Hey, folks, this is a preview ofNew Cuts, Old Wounds, so it's just the first three chapters.New Cuts, Old Woundshas been published by Desert Palm Press. If you're interested you can get an ebook or paperback copy of it on Amazon or Smashwords and other ereaders written under the name S. L. Kassidy. Details on my profile.

Chapter One

DANE WOLFE STOOD IN the den, staring out of the window. She had escaped inside, meaning to grab her guitar, but the light rays pouring into the tiny area distracted her. Her eyes locked on the outside and she stared for a moment. Birds fluttered and sang outside. Spring. A smile settled on her face. She couldn't help being flooded by thoughts of the last time she noticed it was spring.

The spring brought warmth and promise along with it. For the first time in a long time, Dane found she could feel that vibe, coursing through her with all of the bliss that music contained. For the first time she could understand why people enjoyed the spring. There was a sparkle and shine to the whole world as if everything was touched by a fond, loving hand. Love surged through everything and floated from all things. She could even feel that sparkle flow through her and there was no question to her why that was.

She could hardly believe it had been a year since she first met Nicole Cardell. Her life had changed so much since then, but she wouldn't change anything about it. She wouldn't even change her ill-fated decision to leave Nicole several months ago, despite all of the pain it caused. That decision taught her and Nicole just how much they meant to each other. It made them stronger, individually and as a couple. And, now, spring brought them more enthusiasm and energy.

Today they had decided to take a step forward as a couple: Nicole would introduce Dane to her mother's side of her family. The very thought made Dane's stomach flip and twist. Nicole's mother, Kathleen, still detested her. She imagined the rest of Kathleen's family would be the same. After all, they had raised Kathleen, so she had to get her personality from somewhere.

"Come on, Danny, you can't keep pretending that you forgot something. We need to go now," Nicole ordered, standing by the front door. "I won't go through this with every room in the house. I just got you out of the living room, searching for nothing and now I have to deal with this."She sighed. "And I thought the fact that I got her downstairs in decent clothes would be the most difficult thing today. Shows how much I know," she muttered.

Dane had fled into the den after Nicole had managed to get her out of the living room, claiming she forgot something. She used the same excuse when she snuck into the living room. She peered out the door, biting her lip while watching Nicole. Nicole's green eyes glanced down at her watch and one of her feet, covered in a stylish golden-rod pump, tapped against the floor.

"I really forgot something this time!" Dane insisted.

"Oh, yeah? I can't imagine what you might've forgotten in the den that you absolutely need right now. What did you forget?" Nicole asked.

Just as the question left her mouth, Dane grabbed her guitar and hobbled out of the room. Nicole arched a perfectly curved auburn eyebrow. Dane smiled. The only time she left the house with the guitar was to teach her music lessons.

"Danny…?" Nicole's frown said much more than anything else.

"Trust me, it's a good icebreaker," Dane answered, her smile growing. "If all else fails, I play a few chords on my guitar. If I do that, I'm pretty sure your family won't hate me so completely and totally like Kathleen does."

Nicole's agitated expression softened and she reached out a gentle hand to put on Dane's shoulder. "You won't need to do that, Danny. You're the kindest and sweetest woman on the planet. My family will see that." Nicole caressed Dane's arm a little.

Dane glanced down at Nicole with just about the most dubious look her grey eyes could muster. "Have you been missing these last few months? Your mother hates my guts and this is her family. I'd like someone with your similar genetic makeup to like me," she replied. Never in her life had others opinions mattered so much to her until she started dating Nicole. No matter how daunting, she'd try her best. It'd help their relationship, after all.

"Daddy likes you," Nicole said.

"No, he tolerates me. There's a difference and you know it. Chem, just let me bring the guitar. It'll make me feel better," Dane replied, somewhat pleading. She figured her pet name for Nicole would help.

Nicole sighed, but conceded with a slight nod. Dane grinned and took that as a great excuse to embrace her lover. Giggling, Nicole returned the embrace before stepping up a little to give Dane a kiss. Dane ran one hand through Nicole's gorgeous auburn locks, earning a low moan from Nicole. Dane took that as an invitation to fondle Nicole, who was wearing a flowing, deep yellow sundress, so it made it easier for Dane to touch her bare skin. Nicole pulled away and shook a scolding finger at Danny.

"We don't have time for this, baby. We need to get moving right now," Nicole said.

"But, you look so hot!" Danny complained, reaching out and brushing her lover's hair from her shoulder. She loved seeing Nicole in dresses. The cloth seemed to hug every inch of her luscious form in a way that made Dane envious of the fabric. Sleek, toned legs that went on for days made her almost drool. Plus, Nicole wore dresses that seemed to be made just to tease Dane's senses.

"Yes, but I'll look just as hot when we get back home. Right now, we need to leave because my grandmother will not be happy if we're late for Easter dinner," Nicole said.

