The Third Season

Parental Advisory Rating: L, N, AC

Break out those V-Chips, everyone!


Created, Produced, Directed and Written:

Fanatic and TNovan


Episode Four: Anchors Aweigh

"Kingsley, Stanton, my office." Langston’s voice carries across the room as we step off the elevator.

"What did you do, Tabloid?" my lovely wife asks.

"Me? Why does it have to be me? Could be you, you know?"

"Could be, but I doubt it. It’s a well known fact, you’re the troublemaker in this relationship."

I look at Kels, and she’s wearing a really ornery grin generally reserved for more quiet, playful times at home. "No. I seem to remember a time when you were the problem child." I pause for a moment to drop her briefcase in her office.

When I turn back to her, she is pointing to herself. "Me? Little old innocent me? I never gave you an ounce of trouble."

I snort. It’s all I can do to keep from laughing in her face on this one. "Oh, and how many times did you have to come bail me out of jail? And who cussed a blue streak during a live shot?"

"All right," Kels concedes, "I may have had my moments, but you weren’t exactly an angel either."

"I never claimed to be. I was very proud of my ‘bad girl’ reputation." I wiggle my eyebrows at her, an add a leer for good measure. "It certainly got your attention."

"Hmm." She sighs a bit and gets a rather dreamy look on her face. "Yes, it did. Too bad I’ll have to tell everyone the truth when I’m old and write my memoirs." She pats my hand. "Until then, Stud, your secret is safe with me."

"Hey! What secret?" I must admit that I am curious.

"That you were a teddy bear in wolves’ clothing."

"Was not."

"Was too. I knew more about you than you think, Tabloid." And with that said my darling wife moves ahead of me, opening the boss’ door and shutting the one on this conversation. For now.


* * *


A cruise. Oh yeah, I can get into going on a cruise. Oh, it’s a rough life, but someone has to live it.

Now, all I have to do is get Doogie to okay it. He said I couldn’t fly. He didn’t say I couldn’t sit my pregnant behind in a deck chair and get waited on hand and foot. If this doesn’t bring my blood pressure down, nothing will.

It’s an interesting assignment. My last one before planting myself behind the desk. Langston heard about this group called ‘Marital Bliss’. Apparently, they offer marriage-counseling services and claim to have a ninety-eight percent success rate. I’d be interested in how they define success.

Since Harper and I are ‘the closest thing he has to a married couple’, (I thought Harper was going to choke him for that; we certainly consider ourselves married), he decided to send us in to check them out and see if it’s true. We won’t be participating in the sessions, but we will be observing and doing a story.

The organizers are allowing Harper and I to join them on the cruise. When we returns from our run up to Canada, they will sit down with us after and do interviews. However, in the interest of privacy, we won’t be allowed to do any filming while on board. After the fact, however, we can do interviews with anyone who would like to speak with us about their experiences with the group. So, while we will be technically working on the cruise, we’ll also get a chance to relax.

After leaving a message for Kevin, I turn my attention to the file Langston gave me on the organizers. Before I’m halfway through the first page, Brian comes in.

"Morning, Boss." He’s been very chipper since Harper offered him the job as our nanny.

I hate the thought of losing him here, but, at least, now I can come to work in the morning and know my children are being well cared for. On the upside, I know Brian will bring them by to show them off, and I’ll get to spend time with them here too. Assuming I can get them away from Harper.

"My, aren’t we in a good mood this morning?"

"Oh yeah. I checked my lease and it is up in the middle of October, so if you and Stud don’t mind me moving in a couple of weeks early, everything is working out great."

"I don’t think it’ll be a problem. It will give you time to get settled and you can help me with the last minute details in the nursery."

"Like Stud will leave any last minute details."

"True." I close the folder and lean back in my chair. "You should see her at home, Brian. She is truly adorable. She spent the other weekend painting the nursery. The walls are now sky blue, with clouds. As soon as she has time we’re going to have all kinds of storybook characters with balloons floating in the air and sitting on the clouds. I didn’t have a clue that she has so much artistic talent. It’s going to be beautiful when she’s finished."

"She’s very excited about these babies."

"Yeah." I nod in total agreement with his understatement. "She’s going to be a great mom."

"So what did you spend the weekend doing?"

I smile. I don’t want to admit it, but since I told on Harper, I may as well tell on myself too. "I umm, well, I spent the weekend, you know, preparing baby clothes and blankets. Things like that. Harper wouldn’t let me in the nursery for any amount of time because of the paint fumes. So I occupied myself with the clothes and the blankets."

"Little sleepers?"

"Yeah, the ones with the little feet in them. They’re so cute."

He smiles, indulging my motherly moment, then we get back to business. "So I’m supposed to book you and Stud on a cruise, huh?"

"If you don’t mind." I return to the folder and retrieve a page that has all the information on it.

