I’M MAKING MICKEY Mouse shaped pancakes when a little voice calls for me.
“Mommy?” Aurora, our three-year-old, climbs her chair, her bright pink tutu flowing like a cloud. Her blonde hair is in a messy braid that Aiden did for her last night. She refused to let me redo it for her this morning.
“Yes?” I ask, plating her breakfast.
Today is the opening day for my new sports clinic. It took slaving over my Ph.D. and then burning myself out while working for Team Canada for me to settle down in my hometown. I’m still on retainer with the Olympics committee, but it’s a contract basis. Traveling all the time and barely seeing my family was depressing. With Aurora in our lives, it didn’t feel right to be gone all the time.
I got pregnant with Aurora with a year left on my Ph.D., and as tough as it was, it helped that she was born in the offseason.
Aurora bites a strawberry. “Are you and Daddy fighting?”
I freeze. They never tell you how perceptive kids are. I slide her plate across the island. “What makes you think we’re fighting?”
“You didn’t hug yesterday.”
I’m living with a CIA-level spy. How she deduced that just from mere seconds of interaction last night is beyond me. She’s right though. Daddy and I are fighting.
The other day, Aiden watched all the episodes of our favorite show while I was at my clinic. It was his recovery day, so he spent it with his legs in his compression technology sitting in front of the television, betraying me. It didn’t help that my hormones were out of whack, so when I cried over it, he felt terrible. Not terrible enough for me to let him sleep in our room, though.
“We’re not fighting, sweetheart,” I lie. Daddy’s little girl doesn’t need to know her hero is also a dumbass.
The devil himself walks into the kitchen. He slept in the guest room last night and slipped out early this morning for his workout. Now he strolls in, hair damp from a shower, gray sweats, and a tight shirt hugging every muscle. The years have been nothing but kind to my husband, his face and body aging like fine wine. He looks so hot I have to stop myself from staring as he goes over to Rory and kisses her. She giggles and I bite down my smile.
Aiden comes to me as if he’s forgotten that I’ll stab him with a butter knife if he gets too close. Aurora watches us, waiting for the interaction to prove her analysis. She knows Aiden’s routine. He always kisses her first, then comes to me.
“What were you asking Mommy, Rory?”
“If you’re fighting,” she mumbles through a mouthful.
“And what did she say?” His gaze holds mine hostage.
He hums in acknowledgment, eliminating the space separating us. “Is that right?”
The big brown eyes watching me across the island force me to give Aiden a tight nod.
His smirk is infuriating. “Then how come I haven’t gotten a kiss?”
“Crawford,” I warn, using my favorite name for him in college.
His lips tip into a smirk. “Crawford,” he shoots back. Suddenly, I remembered why I stopped using it. “I’m sorry, baby,” he whispers, trying not to alert the hawk watching us.
The icy exterior that he melted away years ago is too flimsy to hold up anymore. Just one of those earnest looks, and I’m ready to forgive him. Especially when he looks so damn sexy while he’s saying sorry. What am I mad about, again?
He lifts my chin and when my eyes meet his again he smiles, kissing me so thoroughly that I almost don’t hear the gremlin squealing across the island. I pull away to see her covering her eyes.
“She’s getting too smart,” I say to him. “And I don’t like that she’s always on your side.”
“Someone’s gotta be, or you’d have me on my knees day and night,” he says. “Not that I’d complain.”
I’m hoping my face isn’t red when Rory pipes up. “Daddy, are we seeing Nanna and Nanni today?”
She’s talking about my parents. My family and Aiden’s fawn over her like I’ve birthed the Stanley Cup. Which is saying a lot, because Aiden has won an actual Stanley Cup, and so has my dad.
“We are. Finish up, and we’ll take the big truck today,” he says.
She beams, gobbling the rest of her food. Much to Aiden’s and my dad’s pleasure, Aurora loves hockey. So they play at my dad’s rink every week. They both say she’s a natural born star, but they might be a little biased.
Aiden steals a stack of pancakes and sits beside Aurora, who licks her plate clean. “I’m done! Let’s go play hockey.”
