“I don’t understand why I have to have one costume, let alone two,” Declan grumbled as he motioned toward the bed where his wife had laid out two garment bags. “I don’t want to dress up, Brooklyn.”
Brooklyn fought the urge to roll her eyes at her husband though he deserved the action and more for being such a brat. For weeks, they’d gone over the plan for Halloween, and now the big day was only a few days away, and he still hadn’t tried on either of the costumes she’d gotten him. If they didn’t fit, he’d be even more annoyed than he already was, which was why she’d been on him to try them on for the last week. She was running out of time to make alterations, and she knew he was stalling on purpose.
After he griped for nearly an hour the first time she mentioned their Halloween plans, she tried to make the entire process as painless as possible for him. He didn’t want to be involved, so she picked out the themes for both sets of costumes and picked them up. Then she made all of the arrangements for their evening, figuring out what time they’d do trick or treating and who would watch the boys while they went to the party her sister Savannah was throwing with the help of Arrow’s party planner.
It would be the first year they took all of the cousins trick or treating, and she was excited to start a tradition she knew would last for years. Her parents had been happy to volunteer to take on all six kids, even though they were little bundles of energy. Brooklyn wasn’t sure how they were going to do it, but she wasn’t about to mention how hard it was for her to take care of all six kids at the same time. She needed a night out too damn bad, and the kids would be easy once they were all in bed.
“Tough. This is the first Halloween Wyatt and C.J. might remember. I want to make it special by creating a family tradition.”
“You never said anything about a tradition. Brooklyn, they’re not even two yet. They aren’t going to remember this, and they can’t even eat the damn candy. This is a waste of time.”
“Why are you fighting this? You knew what you were getting into when you married me. And you know how my sister is. Hell, Braeden’s just as into this as we are. Do you really want me to sic him on you? I will if that’s what it takes to get your ass down with this plan. I even got Erin in on the plan. She’s going to dress up in the family theme and send us a picture so we can photoshop her into the one we take. Isn’t that cute?”
Declan growled as he crossed his arms over his chest. She knew she was about to get her way even though his face said something different. Her husband was a giant softy when it came to her and their kids, even if it meant he wasn’t going to get his way.
“Fine. I’ll dress up for the trick or treating, but why do I have to wear something different to the party? Better yet, why do I have to go to the party?”
“Declan Reese. Are you being serious right now? We never get to dress up and go out with the group anymore. Not like we used to. Since Halloween’s on a Saturday this year, Savannah thought it would be fun to have a costume party, and everyone but you and Finley agreed. So instead of dressing up all fancy-like and going out to dinner, we get to dress up like crazy people and dance our asses off at Arrow.”
“Finley’s a smart woman,” Declan grumbled. “That still doesn’t answer the question of why I can’t just wear the same costume trick or treating and to the damn party.”
Brooklyn sighed. Her husband could be so exhausting sometimes. It was a damn good thing he was cute, and she loved him like crazy. “Where’s the fun in that? Plus, chances are your first costume will get dirty, given our two tiny humans tend to make messes wherever they go.”
“It’s a good thing they’re cute.”
“Yes, it is,” Brooklyn laughed. “Look, we both know I’m going to win this argument, so could you pretty please just try the costumes on while the twins are still sleeping, so we know they fit. Then when I’m all hot and bothered from seeing your fine ass in both of them, we’ll be able to do something about it instead of getting interrupted for the millionth time by our little sex blockers.”
She shrugged. “Hey, at least I didn’t use the c-word to describe our children. Now can we get this show on the road, please? They’ll be up soon.”
“If you’re this excited this year, when they’re only nine months old, I’m scared of what our Halloween futures will be like,” Andi said as she slipped her daughter’s arm through her onesie.
She could feel her husband bouncing behind her as he watched her get the kids ready for their first Halloween. They were only nine months old, but Braeden had been adamant that it wasn’t too soon to dress them up and take them out for an hour. It was only after he promised not to try to slip them some candy that she agreed it sounded like fun. That was before he mentioned they would be dressing up too.
“I’m probably going to be this excited until they turn into teenagers who have no interest in hanging out with their lame parents. Do you think we’ll be able to talk them into these same costumes every year until then?” Andi shrugged.
“At some point, they’re going to want to dress up like unicorns and pirates and superheroes and stuff. They’re not going to care about their namesakes, and they certainly aren’t going to want to match their nerdy parents.”
“Hey, we aren’t nerdy. We’re cool. And they absolutely will care about their namesakes. If we do anything right, it will be getting our daughters to enjoy the classics like we do.”
“Um, I think making sure our daughters grow up to be well adjusted and stay away from drugs is probably more important, but okay.”