He takes the paper and gives it a look. "Nope, it’s still my job for the next few weeks anyhow."



"Harper told my what you said about leaving with me if I got fired. I just wanted to say thanks. It’s nice to have such a good friend. Our babies are going to be lucky to have Uncle Brian in their lives." We can’t call him Aunt Brian, sweetheart, no matter how much you want to.


* * *


After a quick trip to Doogie for Kels’ exam, he gives her the go ahead for the cruise, agreeing with us that it was the perfect chance for her to relax. He gave us a copy of her medical record in case something did happen and the ship’s doctor needed to be called. We have orders to see to it that he gets it immediately upon our boarding so he would have time to review it.

Kels is so excited about this. It’s nice to see her so happy. It occurred to me that we haven’t had a vacation just for us. We had our honeymoon, but that is somehow different than packing up and leaving for a cruise. I’ve also discovered my darling spouse adores these things. I’m guessing we’ll be taking a lot of them in our future together. I can’t wait until the twins are old enough; we’ll take them on a Disney cruise.

A sigh from near the dresser catches my attention. "What’s up, Little Roo?"

"Guess I won’t be needing this, huh?" She holds up a very small, black, thong bikini. I think I might swallow my tongue as a vision of my Kels in that bikini take form in my mind. Oh my God. May next summer come quickly.

"Un…" Oh this does hurt to admit, because the mere fantasy of my girl in that thing is making me ache, "Not this time, sweetie, but next… oh, definitely next year!" I growl, trying to force that image out of my mind. "Put that thing away before I have a stroke."

She laughs at me and puts the thong away. Now it’s all I can do to concentrate on packing. My entire body is tingling. Every nerve I have is telling me to take Kels and kiss her senseless. I have never been known to ignore that many voices yelling at me.

She melts into me, moaning when our lips meet. Oh yeah, this is where I belong. The rest of my days will be spent loving this woman and our children. Every time we are together like this, taking our time, playing slowly and deliberately with each other, I give her a little more of my heart and soul. The funny thing of it is, I thought she had it all anyhow, but every time I touch her, I find myself digging a little deeper to find a little more to give to her. I want her to have every ounce I have to offer.

When I look at her, when I listen to her voice, kiss her lips, and touch her skin, I understand what I needed in my life to be whole and complete. I needed her. I needed her to bring me back to Earth, to ground me, to give me what every Kingsley truly needs to be happy: a home and a family. I may make a lot of money and I may even win awards for doing a job I love, but nothing compares to how I feel when I am near this woman like this.

All of my cares and worries melt away, and all I feel is love and desire. I feel Kels wrap her love around me like our wedding blanket. And our desire for each other physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually blends together so perfectly it is almost painful when we are apart from each other.

These moments, these kisses that are so slow, deep, soft, warm, kind and tender, they are perfect. They are the most perfect thing we do. And because the perfection is so sweet and sensual, I get lost in it every time. My world becomes a mystic place shrouded in every essence that is Kelsey.

Finally, taking many, many, tiny kisses, I pull back and look into her eyes. She smiles at me and clears her throat a little. "Should I pack our little …"

"Oh yeah." I nod enthusiastically.


* * *

There is something plain wrong with needing help out of a limousine, but Harper’s hand is there to help me. Once I take a deep breath and get a look at the ship, which will be our temporary home for the next week, some of my frustration is vanquished.

"Oh, yeah, I’m a very happy camper." I slide my sunglasses into place and give my spouse a grin.

"I’m glad to hear that, sweetheart. It’s nice to see you so relaxed and happy."

"You’ll be lucky if you can get me out of bed, Tabloid."

Harper manages a discreet pat on my rear. "Music to my ears, chér. So why is that a problem?"

I laugh as the driver unloads our luggage and a porter carries it up the gangplank for us. Beside me, as we board, Harper begins singing the theme from ‘The Love Boat’. God, the bad memories that conjures up. I’ll scream if I see Julie, Doc or Gopher here. Something is wrong with America when Gopher can get elected to Congress.

A purser who checks the passenger list and sends us off with a steward and the porter to show us to our cabin.

"This has got to be a joke," Harper says when the steward stops at the door of a small inside cabin, and indicates that it’s hers.

The young man checks the paper in his hand. "No, ma’am, Ms. Kingsley. This is your cabin."

Harper lifts a brow. "My cabin? Where is Ms. Stanton’s cabin?"

"She has a suite on the Navigation Deck."

Ooo, someone screwed up. I bite my lip to keep from laughing. She would not appreciate it at this moment.

"Okay," Harper pockets her key, then turns and smiles at me, "I’ll walk up to your cabin with you."

"Dunno, Tabloid. Do they allow steerage passengers up in first class?" I tease.

She wags a playful finger in my face. "Don’t start with me."

