Chapter Two

"…tried the glass slipper on all the young maidens in the whole kingdom, trying to find the girl that had danced with the Prince at the ball. Finally, they came to Cinderella's house," Lydia paused from reading the girls' bedtime story as she heard a creak on the staircase. She looked up to see Trent peek around the doorframe. He held up a brown paper bag emblazoned with the logo of their favorite Chinese restaurant. She nodded and smiled at him, then returned to the story just as the fair-haired girl cuddled up next to her began to stir.

"Mommy, why did you stop?" Ariana murmured sleepily.

"Sorry, sweetie," Lydia apologized, glancing quickly across the room. Holly was fast asleep in her own bed. "Cinderella's stepsisters wanted to marry the Prince, so they tried and tried and tried to make the glass slipper fit, but their feet were just too big…"

Ariana finally fell asleep just as Lydia reached the "happily ever after". Lydia carefully extracted herself from Ariana's bed and leaned down to kiss her daughter goodnight. She gently laid the book of fairy tales on the nightstand between the girls' beds and kissed Holly's forehead before she turned off the lamp and tiptoed out of their bedroom. She shut the door slowly, and then hurried downstairs.

Trent was poking at a newly started fire and a quilt was spread on the floor in between the couch and fireplace, with the bag containing their dinner waiting on it. Lydia walked up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. She kissed the side of his neck playfully and rested her chin on his shoulder. He turned his head and flashed her one of his ever-charming grins. "Hey, gorgeous," he said softly as he turned and took her in his arms, planting a kiss on her lips. "Are the girls asleep?"

Lydia nodded as she laced her fingers through Trent's. "Finally. It took three bedtime stories, but they're out. I'm all yours."

"Good, just the way I like it," Trent sat down on the quilt and started rummaging through the brown paper bag as Lydia settled in by his side. He produced one carton and opened the lid; he peered inside and handed it to Lydia. "Chicken fried rice for you," he said, reaching inside the bag and retrieving the other carton, "and shrimp fried rice for me." He jumped up and disappeared into the kitchen, returning a moment later with two forks and two sodas.

"Thanks," Lydia said as she took a fork and a Diet Coke from him. She took a bite of her dinner, then leaned over to kiss her husband's cheek. "I'm glad we're doing this," she announced. "We really haven't had much time alone lately."

"I know," Trent nodded in agreement. "I've missed you a lot. We need to see if your parents or your sister want to keep the kids one night, one night when I don't have a game, and we'll go out on a real date. Not…Chinese food in our living room."

Lydia laughed. "Hey, there's nothing wrong with this! At least here I can steal your food," she said as she leaned over and stole a bite of his shrimp.

"Hey, hey!" he protested, pushing her away with a good-natured grin. "Eat your own food—you could have gotten shrimp if you wanted it."

"But it's more fun eating what I want of yours," she retorted. "Want some of my chicken?" She speared a piece of chicken with her fork and held it out to him. He looked at her with an annoyed expression for a moment before taking her fork and popping the piece of chicken into his mouth. She smiled playfully as he gave her back her fork.

They ate in silence for a few minutes before Trent slid over and cuddled up next to Lydia. He wrapped one arm around her waist and kissed her cheek. "Do you want to put a movie on?"

"Let's not," she shook her head and set aside what was left of her dinner. She wrapped her arms around Trent and rested her head against his shoulder. "Let's just stay here by the fire and talk, okay? Just me and you, no kids, no distractions. I just want to enjoy being alone with you."

"Okay," Trent said, planting a kiss on her forehead. "Whatever you want, beautiful." Lydia just smiled as she found herself held even tighter in her husband's arms.

The next morning, Lydia awoke to her bed shaking as something repeatedly bounced on the mattress. She opened her blue eyes sleepily to see her daughters jumping up and down on Trent's side of the bed. She laughed and sat up just in time to catch Holly as she lost her balance and fell over. "Good morning, silly!" she said, kissing her daughter's forehead. "What are you doing jumping on my bed?"

"Daddy told us to!" Ariana answered as she continued to bounce around. "He said to come wake you up!"

For the first time, Lydia noticed Trent standing at the foot of the bed, wearing a mischievous grin. "Oh did he?" she asked as she looked at him. "Why ever would he do that?"

"Because," Trent replied, "it was time for you to wake up and get your Valentine's Day present from the girls."

"We made it all by ourselves!" Ariana boasted as Trent placed a breakfast tray over Lydia's lap. When he gave her a skeptical look, Ariana sheepishly added, 'Well, Daddy helped some."

Lydia looked down at her plate and saw two heart-shaped pancakes, two pieces of bacon, and…"Red eggs?" Lydia looked up at Trent questioningly.

"Food coloring," he replied. "They wanted you to have a Valentine's breakfast—the bacon was already red, your pancakes are strawberry pancakes, so we had to do something to make the eggs red, too." He leaned down and kissed her cheek before whispering in her ear, "I set aside some normal eggs downstairs, in case you can't stomache it."

She laughed. "I'll manage. Thank you for my breakfast, girls. This looks wonderful."

