Many months later…
Raina took a big bite of a chocolate chip cookie, reveling in the taste of pure sugar. The horrible pregnancy nausea had finally gotten better once she hit her second trimester, thankfully. Poor Nick had been almost as sick as she was watching her throw up so much.
Julia entered the kitchen carrying an empty bowl that had originally contained her famous potato salad. They were gathered at Jackson’s house as usual taking advantage of the perfect weather.
“There you are, honey. Nick was just looking for you.”
Raina shrugged sheepishly. “I snuck away to get another cookie. I made them so I should get extra, right?”
Julia chuckled. “Sounds right to me. Nick tells me you’ve been baking a lot.”
Once she’d mastered chocolate cupcakes, she’d moved on to cookies. It was something to take her mind off her approaching due date. She rubbed her belly absently. She only had two weeks left but it felt like an eternity. Although Julia was fond of reminding her that she’d miss this time once she had an infant to take care of.
In fact, maybe she should find her sexy husband and ask him to take her home.
Raina stepped out into the backyard, smiling at Bennett as she passed by. Elliott was behind a table jamming along to the music blaring from the speakers. In the distance, Matt and Penny swayed to a beat all their own. She’d already said hi to his twin sister, Mara, earlier. Even Grant had made an appearance. Several groups of children, some she’d never seen before, ran by shrieking and laughing.
One day, her child would be out there, too.
She couldn’t wait.
“Have you seen Nick?” she asked Ridley, who was busy rearranging the food on one of the buffet tables.
“Sure, he was just… oh, there he is!” Ridley waved him over.
“Is everything okay?” Nick asked, looking between them.
Raina winked. “Everything is perfect. I just figured we could sneak away a little early.”
Ridley covered her ears. “La, la, la. I’m not listening!”
They all laughed until Raina stopped suddenly. A sudden sharp pain took her breath away. She looked down to see a large wet stain on her leggings. “Oh my god.”
“Raina?” Nick followed her gaze down to the wet spot.
“My water just broke,” she whispered.
By this time, everyone was clustered around them, and Eli had cut the music. Matt and Penny rushed over to see what was happening.
“Okay, it’s all going to be okay. We’re having a baby. We’re ready for this.” Nick took off across the lawn.
Ridley looked over at Raina. “Where is he going?”
She shook her head in confusion.
“Nick! I think you forgot something.” Matt pointed at Raina.
“Aw, hell. Sorry, baby.” Nick doubled back and took Raina’s arm gently.
Grant stepped out of the crowd. Raina felt an instant wave of relief. He was a doctor so he would know what to do.
“Raina, take deep breaths. Are you having contractions?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Well, I’ve been having those weird things where my stomach gets all tight for the last hour. But those aren’t real contractions. They’re just the fake ones, right?”
“Braxton Hicks. Yes, those are very common leading up to the birth. But in some cases, what feels like Braxton Hicks can be real contractions. Which is definitely the case since your water broke. We need to get you to the hospital. Who’s your doctor?”
“Dr. Waters,” Nick answered.
“I’ll call her and let her know you’re on your way in.” He pulled out his phone and started dialing.
“I can’t believe we’re having our baby.” Raina grabbed Nick’s hand. “Our baby girl is anxious to get here.”
“She wants to join the party, that’s all,” Julia added. “Now let’s get you to the car.” Julia took Raina’s other arm gently. “I’ll swing by the house and pick up your overnight bag so that Ridley doesn’t have to do it. I’m sure you want your sister with you.”
“I do. Ri? Where’s Ridley?” Raina looked around frantically, suddenly needing nothing more than her sister’s calming influence.
“I’m right here, Ray. I’ll be there with you the whole time,” Ridley promised.
“Can someone call our father? He should know. I mean, I think he’d want to know.” It was a small gesture but Raina knew William would appreciate being included. They couldn’t change the past but they were working on having a better relationship for the future.
Matt stepped forward. “I can do it. What’s his name?”
“William Ranier-Ridley,” Nick responded.
“No problem. I’ll get his information from Sam.” He looked at Raina. “Don’t worry about anything. I can’t wait to meet the newest Alexander.”
Raina nodded shakily but had to stop moving when another contraction hit. She’d spent the last few months reading about labor and taking Lamaze classes but none of that had truly prepared her for the pain. When she could finally breathe again, she opened her eyes to Nick’s panicked expression.
“It’s okay, Nick.” She started her slow steps forward again. “At our last appointment the doctor said everything looked great.”
“It’s too soon. We had a birth plan. We’re supposed to have a relaxing, natural birth with a midwife,” Nick muttered.
When the next pain hit it was so bad she grabbed Nick’s shirt and yanked him closer. “Screw the birth plan. We have to get to the hospital. This hurts!”
* * *
When Nick emerged from the delivery room, he felt like he’d just been through a war. Watching the love of his life battle to bring their daughter into the world had changed him.
He had a daughter.
His mother followed him into the hallway. She linked her arm through his as they walked. “I can hardly believe my Nicky is a father.”
“Thank you, mom. For everything.”
He’d never forget how she’d helped Raina breathe through the pain, talking her down from her panic in the way that only a mother could. His family would go down in history as the best gift he’d ever given his wife.
“Of course. I love you both so much. Now let’s go tell the family the good news.” Julia was beaming, her happiness at having a new grandchild to spoil radiating off her in waves.
