Harry has been at it with the red pen again. Immie is furious.
“He is just a stinky boy and he needs to get a life.” Imogen huffs as she scoops more yoghurt into her mouth.
“He needs to get a life huh?” I chuckle, running a brush through her hair. It shimmers beneath me and I gaze at it in fascination. Kinks run through it from the plait it’s been in all day, which don’t come out despite me brushing it.
“Yup. That’s what Grace said.”
“Maybe he likes you,” I suggest, and she whips her head around, eyes that mirror mine sparkle with disbelief.
“I don’t think so,” she frowns. “Anyway, I hate boys.”
For now. But I’ll take it.
“So, remember I said I’ve got something to tell you?” I murmur, as she wiggles into my lap, nodding. Her little legs cross over one another as she faces me, and I swallow down my anxiety.
Larah supports me, which makes this easier. I just need to remind Imogen that she’s still everything to me, despite a new addition.
“Well,” I hesitate, wondering how to tell her this. “Do you remember the kind lady from the car boot? Jolie.”
Imogen smiles, revealing her tiny white teeth. “Yes.”
“This is a little bit different to normal, but you know how mummies and daddies have babies?”
“Yep. They fall in love and a baby is born,” she swoons, clapping her hands together.
“Not always,” I say carefully, as I stroke her hand lovingly. “See me and Jolie, we’re going to have a baby together.”
Imogen stares at me, and for a moment I forget to breathe. Then she smiles, so widely I worry it’s hysteria, before she covers her mouth with her hands.
“Really?!” She squeaks out, and I nod.
“But it doesn’t change how I feel about you, okay?” I search her eyes, my stomach twisting with fear.
“It is a boy or a girl?” Imogen asks, and I feel a sense of relief.
“We don’t know yet,” I say honestly, and she gazes past me.
“I’m going to be a big sister,” she says slowly, scrunching her fists together with excitement. “I’ll be such a good big sister!”
A lump forms in my throat, and all I can do is nod as she throws her arms around me.
“You are the best daddy ever,” Imogen whispers in my ear, and I hold her close, inhaling her sweet scent.
“Thank you, baby.”
“I’m so glad Jolie is your girlfriend.”
“Oh, sweetheart, Jolie and I aren’t together like that,” I explain, as Imogen pulls away, frowning at me.
“Of course you are, silly. You’re having a baby.”
I panic, but try to remember what I’d read about breaking the news to your child about a new sibling.
“Jolie and I are really good friends,” I explain, as her brow furrows.
Her lower lip wobbles, and I wish more than anything Larah was here.
“Friends don’t have babies!”
“Some do,” I say gently, as she looks at me in surprise. “You know how your mum and June have a friend called Gia? She has a baby with her friend, because she didn’t want a boyfriend. Remember?”
Thank fuck for Gia.
“Yes…” Imogen frowns. “Because Gia has a girlfriend.”
“Yes, exactly. So she had the baby with her friend, and that baby has two mummies, like you.”
“Does Jolie have a girlfriend?” She wrinkles her nose up, and I shake my head.
“No, she doesn’t.”
“So why did she want a baby with you?”
“Because sometimes, that’s what happens. Friends can have babies together.”
This is not easy. At all.
“Do you want her to be your girlfriend?” Imogen continues, more interested in the logistics than the baby itself.
“We’re really good friends. In fact, she’s asked us if we want to go to her Aunt's house for dinner tomorrow night.”
“Jolie has?!” Imogen jumps up, her head knocking into my chin.
“You okay?” I check, as she grins.
“Yes! Can we go?! Please?”
I nod, and she throws her arms around me again, squeezing me tightly.
“I’m so happy, Daddy!”
That went well.
“Me too, sweetheart. Do you want to ask me anything about the baby?”
“Yeah, when is it’s birthday?”
“Ha, you see, it’s only predicted at the minute. It could be on Grandma's birthday,” I chuckle, and Imogen makes a face.
