Well, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do this. But I'm pretty happy with it so far, so it's a go. Here is the prologue to Stronger Than You Seem, a sequel to Try Again Tomorrow and a companion to A History of Shadows. I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know what you think!

Stronger Than You Seem

"Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."
― A.A. Milne

Prologue – The World Should Go On

"A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on." ~Carl Sandburg

"Your need to control everything around you is reaching an unhealthy level," Emily told her.

"You're insane," Beck told her.

"That sounds scary," was Tori's addition to the conversation. Andre didn't want to hear about it – he became squirrely anytime it was mentioned. Cat didn't care how it happened – she was gleeful that a baby was on the way. She had no cause to worry about how it would happen.

Jade was worried. She did not want to be surrounded by doctors, being told what to do and when to do it. She'd had enough hospitals for a lifetime. And she wasn't sick – she was pregnant. So, to the horror of her friends and family, she decided she wasn't going to the hospital.

In collective agreement, they believed she was crazy. None of them, except for maybe her therapist, Emily, understood that she needed to be in control; and this was the only way to do it. Beck eventually supported her; mostly because he didn't have a choice. She woke early on a Tuesday morning in November, her back hurting unexpectedly. Her water broke before she reached the bathroom.

"Beck! Beck!"

Her husband of five years and companion of eleven rushed into the bathroom, the sleep disappearing from his concerned expression. "Is it time?"

"Why the hell else would I wake you up at four in the morning?" She snarled. "Call Lilly." Their midwife was a sprightly young woman who had worked all her life delivering babies with her grandmother before taking over the practice herself. She was only a few years older than Jade. By the time she arrived at the Oliver Estate, there were several friends already awake and in attendance. While Jade had agreed that Cat and Tori could be around when the baby arrived, she didn't expect they'd be there through the labor - Jade didn't want anyone involved in that. She wanted them to go elsewhere and just come back for the happy part. Alas, the entire household was awake within the hour.

She was in the kitchen, making herself a cup of tea, when Tori and Cat appeared from their bedrooms and Andre arrived from his apartment. They all flocked toward her until she started screaming, commanding them to stay back. "I am going upstairs - to my bedroom. I don't want to see or hear any of you." With that, she began waddling up the stairs with her cup of tea, Lilly and Beck close behind. The three old friends wandered into the large living room and made themselves content with the fact that they would be waiting for quite some time. An hour later, Ella and Bryan Oliver arrived. The elegant matriarch immediately went up the stairs, ignoring the friends' warnings about Jade's foul mood.

The screaming frightened Cat. She'd spent most of her life hearing Jade scream about one thing or another - but it was nothing like this. There was pain and fear backing it up that brought the tiny redhead to the verge of tears. She sat in the upstairs hallway by herself, close enough to hear what was happening in the master bedroom and far enough away as not to impose. A break in the noise brought Beck into the hallway and he saw her, sitting with her forehead resting on her knees, bright red hair splayed around her like a curtain.

"Cat, she's gonna be okay."

"Why does it have to hurt so much? If it's natural, shouldn't it be easier?"

"I don't know," he admitted, running his hands through his hair. "Do you want to see Jade?"

"She said no," Cat reminded him, her eyes wide with the idea of defying his extremely moody wife.

"I think she's forgotten," Beck promised, "Come on." He motioned for Cat to enter the room and went down the stairs in search of something. Cat stood timidly in the doorway. Her best friend was walking around the room, her right hand resting on the large stomach under her nightgown. Cat could see that she was in pain in the way she carried herself. And she was sweaty; that was sure to make her unhappy.

"You can come in," Jade called, coming to a stop at the window. Cat scampered to her side. "I'm fine," she offered, in the most reassuring voice she could manage. It was enough for Cat.

"Why doesn't the baby want to come out?" Cat asked.

"It's not that she doesn't want to," Jade told her. "She just needs time." Another contraction started and she held on tightly to window frame, bracing herself. She didn't cry or scream. It hurt her not to, but she could see the effect her screaming was having on Cat. Once it passed, Jade sat on the edge of the bed and patted the spot beside her. Cat sat next to her, gently.

