SWEET ♥ STEAMY ♥ ANGSTY

Robin Hill

“Darian, come on. Call him back when we get to our gate. I need to get Annie settled and I want to check flight times.”

I trail a few feet behind my wife, head down, eyes fixed on my phone. “You can’t check them here? There are monitors everywhere, Jules.”

I stop abruptly when she does, biting back my smile at the sight of her glare. For the most part, my wife’s a pretty understanding woman. She understands why I have to cancel on her because the band got a gig. She understands why I have to take business calls during dinner. Hell, she even understands why I’m a little too polite to the fucking groupies.

Unless she’s traveling.  

The woman is not a traveler.

“I’m serious, babe. He’s called three times in five minutes. I need to take—dammit, Julia, will you wait up?” I say, watching her tightly wrapped bun bob up and down as she marches off.

I toss my head back and look up as if asking God to please help a guy out.

My dad chuckles behind me.

“Fine,” I say to her back as the distance grows between us. “I’ll walk and talk.”

She turns around and glares at me again. I smile because it makes our little girl giggle.

“You know she’s mad at you, Daddy.”

“I know, baby.”

My mom catches up to me and squeezes my shoulder. “Julia’s kaput,” she says.

“Kaput? Is that your new word this week?”

Her face lights up. “Yes, it is. What do you think? It’s a great word, but no one ever uses it.”

“It’s lovely, Mom, but Julia can’t be kaput. We just got here.”

“Cut her some slack. She’s a nervous traveler; you know this.”

“You’re right,” I say over the lump of guilt forming in my throat. “And she’ll be fine as soon as I get a glass of wine in her.”

“Take your call, sweetheart,” Mom says, stretching tall to ruffle my hair. “Your dad and I will find her a decent chardonnay.” She smiles down at Annie. “Anabel can come with us.”

“Yay,” Annie says as she tugs on Mom’s skirt. She pulls a PEZ candy from her Minnie Mouse dispenser and pops it into her mouth. “What do I get?”

“Anabel, chew first, please,” Mom says.

Dad grabs Annie from behind and lifts her over his head until she squeals. “You get milk, small fry,” he tells her.

She scrunches up her nose. “Milk? Yuck.”

Dad laughs as he puts her down. “No milk, huh? What about a milkshake?”

Annie squeals again as she runs ahead to Julia. Prattling about milkshakes, she grabs her mom’s hand and bounces up and down, jerking her back and forth like a yoyo. Julia’s long, dark hair tumbles to her shoulders, and she stops, right there, in the middle of the busy concourse. Although I can’t see her face, I’d bet money her eyes are squeezed shut and she’s counting to ten, willing herself not to snap. She looks back at me, and there it is. Glare number three.

God, I love her. She’s so fucking cute when she’s mad.

“Thanks, guys,” I say to my parents. “Make it a big chardonnay.”

Dad gives me a thumbs-up as they walk ahead.

I dial my manager back, and he picks up on the first ring.

“Sorry, Rick,” I say as I slow my pace. “Trying to navigate an airport with the fam. Not an easy feat. What’s up?”

“Thank God I caught you. Have you boarded yet?”

“No. Why?”

“You need to postpone your trip a day,” he says.

I stop. “What the hell for? Is this about Bearfield? He’s your problem, not mine.”

Rick laughs. “No, my boy, this is about Global Records. They have a guy in town. Today only. He heard your demo and wants a meeting.”

My heart stops. “Holy shit.”

“Holy shit is right.”

Adrenaline races through my veins. I grip the back of my neck and shake my head as a foolish grin spreads wide across my face.

No fucking way.

“Darian?”

This could be it.

“Jules is going to be pissed,” I say, my smile firm despite my words.

“Jules will get over it when you take her to the Four Seasons in Bora Bora instead of a piece-of-shit all-inclusive in the Bahamas.”

“Please. My mom is going,” I say. “It’s a really nice piece-of-shit all-inclusive.”

Rick scoffs. “Whatever you say, man. Look, Darian, I don’t have to tell you, Global is the big time. And they’re asking you for a meeting.”

Holy shiiiiiiiit.

I clear my throat. “What time?”

“Five sharp. Be there at four.”

“Have you talked to the guys?”

“Not yet. I wanted to tell you first. I’ll call them as soon as we hang up.” Rick blows out an exaggerated sigh. “I know this means I’ll be out of a job soon, but I’m excited for you. I really am. I’ll text you the address.”

I find my family in a small café across from our gate. Annie’s managed to cover both herself and Minnie Mouse in chocolate, and I laugh at Mom’s vain attempt to clean them up. She brightens when she sees me, her eyes meeting mine with a mix of love and amusement as she motions toward an austere-faced Julia and mouths the word, Kaput.

