Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight. No copyright infringement is intended.

Beta'd by HollettLA.

**TAKES PLACE A MONTH after CH46

** Time gap (one month) between CH46 and CH47

Again, this is a Dame/Sonny arc. Those who miss Edward and Bella, please sit tight, and be patient. I'll deliver them soon enough.

Those of you waiting for Tribute to update, I apologize for the wait. It'll be updating some time this week.

Lastly, I have a new story in the works, although I won't be publishing it until it's complete. Put me on author alert...It's a fun story :-) I'm crazy excited about it.

Oh! Happy Birthday to my love, HollettLA, my beta! XOXOXO


"Riders on the Storm"

Chapter Forty-Seven: Empire

Sonny POV

I was giddy, smiling like a loon behind my desk as Aro, Uncle Carlisle, and Jasper spoke amongst themselves.

Quite a few things had to be discussed, and in the back of my mind, I was listening to every word they said.

But texting Maggie was more important.

How about Joshua for a boy? –Mag

Sophia Grace for a girl? –Mag

Everything was going so well, and I count my blessings every-single-day.

The day I found out Maggie was pregnant, my father told me many things. What sticks out most was when he told me that Maggie was my true partner in crime, my partner in life, my wife. He broke shit down, told me how much easier it'd be if I just kept things from her. But then he admitted that never worked well for him with Mom. Basically, I can't leave Maggie in the dark, but she doesn't have to know everything...business-wise.

In regards to separating it all, dealing with work stresses, he said, "Trying to be sweet and attentive, no matter what's going on with work, it isn't hard when you want to be, especially for the right person." He said my mother is his only person, so it was a no-brainer. "You should remember to put your wife and family above it all, no matter what oath we've both taken."

During a button ceremony, us wise guys who wanna be made have to swear that the organization comes first. But my father didn't have to tell me differently.

Sure, I'm no rat. I know the rules. I know what my "job" entails, but he didn't have to tell me that Maggie should come before that.

I already knew.

Being this new me wasn't going to be difficult at all. I just had to keep the same objective in mind all the time.

Maggie and my real family come first.

Our marriage was great before, but it all got even better when I kept my word, was a gentleman and shut my phone off on graduation night. I turned the outside world off, devoted myself to my wife, and I didn't give a fuck what else was going on.

The night Maggie graduated was like…a prom night do over. We had a quiet dinner in our suite at the Waldorf—where it all pretty much started...since I wasn't bringing my pregnant wife to Midnight Sun.

And we had a fantastic evening.

We were able to get back to being Sonny and Maggie again, like we did while we were at The Reefs—our surprise mid-winter holiday getaway.

Coming home from Bermuda, and with Dad on the low, I was thrown back into reality. I was given many liberties, was acting Skip, and I made a lot of moves. I was crazy busy and I stayed away from the coke.

So, for us to have the chance to refocus was refreshing and needed, and it didn't stop the morning after graduation.

The days and weeks following and 'til today, we've been even happier.

For the past month and change, it's been nothing short of fantastic.

Granted, my brother and I still aren't on the best of terms. We've barely spoken. Well, we haven't spoken since he called me late that one night—when I put my bullshit aside and eased his fears, but I was truly pissed at him.

I still am, kind of.

It was a nasty prank, plus all that other shit he's done...

My aggravation toppled over and I'm actually holding a grudge against him, when I never had before.

And he hasn't called, I haven't called, there have been no lunch meetings between us.

The whole situation breaks my heart, as I wish we could go back to how we used to be, but...

A small part of me thinks that writing him out of my life is why I've been stress-free.

Dame's fine. If he wasn't, I'd know, and I know he's keeping his distance from everyone because he wants it that way.

All of which is how I've been able to devote myself to my wife...who's carrying my baby.

Overall, life is amazing...

I won't lie. When it comes to Maggie, I'm even more protective now than I was.

Maggie refused to let me hire a housekeeper and swore she'd keep our home clean. But I didn't want her doing anything. Even if I'm a neat freak—come home from work just to straighten up, and now we have the dog, who's so small I can't believe he sheds—I didn't care about it, let it go.

She was worried about that at first, wondering how she'd be able to keep a house and go to school. And I'd said we'd both clean up after ourselves, but…Maggie can be sloppy.

No one has any comments when they come over, except my father, who says our house is like a pigpen.

Meanwhile, Maggie, my sister, and Peto—the only people who truly get to enjoy my crib, have been spending most of their days there—don't mind sitting in filth. Our living room is always a disaster area—books on the couch and floor, despite us having a nice shelf, random articles of clothing because Maggie doesn't believe in hampers, fucking drinking glasses and sometimes plates everywhere.

It's messy, but not really dirty, and it grates on my nerves.

I'm out all day, working more now so I have more time later, and then during the first twenty minutes I'm home, I'm cleaning. And I'm tired, and having to clean up after all of them gets me frustrated.

But I'm not old school, one of those guineas who married someone just so they'd keep house and spread their legs.

No.

My mother taught me better, and I've just always kept a neat place.

We spoke about it, and Maggie felt terrible—swore she'd shape up or whatever because she didn't want a housekeeper.

Anyway, I didn't even want her doing menial tasks like that; I didn't want her doing anything.

I was afraid of…everything and anything hindering our shot at happily ever after.

Dad talked me off that ledge; he told me, "Homegirl can sweep and mop. She's healthy, and if she can muster enough strength to be a wild cat in the sack, she can clean your home." He also suggested she take shifts at the tanning salon again.

Mom still does the books, but Maggie and Kylie work most days.

Again, it's summer, so business isn't booming at Bay Ridge Tan. The both of them together can't be good for business either. I can't count how many times those two have closed early just to go chill by our pool, or Dad's pool, or fucking Aro's pool. They switch it up, don't wanna get caught by Mom.

Besides Maggie's driver and Vito—who looks after Kylie—Peto is usually always with them.

I knew my wife had protection, and that those around would never let anything happen to her.

I just wish I could be there 24/7.

No. Not Joshua. Santino Anthony Cullen Jr. for a boy—Mag

I grinned down to my phone, because naming our kid after me will earn Maggie a nice, long pussy licking.

Eh, if Maggie wanted to name our kid Fred, I'd still give her the tongue action.

It's one of my favorite things to do.

I laughed at my own thoughts, and I nodded to agree with myself, my thumbs typing away to text her back.

"You agree…?" Jasper asked. "Sonny?"

I shook my head. "I'm sorry. Say that again?"

My uncle groaned. "Santino, put the fuckin' phone down."

I stared at him, thinking he had some pair for raising his voice to me in front of them.

"You talk to him or I will," Aro told my uncle.

Carlisle pursed his lips. "Both of youse…step outside a minute." He jerked his thumb, indicating Aro and Jasper take a hike.

I widened my arms. "I answered a text. What?"

Aro chuckled while placing his hand on Jasper's shoulder. "Let's get another drink."

Cousin Jasper didn't look like he gave a fuck and left my office with him.

Carlisle was fast to close the door. "What's going on?" he asked.

"What?"

"Did you hear anything we've said?" he laughed.

"Yeah…" I nodded, thinking a few things over. "I just don't know what it has to do with me. Helping Luke with his little problem…C, that's not my call." I pointed to myself. "No matter how much I want us to stay out of it…if Dad wants to extend a hand, we'll be getting involved." That's why I was more concerned with texting Maggie. It was better than anything the Unholy Trinity—Dad, Carlisle, and Aro—had to say.