Dane's stomach clenched, for what felt like the umpteenth time today, and she practically flew out of the door, which was quite a feat considering her right leg was lame and she had a limp. Gotta be cool. I don't want to mess this up. She slipped into the car and honked the horn in a playful manner while Nicole shut and locked the front door.

"You know, if you only sat on this side, you'd be halfway there by now," Nicole teased as she, too, got into the car and hit the button to start the engine.

Dane stuck her tongue out at her girlfriend. A year ago, such behavior would've been beyond unheard of for her, but Nicole brought it out of her. She didn't mind it one bit. It felt freeing. Being with Nicole made her feel so right and at peace with herself. She never wanted to let that feeling go.

"You've been cleared to drive if I recall," Nicole said as she pulled out of the driveway.

"I so much enjoy having a chauffeur," Dane replied with a smile.

Nicole snorted. "Stop smiling at me like that. It makes it so damn hard to be mad at you for being a smart ass."

Dane didn't give Nicole much time to be even pretend-angry with her. After turning on some classic jazz, Dane leaned over and took Nicole's right hand into both of hers. She caressed Nicole's hand with her own and smiled at her.

"I really want your family to like me," Dane said. She knew how much family meant to Nicole. If she could make a good impression on half of Nicole's family then it'd help their relationship. She wanted to minimize any problems she could cause between Nicole and her family. Dane hated that she caused trouble between Nicole and Kathleen. She knew how close the mother and daughter were, even if Kathleen got on Nicole's nerves occasionally. She couldn't bear the thought of being a reason for them to drift apart and didn't want to do that with Nicole and anyone else in her family.

"Danny, I promise, they will like you. My mother's family isn't that scary," Nicole replied.

"How can they not be? They raised your mom!" Dane laughed.

Nicole chuckled, too, but quickly stopped. She felt bad for doing it. Dane's shoulders tensed. Maybe she shouldn't joke like that. But, Nicole's mom had been extra-hard on Dane since the day they met. Nothing she did was good enough for Kathleen's little girl. Of course, Nicole begged to differ. Kathleen was just set on making Dane's life difficult and needed little prompting to do so. It touched Dane that Nicole always stood up for her.

"Danny, you know I'd never knowingly subject you to anything bad," Nicole said, glancing over at Dane.

"What? Every freaking Saturday you do that!" Dane countered, teasing a bit, even though she honestly felt like her Saturday mornings could be considered a form of torture.

Clicking her tongue, Nicole shook her head. "Baby, physical therapy doesn't count."

Dane narrowed her eyes. It did count! She'd been in physical therapy for four months now, working on her injured hand, knee, and leg. It worked wonders for her hand, which meant a lot since music was her second favorite thing on Earth. Her leg wasn't coming along as quickly, but Nicole told her to be patient and it'd work out. Still, Dane hated going and swore up and down that her therapist was a sadist.

"Baby, being serious, you do know I'd never knowingly subject you to something bad, right?" Nicole asked, worry coloring her emerald eyes.

Dane smiled a little and kissed her lover's knuckles. "Of course I know that, Chem. Just nervous and that's why I'm being so difficult. I'm sorry for acting like this."

"I understand why you are, but I promise you, my family is pretty normal."

Hearing they were "pretty normal" didn't help Dane feel better. For Dane, normal meant against same-sex relationships, like Kathleen. Normal also meant disliking the fact that Dane was pretty much unemployed, lacked a college education, and still dressed like a teenage bum more often than not. Well at least they wouldn't see her "bum-gear."

Dane dressed in her Sunday best, as she jokingly referred to it. Nicole had to help her pick it out, but she was in black slacks, dark blue sweater vest, and a sky blue shirt underneath. She felt a bit preppy, but Nicole liked the outfit. Nicole liking something was just about the easiest way to get Dane to do something, except go to physical therapy. Plus, Dane wasn't completely uncomfortable in the clothing, having dressed in such a way a few times when going out with her lover.

Dane tried to take her mind off things by staring out of the window. The greens of the season had arrived. A smile worked its way on her lips as she felt that spring feeling again, reminding her that she had known Nicole for a year.

"What're you smiling at, Big Dog?" Nicole inquired.

At the sound of one of her sobriquets, Dane's smile grew and she glanced at Nicole. "Just thinking about how it's been a hell of a year."

Nicole nodded. "It certainly has. I mean, this time last year I was just realizing what a bastard Tyler was and then you drifted into my life. Danny…" Nicole stopped for a moment. She took a deep breath then continued. "Danny, I want you to know that living with you has been one of the best times of my life. You have improved my life in so many ways. I'm happy you're here."

Dane felt light at this news and knew her features brightened because of it. "Me, too, angel. Being with you is the best time of my life." Those words earned her a smile from Nicole.

