Nanny For The
Santas

Bonus Chapter

Piper

Three Years Later

The five of us were crammed in Grayson’s SUV, with our combined luggage piled high in the back.
“Where are we going?” Max asked for the thousandth time.


“On a trip,” Grayson said, the same answer he had been giving her since we told her last week. 


“But where?” 


“It was Piper’s idea,” Ethan said.


I turned and glared at the blond man, who grinned widely at me.


Max leaned forward and grabbed my arm. “Piper! Tell meeeee.” 


“It’s a surprise,” I said simply. “You’ll see when we get there.” 


By the time Grayson pulled into the parking lot of our destination, Max was bouncing off the walls of the car. And when she saw the big sign…


“Train station?” Max gasped. “OHMYGOD!” 


She was a mess of squealing and screaming and shrieking as we parked and unloaded the car. Grayson leaned close to me and whispered, “I think she’s excited.” 


“Wait until she finds out where we’re going,” I replied.


We checked in at the ticket booth and received physical tickets—which we didn’t need, since we had the digital tickets on our phones, but we wanted to make it more special for Max. Then we walked to our platform, where the big blue-and-silver Amtrak train was waiting. A conductor smiled at us.


“Tickets, please.” 


Max’s eyes were as large as baseballs as the conductor led us onto the train, up the stairs, and to the sleeper car. We had two sleeper rooms; one was family-sized, with four beds and its own bathroom and shower, and the other room only had two pull-down beds. 


“Why do I have to bunk with Cole?” Ethan asked.


Cole grunted. “What’s the problem?” 


“You snore,” he replied indignantly. 


“No.” 


“What do you mean, no? You’ve always been a snorer!” 


“We can take turns,” I said, rubbing Ethan’s back. Then I glanced at Cole and said, “You do occasionally snore.” 


Cole shrugged like it couldn’t be helped.


The speaker in the ceiling crackled and a man’s voice announced, “Attention all Heartland Flyer passengers. We will be departing in two minutes. Our next stop is Wichita…” 


Grayson tensed. 


“What’s wrong?” I asked.


He looked around, then whispered, “Karen’s in Wichita. Saw it on Facebook.” 


I gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Good thing we’re not stopping, then.” 


“I know,” he said. “But I still get antsy…”


Since the custody hearing three years ago, we hadn’t seen Karen at all. She hadn’t made any effort to see Max, and we were just fine with that. The last thing that poor girl needed was her inconsistent mother popping in and out of her life chaotically. 


It was the last thing Grayson needed, too.


I hugged Grayson tightly. “Max is yours. That’s never going to change.” 


He hugged me back just as fervently. “I know. But sometimes I need the reminder.” 


The hug went on, both of us savoring our mutual love, before Max shouted, “WE’RE MOVING!” 


Max pressed her face against the window of our sleeper car as the train left the station. Her excitement was infectious, and we were all in good spirits as we put away our luggage and settled in to the car.


“We have dining car reservations,” Grayson announced shortly after. “Let’s go get a table.” 


The dining car held a series of booths that were made for four people, but we were able to cram together by Max sitting in Cole’s lap. “You’re getting too big for this,” he said. 


“Hush, Uncle Cole,” she said. “What are you getting? I’m going to get the chicken…” 


We ordered drinks and then food. When the drinks arrived, Ethan held up his beer. “To our trip.” 


“What trip!” Max demanded. “You still haven’t told me where we’re going!” 


“The train ride is the trip,” I revealed. “For the next week, we are traveling all around the country by train. We’re taking this train up to Omaha, then transferring…” 


“To the California Zephyr?” Max interrupted. “That’s the longest Amtrak route in the country! Oh my gosh, that’s so cool!” 


“Does this mean you’re happy?” Ethan asked. 


Max ignored him waved to the waitor. “Excuse me! What kind of engine is this?” 


“An Amtrak,” he replied.


“No,” Max said. “I mean what train engine. The locomotive.” 


“Uhh… I’ll ask my supervisor,” the man said before quickly hurrying off. Minutes later, the conductor came walking down the aisle.


“Are you the little girl who wants to know about the locomotive?” 


“Yes!” Max said cheerfully. “Is it a Dash or Genesis?” 


“This is a Genesis P42DC,” the conductor explained. “But it’s currently being phased out and replaced with the Charger ALC-42.” 


“Woooow,” Max said. 


“Is that an electric model?” I asked.


Max rolled her eyes. “No, Piper. They’re diesel. The only electric cars are in the Northeast Corridor.” 


“You sure are knowledgable!” the conductor replied. 


“Buddy, you have no idea,” Ethan said. 


