The Third Season

Parental Advisory Rating: L, N, AC

Break out those V-Chips, everyone!


Created, Produced, Directed and Written:

Fanatic and TNovan


Episode Five: Stormy Seas

I wake up early. I normally get up around this time to walk Kam. Of course, Kam is a few hundred nautical miles away, but I am still up. I kiss Kels gently and go out onto the deck. I may as well get a run in while I can.

I take off at a slow jog, warming my muscles up slowly. Morning on the ocean is nice. The salt air is tangy on my lips and the breeze cool on my skin. We’re fortunate to have good weather for our cruise. So far summer in New York has stunk. This cruise is making up for it.

As I round the corner, I recognize my brother’s form as he jogs along ahead of me. I speed up and fall into step beside him. "Morning, Luc."

He glances over and reaches up to wipe sweat off his forehead. "Hey, Harper."

"Remember when we were kids? And how you never beat me in a foot race?" I taunt. I am feeling good this morning.

He snorts out a laugh. "I think you have a selective memory, Harper Lee."

"Last one to the breakfast buffet buys." With that, I take off.

We go running along the deck, jumping over stray lounge chairs and dodging inadvertent wanderers in our path. When we reach a stairway, we look at each other and then slide down the banisters.

If Kelsey saw me right now, she’d kill me. I’m not even wearing my arm brace. I better not slip and hurt my ass right now. My concern for my arm, causes me to lose ground to Luc. This cannot happen. I sprint and catch up with Luc and together we slide into the breakfast bar.


Hmpf. We look at each other and burst out laughing. I think we’re both secretly relieved to not be informing one or both of our wives that were injured being stupid.

Stupidity works up an appetite however. "Wanna grab something to eat?" I ask.

"I need it after that." We go through the buffet and pile up on eggs, bacon, hash browns, fruit, toast and juice. You would think we hadn’t eaten in a week by looking at our plates.

"Is everything okay between you and Kels?" Luc asks, rather unexpectedly, as we settle down to the business of eating.

The fork stops in midair. "What are you talking about?" We don’t look like we have problems, do we?

He shrugs. "You are here on this cruise -"

I interrupt, "It’s an assignment, Luc."

"I know, but was it assigned for a reason?" He takes a nervous sip of juice. "You guys aren’t acting normally, you know?"

"How so?" This intrigues me.

"You seem distant, formal." He butters his toast more. "Believe me, I know distant and formal."

Ah, I get it now. "Lucien, we’re a homosexual couple. While our dear family is remarkably open-minded about such things, the majority of the population isn’t. Believe me, it’s the hardest thing in the world to not hold her hand during those speeches, or lean over and kiss her, or put my ear down on her stomach and listen to my kids. When Connery asked me about my wedding ring, I had to skirt the issue. And listen to him talk about how excited Kels’ husband must be about the twins. You know me, Luc, I want to puff up and say, ‘We did this. These are our babies and, yes, I’m excited. Thanks for asking.’ But I can’t."

"Why not just tell him?"

I put down my fork. "Luc, it doesn’t work that way. First off, we have a morals clause. We can do what we want in private, but in public we’re just colleagues. Second, people like us, get our asses kicked or, worse, killed. Do you think I would honestly expose Kels and our children to any danger whatsoever?"

"I’d never want to see anything happen to Kelsey, Harper. She’s been the best thing to happen to you."

I relax, the adrenaline no longer surging. "That she is, Luc. Kinda like Rachel for you."

He studies his eggs, swirling them around on his plate. "She doesn’t think I love her anymore. She says all that stuff about being just roommates, applies to us. We talked for hours last night and didn’t even begin to get through stuff."

"At least you’re talking again, Luc. That’s a start."

"How do I get beyond her anger? She’s so mad at me."

I hold up my right arm. "Notice something missing here?" When he answers correctly, I continue. "I cut it off yesterday in the bathroom." Lucien bursts out laughing at the absurdity of it and I must join him. God knows what came over me yesterday. It must have been the heat from the sun baking my brain. "Yeah, well, Kels was less than amused. I thought I would be sleeping in the piss-poor cabin they assigned me rather than her palatial suite. All couples argue, Luc. All couples get angry. The key is talking about it. And a helluva lot of groveling."

"Yeah, I think so."

"Time to admit you were wrong, Lucien. Be a man, suck it up. Stop making your wife take the blame for everything." He starts to protest, but stops almost as quickly. "And go make wild, passionate love to her. Like the first time." I reach over and chuck him on the shoulder. "The first time was good, wasn’t it?"

"Bite me," he growls.

"Nah, but I think I’ll go take my own advice."

"Was the first time any good for you?"

I stop and think back to Thanksgiving. That was the first time I truly made love to someone, rather than merely having sex. "Luc, it was like coming home for the very first time."