"This way, ladies." The steward and porter head back the way we came. The porter has the good grace to not ask what of the luggage is Harper’s and whether he should leave it in the small cabin.

We follow the young man to an elevator and go up three decks. When we step off, he leads us to my cabin. Opening the door, I find myself in a suite, complete with bedroom, bathroom, living room, dining room, kitchen and balcony. Oh yeah, life is good.

As I’m taking a moment to get my bearings, Harper tips the steward and the porter and sends them on their way. I hear the door close and turn to find Harper leaning on the knob. "You’re very amused, aren’t you?" she accuses.

"Yeah, yeah, I am." I nod. "But if you ask real nice, I might let you stay up here with me."

She stalks playfully across the room. "Oh is that so? I have to ask real nice, huh?"

"Absolutely." I’m playing with her because I can.

"Maybe we should get the rest of the family in on this little vote."

"I didn’t say it was a vote. Besides, I get to cast their votes by proxy, right now."


I level a stare at her. Please don’t make me state the obvious, Tabloid.

"I think my little girl will side with me on this one." Harper tells me even as she wraps her arm around me, pulling me close.

"Ya think?"

"I do, I really do."

The sad part is, I think she’s right. Brennan always seems to be more active when her Mama talks to them. And she knows when Harper reads them a bedtime story that it’s time to calm down. They seem particularly fond of ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ in French at the moment.

"So, what do you say, in the interest of family harmony," she chooses this moment to kiss me on the neck, before continuing, "you let me stay up here with you."

"You can stay, if you take me to bed and make love to me right now."

It’s amazing really, how quickly two people can get undressed and in bed.


* * *


That was a nice way to start our cruise. Especially since it’s a marital happiness cruise. I know how to keep my girl happy. And, I left her in bed very happy, if I do say so myself.

I have been sent to find food and bring it to the cabin. We tried to call for room service but was told it didn’t start until we set sail. Oh well, it’s good for me to stretch my legs a bit.

"My God! I’d know that swagger anywhere!"

Oh my God, I’d know that voice anywhere. Of all the ships in all the world, she has to be on this one. I slowly turn and smile. "Hello, Rachel." I see my brother standing behind her, talking to the steward. "What brings you here?"

She shrugs and smiles. "Mama read about it and suggested we try it out."

I recover from my initial shock and lean forward to kiss her cheek in greeting. "Good, I’m glad. I’ve heard only good things about this group."

"So why are you here? You and Kels are poster children for marital bliss."

This is true. I never thought I’d be involved in a serious relationship, but I am thankful for Kels every single day. "We’re here on a story. We’re going to observe the main speeches and some of the counseling sessions as background material for our piece. It’s also a little perk thrown our way."

"Congratulations, Harper. You must have the Midas touch."

I laugh. "I hope not. He didn’t come to a good end." I step around Rachel and behind my brother. Tapping his shoulder, I ask, "Do you need help with your bags, Mr. Kingsley?"

"Nah, I’m fine," he drawls, turning around. "Son of a bitch!"

I embrace Lucien. "Good to see you too, brother."

"What in the hell are you doing here?"

I explain it to him as well. He shakes his head. "We were gonna call you guys when we returned to New York after the cruise to see if you minded visitors for a few days."

"You’re always welcome in our house, Luc. You know that." I give him a light tap on his shoulder. "You wanna come to our cabin and say hello to Kels?"

He nods. I can tell he wants to ask if we brought our dog with us, but he refrains. Kam is very happy with his Aunt Brian. In our apartment. Brian insisted he stay there for Kam’s benefit. I’ll be lucky if he hasn’t moved out my office by the time we get back.

"That’d be great." He reaches over and takes Rachel’s hand in his, pulling her close to him. "Let us get settled in our cabin and then we’ll stop by."

I give him our information and hurry off in search of food and a phone. I’d hate for my girl to get surprised with visitors. Especially when I left her in such a good mood.

And I plan to keep her that way for the duration.


* * *


We enjoy our visit with Rachel and Lucien. It was surprisingly relaxed and friendly, all of us quickly getting over our initial shock at being here together. We promise to not sit in on any of their group sessions, not wanting them to feel the least bit encroached upon. We also agree to have dinner together tomorrow night.

I look forward to spending time with my brother. He can be a jackass at times, but he’s still blood.

The program says that our first night is spent in the main ballroom. First, there’s a speech by one of the organizers and then a mix and mingle time. Tomorrow starts off with individual sessions. We won’t be allowed into any of those, but we will have breakfast with the founders and get a feel for what will go on. In the afternoon, there will be group sessions, which we can observe. And then another speech at night. The rest of the days follow the same pattern.

This means we get to sleep in and get sun every day.

I love my job.

We wander up to the ballroom in time for the main speech, taking seats in the front to the side. It gives us a good vantage point, able to watch both the speaker and the audience. Kels has her notebook open on her protruding stomach. I lean over and rest my pen on the ledge.

