Even though it was spring, the morning air was chilly when Andy awakened. He gently peeled himself from Danae’s grasp and walked to the bathroom. When he was finished, he gazed out the window. He was not surprised to see a light dusting of snow outside.
His watch read 7:32 am. It was still early, and he was really not ready to get up, so he shimmied back under the covers with Danae and snuggled with her. As gentle as he was she still roused from sleep. He kissed her forehead as she opened her eyes.
“Good morning, my precious princess.”
“Mmm, good morning, my handsome king.” She nestled her face into his chest and yawned. “What are you doing awake so early, my love?”
“Well, I had to pee. And then I looked outside at the weather. It’s cold. There’s snow on the ground.” He moved closer to her, not wanting the night to end.
“It’s a good thing I put a couple of hoodies in the garment bag. The car will be heated, and so will the inn be heated. We’ll be good.”
“I’m used to cold. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more snow on the ground as we drive north. The seasons are screwy up here.”
“I can’t wait to see your hometown, Andy. I’m excited.” She kissed his chin and neck. “What do you say we begin the day on the right foot?”
Andy grinned. “Now you’re talking.”
A couple of hours later they were showered, dressed and packed up, ready to pick up their rental car. “What would you like for breakfast, my sweet?” Andy asked her. “There are a few nice little places between here and there to stop if you’re hungry.”
“You choose, babe. This is your territory. I trust you.”
“I can promise you there is nothing close to what we dined on last night. Most places are family-owned, a lot like your old favorite place in the Shores. No rules, no fancy stuff. Just good food and good service.” Andy smiled sweetly at her. He felt at home here with her.
“Anything at all you’d like is fine with me. It might feel good to get back to humble roots for a weekend.”
The car was much less fancy than what Andy was used to driving, but it was a nice car nonetheless. By the time they hit the road on their way north, the morning air had warmed, and Danae opened her window, enjoying the fresh country air.
Andy recognized a diner his father told him about on his commutes back and forth, so they stopped for breakfast. The atmosphere was very retro, with red stools, red metal counters, and white laminate tables. It was charming and inviting, and Danae felt comfortable with Andy by her side.
They sat and enjoyed breakfast and their morning coffee together. “Is everything good here?” the waitress, named Nelly, asked. “More coffee?”
Andy declined. “Everything has been fantastic, thank you. Baby, would you like a coffee for the road?”
Danae thought a moment. “I think I would, yes.” The waitress nodded and returned with a cup and plastic lid, filled it and smiled. “Thank you,” Danae said as she prepared it.
“My pleasure,” Nelly replied. She pointed at Andy. “You look like you’re from around these parts. But this lovely young lady is certainly not. Where are you from, sweetheart?”
“I was born in Starlight Shores, but my daddy was from Dragon Valley. I guess that makes me half native.”
“How about you?” she asked Andy. “I know you must be from Dragon Valley. It’s written all over you.”
Andy nodded. “My family goes back at least ten generations up here. My dad used to come through here on his way back and forth to work. Maybe he sat at this very table when he stopped here.”
“Who’s your dad, honey? I’ve been working here for a long time. I could have known him.”
“Emmitt Murph—” Andy began.
“Oh, Emmitt! What a sweetheart! He was your father?”
“Yes,” he smiled.
“How’s he doing?”
“He’s been gone almost five years now. He and Travis both died way too young.”
A weird look crossed Nelly’s face. “Travis. Jones? The big soccer star?”
Danae nodded. “He was my father.”
Suddenly, the waitress was starstruck. “Are you Danae or Darcey? The whole area followed his career up here. He’s quite a big deal even now.”
“I’m Danae. My sister is back home in Isla Paradiso with her family. We all moved there a few years ago.”
“Murphy… You’re the manager of the Sharks!” She pointed at Andy, finally putting everything together, and clapped her hands with glee. “Holy cow, we have a huge celebrity couple sitting here!” Nelly couldn’t handle any more excitement. “Do you mind if I get a picture of you two? My husband will be so jealous that I met you!”
Andy was used to being fussed over, but the experience was still new for Danae. She blushed wildly at the attention. But they posed for a photograph with her and were pleasantly surprised when she paid for their breakfast.
“You don’t need to do this,” Andy insisted. “Please, let me take care of our check.”
“It is my honor! It isn’t every day we get a huge celebrity like you here. This one’s on me.” No amount of convincing would sway her.
“Well, in that case, thank you.” Andy left a huge tip, which more than covered breakfast and their usual twenty percent. “What do you say, Miss Danae?”