Although my father isn't here at the moment…

For the first time—in fucking forever—my parents went on a real vacation. It was sudden; they left abruptly. Dad said it was a whim, and Kylie's been staying with us...mostly Aro's because she'd rather spend her nights with Peto, and I don't care, as long as she's safe.

My parents are only to be gone a week…They went to some Hawaiian island and shit, which surprised me because it's practically a world away, and my father hates long plane rides.

But with all the shit they were just talking about, maybe it's more than a vacation for my parents?

If so—in case of anything—I can't imagine they'd travel so far away.

And…I was a little antsy, knowing that if shit was about to get hot, I'd have to do something with Maggie and my siblings; send them away, since Dad's not here at the moment. Like, if something popped off while he was gone.

"Where-the-fuck are you?!" Unc slapped the back of my head, and I nearly jumped out of my chair.

"Watch it," I warned.

"We're here…bum-rushed your office to have an emergency sit-down. Edward—the Skip, your father—told us to confer with you. This is your call! If he wanted Aro and me to handle it, he would'a said so…but he didn't."

I pushed my hair back.

"Sonny—" he held my shoulder "—your father didn't talk to you before he left?"

Snorting, I shook my head no. "He said he was going to fuck my mother a million ways to Sunday and drink like a fish—I told him to have a good time and bring Maggie back a t-shirt."

"Fucking Edward…" Carlisle kicked my trash can.

"Take it easy!" I chuckled.

Carlisle smirked at me. "This is another test. You realize that, right?"

I groaned, clamping my eyes shut and sitting back. "So…it is my call?"

"Yup," my uncle sighed, leaning his ass to my desk. "Alex is taking all the kids to Disney—including Hanna and Carli. Ant wants to stick around, and he rightfully can as a made man…no matter how much I want him to go."

I disagreed. "If it's my call—" I pointed to myself "—then…you call Luke and tell him I'll broker the sit-down with him and Mike, from Philly."

It was the only plan that made sense to me, if we were going back on original plans.

By right—despite past qualms, but because of a recent alliance—we have had Jersey's back from jump. We should have intervened when Philly was starting to make moves against them. Meanwhile, that shit happened with Amelia and Dame, Luke pissed my father off, and so…since my father already felt betrayed, Dad made more trouble for Luke—had a few heist-men rob Luke blind but left a Philly calling card to make Luke believe Philly did it.

Pride…is the downfall of many.

Again, by right, if Luke had sought my father out—after it happened—Dad would have no choice. That's what my father thought would happen, and he banked on that.

But Luke didn't do that...had too much pride to ask for help.

What my father basically did was send a "fuck you" to him in the form of, "You think you're tough shit? Now it's time to sink or swim."

I understood it all.

I'll squash the beef between New Jersey and Philly—what my father didn't truly start but made worse—but what I won't do is send a fleet to Dirty Jerz to help wipe the Philadelphia family off the map.

My father wouldn't do that either.

In fact, at this point, I think he'd be more inclined to help take Luke out—out of frustration and whatnot.

There's always casualties on both sides, which would be unnecessary. Even if our numbers and pockets wouldn't truly take a hit, I wanted to avoid more conflict.

It has nothing to do with the size of my balls.

It has to do with bad business.

We essentially have no personal stake in this, but what's right is right. If we don't help Jersey—have their backs during wartime or help to end their conflict—other families we have alliances with might start to look at us differently.

They'd stop giving us their tribute—protection money—and might ultimately team up against us.

There'd be beefs across the board; we'd look like snakes or pussies, pocketing their money but not willing to lend a hand.

But Luke has yet to ask for help…

My father knew our stepping in was inevitable…

While I see it clearly now, he could have said something from the get-go.

"Okay." Carlisle smiled. "I hear ya…but you never know what's going to happen. I still plan to get my wife and kids outta Dodge. You feel me?"

"I hear you," I said. "But…if everyone is suddenly on vacation, the Feds'll start sniffing around more."

"Your father's out of…Brooklyn. They've been following Aro, watching him like a hawk, but it's only one car. I heard from my connection, they really don't give a fuck about this conflict…Truth be told, they're doing nothing to try and stop them from killing each other. But what they are doing is trying to dig up as much info as possible while the families are at their weakest. It's been quiet around here," he sighed. "All of which is…why most of our capos are aching to go across the bay. They may not like Luke, but for whatever reason…I mean, your generation hasn't seen a war, or what it can do—"

"Are you kidding?" I asked him, finding what he said amusing. "I remember all that shit from back when Luke's brother ran Jersey…I've seen war and what it can do."

"Right!" Carlisle was enthusiastic. "And that's why you're going to put an end to it. Other young dudes like you…they don't know. They're eager for a fight, the opportunity to expand, be a tough guy, and fill their pockets. I'll call Luke. Shit. After talking to Amelia, I'm happy to do it. I felt terrible for the poor girl."

I rolled my eyes. "Right."

"I didn't place a hand on her." He kicked my chair. "All we did was talk…and she begged us to do something."

I put my hands up. "Unc, I honestly wouldn't give a fuck if you did." It was the truth. "I'm more surprised you didn't fuck her, but believe her sob story."

"Old habits die hard, but no…She was so desperate, I think she would have if that was my asking price; however, I'm a happily married man. She's a nice girl…" he said, and I couldn't believe he believed that. "Look, shit didn't work out between her and Dame. She…fucked with his head, so I understand her putting a bad taste in your mouth—she kinda hurt our family—but your brother is partly to blame for what happened, too."

"No, he's not," I laughed. "She tried to trap him—was all kinds of manipulative. I begged Dame to play the field after Julie broke up with him. After being with someone for all those years—he had no business trying to settle down so quickly. He wasn't ready, was trying to…I don't know." I rubbed my temple. "Find himself? I know my brother does things in his own time. You know? He's like…emotionally delayed?" I quirked a brow.

"Both of them were under pressure…from Ed and Luke." He massaged his forehead. "And I know, from personal experience, how fucked-up that can be and what it can do to a person. That shit could be why Dame started acting out in the first place. He was fucked mentally after Julie, rushed into things with Amelia…all while everyone was putting the screws to him."

I nodded. "He…was going through some other shit, too—dealing with some shit from his past, which is why…I can't fault him. But Amelia knew, and instead of being there for him, she put him through hell."

My heart sank, thinking about my little brother…when he was little. Dad was right; Damion was an amazing kid. Some shit happened that my father had no control over, which made Dame stronger although colder—I think—since he was always so sweet, naïve, and…just young for whatever age he was.

Logically, if an older woman had propositioned me at fourteen, I'd have found it a godsend. But at fourteen, Dame probably had the mind of…a nine-year-old, despite what his physical body might have been capable of.

Maybe I couldn't see it, needed time to process it, but that was abuse—he was raped by someone he considered his aunt, a family friend.

So, almost a year ago . . . my brother—who's already emotionally stunted, confused, and generally fucked-up—is hurt once again. He doesn't know how to speak up or ask for help, and so he goes after Aunt Alex . . .

The only adult female—besides Mom—who's always been there for him.

Now that I know all the facts . . .

Well, most of them…

In a roundabout way, it made a lot of sense.

