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The long awaited part 2 of True, Deep and Forever
The long awaited part 2 of True, Deep and Forever
The story many readers are saying is a refreshing take on romance and love. It's real, it's raw, it's relatable. It's life!
Two hearts… one marriage… an unbreakable bond?
They say that in marriage there’s a seven-year itch. Where the passion fizzles, the arguments take over, and the kids are all-consuming. Amy and Garret Banks are seven years into a love so raw, so real, so incredible that when things start to go south, they’re both left feeling as though they’re treading water with weights on. That they’ll never find their way back to the surface and be able to rekindle the passion they once had for each other.
Secrets and lies, exes and bitter rejection plow through this once-perfect union, wreaking havoc on the couple’s fragile happiness and leaving them vulnerable to a threat that will put their whole family in danger.
Can Amy and Garret find their way back to each other, restore their trust and reignite the fire before the flame goes out and they’re both left singed, scared and all alone.
Ah, Christmas, a time when we eat too much, drink too much and look for any and every excuse imaginable to eat chocolate and drink eggnog. For me, it’s all about the chocolate, of course, while the idea of having to spend any amount of time with my colder-than-a-snowman’s-left-nut sister-in-law, Annalisa, made me want to have more rum than eggnog in my glass. But it was Christmas Eve, and for now, I was sister-in-law-free. We’d decided to forgo meeting up with James, Emma (the good sister-in-law), her family and my parents in Belize on my brother’s private island for the holidays and instead hunker down at home in cold and gray Vancouver.
It wasn’t our first Christmas as a family of three, but Garret and I had discussed it at length and decided that it would be better all around if we didn’t go away for the holiday and instead took the week off between Christmas and the New Year. We were both bagged from work, working on our relationship after my autumn of secrets and lies and looked forward to wandering around in our pajamas and just relaxing with our little boy. Ever since Garret had discovered I’d been working with Dax, my ex, things in my marriage had been tedious, to say the least. He wasn’t mad anymore, per se, but he was definitely a bit pricklier than usual and seemed to upset easily. My husband had always been a jealous man, and the fact that my ex-boyfriend was the new artist featured at the art gallery I worked at, and was the buzz of the Vancouver art district, did not sit well with Garret. He didn’t believe things were over now that Dax’s show was over. He figured my ex would be popping in and out of my life for the foreseeable future.
Needless to say, we needed a week to focus on our family and focus on our marriage, because even though I loved only Garret and I knew he loved only me, things were rough. We needed some time without work or family interfering to smooth things over. The past six months had tested our relationship, and certainly our marriage more than ever. I’d fucked up, he’d fucked up, there was a lot of fucking up. But one thing that we agreed on unanimously was that no matter what we’d always face the fuckups together. We were treating this week off work as a time to connect again and focus on us. Work on our marriage, our family and our trust.
But that didn’t mean we couldn’t and wouldn’t take part in some festivities in our own hometown. Since the first year after they’d brought Maggie home from Haiti, Justin and Kendra had been throwing a big Christmas Eve bash in their lavish North Vancouver mansion, inviting dozens of people and their children into their home for some yuletide cheer and eggnog. Justin dressed up as Santa Claus, getting right into the role and handing out presents to any person who still believed in St. Nick.
So the plan was: We were going to spend Christmas Eve at Kendra and Justin’s and then have Christmas morning in our own home, followed by an incredible spread of turkey and leg of goat (Garret’s dad, Fredrick, loved goat) and all the trimmings at Garret’s parents with Glenn and Annalisa. I was just stoked that I didn’t have to cook.
“Ready to go?” I asked, coming up behind Garret in our bedroom. He was busy pulling his sweater over his head. Henry played with his belt and some rolled up socks on the floor.
Ah, toddlers, they’re so easily entertained with the weirdest objects.
Garret’s dark, shiny bald head emerged through the hole in his sweater. “You bet.”
I bit my lip and let my eyes roam his body. “You look really nice.” I leaned forward and took a whiff. “And smell good, too.”
His arms snaked around my waist and he pulled me close, growling before his mouth fell to the crook of my neck. “It’s all for you, baby.”
