A gentle tugging around her face opened Camry's eyes, drawing her slowly from sleep. For a moment, she couldn't remember why she couldn't see and she reached up to push the blinder from her eyes. The hand that had been touching her cheek grabbed her wrist and stopped her.
"No peeking." Ash's voice came to her in the darkness, chuckling gently.
Camry smiled, remembering why she had been blindfolded in the first place. She turned her head around, listening to the sound of their SUV driving on the road. She couldn't tell where they were and they had been driving so long that she didn't have a clue. The fact that she had fallen asleep hadn't helped matters, but that was part of the fun.
Ash wasn't telling her where they were going. He had planned the entire trip and packed their suitcases himself so that she couldn't even guess from what she needed to bring. He seemed rather proud of himself for how well this was going. It all hinged, however, on Camry being completely in the dark about what their vacation was.
Hence, the blindfold. He had been tugging it back into place so that she couldn't wake up and look out and spoil the surprise to early.
"Are we close?" She asked eagerly, her head turning around as though she were trying to see.
"Almost." Ash put his hand over hers and she squeezed it excitedly.
She was near bouncing in her seat as she felt the car turn then come to a slow halt.
"You ready?" Ash asked, pulling off his seatbelt. He kept the vehicle running as Camry nodded. "Okay, take off the blindfold."
Eagerly, she grabbed for the cloth and pushed it up and out of her eyes. After so long under its shade, the bright sunlight blinded her temporarily.
As her eyes adjusted and it faded, she gasped at the sight of the cottage, set atop a beautiful mountain backdrop. It wasn't exactly the same, but the area and the building itself were similar enough that she recognized it immediately despite the intervening years.
"Oh, Ash..." She gasped, putting a hand to her heart. For some reason, she felt tears pricking her eyes just to see it.
In the driver's seat, Ash smirked with pride at her reaction to his surprise. "You like it?"
"I love it. We're staying here for our vacation?"
"Well, actually," his smirk only grew, "the cottage is ours."
"Huh? What do you mean 'ours'?"
"It belongs to us. The cottage and the land. It's not much. It's pretty much just the cottage, actually. But it is ours."
Crying out, Camry threw herself across the front of the vehicle to put her arms around him. He laughed as he held onto her.
"Come on, let me show you the inside."
She nodded excitedly as she threw open the door. The cold wind immediately hit her and she shivered, her short sleeve shirt not at all suited to the weather. However, Ash came around from the back and brought her the jacket he had hidden. Camry smiled as he put it around her shoulders.
"This is really our cottage?" She asked, breathless.
"All ours." He kissed her nose. "We can come up here whenever we want."
"How did you afford this?"
"Well, the land itself was a gift."
"From who?" She reeled in surprise.
"Beau. And his various contacts." He smirked. The former president may not be in office any longer, but he still had clout with those who were.
Last year, as a favor, Ash had requested this land. It had been bought by Geovation from Eldon Norcross, but after the investigation into the company had toppled their stocks and eventually pushed it into bankruptcy, the land had been confiscated by the government. The proximity to a large dragon nest meant that no one had actually wanted it. Ash was the first and only person to inquire about owning it.
The cottage had to be rebuilt, of course. The foundation and basement remained intact, but everything else had to be taken town and reconstructed. It had been worth it, to Ash's mind, to see the bright smile on Camry's face as she stared up at the cottage that had taken such a big space in her life.
Ash kissed her cheek before turning to the backdoor of the SUV.
"All right, kiddo. Time to get up."
He opened the door, sending sunlight washing over their daughter's sleeping face. She scrunched up her nose uncomfortably, raising her hands up to block it out, as Ash unbuckled her car seat.
Camry turned, smiling as he sat her up so he could wrap her little pink jacket around her torso.
"We there yet?" She asked, voice sleepy even as her eyes were gradually brightening.
"We're here." Ash picked her up and kissed her forehead before putting her down.