“I’ve got my coffee, let’s hit the road. It was a pleasure to meet you,” she called to Nelly.
“The pleasure was all mine,” she swooned. “Have a safe trip! Welcome home.”
They walked to the car, and Andy was beaming. “That was truly fun. I didn’t realize I would be recognized so far away from home. It feels good.”
“You are a big deal everywhere, babe. You shouldn’t be so surprised.” She leaned left and kissed his cheek.
The drive through the valley was scenic, and with spring approaching everything was in bloom. Rolling hillsides were dotted with wildflowers, trees covered in buds and the two-lane road cut through some of the most beautiful parts of the valley. Andy forgot how pretty it was here.
As they approached Dragon Valley, signs stood along the highway welcoming visitors to the hometown of Travis Jones and Andy Murphy. This revelation surprised him.
“Wow.” Andy shook his head. “I feel honored to share a billboard with your dad, honey. I don’t deserve the legendary status he has achieved.”
“You do too deserve it,” she countered. “Look at what you have accomplished.” He looked at her, amazed. “I meant to ask you, could you show me where he used to live?” She asked. “The school, and maybe where the old barn stood, too? I want to connect with him here like I never have before.”
“Of course, baby. I’ll show you everything.”
The air was colder as they drove into the village, and Andy’s guess that there still would be snow on the ground was correct. He found his way through the familiar streets and dirt roads until they arrived at the bed and breakfast. Though it was early, he figured they could check-in and relax for an hour or so. Andy really needed to stretch his sore knee.
The inn was cute and rustic, decorated with retro tones of gold and rust orange. Mismatched furniture and soft, plush throws made the small home feel warm and welcoming. The host was at the front desk when Andy and Danae opened the door.
“Welcome!” she beamed. “You must be the Murphys.” She looked at her reservation book. They were the only guests she expected that morning.
“We are,” Andy affirmed. “I’m Andy, this is my wife, Danae.”
“Welcome to Dragon Valley! My name is Yvette.”
“How long have you been opened here? I don’t remember this when I left years ago.”
“This inn was my childhood dream. We opened it three years ago. But we don’t get many visitors through here. Are you the Andy Murphy whose name is on the billboards outside the village?”
“I am. Danae’s father was Travis Jones. This is her first time in the Valley.”
“Oh, well this will be a nice getaway for you, honey,” she said to Danae. “I have your room ready for you if you’d like to rest a bit. I know the airport is a two-hour drive. Welcome home, Mr. Murphy.”
“Thank you,” Andy nodded. She gave them the key and the meal schedule for the day, and they went to the car to grab their bags.
When they got to the room, Danae was shivering. “It’s colder than I thought it would be up here,” she said. “I might have misjudged it.”
“Don’t worry, sweetie, I’ll keep you warm,” he winked.
The room had a comfy queen bed, a small desk covered with a coordinating tablecloth, a shared bathroom and a hot tub at floor level. The heat from the hot tub kept the ambient room temperature warm, and Danae settled onto the bed next to Andy to stretch out.
“What would you like to do today, my sweet?” He asked. “I was thinking of going to see Mom and giving you a tour of the village. Your dad’s house is on the other side of the river, and I don’t think anyone has lived in it since your grandmother passed away in it. Maybe we could see the inside of it.”
Danae smiled, but she wasn’t sure about seeing the inside. Travis had always described his bedroom as if it was a dungeon, with no furniture and cold, wooden floors. “If we can, I’d like it. If not, it’s okay, too.”
“It might be run down. The village doesn’t have a historical society, believe it or not. That house would qualify if such a thing existed. His star burned very brightly here for a long time.”
Danae shook her head in disbelief. Travis had been gone for years, but his name was still big in his hometown. He would be so impressed.
They got into the car and Andy drove to the Drake School for Life and Learning, Travis’ alma mater. Classes were in session so they couldn’t get close, but seeing where her father had gone to school was fascinating to her.
The way back toward the house winded through the flat, rich farmlands of western Dragon Valley. The scenery was so much different than any place she had ever been, and she finally understood why Andy loved it here.
He turned left onto Jones Road and Danae saw the small, wooded park next to the house. From Travis’ descriptions, she recognized it immediately. Andy parked the car along the quiet road and they got out. Cautiously, she stepped foot onto the soft grass and took a breath. A family she never knew lived in this house.
Andy walked to the property line confidently. “No one lives here even now,” he said. “The front garden is overgrown terribly. Look, Nae, in this window.”
