CHAPTER 1

Despite the fact that it was late October in Trinity, South Carolina, the day was a beautiful one, filled with just enough briskness in the air to keep the heat from the sun from becoming too overpowering, yet, there was enough heat from the sun to keep the air from becoming too chilled. In short; the day was a a perfect balance of breeze and sun to make any time spent outside enjoyable, something that was truly appreciated by the young man making his way up the sidewalk. Walking home from school, Caleb Buck began whistling a tune to himself as he gave consideration to the significance of today. Not only was today his sixteenth birthday, but there had been a great many twists, turns and changes in his life since that horrible night exactly six years ago today. Although he still remembered the horrible event that had led to the death of his beloved sister, Merlyn, he was grateful that the events involving her and the man that, he later learned, was his stepfather no longer haunted his sleep at night.

He couldn't deny that his life had definitely taken several sharp turns since that fateful night. The memories of the difficulties that he had in accepting the truth when he had learned that his true father was Lucas buck, were vivid. However, despite those difficulties he was grateful that he had learned acceptance, especially given that he now had, not only a father who openly acknowledged him, but also a loving mother as well as two sisters and a younger brother, all of whom loved him dearly. Muttering to himself, Caleb admitted aloud;

"Yep, I guess that I'm pretty lucky at that."

Picking up his tune where he had left off, Caleb continued on his present course for home.

Just as Caleb was counting his blessings, his mother, Dara Buck, was pulling a chocolate cake from the oven to cool. Hearing the sound of discord coming from the direction of the living room, she placed the pans on the cooling rack as she made her way to the front room in time to hear her three old son, Alex, arguing with his twin sister;

"I said it's time for Rocket Rangers, Riesa, give me the remote."

Dara entered the doorway to see her three year old daughter, Riesa, snatch the remote from her brother before stating;

"No, Alex! I don't care, it's time for Wonder Woman."

Dara couldn't help but shake her head in bemusement as she glanced to the sofa to find her two year old daughter, Rinie, busy coloring, oblivious to the argument her siblings were having over control of the TV. She couldn't help but feel a happy smile come to her face as the little girl looked up to offer a bright smile as she greeted;

"Hi, Mommy."

Returning the smile, Dara offered;

"Hi, baby."

Noticing their mother, Riesa turned to place her little fists on her hips as she demanded;

"Mommy, make him give me the remote. It's my turn to watch the big TV."

Furiously shaking his head, Alex denied his sister's statement;

"No it isn't, you got to yesterday."

Dara couldn't help but laugh slightly as she held her hands up in a pleading motion as she suggested;

"Alright, let's settle this, where's the calendar?"

Running to the desk, Riesa grabbed the item her mother had requested and hurried to the sofa to eagerly thrust the calendar that was used to mark whose turn it was to choose which shows the children watched. Settling herself on the sofa next to her mother, Riesa watched eagerly as Dara turned the pages to the correct date. Studying the dates, Dara turned to her son to offer apologetically;

"I'm sorry, Alex, but today is your sister's turn with the remote, but if you'd like you can watch Rocket Rangers upstairs in mine and Daddy's room if you want."

Dara couldn't help but be reminded of just how much the little boy resembled, both, Lucas and Caleb, especially as he held his head down in a sheepish manner to offer his sister a mumbled apology;

"I'm sorry, Riesa, I guess I forgot."

Although the argument had seen serious enough to the two of them earlier, Dara wasn't shocked when the little girl reached over to hug her brother as she offered;

"It's okay, Alex."

Knowing that the little girl could never stay angry with her twin, Dara knew what was coming next as the little girl, who was so obviously closely related to her, suggested;

"Mommy, can't we tape Rocket Rangers and watch it after Wonder Woman?"

Alex, looking hopeful, pleaded;

"Please, Mommy, that way we can watch both of them together."

Nodding, Dara offered;

"Alright just let me start the recorder."

Programming the device, Dara couldn't help but smile to herself; this had been an argument since the children had been able to talk and reach a remote control, but they had always seemed able to work it out on their own with little to no help from others. Once she had the device programmed, Dara approached the sofa to study her youngest child; while she loved all four of her children, she seemed to spend a great deal more time with Rinie.

