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"We have to get ready, baby," he whispers, his lips close to mine.
I pout out my bottom lip. "I don't wanna."
He grins and bites my lip. "Sorry. Ma would kick my ass if we didn't show."
"Fine." I continue pouting then I realize that my hair is going to take forever to fix. Plus, I have to find all the rollers and clips that flew out of my hair. "You ruined my hair, so I'm not longer taking the blame for being late."
"You love me, baby?"
"Yes," I whisper, melting under him.
"Good," he mumbles. He kisses my nose then slides off the bed, pulling me up with him. "You need to hurry your ass up, baby, don't wanna piss Ma off," he says, smacking said ass.
"Whatever," I mumble, walking into the bathroom. My boyfriend is hot, he loves me, and I just had a really great orgasm. Even he can't piss me off right now
I look up to see Asher watching me. I'm sitting on the floor with his cousin's baby girl, Emma, holding her little hands as she bounces on my thighs. She is so perfect. Her cheeks are chubby and her little lips are so kissable. Holding her makes me want a baby of my own. I wonder if Asher even wants kids. He would be a great dad. I've seen him with his family's kids and they love him. I look away, not wanting him to read my face. Emma giggles and grabs my hair, trying to pull it into her mouth.
"No, sweet girl. You don't want to eat that." I untangle my hair from her hand then tickle her, making her laugh louder. There is nothing better than hearing a baby laugh. There is something so pure and beautiful about it.
"You're really good with her." The rough voice startles me, and I look up to see a guy I've never met before standing over me.
"Um, thanks," I say, wondering who he is. He's about as tall as Asher but more bulky. His black hair is a little long, but it works for him, wisping out around his face in a messy I don't give a crap kind of way. His tan skin makes the golden color of his eyes stand out more. He has full lips and a few days' worth of stubble on his jaw that is angled perfectly. He's not dressed up like most of the people here. He has on a pair of light jeans and a plaid shirt. I look away from him and back down to Emma, who is staring up at this guy, completely fascinated by him. I don't blame her. He is very good-looking. But he also has a vibe about him that seems almost dangerous.
"Kenton," the guy says.
"Sorry?" I say, looking back up at him.
"Oh, nice to meet you. I'm November."
"Pretty name. Never seen you before."
"She's mine," Asher says, walking up, holding a beer.
"Shit, man. I didn't know you were here. How are you?" They do a man hug and I stand, bringing Emma with me. When I get to my feet, Asher pulls me to him, tucking me under his arm.
"I'm good. Ma would have my balls if I tried to skip out on Christmas Eve."
"True." Kenton chuckles, looking between me and Asher. "So, this is your girl?" he asks in disbelief and I giggle. Everyone is always so surprised that Asher has a girlfriend.
Asher looks down at me and smiles. Then, he kisses the top of my head. "Yeah, she's mine."
"Do you know how many hearts are breaking?" he asks, looking at me.
"Trust me, I know." I roll my eyes at him. I have become public enemy number one around here. You would think I went to the homes of all these chicks and personally stole their most treasured possessions.
"So, what are you doing in town? Last time we spoke, you were heading out to Mexico on a case?" Asher asks.
"I got back yesterday. The trail went cold. I came home for Christmas and to see if I can find any new leads. If I can't find anything, I'll leave again after the new year."
"I need your help with something while you're in town. I'll set up a time this next week when we can meet up."
"Is everything okay? Is it Joan?" Kenton asks. At the name Joan, Asher's arm tightens. I look up and see that his jaw is locked, and I wonder who Joan is. But before I can ask, Emma starts crying.
"Um…I'm going to find her mom," I say, looking up at Asher.
"Sure, baby. Come back to me when you're done."
"Okay," I whisper as he kisses my temple.
"It was nice meeting you, Kenton," I say, smiling.
He's looking at me closely and shakes his head, smiling, then says, "Yeah, you too. I'll see you around, I'm sure."
"Yeah," I mumble, feeling uncomfortable and wondering who Joan is and why that name would make Asher upset. I find Emma's mom and we talk for a few minutes and exchange numbers. She lives a couple towns over and is around my age. I like her right away and would love to spend more time with Emma. I walk back through the crowd and see Asher still talking to Kenton. It looks serious, so I make my way to the kitchen to find Susan.
"Hey, do you need any help?" I ask Susan after I find her in the pantry. She's standing on a ladder and it looks like it might fall over.
"Oh, thank God." She turns, looking down at me. "I need help getting some platters made up and set out. Are your dad and grandma here yet?" she asks, going back to looking on the shelf.
"Not yet. He said they were running late but they'd be here soon."
