"Foster!" I call into the kitchen as I walk towards the back, pulling off my scarf.
"Aw shit. Why is she here so early?" I hear him mutter from behind the counter.
Leaning over, I see him pulling out the mixer, "Hey there."
"Good morning!" He grins, standing up and straightening his sweater.
"How about that morning jog?"
"Oh, I exercised already."
"Morning Claire." I shoot her a smile as I unlock my office and set my bag inside. "Foster, parking your car at the end of the block and walking down is not exercise. Come on."
He groans, "It's cold outside!"
"I promise you a hot chocolate once we're back, but otherwise you're gonna live on salads for the rest of your life."
Grumbling, he places the empty pans on the counter and walks around towards me, "Why you plague my life I don't understand."
"It's because I love you," I pat his shoulder and follow him towards the front. "Oh, Claire? If the deliveries arrive before we get back, sign and pay for them with cash alright? We'll be no more than half an hour."
"Half an hour! Better turn up the heat while you're at it."
Laughing, I take his arm and lead him out, "Stop grumbling you old man."
"I can walk. I can work. I'm healthy. I don't see the need for all this fuss."
"Foster," I sigh, looking up at him as we turn the corner. "You're important to me alright? And to my family and loads of other people. So the least you can do is take care of yourself. You want to be around to see me become a granny and grow old, don't you?"
"Oh, yeah," he grins, obviously cheered up with whatever image he's got in his head. "That's something I don't want to miss! Maybe then you'll get off my back."
"One can hope," I reply, grinning back.
He chuckles, "How's the family?"
"Good. They're great," I shoot him a smile and break into a jog. He picks up his pace after a sigh.
"When's Rose coming?"
"Yeah. Work is keeping her busy."
"Who would have thought our dancing diva would settle down into accounting?"
I laugh, "I know. She takes after her father. But I've made her promise she doesn't become like him. She's still taking dance classes and on Saturdays she gives lessons at a public school."
"Yeah she was telling me the last time she called. Wouldn't stop talking about the children."
I nod, smiling, "She loves children."
"Just like her mother," Foster replies and I shoot him a smile, feeling proud of my girl.
"She's looking for an apartment."
"What's wrong with the penthouse?"
"That's what I asked, but... 'Mom, I can't always depend on my parents, I need to stand on my own two feet as well. I need to be independent'. So yeah."
"Ouch," he reaches over and squeezes my arm. "That must have hurt."
"Yeah," sighing, I blow my hair off my forehead, tucking it back under my cap. "When I told her she could always depend on us, she apologized. She didn't mean it like that, I knew she didn't, but still. Although I do agree with her logic, getting her own place would be good for her."
"Did her father hear all this?"
"No, thank goodness." I wince, imagining Jacob's reaction. "It would have killed him. I think she was running it by me before telling him. It took a while but he's come around. He has to first approve of the place before she signs anything."
Foster smiles, "Let him do that." He silent for a moment before chuckling. "I don't think we'll ever get rid of Taylor."
I laugh, nudging him, "What are you going on about now?"
"Like mother, like son. It's pretty obvious he's taking over his mother's dream."
Smiling, I look up at him, "And?"
"The little bugger isn't gonna leave me. He is worse than you."
"You barely see him anymore."
"The weekends are bad enough."
"He looks so cute behind the counter, decorating a cake."
"Course he does. He looks like an angel."
"I always wanted one of my kids to take on after me. Always hoped it was one of my sons because what could be more romantic?"
"And if it was one of your daughters, hubby dearest would fall in love with them?"
"What? No!" I laugh, taking his arm and turning him back. "Don't be ridiculous! Just imagine Taylor cooking for a girlfriend. So adorable." I sigh, literally able to see my son doing it.
"Let him concentrate on his university for now."
"Don't you think I am? Taylor Jacob, Marketing Executive."
"You gotta love parents. Such classy dreams."
"Ah, shut up you. I know you're proud of them."
"Of course I am. Except for Rosalyn, I babysat and changed all their nappies. They're practically my kids."
"Exactly. That's why you have to take care of yourself."
