A thunderstorm scared Danae awake at 4 am, and she woke Darcey.
“Darcey, are you awake?”
“I am now,” she replied, drowsy with sleep. “What’s wrong? “
“Don’t you hear that?” Danae asked. “It’s thundering outside.” She got up and walked to the bedroom door.
“Go back to sleep, Nae. You were dreaming.”
Unconvinced, she crept out of their room and into Charlotte and Travis’ room. “Daddy,” she whispered and tapped him on the shoulder. “I’m scared.”
Travis stirred, his leg outside the covers and only a sheet covered his nakedness. “Danae?” he whispered.
“Daddy, I want to sleep in here. It’s thundering outside.” She was about to uncover him when he grabbed the sheet.
“Sweetie, I’m tired. It’s not thundering.”
She walked to the window and gazed outside at the moonlit yard, the stars reflected off the still, serene pool. “Sorry, Daddy.”
Charlotte heard them and realized she too was only covered by a sheet. “Danae honey, go back to your room and I’ll come tuck you in, okay?”
“Okay,” she said reluctantly and crept quietly back to the twins’ bedroom.
Travis laughed. “That was a close call.”
“Hold that thought,” she replied and tied his robe around her. “I’ll be right back.”
Charlotte walked sleepily to the girls’ room. Danae was in bed, her eyes wide open. “Here you go,” Charlotte spoke softly as she tucked Danae back into her bed. “Try to get a little more sleep, honey.”
“Is Daddy okay, Mama?” Danae asked, fear still in her voice.
“Yes, sweetheart, he’s fine. He’s just tired.” She realized Danae hadn’t seen Travis since she was tucked into bed over 12 hours ago. “He’ll be here in the morning when you wake up, honey. Don’t worry.” She kissed Danae goodnight, slipped from the room and closed the door behind her.
“We either have to get dressed or lock our door at night if we are going to fall asleep after having some fun.” He suggested. “I don’t want to have ‘that talk’ at 4 am.”
Charlotte chuckled and slipped out of Travis’ robe, and he admired her as she stood before him. “Why let this moment go to waste?” she purred. She snuggled back under the covers with him, and let him love her.
Travis knew that Darcey found out about what really happened, and he knew he had to sit with both of the girls and come clean. Luckily, it was Saturday morning, and he had some time before he had to be at practice. So Travis went into the girls’ room when he heard them awake, and he sat on the floor with them on either side.
“Darcey, Danae, I want to talk to you about what happened on Thursday night.” He knew that the tabloids had reported that he had been spotted at the bed and breakfast blackout drunk with a woman who was not Charlotte and hospitalized with alcohol poisoning. None of the tabloids were spreading false information, but explaining to his daughters what had happened was the most difficult thing he ever had to do. “Tell me what you have heard, Darcey, and I’ll answer questions, clarify details, anything you need from me, I’m here.”
“The news on my phone said you almost died, Daddy,” Darcey started, tearful.
“The news was right. I almost did die. If it wasn’t for your Mama, I probably wouldn’t be here right now with you girls.” His heart broke as the words left his lips and he watched the tears his sweet daughters cried. “Aww, come here girls, don’t cry. I’m okay.” He pulled Danae onto his lap, and Darcey snuggled up next to him. “I did some really stupid things the other night, and I’m not proud of any of it.”
“What happened? Mama said you had a disagreement,” Danae asked innocently.
“The truth is, I got angry over something that I was wrong about. I was so positive I was right, but in the end, I wasn’t. I overreacted and made some very bad decisions.” She sniffled as he spoke, and he kissed her forehead. “One of those bad decisions was to get drunk on whiskey. Danae, my Punkin, nothing good ever comes from strong drink.”
Danae continued to question him. “The news said you were with some strange lady. I saw her picture on television. Who was she, Daddy? Do you love her? What were you doing with her?”
His heart sank and he took a deep breath. “Danae, when a grown-up is drunk, their sense of right and wrong goes away. I was not thinking straight, and I made another bad choice.” He stopped short of saying that he had intended to cheat on their mother and he wasn’t even sure they would understand the concept. They were pretty sheltered children up until this incident happened. “We went to the inn to talk and have some fun, but when I got there I realized I had done the wrong thing and I came right home. That was when you saw me, Danae. Mama called an ambulance when she saw how sick I was. And no, honey, I love your mama and no one else.” Her violet eyes held a sadness that shook him to his core.
“Why did you get drunk, Daddy? Don’t you love us?” Darcey asked. She sat up with Danae the night she saw Travis nearly dead on the lawn. They talked until Darcey couldn’t stay awake anymore but Danae cried all night without stopping more than ten minutes. She couldn’t get the image of her father lying in the grass in her mother’s arms out of her head.