She climbed up onto the front porch and peered through the front window. The furniture still sat inside, dusty and covered in cobwebs.
“It looks like the haunted house at the fall festival,” she said.
They walked to another front room and peeked inside. It must have been a bedroom, for it only had a dresser and a couple of pillows on the floor.
“Check this out, Nae. Pillows. Do you think this was your dad’s room?”
From how she remembered his description, it had to be his. “I think it’s possible, yes.” Seeing the house, his bedroom got her emotional. Andy heard her sniffling and hugged her.
“Let’s see if the door is open,” he suggested. He strode up to the front door and knocked. Carefully he reached for the doorknob and it turned, the door gave way and it creaked open.
“Oh, Andy, I don’t know,” she said timidly. “What if there’s something living in here?”
“If anything, it would only be a rat or a squirrel. Nothing that will hurt you, my sweet.” He took a step inside the door, and a musty, rotting odor stung his nose. “Be prepared, it smells dusty and old in here.”
Danae followed him cautiously as they made their way around the house. The furnishings were exactly as they had been when Elizabeth Jones met the Reaper years ago. Everything had a thick layer of dust and cobwebs filled every corner. “This way,” Andy called to her as he walked toward the bedroom they had seen outside. “This is it, Nae.”
They walked into the room together. Inside was a dresser, tilted and shoved up against a wall, and pillows sat on the floor. Danae shivered as she stood there, imagining what her father endured at the hands of his own mother. “This place is giving me the creeps, Andy. I’m sensing an evil spirit here.”
He looked around. “This is certainly not a comfortable place. I feel it, too. Let’s get out of here.” Andy took her hand and led her out the front door. They hurried to the car and got in, locked the door and sat for a moment.
“That was everything I expected it to be. My poor father,” she said, choking back tears. “How could he have lived like that?”
“He was much stronger than either of us knew, honey.” He shuddered as they drove away toward the cemetery.
Andy parked the car and they got out. He took her hand and led her to the spot where Tessa Murphy was laid to rest, carrying a bouquet of roses and a vase of sunflowers. He stopped about ten feet away from her headstone and tears filled his eyes. As he walked to the gravesite, Danae took his arm.
“Hi Mom,” he spoke to her gravestone and placed the sunflowers next to it. “I’m sorry it’s been a while since I’ve been here, but I brought Danae.” He knelt down by the stone and wept. “Oh, how I miss you and Dad.” Danae knelt down beside him.
She didn’t know what to say, but seeing him cry tore her up inside.
Andy sighed as he ran his fingers through the grass. “Mom, this is Danae,” he said, reaching for her hand. “You would have loved her, Mom. She has given you three beautiful grandchildren, a girl and two boys. We named our youngest son after Dad. I was hoping we’d have a fourth, another girl so we could give her your name.”
Danae cried openly. She never knew he wanted another baby, and it killed her she couldn’t give him one. “I’m so sorry, Andy,” she wept. “If I could, I’d give you another girl in a heartbeat.”
“The three we have are always more than enough, my precious, as are you. Sometimes, though, I wish life had dealt us a better hand.”
She nodded and leaned forward to kiss his head. “I’m thankful that I’m enough for you without all the stuff. I’m happy we had our kids young, but I wish your mom was here to enjoy them. She never knew…” Danae sniffled as tears rolled down her face.
Andy sat up and comforted her. “Oh, honey, she knows. We’ll see them again someday. You can tell her all about her grandchildren when you finally meet her, my love.”
The afternoon sun was quickly fading, and a chill returned to the air. Andy felt Danae begin to shiver. “Are you ready to go back, baby?”
“I think so. I’m emotionally worn out.” He helped her to stand, and together they walked back to the car.
They returned to the inn with time to spare for dinner, but they opted out. She was still shivering when Andy opened their room door, and they were greeted by a warm, cozy hot tub. “Oh, I love this idea,” Andy said quietly. “Would you like to soak with me for a while, honey?”
“I’d love to. I didn’t bring my bathing suit, though.”
“Who needs a bathing suit?” Andy stripped down to his skin and turned the jets on in the spa. He stuck one foot in, and then the other and sat down on the seat. “This is amazing.”
Danae followed suit, stripping down naked and settling into the hot tub with him. He opened his arms and she snuggled into his embrace.
“We really need to use our hot tub at home a lot more than we do,” she said, the warm jets of water felt good on her sore body. All the traveling and walking left her feeling stiff. This was just what the doctor ordered.
“I will agree with that, my precious.” He kissed her passionately. “I need you,” he whispered into her ear. “Do you need me, baby?”
