Four Years Later
I knew it was going to be a good day the moment I woke up. The lack of text messages on my phone guaranteed that.
I stretched my limbs across my bed, savoring the impossibly-soft comforter of the king-sized bed. We had upgraded from a queen mattress a year before. We needed the room, these days.
But neither my arms nor legs hit any warm flesh. I was alone. Not surprising--the boys usually got an early start, letting me sleep in a little later.
I liked that just fine, even though I missed their warm bodies.
I took my time getting out of bed, a process that took about 15 minutes of groaning, stretching, and sighing. That was the best part of running my own business: I got to choose my own hours. No nine-to-five bullshit for Cindy Jameson. I woke when I pleased and went to bed when I pleased.
Eventually the urge to check the markets forced me out of bed and to the desk in the corner. A few taps of the keyboard and I was staring at an array of candlestick charts. There was a spike when the Chinese markets opened in the night, but it corrected pretty quickly. I checked my trade history and grinned. A series of automated buys went through at the beginning of the rise, then sold promptly when it began to dip back down. A tidy 8% profit while I counted sheep.
Even running a cryptocurrency consulting firm that managed over $120 million in assets for its clients, I still liked to day trade for funsies. There was nothing like the rush of seeing a new crypto coin in which you'd invested rising to 400% gains in a week.
When I'd satisfied my market curiosity, I strolled into the kitchen. The boys were gone, leaving behind the scent of cooked butter and Old Spice deodorant. I smiled as I went to the counter; Chase had left me a plate covered in tinfoil, with a note folded in half with my name on it. Still grinning like a sixth-grader who'd gotten her first love note, I unfolded it:
"Some pancakes for my love who's caked in sexiness. Maybe if you're good, tonight I'll cover you in syrup and lick every inch of it off. Happy Ranchiversary, Cindy."
I giggled at the silliness of it. Adding food to sex was rarely as appealing as it sounded. Getting sticky syrup all over my body, and bed? That sounded like a nightmare. Think of the cleanup required! Still, it warmed my heart and kept a smile on my face while I wolfed down the pancakes. Chase wasn't the most literary of the brothers, but he was trying. And it was freaking adorable.
I ignored the cup of coffee waiting for me on the counter while reading my emails on my phone. Two new requests for meetings from banks--both of them national. These days everyone wanted to work with Jameson Investing--or buy us out. I'd gotten no fewer than three acquisition requests in the past year, each one more desperate than the last. I passed on them all.
Being able to work from the ranch was what I liked about this job. We made a comfortable living--very comfortable. I didn't want to trade freedom for a little extra money I didn't need.
I loved the house. We'd built it with a similar layout to the original ranch, so it still felt like the home I grew up in--though with modern improvements. Having larger bathrooms and full walk-in closets was a welcome change.
It took me a long time to figure out my true emotions about this place. When I'd first come back all those years ago when dad died, I still hated it. It was an idea in my head rather than a real place. My teenage angst personified. Worse, I remembered it as the place I'd watched momma die, and the place where dad lived alone after. It was impossible to separate the house with the memories.
Now that it had burned down, and was rebuilt anew, I realized I had missed this place all along. It was innocent, and made me feel free. It had the good memories of dad and momma, not just the bad. Staying here felt right.
It helped that the company was good.
I found Heidi laying down on the back deck, surveying her domain. She loved the back deck of the new house we'd built, and how she could see for miles in every direction. She was getting up in age, but still liked to pretend to be a watch dog--even though she did more licking than barking whenever we had a visitor.
"What do ya think?" I asked, rubbing behind her ear. "Is today gunna be a good day?"
I decided her expression was a definitive yes.
Daniel was in the barn oiling the saddles, a task he liked to do every week even though it only needed to be done monthly. He pretended not to notice as I entered and watched him for a bit.
"'Bout time you woke," he said like a stern boss. "Sun's been up for hours."
"It's been up exactly five minutes," I said. "I know, because I watched it rise with Heidi."
"Still work to be done."