As Lydia started eating, Trent disappeared from the room. When he returned a few minutes later, he carried of vase filled with a dozen red roses. "And these are from me," he told Lydia as he set the vase gently on her nightstand and kissed her on the forehead.

"Thank you," she replied with a soft smile. "They're beautiful."

Trent sat on the bed next to her and wrapped his arms around her waist from behind. He rested his chin on her shoulder and murmured in her ear, "Just like you." A light blush spread across her cheeks—even after nearly six years together, it amazed her that he could still make her flush by telling her she was beautiful.

"Look in the drawer on my nightstand, and your present is in there," she said.

He leaned over and opened the drawer, removing a small box wrapped in red paper. He gave her a bright smile as he began to open the package, painstaking removing each piece of tape, much to the twins' dismay. At their encouragement, he tore off the paper in two big pieces and slowly opened the box. "Oh, Lydia…wow, this is great!" he exclaimed when he saw the new watch inside.

She grinned. "I thought you'd like it—and you needed a new one, after your other one was torn up at the barn."

"I love it," he assured her. "This is perfect—exactly what I wanted to get to replace my old one." His watch had been smashed a few weeks before when one of their horses—a particularly high-spirited young colt—had slammed Trent's arm into the side of the stall wall.

"I'm glad," Lydia replied. "Just don't wear it down to the barn." She leaned over and Trent gave her a quick kiss in thanks. "Did you pick up their present?" she whispered.

He nodded and grinned. "Yeah, it's in the utility room in the garage right now; I didn't want them to find it while we were making your breakfast. And Ryan's little present is in a bag in the laundry room. Do you want to give it to them now?"

"Yeah, just give me a minute to get up and get dressed and find the camera," she replied. She handed him the tray with the remnants of her breakfast and threw off the comforter covering her legs. She stood up, stretched, and went into her closet, emerging a minute later with a pair of jeans and a button-down shirt to wear for the day. In her bathroom, she quickly washed her face, brushed her teeth, got dressed, and ran a brush through her hair before going downstairs to join her family in the kitchen.

Holly and Ariana were at the kitchen table coloring pictures, and Trent was standing nearby with Ryan in his arms. "Look, there's Mommy," he said to the baby when Lydia walked into the room. The toddler grinned and eagerly thrust his arms out to Lydia, who just as eagerly swept him away from Trent and into a tight embrace.

"Good morning, my precious baby," she cooed to him. "Daddy and I have a surprise for you and your sisters." At that, the girls looked up with excited, hopeful faces. Lydia grinned at them and put Ryan in his high chair. "Just a minute, Daddy and I have to go get your presents. You two stay right there, okay?"

The girls nodded as Trent took Lydia by the hand and led her out the door into the garage. After making sure the kitchen door had closed, they crossed the garage to the utility room, where Trent slowly opened the door. A small golden-yellow blur shot forward in an escape attempt, but Trent scooped it up in his arms. "Oh, Trent, she's precious!" Lydia exclaimed as she reached for the puppy. "I think she's even cuter than she was when we picked her out last week. The girls are going to love her!"

"Well let's not waste any more time—let's go introduce them," Trent grinned. He put his hand on the small of her back and guided her towards the door. He cracked open the door and told the girls to shut their eyes. When they had, he opened the door and Lydia stepped inside. She crouched down in front of her anxiously waiting daughters so that the wriggling puppy in her arms was at their level.

"Okay, open your eyes!" she told them. The girls' eyes flew open and immediately widened; Holly shrieked and Ariana gasped when they saw the tiny puppy in their mother's arms.

"Oh she's so cute!"

"Is she really for us?"

"Can I hold her?"

"Can she sleep in my bed?"

Lydia put the puppy on the floor and stood up as it ran over to lick the girls' faces. Lydia wrapped her arms around Trent's waist, and looked up at him with an expression of true joy on her face. At a complete loss for words, all she could do was kiss him. He returned the kiss and held her close, kissing her forehead and stroking her hair gently as they watched their daughters play with the new puppy.

Ryan began to babble from his high chair and leaned over the side, reaching his short little arms to the puppy. Lydia pulled away from Trent and went into the laundry room, where she grabbed a small red gift bag off of the dryer. She returned and put the bag on the tray of Ryan's high chair. "Look, baby," she said to her son, "what's this? Pull out the paper." He reached for a piece of the tissue and yanked it out, waving it around excitedly. "That's not your present, silly goose!" Lydia laughed. She pulled his real present out of the bag, a stuffed dog that was an exact replica of the golden retriever puppy running around on the kitchen floor. "Look, Ryan, a puppy just for you!" The toddler took the toy and examined it for a moment, then threw it onto the kitchen floor. The rambunctious puppy snatched the toy up in its mouth and ran into the living room, with both of the twins right on its heels, laughing and shrieking as they tried to catch the puppy and rescue Ryan's toy.

Lydia watched them and turned to Trent with a grin spread across her face. He crossed the room to her with two strides of his long legs and wrapped her in his arms. "Think they're happy?" he asked softly.

"I think so," she replied with a soft smile. She looked up at him with shining eyes. "But not nearly as happy as me."