“Whatever,” Braden mumbled. “Are you done yet? I need my sidekick.”
Andi laughed as she buttoned the little yellow vest over a white shirt, then slipped the jean skirt up over her daughter’s squirming legs. Once everything was straight, she picked Penny up and turned to present her to her father.
“I’m sorry but in what universe is Penny brunette?” Braeden asked his hands on his hips.
“She kept pulling off the wig you got her. I think the only way we’re getting that to stay on is if we put a hat on over it.”
“Fine. If that’s what we have to do,” he said as he reached out for the baby.
Andi smiled so wide her face hurt. Her husband was dressed up like Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory, one of their favorite shows. Though he was a bit more muscular than Sheldon, his Flash t-shirt tight across his chest, the costume was perfect, down to the perfectly styled hair. Their daughter, was dressed up like Penny from the same show, rested on his hip, her eyes wide as she looked up at her dad. Her little brows were furrowed as she tried to figure out why her dad’s hair looked so weird. It was damn adorable.
“I need a picture of this.”
“Then, we can get one of you and Ruby together, and then one of the four of us.”
Andi grabbed her phone out of her back pocket, then took a couple of pictures before handing the phone to Braeden so she could grab Ruby out of her crib. Their other daughter was wearing a pair of leggings that looked like jeans but weren’t, and a dark grey t-shirt with a skull on it. Over the t-shirt, she had on a leather jacket. Somehow her husband had found a leather jacket for an infant and spent money on it just to make sure their kid looked like her namesake. Andi didn’t want to know how much he paid for it.
“You need to put your coat on, or no one is going to realize who you are,” Braeden said as soon as she placed Ruby on her hip.
Andi rolled her eyes but handed Ruby to her dad so she could grab her olive green military jacket. She shrugged it on over the long-sleeved grey work shirt she wore over a black t-shirt, then reached for her daughter. As she situated her back on her hip, Ruby reached out for the necklace that was a vital part of Andi’s costume. Between the necklace and the jacket, Braeden figured everyone would know who she was.
Andi wasn’t quite sure.
“Maybe we should’ve named Penny, Meg, so all four of us could dress up as characters from Supernatural.”
“Ick. No. If we were going to pick another name from Supernatural, it would have to be Jody. She is a badass while Meg wasn’t even a very good villain,” Andi pointed out.
“Good point. Well, I think you and Ruby look great. My very own Dean Winchester…he is ridiculously hot just like you…”
“Okay, now you’re just making it weird. Can we get these pictures taken already? We’re supposed to meet at the St. James’s for dinner soon.”
“Come on, Squirrel,” Braeden said, using one of Dean Winchester’s nicknames. “Get over here so we can get a family portrait. Maybe when we get home tonight, you can sing me Soft Kitty.”
She cuddled up next to him with Ruby on her right hip. Penny still sat on his left hip, though she was getting restless. It took more than a few tries to get at least one picture where everyone was looking at the camera, and no one had their eyes closed. Braeden handed her back her phone, which she put into one of her jacket’s many pockets.
“You’re not sick. That song is only for when you’re sick,” she reminded him as he sat Penny down on the dresser so he could put the wig on her. “Next year, you get to dress up like Dean, and I’ll be Amy. I think that’s a much better fit.”
“No Dean for me. I’m more of a Sam.”
“You told me I couldn’t be Sam.”
“Because you’re not. You’re Dean through and through. I’m Sam.”
“Good gravy. You’re crazy is what you are.”
“I’m not crazy…”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re mother had you tested,” she interrupted, knowing he was going to use one of Sheldon’s more famous quotes.
“That’s not very nice, Andi. You know my mother died when I was really young.”
Her cheeks grew warm. Though she knew he was joking, she still felt terrible for mentioning his mom. “Oh my gosh. Can we just go already? You’re ridiculous.”
“And you love it.”
Andi laughed. “I love you. The ridiculous part is just one piece of the otherwise awesome overall package.”
Braeden looked over at her and gave her the smile he’d been giving her since they were five-years-old.
“Now that’s what I like to hear. Let’s get these little butt kickers over to the St. James’s so we can eat, then trick or treat. Papa needs some candy.”
The ridiculous man was her best friend, her husband, the father of her kids, and the person who drove her the craziest out of everyone she knew, but she loved him beyond reason. She’d do anything for him. Even dress up for Halloween in not just one but two costumes, when she’d much rather stay home and play video games.
“You are full of surprises, Liam Crawford. I wouldn’t have pegged you as a fan of Halloween. At least not the dressing up part since you do that for a living.”