The ride took a little over thirty minutes, giving the butterflies time to return to Dane's stomach and her heart sped up, thumping heavy against her ribs. Dane couldn't believe it when they pulled into a middle class neighborhood not too different from their own. Wouldn't Kathleen's parents live in a gated community like Kathleen and Raymond did? And where was the massive house she'd imagined?

Nicole pointed out a house as she parked across the street from it. Dane stared at it from across the way and she could hardly believe her eyes. She couldn't believe Nicole's grandparents lived in a two-story house that was about the same size as Nicole's. Toys even littered the front lawn.

"Chem, you sure this is the place?" Dane asked, her eyebrow arching high in disbelief as she exited the car.

Nicole giggled as she got out. "I think I know how to get to my grandparents' house. Just like most people, my grandparents are regular people and they have a regular house in a regular neighborhood. Just because my mom is rich doesn't mean her parents are."

Dane nodded as if she understood, but she really didn't. "Sorry, Chem, but where I'm from riches are inherited, so I just assumed…" Of course, the assumption doesn't make any sense now that I think about it. Still got a lot to learn about the regular world, I guess.

Nicole shook her head, her hair swaying a little. She wrapped her arm around Dane's and led her into the front yard. With each step, Dane felt a flutter in her stomach and she wasn't sure how to quell it. Dane looked around, almost expecting everything to change at any moment. Nothing did.

"Hello?" Nicole opened the front door and called into the house. Dane wasn't surprised that the door opened for them. People didn't lock their doors when they expected a lot of company. She never noticed it until she started going places with Nicole.

"Nikki!" a couple of childish voices called.

Two little kids charged into the small foyer, hugging Nicole around the waist and taking Dane by surprise. Dane mouthed "cousins?" to Nicole, who nodded. Nicole had explained to Dane only yesterday that on her mother's side she was the oldest of her cousins by a decade. Her mother was the oldest of three girls, also by a decade.

Nicole hugged the children back before directing their attention to Dane. "Guys, I would like you to meet my friend, Danny. Danny, these are my cousins I told you about, Sabrina and Eddie."

"Pleased to meet you," Dane said, extending her hand to both children. Thanks to some prep time Dane knew Sabrina was eight and had dreams of being a dancer. She had the biggest brown eyes, just like Nicole had said. Dane actually thought the little girl was cute as a button and she looked downright adorable in her powder blue dress with a bow wrapped around her waist. Sabrina curtsied instead of shaking hands, her straight, shining black hair hiding her olive-toned face.

"I'm gonna be ten," Eddie boasted, shaking her hand with more force than necessary. Dane smiled. Nicole had told her that Eddie wanted to be like his older cousin, Philip, who was an athlete with a very strong handshake.

"That's amazing," Dane said, as if really impressed. She was more impressed with his deep dimples and ruffled dark brown hair. He looked very much like a cherub and was too cute in his little black suit, complete with a vest and dark red tie. He puffed his little chest out.

"You're really tall," Sabrina commented with awe in her voice, staring up at Dane.

Dane shrugged and smiled a bit, not too sure what else to do. She ran her hand through her unruly hair and glanced off to the side. Nicole wrapped her arms around Dane's arm once more.

"Excuse me, guys. I want to introduce Danny to Grandma and Papa," Nicole said to her young cousins.

This plan made Dane short of breath for a moment longer than she liked. Be cool. Just because they're Kathleen's parents doesn't mean they'll hate you right away. But, even if they didn't hate her right away, Dane trembled at the thought of doing something to upset them. She knew from discussions how much Nicole loved her grandparents. Dane had to do this right or she could ruin everything.

"Okay!" The pair charged off.

"Just to warn you, they're going to bug you later," Nicole said. "I'm surprised they didn't have their little sidekick with them. Wayne's adorable, but he's probably sleeping. He takes a million naps during the day. It drives my Aunt Katrina insane because he's up all night after."

Dane nodded for lack of a better thing to do. Mentally, she matched the names with things that Nicole already told her. Wayne was the youngest of the cousins, coming in at four years old. Nicole suspected he was a vampire from the way her aunt spoke about his sleeping habits; Dane had laughed long and hard when Nicole told her because she pictured a tiny four-year-old with fangs.

Katrina was Nicole's youngest aunt and Kathleen's baby sister. Nicole and her aunt were very close in age, which didn't shock Dane too much. Katrina was in her early thirties and the three younger children were hers. She recalled Nicole saying Katrina was in advertising, but she doubted that'd come up in a conversation, so she tried to think of some other relevant information. Had Nicole mentioned that Katrina was married? Dane couldn't remember the husband's name. Shaking it off, she figured it wasn't a big deal since she was about to meet him anyway. Her nerves jumped just the same, fearful that forgetting the husband's name might cost her somehow.

