With a bag of fresh lobster in my hand, I walk up the rock stairs on Isla del Cielo, a smile already curving the corners of my mouth. Why? Because I hear laughter from the most important people in my life, bubbling up from what I have to assume is the table near the pool.
“But, Mommy, I thought you said you weren’t going to cheat this time!” a tiny, sweet voice protests with a squeal.
“Who said I was cheating?” my wife, and the love of my life, replies.
Even though I can’t see her face yet, I can picture the smirk. Indy’s been teaching our five-year-old twins, Irina and Isaac, for the last few months to be card sharps.
“You can’t have a straight flush without cheating!” Irina shouts as I finally catch sight of them.
One blond head and two dark ones like mine are huddled over the deck of cards in the middle of the table.
“Didn’t she tell you about the time she beat me with a royal flush?” I say, interrupting my girls. “Because I know for a fact that she can win with that hand—no cheating necessary.”
Irina whips her head around at the sound of my voice. “Daddy!” she squeals, hopping off her chair and sending cards flying before she bolts toward me in a sprint. “You’re home!”
Isaac is right behind her, plowing toward me like a Mac truck.
I drop the lobster right before they collide with me, so I can lift them both into the air and spin them around.
“I’m home. Missed you all like crazy.”
I lower Irina and cover her face with kisses until she squeals and wiggles out of my grip. Isaac climbs around my back like a monkey, and I reach back to swing him around front. I catch the scent of his hair, and it just feels like home.
When I finally lower Isaac to the ground, I watch as he races toward his sister to wrap her in a hug. They’re constant motion. Pure energy. It’s incredible to watch them grow and learn and become their own people.
I glance over Irina and Isaac’s heads to the smile stretching across Indy’s face. It’s still incredible to me when I think that we made these perfect little humans. Totally amazing.
When Irina and Isaac were born, it was a complete shock to my system. I didn’t know that it was possible to love two tiny, squalling babies so much that it literally made my chest ache. And watching Indy take to being a mother like she was born for the role made me fall in love with her all over again. Although, that’s almost a daily occurrence, and it no longer surprises me to feel that overwhelming rush of love every time I see them together.
Even more so, it’s made the time we spend together, just the two of us, even more precious. Irina is a whirlwind and Isaac can be a wild child, so when they fall asleep, Indy and I take advantage of every moment we can.
Indy rises from her chair and my gaze drops to her round stomach. Another wave of awe sweeps over me to see the small changes in the week I’ve been gone. Her hand flattens against the bump where our third child is growing.
“How are my favorite humans?” I ask, shifting Irina to my hip, Isaac to my back, and crouching down to grab the bag of lobster. I toss it in the sink of the outdoor kitchen before changing directions to meet my wife with our children.
“They missed you,” Indy says with a smile. “And you have another baby who would like you to know that he or she is very excited to hear your voice.” She holds out a hand to snag mine and presses it against her belly so I can feel the kick.
It’s a goddamned miracle, every time.
“Me too! I want to feel!”
Irina wiggles and I lower her to the ground so she can put her small hand next to mine. Isaac follows suit, and together we feel the taps. Irina goes silent as she leans her head against my leg. Isaac just grins. We know he’s banking on a baby brother, but Indy and I have decided to wait to find out until the birth. All we care about is that we have another healthy one.
“Kid’s getting impatient, just like his or her old man when I’m heading home to you.” I lift my gaze to Indy’s and lean forward to press a kiss to her lips. “I missed you, Ace.”
“I know you did, because you’ve told me every day since you left. That’s quite a change from my pirate who couldn’t stand staying on dry land when there was a perfectly good ship deck waiting for him.”
“Daddy only likes to go on ships when he takes us, Mommy.” It’s clear from Isaac’s tone that he finds Indy’s statement ridiculous, but my little boy will never know how much his mother changed my life in the best way possible.
“You’re right, kiddo,” I say to him, but keep my gaze on my wife. “I hate leaving you all behind, and that’s why I’m not leaving without you again until after we teach your new little brother or sister to swim.”
Irina’s eyes go wide, and she uses her fingers to count months. “But that’s like almost a year, Daddy!”
“You’re right. Everything else can wait. I missed you too much.”
Indy reaches out to thread her fingers through mine. “You don’t have to make that promise. You don’t know what’s going to come up—”
I lift our joined fingers to her lips. “The reason I’d leave my pregnant wife for three weeks is to wrap up every single thing necessary for me to make that promise to you. I’m taking a break for a while, so you’ll have to make room in the card-sharp lessons for me too. I think we’re due for a game.”
Isaac jumps and claps his hands while Irina squeals and does a shimmy dance all around the table. With both arms free, I pull Indy against me.
“Are you sure you can really . . .” She trails off, pressing her lips together.
“Am I sure that there’s absolutely nothing I wouldn’t do for you, including be here for every single thing that happens next? Damn right, I am. You’ll be sick of me before you know it.”
“Never,” she replies, shaking her head. “And not just because you give the best back rubs known to humankind. I missed you, Jericho. If you didn’t make it home today, there was a good chance I was going to hunt you down and stow away on your ship.”
“As much as I would’ve loved it, I’m glad you didn’t have to. Now, what do you say we eat some lobster, put our babies to bed, and play a few high-stakes hands ourselves?”
“Are you propositioning me?” Indy asks with a grin.
“Then in that case, I’m in. All in. Especially if you’re going to—” She lowers her voice to a whisper. “Release the Kraken.”
The laughter that booms from my mouth threatens to double me over.
“Guaranteed, Ace. Absolutely guaranteed.”