Chapter 18

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Note: This chapter was finished very late last night and there was no time for a beta. Please forgive any mistakes.

“Okay, then blend on medium speed for about two minutes.” I pick up the mixer next to my bowl of ingredients, then cringe away as the beaters whir to life in case any chocolate batter sprays back at me. Thankfully, my undoubtedly Food Network level proficient skills with a hand mixer mean I stay dry, and as I watch the ingredients meld together in a luscious ribbon of dark, fudgy chocolate, my mind starts to wander back to the manuscript that has occupied nearly every thought I’ve had for the past four weeks.

What if we just cut the entire part where he goes to London? The killer is in Boston, that whole chapter is just a red herring and it’s the slowest part of the plot.

Keeping my eyes focused on the task at hand, I carefully lean over and stretch my fingers over the countertop until I can just barely touch the corner of the open Black Rose manuscript and pull it towards me. With a flick of a switch, I kill the power to the mixer, pull out one of the beaters, and lick it thoughtfully as I turn through the pages.

Shit. If we take out London, he’ll never meet the cobbler and that’s the key to the shoe print evidence that leads him to…

“How’s it going in here?”

I turn and see Christian standing in the doorway with Calliope in his arms. She’s already dressed in the party dress we bought for her last week and she looks just like a princess, all in white with a tulle skirt that billows around her like a ball gown. Tied around her waist is a deep navy blue bow that’s almost as big as she is.

I gasp. “Oh my god, look at you, birthday girl!”

Pity!” she chirps, the excitement and pride clear on her face as her fingers curl around her skirts. Christian grins and leans over to kiss her mahogany curls.

“Not just pretty,” he says. “You’re beautiful, baby girl.”

“Just like a princess.” I walk towards them and kiss my baby all over her face, before moving up and leaving a more lingering kiss against Christian’s lips. “How was your daddy/daughter breakfast?”

“Just shy of perfect.” I frown, and he reaches up to run the back of his fingers lovingly over my cheek. “We both missed you.”

I smile and lean in to kiss him again, but Calliope reaches out with her hand and pushes against my face to stop me. “No, Mama.”

“Well maybe not both of you,” I laugh, then nibble on her fingers before turning back to her cake.

“You don’t have to do this,” Christian says, following me back to the counter. “I wanted to make this as easy as possible for you.”

“I know.” In truth, the 2nd cake is a bit excessive. He’s already ordered a gargantuan, four tier masterpiece from the same fancy bakery we used for our wedding cake. The final design is beautiful, with fresh fruit and flowers used as decoration over vanilla buttercream, but it didn’t feel right to me to let someone else bake my daughter’s very first birthday cake. So, I decided to go the traditional route and bake her a small cake that will be all her own.

He sighs, but nods. “Andrea should be arriving soon. She’ll be coordinating the florists, the cake delivery, and the caterers. The people from the petting zoo should be here within the hour to start setting up and we need them to be finished before the crew from Carnival Days gets here to set up the carousel and ferris wheel. Other than that, it’s just actresses I’ve hired to play the Disney Princesses and we’re all set.”

“All eleven of them,” I say, rolling my eyes.

“She’s too young to have a favorite princess, I didn’t want to be exclusionary.”

“Don’t you think this is all a little over the top? I mean, she’s only a year old, Christian. She’s not even going to remember this party.”

“Maybe not. But I will. And I want to look back and remember how happy my baby girl was on her very first birthday.”

The sincerity in his eyes makes my throat tighten. “Well, I guess there’s no arguing with that.”

“Good.” He leans over and brushes his hand softly through my hair before pulling me into him and kissing me deeply. I hum with content, but as he pulls away, his eyes fall on the counter and the still open manuscript I’ve left sitting there. “I don’t think so, Anastasia. No working on our daughter’s birthday.”

I narrow my eyes. “Christian Grey telling me not to work. Which of the two of us has been at the office six nights a week for the last month and getting home later and later each day?”

“But not today.” There’s a smugness to his argument as he reaches behind me for the manuscript and tucks it under his elbow. “I’ll leave this in your office. If you go back for it, you’ll have to give your Monday morning meetings standing up.”