“I want it to be on my birthday!”
“You don’t want to share your birthday, surely,” I laugh, and she wraps her fingers around mine, yawning.
“I mean, I wouldn’t share the cake.”
I scoop her up into my arms, holding her close.
“I love you, Immie,” I mumble into her hair, rubbing her back. “So much.”
“Love you too, Daddy.”
Jolie’s Aunt’s house is one of a row of bungalows that overlook fields as far as the eye can see. Imogen is bouncing with excitement beside me in the car, clutching a bottle of white wine that she’d insisted we wrap up.
In birthday wrap.
“Do they have pets?” Imogen demands.
“I don’t know, Imm.”
“Do they have a pool?”
“I doubt it baby, not many houses in England do.”
“I want to move to America,” she announces. “They have pools.”
“You watch too much YouTube,” I grumble, pulling up beside Jolie’s Mini. As we get out, I make a mental note to get her bump fixed this week.
We walk up to the house, and Imogen smooths down her favourite dress, beaming at me with excitement.
The door opens, and there she is.
There she is.
I’d be a fool to say I didn’t fancy the pants off this woman. She’s wearing a floaty yellow sundress and tights, and her face lights up when she sees us.
“Imogen! Hi, how are you?”
Imogen runs into her arms, thrusting the bottle of wine at her as Jolie laughs, her eyes sparkling.
A small white dog appears cautiously from behind Jolie, and Imogen sinks to her knees.
“Oh boy, she’s obsessed with animals,” I smile, as Jolie looks up at me with amusement.
“Does she have any?”
“No,” I admit, and Jolie raises an eyebrow as she looks back at the huddle by our feet.
“This is Pepe, Imogen. He’s an old guy, but he loves belly rubs.”
Imogen obliges, and the dog lays on his back, paws in the air.
“Jolie, let the boy in at least!”
I look up to see an attractive older woman hurrying towards us, her bracelets banging in her wrists as she does.
“Oh this dog, he’s such a fuss pot. What’s your name?”
“Imogen,” my girl answers, and I smile with pride.
“Beautiful name for a beautiful girl! I’m Lillian,” she beams as she takes Imogen’s hand, offering to show her where the dog treats are shortly. “You must be Jax, my my, Imogen has your eyes.”
I smile and extend my hand, but she pulls me into her arms, kissing both cheeks.
“I think we’re a bit beyond the handshake stage, my love,” she chuckles.
“I guess we are,” I laugh, as Jolie leads Imogen to the kitchen. “Something smells amazing.”
“Yes, it’s you!” Lillian snorts. “ you smell delicious. A proper manly smell, that’s what that is.”
I bite back my laughter as she guides us into the kitchen, where a large table is filled with hot and cold food.
“Wow,” I whistle. “This looks so good.”
“Again, as do you.”
I can’t hide my laughter at the flirtatious banter, especially when she winks at Jolie.
“But you’ve got good taste, haven’t you.”
Jolie shoots me an apologetic look which I wave off. Jolie and Imogen are still playing with the dog, when a man enters the room, his eyes on me.
“Evening, I’m Andrew,” he shakes my hand, before gasping at Imogen. “If I’d have known there was going to be royalty present I’d have worn a suit! Which Princess are you?!”
My eyes meet Jolie’s and she flushes, turning away at my gaze. I can’t stop smiling at her though, or her family. It’s easy to be there, and the informal buffet setting makes it a lot more relaxed for us all.
Imogen is reluctantly at the buffet with Lillian, whilst gazing at Pepe.
“You need to get that girl a dog,” Jolie murmurs from beside me, biting into a chunk of cheese.
“Do I?” I panic, glancing at Imogen.
“She’s a natural,” Jolie shrugs, biting into a cracker. “How did she take the news?”
“Really well,” I admit, rubbing my neck. “I’m lucky she’s such a mature girl.”
