Twenty minutes later, he exited the store, pleased with his day’s purchases. He’d gotten everything Tori had asked him to pick up...plus a few extras. She was probably going to kill him, but he really couldn’t resist. Lauren’s birthday was the following week and Tori had decided on an Elmo theme. While he was searching through balloons, signs and candles, he heard giggling. Rounding the end of the aisle, he looked down the next one to see two young children and their mother looking at the floor and laughing. Another round of giggles had him looking down as well and he found the source of their amused attention. He couldn’t help but snicker as a furry red Elmo laughed and laughed and laughed....and fell over. The longer he watched, his snickers turned into chuckles and then into outright laughter. He couldn’t help it. The muppet was contagious! So of course he had to buy one.
Then, in the music store where he was getting the guitar strings Tori had asked for, he saw an acoustic obviously made for a small child. Picking it up, he noted how small it looked and felt in his large hands. He strummed it experimentally for a few minutes, checking the tone and quality, debating, before giving in and setting it on the counter beside the cash register. If Tori objected, he’d just point out that it would be less ear splitting for Peanut to learn the guitar, than the drums.
Approaching the Hummer, he noticed a piece of paper had been stuck under the driver side wiper. A quick glance around assured him he wasn’t illegally parked, so he figured it was probably just some ad. He pushed the button on his key fob to unlock the doors, placed his latest purchases in the back seat and removed the white slip before climbing in. About to crumple it up and toss it, the writing caught his eye. It wasn’t a typed or printed ad. It was a handwritten note:
Do you know where your wife is? Or even more importantly, who she’s with?
Richie frowned, turning the page over and over in his hand, looking for some clue who it was from and what it was all about. It couldn’t be directed to him personally – he knew exactly where his wife was, namely at home...with their children. Of course, this being Hollywood, it could mean just about anything, including some clever advertising campaign that would get everyone talking until they decided the time was right to let the public in on whatever it was they were selling.
Shrugging, he tossed the note aside and headed for home.
“Angel? I’m back. Where are you?” Richie tossed his keys in the dish by the garage door and stowed his packages in a closet where little eyes wouldn’t think to look. “Angel?”
“I think she’s out by the pool.” Rosa suggested when he stuck his head in the kitchen.
“Thanks. And the kids?”
“Little ones are still napping and Miss Ava is at Miss Kate’s.”
The sight of his wife, stretched out on a lounge chair wide enough for two, eyes closed, face lifted to the sun, hair lifting slightly with the breeze, made the breath catch in his throat. She’s so beautiful. As he drew nearer, he noticed a set of headphones bracketing her swelling stomach.
Sitting on the chair beside her, he set a hand on the evidence of his growing child and bent his head to kiss her.
“Mmmm. Hi. You’re back.” Tori opened her eyes and raised a hand to caress his cheek. “Did you find everything?”
“Yep.” He adjusted a wire. “What’s on the playlist today?”
“Daddy of course.”
“And what does Cashew think of it?”
Before she could respond, the baby answered for him or herself with a kick – or a punch – in the centre of his palm.
His brows lifted. “That good huh?”
Her low chuckle warmed his blood. She tugged on his shoulder. “Come lay here with me and tell me what ‘extras’ you bought today.”
He stripped off his shirt, stretched out beside her and hedged. “What makes you think I bought anything other than what was on your list?”
Tori just looked at him.
Richie grimaced. “Okay, but it was only a couple small things. I saw this really funny stuffed Elmo that laughs and laughs until he falls over. It’s the most hysterical thing. Sweetpea will love it!” He paused. “And maybe it will give her something to talk to on her sleepless nights.”
“So we can listen to it all night too?”
That supposed-to-be-grumpy tone didn’t fool him. “It’ll make you laugh. You’ll see.”
“Uh huh.” She took a sip of her ice tea and set the glass back on the table beside her. “What else did you buy?” The rubbing of his hand over his chin had her bracing herself. “What did you buy Richie?”
“I was in the music store getting the guitar strings,” he began, “and I couldn’t resist it.”
“It’s the perfect size and I checked it over. It’s made well.”
“And it’s probably the best for him to start with, at least until he gets bigger.”
“Richie! What is it?”
“A little guitar for Peanut.” He closed his eyes and waited for her reaction.
She thought about it for a moment. Well, at least it’s quieter than drums. Music was so much a part of their life she didn’t question that their children would play an instrument at some point. “Please tell me that it’s acoustic.”
Blowing out a relieved breath, he nodded. “Yes.” He turned his head to see her face. “You’re okay with me buying it? Even though Peanut’s only three?”
Tori shrugged. “In this house it’s bound to happen sooner or later. Besides, if he picks it up as fast as you did, maybe he can serenade his sister to sleep.”
“Maybe I should write some music for that book.”
She chuckled and turned onto her side to curl up against him. “That would be some lullaby.”
“Yeah.” Richie chuckled, one hand caressing her arm. “So how many girls is Bean having over this weekend?”
“Three. Kate, Melissa and Sierra.” Delicate fingers toyed with a patch of chest hair. “Oh, by the way, Bean asked if you’d make chicken parmesan for them.”
“I suppose. What else does she have planned?”
“Oh just typical stuff for a teenage girls’ sleep over. Snacks, movies and gossip. And just so you know, they’d prefer it to be an evening free of parental harassment.”
Richie frowned. “I don’t harass them.”
“Okay. Let me put it this way. Adult’s are not invited.”
He pouted, then spoiled it with a yawn.
She tilted her head to study his face. Even with the sunglasses hiding his eyes he looked tired. “I heard that yawn. Need a nap?”
“Uh huh. No, don’t get up.” He held her closer when she made as if to pull away. “Stay here and rest with me. Rosa will let us know when the kids wake up.”
“But you need to sleep.”
“I always sleep better when you’re beside me.”
A gentle smile curved her lips at that statement. She turned her head to press a kiss to his hard chest, shifted slightly into a more comfortable position, and closed her eyes. Within minutes they were both asleep.