* * *


Kels is awake when I get back to the cabin. This is good. I step in, shut the door, being careful to first hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the outside knob, and smile at my girl. "Good morning."

She looks over from couch and the third book she’s devoured since we’ve been onboard, recognizing the tenor of my tone. "Hello. Have a nice run?"

I remove my sweaty tank top and throw it somewhere in the living room. I don’t particularly notice where it lands. Throw it overboard, for all I care right now. "Sure did."

"Are you hot, sweetheart?"

"You could say that." I reach down and push my running shorts down off my hips, kicking them and my shoes in the opposite direction of my shirt.

My girl laughs at me. "I just had a nice shower. I think one might do you some good too, Stinky."

I stop, lift my arm and take a sniff. "Nah, I’m good to go." In every way possible, baby. "Besides, you can shower again."

"You’re always good to go," she teases me, her chin resting in the palm of her hand. So, where would you like to go now? Here? The bedroom? Out on the balcony? Maybe you’d like to give a lifeboat a try."

Oh, she’s funny, all right. I resume my advance and drop to my knees in front of her, placing myself between her legs. "Oh, chér, you turning nasty on me? A lifeboat? The balcony? Ooo la la. You wanting to scare the seagulls?" I lean into her and kiss her, letting her know exactly all of my intentions for this morning. My hands travel up her arms. One slides into the hair at the nape of her neck, the other continues up to her cheek, the backs of my fingers stroking it lazily. I hear a moan and gloat, before realizing it was me.

We break apart for air and Kels’ eyes are sparkling. "You think you’re so good."

"Think? Darlin’, I know it." I capture her lips again, delving deep inside her mouth, playing with her. God, she’s a good kisser. Our tongues meet, chasing one another back and forth, tasting, exploring, mapping out previously conquered territory. She tastes so sweet.

I pull back slightly and take in a deep breath, inhaling the scent of her. It’s a heady mixture of Kels, her favorite perfume, Arpege, and the ocean breeze drifting in through the open window. I nuzzle behind her ear and slide my arms around, gently lifting the edge of her shirt, coming into contact with her warm skin. Our twins press into my stomach as I lean into her. I feel one of them give me a kick, as if to say ‘hands off’.

I ignore the child.

I roll Kels’ shirt up, which is actually one of my football jerseys, exposing more skin to my caresses, then release the clasp of her bra. She rolls her shoulders, loosening the material around her, giving me freer access. I love how she gives herself over to my attentions. She trusts me. It is her second greatest gift to me, after her love.

I remove her clothing reverently, bestowing newly exposed skin with light kisses. I tenderly trace the swell of her breast and stomach. I don’t understand why some people don’t find pregnant women attractive. It’s all I can do to keep my hands off Kels. She glows, radiating this essence which I can’t define but which draws me to her like a moth to a flame.

My lips cover her left breast. I swirl my tongue languidly around her nipple, enjoying the taste of her skin. I suck gently, tasting the tangy fluid her body is already producing. A slight whimper that is more pain than pleasure quickly reminds me to be gentle with her. Lately, she’s told me her breasts are tender, becoming engorged with the liquid which will sustain our children in their first months of life. Lord knows, they sustain my life.

I lean up for another lazy kiss. Kels combs her fingers through my hair, scratching my scalp gently. She knows this increases my libido tenfold. I moan again. So much for my seduction of my girl. "I love you so much," I groan. I reach down and help Kels divest herself of her shorts and underwear. She’s been so self-conscious lately. And there’s absolutely no need. "You take my breath away," I whisper, leaning back on my heels and raking my eyes over her. She starts to protest, but I put my finger on her lips. "Stay here."

I push myself to my feet, willing my legs to be steady, and I go into our bedroom. I quickly discard my sports bra and underwear while I look for our favorite toy. Finding it, I secure it on my body with a growl.

I find Kels in place on the couch as directed. She looks over at me and a light blush dusts her cheek. It’s funny, really. My girl has certainly played with toys before, and we have our fun with them, but she still gets this shy look whenever we do.

It makes me even more conscious of needing to be gentle with her now. I join her and lean back against the arm rest. I reach out and help her move up the length of my body, as I stretch out beneath her. She sits on my stomach, at first, her warmth pressing against my skin. I arch up and kiss her again.

Kels’ hands on my shoulders steady her as she repositions herself. We both groan at the change in sensations. I close my eyes and enjoy it for a long moment. I love having her this way, giving her this pleasure. Prior to her pregnancy, I loved it because it allows me to be right there with her, watching her as I love her, holding her close when she falls over the edge. Now, I love the connection we have despite her burgeoning stomach. My hands go to her hips. Her skin is incredibly soft under my hands. "You okay, darlin’?" I pant.

