“You’re a naughty, naughty girl,” my sexy husband says in a gruff, growly voice.
I can’t help giggling from my place inside my art studio. He’s just outside the door and judging from his tone, I know exactly what happened. “Did she chew up one of your shoes again?”
We’ve homed all of the pups that Bingo sired except for his daughter, a cute little runt that I sweet talked Ethan into letting me keep. I named her Fiona and she’s the most adorable Border Collie German Shepherd mix. She’s what’s known as a Shollie, and I love her energy and enthusiasm.
I cover my canvas as I hear him step closer to my studio. This is my favorite room in our house. Well, second favorite room. My first is our bedroom where my husband passionately makes love to me. He has every night for the last six months since I came here to live with him.
“What is her attraction to my shoes?” He asks as he slides one of the barn doors open and walks into my space. Underneath his arm, he has our adorable chew monster. In his hand, he’s holding out his mangled shoe which is covered in doggie drool.
“Maybe she just likes irritating you,” I answer as I rinse my paint brush one last time. We’re about to leave for Asheville, but I needed to sneak a few minutes in with my latest piece. I can’t wait to show it to my husband later.
“She’s doing a damn good job of it,” he grumps. He nods to my painting. “Are you going to show me what you’re working on?”
He was a big fan of the nude self-portrait I did about three months ago. Though he did tell me that if I ever tried to put that one in a gallery, I would find myself over his knee. He’s jealous over me and guards me possessively. It’s one of the things I love about him.
“Later,” I promise and reach for his tie. I straighten it, taking a moment to drink in the appearance of Ethan in his suit. The man rocks a pair of Wranglers better than any cowboy I’ve ever known. But there’s something about the sight of him in a suit that creates the familiar low pull in my belly.
“Don’t you look at me that way, Mrs. Scott,” he commands. “We’re not going to be late to your first gallery showing.”
“Fine,” I stop stroking his chest and playfully stomp toward our bedroom. But the entire time I’m walking, I feel his gaze on me. I intentionally put an extra sway in my hips. Maybe Fiona isn’t the only one who likes to irritate him.
I rush through a shower and manage to get my hair and makeup done just as it’s time to leave.
Ethan eyes me appreciatively when I step onto the front porch. The warm August evening air feels good against my aching muscles.
It’s why I went to see Dr. Cash in the first place. I never expected to hear that the reason I was tired, cold, and aching all the time was because of low iron levels. Apparently, that can happen to pregnant women.
“Do you like what you see?” I pop a hip out and give him a seductive smile. I can’t wait to see his expression when I tell him the news.
“That dress shows too much skin,” he grumps.
He says that about all my clothes. He’d probably say it even if I wore a turtleneck. He’s convinced that other men in town want me. I’ve told him a thousand times that I only have eyes for one cowboy, and I mean it too. There’s never another man that could love me the way Ethan does.
“Don’t get cranky with me or you won’t get to see what’s underneath it,” I tease as I sashay down the steps and into the waiting truck. He traded in his SUV not long after we got married. He insisted it was because of gas mileage. I think it had to do with the fact that it stalled on me in the middle of the interstate.
He gets into the truck and mutters something about it being a long night ahead of us. But even as he says the words, he’s smiling. He reaches for my hand and pulls it onto his thigh.
A rush of contentment fills me at the simple pleasure. You’d think we would have gotten our fill of each other in the last few months. But it never gets old with him. I don’t think it ever will. Not even when we’re in our eighties and have a dozen grandchildren and great grandpups.
When we pull into the gallery, I glance up and read the sign. It takes me a bit to focus on the letters. But I’m getting better at the reading thing.
Not long after we were married, I asked Ethan to help me find someone that could tell me why my brain works differently. He told me he loves me no matter what, but he researched until he found an expert in Durham.
The diagnosis of synesthesia and dyslexia was a relief. The first word means I mix up my senses, just like Stella suspected. It’s a rare condition and there’s no known cure. But I don’t know that I would change it if I could. Still, having a name to explain what it is helps me.
The second word means I struggle to read. But since the diagnosis, I go twice a week to see an expert who specializes in working with adult patients who have dyslexia. My reading skills aren’t great but they’re steadily improving.
Ethan is so supportive. He drives me to each appointment and helps me through my weekly homework. Every night at bedtime, he encourages me to read a story out loud to him. Mainly, it’s children’s books. But one day, I’ll be able to read more complex stuff.
In the meantime, I keep trying to learn. On the days when I feel like I haven’t made any progress at all, Ethan reminds me of how far I’ve come and tells me he’s proud of me. His unwavering support and endless patience are just two more qualities that will make him a great father.
My husband squeezes my hand, bringing me back to the present moment. “You look beautiful tonight,” he tells me before placing a feather-light kiss on my forehead.
I went into my studio this morning to find he’d put flowers everywhere. They were his way of congratulating me on my success. It’s still pretty incredible to think that a big gallery wants to feature a tiny local artist like me.
Inside the gallery, I hear a shriek and turn to see Zoey waving me over. Her curly hair is pulled back into a ponytail with a few wisps coming loose. Her face is flushed bright red, probably thanks to Sheriff Brock who’s standing next to her. They’re married now and they couldn’t be happier together.
