A/N: (Edited 10/2012) And here it is. The end. It's been my great pleasure to bring this story to you guys, and I'm so unbelievably humbled by the response I've gotten to it. When I first started posting, I hoped people would enjoy it the way they did Last Minute Lullaby, and well, I got my wish and then some. Every single review, alert, and favorite I've received inspired me in one way or another, so I want to thank everybody who took the time to do so—trust me when I say they helped me keep going when I was blocked and ready to give up.
This chapter's dedicated to all of you, my wonderful, beautiful readers. I hope you enjoy!
Four Years Later
Arriving home from the late shift at O'Donnell's, Gideon let himself into his dark, quiet house, carefully setting his keys down in the glass dish on the hall table. After taking off his jacket, he toed off his shoes, switched off the lamp Nola had left on for him, and headed towards the back of the house. Hearing a faint noise from the kitchen, he poked his head inside and saw Liam, all lanky teenage limbs and winter-pale skin, rustling around in the refrigerator.
"Hey, bud," Gideon greeted, entering the room. "What are you still doing up?"
Liam had turned at the sound of his brother-in-law's voice and he smiled around the piece of chicken he was holding in his teeth. "I have late exams tomorrow," he said once he had set down the jug of milk and second drumstick, and removed the obstruction from his mouth, making a face. "I'm studying for chemistry."
Gideon couldn't blame him for the grimace; it was nearly three o'clock in the morning, not the best time for chemistry. "Not too much longer, okay?" Gideon warned, and then, because he was slightly hungry himself, picked up the cold chicken leg. Liam rolled his eyes when Gideon took a large bite, but went back in to the fridge to get another piece to replace the one just stolen from him. "All the studying in the world's not going to help if you fall asleep in the middle of your test."
"I won't. I just have another section to review."
They munched for a moment in silence and when finished, Gideon washed his hands. "All right. Well, I'm beat, so I'm going to bed," he announced, ruffling Liam's scruffy hair, harder now that Liam was almost as tall as he was. "Good luck tomorrow." He poked his head back in the room. "Don't forget to let the dog out."
Liam grinned, his braces flashing in the light. "Already done. She's in with Nola," he said. "I have been doing this for a couple years, you know."
One of the first things he and Nola did after officially getting together had been to take Liam to a local animal shelter to adopt his dog. He'd picked out, and fallen in love with, a tiny four-month-old ball of fluff he named Cotton, who had fur nearly as pale as his and Nola's hair; Cotton had sleeked out as she grew up, and now she bore a distinct resemblance to a white Lab-Golden Retriever mix.
Padding quietly down the hallway, Gideon found his wife in the room that had once housed his office equipment, which recently had been moved into the dining room that was still never used for its true purpose. His desk and computer equipment had all been transferred out to make room for a crib, a matching rocking chair, and a changing table. Cotton was napping on her side on the baby safari animal rug, and Gideon rubbed her belly with his foot, inhaling the scent of the room—baby powder, breast milk, lemons, and sunshine; all his favorites—before he crossed to where Nola sat in the rocking chair at the window.
Her back was to him, and he hadn't made any noise that would've been heard over the slight creaking of the chair as she rocked, but as always she turned her head towards him right before he reached her. A smile curved her lips, but her blue-green eyes were heavy with sleep; she looked about ready to doze off. She reached for him with her free hand, pulling his face down to hers, and kissed him deeply, her tongue darting out to meet his as she buried her hand in his hair.
Even after four and a half years, just the taste of her, the feel of her lips moving against his, was enough to heat his blood. "Well, hello to you, too," he murmured, making her chuckle, and the he shifted his gaze down to her chest. "And how's daddy's little man doing tonight?"
Nola shivered slightly when Gideon reached down and stroked a light finger over her breast, right above where their newborn son suckled. "He's doing just great," she replied, her voice a little breathy. She had felt her husband's—her husband, she still couldn't believe it sometimes, even after nearly two years—gentle caress right down to her toes. She nuzzled her nose against him, licking her lips. He tasted like the chicken they'd had for dinner, the recipe for which his mother had finally passed along to her as a wedding gift. "I miss you."
"I miss you, too," Gideon said, his voice rough, as he shifted to sit on the ottoman in front of them. He stroked his son's downy hair; it was dark, like his. "Little Xavier Donnelly here would be positively scandalized if he knew the things I wanted to do to his mommy."
She grinned and another shiver went down her spine at the heat in Gideon's eyes. "Probably not. He had a front row seat for nine months, after all," she reminded him and sighed wistfully. "Only one more week and then I can finally have you again."