Caleb, who was turning sixteen today, was finding friends and a life all his own and although he loved his younger siblings and still made time for them, he was definitely his own person now with his own life. Alex and Riesa, being twins, naturally seemed to bond more closely together than with their other siblings, this left Rinie, the youngest. While Alex and Riesa made sure to include her in their activities and she was undeniably close to them, she still seemed to keep mostly to herself. Studying her now, Dara couldn't help but smile at just how studious she appeared as she concentrated on the picture that she was coloring, before she offered;

"You wouldn't happen to know anyone who would like to help me decorate her big brother's birthday cake, would you?"

A bright, happy smile coming to her face, Rinie glanced to her two siblings to find them thoroughly involved in the latest adventures of one of their favorite superheroes. Realizing that they were distracted, she nodded her head excitedly before sliding off the sofa to take her mother's hand and lead the way to the kitchen to pull a chair up to the counter to help with the cake.

Dara couldn't help but shake her head as she contemplated her children's personalities. At sixteen, Caleb was becoming a version of his father, although he wasn't quite as solidly built as Lucas and still had at least another inch or so before reaching the same height. Alex, too, seemed to be destined to take after his father, having inherited the same curling, wavy, dark hair and features as Lucas, although his eyes were more like Dara's. Riesa was an obvious miniature of her mother with the same dark auburn hair and sea green eyes that had obviously been inherited from Dara. Rinie, on the other hand, seemed to be very different from her siblings. She had inherited Lucas' hair coloring but she had Dara's fair complexion and eyes that were a combination of both parents. Her personality was another combination; she seemed to have inherited her mother's patience but the severity of her temper came solely from her father.

Long ago, Dara had come to accept that their children were gifted in many ways, but true to his word, Lucas had taught them how to control and handle their special abilities. Not only had they inherited their 'gifts' but they had also inherited high intelligence and understanding, something evident in the fact that all three younger children had managed to accomplish the milestones that most babies took months to master in merely weeks.

Although the twins had been advanced in accomplishing the feats of infancy, such as sitting up, walking and talking, Rinie had accomplished the same feats even more quickly than her siblings. She began crawling at twelve weeks to stand at sixteen weeks before staking her first steps at six months old. Her ability to speak had been another area of amazement; the twins had spoken their first coherent word just short of their first birthday; Rinie, however, had been able to manage basic complete sentences by that time. Now, at two years old she spoke as coherently as both Alex and Riesa.

Dara brought her thoughts back to the present as her daughter climbed on the chair that she had pulled to the counter, marveling at her youngest child's independent streak as she offered;

"How about some milk and cookies to snack on while we're working on the cake?"

Nodding eagerly, Rinie took a big bite of her cookie before asking;

"Mommy, when will Daddy be home?"

Shrugging as she set the glass of milk in front of her daughter, Dara ventured;

"Well I'm not really sure, baby, but since it's Caleb's birthday I'm sure he won't be too late. Why?"

Taking another bite of cookie, Rinie shook her head as she mumbled between bites;

"I was just wondering, Mommy."

Before she could further address the little girl's inquiry, Dara heard the front door open and close before Caleb entered the kitchen, and, noticing his youngest sibling, questioned;

"What are you guys up to?

Her little face lighting up at the sight of her brother, Rinie held up her chubby little arms to eagerly greet;

"CALEB!"

Sitting his backpack on a chair, Caleb happily caught his sister as she leapt from the chair she was standing on into his waiting arms as he approached. Returning her hug, he asked;

"So what did you do today?"

Giggling she pointed to the counter as she explained;

"Nothing, I was just helping Mommy fix your cake for your birthday."

With that, she began wiggling like a little squirrel to check his pockets before looking at him with a pout in place of where her smile had been earlier. Caleb couldn't help but grin as he reached into his back pocket to produce a candy bar, something that found him being rewarded with a bright smile of pleasure from his sister as he demanded;

"Is this what you were looking for, little squirrel?"