As he turns to leave, I bite my lip and shiver under the rush of endorphins that flow through me. I’d been scared that my unexpected ‘red’ last month would scare away Christian’s kinkier side. Every night for the rest of that week, he’d made love to me. Sweet, slow, passionate love. But as the days turned to one week, then two, I started to crave his rougher side again. I didn’t know what to do. For days, I’d cursed my need to take back control in that moment, thinking of it as weakness, and went so far as to practice in the mirror how I was going to broach talking to him about how I was feeling. I had a whole speech planned out, but when I purposefully dressed in the most bondage-esque lingerie I owned and prepared to give it, my concerns turned out to be completely unfounded.

“Ana, if you want to play, all you have to do is ask.”

“But I thought, maybe, you wouldn’t want to after I’d safe worded.”

“I told you not to be ashamed of that.”

“But–”

“But nothing. I’m glad you did. You needed me to stop, and you told me. That’s all that word is for. You’re not taking something away from me, you’re not being weak, you’re communicating. And that, above all else, is what I need from you. I want you to talk to me about the things you want, and I want you to tell me to stop before I ever go too far.”

“So, you’re not mad?”

“Quite the opposite actually.”

“And…” I bite my lip. “You wouldn’t be opposed to maybe tying me up a little tonight?”

His face stretches into a deviant, sexy smirk. “Oh baby, I’m prepared to do a whole lot more than just tying you up. Now that I know you’ll stop me if it’s too much, I can trust you enough to really test your limits.”

And he has. Nothing too over the top, just new and different toys, restraints, and positions. In the wake of that night, he somehow seems more free. More confident.

More dominant.

Even this morning, I still have a faint red line around each of my wrists from where he’d zip tied me to the curtain rod over our window the previous night and tortured me with a vibrator while he told me all the ways he was going to make me come. I shudder with pleasure at the memory, until Calliope comes prancing back into the kitchen, looking interestedly at the batter I’m pouring into cake pans.

“Come here, sweetie.” I dip my finger into what’s left of the chocolate in the bowl and offer it to her. She’s never had cake before, let alone batter, so she stares at the brown goop cautiously. But after finally accepting a taste, her eyes widen with pure, unfiltered joy.

“Yummy!”

I giggle. “That’s called cake, and you get to eat that on your birthday. Do you know what today is?”

“Me!”

“That’s right! It’s your birthday. You’re one whole year old today.” It hurts to say those words out loud, to admit she’s not my little baby anymore, but I don’t let any disappointment in how fast this year really has gone by show on my face. I pick her up high into the air and spin her around, relishing in her giggles, until the doorbell rings.

“Who’s that?” I ask her.

“Gigi?” Otherwise known as Grandma.

“Let’s go check.” I bring her down and settle her on my hip, then head for the front door where we find, not Grace, but Andrea standing on our doorstep.

“Hi, Callie!” she squeals as I step aside to let her in. “Happy Birthday!”

“Me!”

I laugh. “That’s about as good as we’ve been able to get in terms of birthday.”

“Well, what more do you need?” She grins, then leans in to give me a hug. “How have you been? It’s been awhile since I’ve seen you around the office.”

“Yeah, well… I have to make myself scarce around Grey Publishing. Corporate espionage and all that.”

“Can’t have that.” She turns and beams at Calliope again. “My goodness, this dress turned out so beautiful.”

“Christian demanded we have something custom made. I thought it was going to be our one big splurge for the party and then he ordered a circus.”

She laughs. “Of course he did. You know, after last year, I would have never thought that man could love anything as much as he loves you. But this little one gives you a run for your money.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty hard not to fall under her spell.”

“We sure do miss having her so close,” she sighs. “Especially with all the fallout from the fusion project.”

“What do you mean?”

“It was just nice when he was able to visit her during the day. Sometimes, if he was having a bad day and taking it out on everyone, Ms. Bailey would go down and pull Calliope out of daycare and bring her up to him. He’d be fine after that.”

“Really? Well, uh…”

“I’m sorry, Ana. I didn’t mean to… I mean, we get it. It was just nice having her around is all.” She smiles brightly at me and wiggles her fingers at Calliope again, but the doorbell rings before I can change the subject. “I guess that’s for me,” she says. “I’ll take it from here, Ana. Mr. Grey’s orders.”

“Thank you, Andrea.” With a grateful smile, I turn back to the living room, where Christian and I spend the rest of the morning playing tea party with our little princess.

The last bolts are being screwed into the Ferris Wheel newly erected in our back yard when Christian and I take Calliope upstairs for her nap. He tries to use the little time we have before the first guests arrive to check his emails and look over a few of the new acquisition contracts left over from the previous week, but after insisting that he himself said that we weren’t to work today, I’m able to drag him down in the kitchen with me to frost Calliope’s smash cake.

