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BONUS CHAPTER

Extended HEA

JAKE

3 YEARS LATER

The angry cry from the crib has me leaping out of bed. Who says football isn’t good for families? I bet I have the fastest reflexes in the neighborhood. Fortunately, the noise doesn’t wake Charlie, who’s sleeping soundly.

I peer over the crib. “What’s wrong, sweetheart? Need Daddy to change your diaper?”

Mackenzie doesn’t stop fussing until she’s changed and fed and burped. Afterward, I sit and cradle her in the rocker by the window where Winkie is soaking up the sun. “Is that better?”

She finally makes a happy gurgle, and her tiny hand wraps around my finger. My heart melts into a giant puddle. “Look at you. Fuerte. Strong. Just like your mama.”

I kiss her fuzzy head. Run my finger over her button nose. She’s a beauty. And definitely not a morning person, I chuckle to myself. Asher was all smiles in the morning, but not my little petunia.

The rustling of blankets makes me look over my shoulder to find a sleepy Charlotte smiling at us.

“Morning, cupcake. How’d you sleep?”

She covers her mouth as she yawns. “So well. I almost forgot we have a baby.”

That was my goal. “You needed some rest.”

“You really got up for the night feed?”

“I told you I would.” It’s my turn to yawn.

She sits up slowly and peers down at her damp nightgown. “Leaking all over the place is the only drawback to not getting up in the middle of the night.”

I hand her the roll of paper towels we have on the bedside table.

After she cleans up and pumps, she leans over to kiss me and then takes the baby. “How’s my girl? I should’ve gotten up to do your morning feed, but my God, I was tired.”

“Kenzie took the bottle like a champ last night and this morning.”

Several hard thumps land on the bedroom door.

“Come in,” I call out, surprised Asher remembered to knock. Although that sounds more like a Viking invasion.

“Mom! Dad! Look what Duke can do now!” Asher storms in wearing his pajamas and a magic cape. Duke follows on his heels and sits at our son’s feet. From the windowsill, Winkie looks over with mild interest.

Ash holds up his hand like Moses about to part the Red Sea. Duke sits at attention until Asher lowers his hand, and that crazy dog lowers onto his belly.

“Nice job, bud.” I give him a high-five.

Charlotte laughs. “Honey, that’s so cool! Maybe you could teach him to poop the first time I ask instead of him needing to walk all over town first.”

Asher hops onto the bed and clambers over to Charlie, who holds Kenzie in one arm and opens her other for him. He tucks himself against her for a morning snuggle as he tells her how he taught Duke the new trick.

I’m so grateful for my wife. She’s such a good mama.

Sometimes it’s hard not to compare this experience to what happened with Dakota, who rarely held Asher and complained about everything.

It makes me really fucking grateful for what I have now.

Thankfully, Dakota has stayed out of our hair.

And yeah, I’ve had moments of doubt, where I’ve wondered if we’re doing the right thing by keeping her out of Asher’s life. Because of my experience with my parents’ divorce, sometimes I worry. Charlotte and I have spent long nights discussing it because we both want the best for our son.

Our doubt came to a screeching halt last summer when we ran into her sister at a restaurant. Dakota barely glanced at Asher, much less expressed any kind of interest in him. That only solidified our belief that he’s better off without her. We work hard to maintain our kids’ privacy, and that woman doesn’t understand the meaning of the word. She still insists on living her life on social media and uses everyone around her as fodder. And I refuse to let her use Asher.

But if we had any question whether she’s reconsidered her toxic ways, her reality show last spring put her vicious temper on display for the world.

Dakota’s also suing her mother in a civil court for emotional and physical abuse.

Charlotte researched Munchausen syndrome by proxy and said cases that don’t result in death are often difficult to prove. No formal charges have been brought by the state, possibly because of the statute of limitations.

I feel bad for Dakota and for the suffering she went through as a child, but it sheds light on why she’s such a train wreck now.

She had to pay a huge fine after that car accident a few years ago and barely avoided jail time, but she ended up losing that modeling contract because of all the bad press.

 

Honestly, Dakota deserved it for the way she treated Ash and Charlotte.

Right after we graduated, Charlie finally got the rest of her Little Darlings royalties back from her mother after she threatened to sue her.

I’m just glad that chapter in our lives is over, and we can move on.

Reaching into our closet, I grab our suitcase and start packing for our trip.

“Did you get the message I left for you yesterday?” I ask Charlotte. “Rider confirmed the photoshoot with his family.”

Charlie had a close call last year and almost got smashed on the sidelines of one of our games when a linebacker got pushed out of bounds and hurdled over her. Nearly gave me a fucking heart attack when I saw a replay of it. Fortunately, that video didn’t go viral. No one really expects the wife of one of the players down on the field.