Liam looked over at his fiancée and smiled. “And here I would’ve thought the opposite about you. I guess we still have plenty of things to learn about each other.”
“Oh yes, the many mysteries of Finley Blake,” she said, sarcasm practically dripping from her words. “You’re going to be bored of me soon.”
“Not gonna happen. You’re stuck with me, whether you like it or not. And one of these days, you’re going to let me set a date for the wedding you promised me.”
Finley scoffed but didn’t respond. She turned to look at herself in the mirror, adjusting the tiny hat sitting on her head, then the black tank top that gave him a mouthwatering view of her breasts. As hot as she was, it wasn’t her looks that had Liam dropping to one knee nearly two years ago. She was the love of his life, the once in a lifetime love he’d always hoped for, the one his parents had and the one his little sister found so easily.
For so long, he never thought it would happen for him. Being a Hollywood actor came with a lot of perks. Finding someone who loved him for him was not one of them. Until he happened upon Finley in a gazebo at their friend’s wedding, she hated that he was an actor, and he loved her for it.
Now, if only he could get her to actually marry him.
Getting his ring on her finger had been easier than he thought it would be. She wasn’t big on love or tradition or anything else that usually came to mind when someone mentioned spending forever together. Liam figured he’d have to wear her down to get her to say yes, maybe propose two, three, ten times before she agreed to marry him. It turned out it only took once. Setting the date part was the part he should’ve prepared to do over and over and over again.
It didn’t matter, though. He’d wait her out. Liam had way more patience than Finley could hope to have, and he’d use it all up on her if he had to.
“I hope you’re not over there holding your breath about that, hot stuff.”
“Don’t you worry about what I’m doing,” he said with a laugh. “Are you sure you don’t want to wear an actual costume?”
“Are you sure you want to ask me that again?” she answered his question with a question. “If you didn’t have to work next week, I would have changed the dates of our damn visit so we could avoid all this nonsense. Savannah knows I hate this shit. Why would she do this to me? It’s not like we get to see each other very often.”
“It’s not like she gets out very often either…”
“Shut up with your logic, Liam. You know it doesn’t work on me.”
Liam smirked at her, then turned back to finish getting ready. “That’s what you say, but you know you’re feeling bad now for making this all about you. I know you’re a bigger softy then you let people think you are. You don’t have to hide from me.”
“Ugh. Are you almost ready? Maybe Savannah will get annoyed with the party and want to leave early. Then we can all cut out and spend time together doing something less annoying. I swear to you, Liam, if this party is filled with stupid frat boys, don’t say I didn’t warn you when I do something stupid.”
“Were you even listening when Savannah was telling us about the party, or were you formulating a way out the entire time? The party isn’t open to the public. It’s for Savannah and Gabriel’s employees. They’ll probably invite a friend or two, but I doubt you’ll have to put on your frat boy fighting shoes.”
“Too bad, I’m already wearing them. They go great with my bitch, I mean witch costume.”
Liam laughed as he turned back to face her. “I promise if you’re on your best behavior tonight, you’ll be handsomely rewarded.”
A smile tugged at his lips as Finley gasped, her gaze slowly moving down his body. She stared at him for a long time, her mouth dropping open, only to slam shut audibly. Finley didn’t want to like his costume, but she obviously did, probably more than he anticipated.
“I feel like I’m being both rewarded and punished right now. How in the hell am I supposed to behave tonight when you look like that, and we’re going to be in a room full of people? I’m going to be fighting people off with a stick…including myself. This is totally unfair.”
Laughing, Liam sauntered toward her, making sure to flex his muscles unnecessarily as he did. He wanted to put on a damn good show for his woman, especially knowing how flustered it was making her. Torturing her slowly was one of his favorite hobbies.
“Play your cards right, and maybe I’ll keep it on while I fuck you against the mirror over there,” Liam whispered in her ear as he leaned over her to grab his car keys off of the dresser behind her.
When he moved away from her, she growled, her eyes narrowing as she glared at him. “You’re an asshole, Liam Crawford.”
“Ah, but I’m your asshole, Finley Blake,” he reminded her with a smile. “Now let’s go spend some time with your friends. Despite your grumbling, I know how much you’re looking forward to seeing them.”
She continued to glare at him as she placed a soft peck on his lips. “I hate it when you’re right, but you’re too sexy to stay mad at.”
Liam watched as Finley grabbed her jacket and strode toward the door, wondering the entire time how he’d gotten so damn lucky. Sometimes he doubted whether or not he deserved her. Sometimes, especially when his job took him away from her, he expected to come home and find her gone, finally fed up with his career and the bullshit that came along with it.