Nodding eagerly as she took the candy from his, Rinie hugged him tightly as she offered;

"Thank you, Caleb, you're the bestest brother ever."

Caleb laughed at her statement as he set her back in the chair just as Alex and Riesa were running up to him to eagerly throw their arms around his waist as they too began searching for their candy bars as well. Once they had found their unexpected treats, all three trooped off to the living room to enjoy their cartoons and the candy. Noticing the stern look on his mother's face, as well as the fact that she was having great difficulty maintaining the admonishment, he shrugged as he asked innocently;

"What?"

Realizing that she wouldn't be able to continue the pretense of irritation with her eldest child, Dara gave up the effort as she chastised;

"You do know that they'll never eat their supper now; don't you?"

Dara couldn't help but feel her irritation totally evaporate as he offered her a smile, reminding her very much of Lucas, before he crossed the space to put his arm around her to reason;

"Oh, come on Mama, you know that they look forward to it and one candy bar won't hurt them."

Unable to do anything but sigh in resignation, Dara shook her head as she smilingly relented;

"Oh, alright. Now, go on and do your homework and let me finish your cake?"

Turning back to the counter she began decorating the cake as Caleb grabbed his backpack to head upstairs.

Fulton County Sheriff deputy, Ben Healey squared his shoulders as he grabbed the gaily wrapped package from his desk to make his way to the office door marked; LUCAS BUCK, SHERIFF (PRIVATE OFFICE). Tapping on the portal he waited until he heard an invitation;

"Come in."

Opening the door, he found his boss, Lucas Buck, finishing with the day's paperwork before glancing up, to greet;

"Hey, Ben, what can I do for you?"

Launching in, Ben explained;

"Well, Lucas, I know that today is Caleb's birthday and you know that me and the boys are all fond of him, so we were wondering,"

Placing the gift on Lucas' desk, he requested;

"Would you mind giving him this gift form us? We all chipped in and got him something for his birthday, we hope he'll like it."

Nodding as he offered the man a smile of genuine appreciation, Lucas agreed;

"Sure thing, Ben. I'm sure that he'll like whatever you boys got him.

Placing his pen back in its holder, Lucas rose from his chair to shrug his broad shoulders into his jacket before grabbing the package to toss over his shoulder as he made his way to the door;

"I'll see you tomorrow, Ben."

Watching as he pulled the door closed, Ben began gathering the documents from Lucas' desk to get a head start on his filing. As he organized the papers he couldn't help but notice the wide assortment of photos that now occupied Lucas' desk, including a photo from his and Dara's wedding four years earlier, as well as a photo of his four children, one of he and Dara and a more recent ones of the entire family. Ben couldn't help but marvel at the changes in the man as he remembered how things had been in Trinity once upon a time where Lucas Buck had been concerned, not to mention just how much those same things had changed shortly after the arrival of Dara Chambers, now Dara Buck. Although Ben couldn't help but feel lightened at the thought of just how improved things had become since Lucas had made Dara his wife, had he realized just how much trouble the door chime of the outer door was bringing with it as it announced someone's arrival, he would have found his mood severely deflated, especially if he knew what it would mean for Lucas Buck and his family.

Walking through the front door of his home, Lucas heard the sound that he had come to love hearing as he pushed the door closed;

"DADDY'S HOME!"

Bending down, Lucas waited for the barrage of small arms that were outstretched, waiting to be held. Grabbing up his children he hugged and kissed each as he asked;

"Where's Mommy?"

Pointing in the direction of the kitchen, Rinie explained;

"She's in the kitchen, fixing Caleb a cake for his birthday, Daddy."

Dara couldn't help but smile at the sight of her husband entering the kitchen, as usual, with Alex on his back and holding their daughters in each arm. Bending slightly, he greeted;

"Hi, darlin, how was your day?"

Offering him a loving smile as she lifted their son from Lucas' back to set him down, she offered;

"It was fine, how about your day?"

Amid their protests, Lucas set his daughters back on their feet as he pleaded;

"It's Mommy's turn for hello, okay?"

Sighing in resignation, all three went back to the living room as Lucas turned to smile mischievously at Dara before taking her in his arms to hold her tightly as he repeated;

"Like I said, it's Mommy's turn."

