Authors: Helen Scott Taylor
Cameron blew out a breath and uncovered his face. "I kinda thought Olivia would be too busy to have a boyfriend. I guess that was stupid."
And selfish, Radley thought. But he kept that to himself. No point in stirring things up. His gaze moved to the wall, knowing that on the other side was the room where Olivia and George slept, the room where he so badly wanted to be right now. "I already love that little boy as if he were my own," he said softly. "I will love them both and look after them."
Cameron's eyes watered and Radley felt bad. Perhaps he should have taken this more slowly or approached it differently. He rested a hand on his brother's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Cam. But you've got to think of what's best for Olivia as well."
"Yeah, I know." He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "I just wanted to be George's dad."
"You can see him every time you have leave, if that's what you want."
Cameron leaned back against the headboard and fiddled with his phone. "Have you asked her yet if she'll marry you?"
"You sure she'll say yes?"
Radley shrugged, not wanting to delve into his own fears and insecurities.
"You better go and ask her." Cameron punched him on the arm halfheartedly. "Good luck."
Radley's heart thumped as he left his room and knocked softly on the one next door. When Olivia answered, he slipped inside.
She had obviously just changed George's diaper and placed him on the bed so she could put on her nightdress and feed him. A tentative smile lit her face at the sight of Radley.
"I'm sorry, Liv, I wanted to greet you properly, but it was awkward downstairs. I've missed you so much." He went to her and she stepped into his arms. For a few moments he simply held her, his cheek against her hair, reveling in the feel of her slender body in his arms. Then he dipped his head. She met his lips in a welcoming kiss that seared away his fear that she might not care for him as he hoped.
After long moments, they broke apart when George whimpered as if demanding his turn to say hello.
Radley picked up the little boy and held him close, pressing his lips to the soft, dark hair. "You are growing into such a big boy. Mummy must be looking after you well." Radley rocked him to and fro, a stupid grin on his face.
Olivia leaned in and rested her head on his shoulder. He shifted George into one arm so he could wrap his other around her.
"He's able to hold his head up quite well now," she said. "It won't be long before he can sit up. I can't wait for him to be able to sit in a high chair at the table."
"Then he'll be crawling and walking." Radley's thoughts rolled on through the months, imagining the three of them together as George grew into a little boy. Radley would teach him to ride a bike and kick a ball. And he'd make sure to include Cameron as well so he didn't miss anything.
George nuzzled the front of Radley's shirt and Olivia giggled.
"You're not going to get any grub from me, you little scamp. You need Mummy for that."
Radley handed the baby back to Olivia, impressed by how much heavier he had grown in the last month. She laid George on her bed and picked up her nightie. "I was just going to change." Her cheeks flushed.
"I need to put on my pajamas and brush my teeth," Radley said, realizing she wanted a few minutes of privacy. "Can I come back?"
Radley had made the mistake of distancing himself from Olivia over the last few days before he'd left for Wales. He'd wasted precious nights when he could have been with her. He'd told himself he was doing the right thing, giving her space to decide how she felt about Cameron ahead of his visit. What he'd really done was allow his horrible experience with his ex-wife to influence his actions.
That was in the past and had no bearing on this situation. He didn't want to be alone any more. He wanted to spend every moment he could with Olivia and George.
"Yes, come back." Olivia gripped his hand. He kissed her again, relief flashing through him. This Christmas was the start of the rest of his life. He had a second chance, and he'd get it right this time.
Olivia's breath rushed out on a little gasp of relief and pleasure. When Radley's arms closed around her, the recent uncertain weeks seemed like a distant memory. It was as if he had never gone away. She loved this man so much. She never wanted to let him go again.
Once he went to change, she did a circuit of the room, turned on the Christmas lights strung on the wall beside George's crib, and lit the scented candles on top of the chest of drawers and bedside tables. Then she turned off the main light. A soft glow fell over the bed and a festive, spicy fragrance filled the room. She had hoped and prayed things might work out this way, but hardly dared believe that as the clock struck twelve to herald Christmas Day, she would be snuggled in bed with Radley.
She dug out the blue silk negligee she rarely wore, quickly changed, and dashed to the bathroom where she freshened up, and applied a few strategic dabs of perfume. Then she climbed in bed, leaned back against a stack of pillows, and started feeding George.
Fifteen minutes later, Radley slipped back into the room, a robe over his pajamas. He paused and looked around, a smile lifting the corners of his mouth. "It's so good to be back here with you."
He moved around the bed and sniffed the air near the scented candle. "Smells nice," he said, shrugging off his robe. He tossed it onto a chair, then lifted the covers to climb in beside her.
Nerves tingled beneath her skin. They had done nothing more than kiss before he left. She had still been recovering from her C-section and Radley had been very gentle with her. Now she was fully fit, there was no reason why they couldn't make love.
Radley lay on his side watching her, his head propped up on his hand. When George had finished, she kissed her little boy good night and, just as he'd done many times before, Radley took him and settled him in his crib.