“This is delicious,” he said through a mouthful of homemade chocolate frosting.

“But it would be a lot more effective if a little more of it made it onto the cake instead of into your mouth.”

“That sounds much less enticing.”

I give him a stern look and pick up one of the spreading knives. “Get to frosting, buddy.”

“Sure thing.” He dips his fingers back into the bowl of frosting and quickly brushes a dollop of it on my nose. My mouth drops open in indignation but he only grins back.

“So that’s how it’s going to be, then?”

“Looks like it.”

“Then just remember that you started this…”

“Don’t test me, Anastasia.”

I place my finger over the tip of the frosting spreader, pull it back, and launch bits of chocolate all over him. He licks the speck of frosting away that landed his lip and dives for me. The spatula falls to the floor as he lifts me off the ground and onto the counter. I guard myself incase there’s another chocolate attack coming my way, but his hands move up into my hair and his mouth meets mine.

“Now what am I going to do with you?”

“Love me forever and ever and ever.”

“Besides that.” He smiles again, and then his eyes look up at the pot rack hanging over the kitchen island, then at the clock, then back at me.

“Don’t you even think about it!” I tell him.

“No?” His fingers move to my sides and I devolve into a fit of giggles as he tickles me relentlessly, only managing to stop myself from falling to the floor by the strength of his fingers. I playfully plead for him to stop through my hitched breathing and laughter, and once he does he pulls me into his arms, holds me close, and kisses the crown of my head.

“Mr. Grey?”

His shoulders rise and fall, then his lips part from my hair and he looks at Taylor waiting stone faced in the doorway. “Yes, Taylor?”

“Your parents have arrived. The rest of my team is helping them carry in Miss Calliope’s presents.”

“They need help?” I repeat, and Taylor cracks a rare smile as he nods. With a last quick kiss, Christian helps me down off the counter, takes my hand, and leads me to the entryway where we find Woods and the four security guards we hired for this party carrying in so many wrapped packages, it looks like the delivery from FAO Schwartz’s annual Christmas toy drive.

“Oh my…”

“We might have gone just a little overboard,” Grace says, leaning in to kiss my cheek as she hands her coat over to Taylor. “But she only turns one once.”

“As made clear by the state of my backyard,” I reply. She beams and moves to Christian, and Carrick steps up into her place.

“I tried to stop her.”

“You did not.” He laughs, shakes his head, and pulls me into a tight hug.

“We’ve missed you, Ana. Sunday brunch hasn’t been the same without you guys.”

“I know. We’ve been meaning to get out there but we’ve just been… busy.”

Carrick looks over at Christian, blank faced, and nods. “Yeah, I imagine.” He steps to the side and reaches a hand out to Christian, while I pull Mia into my side. “How are you doing, son?”

“Great, thanks. You?”

“Really well.” They stand awkwardly before each other, clearly unsure what to say, and Grace and I exchange nervous looks.

“Knock, knock!” For the first time, I breathe a sigh of relief at the sound of that voice.

“Kim,” Christian greets her, warmly. She shrugs out of her jacket and sheepishly passes it to Taylor, before moving over to my husband and kissing each of his cheeks. “Where’s little Calliope?”

“Naptime,” he replies, and she pouts with disappointment.

“Hey, kiddo.” My dad comes through the door with a small package wrapped in the same cartoon wrapping paper he used to wrap my birthday presents in when I was a kid. I smile as I take it and then step into his open embrace.

“Hi, daddy. Thank you for driving all the way up here.”

“Oh, hush. You know we wouldn’t miss it for the world.” He kisses my cheek, then shakes Christian’s hand.

“Can we see the carnival?” Grace asks. Christian nods and as he leads the way to our backyard, my dad drapes an arm over my shoulder and gives me all the new details of a custom wood piece he’s been working on in his shop that he and Kim plan to sell at the Grays Harbor County Fair. Andrea already has punch and snacks spread out on the tables, so we gather around and chat amongst ourselves while we wait for the rest of Calliope’s guests to arrive.