When Nola broke eye contact to watch their son feed, Gideon scooted closer, rubbing Xavier's foot with the thumb of one hand while he did the same to Nola's thigh with the other, and watched as well. "Lucky boy," he murmured after a while and kissed his little chubby arm. "Lucky me."
"Lucky us," Nola corrected. "Now, kiss me again, Squishy and tell me you love me."
And, still willing to do whatever it took to make her smile, Gideon kissed her again and told her he loved her. "The newlyweds are back from their honeymoon," he told her when he broke away. "And aside from Mike having a harrowing—and hilarious—run-in with an enraged octopus, they had a great time."
Nola smiled at that. "Oh, don't look so happy about it," she scolded, nudging his foot with hers. "Was he okay?"
"It ran off with his camera, but they managed to get it back," he replied, trying to wipe the smile from his face. Although he and Mike were almost-nearly friends now, he couldn't help but take pleasure in the telling of his slight misfortune. "He sends his love, and said he'll see you Saturday."
"Good. I've missed seeing him around," she said. "It's nice, finally seeing him so happy."
Gideon couldn't help but agree, though he didn't voice that thought aloud. "So, current odds are leaning towards Irish twins for us," he announced after a moment. He leaned back so she could switch Xavier to her other breast and couldn't resist circling her freed nipple with his knuckle. "What do you think?"
"I think everybody's got too much damn time on their hands," she said, her wide grin belying her snippy words. "Are they going to have a pool going for every part of our relationship?"
Gideon and Nola had been equally surprised the night they officially got together, when they returned inside to find Jen doing a jig on the bar. As it had turned out, the reason none of the regulars appeared surprised by the two of them getting together was because none of the regulars were surprised by the two of them getting together. There had been a pool going for months—started by Big Jim the night Gideon went after him for getting Nola hurt—and almost every regular had been a part of it, putting twenty bucks on when they thought Nola and Gideon would become a couple.
Jen had won that pool—nearly twenty-six hundred dollars—hence the happy dancing on the bar. Nola had been shocked when the other girl explained that she'd never actually been interested in Gideon, and Gideon himself had looked extremely relieved. And maybe just slightly put out.
"I just wanted to see what your reactions would be," Jen had explained to them that night. "I didn't believe it when Big Jim said he thought there was something between you, but after Gideon turned me down and you jumped down my throat for hitting on him, I started to believe it."
"But...I made you cry."
Jen had grinned at that. "Sweetie, I was the lead in all of my high school drama productions starting as a sophomore," she had told her and then her lower lip had quivered, and a few tears tracked down her cheeks. "I've been crying on demand since I was a little girl."
"What if I hadn't turned you down?" Gideon had asked.
"Then we would've had ourselves a good time, and I wouldn't be currently considering asking for an armed escort home," Jen had replied with a wink. "No offense, Gid, but I think I like the way things turned out."
They'd all laughed then, and Jen had gone back to work.
After that had come the bets on when they would get engaged; what their wedding date would be; how long after their wedding would it be until they were pregnant; whether their baby would be a boy or a girl.
Nola sighed now. "Irish twins? That's two babies born within twelve months of each other, right?" She shook her head. "Sorry, Squishy. We're using condoms until I can go back on the Pill."
"Bummer. I like it when there's nothing between us."
His words, or maybe the fact that he was still absently playing with her nipple, had heat blooming between her legs. "Me, too. Luckily for you, there's one place we don't need anything between us." She ran her tongue slowly around her lips, watching as his eyes tracked the movement. "Go get into bed, and once the little one's done eating, I'll come in and take care of you."
"You're an evil woman, Mrs. Martin," he murmured, standing. Leaning down, he kissed his son's head, then tipping forward a little farther, licked her nipple. He grinned when Nola's breath caught. "Oh, you like that?"
She tried to stifle her giggle but failed. "You're an evil man, Mr. Martin."
Grabbing a fistful of her hair, he tipped her head back and kissed her hungrily. "You know you wouldn't have me any other way, my love."
No, Nola thought happily as he padded quietly out of the room, she wouldn't.
After Xavier was settled once more and she turned the baby monitor back on, Nola made her way to their bedroom, pausing at Liam's door to tell him to go to bed. She waited, watching until the light showing through the crack beneath his door went out, and then continued down the hall. As she always did, she touched her fingertips to the frame of her favorite picture from their wedding day, in which the two of them were flanked by Matron-of-Honor Bridget and Best Man Liam.
Along with Stevie's little sister, Kayla, who'd been their flower girl, they'd comprised the entire wedding party; Mr. Q had been the one to give her away. Nola had worn her mother's veil, which had been her something old, and Yair and Bridget had taken care of her something new and blue, giving her a pair of lovely aquamarine-and-pearl earrings that had complemented her something borrowed—the pearl necklace Mr. Q had given his wife for their last anniversary.
