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“I thought I’d find you here.” His voice was gentle and soft but close enough that I knew he was in the room with me. “We should be going, Love.” I didn’t look back at him yet, unable to tear my gaze away from the empty nursery where my babies used to sleep.

“Let’s check the rooms one more time.”

He slipped an arm loosely around my waist. “Kiki, sweetheart, the house is empty. We’ve checked every room at least five times each. You’ve gone through every cabinet and drawer with a fine tooth comb. “

I nodded, biting my lip, trying hold back tears. Lotus brought his other arm around and pulled my body back so that I was flush with his and rested his lips by my ear. “We have everything, Kiki. Checking again isn’t going to make this any easier on you.” Letting my hands drop to his, I gripped him tightly, only able to nod.

“Hey, come here.” I let him gently guide me to face him and buried my head into his neck as he held me tight. “Are you going to be okay? It’s not too late to change our minds. I don’t want to force you into this if you’ll regret it.”

Tears threatened to spill over as I shook my head before leaning back with a sniffle. “No. Lotus we are not changing our minds. I’m so ready for more space. It’s just hard letting go.”

He gave a soft sigh and leaned his forehead to mine, keeping our eyes locked. His hand came up and lightly pushed my hair back. “I know. How can I make it easier for you? I hate seeing you hurting like this.”

I quickly shook my head, realizing I was making things harder for him, too. “Just get me out of here. I just need to go, I think.”

After a quick peck on my lips, he reached down and swooped me up into his arms. I yelped and clung to him, totally taken by surprise. “Lo, what are you doing?! “

Lotus grinned up at me as he carried me from the room. “Carrying you over the threshold one more time.”

My eyes never left his beautiful, smiling face throughout the short walk through the front room and hallway and then out the front door.

He didn’t stop there, carrying me all the way to the car before setting me gently on my feet. “Gonna be okay, Ki?”

I nodded, smiling up at him. “Are you?”

He glanced over his shoulder at the house and then faced me again, smiling too.. “As long as I have you and the kids, that’s all I’ll ever need.”

Twenty minutes later I called Pink to check on the kids as we zoomed down the highway, headed to Sunset Valley. The plans had changed a little, in the last few months. Lotus had convinced me that it would be nice to get away alone for a few days. So we’d be at the beach house by ourselves for a few days and then Pink and Jer would join us with all the kids for a few more days and then we’d keep our kids at the beach for a third week after Pink, Jer and their kids returned to Bridgeport. While we were gone the first week, Hibi, Orch and Fleur would be staying with Pink and Jer while Hua, Calla and Soph would stay with my Dad and Ashley.

The new house definitely wouldn’t be done in just three weeks time so when we went back to the city, we’d be staying with Dad and Ashley until it was finished. I wasn’t nuts about living with Dad and Ashley again but I knew that was just me being silly after all these years and at the end of it all, we’d have a wonderful new home with plenty of space for our children to grow up in.

Once I’d checked in on all the kids, I settled back in the seat, smiling as Lo turned up the radio and took my hand. This was going to be a wonderful week.

Just as I knew it would be, the time alone with Lotus was nothing short of amazing. I could lie and say we spent our time exploring Sunset Valley but who would believe that?

I spent the majority of the week in Lo’s embrace and, though we both missed our kids, we thoroughly enjoyed every moment of our time together. Let’s just say that when Pink, Jer and all the kids finally joined us, the flush on my cheeks had nothing to do with time spent in the sun and everything to do with time spent in Lo’s arms.

Pink was eight months pregnant by that time and just wanted to relax. She and I spent a lot of time poolside. The kids had a blast together but that was nothing new. Pink and Jer’s kids were like more siblings for ours and I was already thankful for the close bond my kids had with them-something I’d never had growing up. Hibi and Salt had always been thick as thieves and Mazu and Orchid, though still really young, seemed to have developed an attachment to each other, too.

There were a few tears when Pink, Jer and their kids headed back to Bridgeport but Lo and I were able to reassure the kids it wouldn’t be long until we saw them again. We spent the last week on the beach together as a family.

It was a wonderful week-idyllic in many ways. I was a little sad to pack up and leave we were all ready to get back and be near our friends again.

