“No, don’t get up,” Jared groaned a few days after the fourth of July, grabbing my wrist when I sat up and pulling me down so I was splayed across his bare chest. I laughed softly and pressed my lips to the underside of his jaw.
“Chris is going to be awake any minute anyway and we have to get ready for work.”
His hands ran down my naked back until they were resting at the top of my butt. “Screw work. This is more important.”
“We just did this ten minutes ago,” I teased, lifting my chin off of where it was sitting on his sternum so I could touch my lips to his. One of Jared’s hands went to the back of my head, holding me there so he could deepen the kiss. I moved, throwing one of my legs over his naked waist, just as a whimper sounded over the baby monitor.
Jared and I stared at each other, each of us holding our breath as we waited. After about ten seconds, Chris started babbling sleepily and we both knew it was too late.
“It’s like he knows.” Jared sighed, quickly rolling our bodies so I was beneath him. He kissed along my jaw, chin, and lips before sitting up. “Get up, lazy. We need to get ready for work.”
He laughed and successfully dodged my hand when I tried to swat him halfheartedly but I couldn’t help smiling as he disappeared into the bathroom. I stood from the bed and pulled my robe on before heading out to Chris’s room. I touched the lamp, giving the room a dim glow, and laughed softly when I looked into the crib.
Chris was sitting up with one of his giraffe loveys in his mouth. He chewed on it happily, only pulling it out so he could release a string of adorable gibberish. When he looked up and saw me, he dropped the lovey and immediately started wiggling while giving me the biggest smile.
“Good morning, Christopher.” I reached into the crib and lifted him into my arms. He put a small hand on my face and let out a happy squeal. I rained kisses along his cheeks, causing him to laugh, and a warm hand pressed against my back.
“I was going to get him. Go shower.” Jared stole the baby out of my arms and held him above his head, earning another giggle. I watched the two of them for a moment, still unable to believe how much my life had changed.
An hour later, after a shower and some mushy banana clean up, the three of us headed downstairs. Jared started the car to get the air conditioner running while I ducked in the backseat to buckle Chris in. He kicked his legs happily and I kissed his forehead before pulling back to look at him. His blonde hair, like his daddy’s, was completely crazy on top of his head. His blue eyes were still dark and he had a dimple in both chubby cheeks. He kicked his equally chubby legs and I leaned in to press a kiss to his dinosaur-covered chest.
“I love you, Christopher. Be a good boy today, okay?”
He just offered me a happy smile and I handed him his lovey with a laugh. Once I was out of the car, Jared wrapped his arms around me and gave me a long kiss.
“I love you, Steph.”
I smiled and kissed him one more time before he let me go. “I love you, too, City Roast. See you tonight.”
Everything at work was about as normal as it could be. I didn’t have anything scheduled outside of the office so I ended up being a slave to my computer all morning. I was pretty sure that the screen was ruining my eyes and the keyboard was giving me carpal tunnel. The job was going to make me a health insurance company’s nightmare and a doctor’s dream.
“Want to go get lunch?”
I looked up to my doorway shortly after eleven and grinned at Keon. “Oh, most definitely. I need a break. Are you buying?”
“You make the big bucks, Gibson,” he replied with a chuckle. “But I can probably swing the dollar menu for you.”
“Man, I feel special.” I glanced at the clock on my computer screen. “Give me thirty minutes?”
Keon agreed and disappeared back down the hall as I went back to what I had been doing. I needed to finish the agenda for the next day’s meeting so I didn’t have to take anything home with me. I really just wanted to have a mellow evening with my boys.
When someone else knocked on my doorway, I wanted to release an exasperated sigh but surprise coursed through me instead when I looked up.
“Kev. Val. What are you two doing here?” I started to smile until I took in their expressions and any possible joy fled my body. They were both in their usual suits but they had grim looks on their faces. Robin was behind them, an equally unpleasant look on her face, too.
“Steph.” Valerie grabbed one of the chairs that was in front of my desk and dragged it around until she could sit next to me.
I shook my head frantically, running through a mental list of the kids on my caseload before settling on my sister and her kids. “What? Who?”
Valerie reached out and took my hand. “About an hour ago, Christopher Hart was taken from the Vandine childcare center by someone who matches Angela Roberts’ description.”
I stared at her, absorbing her words, and bile rose in my throat. That didn’t make sense. I felt my head shaking quickly, almost like a bobble head, and it was a minute before I spoke.
“No. They wouldn’t let her take him.”
“She lied her way in, Stephanie,” Kevin said from where he was still standing. “She came in under the guise that she was touring the facility. She created some diversion in his classroom and slipped out with Chris as soon as she could. We’ve issued an Amber Alert and we have hundreds of people looking for her.”
“No. What? I… I need to go.” I stood from my desk and grabbed my bag before searching for the heels I had kicked off some time ago. I needed to find Chris. I needed to find Jared. “I need to… Where’s Jared? How’s Jared?”
Valerie was still clutching my hand in her own. “Jared’s at the station. He wanted to call you immediately but we didn’t want you to find out that way. He’s…” She paused for a second. “You two need each other. We’ll take you to him.”
I let them do just that. I felt like a robot as they led me out of my office building, into their car, and drove across the city to the station. The two of them led me inside the stone building and I heard my name called as soon as we entered the area where Kevin and Valerie’s desks were.
I turned my head and saw Jared rushing towards me, his face frantic, and I stumbled in his direction as emotion took over my body.
“Jared.” When I said his name, it came out as a sob and our arms wrapped around each other the moment they could. He held me to him tight and I could feel his body trembling. Or maybe that was mine. I couldn’t tell.
“Steph,” Jared whispered, his cheek pressing to the side of my head. “They’re going to find him. He’s going to be okay.”
I couldn’t even reply as I cried softly against his shoulder. I silently hoped, wished, and prayed that Angela had taken him with the intention of loving him and not for any other reason. The thought that Chris could be in danger made my stomach hurt.
Jared and I were ushered to a small break room that had a table, some chairs, and vending machines. I held an untouched cup of coffee in my hand as I leaned my head against his shoulder, both of us quiet and unmoving.
I don’t know how long we sat there before I spoke. “He’s probably so scared.”
“He’s okay. She’s taking care of him, I know she is.” Jared’s grip on my thigh tightened. “He’s okay.”
Chris had been gone for four hours when Alice Murphy appeared in front of us, speaking words and phrases I didn’t hear. It wasn’t until Jared touched my face and said my name that I snapped out of my daze.
He gave me a weak smile. “The police department is going to do a press conference and they want us to speak.”
“You should,” I replied, my voice hoarse. “You’re his dad.”