Nicole led her deeper into the house. Sounds of conversation floated through the house, but it seemed like garbled noise to Dane. Things only got worse when they got to the kitchen and she spotted an elderly woman sitting at a table in the middle of the room. She knew that was Nicole's grandmother and—worse still—she appeared to be speaking to one of Nicole's aunts. I'd give my right leg for one-on-one intros with the adults, but then again, the right leg isn't worth much.

Dane anxiously tugged at the guitar strapped across her back while her eyes scanned the room but saw very little. Fear blurred her vision. Before Dane could process the level of fear, she stood before the two women. She blinked the haze away.

"Hi, Grandma. Hi, Auntie," Nicole said, leaning down to give her grandmother a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She then did the same with her aunt.

"Hey, sweet-pea, glad you could make it," her grandmother said with a smile. Dane had expected an accent for some reason, even though Nicole explained her grandparents both lacked accents. In fact, her grandparents didn't even speak Spanish, despite their Puerto-Rican ancestry. Nicole joked her grandparents' ancestors were probably rolling over in their graves because her grandparents were Puerto-Rican by blood and that was about it.

"You know I wouldn't miss it for the world. Last year was a fluke, I assure you," Nicole replied. Dane rolled her eyes at the thought of Nicole trying to bring Tyler to this gathering. He would've ruined the meal for sure.

Her grandmother smiled more and patted Nicole's arm. "I know you were under a lot of stress. Now, who is this young lady with you?" the elderly woman inquired, eyeing Dane.

Dane resisted the urge to gulp when twin sets of brown eyes turned to her. She wanted to study her feet or find an interesting tile, but that wouldn't help her. She needed to appear strong and confident, even though she was so nervous she wouldn't be surprised if her teeth started chattering. Her hand trembled, aching to go through her hair, but she managed to keep it at her side and ready for when she had to shake hands.

"Grandma, Aunt Kimber, I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, Danny Wolfe," Nicole introduced them with a smile. "Danny, this is my grandmother, Alicia Torrez, and my aunt, Kimber Johnson."

"Pleased to meet you. Nick has told me so much about you both," Dane said, shaking both women's hands. She hoped it didn't sound like she rehearsed those lines, even though she had done just that. Some tension eased in her stomach. She hadn't stammered or messed up.

"Nice to meet you, too, Danny. We've heard a little about you too," Kimber replied, smirking.

"Good things I hope," Dane muttered.

"Some," Alicia replied, glancing at her granddaughter.

Dane gulped. She had a deep inkling they heard about her more from Kathleen than from Nicole. Looking at them, she could almost see Kathleen looking down on her. In fact, Dane could see the strong resemblance between Kathleen, her sister, and her mother. The brown eyes, the similar facial structures, and full lips matched up almost perfectly between the three women. Kimber's hair was longer and appeared more of a dark brown than a black like Kathleen's hair. Alicia might've had black hair, but it was all white now.

Dane hoped the resemblance stopped there. Despite the fact Nicole had tried to assure her everything would be fine, seeing how everyone looked like Kathleen just made her feel a sense of dread. Not only did they all look alike, but their names were similar, so in her nervous mind that meant they all thought alike. Great, now one side of her whole family will hate my guts.

"Make sure you introduce her to Papa quickly, okay, Nikki?" Alicia patted Nicole on the arm again.

"I was going to. I just wanted her to meet you first," Nicole answered with a smile.

"Okay, but you know that old man will complain if he thinks you've forgotten him," Alicia said with a smile. She then turned her attention back to Dane, who looked down and off to the side because she wasn't sure what else to do. The older woman laughed a little. "You've certainly picked yourself a pretty one, sweet-pea."

"Grandma!" Nicole pretended to huff, glaring at the elderly woman and blushing.

Shock ran through Dane. She didn't expect Alicia to be so comfortable with Nicole being in a same-sex relationship. Alicia hadn't even blinked when Nicole said the word "girlfriend." Maybe Kathleen got her attitude about same-sex couples from her father. Well, she was about to find out.

"Come on, you. You don't want to hang around these two old ladies, anyway," Nicole said, taking Dane by the hand and leading her out of the kitchen. Going into the living room, an elderly man sat in an armchair and three other guys lounged on the couch. All of them seemed focused on the television.

Dane glanced over to see what they were watching. An old football game played across the screen, the fuzzy pictures blurring together. Nicole's grandfather was a football fanatic and seemed grateful that two out of his three sons-in-law were the same. Raymond watched football, but not to the same degree as the others.

"Papa, could you pause that for a second?" Nicole requested.

"What?" the elderly man said and turned to see Nicole standing before him. A grin spread across his face. "Nikki! I'm so happy to see you."

Nicole's grandfather slowly climbed to his feet and wrapped Nicole into a tight embrace. Dane hoped she wouldn't be subjected to the same. She wanted him to like her, but that might be too much right away. Nicole didn't warn her about him being a hugger.

