All I Want Is You by Tetonia Blossom

“Hurry it up,” Jack yelled as his crew filled their small conference room. “I’ve only got twenty minutes. Eve, Pam, and Liddy up front.”

The ladies took their seats as Dale was the last to squeeze in.
All I Want Is You
All I Want Is You by Tetonia Blossom
“All right, looks like I have everyone. First off, I want to thank you all for the hard work you’ve been doing. This quarter is shaping up to be our best ever, and I’m so proud to be a part of such a dynamic team. Naturally, you’ll all understand why you were the first people I thought of for this very special project.” Jack turned to the dry-erase board and wrote “VALENTINE’S DAY.” The crew grumbled. “Not another promotion,” Dale said. “We’re still recovering from Christmas.” Jack turned back to the crowd with a smirk. “It’s not a promotion. I need your help coming up with ideas for Nina.” A second of silence was followed by flying Styrofoam cups. Jack failed to dodge them all. “I cannot believe you pulled us off our jobs for this,” Richie said as he stood. “My team, get back to work, now.” “Guys, come on. It’s our first Valentine’s Day outside of ICU. I really wanna make it special.” The guys all paused. Richie took a second to think about it, before sitting back down. “You’re lucky I like Nina way more than I like you right now.” “Thank you.” Jack turned back to the board. “Now, let’s hear what you’ve got.” “How about a vacation?” one of the guys suggested. “That would be nice, but Nina’s appointments don’t really leave her with much time to travel. What else you got?” “A romantic dinner,” Dale said. Jack wrote it with a red marker. “Okay, that’s a start. What’s the best restaurant in all of Colorado?” “Ooh, Michel’s in Vail,” Liddy said, and the girls agreed. Jack figured anything that could get the three of them to agree was worth looking into so he wrote down the resort name. “I heard they have a private terrace and the best view in the entire state,” Eve said. “And a helipad,” Pam added. Jack wrote down “HELICOPTER.” “This is good. Helicopter ride, dinner. What else?” “Well what has she done in the past?” Pam asked. Jack paused when he realized he’d never even asked Nina about her past valentines. There was still so much he didn’t know about his wife, but he tried not to bring up anything that would make her mind travel back to the life she had before him, especially the memories with her ex. Jack wanted to love her enough to erase those years and most days he felt pretty confident he was succeeding, but the holidays were something he wanted to make the most memorable of all for her. He’d almost lost her so many times: The car accident on Christmas, her open heart surgery, and then the scare last spring with the blood clot. It felt like they’d been through a lifetime of tragedies in less than three years and now that Nina was well enough to remember it, Jack was determined to make this the best Valentine’s Day of her life. Jack rarely let his mind travel to his fear that this could potentially be Nina’s last holiday. Her heart was much stronger now, but he’d deluded himself into thinking that before. “Jack?” Eve called snapping him out of his dark thoughts. He turned to find them all staring at him. They were all aware of Nina’s heart condition and were great at keeping the remorseful glances hidden whenever she dropped by, but they couldn’t hide them from Jack. “Guys, she’s fine,” Jack said when he noticed the worry on some of their faces. The girls all sighed. “Do not scare us like that,” Liddy stated. “Yeah,” Pam added. “I just really wanna do something out of this world for her.” “Ooh, a shopping spree,” Eve shouted as she bounced in her seat. “Shoes, jewelry, and you could hire my cousin Stacey’s glam team for the day.” “Eve, I’m trying to plan Nina’s dream Valentine’s Day, not yours.” “What girl wouldn’t want a shopping spree?” Eve forced Jack to think about it. “Jack, Nina is a simple girl,” Pam said. “I’m sure anything you decide will mean the world to her.” “Have you asked Angie?” Dale asked. “No,” Jack said. “I want it to be a surprise.” “Sounds to me like you have some pre-work to do before you go booking helicopters,” Liddy said. “First you need to talk to your wife, ask her about her favorite Valentine’s Day so you know yours is original. Then talk to Angie, I guarantee she knows exactly what Nina wants.” *** “Come on, slow poke,” Nina said as she stopped for Angie to catch up with her on the track. “You try pushing these two and go any faster,” Angie panted as she jogged pushing LJ, and Niya in their double stroller. “Here, I’ll push and you run.” “No, you’ll strain yourself.” “Angie, move!” Nina shoved her and made a run for it with the stroller. The weight from the stroller seemed easier once she reached a good speed and the twins giggling meant they enjoyed it too. “Slow down?” Angie yelled running after her. “I will when you catch me.” Nina loved being faster than her little sister; even if it was just because Angie was out of shape. The girl hardly had the energy to do anything other than chasing after the twins now that they were walking and climbing out of their cribs. She looked over the stroller shade to see LJ trying to unlatch his belt. “Hey, little escape artist. Cut it out,” Nina said. He stopped and went back to bothering his sister. The kid seemed to break out of everything lately. It was Jack’s fault, teaching him how to undo his own diaper. She and Jack tried to help out with the kids as much as possible. Jack even convinced Angie and Jason’s neighbor to sale them her home. Hands down the best wedding gift ever, next to having Jack for a husband. Nina had never felt more loved in her life. Being married to a man who continued to exceed her wildest dreams and getting to spend every day with her family. Jack wasn’t thrilled with the nightly family dinners at first, but now that they’d redesigned the backyards into one large space, he and Jason spent practically every night together in their shed/man cave. Having a life she now cherished made Nina even more determined to do whatever it took to keep it, including dragging Angie’s lazy butt around the track enough times to tire her out before dinner. She was less argumentative when her endorphins were high. “Just a few more minutes then we have to get back to start dinner,” Nina said as she rounded the track for another lap. Both LJ and Niya started to wail at the same time, and Nina stopped to check on them. “Hey, hey, no fighting,” she snapped as she caught Niya scratching LJ. “Who wants to go for a little run?” Nina unbuckled them, and they both perked up the second their cute little Ugg boots touched the ground. LJ spotted his mom and ran toward her while Niya hung back with her auntie. Nina and Jack were beyond honored when Angie and Jason named the twins after them. LJ certainly lived up to his namesake. He was the tiniest ringleader of the four kids. But Nina couldn’t bear the thought of Niya being stuck with a name that would bring the family such heartache after Nina’s death, so she begged them to name her Niya. Only one letter different, but all her own. The two were so inseparable, Niya cried every day the last time Nina was in the hospital. “Come on Ny, let’s go catch them.” She jogged behind Niya who squealed as she tried to catch her brother. “If they fall asleep early, I’m bringing them to your house when they wake me up in the middle of the night,” Angie said. Nina rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Complain, complain. Can’t you shut up for five seconds and just have fun?” “I’m fun.” “No, you’re not.” “Oh yeah, I’ll show you fun. Who wants to play hide and seek?” “Me, me!” The twins jumped up and down. “Okay, cover your eyes and count to five.” LJ and Niya covered their faces, pressing their foreheads together, and Angie stopped to admire them before running to hide behind the stroller. “One…two…three,” Nina counted as she rushed to join Angie. “Four, five. Find mommy and Ni-Ni.” Nina and Angie watched the twins look around and then at each other. “Do they think we left them?” Angie asked. “What if I scar them for life?” “Angie, it’s just hide and seek,” Nina whispered. “Maybe we should make a noise or something.” “Caw!” Nina shouted. “Not a scary noise.” Niya turned in their direction and grinned before running toward them. LJ followed. “Aww, you found us,” Angie said as she picked up LJ and spun him around. “Good job.” “You know your Ni-Ni’s voice, don’t you?” Nina asked as she picked up Niya who nodded. “Eat, eat?” Niya asked. “Yep, it’s time to go home and get ready for dinner. Angie pushed LJ in the stroller while Nina carried Niya to the car. “So what’s the plan for Friday, do you need Jack and me to babysit?” Nina asked as they buckled the twins into their car seats. “What’s Friday?” “Um, hello? It’s Valentine’s Day.” Angie paused. “Oh my god. I completely forgot.” “We just made sixty valentines last week for Alice and Justin’s classes.” “I know, but I didn’t even think about it.” “Well, now you know.” Nina broke down the stroller and put in the trunk while Angie started the minivan. She was in total planner mode by the time Nina climbed into the passenger seat. “I’ve got to get balloons and decorations for the house, bake some treats for the kids. I haven’t done anything. How could you let me forget?” “I’ll be sure to remind you from now on, and don’t worry. You’ve got me to help you with the kids this year, but you’re on your own when it comes to Jason.” “Oh my god, Jason. He’s gonna wanna do something, or more like do it. I need a wax, and my hair done.” Angie took a deep breath. “I’m too tired for this.” “Angie, would you stop worrying. It will be fine. I’m sure Jason will handle the plans as soon as you tell me what you want to do.” “I’d take anything at this point if it meant I got an hour of peace and quiet.” “How about a massage?” Nina suggested. “From Jason, no way. No more babies.” “I meant a couple’s massage. You two could go to a nice spa and maybe to dinner.” “Yes, that’s what I want. People, public places, where he can’t lure me into doing it.” “Yeah, right. You forget I know the mall bathroom story.” “That was before the twins, and it had been like two weeks.” “Oh, boo woo, you poor deprived woman,” Nina laughed. Nina didn’t want to think about the months she’d spent lying in a hospital bed, wishing she could touch more than just Jack’s hand. It was so frustrating that her heart rate spiked every time he kissed her forehead. She fought like hell to get better so that she could finally be in his arms again, and no sooner than they finally did have sex again she ended up back in the hospital over a stupid blood clot. It ruined everything, their wedding plans, their wedding night, even the surprise honeymoon he’d planned for her. They ended up being married by Judge Zimmerman, in her hospital room. She never got to wear her dress, or allow Jack to take it off of her, but in the end she still got Jack and that was something Nina would always be grateful for. “I’m sorry, I guess I am a complainer,” Angie said. “Well you need to stop sometimes and realize that you have a life to be greatly admired. You have four beautiful, healthy, and well-loved children. You have a husband who adores you. And around the clock daycare right next door.” “And don’t forget an amazing sister, who won’t let me forget to be grateful for everything I have.” “That’s right.” “I’m sorry I’m such a ‘B’ all the time,” Angie said after looking back to check on the twins. “You’re not one all the time,” Nina said rubbing Angie’s leg. “This was actually good. I need to get out of the house more.” “Then you should come running with me more often. We could run early mornings before the kids wake up. Except for Saturdays, that’s when Jack and I run together.” “Yes, I know. I’ve seen you two through my kitchen window. You do realize that other people can see you two groping in your front yard, right?” “We’re newlyweds, deal with it.” “So what do you newlyweds have planned for Valentine’s Day?” “We’ll do something another night. I think you and Jason could use the alone time more than us.” “Oh please, like Jack is gonna give up his Valentine’s Day for us. I can hire a sitter.” “Are you sure?” “Yes, now tell me what you want, and I’ll make sure Jack gets the message.” “Really, I just wanna spend a night up at the cabin,” Nina answered. Angie rolled her eyes. “You and that stupid cabin.” “It’s a special place for us.” “For you, maybe.” Going there