“If you’re too scared to do it, I’ll understand.” Andrei London looked at his wife and gave her an innocent smile but she wasn’t fooled.
“I’m not scared! Now be quiet so I can concentrate,” Maya said while she measured the distance between the dive board, the surface of the water, and the pool’s bottom. It didn’t seem too deep.
She took a quick breath, bounced up on the board a couple of time and before she could lose her nerve, jumped! She thought about trying something fancy, like a flip in midair but decided that a simple dive would be better. Plus, she didn’t know how to do a flip.
She popped back up from the water to the sound of clapping. “Beautiful.”
She grinned up at Dre as he floated past her. “That’s because I’m awesome. Race you to the waterfall!”
He shouted something about cheating, but she was already breast-stroking away. She loved this, being with him, living in Sunlit Tides, swimming in a pool so large they had their own waterfall. The only thing missing was family.
After she came back, Dre and she decided that reaching out to her family would not be a good idea. She missed them terribly but they wouldn’t understand. Her brother might, maybe but she wouldn’t ask him to keep such a secret from the others. So she only had Dre. Which wasn’t a bad deal at all! It was just, he had his diving to keep him busy here and he spoke to his siblings constantly. She just wished she had someone of her own.
Reaching the falls, she turned around to find Dre right behind her. Laughing, she raised her hand up to catch the falling water. She wouldn’t complain. She got to spend her days and her nights with the love of her life. She didn’t need anything or anyone else.
Dre swam up to her and gave her a light kiss. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Why?” Andrei. The fricking bloodhound. She couldn’t keep anything from him. It was great and annoying. Perfect for times when she wanted or needed something, horrible around birthdays and holidays. “I’m okay. Promise.”
His gaze bore into her until finally, she had to look away. Okay, so maybe she wasn’t okay. “It’s getting late, I’ll go grab some burgers and you can grill some dinner.”
She reached for the pool ladder and dragged herself out of the water. She knew she was only delaying the inevitable. He would pry even this secret from her. He always did.
They were getting ready for bed later that night when Dre took her hand. “Are we just going to pretend that moment in the pool didn’t happen? If you don’t want to talk about it, fine, just say that. But I’m getting worried, Maya and I wish you would talk to me. Help me help you.”
She squeezed his hand and sighed. Might as well. “I’m lonely. No, before you get all offended, let me finish. Growing up, all I ever wanted was a family like mine. I mean besides being rich and famous and the number one designer in the world.” Dre laughed and she smiled. “I miss my family, Dre. I miss my brothers and my sister. I miss mom and dad. It would be one thing if they’d died and I didn’t have the option of seeing them again but they aren’t dead. I’m the one that’s supposed to be dead and I miss them.”
Andrei sighed. “Then we’ll go see them. Even if – even if word gets out or they take it hard, we’ll go see them and we’ll keep going until they are okay with this. I want you to be happy Maya. I will make you happy.”
“Dre, I am. You do. I promise. I love you.”
“I love you so much more.”
She fell asleep looking into Dre’s eyes and knowing he would move mountains for her. What more could a girl ask for?
Dre opened the door for Dr. Brian Gates and ushered the man in. “It’s been a while, doc. How have you been?”
“Hello Andrei, I’m well. And you? Holding up?”
He walked the doctor into the den area and called for Maya. It was still weird thinking of Dr. Gates as vampire Dr. Gates. He’d known the guy his whole life, never once did he do anything vampirey. Except for the not aging thing. That should have been a huge tip-off now that he thought about it.
“We’re good. Happy enough, you know?”
“That’s really all you can ask for, isn’t it?”
“I guess so, yeah. Yeah.”
“Hello!” Maya walked into the room, all smiles and sexiness and light. They’d lived in Sunlit Tides for two years now and he still felt a punch in the gut whenever she walked into the room. He’d spent ten years without her and still woke up sometimes in a cold sweat, convinced he was dreaming.
But she was real and alive and he was the luckiest guy on the planet.
“Maya, this is Dr. Brian Gates. He’s an old family friend of mine.”
“Please, call me Brian. It’s very nice to meet you, Maya.”
“Same. Would you like some coffee or tea?”
“Oh no. I won’t be staying long, I had an idea that wanted to run by the two of you, then I’ll be on my way.”
“uGenex is expanding our research on engineering specimen from people who previously have been unable to conceive. As you know, we were successful in producing two viable fetuses for Tony and Riley. We would like to extend an invitation for the two of you to join the program.”