Regardless of anything he was doing to me at the time, placing a bullet in Lauren's head was, like, the least I could do to make up for not having his back. Like Dad, I felt it should have never happened; we should have protected him better.

And he saw Maggie as . . . a child, something I was trying to covet.

I think he was trying to protect her; meanwhile, my brother went about it so-fucking-wrong.

But I digress…

Dame opened up to Amelia, and I firmly believe he was trying to make their relationship work, and she betrayed him.

If Amelia never told Mom…

I'll give her that much, help save her father's life because of that—because we would still be in the dark—but in my eyes she fucked with Dame's head.

Amelia did the right thing with telling Mom, but Dame couldn't trust her after that, and rightfully so.

Hey, had she not been sneaky, they could be married by now.

Maybe not.

Dame was losing interest, was too busy sticking his nose in my relationship than focusing on his own.

Or, he was using Maggie as an excuse.

I want to have faith in my brother. I mean, I trust the kid with my life, and I love the fuck outta him, but he can be a ball-busting prick sometimes.

The shit he did to Noah…that poor little puppy. That was evil, and not to mention how…It was disgusting, waking up with my dog damn-near licking my cock.

I shuddered at the thought.

But it was a good one, a good prank.

The shit with Maggie, though…

He's given me a multitude of excuses, reasons as to why he did what he did to keep us apart—from expressing how he saw her first, fighting me, to giving me the silent treatment, and all the way to flipping out, to saying he wanted to protect her from me.

While I want to believe he had the best intentions, feel it in my gut that he'd never cross that line—betray me like that—the whole thing with Damion and Maggie is laced with too many shades of grey.

She's my wife, pregnant with my child and tied to me in every way, and I trust her.

But I won't lie.

I know they care for each other, have a connection since they understand each other a lot better than either one will admit. My wife understands him in ways that I can't; I know that from talking to them separately.

But their bond—whatever it is—isn't romantic.

Before we got married, Damion did everything he could to keep us apart, and then, a few months ago, he did everything he could to hold us together when…when I lost my mind.

For the past year—overall—he's been a lot better than he used to be, don't get me wrong. Damion used to keep it all inside, bottle it up, but with opening his mouth came many other traits I didn't like about him.

Maggie says he was hurting, and I knew that. Also, I know that when I'm hurting, I sometimes hurt others…

It was a clusterfuck and a half, but I just wish he'd be straight with me.

Whatever he did and for whatever reason, he's been forgiven, but these days he hides behind Jordan.

"I'm surprised you and Dame don't get along better," I said. "Youse could'a bonded over…arranged marriage, whatever."

He barked out a laugh. "After what he did? Hey, I put the past to rest, but that doesn't mean I don't wanna yoke Dame up when I see him—going after and scaring the fuck outta my wife. I have no problems being the bigger man. Especially since he's my nephew—he's young, stupid, he fucked up—you know? But I'm also a human being, and…others would have put a bullet between his eyes."

Finding his words amusing, I smiled. "You'd never do that to Dame."

He shrugged. "If it was anybody else…"

I scoffed. "Yeah…fuckin' Dame, man—"

"Sonny, you need to let shit go, too. He's been on his best behavior."

"Because he's not around," I said. "But he got his act together." I couldn't deny that. "He did right by me…was there for Maggie when I was…you know. He just needs to grow up. Dad—"

Carlisle laughed. "Stop placing all the blame on your father!" He stared at me. "You're just as guilty. You know that if Skip didn't jump to help Dame outta a jam, you'd hop to it quick. I'm just sayin'." He put his hands up. "You've fought your brother's battles since he was born, and there's nothing wrong with that, but he's an adult now. Your father will never stop looking out for the best interest of his children…but you're not Dame's father, so you should start letting Skip take over in that department."

"Dame's chill now." I shrugged. "We…I'm pissed at him, at the moment—"

"The ham?" He chuckled. "That video was hilarious. You're talkin' 'bout the shit with the dog, right?"

I didn't answer that.

"Sonny, that was like a month ago!"

"I'm not a good prankster, and I'm actually glad Dad hasn't gotten me back for the hose…Unless him going away with Mom will…I mean, will him being away now blow up in my face?" I actually narrowed my eyes at my uncle. "This some kind of setup?"

"Shut up!" he shouted. "A prank is…dumping cold water on someone while they're in a hot shower. This, what's going on now, will most likely be the biggest opportunity you'll get to prove yourself."

I nodded. "I love and trust Dad. It's just—like Dame—my father can be a sadistic fuck." I put my palms up, laying it out there. "I said it."

"And you're not lying," he laughed.

It became quiet for a few minutes while my mind reeled. "Prove myself?" I thought about that for another couple seconds. "For what? Lately, Dad's been conferring with me a lot, but he hasn't said dick about why he's doing so…and you're talking about him testing me." I munched on my lip.

"Who counsels you?" he asked.

"Counsels?" I grinned. "You, Dad…sometimes I blow up Maggie's ear, but she's clueless most times. My wife's not exactly a criminal mastermind." I laughed. "I…I mostly…when coming to my own conclusions, think them out myself. When I was younger, I always thought it'd be Dame because…he'd never wanna run a crew, and the kid doesn't give a fuck about money. He's not the best logical thinker and he's immature, but he'd take my secrets to his grave."

"Of course he would—just like your dad and I would. Our silence is golden, but your consigliere should be a lawyer—solid confidentiality clause and all that," he said.

"My consigliere?" I stared at him, wanting him to say it. "Are you telling me I need one? Need to pick one?"

When he sipped his drink and got quiet, I continued, "Why not tell me? He wants me to be ready, but how can I be when I don't know what he's really up to? Dad's really looking to, to retire?"

The thought was actually unimaginable.

"And he really wants me taking over?" I shook my head in disbelief.

My father told me that one day everything he had would be mine.

He'd give me the keys to the castle, but I never really took his words to heart.

Dad's the best at what he does. He fucking enjoys it, too—starts trouble just to scheme and make more money, along with having his hand in every-fucking-thing. Maybe others do for him, like they do me. But I know that having other players allows you to do more. He's always got a lot going on.

Even if he likes getting his hands dirty, he can't . . . and he doesn't have to.

"Or…would I just be the figurehead to get the heat off him with the Feds?" I asked.

"How can you be so smart and so fucking stupid?" Carlisle cracked up, laughing. "That shit I just said? Your father used to ask me that all the time."

"Listen, I just wanna get to the bottom of things…would like you to spell it out," I acquiesced.

In truth, I was still trying to process the fact that Dad's stepping back . . .

Carlisle stepped closer to me and looked behind himself. "Aro's been your father's scapegoat for years…and I hear Andino's not looking to go anywhere. He'll be your front…keep the Feds in the dark." He shrugged. "But…with how confused you seem…" he trailed off, his voice taking a somber tone. "I never thought…I never thought we'd make it this far, Sonny."

I furrowed my brow. "What do you mean?"

"All the shit Edward and I'd been through…There were times I thought he'd pop me himself," he laughed. "But with history lessons, your father and I both know our lives could have taken completely different turns. Even if we've been dragged through the mud a few times, even if we'd had our hearts broken because we've been hurt—we've truly been blessed."

I nodded. "Yeah."

"You know as well as I do that most bosses don't get to retire . . ." He paused, staring up to the ceiling. "When Misone ran shit…New York was maybe as big as Jersey is now, and that was big for an organization during that time. Wait, lemme go back. Tell you some shit you might not know," he laughed.

