The sample has gone up on iBooks for In an Instant, so for those without iBooks, here it is. :D
This is still undergoing final editing and proofreading.
Stop reading if you haven't read In a Lifetime, as this contains spoilers!
I groaned, rolling over to hit the ‘off’ button on the alarm clock. Four a.m.
Ella stirred beside me, and I slid my arm across her chest.
“Sam,” she whispered.
I froze. What the hell was this about? “Ella?”
“Don’t.” She rolled onto her back, her eyes still closed, and I scanned her features as best I could in the moonlit room. She shook her head. Years ago I read that you shouldn’t wake someone in the middle of a dream, so I held her tight instead.
She stilled. “Matt?” Her eyes flickered open.
“Hey. You were dreaming.”
“Sam took Finn away.” She gasped between words. The sound of her struggling not to cry broke my heart.
“Baby, Sam will never take Finn away. You know that.”
“I know, but it was so real.” Tears rolled down her cheeks, and I wiped them away with my fingers, kissing her temple.
“Is this the first dream you’ve had like this?”
She shook her head. “No. I’ve had a few.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Ella shrugged, and I stroked her cheek with my thumb.
“I thought we weren’t going to keep anything from one another.”
She rolled to her side, facing me, and I bent my head, brushing her lips with mine. “I need to know what’s going on in your head,” I whispered.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to worry you. It’s nothing.”
I rested my hand on her hair, pushing wayward locks back off her face. “Ella, I’ll always worry. You’re my one.”
Her lips curled into a smile, and she snuggled up to me. “I know. You’re my one, too.”
I loved this woman with all my heart and soul. Having her next to me each and every night warmed me to the depths of my being.
She’d taken to sleeping in one of my shirts when she was pregnant with Finn, and never stopped. As much as I loved her naked, it drove me crazy seeing her in it, and the soft fabric pressed against my bare chest stirred the rest of my body awake.
“I want you to promise me that you won’t worry about it. Sam knows where we are to talk to us, and one day maybe he’ll want to be part of Finn’s life. But you and me are it for Finn, and Sam knows that. If he wants to be part of Finn’s life, it’ll be on our terms.” I planted a kiss on her nose, reaching over her to flick on the bedside lamp.
Ella squinted as the soft light filled the room, but now I could see her properly, make sure she really was okay.
“You’re right.” She sighed.
“I’m always right.”
Her throaty laugh filled the room, her voice still a little husky from sleep. I loved her so much like this.
I licked my lips. “So … uh … there’s still about fifteen minutes or so before I have to go out for milking.”
“And?” One of her eyebrows crept up, but the smile in her eyes told me she knew exactly what I was meaning. “You are terrible, Matt Carver. So early in the morning.”
“With you, it’s all times of the day. Not just in the morning.”
I wriggled out of her grasp, moving down to kiss her thigh. “You’re overdressed.”
“I’m only wearing a shirt.”
I slid my hand up her leg, pausing at the apex where her thighs met. “If I’d known you weren’t wearing underwear, I would never have let you sleep.”
Our life together was perfection, and there was no better start to the day than being buried between the thighs of the woman I loved more than life itself.
My soul mate.
Up until the point I met Ella, I wouldn’t have believed in any of that crap, but the connection I had with this woman was magical. We were meant to be together.
Her father usually took care of the cows, and I got longer in bed, but he and Ella’s mother had recently gone on their first real holiday in years. They were currently on a cruise ship somewhere around Australia. For the next week, I’d have to leave the soft, warm bed I shared with my wife and shiver down the path to the cowshed every morning.
I slipped back into my underwear and grabbed a shirt from the drawer near the bed. I’d have a shower when I returned. There was no point doing so now when I was only going out to get dirty.
Ella’s father, Eric, had employed a part-time farm hand who helped in the mornings with the cows. I was grateful for his assistance. It wasn’t exactly my favourite thing to do, but needed to be done.
The herd wasn’t huge; Eric had about fifty cows at the most. He provided milk to a small cheese factory nearby, and sometimes we were given the end result of his hard work. Despite my best efforts, I’d gained a few kilograms since moving.
“I’ll be glad when Dad’s back and I get to snuggle with you for a bit longer.” Ella smiled. All I wanted to do was to climb back into bed with her, but if I did that, I’d never get back out of it. I pulled on my jeans instead.
“I’ll get going. See you when I’m finished.” I kissed her once more. She cupped my face, pressing her lips back to mine.
I left the house with a song in my heart, the recent memory of our bodies pressed together bringing a smile to my lips.
Oh yes, life was good.
The morning turned out to be a mess. Instead of crawling back early to my warm bed with my wife, I ended up repairing some fencing as some unexpected woolly guests ended up in the wrong paddock. It wasn’t a big gap, but enough that I spent the next four hours fixing the problem and rounding up the escapees. In the distance I saw Ella, hanging out the laundry on the clothesline, the kids running in circles around her.
I knew she loved every minute of it.
Later, when they were in bed, she would tell me the stories of how they drove her crazy, alternating between playing and fighting. Every day was an adventure for the three of them, and I loved seeing them all so happy. The best feeling in the world was coming in from a hard day’s work to a chorus of “Daddy” and holding my precious children in my arms.
Ella turned, laughing as she caught Georgia in her arms, spinning her. The sound carried on the breeze toward me, music to my ears.
