The final chapter...finally. Thanks very much for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it and thanks for the feedback, it's been really helpful...
C.J. walked amid the throngs of people who had come out to the ranch to celebrate its housewarming and made sure that her family and friends had plenty to eat and drink. Bo and Lamar had combined their best chili cooking skills with Matt's talent at the barbecue to make some truly tasty sirloin chili burgers. She had of course roasted the potatoes with garlic and rosemary and Lulu had prepared the salad utilizing vegetables that she and Dylan had harvested from the garden. Slade had gotten over his jealousy over not hooking back together with her to man the bar outside by the swimming pool and other guests like Chris, her twin sister Pam and Hoyt's wife had brought including several delicious desserts which waited in the kitchen for their unveiling.
Roy and Will had arrived from where they had been holed up during the period of Marquis' rampage and C.J. noticed that the familial bond between the father and son had only strengthened during their weeks spent together. Will had kissed her on the cheek and congratulated her on the baby, having received the news from Matt already who had just gone off and told everyone who would listen to him about it. The biggest surprise had been the arrival of Vince and his family who had flown in on Matt's Lear Jet along with of course, Mama as a surprise for C.J.
And it had been the most wonderful of surprises even when Mama had walked into the kitchen and had just taken over, but C.J. welcomed her presence having missed the woman so much. And of course, Mama had brought some of her trademark pizza for them to enjoy.
"You need to eat much more now," she fussed, "You're eating for two…does Matt keep you well fed?"
C.J. smiled at the woman's maternal side showing.
"Yes he does Mama," she said, "He takes really good care of me."
"He should," she said, "Hopefully he's more attentive than my son who refuses to even consider giving me another grandchild. Says he's too tired…It's because he eats like a bird."
C.J. chuckled, thinking it to be just like old times.
"I've never been happier," she said, "I really love him."
Mama's face softened and she patted C.J.'s cheek.
"Of course you do," she said, "I've always known that. I was just wondering when the two of you would have enough sense between you to figure that out."
C.J. smiled, yes they finally did and to think it had been helped along by her impulsive decision to purchase his ranch.
"And they've put the bad men away in jail?"
C.J. nodded. Oh yes, Marquis was back cooling his heels again this time in much more secure surroundings as was Jonathan.
Chris joined them in the kitchen and went to help C.J. get the final touches on the potatoes.
"The men are almost done with the barbecue," she said, "Matt's been keeping them in line."
"I'll bet," C.J. said, "I'd better check on them."
Everyone seemed like they were having a great time at the party and before mingling, C.J. had brought out a freshly baked apple pie for Bo to give to Beulah who at least this time appeared to be securely locked up in the barn. This would be a great peace offering for the porcine forced to miss out on the festivities. She walked out to where Matt had been with Vince, Hoyt and Will preparing a stack of burgers to place on the neatly decorated tables.
"They look great," she said.
Matt walked over and kissed her before brushing her hair off of her face.
"So do you," he said, "How you feeling?"
She rolled her eyes at him.
"As good as I did the last time you asked," she said, "Really I'm fine."
The other men chuckled.
"It's always like this with the first one," Vince said, "You live and learn in time for the rest of them."
C.J. raised a brow at the ex-cop who looked more relaxed than she had ever seen him.
"Mama says you're holding out on her…"
Vince sipped his beer.
"I told her…my wife and I would think about it," he said, "but we've got our hands filled just with the four boys."
That had grown like weeds since C.J. had last seen them. No doubt, so have their appetites. They could put away so much food, something which made their grandmother very happy. She watched them play with Hoyt's daughter and with a little boy whose mother had come to the party as Will's girlfriend. C.J. noticed that the two of them looked very happy together. Matt's cousin deserved the best that life had to offer because he'd experienced so much of its worst.
The food proved to be delicious and everyone returned to the table for seconds including Vince's four sons who had gone off with Bo and Lamar to tour the barn even stopping to visit Beulah who had made short work of her pie. Matt had made sure that C.J. had plenty to eat and that she actually sat down and ate her meal rather than run around making sure everyone else had enough to eat. With Mama at the party, there could only be one captain anyway and Matt had been grateful to her when she had arrived and just taken command of that ship right away. C.J. hadn't minded in the least and she looked happy now talking with Chris and Pam who had left Houston Enterprises to go backpacking in Europe where she had met a man who owned a winery on the Italian coast and fallen in love. She showed off her wedding ring and everyone thought it beautiful.
"Where's Roberto now," Ruth Ann asked.
"He's in Paris on business," Pam said, "We're going to meet back up in Rome for a quick vacation before we start organizing for the new season."
Chris had been happy for her sister when she had found true love, though she herself still looked in between balancing different work assignments for Murray who was now regaling Will with tales of life at the office. Will seemed to be indulging him for the moment despite being double teamed by Myron who had flown in from Houston to attend the party.
C.J. sat enjoying her meal thoroughly, having developed quite a healthy appetite and as she cast a glance at Matt talking with the men folk, other things. She saw an older woman with a cowboy hat bring her dish on over and smiled warmly at the woman who had delivered Matt as a baby and saved her life. This of course made it possible for him to hook up with her and start off on the next generation of the Houston family tree. Not for the first time, she wished that Bill had lived long enough to meet the grandchild he so desperately wanted. She liked to believe that he was watching from someplace else along with her own parents and Matt's mother.