He wasn’t sure he’d ever get over those tiny fears that lived inside of him, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to let them rule his life. Liam would love her and enjoy her as long as she let him. And if he had his way, he’d get to do both forever.
Standing next to her husband was never a hardship for Meghan Brooks. Oliver was by far the hottest man she knew, even compared to Liam Crawford. Yet, no amount of hotness could keep her from bursting into fits of giggles as she stared at them side by side in their full-length mirror. Sheer willpower was all she had working in her favor at the moment, but she had a feeling that wouldn’t last long. Not with the way her husband was admiring himself.
When they started talking about Halloween costumes nearly two months ago, they wanted to have fun with their costumes. They didn’t want to go with the typical sexy nurse or hot cop, and they didn’t want to buy them from the party store. Figuring out just who they wanted to go as took them another week and a Stranger Things binge watch.
“Damn, we look even better than I thought we would. It’s gotta be the ‘stache.”
Meghan bit her tongue, but it was no use; she couldn’t hold it in any longer.
The mustache Oliver had been working on since they decided on their costumes was big and bushy, befitting of the man he was dressed up as, but beyond strange on her mostly clean-shaven husband. He wasn’t much for facial hair. The most he’d endure was a few days of scruff before he’d take a razor to his face.
A big ridiculous mustache wouldn’t have been Meghan’s first choice for facial hair, but grooming it and watching it grow had amused Oliver, which in turn amused her. He’d been so excited about it, he refused to see any of their friends until Halloween, not wanting to ruin the surprise of his “magnificent creation.” When he said things like that, he sounded far too much like Braeden for her liking.
She loved their best friend, but she sure in the hell couldn’t be married to the man. Andi was an absolute saint.
“It’s really too bad we couldn’t get Lucas, Ryan, and Sophia to dress up as Dustin, Mike, and Eleven. I can’t believe she’d rather dress up as a fairy princess than a badass science experiment. And the boys, I can’t believe bribery didn’t work. It used to always work.”
“Even if it had, we still would’ve been short a few kids, and it’s not like we could’ve taken the kids to the party anyway.”
“Maybe Savannah would’ve made an exception.”
“So you could have a tiny entourage follow you around? Yeah, probably not. Plus, wouldn’t it be way past the kids’ bedtime? I’m also pretty sure your sister-in-law said we couldn’t borrow the kids for your absurd plans anymore.”
“Well, then maybe we should get our own kids so we don’t have to worry about borrowing other people’s kids anymore.”
Meghan whipped around to stare at her husband. “What are you saying?”
Oliver smiled at her, his gaze full of hope and love, and what she suspected was a tinge of fear. Since they renewed their vows, the topic of kids had come up a handful of times. They both wanted them, but the situation was tricky, given the fact she physically couldn’t have children, and she would always worry her cancer could come back again.
Meghan didn’t want to leave her kids behind the way her parents left her. She also didn’t want to live her life in constant fear.
“I’m saying, we’ve talked about it long enough. Let’s make it happen. Let’s adopt some kids.”
“Are you sure? This is a pretty big deal, and this is a really strange time to bring it up.”
“The only thing I’ve ever been more sure of was needing you in my life. I want this. You want this. We’ve weighed out the pros and cons. We’ve talked about what it would mean for us and for any kids we bring into this house, or well probably a different house since this one is a little too small for a family. Let’s stop talking about it and actually do it. We have so much love to give, and there are a ton of kids out there that need that love.”
Tears welled in her eyes. This man was her saving grace. He never quit and never let her quit. He was the best thing that had ever happened to her, and she knew he would be one hell of a father. Her fears meant nothing stacked up against his eternal optimism and unrelenting confidence in not only their relationship but in her.
Oliver wasn’t worried about anything. Or if he was, he did a great job hiding it from her and everyone else. If he was sure going through the adoption process was the next best step for them, then she was too. The thought of being someone’s mom made her giddy and nauseous at the same time.
“Okay, let’s do it. Let’s schedule an appointment with Braeden for next week so we can go over everything we’ll need. I love you, Oliver,” Meghan said as she stood up on her tiptoes and planted a kiss on her husband’s lips.
The mustache tickled her sensitive skin, and the padding of his costume made it hard to get too close. The entire situation made her laugh.
“I love you, too, Meg. Even if you do laugh at my lip sweater.”
“Please don’t ever say that again.”
“How about crumb catcher?”
“Absolutely not. You’ve been spending too much time with Braeden.”
“Nonsense, though speaking of, at least I’ll have Steve by my side tonight since I can’t have the kids. We’re going to look amazing together.”
“What am I, chopped liver?” Meghan asked, her lower lip jutting out in a fake pout.
