Chapter Thirty-Three

Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into a month. Fall arrived and with it came Thanksgiving. A feast was held at Carson Drew's home. Hannah cooked the turkey. She insisted. Vanessa made mashed potatoes, stuffing, and deviled eggs. According to Joe, no one made better deviled eggs than Vanessa. Nancy, whose cooking skills were not quite on par with Vanessa's or Hannah's, kept her dishes simple. She brought sautéed green beans and a salad.

Laura and Fenton Hardy flew out for the holiday. Their last visit to River Heights had been almost a year ago. At that visit, their sons had gotten married in a double wedding right after Christmas.

The women were in the kitchen. Laura had brought store bought pies – pumpkin and apple – as her contribution to the meal. She hated the fact she couldn't contribute a real home cooked item, but staying at a hotel meant buying something rather last minute.

Hannah, with Vanessa's help, pulled the turkey out of the oven and set it on the counter.

Nancy stood in awe. "Hannah, you've outdone yourself again. That turkey is roasted to perfection."

"Well," Hannah said, laying her oven mitts on the counter, "I've had a few years of practice. Just a few, mind you." She added with a smile and a pointed finger.

Nancy laughed at her dear, sweet housekeeper. "Oh, Hannah. What would dad and I ever have done without you?" And with that, Nancy hugged Hannah affectionately and whispered in her ear, "I love you so very much, Hannah."

Nancy let go of Hannah and the older woman waved a hand in front of her face to chase away tears. "Now, now. Enough of that, Nancy. We have food to get on the table. I'm sure the menfolk are hungry. Better tell your father we need his assistance. It's time for him and that knife of his."

"Knife?" Vanessa asked, wide-eyed and curious. She was stirring a pan of turkey gravy. "Whatever is this about Carson and a knife?"

Nancy touched Vanessa on the arm and smiled. "Turkey carving. It's my dad's one and only job during the holidays and he takes it quite seriously. Years ago he bought an electric knife just for carving the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys."

"That knife has seen us through many a holiday," Hannah said with a grin as she handed Nancy a large bowl filled to the rim with fluffy mashed potatoes. "Here, put this on the table, dear. That ought to get the men's attention."

Nancy took the heavy bowl. "I'm sure it will and if the potatoes don't get their attention the smell of that gravy will." Nancy tipped her head in the direction of Vanessa's creamy gravy, bubbling on the stove.

Vanessa smiled. "Joe claims he can't eat mashed potatoes without it."

Laura Hardy gave a slight chuckle. "Oh he can, but he wouldn't like them half as much. I'm looking forward to tasting that gravy, Van."

"We all are," Nancy said as she made her way to the dining room. Before disappearing, she added, "Van is an awesome cook."

Nancy placed the bowl of mashed potatoes on the dining room table and surveyed the beautiful place settings. Nice china only used at the holidays and special occasions. Rather a waste if Nancy really thought about it and decided she wouldn't. Not today. Nice silverware and crystal glasses. Also rarely used. Another pity. The tablecloth was fine linen and marred by a few, faint stains skillfully hidden by careful placement of plates and candles. No one wanted to replace the tablecloth. It had been purchased by Nancy's mother a year before her death and had been used ever since. It stood as a tribute to Elizabeth Drew. She might not be present in person, but the tablecloth was a poignant reminder of her existence.

Nancy glanced at the men in the living room. Joe and Fenton were seated on the sofa, Joe stuffing the last deviled egg in his mouth. Fenton nodded his head at something Joe had said and sipped his drink. Frank and her father stood behind the sofa, drinks in hand, engaged in conversation. Nancy's gaze snagged on Frank and the strong line of his back. She felt the invisible, but undeniable connection between them. He glanced at her and smiled. She smiled back, her mind replaying his lips on hers last night and the gentle way he had brushed her hair over her shoulder so he could kiss her neck. She remembered his touch and how he had made love to her and how his muscular arms had held her securely afterwards.