"Hey!" she protests, slapping my hand away.

I frown. "Well, you use it." I mean, what happened to share and share alike?

"I grew it. I can use it."

How do I fight that logic? "Okay," I remove my pen and concentrate on the speaker.

He’s an older gentleman, with receding white hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He looks like he was a championship swimmer earlier in life – broad shouldered, lean waist, tan seared into his skin. He manages to look formal even though he’s wearing chinos and a polo shirt.

"Good evening, couples. I’m Edward Connery, cofounder of Marital Bliss. My wife, Janice, and I welcome you here to our retreat. We believe that there is hope for your marriage, because there was hope for ours. You see, Janice and I have just celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary. But we almost didn’t see our sixteenth. Janice brought me to my senses the morning I woke up and didn’t find her there. She was gone. Our children were gone. Even our dog was gone."

I chuckle. "That’s harsh."

Kels shrugs and flashes me a smile. "Just remember, Kam is my dog."

"Ouch," I tease back.

Connery continues, "I realized that morning that I was alone, just as I had been alone in our marriage for a long time. Just as Janice had been alone. We had created children together, but we had not created a relationship together. There was no ‘us’.

"That’s what marriage is. We all know marriage isn’t a piece of paper. Guess what? Neither is divorce. You aren’t here to avoid divorce, couples. You are here to avoid being in an emotionally dead relationship. We will spend this week reawakening emotion. It will be hard, especially for those of you who dislike emotional vulnerability. It will be challenging, especially for those of you who value privacy, even with your spouse. It will be scary, especially for those of you who prefer silence to speech. But, I guarantee you, if you are willing to do this, you will be closer at the end of the week than you were before.

"This isn’t a spiritually based program, but I do want to reference two Biblical concepts. I think these – regardless of your religious persuasion or lack thereof – are things anyone can relate to. The Old Testament refers to couples becoming one, and knowing one another. This oneness is not a subversion of individuality, but a creating of a marriage identity, one that both of you create, protect, mold. Knowing one another is the Biblical expression for sexual relations, and a perfect one at that. It is in our sexual intimacy that we let barriers down and embrace our spouse in a deeper manner."

I lean over and place my lips by Kels’ ear. "Getting to know you, getting to know all about you," I sing softly. I love watching the blush steal over her features.

"Stop it," she warns.

Edward leans against the podium and strokes his beard thoughtfully. "Every night, we will be giving out homework assignments. We ask that you and your spouse take the time needed to finish them and to make them the top priority of your evening. Tonight’s activity is to begin opening up the lines of communication. Together, you need to share five things you like about the ‘us’ you’ve created and five things you would like to change about the ‘us’ you’ve created. Of course, some of you will find out that you have not created an ‘us’. But that’s okay. You can begin tonight."

"I’d rather just get to know you better."

Kels gives me ‘the look’. "You know me pretty well, Tabloid. Now behave and pay attention."

Okay, that’s going on my list of things I want to change about ‘us’.


* * *


We’re in bed, reading through the literature Connery gave us when we spoke to him after his welcoming speech. A lot of it makes sense, but, to be honest, I sure hope we never need marital counseling.

I know it’s helped a lot of other couples. And I definitely want it to help Luc and Rachel get back on track. I simply would prefer never to need it. I never want Kels to feel like we need a third party to patch things up between us.

I lean over and kiss her hair.

"What’s that for, Tabloid?"

"Just because."

"So," she lays down the papers she’s been reading, "you want to do the homework assignment?"

I fight to keep from rolling my eyes. "Five things we like about us and five things we want to change?"

"That would be the one."

I frown. I am not here to participate. Oh, well, I can play along. "Things I like: great sex."

Kels laughs, one of her throaty sexy ones. Do we have to do this now? "Of course. Okay, we can agree on that one. I’m amazing in bed."

I growl and reach over and rub her belly. "Takes two to tango, baby. So, what’s something you like?"

"I like the fact that we can talk about any subject."

I like that too. Whether it be art history, or politics, or whatever, we have plenty to talk about it. "I like that we have a lot of fun together. I love laughing with you."

"That’s another of the major perks. I also like the fact that we seem to know when we each need our own space. You never seem to crowd me when I’m having one of my ‘moments’."

I assume this isn’t one of them and I snuggle closer, slipping my arm around her shoulders and resting my head on her breast, listening to her heartbeat. "I like being quiet with you, too. The fact that we don’t have to talk to express what we feel." As proof, I stroke her skin, enjoying our silent communication..

"Okay, now, what don’t you like?"

I continue rubbing her stomach, laughing as little Brennan, I assume, chases my hand around. "I can’t think of anything."


I lift my head up and meet her eyes. "I am not a coward. I happen to happy." Though I am about to get grumpy.