Dad gives me his trademark my-life-couldn’t-be-better smile as he passes Mom a stack of napkins. I nod and then lower my gaze to my wife. Her hair’s been re-piled on top of her head in what can only be described as a bird’s nest, and she has more mascara beneath her lashes than on them.

So fucking cute.

It’s all I can do to bridle my own my-life-couldn’t-be-better smile.

“Daddy!” Annie’s high-pitched shriek nearly launches Julia from her chair.

“Hey, little one. Is that good?”

Annie nods and hands me her milkshake. A whiff of chocolate invades my nose as I take a long pull from her straw.

She arches her eyebrows as her little hand reaches for the cup. “Just a sip, Daddy.”

“You’re right. That is good,” I tell her.

She smiles.

I sit in the chair beside Julia and carefully pry her fingers from the stem of her glass. “Hey, babe, we need to talk for a second. That was Rick.”

Her eyes slowly lift to mine. “Is everything okay?” she asks.

But she knows it is. My grin gives me away.

“Global wants to meet with me. Tonight.”

My mother gasps. I turn my smile toward her and her cheeks flush pink.

“Sorry, dear,” she says. “You were talking to Julia. I’ll try not to eavesdrop.” She scoots her chair closer to Annie. “Anabel…oh, honey, look at this mess.”

My focus returns to my wife. Her eyes are stretched wide and her grin mirrors my own.

“So, I’m going to meet you guys in Nassau,” I say.

I brush the loose pieces of her hair behind her ear. She shakes her head, and more strands fall.

“No way.” She pushes back from the table and begins to collect her things. “Are you kidding? We’re coming with you.”

“No, Jules. You guys go. I’ll fly out tomorrow.”

“Darian, this is huge.”

“I know, baby. That is precisely why I need to do this by myself. I need to focus. And it will be a lot easier to change one flight than five, not to mention the hotel and the car.”

Her eyes begin to water and it almost breaks my resolve.

“You’ll be fine. It’s the Bahamas, for crying out loud. Look, I’ll take the red-eye. I’ll be there when you wake up in the morning.” I hold my hand to her cheek and brush my thumb across her bottom lip. “We’ll leave Annie with my parents tomorrow night and I’ll take you out to celebrate.”

“Darian, come on. We’ll wait. We can all go tomorrow. I’ll take care of everything.”

I reach for her hand and thread our fingers. “I’m sorry, Jules, but no. Mom and Dad live over an hour away, and Annie will be crushed. Can you just work with me on this?”

“Your parents can stay with us, and Annie is spoiled rotten,” she says. Her mouth curves into an adorable pout. “It won’t kill her to wait one day.”

The airline announces preboarding.

I look at my watch. “You need to go.”

I lift her hand to my lips and kiss her palm. She pulls it back.

“Look, baby, you’re already here. I know you hate to travel, especially out of the country, but they speak English. It’s not like you’re going to Budapest. And my parents will be with you. I’ll be there first thing tomorrow. I promise.” I sit back in my chair. “I really need you to do this for me.”

She grabs a napkin off the table and dabs the corners of her eyes. “Annie, come spend a few minutes with Daddy. He’s going to have to meet us in the morning.”

Once I pay the tab, I take Annie’s hand and we cross the concourse to our gate. The plane is boarding.

I tell my parents goodbye. I tell them I love them. They each hug me and tell me how proud they are. Mom promises to look after Annie. She says Julia will be fine.

I pick up my baby girl. “Bye, Annie, honey. You be a good girl for Mommy, okay?”

“I will, Daddy.”

She hands me her PEZ dispenser, and I smile at the tiny chocolate fingerprints on the stem.

“What’s this?” I ask her.

Her little brows furrow in confusion. “It’s Minnie.”

“I know, sweetie, but why are you giving her to me?”

“I want her to stay with you so you won’t be lonely.” Her arms circle my neck and a mop of springy curls brushes my cheek. “Now you give me something,” she whispers in my ear, “so I won’t be lonely.”

“I have just the thing,” I say, reaching in my pocket for the green piece of plastic I’m never without. “This is my lucky pick. Take good care of it, okay? I need it to play my guitar.”

Her body jerks back with a gasp. “It’s lucky?” she asks, grinning as if I’d given her a pony. “I promise. I’ll take the best care of it ever.”

The line begins to dwindle, and I see Julia walking toward us. The look on her face tells me I have some kissing up to do.

Not a problem, I think, glancing down at my carry-on. When she sees her new ring...

“Mommy!”

“Oh, Annie. Ouch. You’ll make your old man go deaf.”

She giggles.

“Think that’s funny, do you?” I say, tickling her. “It’s time to go.” I give her a huge kiss on her cheek and squeeze her tight. “I love you more than anything.”

“I love you too, Daddy.”

I put my daughter down and turn to the love of my life. “I’ll be there tomorrow, Jules. First thing.”

She glares at me.

I shrug.

What can I do?

PROLOGUE: NOT TO TOUCH THE EARTH