/Two Years Later/ The only sound came from the night forest around them. Tree frogs buzzed and a soft breeze teased the leaves of Indian summer. Kat and Riley lay on their backs, hands clasped, sharing the view of stars framed by old trees.

Isn’t it remarkable that we were right here in this exact same spot when we were kids, looking at these same stars? Kat turned her head toward Riley.

Aidan was made right here.

He was. Kat’s smile shone in the darkness. Promise me we’ll come back to this place on our wedding anniversary every year until we’re too old to get up off the ground.

Riley squeezed her hand. I promise, Scout.

Do you know this is the most romantic night of my life?

Riley chuckled. Now I’m sure you’ve been living in Persuasion too long, baby.

Sssshhh, Kat warned him, trying not to giggle. She lowered her voice to a whisper. If we’re not quiet, this little party’s going to be over before it starts.

Riley craned his neck to see past the flickering candles at the blanket’s edge to the occupants of the open SUV. He seemed satisfied that all was well and said, Loretta’s still under the car seat snoring like a backhoe, so if that hasn’t woken her, nothing will.

Kat sighed with what sounded like deep contentment. Fiona’s exhausted.

She must have been held by half the town today. Kat reached up to brush a fingertip along Riley’s jawline. How about you? Did all the excitement exhaust you, too?


Good. ‘Cause I’m not done making out with you yet. Kat rolled over until she lay directly on top of Riley, and he groaned with delight. The feel of her soft female body, stretched out full-length along his, filled him with pleasure. He wrapped his arms around her in awe and gratitude.

I love you so much, Kat.

Her lips moved softly on his. I love you, too, my sweet husband. Thank you for giving me such a happy life.

Thank you.

Riley pulled her close, holding on as tight as he could, his eyes shutting with the intensity of the moment. He’d been filled to capacity with love and contentment lately, like his heart had been pried open to make room enough for the whole world. Kat was responsible for that.

She’d opened his soul with the gift of herself, Aidan, and now their two-month-old daughter, Fiona. Riley grinned to himself, thinking that all this was quite a turn of events for a guy whose own brother once compared his emotional range to that of a zombie-assed robot.

I think Phyllis would be proud and happy, Kat said.

I know she would.

They’d just come from the official opening of the Phyllis Turner Center for Reproductive Health, the latest addition to the clinic complex.

Riley hoped it would turn the tide on the region’s teen pregnancy epidemic and eventually attract the town’s first full-time ob-gyn.

Between that and the clinic’s domestic violence outreach center, life for women in Randolph County had taken a sudden turn for the better.

That, too, was all because of his wife.

The original cash donation from Kat and Cliff had only been a beginning.

With Kat’s dedicated effortsand Carrie’s assistancethe state finally ponied up, and the idea for the reproductive health clinic was born. Kat and Rita came up with the bright idea of selling Virgil’s final sculpture, the vile thing he’d finished right before his death. To this day, no one quite believed what had happened nextart critics raved about it, calling it a masterpiece of madness, and a fancy New York auction house got close to two million for it. Every penny of profit went to pay for domestic violence prevention right here in Persuasion. Kat was finishing up her degree in clinical psychology and worked at the center three days a week.

Did you hear that? Kat whispered, going still in Riley’s arms.

A soft whimper came from inside the truck, and Riley cocked his head to decipher the meaning of the sound. Was Fiona awake? Was she hungry? Did she need to be changed? Did she open her eyes in the darkness and need her parents? Riley waited for another hint, and heard a muffled howl followed by the sound of dog nails churning on carpet.

Loretta’s dreaming, Kat whispered, trying not to laugh.

Riley looked into his wife’s beautiful, smiling face and said, Truth be told, sometimes I think I am, too.

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