"And you can’t think of one thing you’d change about us if you could? Okay, let me modify the assignment a bit. What’s one thing you’d change about me?"

"Nothing." I kiss the tip of her nose. "You’re my girl. I love you."

Kels begins lifting up my T-shirt and I smile. Much better. Let’s focus on the things we like. I lean up for a kiss, but she stops me. Twisting around, she examines my back. "Excuse me while I look for feathers."

I narrow my eyes. "I dislike when we overanalyze things that don’t need to be analyzed to begin with."

"Ah ha!" she exclaims and wags her finger at me. "I knew there was something! See now, that wasn’t hard. Just proves that no relationship is perfect."

"They never will be as long as two people are in them," I agree. "However, my philosophy is to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative." I sing this line to her, knowing she loves it when I do that. "So, let’s modify the assignment again. Let’s go back and reinforce all the things we like about us."

Kels laughs once more and begins tugging on my T-shirt over again, this time not stopping to check for feathers, thank God. She pulls it over my head and tosses it aside. "You know what?"

Like I care at this moment. "What?"

"I always was lousy at doing my homework."


* * *


Harper and I settle down with our production notebooks. We’re comparing notes while waiting for Edward and Janice to arrive for breakfast.

"Are you going to be able to line up interviews with participants?" I wonder why the twins ordered grape juice. We hate grape juice. I consider my glass while Harper flips through her notebook.

"Yeah, I have two lined up now. However, I think others will be more likely to agree if the talented and wonderful Ms. Stanton invites them personally."

"If I see her, I’ll give her the message. In the meantime, you’re stuck with the irritable and grumpy Ms. Stanton who’s not getting enough sleep because your children are keeping her awake at night."

"It’s a training issue. They’re only trying to prepare you for what’s to come." She continues to read through her notebook even as her left hand reaches over to play tag with Brennan and Collin. Harper insisted we start calling Baby Roo by a name too. She has now convinced herself it’s going to be a boy. I hope she’s right, otherwise we’re going to have one confused little girl.

"Well, then, consider yourself in training too, Tabloid, because every time they wake me up," I give her a playful poke to accent my point, "I’m waking you up."

"Is that a fact?" She looks at me over the tops of her glasses. Oh, damn, she had to learn that hooded eyes, looking over the rim trick. Add a cocky smirk and an arched eyebrow and I’ll slide right out of my chair and down between…

My line of thought, which was getting more X-rated by the second, comes to a slow halt when our hosts join us. It takes a nudge from Harper to bring me back completely. Ooo, Tabloid, if you knew what I was thinking, you would have let me finish. You were having a great time.

I offer a halfhearted smile to the happy couple who join us. I give Harper a ‘let’s make this fast and I’ll take you back to the cabin and undress you with my teeth’ look. She glances at her watch, trying to figure out how long this will take.

"It’s certainly nice to meet you, Ms. Stanton." Janice gives me a polite smile. We didn’t get much of a chance to talk last night after their opening speech. They spent the rest of the evening with the couples signed up for the retreat.

"Thank you," I reply, uncapping my pen and preparing to take some notes during our meeting. "It’s nice to be here. We’ve been very impressed with what we’ve seen so far."

"Well, Edward and I, and our staff of counselors, hope that we can help most of these couples." She pauses for a moment. "If you don’t mind my asking," she glances down at my stomach, "when are you due?"

"Technically, Christmas, but I’m carrying twins so they could come anytime between Thanksgiving and Christmas."

"Your husband must be thrilled to death," Edward gushes.

I give a glance to Harper and see the last of a twinge leave her face. "My spouse and I are absolutely overjoyed."

"Are there other children already?"

"No, these two are our first, but we have a tribe of nieces and nephews. So my better half has a lot of experience with little ones."

"What about you? Is it Mrs. Kingsley?" Edward questions.

Harper smiles one of her ‘what an idiot’ smiles. "Yeah, I guess it is." She twists her wedding ring.

"Any children?"

"Not yet. But someday, very soon, I’m sure there will be."

"Good luck to you," Edward says, adding two packets of Equal to his coffee.

Stick with real sugar, fella, that stuff will kill you. "So tell us more about your program." I make the fast inquiry to get them off subjects that they might not want totally honest answers to.


* * *


I have to get my laughter under control or she’s never going to come out. I take a deep breath and knock on the bathroom door. "Harper, honey, it’s gonna be all right."

"Yeah!" she growls back through the door. "I know it is."

"Please, don’t do anything silly." I cover my mouth trying desperately to dampen the laughter I can feel creeping up on me.

"Oh, I won’t." Her voice turns whiny. "Kels, you could have said something sooner."

"Sweetheart, I’m sorry. It didn’t occur to me until I saw you roll over. I was reading my book and…"

"Why in the hell were you reading a book when I was laying in front of you wearing a swimsuit?" she grumbles from the other side of the bathroom door.