did tend to depress Jack, but he eventually snapped out of it, especially when Nina reminded him of the better times they’d shared there. They hadn’t gone since construction on their house had finished. All she could think about was cuddling up on the sofa with him. She didn’t need a production or presents from Jack. He was the best gift she could ever ask for. “Look, we can’t undo the past, but I want the cabin to be a place he loves again.” “Nina, you wanted us to take you there to die. No amount of time can erase that memory.” Nina hated that she ever made the request, but it was the one place she thought about after her heart surgery. When her doctor thought her heart was failing, all she wanted was to be with her family in a place that she felt safe and loved. She didn’t think about how it would affect them all. Angie hated the cabin even more after Nina got well and Jack, he’d fall back into bad memories anytime she even mentioned it. Jason was the only one who understood why she wanted to be taken there and he was the only one willing to do it when Jack and Angie demanded Nina stay in the hospital and called in more doctors. Their stubbornness, and her new doctor, did end up saving her life. Dr. Sonjay was the one who found the clot causing all the trouble, and Nina had been moderately healthy ever sense. “Look, you asked what I wanted and this is it,” Nina said. “Fine, but you know he’s not gonna hear it.” “I know, but if he asks…” “I’ll tell him.” “Thank you.” Chapter 2 Nina and Angie finished preparing dinner while Jason played with the kids out back. Nina kept checking her watch waiting for Jack to arrive. He was thirty minutes late. “And you call me the worrier?” Angie called out when she spotted Nina staring at her phone. “Shut up. I’m not worried. I just miss him. I haven’t talked to him since this morning.” “Oh you poor deprived woman. Grab the potatoes.” Nina knew she had nothing to be worried about, but it didn’t stop her mind from wandering to what ifs. Most days her life felt too perfect to live up to. She was happier than she ever thought possible which honestly scared her. There was always the underlying fear that her heart or some other misfortune would take it all away. She cursed her weak heart with every breath and the fearful thoughts that consumed her anytime Jack was running late, but she didn’t dare let him know it. Nina wanted to be the perfect wife for him. Well, as perfect as she could be with degenerative heart disease. Part of her felt like she had to be because of everything he put up with just to be with her. Nina checked her hair and makeup in the toaster’s reflection before grabbing the bowl of roasted potatoes. She and Angie finished setting the table before calling Jason and the kids in. “Alice and Justin, upstairs to wash your hands,” Jason said as he followed them inside with a twin in each arm. “I’ll take the twins,” Nina offered, and Jason gave her wink before pulling Angie in for a proper kiss. “Come on you two, time to wash our hands.” “I don’t wanna,” LJ said. “But don’t you want dinner? You can’t eat with dirty hands.” LJ wiped his hands on his sweater and showed them to Nina. “Nice try, but no go.” She ushered the two into the kitchen and wiped them down with a wet cloth. “My goodness did you two get dirty. We’re you playing in the mud again?” Niya nodded while LJ shook his head. “You better not tell mommy, or daddy might be in trouble.” Nina finally heard Jack’s truck pull into their driveway and grinned. Her heart filled with anticipation. She hurried to clean the twins up and get them into their high chairs for dinner. She was trying to latch LJ in when Niya screamed “Uncle!” Nina turned to catch him sneaking up behind her, and he paused. “You’re so busted,” she said. “Short Stack, you gave me away again,” Jack said to Niya before giving her a kiss on the cheek. LJ kicked until Nina pulled the tray back so he could stand and jump into Jack’s arms. “Oh man, I’m gonna start calling you Bolder. You’re getting heavy.” “Dirty hands,” LJ said pointing at Jack’s filthy hands. “I know, I better wash up, and you better get back in your high chair.” Jack put LJ back in his seat, and Nina finally got it latched. He and Niya banged on their trays. “Okay, okay. I’m coming,” Angie shouted. “I’m gonna go wash up before she starts nagging,” Jack whispered. “Good idea.” He’d just passed Nina when she felt the tug on her apron string. She looked back and saw him nod for her to join him. Nina’s stomach did a quick flip as Alice and Justin came rushing downstairs. “Hi, Uncle Jack,” Alice said. “Uncle Jack, I found a lizard, or at least I think it is. It has a tail,” Justin said. “Really? You’ll have to show me later.” “Okay.” Nina snuck away once she helped the kids get seated and made their plates. She slipped into the powder room to find Jack drying his face. “Just in time,” he said before pulling her into his arms. Her day wasn’t complete until she was in his arms again. She’d grown to love his scent of sawdust and sweat. It always conjured images of him shirtless with a power tool in his hand. “I missed you,” Nina said. “You say that every day.” “Because I miss you every day.” “All you had to do was call, and I would’ve been here.” “I didn’t want to bother you.” Jack pulled back to meet her eyes. “You could never bother me. I love you too much.” As rough and sculpted as his exterior was, he was an even mushier romantic. He never went a day without expressing his love. “I love you more,” Nina said. “Oh really? Enough to show me?” Nina gripped his shirt and pulled him down for a kiss. God, how she loved the taste of his lips. They were her favorite form of medicine and strong enough to disable her senses. He gripped her butt and Nina spun him around and backed him onto the toilet before straddling his lap. “Now that’s a hello kiss,” Jack said when Nina pulled back. “I’m not done yet.” She loosened his belt and Jack’s grin widened. “Wow, remind me to be late more often.” Nina kneeled in front of him and jerked his pants down to his ankles. It had been a couple of days and she knew her husband was long overdue for some attention. Plus, the more she pleased him now, the more pleasure he’d give her once they got home. Ten minutes later Nina and Jack took their seats at the dining table with her ruined hair and his wide grin. Angie and Jason both gave them a glare before Alice said grace. Jack kissed Nina’s neck as she filled his plate. “You smell good,” he whispered. “Do I?” “Yeah, good enough to eat,” he whispered. Nina blushed. “We are sitting right here,” Angie said. “Mommy, can I have some more juice?” Justin asked just as Angie sat down. “Me!” LJ shouted, shaking his sippy cup. “Of course you do,” Angie said as she stood. LJ idealized his big brother and Justin didn’t seem to mind. “How about we skip dinner, and you come home with me? Right now,” Jack suggested. “Don’t even think about it,” Jason said. “He’s right,” Nina said. “Eat up. You’re gonna need your energy for…” Nina leaned in and whispered, “later.” At that, Jack cleaned his plate and asked for seconds. “So what’s the plan for Friday?” Jason asked Jack. “Anything that doesn’t involve us being stuck with the rat pack,” Jack said. “I told you,” Angie said to Jason. “I’ll see if I can hire a sitter. Or we can just go the next night.” “No way!” Jason said. “We deserve a Valentine’s Day.” “And we don’t?” Jack asked with his mouth full. “Guys, it’s not a big deal,” Nina said. “We can watch the kids while you two go out.” “No, we cannot,” Jack countered. “Jack.” Nina leaned in and whispered in his ear, “Give them one night, and I’ll give you anything you want for a week.” “Anything?” Jack asked. “Anything,” Nina said with a wide grin. Jack took her fork and sat it down on her plate before he stood and grabbed her hand. “We’re going home now,” Jack said. Angie’s jaw dropped. “We’d be happy to watch the kids on Valentine’s Day,” Nina said as Jack pulled her toward the exit. Chapter 3 Jack unlocked the front door, letting Nina enter first. Her eyes lit up when she saw the trail of rose pedals leading to the family room. “How did you…” “I snuck home early while you and Angie were cooking. Don’t worry they’re not real.” He still didn’t get her objection to flowers and gifts in general, but she couldn’t resist a romantic gesture. “What is all this for?” Nina asked as he took her hand and headed down the hall. “Well, this whole Valentine’s thing got me to thinking, and you know what I realized? It’s been far too long since I’ve danced with my wife.” They entered the family room and Jack prayed she’d like the round rug he’d replaced their coffee table with. She stopped in front of him and Jack couldn’t see her expression. He almost took her silence for disapproval until she turned to him in tears and hugged him. “I love it,” she said, and he let out a sigh of relief. He was relieved that she liked her surprise, but her tears always made him uneasy. He never knew if there were joyous or sorrowful, despite what she said. Jack dried her tears, and Nina’s grin warmed his heart. He’d never stopped trying to make her smile, even when she was furious at him. “You up for giving it a test drive?” Jack asked. Nina nodded. He turned on the surround sound. It was already queued to play her favorite song: Charlie Wilson’s You Are. It’d become one of Jack’s favorites as well, with its undisputed success of getting him laid. Not that he needed much coercing when it came to Nina. Jack had no complaints when it came to their sex life. They swayed to the song and even managed the spin Jack had taught her before he finished with a classic dip. “Careful, Mr. Spears. You’re on the verge of charming me right out of my clothes,” Nina joked. “Then I’m right on schedule.” Jack kissed her, lowering her to the floor as Nina unfastened his belt. “Slow down, Speedy. We’ve got the whole night.” He removed her skirt to find a sexy pleated miniskirt underneath. “You aren’t the only one with surprises,” Nina said. Jack shouldn’t have been surprised. She was always wearing some sexy see-through nightie for him to discover, and boy did he enjoy them. Especially, the backless apron she’d worn last week. Tonight was a red lace bra under her sweater. “You never disappoint, Mrs. Spears.” Jack sat back on his heels admiring his beautiful wife. It was still so surreal to him that she was actually his, and that the worst was behind them. His fear had admittedly gotten the best of him more than a few times in the bedroom, but that wasn’t the case tonight. He couldn’t wait another minute and quickly undressed. Nina bit her bottom lip as he climbed on top of her, and just before he entered her, he paused. “I’ve gotta grab a condom.” Nina gripped his arm before he could pull back. “No need,” she said pulling one out of the side of her bra. Jack laughed at her inventiveness. “You’re amazing,” he said. “Save the kudos for after,” she said, giving him a firm grip after rolling the condom on. Jack enjoyed every moment he spent with Nina, but the sex was downright mind-blowing some days. Maybe it was because he was so in love with her, but he could never get enough. The only reason he limited their time in bed was because of her heart. No one would ever understand the deep and loathing hate he felt for something that was a part of the woman he loved. Nina didn’t deserve to live her life in fear, being poked and prodded two to three times a month, or the slew of prescriptions which cost more than she even made at her part-time job. It took numerous family meetings before she would even accept his money, which was the only thing they’d ever fought about. Jack understood why she felt so determined to work and pay for things on her own, especially after her bastard of an ex-husband threatened to stop paying her medical bills when she asked him for a divorce. Jack had done everything he could to help her feel as secure as humanly possible, from the deed and car title he signed over to her, to the separate account he insisted she keep her earnings in. In the end, Jack got just want he wanted: knowing his wife was happy and well cared for. Jack kissed Nina’s neck. She moaned. He’d developed a mental catalogue of every trigger point on her body. His mission was always to make her climax as quickly and as often as possible. They both hated always feeling rushed, but he was willing to do anything that ensured her safety. “Oh, Jack.” Nina dug her nails into his shoulders as he thrust harder. Her lips were