“I hate it. I look dumb,” Jamie protests, pulling at his tie. He’s wearing a navy-blue suit and crisp dress shirt. He’s gesturing to the tie with the Windsor knot that Cade somehow got him to put on just a few minutes ago.
“Oh, for the last time, it’s not dumb,” I chide my oldest as I wipe spit up from Noah’s face. My six-month-old baby boy scowls at me. Apparently, neither of my little ones are happy with me today.
“I’m wearing one,” Cade answers Jamie, trying to make him feel better. He gestures to the perfect Windsor knot he managed to make. My husband always looks sexy but there’s something about the man in a suit that has me wishing I could drag him back to our bedroom for some time alone together.
“Well, you look dumb too,” Jamie mutters under his breath.
Cade takes Noah from my arms and chuckles. Of course, he does. He doesn’t take anything Jamie says or does personally. He’s the one always reminding me that despite his bluster and bravado, there’s still a scared little boy underneath it all.
“He doesn’t have to wear one.” Jamie narrows his eyes at his brother.
“He doesn’t get to stay up late or eat ice cream or build tree forts with me,” Cade says in a quiet voice.
For the first two months after Noah was born, Jamie was green with jealousy. He was always trying to get our attention by acting up. Then one night after a particularly nasty meltdown, Cade took him out for ice cream. I don’t know what he said but Jamie came back like a new kid.
Since then, he’s been nothing but a loving, devoted big brother. Except he still complains when he has to do something he doesn’t like by pointing out how “good” Noah has it. Still, Cade never loses patience with either of our boys. He tells me all the time that the three of us are the greatest blessing in his life.
“I can take it off after this dumb thing is over, right?” Jamie grumps. Despite his complaining, he really has come out of his shell over the past few months. He was diagnosed with ADHD and dyscalculia before the start of the school year. Even though I was worried about what it would mean for his future, it was a relief to finally be able to define his struggles. Now Cade and I work with him on math drills daily.
“You can take it off now if you want,” I finally tell him with a sigh. I’m too exhausted to keep arguing with him.
He glances at Cade who holds up his hand to indicate that it will only be five more minutes before this is over. “One picture. You can do that for your mom, right?”
Jamie slumps his shoulders but gives him a resolute nod. He still adores his stepfather and would do anything that Cade asked. Last week, he told him that he loves him for the first time. I’m pretty sure that his misty-eyed look didn’t have anything to do with the onions that he was cutting. But I didn’t call him on it.
“Good,” Cade answers. “Now, go make sure I put the diaper bag by the door in case your brother spews like a volcano again. There might be a surprise for you in there.”
I wait until Jamie is out of the room to turn my attention to Cade. I put a hand on my hip and glare at him. It’s only a mock glare. I can’t stay mad at this man for longer than half a second. He spoils me and my sons. “Did you get him that video game he wanted?”
“Thanks, Dad!” Jamie yells from the other room, confirming what I already thought. He started calling Cade that a few weeks ago.
He tells people that he has a mean dad in Heaven and a nice dad here. Cade tried to correct him, but I didn’t let him. I told him that Jamie should be allowed to speak the truth about who his biological dad was.
I check my look in the mirror one last time and reach for my lipstick, pushing away the thoughts. Hank rarely crosses my mind these days because I’m so incredibly happy with my life now. If anything, it feels like my first marriage was nothing more than a horrible nightmare and I’ve woken up to a beautiful new morning.
“You already look perfect,” Cade murmurs from behind me. The heated look in his eyes has me squeezing my legs together. We both want more kids when the time is right. But neither of us want them to be too close in age. As it is, we have our hands full. Not that I would change anything about our life together.
“Later,” I whisper and lean up to kiss him, nibbling on his bottom lip.
He growls which causes Noah to giggle in his arms. He’s a happy little boy, delighted just to be in the middle of whatever is happening.
“Gross,” Jamie calls and we reluctantly part. But even as he says the word, he’s smiling. He might make a big deal of it, but I know he likes the way that Cade is so affectionate. It’s given my son the confidence to know that he can express his own emotions in a safe environment. That’s a priceless gift that I can’t thank my husband enough for.
Cade’s phone beeps. “The photographer is here.”
The four of us hurry out of our cabin and down the path toward the lake that cuts through the Scott Ranch.
We spend the afternoon taking pictures together and true to his promise, Jamie rips off his tie the moment the first photo is over. But to my amusement, the photographer manages to capture that too—Jamie’s triumphant expression, me rolling my eyes, Noah clapping happily, and Cade grinning through it all.
“We really do have the perfect little family,” I tell him later when I see the photo on my phone. It’s an early draft. The photographer will still edit some of them. But I think I’ll print this one out and frame it just as it is. I pocket my phone, still smiling to myself.
“I couldn’t agree more,” he says softly as he puts Noah in his crib.
“Will you give me a dozen more just like him and Jamie?” I ask, staring at the little bundle. He and his brother are so amazing that it makes my heart ache. I love that in Cade’s eyes they’re not some other man’s children. They’re his. He’s fiercely protective of them and loves them endlessly.
“I’ll give you whatever you want,” he promises, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. Even as he says the words, I know how true they are.
“I think it’s time for me to make good on my earlier promise,” I whisper as I tug him toward the bed. This is the man that’s given me the whole world. A good marriage, a stable family, and a place to finally call home. He’s everything to me and tonight, I plan to show him that.
If you want to know what happened with River and Mallory, they’re starring in the next book, The Cowboy’s Angel. This tattooed, alpha single dad with a heart of gold is about to meet his match. Read his story now!