"I’m good," she breathes. With that admission, she begins moving slowly against me.

I help her find a deliberate rhythm, not wanting this time to be over too soon. With one hand, I stroke her from calf to thigh to waist to neck, stopping at every interesting point in between. "You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen," I assure her. I curl upward and press a kiss to her belly. "You become more beautiful to me every single day."

I must have said something right because Kels takes hold of my hand and draws it up to her mouth. She covers it with gentle kisses. When she nibbles on the inside of my wrist, I begin moving my hips a bit faster. Kels grins down at me. She planned that.

Two can play at that game, darling. Moving carefully, I slide back on the couch, getting better support behind my back. Kels groans at the change in position. A good groan. "Like that, do you?" God knows, I do. The pressure of her weight and the speed of her movements are … just right.

An enthusiastic nod is my reply. Speech is highly overrated anyhow. I am now in a much better position to enjoy the many attributes I like about my girl. Keeping my hands on her hips, guiding her, helping her, I nuzzle between her breasts. I plant kisses between them, under them, around them, but carefully avoid her nipples. I watch them grow tight and stand erect, a rosy pink against creamy flesh.

She digs her fingers into my shoulders, letting me know I should stay where I am. I kiss under her jaw and pick up the pace a bit, drawing my knees up behind her for leverage. I enjoy watching the sway of her breasts as her body writhes in pleasure.

I do this to her. I bring her this.

On my next thrust, I hold her still against me. I want her to feel our connection deep inside. I swirl my hips and watch her reaction.

I don’t get to see much, because Kels wraps me up tightly in her arms, pressing herself completely against me. Our bodies are molded together, the moisture of our exertion slicking our skin. I listen to the rasp of her breath, knowing she is close to her release. She bites my earlobe and growls.

Another thrust, another swirl.

Okay, I just felt one or both of the kids moving against me. Roughly torn from the moment, I focus again on my wife. It is her pleasure that matters now. I only want her to feel completely loved by me.

Kels expels a long breath. She begins moving faster. I match her movement and slide one hand around between our bodies.

"Kels?" I whisper, pausing, teasing her.

She bites my neck, not appreciating humor at the moment. Ooh, I’ve been marked. That’ll be fun to explain at dinner.

"I love you," I finish as I carry her over.

She cries out in release, her body shaking. Her mouth lets go of my neck. Her back arches and her breasts sway. She is never more beautiful to me than at the moment of her surrender. I watch the various expressions which overtake her features.

She comes to rest against me, finally. Her breathing is erratic. I stroke her sweat-slicked back, calming her. I whisper words of love and devotion, promising her everything I am.

A few, long moments later, Kels kisses me with abandon. "I love you too, Stud."

I can’t help but laugh. If only Brian could see me now.


* * *


I can only smile as Harper and I make our way through the dining room to meet Rachel and Luc for dinner.  Harper is very proud of herself at the moment and that’s very clear by the way she carries herself into the room. 

I pause for a moment, allowing Brennan and Collin to maneuver to where they want to be this evening.  I’ve discovered in the last few days that from time to time I have to stop and let them have the right of way.  If I do, my back and hips tend to hurt less.  I lean against an empty chair, taking a deep breath, waiting for them to settle down.

"Are you okay, sweetheart?"

"I’m fine.  Your children are being unruly again."  I take another deep breath then continue toward the table where Rachel and Luc are waiting for us.

"My children?  I see how this is going to go for the next eighteen years," I hear her mumble, joining me at the table. I can’t help but laugh a little even as we greet our family. 

"Something funny?" Rach asks when we take our seats.

"Yeah, Tabloid here, seems to think we’re only going to be parents for eighteen years."

"Mama and Papa would disagree with you, Harper Lee," Luc tells her, before sipping from his water.

She slowly looks back and forth between Luc and I.  "I’m sorry, Kels, it looks like I have a lifetime of abuse to look forward to." 

"It’s not abuse, sweetheart.  It’s simple fact.  When they’re good, they’re mine.  When they’re bad, they’re yours," I tease her, giving her hand a little pat to make her feel better.  "That is the first lesson Mama teaches in the kitchen.  Isn’t it, Rach?"

I burst out laughing when she sticks her fingers in her ears and growls, "I’m not allowed to hear about what happens in the kitchen."

Luc doesn’t fare as well and grabs his napkin to catch the mouthful of water that is nearly delivered all over our dinner table. 

Rachel looks at me shaking her head.  "You’re a very brave woman, Kelsey."

"I’m not sure it’s all bravery.  I think, at some point, I may have experienced the death of several brain cells due to lack of oxygen."  Let’s see if she heard that.

"That’s because you can’t stop kissing me."  She leers at me, winking.

