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By a Thread


One year-ish later…

“What are you doing? Breaking and entering?” I asked, re-adjusting Maya’s blanket like any obsessive new mom concerned about the effects of pollen, suffocation, sun, and fifty-degree temperatures on my perfect child.

“It’s not breaking and entering if you have a key,” my husband said smugly, opening the front door of the massive brick house with a flourish.

“Dominic Russo, why do you have a key to the big house on the corner?” I hissed.

Brownie tapped out an anxious beat with his toenails on the brick porch.

He’d said he was taking our little family for a drive.

I’d been delighted when we left Manhattan’s skyline behind us and crossed the river into my old stomping grounds. We’d cruised past my childhood home, now the home of a nonprofit community center for adults with memory disorders. I’d missed the grand opening because I’d been in labor with Little Miss Hey I’m Coming Three Weeks Early.

There was a sturdy fence around the yard—now a small but colorful flower garden—and rocking chairs on the front porch. Two of the chairs were occupied. I waved and the chairs’ occupants waved back.

Dominic had then delighted both me and Brownie by stopping at our favorite ice cream place, where our little family sat in the sunshine and devoured our cones.

Now, we were about to be arrested for trespassing at the house I’d loved since I was a kid.

“What are we doing here? Why do you have a key? Where are the people?” I asked.

“So many questions,” my husband said, dropping a kiss to my forehead and repeating the gesture with our daughter’s wrinkled brow before taking the carrier from me.

There was a softness about him now. An ease, as if the knots of hate and guilt had untied themselves, leaving behind only love.

“Dom? What did you do?” I whispered, stepping inside.

The house was empty. As in furniture-less rooms, bare walls, every sound echoing off the hardwood floors.

I turned to face him. He was unbuckling Maya from her seat, then cradling her against his chest.

He’d been a rock through both pregnancy and labor, as expected. And when our little girl arrived, screaming her way into the world, my beautiful husband had cradled her in one arm, dropped his head to mine, and cried.

My heart broke and glued itself back together ten times stronger in that moment. Because Dominic Russo finally realized that the love he had in that big, soft heart of his would never allow him to turn out like his own father.

Our daughter’s arrival was the evidence he’d been waiting for his whole life.

I may have sobbed so hard that the doctors considered sedating me. True story.

A week earlier, Gola and the admin pool threw Dom a surprise baby shower. Greta came out of retirement to attend. Dalessandra and Simone showed up in the hospital room with a six-foot-tall stuffed giraffe and a flower arrangement worth more than my first car. After snuggling their beautiful baby granddaughter, they broke into our house with a team of designers and handypeople to finish painting the walls and arranging the ridiculously expensive nursery furniture.

Our daughter was perfect.

Not just because she looked a whole lot like me or that she had Dominic’s fierce frown. And also not just because I was filled with all of the motherly hormones that rendered me incapable of murdering my own child because she was only sleeping in what felt like fifteen-minute increments.

Part of it was that she was no longer physically attached to my body, and it was really nice to get back some autonomy. Pregnancy and I had not agreed with each other. Any woman who tells you pregnancy is the full expression of womanhood is a dirty liar or selling stretch mark cream.

Orgasms, ladies, are the full expression of womanhood. Have as many as you possibly can. But get your own Dominic Russo. This one’s all mine.

But I digress.

So there I was, standing in the foyer of every dream I’d ever had. Afraid to hope.

Because this man had already given me so much.

The look he gave me was so raw and real I almost couldn’t take it.

And when I looked past him, I spotted a very familiar musical instrument alone in a swath of light from the stained-glass bay window.

I crossed to the piano and ran my fingers over the keys. “You already bought it, didn’t you?” I whispered.

Dominic, hands on our baby’s feet, leaned against an empty built-in bookcase. “Maybe. That depends on how much trouble I’m going to be in.”

“Oh, Dom.” I shook my head, eyes glistening. I’d cried a lot the last few months. Hormones and whatnot. But this feeling was something altogether different.

“It needs some updates. Especially the kitchen. There’s five bedrooms. Three bathrooms. An office off the back with room enough for both of us when I work from home,” he said. “And the third floor is one big room. I thought maybe we could turn it into a studio for you.”

“I love you so damn much.”

“You’re not mad?” he ventured.

