The Quadruple Cross

**This story immediately follows "Christmas Present"**


"They're here! They're here!" Nine year old Tony Novelli was running through the house announcing the arrival of Matt and CJ Houston. Tony and Matt had been best buds ever since they met and young Novelli idolized him. He wanted to be just like his hero: a cowboy and a private investigator. He flung open the front door and tore down the steps jumping into Matt's arms.

"Hey bud, how's it goin'?" Matt gave the boy a big hug, then set him down on the driveway. "Think you can help me get CJ in the house?" He walked around to the other side of the car and opened his very-pregnant wife's door.

Tony leaned in and gave his Aunt CJ a big hug. "Wow! You're getting really big, CJ!" She smiled and shook her head.

"Thanks for reminding me, Tony; I had almost managed to forget it." She gave him a kiss on the cheek and took Matt's outstretched hand. He helped her out of the car and the two started up the walk. Tony shut the car door behind them.

The other members of the Novelli family had made it to the front porch: Vince, Matt's best friend and his wife Isabella, Mama Rosa Novelli - Vince's mom, and the other three Novelli boys: Paul, Michael, and Vince, Jr. As Matt helped CJ up the steps she was embraced by Mama. "Look how beautiful you are! Motherhood agrees with you, no?" She still had a thick Italian accent even after all the years she had spent in the US.

As Mama and Isabella walked CJ into the house, Vince and Matt shook hands. "Oh boy, it won't be too much longer till you're changing poopy diapers and making bottles, man!" Vince was laughing.

Matt was beaming. "I can't wait, Vince. I know she's going to be just as pretty and smart as her Mama." They walked down to the rental car and got the luggage out of the trunk with the help of the boys.

"So did the last ultrasound prove your case?" Vince hefted one of CJ's bags onto his shoulder and they started back up the sidewalk.

"No, the little stinker keeps mooning us." Matt was laughing. "But I just know it's a girl."

"You and CJ will be staying in my room." Paul led the way down the hall and into the second door on the left.

"I hate to put you out of your room, Paul." Matt sat the bags down and looked at Vince's oldest son. "I believe you're trying to get tall on me, aren't you?" He looked down at the boy. "But I'm still taller." They both laughed.

"I don't mind bunking with Michael. It's worth it to have you here with us." He headed on out of the room to go see CJ, who was sitting in the living room being brought up to date on everything by young Tony.

Paul walked over to her and leaned down, giving her a hug and kiss. "You look great!"

"No, I look like a beached whale."

"Nonsense," Matt knelt down beside her, "You're the most beautiful woman in the world."

"And you never tell a fib, do you Matt?" The couple kissed. "So how are you boys doing?" CJ looked at the Novelli boys who were stair-stepped in size and age: fifteen year old Paul, thirteen year old Michael, eleven year old Vince, Jr., and nine year old Tony. All four nodded except for Tony. "I'm great – especially now that you're here!" CJ just shook her head.

"Matt tells me that the kid is still mooning you." Vince couldn't believe that Matt was going to be a dad before too much longer.

"Yep, he is." She looked up at Matt.

"She is, you mean." He smiled at his wife. They had argued back and forth about the sex of the baby since first finding out that CJ was pregnant. Everyone in the room cracked up.

"Isabella, are you sure we won't be in the way?" CJ had originally planned to stay at a hotel, but the Novelli women would have no part of it. They wanted to be able to keep an eye on her.

"Not at all. It will give us more opportunity to talk." Isabella looked over at her husband. "So are you two still planning on going diving?"

"If he's game." Vince looked at Matt, who nodded.

"I am if you are." He looked down at CJ. "As long as you think you'll be okay."

"I'll be with Mama and Isabella so you know I'll be fine." She reached up and took his hand. Matt had always been protective of her – even when they were children. But now that they were married and she was carrying their child, he was even more protective – something that she had never thought possible.

"Guess we are." He grinned over at Vince. "It's been quite a while since I've been – gosh, at least three or four years."