She spotted me, waving and holding Georgia’s hand in the air. At the sight of me, my little girl waved, and soon all three of them were calling out, their arms gesturing wildly. Ella reached for Finn, and he slid his hand into hers.
It must be close to eleven o’clock. Both the children had naps around now.
“Matt, the sheep are all sorted. Want me to do anything else?” Liam, the part-timer and also Vanessa’s ex boyfriend, stood behind me.
“I think we’re good. Thanks for helping with those damn things. They’ll be the death of me.”
He grinned. “Mr Brown will be back soon enough to take care of them. You know how much he loves it.”
I shook my head, laughing. “I’ll always remember the first time I came here. The sheep were the first thing he showed me.”
“I bet. I’ll catch you tomorrow, then.”
He stalked toward his car. Most mornings, he’d ask if I’d heard from Vanessa lately. They’d broken up before she moved to Auckland for university. While she’d moved on and was living with her boyfriend, Connor, Liam was obviously a little hung up on her still.
That rusty old bucket of bolts he drove started with a shudder, and I shook my head again as he drove away, the dust kicking up from under the car tyres.
I turned back to the house. The kids would be asleep by now if they had followed their usual routine, and Ella and I would have an hour or two uninterrupted before we all had lunch together.
I’d almost made it back when the sound of gravel crunching under tyres made me turn. Who on earth was that?
An unfamiliar silver sedan drew closer, pulling up in the grass about twenty metres away. The driver’s door opened, and a tall, dark-haired man climbed out and walked toward me.
I narrowed my eyes at the sight of him. Not only had I missed out on climbing back into bed with my wife this morning, the last person I wanted to see had arrived.
“Hey, Matt.” Sam smiled, like nothing had ever happened. The last time we’d spoken was my wedding day, when he’d admitted to working out Finn was his and told me to take care of him.
There was only one thing he could want.
“Sam.” It was hard to be polite to the man who had broken Ella’s heart. But then, if he hadn’t, would we be here at all?
“I’m sorry for just dropping in. I thought if I called, you’d tell me where to go. Hell, you still could.”
I nodded. This shouldn’t hurt as much as it did, but it was difficult to see him without remembering all the time we’d spent together. From two young boys starting school through to two grown men graduating university together, we’d been inseparable.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
“I had to see him.”
I didn’t have to ask who he was talking about. If it wasn’t me, there was only one ‘he’ Sam could mean. Finn.
“You can’t just turn up like this. How do you think Ella’s going to take it?”
He took a step closer. “I’ve thought of nothing else. If she doesn’t want me to see him, I’ll get in my car and drive away. I promise.”
That just made things even harder. I couldn’t be angry at him being unreasonable when he wasn’t.
“Sam, I can’t even begin to know how Ella is going to take you being here.”
He licked his lips, the corners of his mouth turning up into a smile. “I understand. I thought it was time I took a chance. I’m not surprised to find you living here, either. You liked this place so much.”
I swallowed. Hard. I’d turned my back on him when he’d hurt Ella so badly, but there had always been a part of me that missed Sam. He’d been like my brother.
“We love being here. It’s a good place to raise the children.”
He grinned. “I bet it is. I was never a fan of the country, but I can see it’s doing you the world of good. You’re looking pretty well taken care of.”
“If you’re trying to say I’m out of shape, that’s far from the case.” I laughed, before the realisation that I’d just slipped back into that friendly banter I’d always shared with him slapped me in the face.
“I bet, Mr Fitness. No, I mean you’re looking well. Ella does a great job of looking after the people she loves.” His voice cracked. He’d thrown all that away, and it was something I would never take for granted.
“Look, I’ll go and talk to Ella. If she tells me she doesn’t want anything to do with you …”
“I’ll leave it for a while and try again another day. I don’t want to hurt either of you. I just want to see him.”
I let out a loud breath, torn about all of this. We’d always known Sam would come looking for Finn one day. Finn had been with me since the day he was born, and I couldn’t imagine my life without him as my son. I was the one he called Dad, the one he came to when he skinned his knees, the one who read to him as he drifted off to sleep.
Finn was mine as much as Ella’s and Sam’s.
“I don’t want to disrupt your relationship with him. You know of all the people on this planet, there’s no one else I’d want raising him. It’s my own fault I wasn’t there.”
My mouth was so dry, and I found myself unable to form any other words in that moment. We’d been so close in the past; no matter how far apart we’d been, we just knew one another so well.
“I’ll be back shortly. Wait here and one or both of us will be out.” I turned toward the house.
“I’m not just here for Finn, Matt. I miss us.”
I stopped, closing my eyes. Until that moment, I’d thought nothing could break down my dislike of him. Before Ella, before all the bad things, I’d loved him. Now, his words raked across the edges of my nerves, pressing on that tiny bit of feeling I still had. Deep down, I missed us, too.
Sam had been by my side through all the good times and the bad. Right up until the moment when he’d crossed the line and hurt the woman we both loved.
“I know you, and I know how much you feel all that emotional shit. You’ve missed me too. Admit it.”
Fighting the urge to just walk away, I looked back over my shoulder. “I’m not admitting anything. I’ll go and talk to my wife, and maybe you can say your piece to her. That’s all you’re getting from me.”
As I reached the door, I closed my eyes. Ella and her dreams. Of all the days for him to turn up, it had to be the same day she’d dreamed of this moment.
How the hell was she going to react?
Ariadne Wayne is the pen name of an overworked, often exhausted mother of two who frequently turns to the internet for relaxation. It doesn't always work...