Oh, sure, that she heard. "That may be true, Tabloid, but it doesn’t change the facts…"

"No," Rach snickers a bit before I can finish, "but it’s quite clear she’s right.  Nice hickey, Harper."

Even though she sits up straighter in her chair, she still blushes a bit.  "Why, thank you.  I earned every broken blood vessel.  I’d have Kels show you hers, but ..."

Giving Harper an elbow in the ribs to shut her up, I notice that Luc shifts a bit in his chair and blushes as well.  Time for a closer look at my brother-in-law.  "Why, Rach, actual teeth marks.  Nice technique."  I laugh, gesturing toward Luc.  Harper’s eyes fall on her brother immediately.

She bursts out laughing at him even as his face drops behind his hand and he groans.  "We married wicked women, Harper."

"Thank God," she agrees, giving my hand a squeeze.  "So I’m guessing you’re finding this cruise," she clears her throat a little, smiling at Rachel, "beneficial?"

Now it’s Rachel’s turning to blush a bit.  "Yeah, it’s, ah," she gives her husband a very sweet look, "been good."

"Why are we talking about this?"  Luc shakes his head.  I think he’s trying to clear his face of the red, much like a child clears an Etch-a-Sketch.

"Because the waiter hasn’t come to take our orders yet.  And because it’s fun, Luc," Harper offers.

"I can fix that," Luc says, raising his arm to get the waiter’s attention.  "Now stop having so damn much fun, Harper Lee."

"Impossible.  I’m with my girl and my family."

We take a moment to give our orders the waiter.  Now I’m curious about the counseling group.  "So, do you two think that these sessions are helpful?"  I can’t help it.  It’s the reporter in me.

"Yeah." Rachel takes Luc’s hand.  "It’s been great.  We’re talking and…"

"You’re doing more than talking these days," Harper chuckles.  This earns her a kick under the table from all three of us.  "Perhaps, I’ll just sit here and be quiet," she groans, rubbing her leg.

"Fat chance," Luc comments.

She signals that she is zipping her lips, then leans her cheek on her fist, looking properly chastised. And absolutely adorable.

"I think the session last night on intimacy lessons was a good one."  Rach once again blushes a bit.

"Ah, there’s a session I could afford to miss," Harper says, the zipping not quite taking. "I don’t need lessons.  I’ve been intimate with lots of people."  Harper laughs as she puts cream in her coffee.

I don’t know why, but that particular comment sliced through me like a very dull knife, hitting every nerve it could find.  My stomach absolutely turns to knots and I feel like I’m going to be sick.  "Excuse me."  It’s all I can say before bolting from the table.

* * *


Oh shit.

I watch Kels hurry away from the table and I swear my heart implodes in my chest. What did I say exactly? And why the hell did I say that? Very funny, Harper. You’re just a laugh a minute.

I look over at Luc and Rachel who are shocked silent.

"Excuse me," I whisper, placing my napkin down on the tablecloth.

I can barely keep from running through the dining room to find her. Stepping out of the hall, I try to figure out where my beloved went. I highly doubt she went back to our suite. And certainly not the casino or disco or bar. I’m betting up on deck.

The sun is finishing setting on the Atlantic. It would be a beautiful scene, if it weren’t for the fact my wife is trying to blend into a corner. And she’s crying. I have no idea if she even wants to see me or have me touch her, but I can’t stand the fact that she’s hurting. It’s even worse knowing that I caused it.

"I’m so sorry, sweetheart." I whisper, stepping closer, but don’t invade her personal space completely. "I am a complete and utter ass."

My girl doesn’t reply. She’s brushing tears off her cheeks, trying to get herself under control.

"If I could go back and erase what I said, I would," I continue. It’s true. God, I want the last ten minutes back for a do over. "But, chér, you are the love of my life. To be honest, I’ve never been intimate with anyone but you. No one else has ever known me heart and soul." I am on the verge of tears myself. "I’m so sorry, darlin’."

Kels clears her throat, trying to find her voice. "It’s okay. I just … oh I don’t know … I mean, I knew … I don’t know why it bothered me so much. I didn’t mean to overreact."

I very slowly reach out to take Kels’ hand, giving her plenty of time to let me know if this is not a good idea. I am relieved when she allows me to tangle our fingers together. My heartbeat resumes with her touch. "My fault entirely. But is there anything else bothering you? Normally, you seem to tolerate my stupidity better."

"You mean other than the fact I’m six months pregnant, the size of this ship and my emotions could put any roller coaster in the world to shame? Nope. Not a thing."

Gently, I reach out and wipe the remaining tears from Kels’ downy cheeks. "I think I owe you another apology."