“I will always need you.” They got out of the tub and he lifted her off her feet and placed her on the bed.
Danae woke early with Andy beside her. The room was chilly despite the hot tub’s warmth and though she needed to pee she had no desire to move. It can wait, she thought as Andy tightened his grasp on her. After their emotional visit to the house and cemetery the day before, today she wanted to rest and relax.
Another hour passed and she was still awake and grew increasingly restless. But Andy was sleeping peacefully. Little by little she wiggled from him and freed herself, hoping she did not wake him.
As usual, her absence in the bed awakened him, and he looked around the room for her.
“Nae?” he called to her, “are you there baby?”
“Yeah, I’m in the bathroom,” she replied. “I wasn’t even gone that long,” she chuckled. “You are too attached to me.”
“I can’t help it,” he cooed. “I just love you so much.”
Danae smiled and walked from the bathroom. “How much exactly?”
Andy belly laughed. “You’re worse than me, Nae.”
“So is that a yes?” she asked.
“Oh baby, of course, it’s a yes.”
A couple of hours later and after a warm shower, they were dressed and ready for the day.
“What would you like for breakfast, my love?” she asked as he dried his hair. Andy was taking her to the Renaissance Faire that morning. It was one of his favorite festivities, similar to the Spring Festival at Starlight Shores. He hadn’t been since he was a teenager and he looked forward to it.
“There are some really great food vendors at the festival. The stuff sounds medieval but it’s all just regular food like you would find at El Sabor De La Isla.”
Danae nodded. “That sounds so good.”
“Would you care to walk there or should we drive?”
“Why don’t we walk if your knee is okay. It’s a beautiful, sunny day, nice and cool.”
Hand in hand, they walked from the inn toward the fair. Their slow, comfortable pace was perfect for taking in the morning sounds and sights. Andy stopped and picked a wildflower from a field close to the road and gave it to her. She smiled and kissed his cheek.
“It is so amazing to be here, to see the valley through your eyes and understand why you loved it.”
He watched her as she spoke, animated and expressive, and he remembered why he was so attracted to her. Andy felt himself falling in love with her all over again. Danae truly was the love of his life.
Danae saw him deep in thought. “What are you thinking, babe?”
“Just how much I love you, precious.” A new pet name. Of all the ones he had for her, this new one was close to her favorite
“I love you, babe, and I love your new pet name for me.”
“It suits you so well because you are my beloved, Danae.” She grinned. Andy took in a deep breath. “I smell greasy fair food! Oh, this brings back so many memories.”
Hand in hand they walked to the festival entrance. Employees inside were in costume, dressed for the time period. Danae was enthralled by the atmosphere, she had never been anywhere like it before. Everyone in attendance was having a good time, and it was obvious Andy was, too.
They stopped at a booth to grab a cup of coffee and a breakfast hand pie, similar to what they called Empanadas on the Isle. This particular one was stuffed with scrambled eggs, bacon, and cheese and pan-fried in a crispy dough.
“This is delicious!” Danae exclaimed.
“I have to agree with you, my sweet.” Maybe it was the fresh air, or maybe it was the company he kept but to him, everything that morning was exceptional.
Danae wandered toward a vendor that sold handmade dolls. Her first thought was to buy one for Elyse. The detail was intricate and each doll was unique, but the price they wanted for one was outrageous, considering she couldn’t even play with it. Andy shook his head and took her hand.
“We will find the perfect thing for the kids, my precious, but if we don’t, I’ll come back and get one of those dolls for her myself. Deal?”
“Yeah,” she agreed. The doll was indeed beautiful, but she still wasn’t sure about it.
Andy was drawn to an archery exhibition. “I used to do archery. It was a class at my private school.” He picked up a bow and handed one to Danae.
“Were you good at it, babe? I bet you were,” she smiled at him. “You’re good at almost everything.”
Andy snorted. “There are some things I’m not so good at, you know.”
“Name one,” Danae said. “I’ve never seen you fail at anything.”
“No comment,” he said, a little embarrassed.
“You’re phenomenal at that, babe,” she teased.
“That wasn’t what I was thinking,” he replied. “I’d rather drop it.”
“If that is what you truly want, then consider it dropped.”
He hugged her close. “Thank you, sweetie.”
They walked back from the festival before the sun started to drop over the horizon. Hand in hand they strolled as the sounds and smells of the fair faded into the background. Andy kicked a pebble down the dirt road as they walked.
“It’s still early, babe. Did you want to do something else tonight?” Danae asked.
