Today we're thrilled to welcome Donna Alward (author of Someone to Love) back to Heroes and Heartbreakers with a very titilating scene that we know will leave you wanting more!
Last month, we asked you to offer suggestions (“prompts”) as inspiration for a short original scene, and you blew us away with a ton of great prompts.
Here are the prompts she chose for (with thanks to everyone who left a suggestion, because there were so many fantastic options):
- Penguins (Jenna Bayley-Burke)
- A bouquet of sunflowers (Kareni)
- Margaritas (ClaireHadleigh)
- An Eccentric Mailman (PhoebeChase)
Now, without further ado... Donna Alward's Somebody Like You Epilogue
Aiden stepped inside the house and nearly tripped over the piles of bags and cans in the entry.
“Honey?” he called out, wondering where Laurel was and why everything had been dropped at the front door. “You okay?”
He followed the voice into the master bedroom. Since getting married last summer, he’d moved his few possessions into the house she’d bought on her return to Darling. There wasn’t a lot of “him” in the décor, but that wasn’t surprising. He hadn’t had much to begin with, and most of it pretty plain and cheap. Bachelor stuff.
The master bedroom, however, had taken on a new look just today. Laurel was standing over a newly-constructed crib, smoothing out a quilt or something over the mattress.
“What the…” His heart seized a little. The baby wasn’t due for a few months yet, but the sight of the crib and a little table beside it made cold fear creep over his skin.
He so wasn’t ready.
“I put it together all by myself.” She braced her hands against her lower back and stretched, a broad grin on her face. “And I pulled out that comforter set your mother bought at Christmas. Isn’t it great?”
“Great,” he echoed.
“And the change table, too. I can’t wait to stock it with little diapers and wipes and those tiny little footed pajamas.”
“Pajamas,” he repeated.
She frowned. “You don’t sound excited.”
He tried a smile. “I’m just surprised, that’s all. I didn’t expect it to be crib day.” In their bedroom. He swallowed tightly. He’d really enjoyed having Laurel to himself. But in a few months, the baby would be here and for the first while Laurel wanted to keep him or her in the bedroom with them. It’d be easier, she said, when it came to two o’clock feedings and stuff. “I thought we’d have lots of time to do this.”
She frowned and stopped fussing with the quilt. “What’s wrong? You’ve been quiet all week.”
“Nothing. Just a lot of changes, that’s all.” I’m not ready for there to be three of us.
“Well, that’s what happens when you have a baby, Aiden.” She laughed a little. “Come on, aren’t you a little excited?”
He had been. He’d been thrilled to hear the news that they were going to start their family. But the closer the date came, the more he realized that his wife’s focus was all on the baby and not really…on him. And that made him feel both resentful and guilty.
“Sure I am,” he assured her. “But the baby isn’t here yet, and I…I miss having you and me time.”
She laughed again. “Oh, Aiden. We’re together all the time.”
“But all you’re thinking about is the baby. Maybe you could think about something else once in a while.”
Her smile faded. “Like the business I’m busy running?” she asked, a little sharply.
“Like your husband,” he replied, also sharp.
Her face flattened. “Are you jealous of your own child?” She said it in such a way that it was a blend of incredulity and accusation.
He knew he should tread carefully, but for the past several weeks it had been nothing but talk of sonograms, prenatal classes, healthy diets, doctor appointments, and decorating. It had caused him more than one moment of panic. Having a kid was a big deal, but it was almost like she’d forgotten all about their relationship.
Ever since the baby had started kicking, it had been like a ticking clock had taken up residence inside his head.
“I’m not jealous,” he insisted, annoyed. “But maybe a little balance wouldn’t be a bad idea. Like some equal time for our relationship without it being all about the baby. We don’t even go out anymore.”
“We just went to family dinner on Sunday,” she insisted, waving a hand. But that just made him angry. He didn’t want to have his feelings dismissed, not when he was finally starting to talk about them.
“We went to family dinner, where you and Willow compared pregnancy stories and Mom fussed over both of you. I’m talking about us, Laurel. I’m talking about our relationship and maybe how it should be somewhere in your top five priorities.”
Her mouth dropped open and her eyes flashed and he knew he’d set her off. Maybe he should just apologize. But he’d been holding his feelings in a long time. And at least arguing was getting them out.
“Priorities? I have a human being growing inside me, Aiden! And you contributed half the DNA. Have you forgotten that? Have you forgotten how long I wanted a child? This is what you said you wanted. And there are no take backs. Do you get that?”
“Of course I get it! And I hope to God I’m more than a DNA contributor!”
“Of course you are.” Her cheeks flushed. “You know what I mean.”
“No,” he said firmly, “I don’t. Because we never talk anymore except about car seats and breastfeeding vs formula and what kind of diapers to buy and what you’re going to do with the garden center after you have the baby. I feel…incidental to the whole process.”
She sighed and shook her head. “That’s ridiculous.”
He looked at her for a moment. She was standing with her hands on her hips now, her lips set in a firm line.