With that, he lowered his head to kiss her deeply. Both found themselves shocked to hear their oldest child speculate;

"You know that at this rate I'm willing to bet that we'll have another baby around here before too much longer."

Reluctantly, Lucas released his wife before muttering in irritation;

"Not if we don't get any privacy, we wont."

Shaking his head in amusement at his father, Caleb observed;

"You know that you should really consider slowing down, Dad; you're forty-four years old."

Taking the glass of iced tea that his wife had just handed him, Lucas raised an eyebrow at his son as he demanded;

"And your point would be?"

Shrugging, Caleb sighed as he realized his father's point;

"No point, I guess. I guess that age really isn't that important, is it?"

Nodding as he took a sip of tea, Lucas praised;

"Now you get the idea, son."

Placing his glass on the table, Lucas reached into his jacket pocket to withdraw a key ring before tossing it to Caleb. Catching the keys, Caleb stared at them in question as he asked;

"What are these for?"

Meeting his son's puzzled gaze with an even one of his own, Lucas asked;

"Isn't today your sixteenth birthday?"

Nodding silently, Lucas shrugged nonchalantly;

"Then I guess that those would be to your birthday present from your mother and I."

Looking from one parent to the other, Caleb asked excitedly;

"Does this mean what I think it does?"

Motioning towards the back door, Lucas suggested;

"Why don't you go outside and see for yourself."

His face lighting up, Caleb bolted out the backdoor and stopped short at the edge of the porch, followed quickly by his parents. Caleb's eyes widened as he found, not only a car, but the very one that he had been eyeing for weeks; a blue Fire bird. Turning to his mother and father, smiling proudly, he asked in astonishment;

"How did you know? I didn't say anything to anybody about it, not even Boone."

Wrapping his arms around his wife's waist, Lucas shrugged;

"Just a lucky guess I reckon."

Turning serious, he advised the boy;

"We want you to enjoy this car, but we also expect you to act responsible with it. The only reason that your mother and I bought it for you was because we think that you're mature enough to handle it, so don't disappoint us. Alright?"

Nodding eagerly, Caleb crossed his finger over his heart as he vowed;

"I promise, Dad, I'll be real careful."

Glancing up at the car, he turned sheepishly to both of his parents as he asked timidly;

"Since I haven't gotten my license yet, could one of you, maybe, go with me so that I can try it out?"

Seeing the hopeful look in his wife's eyes, Lucas nodded;

"You go on, darlin, I'll stay with the kids."

Happily, Caleb ran to the door to open it for his mother, who eagerly jumped in, reminding Lucas of a teenager herself. Lucas stood on the porch and watched as Caleb carefully pulled out of the driveway, shaking his head as he considered the turns that his own life had taken.

On this day, six years ago, Lucas had maneuvered events to be able to take custody of Caleb so that he could raise the boy. While his motivation had began with his own selfish reasons, he was not truly able to appreciate the real reasons for wanting a child, all thanks to his wife's influence. That had been another severe turn that his life had taken, and for the better. The moment that he had first set eyes on Dara he knew that there was something about her that would be different from all of the other women that had been in and out of his life, he quickly realized just how right he had been when he decided that he wanted her in his life permanently.

The realization of just how right he had been was even more evident after more than four years of marriage and the birth of the three children that they had made together as well as the fact that he found her even more beautiful and desirable than he had the first time that he had seen her. Logically, he knew that she was no longer twenty-six but he still couldn't help but see her just as he had on that hot Summer's day years ago. Shaking his head at his good fortune, he smiled to himself as he voiced aloud;

"I'm definitely a lucky man at that."

Stepping inside, he pushed the door closed and made his way to the living room to spend time with his three youngest children.

Dara found herself laughing lightheartedly as Caleb sped down the highway with the windows and the tops to his new car open, despite the crisp chill that could be felt in the air. Seeing his mother's good mood, Caleb pulled the car onto the shoulder of the road as he cajoled;

"Come on, Mama, I know that you want to try her out, let's switch."