“I’m a whole lot of things right now.” And I was. A vibrating mess of feelings that threatened to swamp me.

He gave a little shrug. “It was your dream.”

That was the only reason he needed to make it happen.

I shook my head, digging my nails into my palms because this beautiful, perfect man deserved a reprieve from crazy wife tears. “Not this house. You. You are my dream.”

“Ally.” It sounded like a caress.

“Put the baby down, Dom.”

His smile was sly and sexy. “Why?”

“Because I’m going to thank you properly.”

Minutes later—hey, we’re still figuring our way through post-baby sex, okay?—I rested my head on Dom’s stomach and stared up at the plaster ceiling. Our plaster ceiling. Maya babbled in her car seat next to our discarded pile of pants and shoes.

“What are we going to do with all this space?” I asked him.

His fingers lazily combed through my hair. “Fill it.”

* * *

A little less than ten years later…

“If you two don’t get out from under my feet, I’m going to lock you in the backyard,” I threatened sternly.

The big house, our big house, had been filled all right. Right now, it was two dogs doing the filling in the kitchen. But the rest of our home was art and furniture, music and friends. Family and children.

No, people, I didn’t have triplets at forty-one. After that pregnancy, I wasn’t delusional enough to beg Dom to put more babies in me.

Luckily, I didn’t have to. Because our former next-door-neighbors in Manhattan, the Vargas family, had a solution. It turns out, Elton and Sascha’s adopted son Jace had a brother and sister who had entered foster care. It was also right around that time that they fell in love with a house on our block. So our kids, all four of them in total, got to grow up together.

Our big house contained not just a family of five but two dogs—Brownie and Cookie—a pet rabbit, and seven goldfish. Crap. Make that six. These walls held memories. Of Christmas mornings and spontaneous weeknight dinners that ran way too late, resulting in school dropoff hangovers. Of me going back to the professional life I loved, building my own small graphic design company, and teaching dance as often as possible.

Of tears and heartbreak. Big and small. My father was gone, and I still missed him every day. I wished that he could be at our table with our loud, loving brood. I wished that he could have been in the audience during Jack’s drum solo at last night’s high school band concert. But Mr. Mohammad, Mrs. Grosu, and Dalessandra and Simone had been there.

In small ways, Dad was still here. Just like my childhood, there was always music at home. Only my kids got to see their mom and dad dancing to it in the kitchen between soccer practice and black-tie galas. Jack and I took over the Morales family tradition of screaming at the TV during Mets games. Maya was following in my footsteps in dance.

Dom and I weren’t quite sure where her equal love of martial arts came from, but we were down with it.

I heard the music and tiptoed closer.

Dominic and our fourteen-year-old daughter, Reese, were side-by-side on the piano bench, talking quietly and playing around with a tune. Watching Dom with our kids was a balm. Building new memories with a family of my own was the best way I could think of honoring my own dad.

Dom played a riff and bumped shoulders with Reese when she answered it. I pressed my fingers to my lips. The teenage hormones were strong with this one. I remembered the angst and misery of fourteen and prayed to the goddesses of puberty that they would be kind to our girl.

So far, she was hanging in there.

“Dad, I know,” Reese sighed dramatically. “Consent. Consequences. Birth control. Jeez. Between you and Mom, I’m basically a walking encyclopedia on sex.”

“It’s a big deal,” he told her. “And it’s entirely up to you.”

“I’m fourteen. Boys my age are gross.”

It was true. Fourteen-year-old boys were gross.

“Your mom and I just want you to be prepared. Everything that happens to your body should be your decision.”

“Oh my God. Daaaaad. I have more respect for my body than the rest of the girls in my class combined,” she assured him. “Can we please talk about literally anything else?”

Respect your body and everyone else’s. Our kids weren’t required to hug anyone they didn’t want to. Jack and his brother, Jace, had been given the “anything other than an enthusiastic yes is a no” lecture on everything from hand-holding on up. Our girls, well, you just witnessed the outcome of a years-long education on body autonomy.

They knew vaguely of Paul Russo. That they had a grandfather out there who wasn’t a part of their lives. And not just because he went to jail. Our kids understood that blood didn’t make a family.

“How’s your friend Chloe doing with the divorce?” Dom asked, changing the subject.

“She’s okay,” Reese said, changing the classical tune to a pop song. Dom followed her.