Dane took a moment to examine the old guy. She doubted he was ever tall, but he'd probably shrunk a bit as he aged to his seventy years. Like his wife, he had a head of white hair, his much shorter than hers. His tan skin was darker than his wife's. His dark brown eyes glanced her way, but Dane didn't feel as nervous as she did before.

"Who's this with you, Nikki girl?" her grandfather inquired.

"Papa, I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, Danny Wolfe," Nicole replied. "Danny, this is my grandfather, Benito Torrez."

"Nice to meet you, sir," Dane said, holding out of her hand to shake his. He had a strong grip and hurt her hand a little when he shook it. If the glint in his eyes meant anything, he'd hurt her hand on purpose. Okay, so maybe Kathleen does get her attitude from him…or he could've just been warning me that he could break my head if I piss him off.

"Nice to meet you, too. Feel free to call me Ben or Bennie," he said and then he winked. "Nikki's said good things about you."

"Hey, I didn't get to call you Ben until…" A muscular black man sharing the couch complained. He trailed off and rolled his eyes, as if trying to think of a number.

"No, we still can't call him Ben or Bennie," the Hispanic man next to him commented.

Benito chuckled. "Well, I don't like you bums that much." They laughed.

"And these guys are my uncles," Nicole said, motioning to the men. "This is Jarred. He's Kimber's husband." She motioned to the black man.

Jarred leaned over and shook Dane's hand. He had a strong grip. He wore a three-piece suit, tan with a black shirt underneath and a light blue tie. His face seemed handsome enough and his skin a rich chocolate. He didn't look very tall, but he was sitting down, so Dane couldn't be sure.

Nicole then motioned to the man next to Jarred. "This is Eduardo. He's Katrina's husband."

The Hispanic male with very messy, short black hair and wearing a midnight blue suit leaned over next to shake Dane's hand. He towered over Jarred by almost half-a-head, but again, they were sitting down.

Nicole then turned her attention to the last one. "And this is my cousin, Philip. He's Jarred and Kimber's son." She motioned to the teenager.

"Nice to meet you," Dane informed all three men, shaking Philip's hand. He was just as well dressed as the others, wearing a fine tan suit. Dane guessed the family took Easter dinner seriously.

Philip was a handsome teen, even with some acne. He had broad shoulders like his father. Nicole hadn't told her what sport Philip played, but he was built like an athlete. He was clean cut and he smiled often. Maybe she had been nervous for no reason. Or they could just be being nice before they pounce.

"Philip's got an older sister, Jodie, somewhere around here," Nicole said, glancing around.

"Probably in the other room, trying to get Papa's ancient computer running again," Philip said, nodding in the direction of a room across from the living room.

Nicole chuckled a bit and pulled Dane away to introduce her to Jodie, who was tucked away in an office space. The teenage girl didn't seem too interested in meeting Dane and she hardly turned her attention away from the old computer. Dane didn't take it personally. Nicole warned her that Jodie tended to be a bit antisocial, especially compared to the rest of their family.

With all of the introductions made, Nicole left Dane to fend for herself. Dane didn't mind, thinking she might be able ease her way into things and carefully feel the family out without making a complete jackass out of herself. Besides, she'd rather Nicole enjoy her family instead of trying to babysit her.

She made her way back to the living room, figuring watching television with the guys would be easier than socializing with the women. Nicole had gone in the kitchen to chat, so Dane would allow her some privacy. Plus, when Kathleen finally arrived, Dane was sure the last place the powerful attorney would be was watching an old football game.

Dane didn't socialize with the guys, mostly because she didn't know enough about football to chime in the conversation. Her saving grace came in the form of Sabrina and Eddie. They trotted over to her, wanting to know what was in the pack she carried. Dane was all too happy to show them her guitar. Once they saw it, of course they wanted to know if she could play it.

"I play a little," Dane answered modestly.

"Play it, play it!" Eddie commanded her with an eager grin.

Dane ran her hand through her hair, not sure if she should. It could be seen as a disruption to game time. Glancing over at the adult men in the room she noticed them watching her. They were a little curious about her playing too. She played a short melody, earning looks of awe from her small audience. After the short concert, Eddie and Sabrina decided that Dane was "cool" and she'd hang out with them for the day. They took her by the wrist and pulled her off with them. No one stopped them and Dane didn't resist.


Nicole laughed when she noticed Danny had become the "hostage" of her two younger cousins. She didn't move to help Danny beyond craning her neck to watch them go into the backyard, especially since the musician didn't seem bothered by them. Nicole peered out the window. The children dragged Danny out into the middle of the yard. A beagle puppy bounded over to them and leapt on Danny at once, slobbering kissing onto Danny's chin.

Laughter filtered into the house, so every now and then an adult had to go look outside. Nicole smiled whenever she glanced in the backyard. The kids and the puppy chased Danny around the yard, but Danny didn't seem to be trying hard to get away. I told her she was nervous for nothing. Of course, Nicole had been a little anxious herself. While she was confident her family would like Danny, there was always a chance something could go wrong. It eased a knot in her chest to see her cousins getting along with Danny.

