In a Stranger's Bed Ch. 18byJazzMatthews©
Four Years Later
The dark, intriguing blue eyes of Dylan Ryan remained engrossed as his great-grandmother wove a tale of a beautiful princess, her knight in shining armor, and a scheming dragon that pillaged the land. Sitting beside him at her feet were his older cousins, just as transfixed as he was.
"What happened next, Nanna?" six-year-old Aurora asked.
"Easy! The dragon killed him!" chimed five-year-old Gabe.
Back and forth it went between the two eldest Ryan kids. This was the third year of the gathering at the homestead in Georgia, their own family reunion in celebration of the late patriarch. In addition to that, it was the celebration of family and continuing life. It included everyone from Alexa's father, her best friend, Ducky and his wife, Miss Millie and Jimbo, and Summer's grandmother. Even Cheyenne and Travis wasn't refused an invitation, upon the urging of Susanna.
Slowly, through the years, the mending had finally started to occur. Everyone was getting along amicably, if nothing more. Some actions were easier to forgive than others, if not forgotten altogether.
Mia and Alexa's fathers were off to the side, deep in thought and talk of politics and chess. Cheyenne and Ducky's wife, Amelia, prepared the food in the kitchen. The boys and Ducky were the entertainment, providing live music. Graham was on piano, Grant was on lead vocals and guitar, Gage was on the sax, and Ducky provided the percussion for their own jam session. They would smile as the kids occasionally came before them to clap and cheer for their daddies and display their interesting dance moves.
They took a break after they finished a song and heard a few cheers and whistles from their audience. Carefully placing down their instruments, they went and gathered around a nearby cooler, digging for a drink of their choosing.
The men conversed and joked about their playing, joking with each other when one had screwed up a beat or played a wrong note somewhere in a song. Graham was lost deep into the conversation, his head tilting back as a laugh vibrated from his chest. He almost didn't feel the faint tug on his pants leg. He gazed down at the little girl looking up at him with sweet, loving eyes similar to her mother's. Graham lifted the little girl securely into his arms, giving her a tender kiss along her small jaw. Her dark black hair blew in the cool summer breeze, her light coffee gaze fixed on Graham.
"What have you and Lili been up to, Maddie?"
"Lookee, Daddy!" three-year-old Madison exclaimed, pointing down to her cousin.
All eyes shifted down at Liliana, her two-and-a-half-year-old cousin. Lili peeked around the leg of her father as Tucker peeked around her, his tag wagging a mile a minute. Her dark, moonless eyes looked up at the towering Gage, who smiled fondly down at her. His hand stroked her luxurious ebony curls with fatherly affection. "What's in your hand, baby?"
Slowly, Lili opened both of her palms just enough to keep whatever was in there. Lifting it up, they all witnessed the frog staring back at them, releasing a dignified croak or a plead for help. They cast bemused glances at one another.
"And where did you find him?" Gage asked his daughter. And she pointed toward the wooden shed that was beside the barn.
"Can we keep him?" pleaded Madison.
Those eyes glancing up so beseechingly to Graham were hard as hell to resist. No doubt she was her mother's child, and with just a look, Madison could be very persuasive. Graham could only imagine how it'll be when she got older. Especially when she knew how to use her charms to captivate the opposite sex.
Graham cleared his throat, nervous at the way his thoughts were churning in his mind. He still had a while yet before she even thought of boys. Right now, he'll enjoy the time of her innocence while she's still young.
"Well, I think we oughta let him go, darlin'. Out here is his home, his habitat. It's not fair if he's taken from it. You wouldn't like it if someone bigger than you put you in a place that ain't your home?"
She shook her head, her jet black hair falling into her eyes. She swept the strands back, showing Graham the brimming tears. It almost broke his heart, for he hated to see his kids cry.
He set Madison down. "Now, be a good girl." He glanced to his niece. "You too. Place him back, then have your grandmother go with you inside and wash your hands."
"I'll do it."
Travis came up to them and got down upon his haunches in front of his two granddaughters. "After all, it's me who helped capture him. But I'll tell you what. You girls release him, then we'll all go inside and wash up so we can have some of your Nanna's famous peach cobbler."
Both girls' eyes lit up. "With ice cream?"
Travis beamed. "Of course. Homemade vanilla. Deal?"
Madison exchanged a look with her cousin, then nodded her head as she negotiated for them both. "Deal!"
Travis ushered them off, all the while, six pairs of eyes were watching the whole proceedings of the day from the shady haven of the back porch with their feet propped up in lounge chairs. They watched as their husbands casually chatted amongst themselves before they turned into their direction, each of them with that sexy, smug grin that made each of their hearts flutter.
"Look at them!" Summer replied, the first breaking out of the trance her husband was casting upon her. "Just smiling their asses off! Admiring their handy work." She looked at the other two women. "Do you think they did this on purpose?"
"I think they did," Alexa concluded. "I asked Grant before. He said no, but I think he's lying. Things like this just don't happen everyday."
Mia shifted in her chair, resting her hand upon her swollen belly. "Egotistical bastards," she rejoined. "They got to do the fun part, now we have to do the work!"
Giggling at Mia's jest, Summer and Alexa patted their own burgeoning stomachs. "But this time is my last ride," Summer replied.