“She’s amazing, Jax,” Jolie breathes, commanding my attention. Her face is made up to perfection, not that she needs a scrap of it. But fuck me, she looks good. The straps on her shoulders lead down to her cleavage, which I actively try to avoid.
Not the time. Nor the place.
“Come on Jax, dig in,” calls Andrew, waving me over.
“Excuse me,” I wink at Jolie, and I swear she blushes.
An hour later, I’m in a stuffed state, and my jeans feel tight around my waist.
“That was heavenly,” I praise Lillian, who nods at Andrew.
“Andrew did most of it. He loves cooking,” she says proudly.
“I might need lessons there,” I nod at him, as he smiles.
“Watch Jamie Oliver on that YouTube thing, he’s full of tricks.”
“He makes the best Yorkshire puddings, doesn’t he Jolie?” Lillian pipes up.
Jolie looks up from the floor where she’s sitting with Imogen, stroking Pepe. Her fingers are lost in his fur, and I genuinely envy the old pooch.
Her eyes meet mine, and I hold her gaze, my eyes travelling over her face, taking in every feature slowly. She doesn’t look away, and I’m shook.
She’s so beautiful.
“Daddy, can I get a dog?”
“Oh, I knew that was coming,” I chuckle, as Andrew and Lillian smile knowingly.
“I’m not home enough, darling. Ask Mummy.”
“I did, she said to ask you,” Imogen pouts, and I snort with laughter.
“I bet she did! Maybe in the future,” I suggest, and Imogen looks down at the dog.
“The new baby would want a dog,” she says hopefully, and Jolie bites her lip to stifle her laughter. “Especially if she’s a girl.”
“That’s true,” Jolie grins, and Imogen beams. “I love animals.”
“Did you have a dog when you were growing up?” Imogen asks, stroking the sleeping dog.
Jolie’s eyes flicker with emotion, and she shakes her head ruefully.
“No, but I always wanted one.”
I notice Lillian's eyes drop to the floor, her hands twisting as Andrew rubs her back.
“Who wants dessert?” Lillian asks brightly, as Imogen jumps up, dog forgotten.
Andrew, Lillian and Imogen head into the kitchen, the dog at their heels.
“Are you okay?” I ask, as Jolie lifts herself from the floor and into the sofa beside me.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Told you, shady childhood,” she jokes, looking over at me. “I think my Aunt has a crush on you.”
My eyes move down to her lips, and I search her eyes, which are still hazy from her memories.
“Just your Aunt, huh?”
Shit , I’m flirting.
“Yes, just my Aunt,” Jolie laughs, pushing her hair behind her ear.
“That’s a shame,” I say, as her eyes fly up to mine. “Because I’m sure I’m getting one on you.”
Her mouth falls open as I grin, shrugging my shoulders. I can’t help it, she’s fucking stunning. Not only that, she’s just demanding my attention with every movement, every word she says.
“Triple chocolate brownie and ice cream!” Imogen declares from beside me, and for once I wish she’d have waited just two minutes longer.
“Let’s go get dessert,” I say to Jolie as Andrew and Lillian return, with a tub of sprinkles for Imogen.
“There’s loads to choose from,” Jolie says airily, waving her hand at the dessert trays on the side. “I’m having the apple pie. Andrew made it himself.”
She digs a spoon into the pastry, scooping a heap onto her plate before licking her fingers. She looks over at me, and I try to focus on the desserts, but I’m losing the ability to resist her. I’m not sure if it’s the family environment, the good food, or the fact she is fucking killing me with her sass.
But I want her.
“Dessert, Jax?” Jolie swallows, now pulling ice cream from the freezer.
“What is there?” I ask, moving closer to her.
Her eyes dart to my lips, as she blinks rapidly. “Apple pie, chocolate brownie, peach cobbler—”
My fingers brush her hip as I move closer to her, my head dipping into her neck as I inhale her intoxicating scent. So sweet, yet fresh.
Her breath hitches, and I lift my lips to her ear.
“Can I have you?”