One year later . . .
With my hand splayed on Memphis’s rounded belly, I locked eyes with my sister. “You’re sure?”
Talia scowled. “Every appointment you ask me if I’m sure.”
“Well? Are you?”
“I wouldn’t say that Memphis and the baby were fine if they weren’t actually fine.” She rolled her eyes and glanced down at my wife who was resting on the exam table. “He’s exhausting.”
“Try living with him. This morning I bent to pick up one of Drake’s toys and he practically tackled me to grab it first.”
“I thought it might be too heavy.”
Memphis gave me a flat look. “If Drake, the one-year-old, can pick it up, it’s not too heavy.”
“Just being cautious.” I crossed my arms over my chest.
Memphis was six months pregnant, and considering what had happened when she’d gone into labor with Drake, I wasn’t taking any chances. They could complain with every breath that I was being overprotective. It wouldn’t make me change. I’d been like this since the day she’d come out of the bathroom with a positive pregnancy test in her hand. If picking up every toy, fussing over Memphis’s every move and pushing a little at these checkups was the only control I had during this pregnancy, so be it.
“How’s her weight? Is she eating enough?” I asked Talia. “She didn’t have much dinner last night.”
“Because I wasn’t very hungry. You’re cooking for me six times a day. I can’t keep up.” Memphis planted a hand on the table, but before she could push herself up, I gripped her elbow. It earned me another eye roll from my sister. Still didn’t care.
“Her weight is fine, Knox. Everything is fine. Would you chill? God, you’re worse than Griffin, and I never thought I’d say those words.”
I frowned. “Am I?”
Talia nodded. “Ten times worse.”
Memphis simply shook her head and laughed. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” I bent to kiss her, lingering long enough for Talia to clear her throat. “Okay. We’d better get home and relieve Mom.”
“I’ll walk you guys out,” Talia said. “You’re my last appointment for today.”
“Want to come over for dinner?” I asked.
“Sure. It’s not like I have anything or anyone waiting for me at home.” She sighed. “Let me duck into the locker room and grab my things. I’ll meet you at the front desk.”
I took Memphis’s hand and helped her off the table. Then once her coat was on, we wandered the hallways of the hospital. My phone vibrated in my pocket as we reached the waiting room on the first floor. A text from Mateo.
“Look at this.” I twisted the screen to Memphis.
Mateo was flying planes as a bush pilot in Alaska, shuttling people and supplies to remote areas of the state. Today’s photo was of rugged mountains draped in snow at sunset.
“It’s going to be weird not having him home for Christmas,” I said, sending him a quick text to fly safe.
“Your mom said the same thing earlier today.”
We all missed him, but he’d needed to get away and do something of his own. He’d been gone for nearly a year, having left not long after the holidays. Mateo hadn’t come out and said it, but I got the impression he’d felt like a shadow here. He needed space and time to find his passion. Maybe it was flying.
I only hoped that one day, his wings would lead him home.
The doors of the hospital’s entrance slid open and a man strode inside.
I glanced over, then did a double take. “Holy shit. That’s Foster Madden.”
“Who?” Memphis asked, tracking Foster’s path to the reception desk.
“Foster Madden. He’s the reigning middleweight champion.”
“Remember that fight we watched this summer. The one where the guy knocked his opponent out in the first round.”
“Honey, you’re killing me.”
She smirked and jabbed her elbow in my ribs. “Just kidding. I didn’t recognize him, but yes, I remember that fight.”
“I wonder why he’s in Quincy.”
I shrugged. “Have you seen him at the hotel?”
“No, but if he checked in today, I would have missed it.”
We’d both taken the day off to do some Christmas shopping with Drake. Then we’d met Mom at home so she could babysit while we’d come to the hospital for Memphis’s appointment.
“I like that name,” she said. “Foster. What do you think?”
“Meh.” From the moment we’d found out we were having a boy, she’d been tossing out name ideas constantly. And each of them, I’d nixed.
“I give up.” She tossed her hands in the air. “You’re impossible.”
“Hey, uh . . . sorry to interrupt.” Foster waved to get my attention, then hooked his thumb over his shoulder toward the desk. “Do you know if anyone’s working here today?”
“The nurse might have left already.” The clock showed it was five. “Are you looking for a room? We could point you in the right direction.”
Behind him, a door opened and Talia came striding out with a smile. Her long dark ponytail draped over one shoulder and she’d pulled on a jacket over her baby-blue scrub top.
“I’m looking for a doctor who works here,” Foster said. “Talia Eden.”
Why would Foster Madden be looking for Talia?
Talia’s smile fell. Her footsteps halted. Faster than I’d ever seen her move, she darted behind the reception counter.
“Uh . . .” What the fuck?
Foster glanced over his shoulder, following my gaze, but she’d crouched so low that it was like she’d vanished.
“You might try the ER,” Memphis blurted. “Maybe they can track her down for you. Just head out the doors and down the sidewalk to the other side of the building. You can’t miss it.”
“Appreciate it.” Foster nodded, then as quickly as he’d come in, he was gone.
Memphis and I shared a look, waiting until he was out of sight.