Nicole's parents arrived and her grandmother scolded the couple for being late. Nicole snickered, as did her aunt. They covered their mouths when Nicole's mother glowered at them.

"Mom, we had work," Kate argued.

"That's no excuse. How do you have work on Easter?" Alicia demanded.

"We have clients who need us, regardless of the holiday," Kate answered.

Alicia glared at them. "Your family needs you, especially during the holiday."

After the family matriarch was done reprimanding the late couple, the kids were called in for the family tradition of painting Easter eggs. They gathered in the kitchen and Danny tried to move close to Nicole, but Eddie and Sabrina weren't ready to let go of their new friend.

"Come down here with us!" Eddie ordered while Sabrina yanked Danny down to the end of the table next to their mother.

"Guys, don't pull on Danny like that," Katrina gently scolded her children. A warning look flashed in her brown eyes. She, like her other sisters, was a short brunette. They all seemed like clones of Alicia.

Danny shot Katrina a smile. Nicole smiled, too. It was nice that Danny showed she appreciated the effort from Katrina. Nicole's aunt had been watching Danny all day, but hadn't said anything to Nicole about it.

"Okay, guys, I need you to take it easy on me. I've never made Easter eggs before," Danny informed her two young companions.

Eddie and Sabrina gasped. That news not only shocked the children, but the adults, too. A few of her family members had to shut their mouths and blink away their wide looks. Of course Danny had never made Easter eggs. Nicole doubted Danny had much of a childhood at all. She hoped Danny enjoyed this.

"You never made'em before?" Sabrina asked as if she thought that was totally and utterly impossible. Her large eyes gazed up at Danny.

"No, I never did," Danny replied.

"You ever been on an Easter egg hunt?" Eddie asked.

"I've seen 'em before," Danny replied.

Nicole frowned. She'd have to ask Danny more about that. Danny shot her a nervous smile. A hand went through her short sable locks before she turned her attention back to the children.

"We'll show you how, Danny!" Sabrina promised.

That declaration got a large grin from the musician. "Thank you."

Nicole had to help Danny a little because Eddie and Sabrina weren't the best of teachers; not to mention they had trouble with their own eggs. After everyone had finished, they went around and showed what they had done to the eggs. Danny took in the scene with a furrowed brow, especially when Nicole's parents participated and enjoyed the activity.

"My Honest Abe egg," Raymond said with a laugh, displaying his egg that looked like Abraham Lincoln, if you squinted, and had an eye infection, and didn't know what the sixteenth president looked like. He'd readily admit that after many years of participating in the family egg painting tradition, he never got any better, but it was fine. Doing this was just about having fun.

"I think Danny's egg looks more like Honest Abe than yours," Jarred said, nodding toward Dane's creation. All attention turned to her. Danny ducked her head a little, like she was trying to hide, and she covered her egg with her hands.

"Dad, are you blind? That's not Lincoln," Philip commented, motioning to the egg in Danny's hands.

"Then who is it?" Kimber inquired, siding with her husband. Leaning closer over the small table, she tried to get a better look at Danny's egg.

Nicole put her hand on Danny's right wrist, hoping she could get Danny to stop hiding her egg, but no luck. She assumed Danny was just embarrassed and thought her egg didn't look very good. It wasn't the best paint job, but considering her left hand shook the whole time she painted it, Danny had done a decent job and should show it off.

"A blind man could tell that's one of the rock gods—Slash," Philip replied.

Danny shot the young man an impressed look. "It is Slash!" she said with a grin. She puffed her chest out a little, clearly proud that she did pretty good for her first time. She even moved her hand, so everyone got a clear view of her egg.

That moment seemed to help Danny get to know Philip because after that, they started talking about rock music. Danny, Philip, and Jarred walked off to the living room. Nicole hoped they'd bond over music. Maybe Danny would even offer to teach Philip. Nicole remained in the kitchen with her grandmother and aunts, clearing the table.

"What do you think of her so far, Grandma?" Nicole asked. She had already checked with her grandmother a couple of times that day on Alicia's opinion of her sweetheart, but she just wanted to make sure everything remained positive.

"She seems very nice, polite, and trying to get along with everyone. It was great that she jumped right in on the egg painting, even though she's never done it before. You clearly like her and she clearly likes you, which is a plus," her grandmother said. She moved to clear the table, but Katrina and Kimber glared at her. This kept Alicia in her seat while her daughters and Nicole cleared away the mess.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Nicole asked, her forehead wrinkled as she tossed an empty egg carton away.

"Your grandmother means that in the past when you've brought partners here, you seemed into them, but they didn't seem so into you," Kimber explained, moving the painted eggs to the counter.