"Back in the 80s, organized crime—the five families—were wiped out by wars and a crackdown that sent dozens of people to the can. But—" he held up a finger "—those who were still around would meet in secret with the only boss leftover—Volturi. However, no one was making money. With technology getting better, the Feds putting a stop to the only ways guys like us would make paper, and fucking street gangs trying to move in and do their thing, there was an upheaval. Your grandfather—my father and Marcus Misone—thought things could be run differently. My dad was a driver, was in law school, and his friend had all these ideas on how to make more money while also covering their asses…you know? Then RICO came about, and everyone needed to be more careful. Your father and I were thrown into it at the height of that, which is why you know all those crafty little ways to thwart the F.B.I." His face lit up. "Your father made that a fucking art form."

I nodded, listening intently while my phone vibrated on the desk; I didn't dare look at it.

"They were doing hits, robbing fuckers, running books, fucking with the others who thought they could just come in and take it . . . Everyone was making money, and Misone . . . He pretty much groomed your father to be what he is, but…this thing and that thing happened…" He massaged his forehead again, his face falling. "Actually, the same year you were born, was the same year it was Misone's time to go. You feel me?"

I gestured for him to continue since I'd heard the story before. In my father's version, Misone was shady, was only looking out for himself and shit; he wanted Dad out after he'd brought him in.

"But even so—no matter what Misone's beef was—time had passed yet again, which meant everything would essentially change. Out with the old and in with the new...and it was Misone's turn to be stubborn, like those before him. He didn't want to expand at all. He wouldn't build alliances wit' others. He wouldn't listen to your father's ideas, guys were getting lazy, and…it was basically time for a new boss anyway. . . Long story short, your father built this empire." He widened his arms.

"No one's ever done that shit before, kid. You have some big shoes to fill, and…I don't know who in their right minds would be envious—want your crown—but I know my brother. If he thought you couldn't handle it…" He shrugged. "He'd never, never ever. He'd bust his ass to keep it all going if he thought for a second his kingdom would be burnt to the ground."

I won't lie; his words had me feeling emotional. "He thinks I can do it?" I whispered.

"He knows you can. He's just been reluctant to tell you, wanted you to be ready in your own time…didn't want you getting antsy or greedy, whatever."

I laughed. "He thinks I'd pop him for the throne?" Maybe my father and I didn't know each other as well as I thought we did.

"No," he said. "But you might have started doing things to prove yourself…This way, your father could control it, while also letting you come into your own by yourself. I get it as it's plain as day. Do you?"

"Yeah…" I cleared my throat.

"Good."

"He's retiring? For real?" I asked.

Carlisle smiled. "I know he wants to slow down, and he wants you to handle this shit right here. When he comes back...Edward will be the Skip until Edward says otherwise."

I nodded.

"Now get your head out of your ass and start making some decisions." He squeezed my shoulder.

We both had a chuckle at his words.

"I should send them away?" He knew who I meant by them.

"Your father would, just for the weekend, and then play it by ear. You don't know what's going to happen at that sit-down. You could try to mediate, and one won't wanna settle. As soon as one of them goes against what you say? We're in it, Sonny . . . I know Luke will appreciate you coming through. Luke'll back whatever you say, and he'll do whatever you want, especially if you reinstate the treaty. We've never had problems with Mike or Philly ever before. I can't see problems starting now. They're a smaller organization than Jersey, but you don't know the end result."

"Yeah," I agreed, grabbing my phone to send Dame a text.

Come to Eclipse ASAP—S

"But what do I get outta this?" I asked. "Philly has nothing I want."

"Luke?"

I scrunched my nose. "He has nothing I want either." I pursed my lips, thinking. "Luke's gonna want the alliance reinstated." Only thing I truly knew about Luke was that he's scared shitless of my father. "I'll make Luke do whatever to squash their beef. I'll tell Luke the alliance is reinstated, and he can have our help if he needs it.

Carlisle lit a cigarette. "Reinstating the treaty is on the table, but what is he gonna give up for it?"

I racked my brain, trying to think on that. "I want a house down on the shore, a place I can bring Maggie in the summer."

"Sounds good." He nodded. "Those could go for a few mil easy."

"A weekend away…It's summer and whatnot, it'll be good for Maggie and Kylie," I said, wondering where they could go. "We have Maggie's twelve-week ultra sound at five." I looked to the time, seeing how early in the day it still was. "Maybe we can move it up, or…cancel." My face fell, disappointment filling me.

"Relax…They can leave tomorrow, you have dinner with Luke and Mike on Saturday, and then we'll know what's up." He shrugged.

Something didn't sit right with me, though. "Knowing we could be dragged into this war…Dad just…whisks Mom away to Hawaii…in the summer?" I raised a brow, wondering how much fucking hotter it'd be there in the middle of June. I know not to travel south of the equator or out west to Vegas—unless I wanna be miserable—in the summer months.

Carlisle grinned down at me. "They're in fucking Plattsburgh, you moron."

"Why lie to me, of all people?" I shouted as my phone went off.

Dame had texted me back.

I'll be there in twenty—D

"Because…Edward doesn't want anyone to know he's stateside, let alone still in New York…for obvious reasons. So…he lied, but I just told you now, and your siblings are to continue to believe they're in Hawaii. And no, your father would never do some shit like that…legit leave you, his family, and his organization high and dry. Fuck. He might not even retire. The way he is…He'll do part-time, maybe run a crew again." He winked. "I'm kidding…But while you'll have the title, while you'll run things the way you see fit…Sonny, we're not going anywhere."

"Right." I'd never admit how elated I was to hear that.

Again, I just couldn't imagine running things without Dad, without Carlisle's logic, and Aro's compassion.

The three of them all bring something different to the table, and I've learned a lot from them—like to think I've gained my attributes from them. I know how to listen, how to compromise, how and when to show mercy, and I know when a firm hand is needed.

At the end of the day, though . . .

And I could see it now, when I didn't before.

All that riding my ass Dad has been doing…Was he truly grooming me from day one? From the day I was born?

Because he actually has a very different parenting style when it comes to Damion and Kylie.

And I wanted to hug that fucker so badly in this moment, while I was also a bit pissed he wasn't here—didn't want to spell it out himself.

Still, the confidence I had at hearing everything…

"Call Aro and Jasper back in here." I jerked my chin to the door.

Carlisle clapped. "Okay." He nodded. "Did you hear what they were saying, though, before?"

I nodded. "Yeah, capos are split—between wanting to put shit to rest and then those wanting to line up to fight." I shrugged. "But the general consensus is that we have to do something—no question."

"And you want to settle it?"

"Absolutely," I said.

"Excellent." He winked at me before he left the office, and I picked up my phone.

I paused, not sure how to reply to Maggie, and I wasn't sure what I could and should say to Dame.

I highly doubted any of them would go quietly and without question.

Luckily, not a minute had passed and they entered the office again.

Aro wore a bright smile. "Santino…" He widened his arms and came over to kiss my cheeks.

Surprised by the sentiment, I laughed.

"It's a great thing," he whispered.

I patted his back, and he went to have a seat.

"You came to a conclusion?" Jasper sipped his drink. "Guys are dicking our balls about this." He gestured between Aro and himself. "They want answers—not to pressure you." My cousin showed me a lot more respect than he has in the past—having always ridden me hard like my father, contesting the things I did.