“Well, that dance club is right across the street from the inn. We could go there, dance awhile and get silly. Or there’s that hot tub in our room. We could just sit in the tub until we’re wrinkled and pruned and make love all night.”
She had to think long and hard about it. On the one hand, she missed dancing with him, and there was no club back home on the island. On the other hand, it was a difficult proposition to decline. “Or,” she countered. “We could go dancing for a while and get silly, then come back here, soak in the tub and make love for the rest of the night.”
“You should have been a lawyer, honey. Your counter offers are always the best ones.”
“Wait until you see the outfit I brought with me. You’ve never seen it on me before. It will knock your socks off,” she beamed.
“Uh oh,” he teased. “I might need a cold shower now.”
“Nah,” she said. “Besides, it will give you something to look forward to.” She wore a mischievous smile. He loved that look.
“So dancing, hot tub and you? In that order?” He laughed.
“In that order.” She retrieved an outfit from the garment bag, still in the package from the store with tags on it. “I’ll be right back,” she announced and went into the bathroom to change.
Andy dug into the garment bag and found a nicer button-down shirt, a tan vest, and his favorite pair of tan slacks, some dress shoes and the musk cologne she loved so much. He trimmed his stubble back down to five o’clock shadow length, got dressed and stepped back, admiring his reflection. Hot dog, Andy, you clean up good, he thought to himself. You are getting lucky tonight.
The bathroom door opened and Danae walked out, her hair braided and she was dressed in black. Her top was a cropped tank with rhinestones encrusted on it in a cute design. But the pièce de résistance was her mini skirt. It wrapped around her waist and hips and fit snugly. The skirt split halfway around and the fabric joined with buckles at her hip. His jaw dropped open when he saw it. It was the sexiest thing she owned, and he swallowed hard.
“My goodness, Danae, you are smokin’ hot.”
“Save the gawking for later, babe,” she snorted. “Are you ready?”
“Are you sure that order stands, my precious? You will drive me out of my mind in that skirt.”
She bit her lip and nodded. “Yes, the order stands. You will make it, I promise.” She brushed his cheek with her lips as she stood on her toes to whisper. “Just think of how good it will be later on, my love.” He coughed and squirmed uncomfortably.
Together, they walked across the street to the club right after opening. The place was dead, but the music had a good beat to it. Instinctively, Danae moved her body to the music. Oh, it feels so good to dance again, she thought to herself. And she caught Andy watching her.
“Are you going to join me, or just watch all night?” she teased.
“Oh, I’m going to dance with you, baby. I’m just enjoying the view.”
They danced until almost seven when Danae realized she was hungry. “Why don’t you get us some wings or something from the bar, babe? I’m a little peckish.”
“Your wish is my desire,” he kissed her cheek before he left her on the dance floor. She’d stay out until he came back.
A man with long, black hair had been watching her from the corner of the room. As soon as Andy walked away from her, he approached.
“I’ve been watching you,” he said. “You’re not from around here are you, vanilla pudding?”
Suddenly, Danae was self-conscious. She was the lightest skinned person in the whole club, and she stuck out like a throbbing, sore thumb.
“No, I’m not.” She blushed, uncomfortable.
He held his hand to her to shake, and she offered hers to him. But instead of shaking her hand, he kissed it. “What’s your name, gorgeous?” he asked her.
She looked around for Andy, but he was not at the bar. Danae figured he’d gone to the restroom, but she wished he was nearby. “Danae,” she finally squeaked out. “My name is Danae.”
“That’s an uncommon name even in these parts, and you can find some pretty odd names here in the Valley. My name is—”
“Liam!” Andy shouted at him. He wasn’t sure how he felt about seeing Li again, but he thought he’d play it cool. “I see you’ve met my wife.”
“I thought that was you, Murphy. So, this one’s with you, eh?” Liam nodded his head. “I should have known she was yours. You always attracted the most beautiful babes. How have you been?”
“Spectacular,” he replied with little enthusiasm. “How’s life up here in the great white north?”
“The same as always, Murph. Boring, cold and lonely.” Liam gestured toward Danae and licked his lips. “I haven’t seen a filly like this one since Kaitlyn.”
“Well, this one is definitely MY filly, so keep your hooves off her.” He knew Liam’s game. He was once the recipient of Li’s brand of destruction. Luckily for Andy, Danae was not a flight risk. She wanted him and him alone.
“Kait moved away from the valley a few years ago, if you’re looking for her. She married some guy from that island and landed a sweet job.” Liam looked halfway disappointed. “I always thought I’d get her to marry me, but she stuck to the schtick about not being the marrying kind. I guess the husband is loaded. Money talks, and BS walks, so they say.”
