lil screaming angel around to see if they have the magic touch to get him to settle down.
Ryan quiets for a second as Adam cradles him in his arms, and we all still. Then he lets out the loudest burp I’ve ever heard and goes right back to screaming his head off.
I guess I can cross off pediatrics from my list of possible specialties.
“I have some news,” I say as Adam and I walk hand in hand toward campus. It’s weird. Even though I’m still in Valley, I rarely go to campus anymore. I don’t think it would be the same without everyone.
Adam looks down at me with both brows raised.
“I’m not pregnant,” I say with a laugh.
The relief that leaves his face is comical. We both want kids someday, but we’re waiting until after he’s finished with medical school, at least.
“I sort of auditioned for a part.” My pulse quickens.
I nod. “And I got it.”
“That’s great. You haven’t performed in a while. When’s the show?”
“They want me in L.A. next week.”
He stops walking. “L.A. as in Los Angeles?”
“It’s for a sitcom. I really didn’t think I would get it, which is why I didn’t mention the audition, but they called today. They estimate shooting will last around three months. It’s a small part, but the character is smart and layered, and oh my gosh, please say something.”
His chest rises and falls with silent laughter. “I was waiting for you to stop talking long enough to get a word in. That’s amazing news.”
“It means we’ll be apart this summer.”
“That part sucks, of course, but you have to take it. I know how much you’ve missed being on stage the past couple of years.”
He’s right. I have. I love working at the children’s theater, but I think there’s always a part of me that’s going to want to be up there myself.
“And my schedule is nuts this summer anyway.” He wraps his arms around me and rests his chin on top of my head. “I’m engaged to a freaking Hollywood Star. Watch out, Marilyn Monroe.”
“Okay, easy there.” All the nerves I’ve been fighting are back.
He leans back to look me in the eye. “You’re going to be great. I’m so proud of you.”
Heath is being weird. I think he’s still upset that the Coyotes didn’t make the playoffs. He had a great year, though. He spent some time on their farm team and got called up about halfway through the season.
I am so glad to finally graduate and move in with him. The past year being apart was hard. I love him so much, and I can’t wait to finally start our life together.
We get to campus before the others. Heath has this look on his face like he’s about to drop a bomb on me, and I wish he’d just spit it out. Did he get traded? I know life with him is going to be unpredictable, and we might have to move around a lot. I’m fine with that. I want to be wherever he is.
Maybe he’s dying? Or found out he has a long-lost twin. My brain is running with ideas, all of them crazy. I’m freaking out over here.
“Are you okay?” I finally ask because this is torture. I have no doubt of his love for me, so I know he isn’t going to break up with me. Whatever is wrong, we’ll figure it out together.
“Yeah.” He clears his throat. “There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
His brows pull together, and his mouth opens.
“You guys,” Adam yells. He has an arm around Reagan’s shoulders, and they hurry to catch up with everyone else. “Reagan is going to be on TV!”
We spend the next few minutes getting all the details and congratulating Reagan.
“I’m so excited for you,” I say as I hug her. She and Adam aren’t married yet, but I already consider her a sister. I love how much she loves my brother. And it’s really fun to gang up on him together.
“Okay, let’s do this, and we can go back and have a proper toast to celebrate,” Adam says. “Who wants to hide?”
“We do,” Heath offers. “Give us a ten-minute head start?”
“We’ll give you seven,” Adam counters.
He needs ten minutes to tell me something? This isn’t good.
With neither of us saying a word, we head off to campus. I’m struck with a million memories of us in this very spot. We’ve had some really good memories here. I guess I am a little sad to be leaving Valley U.
“Let’s sit over here on the fountain.”
“Not exactly a stellar hiding spot, Payne,” I joke to try to ease the tension.
He doesn’t so much as crack a smile.
“Oh my god, just say it.”
Panic washes over his face, and he blurts out, “Will you marry me?”
It takes several seconds for his words to filter through the crazy filter in my brain right now. Then I start laughing. Laughing so hard, I have tears.
“Way to bruise the ego, baby doll.” He pulls the ring box from his pocket.
“I’m sorry.” I get myself under control for a second and then start laughing again. “I thought you might be dying.”
“I felt like it all night.”
“Yes. Yes, of course I will marry you.”
He lets out a long breath.
“You were really sweating my answer?”
“I wasn’t when I bought the ring, but then when it came to asking you, I suddenly freaked out and realized you could say no.”
He slides the ring onto my finger, and I toss my arms around him. “You thought that was going to take ten minutes?”