"I have," I said, rocking back in my chair. "I plan to invite Luke and Mike to dinner. The three of you will also be there—" Carlisle slightly shook his head "—I mean," I felt like such a dumbass "It's probably better Carlisle and I go at this alone. You know?"

My uncle smiled while Aro and Jasper nodded me along.

"Because—" Aro raised a brow "—I'll also be holding my own dinner party…in honor of the Feds," he chuckled, "where I plan to relay your message to the capos."

"Right." I blew out a breath. "I hope to put this shit to bed. In the event that doesn't happen . . . I have it on good authority that Luke will be more than happy to sit with me. But if Mike doesn't, or he doesn't agree to resolve matters…then…we'll meet again and devise a strategy on how to end it. Even if it means taking Philly out." I pursed my lips, my eyes looking to each of them. "Fuck it. We can only be balls-in or balls-out."

I expected that at least one of them would argue with me—have something different in mind—but they didn't.

"Do you…agree?" I asked.

My uncle gave me that little shake to his head again, but I knew it wasn't because he didn't agree.

As acting boss, or whatever I am, I had to be 100% confident of my own words.

I'm just used to developing plans WITH them, not necessarily bossing those two—Carlisle and Aro.

'Cause, fuck…Even if I've always loved to bust Aro's balls, especially when it came to plowing his daughter, I was a low-man on his crew.

That's where I started.

"Yes," Aro answered. "We agree." He looked to my uncle. "Remember when this little fucker was in diapers?"

"I do." Carlisle looked to his watch. "While they're fine memories…they make me feel like the fucking crypt keeper—old and shit."

I smiled, about to conclude this with my father's words. "Anything else I should know?"

Jasper finished his drink. "Not from me. My crew's meeting me in an hour. Youse are good?" He looked to us all.

"Yeah." I stood up to shake his hand. "Thanks for coming through."

He patted my bicep. "Always. You need anything, you call."

"Thanks." I nodded, respecting that immensely, because in the past…there have always been pissing matches between us. He was never as bad as Caius, but just as annoying. However, if my father always kept Jasper at arm's length, I guess he's had a reason. "I'll remember that." I walked him to the door.

In the hall, I saw Momo making his way toward me. "Sonny!"

"What's up?" I asked over the music. It was crazy early. But those who were very eager for me to make a decision littered Eclipse, just waiting. I thought they were waiting on us—as a group—because Aro, Carlisle, and Jasper were here.

"Your brother's here, but Skip—"

"It's okay. Send him back," I said.

"Okay." He nodded, walking off.

"Baby Skip." Aro put his arm around me. "We'll be at the bar…having a drink for you. You come over before you take off." He poked my chest, looking so happy for me, it was weird.

"Definitely," I agreed.

My uncle patted my back before leaving the office with him. They paused to greet Dame while I waited for my brother in the doorway. By his demeanor alone, I could tell he was nervous.

Christ.

If I wanted to avoid war . . .

Damion was almost frantic when he called me that night asking questions. I wanted to tell him to fuck off so bad, still sour about that Noah shit, but I couldn't.

"What's up?" Damion entered.

I closed the door after him. "Have a seat…was it hard for you to get away?"

He sat in the chair opposite my desk. "I said I had a family emergency…Jordan asked questions I couldn't answer. Will I be able to answer her?"

"I'm sorry," I whispered.

He blew out a breath. "What happened? When's Dad coming back? What's—"

"Slow down." I poured him a shot of Jack. "Drink that."

He chuckled, holding his forehead. "I'm fine…just hungry, no starving for information."

I smirked. "You sound like the rabid dogs out on the floor."

"Well…" He shrugged.

"Last I heard, you didn't want to be involved." I wasn't going to burden him with an abundance of information he might not truly want. If I had to guess, he was worried about one of us getting hurt—safety.

"Hey, I may not have my button…but there's nothing anyone can do. I'm still a Cullen. I'll always be a Cullen, and…you need anything…I'm here." His gaze fell to the floor. "I'm doing my own thing, but…"

"Thank you." I pushed the shot he hadn't drunk toward him. "Drink."

He rolled his eyes and downed the Jack. "Happy?" He showed me his tongue.

I smiled wide. "Everything you just said…that's called loyalty, respect. I'm sure Dad would love to hear that."

Dame stared at me head on. "But I'm telling you…I'm sorry for punking you, but hitting you back never sits right with me—legit hurting you—and that shit was funny."

I sighed, waving a hand.

"Sonny…" He paused, leaning toward me. "We haven't spoken in a while…I know something must be up—for you to have called me—but I've, I've actually had some shit to tell you. I've needed to talk to you for a while now. Guess I just...didn't have the balls."

"Are you okay?" I was concerned.

"I'm fine." He grinned. "I'm finally fine…and…I wanted to apologize. You did everything to help me, and I—"

"Don't," I said. "I don't want an apology. You were going through some shit—"

"I lied to you…so many fucking times and for all the wrong reasons." He looked away again.

I nodded, accepting that because I've known that for a while. All of which…confused me even more. "I know…Look…" I laughed, sitting back. "If you wanna tell me, tell me. We'll put everything out on the table and we'll clear the air. But if you don't, I respect that, too."

I sipped the Jack Daniels. "I'd like to, if it's okay with you—" I wanted to lead by example. If Carlisle could be the bigger man, then so could I. "Move on…I want my brother back…Dame, I begrudge you nothing. I just wish I could have helped you. Dad's the same, just wants to be there. All we want is…for you to let us."

Dame stared at the ceiling, his eyes a bit watery. "I'm such a pussy."

"You're not…You just said…you're Damion Cullen." I held out the bottle of whiskey.

"Thanks." He sipped it. "Thank you…I'd like that…to have a clean slate with you."

"Cool." I was relieved and so happy to hear that. "You essentially have dick to prove to me. You know? But…I need you to step up again, Dame. I need your help."

He furrowed his brow. "Can I smoke in here?" He dug his pack from his pocket.

"Yeah."

"Here." He threw one at me.

I smiled, getting the ashtray out my desk drawer. "I don't know what's going to happen—what'll be the end result." I lit my smoke while he did the same. "But I gotta meet with Luke and Mike this weekend, Mike from Philly."

"Why you?" He grimaced. "Why isn't Dad here?"

"He…asked that I take care of it," I said. "But since I don't know what's up, or what'll happen, I'm going to get you a whip, give you some cash…and you're going to take Maggie and Kylie away this weekend."

He scratched his eyebrow. "Fuck me, man."

"You're probably worried about Jordan…I don't think you have anything to worry about. If she can't or won't leave…If shit goes sour and you're still away but concerned, I'll have her on the first flight to you or back to the farm—wherever she's from." I shrugged. "You have my word, but…Jordan's pretty far removed. She can stay right where she is, but Dad would kick my ass if I didn't get you and Kylie outta the city."

"Yeah." He blew his smoke into the air. "What do I even tell her?"

"She's not your wife, but...do you trust her?" I asked.

"I do…" He looked contemplative.

