"Did she say yes, Daddy? Did she?"
Laura drew back and watched Kelly run from the SUV toward them, all gangly legs and dark hair flying. Richard scooped his daughter up in his arms, and the two of them stared at Laura.
"Are you gonna be my momma now?"
Laura eyed Richard, brushing at her cheek. "Yes, precious, I guess I am."
Kelly smiled beautifully. "See, Daddy, you didn't have to go to the ends of the earth to find her."
Laura smiled, tears of joy forming again as Richard wrapped his arm around her and pressed his forehead to hers. "No, honey. But I would have. I surely would have."
* * *
One year later
Laura was just closing up the Blackthorne Gallery when Richard called out to her. She smiled as he climbed out of the SUV and came to her. She worked the key out of the lock, then lifted her gaze to his.
"Hey, darling. You look tired." He kissed her softly.
"Aah, honey." She gripped his arms. "It's time."
"Time for what?"
She gave him a "you are such a man" look and, with both hands, pointed to her large round tummy.
He blinked, his eyes wide. "Right now?"
"Well, the way I've been having contractions all day, I'd say we have about thirty minutes."
Panic swept him. "Good grief, Laura, why didn't you call me?"
"And do what? Sit at home with you staring at me? With my mother and sister hovering over me?"
Okay, he thought, all those women around were hard enough to take. "Can you walk?"
"Sure. And I can dance, too, see?" She did a cute little cha-cha that looked more like a waddle.
"God, don't do that!" He held her still.
She laughed at his panic. "Come on. Let's go get Kelly."
"No, no, the doctor's first. Dewey can get Kelly from school."
"But we promised her."
"She'll just have to understand. Come on." He took her arm. She dug her feet in and he groaned. "Tell me you aren't going to argue with me over this, are you? Now?"
"Good Lord, Laura, you're having my baby. Our baby. We need to get going."
"Got a problem, there, Mr. Blackthorne?" a shopkeeper said, laughing.
Richard looked at him. "She's in labor and won't go to the doctor!" He pointed at her accusingly. "Your sisters are going to have me for breakfast over this."
"I'll go. It's not that big of a rush." A second later she folded over with a contraction. "Oh, mercy, maybe it is. Jeepers, your son is as pushy as you are."
Richard wasn't taking any answer but his own and instantly he lifted her in his arms and put her in the car. Across the street Officer Lindsey hopped on his motorcycle and rode over. "How about a police escort, Richard?"
Richard slid behind the wheel, his hands shaking. "Thanks Mark."
"Oh, don't be ridiculous!" Laura said, and didn't know whether to be embarrassed or amused as Mark turned on his lights and siren and escorted them the whole two blocks to the doctor. Their friends lined the street, waving and shouting good wishes.
Less than an hour later in the small hospital, Richard held his son in his arms. Laura practically delivered on the doorstep and now she was sitting in the bed, Kelly tucked to her side. He laid the baby in her arms, then climbed in with them, pressing his lips to her temple. Kelly counted her little brother's fingers as he tipped Laura's face to his.
"I love you," he whispered, then kissed her deeply, slowly. "Thank you." He slipped a ring on her right hand, a row of their son's birthstone, another right alongside it with blue gems.
"What's the second one for?" she asked.
Tears blossomed in her eyes, and she kissed him, whispering her love and knowing she couldn't be happier. Her dreams had come true and the proof lay all around her.
Richard snuggled his family in his arms, his life a far cry from those dark nights pacing the hallways, alone. He'd been a bitter, desolate man locked in a dreary tower, and Laura had walked through his doors, stirring his soul and forcing him to come live in her world and see all the gifts it offered. Looking down at his family, he knew how abundant love could be, and he cherished the day she'd stepped into his cage and awakened him. In loving her, he was free, the beast rescued by the beauty and rewarded with her heart.