“Of course not, you’re far more important and a hell of a lot better looking,” he said quickly, then looked at the alarm clock on their bedside table. “We should get going. We don’t want to be late.”
Meghan shook her head and laughed. “The party doesn’t start for another forty minutes. If we leave now, nobody will be there to see your epic costume.”
“You’re right. Maybe we should show up a little late. I need to make a grand entrance so everyone can see what I’ve been working on for the last month. And so they can see my super hot wife looking awesome as my sidekick.”
She shot him an “are you serious look,” but he just smiled at her, turning on the charm that had drawn her to him in the first place. Meghan loved that they’d gone from a serious topic of conversation to joking in a matter of seconds. That was Oliver’s way of making sure they had the conversations he wanted to have without overwhelming her too much. There was only so much heavy she could handle in one sitting, and he always knew when it was time to make the change.
Oliver Brooks was sexy and sweet and goofy, but above all else, he was an unbelievably amazing husband. Meghan wasn’t sure how she’d gotten so lucky, but she’d vowed she’d never take that luck or Oliver for granted ever again. She couldn’t wait to see what the next chapter of their lives had in store for them. Hell, she was looking forward to the whole damn book…and the sequel.
She had no idea what to expect, but she knew whatever it was, it would be amazing.
“It’s trick or treat, baby.”
“Twick o tweet.”
Gabriel smiled down at his 2-year-old daughter as she held out her plastic pumpkin to the older woman in front of her. Ryan smiled up at her grandma as she waited for her prize.
“What an adorable tiger you are, Ryan,” Rebecca St. James said as she dropped a couple of pieces of candy in her granddaughter’s bucket. “What sound does a tiger make?”
“Grrrrrrrrr….” Ryan answered, her tiny hands coming up to mimic a tiger’s paws.
Her bucket clattered to the floor, but she didn’t seem to care. She was too excited to show her grandma her best tiger impression. When they’d first talked about taking the kids trick or treating, Gabriel hadn’t been sure they were old enough to do it. Savannah, on the other hand, thought it would be fun to do just a few houses in her parent’s neighborhood before they headed out to the party she was throwing for their staff.
J.J., their nine-month-old son, was asleep in his mother’s arms, dressed in a fluffy grey elephant costume that was just a tad too big for him. To go along with the animal theme, Savannah insisted that they dress up as zookeepers for the trick or treating portion of their evening. It would make for great family pictures, she said, and while he didn’t disagree with that part, he wasn’t a big fan of dressing up, let alone having two different costumes for one night.
Savannah wasn’t the only one who had the family theme idea when it came to their costumes. Brooklyn and Declan and their sons Cayden and Wyatt were dressed as baseball players. Braeden and his daughter Penny were dressed as characters from the show The Big Bang Theory, while Andi and their daughter Ruby were dressed as characters from the show Supernatural.
All six kids were under two, so it would be a quick trip out, but Gabriel knew trick or treating would someday be a lengthier process, and costumes would be a much bigger deal. Then eventually his kids would become teenagers and wouldn’t want him hanging around all the time. They’d want to go out on their own, dress up in costumes that were too sexy or too scary, instead of innocent and adorable.
“You’re aging the kids, aren’t you?” Declan asked from beside him.
His sons were now practicing their trick or treating skills with their grandma while annoying the hell out of their cousin. It was business as usual with those three. Gabriel was just thankful that his daughter didn’t back down when face to face with the twins. It wasn’t always those two against her, sometimes one of them tagged up with her against his brother, but when they did pick on her, Ryan gave as good as she got.
“I can’t help it. I had them going from sweet innocent children to mouthy teenagers. Ryan was wearing a tiny ass sexy nurse costume, and I about lost my damn mind.”
“Yeah, I remember those days. I did the same thing with Erin. I tried to forget what teenage girls were like when we were young, but since I was a teenager when she was born, it was a bit harder.”
Gabriel laughed. “I don’t need to be a teenager to know what teenagers are like, and from what I can tell, they’re a hell of a lot worse now than they were twenty years ago.”
“Yeah, I think you’ll be fine, though. Those two, on the other hand, are screwed. Karma is going to bite Braeden on the ass big time,” Declan predicted.
“You assholes better not be jinxing my family,” Declan’s sister said as she approached them.
Together they watched Braeden, who had a daughter on each hip, talk to Brooklyn and Savannah. The three of them watched the three older kids run circles around their grandma and grandpa, their giggles filling the room.
“We didn’t force you to marry that ding dong. And we certainly didn’t force you to procreate with him. Anything that comes out of that nonsense is all on you.”
“You’re really lucky I love your wife, brother…” Andi said, a hint of menace in her voice.