"No, you don’t. I’m the one being emotional and unreasonable …"

"Shh," I place a finger on her lips. "If you’re having any insecurity about how absolutely stunning you are, how beautiful you are to me, how you make pregnancy look totally gorgeous, then I owe you an apology. Because, obviously, I have not been telling you it enough." I step closer, drawing her into the circle of my arms. "You aren’t big, you’re carrying two lives within you. If you were your usual, tiny self, I’d be upset with you because our children need you to take care of them right now. I’m so proud of you, Kels."

"Harper, I know all that. Deep in my heart, I know it. And I know that’s why this is all so unreasonable. I just wonder if maybe from time to time you don’t want someone who’s … well, what you’re used to. There are lots of attractive women out there, Harper. Women who aren’t laughing with you one moment, then tearing you away from dinner with your family over a silly comment the next."

"We can still have dinner with our family," I correct, emphasizing ‘our’. "And I don’t want anyone but you. I love you, emotions and all. I made you promises, Kels. I plan on keeping every single one of them."

"Ah, to be honest, Tabloid, I don’t think I’m in any condition to go back to the dining room. Why don’t you go back and have dinner with Luc and Rach, and I’ll meet you in the cabin later?"

My heart stops beating again. Apparently, I’m not forgiven. I’m being sent away. I let my arms fall lifeless down from around her. "Okay. If that’s what you want." I swear, I might cry now.

"I love you, Tabloid. Go and enjoy dinner. Everything is okay with us. I’m just too embarrassed to face Rach and Luc right now. Okay?"

No, it’s not okay. "I want to be with you." I know I sound like I’m four, but I don’t care.

"Harper, I really can’t face them right now. And it would be bad form to leave them in the lurch like that. It’s okay, really."

I’m being sent away. Suck it up, Harper. She needs space. You can go sit with Luc and Rachel for awhile. Lord knows, you won’t be able to eat a bite. "I’ll see you later then." I turn around and walk away, willing my legs to move.


* * *


There’s a knock on the door. I move across the room, from the balcony, and I open the door. It’s not room service. It’s six feet of producer hiding behind a dozen roses. I laugh, pulling her into the room. "Get in here."

She hands me the roses. "I really am sorry. Do I have to go to steerage tonight?"

"Nah. The roses got you the couch at the very least," I tease, taking the flowers to find something to put them in. "Did you eat dinner yet?"

She avoids my eyes and mumbles something I can’t quite hear. Before I can ask again there’s another knock on the door. "Harper, can you get that? It’ll be room service with our dinner. Hope you’re in the mood for steak." I know she didn’t eat. I don’t know why she has to be so damn stubborn.

She gives me a smile and takes care of the door while I finish taking care of the roses. They are beautiful. By the time I’m finished the waiter is done setting our table in the dining room and Harper is showing him to the door. I take a seat at the table and wait for Harper to join me.

Once she settles down across from me, I give her a moment before I inquire, "Am I gonna get the silent treatment all night long?"

"No. I don’t know what to say, Kels, that’s all."

"Harper, I told you. We’re okay. I overreacted. I know you’ve had lots of lovers and I accepted that when I fell in love with you and married you. I’m so out of whack right now that particular comment kinda hit me the wrong way tonight. Any other time I would have simply cuffed you on the back of the head for being a jerk and it would have been over with."

She pours a cup of coffee and speaks quietly, "It’s not that."

"What is it then?"

"Nothing." She sounds so sad and is fidgeting with her napkin.

"What happened to those great lines of communication? What happened to being able to talk about anything?" I ask, pouring a glass of juice.

She chuckles a bit. "Normally I don’t feel hurt, I guess."

This is interesting. She makes an insensitive comment, I get upset and she feels hurt. Very interesting. I must have missed something. "I didn’t mean to hurt you, Harper. I was upset and mad at myself. I couldn’t face Rach and Luc after that. I needed time to calm down."

"I know. But I wanted to stay with you."

"Luc and Rach are finally getting it together. I felt like a complete ass, ruining their evening. I had hoped you would go back and celebrate with them."

"I did." She pauses. "Kinda. Besides, their evening wasn’t ruined."

"I promise to apologize to them tomorrow. I’m sorry I reacted the way I did."

"Let’s just forget about it, ok?" She places her napkin in her lap and graces me with a smile. "So, do you think this will make a good piece?"

"I think it’s going to be a very interesting piece. I’ve talked to several couples who have agreed to sit down with us and do interviews when it’s all over and they say that they feel rejuvenated after coming here. This group certainly seems to deliver what it promises, but for what they charge, they should."

"This is true."

I give her a long look. Something is still not right here. There’s far too much steak on that plate. "Give."

She clears her throat a little. "What?"

"What’s wrong? It’s more than what happened tonight."

"It’s ... I felt like you didn’t want me anymore. I was being sent away."

