Standing in the kitchen next to my grandmother, I watched her baste the turkey. I fingered the white gold heart pendant Erik had given me for my birthday and smiled as I thought about the picture of our child he was going to paint to place next to the one of him that was already inside. It was Christmas morning, and Grandmama had come over early to help our housekeeper, Mrs. Thornton, and our cook, Miss Attlebury, get ready for the party that afternoon. Our entire family, and all our friends had come over for my birthday, and they were all invited over again. They’d be there in about two hours.
“What was it like when you had Daddy, Grandmama? Did it hurt?”
She stood up straight from the oven and turned to me. Despite her advanced age of sixty-five, she still stood straight and tall, and she was usually put together so that not a strand of hair was out of place, but the heat of the kitchen had caused her to look a little disheveled. She raised a hand to pat her bun and said, “Yes, darling, it did, but you have to understand that I had him at home with none of the wonders of modern medicine. You talked to the doctors at Saint John’s. If you want them to, they can sedate you, and you won’t feel a thing. You’ll go to sleep, and when you wake up, you’ll have a beautiful baby.”
“I know,” I said. “I’m just a little scared.”
She walked over and gave me a hug. “Sarah, everyone is their first time. It’s perfectly normal to be scared when you don’t really know what to expect.” She stepped back and smiled. “Now, tell me again what happened between Erik and Mr. Donaldson. I love that story.”
I returned her smile. “We went to Saint John’s so that I could see what it was like. Erik knew I was nervous, and he wanted to make sure I was as comfortable as possible. He wanted me to see every part of the maternity ward, but the doctors and the nurses wouldn’t let us in, so he asked to talk to the hospital’s director. That was Mr. Donaldson.
“‘Look, Mr. Donaldson,’ Erik said to him, ‘my wife is expecting our first child, and she wants to know what is going to happen when it’s time for her to deliver. I know you can understand that.’
“‘Mr. Desmond,’ the director said, ’I know who you are, but I can’t just let you wander the halls of the maternity ward. I know you can understand that.’
“‘We don’t want to wander the halls, Mr. Donaldson. We want a doctor to guide us so that if we have questions, we can get them answered,’ Erik told him.
“‘I’m sorry, Mr. Desmond, but I can’t allow it. It’s just not done,’ the director answered.
“Then Erik looked at me and pulled his checkbook out of his pocket. ‘May I borrow your pen, Mr. Donaldson?’ he asked.
“The man looked confused, but he held out a pen. Erik wrote out a check and showed it to me, and I nodded. Erik grinned, ripped out the check, and held it out to Mr. Donaldson.
“‘This can be the hospital’s, sir, if I get what I want,’ he said.
“Mr. Donaldson looked offended at that. ‘Mr. Desmond, you are very young, and you need to realize that money can’t buy everything.’
“‘Believe me, sir, I know that, but I’ve found that it can buy a lot of things.’ Erik said as he laid the check down in front of the director, and when he looked at it, I thought his eyes would pop out of his head.”
Grandmama laughed. “That’s the part I love the best. So, the director agreed.”
It wasn’t a question, and I chuckled. “He did. I guess fifty thousand dollars can actually buy quite a lot. I got to see everything from the labor and delivery rooms to the patient rooms to the nursery. Doctor Garber answered all my questions, and we’ve already made sure that I get a private room after the baby is born.”
“Well,” Grandmama said, “money may not be able to buy everything, but it can buy quite a lot.” She took my hand. “Come on. Let’s get ready for the party.”
At four o’clock, I was in our bedroom, sitting at my vanity, and putting the final touches on my outfit for the party. Erik had bought me a Christmas red, floor length dress with a white shawl that he’d had custom made so that, even though my belly was still huge, I felt beautiful. I was putting on a pair of diamond earrings when Erik appeared in the mirror. I jumped a little since I hadn’t heard him come in the room, and he chuckled.
“Sorry about that. Do you have a necklace picked out already?” he asked.
He didn’t answer, but his hands came around me, and he clasped the most beautiful choker around my neck. It had a wreath design in the middle created with diamonds, and numerous strands of pearls ran to the back clasp. It was about two inches wide, and I caught my breath at its elegance. Erik left his hands on my shoulders, and he bent down to kiss me behind my ear.
“Merry Christmas, sweetheart,” he whispered, and I took his hand, stood up, and turned to him.
“It’s gorgeous, Erik,” I said with a smile. “Thank you.”
His lips twitched, but he didn’t smile. Instead, he just stared at me, and his breathing accelerated. He trailed one finger down from my temple to my jaw and then along the side of my neck until he reached the necklace. “You are so beautiful,” he breathed, and when his eyes came back to mine, I saw clear desire in them. He dipped his head and covered my lips with his. The kiss was tender, but at the same time, it was so powerful that my knees buckled. Erik wrapped his arm around me and held me gently. When he finally broke the kiss, his eyes were dark, and he laid his lips on my temple before rasping out, “Do we really have to go to this party? Can’t we just spend Christmas here? Together?”
I laughed. “Yes, we have to be at the party, Erik. After all, it’s our house. What would everyone think?”
When he drew back, he had a mischievous smile on his face. “They will think that we are spending Christmas loving each other as we should.” He gave me one more kiss. “But I suppose you’re right. It wouldn’t be right to abandon them in our own house.”
I reached up and undid his bow tie. “No, it wouldn’t. Now, take off your jacket and vest.”
He tilted his head. “Why? What are you doing?”
“Because I want to give you one of your Christmas presents.”
As he removed the items, he looked at me with a small smile. I reached into my vanity and pulled out a black box with a red bow on top. “Merry Christmas, Erik,” I said, handing it to him.
