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One Night Only

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Five Years Later…

I slid the headphones off with a grin and did a celebratory spin in the chair. Stopping to stare out the window at the lazy flakes, I took a minute to just bask.

It was Christmas Eve, which meant our backyard studio was empty. We didn’t work on holidays. Especially not holidays that involved our home being invaded by several generations of family. But when I saw the email saying the demo was uploaded, I decided to take just a few minutes to sneak outside and get my ears on it.

The song was good. And by the time we were done with it, it would be great.

Satisfied, I made quick work out of shutting down the equipment before shrugging into my coat and stepping into the backyard.

The Milton Estate had always had a reputation for quiet elegance. But thanks to my husband and our motley crew of guests, the place was a lot less quiet and a little more rowdy.

My boots crunched into the thick crust of snow as I headed toward the main house. My breath appeared in silvery clouds. The graceful gray stone and tall windows were softened and warmed by Christmas lights. Every year since the first, we had a line of cars parked in front of the house to take in the over-the-top holiday splendor. The lights and decorations in the front yard were timed to a different Sonic Arcade Christmas song every year and drew quite the crowd.

The backyard, however, was just for us. Strings of colored lights connected the house and studio. Every inch of the tall, fat evergreen in the center of the yard was doused in more lights, its glow creating the perfect view for all the rooms that overlooked the backyard.

I glanced over my shoulder across the pasture, into the past.

There was a new family living in my old house. Two moms and their twin sons. They had four cats and a huge garden which produced an impressive amount of cucumbers and peppers that they generously shared.

My Christmases with Vonn had begun there. In a snowstorm on that unforgettable Christmas Eve. Five years and a few hundred yards separated us from that beginning. Yet it felt like a lifetime. Life was different. I was different. Vonn was different.

But here it was, Christmas Eve and snowing again. Another white Christmas. It was part of the magic of Vonn Barlowe, I supposed.

With a grin, I stuffed my hands into my pockets and headed toward Vonn’s office door on the far side of the terrace as fat flakes clung to my eyelashes.

I let myself in the French doors and found Vonn’s office empty. It was a gorgeous room. Walls paneled in rich, dark wood. Luxurious carpet. Tall bookshelves. The art on the walls colorful and wild. Garrett Kwik’s gold record was proudly displayed alongside Sonic Arcade memorabilia. His computer was shut down, which meant my husband was officially done with work for the next forty-eight hours.

I headed into the hallway and poked my head into the living room. It was a room dreams were made of. The tall, cathedral ceiling and massive stone fireplace made it the perfect space for a twelve-foot Christmas tree. While we had plenty of professional help with most the decorating, the tree was all us.

Stockings, too many of them to hang on the mantel, were propped against piles of presents that took up the entire wall of windows. Our family had grown in the past five years. More evidence of this could be found stuffed onto every shelf of the dramatic built-ins that flanked the fireplace.

There were pictures. So many pictures. Vonn with his daughter, Laney, and her two kids. Shane’s little boy, who would be two in January even though I kept telling him to stop growing up. Addy’s picture-perfect wedding last spring. Garrett Kwik and Vonn hugging it out backstage at an awards show.

But what made me smile was the fact that it wasn’t just a shrine to the mementos of others. My life was up there too. Our wedding day. Christmas Eve four years ago right here in this house. Vonn looking impossibly sexy, me looking deliriously happy. The party had lasted until dawn.

We’d honeymooned in Italy. There were photos of that and other trips as well as souvenirs we’d picked up around the world. The two of us on red carpets, in hammocks, posing in the studio for a magazine spread.

It had taken nearly two years for my son to stop calling his stepdad “Vonn Barlowe.” Addy had adapted a little quicker. She adored her stepsister Laney. I secretly thought my ex Ryan still felt a little jealous. But I chalked it up to the fact that neither he or Valerie had had a full night’s sleep in the past few years. “One more kid” had turned into twins. Twins who were adorable, delightful holy terrors.

