Chapter 9





Monday morning dawned with Luis staring wondrously into his daughter’s blue eyes.

Pausing at the doorway to Hope’s nursery, Sheridan admired the beautiful picture they made in the glowing sunlight spilling in through the windows.

Hope’s tiny fists waved in the air, her mouth opened in a coo at Luis as he cradled her close. Little toes clenched and unclenched as tiny bare feet pushed against Luis’s stomach.

Sheridan smiled at the enchanted pair, filing the precious moment away in her mind to remember always. She crossed the room on silent bare feet, slipping her arms around Luis’s waist from behind and dropping her head to place a loving kiss on his shoulder. “I love the smell of baby powder on a man,” she teased. “It has a certain sexy appeal.”

Grinning, Luis turned around so that they were face to face, Hope nestled between them as they kissed good morning.

“Time’s up,” Sheridan announced, taking her baby daughter from her husband’s reluctant arms. “My turn,” she smiled, nuzzling the sweet-smelling dark curls on Hope’s head before gently pressing a kiss to each chubby cheek. “Daddy has to share you. Isn’t that right, Sweetheart?” Her lilting laughter filled the room when Hope gurgled in seeming affirmation. “See? Hope agrees 100% with me, Luis.”

Luis left the cheerful yellow nursery, shaking his head in amusement.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~



Bracing her hands on either side of the bathroom sink, Abby watched the swirling water chase the foamy white bubbles of toothpaste down the drain. When she raised her head to study her reflection, she found herself staring into Miguel’s concerned brown eyes.

“I’m coming with you,” Miguel looked away almost uncomfortably. “You don’t need to be alone if he doesn’t show up.”


Abby gave the hand towel hanging to her right one last straightening tug before turning around to face him. “You don’t have to do that, Miguel. I left him a message.” And basically made myself unavailable to the man since I ran away from him—again—less than 48 hours ago, not giving him time to have a reaction. “He knows about the appointment,” Abby sighed. “If he doesn’t show up, I guess I’ll know where he stands…” she trailed off, growing somber at the mere possibility. “Stay, Miguel. You have a lot of catching up to do with your sister.”

Miguel brightened at the mention of Paloma.

Knowing he only needed a little push to be convinced, Abby decided to try one of her more effective methods where Miguel was concerned: merciless teasing. “Come on. Do you really want to see me in my skivvies THAT bad? You know all you have to do is ask. Although…I have to warn you…I’m not the sexpot I used to be.” Ignoring the slight blush to his cheeks, she continued. “I’ve put on a few pounds. I had had high hopes for some cleavage, but so far, to no avail. They’re just sore as hell. Not any bigger,” she blew out an exaggerated breath of frustration. “Which totally sucks. The breast exam should be interesting”

“O-O-Okay,” Miguel waved any further commentary off, stammering in embarrassment. “You know the number if you need me.”

“Don’t worry, Miguel,” Abby laughed. “In the interest of preserving the wonderful relationship we have and you ever being able to look me in the eyes again, I’ll spare you.” Abby thought she heard a muttered thanks as Miguel made a beeline for the door.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~






Cristian was assigned the painstaking task of removing shell bits from the bowl of scrambled eggs while Ali oversaw the frying of the bacon.

Miss Priss swished her fluffy white tail back and forth under Max’s nose tauntingly from her kitchen chair perch while Gizmo burrowed under a Harmony Herald newspaper tent on the tiled floor.

Bread, burnt almost black and unrecognizable, popped up from the toaster as Luis entered the kitchen after dressing for the day, and his eyes widened when he spied four glasses placed atop the set kitchen table, filled to the rim with orange juice. Clearing his throat, he made his presence known. “Mmm. Something smells good.”

Ali’s blond peach fuzz-covered head whipped around, and her sunny smile lit up the room. “Good morning, Daddy.”

Luis chuckled when Cristian promptly abandoned his task, propping his chin on his upraised hand with a frown.

“There’s too many.” Eyeing Luis, he sighed. “Do you think Mommy will be able to tell?”