Eagerly, Dara accepted his suggestion as she quickly took the driver's seat and fastened her safety belt before turning to her son to offer;

"Would you like to see just how fast this thing can really go?"

Nodding, Caleb countered;

"Okay, but you have to tell Dad that it was your idea."

Putting the car in gear, Dara quickly accelerated down the empty road, shocking Caleb as he glanced over at the speedometer to whistle in disbelief;

"Whoa; Mama, did you know that you're doing eighty-five; where did you learn to drive like this?"

Turning to offer her son a mischievous grin, Dara confessed;

"Well, don't you dare tell your father, but when I was your age I used to drag race with my grandparents' car; that's how I learned how to drive like this."

Neither noticed as they flew by a parked patrol car until the vehicle pulled out to follow them and began flashing the colored lights to signal them to stop. Today was Floyd's turn to flag cars with the radar gun to help discourage speeders; he was about to give up and change locations when a blue Fire bird flew by him, doing eighty-five in a fifty-five zone. Giving chase, he pulled the vehicle over and grabbed his ticket book before exiting his vehicle to march up to the driver's window as he began asking in irritation;

"Do you have any idea just how fast you were going?"

Glancing up from his book he found himself shocked to see Dara Buck behind the car's steering wheel as he demanded sharply;

"Dara! What on earth are you doing, this isn't your car?"

Offering the chagrined deputy a warm smile, Dara greeted;

"Hi, Floyd, no, you're right, this is Caleb's car. Today is his birthday and this is what we got him for his present. I'm sorry, I didn't really realize that I was going that fast."

Unable to do anything but smile at her enthusiasm and cheerful disposition, Floyd couldn't do anything but chuckle. He had always had respect and reverence for Lucas Buck, but he, like Ben, believed that Lucas decision to marry Dara had been one of the best decisions that he had ever made. Closing his ticket book, Floyd advised;

"Alright, but just be careful and slow down. You know that if Lucas knew that you were driving like that he'd turn you over his knee and me for letting you get away with it."

Knowing the truth of his statement, Dara nodded as she promised;

"Alright, Floyd, I promise that I'll be careful and slow down."

Putting the car in gear, she pulled back onto the road and turned in the direction of home.

Later that evening, after the evening meal had been finished and Caleb had blown out the candles on his birthday cake, Dara and Lucas had settled with their younger children in the living room. Caleb had gone to the movies with Matt and Loris Crower as a birthday treat and wouldn't be home till much later. Following the familiar pattern that was the norm in the Buck household where the three younger children were concerned, Riesa took the remote and turned off the TV before pleading with her father;

"Tell us a story, Daddy, please."

Setting his paper aside to lean forward in his chair, Lucas offered his eldest daughter a loving smile as he questioned;

"What kind of story do you want to hear, angel?"

Having set the pattern as soon as they were able to speak, these three saw their parents in very specific roles. Lucas' job was to spin a tale for their imaginations while Dara's was to soothe them to sleep with the magic that her voice created for them. Riesa, considering her father's query, placed her small fist under her chin as she gave the matter serious thought. Finally, her eyes brightening, she answered;

"We want a fairy tale, Daddy."

Rising from his chair, Lucas bent over to lift the girl in his arms before making his way to the sofa to sit next to his wife as Alex and Rinie climbed up to join them and snuggle closer to their parents as they waited in anticipation for their father to begin spinning a tale for their entertainment. Lucas thought carefully of how to begin his story as he noted the look of contentment on his wife's face, then, offering her a smile he began;

"Once upon a time, in a faraway place, there lived a beautiful princess who had eyes that were the color of the green in the sea, skin that was fair like a porcelain doll and hair that was the color of burnt rubies mixed with copper and gold."

Glancing up and her mother, Rinie pointed out;

"Mommy, that sounds like you."

Pushing a stray curl away from his youngest child's face, Lucas nodded;

"It does, doesn't it, Rinie?"

Continuing the story, he began;

"Anyway, this princess had decided that she and her mother, the queen, weren't happy in the kingdom where they had been living, so the princess decided to venture from the kingdom to find a new home. The princess and the queen found a small kingdom many miles away that they felt would be perfect for their new home, so they decided to settle there. But, the princess didn't tell anyone that she was a princess, she just lived as everyone else did."

