Author's Note: So only a day late on the final chapter. Enjoy!
Clay Spenser eased open the front door of his house as quietly as possible. He entered through the front door to surprise his wife and daughter, busy baking something delicious smelling in the kitchen. As he gently shut the door behind himself, Cerberus came trotting into the living room. Motioning to the dog to stop and lie down, Clay paused to listen to the conversation happening in the other room.
"Mommy, can I do pink sprinkles now?"
"Sure, do you want white frosting on this one?"
"No, pink, please."
Smiling at his daughter's definite opinions, he dropped his duffel by the door and arranged his bouquets of flowers in his arms. Quietly he approached the kitchen and leaned against the door frame. "So what are you baking?"
"Oh my God! Clay!" Emma dropped the heart-shaped cookie she was frosting on the counter of the kitchen island and pressed her hand to her chest.
"Daddy! You home!" Lanie tried to climb down from the stool she was sitting on but became tangled up in the too large smock she had on over her outfit.
Recovering her from her shock, Emma caught her daughter before she fell. "Hold on, baby."
Clay grinned at their reactions. "So what are you two doing?"
"We baking you cookies. For Valentines." Lanie vibrated with excitement as Emma untangled the smock and set her on the floor.
"Cookies? For me?"
"Yes!" Lanie threw herself at Clay's legs, but the flowers in his arms made it impossible for him to catch her.
"Hold on. I have something for my Valentines." He looked down at his daughter, now with her arms wrapped around his knees.
Lanie looked up at him with her chin against his legs. "For us?"
"Yes, these are for Mommy because she's my first Valentine." He held out the bouquet of red, long-stemmed roses to Emma.
Stepping forward, she took the flowers and kissed him. "Thank you. They're beautiful." She lifted the bouquet to her nose and inhaled their delicate scent, then smiled at Clay.
"Can I see?"
Emma crouched down to show her daughter the roses.
"Pretty." Unwrapping her arms from around Clay's legs, Lanie lightly touched a rose.
Clay knelt down in front of his daughter. "And these are for you because you're my second Valentine." He held out a smaller bouquet of pink roses to Lanie.
"Mine?" Lanie's eyes grew wide as she took the flowers.
"Uh huh, do you like them?" He grinned at her wonder.
"Yes. They beautiful." Lanie gazed down at her roses and a smile bloomed on her face. "My flowers!" In her excitement, she tried to hug the bouquet.
"Careful, baby." Emma put a hand on her daughter's arm. "You don't want to crush them."
"Look, Mommy! I have flowers." Lanie bounced in place as she held out the roses to Emma.
"I see. They're very pretty. Daddy was very nice to bring us both flowers."
Lanie turned back to Clay still kneeling in front of her. "Yes, thank you, Daddy!" Puckering her lips, she threw herself at Clay to give him a kiss.
Laughing, Clay caught her before she crushed her bouquet between them. "You're welcome. I'm glad you like them so much."
Emma smiled at Clay as Lanie danced away holding her flowers. "You're a good Dad. You made her day." Reaching out, she rested her hand on his cheek and kissed him.
"I didn't realize they'd be such a hit." He stood and held out his hand to help Emma up as well.
"Lanie, why don't we put our flowers in water?"
"Okay." Lanie bounced back over to Emma, then her happy expression faded. "Mommy, my Valentine shirt for Daddy."
"Don't worry. Daddy just came home, so he's going to take a shower." With this comment, Emma gave Clay a pointed glance.
Grinning at Emma's subtle dig at his current aroma, he nodded in agreement.
"While he does that, we'll finish the cookies and then you can put on your Valentine shirt for dinner. And you can give him the card you made at school." Laying her flowers on the counter, Emma opened a cabinet and took out two vases.
"I'll see you ladies after I've cleaned up." Grabbing two cookies off the kitchen island behind Emma's back, Clay grinned at Lanie and put his finger to his lips.
His daughter giggled and put her hand to her mouth as he headed out of the kitchen.
Emma did her best to be quiet as she entered her and Clay's bedroom. He had been napping earlier, and she didn't want to disturb him if he still slept.
"I'm awake." Clay sat up and scrubbed his hands through his hair.
"I wasn't sure if you were up or not." She placed some clean laundry on the end of the bed.
"Yeah, the smell of dinner cooking woke me."
Smiling, Emma settled on the bed next him. "I had to make the Valentine's Day pot roast."
"Mmm…" Clay pulled her in for a kiss. "Where's Lanie?"
"She's in her room drawing more Valentines." Emma leaned in and kissed him back.
Chuckling, Emma sat back. "Her preschool teacher told me Lanie was not happy there was only enough time to make Valentines for me and you during class. I guess she had a whole list of people she wanted to make them for."
"Um, Grandpa, Uncle Mikey, Auntie Hannah, Uncle Sonny—"
Clay's laughter broke into Emma's list. "I think she'll be busy for a while then." He began nibbling on Emma's lips.
"Yeah," Emma sighed.
Deepening their kiss, Clay slid his hands under the back of her top, his fingers skimming gently over her skin. Her lips parted, and his tongue slipped between them. Emma wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned into him.
Clay tightened his arms around Emma as she started to pull away.