quivering when he pressed his against them. The taste of her drove him wild with need and he quickened his pace, moving against her with a force that made them both moan. He was close to finishing when he pressed his hand against her pounding heart she cried out, “Don’t stop.” The last thing Jack wanted was to stop, but her erratic heart beats told him they had too. Every second her heart spent in the danger zone meant they were gambling with her life. “No, keep going,” she begged as Jack stopped and kissed her. “Let’s just pause,” he said. “No, I don’t want to pause. I’m fine.” “It’s just a few minutes.” He hated to disappoint her, but he cared about her safety more. “Fine, but don’t pull out. Otherwise…” “I know.” Okay maybe he had gone soft a few times, but who could blame him with the threat of death every time she climaxed. He rolled them until she was sitting on top, and Nina rested her head on his chest. He checked her pulse which didn’t appear to be slowing and he stroked her back hoping the feel of her naked body pressed against him would keep him hard. She rocked her hips, taking him in deeper. “Nina, stop it before I pull out completely.” “I can’t help it,” she said as she rounded her hips causing Jack’s eyes to roll into the back of his head. Jack was at war with his senses. He knew continuing was bad, but she felt so damn good grinding against him. He cupped her breasts and Nina rode him until they both climaxed. He held her close to his chest willing her heart to calm. “I can’t believe I let you do that,” Jack said. “I told you I was fine.” “That’s what you always say, right before you black out.” “Jack, come on. We both finished. No one passed out. You should be happy.” “I’d be happier if you didn’t scare me like that. It’s not good for my friend.” He pointed at his crotch. “Would a kiss make him feel better?” “Probably, but I’d take two on the lips to start.” Nina lifted her head to meet his eyes and smirked before kissing him twice. Jack rolled her off him before she could arouse him all over again. She rested her head against his chest. Nina sighed. “So…how was your day?” Nina asked. “It was great up until that con move you three just played on me.” “It was not a con. You know they need the time alone and we can do something any night of the week.” “I know what I want now. I want one night of the week, just the two of us, no kids, no siblings. We can go out, or eat in. I just want you to myself.” “How about Wednesdays, it’s my last day of work and international hump day.” “Hump day,” Jack said with a grin. “I like that.” “Then consider it done. What else would my husband like?” Jack kissed her. “Really, you’re ready to go again already?” “No, I just like it when you call me husband.” What he loved most was finally being the person responsible for her happiness. He wanted her to have the world. She more than deserved it with her selflessness when it came to him and their family. He’d never felt more cared for or loved by anyone. She seemed to think of everything before he even realized he needed it. Because of Nina, he was in the best shape of his life and his business was over-performing. “So tell me what my wife would like for Valentine’s Day?” Nina let out a long sigh, then said, “This.” “Okay, but what else?” “Jack, I already have everything I’ve ever wanted.” “Nina, everyone has a want.” “Oh, really, what’s yours?” “Fifty years of making you smile every second of every day.” “Well, I can’t promise the fifty years, but you already make me smile every second of every day,” she said. “Then, I would say I want more time with you.” “Yeah, that would be nice.” They laid there staring at the tray ceilings. These were the moments Jack cherished most. They weren’t rushing to get in a quickie before the kids made their way to the back door or Angie or Jason needed mediation. He loved his family, but time alone with Nina meant more to him than anything. “So what’s your want? I know you have one,” Jack asked. Nina took a deep breath, and Jack kissed the top of her head. “Okay, I do have something, but I don’t want to argue about it.” “I won’t.” “I want you to love the cabin again…like you used to before…” “That’s not going to happen.” Even the mention of it made him grip her tighter. He hated that place. It was the reason he’d almost lost her. Every time he thought of that Christmas afternoon and him sulking in the cabin while she laid unconscious on the side of that mountain, his blood ran just as cold as he’d felt the moment he’d discovered Jason’s mangled car which she’d borrowed to come find him. “Jack, it used to be your favorite place, now you hardly ever go there, and when you do you’re not yourself.” “I wish you would just let this go already.” “I can’t. You’ve given up enough for me already. I hate that I took something so special from you and tainted it. I wish I could take back my request.” “Don’t,” Jack said sitting up. He caressed her face. “You wanted to go back to the place where we fell in love and you had every right to ask. I’ll…work on my feelings about the cabin. It’s just that when I walk through the door, I’m right back there, again. That day we were packing up your things in the hospital and having to go up to the cabin and prepare for the worst day of my life, for losing you. It’s all I think about when I go there now.” Nina held his hand. “It’s all right. I get it.” “I wish I didn’t still feel that way. I really do.” “I know.” She hugged him tightly, and Jack breathed her in. He hated even thinking about that day. He was so beside himself he couldn’t even drive. Dale and his wife met him and Jason at the cabin and Eve showed up with flowers. Half the town had stopped by that day to bring flowers, meals, or stuffed animals for the kids. Jack burned them all one weekend after she was better, his failed attempt of erasing it from his memory. “I love you,” Nina whispered. “I love you more.” They both took a deep breath and put their difference of opinions away. It was as if they each knew their time was too precious to waste being upset about anything. “Well, what else do you have on your want list for tonight?” Nina asked. “How about a movie?” “Whatever you say. I’m gonna go freshen up, and then I’ll make us some popcorn.” “Hum, a shower sounds nice. I think I’ll join you.” Nina stood and Jack grinned as she extended her hand. “Hey, you never told me the story about your favorite Valentine’s Day,” Jack said as they headed up the stairs. “That’s because I’ve never had one.” “Come on, not even one?” “Nope, it’s all a bit much for my taste.” Jack scooped her up and she giggled. “I refuse to believe you don’t like a day that celebrates love.” “I didn’t say I don’t like it. I’ve just never had a good one.” Jack carried her into their double shower. “I guess I’ll have to do something about that.” Jack turned on the water and took a seat on the marble bench. “But for now…I think you promised me dessert.” Nina squealed as he pulled her onto his lap. Chapter 4 “Mansfield Investments,” Nina answered the phone, eyeing the photo of Jack sitting on her desk. Yes, she was supposed to be working, but part of her was always hoping he’d be the voice on the other end of the phone. “Hey Nina, busy?” Jason asked. “Not really. What’s up?” “I was just planning for Friday and hoping Angie might have mentioned to you what she wanted.” “Jason, you’ve seriously been calling me for idea’s every year since you two met. You already know I know.” “Thank god.” He sighed. “I hoped so, but you know how she is sometimes.” “Well you’re in luck. She wants a couple’s massage and a nice dinner at a busy restaurant.” “That’s…specific.” “Kind of.” Nina giggled. “Oh god, she told you, didn’t she?” “All she said was that she’s afraid being alone with you will result in another baby.” “Trust me. I love my kids to death, but we’re done having babies.” “Maybe try pampering her a little. Give her a day where she doesn’t have to lift a finger.” “That’s actually a good idea.” “Okay, so now’s my turn to ask for advice. I’m trying to think of a gift for Jack.” Jason laughed. “What’s so funny?” “I’m pretty sure Jack wants what every guy want’s on Valentine’s Day.” Nina laughed. “I know that, but I want to buy him something special like a new watch. The one he has is always in the shop.” “Please don’t buy him a watch,” Jason said. “Why?” “You don’t wanna know.” “Okay, now I gotta know.” “The watch he wears was one of the last gifts our mom gave him and he’s really attached to it.” “As he should be,” Nina said admiring the ring she wore in memory of her own mother. “Anyway, people have tried to buy him a new one over the years and let’s just say it’s the reason I have such a large watch collection.” “Okay, no watch. What about tickets for a game or something?” “Yeah, he might like something like that. We both love the Bronco’s.” “Then that’s what I’ll get him.” “Okay, but don’t tell him I helped you.” “Why not?” “Because he doesn’t want you buying him gifts.” “But he gets me stuff all the time. Just like you do for Angie.” “That’s different, it’s our job to spoil you two.” “And what’s our job?” “Cooking, cleaning…” Nina gasped. “I’m just kidding. Look, I can’t speak for Jack, but I already have everything I could ever ask for.” “Maybe, but I think you both deserve a little outing.” “Wait, I thought you were talking about the two of you going to a game.” “No. I want to get him something for himself, and I’m sure he’ll want to take you.” “Nina, the only thing Jack wants to do these days is be with you. What’s this really about?” “Nothing.” “Nina?” “Okay, okay. I’m just worried about Jack getting overwhelmed.” “Did he say something?” “No, I just worry that he wouldn’t tell me even if he was. I want him to still have a life of his own.” “Nina, what’s wrong?” Jason asked with more concern in his voice. “Nothing’s wrong.” “Are you feeling okay?” “Jason, I’m fine.” “Then what makes you think Jack isn’t?” “I just want him to do something for himself every once in a while. He never asks for anything.” “Sounds like someone I know.” “Okay, maybe, but I know I have everything I need.” “Then stop worrying. Jack is happy, you’re happy. The world is happy.” Nina grinned. He was right. She just couldn’t help worrying about Jack. “You’re right. Thanks for talking me down.” “Anytime.” “Okay, so you got what you need for Angie?” “Yeah, I’ve got a plan cooking. Thanks for your help. I’ll see you at dinner.” “Oh, not tonight. I promised Jack we’d spend Wednesdays at home from now on.” “Cool. We’ll see you tomorrow then.” “Okay.” *** Jack stared at his whiteboard. He’d mapped out his Valentine’s Day plans, but he was missing something. “Eve?” he called. “No, I do not have the Lambert’s tile samples yet,” she said as she entered. “It’s not that. Wait, where are they?” “My tracking number says they were delivered, but they never came here. I’m waiting on the shipping manager to call me back. Push comes to shove, I’ll have the supplier overnight new ones.” “Oh…well, good work. Take a look at this for a second.” Eve looked over his elaborate schedule. “You’re gonna do all this in one day?” “Yep, but it’s missing something.” “Yeah, food. You can’t have Nina out all day without feeding her.” Jack checked the list again and grinned. “You’re right. I need to find some treats that she can eat. Can you help me find an organic bakery?” “Sure.” “Thanks Eve, you just saved my life.” “Have you run this by Angie?” Eve asked. “No.” “You should. What if she knows what Nina wants? Do you really want to spend all this time and money and leave out the one thing she was hoping for?” Jack guessed she had a point. Jason was always consulting Nina on gifts for Angie. “I’ll think about it,” Jack said. “Okay, let me know if I can help with anything else.” “Thanks. Hey, I’m sorry I never even asked what you have planned.” Eve laughed. “I’d have to have a guy to plan a Valentine’s Day.” “I thought you and Steve...” “Do not mention that asshole’s name!” Eve rolled her eyes. “You two broke up again? How many times is that now?” Jack had honestly lost count. “I don’t know, why don’t you ask your friend?” “Hey, don’t get mad at me. Jason and I both told you not to date him. I even stopped him from coming by the office after the whole windshield incident.” “You didn’t stop him from coming to the holiday party, now did you?” “I thought you two were cool when I saw you at thanksgiving together.” “We were never together. His mother invited me. Anyway, I don’t want to talk about him unless you’re ready to schedule