Shocked, Riesa demanded;

"But didn't anybody know that she was a princess, Daddy?"

Nodding, Lucas explained;

"Yes, there was finally one person who knew that she was a princess; there was a knight in the new kingdom who noticed the princess one day as she was going about doing her chores. He could see that she was much too special and beautiful to merely be a common woman, he knew that she just had to be a princess because she was so special."

Tilting his head to the side in anticipation, Alex asked;

"What did the knight do, Daddy, when he figured out she was a princess?"

Reaching across the back of the sofa, Lucas placed his hand on Dara's shoulder as he saw the love shining in her eyes before he continued the story;

"Well, the knight approached the princess and although he knew that she was beautiful, when he saw her up close, he discovered that she was more than beautiful, she was ethereal."

Furrowing her brow, Riesa inquired;

"What is 'ethereal', Daddy?"

Lucas couldn't help but feel pride in the fact that his children were eager to learn and unafraid to ask the meaning of new words as he offered;

"It means 'heavenly, baby. You know, like an angel."

Seeing that she had understood his explanation, Lucas continued his story;

"Anyway, the knight knew when he looked into the princess' beautiful eyes that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, but right then, he couldn't."

Disbelief and shock mirrored in all three children's eyes, Rinie, usually the spokesperson for the trio, demanded;

"Why; didn't she love the knight?"

Nodding, Lucas explained;

"Yes, she loved the knight, but, unfortunately, the princess' mother, the queen, was very ill. It turned out that the princess had brought her mother to the new kingdom because there was a war in the old kingdom and the princess wanted her mother to live in peacefulness because she didn't have very much longer to live. But, the princess didn't want anyone to know that the queen was so ill, so she kept it a secret."

Rinie, having sat transfixed, lifted her head a little as she ventured;

"But, if the knight loved the princess then he wouldn't have cared about her mama being so sick, would he Daddy?"

Shaking his head as he glanced at his wife, Lucas affirmed;

"No, honey, it wouldn't have bothered the knight one bit."

Turning his attention back to this children, Lucas continued;

"Finally, a day came when the knight learned about the queen and knew that he needed to be by the princess' side, because soon she would be alone. So, he went in search of her and stayed by her side, even through the death of the queen."

Sighing as she shook her head, Riesa pointed out in a sad voice;

"Daddy, that's so sad. Do they get to be happy?"

Reaching over, Lucas put his hand against his daughter's cheek as he advised her;

"You'll have to listen to the rest of the story to see, sweetie. Anyway, after the queen's death the knight confessed his love for the princess and asked for her hand in marriage. Since the princess loved the knight as he loved her, she agreed and soon they were married. Although the princess missed her mother dearly, she and the knight were very happy and they found themselves even more so when they learned that they were soon going to be blessed with the birth of a child. But, a wicked wizard who was jealous of the knight decided to cast an evil spell on the princess."

The excitement over the tale his father was spinning for them flashing in his eyes, Adam demanded;

"What kind of spell was it, Daddy?"

Lucas couldn't help but shake his head at his son's enthusiasm over the tale as he explained;

"It was a spell to make the princess very ill, the wizard wanted to punish the knight and he knew that what would hurt the knight the most was that if he lost his true love, so the wizard wanted the princess to die."

Turning to each other in fear and disbelief, all three children asked in unison;

"Did she die?"

Shaking his head, Lucas explained;

"She almost did, the wizard gave the princess a potion that put her in a deep sleep, but, the knight was able to get the princess to a good wizard who reversed what the evil wizard had done. Then, the knight went in search of the evil wizard and banished him from the kingdom. After that, the princess recovered and she and the knight waited for the birth of their child, but, low and behold, when the day came for their baby to be born, they were surprised and delighted to find that they weren't having one, but two babies; a boy and a girl."

Turning to each other, both wearing identical smiles of amusement, Riesa ventured as Alex nodded;

"I bet that's us."