Good question.

"Come on now, Tabloid, it’s not going to be that bad."

"Not going to be that bad? Kelsey Diane Stanton Kingsley, my arms are going to be two damn different colors."

I listen and hear a cracking. "Harper Lee! Don’t you dare!"

"Stop me."

I jiggle the knob once again to find the door locked like it was ten minutes ago.

"Harper, don’t do this! You could hurt yourself. Come on now, be reasonable!"

"I am being reasonable. I have to even up my tan."

If only my darling spouse could hear what she was saying, she’d recognize the irony in that statement. Good God. I let my forehead drop against the door. "Harper, you can even up the tan in a tanning booth after the cast comes off."

"Uh-huh. I’m not risking it."

There’s more cracking and I know it’s a lost cause. I sigh deeply, running my hand over my tummy. "Promise me you’ll never be this stubborn."


* * *



She won’t even let me finish my sentence. She merely puts her hand up and turns her head from me as we wait in the doctor’s office.

Ooo, she’s pissed.

I wish they’d hurry up with those damn X-rays of my arm. Then I’ll have photographic evidence that I’m fine. Not that it’ll help. "Honey…"

I reach out with my newly freed right hand and place it on her knee. She looks at it disdainfully. I know the only thing that’s keeping it from getting smacked is the fact she’s afraid she might hurt me. The look she gives it, however, is more than enough to make me move it. It might wilt otherwise.

"I’m sorry," I murmur, wishing like hell the doc would come out and tell me everything is okay and I didn’t do any damage. I’m not particularly wild about being in the doghouse.

She was so damn mad when I came out of the bathroom all she could do was sputter, "Doctor’s office. Now." And she hasn’t said two words to me since. I haven’t seen that vein in the center of her forehead stand up like that since the day she told off Langston in the hallway. She was mad at him for days after.

"I’ll buy you dinner," I offer with puppy dog eyes. Aww, come on, Kels, it’s cold out here. Let me back in the house.

"You don’t buy dinner on a cruise," she grumbles, picking up a magazine without looking at me.

I refrain from pointing out that the magazine is ‘Home Remodeling’ and is dated 1997. "Hey, with two free hands I can really massage your back."

This almost gets her. She actually looks up for a moment before looking back down at her magazine. Who knew kitchen grouting could be such a fascinating topic? But I found her weak spot. Now all I need to do is work it in my favor.

Before I get the chance, the ship’s doctor steps out into the waiting room. He’s a tall, good looking guy. Nothing like the scrawny, ugly, old Doc on ‘The Love Boat’. This guy is exactly what you’d expect to find on a cruise ship. I lean over and whisper to my loving wife, "Please note how even his tan is."

Kels bristles. One of these days I’m going to learn to stop when I’m ahead.

"Ms. Kingsley?"

"Yes." I stand up meeting him halfway across the room. I notice it’s a lot warmer over here.

"I looked at your X-rays. You didn’t re-injure your arm by removing the cast."

I glance back at Kels who is sitting quietly and listening. She gives me a look that clearly states, "I don’t care, you’re still in trouble."

"I would still recommend you let me put you in a brace to help keep it immobile. You can take it off if you want to get some sun," a hint of a smile graces his lips, but he wisely holds back, "but you should wear it the rest of the time you’re onboard. You should also definitely see your family physician as soon as you get home."

"All right."

"Right this way." He motions me into an exam room.

"Kels?" I lift my brow, cocking my head to invite her along with us. She gets up and comes with me, taking my left hand. Maybe I’m going to get let back in the house soon.

It doesn’t take the doc long to put me in a brace. As he makes sure the fit is good, he glances to Kels. "You’re Ms. Stanton?"

"Kingsley," Kels corrects. At least, she’s not thinking about divorce.

"How are you feeling? I read your file. Are you having any problems?"

"I feel fine, doctor. I’m not having any problems that living with a reasonable human being wouldn’t cure."


He chuckles, smoothing out a strap on my brace. "Before you leave, I’d like to do a quick exam, if you don’t mind. Nothing serious. Just BP, weight, and I’d like to check fetal position."

Wow, he’s right on top of things. I’ll give him that. And he’s ready to take care of my girls and Collin. I like him. Even tan and all.

After taking care of me, he motions for Kels and I to swap seats. I help Kels up onto the exam table. She finally gives me a little smile. Then she turns her head to watch the doc take her blood pressure.

It’s starting to feel like spring thaw.

"Good." The doc takes the stethoscope from his ears. "130 over 85. Very close to normal." He offers her his hands. "Can you lay back for me?"

He’s very careful with her. I like that. He also does his exam of her stomach carefully. At one point, he stops, cocking his head. His brows come together as a small smile crosses his lips. "Are you having any pain?"

"No." Kels looks at him, her eyes on alert.