“Mommy’s no stranger to crunchy eggs,” Luis reassured him as he grabbed the bowl from the bar and poured the contents, eggshells and all, into the second skillet on the stove, causing Ali to burst into giggles.

Catching her breath, Ali admonished him, blue eyes twinkling. “Daddy!”

“She’ll never know,” Luis winked. “The bacon’s done. Ali…get Mama’s big platter and put the toast and bacon on it while I finish up the eggs. And Cristian…get Mommy’s rose.”



~*~*~*~*~*~*~



Stopping occasionally to chew on the end of the pen in her hand thoughtfully, Abby filled out the stack of forms in front of her while pondering the wisdom of telling Ellie to buy a one-way ticket to Hell in front of Katie and half of the oncology ward when she made some not-so-pretty insinuations. It was definitely not one of her shining moments—not by a long shot. News of her pregnancy must have reached half of the hospital by now, and she hadn’t even mustered up enough guts to tell Hank yet. So much for breaking the news gently to her overprotective friend. Unconsciously rubbing a hand over her abdomen, she muttered to the child inside of her, “We need to talk to Luis about getting your daddy into the Witness Protection program as soon as possible.” Not that she believed Hank was actually capable of…Hell! Who was it now? She frowned when the pair of white nurse’s clogs came to a dead stop in front of her, and a curse was on her lips when her hazel eyes took in Katie’s amused smirk. “What the hell’s so funny?”

“Oh, nothing,” Katie continued to smirk. “Just…you wouldn’t want to protect him if you didn’t still love him.”

“You’ve been watching that damned Learning Channel again, haven’t you,” Abby retorted, tossing a tawny braid over her shoulder and shifting in her seat. She tucked the clipboard underneath her purse and turned to face Katie. “I bet your favorite’s ‘A Dating Story’.”

“Actually, I’m more into ‘A Wedding Story’ these days,” Katie replied.

“Smartass,” Abby rolled her eyes at her.

“Now I know why you’ve been being such a bitch lately,” Katie’s green eyes sparkled with humor at the look of incredulity Abby was currently giving her. “Hormones.”

“Does Noah know what a potty mouth his dear, sweet, little fiancée has?” Abby let the question hang in the air. “Boy, do you have him fooled. You’re such a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” she shook her head at Katie’s cutesy scrubs.

“My kids like them,” Katie shrugged, the expression on her face suddenly turning serious as she focused all of her attention on her friend. “He knows about the baby and the appointment, right?”

“And he still isn’t here,” Abby sighed, slipping her purse onto her shoulder and grabbing the clipboard when the nurse at the front desk announced her name.

Katie stood with her, the picture of concern. “I’m on lunch break. If you want, I could go in there with you. I know the first time can be a little scary. Especially if you’re…all alone,” she trailed off, obviously regretting her choice of words.

“I’m not alone,” Abby faked a cheerful smile, resting a hand over her still non-existent belly. “I’m okay, Katie. Really. I guess I just didn’t get the answer I wanted. Work on Hank for me, will you? Nick’s already on his crap-list. When he finds out his favorite person knocked me up…”

“You put it so delicately,” Katie laughed. “I will. Call me later? Mama’s taking Kendall with her to visit her sister tomorrow, and I have to get him all packed up, but I’ll be home all night. Noah’s working late.”

“I’m sure you don’t want to know EVERYTHING,” Abby teased, backing away as the nurse called her name a second time, “but I will. And Katie? You’re going to have to learn to live with the bitch so I’m going to apologize in advance, okay?”

Katie laughed, even though she knew Abby was far from joking. Maybe she should say a little prayer for herself and all the men in Abby’s life at the next Mass.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



“You’re a big brother now, Cristian,” Luis gripped his young son’s shoulder firmly. “Do you know what that means?”

Cristian stopped mid-nod to shake his head, his dark brows furrowing as he looked to his father for answers.