"How's the house without Jacob?" Foster asks, ignoring my jab and returning one of his own.
"He's flying back today!" I grin. "Finally!"
"He's been gone what? 3, 4 years?"
"A week. It's long enough."
"Can't stay without each other, can you?"
Unlocking the front door, I step into the quiet house. I hang up my coat and step out of my shoes, glancing around. In the lounge, I pick up Ryan's toys and set them on the side before heading to the kitchen.
Turning the radio on low, I pull out things to make waffles. Forty minutes later, with the batter done, the coffee machine on and Ryan and Caitlen's lunches packed, I quietly make my way upstairs.
Taylor's bedroom is right beside the master bedroom so quietly knocking on the door, I open it.
He's sprawled over the bed, face down. Picking his jeans up from the floor, I toss them onto the leather couch in the corner and sit down on the bed.
I run my fingers through his dark curls and he shifts unconsciously, "Taylor. Wake up."
It takes a moment, but he starts to turn around, pulling his blanket over his bare chest, "Morning Mom."
"Morning love. Slept well?" He nods, his eyes closing again as I brush his hair off his forehead.
"Come on, don't go back to sleep. I need to wake your siblings up as well."
"Okay. I'm coming." He murmurs, turning back onto his side.
I watch him for a moment, smiling, before closing the door behind me. Ryan's room is next and I walk inside, surprised to find it actually clean.
Looks like someone wants their allowance this week. Smiling, I lift the blanket up from the floor and head to Caitlen's room.
Ryan's curled up asleep next to his big sister, her arm around his shoulder. He must have heard me leaving.
"Caitlen, wake up honey." She stirs in her sleep, her eyes fluttering open. Slowly, she pulls her arm back but Ryan moves closer to her side and she stares at him, blinking her eyes, trying to clear them of sleep.
"I'll take him," I reach for my youngest child and he snuggles into my arms, mumbling.
Caitlen gets up and rubbing her eyes makes her way to her washroom and I lift Ryan up and walk to his bedroom. He settles down in his bed easily and I walk over to the wardrobe and pull out his clothes before heading to his washroom. Turning on the hot water in the tub, I let it fill.
"Ry. Time to wake up sweetheart. Ryan."
"Mommy?" He mumbles, moving in his place.
"I want to sleep." He whines climbing into my lap.
"You're getting big, Ryan. Mommy can't carry you to the tub and throw you in anymore."
Laughing, he pulls back, "Is the water hot?"
"Why don't we find out?" I ask, smiling.
"Am I really big now?"
"Oh, yeah. Give it a little time and you'll be taller than me!"
"Like Taylor?" He asks, looking up at me.
Smiling, I ruffle his hair affectionately, "Your big brother is a giant. You need to ask him his secret."
He laughs, "Okay." I watch as he sinks into the tub and grins, "it's hot."
"Great! I'll be in your room, alright? Don't take too long."
I listen to him splashing around in the tub and a few minutes later as he gets out and the shower turns on.
"Morning Mom!" Caitlen walks into the kitchen and hops onto the stool, pulling the plate of waffles towards her. "Yum! I could smell these all the way in my room."
"You've got a sharp nose." Taylor enters behind her and taps his finger against her nose.
She is about to reply but sees me watching her and smiles at him, "Slept well Tay?"
"Yup. Once you finished snoring, it was pretty peaceful."
He laughs, his arms coming around from behind me, "Sorry, it was too tempting."
"Apologize to your sister."
"Taylor, how did you grow so tall? Mommy said you have a secret." Ryan says, his fork of waffles pausing halfway to his mouth as he looks up at his big brother.
"Can you tell me?"
I watch as Taylor pours coffee into a mug. He places it in my hands and then steers me towards the breakfast table.
"Later okay? All the girls are here I don't want them to know."
"Okay, maybe you can tell me when we-"
"Sh! I'll tell you don't worry." Taylor shoots him a smile and I see Ryan's eyes light up.
Sipping my coffee, I watch my children. As much as Taylor and Caitlen constantly argue, he's really protective and she in turn defends him whenever anyone outside the family so much as looks at him crossly. And then there's our little pampered Ryan. My baby.