Her takes her right hand, placing it on her stomach. "Feel that?"



"What!?" Contractions? Holy Shit! Can we get a helicopter out to this thing? No way, no how, are my kids getting born on this floating trap. It’s too damn soon. Oh God. Please protect my babies. I’m up and beside Kels. "Contractions? It’s too early…"

"Relax." He puts his hand up to calm me. "These are perfectly normal Braxton-Hicks contractions. They happen to all moms-to-be. They’re simply a way for Ms. Kingsley’s body to get ready for the real birth. Think of them as pushups, an exercise to strengthen the muscles."

"Oh God." I slump back into the chair, willing my heart rate back to normal. "Thanks for scaring the hell out of me, doc." I look to Kels who is laying there with a little smirk on her face. "You knew, didn’t you, Little Roo? You knew what they were?"

She nods.

"And you let him scare the hell out of me on purpose?"

She looks at me, nodding to my wrist. "Now you know how I felt."


* * *


We join Lucien and Rachel for dinner. I am still a bit hesitant around Lucien, my memory of our wedding day too fresh. I certainly hope that he won’t be drinking tonight, I don’t like him when he’s had too much. I am also trying to resolve my relationship with Rachel. I trust that she’s not after Harper, and, more importantly, I trust that Harper isn’t the least bit interested in her anymore.

I hate that we’re on a marriage cruise and I can’t show any affection toward my own spouse. Everywhere I look, people are hugging, kissing, snuggling and holding hands. I have to settle for Harper’s hand on the small of my back as she leads us through the dining room to our table. We’re seated before Lucien and Rachel, so we have a few moments alone.

"Everything all right, sweetheart?" Harper asks softly, reading my expression far too well.

I give her a smile, wanting to reassure her. "Just fine."

"Feel okay?"

I reach over and pat her hand. "Everybody’s fine," I reply, knowing that the question wasn’t directly only at me. In the last week, since recovering her sight, Harper has gone into full attack-dog mode. I swear she seems larger when she’s around me. She walks closer, she stands taller, she’s more vigilant. If my hormones are high, Harper’s are off the chart. It took me a little while to get her calmed down this morning after our visit to the doctor.

I was bad. But I was so angry with her. Normal people do not crack open their casts in the bathroom of a cruise ship because they want to even up their tan line.

Harper is not normal.

And that’s what I love about her. I love that she is everything I thought I would never have. I love her whole family, even when some of them annoy me a bit. A glance to the entrance confirms that Lucien and Rachel are headed over to the table. Harper stands up and hugs them both. We all exchange greetings and place our orders with the waiter.

"How’s it gone so far?" Harper asks. What we’ve seen has been pretty good. The organizers are focusing a great deal on teamwork and creating open communication., rebuilding trust. Over the next few days, specific topics that cause stress in marriage – sex, finances, kids – are going to be addressed.

Rachel smiles, a bit uneasily. "So far, so good. The counselor we have been assigned is pretty funny."

Luc smiles broadly. "He’s a good ol’ boy, from Mississippi originally."

Hmm. I wonder if that’s the best thing for Lucien, actually. I think an uptight Northeastern therapist with an attitude might be the way to go. "Easy to talk to?" I inquire, mildly.

"I think so." Luc glances over at Rachel and takes her hand in his.

"Good," Harper takes charge of the conversation, "because the homework nearly did Kels and I in last night."

I laugh, remembering our compromise. "Tonight’s looks better, though."

"Sensual full-body massages always sound good, chér."

Rachel’s nose scrunches up. "I don’t recall that assignment." She glances at her husband for confirmation. "Was that announced tonight?"

"Nah, we’re making up our own."

Lucien leans back in his chair and scratches his stomach. It’s a common Kingsley habit, I’ve noticed over time. Harper does the same thing at home. Fortunately, never in public. "Damn, Harper, you’ve never followed the rules in your whole life."

She laughs easily and reaches over to touch my stomach without thinking. "I know that, Luc, but it’s worked out pretty well for me so far."

Now it’s Rachel’s turn to change the subject. "How is your eyesight, Harper? Has it returned to normal yet?"

She pushes back her glasses. "I don’t think it ever will. But it isn’t too bad and with glasses it’s perfect. I can’t ask for much more."

"It won’t get worse, right?"

"The doctors don’t think so. Fortunately, Katherine did everything right when I got hurt. And," she spares me a smile, "I had a lot of inspiration."


* * *


The next day I’m sitting in our cabin relaxing while waiting for the afternoon activities to begin. A glance at my watch confirms that the individual sessions are wrapping up about now. That means lunch and Harper will be returning in the not too distant future. She went out to lay on a bench and tan the lower part of her arm. I keep trying to explain that she should use a self-tanning lotion, but she doesn’t want to hear about it. I’ve given up discussing this topic with her.