“Wait, what did you just say?” Maya stared at Brian in disbelief before glancing at a grinning Dre. Had he known about this?
“I know it’s unsolicited, you might not even be interested but I thought I’d mention it as a possibility.”
Maya was stunned. “I – Dre, what do you think?”
Dre was looking back and forth between her and Brian, his smile still in place. “Dr. Gates, I think my wife and I need some time to discuss this. Could we maybe call you and let you know?”
“Of course. I wasn’t expecting an immediate answer. Please do take your time. I am here on sabbatical and can wait for however long you need to make a decision.”
“Excellent.” Dre ushered Brian out and Maya remembered her manners just in time to say farewell to the doctor.
“Well,” Dre asked, walking back into the room. “What do you think?”
“I think it’s crazy! We’re not ready for something like that… Are we?” She didn’t know what to think but even she could hear the hope and desperation in her own voice.
Dre pulled her close, brushing his fingers through the nape of her hair. “I think you’d make an amazing mother.”
She pressed herself against him, drawing on his strength. “But a baby? I – I can’t even get pregnant. How -?”
“Shhh, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. For now, I just want to know if we’re on the same page. Do you want to have a child with me, Maya?”
“Yes! Oh my God, yes!” She pulled him in for a kiss. This was crazy, she was crazy for even thinking about it but…a baby! Andrei’s baby.
She couldn’t get pregnant. They’d tried for three months and nothing. Maya’s enthusiasm had dwindled each time the pregnancy test result came back negative. So now they were meeting with Brian and a potential surrogate, Mildred LaFontaine.
“It is so good to meet you, Dr. Gates has told me such wonderful things!” Millie, as she preferred to be called, gushed.
“Thank you.” Dre looked like he wanted to be anywhere but in the room and Maya couldn’t blame him. But they didn’t have any other options, she simply was not a viable candidate. It broke her heart to admit it but it was the truth.
“I’ve taken the liberty of drawing up the contracts. If all parties are in agreement, we can sign them and get started right away.” Brian pulled out a sheaf of papers and placed them on the coffee table.
The meeting was just a formality, really. She and Dre had a dossier on Millie. Mildred LaFontaine was a second generation werewolf originally from Bridgeport. She worked at uGenex and had volunteered to be their surrogate. Her bloodwork was complete, she was a healthy female, 25 years old and she was stunning. One of the things that Brian had warned them about was the potential of some of Millie’s DNA being passed on to the child.
We could do a lot worse, Maya thought, staring into Millie’s brilliantly grey eyes.
Maya had rejected the offer initially but there was no one else. Eva was out of the question. Asking her didn’t seem right, especially since she couldn’t have any more children of her own. That left Abbey, Maya’s sister. The only problem was, Abbey didn’t know she was alive.
Pasting on a smile, Maya said, “We are so excited!” Then reached for the papers.
She was in a room with two werewolves and a vampire. She wasn’t fooling anyone.
“Fantastic,” Millie said.
Dre stepped back to survey the day’s work. They were going to be parents! As per Maya’s request, he was setting up the crib in the nursery in preparation for the baby, even though they still had six months to go.
At first, the thought of a surrogate had felt offensive, as if the universe were saying that Maya wasn’t good enough. He’d entered the agreement only partially convinced that it would be fruitful.
They’d been successful on the first try. In fact, Millie was supposed to come by and spend the day with them.
He went to take a shower and as he got dressed, he heard feminine voices in the backyard. He looked out the window and saw Millie in a bathing suit that showed off her bump. He felt a flutter of excitement at the thought that his and Maya’s baby was growing in there. “Take your time, little peanut,” he whispered. “Grow well.”
He cleared his throat and noticed that Millie was looking up at him and waving. He waved and stepped back to finish dressing before heading down the stairs and out the back door.
Coming around the pool he smiled at Millie. “Hey, how are you feeling?”
“I’m doing well! The nausea has finally stopped and I feel energetic again.”
“That’s great, Millie. I’m glad. Sorry peanut has given you so much trouble.”
She giggled and said, “Okay, so I came here specifically because I had some news to share.”
“Oh?” Dre frowned. She’d just said she was fine, so what could be the problem?
Millie raised her hands as if ready to brace him. “I had an ultrasound yesterday and…”
“We’re having twins!”
“What!” He must not have heard right. Had she said twins?
“I know right? That’s why I’ve been so tired. I was on a diet for one baby but I’m having two! Now that my doctor has adjusted everything, me and your peanuts are doing great!”
