Better Than A Dream
THE NEXT MORNING…
Deacon laughed as he tried to disentangle himself from Rayna. “Babe…Ray…I gotta go. I gotta get downstairs before Maddie wakes up,” he explained for like the tenth time in as little as an hour.
She groaned and shook her head, burrowing herself into his side even more. “She won’t be up for hours, trust me. She’s a teenager. And I want you for myself a little longer,” she said, pressing a kiss to his chest before laying her head down.
He smirked as he looked down at her, meeting her upturned, smiling gaze. “I think you had me plenty to yourself already, Rayna,” he said, grinning at the blush that filled her features as she remembered the night they’d shared…and just how many times she’d reached for him in the early morning hours.
She giggled as she ran her fingers back and forth across his chest. “Not for that, Mr. One-Track-Mind,” she said. “I just wanna lie here in your arms awhile. I like cuddling with you, Deacon Claybourne,” she said softly.
He sighed as the words filled him with joy. “That so? Well, I think I like cuddling with you too, Rayna Jaymes,” he said.
She lifted her head so that her chin rested on his chest and looked at him, her brow raised. “You think?”
He laughed. “Oh, I know it, Babe. C’mere,” he said, slipping his hand behind her head and pulling her close for a deep kiss. When they broke apart for air some time later, Rayna sighed and slid back down, settling herself against the curve of his body as his fingers played with her hair.
They were silent for a time, just enjoying each other’s presence until Rayna broke the quiet with a sigh. “I wish we didn’t have to leave tomorrow,” she said softly. “It’s so peaceful here. No press. No reporters bothering the girls. Maddie’s having such a good time. She’s happier here than I’ve seen her in weeks,” she said.
“So stay,” he said, sitting up a little when she scoffed at him. “I’m serious,” he said. “We can drive back tomorrow and get Daphne. You can call the girls’ schools and have them get their work together for a couple of weeks and come back up here Tuesday. The semester just started, so it’s not like they’re going to miss much anyhow. We’ll all hide away up here for a bit. Give it a week or two and the press is bound to get bored. It’ll be great. Whattya say, Ray?” he asked, serious.
She propped herself up on her elbow, shaking her head at him as she gave him a sweet smile. “As amazing as that sounds, it won’t work,” she said with regret.
“Why the hell not?” he asked.
“Well, for starters...it’s Teddy’s week with the girls. There’s no way he’s going to be alright with me bringing them up here for a couple of weeks, and the last thing I want is him dragging me into court for violating our custody agreement,” she explained. “Besides, Maddie will never go for it. I mean, I know she’s having a great time here this weekend, but she’s not going to want to take time off from school. You should’ve seen the reaction I got from her the other day when I suggested getting them a tutor and homeschooling them a couple of weeks until things died down a bit. She was adamant against it. Daphne, too. Believe me, I tried. I don’t like the idea of dragging them through reporters everywhere we go either, but I think they want to hold on to whatever normalcy they can. I don’t want to take that from them, too, you know?”
Deacon sighed, nodding. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” He swore. “Those damn reporters. You know, they’ve got to have families of their own—you’d think they’d respect the girls’ privacy. They’re just kids for Christsakes. I mean, we chose this life, they didn’t,” he commented angrily.
She nodded. “Yeah, I don’t get it either. I mean, the press has always been really good with keeping the girls out of the thick of it. But this time—it’s like there’s no holds barred. It’s just…wrong,” she agreed.
He sighed. “Well, luckily they’re kids, so they’re resilient. They’ll get through this. They’ve got you and we both know that if there’s anyone who knows how to be tough in this business, it’s you, Ray.”
She shrugged off the compliment. “Honestly, I’m thinking of adopting your style and just telling off the press when I see ‘em,” she said, smiling.
He grinned. “That works, too. I heard your “You want a quote? Stay the hell away from my kids” bit they played on the news from at the school. That was a good start towards that. Not sure how well that’ll go over with the PR team for your label, though,” he said with a laugh.
She scowled. “Oh, boo. You’re no fun,” she said, pouting.
“No fun?” He repeated, sliding his hands down to her waist. Before she had a chance to react, he’d flipped them over so that she was lying beneath him, pressed into the mattress by his weight on her in all the right places. “You want fun? I can be fun,” he said as he lifted her hands above her head, clasping both her wrists with one hand, while trailing the other slowly down her side. “Tell me I’m fun, Ray,” he said, his voice teasing as his fingers poised at her waist.