Smiling as she remembered the day, Nola opened their bedroom door. Gideon was just coming out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped low around his lean hips. "You need a haircut, baby," she noted, watching as a drop of water fell from a lock of his hair to land on his chest. She crossed to him, moving in close to catch the drip with her tongue, and sighed against his skin. "You always taste so good."
He made a humming noise as he buried a hand in her hair and tilted her head back. Her gorgeous blue-green eyes glittered in the dim light, lit with lust and adoration; he was pretty sure his own eyes held a similar expression. As his mouth lowered to take hers, she ran her hands down his sides to the edge of the towel, loosening the fabric and letting it drop.
Already hard for her, he took her bottom lip between his teeth when her clever hands moved between their bodies, sucking in a breath when she wrapped one of them around him. She pumped once, twice, then lowered herself to her knees where she rubbed her cheek against his erection. Then, with a dangerously wicked look in her eye, she stood, his discarded towel in her hands.
With a simultaneous groan and chuckle, he moved to sprawl out on the bed while she went to hang up his towel. "You're such a tease, my love," he told her when she reappeared in the doorway, avariciously eyeing his naked body. "God, I could come just from the way you look at me."
"Well, that would be a waste, wouldn't it?" she asked, sauntering towards the bed.
She stood at his hip and slipped one nightgown strap off her shoulder, and then the other, wiggling until the garment fell to reveal her body to Gideon's hungry gaze. Her nipples were still reddened and tender from their son's feeding, but there was a cream that he loved to apply that would help. Her belly was still a little soft from pregnancy, and although he had no problems with waiting until she was ready, he could hardly wait until she was pregnant again.
Nola had been one of those pregnant women who glowed, making her more beautiful than ever before; Bridget and her camera had been practically attached to Nola's hip throughout all three trimesters.
Resting a knee on the bed, Nola moved to straddle him, leaning forward to brace her hands next to his head and brush her lips against his. She shivered when his hands moved over her body, touching her as if he couldn't get enough. He couldn't, and neither could she, not until after they got the all-clear from her doctor in a week and he could actually be inside her again, instead of just rubbing up against her.
With some assistance on his part, her hair fell to curtain their faces as they kissed, tongues mating sinuously. Slow and sensual at first, Gideon took it up to hot and hungry with a change of pressure and angle. Chuckling sexily, Nola broke free to nibble her way down his neck, watching his lust-sharpened features with savage glee.
It still amazed her, what she could do to him, and she had a feeling that would never change.
He shivered as her hair tickled against his skin as she kissed her way down his chest, pausing to write her name on his belly with her tongue. That was something she'd only done once before, and as he had a flashback to their first night together, he felt a grin spread over his face. It dropped quickly as a choked breath left his body when she wrapped her hand tightly around his manhood and then enveloped him in the moist heat of her mouth.
Sitting up on his elbows, he watched the always erotic sight of himself disappearing between her lips and was nearly undone when her gaze flicked up to meet his. Her eyes smiled even if her mouth was otherwise occupied, and she kept up the eye contact as she quickly worked him towards his destruction. She sucked and licked and stroked and kneaded until, with a final, long hum, she sent him over the edge.
When his vision cleared and his wits were restored, he saw her, still kneeling between his legs, just watching him recover. She licked her lips, which were red and swollen from loving him, and then sank her teeth into her bottom lip as she grinned. Laughing, he sat up, grabbing her by the arms, and dragged her, squealing happily, down on top of him.
He wrapped his arms tightly around her, kissing her and holding her as if he planned to never let her go—and he didn't. "Christ, how I love you."
Nola chuckled, feeling tears prick her eyes even as she sighed contentedly and snuggled up against his side. She'd wondered, as she spelled her name on his skin, if he'd remember the first—and last—time she'd done the same thing, and she just got her answer. It felt as if things had come full circle, and she smiled, remembering what she had said next that night.
"That's just 'cause I swallowed." When he was done chuckling, she added, "And I love you, too."
Snuggling deeper into his embrace, she also remembered thinking that night that Gideon would never love her. Although it had taken her a while to find out otherwise, she didn't think she'd ever enjoyed being wrong more. In the process, he'd broken her heart and she'd broken his in return, but what they had was worth the pain they'd caused each other.
They'd fought since, and made up since, and Nola knew they would do both again—probably before the week was out—but never again would she doubt the depth or endurance of their love. She'd love him until the day she died—and probably beyond—and she was blessed to know he felt the same. As she was his, he was hers—her love, her life, her home.