“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, You make me happy when skies are gray, You'll never know dear, how much I love you, Please don't take my sunshine away.1
Hope leaned against the doorframe of Isabella’s room, watching Chad sing their spunky three-year-old to sleep. Isabella had resisted a nap the past hour, and Hope was too stressed and tired to attempt to place her little girl down, knowing she’d protest. So, Chad stepped in to conquer naptime. She adored watching their sweet interaction. His love for his two ladies was obvious in everything he did.
Four years. Four years had passed since they met and quickly got married. Three years since Hope tucked her first deployment card in Chad’s backpack. In those four years, they survived a second deployment and were anticipating orders for a third one, with no word yet. The unit had been preparing and training for one all year. Shortly after their second deployment, they were re-stationed to Norfolk, Virginia. Other military wives, who she had met through his unit, kept saying it would get easier, but it never did for her. Their connection ran deep and being away from him tore her to pieces. That was the hardest part of being married to a United States Marine. Deployments aside, the last four years were far from terrible; they shared more memories that made her heart swell, than those that broke it.
Hope watched Chad as he tenderly rocked their three year old. He interrupted his singing to whisper in their little girl’s ear. She smiled as she watched the two of them share a laugh before he continued to rock her and sing. The years following their wedding were filled with the trials of a military family, but also filled with the bliss of raising a young family together. Although the deployments and move were difficult, they proved to be the best inspiration for her new romance novels.
And then there was Isabella Grace. Their first child together. She was probably their greatest achievement thus far in their marriage. Hope found out she was pregnant with Isabella right before Chad left on his first deployment. It remained one of the best surprises she had left for him in his deployment bags. Shortly after he returned, they welcomed into the world their beautiful girl, Isabella Grace Buchard. While Chad was overseas, she spent most of her pregnancy working at KoffeeHaus, busying herself with care packages for Chad and writing romance novels as she returned to the Indie Romance industry. They got lucky when Chad got back home before her due date, only to have Isabella arrive early. She came out fighting, just like her father, as Hope fondly liked to add. There was nothing more endearing than watching Chad interact with Isabella. She was the apple of his eye. He would give her the world if he could, and that made Hope love him that much more.
Hope shifted her weight in the doorway, smiling as his voice grew softer and softer, noting that the little girl was falling asleep. Hope smiled as she watched Chad rise from the toddler bed and began backing slowly toward the door. He hadn’t noticed she was spying. When he turned and nearly crashed into her, she had to cover her mouth to muffle her laughter before waking Isabella up.
“Easy there, buddy.” She wrapped her arms around him, a grin still on her face.
Chad cradled her face in his hands and placed a gingerly kiss on her lips; she closed her eyes, tasting the kiss for a little longer. “I could kiss you all day.”
She smiled at his words and leaned into him; at least, the best she could. The swollen pregnant baby belly kept them from their typical close hug.
“Let’s go pack the van for the signing while she sleeps.” Hope followed his lead, down the small hallway to their kitchen, and out into their garage. She ran her hand across the surfaces, counters, walls; taking in all the blessings that had been bestowed on her, while the other hand cradled her abdomen. There was much to be grateful for. Their home was bright, and filled with natural light flooding the family room, which opened to the hallway and the bedrooms. On the other side of the family room was an open floor plan to the nook and kitchen. The kitchen led to the laundry room, then out to the garage.
“I’ll start in the back seat?” she called out as she made her way to the side of the minivan, watching Chad lift the rear door open. They had already partly packed the van, but were jointly distracted by their rambunctious three-year-old.
“Sounds good. Don’t you dare lift anything. Just organize,” Chad said as he peeked around the van to watch Hope for a moment.
She smiled as she leaned into the van. He always looked out for her, and his protective nature always grew as her pregnancies progressed.
“Babe, did you pack the markers?” Hope called out from the back seat of the minivan. Her round pregnant belly struggled to maintain its balance as she hovered over the extra boxes they’d packed in the second row of their van.
“Yes, they’re packed with the name plates and bookmarks back here,” Chad responded. Hope looked over the seat, watching Chad organize and reorganize the book signing items, occasionally wiping the sweat on the back of his forearm.
