YOU'RE THE ONE
TEN YEARS LATER
Nash wandered down the rows of flowers, looking for his wife. It was early afternoon and she should have been resting, but Luna never did what she should. Above him, the arch of the shade house created a cocoon of heat that had beads of sweat rolling down his back. The scents of the flowers filled the air.
A whinny had him stopping. Turning, he found Monica trotting neatly down the row behind him. She was gray around the eyes now, but still a force of nature. They’d lost M.D. a few years back. She’d moped about the place so much Luna had insisted they get her a new friend. M.D. the duck, version two, was now in residence.
“If she finds you in here, you’re a dead pony.” He scratched her forehead.
“She never steps on anything,” his brother-in-law said from the other side of the row of flowers.
The twins had visited Ryker Falls five years ago and stayed. They were now a huge part of Luna’s business. Tall and slim like his sister, there was no doubting the resemblance.
“You got eyes on the time?” Sydney asked.
“On it,” Nash nodded, and walked on, leaving Monica with Sydney, who loved her.
He had a surprise for Luna and had managed to keep it a secret, which was a miracle because she usually knew everything that was going on around her.
In the ten years since he’d met Luna, they’d married, had two children, and she’d created a home here on their land. A home that was often filled with family, friends and noise. Nash had never thought he’d be a man to love this kind of life, but he did. He couldn’t imagine it any other way now.
“Dad. Hollie just told me she was bringing her friends over tomorrow night for a sleepover. Can I go to Aunt Maggie’s?” His son came sprinting toward him. Tall like him, he had his aunt’s deep red hair and the bright blue eyes. At seven, he was showing all the signs Nash exhibited of being a recluse in the making.
“Here’s the thing, bud.” He placed a hand on Mitch’s shoulder and nudged him back the way he’d just come. “Hollie likes people, unlike you and me, so she will keep inviting her friends over. You need to get a handle on that.”
The shoulder beneath his hand rose and fell as he sighed.
“She’s six. Why does she need friends over all the time when she sees them every day at school? It’s not like they’re practicing makeup techniques.”
Mitch was well-versed in things like makeup techniques because he had older girl cousins who talked about that kind of thing. Once, they’d held him down and put eye shadow and lipstick on him. He had yet to forgive them.
“It’s certainly one of life’s mysteries, bud,” Nash said as they left the shade house.
“And there they are, the two hottest guys in Ryker Falls.” Luna was kneeling in the dirt, pruning some of her plants.
“She always says that,” Mitch muttered.
“Because it’s true. We are the hottest ticket in this town.” Mitch snuffled.
She rose as they approached, her knees creaking with the extra weight she was carrying around her middle. Surprise baby number three was due any day now, and had been a hell of a shock when they’d learned it was coming.
Her hair was shorter now, cut below her jaw, accentuating her lovely jawline. She didn’t exercise as religiously as she once had, but still rose every morning and went through her yoga poses. She’d tried to get him in on that. He’d refused, but every morning she asked. Luna was still the sexiest woman he’d ever laid eyes on. She also saw him for who he was and loved him, anyway.
Her pregnancy dress code was yoga pants and one of his T-shirts. Somehow, she always looked hot.
“Hugo just called. We have to be in Chicago next month.”
“Well now, that just brightened my day,” Nash teased her.
They would fly somewhere at Hugo’s insistence a few times each year to attend events. Nash knew this was part of who Luna was, so he went and made sure to smile and talk when it was required. He didn’t exactly hate it, but those occasions weren’t on his bucket list. What he enjoyed most was watching the farm-loving country girl his wife had become, turn into the smooth operating businesswoman.
Life with her had been full of ups and downs, but he could say, hand on heart, that she was literally his everything. Her and their kids.
“Mom, do I have to stay here tomorrow night? I could go to nana and grandad’s. Or Aunt Maggie’s, or Uncle Ford’s?”
“You could, but you’d be leaving your father alone with us girls if you did.” She bent to kiss their son’s forehead. Nash got a kiss on the lips. He could taste her smile.
“She has a solid point,” Nash added.
“He could come with me?” Mitch said.
“He could, or you could sleep in the cabin with Uncle Sydney.” She gave Nash a look. “You guys can have a boys’ night.”
“Only if we can have beer, pizza and chocolate. Plus, those little pastries filled with custard and cream from The Chocolate Place.”
“I can’t drink beer, Dad.”
“Right. Sorry, I forget you’re only seven sometimes. But we can do the other stuff, right?”
Mitch let out a whoop of agreement.