“Oh my God, that’s fantastic news. Have you told Maya?”
“Not yet, I wanted you to be the first to know.”
Maya had watched Millie from the kitchen, brows knitted in frustration. She wasn’t a jealous person by nature. It had been her idea to invite the woman over but now that Millie was here, Maya wanted nothing more than to ask her to leave.
She watched as Dre placed his hand against Millie’s stomach, to try to feel the baby, no doubt. It made her uncomfortable. Sometimes when she was talking to the woman, she felt unwanted, like she was the third party. And in a way, she was. She couldn’t offer Dre anything. If he wanted to know how the baby was doing, he’d talk to Millie. If he wanted to talk to his child or touch Peanut’s resting place, he’d have to go to Millie, just like he was doing now.
Maya shook herself from these thoughts. She would not be jealous of the woman who had volunteered to carry her child. Millie hadn’t asked for compensation, although Dre had demanded that he and Maya at least pay her medical bills. Millie had been horribly ill the first three months but always had a smile and cheerful words.
There was nothing wrong with her. Maya just didn’t like her.
Finally, as the sun began to set, she walked out of the house to join the two of them by the pool.
“Maya, there you are!” Dre called her over, reaching out to wrap an arm around her still slim waist. He dropped a kiss against her hair, murmured a quiet, “I love you,” and turned back to Millie. “Millie just told me some great news.”
He always knew. He’d told her once that he could sense her and how she was feeling. She’d asked if it was a wolf thing and he’d said, “Partially. It’s also a you thing. I’m attuned to you in a way that I’m not with anyone else.”
“Really? What news?” She looked at Millie’s smiling face.
“You and I are having twins!” Dre kissed her again, a gentle nuzzle on the side of her neck. It was a favorite spot of his since they’d mated and he’d marked her.
And because she was looking at her, Maya noticed when Millie’s smile dimmed. A look of hurt crossing her features.
They cooked some steaks to celebrate and Millie spent the rest of the day floating in the pool, hands resting on her protruding stomach.
Maya and Dre sat quietly on the small bridge that spanned the pool and watched the stars. It was a peaceful July night and she’d begun to feel sleepy when she heard a splash.
Looking over, she saw Millie swimming towards the ladder. Probably another pee break. She needed a lot of those. Maya turned back to Dre, a small smile on her face. There were some perks to not being pregnant, at least.
Dre was the first person to register the small thud. He was up and running before Maya could even register that something was wrong.
When she saw Millie lying on the ground unconscious, her heart skipped a beat.
“Call the doctor, Maya.” Dre was checking for a pulse and once he confirmed she was still alive, he scooped her up and headed for the house. He looked back at Maya’s frozen form. “NOW Maya!”
She shook herself out of her daze and pulled out her phone, running in front of Dre to hold the back door open for him. “Hello, Emergency? I have an unconscious pregnant woman. We live at…”
Millie was placed on bed rest. Her doctor had feared that any stress could cause a miscarriage.
Dre and Maya had immediately opened their home to her.
It was a mixed success. Being on the island seemed to be good for her. Fresh air, no weather fluctuations, fresh fruits and veggies. But Millie was a somewhat timid woman and the more Dre had tried to make her feel welcome, the more she seemed to get flustered. He’d worried that she was unhappy, so far away from her friends and family. The same worry he shared about Maya.
Maya had eventually pulled him aside and explained that the girl was attracted to him. He’d been flabbergasted. He’d immediately tried to reassure Maya that he’d done nothing to encourage Millie’s crush.
He still wasn’t sure if she believed him.
Dre was lying in bed, body tangled up with Maya’s when the soft glow from the automatic lights in the backyard caught his attention.
Maya stopped nibbling on his ear and sighed. “I guess she’s walking around again. You should go.”
Dre gave Maya a deep, open-mouthed kiss before getting out of bed and finding some clothes. In the last month, the doctor had given Millie permission to go on short walks. She was in her last trimester and things were looking good health-wise. Millie had taken to walking at night.
As he made his way downstairs, he could see the draw of a nighttime stroll. Being a wolf, he found nights when the moon was out to be the most peaceful. Millie was bound to feel the same.
“Millie?” She looked exhausted, with bags under each eye and she was in her underwear. Clearly, she hadn’t thought this out before she’d left her room.