Frank frowned and her heart jumped to her throat. She realized that Frank and her father had been discussing Gena Nettles, actually, the whole Nettles clan. Nancy was positive. Her father had asked her a few light questions regarding Jimbo Nettles over the past weeks and she had avoided answering as politely as possible. Discussing Jimbo, Gena, or any of the Nettles was not something she wished to do. Not with her father. Her father was keen on keeping himself abreast of the developments in Gena's trial and had wondered if Nancy was doing so, too. Yes, of course she was. Chief Brennan called Frank on a fairly regular basic and updated him on Gena and when her trial would start. Frank, in turn, updated Nancy.

Jimbo had forgone a trial and pled guilty to kidnapping, rape, and assault charges. His cooperation had gotten him twenty-five years in prison instead of a life sentence. Lewis Nettles had remained stoic, said little to nothing, did admit his guilt though, and received a life sentence. The judge had insisted on the harsher sentence due to the brutal beating Lewis had inflicted on Alison. Donnie Nettles had received an eight-year sentence with the possibility of parole after five years for his part in Nancy's kidnapping.

Nancy was satisfied with the outcomes. Jimbo had gotten what he deserved. Every time he picked up his cane … every time he limped to the exercise yard … every time he swallowed medicine for the pain in his leg he would think of Nancy. He would remember what he had done to her and how she had fought back. She wondered if he ever asked himself, Was it worth it?

His mother, however, planned to fight to the bitter end. Gena Nettles, the iron woman, was determined to have her day in court. Jimbo was set to testify against her.

"She can't win," Chief Brennan kept telling Frank, "and I think she knows that. There's too much evidence against her, but it's not in Gena's nature to give up. That's okay by me. I plan on being in court the day she loses. It's a day I'll be happy to see it."

Nancy would be happy to hear about it. She had no plans to go to the trial. Although, Chief Brennan had warned her she might be called as a witness. He didn't really think so since the prosecutor had the tape from the interrogation, but still, he thought it best Nancy be prepared for the possibility. She was and it might be one of the reasons she had no desire to discuss the particulars of Gena or Jimbo with her father. If she wound up being a witness she didn't want to sound rehearsed. Frank, thankfully, was willing to fill her father in on all the latest details. Nancy appreciated that.

Her heart was no longer in her throat, but still, there was something there making it difficult to speak. Sadness. Sadness about what had happened. But, she told herself, it had not changed her relationship with Frank. On the contrary, it had made their relationship stronger, welded them tighter together. An unbreakable bond born of adversity.

Here are the two men in my life, she thought. I love them both dearly and they love me just as dearly. Nancy was truly blessed and knew it. She put a bright smile on her face and said, "Dad, your presence is needed in the kitchen. It's time to carve the turkey."

Joe came off the sofa, dabbing his mouth with a napkin. "Aha! The feasting is about to begin. That's good because I'm starving."

Frank laughed, (as did Fenton), and said, "You finished off most of the deviled eggs, crackers, and cheese. How can you be starving?"

Joe wagged a finger at his brother. "You underestimate me, bro. I prepared for this feast. I got up early this morning and did a two mile run. Then I went to the gym and hit the weights. After that I did thirty minutes on the punching bag. I've worked up one helluva an appetite."

Frank raised an eyebrow. "Impressive, but you didn't help Vanessa with any of the cooking?"

Joe shrugged and waved a hand. "Nah, she said she preferred me out of her hair while she cooked. I was happy to oblige. Worked out for both of us."

Laura came out of the kitchen and smiled at Carson as he went in.

"What can I do to help?" Fenton asked his wife.

"Nothing," Laura said. "Hannah and Vanessa have everything under control. They shooed me out of the kitchen. I came here looking for a glass of wine."

"I'd love a glass, too," Nancy said stepping closer to Laura.

"I can handle that," Frank said, moving to a credenza that was setup as a drink station. "What would you like, mom? White or red, dry or sweet?"

