Prequel to Fleeting Flights of Fancy Prequel to Fleeting Flights of Fancy

The way she holds the baby makes him grin. Her hands are so carefully placed, her grip firm yet gentle, that one would think she was holding a bomb. In fact, he's pretty sure he's seen her handling bombs with less caution. Her lips are thin with concentration but her eyes hold nothing but adoration. He can't wait to see her hold their child that way.

He doesn't share this thought, of course. In her shock, she might just drop their niece. He'll wait until later, when she's drowsy with sleep or distracted by passion, to bring up golden-haired daughters and sons with her mischievous smile. She might reject the idea, but he's gotten good at wearing her down. He got her to accept his proposal, didn't he?

She flashes a nervous smile. Her hair is mussed from chubby baby fists. There are streaks of baby food and spit on her shirt and one green smudge on her cheek. She looks much like her sister, the baby's mother, had just a few hours ago. His love, however, lacks that earth-mother vibe her twin gives off in waves. Not surprising, though. Amy's never been that type.

He knows that he'll be in charge of most of the parenting when it comes to their children. He won't mind. He's got the patience for it. He's secure enough in his masculinity to admit that he'll be the one in parent-teacher conferences and tucking freshly-washed faces into bed while she roams the streets in the name of duty.

She sets the baby in the pink-trimmed bassinet, one slim finger tracing the line of the baby's soft cheek. When she turns to him, her mouth has softened and her eyes sparkle. "I want one."

Laughter spills from his lips. She asks for a baby the way everyone else asks for another slice of cake or a small trinket that's caught the eye. He wraps one arm around her waist and pulls her in for a kiss. "Someday, my love. We have a wedding to plan, first."

She pouts petulantly and tugs free of his grip. They grab their drinks then huddle around the kitchen table where stacks of wedding booklets await. His mother made marks on pages and left hundreds of notes. Amy's offered to let his mother take over, since hers is long dead, but he knows his mother's penchant for pastels and lace. Not his girl's style.

"I say we elope. There's a priest in the Southern province who would perform the ceremony. He owes me a favor or six."

He doesn't bother pointing out the folly of that plan. Her older brother is regent and, as princess, there are certain things the citizens expect. A glorious state wedding, much like her sister's, is one of them. Even if she were as normal a citizen as anyone else, they still couldn't elope. Their families would never forgive them for it.

She huffs and thumbs through one of the booklets. The dresses are all too fitted, too sparkly, too much like whipped cream for her liking. She's not sure she could stand to wear one for the three-hour ceremony plus an ancients-know-how-long reception. She'd rather be staked out in the Haverash desert.

A glance at the timepiece strapped to her wrist has her on her feet pacing the length of the kitchen. "They should have been back by now."

He rolls his eyes. She's always like this when her sister and his brother go Hopper hunting alone. She's gotten used to being the only active Keeper in the family. He admits that it is an odd date idea, but he supposes that with a baby around, time alone is time alone. No matter how you can get it.

"It was a large tear. I should have gone with them."

He stops her in the middle of her third circuit, hands on her tense shoulders. He rubs the knotted muscles until they relax. "You hate being a third wheel. Also, you need to give your sister more credit. You were both trained the same." He turns her so that she's facing the bassinet. "You know you wanted to spend time with our niece."

That does the trick. She melts against him. "I've been begging to baby sit. They never want to give her up. Selfish, selfish people." She tilts her head back to show him a teasing smile.

"I know. I was afraid that if I'd sounded too excited about tonight they would have changed their minds." It is not an exaggeration. Babysitting opportunities have been few and far between. That doesn't stop the two of them from spending hours a day with their niece. It's just a little nicer to have some one-on-one time with their niece.

He steals a kiss then lazily runs his hands down her sides. Nothing especially sensual, just a need for the pleasure that comes from touching true love. When she suddenly stiffens in his embrace, his eyes fix on the baby. Had their precious girl moved or coughed or opened her innocent eyes?

It takes him several seconds to realize that the low, pained keening is not coming from the baby but from the woman who is slowly slipping to the floor. Blue eyes are wide with shock, hands pressed to her stomach as if holding a wound, mouth open. Every muscle in her body is tense as she twists her head to stare at him. Stare through him.

"Take care of her, Connor. Take care of both of them." The voice is half an octave higher than usual, the enunciation a little clearer. Though coming from her throat, those are not her words. No! No!

In a flash, it's over. She curls into a boneless ball of grief. Her cries are loud enough to wake the baby. In a matter of seconds, both the girls in his life are wailing. He longs to comfort his fiancée, but the baby needs him more. He gathers the child against his chest and does his best to soothe her. A sedation spell, carefully crafted for children, picks up his slack.

Once the child, his newly orphaned nieces, is dozing fitfully, he turns his attention to the woman still sobbing so sorrowfully. He sinks to his knees beside her and cradles her just as gently as he cradled the baby. She wraps herself around him like a blanket.

If he knows his brother as well as he should, then he's lost just as much as she has. Hot tears drip down his cheeks to dampen the top of her head. Everything's changed now. They've got a baby to raise, pieces to pick up, and…

She raises her head, eyes flashing dangerously. Her teeth clench so hard he fears she'll break her jaw. "Whoever did this will pay for it in blood."

Vengeance.