Her eyes widened. “You wouldn’t dare….Deacon…don’t…” her voice held a light warning.
Which he promptly ignored. He smirked at her as he pressed his fingers into her waist, tickling her. She squealed and struggled against him, but she was no match for him. Leaning down, he covered her mouth with his, swallowing her shrieks as his fingers went to town. When she was breathless, he paused and lifted up to look down at her. “Do you take it back?” he asked, solemnly.
She nodded, grinning. “Yes, yes.”
“Good girl,” he said as he shifted his weight on her and released her hands. He looked down at her, breathless and flushed and couldn’t resist. “Damn, you’re gorgeous,” he said as his mouth lowered once more to hers in a far more passionate kiss. Her hands slid down his bare back and clutched his waist as she spread her legs, making her needs and desires clear.
He tore his mouth from hers to trail light, feathery kisses down the side of her neck, nipping that little spot right at the base of her throat where her pulse raced beneath. Shifting his weight, he lifted her leg at her knee, sliding his hand slowly up her thigh, then further up past her waist. His fingertips danced over her ribs before gently cupping her bare breast in his palm, a primal growl his only warning before he lowered his head and closed his mouth over her. She cried out softly, arching into him, while bringing her hands up to slide her fingers through his hair, holding him to her as he suckled her. The familiar fire burned low in her belly, the flames dancing higher and higher with every passing moment. God, the things the man can do with his mouth, she thought, burning with need. Finally, when she could bear no more, she tugged at his hair, pulling him up to her.
“Please, Babe…” she whispered as his eyes met hers and he nodded, taking her mouth with his as he situated himself where he needed to be. He didn’t need to check to see if she was ready for him…he knew she would be. She was always ready for him. They were so attuned to one another’s bodies, it was unreal. Clasping her hands and linking his fingers with hers above her head, he swallowed her cry as he surged forward, sinking into her warmth. Home, he thought. This is home.
He broke the kiss and looked down at her, allowing her body to adjust to him. “I love you, Ray,” he whispered.
“Ditto, Babe,” she whispered, her eyes closing in surrender of the sensation as he moved above her.
And loved him she did. Like she’d never love another, she knew. He was her addiction, and she was his. And it felt right. So, so right.
Deacon had no more than slipped from the bed and gone downstairs, leaving Rayna to doze in a haze of post-coital bliss, when she heard a soft knock at the bedroom door. She sat up--grateful she’d slipped on the t-shirt and shorts Deacon had handed her when he’d gotten dressed—just as the door opened and Maddie appeared in the doorway. “Mom? Are you up?” she called softly as she walked into the room.
“’Morning sweet girl,” Rayna greeted her with a smile that quickly faded into a concerned frown when she saw the troubled look on Maddie’s face. “Everything okay?” she asked, throwing back the covers. When Maddie just shrugged, Rayna sighed and patted the space next to her. “Come here, sweetie,” she said softly.
Maddie hesitated, then made her way over, sliding into the bed next to Rayna, cuddling right up next to her like she’d done when she was little and she’d had a bad dream—something she hadn’t done in years. Rayna, though surprised, didn’t question it as she wrapped her arms around her, holding her close as she tucked the covers around them both. Settling, she waited a minute before speaking. “What is it, baby girl?” she asked.
Maddie averted her gaze to the writing on Rayna’s shirt, biting her bottom lip. “I had a dream—those reporters were there and—I know it’s stupid, but I keep thinking about what they said…” she said quietly, her chin quivering.
Rayna’s heart nearly broke as she watched her little girl struggle to hold back her tears. She reminded her so much of Deacon in that moment…those sweet, tortured brown eyes…that hard determination to keep a brave face no matter what. But Maddie wasn’t Deacon. She was a scared fourteen-year-old girl whose entire world had just been thrown into a tailspin…and finally, she was reacting like one. “Oh sweetheart,” she whispered as she pulled Maddie close, hearing the quiet cries start moments later.
“It’s my fault…” Maddie cried a few moments later. “The accident…you and Deacon splitting up…all of it,” she sobbed.
Rayna’s heart did break then, hearing the anguish in Maddie’s voice. She pulled back so that she could look Maddie in the eye and shook her head. “No…that’s not true, Maddie. Those reporters were wrong. It was an accident. Nothing is your fault, sweetie. You haven’t done anything wrong. You hear me? Nothing,” she said firmly.