Laura eyed the selection of wine bottles on the credenza and said, "That Chardonnay will be fine, thank you."

Frank picked up the bottle. "Got it. And a Riesling for you, Nan?"

"Yes, please." Nancy smiled at Frank. "You know me so well."

Frank smiled back. "I make it my job to know you and your favorite things." He poured two glasses of wine, handed one to his mother and the other to his wife. "Here you go, ladies."

The whine of an electric knife could be heard in the kitchen. Vanessa came out carrying Nancy's big bowl of salad. She smiled at everyone as she placed the bowl on the table. "It should only be a few more minutes and we'll have everything on the table."

Joe was happy to hear that. He truly was hungry.

Nancy and Laura set their wine glasses on the table and went to help move food dishes from the kitchen to the dining room. Joe poured Vanessa a glass of her favorite sparkling grape juice.

"Here," he said placing the wine glass in Vanessa's hand. "Have a seat and relax. Nancy and my mom can get the rest."

"If you insist." Vanessa sipped the juice and said, "I am a bit tired. It's been a busy morning."

At last, everyone was seated around the table and plates were piled with food. Laughter and good cheer filled the room. Toasts were given by Carson and Fenton – deep thanks for their children and cherished family members (Hannah).

Then Joe stood to give a toast. "Now that I have everyone's attention," he began and paused.

Laura cast her husband a questioning look. Fenton shrugged. Don't ask me what Joe's going to say.

Vanessa appeared nervous.

Joe cleared his throat. "Ahem, okay. Well, um, Vanessa and I have news that we wanted to share with everyone. We figured today would be the best time to share it because, you know, we're all together today." He saw his mother's jaw drop open as if she was going to say something, but she held her tongue.

Joe glanced at his wife and was greeted by a confident smile. Go on, go on!

"So," Joe said, "we just wanted to let everyone know that we're pregnant!"

The announcement was met by cries of joy. Perhaps, a little shriek from his mother.

"Are you serious?" Laura asked, hands crossed over her chest, eyes darting from Vanessa to Joe and back. Vanessa nodded and Laura cried, "Oh, my! I'm-I'm so happy for both of you." She immediately enveloped Vanessa – seated to her right – in a hug. Then released her and examined her at arm's length. "How are you feeling? Are you okay? Are you having any morning sickness?"

Vanessa laughed and glanced around the table at the smiling faces. "So far, I'm fine. A little morning sickness. I'm only two months along."

"Two months?" Laura said. "Why-why that means the baby will be born in …."

"June," Joe supplied. "Gives us plenty of time to get ready."

"We have a two bedroom apartment," Vanessa explained, "and I want the baby's room to be ready long before June. Right now the extra bedroom's being used for storage. Joe and I have piles of boxes in there. I need to go through those boxes and organize things and get rid of stuff."

"I can help out," Nancy said from across the table. "I'll be happy to help you organize and to lift and carry boxes. Feel free to use me in any way you need. I can paint and hang curtains, too."

"I'll make a baby quilt," Hannah exclaimed. "I love quilting. Oh, this is fabulous. Congratulations to both of you."

"Here, here," Fenton said, rising, wine glass raised. "Here's to Joe and Vanessa and our first grandchild."

A healthy sip was drank to the toast and the good mood continued throughout the meal and afternoon. Laura said she and Fenton would definitely be making more trips to River Heights. How could they not with a grandchild on the way?

# # # #

Late that evening Frank and Nancy were finally back at their apartment. They had brought home enough leftovers to last a week. Frank was putting them away in the refrigerator. He could hear Nancy on her phone in the bedroom talking to Vanessa. Girl talk about the coming baby. Frank had to smile. Life had returned to normal. Well, as normal as life ever got for the Hardys given their professions.

And a baby? Joe was going to be a father. Who would ever have thought it possible? No, it had always been possible and Joe was going to make a great father and Vanessa would be the sweetest mother ever.