Andy growled to himself. First Kaitlyn and now Liam. “Yeah, we ran into Kaitlyn a few days ago. That reunion wasn’t friendly.” Liam was still ogling Danae, and it made her uncomfortable. Andy felt her grip his arm as she stepped behind him, needing his protection.
“So, tell me more about your wife. Where did you meet her? How long have you been married? Are you willing to part with her for an evening of fun?” Liam asked, half-joking. I’d love to hit that, he thought, because damn, she is hot.
Immediately, Andy was on the offensive. “What is wrong with you? No, you’re not even going to talk to her, let alone touch her. She is mine and mine only. You don’t get the courtesy of my other answers. Come on, Danae,” he said as he took her hand and led her away from Liam.
“Come on, Murphy, don’t be like that. I was joking!” Liam insisted as he chased them.
“And I’m not joking. You’ve already stolen one love away from me. You will NOT take my Danae. Do you understand me?” Andy got in Liam’s face and shoved him.
“What’s your problem, Murphy? You afraid I’ll take her, too?”
“I’m not afraid of any such thing. Walk away, Liam, and I won’t beat you into a pulp.”
“You don’t have the guts, you cowardly wretch,” Liam spat.
“You made an unwise choice,” Andy growled as he picked Liam up by the collar and slammed him against the wall. “You will NOT take Danae from me.”
“You don’t know that,” Liam goaded him, gasping for breath.
Again, Andy shoved Liam, knocking him to the ground. “Get out before I hurt you,” Andy warned him.
Liam rested on all fours, trying to catch his breath. “I concede. You’re a lot bigger than I am. But you’re not as crafty.” Liam’s elbow caught Andy in the groin and put him on the floor. Liam got to his feet and grabbed Danae on the way by and kissed her forcefully. His grip was iron and it was painful.
“Ouch!” Danae yelled as he pulled away from her. She took a swipe at Liam, but he was quick on his feet and dodged her attack. Andy still laid on the floor writhing in agony.
“Enjoy yourself tonight, loverboy,” Liam laughed at him before he ran from the dance club.
“Babe!” she squealed. “Are you okay?”
“I will be in a minute. That dirty bastard had to hit me where it hurts, twice. Baby, did he hurt you?”
She shook her head. “He had me by the arms, and it hurt, but it’s nothing. Let’s get back to the room. I’m sorry you got hurt. This is my fault.”
He stood on shaky legs. “No, it isn’t either. He is the one who pushed it. I gave him ample opportunity to back away from me. I meant it, Danae, when I said I would protect you with my life. He was not taking you from me, not while I live. I’m glad you tried to fight back, my sweet.”
“Do you think he would have tried? He seems pretty weak compared to you.”
“He would have done more than try. If he thought he could have grabbed you and gotten away from me while I was on the ground, you’d be long gone. And I would have turned this village upside down searching for you.”
Danae’s face went pale. “Gone? You don’t mean—”
“I do, honey. He wouldn’t have thought twice about it, either. He’s a predator and has been since I’ve known him. That is how he got Kait away from me, though she was no prize. If he hurts you, I will kill him with my bare hands. Nothing happens to you on my watch, and I mean nothing.” He saw the fear in her eyes and knew he had to tamp it down a bit. “So, do you still find my protective side sexy?” He had hoped to get a laugh, maybe even a smile. But she only cried.
“I don’t feel safe here anymore,” she wept. “Please, take me back to the inn.”
He took her arm and held her to him tightly. The walk was short, but it was dark. However, they did not run into Liam again. Andy locked the door to the inn with his key and they retired upstairs to their bedroom.
Danae was shaking when she sat on the bed. “Oh baby, you are okay. I promise.” He took her hands and stood her up. He wrapped his arms around her tightly and held her close to him. “Shh, I’ve got you.”
She cried in his arms, and he just held her. “I’m done for the night, babe. Just hold me until I fall asleep?”
“Of course I will, honey. You don’t even have to ask.” They undressed and got into bed together, and he clung to her as she cried herself to sleep.
Danae was restless the entire night, hardly sleeping at all despite Andy’s strong and protective arms around her. The incident replayed over and over in her head with Andy’s warning about Liam. He’s a predator and has been since I’ve known him. In an instant, she could have been gone, separated from him, maybe never to be found. The thought of it shook her to the core.