There’s a lot of them. Most every child from the GEH daycare has been invited, even the ones much too old to be friends with Calliope in anyway, and along with them comes their parents. Which immediately explains the vast guest list. In addition to Ros and Welch, nearly every GEH department head is in attendance. As I make my way around the party, playing hostess, Christian and I speak with other Seattle business magnates, city councilmen, and some of the old money elites he schmoozes down at the yacht club whenever he has a big project that needs investors. Most of them have children, though one couple seems to have brought their niece, and every single one of them seems delighted by the grandeur of festivities. They get lost in business talk, congratulating Christian again and again on a recent acquisition his company has made, which they all make out to be a huge deal but he’s never mentioned to me. Honestly, most of it is hard to follow so when I see Luke and Jade appear through the patio doors, I’m only too anxious to get away and catch up with my best friend.

“Excuse me a moment,” I say politely, then squeeze Christian’s arm before turning away and hurrying up the stone steps. It’s only once I make it onto the veranda though, that I realize Luke and Jade aren’t alone. There’s an eight or nine year old girl walking a few paces behind them, glancing around nervously as she tries to stay hidden behind Jade.

“Hey, Luke!” I greet him brightly, pulling him into a hug. He squeezes me, then pulls away so I can do the same to Jade, and hands me the gift bag draped over his arm.

“This is incredible,” Jade tells me, glancing over the rides and the animals currently ripping up all my grass.

“Yeah. It’s a little much, I know…”

“No, it’s perfect. I’m sure the birthday girl is in heaven.” She winks, then pulls the girl I noticed early out from behind her. “Ana, I’d like to introduce you to my little sister, Jessica.”

I smile. “Hi, Jess. I hope you’re ready to play. There’s lots of fun stuff down there.”

“Can I go on the rides?.”

“Of course you can. I think they’re just about to do cotton candy. Do you want to go play with the other kids?” She nods, looks up to Jade for permission, and once Jade gives her the green light smile, she scurries off down the stairs to the crowd of children forming around the cotton candy machine.

“I’d better go with her,” Jade says, uncertainly. “She has a hard time opening up to people she doesn’t know and I don’t want her to feel left out.”

“Find me when you’re done,” Luke tells her. She tells him that she will and with a kiss, she turns and heads down the stairs after Jessica.

“Little sister, huh?”

“Sort of. Jade’s in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program. Today was one of their outing days and somehow I knew this was going to top going to the bowling alley.”

“Oh, but that’s sweet. If you two ever break up, can I date her?”

“Absolutely, because if you ever manage to get that past Grey, you’ve earned it.” I laugh, but stop as I notice him glancing around warily.

“What?”

“Guard at the gate, back door, two on the outer perimeter, and Woods at the bottom of the stairs in the house. Is that everyone?”

I raise an eyebrow. “Yes.”

“And where’s Taylor?”

“In his office, watching on the security cameras. Why? Security not tight enough for you again?”

“No, I just want to make sure I know where all the eyes are so I can talk to you in private.”

“About wh–”

“Not here.” He takes my hand and drags me around to a small alcove where the balcony meets the house. It’s about a two foot blind spot between the security cameras on the east and south sides of the house, something only a man as ingrained in our security team as Luke was would know.

“What’s going on?”

“I think I’ve got everything we’re going to get on Alexis Young. If you want to move on this, I suggest we do it soon.”

“Have you figured out why she’s watching us?”

“No idea, but she’s spent just about every day of the last two weeks camped outside of GEH. She has to be collecting information, but I have no idea for who.”

My blood turns cold. “Okay, then we confront her and find out.”

“Ana, maybe this is something we need to get Taylor in on. She’s been dangerous in the past.”

“No. If Taylor knows about any of this, he’ll know you’ve been working for me and it won’t take him long to find out about Kozlowski or the tape we sent to the news to help Carrick’s campaign. Christian and I are finally back in a really good place, I don’t want to drag this shit back into it. We can handle this on our own.”

“I don’t know.”

“Then leave it to me. Tell me where I’ll find her and I’ll go talk to her myself.”

“Yeah, okay.” His voice is sarcastic, and he rolls his eyes to let me know that would never happen in a million years.

“Luke…”

“Fine. But we’re going to have to move quick if we’re going to fool your security. Expect me, all the time. Be ready.”

“Okay. I will.” He looks at me hesitantly for a few more seconds, but there’s not time for further argument because we both hear footsteps on the concrete patio coming in our direction. I expect security, but it turns out to be Christian, which is probably worse.

“What are you doing?” he asks, eyes narrowing in on Luke.