“It means that you’re Hope’s protector,” Luis told him, and he paused for a moment as Cristian’s solemn gaze traveled several feet away to land on his baby sister, nestled against Sheridan’s breast in slumber as a warm gentle breeze made the hammock sway to and fro. “She’s going to look to you for all the answers to her questions.”

“But I don’t know all the answers,” Cristian frowned.

“You’ll find them,” Luis reassured him. “And it won’t matter if you don’t because she’s still going to think you’re the best big brother in the world.”

“What if she doesn’t?” Cristian worried.

“She will,” Luis answered him. “You think Ali’s the best big sister no matter what, don’t you?”

Cristian nodded his head vigorously. “She is.”

“See? What did I tell you?” Luis smiled at his young son, giving his shoulder a fatherly pat before gathering him close to his side and nodding down at the shaded hammock where Ali stirred slightly before sighing and falling back to sleep tucked safely in Sheridan’s arms, one bare leg thrown over her mother’s. “Do we have the prettiest girls in Maine or what?”

“In the whole wide world,” Cristian corrected him, letting his feet dangle from the tree house floor. “We must be the luckiest guys in the world.”

Luis’s only answer was a grin. He didn’t have anything to add. Cristian had already said it all.



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



“All those home pregnancy tests weren’t lying, Abby,” Maggie re-entered the small examining room with a smile on her lips as she lay the charts in her hands aside. “You’re pregnant. Nearly three months pregnant, in fact. Why didn’t you come to see me sooner?”

“Have you ever heard of a little thing called Denial?” Abby muttered. “I just couldn’t be pregnant. Not after…”

“And now?” Maggie gently prodded. “You seem to have accepted this pregnancy. What changed?”

“With my pitiful track record, this baby’s going to end up being the love of my life,” Abby answered her, picking self-consciously at the hospital-issue gown she’d recently put on in preparation for the physical exam.

“The odds of that happening anyway are very good,” Maggie told her, giving her a light pat on the arm before donning a pair of gloves. “Is it completely out of the realm of possibility that you and the baby’s father will reunite? I don’t know him personally, but from all accounts, he seems to be a good man. A good person. I can’t promise this is going to be pleasant, but I’ll be a gentle as I can,” Maggie promised when Abby flinched at her touch, her hazel eyes clamping shut at the almost painful sensation.

“I can handle swollen ankles and the near-constant urge to pee better than this,” Abby hissed as she willed herself to relax, dragging in deep, replenishing breaths. “This kid is going to be the death of me. The morning sickness is a hundred times worse…dammit, Maggie!” she swore.

“I’m sorry,” Maggie murmured, lifting a guiding hand to Abby’s shoulder. “I want you to lie back. We’re almost finished with the uncomfortable stuff then we’ll have a listen at the heartbeat.” Noticing the suspicious wetness of Abby’s hazel eyes, Maggie looked away discreetly. She continued her exam, and after several minutes of silence, cleared her throat. “All finished,” she announced. “Everything seems to be in order. I’m going to step outside and have Dawn call in these prescriptions. I’ll be right back.”

Abby simply nodded, hugging her arms around her waist as she looked at the opposite wall, blinking away the unwanted tears. Dammit! She didn’t know whether she was crying over the fact that Nick obviously wanted nothing more to do with her or his own child or the fact that, any minute now, the life she carried inside her would be more real to her than ever. It wouldn’t be THIS baby, THE baby, or THIS KID anymore. It’d be HER baby. “My baby,” she whispered, giving in to the tears tracking down her cheeks. She didn’t even try to hide them when she heard the sound of the door opening or footsteps approaching. Maggie had already seen them anyway.

“OUR baby,” Nick corrected her, taking her hand in his own. Wiping her tears away with the pads of his fingers and not letting her look away, he pressed his lips against her forehead and pulled back to stare deeply into her eyes, his apology clearly visible in his own gray ones. “I’m here now.”


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



Lifting the last two slices of pizza onto his plate, Luis tucked the box under his arm, tossing it into the trash as he followed the sound of laughter into the living room. The silly antics of Cristian’s favorite cartoon characters played out on the television screen, but Luis soon discovered it was just background noise for the real entertainment.