“Should we skip the party and just hang out here. Put Henry down at his regular bedtime and have our own Christmas celebration?” I asked, letting my eyes flutter shut when his teeth raked along my jaw. I hadn’t been interested in sex these past few weeks. Life had been hella-stressful and neither of us had the energy or drive, but right now I was ready to tear off my husband’s clothes and have my way with his sexiness.
Garret growled again before releasing me. “Hold on to that thought, woman. We promised Justin and Kendra we’d go. But we’ll make an early exit and come home and celebrate. Santa really needs to come down the chimney. If you get my drift?” His brows bobbed salaciously over his grass-green eyes before he scooped Henry up off the floor and tossed him onto the bed. The tyke giggled and wriggled, sitting up and asking for more. Damn, my husband made it even harder for me to want to leave him with any clothes on when he was acting all super-dad like.
I made a mock pout before smacking his butt and heading to the closet to find my shawl. “You’re on. Though, don’t forget about Mrs. Claus’ needs too. She wouldn’t mind coming down the chimney, either. Maybe more than once.”
His rich, hearty laugh, combined with the squeaky giggles of our son chased me into the closet. “You got it, Mrs. Claus.”
“Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!” Justin bellowed as we stepped into their garland-laced foyer. The sound of people and holiday happiness emanated from the main living area. A giggling train of children running up the stairs nearly tripped Garret as he took off his coat. “Hey, Mags!” Maggie turned to face her father. “Walking, please!”
“Sorry, Daddy.” She smiled at Justin. “It’s just that we’re playing hide-and-seek, and we need to hide before Chloe and Amari find us.”
“Walking,” he warned again. “We don’t want people getting hurt.”
She nodded solemnly before taking off, her entourage of little minions following close behind. A small blob of black and brown fur with felt antlers took off down the stairs in the opposite direction from the gaggle of children. It seemed that Justin and Kendra’s dog, Sally Jesse Ruff-ael, a Boston terrier-Yorkie cross, did not appear to be enjoying the festivities the way everyone else was. And she made her feelings—that Christmas could take a flying leap out the nearest window—even more apparent when she stopped and scratched fiercely at the contraption she was forced to wear on her head. Justin bent down and took off the antlers, giving her a scratch behind the ears, before she skittered off to a quieter part of the house.
“The place looks great,” I said as we followed him into the kitchen. “You guys always decorate so nicely.”
His blue eyes twinkled, and those round boyish cheeks of his burned bright. “Thanks, but it’s all Kendra.”
“Hello!” Kendra greeted us, walking up and accepting my one-armed side-hug. I was balancing a tray of hors d’oeuvres in the other. Garret wandered off into the dining room with Justin. Henry sat high on his shoulders, happily sucking his thumb.
“Hi.” I gave her an exasperated half smile and placed the tray down on the big granite island. “Sorry we’re late. Last minute diaper explosion. I nearly had a heart attack until I remembered that he’d had beets for dinner last night. Holy shit! Purple shit!”
She laughed and flipped her dark red hair over her shoulder, her big green eyes going wide at my tray of artichoke dip and bread. “Oh yes, purple poo. I remember those days. Can I grab you some wine?”
“What are you drinking?” I asked, eyeing up the red fizzy beverage in her glass.
She leaned in and whispered, “It’s just cranberry juice and club soda. I, uh … I’m not drinking.” A giant smile spread on her face, and her hand instinctively traveled to her flat belly.
“Really?” I whispered. “How long?”
“About eight weeks, so we’re not telling many people. Just in case.”
I bit my lip, wanting to squeal and jump around and hug her. “Were you guys trying?”
She gave a small smirk of mirth. “We’re never trying, and we’re never not trying!” I hugged her again but chose not to squeal or jump. We came apart laughing. “A few people know, like Lex and Rikki and Nisha, but we’re keeping it on the DL.”
“Gotcha!” I nodded. “Well I can drink, and I intend to. Which way to the bar?”
“Wine?” She laughed.
“You know me well!”
