I stir, opening my eyes to a bright September morning. Warm and comfortable between clean, crisp sheets, I take a moment to orientate myself and am overwhelmed by a sense of déja vu. Of course, I’m at the Heathman.
“Shit! Daddy!” I gasp out loud, recalling with a gut-wrenching surge of apprehension that twists my heart and starts it pounding why I’m in Portland.
“Hey.” Christian is sitting on the edge of the bed. He strokes my cheek with his knuckles, instantly calming me. “I called the ICU this morning. Ray had a good night. It’s all good,” he says reassuringly.
“Oh, good. Thank you,” I mutter, sitting up.
For all ourfirsts on your first birthday as my beloved wife.
I love you.
He leans in and presses his lips to my forehead. “Good morning, Ana,” he whispers and kisses my temple.
“Hi,” I mutter. He’s up and dressed in a black T-shirt and blue jeans.
“Hi,” he replies, his eyes soft and warm. “I want to wish you happy birthday.
Is that okay?”
I offer him a tentative smile and caress his cheek. “Yes, of course. Thank you. For everything.”
His brow furrows. “Everything?”
He looks momentarily confused, but it’s fleeting and his eyes widen with anticipation. “Here.” He hands me a small, exquisitely wrapped box with a tiny gift card.
In spite of the worry I feel about my father, I sense Christian’s anxiety and excitement, and it’s infectious. I read the card.
Oh my, how sweet is that? “I love you, too,” I murmur, smiling at him.
He grins. “Open it.”
Unwrapping the paper carefully so it doesn’t tear, I find a beautiful red leather box. Cartier. It’s familiar, thanks to my second-chance earrings and my watch.
Cautiously, I open the box to discover a delicate charm bracelet of silver, or platinum or white gold—I don’t know, but it’s absolutely enchanting. Attached to it are several charms: the Eiffel Tower, a London black cab, a helicopter —Charlie Tango, a glider—the soaring, a catamaran— The Grace, a bed, and an ice cream cone? I look up at him, bemused.
“Vanilla?” He shrugs apologetically, and I can’t help but laugh. Of course.
“Christian, this is beautiful. Thank you. It’s yar.”
My favorite is the heart. It’s a locket.
“You can put a picture or whatever in that.”
“A picture of you.” I glance at him through my lashes. “Always in my heart.”
He smiles his lovely, heartbreakingly shy smile.
I fondle the last two charms: a letter C—oh yes, I was his first girlfriend to use his first name. I smile at the thought. And finally, there’s a key.
“To my heart and soul,” he whispers.
Tears prick my eyes. I launch myself at him, curling my arms around his neck and settling into his lap. “It’s such a thoughtful present. I love it. Thank you,” I murmur against his ear. Oh, he smells so good—clean, of fresh linen, body wash, and Christian. Like home, my home. My threatened tears begin to fall.
He groans softly and enfolds me in his embrace.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you.” My voice cracks as I try to hold back the overwhelming swell of emotion.
He swallows hard and tightens his hold on me. “Please don’t cry.”
I sniff in a rather unladylike way. “I’m sorry. I’m just so happy and sad and anxious at the same time. It’s bittersweet.”
“Hey.” His voice is feather soft. Tipping my head back, he plants a gentle kiss on my lips. “I understand.”
“I know,” I whisper, and I’m rewarded with his shy smile again.
“I wish we were in happier circumstances and at home. But we’re here.” He shrugs apologetically once more. “Come, up you go. After breakfast, we’ll check on Ray.”
Once dressed in my new jeans and T-shirt, my appetite makes a brief but welcome return during breakfast in our suite. I know Christian is pleased to see me eating my granola and Greek yogurt.
“Thank you for ordering my favorite breakfast.”
“It’s your birthday,” Christian says softly. “And you have to stop thanking me.” He rolls his eyes in exasperation, but fondly, I think.
“I just want you to know that I appreciate it.”
“Anastasia, it’s what I do.” His expression is serious—of course, Christian in command and control. How could I forget . . . Would I want him any other way?
I smile. “Yes, it is.”
He gives me a puzzled look then shakes his head. “Shall we go?”
“I’ll just brush my teeth.”
He smirks. “Okay.”
Why is he smirking? The thought nags me as I head into the en suite. A memory springs unbidden to my mind. I used his toothbrush after I first spent the night with him. I smirk and grab his toothbrush in homage to that first time. Gazing at myself as I brush my teeth, I’m pale, too pale. But then I’m always pale.
The last time I was here I was single, and now I’m married at twenty-two! I’m getting old. I rinse out my mouth.
Holding up my wrist, I shake it, and the charms on my bracelet give a satisfying rattle. How does my sweet Fifty always know exactly the right thing to give me? I take a deep breath, attempting to stem the emotion still lurking in my system, and gaze down at the bracelet once more. I bet it cost a fortune. Ah . . . well.
He can afford it.
As we walk to the elevators, Christian takes my hand and kisses my knuckles, his thumb brushing over Charlie Tango on my bracelet. “You like?”
“More than like. I love it. Very much. Like you.”
He smiles and kisses my knuckles once more. I feel lighter than I did yesterday. Perhaps because it’s morning and the world always seems a more hopeful place than it does in the dead of night. Or maybe it’s my husband’s sweet wake-up. Or maybe it’s knowing that Ray is no worse.