Gabriel shook his head and laughed at the bickering siblings. As Ryan stopped running around so she could check in on her mom and baby brother, he felt a familiar ache in his chest. It had been with him since the moment he met Savannah and realized she was his future. He never expected her. Never expected the way his life had turned out.
After his brother’s death, he figured he’d focus on the restaurant, and that would be his life. He owed it to Jonathan to see his dream come true. It might have taken him a while, but Gabriel realized that the restaurant wasn’t the only part of his brother’s dream that he needed to see through.
“Can you believe this is our lives?” Gabriel asked the Reese twins as his eyes met his wife’s.
“I fight the urge to pinch myself every morning. If this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up,” Declan admitted. “I didn’t want this, but there’s no way in hell I want to give it up.”
“I wanted it. Just didn’t think I’d ever have it.”
“Don’t even say it, Declan. You have nothing to be sorry for,” Andi said sharply.
“Do you think our kids will stay friends?” Gabriel asked, surprising them all with his oddly sentimental question. “And not just because they’re related in one way or another. Do you think they’ll be friends the way that we all are? Shit…I sound like Sav right now.”
Declan and Andi laughed. He wasn’t expecting either of them to answer his question, so when Declan started to speak, he was shocked.
“I think they will love having a built-in support system. Will they always get along? Hell no, but they will always love each other. And they will always look out for each other, just like you and I have all these years. We weren’t always close; shit got in the way more than either of us want to admit, but here we are one big happy family, and not just because we married sisters.”
“What he said,” Andi said before clearing her throat.
It was obvious to Gabriel that she was feeling the emotion as much as he was. Declan wasn’t one for big declarations. Hell, he wasn’t one to share his feelings much at all, so to hear him admit that they were a family was a big deal on multiple levels.
“Plus, I’m pretty sure Braeden’s already decided one of the girls is going to marry J.J., so you have that to look forward to someday.”
“Oh shit,” Gabriel and Andi said at the same time.
“Don’t worry. You have plenty of time to deal with his meddling in your children’s lives. Thank god my kids are related to his,” Declan said before walking over to his wife, who was trying to corral their sons.
Gabriel and Andi looked at each other, then back over to where her husband stood with their daughters.
“We are in so much trouble,” Gabriel admitted. “But strangely, I don’t mind. This is exactly where I want to be. Surrounded by my family, even the crazy ones.”
“Even the crazy ones,” Andi agreed before following her brother to the other side of the room.
Gabriel watched the two couples interact with each other and their children for a little while longer before he felt his wife’s eyes on him. He turned to look at her, his breath catching as she smiled at him. Their son was no longer sleeping, but instead tapping his tiny hand against his mother’s face, though Savannah didn’t seem to even notice. Her full attention was on Gabriel, and it both humbled him and made him feel like the king of the world.
Never in a million years would he have predicted this future for himself, but he would spend the rest of his days thanking the universe for giving it to him. He’d do whatever it took to keep Savannah and their children happy. Whoever they needed him to be…protector, confident, chauffeur, whatever it was, he’d take up the title in a heartbeat and without question.
There was nothing more important in his life than being Savannah’s husband and Ryan and J.J.’s father. Whatever his family needed, he would take care of it even if it meant dressing up in ridiculous costumes or fighting off Braeden’s attempts to set up an arranged marriage for their nine-month-old children.
Gabriel shook his head and laughed as he joined the group. Savannah’s brow raised in a silent question, but he just smiled at her and took J.J. out of her arms. The little boy looked up at him, his tiny hand grabbing for his nose.
“Who’s ready for some trick or treating,” he asked as he looked down at the kids surrounding him.
A chorus of me’s followed by laughter filled the room, and it was the sweetest sound he’d ever heard.
“Okay, maybe changing costumes wasn’t the best plan I’ve ever had,” Savannah admitted as she walked through the door Gabriel held open for her. “In my defense, I had no idea how tiring trick or treating with six children was going to be. We only went to ten houses, Gabriel. How am I this exhausted after ten houses?”
“It’s because children are little energy vampires. They suck every last ounce out of you. It’s why they can run in circles for hours without getting tired, and that’s before candy.”
“Do you think it was a good idea to leave all six of them with my poor parents?”
“How much trouble can they be at this point? At least three of them should be sound asleep, and the other three should be going down about now too. They’ll be fine. You wanted this night out. Let’s enjoy it while we can.”
“I know. I just need to catch my second wind…or would it be my third or fourth. Shit. I need something to get me going. Let’s hit the bar and then find the rest of the gang. They should all be here by now. And I need to check in with Nora to make sure everything’s running smoothly.”