He climbed in beside her again and they lay facing each other, his large, warm hand clasping hers on the pillow between them. "I'm sorry, Olivia, sorry I distanced myself from you before I left, and sorry I shipped out without coming home to say good-bye properly."
He pressed his lips to the back of her hand and closed his eyes. "I've been waiting weeks to talk to you. I needed to discuss things face-to-face, e-mail and text just wasn't going to work."
"I understand." She stroked her palm over his stubbly jaw, the roughness giving her a little zing of pleasure.
"I'm guessing you don't want to marry Cameron."
Olivia gave a startled laugh. "No!"
"That's good." Radley grinned, then leaned closer and kissed her. "Now I can move on to the important part."
He pulled a small red box out from under his pillow and set it on the sheet between them. Olivia's breath hitched. A light-headed sense of anticipation filled her.
He opened the lid to reveal a beautiful marquise-cut diamond ring. "Will you marry me, Olivia?" Radley whispered.
She pressed her hand to her heart, overwhelmed with surprise and pleasure. She loved him and knew he loved her, but had never dreamed he'd propose so soon. "Are you sure?"
He laughed. "You were on my mind the whole time I was away. I'm sure."
"Yes, Radley. Yes, I'd love to."
He slipped the ring on her finger. She kissed him and snuggled in his arms, staring at her hand with a sense of wonder and unreality. She felt as though she were floating in a dream—she, George, and Radley would be a proper family.
The grandfather clock on the landing chimed the hour. They listened together in the warm cocoon of their bed as midnight sounded. "Merry Christmas," Radley said, pressing a kiss to her lips. "Let's make our announcement at dinner tomorrow."
"That should make your father happy."
"It'll make me happy." Radley pulled her closer and slid a gentle hand down her back, trailing a row of kisses from beneath her ear to her collarbone. "Now, my darling fiancée, there's something else I've been dreaming about while I've been away."
"It must be the same thing I've been dreaming about." Olivia giggled as his tiny ticklish kisses moved lower.
"The perfect way to welcome in Christmas Day," Radley whispered.
Radley woke and pushed up on an elbow. He smiled down at Olivia, still fast asleep, her dark hair spread across the pillow in a silky fan. He pressed a soft kiss to her temple and slid out of bed.
Happy gurgling sounds came from George's crib. The baby had kicked off his covers and was trying to roll over. His chubby face beamed a grin when Radley leaned over the side of the crib. "You're a happy little guy, aren't you?"
George had woken for a feed at six a.m. He could wait a while longer for his next one. Radley had kept Olivia up late, so he wanted to give her a chance to sleep in.
He picked the baby up, changed his diaper, and slipped out of the bedroom, shutting the door quietly. When Radley entered his own room, Cameron was dead to the world, sprawled across the bed where Radley had left him last night.
He laid George on the covers for a moment, where he wriggled, making happy sounds, while Radley pulled on jeans and a T-shirt. Then he gathered the little lad into his arms and took him downstairs.
The familiar smell of roasting turkey carried Radley back through the years to many other happy family Christmases with his parents. He wanted to make this day perfect for Olivia and George. Olivia hadn't enjoyed the same close family he had. From now on he would make sure she did, and he wanted today to be perfect.
He wandered through the house, showing George the sparkling Christmas decorations. The baby boy's eyes fixed on the flashing lights on the decorated tree in the sitting room. Radley went down on a knee to show George the heap of brightly wrapped presents, and noticed his mother had added the gifts he'd brought.
The baby stretched out a hand. Radley smiled. "Not yet, Georgie Porgie. You get to unwrap your presents after lunch." He put his mouth to the baby's ear and whispered, "But I can let you in on a secret, the ones in blue paper are from me." He'd gone a little overboard and bought far too many toys. He and his father had made a special trip to the huge Hamleys toy store on Regent Street before they left London.
Radley toured the room, pointing out the garland of glossy green holly with scarlet berries draped over the roaring log fire, the fat Santa on the windowsill, which they'd owned since Radley was a boy, and the glittering baubles on the Christmas tree.
They wandered into the dining room. The festive red tablecloth already covered the table, and another log fire burned in this room.
The sound of his parents' voices drew Radley to the kitchen. His father sat at the table reading the newspaper while his mother peeled potatoes. "Merry Christmas." Radley kissed his mother's cheek. "I'll give you a hand with that, if you like."
"No, you won't. You take it easy." She turned a delighted grin on him. "From what your father says, you've had a busy few days in the halls of power at the MOD with your clever father. I can't wait to tell everyone he's now a major general." Her face glowed with pride.
His father peered over his newspaper. "Don't tell anyone yet. It's not official until the New Year."
Radley smiled to himself at his mother's excitement. He hoped his family would be as thrilled by the announcement he and Olivia planned to make over Christmas dinner.