The place was bustling, with pockets of smartly dressed people in every corner of the spacious house. Kendra loved Christmas, probably more than most children, so she always went hog-wild with the decorations. And each year it seemed as though their tree got just a bit taller. As it was, this year’s star on the top was practically brushing the ceiling, which I was pretty sure was sixteen feet high. The kitchen island was covered with food, and in the formal dining room, Kendra’s friend Clint was manning the bar. I saw his wife, Rikki, standing in the corner over by the French doors with a baby on her hip and went over to greet her.
“Merry Christmas!” I cheered, sidling up next to her and cooing at the little girl dressed in a red velvet dress who was hiding shyly on her mama’s shoulder.
“Merry Christmas!” she said, switching her child to her other hip with a loud grunt. “Sweetie, you can walk. Mummy’s arms are getting tired.” She plunked the little girl down onto her bum at our feet. Abigail looked up at her mother and blinked her big blues, her cherubic little lip trembling as she debated whether to cry or accept her fate.
She was Clint and Rikki’s youngest. Her older brother was part of the posse of children that was following Maggie around upstairs. With Clint’s Japanese heritage and Rikki’s blue eyes, curly hair and rosy cheeks, both of their children were absolutely stunning. And the little girl was doing a bang-up job of working her cuteness to try to get her mother to pick her back up.
“How old is she now?” I asked, trying to remember when I had attended her baby shower. Was it last year around this time?
“She’s sixteen months, and Jasp is four.” Her eyes darted around the room. “I think I saw my little hellion around here somewhere. Probably causing a muck.”
I nodded. “He looked to be enjoying himself when I saw him running up the stairs a minute ago with a bunch of the other kids.”
“We’re using the Elf on the Shelf threat for good behavior, and so far, it’s been working. I don’t know what we’re going to do come January.”
“Here you go,” Kendra chimed, coming up and handing me a very full, very big glass of red wine.
“Ah, thank you.”
“I think Justin’s gone off to ‘get into character,’ ” she said. “So we should probably rally our children for the big event.” We all started looking around for tiny people with big voices. She pointed to the island, where at that very moment, about four little hands of varying sizes and colors were reaching up for food. We couldn’t see any heads, just hands and arms. I watched one, knowing that it belonged to Nisha and Rakesh’s third child, Avi. His little hand pawed at a platter of meat and cheese. He grabbed a piece of Swiss, and it disappeared beneath the island. A few seconds later, the hand came back up, and there was a small bite out of the slice. He put it back and continued to hunt for something more palatable.
“Avi!” Nisha came up and grabbed his hand. “We don’t do that! What would you like?” She grabbed the piece of cheese that her son had been gnawing on and popped it into her mouth, giving me a frustrated but amused eye roll. I smiled and shook my head, laughing.
“How many are down there?” I asked.
“I count six,” she said, making a small plate of food and passing it down to the children.
“Grayson?” Kendra said, walking around the island and looking down at all the children, “could you do me a big favor?” I saw his little head nod fiercely at the thought of being given a special job. “Could you go and find all the other kids and ask them to come down to the living room? I think I heard some reindeer stomping on the roof.” Grayson was Alexa and Chad’s youngest. He had Down syndrome and tended to shy away from playing when the group of children got too big and loud, but tonight he was right in the thick of it all and seemed to be having a great time. I couldn’t see his face, but I could make out a rosy glow on his forehead and beads of sweat glittering in his hair. His older brother, Alistair, was very protective of him and usually stuck quite close, but if I remembered correctly, I saw his mop of red hair among Maggie’s entourage, and Grayson didn’t seem any worse for wear being without his bodyguard.
The little boy nodded at Kendra, grabbed a piece of pepperoni from the tray and took off at warp speed, with Nisha’s two youngest hot on his tail.
Chloe, Kendra and Justin’s youngest, stood up from her spot on the floor where she’d been quietly eating crackers. “Tuptake pwease!” she demanded, looking at her mother for permission, but only as a formality. Her hand was already two-thirds of the way there.
“No, honey,” Kendra cooed, grabbing her daughter’s eager hand just before it dove fingers-first into the peppermint swirled icing. “You’ve already had one. Remember the last time you had too many sweets? You got sick all over Mummy and Daddy’s bed?” She rolled her eyes and looked up at me. “We were at a birthday party for one of Maggie’s friends, and Chloe somehow managed to sneak two extra cupcakes without my knowledge. She came into our room that night complaining of a sore tummy and then subsequently barfed all over the duvet.”