And Wade of course.
Cattle Annie walked right up to her and sat beside her.
"So who's going to deliver this baby of yours and Mattocks'," she said, "Got a doctor lined up."
C.J. thought this woman never missed a step.
"I do here," she said, "Some women here recommended her to me. She's supposed to be very good."
"Then you're in good hands," she said, "Of course I'm going to be checking up regularly on you and Matlock and the little one to make sure everything's fine."
"I'd like that," she said, "I know Houston will."
Annie shook his head.
"He didn't waste any time did he," he said, "Once he figured out what he should have known all along. But Houston men are much quicker on the draw in the business world than their personal lives."
Yeah, C.J. thought, maybe that was true. Matt's own complicated history being what it had turned out to be but at least they had both found their way home together.
The party played out for some hours well into the night before everyone started saying goodbye, rounding up their flocks and setting off. Mama and Vince's family would be off to Disneyland and other tourist sites but would be returning to spend a week on their ranch. C.J. looked forward to that and would have the guest house ready for them. Chris and Pam along with Bo and Lamar had done most of the cleaning up because Matt had insisted on C.J. relaxing along with him. He had taken her hand and had brought her down to the veranda just off of the house where he had made sure she had a comfortable seat on the chaise there.
"Houston, I'm not sick…I'm pregnant."
"I know that but the doctor said…"
"He said to keep living my life except for a few minor adjustments," she said, "That means some time spent at the office next week so we can spend more time here when Vince and his family come here."
"It will be nice to spend more time with them," he said, "It's been a long time."
C.J. wrapped her arms around him and pulled him closer to her, resting her head against him.
"They seem so happy," she said, "I've never seen Vince so relaxed."
Matt had noticed that too and figured that a retirement spent in a nice piece of paradise and a new business venture suited his friend.
"I'd like to keep in closer touch with them."
"Me too," she said, "That's why we're going to spend some time with them next month."
"C.J. will it be safe…"
She blew a tendril of hair out of her face, suddenly facing him.
"Houston, I'm perfectly fine and you're going to have to settle down if you're going to make it the whole nine yards…"
"C.J. that's football darling," he said, "I believe you mean almost nine months give or take the time that's passed since we…found shelter in the stable."
"Okay, but really I'm perfectly fine," she said, "In fact I feel great…once the mornings pass."
"Okay I'll accept that…as long as you let me help you," he said, "Make it easier on you."
She smiled at the concern in his voice.
"You can do that in other ways cowboy," she said, "I'm pretty easy to please."
He stroked her face.
"I think I'm up for that," he said, adjusting his position to cradle her body against his better.
"What did I just tell you," he said.
"No I just have a present for you and I forgot to give it," she said.
He caressed her abdomen.
"Oh I don't think so."
"No…something else," she said, moving around as if looking for something.
"Okay I'm game…"
She suppressed a chuckle at the expression on his face. Finally she searched her pocket and found it, unfolding it.
"This isn't it," she said, "This is just the reminder to tell you…"
"Tell me what, because now my curiosity's been aroused."
C.J. knew that hadn't been the only part of him but anyway, first things first and she had news to tell him. Something really important …
"It's about the ranch…"
He stroked her skin beneath her shirt.
"What about it?"
"I went and did something."
She paused for a moment and he positioned himself to read her face, not that it told him much…except that she appreciated his touch.
"I had the deed changed," she said, slowly, "I had a name added."
A sense of wonder hit him and his brows rose.
"Yeah I changed it so that it's not my ranch anymore," she said, "It's our ranch…we both own it."
"But C.J., it's really not necessary…"
She looked at him and he detected something in her hazel eyes.
"This is what I want," she said, "I never met to take your ranch away from you Houston…"
"You didn't take anything," he said, "I sold it and you bought it and I'm so damn glad you did because I had forgotten how much it meant to me and how much its owner does."
Her face grew warmer.
"I have a confession to make too," she said, "I bought it to bring you to your senses about who you are and what you really wanted."
"What do you mean?"
"Remember that night we spent playing poker at that club on Sunset," she said, "You know the one where we both infiltrated the illegal gambling ring."
His eyes lit up.
"Ah yes, that was the plan but then this woman at the table, she kissed me and took me right out of my game," he recalled, "She looked a lot like you and I wanted to do much more than kiss her."
She rolled her eyes.
"Houston we just kissed because they would have taken us out and killed us if we hadn't."
"Oh I'd have done it anyway," he said, "Who could let an opportunity like that go by? It's just a shame we weren't in more...romantic surroundings."
She took a deep breath as he started touching her skin again, beneath her shirt. Her skin tingled beneath his touch and she closed her eyes. But then she remembered she still had more to say before they got down to business.
"But you get what I'm saying don't you," she said, "Ever since then, I knew exactly what I wanted and who, I just had to figure out a way to let you know…away from the chaos of our lives in L.A."
"Well, I didn't come out here just to protect you from Marquis," he said, "I had my other reasons because I was there in that club too."
She drew him closer to kiss him, even as his fingers continued to work their magic.
"Well I guess we both got what we wanted in the end," she said.
He closed his eyes as he felt her hands working the buttons on his shirt.
"Indeed," he said, "Only we've got a whole future ahead of us and I can't wait to see how it turns out."
They both got off the couch and after he swooped her off of her feet into his arms, they headed on inside to start living that future.