She rushes forward to greet me but trips over her own two feet. Not that she has a chance to fall. Her attentive husband slides his hands around her hips and keeps her upright. He’s good for her. While she lives in the world of fairytales and make-believe, he’s the one that keeps her grounded and present. Much like my sexy husband.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” I whisper as she give me a tight hug. We still talk every day but it’s so different now that we don’t live near each other anymore. She’s in Lake Tahoe and I’m in Courage County.
“Me too,” she says when she’s stepped back from my arms. She gestures around the gallery then leans close to whisper, “Your stuff is the best here.”
I don’t know if that’s true. There are so many talented artists at this exhibit. But she’s my bestie, so I laugh and thank her. We talk for a few more minutes before I spot Beatrice across the room.
I hurry over to her and embrace her. Beatrice is settled in Courage now, happily working as a waitress and living in an apartment in town. She always slips me an extra piece of cake when I come into Ernie’s diner, and she knows all the best gossip.
I’ve come to think of her as my grandmother, and I can’t wait to tell her about my news. She’ll be so happy when she learns I’m pregnant. But there’s someone else to tell first.
When she finally flits away, I hear a masculine chuckle behind me. “Did you let him off the leash for a few minutes?”
I turn to Archer and smile. His running joke is that Ethan follows me around like a puppy. I’m not sure why he says that though. He’s the exact same way with his wife, Laney.
He flew to Chicago not long after Ethan and I got married. I don’t know what he said but next thing we all know, he was married to the pretty matchmaker.
“Is that Laney talking to another cowboy over there?” I ask, feigning mock surprise. She’s across the room but there’s not a cowboy near her. She’s surrounded by Tia and Audrey, my other sister-in-laws.
That doesn’t stop the scowl crossing Archer’s face at the mention of another man near his wife. He turns around so quickly that I’m surprised he doesn’t get whiplash.
“You’re too easy, Arch,” I tell him.
He grunts something under his breath. I think it’s a threat to gouge out the eyes of any man who even looks in his wife’s direction. Not that I think anyone could steal Laney away from him. She’s too in love with him.
“Hey, pretty lady.” Big hands slide around my hips, and I instantly melt into Ethan’s solid frame.
I know he’s stayed in the shadows tonight, letting me have my moment. I appreciate how supportive he was trying to be, but I’m ready to be alone with my man now. “Take me home, cowboy.”
“Are you sure?” He kisses the crown of my head. “This is your night. We can stay here as long as you want.”
“Ethan,” I call his name and savor the taste. But even the taste does nothing to dull the neediness in my voice. We both know there’s only one thing on my mind right now.
“You say goodbye to your family and friends. I’ll get the truck,” he commands.
It feels like it takes forever to get out of the gallery and even longer to get home. But once we’re there, I let out a happy sigh. As a former foster kid, there’s something special about getting to come home to the same place each night. I know I’ll never have to leave, and I’ll always cherish that.
Ethan comes around my side of the truck to open my door. But instead of helping me from the vehicle, he pulls me into his arms and carries me inside. I love it when he does this.
He starts toward our bedroom, but I point at my studio doors. “No, I have to show you my work in progress.”
“Is it another self-portrait?” His voice is deep, and I know it turns him on just to have me in his arms.
“I really think you’re going to like this one,” I promise.
He carries me into my studio and sets me gently on the stool in front of my canvas. “Alright, show me your latest masterpiece.”
He calls everything I do a masterpiece even if I think it’s terrible. He always encourages me to keep going and reminds me that Van Gogh hated his own work, that artists often can’t see their creations as clearly as those around them.
“Well, this masterpiece you helped with,” I explain as I reach for the covering.
“Did I?” He frowns.
I can’t stop the smile from spreading across my face. I turn to him and watch his expression as I unveil the canvas. It’s another self-portrait but in this one, there’s a tiny little baby in my tummy. Just like in real life.
He studies the canvas for a moment and blinks. When he does, I see the flicker of tears in his eyes. It takes him a moment before he asks in a broken whisper, “Are we…are you…?”
I nod. “We’re having a baby.”
Hope flickers on his face. “You want my child?”
I didn’t even think about how this might make him feel. He’s made a lot of progress letting go of his shame in the past few months.
I think something that helped him was when he had the chance to talk with a teenage boy in town. The boy had just learned he was the product of an assault and desperately needed to know he wasn’t alone. Ethan talks with him every week now and he’s mentoring the kid. Their relationship is so sweet, and I see how it’s slowly healing both of them.
I reach for my husband. “I’m honored to carry your child.”
He buries his face in my neck, pressing gentle kisses to my skin. “You amaze me with your strength and grace. I can’t wait to watch you with my child.”
“You’re going to be an incredible dad,” I reassure him. I don’t want him to think I doubt that for a moment. “There’s no kid in the world that’s going to be more loved than our little son or daughter.”
“And there’s no woman in the world that’s going to be more loved than you,” he promises before he scoops me back into his arms. He carries me to our bedroom where we spend the rest of the night making passionate love together.
I still can’t believe how beautiful and fulfilling my life is. When I signed up to become a mail order bride, I’d hoped for a good marriage. But I never imagined I’d get to live out a fairytale complete with the man who’s my forever cowboy.
If you want to know what happened with Zoey who mooned Sheriff Brock, you can read her story in Romancing the Sheriff.
If you want to know about Archer and Laney (and whether he really did tie her to the bed after all), you can read his story in The Cowboy’s Match.