He looks up to Taylor like he's god. I've heard him boasting to his friends on more than one occasion. The ten-year gap between them was bound to do that. I'm just glad Taylor is so doting and doesn't ignore his little brother as a nuisance.
And whenever his parents aren't there, Ryan runs to Caitlen.
There's a solid 16 years difference between Ryan and Rosalyn. I think he regards her something close to a fairy godmother because she never comes home without gifts and candy for him. Like I said, our little pampered baby.
Taylor slides a plate of toast and scrambled egg in front of me before turning back to the stove for his breakfast.
Caitlen finishes along with Ryan and puts their dishes away before heading up to get her stuff for school while Ryan wanders into the lounge to watch TV.
Sitting down beside me, Taylor grins, "Love the waffles Mom."
He picks up my dishes and puts everything away into the dishwasher as I tidy up the counters. Drying his hands, Taylor turns to me.
"Don't worry Mom."
I raise my eyebrows, looking up at my first born, "I'm not."
"I can see you getting restless. Dad's coming home today. Breathe."
I laugh, batting the hand that comes near me, but he still slides his arm around my shoulder grinning, "You're hilarious, really."
Chuckling, he kisses my forehead before reaching for his mug. "I better get going." I watch as he deftly pours the coffee into his thermos and glances at me, "Do you want me to drop those two?"
"No. I'm not in a hurry. You're going to be late."
"Okay. Thanks Mom. Love you!" He reaches for his bag by the backdoor and throws me a smile.
"Drive safely! The roads are slippery."
"I will," I hear him call up to Caitlen and then say bye to Ryan before the front door closes.
"Ready champ? Where's your bag?"
"Go get it! You're going to be late. And call your sister, she's going to school not a fashion show."
"His sister is here and is fully aware where she's going." Caitlen walks into the lounge, bag on and leans down to zip up her boots.
"Is Daddy coming today?" Ryan asks as he fastens his seat belt.
"Yup. Once you're back from hockey practice, he'll be here."
"Yes!" I see a fist being punched into the air as I back out of the driveway. "He said if I were good and I listened to you and cleaned up, he would make a snow man with me."
"Did he now? So that's why your room is clean." I reply, watching him.
He grins, "I can't wait!"
I watch as the two of them walk across towards the school and turn the car back to head to my bakery.
Little Miracles has grown both in popularity and size over the years. Parking the car at the back, I glance at the building.
We expanded, taking over the land on the right of the building, since we needed a bigger kitchen. Then a year later after getting the stamp of approval, built a second floor.
Tarek holds classes up there a couple times a week, we rent it out for parties and from October till February it's usually used as extra seating during cold nights.
Locking my car, I head around to the front to see how things are going from the business side before the chaos of the kitchen hits me.
Claire shoots me a smile as I walk around the counter and towards the back. Pushing open the door I'm hit with the scents of baked bread and melted chocolate.
Never fails to make me salivate.
After Jacob of course.
Chuckling to myself, I glance at the ovens, my eyes roaming the kitchen as I approach my staff which has grown from five to fourteen.
"Hey, guys! How's it going? Foster, what on Earth is that supposed to be?"
He waves his hand, shooing me away, "Leave me and my creative juices alone."
"Going, I'm going. Tarek!"
He shoots me a smile, glancing up at me for half a second before turning back to the cake he's decorating, "How's it going?"
"Great! Lisa says hi."
"Tell Lisa to come and visit." I reply, glancing down at the gold band on his finger. Married for six years.
Tarek's wedding was something out of a fairytale. It was like I got my first child married because, Tarek has no living relatives in the country and neither does Lisa. They'd depended on me to 'help' out but mine and Jacob's version of helping out was completely different to what they expected.
The blushing bride was exactly that on her big day and was surprised left, right and center as I'd done everything I could to recreate her dream wedding.
"She will, I promise. The kids are just keeping her really busy."
"Say that again."
He chuckles, nudging me away to reach for some more fondant, "The kids. Happy?"