“Just talking,” I reply, quickly stepping out of the alcove and slipping my hand into his. He looks suspiciously between the two of us for a moment, which kills me, but ultimately decides not to press the issue.

“I think it’s time we brought Calliope down,” he says instead.

“Right. Enjoy the rides, Luke.”

“Sure.”

I pull against Christian’s hand, which is required because he doesn’t seem ready to end his overly intense inspection of my best friend. Luke gives him a tight smile and moves quickly past the two of us and down the stairs, and Christian turns his hard gaze down on me.

“Just talking?”

“He’s… in a new relationship. It’s all new to him and sometimes he needs some advice. I’m his best friend.”

“Everything good between the two of them?”

“Yeah.” I nod. “Everything is going great.”

He breathes a sigh of relief and regains his previously happy composure. “Then let’s go get our baby.”

“Our one year old,” I pout dramatically, and he kisses my forehead before taking me by the hand and walking with me back into the house.

Unfortunately, Calliope isn’t quite ready to wake up when I pull her out of her crib. She fusses and fights her droopy eyelids while I change and re-dress her, and once we’ve brought her outside, she seems less concerned with the party than she is with the ends of my hair.

“There she is!” Grace says excitedly, stepping away from Kate, Elliot, and Kennedy for what I’m sure is the first time since they’ve arrived. I smile at the three of them and hurry over.

“Oh, Kate, look at her! That dress is adorable.”

“I know, right?” She beams down at the baby in her arms, her eyes alight with joy, and my heart seems to expand in my chest. Calliope, on the other hand, seems less enthused by her cousin’s arrival.

“Dada,” she says, reaching her arms out for him. He takes her from me, and Calliope gives Kennedy a warning look before burying her face in his shoulder, the way she did to me.

Elliot laughs. “Defense as the best offense, I like it.”

“I’m telling you,” Grace chimes in, “she’ll be less possessive with a little brother or sister…”

“Not gonna happen,” Christian says. He rubs her back reassuringly and tries to bring her closer to the baby, but she squirms in his arms and starts to scream. He frowns and gives Kate an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, she just woke up…”

“Oh, I know about cranky babies,” she smiles back. “But you know, she might just perk up if she gets to open some presents.” Suddenly, Calliope sits up straight and looks at Kate with wide, hopeful eyes. Clearly, presents is a word she remembers from Christmas.

“That’s my girl,” my dad says, coming up behind Elliot and clapping him on the shoulder. “Let’s get to the good stuff, huh?”

“Ray!” Kate exclaims. “Have you met our daughter yet?”

“Not yet. And Annie has told me all about how beautiful she was, but I gotta say… for a writer, her descriptions do not do this baby justice.”

“Awh.” Kate’s beams at him and tilts the baby in her arms so my dad can get a better look. His face breaks into a smile as he leans over to drink her in.

“She got a name?”

“William Howard Taft,” Elliot replies, not missing a beat, and Kate rolls her eyes.

“Kennedy. Her name is Kennedy.”

“Isn’t it perfect?” I ask, smiling at my father. He nods and reaches out to tickle her lips with his index finger.

“Everything about her is perfect. Just perfect.”

“Dada!” Calliope tugs on Christian’s collar, making it obvious to us all that she hasn’t forgotten the word presents yet, and we all laugh at the impatient look on her face.

“Okay, birthday girl. Let’s go open your presents.”

With a stack of gifts in front of her, Calliope seems to get over her post-naptime grumpiness in no time. She sits with Christian and I, unwrapping package after package, in front of a crowd of onlookers. Each gift is more extravagant than the last, especially the ones from the higher ups from within Christian’s own company, and with each designer outfit, expensive toy, or exorbitant bond she opens, I notice Kim’s mouth growing tighter and tighter out of the corner of my eye. Calliope though, seems just as interested in the wrapping paper as she does the Dior trench coat Christian helps her open from Ros.

“Here’s one from Grandpa Ray!” Grace says, passing the package I took from my father earlier this afternoon to Christian and Calliope. I look up at him and he winks back at me. Kim reaches down and takes his hand in hers, then pulls in a deep breath like she’s preparing herself for something.

Calliope, an expert now, quickly tears away the paper to reveal a rather beat up copy Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends. I glance down at it, brow furrowed, until Christian and Calliope start flipping through the pages and I see some very familiar markings on the pages.

“Daddy!”

