Page 76 of Tripping on a Halo

“I love you too.” I had my hands in his hair, fisting the thick strands, when someone knocked on the door.

“Auttie?” Paige’s plaintive voice rang out from the other side of the door. “Declan?”

I yanked my shirt back into place. “Just a second!” I called out, giving Declan a quick zipper and bulge check before opening the door and offering my niece a breezy smile.

“Mom says to tell you no cardinal activities are allowed in our house.”

“An excellent rule.” I reached down and tickled her stomach, moving aside to let Declan sweep her off her feet and into the air, her shoes narrowly missing the hall lamp as he swung her around and onto his shoulders. “Should we see any cardinals, I’ll shoo them out.”

Caleb ran in, holding his hands up to Declan and begging for the same. I watched as he scooped up the boy with his other hand and carried them both through the back door, their shrieks of laughter increasing in volume when he launched them onto the trampoline.

I struggled to silence my inner thoughts on trampoline injuries, and the likelihood of broken necks, and enjoyed a moment where I watched them. Declan curled into a ball in the center of the circle, holding his knees as they bounced all around him, their arms swinging through the air, determined to break his popcorn.

He cracked, dramatically bursting out of his ball, his arms and legs springing open, and they piled on him, pulling at his limbs, their grins as big as my own. I recalled Ansley’s conversations with me when I was in the coma, telling me how Declan had become part of the family. It was true, he had. How had I found such an amazing man to love?

I felt my sister’s arms wrap around me and she squeezed me tightly, following my gaze.

“Damn, I love him,” I whispered.

“You should.” She smiled at me, and gave me a squeeze. “He’s a keeper. But you already know that. Hence the no-penis cake engagement party.”

I looked at my hand and stared at the diamond, surrounded by baby blue stones, the ring more precious to me than anything I had ever owned. “Yeah,” I said, smiling. “He is.”

“I think there’s a weight limit on this thing.” I listened carefully to the soft squeak of the rope and imagined the three of us plummeting to our death when it broke.

Well, maybe not death. But plummeting at least three feet. Bruises and sore backs were a definite risk factor.

“Are you trying to say that we’re overweight?”

I could feel the curve of Declan’s grin against the side of my forehead and I laughed, turning into him and rubbing the giant belly between us. “Well, not all of us.” Mr. Oinks lay flat on his back in the double hammock, his legs open in a most immodest way, his junk on full display to every star in the sky. I ran my palm over his warm tummy, and he let out a sigh of gratitude.

“This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I built this.” Declan leaned forward and pressed a kiss to my forehead, then dropped his head lower and found my mouth.

“So you thought you’d build a big comfortable bed out in the middle of his yard and he wouldn’t want to get on it with us?” I gave him a knowing glance. “Sure.”

There was the faint hiss of pig flatulence, and Mr. Oinks jerked, as if surprised by the action. Declan laughed, then struggled to sit up, the hammock almost dumping us out before he got his feet on the ground and stabilized us. “Out you go, buddy.” He hoisted Mr. Oinks onto the ground and settled back down next to me, watching as the pig waddled over to the flower bed and collapsed on top of my fresh plantings.

I groaned and rolled into the crook of his arm, hooking one leg over his. “I’m going to have to replant that bed.”

He pressed a kiss to my lips. “I’ll help.”

We lay there for a long moment, swaying under the moon, a chorus of crickets humming from the bushes.

“You know what I had envisioned when I built this?”

“What?” I played with my ring, the feel of it still foreign on my finger.

“This. You and me. Planning our future. Discussing our dreams. Making sweet love to the faint smell of Mr. Oinks’ farts.”

I laughed, and wrapped my arm around his side, pulling him tighter to me. “There’s no way that you and I are coordinated enough to have sex on this hammock.”

He scoffed and I grinned, watching as Mr. Oinks rolled onto his back and thrashed around, destroying hundreds of innocent tulips.

“Then let’s talk about our future. Your dreams.” He ran his hand gently across the top of my head. “I want to make all of them come true.”