He looks at me and then leans in and kisses my hair, "Come on. Time to get your hands dirty Chef. We want something special on the menu for today."
"Alright. Let me get my apron on."
I still get butterflies in my stomach.
I scan the crowd as I stand in the arrivals hall, waiting for my husband to walk out.
It's been six days since I saw him.
I sigh in relief as he walks through the doors and stand still, waiting for him to notice me.
It takes about 30 seconds because he slides on his shades and pulls his luggage behind him, pulling out his phone. I don't know what it is exactly, but I think he gets a feeling and his head shoots up and he scans the crowd even as my phone starts ringing.
I know the exact moment his eyes land on me. The lines on his forehead disappear and his lips part before he smiles.
A huge beautiful smile.
All for me.
I can't stop the laugh that escapes my lips as he makes his way through the crowd towards me.
"This is a surprise," Jacob murmurs against my lips, his arms sliding around my waist.
He lifts me up, clear off the floor, tilting his face up and kissing me as my hair falls like a curtain around us.
"Jacob! People are staring."
"Let them." He grins, letting me back on my feet and pulling me into his arms, "I missed you."
I laugh, tilting my head up to look at him, "Did you now?"
He winks, slipping his arm around my waist and reaching for the suitcase with his other hand, "Oh, yeah. You didn't have to come though. I was going to catch a cab."
"I know. That's why I did," I kiss his jaw before taking his hand and leading him towards the parking. "That and because I found out there's snowmen building on the agenda today."
Jacob chuckles, "Not today. I'm completely knackered."
Sighing, I glance at him, "I can see that. How much sleep did you get last night?"
He easily lifts up his suitcase and lies in the boot. Closing it, he turns to me and leans in. "I love you."
Before I can respond, he covers my mouth with his.
"As much as I want to prolong that, you're changing the topic." I say as he opens the door for me.
"I know." He grins and sliding into the driver's seat, I watch as he walks around and slips in beside me.
"I am staying home the rest of the week and you are staying with me. So I'm going to rest, spoil, be spoiled and bask in your attention. Then one more week and I'm off till New Years."
"How are the kids?" He asks, stretching out his legs as I turn onto the highway.
"Good. They're excited."
"You're coming home. Duh," I glance at him and he laughs.
"Ah, I'm excited to see them too!"
"You don't sound excited."
"Because right now? I'm just waiting to get home, strip off these layers, off both of us and show my wife how much I've missed her."
"Now you don't sound excited."
"You want me to pounce on you now?"
"Who'd drive the car then?"
"I'll wait," he chuckles and smiling, I glance at him, pressing down on the gas.
"We're home!" Caitlen's voice floats upstairs and through our open bedroom door.
"Where's Dad?" Ryan calls out and hearing him running upstairs, I bury myself further in Jacob's side. As I hear our son's feet on the landing, I make myself get out of Jacob's arms.
"Come back soon." He murmurs, turning to where I was a few seconds ago and burying his face in the pillow.
"Alright." I'm pulling the door closed behind me when Ryan bounds up.
"Hi, love. How was school?"
"Good. Where's Dad?"
"Sleeping. He's very tired."
"Is he sick?"
"Can I see?"
"Sure." I open the door and he peeks around before nodding and taking my hand. "So what did you do at school?"
"I made something in art, it's in my bag. Oh! And Mom our first hockey game is in January. 20, I think. You'll come right?"
"Of course I will! I'll be your cheerleader if you want," I add jokingly.
He frowns, shaking his head, "We already have cheerleaders. Will Dad come?"
"We all will. Even your grandparents!"
"Okay!" He peeks over the staircase railing and turns to me.
"I saw Caitlen kissing a boy." He whispers.
I stare at my youngest child for a moment, before smiling, "Was she now?"
"Yeah." He nods gravely. "Dad said I had to tell him if I saw."
"Yup. Will you tell him?"
"Of course. Don't you worry."
"Okay!" He grins, tugging me towards the kitchen, "I'm starving!"
"Where's your brother?"