I leaned in close to the work bench and inhaled softy. There was nothing like the smell of oiled leather. "I did all my work in bed."
Daniel turned and arched an eyebrow at me.
"I mean my crypto work. Trades triggered overnight while I was asleep." I moved close enough until our thighs touched. "Though the work in the bed itself was good too."
"Always is," he drawled.
Daniel picked me up and carried me across the barn, and I didn't even care that the oil on his hands was probably staining my jeans. He dumped me on a pile of clean hay and proceeded to take my pants off, kissing along the line of my panties before removing them too. I stared up into his emerald eyes while he covered me with his body, warm and protecting all at once.
We made love slow, and easy, because it was morning and we had all the time in the world.
"Saddle Rocky for me," I said while shimmying into my jeans.
"That it?" he said, still nude on the hay. "Wham, bam? Thank you ma'am?"
"That's it," I teased. "I've got a surprise for you tonight."
He sat up excitedly. "For the ranchiversary?"
"Something like that. I don't know if I can get the surprise ready if I don't have a horse, though..."
I've never seen a man dress so quickly.
I loved riding out over the property. It felt like our own little piece of the world, the boundaries too far to see. Like I could ride for days in any direction before hitting a fence.
Rocky wanted to open up and sprint, but I kept him at a slow walk. I wanted to take the time to enjoy today, among other reasons.
I rode to the border with the Honeycomb property. Francis was still in prison and not getting out any time soon, while Herald had completely avoided us since that day. It helped that we got a new sheriff who wasn't in their pocket and actually upheld the law.
Landon's and Chase's horses were tied up next to the gate. The two brothers stood a short distance away, tossing bean bags between each other. Chase pointed, and they quickly returned to their horses while I rode up.
"Hey, uhh," Chase said, wiping his dirty hand in his even dirtier hair. I loved that he had a spray of freckles on his face. "We were just..."
"Come on, now," I said with a grin. "You think I haven't known about your little cornhole breaks?"
"You don't seem mad." Landon removed his hat to wipe his forehead with a handkerchief. His curly black hair was shorter since he'd just gotten a haircut, and it made his ears look longer. It was cute. I realized what I was doing--examining the boys for interesting physical traits--and stopped myself.
"Why would I be mad? I don't care what you do, so long as you get the work done." I pointed an ominous finger at him. "But if the work stops getting done, I'll have to fire your ass."
"You can't fire us," Landon smoothly said. "We own as much of the ranch as you do."
"Don't tempt me, or I'll find a way."
"You enjoy your pancakes?" Chase asked. "Made 'em special for you."
"I loved them. And a happy ranchiversary to you too," I put on my most mysterious smile. "I've got a surprise for you guys tonight."
"A surprise we'll like?" Landon asked. "Because that thing you did the other night..."
I giggled. That had surprised Landon. I still thought he enjoyed it, though he wasn't likely to admit that any time soon.
"Get your mind out of the gutter. This is a perfectly innocent surprise."
"Like a gift?" Chase asked. He looked like an excited Labrador Retriever. "Something we can open?"
"You'll see," I said, turning to ride away. I heard them calling after me, but I enjoyed making them ponder over it.
I didn't go straight home. I rode across the property, along the edge of where the cattle were grazing. Thanks to some good purchases from other ranchers, we'd tripled the size of our herd. It was becoming tough for the boys to manage them by themselves. Landon said we may need to hire more help soon.
I would hate to break up our little family, though.
The past four years had passed so smoothly together. Me with my cryptocurrency consulting business, and the boys with the ranch. And the weirdest thing about it all? The fact that there wasn't anything weird. We fell into our polyamorous relationship smoothly, like it was something we'd all wanted and finally found. It felt natural.
I wondered how they would handle the next part of our little arrangement.
Chase came in from work early to put on his apron and get started on the ribs, which he was smoking in a Dr. Pepper glaze. Yeah, it sounded silly the first time I heard him describe them, but they were delicious. By the time Landon and Daniel were done the entire back yard smelled like smoke and meat.