In record time, Hope had taken her rightful position in the Lopez-Fitzgerald household: the undisputed center of attention.

Shooing Miss Priss away, Luis reclaimed his place at Sheridan’s side, balancing the plate of pizza in his lap as he reached for his drink. He smiled at the way she automatically curled her body around his and gestured at the scene before them with his glass. “What did I miss?”

“Roo’s ticklish, Daddy,” Ali giggled, lightly tracing a pink nail over the arch of Hope’s tiny foot. “She makes the same face Cristian does when you tickle his feet. Watch.”

Hope jerked her foot away from Ali’s touch, and her little nose scrunched up. Her fists flailed out, one of them catching Cristian on the chin. Ali shrieked with giggles when Cristian pretended to be knocked out on the floor and Hope went completely still for a moment before cooing loudly and wiggling with pleasure. Her blue eyes lit up, and her little hands grabbed greedily at Cristian’s hair when his laughing face loomed in front of hers again. Luckily for Cristian, her uncoordinated attempt failed.

“Bath time for you, Monsieur Clown,” Sheridan laughingly announced as she stood up, carefully scooping Hope up and transferring her to Luis’s waiting arms.

“But Mommy,” Cristian protested.

“You too, Ali,” Sheridan said, forcing herself to keep a straight face as Cristian left the living room with an air of total dejection. “Make sure he doesn’t just turn the water on and let it run,” she instructed Ali. “I’ll be back there in a few minutes.” When Ali left, Sheridan found herself smiling at her smirking husband. “What?”

“Nothing,” Luis answered her, holding out his pinkie for Hope to grasp. “If you’d told him to wash behind his ears, I’d swear you were channeling my mother.”

“Luis!” Sheridan exclaimed. “I guess I’ve earned that ‘Mom’ from Ali, huh?” she quizzed him, smiling down at their baby daughter over his shoulder. Touching her thumb to Hope’s chin, she murmured, “I think I see a little bit of your sister in her, Luis.”

“I don’t know if I can raise another Theresa,” Luis chuckled, gazing down at Hope whose tiny mouth opened in a yawn.

Sheridan shook her head. “Paloma, Luis. Let me ask you something. If Hope is a dreamer like Theresa, are you going to try to change her or let her stay true to herself?”

Luis sighed after several moments of contemplation then gave his honest answer. “I won’t try to change her. But I’ll always feel the need to protect her. It’s something I can’t help. I just don’t want her to get hurt, and if her head is always in the clouds like Theresa’s always was…Dreamers get hurt, Sheridan, when their dreams don’t come true. I never wanted to take away any of Theresa’s dreams. I just wanted her to wake up and see reality sometimes so I wouldn’t have to worry about her as much. Was that really so bad? I wanted her to have a clearer, more level head on her shoulders. Like Paloma. She’s a realist. Like me.”

“I never would have guessed you two weren’t raised together in the same house,” Sheridan agreed with a gentle smile. “I’m sorry, Luis. I can’t help but feel somewhat responsible for my father’s actions. Taking your father away the way he did…I can’t imagine Ali and Cristian growing up knowing each other only through letters, pictures, and phone calls. It must have been so hard…”

“Paloma’s home now where she belongs thanks to you,” Luis cut her off. “Hopefully to stay.”

“She’s got more than enough reasons,” Sheridan told him, snuggling close to him and delicately trailing her fingertips across Hope’s dark brow. Black lashes fluttered sleepily against her porcelain cheeks as Sheridan gently lifted her and cradled her against her breast. Standing up and pressing her cheek to Hope’s downy head, she smiled down at Luis as he lifted a hand to caress the back of her bare knee. “It looks like another one of Theresa’s dreams is on its way to becoming reality.”

With a mock groan he asked, “Which dream is that? There’ve been so many.”

“Her dream of having her whole family there for her and Chad’s wedding,” Sheridan stated simply and hopefully. “Theresa’s sure Antonio’s coming home.”