She considered trying to arrange their return trip earlier than the scheduled six o’clock flight. She fidgeted, getting uncomfortable from lying down, but she didn’t want to wake Andy. Maybe I’ll just sit in the chair by the window and look outside for a while, she thought. Snow flurries were coming down lightly, and she desperately hoped the weather would not delay them leaving Dragon Valley.
She sat in the chair, hugging her knees to her chest, fighting to stay awake when Andy stirred and reached for her. The cold spot in the bed alarmed him, and he panicked.
“Nae?” he called to her, barely awake.
“I’m here,” she answered softly, her voice cracked with tiredness.
He sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes. “What are you doing out of bed, honey? We don’t have to be up for a long time yet.”
She continued her stare out of the window. “Couldn’t sleep.”
Andy looked at his watch. It was almost 5:00 am. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“There isn’t much to talk about,” she whispered almost too softly for him to hear her.
“Did I do something wrong?”
She shook her head. “No, babe. It’s not you.”
Liam. Andy pushed the covers off and stood. He walked to where she sat and picked her up, turned around and placed her on the bed with him. “You are safe here with me, Danae. He will not hurt you.”
“It’s snowing outside,” she said. “Do you think we should leave early?”
“Maybe,” he replied. “Did you hear me, Nae? He won’t hurt you.”
She nodded. “I’m tired.”
“Close your eyes and sleep, and I will protect you. You never need to feel afraid when I’m here with you, my sweet.” He kissed her shoulder and held her tightly. “I’m never letting you go.”
“I trust you,” she said as she dozed off in his arms.
They both awakened a few hours later, and while Danae was still sleepy, Andy was rested and ready to drive. The snow had stopped and was already melted.
“I’m going to shower,” she announced. “Maybe I’ll wake up a bit.”
“Good idea,” he agreed. While she was in the shower, his phone rang. It was Kirby.
“Andy, I’m glad I caught you before your flight home,” Kirby said happily. “I have some news that should please you.”
“You have my attention,” Andy laughed. “I’m all about being happy.”
“We held a board meeting last night concerning Kaitlyn’s continued employment with the Academy. By unanimous vote, she is gone. Danae’s recording helped the board tremendously. Please tell her thank you for me?”
“I think Danae will be the one thanking you. This is a huge worry off our shoulders. We are so grateful to you and Rae.”
“It was no problem. How did the airplane trip go? Does she fly smoothly?”
“Oh Kirby, it’s like a dream. It’s a beautiful craft. Someday, maybe I’ll look into one for ourselves.”
Kirby laughed. “If you can afford that thing, I’m paying you way too much.” Andy belly laughed. “You know I’m joking, right Andy? Anyway, I’m happy you got back home this weekend. Did you do everything you wanted?”
“Yes, it was an extremely emotional but much-needed trip. But it’s darn cold up here. I’m looking forward to swimming tomorrow night with my kids.”
“Well, have a safe trip home, and rest well on the flight. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Thanks, Kirby. I’ll see you soon. And thank Rae for us, too. We owe you one.”
“Will do.” They hung up the phone as Danae was walking out of the bathroom, her hair wrapped in a towel.
“Who was that?” she asked.
“That, baby, was Kirby bearing some awesome news. Kaitlyn is no longer the principal of the school. Your recording did that. Kirby said it was a unanimous vote.”
Danae smiled. “There’s the news I was looking for. I’m so relieved.”
Andy walked to her and embraced her. “Seeing you happy makes me happy.” He kissed her tenderly. “Do you feel better after a shower, love?”
She nodded. “I’m ready to get out of here, though. I’m still a little spooked from last night.”
“I’ll wait until morning to shower. I will need it to wake up in the morning before work.” He helped her gather their clothes and pack the bags to bring to the car. Danae did one last look around and found an odd-looking rock Andy had picked up at the cemetery.
“Are you bringing this home with us, Andy?” she asked with it in her hand. It wasn’t terribly heavy, so it wouldn’t cause a problem onboard the flight.
“Yeah, I found it near Mom’s grave. It looks like a fossilized dragon egg. I used to have quite a collection of them back in the day. They are all over the valley, even though dragons have been extinct up here for generations.”
“Dragon egg? You’re sure it’s a fossil?” Danae put the rock back down on the table as though it was toxic.
“If it was going to hatch, it would have by now, Nae. It’s dead. I had dozens of them when I was a kid, and they’re safe. I thought Eamon would like it.”
“I have to admit, it’s a pretty cool thing. I think he would love it.” She wrapped it carefully and placed it into the overnight bag. “Is there anything else to go in here?”