"When do we get the surprise?" Landon asked, handing me a beer. We were gathered outside by the smoker like it was the 4th of July.
"Hey, woah now," Chase said. "Don't tempt me or I'll pull the ribs off early just to get to the surprise quicker."
"Is it bigger than a breadbox?" Daniel asked, scratching his cheek.
I twirled my beer in my hands. "Nope."
"That rules out a new sports car," Landon said.
Daniel practically choked on his beer. "The hell'd you want a sports car for?"
"Might be fun. Feel the wind in my hair." He looked sideways at me and gave me a sly smile.
"There's a zero percent chance you'd want a sports car, which is good because it's not that." I took a whiff of the smoke in the air and sighed. "Lord, I'm starving."
"Don't rush me," Chase complained.
It was a mild night, so we ate dinner on the back deck. Heidi sat patiently under the table to wait for the boys to feed her the bones; I'd told them not to do that, but that rule had been broken so many times in the last four years I didn't care anymore.
"What'd we do to earn a surprise?" Daniel asked around a mouthful of corn on the cob. Butter ran down his chin but he didn't seem to care.
"Maybe it's to celebrate the ranchiversary," I suggested.
I took a sip of water. "No. But you definitely earned it."
"We did?" Chase asked.
"All of us," Landon said, "or just one?"
"Mmm, you'll see."
After dinner, Landon surprised us by bringing out a cake with candles lit. "I had to scrape off the icing that said happy birthday," he said, "but I figure it's good enough."
"Four candles?" I asked.
Landon's eyes reflected the candlelight like dark marbles. "Four years together."
"And four of us," Chase said.
We blew out the candles together, four breaths from the same soul.
"Not that I'm complaining," I said, "but you're only delaying the surprise."
"Aww, man!" Chase said.
I wolfed down my piece of cake--and then a second, to the groan of the boys who by then were practically bouncing in their chairs with excitement. Finally I rose, stretched my arms above my head theatrically, and said, "I'll be right back."
I couldn't stop grinning as I went inside and got the present.
Three sets of eyes widened as I returned to the back deck with a large square gift wrapped in shiny green paper and tied with red ribbon and a huge bow on top. Even Heidi sat up and cocked her head as I placed it carefully on the table.
For a split second, Landon looked disappointed that the surprise was a physical gift rather than something more carnal. But I knew he would love this the most.
"Who gets to open it?" he asked.
"Up to you three," I said as if I didn't care.
They tore into it from three sides, ripping off the paper and bow before pulling off the lid. All three of them leaned in to peer inside. Landon was the one to pull them out.
Pinched between his fingers were a pair of new cowboy boots, brown and with tassels on the top. Except these were no ordinary pair: they were barely large enough to fit in his hand.
It took them a few long seconds to understand. It was adorable seeing their gears turning. Guys could be so clueless sometimes.
Chase figured it out first. His entire face lit up and he yelled, "A BABY!"
Landon's jaw dropped. He removed his black cowboy hat to run a hand through his curly hair. "I don't understand."
A wide grin split Daniel's face. "How long've you known?"
"A few weeks," I admitted. "It's been hard as hell keeping it a secret."
"But..." Landon said. "I've seen you drink."
"You think you have," I said. "Notice how I'm normally the one to bring you the beers? I've got an empty bottle I fill up with water instead. And on wine nights, I only pretend to sip the wine, then pour the rest into one of y'alls classes. A few times I was certain you would figure it out!"
They swung their eyes to my water glass. Seeing the realization spread on their faces made me giggle out loud.
Chase leaped to his feet and ran around the table like a happy golden retriever. "I can't believe it!" he said, wrapping me in a bone-crushing hug.
"Gentle, now," I said, letting a hand rest on my belly. I wasn't showing yet, but I knew that would quickly change.
The others quickly joined him, hugging me more tenderly. Landon had tears in his eyes, which in turn almost made me cry.
"Who's is it?" Daniel asked, the next question I'd been prepared for.
"Good question," I said. "I think it's one of you three."
"That's not funny!" Chase said.