"Danny does seem very interested in you and in your family, which is also good," Alicia added. "She's also happy to mingle with the children. In the past, your partners act like they're too good for the kids. Sometimes, they acted like they were too good for us altogether."

Nicole nodded, throwing away trash from the egg painting. "Danny was surprised you lived in this type of house, but not in a negative way like others have been. She's not as materialistic as the people I've been with before."

"I can't believe she's never painted Easter eggs," Katrina commented, shaking her head. She grabbed a dishcloth to wipe up the table.

Nicole sighed a bit. "Danny's had a very difficult life, but she's sweet and kind and understanding."

"We also hear she's the spawn of Satan, who has ruined your life," Kimber said with a light laugh, looking off in the direction that her elder sister walked off not too long ago. Nicole's mother had to take a call, which had earned her another glare from Nicole's grandmother.

Nicole shook her head. "Mommy will never forgive Danny for talking me into going back to school."

"How is school?" her grandmother asked, leaning forward, a bright smile on her face.

A spark went through her and a satisfied grin settled onto Nicole's face. "I love it! I have a month to go before I'm finished with my first semester. I love the labs and the classes. The only thing that bothers me is that it takes away from my time with Danny, but she's okay with it. She just keeps pushing me to stay the course and get my degree."

"Sounds like a keeper to me," Alicia stated with a smile.

"Me too, but don't tell Mommy that," Nicole said with a grin. Oh, wow. She hadn't expected such sweeping approval and her stomach oddly enough flipped a bit from it. She ignored it and focused on the joy of having her family like Danny.

"Don't tell me what?" her mother asked, coming back into the kitchen and slipping her phone back into her bag.

"We think Nikki should just marry Danny and call it a day," Kimber said with a grin, teasing her older sister.

Kate frowned. "Nikki will be doing nothing of the sort. Danny's just a passing fancy, isn't she?"

"No, ma'am." Nicole continued to grin. "I told you, Mommy, you really should get use to her being around."

"Katie, you should let Nikki live her life," Alicia urged. "Besides, Danny's very different from anyone else Nikki has ever brought over here. She fits in and doesn't act snobbish like most of Nikki's partners. Think about giving Danny a chance."

Kate sniffed and eyed Alicia. "I'm not giving her a chance, Mom. She's out to ruin Nikki's life and Nikki is all too happy to let her. As her mother, I have to make sure Nikki does the right thing and lives her life as best she can."

"That's a lot of bull," Kimber chimed in and Katrina nodded. Knowing an argument was coming, Nicole shook her head and continued clearing the table.

"You're just trying to control Nikki. You're always trying to do that. You always want things to go your way and if they don't then everyone else on the planet is wrong and you think you're right. Nikki's a grown woman, Kate. Leave her alone and let her make her own decisions. Besides, Danny's by far the best girlfriend or boyfriend we've met from Nikki and we haven't even been around her that long," Katrina said.

"You three don't know Danny, so don't try to defend her," Kate replied sharply, shaking her finger at them.

"Can we not argue about this? It's been so long since we've all been together. Let's just enjoy each other and save the arguing for when it's been less than a whole year since we've last seen each other," Nicole requested. She was used to her mother arguing with her aunts and her grandmother, over a number of different things. She knew it could go on for a while and she didn't want to sit through it right now.

They all agreed, so there was no more discussing Danny…at least while Nicole's mother was around. The rest of the day went smoothly and they sat down for a huge family dinner in the early evening. Nicole and Danny weren't used to eating so early, but they pulled up to the table like everyone else.

"All right, let's say grace and then dig in," Benito declared with a smile, rubbing his palms together. The children laughed while his daughters shook their heads.


Dane watched as the family all joined hands. She copied them, taking Nicole's hand in hers and also Sabrina's hand since the child sat next to her. Wait, why are they closing their eyes? It took her a second to realize the family seriously said grace. Nicole never seemed particularly religious and neither did Kathleen, so this was the first time she saw a hint of religion from them. But, Nicole's family—at least her mother's side—was Catholic. I didn't see that coming. Dane bowed her head, going along as best she could, until her hands were released.

Dinner was full of conversation with everyone speaking, even the youngest among them—Wayne. The toddler actually tried to dominate the conversation, which everyone seemed to think was cute, Dane included. But, in between Wayne's four-year-old rambling, Dane was able to learn more about the family. Dane hoped she made a good impression on them, too.

"Mommy, you shoulda seen Danny with Beanie! She could make him do a trick," Sabrina reported.

"A trick?" Katrina smiled, apparently to encourage her daughter to elaborate.

"Yeah. She made him roll over. Right, Eddie?" Sabrina turned to her brother.

"She did," Eddie confirmed.

"I wanna see Beanie do a trick," Wayne pouted.

"Well, maybe if you're good and you eat everything all up, your brother and sister will take you outside to see Beanie and Danny will get him to do this trick again," Katrina said.