"Mine, too," Alexa concurred. "Just look at me. I'm in my twenty-second week and already I look like I'm about to deliver."
"You are carrying triplets," Mia supplied.
"Don't remind me," Alexa grumbled. "Not that I mind. After all, I'm not the only one with a multiple birth on my hands."
Summer smiled wanly. "But you have one more baby than I do, dear. Two's enough for me. I swear, any more kids, and I'll have twenty before I'm forty. Not with my husband running around here like a stud."
Alexa released a hearty chuckle. "They are proud of it, aren't they? Especially Grant. To get me pregnant with three babies without the use of fertility drugs. When we first found out, he couldn't brag enough."
"What about Graham?" Mia replied. "Eight weeks after Dylan was born and we got married, he took me to the cabin in Tennessee for our honeymoon. I didn't have to wait long to find out I was pregnant again! I'm glad we at least waited a couple of years before having another one."
"That cabin's a wonder," Alexa noted. "It's like a fertility clinic in itself. One night there without protection is a good guarantee that you'll get pregnant. You and I, Mia, are witnesses to that miracle."
Mia held up her hand. "Twice here."
"Have any of you come up with any names?" Alexa suddenly asked.
"Faith Renee," Mia answered. "Who we'll meet in about another month." She smiled fondly down at her baby bump. Tucker ran up onto the porch, getting upon his hind legs to rest his head upon her thigh. Mia lovingly stroked his head as he sighed in content. "And, of course, we know who's really the first born out of our brood. He won't let us forget, will you, Tucker?" He licked her fingers then settled his head back on her thigh again. Mia shook her head. "Well, what about you, Summer?"
"I think we've decided on Andrew James and Angel Nicole. I might be in my seventh month, but so far, the doctor says everything seems fine." Summer eyed Alexa off to her right. "And you?"
Alexa touched the right side of her stomach. "Baby A is Connor Joel." She pointed to her other side. "Baby B is Hunter John." Then she flinched when she motioned toward the back of the two babies. "And somewhere behind here is Baby C. Gunner Jude."
"Gunner?" Summer questioned. "Let me guess. Grant's doing?"
"You know it. At least I tried to give them some biblical middle names. Try to save their souls. But I think he's aptly named."
"Because he's been gunning for my spine for half an hour." She eased as much as she could back into the chair. "They're not even born yet, but they still have their father's energy. I can just tell that they'll be a handful. Still, they're my babies."
Summer smiled comfortingly. "They'll always be our babies. All of them. Just think that twenty years from now, they won't be really babies anymore. Most of them will be grown and away from home, pursuing their own hopes and dreams. That's the goal with us. They can't be thirty still depending on us to provide."
"Damn straight," Gage rejoined as their husbands joined them. "Twenty-one's the cutoff. Eighteen's even better. Dependin' on if they're goin' to college, then maybe I might think about givin' them a reprieve."
Summer grinned at him. "Maybe? Then I'll take that as a no."
He bent down until he was a few inches from brushing his nose with hers. "Sure you would." He inched even closer, his hot breath wafting across her lips. "But you know just how you can sway me, dontcha, baby?"
Gage gave her a lingering kiss that if it wasn't for the company, would have progressed into something that exhibited their passionate craving for one another. Summer gave an unladylike snort, but still retained a content smile on her features. "And people wonder why I keep reproducing with this man."
"Of course, we must keep the Ryan gene alive," Alexa derided. "So we can have more of them running around."
Grant gave her a smoldering glance. "You like the idea, darlin'," he drawled. "Are you gonna sit there and lie that you don't like it when I take you good and--"
"TMI! TMI!" Mia chanted. "Way too much information, Grant!" Graham immediately started laughing at his wife's outburst. Mia turned a stern eye to him, although she only made him laugh harder. She pointed at him. "And don't you start."
Some of the chuckles died in his throat. "Aw, baby, don't be like that."
"And why not?"
"'Cause you love me."
Mia crossed her arms, fighting a smile from appearing on her face. She was sorely losing. "If I didn't, I wouldn't be here."
"Yes, you would," he countered. "Even if I had to drag you from Charleston, you were gonna be mine sooner or later."
She flamed. "Not without a fight."
Graham grinned crookedly. "Oh, I just love it when you fight me, lil' bit."
Despite trying to stay mad, her cheeks displayed a flare of crimson. Graham got down on his hunches beside his wife, placing his hand protectively upon her pregnant belly. He rested his forehead against hers. "But I wouldn't do anythang you wouldn't want me to. I love you too much, baby, and your happiness means a lot to me."
Mia ran her fingers through the curly darkness of his hair. "And I love you, Graham. And there's no place I'd rather be than here with you and our family."
As he held her tighter to him, Susanna lifted her head after finishing the tale for her three great-grandbabies, watching the tender moment between them. Her eyes brimmed, true happiness seizing her at seeing her boys settled with their own growing families.
Her emerald green eyes elevated to the heavens. Susanna knew her husband was looking down at their happy gathering, rejoicing that their family line would continue for generations to come. And glancing down at the curious hazel, green, and blue gazes before her, Susanna suspected that the Ryan bond would never break, but be continually strengthened through respect and love.