Landon playfully shoved Daniel. "How's she supposed to know whose it is, huh? Unless you two got vasectomies I don't know about."
"Figuring out whose it is will be part of the surprise," I said. "Part of the fun."
We shared an emotion moment together; all of us huddled close together, the three of them with arms on me like something they needed to protect.
Then Landon said, "Of course, it's probably mine."
"How do ya figure?" Daniel asked.
"On account of I have the best swimmers. The eldest child always gets the best genes."
"I don't think that's how it works."
"He's gunna have blond hair and be one handsome devil." He glanced at me. "Or beautiful devil. You don't, uhh, know the sex?"
"Nope. And I don't think I rightly want to know until he or she is born."
His mouth hung open. "Oh come on! We can't last that long!"
"How will we know what color to pain the nursery?" Daniel asked.
"Well, yeah," he said. "We've got the extra utility room next to the master bed that we use as storage. I'll clean that out, add some shelves for diapers and wipes and stuff..."
Landon nodded along. "We've got the wood leftover from the new shed."
"I've got a buddy who works in home remodeling," Chase added. "I can pick his brain on babyproofing the house. Rounding off sharp corners and whatnot."
"I guess we'll paint it green or something until we know if it's a he or she..."
"Guys, guys," I said, holding my hands out. They were acting like I wasn't there. "We're months from that point. Let's just relax?"
They looked disappointed. It was adorable. They were throwing themselves into this without restraint.
I loved it.
"I love you," I said to each of them. "I can't wait to do this with you."
"So..." Chase said. "Even though it will obviously be mine..."
"Not obvious at all!" Daniel said.
"...what if it's not?" Chase asked. "Cause, you know, I do kinda want..."
My heart broke for him. "We've never talked about this."
"We have," Landon said. "The three of us. We didn't know how to bring it up with you, though..."
"We all want kids," Daniel said, his accent a little twangier than normal. "With you, of course. Think you can handle at least three?"
I laughed. I hadn't give it much thought. I hadn't been trying to get pregnant. It just sort of happened. I must have missed a birth control tablet.
But now that I was pregnant? Deep down, it was what I'd wanted all along. I'd been scared as to how the boys would react. If they would want the same thing.
Now that I saw they did? I wanted to cry tears of joy.
"Of course I can handle three," I said. "At least. I figure we've got this big house we can fill..."
Chase breathed a sigh of relief. "You're gunna be a great mother," he said.
"And you're going to be great dads. All of you." I turned my eyes to the table. "And now that I'm no longer hiding how much of a pig I am, how about one of you cut me off a third slice of cake?"
We all had another serving of cake. The boys waited on me like I was nine months pregnant and in the delivery room: asking if I need water, bringing me too many napkins, grabbing a cushion from inside for me to sit on. It was nice, in a cheesy sort of way.
"My kid'll be the best rider," Landon decided. "Yours will be fine too. But not as good as mine."
"My daughter'll beat all the rest," Daniel said.
He smiled knowingly. "Oh yeah. I'm gunna have a daughter."
"Forget riding," Chase said. "Who's gunna have the best roping skills?"
"Ya can't be a good roper without being a good rider!" Daniel said.
As the sun set on the ranch, I listened to them argue over who's kid would be the best cowboy.
If you enjoyed this story, check out this other Cassie Cole romance: THE NAUGHTY LIST!
It's company policy: don't sleep with your employees.
No matter how handsome and flirty they may be.
Yet when my promotion puts me in charge of the three of them?
That policy is going to be awfully hard to follow.
Liam, the chestnut-haired boy next door I've flirted with for five years--and who is finally single.
Arthur, the suave French accountant who pronounces my name like it's an expensive wine.
Robbie, the awkward computer nerd whose chiseled body and sleeve tattoos hint at a hidden life.
The four of us have to finish our big project by Christmas.
Which means my gorgeous employees are totally off-limits.
But that just makes our professional relationship even more tantalizing.
Especially as we start working long hours in the office.
With our careers on the line, can we ignore the growing attraction between us?
Or will we all end up on Santa's naughty list?