Chad was her biggest supporter. He encouraged her, and challenged her when she was struggling to write. He was the one who helped her find forgiveness in those who she hurt during her time of grief. In fact, the industry welcomed her back with open arms, setting her books up for success. This was their fourth book signing together, and even Chad was growing addicted to it. He loved to help her, whether it was setting up at signings, a reading event, or even when she was working on a new chapter, his input meant the world to her.
“I am trying to make room for your guitar.” His voice was muffled by all the material he was fighting.
“Do you really think I need to bring the guitar? I can barely fit it on my lap now.” Hope laughed at his suggestion. “And when and who would I be singing to at a book signing? This isn’t an open mic event, dear,” she teased.
“You can always sing to me…standing.” He peered from behind the boxes and seat row and smiled with a wink. Her heart still fluttered with butterflies when he did that. “I think I got it. Your guitar is coming. I might even bring mine,” Chad teased her back. He was always determined to bring their guitars everywhere they went.
“Now, you better find a way to bring yours. If you’re going to make me sing while pregnant, you better be playing too.” She laughed at him as she closed the box she was going through.
“When do you think Isabella will wake up?” he asked. She watched her handsome husband reach up to close the lid of their minivan and make his way around the van to her.
“In about an hour. I packed all of Isabella’s things in her princess suitcase.” She pointed to the pink suitcase stacked on the larger black ones. “She can’t wait to go; you know that, right?” She melted against him as he wrapped his arms around her waist. He always managed to make her feel like she fit perfectly, even when she was eight months pregnant.
He laughed heartily. “Oh, there is no denying that Isabella is excited. Do you know if she packed her autograph book?” His hand stroked up and down her lower back, and it felt heavenly.
“Yes, I saw it in her backpack.” She pressed her forehead against his chest, feeling his sweat soaked shirt against her own skin. “We both need showers before we head out, and before Isabella gets going again.”
“Are you saying I smell?” he joked as he took her hand and began to lead her into their home. She followed – waddled was more like it – into the fresh air conditioned home, and into the laundry room, closing the door behind her.
“Maybe. But if you smell, so do I,” she jested back, smiling as she watched him pull his shirt over his head by grabbing it behind his neck. He did the same with his shorts, leaving him in his boxers. She shook her head. “At least you made laundry easier.” She took his clothing and placed it on top of the washer.
“Take yours off. There isn’t anyone here, and Isabella is out.” He came up behind her and kissed the back of her head, hiding his face in her hair, wrapping his arms fondly around her swollen waist. That always made her skin prickle with desire. He was magical and she soaked it up.
“This whale body does not need to be highlighted during the daylight,” she laughed, hugging his hand to her side.
“Oh no, you’re not allowed to say that.” He slipped his hands underneath her shirt. “I love this body, and the person who resides in it.” His fingers slipped her shirt up and over her head. “You are stunning, pregnant or not pregnant. You are mine, so I want to see you in daylight.” She smiled at his words; he was perfect, and a gentleman, and she felt utterly comfortable with him.
“C’mon. We only have an hour before Isabella will wake up.” She turned and tickled his side as she slipped out of her shorts. They were baggy and oversized, perfect for her eight-month belly, leaving her in her dark blue laced overlay panties. She shook her head as they walked through their one-story colonial-style home in their underwear. In fact, the two of them began to laugh. They looked ridiculous, but that was okay; they were together.
She followed him through the house, short of breath as they weaved through the hall. Pregnancy may have taken a toll on her endurance, but not her spirit. She playfully swatted his bottom as she passed him in the hallway toward their bedroom. “Grab the towels, I’ll get the water started.” She grinned, shooting him a playful wink.
Chad’s mischievous smile sent delightful shivers down her spine. She made her way to their bathroom, leaning into the large walk-in shower to turn on the dual shower heads, letting the water heat up. A few seconds later, Hope felt his warm arms around her waist, pulling her toward him. “I got the towels. Now I want you and I in the shower. We only have, what? Fifty minutes now?” he teased her as he slipped his fingers under the waistband of her panties.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, her lips locking with his, and she kissed him sweetly, rocking just for a moment. Then she felt him free her from her undergarments. She laughed, shaking her head, breaking the kiss.
“Please don’t change, Chad. Don’t ever change.”