I gave her a horrified look and instinctively pulled the cupcake tray toward me and out of the little girl’s reach.
Chloe glowered at me, then at her mother before bunching her fists at her sides, closing her eyes, tilting her head to the sky and letting out an ear-piercing screech.
But before any of us could blink, Kendra scooped her up, tossed her over her shoulder and carried her out. “Sorry, but I need to go have a little chat and time-out with my toddler.” She sighed before heading off down the hallway with a kicking and screaming Chloe slung over her shoulder like a gunny sack.
I turned around to find Garret with a crying Henry on his hip. He had what looked to be a fat lip.
“What happened?” I asked, taking my son and cradling him against my body as he continued to whimper and whine into my neck.
“He tried to grab the tablecloth in the dining room and then fell against the table leg. I think he bit his lip. He’ll be fine,” Garret said, ruffling Henry’s hair before taking a sip of what looked to be a gin and tonic. I gave him a bit of an annoyed look, but before I could say anything snarky like “Why weren’t you watching him?” we were interrupted by a slew of screaming children and the booming voice of none other than Santa Claus.
“Ho, ho, ho!” Justin roared, ringing a bell rhythmically as he walked into the living room. “Merry Christmas!” All the kids clung to him like remoras on a shark, gaping up at him in awe, whispering to each other about what could be in that big black bag of his. Little Grayson reached up and gently petted Justin’s back before recoiling in utter fascination and staring at his hand like he’d just touched God.
“Santa,” said Alexa, Kendra’s best friend, coming into the living room and corralling the kids to one couch, “why don’t you sit in that big comfy chair there?”
“Sounds like a great idea, Mrs. Rabino.” Justin chuckled. He quickly scanned the children, and you could see the curiosity in his bright sapphire eyes, especially since everything else was covered with the beard. He was wondering where Chloe was. “Uh, I have sixteen presents in my bag here, but I only count fifteen children. Are we missing one?”
“She’s having a break,” I offered, giving Santa the raised eyebrows and a tilt of the head.
He nodded his understanding and then took out his list. “We’ll just save her for last, then. All right … let’s see who I have on my ‘good list.’ Is there a Jasper in the room?”
After Santa Claus had come and gone, Garret and I found ourselves at the table of food. Henry refused to be put down all night, which was totally out of character, so we’d been passing him back and forth between us for several hours. It was my turn for a break, my arms sighing in relief as I reached forward across the table and picked up a decadent looking piece of chocolate.
“That sure looks good,” Garret said in a teasing tone.
I gave him a wry side-eye. “Yeah, it does. And it appears to be the last one with chili flakes on it.”
“Are they any good? I haven’t had a chance to try them.”
I held the piece of chocolate up to his lips. “You tell me.”
Those big, beautiful, sexy green eyes of his flared lambent in the pot lights overhead and the crease in his chin quivered as his face split into a wide sexy grin. He sunk his teeth into the center of the chocolate and bit down, crushing the shell and letting the filling fall onto his plump lips.
“You want the other half?” he asked, munching away. “It’s really good.”
I rose up on my tips toes and kissed his lips, running my tongue along the seam, tasting the last of the chocolate. Our foreplay and conversation from earlier was still at the forefront of my mind, not to mention the fact that we were trying to work on our marriage. We both needed to make more of an effort to communicate and connect.
“Mmm,” I hummed. “That was good.”
I was about to give him the other half and do it again when Henry, who had been casually watching the romantic exchange between his father and me, plucked the piece of chocolate from my fingers and popped it into his mouth.
Garret’s eyes went wide. “Uh…”
I mirrored his expression. “Was that spicy?’
We waited, watching as Henry chewed. At first, he didn’t seem bothered by it, he loved chocolate just as much as his mother. But then he must have hit a chili flake or something and his eyes went even wider than Garret’s. He spat the chocolate out faster than either of could blink and began whinging and flailing his arms.
Both Garret and I rolled our eyes.
