Something is up with her husband
Murmur of Love Extended Epilogue
This takes place four months after the end of Murmur of Love.
Something was up with her husband. Cecelia watched Aidan hustle their three children into the Suburban. And it was more than him being worried about Vinnie. It was their youngest’s first day back in school after being off sick with a vicious bout of tonsillitis, and when pressed about his withdrawn mood, Aidan had simply said he was concerned it was too soon to send Vinnie back.
But his taciturn behavior stretched way back to before Vinnie falling ill.
“You’re worried about him?”
Cecelia turned to face the man who now stood beside her. “I am, Lionel. He is not talking to me.”
Lionel — together with his wife, Gina — had been in her employ for many years. Through all the ups and downs, the joy and heartache, they had stood by her side. Her mainstay.
“If I’m to hazard a guess, I’d say it was about the babe.”
Her hands instinctively found the burgeoning bulge, and her palms protectively closed over her stomach. “But he is so excited,” she demurred.
“For sure he is, girl, but it’s also a reminder of what he’s lost.”
But of course. Cecelia wanted to slap herself.
During Aidan’s ex-wife’s trial — the woman had been charged with deadly misconduct for her actions last year — she had admitted for the first time that the two babies she’d aborted while married to Aidan had been his.
And that was exactly when Aidan’s melancholy had started, Cecelia realized.
“Never speak about our loss.” Lionel’s softly spoken words had Cecelia turning to the man.
“Lionel?” She placed a hand on his arm and watched as the man stared out into the still, early morning air. It had rained overnight, and the ground was still damp. And fertile. It was going to be a great summer.
Even more so with their baby due in July.
But the sorrow in Lionel’s voice disturbed her. “What loss? Tell me.”
“Our babies. Gina’s and mine. We’ve buried three babies.”
Cecelia sucked in her breath. She never knew. Well, she knew the couple didn’t have any children, but not the reason behind it.
How remiss of her. “I am so sorry, Lionel. I had no idea.”
He blinked, rapidly. “It was before you. My dear Gina could never carry our babies to term. After our third, we said no more. We lost two girls and boy.”
Lionel swept a hand over his face before meeting her gaze. “When your mum asked us to look out for you when you started modeling, well … you know both Gina and I consider you our daughter. Our first would’ve been your age.”
She placed her arms around him in a fierce hug and felt the ragged breath the much-loved man sucked. Just as she had become his daughter, he had become the father she had never had as a child.
“I don’t say this often enough, but I love you, and Gina, so much. Thank you for always being there for me.”
After a long moment, she released him, and he let out a wry laugh. “What I am trying to say, love, in a roundabout, far too despondent manner, is that the loss of a child, even an unborn child, affects the father as much as the mother. And your man is suffering again because his loss is now real.”
Lionel gently patted her stomach. “He’s lost two babies, Cecelia, and he’s mourning them.”
Aidan cast an irate glance at his brother. It wasn’t often Sullivan asked a favor from him, and he’d not been able to refuse the request. But he still did not know what the man wanted from him.
“I’ve got loads of work,” he mumbled as they turned onto the well-graded road leading toward the small lake. It was the truth. Aidan did have a lot of work planned. Work kept him busy, stopped him from thinking about—
No. Not going there again.
He had so much to be thankful for, why, oh why did he have to relive the “what ifs” repeatedly?
“I really appreciate you dropping everything for me, bro.”
Aidan sighed, hearing the sarcasm in Sullivan’s tone. “Sorry, Sull. I’m just …” He trailed off, knowing he was being unreasonable but unable to help himself. He knew he was in a funk, a deep funk, yet he seemed to be stuck.
They pulled up beside the cabin.
Next to Cecelia’s red Jaguar convertible.
Aidan raised his brows as he met Sullivan’s amused gaze.
“Your wife’s waiting for you,” was all his brother said, shooing him out with a hand gesture and a smirk.
What the hell? Aidan slowly climbed from the truck and stood, hands to hips, as he watched his brother pull away.
Well, standing around like a dumbass won’t get you your answers.
With a heavy tread, he made his way to the front of the cabin he’d built for his wife last year.
Cecelia stood on the top of the porch steps.
Waiting for him.
For long moments, he stared at her.