“It’s the same copy you and I used to read every night before bed when you were real little. I thought maybe you and Calliope could carry on the tradition and it would be like…” He shrugs, always uncomfortable with emotion in front of people. “Like, I was there with you.”

“Of course you are.” I get up and throw my arms around him, hugging him as tightly as I can manage. “I love it, Dad. And she will too. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Kiddo.” He kisses me on the cheek, then lets me go so I can sit with Calliope while she goes through the final few presents she has left, but every time I look up at him, his eyes seem to glitter with pride.

“No, no.” Calliope says, looking through the sea of wrapping paper around her and not finding any more gifts to open.

“All done,” Grace sighs.

“What about Christian and Ana’s present?” Kate asks. Christian looks over at me and smiles. I nearly roll my eyes, because I know he’s more excited to give her our gift than she could ever be to receive it, even though we both know it’s what she’ll love more than anything else in the world.

“Is it ready?” I ask.

“It’s down with the zoo waiting for us.”

“Well then, let’s go.” I take Carrick’s hands as he helps me to my feet, then wrap an arm around Mia as the crowd saunters down to the petting zoo. It was probably a mistake keeping her gift down here, because Calliope very quickly shifts out of gift opening mode with all the animals to look at and pet, but Christian manages to draw her away from a tiny little lamb, just long enough to get her attention.

“Ready, Princess?” he asks. She makes an overly excited sound in response and Christian disappears into the tent the people who own the animals set up for supplies. I hold tightly to Callie, feeling my own excitement mounting as I anticipate her reaction, but when Christian comes back through the vinyl flaps at the entrance to the tent, every emotion bubbling up inside of me vanishes and is replaced by shock.

“Ho-see!” Calliope cries with delight, throwing herself forward and reaching out with her arms. I tighten my hold on her and take a step back. Christian is holding onto a rope, leading a pure white pony, whose hair has been braided with baby pink ribbons, towards us.

“I-I…” I stutter, unable to speak as I stare down at the completely unexpected animal. “I thought we agreed on a puppy?”

“Every little girl has a puppy,” Christian says, running the flat of his hand over the pony’s back. “And you know how much she loves those cartoon pony toys she has.”

“Toys,” I breathe, but I have to recover quickly, because Calliope struggles harder and harder to get to the pony with every passing second.

“Ho-see, Mama. Ho-see!”

I glance up at Christian again and mouth the words, ‘we’ll talk about this later’, to him, then carry her forward and let her enjoy the gift that’s a surprise to both of us.

After Calliope has finally had her fill of her own brand new pony, and the rest of the animals in the petting zoo, it’s time for her birthday cake. I must take a dozen pictures of her sitting in front of the small round cake I baked her this morning, and her staring with interest at the solitary flickering candle in the middle while everyone around her sings. Once the song ends, she’s not really sure what to do, so Christian leans down and helps her blow out the candle, then lets her finally dig in hands first. Her beautiful dress is quickly ruined as every inch of her is covered in chocolate cake and frosting, but while the rest of our guests stand around eating the big cake and fawning over how delicious it is, I sit alone with my baby and watch with complete and utter rapture as she enjoys the tasty treat in front of her. With hands completely covered in cake, she curls her fingers into fists and looks over at me, shaking with elation and she hums a loud and clear ‘Mmmm’, and as the happiness of this perfect washes over me, my eyes well with tears.

It’s moments like this that make life worth living.

The party lasts far longer than we intend for it too. After cake, Calliope wants to go back down to the animals where she spends the rest of her party feeding goats and having my dad hold onto her while she rides around a small little enclosure on her pony. Eventually though, our guests trickle out, our family says their goodbyes, and Calliope passes out in her daddy’s arms. When we lay her down in bed, and see the smallest hint of a smile still painted on her lips, even in sleep, I decide that Christian was right earlier. All of this was worth it to see her so happy on her first birthday.

“Am I in trouble?” he asks, after we’ve closed her door and we’re finally alone.

“Far from it,” I breathe back, and lean in to give him a deep, loving kiss. He hums, then pulls back and brushes the wayward strands of hair from my eyes.

“It was a good party. Almost a shame that it’s over.”

“Over?” I repeat. “Oh no, my love. The birthday festivities may have come to a close, but the party is just about to begin.”

He raises an eyebrow at me, so I give him a tantalizing smile, take his hand, and drag him back to our bedroom.

Next Chapter

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