Savannah let her husband lead her to the bar while she looked around the perfectly decorated room. She’d been to numerous events held in the banquet room that was an expansion of Gabriel’s restaurant in West Seattle, but this one was by far the coolest. The event coordinator Gabriel hired had done a fantastic job turning the room into the perfect combination of creepy and classy. Two things Savannah didn’t even know could go together.
When Savannah first realized Halloween was on a Saturday night, she’d intended on just getting together with her group of friends, but then her idea morphed into something more. Instead of an intimate gathering for a handful of people, she decided to throw a costume party and invite her and Gabriel’s employees and their friends.
She didn’t know what compelled her to do it. Maybe it was one last hurrah before she settled down into being a wife and mother. Maybe it was an attempt to prove to herself that a fun night out, over a night in with her friends, was something she still enjoyed. No matter what it was, Savannah was quickly learning that a crowded dance floor was no longer her jam, and she hadn’t even been at Arrow for ten minutes.
Nora, the event coordinator, had roped off a few tables to the left of the bar for the group. Sylvia and Logan were already there dressed as a flapper girl and a mobster, as were Kerrigan and Ben, who was dressed as a flight attendant and pilot. Finley and Liam were making their way through the rope just as she and Gabriel approached. Savannah wasn’t surprised that her best friend hadn’t bothered to put on a costume, though the witch’s hat sitting on her head was a surprise concession. She knew she probably had Liam to thank for the small token and the smile gracing Finley’s face.
“Holy crap,” Savannah murmured as she looked over at Liam.
While Finley didn’t embrace the spirit of the holiday, her fiancé certainly had. He was dressed as a gladiator and looked like he could be an extra from the show Spartacus. Though he was a little more covered up than the men in the show, there was still a lot of skin on display.
“Pick your jaw up off the ground, Savannah. It’s not like you haven’t seen him in less,” her husband pointed out as they moved into the roped-off area.
She was lucky Gabriel wasn’t the jealous type. At least not when it came to Liam. It didn’t matter how gorgeous the man was, or how great he was with Finley, Liam Crawford had nothing on her husband, and Gabriel knew it.
Laughing, she made her way over to Finley and hugged her friend.
“How did you let him out of your room in that?”
“He promised me things…I didn’t have a choice,” she answered, a mischievous smile on her face.
“Yeah,” Finley agreed before taking a sip of her beer. “Some party you’ve got here.”
Sighing, Savannah looked around the room again, taking in the groups of people at the tables scattered around the dance floor. Every one of them was dressed up. She saw sexy costumes, scary costumes, various pop culture references, and things she didn’t recognize. It was an excellent turnout, and so far, everyone seemed to be having fun. She knew the dance floor would fill up eventually, though the handful of people out there now seemed to be fine having it all to themselves.
“I think I might be too old for this scene. But don’t tell anyone I said that. I basically forced you all to do this tonight, and I know you aren’t the only one who would’ve much rather hung out at the house tonight, drinking and playing games.”
Finley smiled at her over her bottle. “Your secret’s safe with me, but you owe me one.”
“I’m pretty sure Liam’s going to pay up for me.”
“Oh, you’re right about that.”
Savannah turned back to the rest of the group and noticed her sister and Declan had joined them. Brooklyn looked gorgeous in a white Greek goddess costume that showed off her curves. Declan, to Savannah’s surprise, was dressed up like a Greek god.
“Are you wearing a dress?” the question came from a very familiar voice behind her.
“It’s not a fucking dress. What the hell is that on your head? Is that a wig?”
Savannah turned around to find Braeden and Andi standing behind them. Braeden’s hair was big, like an 80s throwback, which matched the outfit he was wearing. She wasn’t quite sure who he and Andi were supposed to be.
“No. It’s not a wig. This is all real, baby.”
“How the hell is that possible?” Declan asked. “Your hair was short an hour ago.”
“That was a wig.”
“What the hell?”
“Look, the trick or treating costume was going to be fleeting, but this here had to be perfect.”
Savannah just stared at Braeden like he had lost his mind, which he probably had. Gabriel, on the other hand, reached out to pull at a few of the strands. When Braeden let out a screech of pain, she couldn’t help laughing.
“Is this why you skipped dinners over the last month?” Gabriel asked.
“Yep. Couldn’t let you guys see the in-between stage. Had to wait until it was just right.”
“Oh my god,” Savannah said as she caught a glimpse of the couple approaching their group.
Braeden turned to check out what she was looking at, yelling out a raucous ‘dude’ as he took in Oliver’s costume.
“What the hell is happening right now?” Declan murmured next to her.