"It's like riding a bicycle – you never forget." Vince looked over at the boys. "And you guys will be in school." He grinned as the boys moaned.

"Aw c'mon, Dad, can't we please skip school – just this once?" Michael loved diving and often went with his dad.

"Nope, you guys have school." He winked at Matt. The two of them didn't get to spend time together very often anymore and they had been planning this trip for a couple of months.

Matt's phone rang and he looked at the caller ID. "Hmm, it's Marty. Wonder what's up?" He answered. "Hey, Marty. Yeah, we got here just a little while ago. Uh huh. Yeah? That's great; I was hoping it would work out. Uh huh. How're the rest of the guys?" Matt had hired the Hoffmann brothers, Marty and Pat, as well as Ollie Burckhardt as cowboys on the ranch in Texas. "Good. Yeah, that sounds like just what we wanted. Alright, tell 'em I said hello – and Madre Rosa, too, I don't want to get in trouble." He laughed. Madre Rosa was the housekeeper at the Texas ranch who had practically raised Matt. "Alright. 'Bye." He hung up the phone. Looking at his wife he said, "Looks like we're right on target for the fall calving. Oh that reminds me, Tony, I promised to show you some pictures, didn't I?" He grinned at the expression on the boy's face. "Let me go get the laptop." Walking back to the bedroom accompanied by Tony, Matt was trying to field a dozen questions at once. "Tell you what, little man, look at the pictures and then I think you'll know the answers." They walked back into the living room and Matt sat down on the couch with all of the boys leaning over his shoulder watching. He brought up the pictures of the ranch.

"Alright. This is Reaper," he showed the picture of the bull, "and this is Jonas. They're Brahman bulls. Now these girls here…," he pulled up a picture of some of the cows, "are the Gelbvieh cows I was telling you about."

"Those are pretty." Isabella was looking at the pictures as well.

"And here's a picture of Brian helping us herd the cows the day they came in." Brian Landers had been in Matt and CJ's temporary custody for six weeks. Matt had found his mother who had been missing for over a month and had put her through a drug rehab program. Brian was now back with his mother and they seemed to be doing just fine.

"Wow! When can I do that?" Tony had wanted to be a cowboy since he met Matt almost four years earlier.

"Well, let's see…maybe next summer you could come and help us move them to other pastures. How would that be?"

Tony's eyes lit up. "Really?"

"If it's okay with your folks, yeah." Matt knew that Tony was a pretty good rider – he had taught him not long after they met.

"That's a ways off, Tony, we'll have to see." Vince winked at Matt and nodded.

"Who is that? Wait a minute – where did you get the beard?!" Tony couldn't believe his eyes.

Matt cracked up. "That's what happens when you get lazy and don't shave for a month, pard."

Vince stood up and walked over. "I gotta see this. Wow! That's one heck of a beard, man. Not bad."

"I want to see, too." Matt took the computer over and knelt down by Mama so she could see the pictures. When he got to the one with the beard her mouth dropped open. "You look pretty good." She turned and ran her hand over his cheek, where the stubble was already starting to appear again, even though he had shaved that morning. "But I like this face better – such cute dimples." She patted his cheek and he blushed, making everyone crack up. He leaned over and gave her a kiss.

Later on that night, after the boys had gone to bed, the adults were sitting out on the patio behind the house watching the moonlight dance on the waves. Matt and CJ were snuggled up together in a lounge chair.

"So you say the cows are on target for a fall calving?" Vince knew absolutely nothing about cows but thought it sounded like a pretty interesting business.

"Yeah, they are. I've got the ranch split into two herds: one for fall calving and the other for spring. We'll turn Jonas loose with the cows in the second herd the first part of July and that should put us at about April for the spring herd." Matt put his arm around CJ. "And of course this heifer will be due about June." He looked down at his wife.

"MOO!" She reached up and kissed him.

Vince laughed and shook his head. "You better be glad she's got a good sense of humor."