“Wake up sleepyhead.” The soft lilt of my wife’s voice and her gentle kisses to my neck wake me from a dream I was having about a steamy shower and the two of us in it. After five years of marriage, we don’t get a lot of uninterrupted time together anymore and even if it’s only in my dreams, I want to savor that moment.

“Two more minutes,” I murmur as I bury my head under the covers.

Ainsley, our four-year-old daughter with the active imagination, was convinced last night that there was a monster under her bed. It took me almost two hours to convince her that everything was fine and monster-free.

The problem is Amelia, who shares a bedroom with her, believes every word from her twin sister’s lips. She was also convinced there was something big and hairy just waiting to gobble up my precious girls.

As tired as I am, I don’t mind getting up in the middle of the night. Not really. My wife and daughters are the most precious things in the world to me. I’ll give up anything and everything for them. The last bite of my favorite pie, a good night’s sleep, or even that sexy dream that makes me wish my girls weren’t such early risers like their pretty mama.

The thought seems to have summoned my little treasures because they’re bouncing into our room and onto the bed.

Ainsley nudges my shoulder and burrows next to me. She’s my fearless oldest daughter. She’s hell on wheels and I sprout four new gray hairs every time she gets an idea.

“Happy Daddy day!” She announces in a sing-song voice directly in my ear. It’s what she and her sisters call Father’s Day. It’s a big deal to the girls and an even bigger deal to me. The way I see it, I got the best job in the world getting to be a protector to my wife and a father to my girls.

“Did you get me a present?” I ask her in a teasing tone. As a dad, I’m always getting the coolest gifts. Sometimes it’s just a pebble from the driveway but it’s always a special pebble when it comes from one of my girls.

She nods and gives me her cheeky grin, the one that shows off her adorable little dimples. She’s got her mother’s eyes but my hair. They’re both already beauties but they’ll be striking as they grow which means I’ll be fending off the boys left and right.

“Happy happy!” Amelia copies her sister. She’s a loyal follower and will do anything that Ainsley says. Despite the fact that they’re only ten minutes apart in age, she still treats her as the revered older sister.

Sierra laughs at their antics. Like me, she’s delighted with our little family. After everything we’d both lost, we feel so lucky to have each other and our girls. Sure, there are hard days doing this parenting thing. But that’s true of anyone who chooses to raise a kid.

Aurora squeals from her crib in the corner as if trying to remind everyone she’s here too. Our little two-year-old is our happy baby. She’s never fussy. She just likes to be in the middle of whatever her big sisters are doing.

Sierra leaves the bed to get her while Amelia jumps on my stomach. These two think I’m their personal jungle gym, and I relish these young years where they’re all over me. I know in time they’ll be older, and they won’t be as quick to show affection. So for now, I’ll cherish all the hugs and kisses and cuddles.

As soon as Aurora joins us on the bed, she makes a beeline for me. She tugs on my ear in the way that she does. “Good morning to you too, sleeping beauty.”

She smiles at me, showcasing baby teeth that are coming in nicely. It’s such a precious little girl grin that something in my chest aches. I’m the luckiest man on earth. I know that every day but especially today.

“Alright, let mom and dad up and we’ll go to the stream,” I tell the kids. There are plenty of places on the ranch that my girls adore but the stream is their favorite, especially during the summer months when they can splash in the shallow waters under my watchful eye.

It takes just over an hour to wrangle the kids and the picnic basket out the door.

While we have our family favorite spots on the ranch, there are still a few spots that are just for me and Sierra. Like the east pasture where our favorite oak tree is. That’s where we retreat when we need to reconnect as a couple, not as parents but as two people who are still wildly in love with each other.

Maybe we’ll do that again soon. I think we’re in need of some time to ourselves, especially after that dream I had this morning.

It’s only a couple of miles to the stream but little legs tire easily so we take the truck. Ainsley is in the back, excitedly telling us about the dream she had where she punched the monster under her bed in the nose.

“Punching isn’t very nice,” Sierra says. We both worry that leap-first-ask-later Ainsley will let her impulses get the best of her and into serious trouble one day. We’re trying to encourage her to curb her impulses and think her decisions through.

“Being a monster is not nice,” Ainsley answers, crossing her arms over her chest.

Sierra and I exchange a grin because neither of us know what to say to that. She’s always stumping us with her logic.

“What about good monsters?” Amelia asks, looking wide-eyed. She’s our quiet ponderer. She’s always curious, the one who stands at the edge of the stream and watches her sister before she dares to venture in.

“There’s no such thing, stupid,” Ainsley chides.

“We don’t call each other names,” I say as I turn down the dirt path that leads to the stream. Maybe we should pave this at some point, but I love how our little paradise is still untouched other than a few buildings like the house and the barn.

“There are good monsters,” Sierra answers. I can tell from the crinkle between her eyebrows that she’s trying to explain what she means.