“Mom!” Ali called out, preventing Luis’s response and making Hope fuss lightly, “Cristian’s snorkeling in the tub again!”

“Luis?” Sheridan paused, stroking Hope’s back comfortingly as she handed her back to Luis. The hardness around his eyes at the mention of Antonio was gone thankfully, but she was still a little concerned.

“Go remind our son that the Great Barrier Reef is not in our bathroom,” Luis told her with a slight smile on his lips. “I know it’s not as good as one of your lullabies, but I’ll read to her,” Luis murmured his plan against Hope’s temple as she squirmed in his embrace. “Or maybe I’ll tell her the story of how we met,” he grinned. “Ali always loved that one when she was little.”

“Luis, you’re awful,” Sheridan couldn’t help but laugh at his gently teasing tone of voice. “Meet me later in our room?”

“Mrs. Lopez-Fitzgerald, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were propositioning me,” Luis deduced with much self-satisfaction. “Best offer I’ve had all night.”

“Tsk, tsk, Luis,” Sheridan scolded playfully. “Not in front of the baby.”



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



“If you weren’t the sole reason behind my spending more than half of the day in front of this damn thing, I’d thank you,” Abby muttered as she leaned heavily against Nick solid’s form, grudgingly allowing him to sweep her tawny braid from her shoulder and run a cool, damp cloth across her brow. Her slender shoulders slumped forward against his bracing arm, the fatigue that never left her far behind these days dictating her movements. She was so damned tired that she didn’t protest when Nick lifted her onto the porcelain edge of the tub, offering her a glass of water. She weakly shoved the glass away in favor of mouthwash. Gargling and spitting it out quickly, she tried to glare menacingly at him but failed miserably. “I thought I told you to take me home,” she grumbled, scowling as Lucky wound himself around her legs, ‘welcoming her home’ with a continuous purr.

“You are home,” Nick responded, his gray eyes unblinking and resolute.

“I am NOT,” Abby snapped, standing up and pushing past him and Lucky on shaky legs. She made it as far as the kitchen before she started feeling faint again, grabbing hold of the counter to keep her balance. She cursed silently when she felt Nick’s steadying hand at the small of her back. What? Did he think just because she’d let him hold her as they listened to their baby’s heartbeat together in Maggie’s office that everything was suddenly hunky-dory and he had free reign to touch her again? “I mean it, Nick. Take me home,” she growled, whirling around—and falling right into his arms. “SHIT!” As if that weren’t enough, she realized tears were threatening again halfway to the sofa.

Nick sat down, Abby straddling his thighs, and his hand found its way to her face. In a soft whisper, he broke her heart all over again. “Tell me what’s wrong. Is this about what Maggie said…”

“Don’t!” Abby clamped her hand over Nick’s mouth, her hazel eyes wide and brimming with tears that stubbornly refused to fall. When Nick pushed her hand away and attempted to speak again, she brought her mouth down over his in a frantic kiss. Her hands framed the sides of his face then ran roughly through his dark hair as she tried to force him into silence with her lips. The kiss was angry, scared, and filled with a sadness she’d carried with her since Maggie’s parting words.

Caught up in his own need to touch her, Nick allowed the kiss to go on, sliding his hands up her thighs and resting them gently on her hips before clutching at the hem of the soft lavender tee shirt she’d worn home sans the uncomfortable scrap of satin and lace she’d tucked into her purse. His hands burned a path up and down the warm, smooth skin of her back, taking the shirt with them. His fingers tenderly unraveled Abby’s tawny braids and cupped her head as her mouth continued its ferocious assault on his and her denim-clad knees dug into his sides as she shifted more fully onto his lap. From her shoulders, his hands skimmed down her arms, taking her hands in his own and threading their fingers together. His hands anchored her to him as his mouth gradually gentled her, and he could taste the salt of her tears on his lips when she broke away from him on a sobbing breath. “Tell me. Tell me about the other baby.”