"Good. Here, grab these." She hands me three trays. "You can help me until they show up." She smiles, stepping down from the ladder. We walk into the kitchen. Their kitchen is a galley style. It's long and updated, but closed off from the rest of the house so you can't see anyone unless they walk into it.
"Can I ask you a question?" I ask, setting the trays down on the counter.
"Sure, you know you don't even have to ask. I'm always here anytime you need me."
"Thanks," I say. My voice is clogged from the lump in my throat. "Um, who is Joan?" Her face freezes and I'm not sure what that means.
"She was Asher's wife." Well, crap. That's not what I expected at all.
"Oh," I whisper, having nothing else to say.
"Why do you ask?"
"Oh, um, Kenton mentioned her," I say, cutting wedges of cheese and placing them on the platter. Susan comes to stand next to me, moving my hair off my shoulder. I look over at her and she smiles.
"You have nothing to worry about."
"Okay." I smile and I know that it doesn't reach my eyes, but I'm praying that she doesn't say anything else. I really don't want to cry.
"Talk to Asher about it if it's bothering you."
"I will," I promise her, knowing that it's time we talk about his ex-wife and why he got divorced. It's completely irrational that it bothers me, knowing that he loves me, but part of me wishes he didn't have a past. Well, at least one that he was married in. Stupid, I know. I was engaged, but I love him more than I ever thought possible. And now that I feel this kind of love, I realize that I didn't love my ex. He was a crutch. I wanted him so that I could start a life on my own, one where my mother didn't have any control. I'm glad that it didn't work out. I'm not glad that he slept with my mom, but our relationship wouldn't have been fair to him in the long run.
"Hey, baby girl." I turn and see my dad walking into the kitchen, my grandma following close behind him.
"Daddy." I take two steps and his arms are around me. He tilts my face back with his hands on my cheeks.
"Are you okay? You look sad."
"I'm fine. Just helping Susan." I smile. I don't want him worried about me. His eyes narrow, but before he can question me, Asher walks into the kitchen.
"Mike." He pats my dad on the back. He looks at me and his eyes narrow. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I'm just happy." I roll my eyes.
"You don't look fucking happy. You look sad."
"Geez, did either of you stop to think that I haven't had this before, and I'm just sad that I missed out on it for so long?"
"Shit," Asher mumbles, rubbing his hands down his face. My dad's eyes turn angry. Once again, I put my foot in my mouth.
"What did you do on holidays?" Dad asks. Crap, crap, crap. Me and my damn foot. When will I learn to keep it out of my mouth?
"I went to a friend's. Can we please not talk about this and just enjoy tonight?" I ask softly.
My dad takes a deep breath while pulling my head to chest, kissing my hair. I lift my head and smile at him and see my grandma and Susan watching me closely.
"I'm going to help Susan finish these platters," I say, pulling away from my dad and stepping in front of the platter I was making.
"Okay, baby girl. I'm going to go get a drink. We can visit when you're done." Crisis averted. Yay!
Smiling, I look over at him. "I'll find you," My dad smiles then and saunters out of the kitchen. If I had one wish, it would be for my dad to find a good woman to love. He deserves happiness more than anyone I know. Plus, my dad is good-looking. It confuses me that he hasn't had a relationship since my mom.
"You sure you're okay, baby?" Asher asks, pulling my back to his front.
"I'm fine," I say, leaning against him.
"I'm gonna finish talking to Kenton. I got worried that someone else was trying to steal you away when you didn't come back to me."
"Go talk to him. I'm okay in here. When were done, I'll find you," I say, but I wanted to ask right then why he divorced Joan and why Kenton would ask if he needed to talk about her. But we would have plenty of time later to talk about her, and it was Christmas Eve. I really didn't want him to be upset.
"Okay, love you," he says against my ear and goose bumps spread across my skin. He squeezes me then I feel his presence leave the kitchen before I can tell him that I love him too.
"Nice save," Susan says, making me jump.
"Um," I mumbled, and she started laughing.
"Just promise that you will talk to him about Joan. I know that his history with her is bothering you."
"Promise," I say, smiling.
"Who's Joan?" Crap! Of course, I forgot that my grandmother is here. She's like a damn ninja. She's constantly sneaking up on you when you least expect it, or she is so quiet that you forget she's there and say crap that isn't meant to be heard by her.
"Asher's ex-wife," Susan shares, and I watch my grandma's eyes pop out of her head.
"Well, shit. That's not what I thought you were going to say."
"Grandma," I scold her. She has the mouth of a sailor.
"Don't take that tone with me. I've heard you pull up in that car of yours with that music you listen to, talking about bitches this and bitches that. And I know that your man cusses more in one sentence than I do in a day."
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