Authors: Lauren Dane
This is for the Petal fans, past, present and future. You believe in these characters, you’ve loved this town and her people, and you’ve made it possible for me to keep on coming back.
Shane pulled into his parents’ driveway and in the backseat, applause broke out.
“Way to make your daddy feel appreciated.”
Edward, better known in the family as Ward, laughed like that was the most hilarious thing he’d ever heard. Then again, the boy was three so it wasn’t as if he had a lot of experience.
Shane got out and began to unbuckle his son from the car seat. But as he knew would happen, his mother burst from the front door, waving and calling to her grandson.
“There’s Grammy’s boy. Come on over here and give me a great big hug, baby.” She knelt and held her arms out, and Ward scrambled from his father’s hold to run into that hug.
“I know I’m not as good as Grammy, but give Poppa some sugar anyway.” Edward Chase had ambled over and Ward threw his arms around his grandfather’s knees.
Polly stood, smiling at her oldest son. “Come on in. You didn’t need to bring over a darned thing. You know all my grandbabies have plenty here.” Polly held Ward’s hand as they took the big front steps slowly.
This was true of course. His parents had taken two of the bedrooms and made them into rooms for their increasing number of grandchildren. He and Cassie had one, Tate and Matt had two, Liv and Marc also had two, and Kyle and Maggie were working on baby number four.
Funny how much had changed in the last seven years or so. He’d gone from a jaded, bitter man to a husband. To a father. Love had changed his entire universe. Not just the love he’d found with Cassie, but the love each of his brothers had found with their wives as well. His life was awash with nieces and nephews, with birthdays, and now that Nicholas, Maggie and Kyle’s oldest, had started little kickers, soccer games on the weekends.
It was a good life. The life he knew down to his toes that he was supposed to be leading. And he was grateful.
Tonight though, he and his brothers had dates with their wives for a big open-air barbecue and dance down at the Grange Hall. And his parents’ house would be filled with the next generation of Chases.
Yes, a date with his gorgeous wife, followed by some loud, blow-the-doors-off sex when they escaped early and in the morning too if he continued to be lucky.
Ward saw his cousins and nearly sprinted into the large living room his mother had turned into a wonderland for the ten-and-under set. Edward, chuckling, watched the retreat of his wife, and they both smiled at the sound of Polly Chase announcing cookies and milk while she read them all a story.
“Does your momma good to have all her grandbabies here. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I happen to be the luckiest grandpa around. That and your momma is sexy when she’s babying all those Chases.”
“You sure you two can handle the full brunt of Chase kids at the same time?”
“I survived you and your brothers, didn’t I? If I can get through your teenage years, I can survive a night with a bunch of Chases in footie pajamas giggling and carrying on. Two of us and eight of them. That’s four half pints each. Your aunt may be coming over later, you know how she and your momma get with all these babies. Go on.” His father took Ward’s little overnight bag. “Enjoy the alone time with Cassie. I told your brothers all the exact same thing when they dropped babies off here.”
Shane went in and was immediately swamped by tiny hugs and lots of calls of his name. Nicholas somberly assured him he was helping Grammy with the babies so they’d be fine. That and his mother had the magic touch with people large and small.
This was his life and damn it was good. This new generation of Chases his brothers had made with their wives would make their mark in the world. He liked that very much.
Cassie tucked a dahlia in her hair and took one last look at herself in the full-length mirror on the bedroom door. It’d been months since she’d been able to break away with Shane for a date. As much as she loved being a mother, and she did, she missed the time when she could focus on her relationship with Shane.
So when the Grange announced that they were going to have a barbecue and dance outside under the stars this year, Polly Chase had insisted she wanted all the Chase babies deposited on her doorstep and for each of her sons to squire their wives out for the evening.
Some women had horrible mothers-in-law. Cassie had apparently suffered her fill of horrible people because her mother-in-law was incredible. Loving. Supportive. She was a great example and a fabulous grandmother.
And she, together with her equally wonderful husband, Edward, had raised four of the finest men Cassie had ever known.
As if he’d heard her thoughts, Shane showed up in the doorway, a dozen red roses in his hands, looking handsome and sexy and appropriately interested and fascinated by the work she’d put into her hair, clothes and makeup.
He made her feel beautiful in a way no one else ever had.
He held the roses out. “Well hello there, Mrs. Chase. You’re looking mighty delicious this evening.”
She took the flowers, bending to press her face into them. It wasn’t that he never did thoughtful things for her. He did. All the time as it happened. And yet it caught in her throat sometimes, the depth of what this man had brought to her life.
For years she’d lived in fear of her first husband. He’d hit at her, physically and emotionally, and he’d turned her into a person she couldn’t face. She’d been someone she didn’t respect. She’d escaped, running long and fast, and hadn’t been in town more than five minutes before she’d been rear-ended by her crazy, big-haired, big-hearted mother-in-law. And through that moment she’d found Shane, who had helped her bring back the woman she was supposed to be.
He was big and bossy, grumpy at times, fussy when he didn’t get his way. And gentle, loyal, attentive, protective and totally, utterly supportive. Here she was, years later, a wife and a mother, and she never could have imagined just how happy her life was.
“Hey.” Seeing the emotion on her features, he took the roses and pulled her close. “What’s wrong?”
