Part One : Millie’s Rose
“Wake up, Danny Boy,” Millie Handley whispered, her breath a caress against Dan’s cheek. “It’s beautiful this morning.”
He opened his eyes to the sunrise filtering though the lace curtains, and moaned in protest. “Looks cold.”
“Let’s get out of here.”
Dan pulled his wife closer, matching her soft curves to his harder lines under the warmth of homemade quilts. “Let’s not.”
“We could go fishing at the lake.”
“I hate fishing.”
“Liar.” Millie laughed. Her long, blonde hair caught in his stubble as she snuggled into him.
“Shh.” He ran his lips along the graceful curve of her neck, tasting the salt of her skin. “You’ll wake the dog.”
“We could take Dolly to the park.”
“She hates the park.”
“She does not.”
“She does. She told me.” He slipped her nightgown higher along her thigh. “Let’s stay here.”
“We could pack a lunch and go for a drive along the river.”
“I hate the river.” He inched her nightgown higher yet, tickling the sensitive skin of her inner thigh, and smiled when her breath caught. Even after ten years of marriage, she still responded to his touch. And she could still drop him with a smile.
She laid a brilliant one upon him. “The trees are beautiful this time of year.”
“I hate trees,” he growled. With an awkward, caveman tug, he pulled her pesky nightgown over her head and pitched it across the room. “But I do love this view.”
Millie’s beautiful laughter filled the bedroom as she rolled onto her back and stretched her arms above her head, giving Dan better access to his favorite places. He propped himself up onto an elbow and ran his fingers in lazy circles around her navel, imagined her belly swelling with life beneath his hand.
When they’d first married, they were too busy experiencing life to think of creating one. For the past six years, they’d been not ‘not-trying’ for a family, while secretly hoping for a happy accident. When it didn’t happen, they’d started to try for real. Eight months had passed, without success, but Dan held onto his faith.
She stilled his hand with hers. “Someday. Right?”
He placed a gentle kiss to her neck, just below the ear. “Someday,” he promised in whisper.
He shifted to settle into the cradle of her hips and brushed her sleep-tangled hair from her face. His gaze traveled her features, her freckles, a tiny blemish high on her cheek. Her eyes twinkled bright as her baby blues looked deep into him.
“You’re staring,” she teased.
“So are you.”
“Always.” She smiled, beautiful in the morning light.
Just as he was going in for the kiss that would make her forget about ever leaving the warmth of their bed, Millie’s cell phone chirped in ring. He growled in frustration.
“Poor baby,” she teased as she tried to wiggle from beneath him to reach for the phone. He pinned her with his weight and nibbled at her neck, tickling her mercilessly. “Dan!”
At the second ring, Dolly rose from her nest of blankets on the floor and started to bark. Dan pitched a pillow in the direction of the black Lab, who took it as an invitation to play. Struggling with her arthritic hips, but determined as a puppy, she clambered up onto the bed.
Millie took advantage of Dan’s distraction to snatch the phone off the nightstand. “Hello?”
“Tell ‘em we don’t want any.”
“This is Millie Handley,” Millie said into the phone.
Barking and ready to wrestle, Dolly jumped around on the bed. Dan grabbed onto the dog, but she dodged his headlock. Pushing her weight into his chest, she pinned him against the mattress and licked his face. Dan laughed and ducked away from her doggy kisses.
“Yes, I understand… I’ll be there tomorrow morning.” Millie disconnected the phone and gently placed it on the nightstand.
“Who was on the phone?” he asked with Dolly still lapping at his ear, but the laughter died when he saw the pallor of Millie’s face. “Mills?”
Slowly, carefully, as though afraid to make any sudden movement, she turned her back to him and whispered again, “Let’s get out of here.”
“Who was on the phone?” Dan repeated. Rougher than he intended, he pushed Dolly away and scooped Millie into his arms. “Baby, who was on the phone?”
“Take me somewhere today. Anywhere. I don’t care where. Just get me out of here.”
“Anywhere you want to go, we’ll go,” Dan promised in a hoarse whisper. He stroked Millie’s hair and wiped away her tears. “Who was on the phone?”
“Dr. Frazier.” With a trembling hand, she touched his face. “My cancer’s back.”