“I look like a damn waiter,” I grumbled, trying yet again to get the stupid tux tie done. I glanced over at Terry, who was so excited about the Ball I thought he and Jade would stay up all night gushing and braiding each other’s hair.
Okay, that so wasn’t fair but I was cranky. I sighed when he stood up from trying his dress shoes. Terry was gorgeous, hot, breathtaking, and fine all wrapped into one studly ball of muscle and sex appeal. Fine, I would trying not to bitch about the stupid Ball if I got to go with the hottest man at the party on my arm.
“How can you be cranky after the fun we’ve had today?” He chuckled moving over by me and taking the tie out of my hand. “Your father gave Wade and Jade a birthday they will never forget.”
“Yeah, setting up a petting zoo in the media room with real dinosaurs will be hard for anyone to top.” I shook my head, biting my lip to keep the giggles in. “Alexi fainting was totally worth the clean up, too. I mean, it’s not like he’s fainting from his heart condition anymore so—”
“I know what you meant, love,” he replied, kissing the tip of my nose. “It was funny. I’m glad Box thought ahead to have a camera ready. And Cadan was almost as excited as the twins. I can imagine it was something he’d never thought he’d see either, and given his job, his enthusiasm was understandable.”
“Says the man who wanted to keep the baby tyrannosaurus as a pet.”
“What’s wrong with that?” he asked with a pout as he finished my tie. “He was like the cutest little thing. He needed two loving dads.”
“Right, preferably ones that wouldn’t look like dinner in a few years,” I replied, throwing my arms around him. He hugged me tightly, and I wondered if there was something more going on here. “This wasn’t just about getting a pet, was it, Terry?”
“No,” he whispered sitting down on the edge of the bed and pulling me into his lap. “I have to ask you something, I know it’s way too soon for how long we’ve been mated, but I just need to know if it’s out of the question or not.” I nodded, not sure I had a friggin clue what he was talking about. “Do you want kids?”
My eyes went wide, and I felt my heart race at the idea of being a parent. Terry’s hopeful gaze turned to one of sad acceptance. He moved me off his lap and went to brush some nonexistent lint off his tux in the mirror.
“That’s fine. Most couples have the talk before they marry, and I just wanted to see what your thoughts were.” I tried to get my mouth to work, I swear I did, but it was as if my jaw was wired shut. “Okay, I’ll meet you downstairs.”
I slumped down, feeling dejected as he walked out the door. I’m sure he felt the same, but I didn’t know how to fix it. And this was the worst time for this conversation. Since we’d met right before Christmas, we both decided not to get or exchange gifts until New Years. I mean, how could I get a meaningful present for my mate without any real time to think about it? We were even going to be cheesy and exchange gifts at midnight.
I needed to think. And I didn’t have time for it. And when all else fails, I feel it’s best to get advice from the one person I trusted most on this particular subject. Or someone who would just smack me around until I got my head out of my ass… My mother.
I quickly texted Horse that I would meet them at the Ball and to please watch after my mate and that I had to make a quick stop. Then I teleported to Ireland. The guards at my parent’s castle knew me now and let me right in. It was lunch time there and I raced directly to their private dining room.
“Terry asked me if I want to have kids,” I blurted out, not even bothering to greet my parents.
She eyed me over for a moment. “And after all you’ve been through, just starting to put your life back together, letting love and your family in, the idea scares you.”
Again my mouth wouldn’t work so I nodded.
“Okay, let me ask you something then,” she said slowly as if choosing her words carefully. “You like children, right? I’ve seen you with Jade and Wade and they adore you, so it’s not that you have issues with being around kids.”
“I love the twins and kids I guess,” I replied, relaxing at the mention of my niece and nephew. “They’re great. But the twins are well-behaved. What if I got bratty kids? How would I handle that?”
“Well, since you’d be raising your own child from a baby, you’d mold them into a good child.” I could see the laughter in her eyes. Yeah, I was a dork. “What about the idea of a baby with Terry’s eyes? Maybe his gorgeous hair with cute curls.”
“He would make a pretty baby,” I agreed, liking the idea.
“You both would.” She chuckled. “And you wouldn’t be alone in raising a child, Shadow. We’d help whenever you needed it, and you have an army of uncles that would do anything for you or your child.”
“Right. We help with Jade and Wade a lot.” The more she talked the less freaked out I was getting. “How would we do it?”
“I’d find you a surrogate. Given your blood line and who your father is, it would be an immense honor for one of our kind to help in this way.” She let that sink in for a moment before continuing. “For the record, I think you’d make a wonderful father.”
“So do I, Son,” my father agreed. “You’ve got enough love in your heart for a houseful of children.”
Then I voiced my worst fear. “But I’m not gentle. I’m a fighter and violent. What if I hurt the baby? I could drop it or be too rough with it.”
My father’s eyes went wide as he stood and wrapped his arms around me. “Shadow, when you have a child of your own, something inside of you just falls into place. It doesn’t matter how tiny they are. You just know how to love them and protect them. Wade and Jade are still fragile as small children and you’d never let them be hurt in your presence. If this is what you want, you can do this.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, sinking into the hug. “He asked and I panicked, not even being able to respond.”