I forget that she’s never been in a real relationship before. I reach across the table and take her hand. "Never. You are mine, Stud, and I’m keeping you forever. I felt bad and needed a little space. I was having one of my moments." I squeeze her hand tightly. "Harper, I’ve had four other people in my life and I’ve never cared for or loved them the way I love you. I intend to raise children with you, spoil grandchildren with you, and grow old with you."

"Good. Me too. Can I ask you a question?"

I decide to let the obvious comeback slide. I can see she’s in need of serious conversation here. "You know you can."

"I know I am in no position to ask given my background, but ... who was your fourth lover? I mean, I know about Beth and Susan and CJ. But ... "

I smile at how shy she’s being about this subject. "Actually not my fourth, but my first, Bennett McKinley. He and I dated during my freshman year in college. My mother thought we were destined to be married. So did Bennett, I’m afraid."

"Bennett?" I can see her reconciling this information in her mind as she tries out his name. "Did he hurt you?"

"Hurt me? No. I discovered very quickly that Bennett, or any man for that matter, was never going to be able to give me what I needed. In reality, I probably hurt him far worse than he’d ever admit."

"Good. So that’s when you realized you were gay?"

"Bennett and I were seeing each other ," I sip my juice and nearly choke on it when I think back to my college days. "He introduced me to Beth, now that I think about it. She was when I realized I was gay." I grin a bit.

"Oh yeah? Tell me about it." She smiles and cuts into her steak.

This is more like the Harper I know and love. "What exactly do you want to know, Tabloid, the first place I ever made love to another woman?" I tease her, offering her a bite of the mushrooms from her plate. God, I’m turning into such a mother.

She chokes a little as she swallows. "Depends. Was it hanging upside down from a shower curtain or something fun?"

"Kinda. It was great until the chem lab blew up."

She looks at me for a moment then starts laughing. "You’re joking."

"No, I’m dead serious. We destroyed a chem lab. Something about two vials getting knocked over and when the contents came in contact with each other…"

"You are joking. Playing me for a fool." My darling doesn’t believe me. But it’s the honest to God truth. She changes the subject, "So how did Bennett take the news? Did you tell him why? Or just break up with him?"

I have to giggle at her refusal to believe me. "Harper, I swear to you, I’m telling you the truth. You know that little scar I’ve got on my butt? That came from a half inch piece of glass that had to be plucked out in the emergency room. As for Ben, well, I broke it off with him. Since he was studying law, and he and Beth had classes together, it didn’t take him long to figure it out."

"That’s where that scar came from? Remind me to kiss it and make it better tonight."

"That’s where it came from. And you can start there." I give her a wink.


* * *


I meet Lucien again for breakfast, beating him on another run around deck. This time we didn’t slide down the banister. I feel very mature. Although I wish I felt less mature. This cruise, on which I thought we’d observe everyone else working on their marriage, has ended up being a marriage workshop for Kels and I as well.

What have I learned so far? For one, I need to be telling my girl how gorgeous she is on a daily basis. No insecurity that I can help prevent. For another, I need to watch my damn mouth around a certain hormonal, pregnant woman I happen to be in love with. Jesus. Nothing like being a totally ignorant asshole, Harper. Finally, I got the answer to my long delayed question. Bennett McKinley. Could the name be any more WASPy? Milquetoast, I bet. My girl needed some ethnicity in her life. No more boring vanilla types in her life. I glance over at my brother. No, it’s the ragin’ Cajuns for Kels now.

"How’s everything this morning?" he asks with feigned casualness.

"Things are good." I wait and see if he follows up the question with another. I don’t have to wait long, I bet.

"Was everything okay with Kelsey? I’ve never seen her upset like that before."

I nod. Neither had I. At least, not quite that way. Of course, I’m not normally a complete and utter jackass. "I wasn’t very sensitive, Luc."

"That must happen a lot," he mutters, taking a bite of eggs.

Hmm. Are we going to take ‘em out and measure ‘em, Luc? "Actually, it doesn’t. I was being stupid last night, not thinking. You can relate to that, right?" Two can play at this game.

He waves his fork at me. "Touché."

"Besides, I simply begged Kels’ forgiveness until she gave in. That’s the secret of conflict resolution: be willing to be wrong. And often. Roses help."

"You ever notice how Mama always seemed to have fresh flowers around the house?"

I think back to my childhood. Our house was a veritable florist’s shop. "You think those were from Papa? And not from the garden?" That completely changes my perspective on Mama and Papa, that’s for damn sure.

"Did Mama grow Birds of Paradise?" No. "Or sunflowers?" No. "Or lilacs?" No. Okay, Luc, you can stop now.

"I guess I learned more from Papa than I realized."

