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Brute’s Strength Bonus Epilogue

Better Get Certified


Two years later

“I cannot believe Brute let you wander in here with that baby boy on your hip and you’re due any day now!” Sandy cried when I came into the kitchen.

“Sandy! She isn’t waddling,” Stephanie said.

“I didn’t say waddle, I said wander,” Sandy protested.

“It isn’t that I let her come in here, Sandy,” Brute said, with his arm slung lazily around Aubrey’s shoulders. “And my son always wants his momma.”

I caught Aubrey’s eyes, grinned, and shook my head at all three adults. “No, I think Sammy knows things are going to change soon.”

Aubrey broke out of Brute’s light hold and grabbed a cheddar cheese cube from one of the platters. “I can’t wait to babysit.”

“You better get certified,” Sandy said.

Brute groaned. “I need a beer.”

Joules moseyed up to the breakfast bar. “As ready as she is to pop, you need to stay sober.”

My sexy husband dragged his hand down his face with a groan. “Why did I agree to this?”

Stephanie, who was only four months pregnant and showing a slight baby bump, nudged Brute’s bicep with her shoulder. “You love a party… any kind of party. You can’t even say it can you?”

I opened my mouth to speak, but Brute got there first.

“Don’t call it a ‘shower,’ Kenzie.”

All of us chuckled. “All right.” I looked at Aubrey. “Your dad will be here any minute, are you packed?”

“Yes, but Ronnie’s picking me up instead.”

Caleb still hated that I was with Brute. Or maybe it was Brute’s influence on Aubrey. He’d told me not to fight Aubrey’s tomboy ways. As soon as we returned from our honeymoon, he took Aubrey with him to job sites to show her the inner workings of houses. Since he’d renovated our house himself, he’d let her help out wherever he felt it was safe. Of course, Caleb insisted none of it was safe… but he was all bark.

Still, whenever Aubrey had to be picked up at our house, he almost always sent Ronnie. Brute found it hysterical that he sent his woman in to do his ‘dirty work,’ as Brute called it.

I thought it was lucky for us Caleb had worked things out with Ronnie.

* * *

An hour later, Aubrey had left and Lydia cornered me at the punch bowl. “Are you sure I can’t convince you to reconsider? You’ve practically been runnin’ the branch since I’ve been training to take Duane’s job. You would be a shoe-in.”

I smiled. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Lydia. Childcare for one toddler is expensive. A toddler and infant care costs even more. I’d love to manage the branch when you become district manager, but unless they double the pay,” I shook my head. “There’s no way.”

“Kenzie, that could be—”

“No, Lydia.” I rubbed my huge belly, getting a slight kick in response. “It’s also that this is it. I don’t want to miss anything with this little one. It’s gonna be crazy and tiring, but I need to soak it all in.”

Sammy ran away from Brute’s dad, and clamped his arms around my leg. “Momma!”

I stared down into his huge brown eyes, secretly hoping his hair darkened when he got older. His eyes were just like his daddy’s. I loved them both so much.

Sam Sr. strolled over to us. “My boy acted the same way when he was a tot.”

I grinned, picked up my toddler, and propped him on my hip. “A momma’s boy?”

His lips pressed together, and he nodded slowly. “Mm-hmm. Makes me even angrier she abandoned our son the way she did.”

Sammy laid his head on my shoulder. I nodded at Sam. “It’s most definitely her loss at this point.”

Brute ambled our way. “What are you two talking about? I’d think we were at a funeral, as long as your faces are.”

Sam smiled big and bright at Brute. “Don’t worry about that, son.”

I felt my belly tighten. I’d been having Braxton-Hicks contractions off and on all week. However, my instincts kicked in and I knew this was a real contraction. “Oh, no.”

Both men looked at me and said the same thing at the same time. “What?”

I handed Sammy to his grandpa. “I hope someone can handle this party without us because I’m having contractions. Real ones.”

My every instinct said my water was going to break, but both men blocked my way to the downstairs half-bath.

“Are you sure?” Brute asked.

At the warm sensation in my shorts, I looked down. “Yeah. Pretty sure my water is breaking. Great, now we’re gonna have to clean up—”

“Sandy and Gina can handle it, babe,” Brute said.