Then he turned and walked out of the bedroom. More words sat on his tongue, words he knew he couldn’t say because he wouldn’t be able to take those back, either.
On his way out the door he caught his shoe on the corner of a plastic bag and started to trip. “Goddammit!” He kicked the bag to the side and a paint tray and roller toppled out as he reached for the door.
Paint. Stencils. Furniture, clothes, seats… Completely overwhelmed, he went outside and slammed the door behind him.
Guilt followed him, too. He suspected he was being a tiny bit ridiculous. But he also wanted to be heard.
And cooling off was a much better idea than arguing in circles.
By nine o’clock, Laurel decided to pack the leftovers into the fridge, and then cleaned up the rest of the supper mess, not that she’d eaten much. Aiden hadn’t come home to eat, and their argument, brief as it was, had made her feel quite sick. She put her hand on the curve of her belly and rubbed, seeking the companionship of her unborn child. Her lip quivered. Was Aiden right? Had she been neglecting him? Only focusing on impending motherhood? She was right to be excited, but maybe she’d forgotten about her marriage a little bit in the lead up to the big day.
By ten she’d stopped sniffling and got angry instead.
By eleven she defiantly brushed her teeth and got into bed.
And though she thought she wouldn’t be able to get to sleep, the work and emotion of the day caught up with her and her eyes drifted closed.
Aiden squinted and held his head in his hands. It pounded with the same rhythm as his heartbeat, pulsing at his temples and right behind his eyes. God. Tequila had not been his best idea. Rory had had some margarita mix in the cupboard, and had mixed the drinks instead of shooting it straight. Aiden couldn’t imagine what sort of shape he’d be in if he’d been more dehydrated.
He shifted his weight and his back protested. The sun glared through his closed eyelids. He ran his tongue over his teeth…gross.
And then he remembered that he’d staggered home last night and found the front door locked and him with no keys. He’d curled his long frame into an S-shape on the porch swing instead, grabbing the blanket from the back of the cushion and pulling it over himself. It was only the beginning of April. He saw his breath when he exhaled and shivered all over. Goddammit.
“Sure is a mighty fine mornin’,” came a cheerful voice from the walk.
Aiden sat up, winced, and squinted so he could see the owner of the voice. “Curly?”
“Yep yep.” The answer was light and happy. “Jes bringin’ by your mail, Officer Gallagher.” The man walked over the patio stones to the steps and handed over a few envelopes. Aiden blinked several times and rolled his neck. Curly Duncan was a bit…odd. The old folks in town said he wasn’t quite right in the head. Younger ones suspected he was somewhere on the autism spectrum. But he’d been delivering mail in Darling for a good fifteen years, and always with a smile. Never stressed and never angry.
Curly paused, putting his weight on one hip, his USPS uniform spotless. “You slep’ on the porch, huh? Maybe you should build yourself a doghouse in the back yard, huh?”
He laughed at his own joke, a raspy sound, and slapped his knee.
Aiden couldn’t help but smile, even though it felt as if a marching band was parading through his head. Curly, laughing, was a sight that could chase away the biggest curmudgeon.
“The missus and I had a fight,” Aiden admitted.
“You and Miss Laurel? Oh my.” Curly’s eyes widened. “But you have that baby comin’, don’t you?”
“Well, nothin’ can be worth fightin’ over, can it?”
Aiden looked down at Curly. He kept an old Gumby keychain hooked to the belt loop of his pants. It’d been there as long as Aiden could remember, with a single key on it. Rain, shine, hell, even Nor’easters that rolled through—Curly always delivered the mail if there was any to be delivered. He saw things simply and honestly.
“No, Curly, you’re right.”
The man beamed. “Well all right, then. You have a good day, Officer Gallagher. I got mail to deliver.”
With a tip of his cap, he was off, his rolling gait taking him over to the next house.
Aiden put the mail on the swing cushion beside him and thought back to the advice he’d been given last night by his little brother. His unmarried little brother. But Rory did have some experience with mothers and children, as he’d dated a single mom in college. And the things he’d said —over many margaritas—had made sense.
It was just after eight. Laurel would be heading to the garden center around ten. That only gave him a bit more than an hour to run an errand and come back and make things right.
Laurel heard Aiden’s voice and peeked out the window. There he was, looking like death warmed over, talking to Curly and clutching the mail in his hand. Had he slept on the porch all night? He must have been so cold.
He could have knocked. She would have let him in.
She got up and washed her face and pulled on a pair of leggings and a maternity top, brushed her teeth and headed to the front door to let him in. But when she got there he was gone again, and her heart sank. She never should have said his feelings were ridiculous. Aiden wasn’t one to lay out his emotions all the time, and she should have listened instead of getting defensive.
Instead she’d focused on the fact that he’d killed her excitement. That he hadn’t shared in it with her.
She made the bed and ate breakfast, even though she wasn’t hungry, because she needed to eat for the baby. Then she left for the garden center earlier than she’d expected. Staying around home for an extra hour wouldn’t help anything, but at least work might distract her a little bit.