Lucas couldn't help but be proud and amazed by their quick wit as he continued;

"Everything went well for the princess and the knight and their new family. Time went by and soon they learned that they were going to, again, be blessed with another child. But, unfortunately, there was an evil knight who had also fallen in love with the princess and he decided to steal her away from her husband."

Lucas could tell by the looks of shock that his children were wearing as well as their awed silence that they were captivated as he continued his tale;

"The evil knight had stolen the princess and taken her to a secret cave in the forest to hide her away so that no one could find her, or so he thought. But, the good knight loved the princess so much that he wouldn't stop looking for her until he found her. Once the good knight found the cave, he fought a duel with the evil knight for the princess and, finally, he destroyed the evil knight and rescued the princess to take her back to their castle, where a short time later they were again blessed with a beautiful baby girl."

Sitting up and pointing to herself, Rinie beamed proudly;

"I bet that's me, isn't it, Daddy?"

Nodding, Lucas couldn't help but grin as he confirmed her theory;

"Yes, baby, that was you. After that, the princess and the knight lived happily ever after. Now, it's bedtime, so hop on and let's get the three of you tucked into bed, then Mommy can sing you a lullaby."

Alex, wrapping his small arms around his father's neck, climbed onto Lucas' back while Riesa and Rinie climbed onto each knee to be held in his arms so that he could carry them upstairs. After making certain that all three had completed their nighttime ritual of going to the bathroom and brushing their teeth, Lucas helped Alex into his pajamas while Dara helped the girls don their nightgowns before taking the bows and barrettes from their hair before she began brushing out the length of each girl's hair, which was already reaching in curling waves below their small shoulders. After she had finished brushing and braiding their hair for bed, she helped tuck all three children into their respective beds; as she got to Alex, who reached up to hug and kiss her, the little boy requested;

"Sing us a song, Mommy."

Motioning to her husband, Dara offered the little boy a loving smile as she began singing her children to sleep. Although they had been married for over four years now and he had heard her sing many times, Lucas knew that she was still shy about singing openly in front of anyone but their children. Lucas stood listening to her soft, floating voice from outside of the doorway and hearing her stop, he peeked around the door to ask quietly;

"Are they asleep?"

Nodding, Dara sat up to lift Rinie to place her in her own bed as Lucas did the same with Riesa, both girls having decided to crawl into the bed next to their mother and brother as she sang to them. Satisfied that all three were tucked in and settled, once they pulled the nursery door to, Lucas enfolded Dara in his embrace before venturing;

"You know, Caleb won't be back until late and they're asleep. I think that we should take advantage of the opportunity that's presented to us."

Lifting her eyes up to meet his as she smiled at him coyly, Dara asked in a seductive tone;

"Really and just how do you propose to take 'advantage' of it?"

Seeing the leering gleam in his eyes, she wasn't completely shocked when he offered;

"Let me demonstrate."

With that, he descended to take possession of her mouth with his own, deepening the kiss by degrees until he was exploring her mouth, drinking in his fill of her before he lifted his head to ask;

"Do you get the idea now?"

Trying to catch her breath as she steadied herself by leaning against him, Dara couldn't help but shake her head at how it never failed to surprise her that, even after the years of marriage, he still had the power to take her breath away and make her weak in the knees. Taking a deep breath as she admitted in a rasping voice;

"I think that I get the idea."

Lucas wrapped his arms around her tightly as he replied;

"Well, let's see if I can paint a clearer picture for you."

Bending down, he once more took possession of her mouth as he swept her up in his arms as he continued satiating his hunger for her as he made his way to their bedroom where he quietly shut the door behind them. Finally, setting her in the middle of their bed he began disposing of his own clothing as she sat, watching him with a relaxed and contented smile on her face. Having disposed of his own clothing, he approached the bed to kneel next to her as he began unbuttoning her blouse and pulling it from her shoulders as he began trailing the length of her throat with his mouth as he finished removing the last of her clothing. Once they had both found release and enjoyment in each other's arms, they held each other tightly as they drifted off to sleep, content in each other and in their life. A contentment that was about to be put into a free fall of turmoil before much longer.