Grayson and I smiled at each other. It was incredible how outgoing Max was now, especially with total strangers. She had come a long way from the quiet little girl I met at the mall three years ago. 


We took the Heartland Flyer route north over the newest Amtrak spur line, stopping in Wichita and Kansas City before transferring lines to the California Zephyr. Then we headed west, across corn fields and flat plains and then tall, jagged mountains of Colorado and Utah. The scenery was stunning, especially as we passed through mountain tunnels in the Rockies. 


During the day, I did some occasional work on my laptop. I was a full literary agent now, and it was difficult to take a week off. But I loved that my job allowed me the flexibility to work anywhere. All I had to do was carry my laptop to the viewing car, do a little bit of work while enjoying the view from the tall windows and glass ceiling, and then rejoin Max and the boys for dinner.


One night, Ethan ordered a cocktail from the bar car that the bartender didn’t know how to make. 

“No problem, I’ll show you.” 


“Sir, you’re not allowed back here,” the bartender said. 


“I own three bars in Oklahoma City,” Ethan replied. “Let me give you a crash course in mixology.” 


Ethan spent the night helping the bartender mix fancy drinks for all the customers on the train, to the laughter—and sometimes consternation—of the Amtrak crew.


We had a six hour stopover in Sacramento, so all of us exited the train to stretch our legs. “I have something special planned,” Grayson announced.


“What’s more special than a train?” Max asked skeptically.


Grayson pointed. “The California State Railroad Museum.” 


Max gasped. “No way!” 


The little girl absolutely lost her mind as we walked through the museum, which was full of antique trains from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While she ran from exhibit to exhibit with Grayson trying his best to keep up, Ethan and Cole hung back with me.


“Wanted to run something by you,” Cole said. 


“Oh?” 


“We’ve been thinking,” Ethan began. “About… that thing we discussed.”


“Starting a family,” Cole said bluntly. 


I felt a tingling warmth in my gut. “Really? You’re both ready?” 


Cole nodded. “I’m ready. Ethan thinks he is too.” 


“But only if that’s something you want,” Ethan quickly said. “We don’t want to pressure you into something you’re not ready for.” 


I used to think I didn’t want kids. When I was younger, I never had that desire. I loved watching other peoples’ kids, especially the part where I gave them back at the end of the day. Having my own, though, seemed like such a foreign and scary prospect.


But now that I had been with Grayson and Max for the past three years? The desire had slowly built inside of me. And as soon as I heard Cole and Ethan bring it up, I knew with certainty that I was ready. 


“I think I would be open to that,” I said casually.


Before I had finished saying the last word, Cole blurted out, “Dibs.” 


Ethan gave a start. “Dibs?” 


“I get to go first,” he said. “First baby’s mine.” 


“You can’t call dibs on something this important!” 


Cole frowned. “I just did.” 


“We’ll talk about it,” I said with a laugh, taking each of them by the hand. “When we get back from this trip, I’ll get my IUD taken out.” 


“I love you so much,” Ethan said.


“Not as much as me,” Cole added.


“That’s not something you can measure,” I scolded.


“It’s not,” Ethan said. “But if it was, my love would be higher.” 


“Fat chance,” Cole replied.


I smiled as the two of them argued their way through the museum. But I had a huge smile on my face because it was beginning to sink in.


One of them will be the father of my children. And maybe both. 


We had dinner in Sacramento and reboarded our train. The next day we transferred to the Coast Starlight line, traveled south to Los Angeles, and then boarded the Texas Eagle which would take us most of the way home.


One day, I found Max sitting in the viewing car with a notepad and pencil. “What are you up to?” I asked.


“I have to write about my summer,” she said. “For class. I was going to write about softball camp, but this is way cooler.” 


“Definitely cooler,” I agreed.


She put d own the pencil and looked up at me. “Will you read it for me? When I’m done, I mean. I’m not ready yet.” 


I smiled. “I think I can squeeze it in between my other manuscripts,” I said.


She grinned up at me. “Love you a billion!” 


I leaned down and kissed her hair. “Love to you, Max.” 


I turned and saw Grayson standing in the aisle, watching both of us with a silly look on his face. I went to him and he put an arm around me. 


“Stop staring at us, creep,” I teased.


“Just looking at the two girls that I love more than anything,” he replied. 


“I don’t know if I deserve to be in the same tier of love as you have for Max,” I said.


“I do love her more,” he admitted. “I didn’t understand that love until I had her. But you’re pretty damn close too, Piper.”


“Aww,” I said.


“I’m so glad you came into my life. Into our lives,” he clarified. “I don’t know where we would be without you.” 


“I’m glad you came into my life, too,” I said, and I meant every word. 

 

The End