We both chuckle and continue eating. Mopping up his egg yolk with his toast, Luc takes a big bite. In between chews, he says, "I don’t think there are enough flowers in the world for me and Rachel, though."

That disturbs me. "I thought things were going better." I gesture toward the love bite still prominent on his neck.

"That’s part of the problem, actually."

"The hickey is part of the problem?" I repeat, for clarity’s sake.


I so do not want to discuss sex with Rachel with Lucien. The whole been there, done that quality is no damn good. I certainly don’t want to give him any tips.

He must sense my hesitation so he continues. "Having kids. Rachel really wants kids and, well, you know …"

"You’re shooting blanks. You still haven’t told her?" God, how long ago did we discuss this, Luc?

"No. So, see why there aren’t enough flowers in the world for us? I tell her now and we’ll be going to marriage counseling for the rest of our lives."

I don’t know if that would be so bad for you, bro. "A marriage that is maintained on a lie won’t last. You don’t tell her and you’re doomed."

Luc’s expression darkens as he considers my words. He pushes his plate away from his body and leans back in his chair. Despite his laid-back posture, his tone is quite aggressive. "Since when did you become Little Miss Expert on Marriage? Last I recall, you were fucking your way across the country. What was your longest relationship before Kelsey? Twenty-four hours? Or did it only last until you showered?"


But true. "You’re right. Before Kels, I was absolutely clueless about relationships. Other than what I saw at home, I didn’t know what a decent marriage looked like or how to even try to have one. Fortunately, Kels seems to have a clue and I follow her lead quite often. I might only have one relationship under my belt, Luc, but I’d match it against anyone’s anytime."

"Especially mine, eh?"

I shrug. He said it, not me. "I don’t really want to compete with you in this arena. I’d rather we both be married to the women of our dreams and be very happy. Both of us need help in being successful in a relationship. I admit it. Will you?"

"She’ll hate me."

"Better to know now. It’s a helluva lot fairer for her to know now, rather than when she’s nearing forty and wondering what’s wrong with her, why she can’t have kids. Talk about resentment, Luc." I think I’m done with breakfast. "Don’t blow this opportunity. We don’t all get second chances."

I will always be grateful that I have been given more than that.


* * *

During one of our port calls, I manage to convince Harper to go shopping with me. Of course, now my shopping agenda is for baby clothes. Tabloid seems to be willing to do this with me, getting an almost evil gleam in her eye when we enter the shop. I can smell the credit card burning a hole in her pocket.

I pull the little sleeper from the rack and hold it up. "What do you think, Tabloid?"

She looks up from her side. Dark brows dance a bit as she considers the item in my hand. "It screams, my moms went on a cruise and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."

I don’t know why that strikes me funny, but it does. I’m gasping for air while trying to get the laughter under control. "Anyone ever tell you you’re a goof?"

"Ooo, Kels, I’m hurt. You mean I don’t even rank ‘absolute goof’ or a ‘royal goof’? And is goof a technical term you news industry types use? Or is it something the women of the SSOTKC teach you?"

"What is SSOTKC?" I continue laughing at her. I can’t seem to get it in check.

She puts her finger to her lips, motioning for me to be quiet. She looks around quickly, then, leaning my way, she whispers, "Secret Society of the Kitchen Conspiracy." She looks around again, signaling for me to be quiet before she ducks down behind the rack.

If she doesn’t stop, men in white coats are going to come take me away. I’m pretty sure some of the other patrons in the shop think I’m nuts.

Suddenly she pops up holding an item in her hand. "How about this?"

I clear my throat before taking a deep breath. "Harper, it’s a leather jacket."

"Yeah, ain’t it cute?"

I give my forehead a little scratch as I try to find a polite way of saying, ‘there is no fucking way you’re putting my children in leather jackets’. "Ummm…no."

"No? What do you mean no?"

"Sweetheart, you can buy them any type of baby clothes you want, as long as they are not made from leather."

"Oh, come on, Kels, this is really cute. Look, it’s even got little fringe on it."

"Harper, these children are future class valedictorians. I would prefer they not be graduating from reform school."

"A leather jacket does not a criminal make. I wear one."

"You haven’t worn that leather jacket since you shipped it to New Orleans with the bike."

"I’ll have to give it a good treatment before Robie and I hit the road."

I look up and smile. "You’re gonna do it?"

"Yup. As soon as we go home next time, if it’s okay with you. Robie and I figured we’d go that first weekend. You’ll still be two weeks from your due date. We thought we might ride up to the cabin for the weekend."

I take a moment and go around the rack to give her a hug. I don’t care if every pair of eyes in the place and every camera in the world are trained on us right now. "I think it’s wonderful." I pull back from my hug and look into her eyes. "Thank you."

"Why are you thanking me?"