"He said he was going to stop by the garage." Caitlen looks up from her phone, "hey Mom. He kept complaining he could hear a noise from the engine, but I couldn't hear a thing!"
"He's the family mechanic, he probably could. You hungry?"
"How was school Caitlen?"
"It was fine. Normal."
"Sure nothing out of the ordinary happened?"
"Nope." She shoots me a smile. "Everyone's preparing for the Winter Show so it's busy."
I nod, setting plates in front of them and reaching for the casserole.
"Ryan there's juice in the fridge love."
"Okay." He slides off his chair and gets it, placing it in the center.
"Where's Dad?" Caitlen asks.
"He's sleeping. I saw him." Ryan replies, hungrily pulling his filled plate towards him.
"You guys finish all your homework and studying by 6 and he'll be up alright? He wants to spend special time with you guys."
"Okay," Ryan grins.
"I'm home!" The front door closes and cold air floats down the hallway towards the kitchen along with my son. "Hey Mom! Smells great!"
"How was your day?" I ask, reaching for another plate as he pulls off his jacket and hangs it up by the back door.
"It was fine. Is Dad home?"
"Yup. He's asleep."
"Tired him out Mom?" He raises an eyebrow, grinning.
"Ha, ha. Very funny. He's had a long week, he was exhausted."
I sit down next to Ryan and watch my children as they eat, discussing their day and then telling them about mine. Taylor's still eating ten minutes later when his siblings go upstairs to their bedrooms.
"I think I'll go over to Little Miracles for a while."
"No coursework to do today?"
"Just a bit, but I'll do it tonight."
"Is anything wrong with your car?"
He shakes his head, "No. Just the oil needed changing."
I nod, watching as he forks the last bite into his mouth, "Go on up Mom. I'll be fine."
I shrug, leaning back, "It's alright. Do me a favor?"
"When you go to the bakery, stick to Foster like glue."
Taylor throws me a funny look, "Why?"
"He loves spending time with you."
He laughs, a full deep laugh that sounds exactly like Jacob's coming out of Taylor's mouth. "Don't I know it. Of course I will Mom, anything for you."
"Thanks love." I kiss his forehead, walking around him. "Just put everything in the dishwasher when you're done."
Heading up, I quietly open my bedroom door and slip inside. Jacob's still fast asleep in the same position I'd left him in. Changing out of my jeans into sweats and a shirt, I slowly climb into bed beside him.
"At last," he murmurs and I glance at him, surprised.
"Mm..." arms sliding around my waist, he tugs me close, holding me to his chest.
I look at him and watch the smile that flits across his face. Leaning forward, I press my lips to his. His fingers skim up my back and mold themselves to my neck, holding my mouth to his. As if anything could pull me away. In one fluid movement, Jacob props himself up on one elbow and turns to that I'm lying on my back and he's hovering above me, his hard, warm body pressed to mine.
"Mm?" My fingers tighten around his hair as his lips trail along my jaw then down my neck.
"Have I ever told you," he brings his lips back to mine and looks down at me, his voice husky, "how beautiful you are?"
"She's here!" Jacob calls out and sliding the tray into the oven, I dry my hands and hurry into the hallway.
Ryan and Caitlen come thundering downstairs, excited.
The front door's ajar and I watch through the stain-glassed frame as Jacob envelopes his daughter into a huge hug. They stay like that for a few seconds until she pulls back and says something that makes him laugh. Reaching for one of her suitcases, he leads her towards the front door. Taylor's still emptying the boot behind them.
How much luggage did she bring for two weeks?
"ROSE!" Ryan jumps off the last steps and hurls himself on her.
"Oh! Ryan you've grown up so much!" She exclaims, messing up his hair. "I missed you buddy."
"I missed you too! You're staying right?"
"Yup." She smiles at him, "for a long time."
"Yay!" He pulls back and turns to Caitlen. "Told you she was going to stay."
I watch as Rose hugs her younger sister and then turns to me, her face lightly up significantly.
"Rose, finally home," I murmur, pulling her close.
She relaxes, her arms tightening around me for a moment before she pulls back, "You look great! Did you cut your hair?"