Maddie shook her head, refusing to accept the words. “Yes I did. I was born,” she cried. “If you hadn’t been pregnant, you wouldn’t have had to marry Dad. You could have stayed with Deacon and been happy. Both of you,” she sobbed.
Rayna’s eyes widened at that and she stared at Maddie in shock for a moment before shaking her head. “No. Don’t you ever say that, Maddie. Ever. It’s not true. If you think I regret having you, you’re wrong. You were the best thing that ever happened to me. The day you were born was the happiest day of my life. Maddie, sweetheart—you and your sister mean everything to me. Without the two of you—I have nothing. Do you understand that? I wouldn’t trade you and Daphne for anything. Things might not have gone exactly as planned, but I wouldn’t change a thing, I swear to you,” she told a disbelieving Maddie, tears sliding down her own cheeks. She hugged Maddie to her again, quieting her. “There’s so much that you’re too young to understand right now, honey, but I promise you--having you was the best thing I ever did. Deacon, too. You’re the best parts of us, sweetie. Don’t you know that?”
Maddie sniffled as her sobs quieted. “I just…I just wish we could have been a family. We’re so happy here and I just sometimes…I feel like I ruined everything.”
“Well, you didn’t,” Rayna told her. “If anything, you made everything better. And maybe we aren’t a family in the traditional sense, but we’re still a family, Maddie. And we always will be, no matter what happens. Deacon’s always going to be in your life. In our lives. He’s not going anywhere,” she assured her. “Just ask him. He’ll tell you exactly what I’m telling you. That you’re stuck with him. Like it or not,” she said, smiling, trying to lighten the mood.
Maddie cracked a smile at that. “I know. I just…I’m sorry,” she bit her lip, embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to cry and act like a baby about it. I know it was just a dumb dream and everything, but what that reporter said—“
“Sweetie, you can’t listen to those reporters, you know that. They’re only trying to write stories that people will react to. They don’t care about the truth or people’s feelings. Don’t tell your sister I said this, but that one reporter, well he was just an ass.” Maddie eyes went wide and Rayna continued. “He was just being cruel and looking for a reaction. And just between us--I’m glad Deacon hit him. He deserved it.”
Maddie laughed at that. “I’m glad, too,” she agreed.
Rayna smiled as Maddie snuggled up to her. “And sweetie, I want you to know that it’s okay to get upset sometimes. I don’t care how old you are. You’re still a kid. You don’t have to be so tough all the time. And you can talk to me about anything, you know that, right?” she asked her.
Maddie nodded. “I know. I’m sorry I’ve been such a brat lately.”
Rayna smiled at that. “It’s okay. You were a little entitled to be,” she agreed. “But let’s just agree to lean on each other instead of pushing each other away from now on, okay?” When Maddie nodded, Rayna leaned down and pressed a kiss to the top of her hair. “Love you, baby.”
“Love you, too,” Maddie said, closing her eyes as she relaxed.
Rayna just held her close, humming softly until Maddie fell asleep, just like she used to do when she was little. She reveled in the moment awhile, feeling a burden lifted. Hopefully, the talk had helped to ease some of Maddie’s doubts. There was a still a lot that Maddie hadn’t yet processed, she knew, but hopefully she’d earned her trust enough for Maddie to share some of that burden with her when the time came. Until then, she could only be there…
Listening to the sound of Maddie’s even breathing, she soon fell asleep herself, cuddled close with her not-so-little, little girl.
Which is how Deacon found them when he went looking for them an hour later. With a smile, he watched his girls cuddled close, fast asleep. Careful not to wake them, he left the room, thinking to himself, I’m a lucky man.
He vowed to himself in that moment that he was going to do right by them both. Correction, all three of them. Rayna, Maddie, and Daphne. They were his family.His hand slipped into his pocket and pulled out the ring he’d been carrying around for a week. It was Rayna’s ring. The one he’d given her years ago when he’d proposed to her downstairs. The ring she’d given back to him after the accident when she’d told him they both needed to save themselves. The ring that, in an all-consuming moment of self-pity and anger, he’d tossed into a memorial of candles and fan-laid flowers, and then foraged for a week later when some of that anger had faded. He’d kept the ring as a reminder of what he’d lost; only just recently realizing that it was a symbol of everything he stood to gain…