another keg Wednesday.” The entire crew needed a drink after their first breakup. Jack loved Steve like a brother, but he was nowhere near ready for a relationship. Still, Jack felt bad for dragging Eve into his Valentine’s Day plans when she was nursing a wounded heart. “Eve, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to force all this Valentine’s Day stuff on you.” “How about you make it up to me by cloning yourself?” “I would, but I’m not sure he’d be your type.” “Yeah, cause all this…” she pointed to his whiteboard. “…it just screams worthless husband.” Once Eve was gone Jack wrote in three time slots for food. He hated the idea of telling Angie about his plans, but he grabbed his phone and called her anyway. “Hello,” Angie answered. Jack could hear LJ screaming in the background. “Hey Angie, it’s Jack.” “Hold on. LJ get down from there right now. Where’s your sister? Niya, get back in here.” Jack looked at the clock. Nina wouldn’t be home for another couple of hours and Angie sounded like she needed help. Jack was on hold so long he was beginning to think she forgot about him. “Jack!” she finally yelled as she sounded like she was coming back to the phone. “I’m back.” “It’s all right. You okay over there?” “Yeah, they’re just bouncing off the walls today, or more like climbing them.” “Do you need anything? Have you eaten?” Jack used to give Angie a hard time, but now that he watched her wrangle four kids every day he couldn’t help but pity her. “No, I’m fine, really,” she said before Jack heard a loud crash followed by cries. He was on his feet and grabbing his keys by the time the call disconnected. “Eve, I’ve got to run home really quick. I might have to push back the Gianni consult. I’ll call you and let you know.” Jack rushed home and let himself into Jason and Angie’s. “Angie?” he called as he came through the door. “Jack?” she called from the family room. “We’re in here.” He could hear the tears in her voice. He ran down the hall and turned the corner to see her cuddling LJ in her lap. They were seated in front of the fireplace with a sea of shattered picture frames around them. “Mommy,” Niya cried from the couch. “No baby, stay there.” Jack grabbed Niya and calmed her down. “Is he okay?” LJ cried against Angie’s chest. “I don’t know, but he won’t let me touch his arm.” Jack kicked some of the frames away and lifted Angie and LJ with his free arm. She rushed him to the kitchen and Jack followed. “No!” LJ cried when Angie tried to open his hand. “Please, sweetie let mommy see.” Angie was in tears. “Mommy’s crying,” Niya said. “Angie, let me try while you call Jason.” Jack sat Niya on the counter and Angie held her close as she grabbed her phone off the floor. “Hey Bud,” Jack said as he dried LJ’s tears. “What you got in your hand?” “Ouchie.” “You too? I’ve got one.” Jack showed LJ his closed hand. “But you know what, it feels better when I open my hand, and I bet yours will too. Wanna try it?” LJ shook his head. “Come on Bud, not even for Uncle Jack?” Jack cleaned his runny nose. “He must’ve climbed the fireplace,” Angie said as she paced up and down the hallway. “Come on Bud, show Uncle. I promise I’ll make it better.” LJ slowly opened his palm and Jack saw the piece of glass stuck in his hand. “Angie, I need tweezers!” “Baby, I gotta go,” Angie said. She searched a couple of drawers before locating a first aid kit. “Is it bad? Does he need stitches?” Jack slowly removed the glass. “You’re doing good, Bud.” LJ was surprisingly quiet as Jack cleaned his wound with antiseptic. “Okay, take a look,” he said to Angie who got a good look. “Thank god, it’s just a small cut.” “Brother okay?” Niya asked. “Yeah, he’s okay. Right, Bud?” LJ nodded. Angie bandaged LJ’s hand and fed the twins ice cream while Jack swept up the glass. “Angie!” Jason came rushing in. “Where is he?” “We’re in here. He’s okay.” “Jason, can you grab the carpet protector from my truck? We can use the adhesive to lift most of the glass.” Jack said. “It’s open.” Jack and Jason went over the entire family room collecting glass particles before pulling out the shop vac. They finished just minutes before Nina arrived with Alice and Justin. LJ wanted to play with Justin upstairs while Niya and Alice played dolls. Nina made tea for the adults. “Thanks for rushing over?” Jason said. “Not a problem.” “Oh god, I completely forgot about dinner,” Angie said. “Don’t worry about it, I’ve got us covered,” Jason said kissing her forehead. He stood and grabbed his keys. Jack could tell by the look on Nina’s face that she wanted to talk to Angie alone. “Hey, I’ll come with you.” “I thought you two had plans tonight?” Jason asked. Jack wanted to spend the evening alone with Nina, but he knew she’d be worrying about Angie all night anyway. He gave Nina a peck on the cheek followed by a wink, and she got the message. “No, that’s next week,” Jack said. “Okay, sounds cool to me,” Jason said. “Who wants to go for a ride?” “Me!” Justin yelled from upstairs. “And LJ.” “Grab your coats.” *** Once Jack and Jason were gone with the boys Angie broke down in tears. “Nina, you should’ve seen him lying there in all that broken glass. I didn’t even think he could climb the stones.” “He’s a little boy. They’re going to get into all kinds of stuff. The important thing is that he’s okay. It was just a little bruise.” “But it could’ve been worse. I should’ve never left the room. It’s like I can’t take my eyes off them for a second.” “Angie, it’s going to be all right. We just have to do a little more LJ-proofing.” “I feel like such a failure. I almost forgot the holiday, my baby’s hurt. I can’t even take care of two kids on my own anymore.” Nina pulled her in for a hug. “Angie, you have twins now, on top of Alice, Justin, and Jason to take care of. It’s ridiculous to think that they’re never going to have a little accident. That doesn’t make you a failure. I think you’re an amazing mother.” Angie reminded her so much of their own mother. She gave every part of herself to providing for her family, and yes she might’ve complained the entire time, but there wasn’t a single thing Jason or the kids ever lacked. “That’s because you’re my sister,” Angie said. “No, it’s not. Even Jack says it all the time.” “Now I know you’re lying.” “He does. Why do you think we spend so much time with you guys? We both know that you have a lot to handle, and I know I appreciate you letting me be as involved with the kids as I am. But if you feel like it’s too much I can find another way to occupy my time.” “No, you can’t leave me alone with them. They have us out numbered and they know it!” Nina was relieved to know that her sister still wanted her around. Helping Angie with the kids had given Nina a greater purpose. Her heart disease practically ensured she would never be a mother herself, and with her unstable health, she was afraid adoption would be out as well. Being the favorite, all be it the only, aunt helped fill the void Nina had but would never share. “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere any time soon. Now, you dry those tears and let’s have some fun with the girls.” *** Angie was in much better spirits by the time the boys returned. The house was covered in pink and red balloons and streamers. They all hung the last of the garland and balloons, except for LJ, who destroyed more than he actually helped. The kids enjoyed their pizza for dinner, while Jack brought Nina her favorite Italian salad. “Thank you,” she said when he brought her a fork. “Not a problem.” He was just about to bite into his extra-large slice of Mega Meat when he saw her glaring at him. He took a fork full of her salad and grinned. “Fine,” she said. “I suppose we do have our run this weekend.” Jack happily chomped his pizza having gotten her blessing. Nina had to be so careful about her diet that he felt bad eating junk around her. She always said it didn’t bother her, but she could never hide that hunger in her eyes when a pizza box passed her face. It was yet another thing her heart deprived her of. “So Angie, Jason and I got to talking and we think we have a solution to your problem,” Jack said pulling out his tablet. “A straight jacket?” “For you or them?” Nina joked. “Both.” They all laughed. “I’m talking about an addition. If you add a playroom off the living room, the twins will have a safe place to play in the winter. Check it out.” He showed them all the layout of the room on his tablet. “It’s got a rock climbing wall, a wet area you can just wipe down, even a place for storage,” Jack said. “Jack, that’s amazing, but I’m not sure the twins and I could survive the construction time,” Angie said. “I thought about that too. Look, we can pre-fab the walls in the warehouse and it will only take a few days to assemble.” “And you and the twins can hang out at our house while the crew is working,” Nina added. “I guess it would give them a safe place to play downstairs,” Angie said. “Totally, I’m talking rubber floors, padded walls, and shatter proof glass so you can watch them from the family room. And I can set up wireless cameras you can stream on your tablet. It would actually be a good test run for the team,” Jack said. “I was thinking of adding some family friendly renovation ideas to our portfolio. We could use before and after photos for a new brochure.” “What do you think, Babe?” Jason asked. “If it’s as easy as you say, I’m in,” Angie said. “Awesome, Jason, I’m gonna need you to make this pretty.” Jack handed Jason his tablet. “No problem, I’ll have it back to you tomorrow,” Jason said. “Thank you,” Angie mouthed looking like she could cry. “You are amazing,” Nina whispered in Jack’s ear. Jack was just trying to help in the only way he knew how. He pulled Nina into his arms once she looked to be done with her salad. “Okay, homework and bath time,” Angie announced as she started to clear the table. “Babe, I got it,” Jason said. “Alice and Justin grab a twin and meet me upstairs in five.” Angie sat back down looking stunned. Once the kids left the room, Jack gave Nina a proper kiss, pulling her into his lap. “Would you two get a room already?” Angie asked. “You read my mind,” Jack said as Nina stood and took his hand. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” Nina said as Jack grabbed her purse and coat and pulled her toward the exit. Chapter 5 Valentine’s Day had finally arrived. Nina had been cooking dinner and treats for the kids most of the morning and her kitchen was a total mess. “Okay, everybody in!” Angie shouted once Nina heard the front door open. “Ni-Ni?” Niya called. “I’m in here,” Nina answered and seconds later she and LJ can running in still wearing their puffy coats. “I’m taking their overnight bags up to the guestroom,” Angie said. “Okay,” Nina said as she helped the twins remove their coats. “Are you two ready to have some fun?” Niya and LJ nodded. “All right, let’s start with making some valentines for Alice and Justin.” Nina set up the custom high chairs at her dining table and let the twins stick the precut shapes and letters to the cards she’d put together for the older kids. “Okay, I think that’s everything. I’ll be at the salon if you need me,” Angie said as she entered to see the twins working on their crafts. “Aww, how cute are they? I need to get a picture.” She snapped a couple pics with her phone while Nina checked on her brisket. “What are you cooking?” “Brisket, its Jack’s favorite.” Nina had collected a book full of his favorite meals and desserts. She tried to make one a week so he didn’t feel too deprived. She certainly didn’t mind with how much he tried to change his eating habits to match hers. “Smells good,” Angie said. “Thanks. You better get going.” “You’re right. Okay, call me if you need me.” *** Jack returned to his office with a bag full of healthy treats. He couldn’t wait for Nina to taste them; he even got her a recipe for the gluten free truffles. He’d also stopped off for a box of regular chocolates for the kids. “Where have you been?” Eve asked when he entered. “I’ve been fielding calls all day. Did you tell any of these people that your date changed?” “Everyone except the bakery. I picked those up today.” “Well, the pilot and the band were confused. Also, Sarah called asking what time she should have the sleigh delivered.” “Crap, nothing went to the hotel today, did it?” “Not that I know of, but I’ll double check.” “Okay, thanks. Oh, and one more thing…” He pulled a small bouquet out of his box and sat it on her desk. “From the clone.” Eve