Her beauty always took his breath away, but over the months, an inner radiance made her look … ethereal. Pregnancy suited her. His gaze lingered on her expanding belly, prettily draped in a flowy white dress, where his baby was safely growing in her.
His heart squeezed with hurt.
They never had chance to grow, to be nurtured in a mother’s womb.
She’d moved down the steps, his name a mere murmur on her lips as she stood before him.
It was the understanding radiating from her beloved honey-colored eyes that finished him off. The pain in his heart spread, robbing the strength from his legs, and he sank to the ground.
She knelt before him, her arms closing around him. “I have you, my love.”
Aidan dropped his head to her shoulder, undone, and let the pent-up pain flow out. He sobbed until he couldn’t anymore, until all he could feel was the warmth of her embrace and the caress of her hands as they soothed over his back, holding him close.
Movement in her belly, so closely pressed to his, jolted Aidan.
A reminder of the life they had created.
And wasn’t that a literal kick in the stomach?
Aidan sucked in a breath, pulling back. He spread his hands to cover the activity and realized, with horror, that until that very moment, he had purposefully avoided touching Cecelia’s stomach.
He’d avoided the evidence — the proof — of new life.
He dropped his forehead to hers. “I’m sorry. So deeply sorry.”
He pulled away a few inches, staring in his wife’s bright eyes, the trace of tears also evident on her face. “I love you, Lily. And I love our baby. Please believe me.”
Cecelia placed a soft palm on either side of his face. “I know you do, Aidan,” she whispered just before her lips touched his in a soft kiss. A kiss that radiated love and understanding. A kiss full of promise.
And beneath his hand, his child moved.
Aidan lifted his head. “I want to know,” he said.
When Sister Lee had asked if they wanted to know the sex of the baby, Aidan had said no. In fact, he had been adamant about it. Now he was dying to find out.
“Are you sure?”
He nodded. “Absolutely. Let’s phone Lee.”
“I know,” Cecelia confessed.
She nodded. Then added sheepishly, “There was no way I could wait till July.”
Aidan looked at her, waiting. His wife was particularly good at keeping secrets.
She looked back, saying nothing.
“Well,” he encouraged, raising his brows.
“Are you really sure?”
“Cecelia,” he growled.
She grinned. “I love it when you get all growly.”
He growled again.
“It is a …” Her grin widened.
“Seriously,” he huffed.
“Boy. We are having a boy, Aidan.”
A boy. A son.
“Another son,” he murmured.
“Yes, another son,” she agreed.
She cocked her head.
“After the first Lawson here. James. We’ll call him Jamie.”
“Jamie. James Lionel Lawson. Sounds perfect.”
Aidan dropped his head and whispered, “You’re perfect, darlin’.”
And proceeded to kiss his wife. Thoroughly.
Aidan stretched his naked body against his equally naked wife, her head on his chest, her hand resting over his heart. Their kiss outside ended with them inside. In bed. It still humbled him that this incredibly beautiful woman was his. And he thanked God daily for having the opportunity to love her as he did.
Aidan’s hand trailed along her hip before coming to rest on the side of her stomach where their now-quiet son lay. His heart hitched with joy. Yes, he was deeply saddened about the loss of his unborn babies and would always regret not knowing them.
But he had so much to be thankful for.
It was time to lay aside his sorrow and concentrate on the new life safely growing inside his wife.
“I s’pose hooky time is over,” Aidan said, noticing her furtive look at the bedside clock. “Kids will be home soon.”
“About that …”
A short while later, Aidan stared in amazement as the people nearest and dearest to him arrived. His parents were the first, their grandchildren — and dogs, he noted with a grin — in tow. Family, friends, ranch workers, they all milled about. Last to pull up was Sullivan, their grandmother with him, towing the mini excavator.
And two fair-sized live oaks. One for each baby he’d lost.
They were planting trees to remember them by.
It had been Cecelia’s idea.
“You’ve a very special wife, son.” His father pulled up beside him in his all-terrain wheelchair.
“She’s …” Aidan grasped for words. “She’s beyond compare, Pa,” he managed to utter.
The two men watched in silence as Sullivan helped with unloading the trees, placing one in the waiting excavator bucket to transport to the planting site. Once both were transported, Aidan left his father and walked over.
Cecelia had chosen the site well. To the right of the cabin, the trees would be visible from the front porch, and the first thing one would notice on walking around from the parking area.