“Uh-uh, you still have to clean the playroom, remember? That was our deal,” I remind her.
She deflates, looking at Aiden who is hyper-focused on his plate. One glance at her, and he is going to be the one cleaning the room. “Daddy,” she says in that sweet, sweet voice.
Aiden closes his eyes for a brief moment. “Aurora, you have to do what you promised.”
She pouts, doe-eyed, and blinking up at him. Damn, she’s good. Better than me.
He sighs in defeat. “I’ll come to help you if you get started.”
She lights up, running out of the kitchen and to her playroom. I shake my head in pity, laughing at the poor guy.
“She has your eyes, you know,” Aiden says. He gets up to put his plate in the sink.
“Oh, so it’s my fault she has you wrapped around her finger?”
“You do too,” he says matter-of-factly, loading the dishwasher. “How are you feeling? Still no appetite?”
I shrug, trying to cling to my residual annoyance. Just when I think he’ll let me get away with it, he wraps his arms around my waist, pressing my back against his chest. “I’m sorry. I promise it’ll never happen again. We can re-watch it or find a new show.”
It almost makes me laugh that he’s treating this so seriously. If I was thinking more clearly, I wouldn’t have had the reaction I did. But knowing he cares about the little things melts my heart. “I slept horribly last night.”
“Me too. My workout was rough. Even Eli said I was off.”
I knew that. Only because Eli texted the group chat a picture of Aiden looking disheveled this morning. Kian and Dylan found it especially funny, and happened to guess that he probably pissed me off because that’s the only time he’s grumpy.
Aiden’s palms flatten against my stomach, and I place my hands over his, skimming his diamond-studded band. He had both our rings engraved on our first anniversary with I love you, like a lot.
“I don’t like sleeping away from you.” He rubs my belly, though it’s still too early to have a bump. “When are we telling the rugrat about this one?”
“Maybe when I’m further along. She really loves being an only child right now.”
“She’ll be a great big sister,” he says, turning me in his arms. “I love when you’re pregnant.”
I raise a brow. “That’s just because my hormones give me the sex drive of a horny teenager.”
“Well, yeah, but also because we made something with our love.” His cheesiness makes my insides mushy. “Would’ve never thought the stubborn psychology student would willingly carry my children.”
“Me neither,” I snort. He flares until my smile breaks free. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way.” His hands move lower, and it’s like a switch when his lips brush against my neck.
His hips press against mine. “Want me to take you right here? Nice and slow, Sum.”
I really did miss him last night. “Y—”
“I’m done. Let’s go!” We break apart when Aurora runs straight to us, and Aiden lifts her in his arms.
“Okay, I’m going to check the room though. If it’s not clean, we can’t go,” warns Aiden.
She gasps, sliding out of Aiden’s hold to run off again.
I’m shaking with laughter when he hugs me, sighing contentedly. “You think this one’s going to be as wild as she is?”
He rubs my belly. “Nah, I think this one will be more like me.”
I scoff. “You can’t seriously think Rory has my personality.”
“I don’t know. She’s stubborn as hell.” He leans in and my eyes narrow. “She’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.” I soften. “And she’s got me wrapped around her finger.” I lay my head on his chest and, like this, I can hear the calming beat of his heart, as well as Rory’s toys clattering down the hall.
“I’ll take care of you tonight,” he whispers, and a hot rush of electricity zips through me. Aiden is always attentive, but when I’m pregnant he’s on a whole other level. Foot rubs every night, moisturizing my belly, lots of hot baths.
When I groan, he pulls away. “What’s wrong?”
“You’re a hockey player.”
“Babe, I thought we were over this.”
My eyes widen. “That means if this one is a boy, he’s going to be huge. How am I going to birth a hockey player’s child?”
“You already have.”
“She was tiny! God, why did I let you trick me into falling in love with you?” I whine.
He laughs and kisses me again. “You’ll do great, and I’ll be there just like always.”
“You better be.”
There’s no doubt that he will. Because when I look into his eyes, all the years of unwavering love come fluttering back, and I know for certain that he’s the best decision I ever made.