simply smiled and shooed him away. Jack barely sat down at his desk when his phone rang. “Hello?” “Jack, hey you never asked me what Nina wanted for Valentine’s Day,” Angie said. “Yeah, I know. I got side tracked with LJ’s accident, but I think I’ve got it covered.” “So you’re taking her to the cabin for the weekend?” “No, why would I do that?” “Because that’s what she wants.” “Angie, I’m not taking her there, but she’s gonna love what I have planned.” “Okay, I told her I would tell you, so I did my part. Thanks for taking the kids tonight. I know we’re always screwing up your holidays.” “You’re not screwing up anything. I actually saved a ton by moving my date.” “So what’s the plan?” “I’m not telling, just be on your front porch tomorrow morning to see the big kickoff.” Jack couldn’t wait to see Nina’s face tomorrow morning. There was no way she wouldn’t love the surprises he’d planned for her. He stored most of the goodies in his mini fridge but decided to take a box of the truffles home to Nina. He could already smell the brisket as he climbed the stairs and opened the door to a house full of laughter. As much as he griped about it, he did kind of enjoy the nights the kids spent with them. Nina always made a production of it with crafts, games, and movies. It was also the only time he got to eat her amazing candies and cookies. “Listen to all this fun you guys are having without me,” Jack said as he entered the family room. “Uncle Jack, look.” Justin held up his cookie card with blue frosting. “That’s pretty cool, can I have a bite?” “No way, I’m saving it for school on Monday.” “We made you one too,” Alice said holding up a big cookie card for Jack. “See, someone still loves her uncle.” Niya and LJ were busy devouring their cookies. “Jack, is that you?” Nina called from upstairs. “Yeah.” He removed his coat and waited for her at the bottom of the stairs. She came down wearing a fitted red dress and kissable red lips. “You look beautiful.” “Thank you.” Jack presented the box of truffles and Nina raised an eyebrow. “Organic, gluten free, sugar free, and almost as amazing as you.” “Wow, I can’t wait to taste them.” Nina took the box and gave him a kiss, “Happy Valentine’s Day.” “It will be later when I take this off you.” Jack pulled her closer. “Only a few more hours to bedtime.” “I don’t know the twins are nose deep in those cookies.” “Don’t worry they will be exhausted by the time I’m done with them.” After dinner Jack and the older kids played a board game while Nina and the twins must’ve chased each other up and down the hallway at least thirty times. Niya eventually passed out on the couch while LJ had to be tickled until he started yawning. “Okay rug rats, I think it’s time for bed.” “But, it’s Friday. We get to stay up late on Fridays,” Alice said. Jack leaned in close. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll set up the TV in your room and if you promise to be quite and get along, you can stay up as long as you want.” “Really?” Justin asked. “Yep, do we have a deal?” Jack extended his hand and Alice and Justin both shook it. “All right, let’s go.” Jack set up the 36-inch on the desk while Alice and Justin got comfortable on the bed. “All right, one hour each. Alice goes first.” “Why does she get to watch first?” Justin asked. “Fine, you can watch first ya baby,” Alice said. “Hey, we had a deal young lady.” “Okay, okay. You’re not a baby.” “Good, now I’m counting on you two not to let me down. If Aunti Ni-Ni finds out I let you stay up, I’m gonna be in big trouble.” “We’ll be good,” Justin said. “All right. Goodnight, guys.” “Goodnight,” Alice and Justin said. Jack had just closed the door when Nina exited the playroom where they’d set up the crib for the twins. “The twins are out.” “So are the other two.” “Good, I’m just gonna kiss them goodnight.” Jack grabbed her wrist before she could reach the doorknob. “Already taken care of.” “But…” “How about you kiss me goodnight?” Jack said guiding her toward their bedroom. “Well, if you insist.” Jack led Nina into the room and closed the door. He unzipped her dress to find nothing underneath. “Now that’s what I’m talking about.” “I was in a bit of a rush.” “It’s my favorite outfit to date.” Jack kissed her bare shoulder and her arm as he laid her down on the bed. “I’ll keep that in mind for next Wednesday.” “Please do.” She was so beautiful that Jack endeavored to kiss her every curve. He started at her forehead, lingering at her lips. They were always difficult to escape. Jack could taste the powdered sugar on her collarbone. He lingered again at the surgical scar between her breasts. It strangely turned her on even more. Jack grinned as she squired and took his time leaving a trail of kisses down her abdomen and her inner thigh, but it was Nina’s deep breathing which caused him to pause short of her mound. Jack lifted his head to find her sleeping. She must’ve tired herself out along with the twins. He pulled back the covers and carried her over to her side of the bed where he laid her down and kissed her forehead. They had the whole weekend for sex. Tonight he would have to settle for watching her grin in her sleep. Chapter 6 Nina woke up the next morning to find Jack’s side of the bed empty and the night started to come back to her. “Oh no,” she whispered when she realized she’d fallen asleep on him. “Jack?” she called as she rushed to the bathroom, but he wasn’t there either. She found a note resting on a stack of folded clothes at the foot of their bed. “Get dressed and meet me downstairs,” she read. How could she have fallen asleep, and on Valentine’s night? Nina often felt compelled to make up for lost time after the eight months it took for her to recover from her heart surgery and his unwavering patience. She took a quick shower, wishing he was around to join her. Nina finished dressing when she realized she hadn’t heard a peep from the kids. “What is wrong with me?” she asked herself as she rushed to check on them. The playroom and guest bedroom we’re empty and the kid’s overnight bags were also gone. Nina paused at the bottom of the stairs when she saw the rose petals sprinkled at the front door and another note attached to the handle. “Don’t forget your coffee and special muffin.” In the kitchen there was a travel mug and muffin waiting for her with another note. “Eat me.” She grinned and took a bite. She’d never had a muffin with so any berries, it was delicious. Nina sat enjoying her muffin until she heard what sounded like drums coming from outside. She took her travel mug and headed outside. The neighbors were exiting their houses as the sound of a marching band grew louder. “Jack, tell me you didn’t,” Nina whispered as she walked out to the curb. He turned the corner a minute later with Annabelle pulling the carriage. The high school marching band was right behind them. Angie, Jason, and the kids came out to watch. “Seriously, a band!” Angie shouted and Nina shrugged. Jack stopped in front of their house and the band started to play Charlie Wilson’s You Are. Nina was so shocked she’d forgotten to breathe. She sucked in a breath as Jack hopped out. “Good Morning,” he said before pulling her in for a kiss. Nina gripped the collar of his coat, pressing her lips to his. “Get a room!” Angie yelled. She felt Jack lift his right arm and grabbed his hand before he ended up teaching LJ and Justin another bad habit. “Be nice,” she whispered against his lips. Jack responded with another charged kiss before sweeping her off her feet and into the carriage. “You ready to go?” He asked once he climbed inside and grabbed the reigns. “Yep, I’m all set.” Nina said before she felt her coat pocket. “Wait, I forgot my pills.” “I already packed them.” Yet another example of what an amazing husband he was. Nina was still learning how to accept this new life of being loved and cared for. She never had to question how Jack felt about her, because he showed her every day just how much she meant to him. Nina bundled up in a blanket and he held her close as she waved goodbye to her family and neighbors. “I can’t believe you did all this. Now I’m even sorrier about last night,” Nina said once they got going. “For what?” “I feel asleep before I could give you your Valentine’s cookie.” Nina grinned. “Nina, you never have to apologize for being tired.” “I just don’t want you to ever feel deprived.” “Based on the number of times you tried to get me to climb into your hospital bed, I would say me feeling deprived is physically impossible.” Jack kissed her forehead. “Besides, I’ve got you to myself for the whole weekend, which means all the cookie I can eat.” Nina’s cheeks burned from the heat of his gaze. A whole weekend alone had to mean he was taking her to the cabin. She’d given up hope after their conversation earlier in the week, but he was really doing it, and he didn’t look depressed about it at all. It was the best Valentine’s Day present he could’ve ever given her. “I love you,” she said. “I love you more.” They rode the carriage to Main Street where large signs hung from the light posts. “Nina’s Valentine’s Day,” Jack said as she squinted to read them. He pulled her phone out of his pocket. “In case you want a picture.” Nina snapped a few of the signs but her attention was quickly stolen by the limo they were approaching. “Is that for us?” “Not us, for you,” Jack said. He stopped the carriage and hopped out. He and the driver loaded the trunk with a couple of suitcases before Jack jogged over to help Nina out. Together they gave out snacks to the band members, and Jack thanked them for their performance before heading for the limo. Once inside, Jack blindfolded Nina and she felt his lips on her neck. “How about you remove the blindfold so I can kiss you back?” Nina asked. “No, I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but if it’s kisses you’d like, all you have to do is tell me where you’d like them.” Nina’s breath caught at her naughty thoughts. “Dirty girl,” Jack whispered. “I didn’t say anything.” “You didn’t have too, your face just turned three shades of red.” She could feel his breath on her cheek and turned to meet his lips. Nina made a mental note to get a few blindfolds for future Wednesdays. She was in Jack’s lap by the time she felt the limo come to a stop. The ride didn’t seem long enough to be at the cabin yet, but she was too consumed by Jack’s lips to voice her concerns. Being blindfolded made every touch like a mystery, and he played the game very well. He gripped the side of her neck and Nina’s lip quivered. The thick air was filled with the scent of his cologne, and drove Nina wild. “Pause,” she said when his lips pressed against her collarbone. “See I told you…physically impossible,” Jack said. She could hear the grin in his voice. “Lucky for you, we’re here.” Nina was weak in the knees as Jack helped her exit the limo. He stood behind her before removing the blindfold. Once her eyes adjusted to the light she took in the black helicopter and her mouth dropped. “Jack—” “It’s just a little ride. Nothing to be scared of.” Jack kissed her neck. He pulled her toward the helipad, and she looked around to see their suitcases being loaded into the storage compartment. Nina climbed in and took a seat. “Hey, do you mind getting a picture of us?” Jack asked one of the workers as he handed Nina a champagne flute. “Non-alcoholic.” “You are blowing my mind, Mr. Spears,” Nina said as they posed for a photo. “You haven’t seen anything yet.” Jack tipped the attendant, “Thank you.” “My pleasure, enjoy your ride,” the attendant said before closing the door. Jack strapped Nina in and put on her headphones. “Can you hear me okay?” he asked speaking into his mic. Nina nodded. Jack took his seat beside her and the helicopter powered up. She gripped his hand. “Scared?” Jack asked. Nina shook her head. She could never be afraid with Jack by her side. The view of the mountains from the helicopter was spectacular, especially whipping through the low clouds. Jack held her hand the entire ride and every time she looked back she saw him watching her. “This is unbelievable,” she said. “I’m glad you’re enjoying it.” Nina squeezed his hand tighter when the helicopter took a turn. In the distance she spotted a building atop a large mountain. Even from afar she could make out a beautiful wrap around balcony and shimmering floor to ceiling windows. “Welcome to Vail,” the pilot announced in her headphones. Nina was a little disappointed that it wasn’t the cabin, but she