“Oh my goodness, I hope you really don’t believe that, Darcey. Of course, I love you, all of you!” Her innocent question and dreadfully sad expression shattered him.
Danae cried hard and Darcey wept. “What happened, Daddy? Why do you want to leave us?” Danae spoke in between sobs.
“Oh, honey,” he replied, tears in his own eyes. “I don’t want to leave you. Never! I messed up, sweetie. It’s a mistake I will never make again. You, and Darcey, and Devin, and your Mama. You all are what I live for. Every day I want to see your smiling faces, and hear your giggles in the house.”
“But why did you do it if you still love us?” Ouch, he thought. These kids are going for the jugular.
“When your mama and I had our disagreement, I was so convinced I was right, I was only thinking about myself. Getting drunk and hurting everyone I love was very selfish, but your Mama reminded me that I have you girls and Devin and her to love me, and how wonderful our lives are as a family. I am still trying to figure it all out, honey. But I will promise you right now that this will never happen again. Ever.” He hugged his daughters close, their sniffles tugged at his heart.
“I love you, Daddy. Please, please stay with us.” Danae’s hot tears soaked his shirt.
“I love you too, Daddy. I don’t want you to go anywhere.” Darcey crawled up on his lap, and suddenly his lap and his heart were full.
“I love you girls more than I can tell you in words. And guess what? Mama and I are going to take you someplace really special for your birthday in a couple of weeks. How would you like that?”
Darcey’s eyes widened and Danae’s tears turned to an instant smile. “Really, Daddy?” asked Danae.
“Yes, really! I want to make your birthday special this year. You girls have been so good and I love you so much.” He was going to take Charlotte’s idea with the rings and do it up like she had described Rog had done with her. But because he knew little about the rings, the promise or the whole family tradition, Charlotte would go with them. Over the past two days, she had some very compelling reasons why she wanted to do this for the girls and he couldn’t think of a reason why they shouldn’t.
“I can’t wait, Daddy,” Danae said and chirped happily.
“Me too!” Darcey jumped around the room, excited.
“Are we good, girls? Do you have anything else to ask me?” Travis covered them in kisses and hugs, and poured all of his love over them.
“I’m good, Daddy,” Danae said, a smile on her face and a kiss on her lips for him as she planted it squarely on his cheek.
“Me too,” Darcey concurred. She ran to him and flung herself toward him. She giggled madly as she tackled him.
Travis knew he had to go shower for work so he excused himself from the girls’ room and went back to his bedroom. Charlotte was there lying in bed, curled up and napping. He walked to her and kissed her cheek lightly. He didn’t want to wake her but he was unable to resist her. She stirred slightly but did not wake. He took his towel from the hanger, went into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.
Rather than dress for practice, he knew he would be fielding questions from the press and Paparazzi so he dressed in his vest and dress pants. He failed to tie his tie several times when Charlotte finally woke up from her nap. “You still can’t tie that thing, can you?” She laughed and walked to him. “Here, like this.”
“You make it look easy,” Travis replied, flustered. “I never had to worry about dress clothes before I moved here. My father never taught me to tie one.” He shrugged his shoulders.
“Mmm, you smell good.” Charlotte moved closer for a hug and wrapped her arms around his waist.
“Yeah, I do, huh?” he teased, and she stuck her tongue out at him.
“And so modest! You’re such a catch,” she flirted. Suddenly, she pulled him to her and kissed him. “That will remind you what you have waiting for you at home tonight, my love.”
“I’m going to need another shower if you don’t stop, honey,” he laughed.
Her smile was pure mischief. “Good.”
Travis approached her and kissed her passionately. “I’ll leave you with that.” He knew his ride would be there any minute. She pulled away and bit her lip.
“I love you, honeybear.”
“I love you more,” he answered.
Charlotte got dressed and went to the girls’ room, where they excitedly swarmed her.
“Mama!” Danae chirped, “Daddy said you and him are taking us out somewhere fancy on our birthday!”
“We are?” she teased. This is the first I’ve heard of this, she thought, but she decided to play along. “Oh, we are!” Darcey giggled, and even though they were almost teenagers, she hugged both of them to her and covered them in kisses, just like she did when they were little. Devin heard the girls’ giggles, ran to their room and jumped into the pile of giggles and squeals.
“Travis, you have to be the world’s biggest idiot,” his boss Neil greeted him on his first day back to work. “What were you thinking, man?”
“Not you too, Neil,” Travis grumbled. “I wasn’t thinking, that’s the problem.”