A wicked grin pulls at the corner of his lips. “No, but I wanted to leave plenty of time for this.”
And then he kisses me right here at the fountain where we had our very first kiss almost four years ago.
“He hates me.” Dakota frowns as Ryan squirms in her arms.
“Poor thing,” Reagan frowns. “He’s had a rough day.”
“Us too.” Rhett and Sienna look exactly like my nannies used to at the end of the day.
“My turn.” I hold out my hands.
Kota hesitates. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I mean he’s already crying, how much worse could I make it?”
“Hey, little hellion.” His eyes widen and he stares back at me. He wraps his tiny fingers around one of my tattooed fingers, then his dark lashes fall closed.
No one moves.
“Is he?” Sienna whispers.
“Oh my gosh, you’re the baby whisper, Maverick.” Rhett chuckles.
I swallow around a lump in my throat.
“It’s time to hide,” Reagan whispers.
I don’t know why everyone is whispering now. He’s probably lost all hearing at this point.
Everyone heads off in pairs to find Ginny and Heath. Kota and I walk slowly.
“You look pretty good with a baby in your arms.”
“Pretty good?” I scoff.
Every time there’s a baby nearby, Dakota gets this dreamy look on her face. I know she wants one, maybe a bunch. Since the hockey season ended, I’ve been giving it more thought.
I have no idea if I’ll be any good at it, but there isn’t anything I wouldn’t give my wife.
“Still want one?”
“Yeah.” Her voice is quiet.
“Probably a good spot around here somewhere.”
She rolls her eyes. “I am not having sex with you in front of Ryan, Johnny Maverick.”
“His eyes are totally closed.” I grin. “I’m serious. Maybe we should start really trying when we get back. I’ve heard from some guys on the team it can’t take months or even years.”
“I don’t think it’s going to take us that long.”
“Because I’m already pregnant.”
We both stop. My heart races in my chest. Did she just say she was already pregnant?
“You must have some really good swimmers, or my eggs are really slutty because the best I can tell we got pregnant basically the first time we stopped using protection.” She looks down at Ryan. “I’m sorry for saying slutty in front of you. Twice.”
I can’t seem to form words. Which is a new thing for me.
“I just found out yesterday. Are you freaking out? I’m freaking out a little.”
“No, baby. I’m stunned and, okay, panicking just a tiny bit if I’m honest. Look how little he is.”
We both stare down at the little helpless guy in my arms. “He’s pretty freaking cute, but I think my dog is bigger than he is, and I’ve accidentally kicked Charli before when she gets under my feet. What if I kick my baby?”
“You won’t. I promise.”
She lifts up on her toes and I kiss her. Our chemistry is still off the charts even after several years of non-stop banging. Kota is fire.
Excitement builds quick. There will time later to freak out, but right now I’m just going to enjoy this moment.
“Let’s go find everyone. I can’t wait to tell them.”
“Really, you’re good?” she asks.
“Absolutely.” I swat her ass. “Come on, baby momma.”
“Oh my gosh, you are not calling me that.”
We stumble onto everyone around the fountain in the middle of the campus.
“Wow. Great spot, man,” I say to Heath.
He grins and I know he did it. He finally popped the question. Fuck, what a night.
“We’re engaged!” Ginny holds up her left hand to show off the sparkly diamond.
“Congrats!” We all say at once. The girls take turns looking at her ring.
“I have super sperm!” I yell. I can’t contain it a second longer. Everyone freezes and all eyes are on Ryan. Freaking kid sleeps right through it. Thank goodness.
“We’re having a baby,” I add quieter.
Dakota is laughing beside me. “Super sperm, really?”
I angle my body. “Reach into my right pocket.”
She gives me a haughty look, pinning me with those icy blue eyes.
“Not for that. Later.” I wink. “Grab the Mad Dog so we can do a toast.”
Kota hands Heath the bootle first and he and Ginny both do a shot, before giving it to Adam. He lifts the bottle. “My sister is engaged, I’m gonna be an honorary uncle again, and my fiancée is famous.”
Reagan rolls her eyes but takes a drink.
We’re all smiles, hugs, and congratulations. Big things are happening for all of us.
“I’ll take both of ours,” I say to Kota as I get the bottle back and take a long swallow. I pass to Rhett.
He takes a swig and then tosses it to Heath. He smiles like I haven’t seen since we got here as he wraps an arm around Sienna’s waist. “Congrats, guys. Really stoked for all of you. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to sleep. Come on, angel.”
They turn to leave, Ryan still in my arms.