still had a weekend alone with Jack, and that she could never be upset about. They landed on the roof and were rushed to a large suite only a couple of floors below. “Jack, this is too much,” Nina said as she stood in front of the double doors. “Nothing is too much for you.” He opened the door and Nina was caught off guard by the group of women sitting in the living room. “Do we have the wrong room?” “Nope, these are your ladies in waiting.” “Ladies in what?” Nina was fine with the idea of alone time with Jack, but having five other women there also was just annoying. Jack took her hand and pulled her in. “This is Quinn, Darbie, and Erica. They’re going to do your hair, makeup, and…something else. I can’t remember.” “And this is Stacey, and Amelia. They are your stylists for the day.” “It’s nice to meet you all,” Nina said even though she was still confused as to what exactly they were doing there. “You ladies take good care of my girl.” Jack rushed to answer a knock at the door, only he didn’t invite the person in. Nina wanted to follow him but she had five women staring at her as though they were waiting for instructions or something. “Do any of you happen to know what’s going on?” Nina asked. “We’re here to make you look fabulous,” Quinn said. “And do some serious retail damage,” Amelia added. When Nina turned around Jack was gone. She rushed out to try and catch him, “Jack?” He paused before stepping into the elevator and jogged back. “Where are you going?” Nina asked. “I’ve got some more surprises to work on, but I’ll be back for lunch.” “Lunch?” Nina didn’t understand. She thought this was a weekend for the two of them. “Don’t worry, you’ll be too busy to even miss me.” He gave her a squeeze followed by a peck on the lips and was off again. Nina felt deflated as she returned to the suite and she didn’t even have her phone to call Angie. Jack had left her with a group of strangers. “So…” Darbie said handing Nina a champagne flute. “Tell us what the special occasion is.” “It’s sort of our first Valentine’s Day.” “Wow,” Stacey said. “You’ve got quite a husband.” “Yeah, he’s something,” Nina said taking a sip of her drink. She quickly spit it out when she realized it was real champagne. “Something wrong?” Darbie asked. “No, not at all. I just…can’t drink.” “Oh, I’m so sorry. I must’ve opened the wrong bottle. There’s a special kind for you. I’ll fix it.” Darbie quickly took the glass and headed to the kitchenette. “Please don’t make a fuss. I…I don’t need anything.” What she needed was Jack. Nina perked up when there was a knock at the door, hoping it was him coming back for something. She answered it only to find a massage team, fully equipped with table and a cart full of products. “Mrs. Spears?” “Yes.” “We’re here for your spa appointment.” “Sure, why not.” Nina opened the door, and rolled her eyes before following them inside. *** Jack was using a small meeting room as his command center on the ground floor. “Come on, George, a five-star resort and you can’t get me fireworks clearance?” “I assure you we are working to resolve the issue as fast as we can, but as an alternative we can have our banquet crew do sparklers.” “Look, I really don’t mean to come off like an ass, but my wife is worth more than some sparkler dance. I need fireworks.” “We will do everything we can,” George said. “How much is the fine if we set them off without the firefighters here?” “I—I’m not sure we can do that.” “I get that. But what is the fine if it happens?” Jack asked. “Sir, I can’t…” Jacks alarm on his phone sounded. “Hold that thought.” Jack dialed Stacey. “Hey, is Nina done with her massage.” “Looks like they’re just finishing up,” Stacey said. “Okay, I’m sending up some snacks now and your racks, cute stuff by the way.” “Thank you. I aim to please.” “Now one thing you have to know about Nina is that she’s thrifty. Tell her you found everything for a great deal and bill me for anything she likes. Even if she says no, you can pack it in the suitcases I have down here and she’ll get it when she gets home.” “Roger that. Gotta go.” Jack hung up. “Okay, George, send the first platter up. Make sure she has some nice cold water, and don’t forget the truffles.” “Yes, Sir.” Jack checked the time on his phone again. He had two more hours before he’d meet her for lunch and still so much stuff to do. He had to check out the private dining room and the terrace, and most importantly the menu. Jack made the reservations sight unseen and had forgotten to request a special menu for the Nina. He had to ensure everything was made according to her diet. “The suit,” Jack said to himself. He unpacked it to check if it needed pressing while he waited for George to return and paused when he realized he still had Nina’s toiletry bag. He checked his watch. She should’ve taken her pills two hours ago. “Shit.” Jack grabbed the suitcases and made a run for the door. Chapter 7 Nina’s mood darkened by the minute. She wanted to be alone but it seemed like there was a new person coming through the door every ten minutes with fruit, or water, or racks of clothing. Darbie had assumed the role of door monitor. “You got another one,” she said as she entered the bedroom with a large gift box. It seemed Jack had gifted her with everything short of a puppy. Nina removed the large pink bow and box lid to find a collection of photo albums with a note. “A place to store your memories,” she read aloud. “Aww, how sweet,” Darbie said as Amelia and Stacey searched their racks in the hallway. “Here it is. I thought this would look amazing on you tonight,” Stacey said holding up a long red evening gown. Beading and crystals covered the strapless dress, making it shimmer with every move. It was beautiful, but all Nina wanted at that moment was to talk to Jack. She knew he had the best of intentions, but this wasn’t her. Nina wondered if she collapsed face down on the bed if they’d take the hint. Stop being dramatic, she thought. “It’s…really nice,” she said. “Nina?” Jack called and Nina’s heart stopped. She rushed out of the bedroom to find him out of breath and digging through a suitcase in the middle of the floor. “I forgot your pills.” He retrieved her prescription bottles from her toiletry bag and handed them to her. Nina looked at the clock. She hadn’t been paying attention of the time. “It’s okay.” His wheezing and red face concerned her. “Come sit down. Did you run up here?” Amelia helped her pull him up and guide him over to the couch. “Here’s some water,” Darbie said handing Nina a glass. “Thank you. Thank you all for your help.” “We’ll give you two a minute,” Stacey said. “Come on girls, we’ve got a dress now we need to figure out everything else.” Jack downed the glass of water as the girls left the room. Nina retrieved a pitcher of ice water from the crowded dining table and refilled his glass. “Take the pills,” Jack said in between breaths. Nina sighed and took her pills, knowing he wouldn’t calm down until she did. Jack sat back, taking in a few deep breathes and rubbed his head. He tried his best to keep strong face for everyone else, but Nina could tell when he was panicked. “Jack, I’m all right,” she said kissing his cheek. “Have you even eaten anything?” The curious look on his face was a definite no. Nina fed him some of the meat and cheese from her platter until he started to look a little better. “I’m supposed to be the one taking care of you today,” he said kissing the back of her hand. “Jack, I—” She wanted to tell him the truth, but she didn’t want to seem ungrateful or hurt his feelings. “Can I have my phone?” “Oh, yeah. I’m sorry. I didn’t even know I still had it.” His alarm sounded, and Jack kissed her on the cheek. “I’ve gotta go, but I’ll be back in two hours.” Nina lowered her head to hide her disappointment. “Hey,” Jack said lifting her chin to get a look at her face. “That’s not a happy face. What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” Nina faked a smile. “I just—miss you.” “Oh,” Jack sighed with relief and pulled her up from her seat and into his arms. “Don’t you worry; we’ll have plenty of time alone tonight, okay?” Nina nodded. She could suck it up for a few more hours. “Now make sure you shop until you drop, Stacey is a wonder when it comes to good deals.” “I will. Hurry back.” “Okay.” Nina felt a lot better having spent a few moments with Jack, and she tried to make the best of her over-the-top surprise. “Ready to view the rest of the rack?” Stacey asked. “Sure.” She tried her best to fake some enthusiasm Nina followed her back into the room. Chapter 8 Jack was already late for lunch, they were still waiting on clearance for the fireworks, and now the chef was giving him problems. “Look, it’s my fault for not putting the request in earlier and I get that, but we’re here now, and all I’m asking for is one special plate for my wife.” “Then maybe you should take her to another restaurant. I don’t do substitutions,” the chef said. Jack had to fight to keep his temper in check with this puffed-up asshole. “Look, I’m not asking for a substitution, I just need a separate meal for her. She has heart disease. All I’m asking for is a clean meal, nothing fried, nothing dairy. Just a nice seared fish and steamed vegetables will do.” “And now you’re giving me a menu? I am not some short order cook. Do you think they named this place after me for nothing? I will not compromise my vision for any guest. End of discussion.” “George!” Jack called as he stepped away. He’d had enough with this resort and with Chef Boyardouche. “Good news. We got a firefighter to come in on his night off so your fireworks have been cleared,” George said, beaming with excitement. “Well, we won’t need them if your chef can’t cook something acceptable for my wife to eat.” “I never eluded that I could not. I simply refuse,” The chef replied. “Do you know how much I paid for this private dinner?” Jack asked, well beyond his breaking point. Nina was waiting for him, his final gift was stuck in traffic, and his was starving. Jack never thought a special day for Nina would be so stress-inducing, but he kept reminding himself of why he was doing this. “I am so, so very sorry Mr. Spears,” George said after the chef threw up his hands and went back to prepping. “The chef is more than happy to prepare a more health conscious alternative for you and your wife.” “Oh really? You sure he won’t spit in it.” “I assure you it will be every bit as delectable as our reviews have stated.” “How are you going to get him to change his mind?” “I have my ways of getting what I want,” George said looking quite proud. “Well, thank you. Now I can finally enjoy lunch with my wife.” “My pleasure. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do for you.” Jack got a glimpse of the terrace on his way out, but the chain on the door caused him to pause. “Whoa, what is going on there?” He pointed to the door. “Just our seasonal maintenance. We like to strip the paint and give the patio a new coat once a year.” “In February? Isn’t it your busy season?” “Yes, but the cost is more favorable and the extended drying time gives the paint a more weathered look.” Jack handed George his card. “Call me and I can beat their lowest price at the time of year of your choice. But for now we have a problem.” “What is that?” “My wife and I are supposed to be standing there to see the fireworks.” “Oh…oh, dear. I am terribly sorry Mr. Spears. Please allow me to show you the other terraces, perhaps there is another we could use.” “No there isn’t. Are you forgetting the permit for the fireworks, we can’t just pick a new spot on a Saturday afternoon. God, this whole day is turning into a nightmare.” “We will find a solution, I promise you.” Jack paced the floor, staring at his phone. Nina had already texted him twice, asking where he was. “Let me see how bad it is,” Jack said. “Right away, I’ll just go grab the key.” George ran off and Jack strangled with the air in front of him. He approached the French doors and got a closer look at the unfinished patio. He closed his eyes for a second to gather his thoughts, which were interrupted by George’s return. “Found it!” George removed the padlock and chains and Jack stepped out onto the dark and lifeless space. “Grab a pen and a pad. We’re gonna need a few things,” Jack said as he looked over the railings. *** Nina had been waiting for Jack for nearly an hour with no answer to any of her texts. She let out a loud sigh. “I’m sure he’ll be here any minute,” Stacey said for the sixth time. Nina pushed back from the beautifully decorated table. “I’ve lost my appetite. Please help yourselves to anything you like. I think I’ll take a nap.” “Are you sure you don’t want to look at more shoes?” Amelia asked. “That always makes me feel better.” “Maybe later. I could use some rest.” Nina entered the bedroom and closed the door. She hated herself for feeling so miserable when Jack had planned such a special day. She grabbed a box of tissues and sat in the center of the bed, already sensing her tears. No matter how much she reminded herself of Jack’s love and generous gift, Nina couldn’t shake feeling upset. Yes, it wasn’t her ideal way of celebrating, but compared to her past she should’ve been kissing Jack’s feet for loving her this much. What she needed was some perspective, which Angie was always good for. “Hey Superstar, how’s the big surprise going?” “It’s…nice,” Nina said followed by a sniffle. “Nina, are you crying?” “No,” Nina muttered unable to hold back her tears. “Okay, a little.” “What’s the matter?” “I’m just screwed up. Jack planned this whole day for me, and I haven’t been able to enjoy a single second of it.” “Really, you looked like you enjoyed the band to me.” “Okay, well, maybe not everything. The band, limo, and helicopter ride were nice.” “The what?” “I thought you knew.” “No, Jack wouldn’t tell me anything. Where did he take you?” Nina searched the room. “Michel Resort.” “Oh my god!” “That’s not all. I have ladies, five of them,” Nina whispered. “They’ve been here all day showing me designer clothes and shoes and bringing me water. There’s a whole glam team waiting to do my hair. I had a masseuse team come in earlier to give me a massage and facial.” “Okay, and what’s the problem, because I’m about five seconds from being jealous enough to hang up.” “I haven’t seen Jack all day,” Nina’s tears returned. “We were supposed to have lunch but he never showed. I just feel stupid. I know I have nothing to be upset about.” “Nina, you’re not stupid. Sounds to me that you might be a little disappointed.” “But I have no right to be. I’ve been trying to put on a smile and fake my way through it, but I honestly just want to go home.” “Then tell Jack.” “I can’t.” “Nina, he planned all this for you. He’s not going to be happy when he finds out how miserable you are.” “He’s not going to find out. Really, I’m fine. I just needed to vent a little.” “Nina, you called me in tears. That’s about as far from fine as you can get.” “I’m better now.” “Well, I don’t believe you. I can call him for you if you want.” “No! Don’t. I’ll bring you back one of the designer dresses if you promise not to say anything.” “Well…if you insist.” Angie giggled. “I do…and shoes, just don’t say anything. And don’t tell Jason that I called.” “Okay, but no more tears.” “Okay.” Nina got a new text. “I gotta go, I think that’s Jack.” She ended the call and checked Jack’s response: So sorry, start without me, see you at dinner. She didn’t even know what time dinner was scheduled. She took a deep breath and held it until there was a knock at the door. “Nina, sorry to bother you, but you have a delivery you have to sign for,” Darbie said through the door. Nina rolled her eyes. What could he possibly have sent now? She exited the room and found a man in a suit and a guard waiting for her. “Mrs. Spears?” “Yes.” “Please sign here.” Nina signed the release form and he handed her a black gift bag. She felt like she was in a movie or something. The girls crowded around her as she opened the bag and removed three boxes. They all gasped when she opened the large one to find a beautiful diamond necklace. “That is amazing,” Amelia said. “This has to be some kind of mistake,” Nina said as she opened the other two boxes, containing a tennis bracelet, and diamond earrings which had to be over a carat each. “Please tell me this is a rental?” she asked the man. “I’m afraid not. Congratulations and Happy Valentine’s Day.” Nina had to sit down, but it wasn’t from feeling light-headed, she was furious. She closed the boxes and threw them back into the bag before storming back into the bedroom and slamming the door. She paced the floor, fueling her anger more. She didn’t understand it. Jack knew her; he knew the life she had before. What on earth would make him think her idea of a great Valentine’s Day would include this type of wasteful spending? She sat on the foot of the bed with an open mouth. Maybe he thought she missed Michael’s money. She searched her memory for anything that could’ve sparked this reaction, but she got nothing. How could he not see how perfectly happy her life was with him? Nina quickly broke her promise to Angie, sobbing in the overstuffed comforter. Chapter 9 “Nina?” Erica called through the door. “Sorry to bother you, but we really need to start on your hair and makeup if you’re gonna be ready on time.” Nina had been in her room for nearly three hours and she still didn’t feel any better, but dinner meant that the day was almost finished which gave her great relief. She got a glimpse of her puffy face and red eyes in the mirror. She really did need a professional to fix the mess she’d made. When she opened the door, the girls were all waiting. “I’m sorry; I’m probably the worst client you’ve ever had.” “Trust me, I’ve worked with some bitches over the years.” The others agreed with Quinn. “You just seem so…sad,” Darbie said. “I take it this wasn’t what you thought you were coming here for?” Stacey asked. “Not even a little. I really just wanted a quite weekend alone with Jack at our cabin.” “And you got the five of us and all this? Boy was he off!” Amelia exclaimed and Stacey elbowed her. “Ouch, I’m just saying.” “No, you’re right,” Nina said. “But I’m done wallowing. I really want him to think I had an amazing day so I’m ready for you to work your magic. Bring on the clothes, shoes, whatever you got.” The girls at least seemed excited to hear it. So did Nina. She was only hours away from finally being alone with Jack. *** Jack yawned as he pulled on his pants. He was exhausted, starving, and still unsure of dinner, but he was long past his pursuit of perfection. He pulled on his shirt and searched his suitcase for his cuff links. “I know I packed them,” he said to himself. They were meant to be his groom’s gift for the wedding they never got to have. Jack never really felt comfortable receiving gifts, but Nina’s always meant the world to him. She was great at picking things he never even realized he needed, like cuff links. “Ah ha!” he shouted when he found them at the bottom of his bag. He was slipping on his shoes when there was a knock at the door. “It’s open.” Stacey entered with the empty rack and Jack grinned. “Wow, it’s empty.” “Yeah,” she said, but she didn’t look as excited as he expected. “So has she been having a blast?” “Something like that.” Jack could tell she was hiding something. “Stacey, what’s up?” Stacey gathered her empty wardrobe bags. “Nothing, it’s just been a long day.” “Everything was okay up there right?” “Jack, you really should be asking your wife that.” “Why? Did something happen? Was she feeling okay?” He hadn’t checked in on her as much as he usually did because he had his hands full with the planning, but what if she wasn’t feeling well or something she’d eaten had made her sick? He didn’t wait for Stacey to answer. Jack grabbed his suit jacket and tie and rushed out. His fists were clenched by the time he stepped into the elevator. He should’ve been checking in more. Jack paced the elevator the entire ride up and rushed to the suite door only to realize he’d forgotten his key. He banged impatiently on the door, but he froze when Nina answered. She was so beautiful in her red gown. Her hair, full of pined-back curls showed off her new diamonds. “Jack, what’s wrong?” she asked at the sight of his face. “Are you feeling okay? I’m sorry I haven’t been checking in, I just—” “I feel fine, come inside.” She took his hand and led him in. “What would make you think I was sick?” “I—I…” Jack didn’t feel the need to bring up Stacey’s comment especially, if Nina was okay. Maybe Stacey’s mood didn’t have anything to do with Nina at all. “I was just worried.” “Don’t be. I’m perfectly fine.” Jack exhaled and stepped back to get a better look at her. “You look amazing.” “Thank you. So do you.” She finished buttoning his shirt and tied his tie. Jack gave her a soft peck on her glossy lips and Nina grinned. Her smile wasn’t as beaming as he expected, but it’d been a long day. She was sure to be grinning from ear to ear by the end of the night. “Shall we?” He extended his arm, and she took it. She looked kind of nervous during the elevator ride up to the restaurant. “You sure you’re all right?” “Yep,” she said sounding weird. Jack would’ve believed her had her responses not been followed with utter silence. He was starting to wonder if she was even breathing. “I…uh…got a few more surprises lined up for tonight.” Jack definitely wasn’t imagining the flash of aggravation on her face before it was replaced with a half grin. “I can’t wait,” she replied. Jack hated when she kept her feelings hidden from him. They’d been married nearly two years, and Nina still had days where she’d hideaway in her protective shell. Jack was still learning to let her come to him in her own time, but he wanted to know what was bothering her. He’d planned this day to make her happy, but she didn’t seem too happy with him right now. “I’m sorry I missed lunch earlier,” he said, wondering if that was why she was a little cool toward him. Nina grabbed his hand when the elevator finally opened. “It’s okay, I wasn’t very hungry. To be honest, I was taking a nap.” “The deliveries didn’t disturb you, did they?” “No, everything was so wonderful. I’m sorry I haven’t even thanked you. I guess I’m still a little speechless.” “No thanks needed. I’m just happy to hear you enjoyed it all.” “I did. It’s the best Valentine surprise I’m sure any woman’s ever gotten.” Jack couldn’t tell if she was for real or just trying to throw him off her scent. “Well, let the night continue.” They passed the restaurant, stopping in front of a set of double doors. Jack knocked lightly and the door opened to reveal the private dining room. *** Nina’s eyes widened to take in the beautifully decorated room with vaulted ceilings and a private terrace. She turned to see Jack studying her and, for once, she didn’t have to fake her excitement. It was so beautiful and busy with three servers. “Welcome, Mr. & Mrs. Spears, please come in.” Jack escorted Nina to her seat and cleared his throat for the server to move out the way. She grinned as she took her seat and he pushed her in. “This is amazing,” Nina said. “I’m glad you like it.” Jack sat across from her and Nina finally felt her dark mood starting to clear. She ignored the taunting of her new diamond necklace and the lonely memories of Michael they conjured. Jack was nothing like him. He didn’t shower her with gifts in exchange for his love, and they were finally alone like she’d wanted all day. She reached across the table for Jack’s hand. He was so handsome in a suit. Sometimes she still couldn’t believe they were married. His last name was the proudest title she’d ever owned. “There’s the smile I was hoping to see today,” Jack said. “It’s impossible not to smile when I’m sitting across from you.” “I don’t know, I think I’d have a bigger smile if you were a little closer,” he said. Nina pushed back her chair and Jack got up to help her move it. They put their chairs side by side, facing the open French doors. “There, that’s much better,” Jack said copping a feel of her ass as he took his seat. “This is the best surprise yet,” Nina said. “Really?” “Yes, dinner alone with you. That’s all I could ever ask for.” When she looked over at Jack he was studying her again. Nina cleared her throat and took a sip of her water. Jack’s hand moved up her back and she got a shiver, the good kind. “Did I mention how beautiful you look tonight?” he asked. “Yes, you did.” “Well, it’s certainly worth repeating.” He leaned in kissing her neck. “And you smell amazing.” Nina fanned herself with her napkin taken over by the images of how they could spend the rest of their night. She only hoped an early bedtime was one of his surprises. “I think I understand now why our chairs were so far apart,” Jack whispered before he nibbled her earlobe. “I’d never make it through the meal with you this close.” Nina wholeheartedly agreed as she crushed her lips against his. He