“Oh, that’s a nice ring,” Neil remarked. Travis wore the brand new golden band on his finger and Neil noticed it. “Did Charlotte give that to you?”
“Of course she did. That was a stupid question.”
“Before or after?” Neil had to know.
“None of your business.” Travis was annoyed with the attention, and he knew it wasn’t over yet.
“So tell me, stud, did you have sex with Kathleen?” Neil continued to pry.
“Who?” Travis had no idea who he was talking about.
“Kathleen. That woman that comes to practice almost every open session and gawks at you. The one you picked up in the bar.”
There were lots of women who fit that description but it was uncanny that Neil knew exactly who she was. “Wait, is that the one who wears those shorty shorts and really revealing shirts?”
“She looked so different out of this element. Apparently, I did, too. She didn’t recognize me at first.” He looked around for her but fortunately, she was not in the stadium. “I can’t believe that was her. But no, I didn’t have sex with her.”
“She’s had the hots for you since you joined the team. But she’s done a round with almost every player on the team. Don’t take her attraction personally. She just wants one thing from you. She’s not here today so I figured she got what she wanted.”
“Yeah well, she’s never going to get it from me.” Travis shook his head. “Ugh. I’m not ready for this presser.”
“Too bad, man. It’s in ten minutes. Figure out what you will say, and be prepared to defend it.” Neil put his hands on his shoulders and looked Travis straight in the eyes. “The truth is the best policy, man. Don’t try to fudge it.”
“Indeed. I just have to hope my children don’t see it.”
Charlotte snuggled up to Travis and ran her fingers through his chest hair. She could feel his heartbeat and she kissed him. “So, what is this I hear about taking the girls somewhere fancy for their birthday?”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.” He reached to brush the hair away from her face, her skin damp with perspiration. “I was thinking it would be a good idea to give them the rings and do it up fancy. They only turn thirteen once.”
“Wait, you want to give them the purity rings?” She couldn’t believe her ears.
“You had a lot of valid, compelling arguments for why we should. But since I don’t know very much about your family’s tradition, I thought maybe you could come and do that part with me.”
Charlotte beamed a happy smile. “Thank you, honeybear. You have no idea how much this means to me.” On the other hand, now she had to sit them down and have “the talk” with them so when the rings came out, they would understand what was expected of them. The sex talk with young teenagers was never fun but she knew her girls were intelligent and were old enough to grasp the concepts.
“I can’t think of a single reason why we shouldn’t do it. When you asked me yesterday if I could imagine our daughters in a hayloft with a boy at 13 years old, I couldn’t. They’re so sweet and innocent. I know what you meant with Amy, by the way, and no, I don’t want them to turn out like that. She and I were going to have a rough road. Young parents, no schooling, no jobs. When I look back, I know everything worked out for the best.” He hugged her close and kissed her.
“That’s all I meant by it. I never meant to imply that Amy was a mistake. I know now she wasn’t.” Charlotte laid her head on his chest and listened to his heartbeat.
“Oh, how I love you, my sweet Charlotte.” He stroked her cheek.
“I love you, honeybear.”
Travis pulled a box from his pocket. “Hey Neil, I need your opinion on this.” The coached walked to him, his hands on his hips.
“Yeah?” He knew this had nothing to do with the ongoing practice. Season was almost done but Travis’ head was in the clouds lately.
“What do you think of this?” He removed an almost 2-carat diamond solitaire ring from the box and slipped it onto his pinky finger.
“If you’re asking me to marry you, the answer is no,” Neil joked.
Travis rolled his eyes. “Very funny.”
“Seriously though, that rock is amazing.”
“I bought it for Charlotte. When we got engaged, I couldn’t afford a nice ring for her. I think I paid a hundred for it at a pawn shop and had it cleaned and polished. She still wears that ring like it’s her most prized possession but I think she deserves something better.”
“Aww, how sweet of you to get her a new husband,” Neil was full of zingers today, all at Travis’ expense.
“Don’t quit your day job, wise guy. Seriously, what do you think?”
“I think you’re going to knock her socks off with that thing.”
“Our anniversary is coming up. Fifteen years. I can’t believe she’s put up with me this long.” He smiled.
“Me neither because you’ve put her through hell. Maybe you haven’t quite hit her limit on tolerance yet. Keep trying, though.” Neil jabbed one last zinger at Travis and started to jog away. “Work out, big guy. We have a game tomorrow. I need your head in the game, not in the clouds!”