“Hi. I’m sorry if I woke you.” She lowered her head and wouldn’t look at him. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“Hey, no worries. But umm, aren’t you cold?” He felt awkward standing there talking to this very young woman who was wearing next to nothing. He couldn’t help but stare at her belly, though. His daughters were in there. Each time he saw Millie, he was filled with awe at the incredible gift she was giving to his family.
“What? Oh, no. I’m feeling a bit warm actually. I wanted to take a dip in the pool.” She blushed. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, really.” They stared at each other for a while and Dre finally said, “Well, I’ll let you get back to it then. But not for very long, okay?”
“Okay, Andrei.” She looked at him with a longing that made him terribly uncomfortable.
Maya looked out the window at Dre and Millie talking to each other and saw the way Millie looked at her husband. After months of watching Dre interact with the woman, she knew she didn’t have to worry. He was kind and funny and accommodating but that was just him being Dre.
He was also extra attentive to Maya. He’d always found some excuse to be near her but now he was super alert, constantly touching her and the sex was just phenomenal!
She felt kind of bad for Millie. It would drive her nuts if she had to live in the same house with a man she was in love with – and his wife – while carrying their children.
But though she could understand, Maya still struggled to tamp down her jealous and envious feelings when she saw them together like that. And Millie didn’t make it easy.
Case-in-point: She was practically naked, with the moonlight shining on her pregnancy-induced glowing skin, her shiny hair and her amazing eyes. Which Maya was sure was glowing too.
Millie would be bound to Dre and Maya for the rest of their lives. Whether it was what any of them wanted or not.
Sighing, she crawled into bed to wait for her husband to come back to her.
This was decidedly awkward.
“Can we try some with her clothes on?” Maya mumbled under her breath. Because Millie was still unable to travel, they’d set up the maternity shoot in the living room. The doctor had warned that the babies could come any day now, especially because it was a complicated pregnancy.
So she and Dre sat off-camera while Millie paraded around in her underwear, taking pictures while she held her belly.
Maya was over it all.
She was making a greater effort to engage with Millie. As she got rounder, Millie was becoming more dependent on her and Dre. She didn’t go out at all anymore and spent most days listening to classical music, sitting in the rocking chair and humming concertos to her stomach.
She loved those babies and she was putting her body through hell to try to carry to term. Maya was trying to be mindful of that and ignore the looks that Millie still threw Dre’s way on occasion.
“Okay,” said the photographer. “I think that’s it for the naked belly. Do you want to get dressed now? I’ll take a couple more and then mommy and daddy can take a few with you.”
Maya’s mood did an 180-degree turn. Mommy and daddy. That was the first time someone outside their family had called them that.
Dre, who up to that point, had been looking through a photo book, glanced back at her and smiled. She must be projecting her feelings again. “I love you, mommy.”
She could hardly contain her excitement and it escaped in a fit of giggles. “I love you too, daddy.”
She glanced up to see Millie watching them, a genuine smile on her face.
Maybe this could work out.
The yell came in the early morning hours of December 24th. Maya jerked awake and was running out the bedroom door in minutes, right behind Dre.
They rushed to Millie’s room to find her standing there, a sheepish look on her face.
“Is everything alright?” Dre stepped into the room, the worry and fear practically pouring off him. Millie was due in three weeks and they’d been walking on eggshells, afraid that any sudden movement might cause her to go into early labor.
“I’m so sorry! I was trying to be quiet and get as much ready as I could before you woke up.”
Maya frowned. “Get ready for what?”
Millie smiled at Dre. “The baby. My water broke late last night/early this morning. The contractions are still a thirty minutes apart, so we have some time. I just – I’ve been trying to keep busy.”
“Millie, you should have come and told us, we would have stayed up with you.”
She glanced at Maya. “I know but there’s nothing to do really, just wait. I think we can head out to the hospital in another fifteen minutes. I was just coming to your room. Really, I was.”
Maya started to say something but was interrupted by a low moan from Millie. Her eyes flashed and she doubled over in pain. Reaching a hand out, she clutched her stomach with the other. Dre immediately took the outstretched limb, offering support the only way he could.
Maya glanced at them, confirmed that Dre had everything under control and said, “I’m going to get dressed and warm up the car. We should head to the hospital now.”
She left and went to get ready.
They made it to the hospital in record time and the doctor admonished them for waiting so long to call. Millie was ushered into a room and Maya sat outside in the waiting room. Dre had gone in, his hand still in Millie’s tight grip.
An hour later, a tired looking Andrei came out, worry and stress marking his face.