George was using the fork lift to unload the morning delivery of lawn fertilizer and garden soil, and a new employee, Tina, manned the store front and dusted stock shelves. Laurel went to work putting together new signage for the new deliveries that would start arriving in the next week or two; mostly trees, shrubs, and perennials. Bedding plants and starter vegetables would arrive after that, and the baskets that would hang from the hooks on the low rafters.
At ten-thirty, Aiden arrived in his truck.
Her stomach did this weird swirly thing, both happy to see him and dreading their conversation. Particularly with her employees about, and a couple of customers inside.
And then her heart did a strange jump, when she noticed that despite his stern face, he was carrying a bouquet of sunflowers and a gift bag in his opposite hand. She bit down on her lip. She’d been angry, and then anxious, but this was still the man she loved. The one she’d probably always loved. And he was walking across her parking lot looking scared to death.
She met him by the gate.
“Hi,” she said softly.
“You’re here early,” he said, his voice tight. “I went by the house and you were gone.”
She nodded, a lump in her throat. “I needed to do something. I was going a little crazy. Why did you leave this morning?”
His gaze locked with hers. “You knew I was home?”
“I saw you talking to Curly.”
He nodded. “I left to do this.” He lifted his hands and his lips curved just a little bit. “Peace offering.”
He held out the flowers, and she took them with a smile. Aiden knew that the standard bouquet of roses wasn’t her favorite. Instead she preferred something wilder and colorful. Sunflowers were perfect. “Thank you, honey.”
His gaze still held. “And this, too.” He held out the bag.
She took it, but with the flowers in her hand she couldn’t peer past the tissue paper. “Come inside,” she said, and she took him past the cash registers and into the tiny cupboard that she used to do the business paperwork. There was barely enough room for the two of them in there, let alone turn around, but she put the flowers down on the little desk and looked into the bag.
“Penguins,” she said, confused but charmed at the three stuffed figures in the bag.
“Penguins,” he answered, his voice soft. “There’s a daddy penguin, and a mama penguin, and a baby. Did you know that the daddy penguins incubate the eggs on their feet while the mamas go for food? And that they keep the baby penguins warm in their feathers right after they’re born?”
“I didn’t know that,” she answered, taking the soft animals out of the bag. She put them on the desk next to the flowers, but held the little fluffy baby in her hand.
“Laurel,” Aiden said, and the wistfulness in his voice drew her gaze to his face. He looked absolutely contrite. “I’m sorry we argued. I panicked, that’s all, and I’ve been feeling this way for a while and didn’t talk to you about it. Finding the crib was kind of the thing that tipped me over the edge, you know?”
“I haven’t meant to neglect you,” she whispered, her heart aching a bit. “You’re right. I’ve been so focused on the pregnancy and the baby coming that I forgot that we’re in this together. That you’re my husband and you’re not just…” She paused. “the DNA contributor. I’m so sorry I said that, Aiden.”
“I know. I talked to Rory last night. I had too much tequila, but he helped me understand about the whole mom thing. Because of Ginelle, you know? And he reminded me of how excited I really am. And that it’s okay to be scared, because having a baby is a big deal. It’s just not okay for us not to talk about it. And…” he paused and rolled his eyes a little, a silly smile touching his lips. “…and share.”
Tears had formed in the corners of her eyes but she laughed, too, at his expression and the idea of his brother being so touchy-feely. “So do you think we can share in this if I promise to remember I have a husband as well as a baby on the way?”
“I think that sounds like a workable plan.” He reached out and took her hand. “I’m sorry we fought. I’m sorry I’m not handling this better. I thought I was so ready, and I really am excited. It’s just so huge, you know? And I got overwhelmed when I saw the crib and change table.”
“I know,” she replied, relief flooding through her. “And I can’t do this without you, Aiden. You keep me grounded. You’re my rock. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
He pulled her close then, and she tipped up her face to kiss him. It was slow and tender and she lingered awhile, enjoying the intimacy. Their bodies pressed together and the baby kicked. Aiden smiled against her lips. “Think he’s getting crowded in there?”
“Or she,” Laurel replied, smiling back. “We’re good?”
“We’re good.” He cupped her face in his hands. “We’re very, very good. And in a very short time, we’re going to be great. As a family.”
Learn more about or order a copy of Someone to Love by Donna Alward, available now:
While bestselling author Donna Alward was busy studying Austen, Eliot and Shakespeare, she was also losing herself in the breathtaking stories created by romance novelists like LaVyrle Spencer, Judith McNaught, and Nora Roberts. Several years after completing her degree she decided to write a romance of her own and it was true love! Five years and ten manuscripts later she sold her first book and launched a new career. While her heartwarming stories of love, hope, and homecoming have been translated into several languages, hit bestseller lists and won awards, her very favorite thing is when she hears from happy readers.
Donna lives on Canada’s east coast with her family which includes a husband, a couple of kids, a senior dog and two crazy cats. When she’s not writing she enjoys reading (of course!), knitting, gardening, cooking…and is a Masterpiece Theater addict. You can visit her on the web at www.DonnaAlward.com and join her mailing list at www.DonnaAlward.com/newsletter.