Olivia sat at the desk with a shaving mirror angled towards the light and applied her makeup. George squealed with laughter behind her. She glanced over her shoulder, her pulse picking up pace at the sight of Radley relaxed on the bed in his faded jeans and a blue shirt. He was leaning over, blowing on George's tummy, making him kick and wriggle with delight.
They were both engrossed in the game. "You like that, Georgie Porgie, don't you?" Radley said.
Happiness bubbled inside Olivia. Radley was so kind and thoughtful. He'd let her sleep in, and she'd certainly needed it after last night. His gaze rose to her as if sensing her appraisal. The corners of his lips kicked into a crooked smile. Pleasure zinged along her nerves at memories of being in his arms.
"You look even more beautiful than usual this morning," he said. "That red dress is stunning, although I preferred what you were wearing before you put it on."
She giggled and tossed one of George's soft toys at him. Grinning, he caught it.
"I don't think your parents would approve if I went down for Christmas dinner in black lacy underwear."
"I'd approve, though."
For long moments, they stared into each other's eyes, a hot pulse of anticipation passing between them. She would enjoy Christmas Day with the Knights, but she was looking forward to later when she and Radley could be alone again.
George squealed and the moment passed.
Olivia returned to her makeup, keeping half an eye on Radley's reflection in the mirror. She loved him so much. Since he came home, her life had been like a dream; he'd declared his love and asked her to marry him. She wanted to exist in this fantasy bubble of happiness forever, but her practical worries nipped at her thoughts.
"Will you be able to take the rest of your leave now?"
"Most of it. I wanted to talk to you about that. I have four weeks off, then I'm going to Oxfordshire."
"Oxfordshire?" Olivia swiveled around on the stool to see him better. "As in the other side of London?"
Radley laughed. "That's where it was the last time I looked at a map."
She knew Radley was committed to his job and if she wanted to marry him, she must accept that. Lying in his arms after they had made love last night, she had decided she would always support him, even if it meant she had to cope alone when he was on a tour of duty in some far-flung part of the world. But she would much rather have him safely in the UK, even if they weren't always together.
"How long before you're sent abroad again?"
Although she tried to keep her voice casual, Radley must have picked up the concern in her tone. He climbed off the bed and came to her. "Don't worry, love. I won't be sent away for a while. Oxfordshire is my new posting, and it sounds like something long-term, although one can never be sure." He crouched beside her and took her hands, his thumb caressing her finger beside the engagement ring.
"There's a new joint forces emergency treatment unit being set up near RAF Brize Norton. It's still under development. Currently they're using it as a clearing station for seriously wounded forces personnel who are flown back to the UK. In a few months it will be completed. I'm going to head up the unit that will deal with my specialty."
Olivia's eyes widened, and her heart thumped with relief. She had been steeling herself to cope with his absence and worrying he would be sent somewhere dangerous. The enthusiasm in his voice as he spoke of the new appointment made her realize this was something special, something very important to him. "It sounds like congratulations are in order."
"I would say so. The senior officer who told me indicated I could expect a promotion in a few months. That means a pay raise as well."
"That's wonderful. Well done." She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. "Will I be able to see you regularly?"
"You'll be able to see me every day. We'll move into army married quarters to start with, then when we're settled in the area, we'll look for a place to buy." He laughed. "I was disappointed when you texted me about losing Brook View Cottage, but it's turned out to be a blessing in disguise."
Married so quickly. After the uncertain weeks of waiting, things now seemed to be happening fast. Olivia clung to Radley, feeling a little light-headed. "Do you have a date in mind?"
"As soon as possible. The army won't give us married quarters unless we're married. I want to be with you, love." He curved his palm around her cheek. "That's what you want, isn't it?"
"Yes, oh yes." Olivia buried her face in Radley's neck. She'd felt so totally alone and frightened in the hospital waiting to give birth. She'd lost her apartment because she couldn't work to pay the rent, and had nobody to turn to for help. First Sandra, then Radley had been generous and kind. They'd given her hope that things would work out—and they had. "Thank you, Radley. Thank you so much for being there for me, for giving me this chance at happiness."
Radley laughed wryly. "I'm the one who should be thanking you, sweetheart." He pulled back and stroked the hair off her face. "I was living a half life, focused completely on my job with zero personal life. I thought I'd handled what happened with my ex-wife, but meeting you and George made me realize I was still letting her mess with my head. You and George were a wake-up call. There is a whole lot more to life, and I was missing out."
Radley leaned his forehead against hers. "You're everything I want. I'm so lucky I found you."
"You're my knight in shining armor, Radley. I love you so much. To think that when I first found out I was pregnant, I thought my life was ruined. It's turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. If I hadn't had George, I wouldn't have met you."
Christmas dinner was a cheerful affair with the men chatting about their work and George gurgling happily, chewing on a teething ring and covering his cute Santa bib with drool. When the turkey had been eaten, Radley pulled the diamond engagement ring out of his pocket, where he'd hidden it until their official announcement, and cast Olivia a glance full of suppressed excitement.