She shook her head, swallowing back the emotion that’d swamped her for long moments. “Not a thing. It’s all totally right. You make everything all right. Every day.”
He rumbled deep in his chest, in that way he did sometimes when he struggled with his emotions. “I love you.”
She hugged him tighter. “I love you too.”
“We could skip the dance altogether.”
She laughed. “Don’t make offers you don’t mean. You’d be into it at first and then start feeling guilty that people were expecting us.” He didn’t just take care of her and Ward, he took care of everyone, it was what he did. And why she loved him so much.
“I think I can make an exception for sex.”
She tipped her head back to look up at him. Into that face of his she loved so much. “Oh, there’ll be sex, mister. You can squire me around first. And then we can get to the sex part when we leave early.”
He grinned. “All right then. Let’s get to getting so we can get to leaving.”
Nathan raised a fist to knock on Lily’s front door, but he wasn’t ready for the breathtaking sight that presented itself when she opened up.
There she was, the first and only woman he’d ever given his heart to. Her smile kicked up a thousand watts when she saw it was him, and that filled him with joy enough to sweep her into his arms and kiss the hell out of her.
She pressed against him, those curves of hers teasing his senses. He sank into her, enjoying the fact that she was so very his.
When he broke away, he tipped his forehead to hers. “Good evening, Mizz Travis.”
“Hi there. I certainly hope you don’t greet everyone you know this way.” She frowned and he laughed, kissing her one last time before stepping back.
“Of course not. Only the women I’m going to be marrying in five months’ time.”
He paused to smile the smile of a very satisfied man. Yes indeed, by year’s end they’d finally be married. Life was good.
“Lucky girls.” She stood to the side. “Come in before the neighbors call the police and Shane has to come arrest us.”
Her younger brother, Chris, the reason she’d come back to Petal, slouched at the table. When he saw Nathan, he sat up straighter. It was in little acts like that when Nathan really saw the change in the boy since Lily had taken over the job of raising him.
Not even a year before Nathan wasn’t convinced the kid would finish his sophomore year. Their mother had lost control of him and had begun to sink into a world numbed by alcohol and pills.
Lily had given up her job and her life in Macon and returned, and in the end had saved her mother, as well as her brother.
“Hey, Nathan.” Chris stood and cleared his plate and cup. He’d come back from his wilderness camp a month prior, tanned and with the right attitude. He’d earned himself a spot on the high school marching band and had taken on a better circle of friends than the ones he’d gotten in so much trouble with before.
“Do you have gas money?” Lily spoke from where she’d returned from her bedroom with her bag. Nathan stared at her a while just because he could. Her hair was twisted up into a pretty knot, leaving her neck bare in the pale pink sundress she wore. It wasn’t tight. It wasn’t lascivious. It fit her perfectly, seeming to float around her as she walked.
All that sweetness only made the spice just beneath sexier.
“A twenty would be much appreciated.” Chris sent his sister puppy dog eyes. Nathan recognized the look from his own siblings.
“You can use the gas card.” She dug into her bag and handed him forty bucks. “In case you guys get pizza like you did last time. You did a good job on the lawn.”
“Thanks.” He grinned at her praise, and Lily couldn’t help herself, she moved close enough to hug him and kiss his cheek. Quickly of course, as he was getting too old for the mushy stuff, as he’d informed her a few months back.
“I expect to see you back here by noon or so tomorrow. I spoke to Mrs. Capwell earlier, she said to bring your swim trunks.” It was also a way for her to underline that she was keeping tabs on him. She’d talked to the mom hosting this sleepover so he’d better not try to say he’d be one place and actually go another.
He’d come a long way from the boy he’d been when she first arrived back in Petal, but she had no plans to let him backslide. He’d done a lot to earn her trust again, but it wouldn’t stop her from knowing where he was, when he was and who he was with. Her mother couldn’t do the job, her father didn’t want to, and as it happened, she loved Chris enough to know he was worth it.
“Who all’s gonna be in the car with you?”
She nearly laughed aloud when she saw the look on Nathan’s face at her horrible grammar. “By that I mean, who will you be giving rides to? I don’t want you motoring around with a car full of teenage boys.” She shuddered at the thought.
“Nah, it’s cool. I’m picking Mike up on the way over but then we’re in for the night. Mrs. Capwell got a bunch of movies, Sam said. We’re eating and swimming and stuff.”
“Okay then. Call if you need anything. I’ll have my cell with me tonight.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” He tucked the money into his pocket, hefted his duffle bag and headed out before she decided to try to kiss him or something.
And when he was gone she realized the dread that’d lived in her belly since she’d first come back had long since left her. Oh she’d keep an eye on him to make sure he didn’t go back to his old ways. But she could trust him. And that meant so much.
Nathan grabbed her and kissed her again. “Now then. I feel like I’ve properly told you how much I’ve missed you.”
When Chris had been at his wilderness camp and her mother had been in detox and rehab, they’d had alone time. Sweet, blessed alone time to wander around his house totally naked and have sexytimes on any and all surfaces. But now that Chris was back and now that her mother had chosen to enter a longer-term treatment facility, alone time was a limited good.
Nathan had been so sweet about it, but she knew he chafed at that loss of freedom too.
“You saw me yesterday so don’t pout. I have to reapply my lipstick now.” She smirked, letting him know it wasn’t a chore.