"About a month back," I grin, tilting her face up and getting a good look at her.
"I'm sorry, I waited so long to come. But it's been SO hectic at work!" She turns to the door and sees Taylor hauling her suitcases in. "Thanks Tay."
"Are you moving back in?" He scowls at her, dumping them on the floor, "Jesus. How many clothes do you need?"
"That one has everyone's gifts." She points to one of the larger suitcases.
Taylor stares at it before glances at her, "Mine too?"
"Yup. And more than one for you."
He shrugs, "Do you want me to take them up?"
Jacob laughs, slapping his son's back, "Smart move, boy."
"No leave them downstairs for now."
"What are you guys doing?" I ask, walking into the kitchen.
It's the day before Christmas and my family has this tradition of spending the entire day at Little Miracle. Jacob and Rosalyn, inseparable whenever she visits, are rolling out dough. While Jacob's making buns, Rose is rolling out and folding croissants like a pro.
Glancing over their work, I move on to where Caitlen and Tarek are cutting out and baking Christmas cookies. Ryan, a few feet away, is setting out the frosting to decorate them.
All the other cooks are bustling around. Secretly pleased that the baking is in the Skye's hands as they handle the breakfast orders and start prepping for lunch.
"Where's Taylor?" I ask, glancing around.
"At the back." Caitlen looks up and points where the ovens are. "He's decorating cakes and wants to be alone."
Smiling, I walk around to the table that Foster usually uses and see my son. Bent over the table, his white apron smudged with a dozen different colors, he's slowly turning the cake stand as he meticulously decorates the cake. His hand is as steady as mine.
There's one thing he didn't get from his father.
"Taylor." I call, not wanting to startle him.
"Yes Mom?" He doesn't look up and I watch as he finishes the Christmas cake.
I lean over the table and wipe the smudge of frosting on his chin. He grins and swipes it off my finger with a flick of his tongue.
"Course it would be. Beautiful work darling."
"Got it from you Mother."
Wiping his hands, he lifts it up gently and walks over to the counter and sets it there, before bringing a plain vanilla cake to decorate.
"You should give classes."
"I don't think so. That's Tarek's domain. If I take his work as well, he might leave. Or worse, kick me out. Foster would be too happy."
I laugh, "Where is he?"
"I told him to take a break. He isn't too happy with me," Taylor makes a face before smiling.
"Don't worry, I'll keep him busy."
"Nah, it's alright. This is my last one. Ryan wants me to decorate cookies with him." He grins, looking up at me. "We're going to decorate reindeer and Christmas trees and snowflakes."
I grin, "Call me when you get to that. I want to join in."
"Sure. And Mom?"
He ducks down and starts spooning in butter cream into the icing bag, "Love you."
Rose slides the dish into the oven and glances at me, "Mom."
"Yeah?" I glance up at her as she leans against our kitchen counter.
"I think I should have told you before..." She trails away, biting her lip and I look at her, searching her face for something. Anything.
"What? What's wrong love?"
"Nothing's wrong." She shakes her head, smiling. "Don't worry! I just... I invited someone for dinner tonight."
"Yeah. I met him a few weeks ago. Actually bumped into him would be the right word and I asked him over for Christmas dinner. I know it's a family dinner, but I thought, maybe you wouldn't mind?"
"Of course not! I'm glad you did." I shoot her a smile, "I didn't know you were seeing someone."
"Yeah," she fiddles with the napkin, looking nervous. "I hope you don't mind."
"What are you talking about Rose? It isn't that awful guy you went out with, in uni, is it?" I tease her.
"No! I just...." She looks up and smiles at me. "You'll see when you meet him."
She laughs, coming up and hugging me, "Trust me, you'll love him. I know."
"Then why the worry?"
She chuckles, "That's just me. I should probably warn Dad."
"Yeah, better not. We'll tell him when the bell rings."
"Tell who? What?" Jacob asks, walking in.
"Girl talk Dad!" Rose exclaims and he raises his hands, shrugging.
