Her lovely green eyes, the ones mirrored in our little girl, light up like a bright sunrise.
“Magnus, are you serious?” she asks in delight. “Oh, I haven’t been to the beach in so long.”
I nod at her, happy that I could make her happy.
“You left the search open on your computer,” I tell her, pressing my lips to her hair. “If you want it, it’s yours.”
“I have what I want,” Cassie says, grinning as she turns in my arms. Her face is radiant in the soft light. “But the beach cottage would be a nice bonus, I think.”
I grin at her with my arms wrapped around her, and Willow buries her little hand in my soft shirt, yawning. Her dark curls are glossy and soft, curling tight at the base of her neck.
“She stayed up all night last night while we were at the vineyard,” Cassie tells me. “Your mom is a big softie for her. I think she would take her from us if she could.”
“Well, it’s still very early in the day,” I tell her, pressing my lips to hers. “Let’s go put our girl down for a nap and then I can show you how much I love you, all day long.”
“Let me check my schedule,” Cassie says playfully with a shrug, grinning at me.
“Oh, please do,” I murmur, bringing her in for another kiss, deeper than the first. “I have a lot I’d like to discuss with you, Mrs. St. James.”
I relish the sound of the name we share as it rolls off my tongue, claiming her as my own.
“Oh, is that right, Mr. St. James?” Cassie answers, smiling against my mouth.
A blush spreads over Cassie’s face and I know I’ll never stop wanting this. I’ve found the life that I want to keep and I won’t let anything tear us apart.
For so many years, I felt an emptiness in my chest and fooled myself into believing that I was whole. Truthfully, Cassie was the missing piece of me and my life feels even fuller with little Willow and my wife in my arms.
I can’t imagine another path for me and I’m so glad that Cassie took the job my mother offered her.
My relationship with my mother has only gotten better in the time I’ve been with Cassie. She seems happier and lighter, just like I am. My relationship with Cassie and the love between us has made everything better and my mother must be glad I’m a better man because of it. I can only assume that she likes the man I’ve become because of my little family. She must see my father in me, here at the house that was supposed to be her home. I can see it too, and I can understand his need for a better, safer life for the family he made.
“You know,” Cassie says as if reading my mind. She rubs a hand over my back, pressing warm circles into my skin with her fingers. “We really have your mom to thank for all of this.”
“Oh yeah?” I wonder as I put our daughter into her soft bed. She yawns, curling her little fingers under her chin. I can’t help but stare at her as I say, “You think we should thank her then?
I don’t want to wonder where I would be without Cassie, and I’m so happy that I have her now.
“Oh yeah,” Cassie repeats. “My first day on the job, she told me that I would be good for you. She said that everything would change.”
She was right.
THREE YEARS LATER
“Daddy! Daddy!” The bright squeal has me turning my head from inside the hammock.
Willow races across the yard, something cupped in her little hands. My hammock faces the ocean and the waves crash over the shore, gently lapping at the sand. My husband, slick with saltwater, rises out of the shallows, shaking out his hair to meet our little girl. His muscles ripple in the golden sun as he walks across the sand like some kind of sea god.
I push down my sunglasses, raising my eyebrows. The man just keeps getting better looking.
“Daddy, look at the worm!” Willow screeches as Magnus lifts her up into his arms. “Do you see it, daddy? Look at it, daddy! I named it Willow the Worm!”
“Baby, that’s your name,” I hear Magnus say with a chuckle as he brings her over to me.
“I know that,” Willow says defiantly. “We can share. Mama says to be not stingy.”
“No, I said to not be stingy,” I tell her, sitting up. “But worms don’t really count.”
“She’s learning,” Magnus says, grinning with his straight, white teeth.
He sets our daughter down and shakes his wet hair on both of us.
“Magnus!” I cry, pushing at him gently as he laughs.
“Mama, I want a doggy,” Willow says suddenly. She puts the worm down in the seagrass and lets it crawl away. “Bye-bye worm Willow. Mama, can I have a dog?”