“By the way, I need that week off after season is over. I’m taking her on a special trip,” he yelled. Travis put the ring back into its box and tucked it into his pocket, pleased with himself. He joined the rest of the team in the run around the stadium when he caught a glimpse of a blonde-haired woman in short shorts cheering for him. No, he thought. It couldn’t be. When he rounded the home stretch, he looked again and he saw her blow him a kiss. Every fiber in his body told him to stay away but he couldn’t help himself.
“Well well, if it isn’t Mr. Travis ‘I’m-a-horrible-drunk’ Jones,” she sneered as he jogged to where she stood.
“Kathleen, right? That’s your name?” Travis retorted, keeping a good distance from her.
“Yeah, that’s right. You can still call me Amy, or Charlotte. It’s up to you.”
“Well, Kathleen, I want you to know that you will never get what you want from me so stay away from me, stay away from my wife, and my if I catch you near my kids, I will get a restraining order so fast it will make your head swim.”
“Oh Travis, you’re so cute when you’re angry. And you act like you have a choice in this. Silly celebrity athlete,” she taunted him. “I always get what I want.”
“You’re barking up the wrong tree. I suggest you find another one,” he said, jogging away.
Neil blew his whistle and summoned Travis over. “Jones! Front and center!”
“Yeah, Neil,” Travis answered as he jogged in place.
“Why did you do that? You’re supposed to ignore her. She’ll get bored with you and move on if you leave her alone. Now, she sees you as a challenge.”
“I can handle myself, Neil. I’m a grown man.”
“Yeah, we’ve seen how that worked out before.”
“Bite me,” Travis growled and jogged away.
Charlotte and the girls were in the stadium for the last game of the season to watch the home team play their rivals, the Barnacle Bay Dolphins. Danae liked the name of the visiting team better. “Dolphins don’t spit, Daddy,” she told Travis and he laughed. She wasn’t wrong.
During halftime, Charlotte and the girls went to the concession stand to grab a drink when Kathleen approached the family. Charlotte recognized her immediately. “What do you want?”
“Just wanted to say hi, Charlotte,” she said, the smell of beer on her breath. “Are these your daughters?”
“They are. They came to watch their daddy play tonight.” Charlotte gathered them close and held their hands.
“Keep an eye on that handsome man of yours. The next time I won’t let him go,” she said as she turned to go. “Pretty daughters. They look like him.”
Danae saw Charlotte turn red. “Girls, if you see that woman around your school, you let me know immediately. I don’t have a good feeling about her.”
“Is that her, Mama?” Darcey asked.
“Yes, baby girl.” She took their hands. “Forget the drinks. Let’s go back and sit. The game will be starting soon anyway.” She walked past a security guard and pulled him aside. “Excuse me, do you see that woman, blonde hair, fur coat, short dress near Section C?”
“Yes, Dr. Jones, I do.”
“Would you kindly keep her from this section? She is making my girls and me uncomfortable.” Charlotte pulled the twins toward her in protective mama mode.
“Absolutely.” Everyone knew who she was and why she hung around. “I’ll alert others to keep an eye out for her.”
“Thanks, Ed.” Charlotte took the girls and sat back in their seats. Travis was on the field, looking toward them and couldn’t see them until she waved. He spotted her and waved back. “Wave to Daddy, girls!”
After a blistering loss to the Dolphins, their season was over for a few months. Travis had some flexibility in his schedule though he did have to show up for pressers and public relations when it was required of him to do so. He showered up in the locker room and got dressed in his dress uniform, including the tie he could never seem to tie on his own. His duffel bag over his shoulder, he walked to the concession area, where he had planned to meet Charlotte and the twins. The three of them were talking to security, and he got a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Everything okay here?” he asked and slipped his arm around his wife. “Hey girls, did you like the game?”
“I wish you guys would have won, Daddy, but it was fun!” Danae chirped.
“What’s going on with security, Nae?” Travis asked her.
“That woman was here earlier,” she whispered.
“Are you kidding me?” Travis clenched his teeth.
“Nope. She was very rude.”
“She’s more than rude, baby girl,” he told her. “If you see her around school, you tell me, okay? You too, Darcey. If you see that woman near your school, tell me.”
“Mama already told us, Daddy,” Darcey replied.
“Travis, we’re going to work to see if we can’t get Kathleen blacklisted from the Clips Center. Personal safety reasons,” Ed said.
“Thanks, Ed,” he replied. “I owe you one. And thank you for taking care of my ladies!” He kissed Charlotte and hugged the twins to him. “Are we ready to go home?”
Charlotte looked at him with worry in her eyes. “Absolutely.”
They got home and tucked two very worn out little girls into bed. Charlotte hadn’t said much since they met up at the stadium, but he could see the concern in her eyes. “Hey, baby, don’t worry about her honey,” Travis finally said and wrapped his arms around her. “She’s harmless.”