"Look, youse ain't married. You wanna talk to her, you trust her...I ask you keep all family biz to a minimum." I didn't know what else to say, knowing he was in a shitty position, while also knowing he had to tell her something. I wouldn't do that, forbid him from at least trying to explain. "Jordan will be fine. We've got nothing to worry about, but you, as the Skip's son, need to get outta town." I had to say it again, so it'd sink into his brain. "Honestly, I don't care what you tell her. Tell her you need to go on a trip this weekend. She can come or stay, but you have to go."

"You don't understand our program, or how dedicated she is, or…how I can't even get her to play hooky for one fucking day!" he ranted.

"You know I'll get youse any documentation you'll need to excuse your absences. I'm more than confident that it'll only be for this weekend." I put the cigarette out; I didn't even want it. "I'm sure nothing will come from it—that it'll be resolved and there won't be any beef, but I don't know for sure. I do, however, know that if she doesn't leave with you guys—"

"Dude, you don't have to worry about Maggie, or me being a pig."

I continued like he hadn't said that. "If Jordan doesn't go with you guys, your mind will always be on her. You might slip and disclose your location—God forbid if anyone's listening—with calling her every few hours. I need you to step up and be on point. So, you decide what you wanna tell her, bro."

"I'll lay it out there without laying it out." He nodded along. "If she doesn't want to leave…it's only a weekend." His face fell. "But what about you? I'll go to the meeting with you, have your back…We can send Kylie and Maggie away with, with…whoever else is going to lam it for the weekend." He shrugged, smiling widely. "Get me a fucking nine and we'll do this. You and me, like old times...rolling together!"

I laughed, and he'd never know how much I'd truly want that—him riding with me.

Despite the fact that I'd be sitting with two bosses—that they'd never say dick in front of someone of Dame's status, I chose not to say that. "You wanna have my back? You wanna help me the best you can? I trust you…I trust you to protect Kylie and my wife to the best of your ability—better than anyone else can. Help clear my mind—help keep it clear and on point."

Dame sat back in the chair. "You really…think that? Trust me?"

"Of course I do!" I nearly shouted.

"Okay," he agreed. "I…." His voice was shaky and emotional as he stared away from me.

"What's up, Dame? Talk to me," I pleaded, as I hadn't seen this side to my brother in a long time.

"Nothing…just…thank you for the clean slate, this chance. I'll keep them safe, I'll do whatever it takes, but you better fucking call me—lemme know what's up, so I don't go insane."

"All right." I could agree to that. "Figure out where you wanna go. I bet Peto'll be riding along, too."

He rolled his eyes. "I'm not going to fucking Platts. That place makes me sick."

"No…you're not," I laughed, but them running into our parents would be ideal. "Go wherever. Handle it. I'll give you cash and shit, but…" I hated to cut such a great visit short. "You should go, talk to Jordan…I have to leave in a few anyway, but be at my crib tonight. Spend the night and youse leave before sun up."

"Okay." He guzzled some more Jack down before blowing out a breath and standing there, expectant.

I rose from my chair to walk him out. "This seriously takes a load off my mind—" I stumbled back when he jumped to hug me tight. "Damion…talk to me. What's wrong?"

"Why does shit get hot and I feel like I'm eight again? What the fuck is wrong with me?" he rambled out.

"You're an adult now, Damion...you're a man." I pulled away to palm his cheeks. "And no matter what I say that might ease your fears…you're still going to worry…because that's all we know how to do. I mean…" I let go of him to smile. "Certain things will always flash you back to this memory or that. It's normal, but you're going to be fine. We're all going to be fine. I swear. This is just a precaution."

"Yeah…" He nodded. "But where the fuck is Dad?!" Dame shouted. "He's just leaving you with all this shit…"

"He's not leaving me with anything, Dame. Dad's doing nothing wrong. Just like I'm asking you to step up," I poked his chest, "he also asked the same of me." I didn't know if I should tell him all that my uncle had told me, not until my father truly confirms it. "I was asked to handle this...things this weekend."

"He's in Hawaii fucking Mom while you're—"

I shook my head to stop him, to stop him from jumping to conclusions. No matter how much I wanted to tell him that Dad was hours away instead of thousands of miles, I didn't.

Above certain things, I knew I had to shield the truth to shield others.

"Look, if Dad actually thought something would happen…he'd be here. Okay?" I placed my arm around him and ushered him to the door. "We're good…Trust me."

"I do…trust you," he said.

"Good." I ruffled his hair, feeling so much better about everything. "Be at my crib by like seven or eight tonight. All right?" I gave him a fist pound.

"I'll be there…but send a car for me, so I don't gotta take the subway."

I laughed. "Can we get you your own whip this year?"

"We'll see." He chuckled, turning from me.

Once he was gone, I grabbed my things, a duffle full of cash, and I made the few arrangements I had to—got Dame a minivan for this weekend.

When I was about to go join my uncle and Aro at the bar, they met me at the door.

"I spoke to Luke," Carlisle said. "It's on. He appreciates your help, and he'll meet wherever you call the sit-down."

"On my terms?" I cocked a brow.

"It has to be neutral ground—somewhere there's no beef for them both," he replied. "They're hiding…will only pop their heads out if it's safe."

"Midnight Sun," Aro said. "They'll come with their entourages, but…we'll make sure we got our heads waiting in the wings. I'll set it up so I'm not too far with our cappys. Capisce?"

I shook my head. "All of us meeting like that…in close quarters…Luke and Mike will be clocked into the city. They'll bring more Feds to us. I want my crew—a few knockaround guys around the club, and we'll meet at Twilight. They'll expect Midnight Sun or Eclipse." I shrugged.

"I'm waiting on Mike to call me back," Carlisle said. "He knew who I was…was grateful for the call, but the Feds are watching him. He's gonna call back when he knows he's got a clean line—when he can get to a pay phone. And he sounded desperate. I think…Jersey's doin' a lot better than we expected."

That didn't sit right with me for whatever reason. But since an alliance had already been made, I was to look out for Luke's best interest over Mike's. "Set it up…call me when you know or stop by my house later."

"You ready to go? They're bringing my car around." Aro was to leave minutes before me, so the F.B.I. would follow him now that Dad was away, and so that I could leave while remaining under the radar.

"You don't get tired of…giving them the runaround?" I laughed.

"Nope…It's fun." He smiled. "And what am I doing? I'm going home to chillax with Lisa. They can chill curbside and wait for some wild shit to pop off." He widened his eyes. "Clueless fuckers."

I nodded, happy with that. "Yeah…I'm ready to go. My car's in back."

"You need anything?" Carlisle asked.

I shook my head because…I had money, I had a car ready for them. When Dad left he gave me Kylie's and Damion's alias paperwork, and I already have one for Maggie… "Can you talk to my wife for me?" I whispered.

Carlisle laughed. "Fuck, no. That's all on you—she's young, emo, and pregnant." He shuddered. "I did my time…"

"I'm sayin'." Aro gave Carlisle a fist pound. "Between our wives…your mother…always tryin'a look out and soothe this one or that one…It's your time."

"Yeah…" I nodded. "I could always be a dick and not give her a choice—put my foot down."

"Ha!" Aro shouted. "I'm out…but you lemme know how that works for you." He hit my shoulder and took off for the exit.

I sighed, looking to my watch so he'd have a ten-minute head start.

"Look, your father told me that your mother tells Maggie a lot more than she has to. I know B coached Alex back in the day. I'm sure Maggie knows that, if you need her to bounce, it's for her best interest," Carlisle explained.

I snorted. "Yeah…your mouth to God's ears."