Emma broke off their kiss and rested her forehead against his. "Sorry."
Letting out a deep breath, Clay smiled. "We need to work on her timing."
"I'm coming, Lanie." Standing, Emma straightened her top. "Could you go downstairs and check on the pot roast?"
"Sure, but only if you promise we can pick this up later after bedtime." He waggled his eyebrows at her.
She grinned at him on her way out the door. "Definitely."
Entering her daughter's bedroom, Emma saw Lanie wriggling around on the bed, trying to pull on a pair of tights. "What are you doing, baby girl?"
"I need my fluffy skirt with my Valentine shirt for Daddy." Lanie sat up and tried tugging at the tights again.
"Here let me help you." Emma pulled the tights off Lanie's feet. Once she had them straightened out, she sat her daughter on her lap and began sliding each leg up over Lanie's feet one at a time.
Finally, the tights were on and Emma helped Lanie step into her tulle skirt. As she pulled the Valentine's Day shirt over Lanie's head, Emma looked over at the card and art supplies strewn across her daughter's worktable. Cerberus was stretched out on the floor by the table watching them.
"Lanie, why is there red glitter on Cereberus' head?" Emma was positive she had not left any glitter out for Lanie to use.
Lanie's head popped out of the neck hole of her top. "He like it. For Valentine's Day."
"We'll give him a brush to get it out of his fur. We don't want him to swallow any."
Sighing, Lanie nodded. "Okay." She went to her closet and began digging through her shoes. "I need my sparkly shoes."
Joining her daughter before she tossed all the shoes out of the closet, Emma found the right pair and pulled them out. "Put the others back."
Slipping her feet into the shoes, Lanie tugged on her mother's shirt. "Mommy, what are you wearing for Daddy for Valentine's?"
Emma, who hadn't planned on changing her clothes at all, shrugged. "I was going to wear this."
"No, you have to wear pretty clothes."
Looking down at her daughter all dressed up for Valentine's Day dinner, Emma decided could make more of an effort as well. "Okay, why don't you come help me choose something."
Lanie clapped with excitement. "Let's go!" She shot out the bedroom door with Emma following behind.
Once in the walk-in closet, Lanie began going through Emma's clothes. "This one, Mommy!" She held out the skirt of a red wrap-dress.
"Alright. I'll put it on. Why don't you go find your Valentine's Day card for your Daddy?" Emma went to her chest of drawers to pull out a better bra to wear with the dress.
"Okay." Lanie dashed off again.
Quickly, Emma tugged off her leggings and top, changed into a lacy bra and underwear set, then pulled on the wrap dress. Tying the belt, she checked the mirror to make sure the dress was hitting her correctly. She twitched the skirt into place and fluffed her hair a little. Not bad for a quick change.
Heading into the hall, she met Lanie coming back with her card.
"Hey, what's taking you two so long? Dinner's ready." Clay called up from the bottom of the stairs.
"We're coming." Taking Lanie's hand, Emma started down the stairs. "Come, Cerberus."
Clay met them at the bottom of the stairs. "Look at you two. All dressed up for me. I must have the most beautiful Valentines around."
"Look, Daddy! Here your card. I made it. And, I have a Valentine's Day shirt for you." Lanie held the bottom of her shirt down to help him read the front. Printed on the red knit top was, 'Sorry boys, Daddy is my Valentine,' with the individual letters of Daddy each on their own heart.
Leaning down, Clay took his card and swung Lanie up into his arms. "This is a great card, and I like that shirt." He reached out for Emma's hand. "How about we enjoy our dinner? I have everything ready."
"The rolls were in—"
"The rolls are ready too." Clay began walking to the dining room with Lanie in his arms and bringing Emma along beside him.
He settled Lanie in her booster seat while Emma made up a plate for her. Then he held out a chair for Emma and helped her sit. Taking his place on the other side of the table, they all began to enjoy their dinner.
Before they finished dessert, Lanie's head drooped and her eyes were closing.
"I think someone's ready for bed." Emma took her napkin and wiped the remains of chocolate frosting off Lanie's face.
"No, Mommy, not tired."
"How about we get you ready for bed, and Daddy will read you a story?" Reaching out, Emma slid Lanie's dessert dish away before her daughter faced planted in the remains of the cake.
"Hmmm…" Lanie's head dropped to the side.
"I think that's the closest we're going to get to agreement." Clay stood up and came around the table to carry Lanie upstairs.
"You're right. Let me put these dishes in the sink and I'll meet you upstairs." Emma rose from her chair and started collecting their dessert plates.
Clay turned back with Lanie sleeping against his shoulder. "Emma, this shirt did it come in other sizes?"
Emma's brow wrinkled. "Yeah, I tried another size on her before I chose this one. Why?"
"I was thinking you could buy a bunch of larger sizes, and she could keep wearing this shirt for, I don't know, the next thirty years or so." Clay grinned.
Laughing quietly, Emma wrinkled her nose at him. "I don't think that's going to go over so well."
"I guess not, but I can try."
Emma shook her head as he took Lanie to bed. She carried the stack of plates and silverware into the kitchen, rinsed them and loaded them into the dishwasher. Deciding to deal with everything else in the morning, she hurried upstairs. She had a promise to keep with her Valentine.