gripped the back of her neck, loosening her hair pins, but she didn’t mind. Kissing him made her forget about her melancholy day and brought a new excitement for the night to come. She wished they were back at their suite where she could demand he make love to her right there. When the doors opened, Nina pushed Jack away. Her lipstick was smeared all over his wide grin and she used her knife as a mirror to fix her face. Two men with musical instruments entered along with a woman in a black evening gown. They set up in the corner and played classical jazz. “They are amazing,” Nina whispered to Jack, who’d been feeling her up ever since the band arrived. He’d also been continually glancing at his watch in between inhaling his salad. “You poor thing, you must be starving.” “A little.” Jack finally seemed to be enjoying the music by the time the main course was delivered by the chef personally. “I hope you will find your meal to your liking, Madame,” the chef said, giving Jack a wink before removing the cover. It was a beautifully seared salmon with sautéed asparagus and potatoes. Such simple foods, but it was decorated so beautifully that Nina wished she had a camera. “Wow.” “Thanks a lot,” Jack’s said shaking the chef’s hand. “My pleasure.” Nina savored every bite of her delicious meal. She looked over to see Jack watching her. “Would you eat already?” Jack inspected his plate and said a quick prayer before he finally took a bit of his steak. He seemed pleasantly surprised by the taste. “Good?” she asked. “Yeah.” “Why do you seem so surprised?” “Well, considering I almost strangled that guy a few hours ago, he can make an okay steak.” “Wait, what?” “Just a little difference of opinions.” Based on his history with her nursing staff Nina knew it wasn’t as simple as he claimed. “Sounds like you had quite a day.” “Let’s just say, next year I’ll leave the planning to a professionals.” Next year? Nina thought. She choked on a gasp and Jack patted her hard on the back. “You all right? Can we get some water, please?” Nina tried to catch her breath, but it only made her cough more. Jack got her out of her seat and onto the terrace. “Where’s that water!” Jack shouted. “What is it, was there a bone in your fish?” Nina shook her pounding head as she tried to take in a breath. Her face was hot and throbbing by the time the coughs finally settled. The music stopped, she and Jack sat on a plush couch as she finally started to settle down. “Here, drink a little,” Jack said kneeling in front of her. She took a few sips and sat back. “Is everything all right?” A short man in a suit asked standing in the doorway. Nina nodded, but Jack looked pale in the face. “I’m fine. I just swallowed wrong.” Which she did, but it was also Jack’s statement that caught her off guard. The thought of more holiday surprises, like today, made her cringe. “Are you sure you’re all right? Maybe we should take you to the hospital?” Jack asked. “I can get an ambulance,” the short man suggested. “No,” Nina said. “I’m fine, really. I just need to tell you something, later,” Nina said. “Tell me now. George, we’re good.” “No, let’s finish our dinner. We can talk about it tomorrow.” George closed the French doors and Jack sat beside Nina. He held her hands tightly as she took a deep breath. “Nina, if something’s wrong? If you’re not feeling well, I need to know now.” “This isn’t about my heart. I’m fine I just…” her heart ached at the thought of what she was about to say. “I lied.” “About what?” “Today, the surprises, and these.” She touched her diamond necklace. “Jack, I love you so very much, and I don’t want you to think that I don’t appreciate everything you’ve done for me.” “Whatever it is, you can tell me,” Jack said. She hated herself for feeling this way, for even opening her big mouth, and for her stupid tears, which she knew he hated. “I’m sorry,” she said as she tried to dry her eyes, but Jack dried them for her. He looked so confused. “I know you wanted this day to be special, but the truth is I haven’t enjoyed it.” “You didn’t?” “No. All these gifts aren’t me, not anymore. And I’m sorry if I ever gave you the impression that our life isn’t enough for me, but it is.” “What are you talking about?” “I’m talking about the helicopters, and stylists, and diamonds. Michael spent our entire marriage substituting love with his money. I don’t want that for us. A special day, to me, is just spending it with you. That’s all I ever wanted…at the cabin.” Jack looked deflated. “It wasn’t all bad,” she said. “I guess I just had an idea of how the day would go, but then we got here and you ran off and all these gifts kept coming and I felt…alone.” “But the girls.” “Not that kind of alone. I mean like I used to be, and that scared me.” Her stupid tears started up again. She could tell he was hurt. “I’m sorry that I’m so damaged that I can’t enjoy your gifts. I just don’t ever want even a second of our lives to mirror my past.” “Nina, stop. It’s not your fault.” “Yes it is. My issues are always the problem, and I wish I could just get over them already.” “Well, I don’t,” Jack said, stunning her to silence. “I don’t mean that I don’t want you to feel better about your past, I just don’t want you to ever feel ashamed about it. I love every part of you, even the broken ones.” Nina sobbed even louder. “Okay, kind of the opposite reaction I was expecting,” Jack said pulling her into his arms. Nina kissed his neck as he held her tighter. A moment later an explosion caused her to jump. Nina opened her eyes to see the fireworks. “I swear, that’s the last one,” Jack whispered and Nina laughed. . Chapter 10 The next morning Jack slipped out of bed while Nina still slept. He hadn’t gotten much sleep after the fireworks. He should’ve known that she would hate all those gifts. She was the same woman who refused to let him buy her flowers. He’d ruined their Valentine’s Day, but he’d been stewing on a plan to make it up to her. Jack pulled out his phone and dialed Angie. “Hello?” “Hey, you got a second?” “I’ve got several, Jason and the kids are making breakfast while I’m supposed to be sleeping in. I don’t know what’s gotten into him lately.” “Good, I’m hoping you could help me with something.” “So she finally told you?” “You knew? Why didn’t you give me a heads up?” “I tried to before Valentine’s Day, you butthole.” “Okay, maybe you did, but I thought…never mind. Look I was wrong, and I need your help making this up to her.” “I’m listening,” *** Nina still felt horrible when she woke up, especially when she realized she was alone, again. Maybe she had really done it this time. Maybe Jack was really upset with her. She threw on a robe and found him packing their suitcases in the living room. “Morning,” he said as he loaded the luggage cart with two of the bags. “Morning.” “Hope you don’t mind I packed your stuff. We need to hit the road in like twenty minutes.” “Oh.” Nina thought they were staying another night. “I’ll go get dressed.” While she showered Nina worried even more. He didn’t kiss her good morning. He’d never forgotten before. Her chest ached at the thought of him feeling hurt, and she had no idea how to fix it. The suite was cleared by the time she exited the bedroom. “Uh, I wasn’t sure if you wanted to keep these or not,” Jack said holding up the jewelry boxes. “I can, if you want me to.” “Nina, what do you want?” If she was being honest, she never wanted to see those diamonds again, but she didn’t want to rub salt in his wounds. “Jack, I think their beautiful. I really do…” “But you don’t want them.” She lowered her head. “I’m sorry.” Jack crossed the room and lifted her chin. “Don’t be. I should know you well enough to know this isn’t you.” He pecked her lips, but it was too quick of a kiss for Nina to determine his mood. A quick stop at the jewelry store to return the diamonds and they were on the road. He was silent most of the drive. “Jack, I’m so sorry about last night,” Nina said. “I should’ve kept it to myself.” “You know what I loved about last night?” Nina couldn’t imagine there was anything. “What?” “I love the fact that you told me the truth. I love that even though you started out the night in your shell, that you opened up and let me in. That’s the best Valentine’s Day gift I’ve ever gotten.” Nina finally exhaled when he kissed the back of her hand. “So you don’t hate me?” “You’re joking, right?” “No, you’ve been so quiet I thought…” Jack pulled off to the shoulder of the highway and pulled her in for a steamy kiss. “What are you thinking now?” he asked out of breath. “Right now? I’m wishing the trunk wasn’t full of luggage.” “I can fix that,” Jack said with a wide grin. Chapter 11 “Wake up, beautiful,” Jack said as he kissed her forehead. Nina must’ve dozed off after their rest stop quickie. She opened her eyes to find them parked outside the cabin. “Jack, we’re—” “Yep.” She sat up and looked at him. “No, I didn’t want you to do this today. I know what I said, but I’ve put you though enough this weekend.” “Woman, would you get out of the car? We don’t have a lot of time.” “Time for what?” Nina asked as she got out. Jack rushed up the stairs and the door swung open. “You are an hour late!” Angie yelled. “I know, it was her fault.” “Angie? What are you doing here?” Angie rolled her eyes when she took in Nina’s disheveled hair and mis-buttoned shirt. “I am so sick of you two. Go get in the shower.” She pulled Nina inside and got a look at all the flowers and strings of lights laid out in the living room floor. “Will someone tell me what is going on?” Jack exited the bedroom wearing one of his work shirts. “I finally figured out how to purge this place of my worst memory.” “And how’s that?” Nina asked. “By making my best memory here. I wanna marry you, right here, right now.” “What?” “You heard me.” “But…” “Don’t worry, I’ve got it all covered,” Angie said. “As long as you are in the shower in the next few minutes.” Nina nearly broke her face she was grinning so wide. She rushed Jack giving him a charged kiss. Angie tore her away and pushed her in the room where she saw her wedding dress hanging in front of the picture window. Jason and Alice were setting up chairs out back. *** “Don’t you worry I’ve got enough chicken to feed the entire town,” Dale said as he and his family unloaded their truck. Jack never expected them all to show up on a Sunday afternoon, but Angie had really worked a miracle. “Brody!” Jason yelled from the porch, “We got this. You go get ready.” “Okay.” There had to be at least twenty-five people squeezed into his cabin’s living room. In the middle of the pile up stood Nina, who blew him a kiss. “I’ve got the hair spray,” Eve said blocking his view. “Angie, have you seen my tux?” “It’s in the bathroom, try not to wake the twins yet.” Jack snuck in the bedroom where Niya and LJ lay cuddled up in the center of the bed. He made his way into the bathroom and found all his stuff laid out. Angie was a lot better at this planning stuff than he was. He got a quick shower and was dressed just in time for the music to begin. Jason rushed him past the girls, and before he knew it he was standing under an arch of flowers. It was a moment he’d always wished he’d get to experience with Nina. He kicked himself for not thinking of it sooner. Richie and his band played the instrumental to Christina Perry’s A Thousand Years. Jack couldn’t believe how much it all looked and felt like the wedding Nina had planned, minus the country club lawn they’d booked. Justin and LJ were the first to sprint down the aisle with the ring pillow tied to Justin’s wrist. Jack had totally forgotten to get Nina’s rings, but when he checked there they were knotted to the pillow. “You ready?” Jason whispered as Alice and Niya came down the aisle throwing their rose petals at the guests as opposed to the ground. “Girls, throw them on the ground!” Jason instructed and everyone laughed. Angie was next in her red strapless dress and floral crown. Nina was right behind her wearing the smile he’d fallen in love with. Her ivory dress highlighted every gorgeous curve her hair was pulled back, and a long flowing veil framed her face. Jack was so antsy he couldn’t even wait for her to make it down the aisle. He met her half way planting a kiss on her that made the crowd whistle. “Jack?” Minister Henry called. “I think you’ve skipped a few steps.” But Jack didn’t care. His love for Nina never knew how to wait for the right moment, all he wanted was her.

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