“I think his sippy cup is in the living room,” Garret said blandly, ignoring the wails of his child. We were immune to this tune by now. When the kid is a newborn, every squeak and warble sends you into a panic. Now, as long as he was still breathing and wasn’t bleeding his cries no longer got our pulses racing.
He was about to take off in search of the sippy cup, but I stopped him with a hand on his waist. He turned to face me, the same smoldering look as before making my whole core clench.
“To be continued?” he asked.
I ran my tongue between my lips and popped another piece of chocolate into my mouth from the tray. “I certainly hope so.”
I grabbed another few pieces of chocolate and popped them into my mouth. Whoever had brought the chocolate had money and taste. This was better than anything I bought at the grocery store. I was contemplating grabbing a napkin and loading up when I noticed a group of four very out-of-place people walk in as if they were all chained at the ankle, gawking around the kitchen, all sharing the same lost expression. Three of them looked as if they could have been models, the two younger ones for sure, while the fourth one, the poor guy, his parents had to have been a toad and a hobbit. He was actually hard to look at. Talk about a thorn among roses.
The younger two, a boy and a girl, were probably in their late teens or early twenties. The girl was tall and thin with long auburn hair and big, beautiful, stormy gray eyes, a younger version of her mother, the woman standing behind her. But the boy, or I guess man in this case—I had to blink a few times and put down my drink—he looked exactly like Justin did twenty years ago. I thought I was in some kind of time warp for a second. Same build. Tall and tapered with muscles, but not bulk. His hair was a little darker than Justin’s, closer to that of his mother and sister, but it was still all disheveled as though he’d just stepped out of a windstorm or rolled out of bed doing all kinds of naughty things. And those eyes, aqua blue and full of mischief, were just like Justin’s.
“A-are you guys looking for someone?” I asked, stepping forward and trying to swallow the mound of chocolate in my mouth.
“Where’s Justin?” the woman snapped, her eyes continuing to dart around the party, taking it all in with disdain. Meanwhile, the two younger ones kept their own eyes cast down. You could tell by the way they teetered on their feet that they wanted to go mingle and enjoy in the festivities, but their mother’s hatred for all things fun was holding them back.
“Um, I think he’s off changing out of his Santa costume. Kendra should be around here somewhere.” I scanned the area, and sure enough, our beautiful hostess came floating around the corner with a teary-eyed Chloe on her hip.
The staunch woman before me transformed, reminding me a lot of my own mother. “What happened, sugar-plum? Come see Grandma.” She reached for a whimpering Chloe, who went reluctantly into her arms and started gently playing with her grandmother’s earring.
“She’s upset because Maggie got the purple pony from Santa and she got the pink one, and Maggie won’t trade with her.” Kendra rolled her eyes. “Hey guys.” She smiled, her mood lightening as she made eye contact with the four newcomers. “How was Mass?”
“Would have been nice if you and my grandchildren had been there, but it was fine,” the woman retorted. I felt for Kendra. I had one of these women in my life, too, and unfortunately there was nothing you could do to please them, no matter how hard you tried. There came a point where you just said “fuck it” and stopped caring. I could tell Kendra was close but not quite there yet.
She plastered on a big smile. “Amy, this is my mother-in-law, Julia, her husband, Jeff, and their kids, Justin’s brother and sister, Jake and Jessica. They’re visiting for Christmas.”
I shook all their hands and smiled, wondering how on earth these two people had managed to make such beautiful children. Were any of Jeff’s genes in there? Thankfully, none of the exterior ones, it seemed.
“Jake, Jess, why don’t you guys go find Clint in the dining room? You look thirsty.” Kendra winked as their two young heads popped up and life ignited in their eyes. They scrambled away from their parents and disappeared in a flash. I’d noticed quite a few twenty-somethings and teenagers milling around like lost puppies, probably being dragged along by their parents. Hopefully, Jake and Jess could find some peers and actually enjoy the holiday, because by the looks of things, those two were miserable when in the company of their parents.
Kendra was grinning ear to ear as she watched her brother- and sister-in-law skedaddle off to the other room. The look on Jeff and Julia’s faces, the way they glared at their daughter-in-law, was enough to freeze my wine.