Every time they left our house, Vonn and I high-fived over our life choices. And then we had loud, dirty sex usually in the kitchen or dining room just because we could.

My gaze caught on a gilded gramophone.

The burst of pride was different than what I’d felt when my ex and I had walked Addy down the aisle or the first time I’d seen Shane hold his little boy. It was a different kind of pride I felt when I paused long enough to appreciate the presence of three Grammys tucked between mementos of a life well-lived.

One was Vonn’s.

One belonged to us for the song we cowrote together with Tommy’s lyrics.

And one was just mine.

Vonn still wrote occasionally, but he focused more on mentoring through his record company now. I wrote songs whenever the mood struck. The demo I’d just listened to was for a young Black country artist who was so close to her big break, I could taste it.

It turned out that in this life there was always something to look forward to.

Every morning when I thought I couldn’t wake up happier than the day before, I proved myself wrong. Becoming was hard work. But I counted my lucky stars every day that my punk rocker had carried me off in his arms.

I caught hints of garlic and onion and followed my nose into the kitchen. A punk Christmas song played on the kitchen speakers, managing to be both energetic and nostalgic. There was always music in our house. Something else I appreciated  my husband for.

And there he was. My happily ever after. The man who taught me to play piano, to snorkel, to build a catchy bridge, and to honor the power of shared secrets.

Vonn was at the stove in sweatpants and a T-shirt, scraping chicken from a cutting board into a huge, simmering pot. Betty stretched on the floor at his feet before wandering over to me, tail enthusiastically wagging. She was an old lady dog now, a little slower in the yard, a little whiter in the face. But she still loved like a puppy.

I gave her a kiss on the head.

“Hey, gorgeous,” Vonn said, looking up.

Somehow the familiarity of those blue eyes had never managed to lessen my reaction to them. The tattooed bad boy working in the kitchen still took my breath away.

“Hey,” I said, sidling up to him and peering into the pot.

“Figured I’d make a big ass batch of soup since we’ll have a full house.”

The guest rooms were all set, each with fresh sheets and towels and their own artificial Christmas trees. The bathrooms were stocked with every toiletry imaginable. The fridge was full of ingredients for tonight’s family feast and tomorrow’s holiday brunch. The presents were wrapped. The walkways shoveled and salted.

And I hadn’t had to do it all myself. Between me, Vonn, and our amazing housekeeper, I’d never been this relaxed before a major family holiday.

I wrapped my arms around his waist and pressed my face into his muscled back. “I love you, Vonn.”

I heard him put the lid on the pot and then he was shifting around, his hands slipping under my arms.

I found myself sitting on the marble of the island, with Vonn between my legs.

“You like the song?” he asked, cupping my jaw and looking into my eyes. His lips quirked. “Yeah, you liked it.”

“It’s good. Really good,” I said, feeling giddy—and only partly from the music.

“A lot to do in the new year,” he said.

“Yeah. But I’m ready to relax and enjoy the chaos of our families.”

“Laney’s flight gets in at five,” he said, glancing at the clock on the wall.

My pulse ticked higher. “Shane and Addy and company will be here around six.”

“Guess we’ve got an hour or so to ourselves before the madness descends,” he teased. His fingers traced the tattoo on the inside of my wrist. The one that said Becoming, written in Vonn’s tight scrawl. He had a matching one in my handwriting on his chest over his heart. “Any ideas on how you want to spend it?”

I locked my ankles behind his back and slid myself to the edge of the counter.

“I’ve got a few.”

Those big, beautiful hands of his traveled up my thighs to my hips where he tugged at my leggings.

My fingers busied themselves in the waistband of his sweatpants.

“Have I told you how much I love it when you wear sweatpants?” I murmured just before his mouth closed over mine.

“Only about a million times or so,” he whispered. “Have I told you how much I fucking love you?”

My grin was rightfully cocky. “Only about a million times or so.”

I kissed my husband like it was the first time just as Sonic Arcade’s version of “White Christmas” came on.

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