She reaches for my thigh, resting her hand on it. Just her warm touch has me wanting to stop the truck and pull her behind the nearest tree. “Some people feel like monsters, but they do it to protect others.”

What she’s saying hits me square in the chest. We’ve had a lot of conversations about the things I did while serving my country. I’m proud of my work but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t days when I question if I’m a good person.

“So don’t punch the good monsters?” Ainsley asks.

“Don’t punch anyone,” I insist. I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with my four-year-old daughter. Parenting is an adventure like no other.

Fortunately, we arrive at the stream, so the conversation doesn’t have a chance to continue. The girls race from the vehicle to the edge of the water. They’re already in their cute little swimsuits complete with life jackets. The water isn’t deep enough to need them but like I told Sierra, I want them to know that anytime they’re in water, they wear the jackets.

Ainsley starts like she’s going into the stream but stops long enough to glance at me. I give her the slightest nod and it’s all the encouragement she needs to wade into the cool waters. She giggles as a minnow tickles her toes.

Sierra and I exchange another smile before I grab the cooler and follow her to our spot. She unfolds the chairs and the entire time we’re setting up, one of us is always watching.

Aurora points to the water with a grunt of protest, clearly upset to be missing out on the fun her sisters are having. I take her from Sierra’s arms and together, the three of us wade into the water.

We spend a couple of hours playing until the girls are exhausted and it’s time for lunch. After cold cut sandwiches, the girls present me with their Father’s Day gifts. Brightly painted river rocks with smiley faces stare up at me.

I exclaim over each one before gathering my girls close for a group hug. Behind me, I hear Sierra capture a picture of the moment. Later, she’ll print it out and hang it up. Our house is filled with dozens and dozens of framed pictures.

Above the fireplace, there are two family photos. One is with Sierra and our girls. The other is with my first wife and son. When I asked about it, Sierra told me that they’re also a part of our family.

The girls know they have a brother and a “second mommy” as Sierra described her in Heaven. It warms something in me that she’s so accepting. She’s always viewed Ivy and Dustin with such affection and kindness. She tells me that she loves them because they loved me.

After the gifts, the girls start yawning and the five of us spread out on a big blanket underneath the blue sky. We find shapes in the clouds until their little eyes are drifting closed.

I reach for my wife’s hand, wanting to touch her. Our daughters are between us and I can’t help thinking how perfect my life is. Moments like this make every hard thing I had to endure to get here seem worth it.

I miss Ivy and Dustin. I always will, but there’s a part of me that’s glad I didn’t die that night. Because Sierra would one day need a warrior. Even now, it still frightens me to think of what could have happened to her if she hadn’t stumbled into Ernie’s Diner looking for me.

“You’re an amazing mom,” I whisper so I don’t wake the kids.

She chuckles. It’s a low throaty sound that gets my blood humming even though it’s still hours from bedtime. “Pretty sure I’m supposed to be telling you how amazing you are.”

But she already does that. In a million little ways each day, she’s always letting me know how incredibly happy she is with us and our family. Truth is, she makes me feel like a damn king and I only hope that she knows how happy I am to have her as my queen.

She lets go of my hand long enough to turn on her side. She props her head on her hand and I mirror her posture so we’re facing each other. With a coy look, she announces, “I have a Father’s Day present for you.”

“You already gave me one last night,” I remind her. Hell, it was quite the present. The kind that makes all of my blood want to head south just remembering it.

She blushes and it delights me that even after all this time, she can still turn so red when we talk about our intimate life. “Not that. Well, maybe that again. But it’s not what I’m talking about right now.”

I eye the cooler a few feet from us, wondering if it’s a piece of my favorite German chocolate cake.

“It’s not there,” she says softly before she takes my hand again. She puts it on her stomach. “It’s here.”

A big grin splits my face. Every one of our babies is a cause to rejoice and I can’t believe that we keep getting so lucky. “When?”

“Baby Winters is due around New Year’s,” she answers, obvious excitement written all over her face.

I move around the kids, careful not to disturb them and tackle her. I hover over her, careful not to rest my weight on her body. Then I press a gentle kiss to her sweet, plump lips. “Thank you.”

She hums, making a low sound of contentment. “For what?”

“For giving me a family again,” I answer, my throat thick with emotion. This woman has given me everything. She’s a good mother who loves her girls fiercely. She’s a supportive wife who has my back faithfully. She’s a strong woman who walks beside me fearlessly.

I don’t know what our future holds or how big our family will grow. But I know one thing for sure: I’ll love her until the end of time.


Charlie is the forbidden fruit I crave. She’s my best friend’s little sister which means I have to pretend that I’ve never noticed her juicy curves or her deep brown gaze that sees right to my very soul.

If you enjoyed Colt and Sierra’s story, you’ll love Brody’s too. He’s a grumpy cowboy who falls for his best friend’s little sister while he’s protecting her! Pre-order Protect Me now for a delicious protective alpha male age gap romance!

Protect Me by Mia Brody