Harper Ashley, seeing and stepping in such deep snow for the first time in her six years of life, squealed in excitement as she began quickly stomping around just for the joy of hearing it crunch underfoot.
Camry smiled as Ash closed the car doors again. He would come back to get their luggage later. First, he wanted to show the cottage to Camry. It hadn't been easy to build, then furnish without her knowledge, but it was well worth the effort.
She climbed the steps of the porch, touching the new railing reverently. Ash pulled out the key and unlocked the door before opening it and allowing Camry to go in first.
The air was still cold, and the rooms were dark, because the generator hadn't been turned on yet. That did little to dim the room because of the large, open windows that let in a great deal of natural sunlight. As though it had been planned, the majority of the rays hit the orange and red tiles of the fireplace, setting it aglow.
The sight of the original fireplace, restored to its former glory, made her gasp as she stopped in the middle of the kitchen to stare into the living room.
Ash came up to her from behind, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. The two of them smiled as Harper, laughing in excitement, ran past them to throw herself onto the fluffy couch. She had brought her little backpack with her that had been filled with toys for the long ride. It was quickly forgotten on the ground as she ran around the new space.
"I want another one." Ash said, not for the first time, as he kissed her neck and rubbed her flat belly.
Camry grinned, covering his hands. "For this, you can have as many as you want."
"My evil plans coming to fruition." He laughed, squeezing her. "Harp, want to see your room?"
"Yeah!" She jumped off of the couch and ran to a random door.
The master bedroom lay beyond and Camry smiled at the canopy bed as their daughter threw herself onto it and began rolling around, laughing excitedly.
"It's perfect, Ash." Camry turned, putting her arms around his neck. "Thank you."
He grinned, proud.
"Daddy!" Harper came running out of the room again. She grabbed onto his pant leg and fixed him with a big, brown eyed stare. "Can I go outside and play?"
Ash pretended to think. "I don't know..."
"Ple-e-ease!" She drew the word out, smiling with her missing front tooth.
Ash laughed. "Sure. Stay where we can see you."
She squealed and ran out the door, leaving her parents to kiss and make faces at each other. Two things that always made her embarrassed and shy in equal measure. She was eager to leave them and their overly affectionate actions behind and dart back out into the snow.
Her father hadn't told her where they would be going, despite how many times that she had begged, because he wanted to keep it a secret from her mother. Not like Harper would have told, she had just wanted to know.
The waiting and unknowing was made up for easily by the wondrous winter wonderland that surrounded her on all sides like a fantasy of ice and snow.
Laughing, her voice ringing out over the trees, she began thrashing about in the piles of snow on either side of the drive.
Her father came out after some time to begin unpacking the SUV. He asked her if she was too cold and wanted to come back in yet, but she denied him. She was having too much fun to want to surrender her playtime in the snow no matter how cold she got.
As she was playing, the sound of something in the trees caught her attention. She turned, snow coating her hair and jacket, and stared off past the cottage.
Something was moving out there. Instead of scaring her, a big smile crossed her face and Harper began trying to climb closer.
A low trilling sound started and she laughed as she hopped through the snow. It was getting too deep to continue doing so and she began losing her balance. As she fell forward, something was suddenly caught against her chest, keeping her up.
She pushed against it to get herself back onto her feet. The rough scales of the golden dragon head were surrounded by dark red lines. Red eyes blinked at the little human girl. Harper laughed, stroking her hand across her head.
"Hi!" She beamed brightly at the dragon.
A second trilling behind her drew her eyes up to the larger, bright green dragon behind the golden one. Harper laughed in delight, reaching up for him. He leaned down and pressed the front of his snout to her palm.
She turned around at her mother's voice. She was standing at the porch, frowning at the tracks she had made before disappearing into the shadows of trees created by the lowering sun.
"Harper! You were supposed to stay where we can see you!"
Laughing, Harper pushed herself off of the dragon. She pet her again before turning and running back towards the cottage.
The two dragons watched her until she disappeared into the house. Only after she was gone did they take back to the sky.