"I'm just here for my wife," his arms come around me and he kisses my cheek. "How are you beautiful?"
"Great." I glance at him. "What you up to?"
"Missing you." His arms tighten around my waist and he drops his chin down to my shoulder as I stir the pot of cream on the stove. "When are you done with the kitchen?"
"Mm..." I glance at the clock. "Everything is mostly ready, so in ten minutes."
"Good." He turns his face and kisses my neck, before pulling back. "What can I do to help?"
"Stay right where you were."
Chuckling, he slips his arm around me again, "Great to have the whole family home."
"Yeah, it is."
"I was thinking.."
"Not another child I hope!"
He laughs, "No, don't worry."
"Well," he pauses, mulling it over, "Rosalyn doesn't stay here, but when she visits, it's pretty tight. Taylor's not going far from home anytime soon, that we both know. Maybe it's time we got a bigger place."
"Seriously?" I glance at him, smiling.
"Yeah," he shrugs. "I don't hear any wedding bells for our little girl any time soon, but in a couple of years, we might have to start thinking about it. Ryan's a growing boy. I think Caitlen could do with a bigger room."
I nod, "Yeah, that's true."
"And we could get a place with a swimming pool. Or with a rooftop big enough to have one. A nice big garden for you. You've wanted things that have been put on hold." He runs a finger down my cheek, watching me. "And maybe, if they agree, our mothers can stay with us."
I nod, smiling, "Yeah. I like the sound of that."
Jacob kisses my forehead, "He's proud of you. He'll always be proud of you."
"I know. I just miss him."
"I know sweetheart. I do too."
He hugs me tight and I close my eyes, feeling my heart tightening as I think of my Dad.
"This will be the first Christmas that he isn't here."
"I know. We're all going to miss him."
Jacob tilts my face up, his eyes burning into mine. "I love you."
Nodding, I reach up and press my lips to his. He kisses me back, his thumb wiping away the tears that escape.
"Who's that?" Jacob frowns, setting the dish on the table.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you. Rose has invited someone."
"A guy," I throw Jacob a look even as his eyes narrow.
He follows me into the hallway and shooting him a warning look, I pull open the door.
"Darren!" I gasp, looking at the person standing on our doorstep, "What a surprise!"
"Merry Christmas!" He pulls me into a hug.
"Merry Christmas. This is amazing! Come on in," he gives me the bouquet he's holding and smiling, I take it. "Thanks love. Jacob, look who it is."
"Darren! How are you? Merry Christmas."
I glance up as Rose comes downstairs, "Look who's dropped by!"
She looks at Darren and smiles. I stare up in wonder at my daughter, looking so beautiful in a knee length red dress, her hair curled and framing her face delicately as they fall past her shoulders. Her smiles widens and I notice the telltale blush on her cheeks.
"Wait a minute." I look between the two of them as she reaches us and walks towards him. "It's him?"
"Yeah." She smiles, biting her lip and glancing at me and Jacob.
"Him what?" Jacob ask, frowning.
"I'm going out with Darren."
I stare at the both of them, shocked. Oh my - why on earth did I never see this?
I glance at Jacob and he's looking at them too, his head cocked to the side. He suddenly laughs, eyes sparkling, "This is the best Christmas gift you could ever give me Rose!"
"Thanks Dad," she smiles, looking surprised.
He claps Darren on the back, "I'm expecting you to keep her very happy."
"Don't worry. I will." He turns to Rose who blushes.
I stand on the side and watch. Jacob winks at me and disappears into the lounge where our moms are sitting and being entertained by the kids. Darren pulls out a red rose from the pocket lining his dinner coat and tucks it into Rosalyn's hair. Smiling, I slip out, leaving the two of them alone.
I glance around our dining table. It's laid with food from one end to the other and laughter and the soft clanging of silverware surrounds us. Jacob's sitting at the head, Janet (his Mom) on his right, me on his left. Beside me is Taylor, happily tucking into his roast chicken, Ray opposite him. Caitlen's next to Taylor and beside my Mom, who's at the other end. Darren and Rose are next to each other, Leah and Amelia beside them. From the lounge, the sounds of kids float in, where Ray's 8-year-old twins are being watched by Ryan.