/=/=/=/=/

Although I had no fucking clue about how I'd break it down for my wife and then my sister, I was fine—not that nervous.

I was more anxious for us to get to Maggie's doctor's appointment.

When I walked through the door, I was surprised to smell bleach, a lemony-pine scent, and other chemicals.

Noah ran to bite my pant leg, and I gently kicked him away. "Yo…?" I called out.

The foyer floor actually shined, and when I looked into the living room, that was spotless, too.

"I'm just finishing up, was cleaning!" Maggie emerged from the kitchen wearing very loose, yet heavy clothing, a pair of yellow gloves, and a mask.

"Uh…" I shook my head.

She took off the mask and gloves. "Take off your shoes."

I smiled at her while I kicked them away. "Okay."

"Kylie and Gio just had a pizza delivered—they're by the pool." She fanned her t-shirt. "I gotta hurry and get dressed. I hoped to be ready before you got home—"

"Did you eat?" I walked over to kiss her happy lips. "Hmmm. I can taste the pizza." It made me hungry.

She giggled through her nose yet into my mouth. "What's in the bag?"

"Stuff." I placed it down behind Maggie before gathering her into my arms. "You excited for the doctor?"

"Yeah," she sighed. "I can't wait to see…I know we won't see much, but…I wanna hear the heartbeat, so I know it's okay."

I grinned. "You're twelve weeks, baby." My hand went to her stomach.

She blew out a breath. "You just gave me butterflies." She held me there.

"That means the baby did a black flip," I laughed. "And you're officially in the second trimester." She knows I'd previously read shit about pregnancy because of Katie.

"I'm getting solid, but I hope I start showing soon—"

"And then we'll tell your parents?" I hedged, because she's been avoiding them like the plague.

"Yeah…" She swayed a bit. "I gotta go shower. Care to join me?" Maggie rose to her toes to bite my chin and palm my junk.

And I was a fool to deny her, but if we were going to make it to the appointment on time . . .

And I hoped these fuck-me-all-the-time hormones extend through the rest of her pregnancy…

"We have like…a half-hour to get there. You shouldn't even shower. Just change your clothes," I explained, anxious to get there already.

"It's only a few blocks away, and we can be quick," she sighed. "But I get it. Are you home for the night?" Maggie trailed toward the stairs.

I nodded. "All night…we gotta talk, too."

She pouted. "Fuck…I hate when you say that, but I knew it was coming."

"You did?" I asked as I tried not to grin at her. "I love you."

"Yeah, yeah…" She grumbled her way to the bathroom.

Hopeful that our conversation would go well, I went outside to say hello and grab some pizza.

Unfortunately, Kylie was straddling Peto in a beach chair.

I cleared my throat.

"Shit." Peto nearly pushed her into me.

I caught Kylie. "Fucking relax." This kid is so fucking jumpy around me. "I'm not my father…" I always liked Peto, but if Dad saw that, he'd probably lose his shit.

Kylie was trying to catch her breath. "Why you home early?"

"Maggie and I are going to the doctor."

"Oh…I thought we were taking her." Kylie gestured to Peto.

"No…" I laughed, grabbing a slice. "I appreciate it. Thanks." Starving, I was quick to take a huge bite of pizza.

"Sonny…my favorite big brother." Kylie batted her eyelashes.

I furrowed my brow, chewing and taking another bite. "What do you want?"

She grimaced, wiping spittle off her forearms.

"Sorry." I still had a mouthful.

Kylie flashed me a toothy grin. "Can you get Gio and me into Midnight Sun tonight? Please!"

I threw the half-a-slice back into the box. "No," I said, and before she could continue, I said, "While we're gone, you're not to leave. Do you understand that?" I stared at Peto. "You don't leave this house. We'll be back in like an hour, and then I gotta talk to youse."

"We're nineteen—"

"I'm not asking you. I'm telling you, and if youse leave?" I looked to Peto and then to Kylie again. "I'll kick his ass while you watch."

"Sonny!" Kylie hit me.

"I just want you to know how serious I am." I wiped my hands clean.

"I'm calling Dame, or Mom, because—"

I stole her phone away. "You wanna call your dad?" I raised a brow to Peto. "Be my guest. But I need to talk to you guys…make plans for this weekend, unless…you'd like to spend the weekend separated."

Kylie gasped and turned to her boyfriend.

"Bro, you got my word." Peto rose to shake my hand. "We'll be here."

"I wanna know everything." Kylie sounded scared. "Are Mom and Dad coming home…?"

I shook my head as I palmed her cheek. "You gotta trust me, Kylie Cat."

Her lip quivered. "This stuff scares me."

"Because it's scary." I nodded. "Wherever you go, Gio, Maggie, and Dame'll be going with you."

"What about you?" she asked. "We'll all go…or none of us go."

I grinned despite myself. "Come on…A weekend away with Dame calling the shots?" I raised a brow. "You know he don't care as long as you're safe."

"Stop..." She wiped under her eyes. "Why isn't Dad here?"

I sighed, wondering how many times I'd be asked that. "It's not the apocalypse. It's not anything but a weekend trip," I laughed. "I'm not scared." I pointed to myself.

"You can't exactly tell us what's going on to ease our fears either," she cried. "I want Mom…" She hugged me, much like Damion did earlier.

"Shhh." I kissed her wet hair. "You have to relax." I started to sway us. "I told you. It's nothing serious…I'm not worried, so don't you be. But I do need you to trust me. I need you to be…brave because I won't be there for Maggie, and I need you not to give Dame a hard time."

"What's going on?" Maggie was behind me.

Turning to face her, I saw that she was dressed and ready to go.

My gaze whipped back to my sister. "Can you do that?" I asked Kylie.

"Yeah," she whispered, backing up to join Gio on the chair again.

"Everything will be fine…just don't leave this house."

"We won't," Gio assured me. "But...I should call my father?"

I nodded.

Then I went to Maggie to usher us into the house and out the front door. She started to ask questions while I scooped my shoes back on, but I gave her a quick and sloppy kiss instead of answering.

We were running late already.

She kept her curious eyes on me until we entered the car.

And I didn't know where to start.

"What'd you hear?"

"Just…from you not being here this weekend." She grabbed my hand.

I stopped at a light. "I'll be here…but you guys won't be here."

"I—"

"Listen, we've established that I can be a dick, but if I have to send you away and put my foot down…I'll do it. I don't want to do that. I'll answer any and all questions you have to…try and ease your fears. But then…again, you can't tell Kylie what I tell you." I picked her hand up to kiss it. "I've said this before…the only way someone could hurt me is by hurting you."

And it killed me that I couldn't break shit down for everybody.

Because it truly wasn't a big deal.

Them going away was a precaution and that's it.

I was confident all problems would be settled by Sunday, when everyone could come home.

"Santino…we haven't spent a whole weekend apart…since before we even met." She started to cry.

"Shhh." I pinched her cheek. "It's three days, four at the most…We'll talk quite a few times a day. You know I'm going to miss you, too."

She shook her head. "I'm-I'm not going to fight you." Now she was full-on sobbing. "I'm-I'm just gonna miss you-uu... I think it's the hormones…or I love you too much."

I laughed. "Probably both…" My hand found her thigh, and I gave it a squeeze. "Come on, baby. Stop crying. Youse going away is an extreme—extreme precaution. Everything will be fine…so, be sad 'cause you'll miss me, but that's it." I shrugged, pulling into the parking lot.