But Kendra just continued to smile. “You guys look hungry. There’s tons of food, so dig in.” Julia snorted, but my friend ignored it. “I think Miss Chloe here is getting tired, so I might try to put her down in our room.” She took her daughter back from her mother-in-law, and the little girl draped herself over her mother, closed her eyes and stuck her thumb in her mouth. Kendra turned to me, her in-laws having apparently having lost their voices and the ability to move. “Amy, did you try the salted caramel cappuccino truffles? They’re incredible.” I nodded and smiled as she headed down the hallway with a sleepy toddler, leaving me with Rumpelstiltskin and Maleficent.
“So,” I piped, “that’s nice that you were able to come out for Christmas. A bit warmer here than I’m sure you’re used to?”
“We’re from Vancouver!” Jeff snorted, sucking spit between his teeth and grabbing three mini quiches, stacking them on top of each other and then shoveling the whole tower into his mouth at once.
Oh, right! You used to live here until you slept with Justin’s mother, who was married to Justin’s father, knocked her up and broke up his family. Then you took his mother and siblings away from him to live halfway across the country. Now I remember just how horrible a person you truly are.
I fought the urge to cringe and instead reached for another piece of chocolate and popped it into my mouth. “Uh, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and find a washroom.” Justin rounded the corner, and I nearly peed my pants, I was so happy to see him. “Justin!” I squealed. “Your mother has been looking for you!” And before he could say anything, I brushed past him and was out into the hallway, breathing a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have to hear Jeff suck his spit anymore. The man was absolutely repulsive.
I did actually have to find a bathroom, and although I knew where they all were, it took some time finding one that wasn’t occupied or that didn’t have a line seven kids deep. I made my way upstairs and was just shutting the door when I noticed, through the crack of an almost closed bedroom door, two people tangled up in a romantic embrace, frantically peeling clothes off as they made their way toward a bed.
Curiosity got the better of me, and I tiptoed forward, only to have my eyebrows nearly shoot straight off my head. It was Jake! Justin’s younger brother. And he was deftly undressing and ravishing some random young woman who I believed was Kendra’s yoga pupil. The two were down to their skivvies in seconds, and Jake’s mouth began to travel down the woman’s body. That’s when I decided that voyeurism was not my cup of tea, and I quietly shut the door, only to be barreled over seconds later by a horde of tiny humans. Alastair grabbed the doorknob that I’d just closed and was poised to open it.
“Um, no, that room is off limits!” I said louder than was necessary. “I don’t think you’re supposed to be going into other people’s rooms. And this is Maggie and Chloe’s Uncle Jake’s room.”
“But we’re playing hide-and-seek.” He shrugged. “We hid in here earlier, and it wasn’t a problem.”
I fought for reasoning. Damn kids today and their logic. “Yes, well, Jake is home from church now, and he told me he’d prefer if we kept his room closed.” The irony was not lost on me in the least. He’d just come from church, of all places, and was now busy giving the holiday cheer to some girl he’d just met. Oh, to be young again. “Besides, I’m pretty sure his presents for Maggie and Chloe are in there, and he doesn’t want them finding them before tomorrow. So maybe go back downstairs and use the playroom and the girls’ rooms for hide-and-seek?”
There were a few moans and a couple more challenges from the peanut gallery, but eventually, they all conceded and trudged back down the stairs, as disappointed as if they’d just been told there was no Santa.
I used the washroom and was just coming out when the door to Jake’s room opened and the two young lovers poked their heads out to see if the coast was clear.
“You’re safe,” I murmured. “All the kids are downstairs.”
Two startled pairs of eyes stared at me, but only the blonde managed to look sheepish as she swept out the door and scurried downstairs, straightening her blouse. Up close, I realized she was older than I had thought, maybe thirty or so, meanwhile Jake couldn’t be a day over twenty-five, and even that was a stretch.
Just like Justin. For years, up until Kendra, I’d only known Justin to date and sleep with other women. And it looked like Jake was following in his brother’s footsteps.
He stood in the doorway looking pleased as punch, his button-up shirt hanging loosely on his body and revealing a very nicely toned stomach. He grinned at me and winked before heading downstairs, casually doing up his buttons, whistling “Jingle Bells.”
Oh yes, he was exactly like his big brother!
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