Mom meets my eye and smiles. She's stayed strong tonight. I was so worried about her.
Ray grins at me, raising his glass towards me before taking a sip, "Quite a spread, Skye."
"Thank you," I smile.
His gaze softens and I can see he's thinking of Dad.
We all are tonight.
Jacob squeezes my hand and lifts it up to his lips, "Everything is delicious. As always."
His eyes are playful as he grins, "I can't wait for you to see what I got you. You're going to love it."
"You sure? Because last time..."
He laughs, "That was a joke. And I got you something great last time as well."
He winks, "Oh you enjoyed it well enough."
"Well, it has to be fantastic."
"Don't worry. It is."
"Time for gifts!" Ray announces from the lounge and a cheer goes up among the kids.
"So you're not upset?" Rose asks, helping me clear the table.
"Why would I be upset?"
"I thought maybe you... wouldn't approve."
"Of Darren? Sweetheart, he's perfect! I don't have any qualms there. The only reason I would be upset is because you didn't tell me earlier. How long has this been going?"
She smiles, "A couple of weeks. I wanted to Mom, I nearly did so many times. But I also wanted to see that expression of surprise and happiness on your face for myself."
"Aw, come here," I hug close, kissing her hair. "You're very lucky darling. Don't let this one go."
"I won't," she touches the rose in her hair, smiling. "I promise."
"Come on you two." Mom sticks her head into the kitchen. "The kids are tearing into their gifts. Ray and Jacob included."
Rose laughs and we follow her out.
"I'm so proud of you," Mom squeezes my arm before walking over to where Taylor's sitting.
"Merry Christmas!" Ray appears in front of me and holds out a package. "But, come here first." He pulls me into a hug. "How are you?" He asks, pulling back.
I look up at him, smiling, "I'm fantastic. Couldn't be better. You?"
"Same, love, same. We've come a long way."
"Yeah, we have."
"I don't think either of us could have done a better job."
"You know what? I think you're right. Especially you. Three beautiful children. I've got to say I'm pretty proud of you Sutherland."
"Thank you, darling. We know it's all your coaching."
"Ha! Right. I think you were born a perfect gentleman."
"Ah, yes. I was. Has it taken you this long to figure it out?"
"Oh, Ray! You're never going to grow up, are you?"
"Nope. Once a child, always a child. So I'm expecting you not to be upset."
"Why?" I ask slowly.
He grins stepping back, "Hey! Guess what?" He calls out into the room. Everyone looks up. "Let's thank Chloe for such a wonderful Christmas dinner. Group HUG!"
My mouth falls open as I watch all 6 children along with Ray and Rose come running towards me.
"Oh no," I try to inch over to the couch, but it's too late as everyone pounces on me.
The last thing I see as I'm buried by the group is Jacob standing in the corner, laughing. Oh, if he's enjoying this, he's dead.
"That was wonderful," Jacob walks into the lounge and I turn away from the Christmas tree.
Smiling, I take the glass of champagne he holds out to me. "Yeah. It all went smoothly."
"Like all our parties always do."
"Yeah, now that the kids are grown up, they do."
Jacob chuckles, standing beside me, "They have, haven't they? We just don't realize how time passes by so fast."
"I know," I lean into his side as he wraps an arm around my waist.
"It still seems like just a while ago that I walked into Little Miracles for the first time."
"Like I crashed into your car."
"Like I kissed you for the first time on your couch."
"Like our first Christmas. First New Year's bash."
"Speaking of which, we're going this year right?"
"Of course we are. Gotta rock that red carpet while we've got it."
Laughing, he turns me towards him, "Still seems like we just got married."
"However seems like forever since I last saw Italy."
"Liked your present?"
I nod, reaching up and running my finger through his hair, "I loved it."
Jacob pulls me close, "I thought you would. It's been awhile."
"You, me, and the Italian beaches next summer. I can't wait."
"I can. Spend every waking moment with you."
Sighing, I reach up on my toes and press my lips softly to his.