The baby was born in the way all children are born – a lot of screaming, a lot of tears, and a hell of a lot of bodily fluid.
I don’t remember much, other than Sergio claimed to be the father so he could be in the room with me. He stood beside me, holding my hand (more like allowed me to tear his hand off with my nails), and stroked my hair back while I thrashed from the pain. The contractions were coming on faster than the nurses anticipated – the baby was already making its way out by the time the doctor finally showed up.
The baby was large – larger than most they had seen. 24 inches head to toe, and 10.5 massive pounds. No wonder I felt like I was going to die in labor.
“Never… again,” I panted while the nurses got busy cleaning me up and sewing my torn skin shut.
“We hear that more often then you could even imagine,” one of the nurses chuckled as the bathed the squalling behemoth of an infant. “There there little one,” she cooed. “You have a beautiful baby boy, Layla and Sergio. He’s got his mama’s eyes.”
She swaddled him quickly before bringing him over and handing him off to me. I awkwardly cradled him in my arms, afraid to look at him. Afraid to see him. Afraid to see Aric in him.
“He’s beautiful,” Sergio agreed softly, leaning in to place a feather-soft kiss on my cheek. “I’ll call your mother and let her know,” he added in an undertone.
I glanced down at the child. He did have my eyes – hazel, perhaps a little more green than mine. And he was beautiful. I saw Aric’s nose, but other than that, he looked to be completely me.
“You should feed him,” the nurse suggested. “We have a professional on staff to help through he first stages if you need – you seem a little shaky.”
“Yeah,” I whispered. “Help would be good.”
Suddenly, I was a mom. My family had expanded to include a beautiful baby boy.
When we got home, my mother was there and taking over. She took the baby from me, cooing gently and clucking about his beautiful face and how big he was. “Strong, just like all of us,” she nodded in satisfaction. “Darling, perhaps you should take one of the guest rooms here on the main floor? You need to rest up and I can stay with the little one.”
I nodded weakly. I was drained and the last thing I needed was a baby screaming in my ear while I tried to sleep. Sergio helped me into the second spare bedroom, the only other one on the main floor, and helped me settle onto the bed.
“About the marriage thing-” he began.
I held my hand up. “Please don’t. I don’t even want to think about that right now. I want to sleep and then eat ice cream, and then sleep some more.”
He nodded, patting my hand. “Just think about it. Get some rest.”
“It’s been easy to track you down, sister.”
I blinked through the haze of my dreams, but my eyes wouldn’t focus. “Sergio?”
A laugh – definitely not Sergio’s. “Sister dear. You’re much prettier than expected. Not as smart, though. I would have hoped you’d provide more stimulation while I hunted you.”
There was a bang and light flooded the room. The door had been swung open and Jeremie stood there, his long black hair waving in a breeze that seemed to come from the dark figure in the corner of my room. It was like a living nightmare had strode into my room dressed in ash and flames.
“You will leave,” Jeremie demanded. “You will leave and you will not return!”
The figure chuckled again. “This isn’t your home, you cannot order me out, creature! I can enter this home any time I wish; I can kill whomever I wish. And now I wish to kill my sister and her spawn.”
I did the only thing I could think of.
I screamed. Loudly.
Sergio was there in a heartbeat, wearing only a pair of boxers but holding a gun. “What the fuck-“
“Shoot him!” I shrieked.
The dark figure only smiled, his white teeth shining. “Well. I see you might have added some defenses. We’ll finish this later, sister.”
Sergio let off a round from his pistol, but no one was there. It was like the figure had disappeared completely.
First the baby started screaming, and then the men did. I knew I could only deal with one thing at a time, and so I ran upstairs to check on my mom and the little one.
Angelina was cradling him to her bosom, whispering gently to him. When she saw me, her eyes were distressed. “He just started wailing and he’s not hungry or dirty-“
I took him from her and he instantly calmed, his face nestling against my breast. My mother smiled fondly. “He knows his mama.”
“I better go see what’s happening downstairs,” I groaned, shaking my head. “I won’t be able to sleep, I’ll keep him for a while. Get rest?”
My mother nodded and I took the stairs quickly but safely, cradling the baby to me.
“She can’t stay here,” Sergio was yelling. “It’s not safe. Especially not for the baby! If that… that… thing can come in and out of here as he pleases-“
“She’s not safe anywhere else, either,” Jeremie replied sharply. “If she leaves here, she dies.”
“This is a bunch of fairy tale bullshit!” Sergio exclaimed, running a hand through his hair.
The baby started fussing in my arms and I cradled him closer, humming soothingly. “Can we stop bickering about it?” I asked gently, using my best calming voice so as not to rouse the baby any more.
Jeremie shook his head and headed for the door. “Damon and I will keep the patrol going. We’ll look into wards to put around the property. Unfortunately, his blood is as tied to this land as yours is – most of our defenses will be useless. Call me if you need us.” He glared over at Sergio again before departing.
“What got you two in a pissing match?” I asked softly, stroking the baby’s back.
Sergio shrugged. “Evidently he thinks I need to be doing more to protect the house. Be watching over you constantly. Like that’s not what I would be happy to do,” he added sharply, before calming. “Sorry.”
I sat on the couch, the baby on my lap, and watched as Sergio paced. “Have you thought of a name?”
I shrugged gently. “Not yet. Any suggestions?”
“Me?” he chuckled. “He’s your baby.”
I rolled my eyes. “Look, you can’t keep playing dad only when you want to. You’re either going to be this baby’s father or you’re not.”
He turned quickly, eyes narrowing. “So, you’ll marry me?”
“No,” I snipped. “I said no such thing. You can still be a father to him without us getting married. We don’t know each other, for heaven’s sake! I don’t even know what you look like naked and I haven’t met your parents. Those are some prerequisites to marriage for me.”
He looked away. “My parents are dead and the naked part can happen whenever you want it to. Not now, obviously, what with…” he motioned toward the baby. “I would never force you to do anything you didn’t want to do, Layla. We’d have more than enough time to get to know one another before even considering intimacy-“
I shook my head. “This is a slippery slope, Sergio. I’m not going to marry you just to keep up this lie. I don’t care what people say about me-“
“Yeah?” he demanded suddenly. “What about what people say about your son? When he starts school, do you really want him to be known as a bastard? Because this is a small town, Layla. Word gets out and it’s not pretty when it does.”
I swallowed. I knew this. I knew this from experience – my mom ran out after I was born and I was teased mercilessly. Children are cruel. They don’t realize they are, but they are.
“And I can protect you,” he added. “I can keep you safe if you just… just let me in. Hell, we can have separate beds. I just…” he sighed. “I don’t know.”
I nodded, watching him keenly. “Get me a ring and we’ll do a private wedding here.”
He looked stunned, as if he didn’t expect to win so quickly. But he nodded and stood, reaching down to take the baby from me. “I always liked the name Brayden,” he murmured, stroking the fuzzy blond hair on the baby’s head.
I smiled softly. “Brayden… I like it.”