Wayne's bright eyes shot over to Dane. "Yeah?"

Dane felt on the spot, not sure how to react. She glanced over at Nicole, needing some direction. With the slightest of nods, Nicole let her know it was all right.

"If your mom doesn't mind, yeah," Dane answered with a shrug. She wouldn't mind going back out into the yard with the dog. The little beagle pup was very energetic. Thinking about him reminded her of other dogs from a lifetime ago, but she shook the memory away. It felt like acid was poured into her chest just from thinking about it. She was having a good time and she refused to spoil it with things she had done her best to bury and forget.

After dinner, Dane excused herself with the children, and they charged back into the backyard. The puppy, Beanie, ran right to them. Dane wasted no time showing them the trick. Wayne even began doing it with Beanie.


It was a very good holiday as far as Nicole was concerned. Nicole could tell her lover was having a good time and she could also tell that her family genuinely liked Danny. I knew this would work out, but it's always wonderful to see a plan come together.

It was a first for Nicole's whole family to like someone that she brought over. Usually, only a particular group in her family liked someone she brought—if anyone liked the person at all. Perhaps her uncles would like her partner, then her aunts would like another partner, and on rare occasions her grandparents might like one. The children never liked her lovers and tended to complain before Nicole and her lover were even gone. But, this time, everyone seemed to find something they enjoyed about Danny. At the end of the night, her grandmother and grandfather ordered her to keep Danny happy because "that one is a keeper."

"I'm so glad you like her, Grandma, Papa," Nicole said as she hugged them, trying to leave. Danny was still lost in the backyard with the kids, but Nicole didn't mind. She had never seen Danny have so much childish fun.

"She's a doll, just like you promised," Alicia replied.

"She could stand to learn a bit more about football, but I'll teach her the ropes," Benito said, smiling.

"I'd appreciate that, Papa. I know she's happy everyone here accepted her. So, you hold those football lessons for one of the family Sunday dinners because we will be back," Nicole promised.

"You might never leave. I think Eddie and Sabrina have adopted your girlfriend," Alicia joked.

Nicole looked out into the backyard, but Danny came walking down the stairs with Philip and Jarred instead, explaining how she ended up learning other instruments aside from the guitar.

"Hey, love, I'm sorry to cut your conversation short, but we need to get going," Nicole said. I wonder who she spent more time with, Philip or the little ones and the puppy. Danny seemed fine with both.

"Oh," Danny said, glancing at Nicole and then turning her attention back to the two guys. "Guess I'm being abducted. Hope I can talk to you guys again. If you're serious about the guitar lessons, I can give them or get you in touch with a lot of people that will, so you're not paying for super expensive lessons."

"All right," Jarred agreed. "Philip and I will talk it over and get back to you. You're staying with Nicole, right?"

"Yup and most days you'll find me at home, no matter what time you call. My lessons schedule isn't really a schedule," Danny explained.

Jarred nodded. "Okay. Well, Danny, it was great to meet you. You make sure you take care of Nicole."

"Don't worry. I've got that all taken care of," Danny replied, shaking his hand. She then turned her attention to Nicole. "Just let me go say bye to Eddie, Sabrina, Wayne, and Beanie, okay?"

Nicole smiled and nodded. Danny left as quickly as she could, limping quite a bit because she had been moving around so much on her lame right leg. Nicole knew her family noticed the limp throughout the day and, like most people, they wondered if it was polite to ask about it.

"Hey, Nicole, what happened to Danny's leg? Why does she limp like that?" Philip inquired, just barreling right into it.

"A couple of years ago, she was involved in an accident," Nicole answered. She figured that'd cover things without anyone asking for details.

"Is that why her hand is messed up, too?" Philip asked, earning a glare from his father.

"Yes. Did you notice it when she was playing the guitar?" Nicole asked.

"Yeah, and she said she can't play too long because of her hand. Plus, when she was making her Slash egg, I could see her hand shaking," he replied.

"It was all a part of the same accident," Nicole answered.

She didn't have to go into detail as Danny returned and they were able to leave after some very long goodbyes. As they got into their car, Nicole couldn't stop grinning. She felt confident and comfortable with keeping Danny around for a very long time, glad it wouldn't cause any friction with her family. Still, Nicole felt a nervous flutter.

Why am I nervous? I wanted her to like them and I wanted them to like her. It worked out wonderfully. But, along with that brought a sense of dread, like this was too much positive at once. She tried not to think about it, brushing it off as a weird paranoia.


"Hmm, baby?" Nicole kept her eyes on the road as she drove.

Danny took her girlfriend's hand. "You were right. I had a great time and I'm glad I went. I like your family a lot and I had a lot of fun with all of them. They seemed to accept me and that was really nice. I just have one question."

"Which is?"

"How the hell is your mom related to them?" Danny asked with a giant grin.