My husband took parenting seriously. He knew our kids’ friends, knew their parents, knew who was spending what night at whose house. He knew which kid hated raspberries (Maya, the little weirdo) and who needed more space when they were upset (me and Reese).

Happy that we were raising kids with boundaries, I ducked back into the kitchen and checked the cookies. Cinnamon butterscotch were Dom’s favorite, and Sascha had given me her recipe. We’d have a full house tonight. We always did on Dom’s birthday. It was tradition.

So was the new black dress I’d found tucked away in my closet.

This one was a form-hugging Valentino. I couldn’t wait to put it on. And I already knew that Dom couldn’t wait to take it off.

“Mom! Can I have a cookie?” Nine-year-old Maya exploded in from the backyard, her cheeks pink from the March cold.

“How did you know they were done?” I teased, swiping a hand through her tangled curls.

“Brownie came outside eating one,” she said.

“Damn that dog,” I said, noticing the missing one on the very edge of the tray.

“If Brownie gets one, I should get one,” she insisted.

“Mom! Are the cookies done?” Jack trooped inside, Jace on his heels. They both had skateboards under their arms. At fifteen, Jack was pretty much over spontaneous shows of parental affection. So when he rested his head on my shoulder, I wisely decided not to yell at him for the grass stains and hole in the knee of his new jeans.

My kids were making memories too, and sometimes that involved falling down and ruining nice things.

That was the very reason we had moved the completely ridiculous $8,000 white silk sofa Dalessandra and Simone had gotten me for my last birthday into the office. We could have nice things. They just couldn’t be in rooms where children and dogs were allowed.

“Did someone say cookies?” Reese sauntered into the kitchen. I opened the fridge and handed her a fizzy water, her grandmothers’ doing.

She gave me a smile, a real one, and a spontaneous peck on the cheek.

The kids and dogs crowded around the island, helping themselves to warm cookies right off the racks, bickering for the most part good-naturedly. There was only one thing missing. I snagged a cookie and ducked out of the kitchen.

I found Dom behind his desk in our office. He was in sweatpants and a t-shirt that showed off his unfairly fine form. His hair had started to go gray, and I was obsessed with the deepening crinkles in the corners of his eyes. Fifty-five looked good on the man.

“Happy Birthday, Charming,” I said, sliding the pocket doors closed behind me and wandering around his desk.

“Do you have something for me?” he asked devilishly. I produced the cookie from behind my back, and he laughed.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

He shook his head and pulled me between his legs. “Nothing.”

“Do you want your cookie or not?”

“I’d rather have you,” he said, rising from his chair and pinning me between his desk and the very inappropriate hard-on trying to escape his pants. “Tell me you locked the door,” he said, nuzzling into the side of my neck.

“Mr. Managing Editor. Here? Now?” I asked, my voice embarrassingly breathy. “What about later?”

“Later is later,” he said, slipping one hand under the hem of my sweater. “The kids are distracted by cookies.”

“That only gives us four-ish minutes before they start fighting,” I reminded him, shivering as his fingers dipped under the cup of my bra to capture my already-pebbled nipple.

“Then I guess we’d better work fast,” he said, giving a tug.

“Fast is good,” I breathed, yanking the waistband of his sweats down and grabbing his shaft with enthusiasm.

“Floor or desk?” He groaned, shoving my sweater up and bra down.

“Desk?” It came out as a hiss because he’d just sucked a nipple into his mouth.

“Quiet,” he ordered, biting down.

“Gah. Bossy!” I whispered.

He growled and spun me around so I was bent over his desk. My leggings were dragged down my legs, my feet kicked wider. But the hand that coasted over my hip and thigh was gentle, reverent.

“Hold on,” he said, his voice rough.

Obligingly, I curled my fingers around the opposite lip of the desk.

The throbbing between my legs intensified as I felt Dom trace the wet head of his cock down the cleft of my ass.

I let out a needy, desperate groan.

He slapped me on the ass. “Didn’t I say quiet?”

Every damn time was a seduction, a masterclass in pleasure. No matter when or where or how long we had, it was always, always perfect.

A dog barked. A kid yelled, “I’m gonna tell Mom!”

But I was suddenly extremely confident in their conflict resolution abilities.

Besides, Dominic Russo was sliding his cock into me inch by gorgeous inch and telling me how much he fucking loved me.

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