As was their way, his family and friends had taken over the waiting area in the maternity wing. His dad was on the phone. Elliott and Bennett were both sleeping. Jackson was talking softly to Matt, who was perched on the edge of a chair next to Penny. When they saw him, everyone quieted.
“She’s here. Our baby girl is six pounds and nine ounces,” Nick announced. “They’re moving Raina to a private room while the baby’s getting her tests done.”
Matt bounded to his feet and held out his hand. “Congratulations, man. I can’t believe you’re a father now.”
“I can’t believe it, either. She’s absolutely perfect.”
Bennett pulled Nick into a hug while Jackson and Eli slapped him on the back.
“Do you guys want to see her?” Nick shook his head. “What am I saying? Stupid question. Let’s see if the nurses have finished their tests and put her in her crib yet.”
They followed him down a hallway to the long glass window of the nursery. He recognized the nurse who had come to take the baby for her tests.
“There she is.”
When the nurse noticed them, she waved and then came closer so they could see the tiny baby in her arms. The pink cap on her head was no match for the wild thatch of black hair escaping from under it. Although she was swaddled in a white blanket, one fist peeked out of the top in defiance.
That was his baby girl, a fighter from the very start.
“I hope she’s not too warm in there. Maybe I should have the nurses get her a lighter blanket?”
He was hit then with a blast of anxiety. There were so many things that could go wrong at any given moment and he was supposed to protect her from them all. He rubbed his chest feeling like it might burst from the sudden rush of emotion.
“I love her so much already but I have no idea what I’m doing. What if she needs something and I don’t know?”
His dad clapped him on the back. “Welcome to fatherhood. You’re doing great so far. We were taking bets on how long you’d last in the delivery room before passing out. So you’re already ahead of the game.”
“My bet was on Raina throwing you out,” Eli added.
Julia hugged him. “He did great. You’d better hope you do so well when it’s your turn.”
Eli wisely clamped his lips shut. Nick smothered a laugh. His big brother wasn’t interested in settling down any time soon. Nick had once felt the same way. It was funny how life had a way of pushing your plans aside.
“She’s beautiful,” Matt said. “She’s going to be a knockout. You’d better invest in some guns now.”
They all laughed.
Behind the glass the baby squirmed in the nurse’s arms as she set her down gently in her bassinet. Nick couldn’t wait until he could hold her again. She hadn’t even been on this earth for a day yet and she already had him wrapped around every one of her little fingers.
“Her name is Jada. Since both our mothers’ names start with the letter J, we decided to keep that going. Her middle name is May since she didn’t wait for June and came early. So, she’s Jada May Alexander.”
“I like it. Sweet, simple, and strong,” Penny commented.
“Thanks. I need to go check on Raina.”
With a wave, he jogged back down the hall toward the patient rooms.
* * *
Raina closed her eyes, hardly able to believe she’d survived and come through the other side. The past seven hours had been a blur of pain and exhaustion. Even after she’d gotten her epidural (best thing ever invented), the time seemed to pass in a haze. But the number one thing that stood out was how safe she felt with her family around her.
Nick. Ridley. Julia.
Not to mention the crowd of Alexanders she’d been told were in the waiting room.
Nick walked in smiling from ear to ear. “I took the family to see Jada. They have her in the nursery.”
She held out her hand and he cradled it in his. It was hard to believe how far they’d come in their journey together. A chuckle escaped as she thought of their first date. The best one night stand ever, she decided.
“After this is over, I need some of whatever was in that IV. I wasn’t expecting to see you smile again for days.” Nick kissed the tips of her fingers.
The nurse standing in the room snorted with laughter. When they’d first arrived, Nick had been frantic with worry, asking a million questions about why it was taking so long and yelling at every passing nurse that his wife was in pain and needed help. Luckily Julia had been able to calm him down.
Apparently in all his reading about pregnancy, he’d missed the part about labor taking forever.
“I was just thinking about our first date. Would you have guessed this is where we’d end up?”
Nick shook his head. “No. I could never have imagined anything this good.”
“Even when I’m cranky and my ankles are huge? Even when I’m driving you crazy?”
Maybe it was being sweaty and tired that had Raina feeling insecure. But in that moment she felt afraid in a way she hadn’t in months. Nick was just so … Nick. Her greatest fear was that the past year had actually been a cruel dream and she’d wake alone and missing him.
But as usual, her husband seemed to know what she needed even before she did. He caressed her hair back from her face, his thumb tracing soothing circles on her cheek.
“Even when you’re driving me crazy, you are the best thing that ever happened to me.” He kissed her gently.
“So, how do you feel about having twins next time? I mean, we’re going to have at least four kids, right?”
Nick’s eyes rounded in surprise.
Raina laughed so hard that she had tears in her eyes. “Just kidding.”
Another nurse came into the room then carrying Jada. She transferred the sleeping baby into Raina’s arms. “Here you go, mom. She’s doing great.”
“That’s my girl. Already acing all her tests. She’s absolutely perfect,” Nick declared.
With a full heart and her husband by her side, Raina looked down at the best thing that had ever happened to both of them.
“This is everything I ever wanted.” Raina had to take a breath, suddenly overcome with how incredibly lucky she was. “Thank you for saving me that day. You changed my life.”
Nick smiled knowingly. “I told you there was nothing I wouldn’t do for you.” He leaned closer then whispered. “Except for twin girls. I have to draw the line somewhere.”
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