"Okay." She wiped under her eyes.

Once I placed the car in park, I leaned over the center console. "C'mere."

She kissed me, let me explore her mouth, but I pulled away when I noticed her hair was a knotted mess. "We were running late…I barely washed."

I grinned. "You smell good, though…" A grunt escaped me as I sniffed her neck, quickly nibbling on her earlobe.

"It's the shampoo…but I didn't use conditioner," she sighed. "I'm sorry you married a slob."

"Stop!" I shook my head, always hating when she puts herself down, while I left the car. "You're not a slob. You're beautiful."

She looked down in the dumps as she plucked her t-shirt. "I'm just..."

"You're gorgeous!" I nearly shouted. "Get that other shit out your head, all right? I don't wanna hear you putting yourself down no more." My chest actually felt tight. That's how much I hate it. Maggie can't wait until she starts showing actual belly, a baby bump, because she thinks she's just gaining weight, feels gross. But she's blind. She doesn't see what I see. "You wanna feel how hard my cock is right now?"

She giggled and kept walking.

"C'mere, baby. Come feel it." I chased her while she continued to laugh.

After grabbing her, we walked into the office.

Then I rubbed my dick against her while we stood at reception. We gained a few old glances, but I didn't give a fuck.

It kept my Maggie smiling.

The lobby was practically empty, so I hoped we'd get to the sonogram part soon.

"Santino..." Maggie whined, squirming in her seat.

I stopped kissing her neck. "I can't help it. You're too beautiful." I turned her chin back to me. "You know you are."

She grinned. "You made your point." Maggie kept her tone low. "But I'm going to explode if you keep..." She huffed, licking her lips. "You don't know what it's like...wanting to fuck you all the time."

I barked out a laugh.

"I'm serious," she said.

"Baby..." I just stared into her eyes because I knew exactly what she was saying. "You know...I'm a horny fucker."

Her brow furrowed, and her chest was heaving. "I just wanna get in bed," she leaned toward me, "spread my legs...and you fuck me. I need you to have me...take me."

I inhaled deeply through my nose, reaching to massage her neck. When she shuddered, I took my hand back. "I-I can do that." I nodded while my mouth watered at the thought alone. "I promise." I went to steal another kiss, but Maggie jumped at me to stick her tongue down my throat.

I fucking went with it, palming that ass, not giving a fuck if we were in public.

Because that's what she does to me.

My love...

"Cullen?" someone asked. "Margaret Cullen?"

"We're here!" Maggie hopped back.

And I had the only fucking hard on.

While we followed that broad into the back, I had Maggie walk directly in front of me.

What I didn't expect was for my wife to reach behind herself and palm my dick.

"Stop," I hissed, hoping my erection would die down.

Before she could do it again, we were escorted to an exam room, and then I helped Maggie into a paper gown.

After all the shit we'd been doing, I barely looked at her.

I didn't even want to see a tit, although I knew I'd be seeing everything regardless.

We behaved.

The doctor came to knock not five minutes later. Usually, we have to wait another fifteen to twenty minutes for him. I was surprised.

The last time we were here, they took blood from Maggie for some testing, and we asked about that first.

The screening, or whatever it's called, came back negative. Maggie's blood was perfect, all of her levels are normal, and we both sighed in relief. All week, while we've been excited for the ultrasound, which is also a part of this screening, but Maggie's been nervous. She's been worrying about birth defects. I've been trying my best to ease her fears, telling her we shouldn't worry until we're given a reason.

"Everything okay?" I asked, holding Maggie's hand.

The doctor was feeling around down there and on her stomach while he stared at the wall. "So far, so good." He smiled at us and then took off his gloves—to bring that machine over. He got it ready, and then put another pair of gloves on…

The room was too quiet, and Maggie kept her eyes closed.

"It's picture time," he announced, bringing the wand-like thing over to her abdomen.

We heard static, but then… "Holy shit!" I shouted, bending low to kiss Maggie; meanwhile, my eyes didn't leave the screen—where we saw our baby for the first time. I didn't need medical training to decipher much. It just looked like a very teeny, tiny baby. I saw the outline of the head, the entire body—arms and legs—and the heartbeat was crazy fast and loud. "You hear that?"

Maggie hiccupped. "Yeah…" She was crying again.

"Come on, Momma. Smile for me." I looked away to look at her, and I had butterflies in my stomach—my breath caught in my throat, and then I felt my lip quiver.

Maggie smiled at me while I started crying.

That was when the doc decided to talk. "Heart rate is perfect—as are the ratios."

"What's that mean?" I wiped under my nose.

"The baby's okay, healthy," Maggie whispered.

I nodded, blowing out a breath. "He…or she's…going to stay that way." The smile returned to my lips.

The doctor proceeded to print some pictures for us. I wanted like ten of those fuckers, so I'd be able to give one to Mom, Dad, and anyone who'd want one.

We racked up on Baby Cullen photos because Poppa Cullen shelled out some cash . . . I had to pay for the extras.

But everything was great.

Maggie and the baby were in perfect shape, and I thanked God.

"I knew something was up with this weekend," she admitted, once we'd reentered the car.

I pulled out of the spot, still wearing a smile as we headed home. "How?"

"Your Mom…and Alex." She blew out a breath. "They couldn't tell me everything but that everyone would be going away again…Wherever they'd go."

"I'm glad they warned you…Did Mom talk to Kylie at all?"

She shook her head and then yawned. "I'm so tired…But, no, not that I know of. I didn't know anything, really, and I've been waiting for you to spit it out…since your mom left for upstate—I mean—away."

I chuckled. "She told you to keep that a secret, huh?"

"She didn't want me to worry and, thus, miscarry under stress, which only had me more stressed." And she was crying again. "Who says that? Like I'm not already scared!"

"Shhh." I actually wore a smile, curious to know how Dame will fare with them this weekend. "You're fine. The baby is fine, and we're going to be fine."

"I know," she whispered.

"So, stop crying." My tone was still soothing. "You'll be back home Monday—Tuesday the latest. Okay?"

"You'll answer all my texts and calls?" She sounded fine now; she shut those tears off, which she's getting better at.

"If, for whatever reason, I can't have my phone on…I'll get you a number where I can be reached." I pulled into our driveway.

"Okay…" She still looked so sad, though.

"Maggie." I took my keys out of the ignition. "These pictures—whenever you miss me or feel sad, I want you to look at these pictures and smile."

"Yeah." Her glassy eyes betrayed her smile. "But you have to swear you'll be okay."

"I'll be fine…as long as you're okay, I'm fine."

"All right." She crashed her lips to mine. "We-we have to make love before—"

"Fuck, yeah, we are!" I chuckled, holding her cheek. "Yo..." My eyes trailed lower, drinking in the sight of my gorgeous wife. "I hope you're not too tired."

Maggie turned from me to run out of the car.

I laughed as I watched her scramble to the house, fumbling with her keys.

"Now!" she hollered.

"Yes, ma'am!" I nodded, closing the car door, and I still wore a smile.

Maggie was flushed as she disappeared into the house.

Pausing in the foyer, I counted my blessings once more.

"Santino!"

"I'm coming!" I ran up the stairs.


Thank you for reading.

Please leave me your thoughts.

See ya next week!