There’s a knock on the door. My beloved must be carrying a tray full of food. I set my book down and manage to push myself out of the plump chair. That gets harder and harder each time. Two months to go.

I open the door and am surprised to see Rachel standing there. I would have thought she and Luc would be meeting with their counselor right now. I hope something new hasn’t gone wrong. "Hi," I manage.

"Hi," she smiles, a little bit nervously. This is the most common trait I’ve noticed in Rachel. I wonder if she has always been this skittish or if she’s become this way recently given her marriage problems.

"Come on in."

She steps through and goes over to the couch, taking a seat. "Thanks. Is this a bad time? Am I interrupting your work?"

"No, I was just reading and waiting for Harper to show up with our lunch."

She nods and glances at the doorway. "I won’t be long."

I frown. No matter what Rachel is my sister-in-law, a fellow member of the Kitchen Conspiracy. I don’t want her to feel like she can’t come see us. Family is too important to my spouse. And to me now. "Don’t be silly, Rachel. You’re welcome to stay as long as you want."

"I hate feeling awkward around you, Kelsey. I really like you and I want us to be friends." Rachel stares at her hands. "And I know it’s my fault that we’re not."

I shrug slightly. Okay, it’s time to extend an olive branch. "No, it’s not your fault. I don’t think there’s really an issue of blame."

"At your wedding, I told Harper I was wrong to let her go. God, I was so upset that day." Rachel reaches up and angrily wipes away a tear from her eye. "I felt like I was watching my life pass me by. I kept thinking: that should have been me. I should be the one happy, having babies, celebrating. I was so jealous I couldn’t see straight." She takes a deep breath and has a faraway look in her eye. "I was mad at Lucien too. He was acting like an ass, getting drunk and out of hand. I should never have said what I did to Harper, Kelsey. It was wrong. It was your day to celebrate. She didn’t need my baggage. I’m sorry."

"Apology accepted," I reply. It felt good to hear that. "Is the cruise helping? Are the sessions working?"

"I think so. At least, I realize that I’m not jealous of you having Harper anymore." She laughs a little. "I mean, Harper’s great, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t love her. Not the way you do. God help me, but I do love Lucien. I just get jealous of how she treats you. My God, when you burp she acts like it was the cutest thing in the world."

I can’t help but smile. Harper is so adoringly overprotective right now, it’s quite funny.

"I want Luc to look at me that way. And I want to not be the only Kingsley daughter-in-law without children. I hate feeling pitied."

I shake my head. "No one pities you, Rachel."

She shrugs. "I don’t know if pity is the right word, but there’s an obvious lack in my life. There’s nothing like being surrounded by a thousand and one Kingsley grandkids and know that I have contributed none of them."

I can understand wanting children, even as Brennan and Collin do a tumble in my stomach. "It’ll happen. I know it will. Life does the most unexpected things." I reach over and pat her hand. "I know it sounds trite, but it’s true."

"I could use another friend in the family, Kelsey. I would love for it to be you."

"You got it," I reply, even as I hear Harper approaching down the hallway. She’s talking someone’s ear off.


We both turn and watch the door open. Harper steps in and is followed by a steward pushing a table piled high with food. So much for a simple lunch. "Hey, Rach, I didn’t know you were here." I laugh and climb out of the chair, wandering over to the food. Harper tips the steward and sends him on his way. Once he is gone, she leans over and kisses me softly. "Hey, sweetheart." She rubs my stomach next. "Hello, little ones. Did you let mommy rest this morning?"

I stroke her arm, noting it is still a bit warm to the touch. "Did you get your tan evened up?"

She studies her arm critically. "It’s better, that’s for sure."

"Rach, we have plenty of food. Do you want to stay for lunch?"

She shakes her head. "I need to go find Lucien. But thanks for asking." Rachel comes over and gives us both a kiss on the cheek. "I’ll see you later. Thanks, Kelsey, for hearing me out."

"Bye, sis," I call out after her.

Harper drops down to her knees and is shoving my shirt out of the way. "Hey, babies, how are you? Did you miss me?"

"Harper?" I ask, scratching her back gently. She kisses my stomach and doesn’t reply.

"Do you realize you talk to my stomach more than you talk to me?"

I am ignored as she presses another kiss to my stomach. "Do you hear your mommy exaggerating, Brennan and Collin? She tends to do that kind of thing, just so you know. Sometimes, she says things like ‘Harper, you never eat your vegetables’. But, it’s an exaggeration, because I do. I always eat my French fries and my tater tots."

I start laughing. "Your food habits will be changing soon, sweetheart."

"See, kids, another exaggeration."

As much as I am able, I bend over and place a kiss on the top of Harper’s head. "I love you."

Her arms tighten around me, pulling me and the children closer to her body. "Now, that, my little ones," she whispers, "is just the God’s honest truth."

<fade out>


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