“But first we have to go into town to get some things for your mom so we can celebrate her birthday tonight. We’ll get all those sugary treats she says she doesn’t like but really does,” Nash said.
“I thought I told you that was our secret.” She winked at Nash.
“Mom, we all know you have an obsession with Albert’s handmade chocolates.”
“Out of the mouths of babes,” Nash whispered.
“So not true,” she ruffled her son’s hair. “I need to call into the shop before closing, anyway.” Luna pressed a hand to her spine.
“Baby, you need to take a load off,” Nash wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her into his side.
“I’m all right, just tired.” She leaned into him.
“I love you,” he kissed her cheek, and Mitch made a gagging sound.
“I hope it’s a boy.” His son sighed. “A boy like me, not a boy like Hollie, who does all that silly stuff.” He then made several shrieking sounds and flapped his arms in a very credible imitation of his sister when she was having a hissy fit.
Nash didn’t look at his wife, who was vibrating with the need to laugh.
“Go get your sister and tell her we’re going into town to buy mom sugary treats.” Nash nudged his son to get him moving. “And do not rip the head off any of her dolls or kick anything in her room!”
Mitch shot a cheeky grin over his shoulder and sprinted away.
Luna giggled when he’d left. “He’s you.”
“And she’s you.” Nash pulled her into his arms and gave her a long kiss. The baby kicked him. “I just have this feeling that Hollie two is about to arrive.”
“One more word and we are not going to the Chocolate Place,” Nash said to the kids who were arguing in the back seat.
Luna laughed as the shrieking stopped instantly. “Nice work, but you know that means we really have to go to the chocolate place now, right?”
“We’ll have a prebirthday celebration before dinner. Besides, Albert told me he’s worried about you working too hard. You can maybe convince him you're all right.”
“I love the people in this town.” Luna rested her head on the seat.
“Overbearing, interfering, busybodies, and those are their good points.”
“Exactly. What’s not to love?”
Nash snorted, his hand reaching over to take hers.
Life with Nash Winter was full of surprises. He loved her and their kids with a ferocity that would scare some, but not Luna. She relished it. He was protective, sometimes autocratic, but she didn’t let him get away with that. But most of all, he was kind. Nash loved with all that was inside him. His heart was huge.
“What’s that smile for?” He asked.
“I’m happy. You and the monsters make me happy.”
His eyes crinkled at the sides, and his lips titled slightly. He was becoming more handsome with age, like some men often did. His was a careless beauty, as he did absolutely nothing to keep his skin healthy, unlike her. She had got him to wear sunscreen, however, a major win as far as Luna was concerned.
He worked on the ranch three days a week now and the rest on their land helping her. The flower shop was somewhere he went to visit and drop off things, but no way would he stand behind the counter.
Nash still needed his own company now and again. She’d find him early in the morning outside under a tree playing his guitar, or he’d take off and hike for an hour of two. Luna used to run, but that would be on hold again for a while.
“Mum, Mitch crossed his eyes at me.”
Looking in the back seat, she watched her daughter poke out her tongue. Her hair and eyes were the same color as Luna’s, but she had a more forceful personality. Nash said she was just like her Aunt Maggie had been as a child.
“I was stretching them,” her son said.
“Stretch them forward,” Nash said.
“Nearly there,” Luna said.
Ryker was bustling as they pulled into a parking space close to the shop. The sign in the window said LK’s Blooms, and it never failed to make her smile. Luna loved this place. It had part of her past and a lot of her future wrapped up in it. Her father had even stayed sober long enough to fly over last year for a visit. He’d cried when he’d seen it.
“Come on.” Nash helped her out. “Let’s get this done. Then you can eat your body weight in something sugary.”
“And what a body weight.” Luna moaned, straightening her spine. “I’m a small pachyderm.”
“But cute with it.” She took the hand Nash held out to her.
“I have something for the baby!”
Looking left, they found Mrs. L. hurrying down the street with her walking frame. Her shoulders were now stooped, but nothing slowed the woman down. She dressed just as outrageous as she always did. Today she wore lime green and pink, and Nash’s guess was she had to be closing in on ninety years of age.
“My eyes,” Nash moaned softly. Luna elbowed him in the ribs.
“Here.” Mrs. L. thrust a bag at her, eyeing her enormous belly. “You look like you need popping.”
“What do you think she’s having, Mrs. L?” Nash asked as Luna opened the bag.
The woman put her hands on Luna’s tummy and closed her eyes. So far, she’d guessed right with Mitch and Hollie.