Andy looked around the room. “I think we’re good, baby.” He gathered both bags and put them in the trunk of the car. “Let’s check out and get on the road.”
The drive to the airport was uneventful, and they spent most of their time talking about their weekend. They dropped the car off at the rental area and Andy dug their credentials out to access the commuter terminal. A security guard escorted them to the airplane, which had been sitting there since it landed early Friday morning. Victor and the pilot were already on board, preparing for the flight. Kirby had ordered the catering for their return trip, allowing them plenty of time to enjoy a meal and rest.
It was nearly four o’clock when they approached the aircraft, and Victor was waiting in the cabin for them. Happily, he welcomed them back.
“How was your stay?” Victor asked.
“Relaxing,” Andy replied. “It was a much-needed trip home. Danae got to see where her father was born, lived, and went to school and we visited my mother’s grave. Very emotional.”
Victor nodded. “Get settled in, you may rest in the sleeping quarters if you’d prefer. We have an hour or so to wait before we can depart. We weren’t expecting you quite so early. But dinner will be served once we are in the air. I’m waiting on catering to deliver it.”
“Thank you. Maybe we will go lay down a bit. Danae is tired.” He took her hand and led her back to the sleeping quarters. “Here, baby. Rest a while, and I’ll lay down with you.” They snuggled together on the bed, and Danae drifted to sleep easily.
The plane was thirty minutes away from the airport in Isla Paradiso and Andy was still asleep. Danae had been awake and sitting in the cabin for an hour, and she was surprised he hadn’t awakened. But she walked back to the room and touched his shoulder gently. His eyes opened, and he smiled.
“Hey precious,” he said. “Are we home?”
“About half an hour,” she replied. “You should get up and join me. I’ve been awake for about an hour.”
“How did I not wake up?”
“Beats me. You must have needed the rest. I’ll sleep when we’re home. Trixie can hopefully cover me tomorrow.”
Andy yawned. “I bet she can.” He stood up and together they walked back to the cabin, sat down and watched out the windows of the jet. Home was on the horizon, and it would be good to get back. He took her hand and looked into her eyes. “Nae, thank you for this weekend. I had a great time. I love you, my precious.”
“I’m happy you did. You deserved a weekend away. I love you, babe.”
They sat hand in hand as the plane touched down in Isla Paradiso, still pitch dark outside early on Monday morning. The limo met them at the hangar where it dropped them off and brought them home safely. Trixie and the kids were asleep when they turned the key in the front door. It was 4:30 am.
“I’m going to check on the kids, babe, and I’m coming to bed. Are you going to sleep a little?”
“I am,” Andy said. “I don’t have to be in until 10:30 this morning. It’s way too early to be up.”
“I’m going to let Trixie get the kids up. I want to see how Elyse is feeling though.”
Danae tiptoed into Elyse’s bedroom and heard her soft, congested snores. Poor kid, she thought. Gently, she put her hand on her forehead, and Elyse opened her eyes.
“Mama!” she whispered. “When did you get home?”
“Just now, sweet pea. How are you feeling?”
“Still coughing. I missed you. Is Daddy home, too?”
“Yes, honey. He will see you in the morning, baby girl. He has to get some sleep for work. You’re staying home again today. I will take care of you.” Danae kissed her forehead. “Go back to sleep, and I’ll see you when you wake up.”
“Okay,” she said sleepily. “I love you, Mama.”
Danae smiled. “I love you too, honey.”
She walked back to their bedroom and Andy was already in bed and half asleep. She put pajamas on and slipped into bed with him, and when he felt her next to him, he smiled.
“Still sick. She missed you.”
“I figured. You’re wearing too much, you know that.”
She laughed. “And you’re supposed to be sleeping. Rest quickly, your alarm will go off before you know it.” She kissed him and snuggled with him, sleep overtaking both of them.
“I love you, my precious,” he whispered into her ear. “Thank you again for the trip.”
And Danae smiled. “You’re welcome. I love you, my Andy.”
Up Next: Chapter Twenty Six, Generation Five
Sleeping In A Chair, I’m Dizzy, Wedding and Male Emotions by Poses By Bee
Bang Door, Adult-Anger Fight, Fight Scene, Janna Set, and Moments by Zhippidy at Zhippidy’s Custom Poses
Coax, by Chinikinesis at MTS
I am pretty sure I missed an artist in here somewhere. For that, I apologize. None of the CC seen in this chapter is my own, and I take no credit for it*
*I can’t remember where I got Danae’s outfits. Credit to the artist(s). They are gorgeous!