“Is everything okay?” Maya ran up to him. She’d been sitting outside waiting for word and no one seemed to know what was happening.
Dre pulled her into his arms. “It’s – it’s not looking good, Maya. She’s having a hard time and the girls aren’t cooperating. They’ve turned themselves completely around. The doctor thinks one might even have the cord around her neck. They want to go to surgery.”
Maya felt nauseous. This was the worst-case-scenario that all the parenting books swore would never happen. She needed to sit down. To come so far…
“Millie wants to talk to you.”
“I didn’t think you’d come.”
Maya walked further inside the hospital room. There were a couple of nurses in the corner but otherwise, she and Millie were alone.
“I didn’t think you’d want me in here.”
Millie frowned. “Of course I did. I do. You’ve just never seemed interested, you know…”
Maya could see how she would think that. Way to make the woman carrying your babies feel appreciated. Go team!
“I’m sorry, Millie. I never meant to give that impression.” Maya sighed. “But you have to admit, it’s been a little awkward.”
As if that was the opening she’d been waiting for, Millie burst into tears. “Oh Maya, I am so sorry. I never – I never meant for any of this to happen. I just wanted to help. I – I saw him once. Dre, I mean. When he came to visit his brother at work. I saw him and I – oh I’ve been such a fool!”
Maya stood there, stunned. What the hell did she say to that? “Umm, it’s okay Millie. Dre has that effect on a lot of people.” She tried to laugh it off but inside her gut was wrenching. Had Millie planned to get close to them all along?
Suddenly, Millie sat up with a cry of pain. Maya bent towards her, placing a hand on her back as she tried to help her breath through the contraction.
What did it matter how or why Millie had happened? She was here now and she was in trouble. Maya gave her a hand to squeeze while she labored.
Millie wasn’t finished, though. “I love these little girls as if they were my own and I will do anything to see them born, I promise, Maya. I – I love Dre but I love you too. You’re -” She cut off to pant and tears streamed down her face. “You’re everything I wish I was and I am so grateful I got to be a fly on the wall of your life.”
They were silent for a while, with Millie doing her breathing exercises and trying not to bear down. Finally, she took a deep breath and let go of Maya’s hand. With some help, she laid back down on the bed and wiped away her tears. “I won’t let you down. I swear.”
Maya shushed her. “It’s okay Millie. I just want you to try to be strong. You and the girls are all that matter. You are what’s most important right now. Nothing else matters. Okay?”
Millie smiled and looked up at her. “Okay, Maya.”
“What are we supposed to tell them when they ask?”
Maya turned to look down at Ainsley and Rosalie. They were little miracles and just looking at them made her want to cry and laugh at the same time. Dre placed his warm hands on her shoulders and a soft kiss on her neck.
“We’ll tell them the truth, that Millie was a brave and amazing woman who loved them very much. We’ll tell them she fought until the very end to make sure they were born healthy and safe.”
Maya turned in his arms and hugged him close. She let the tears flow down her face. That’s exactly what she’d tell them. And, she thought, she loved their daddy and mommy and we loved her. She was family.
Maya thought about all the months Millie lived with them, growing these two perfect human beings. She’d sacrificed her life – both literally and figuratively – to do this thing for them, virtual strangers. Her reasons had been born out of love from the beginning. Maya wished she’d made more of an effort to reach out to that shy woman she’d seen but she’d been jealous and mired in all the things she didn’t have. You would think she’d have learned to appreciate life and focus on the joys and not the disappointments.
Maya would never forget Millie and she’d make sure her girls didn’t either.
“I can’t believe they are both knocked out.” Maya turned to look at Dre, amazed at their luck.
“Yeah, let’s hope it lasts for the duration of the shoot.” Dre kissed the tip of her nose.
“Do you think people will mind that the card is so late this year?”
He rolled his eyes. “The girls were born on Christmas day, Maya. They’re lucky there’s a card at all. I don’t know when you found the time to set this up.”
“A mommy’s work is never done.”
“No, no it’s not.” He looked at her with so much love in his eyes that she lost her breath.
“I love you, Dre.”
“I love you more, Maya.”
He looked down at their sleeping infants and wrapped his arms around her to help with their weight.
Maya looked up at their very first family photo and smiled.
“Merry Christmas, Millie,” she murmured.
“Okay mom and dad, we’re ready to rock and roll!” The photographer stepped in front of them, adjusting a camera and Maya turned her attention to him.