“Well, now, the poll is saying half and half at this stage,” the woman said, eyes still closed.
“Nice lashes. You make sure you don’t take an eye out if one slips,” Nash drawled.
“It’s called style, boy. You want to give that a try occasionally.” Mrs. L. cackled, fluttering them open.
Nash wore his usual uniform of jeans and T-shirt, although Luna noted it was his best black one that he usually only dragged out when he needed to look tidy.
“Are those your good jeans?” Luna pointed to his long legs.
“It’s your birthday, of course they are. I can’t take my woman out in old clothes.”
“Boy needs a makeover,” Mrs. L. said.
“I do all right,” Nash muttered.
“I love it!” Luna held up a small blue Christmas Sweater with an elf on the front.
“Good. Now, I need to get back. That fool will have likely sold everything I have in the shop at the wrong price.” Mrs. L. stomped away, pushing her walking frame ahead of her.
“Your grandson is a very nice young man,” Luna felt the need to say.
“Just don’t go telling him that,” she muttered over her shoulder.
Nash shook his head for no other reason than the elders in this town made him react that way most of the time. He then led Luna into LKs Blooms.
They’d painted the walls white. Shelves lined two sides and were full of silver pails of blooms. The middle had a line of greenery.
“How are you feeling?”
The voice was her sister’s. Sadie ran the shop for Luna and loved it. A female version of their brother. She was happy here, away from the responsibility of looking after their father.
“I’m all right. Did that delivery arrive?”
“Can we go now?” Mitch said.
“Can you make me a bow, Aunty Sadie?” Hollie asked, pointing at the pink ribbon.
“Why do you need a bow?” Mitch scowled.
“It matches my shoes.” Hollie pointed a toe of her pink sandals.
“No bows.” Nash grabbed his children before they launched another attack. “See you soon, Sadie. We’re going to The Chocolate Place.”
“I could do with a cup of hot chocolate.” Luna sighed at the thought.
Seconds later, they were wandering up the main street of Ryker Falls. Their hometown.
Ryker Falls’ main street had changed little since the first day he’d driven through it. Some shops had new owners, but most were the same.
“Afternoon, Winters family!” Mr. Goldhirsh raised his hand as he sprinted by. He still ran everywhere like a crazy person. Ten years on, he looked the same to Nash and always made him feel like he should do more to stay in shape.
“Hi, Mr. Goldhirsh,” Hollie screamed in an ear-piercing shriek.
“How long before she speaks at a normal volume?” Nash whispered.
“Years,” Luna said.
“Are you going to make me watch a chick flick tonight?” Nash swung his wife’s hand back and forth as they walked.
“I have two picked out.” She looked smug.
“Great,” he said with zero enthusiasm.
“It’s a birthday tradition that we force each other to watch something we hate. You’ve made me sit through plenty of westerns.”
The sign in Albert’s window now said The Chocolate Place, due to Albert being unable to educate the town differently. Pushing open the door, Nash followed Luna through the door. Inhaling the deliciousness, he looked to the rear of the shop where her surprise waited.
His face was more lined, and his eyes faded, but his shoulders were still back and with some help from his assistant, he still baked each day, supplying the locals with their sugary treats.
He came around the counter and hugged Luna gently.
“How are you?”
“Very well, as you can see.”
He held her shoulders, studying her. “Not long now.”
“Hopefully,” she crossed her fingers.
“You go on out back, and sit in the lovely afternoon sun. I will bring you something that will revive your flagging spirits.”
They heard the hum of voices outside as they approached, and he knew in seconds his girl would be smiling.
“Happy Birthday!” The cry came from everyone standing in the small courtyard.
She stopped. Nash moved in behind her. Wrapping his arms around her, he settled his palms on her belly.
“I don’t understand?”
“It’s your birthday party,” he whispered into her ear. “Happy birthday, sweetheart.”
“This is my surprise party!” She clapped her hands, looking and sounding like Hollie. “But you didn’t make me change.” She looked down at her yoga pants and his t-shirt.”
“Baby, you look hot in anything.”
“Smooth, Nash.” Maggie was the first to reach them. “Happy birthday, Luna.”
She was hugged, kissed and given gifts. There were tears because, according to Luna, her hormones were making her eyes leak. Hugo arrived, and the tears flowed again.
The man had become part of their family, and was usually here once a month. He had grown LK’s brand substantially over the last ten years and made both him and Luna very wealthy.
Nash had struggled with that, but after several heated debates his wife had made him see that her money was their money, just like his was hers.