“I want to dig the holes,” he said, drawing near. The worker about to climb on stepped aside.
“Can I help?” Ti moved to his side, a solemn look on his face. His adopted son had turned nine a few months back and was in a growing spurt, all tall and gangly, losing the last of his little-boy features.
“Of course you can. Here, let’s get you up.” Aidan helped Ti up, clambering after his boy. He slipped in behind the youngster, settling Ti between his legs, and tightened his hold on his son.
“I’m sorry about your babies, Pa,” Ti whispered as Aidan leaned across him to fire up the machine.
He acknowledged Ti’s words with a squeeze and said rather huskily, “Let’s go plant us some trees.”
Dusk was fast approaching, painting the sky in pretty pinks and mauves. Cecelia lay beside the dock on a blanket and watched her family take a final dip in the lake. A murky lake where slimy creatures dwelled. She shuddered. That there was a perfectly clean swimming pool up at their home was of no consequence. They just had to try out the lake for the first time this season.
A lone, white-tail deer appeared from the scrub, moving toward the water. Bash and Bozo spotted it, and with an unusual spurt of energy, the two mutts took off toward the animal. Cecelia chuckled at their useless endeavor. Their ungainly bodies had no chance of catching the fleet-footed deer as it spooked and disappeared back into the bush. As expected, not having their quarry in sight anymore, they stuttered to a stop, turning their wrinkly heads in confusion. Snuffling a protest, they lumbered back to their earlier position on the edge of the blanket and plopped down, out of breath from their hundred-yard dash.
A nudge deep in her womb brought a contented smile to her face. Jamie had woken from his slumber, and she smoothed a hand over her stomach, thoroughly enjoying his antics.
A sudden kick to her ribs had her wincing. Ah, little Jamie … her eyes shot to the dogs.
Cecelia started giggling, remembering when she’d first brought the English bulldog rescues home. Aidan had been horrified. “Seriously, Cecelia … bulldogs? And what sort of names are Henry and James? For dogs? My forefather must be turning in his grave.”
Oh, bollocks. She slapped a hand over her mouth and collapsed back in a fit of laughter. Just as well they had changed the names. She was still chuckling when cold water sprayed over her, and shrieking, she bolted to a seated position. Expecting to see Vinnie — it was something the almost-five-year-old would do — she stared at the rather delightfully firm thighs belonging to her husband.
Her gaze tracked up, and she licked her lips. Her husband packed quite the package.
“Cecelia,” Aidan groaned. And then he was over her, pushing her back to the ground as he lowered to his elbows and knees atop her.
“Behave,” he groaned as his mouth claimed hers, hot and heavy. Alas, it ended too soon, and he collapsed beside her, snuggling his front to her back, his package a hard, insistent press against her lower back.
“You’re making me wet,” she complained, shivering slightly as a cool breeze drifted over her damp dress.
His chest rumbled against her back as he nuzzled his lips beneath her ear. “I should hope I make you wet, darlin’.”
“Aidan.” Cecelia giggled and reached an arm back, playfully slapping his thigh. “Behave.”
A soft warmth encased her as Aidan pulled a light throw across them. With a content smile on her face, happiness warming her heart, she nestled down and closed her eyes.
As his wife’s breathing evened out in sleep, Aidan lay beside her, holding her close as he watched their three children dash from the dock to the cabin to change. How he loved them. They might not be his by blood, but they were his in every other way.
First to arrive had been his daughter thirteen-and-a-half years ago, when his grandmother handed the tiny bundle to him, saying, “Caitlin Edith needs a daddy, Aidan. Can you be her daddy?” And then last year, the glorious woman in his arms had arrived, batting her honey-eyes at him, inviting him into her life, desperate to keep the two boys in her care from being taken by their greedy grandparents. Now Ti and Vinnie were his sons.
Aidan moved his hand to his wife’s ever-growing belly, to the life growing safely within, and his gaze drifted over her shoulder to the trees planted today. His babies might not have had a chance to be born, but the live oaks were going to send roots deep into the fertile Texas earth and flourish, growing strong and tall over the years.
Raucous laughter drifted from the cabin, bringing a smile to his face.
Aidan knew his family would grow and thrive along with those trees.
Their roots were planted as deeply as his.
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