“I don’t know, Travis. She told me the next time she wasn’t going to let you go. I don’t know what to make of that.”
Still locked in their embrace, he kissed her. “She’d better not try. I am not above self-defense, even if the perp is a woman.” A tear rolled down her cheek, and it dripped onto his dress shirt. He lifted her eyes to meet his and wiped her tears away. “Hey, we’re okay honey.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Tracy was finished unpacking her things in the upstairs loft, and returned to the second floor. “Everything is going to be fine, guys. Enjoy your trip!”
“You have our numbers, just in case. The hospital knows you have the girls and Devin so you wouldn’t have a problem getting them treated, just in case.” Charlotte’s mind raced with a million things she wanted to tell Tracy, but she couldn’t form a coherent sentence.
“Relax, Charlotte, the kids love me, I love them. You have all your bases covered, and we have contingency plans. Go, have fun!” Tracy smiled. She walked with the Jones family through some pretty hard times over the past five years. She was finally getting to care for the children under happy circumstances. “You guys deserve this.”
Travis picked up Charlotte’s bag and carried it downstairs. “Did you pack a dead body in this suitcase, honey?” he panted as he reached the bottom step.
“No, you’re just getting older,” she teased. He gave her the stink-eye and laughed. The girls and Devin raced down the steps and stood at the front door and waited for hugs and kisses goodbye.
“Be good for Tracy, girls, and Devin. I don’t want to hear you were naughty while Mama and I were gone,” Travis warned them.
Danae and Darcey both hugged Travis first, and then Charlotte. Devin wept, sad to see them go. “And take care of Devin for us. Make sure you tickle him daily.” Charlotte said and winked. They walked to the car, and Charlotte turned to wave and blow kisses, and Travis waved before he got into the driver’s seat.
“I can’t believe we’re getting away!” Charlotte said, excited. “This is our first vacation together, ever.” The heavy snow prevented their trip to Isla Paradiso on their honeymoon and they never made it.
“We need this time away so badly. Let’s make the most of it.” Travis said and reached for her hand as they drove away from the house toward the airport on the outskirts of Starlight Shores. They were headed to Isla Paradiso at long last for their well overdue honeymoon and had reservations at the most exclusive resort on the Isle.
Travis and Charlotte boarded the airplane first as first-class ticket holders. Their section of the plane had a concierge service, a pilot program on select flights over 3 hours long. Anything they wanted that the airplane had on board was theirs for the asking. Travis ordered two glasses of champagne to be served in flight. Their bench was two seats wide so they had the whole row to themselves. Once the flight was in the air they snuggled together and talked about everything. A few people recognized Travis and asked for autographs but for the most part, people left them alone which they appreciated immensely. He hoped his star didn’t shine as brightly in Isla Paradiso.
“Mr. and Mrs. Jones, welcome to the Grand Tower resort,” the concierge greeted them. “We hope you enjoy your stay! Anything you need, just call my desk and someone will help you within 10 minutes. My name is Rosa,” she said and handed the key cards to Travis. “We have a full-service restaurant on-site for five-star dining and a luxury spa just off the lobby, an 18 hole golf course, two heated pools, and shuttles to almost anywhere you’d like to go.”
“Does Jayna still run that little dress shop downtown?” Charlotte asked, curious.
“She does! You must be a return customer!” Rosa quipped.
“My Mama and I came here fifteen years ago to buy my one of a kind dress. I thought she might like to meet the man I married in it.” Charlotte definitely had that on her list of things to do now.
“Jayna is a close friend, and she would love that! She never gets to meet the grooms, especially when the brides are not local.”
Charlotte looked at Travis excitedly. “Could you make an appointment for us? It doesn’t have to be for a long time, but I know she does appointment only.”
“Who should I put on the reservation?”
“Charlotte and Travis Jones. She won’t know my married name, but I know she will recognize me.”
“Well, she will know that handsome husband of yours. Football is big on the island and Jayna follows the sport avidly.” Rosa made a thirty-minute appointment for the following day with Jayna.
Hand in hand, they walked toward their room. “I brought a brand new bikini with me. Why don’t we go for a swim?” Charlotte suggested.
“Sounds delightful,” he replied. They made their way to the room and found their bags waiting for them. Charlotte took a few minutes to unpack and organize everything and when she turned around, Travis had his best ‘come hither’ look on his face.
“What do you say we begin our vacation on the right foot?” he said and wrapped his arms around her. Tenderly, he kissed her neck.
“You had me at neck kisses,” she said, as nearly melted into the floor, and led him to the bed.