Nancy came into the kitchen. She had changed into comfy clothes while chatting with Vanessa. Nancy reached for the cupboard and got a glass down. She filled it at the sink and turned to Frank. "So, Van and Joe. They're going to be parents."

Frank leaned his hips against the counter and crossed his arms. "Yeah, I'm happy for them. They seemed genuinely happy, didn't they?"

"Yes, extremely happy." Nancy sipped her water and stared into the distance.

After a moment, Frank asked quietly, "Thinking about us?"

Nancy let out a sigh. Frank really did know her quite well. "Yeah."

"You still feel the same way? About babies?"

Nancy turned her head and studied the expression on Frank's face. "I do. Are you still okay with that?"

He took her hand in his. Took the glass of water out of her other hand, set it on the counter, and pulled her close. He looked deep into her eyes. "We've discussed this many times. I told you before we got married and I'll tell you again now, The decision is yours. If you change your mind and decide you want to have a baby, I'll be ecstatic. But I'm equally happy just having you in my life. I don't feel the need to have a son or daughter." Honestly, he had never felt a burning desire for a child and that had been one of the stumbling blocks in his marriage to Callie. She had desperately wanted children.

Nancy ran a hand lightly down Frank's cheek and brushed a finger over his lips. "I'm glad you understand and I'm glad you feel the same." She had told Frank how losing her mother had left a huge void in her life, one that she could never fill. Nancy had said she did not want to do that to a child of her own. It was a fear of hers, abandoning a child – not intentionally of course, but still, abandoning them.

Frank pulled her closer and rested his chin on her head. She was warm and strong. An invincible woman. A woman of deep emotions and inviolable convictions.

Her head found the groove of his neck and he felt her relax against him. His hands wandered along her spine, slowly. Delicately. Sensually. He put a hand under her chin and lifted her head. He took her face in his hands and kissed her deeply, profoundly, with all of his heart.

A few minutes later, they were in bed, their kisses assertive. And later yet, Frank folded her in his arms and pulled her to him so that her back curled into his chest. This was his favorite way to fall asleep. Nancy's, too.

# # # #

It was December, a week before Christmas. A Christmas tree, properly decorated and lit, stood in the corner of the small living room. Frank turned off the lights and unplugged them. He and Nancy were flying to Bayport to spend a week with his parents.

Nancy came out of the bedroom pulling a suitcase behind her.

"All packed?" Frank asked. His suitcase was downstairs, waiting at the back door.

Nancy ran a hand through her shoulder length hair and nodded. "Yes, I think so. I've checked and double-checked. If I've forgotten anything I can buy it there. How about you?"

He smiled. "I'm ready. My suitcase is downstairs."

"Okay, then I guess we've off to the airport. Van just texted me that she and Joe are ready, too."

"Before we go," Frank said, "I have something for you."

Nancy eyed her husband with suspicion. "What? Did you get me something for Christmas? I thought we agreed to no gifts?"

"I know we said that .. but .. well, this isn't an actual gift. It's .. it's some good news."

"News? Well, if it's good news then I'm all ears. Please continue."

"Chief Brennan called me this morning while I was out on my run. Gena Nettles' trial is over. The jury rendered a guilty verdict."

Nancy blinked in surprise. "Really?"

"Yes. Really. Brennan got the information from the judge's clerk this morning. The clerk says the judge plans on sentencing Gena to ten years in prison without the possibility of parole." Frank smiled. "Merry Christmas, Nan."

Nancy wrapped her arms around Frank's neck. "Merry Christmas to both of us. This is the best Christmas present ever." And then she kissed him.

And it was the best Christmas ever.

The End

A/N: Finally, we have arrived at the end. Thank you all for sticking with me and the story. Your support and kind comments over the past year have been greatly appreciated. They really mean more to me than I can ever express. A special thank you to the most recent guest reviewer. Your words were deeply felt.

I do have other stories floating around in my head. When I'll start them is up in the air. I've found myself engaged in a new hobby and it takes up a lot of time, but I enjoy it so much. Take care and thank you all again!