As a result of that close call, she decided she’d rather not end up in traction and hung up her NFL media credentials, but not before winning Sports Photographer of the Year. I was afraid she’d regret not shooting professional football anymore, but she said she has nothing to prove.

Damn right, she doesn’t. I bought her a trophy case to hold all of her photography awards. I’m so proud of my wife.

She hasn’t left the field entirely. My coach gave her an open invitation to return anytime. Plus, since she knows the guys on the team, they’ve been coming to her to photograph their families, and she’s having a blast doing engagements, baby showers, and weddings.

Our QB Rider Kingston, a fellow former Bronco, booked an appointment as soon as I mentioned what she was doing.

It’s been cool as hell playing with him in Dallas. I was lucky to get drafted by such an incredible team. I’d like to take some credit for our Super Bowl win, but really, it was mostly due to having a kickass quarterback.

Charlotte yawns again. “I can’t believe Rider and Gabby are having twins. I’m so excited for them. I love that our babies will grow up together.”

“They already have two. Talk about exponential growth,” I tease. “I almost forgot, he said he also wants to book a pregnancy shoot for Gabby.”

“That’s great! I’m so excited.”

“Babe, you sure you’re not overdoing it?”

She lifts her face to me, and I see it now, how her eyes go all soft and dreamy when I say something protective. “I promise I’ll take care of myself.”

My wife somehow wrangles our kids and balances her photography business with my crazy schedule. It helps that my family is nearby and offers a hand, but I’m still in awe of her.

“Babe, David and I are finishing the rebuild this week. Think you could take some photos of the car before we give it to Mom for her birthday?”

Over the last several months, my brothers and I have been renovating a 1976 Gran Torino for my mother, who’s only ever driven beaten-up clunkers. She refused to let me buy her a house or a car after I signed with Dallas, but she never said I couldn’t restore something. I’m shocked to say that I’ve had the best time working on this project with my brothers. We’ve even talked about taking on another restoration when this one is done.

“I’d love to take photos. Do you want some large prints?” Her eyes light up. “Because my handsome husband gave me an incredible present, and I love having reasons to use it.”

Last Christmas, I built her a custom darkroom with all the bells and whistles.

I wink at her. “If you have the time to do prints, we could give them to her at the restaurant and surprise her there before we drive her over to see it.”

“That car is gorgeous. She’s going to love it.”

I glance at the clock. “We’d better get a move on things. My mom will be here soon.”

She’s watching Asher for the weekend while Charlotte and I drive down to Charming for a little reunion before training camp starts this summer. The drive from Dallas isn’t too bad. I’m praying Kenzie sleeps most of the time.

Traveling with a three-month-old isn’t ideal, but Charlotte really wanted to go, and I didn’t feel right attending without her.

We’re planning to stop by Second Chances while we’re there. My wife just helped raise money to rebuild their aging facility. Seriously, the woman is amazing.

I dig out the baby carrier I bought the other day. “Can you help me figure this out before we leave?”

It’s one of those weird contraptions that straps a child to your chest. I never thought to try this with Asher, but now that we have two kids, I can see the value.

Charlotte puts Kenzie in the crib and sets up Ash with a small stack of his favorite books on the bed. Then my beautiful wife wanders over to me and whispers, “Have I told you how sexy you look first thing in the morning, snuggling my baby? Watching you with our kids is literally the highlight of my day.”

I waggle my eyebrows at her. “You can prove it to me tonight.”

Her cheeks flush, and she tries to hide her grin, but I know she’s excited to get away for a few days.

We only recently started having sex again after Kenzie was born. It was slow going at first because even though Charlotte’s doctor gave her the thumbs-up for that kind of activity, her body wasn’t ready for it yet. And I’d rather take a sharp poker to my eye than do anything that would hurt her. So we’ve mostly been doing a lot of foreplay and oral. We’ve turned it into a game. I guess you’d call it roleplay because we pretend we’re dating again. It’s hot as fuck.

I nuzzle my face against her neck as she reaches around my waist to help me strap into the baby carrier. “You smell good,” I murmur before I nip her earlobe.

“Do you ever get tired of being the sexiest dad in the neighborhood? Is being a hotshot wide receiver not enough?” she asks cheekily as she snaps the carrier into place.

I steal a boob squeeze, and she sneaks a cock grab. Judging by the look in her eyes, we’re gonna have all kinds of fun tonight once the baby is in bed.

No question about it. I love my life.

Thanks for reading SECOND DOWN DARLING! Hope you enjoyed!

 

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