I caress her cheek. "I don’t know. I can’t explain it, but I feel like once you take a ride on that bike all the demons will be gone."

She takes my hand, giving it a soft kiss. "You’re welcome then."

"So," I move back and begin looking through the clothes again. "You gonna get a sidecar for Robie?"

"Nah, he’s going to rent a bike."

"You gonna be good?" I tease a bit.

"I’ll have to. You’re not gonna be there for me to be bad with."

"Oh good answer, Tabloid."

She looks very proud of herself. "Thanks."

"Now, this is cute." I hold up my latest discovery.

"Kels, it’s a rabbit suit. No way, no how are you putting my kids in a rabbit suit."

Or roughly translated, ‘there’s no fucking way you’re putting my kids in a rabbit suit.’ I bet she sings a different tune around Easter.


* * *


My girl looks beautiful tonight as we head for the bar to have drinks with Rach and Luc. God, how I’d love to take her into my arms and dance the night away. Sometimes real life sucks.

As we join them, I can’t believe how happy and relaxed they look. I’m truly shocked when Luc leans over and gives her a kiss. Damn, Sam, don’t know what you did today but it worked.

Kels pulls on my arm, stopping our progress. "Maybe we should make this quick. I think they’d rather be alone."

"They need to get a room," I chuckle. Christ, Luc, let the girl get some air.

I clear my throat to announce our arrival. They finally separate and wave us to the table. "Harper, Kels, get over here." Who is this and what have they done with my brother? This is not the Luc Kingsley I grew up with.

Kels gives me her hand and I help her settle into a chair near the small corner table Luc and Rachel picked. "You two certainly seem happy tonight."

"We are, little sister." Luc grins at me. "We had a very long talk today. Everything is out in the open." He emphasizes the word everything. "And I have come to a conclusion."

"And that is?"

"The Kingsleys are damn good at choosing the right women to spend their lives with. They seem to always love us, despite our faults and our big mouths."

"Amen," both Kels and Rach intone at the same time.

"And now that we’ve cleared the air, we’re going to start looking at our options."

Thank God. Forward progress.


* * *


Lying in bed, I can see through the picture window in our suite and watch the moonlight dancing on the water. This truly is wonderful. Now I understand why Kels loves these things. It’s almost as if you have no choice but to relax.

Relax. I chuckle quietly at the thought. Kels has relaxation down to a science. I’ve never seen her so happy. Unless, of course, I do something silly. Then she goes from to happy to pissed off in two-point-seven seconds. I look at my brace. Well, it was a pretty silly thing to do. And it’s going to be a while before I quit smarting over that really stupid comment I made at dinner.

The fact that Kels is turning into the Mom of the Millennium doesn’t help my case either. Boy, she’s gonna be as bad as Mama before it’s over with. That’s good for our babies. Might not be so good for me. I’ve seen Papa duck a wooden spoon or two in his day.

I roll over and watch her sleep. She moves slightly, revealing the side of her tummy to me from under the covers. Reaching out with my fingertips, I can feel the babies. Watching carefully, I can see them moving under her skin.

Oh God. How amazing is this? I grab my glasses from the nightstand and slide them on then, moving as close as I can to Kels without waking her. I can see the outline of a tiny little fist or foot or something pressing against her side.

I reach out and give it a little push. It pushes back. Wow.

I lean over and give that little extremity a kiss and get popped right in the mouth for my effort. "Not nice, Brennan Grace," I mumble, then kiss her again. You just wait until you get here.


Oh boy. I’m in trouble again. I’m stepping into one mess after another with her these last few days. "Yeah," I answer quietly.

"It’s bad enough," Kels continues, her voice is rough and sleepy and she never opens her eyes, "that they poke me in the side all night long. Do you have to do it, too?"

"I saw a little foot or something…"

"Un-huh." She rolls over to face me. "I feel four little feet and four little hands, two little heads and two little backsides constantly in motion these days."

I run my hand under the blanket, resting my hand where I know Collin is. I can feel them still moving around. "Do you know how in awe of you, and this whole thing, I really am? I mean, you are doing the most amazing thing in the universe here. Nothing can compare to this."

"I’m not curing cancer, Tabloid. I’m pregnant. Lots of women do it."

"Yeah but," I pull back the blanket and kiss Collin too, "they aren’t carrying my babies. Are they, little man? Nope. And they aren’t gonna be the best mommy in the world, ‘cause you got the best mommy in the world. And who knows, Kels? You might not be curing cancer, but maybe our boy will grow up to be the doctor who does. I’m pretty sure Brennan has that first female president thing all locked up."

Kels pulls me up and cuddles into me, laughing a bit. "You’re insane, Tabloid."

I hug her close. One of the twins gives a kick. I might be insane, but I’m the luckiest nut alive.


<fade out>


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