Albert handed him a mug of coffee, and he looked for a place to sit for both him and Luna. When she got round to sitting that was. He’d make her take a load off soon.
He found Maggie’s youngest, Lucy, sitting in a corner.
“You doing ok there, Luce?” He dropped down beside her, then leaned in to kiss the top of her head. She had two years on Mitch, and they were identical to look at.
“Dad said I couldn’t have a phone for my birthday, but everyone in my class has one.” She emphasized everyone. “And they will tease me when I don’t come to school with one.”
“Yeah, your dad’s a nasty guy, all right. I mean, he got you that new piano just last month because you were doing so well with your practice. Then he went away to summer camp with you. Like I said, he’s a mean one.”
“Can’t have it all your way, Luce, you know that, right?”
Fin pulled up a seat across from his daughter. “Having a good chat?”
“Not done yet,” Nash said, looking at his niece, who had her eyes on the table. “First off, you don’t owe anyone an explanation because your parents have this no phone rule, Lucy. You just have to get used to blaming them for everything.”
“I used to blame my mom and dad for pretty much everything when I was your age,” Nash added.
“Like what?” She looked at Nash.
“Not going for a sleepover because I’d been naughty. Missing out on something I wanted to do with my friends because I hadn’t deserved to go. Thank kind of thing. I always said it was just my parents being mean.”
He watched her nod.
“The phone thing will not change anytime soon, and the more you push back, it’s likely to be thirty when you get one, squirt,” Fin said. “Listen to your uncle Nash, he’s onto something.”
“Thirty, dad, really?”
“Twenty nine then.”
She looked at her father with narrowed eyes, clearly thinking about what Nash had said.
“I like that idea of blaming them for everything, then I come off looking good.” She threw her arms around his neck. “Thanks, Uncle Nash.”
“Welcome.” He hugged her back.
“What? So I feed you and other stuff, and he gets the hug?”
“I’m sorry I got angry, Dad.” she kissed his cheek.
“I understand about pressure, baby, but you can’t have everything you want, okay?” Fin grabbed her and hugged her close.
“Yeah yeah, I get it.” She ran off to greet Luna.
“If only they’d come out with manual. You could read up on the moments like this and prepare your answers.” Fin sighed. “Sometimes I think she’s talking a foreign language.”
“Amen.” Nash raised his coffee. “I’m Maggie’s brother, remember.”
“I’m not sure whether or not to thank you for that little speech.”
“Definitely thank me. Look, she’s smiling.” Nash pointed to where Lucy now stood with her cousins.
“Ah hell, Connor just threw his drink over Hollie.” Fin said. “I got it.”
“You ready for number three, Daddy?”
“Born ready,” Nash said as Luke Trainer dropped down beside him after Fin had left.
Luke was a watcher, like Nash. He’d been through some heavy shit in his life, and come out the other side a man Nash now considered friend.
“How is it we ended here, man?”
“Happy, with women who love us, and a family who we can’t live without?” Nash asked.
“I guess we just stopped running.” Nash looked at Luna.
“I think you could be right,” Luke said, looking at his family.
The squeak wasn’t loud, but Nash heard it. In seconds, he was at Luna’s side.
She leaned into him. “I’m going to have the baby soon. We need to go to the hospital.”
“If you tell me you’ve been having contractions and kept the fact quiet, I’m going to be really angry.”
“I thought we could get through this, but turns out we can’t. Ouch!” She grabbed his hand.
His parents took the kids, and Ford ran home for Luna’s bag while Nash took Luna to the hospital.
Ethan James Winter was born four hours later. He had a shock of black hair and blue eyes, like all babies, but Nash had a feeling these would stick.
“Why are babies so ugly?” Mitch asked, looking at the bundle in Luna’s arms.
“Because they get squished inside their mummy’s tummy,” Hollie said. “He’ll be cute soon.”
Nash sat beside Luna on the bed, watching his children meet their brother. After the initial disgust that Ethan wasn’t a girl, Hollie had moved on, declaring that she would take charge of nappy changing. Mitch hadn’t stopped smiling yet.
“Last one,” Luna sighed, laying her head on his shoulder.
“Last one.” He kissed the top of her head. “Thank you.”
“For what?” She looked up at him.
“Pretty much everything, but let’s start with giving me your love, and a life I never dreamed myself capable of having. For saving me from myself.”
“Ditto.” She yawned.
“I get a ditto for pouring out my heart?”
“Love you, Mr. Winter.” Her eyes closed.
“Love you, Mrs. Winter.”
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