"This is going to take a long time," Jade told her. "I don't want you to be upset if I scream. It's normal."

"It doesn't sound normal," Cat informed her.

"It is," Jade promised. "Can you go downstairs with Tori? In the living room? Ask her to watch The Lion King with you. And color a picture for the baby."

"Okay," Cat agreed.

"Okay," Jade said, watching her go. She waited, breathing through her nose as she tried to count Cat's steps. Once she was certain her friend was on the first floor of the house, she hid her face in a pillow and let out a scream that put the prior ones to shame.

Four hours later, more than twelve hours into the labor, she was in pain and exhausted, ready to admit that she had been wrong. She could not do this without drugs. Beck helped end those thoughts and rejuvenate her fighting spirit.

"You know, at the hospital, they have drugs that make this less painful," Beck informed her, appearing with a bowl of ice cream she had asked for and now no longer wanted.

Jade glared at him. "Do you read anything I give you? Did you read the articles about the drugs?"

"No," Beck answered. "I figured you read enough for the both of us. And probably too much at that."

"If you mention your deluded idea that we should be in a hospital one more time, I am going to shove that spoon so far up your ass—"

Her tirade was interrupted as Ella appeared behind her son. "Why don't you go take a break," she suggested, looking at Beck. He didn't need to be told twice. Ella entered the room and sat on the bed next to Jade, rubbing her back gently.

"You're doing just fine," Ella told her. "Beck is just worried – that's why he keeps bringing up the hospital."

"I know," Jade answered. "I'm a little scared myself."

"At this point in time, my dear, I am certain that there is nothing you can't do."

Two hours later, Lilly said it was time to push. Jade did. Again and again. Every time she was told. She was in so much pain – and then there was a scream that didn't belong to her. A cry, really. Lilly placed a bundle hastily wrapped in a pink blanket on her chest. Suddenly, the pain was a mere memory. In its place, Violet Ella West Oliver was a reality.

Jade held the baby against her chest, tears streaming to her bright blue eyes. Beck sat behind her, his expression stunned and unbelieving. His voice shook as he spoke. "She's perfect," he said, unsure how he was breathing.

"You expected less?" Jade asked, her voice soft as she gazed at the newborn in her arms. She paid little attention to the afterbirth or anything that Lilly was doing. After she was cleaned up and the baby had been bathed, Beck descended into the living room to find their family and introduce them to the newest member.

Cat was sleeping, curled into Tori's lap while the brunette stroked her hair with one hand and held a book with the other. Andre was sleeping on another sofa, snoring lightly. Ella was watching the television and knitting while Bryan built a puzzle on the coffee table.

All those awake looked up as soon as Beck appeared, their expressions questioning and hopeful. "She's perfect," he said, tears springing to his eyes. He wanted to be angry with himself for crying, but he was overwhelmed. His parents hugged him, congratulating him. Tori shook Cat awake and they did the same.

"Tori and Cat, why don't you come up first?" He looked apologetically at his parents. "Jade promised them."

"We can wait our turn," his mother said happily. Tori and Cat were already up the stairs. When they entered the master bedroom, Jade had fallen asleep, sitting up. She woke as soon as she felt their presence, a small smile gracing her tired expression.

Tori sat on the bed next to Jade and looked at the baby. "Beck's right, she's perfect."

"You people shouldn't be so surprised by her perfection," Jade said weakly. "She was bound to be."

"That's true," Tori said with an amused smile. "Congratulations."

"What's her name?" Cat asked, bouncing onto the other side of the bed. Jade winced and Tori quickly put a hand on Cat's knee, telling her to stop moving.

"Violet," Jade told them.

"It's beautiful," Tori cooed, still staring at the baby.

"It's a color, like your name," Cat said excitedly.

"Nothing gets past you," Jade told her wryly. They only stayed for a few minutes. Tori could see Jade's exhaustion. Ella, Bryan, and Andre all took their turns and met Violet. They might not all agree on everything; but they all agreed that Violet was perfect. And the new center of their universe.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the prologue. The first chapter of the story picks up four years in the future, Violet engrained solidly in their lives. Please, review and let me know what your thoughts. What did you like? Any thoughts or questions? What do you think of the name?