He took it and kept his eyes on me as he flipped the lid open. Then he looked down, and he took a deep breath. “Sarah,” he said, looking at me, “thank you. They’re perfect.”
I smiled brightly and took the box from him. I set it on the vanity and said, “I’m glad you like them. Now, let’s put them on.”
He held out his arms and grinned. “I’m all yours, sweetheart. I won’t complain if you undress me.”
“You’re horrible,” I laughed as I took his cufflinks and studs off. “Can’t you think of anything else?”
“I’m a young man with an incredibly sexy and gorgeous wife,” he answered. “Of course not.”
“You mean an incredibly large and awkward wife,” I retorted as I put his new cufflinks on. They were round, made from platinum with diamonds edging them. The posts were white gold, and I’d had an entwined E and D engraved on the front. The studs were the same.
“No,” he said, wrapping his arms around me after I finished with his sleeves. “Sexy and gorgeous. You will always be beautiful to me. When we’re eighty years old and you’re all wrinkled and gray, you will still be my beautiful Sarah.”
I smiled as I put in the last stud. “Well, you’re older than me, so you’ll be more wrinkled and more gray.”
He laughed and picked up his tie. “That’s true.” He wrapped the tie around his neck and expertly tied it before putting on his vest and jacket. At that moment, the front doorbell rang, and he took my hand. “I think that’s our cue,” he said, and he gave me a kiss before we walked out of the room hand in hand. By the time we got to the top of the stairs, Mrs. Thornton had ushered in my father and was taking his coat and hat. He looked up when we walked down the stairs, and he smiled brightly.
“Sarah, you look stunning!” he said, and when we reached him, he gave me a kiss on the cheek before holding his hand out to my husband. As Erik shook it, he said, “Merry Christmas, Erik.”
“Thank you, sir. The same to you. Please, come in and make yourself comfortable. Everyone else should be showing up soon.”
I squeezed Erik’s hand. “I’m going to make sure everything is ready.”
He smiled at me and kissed my hair. “All right. Don’t be too long, though.”
As I walked to the kitchen, I heard Erik say, “Would you like a drink, Keenan?”
My father had tried to get Erik to call him Father or Dad, but he had at least gotten him to stop calling him Mr. McAllister. For now, they’d settled on Keenan.
Within half an hour, everyone was present—all of the family down to the littlest cousin, Sebastian, Abigail, and the crew from the Rebecca. We were in the living room, Erik and I by the fireplace, he with his arm around my waist, and the others standing or sitting in various places. George was leaning against the other end of the mantle, a snifter of brandy in his hand. I had been surprised when Erik said there was going to be alcohol at this party, but he had said that just because we didn’t drink didn’t mean others couldn’t. “But if anyone gets drunk,” he’d said seriously, “they’re gone.”
“Thank you, George,” he said now, “for making sure the Rebecca was taken care of.”
“Not a problem, Erik. She’s a beautiful boat. Thank you for giving me the job to keep her that way.”
I looked out the doors that led to the backyard. From where I was standing, I could see the shed Erik had had built to store the Rebecca safely over the winter. She was inside on blocks, and he had spared no expense to make sure she would weather the winter without damage. George had supervised the project.
They talked for a little while, while I looked around the room. The tree glittered with every color of the rainbow, whether that was the lights or the ornaments. I smiled as I remembered Erik’s excitement as we’d decorated it two weeks before, right before my birthday. I hadn’t realized it was his first Christmas tree. Presents of all shapes and sizes and colors were piled underneath it; everyone had brought us something, and we’d gotten something for everyone as well. It was beautiful. I leaned back into Erik, and he held me tighter, resting his hand on my belly.
A few minutes later, Miss Attlebury appeared in the doorway and announced that supper was ready. Erik took my hand, and we had only taken one step toward the dining room when I felt a searing pain in my belly. I cried out and would have fallen, but Erik caught me.
“Sarah? What’s the matter?” he said anxiously.
I opened my mouth to say something, but another stab of pain raced through me, and I screamed as I gripped my belly tightly and doubled over. It was then that I felt something warm and wet running down my legs. “Erik,” I gasped. “Something’s wrong.”
“No,” he said. “No!” He lifted me into his arms and yelled, “Sebastian! Get my keys! We’re going to the hospital! Now!”
“Got it, Erik,” I heard our friend say, and Erik raced out of the house. Sebastian was right behind him.
“Get in with her, Erik. I’ll drive,” he said, and Erik slid in with me on his lap.
“Sarah, sweetheart, hold on, please.” He caressed my face gently just as another jolt of agony raced through me. I screamed again and gripped his shirt tightly, burying my face in his chest. “Damn it, Sebastian, drive faster!”
“I can’t, Erik; the roads are icy. You don’t want me to kill us all, do you?”
The hospital was only ten miles from our home, but because of the icy roads, it took longer than usual to get there, and I was screaming almost constantly by the time Sebastian pulled in front of the entrance.
Erik got out of the car with me and ran inside, calling out frantically for a doctor. Then I was set down on something, and I screamed, “No! Erik, don’t leave me, please!” I grabbed for him, and our hands touched briefly before I was whisked away from him. “Erik!”
A man’s voice spoke firmly but kindly, “Mrs. Desmond, he can’t come with you. Please, try to calm down. We’ll take good care of you. Just relax.”
I was rushed into a room with bright lights, and something was put over my mouth and nose.
“Breathe deeply, Mrs. Desmond, and you won’t feel a thing soon,” the voice said, and I gasped as another stab of pain caused me to curl into a ball. Hands pulled me straight as a scream was ripped from my throat. Eventually, whatever they were giving me worked, though, and I fell into a deep, dark abyss.