Savannah felt other people behind her but didn’t turn to see who had joined them. Odds were it was the entire group. Nobody could pass up getting an up-close and personal look at the two goofballs in front of them. Meghan bypassed the guys, giving them a wide berth as she went to stand next to Andi.
“Please tell me that’s taped on,” Declan said, louder this time, so Oliver could hear him.
The other man smoothed a hand over his lip. “Nope. This is all me. Pretty great, right?”
No one even bothered to ask him about his hair. If he was willing to grow a big bushy mustache for his costume, growing his hair out was nothing. Savannah shouldn’t have been shocked by the lengths either man had gone to for their costumes. Or that they’d been planning them for over a month.
“Meghan…how…what?” Brooklyn started to ask but couldn’t even finish the question that was on everyone’s mind.
Meghan shrugged, a smile on her face. “I don’t know. It’s kind of grown on me.”
“See Meghan, I told you we’d look super awesome together,” Oliver said as he threw an arm over Braeden’s shoulders. “Hopper and Steve ready to party like it’s 1985.”
Laughter rang out from their corner of the room, causing heads to turn in their direction. It was never a dull moment with her group of friends. Savannah would forever be grateful for the close-knit group. It didn’t matter what they had going on in their lives or how far away they moved; they would always be close and always be there for each other.
When she found Gabriel, she didn’t only find love. She found a family. A ridiculous, over-the-top, sometimes irritating family, but she loved every single one of them and couldn’t imagine her life without them in it. And thankfully, she didn’t have to.
The boisterous laughter from the corner of the room drew glances from nearly everyone in the room, and no matter how hard she tried to fight it, Nora was amongst them. A twinge of envy shot through her as she watched the group of friends tease and joke with each other before raising their drinks in a toast.
You could have that too if you didn’t spend so much time working, she reminded herself.
She’d been lucky to build her event planning business into one of the most sought after teams in Seattle in just under two years. But with that success came a really full calendar. Sure, she could probably afford to hire a couple more staff members and delegate some of the work, but truthfully she liked to stay busy. The busier she was, the less time she had to think. The less time she had to think, the more she could pretend the past didn’t matter.
Shaking her head, Nora pushed all thoughts of herself out of her head so she could focus on the task at hand. There was a party happening around her, and she needed to make sure everything was running smoothly. She made her way to the back of the banquet room and through the swinging double doors that led to the kitchen where the catering staff was busy putting together platters of finger foods.
The menu for the night had been created with the Halloween theme in mind. There were mini quesadillas shaped like jack o’ lanterns with the cut-out face and everything. They also had mummy wrapped hot dogs, hand-held pizza pockets shaped like a witch’s hat, sliders with bacon spilling out to look like spider legs. A shiver shot up her spine at the thought. She loved sliders and bacon, but spiders were her nemesis.
Once she’d made sure the caterers had everything they needed, she made her way to each of the three bars to check on them. While the food menu had been a stretch to make Halloween-themed, the drink menu had been easy. They had a drink with edible glitter in it and one that used dry ice to make it smoke. The colors were vibrant for some and dark as night for others with names like The Poison Apple, The Black Widow, Witch’s Blood, and Black Magic. She’d spent a month working with a mixologist to perfect the drinks. It was one of the most fun parts of her job.
Glancing over toward Savannah and Gabriel’s group, Nora made eye contact with Savannah, who smiled and waved her over. Nora hesitated but figured she should check on the client, such as they were. She’d been working with the couple for years since the banquet room at Arrow first opened. They’d believed in her when she’d only just started out, and then they recommended her to their friends and business partners.
It was because of Savannah and Gabriel Archer that her business had become a success so quickly. Nora owed them so much, but they always brushed off her thanks like they hadn’t done anything to warrant it. Watching them with their group of friends over the last couple of years, Nora realized what she was missing. She’d left her friends behind when she moved to Seattle, and while her friends and family were in Washington, Kennewick was a four-hour drive from Seattle on a good day. Which was basically never with the way traffic was in and around the city.
“Hey Nora, this place looks amazing, and everything’s so good. You’ve outdone yourself,” Savannah said as she pulled Nora into a hug.
The gesture shouldn’t have surprised Nora since it wasn’t the first time, but for some reason, it always did. Though the group of friends looked intimidating, they’d all been nothing but nice and welcoming to her. Savannah had even started inviting her to girl’s night, but more often than not, Nora had an event or a planning session. She kept promising herself that one of these days, she’d find a way to make it work. All work and no fun made for a really sad and dull life. Which was pretty much the life Nora was currently living.
Someday she’d remedy that, but for now, she had a party to see to. Her personal life would just have to wait.