Sam nodded. “Yeah, and if they can’t, me and one of his brothers will handle it.”

I leaned in and kissed my son’s forehead, then kissed Sam’s cheek. “Thank you so much, Sam.”

He grinned. “No need for that. I’d tell you to deliver me a healthy grandson… but you didn’t want to know what you’re having this time, so… I’ll just say deliver me a healthy grandchild, Kenzie.”

Brute waved Har and Joules over to us and told them the news.

Har stared at my belly for a moment and I suspected he envisioned the day in a few months when he’d have to take Stephanie to the hospital. His eyes met mine. “I had a feeling this might happen. You need us to pack you a bag? Get Sammy’s stuff together?”

I shook my head. “My go-bag is in Brute’s truck.”

Sam said, “And Gina and I have tons of stuff for Sammy as long as his diaper bag is upstairs.”

Until he lumbered down the stairs carrying our pillows, I hadn’t even realized Brute had gone upstairs. “Why aren’t you in the car, Zee?”

Knowing I wouldn’t get much to eat until after I delivered our child, I popped a bite of cheese in my mouth. I quickly chewed and swallowed it. “Did you bring a towel too? The seat—”

“I’ll grab one outta the mudroom, baby. But you need to get in the truck so we can go.”

While Brute went toward the mudroom, Stephanie joined Har, and he wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

I apologized about having to bail on her shower.

Her head tilted and her expression turned slightly annoyed. “Like you can control this? I’d say we can move the party there, but the hospital wouldn’t dig that.”

* * *

I didn’t know what gave me more joy: hearing the high pitched cry of a newborn or seeing the fear mingled with overwhelming awe on Brute’s face.

“You’re sure he can handle the sight of blood?” one of the nurses asked.

“Yeah,” I breathed.

Dr. Jones looked up at me, smiling. “Gender was a surprise with this birth, pretty sure Dad is shocked. Congratulations, Mom, your little girl has a healthy set of lungs.”

The next few hours passed in a whirl. I woke up from a short nap to see Brute sitting shirtless with our daughter skin-to-skin on his chest. He’d never looked sexier. He didn’t know I was awake, and I realized even as he looked at our child with complete admiration, his eyes were haunted.

“Are… you going to be okay?” I asked, my voice croaky.

His eyes met mine and he took a deep breath. “I think so. Maybe. Fuck, I don’t know, Zee. It’s like…”

“Part of your heart was just ripped out of your body and you’re worrying about things you never thought of even though deep down you know they probably won’t happen?”

He exhaled hard. “Kind of. More like I gotta buy fifty more fuckin’ guns.”

I laughed. “No, you really don’t. Besides, you restocked your personal arsenal after we got married because of Aubrey.”

He bit his lip, and I was reminded of our first kiss. “Yeah, and I love her, don’t mistake that. But, Christ, is this different.”

A soft smile curved my lips. “You’ll do great, honey. Especially after you hear her call you Daddy for the first time. Heck, you’re gonna have two girls helping with your business at this rate.”

His eyes widened. “Oh no, I won’t. Not that they won’t be capable of that, but I know exactly how subcontractors’ minds work. I catch even one of those assholes lookin’ at Aubs or…our girl the wrong way, I’ll have their balls in a vice.”

I smiled at his vehement tone and the visual. His words reminded me that we hadn’t discussed names for little girls.

Maybe it was pregnancy brain, but I couldn’t recall Brute’s mom’s first name. After all we’d been through, I knew he wouldn’t want to name our girl after her… but a middle name might work.

“What do you want to name her, honey?” I asked.

He looked up at me. “Fuck if I know, I’ve been over here telling her about every brand of gun out there. Surprised you didn’t hear me.”

I shook with laughter. “She’s not even a day old, honey.”

He smiled. “I know… it’s just, God, I never felt so much love. For her, for you, Aubrey, Sammy. Fuck. Anything happens to any one of you, I’ll lose my mind.”

Holding her against him with just a diaper on her tush, I could see how much length our little girl had.

“What are you thinking?” Brute asked.

“Two things, we should probably put a blanket on her, and she looks like a little trailing vine on you with her little legs sprawled.”

