“What are you doing?” River growls at me.
The sound of my husband’s deep voice has me scrunching my shoulders like a child caught doing something naughty. “Nothing.”
He sighs and I hear the sound of his big boots as he stomps across the kitchen floor. With a gentle touch, he takes the birthday banner from my hands and nods to my chair. “Sit. Don’t waste your energy on something like this.” By something like this, he means a task that could have me falling.
I scowl at him, but do as he asked, resuming my spot. “I just want everything to be perfect for her.”
He tacks up the happy birthday banner that’s for Lily and gives me a smile that reaches all the way to his eyes.
He’s been smiling more since he started therapy five months ago. I didn’t realize just how rough his childhood had been until he began opening up to me.
Each time he hands me a broken piece of his heart, I remind him that he’s strong and brave and most importantly, so very loved by his wife and daughter.
“She’s going to be thrilled no matter what you do,” he reminds me. The darkness that haunts him is still there. Maybe it always will be. But at least, he knows he doesn’t have to face it alone. That there are people who will stand in that dark place and give him light and love.
“I just want to make it special for her.” Celine, Lily’s birth mom, is out of rehab and she’s settling into a new life in a halfway house that helps women who are in recovery. I’m so grateful she has that support.
River still struggles to forgive her, but I know he’s made several large donations to the organization where she’s staying. I think in time, he’ll come around and they might even become friends.
He reaches out and pushes a strand of hair away from my face. “You’re a good mom.”
If you’d asked me a year ago if I could have imagined being married with a daughter before I was even nineteen, I would have laughed. But now here I am, getting to live a life that’s even better than I imagined.
My heart is filled with so much love for this cowboy dad and his beautiful daughter. I can’t believe I get to wake up everyday to their smiling faces. “She seems pretty fond of you too.”
“As fond as you are?” River leans close to me, and I catch a whiff of his spicy, male scent. A shiver runs down my spine at my sexy husband’s gravelly tone. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of what this man can do to my body with just a look, a word, or a simple touch.
“You know I am,” I answer, unable to deny it.
He presses a soft kiss to the side of my neck. Despite the longing that he’s stirring up in me, I squash it down. There will be time for that later tonight. I open my mouth to tell him that but there’s a knock at the door.
River swears under his breath and I laugh. “Go answer the door for your brothers. I’ll get our little flower ready.”
I roll into the bedroom to find that Lily is already awake in her crib. She’s pulled herself up to stand and is drooling on the railing. Her expression changes to a huge grin the second she sees me, and she reaches out.
It only takes us a few minutes to get her diaper changed and the special dress I sewed for her birthday on. When I found the beautiful fabric that was patterned with lilies, I knew I had to have it for my girl.
“Are you ready for your birthday?” I ask as I put the cute green bow that completes the outfit in her fine blonde hair.
She immediately pulls it out and scowls at the offending piece of material before throwing it in the floor.
“Lily May, what are you doing?” River’s voice comes from the doorway.
“Dada!” She calls, gleefully slapping her hands together. She always greets him with such enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter that she’s only been napping for an hour this afternoon. The smile she gives him makes it seem as if she hasn’t seen him in months.
River’s chest puffs out at the name, the way it always does. He’s so proud of Lily, and it warms my heart. He’s an amazing dad. He’s already talking to his brothers about building his girl a playhouse in the backyard.
“There’s my birthday girl!” He says as she tries to launch herself at him.
I let go and he catches her easily. Of course, he does. If there’s one thing I know about River, it’s that he’ll always catch his little girl and me too. He’s always there for us, no matter what.
When it’s time to sing the birthday song, Lily hides her face in her father’s shirt and won’t look at anyone. We still laugh though and take pictures of her.
She’s sassy and a handful when it’s just me and River. But when she’s around her uncles, aunts, and cousins, she’s more reserved.
Lily makes a mess of her first cake, and she even likes most of her presents. Except for the loud noisy one. She doesn’t seem to know what to do with that.
It’s late by the time River’s brothers and his family have left. But the house is neat again, thanks to help from several of them.
“Do you think she had fun?” I ask when I come back into our bedroom after my evening shower.
River is sitting on the bed with Lily in his arms and feeding her a bottle. She looks worn out but content. I can understand the feeling. There’s nothing better than having River hold me at the end of a long day.
“She had a great time,” he reassures me before burping our little princess.
The three of us snuggle together for a long time and finally, I let out a soft yawn. “What are you thinking about?”
“How smart I am,” he whispers as he runs his thumb along my shoulder. There’s no feeling better than being held in River’s arms while Lily sleeps peacefully on my chest. The three of us are a real family and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
I can’t help the soft chuckle. “You’re thinking about how smart you are?”
“Yeah, I was smart to drag you down to the courthouse and make you mine,” he answers, a playful note in his tone.
“And I have a pretty proposal to tell Lily when she grows up,” I remind him. His words that day are written down in my journal and every so often, I pull them out and run my fingers along the lines.
He presses a kiss to my forehead. “You’re my forever, Mrs. Mallory Scott.”
“And you’re mine,” I murmur sleepily as I press my head to his shoulder. He’s my perfect cowboy, the man that always protects me and loves me. We’ve had an amazing six months together and each day, he makes my life a little sweeter.