“Chloe?” Brandon said quietly, almost reverently.

“Yeah,” I answered, just as softly.

“I’m holding my niece. She’s so beautiful…”

“Awww…” I sighed, my heart melting at the complete and utter devotion in his tone. “How is she, how’s Emma? Everything good?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Emma’s a champ.” He paused and then continued conversationally, “I saw her vagina. Walked in right as she started to push coming back from the cafeteria and, let’s just say that’s a side of my sister-in-law I never wanted to see. All red and angry…”

“Brandon! She was giving birth, cut her some slack!” I cried.

“Huh? No, her face! Her face was all red and angry. Jesus, I didn’t stare at her vagina…what kind of perv do you think I am?” he asked indignantly.

I sighed. “So, did they finally settle on a name?”

I could hear the smile in his voice as he said, “Yep. Her name is Everly Jane Crimshaw.”

“Jane?” I asked, my heart melting even more.

“Yeah. They chose Jane because Jan is Emma’s mom’s name, and well, because they wanted to name her after you, too. She talked to Allie about it and they both agreed that it was fitting because you’ve been such a great friend to them both. So, yeah. Everly Jane.”

Emotion clogged my throat and tears stung my eyes as I was hit again by the fact that I was so damned lucky to have friends and family like them, people that opened their arms to me without hesitation. It felt great.

I cleared my throat, realizing Brandon was waiting silently, patiently on the phone for me. “How much did she weigh?”

He chuckled. “She’s a heavy weight. Weighed in at eight pounds, two ounces, bigger than Liam! They’re about the same length, though.”

A tiny little mew sounded then, and Brandon cooed to the baby nestled in his arms. “Shh…let’s go see your momma, ‘kay?” Then to me, “Chloe, I’m gonna take her back over to Emma and I need to hang up. I’ll call you back in a little bit, okay? Are you okay there by yourself?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Give Emma and your brother hugs from me and tell them congratulations. I can’t wait to meet her!”

“Alright, sunshine. I’ll call you later. Love you.”

He hung up before I could say anything more.

I laid back in the bed and sighed, glancing at the dogs who were…well, they weren’t sleeping anymore. They were all three sitting up, staring at me like they were waiting for me to tell them what Brandon said. So I did.

“She’s here, Doug, DJ…your furless sister is finally here.”

I laughed when their tails wagged and then Grady jumped from the end of the bed smack onto my chest, knocking me down and licking my face exuberantly. I pushed him off and, realizing I probably wasn’t going to get any sleep, asked if they wanted to go outside.

Immediately, three wiggling, bouncing bodies lurched off the bed and danced around me as I got up and headed to the back porch to let them out. I stepped out the back door with them, standing on the cement at the edge of the grass and watching them run around the yard like mad, marking everything they could.

The wind blew and, even though it was summer now, this early in the morning there was a chill in the air. I rubbed my arms briskly with my hands to help ward off the cold. I jumped, whirling to look at Doug when he let out a low, menacing growl, his hackles rising as he stared at the fence.

It was dark and it was a six-foot privacy fence, so I couldn’t really see anything; but that didn’t matter. Fear skittered up my spine as DJ and Grady, even as young as they were, turned and crept toward Doug, their hackles raised and twin growls emanating from their throats as they joined him watching the fence. I took that as my cue, not waiting for anything else to happen. I could feel the wrongness sweeping through the air, my instincts screaming that someone was out there and the dogs had alerted me to their presence. Shivers raced down my body as I turned and fled into the house, calling the dogs sharply to me as I ran.

They followed immediately, the pups just a bit quicker than Doug, who gave one last, warning growl and a sharp bark before he came in. I locked the door to the screened-in porch, then double bolted the door to the inside of the house before resetting the alarm that I’d disarmed to let the dogs out.

Back in the safety of the house, I made my way through every room, checking the doors and windows to make sure each and every one was secured. Doug followed closely at my heels, but the pups sat stoically on the couch, side by side, their heads tracking Doug and I as we came and went through the room.

Finished with that, I headed back into the living room and carefully hooked my finger into the blinds, moving one slat down just enough to peek outside. The street was empty, no movement anywhere. The dew on the grass glistened in the street lights, but beside that, there was nothing to see. Then, my breath caught as something moved in the darkness by the neighbor’s garage. I let it loose on a shaky laugh as a cat trotted out of the shadows and meandered down the driveway and onto the sidewalk before disappearing into the night.

The dogs had all settled completely by this point, so I padded back to my bedroom and climbed into bed to try and get whatever little amount of sleep I could. This time I was grateful to have the three dogs cuddling close to me, no matter that I barely had any room on the mattress and couldn’t move once more. Finally, I drifted off to sleep curled on my side, Doug lying against my back with his head on my pillow, Grady curled into my stomach with his head on my side, and DJ curled up behind my knees.

Sunlight filtered around the curtains when I cracked my eyes open, yawning and stretching as I tried to wake up. I sat up when I realized I could move freely in my bed, my eyes darting around the room, searching for the dogs. When I didn’t see them, I rolled out of bed and strode from the room to figure out where they were.

I skidded to a halt in the living room when I noticed Brandon asleep on the couch on his back. He looked super uncomfortable, not only because he’s too long for the couch, but because Doug was sprawled out on top of him. The other two dogs were sleeping on the other furniture; one on the armchair, and one on the loveseat. Their tails wagged lazily as I shook my head at them.

I let Brandon sleep, but to do that, I had to leave Doug where he was. I was afraid if I tried to get him down, his paws would hit some…vital areas, and for sure wake him up. I glanced at the clock on the microwave in the kitchen as I made myself a cup of coffee, surprised to see that it was almost noon. I was curious as to what time Brandon had gotten home, and why he hadn’t come to bed.

A muffled curse broke the silence of the house as I stood looking out the kitchen window while I drank my coffee. I sat my cup down and moved into the living room, giggling when I saw Brandon trying to struggle out from under Doug’s pretty significant weight. His struggles excited the pups, so they were jumping back and forth along the couch on the floor, and every time they got within licking range, their tongues darted out and swiped whatever part of Brandon they could get.

I finally called them off when Brandon gave me an evil look, laughing as the three of them pranced off into the kitchen, I’m assuming to empty the bowls I’d just filled for them.

“So nice of you to help me,” Brandon said wryly as he sat up.

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