Brute’s lips tipped up. “Don’t compare our girl to kudzu, Zee.”

My head tilted. “Not kudzu, more like ivy.”

He looked down at her. “I like that. She looks like an Ivy, but I don’t know. Kinda wanted to name her for your mom or maybe Gina.”

Aubrey had Mom’s name as her middle name, but Ivy Faith didn’t have the right ring to it. I grinned. “What about Ivy Regina?”

Brute smiled. “Beautiful. Almost as beautiful as she is.”

* * *

The next morning, Sam and Gina brought our boy to the hospital to meet his little sister. Sammy was curious about her, but he was more interested in snuggling with me.

Brute gingerly shifted Ivy into Gina’s arms.

She smiled down at our girl as she lowered herself onto the small love seat in my room. “Last I heard, you had a name picked out for a baby boy, but not one for a girl. Since you refused to find out the gender, I’m guessing you were good and surprised. Have you settled on a name?”

Sam sat next to his wife and both of them looked at us with curiosity.

Brute perched a hip on the edge of my bed. “We did. Our little girl is Ivy Regina Vaillant.”

Both of them drew in a sharp breath.

Sam’s eyes looked glossy. “Son, you shoulda warned me.”

Brute looked at me and I grinned. He turned to his dad. “No way, old man. The look on both of your faces was well worth it.”

Regina had her gaze cast down to Ivy and she stroked Ivy’s cheek with her finger. “That’s the sweetest thing anyone’s done for me in a long while.”

Sam aimed a pointed look at his grandson. “I’m thinking you need to give that boy a brother. Gonna be tough to protect two sisters all on his own.”

I chuckled. “Oh, we are done. I’m getting too old for this.”

Regina smiled. “Kenzie, you’re only thirty-three. That’s plenty young and the two of you are excellent parents. But I get it, my husband loves to stir the pot, especially when it comes to grandbabies.”

A knock sounded at the door, then Har and Stephanie came into the room.

“Got room for two more in here?” Har asked.

Sammy climbed off the bed, toddled over to Har, and lifted his arms in the air. “Up.”

Har grabbed Sammy and gently tossed him in the air. It was undoubtedly the reason Sammy loved when Har came to visit. For some reason, Brute couldn’t bring himself to rough house with our son just yet.

“Don’t drop my kid, man,” Brute said.

Stephanie cocked her head. “Like he would do such a thing. Now where is this little girl of yours?”

“Right here,” Sam said, putting his arm around Gina. “But since we just found out part of her name honors my wife, you’ll have to wait a little longer to hold her.”

Gina stood and handed Ivy to Stephanie. “Not true, honey. I need to give Brute and Kenzie hugs for what they did.”

Har stood holding Sammy and watching Stephanie. The wistful look in his eye made me smile. “You know Sam, since you like stirring the pot, you need to advise Har and Stephanie on how many kiddos they should have.”

Har arched a brow. “Come again?”

Brute stood and aimed his cell phone at Stephanie to take her picture. “Dad thinks me and Zee should have a third, but that isn’t happening.” He grinned at Har. “You two are just getting started though.”

Har looked into Sammy’s eyes. “And here we just wanted to meet your little sister. Didn’t know they’d dish out trouble instead.”

Sam moved toward Stephanie and Har. “Growing a family is never starting trouble, Michael. And seeing Stephie hold little Ivy is a sight to see. She’s gonna be a natural, so it’s only natural that you grow that family while you can.”

Stephanie stared down at Ivy. “Your grandpa gets sappy, Ivy. And it’s always surprising when he does, but we love him for it.”

Sam stepped forward. “Let me hold my granddaughter before we gotta take Sammy home.”

After she handed Ivy over to Sam, Stephanie came to my bed and gave me a light hug. “Thanks for letting us use your house for the shower. We got everything straightened up, and your dishes are all put away.”

“Thanks, Stephanie, but you didn’t have to.”

“I didn’t do it, though I supervised. Besides, it’s the least I can do since my son and your kiddos are gonna grow up together…just like their daddies did.”

Happiness bloomed in my chest. “Yeah…and I can’t wait to watch them.”

The End