“Then I think you should get back to your mate and start kissing his feet,” my mother said with a laugh. “That’s not a question one just ducks out of answering without causing serious trouble.”
“Right.” I winced. My poor mate had to put up with a lot when it came to me. I wasn’t very good at this kind of emotional and personal stuff. “Will you look into finding a surrogate for us? Not for tomorrow but maybe for six months down the road?”
“It will be my immense pleasure.” She stood as my father let me go and gave me a quick hug and a kiss. “We’ll see you later this week for dinner and to discuss it.”
“That’s what parents are for, no matter how old you get.” My father chuckled as he touched my arm. I felt his surge of power and then was at the museum. I smiled. I was glad my parents were back in my life. We’d decided to start doing weekly dinners after I realized how much I missed them. They got along with Terry like cake and frosting, so it was easy to be around them without any in-law stress.
I worked my way through the crowd, already having missed the cocktail hour. Everyone was moving to their seats for dinner and that’s where I found my mate. I froze when Terry glanced up and saw him, his eyes getting dark with anger and hurt. Sitting down next to him, he very obviously ignored me and talked to Cadan, who was seated next to him.
From across the table, Horse shot me a look and raised an eyebrow. I told him what had happened telepathically and he got this look of understanding on his face that made me wonder if he and Bren had had a similar discussion. By the time the salad and first course had been served and cleared, I couldn’t take anymore.
“Will you come with me for a moment?” I asked Terry quietly.
“We’ll talk later,” he answered shaking his head.
“Please, my love?” I begged. “You’ve been looking forward to the Ball since you heard about it. I don’t you to be upset or ruin it for you. And I want to dance with the most handsome man here later and not while he’s mad at me.”
“Fine,” Terry grumbled, excusing himself before leaving the table. I trailed along after him until we were far away from the crowd and in one of the Native American exhibits. “What?”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered as I went to lay my hand on his arm.
“For not answering an important question, ditching me before the Ball, or not wanting kids?” He pulled away before I could touch him, and I realized I was in a lot more hot water than I thought.
“All of it except that last part. I do want children. I was just thrown off because I hadn’t thought about it yet. But when I went to go see my mother, she asked me some questions after I calmed down and I realized I wanted nothing more than to have a baby with your hair and eyes one day. I was just scared. Would I be a good parent? Would I hurt our baby because I’m not gentle? What if we had bratty—”
I was suddenly shut up by Terry’s mouth on mine as his arms wrapped around tightly around my waist. We made out for a few moments, keeping it calm and loving, instead of hot and heavy.
“I asked my mother about finding us a surrogate in six months. I thought we should figure out some options.”
“Options are great,” he whispered against my lips, leaning our foreheads together. “You really want kids?”
“Yeah. I’m not sure if I’ll be ready in six months, but I want us to have a child together. I just didn’t know that’s what I wanted, and when I saw how hopeful you looked, I panicked.” I stared into his eyes, hoping my love for him shined through. “Even if I didn’t, I’d do it for you, Terry. I’d do anything for you, my love. No matter what you want, I will give it to you.”
“Naw.” He chuckled lightly as we moved slightly apart. “This isn’t the kind of thing you do unless both parties are into it.”
“So, am I forgiven?” I asked hopefully, wishing more than anything for this night to not be spoiled.
He bit his lower lip in a cute, pondering way for a moment. “Only if I get my present first.”
“You drive a hard bargain.” I snickered, shaking my head. We separated so I could reach into my jacket pocket. “I suck at giving gifts, and I never know what’s the right thing, so that’s why I never do presents.”
He gave me a funny look like he wanted to say something, but I quickly pulled out the box and opened it. “I wanted everyone to know, whether they were in our world or not, that you’re taken. I asked my mother to help me get it commissioned from her finest jeweler.”
Terry reached out and touched the ring reverently, and I didn’t think he was just doing it for my benefit. Or so I hoped. I’d gotten him a white gold Claddagh ring with a pink diamond in the heart, because he said he liked pink sparingly and those were the best kind of diamonds. In the band there were several smaller diamonds of excellent clarity.
“You still don’t get it, do you?” he whispered as he held out his hand for me to put it on. I shook my head and placed the ring on his finger, sighing in relief that it fit. “You’re the perfect gift, Shadow.”
“Huh?” I didn’t see that one coming. Terry smiled gently as he cupped my cheek and pulled me close enough so our bodies were flush against each other.
“To me, your friends, your family, you are the perfect gift. Having you in our lives is the best gift anyone could ever have. You’re loving and loyal and fiercely protective and would do anything in your power for any of us.” He held up his hand with the ring so I could see it. “This is beautiful and I will cherish it always. But it’s just a thing, my love. What it represents is what makes it so special. It represents you and how you feel about me.”
“So you like it?” I asked, my face heating up from his praise.
“Yes, but it’s you I love,” he answered, brushing his lips over mine. “You are the best present I’ve ever gotten, and I will spend all of our days together thankful for the moment you found me.”
He kissed me again and suddenly I understood. Presents were just a symbol. It didn’t matter if it was an ugly sweater or a cool car. It was the thought put into them that mattered to the people we loved. All the presents I’d gotten this year meant more to me now, and just as Terry had said… I had the best gift ever in my arms.