The next couple of months were rough but not awful. Dad and Ashley had a big enough house that we could have a little space for ourselves but it just wasn’t the same as being in our own home. I was thankful to be around my sisters and even Dad and Ashley again but at times it was just difficult sharing space. Twelve people in a 5 bedroom house wasn’t really ideal but we made it work. Many times it was just Ashley, the kids and I, anyhow, since Dad and Lotus often went to help work on the new house.

That was one of the biggest advantages to being friends with the contractor-Lotus, Dad, Riptide and Jer were all able to help, meaning things got done a little faster even though the kids and I missed Lo so much when we didn’t get to see him. The other big advantage is that Ganby was able to call in a few favors to make construction go faster and cheaper. In the end it took five full months to get our new home built and another week for Lark, Pink and I to get it decorated. We decided not to move the kids in until everything was unpacked and it took us, with the help of our friends, yet another week to get the boxes unpacked and all our furniture, new and old, into place.

When it came time bring the kids, I couldn’t have been happier. We tried our best for a family picture out front before setting the kids loose inside.

The house was simply stunning, everything having been done exactly to the specs Ganby had so painstakingly guided us through months ago. Lark had decorated every room beautifully and I delighted in watching the kids explore and settle into their new space.

All our little ones enjoyed the nursery space and the family room. In fact, that’s where they spend most of their time.

Hibi’s been partial to the game room over the garage and, ironically, to Lo’s office. Maybe it’s the Simbox 500 and flat screen that Lo just had to have. At any rate, I can usually count on finding Hibi in there with a gaggle of friends.

Sometimes, when Hibi’s needing a little one on one time without the other kids around, I’ll join him in the office. There are few things better than seeing his little face light up when he realizes I’m there to play a few rounds.

Lo and I both agree, our favorite room is our new bedroom. We have the best view in the entire house.

Sometimes at night, after Lo has done his best to show me exactly how much he loves me, we lay spent in each other’s arms, just gazing at the view of Bridgeport. I wonder, sometimes, how life could be any better.

We had a small housewarming party the weekend after we got settled in. The Seastriders, Rip’s family and Lark and Ganby were all there-the guys firing up the grill, us breaking in the new kitchen and the kids running back and forth through the house and outside.

That evening, I volunteered to help Jer and Pink’s little Triakis with a nap. It was just after sunset when I headed back outside, having settled Aki in Lehua’s crib. As I stepped outside, I stopped for a moment, taking in the scene.

Lo, Riptide, Pink, Jer and Chelsea sat around the fire pit, Lo listening intently to whatever Riptide was saying. Jer held Hua on his lap while Rip bounced Mazu gently on his knees. Behind them, Ganby and Lark stood holding Orchid and Fleur and Kobi was walking around the yard with Soph in her arms. Hibi, Reef, Salty, Kai, Calla and Ocean all played happily in the sandbox together.

Drinking in the scene I was hit with the most incredible sense of gratefulness I’d ever known in my life. I’d come so far from that shy girl who was too afraid to take off her hat. Now I had a beautiful home and a yard full of family and friends who meant the world to me. My kids were so loved and they would never know a life without friendship and support. I teared up a little, taking it all in and then my eyes locked with his.

The best friend I’d ever known. The man who changed everything. Where would I have been without him? Would I have ever known any of this kind of happiness? Just the thought of life without him hurt my heart. He broke our gaze long enough to say something to Riptide before standing and walking towards me. When he reached me he wrapped his arms around me, staring straight into my eyes. I knew he could see the sheen of unshed tears and I made no attempt to hide them. They were happy tears.

“What are you thinking about over here, Love?”

Smiling, I motioned towards the scene in the back yard. “I’m just feeling really thankful right now. Look at what we have. Sometimes it just hits me how lucky I am.”

He returned my smile and glanced back at the scene on our lawn, holding me tight against him. “It’s nothing less than you deserve, Ki. You’re an amazing friend…Mother…Wife..Lover.” He kissed me softly after each word and grinned slightly, leaning his head down to hold my gaze as I blushed at the last.

“I wouldn’t have any of this if it weren’t for you, Lo. You changed my life.”

He let out a soft laugh and leaned his forehead against mine. “It’s funny. You always say that and you just have no idea. Kiki…My Ki. You changed my life. I wouldn’t want any of this without you. I love you, Kiki. So much.”

A tear slipped out as I leaned up to meet his lips with mine. “I love you too, my Lotus. Forever.”

“Forever.”

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*Author’s Note: Big, BIG thanks to Raelsinclaire who made the new house for Loki, as a surprise to me. ❤