“Coast’s clear,” I called.
Talia inched up, her eyes barely over the counter’s ledge. “Is he gone?”
“Yeah.” I nodded. “Want to tell me why you’re hiding from Foster Madden?”
“Nope.” She got to her feet, tiptoeing around the desk. Her eyes stayed glued to the glass windows, checking to make sure he was gone. “I should go.”
“What about dinner?” Memphis asked.
“Rain check.” And before we could say another word, she ran—not jogged, but sprinted—out the doors. She hit the sidewalk and did one quick check for Foster, then bolted to her car in the parking lot.
“Okay,” I drawled. “What the hell was that about?”
“Does she know him?”
“No idea.” Apparently enough to recognize his voice and from the back. “I’ll call her later.”
Not that I expected her to tell me anything. Talia was a lot like me. If she didn’t want to talk about something, she wouldn’t. Lyla and Eloise wore their emotions on their pretty faces for the world to see. Talia kept hers locked behind our family’s signature blue eyes.
“I’m sure it’s nothing.” I kissed Memphis’s temple, then helped her into the car. I did not want my wife stressed about my sister. “I got an email from Lester today.”
“Really?” Memphis sat up straighter. “What did he say?”
“He’s coming to Quincy in January. The magazine wants him to do a best of the best article or something.”
“And he picked you. Of course he’d pick you.” She did a fist pump. “This is amazing.”
Lester’s article from last year had brought more people than I’d expected to Quincy. The hotel was poised to have its biggest year in history and the restaurant had doubled my initial income projections.
That kind of money meant more staff. And more staff meant that Memphis and I had more freedom and flexibility.
She wasn’t working as a housekeeper these days, but once or twice a week, she’d cover the front desk because she genuinely enjoyed the work and helping Eloise at the hotel. She loved being a part of the family business.
“I’ve been thinking about that wedding in May,” Memphis said. “Maybe I should tell the bride no.”
She sighed. “We’re going to have so much going on. Drake’s only one. We’ll have a newborn. Our schedule is so busy already. I don’t know if it’s smart to add a wedding planning job into the mix.”
“Do you want to do it?”
“Well . . . yeah.”
I reached over to take her hand. “Then we’ll find a way.”
If Memphis’s dream was to plan weddings and events, I’d do whatever necessary to make that happen.
She’d planned two weddings in the past year—one of which was our own. We’d gotten married on the ranch, in a meadow filled with summer wildflowers. Then we’d had a reception at the hotel, cramming the space with friends and family who’d all danced beside us beneath a blanket of fairy lights.
Two days later, we’d gone to the courthouse, where I’d adopted Drake.
We were all Edens. And I, for one, had been happy to see the Ward name vanish.
Contact with Memphis’s parents had been minimal this past year. She’d told them we were getting married, sans an actual invite. Her mother had sent flowers. Her sister had sent a card. Not a word from her father and brother, but Memphis hadn’t cared. She’d already decided that if by some miracle she inherited her trust fund, she’d take the money and set it aside for the kids.
We were six months into this pregnancy and she had yet to inform Beatrice and Victor. Maybe she would eventually, probably after the baby was born, but as time passed, as we built our own life, she seemed more content with their distance.
I suspected that distance would become permanent.
She didn’t need that family.
We were building our own.
And I’d be overprotective every step of the way.
It had been nearly a year since the incident with Jill and Averie Flannagan. There were days when I didn’t think about it, but those were rare. The fears were a constant nuisance, and I only hoped that in time, they’d surface less and less.
Averie Flannagan would be spending most of the decade in a penitentiary. That bitch could rot in jail.
Jill was nearing the end of her prison sentence, and though she’d be released on parole soon, I doubted we’d see her face in Quincy ever again.
Just like we hadn’t heard from Oliver again. The FBI had questioned Memphis and me once after Drake’s kidnapping. During her statement, Memphis hadn’t mentioned Oliver’s name. She’d simply spoken to Averie’s blackmail attempt and going into daycare to find Drake missing. If they’d contacted Oliver during their investigation, we didn’t know and didn’t care. With any luck, he’d be long forgotten.
I slowed at the turn to home, easing off the highway and down our quiet lane. “What about Harrison?”
“Your dad?” Memphis asked. “What about him?”
“No, the name. Harrison.”
“Oh.” She splayed a hand over her belly. “I think that would be lovely.”
“Me too.” I grinned. “Then the next one we can name Annie, for Mom.”
She laughed. “You’re already thinking of the next one and this one isn’t even born yet.”
“You can pick for the two after that.”
Memphis shook her head, her chocolate-brown eyes sparkling. “You want five? This is news to me.”
“I’m good for six.”
“Five.” She drew a line in the air. “That’s my limit.”
“Five.” I pulled into the garage and, as soon as the truck was off, leaned over the console to finish the kiss I’d started at the hospital.
The loft had been mostly empty since Memphis had moved out. But every time I walked up those stairs, I’d think of the nights I’d spent pacing the floor.
The nights when I’d fallen in love with a little boy. And the woman of my dreams.
The best nights on Juniper Hill.