26. 1. 1

Blinking my eyes, I tried remembering where I was. The antiseptic smell of a hospital assaulted my nose, and for a minute, I thought I was back on the Cardiac Care floor at St. Joe’s. But if I was on a shift, what the hell was I doing in bed? When I shifted slightly, a wave of pure exhaustion rippled through my body along with an ache between my legs so strong it felt like a Buick had driven straight through it.

And then it hit me. I’d given birth to my Bella. A replay of the night’s evens came crashing over me. Oh God, I’d given birth in the back of a limousine outside of a Grammys after party. What could be more bizarre? I could only imagine by now the story and pictures had been leaked, sending the media into a frenzy.

My ears perked up at the sound of singing. Turning my head on my pillow, I followed the sound to where AJ sat in a rocker with Isabella in his arms. I remembered that once we’d gotten to the hospital, they had taken her from me. After weighing and measuring her, she’d been given back to feed. Once she finished and left my arms again, exhaustion had set in, and I’d fallen asleep.

Now that I’d woken from my mini-coma, I saw that Bella had been cleaned up, dressed in a onesie, and outfitted with a tiny cap with an enormous pink bow on her head. As he rocked back and forth, AJ softly sang to her in Spanish. With wide-eyes, she stared up at him, occasionally flailing her tiny hands or flicking out her tongue. The expression of pure love and wonderment on AJ’s face as he stared down at his daughter caused my heart to still and then restart.

When I caught AJ’s gaze, he smiled at me before glancing back down at Isabella. “Looks like Mommy is finally awake.”

“Have I been out long?” I questioned, as I tried pushing myself up in the bed.

“About three hours.”

My brows popped up in surprise. “Really?”

He nodded. “You needed it though.”

“I guess so.” With a groan, I wiped my eyes. “I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus.”

“I would imagine so. You just gave birth, for Christ’s sake.”

“In the back of a limo, no less.”

Instead of making a jab at our situation, he gave me a sincere smile. “Even though it wasn’t here in the hospital like we would have wanted, it was still the most amazing experience of my life.”

Tears pooled in my eyes from his words and the depth of emotion with which he said them. “It was, wasn’t it?”

He nodded as he took Bella’s fist in his fingers. “You know, I thought I loved her before, but now that she’s here, it’s incredible.”

Sniffling, I reached for a tissue on the bedside table. “I love you for loving her so much, AJ. But most of all, I love you for being the man that you are.”

“I love you too, amorcito mio.”

I wanted to kiss him—to wrap my arms around him and not let go—but I was too tired. I couldn’t stifle my yawn. AJ smiled. “You just rest, amorcito mio. I’ve got Bella all taken care of. Well, until she needs some boob time again.”

“Whatever,” I murmured, with a grin.

When AJ started humming to Bella again, I giggled. “You know, you’re setting me up for failure singing to her like that. What will we do when you’re out on the road, and she’s stuck with tone deaf me?”

AJ grinned. “Maybe I can go to the studio and lay down some tracks for you to play when I’m gone.”

“That sounds like a good idea.” I motioned to the bassinet. “You should lay her down for a little while. I know you have to be tired, too.”

“I’m fine,” he murmured.

“But remember how the baby books all said that we’ll spoil her if we hold her too much?”

“Yeah, well, fuck Dr. Spock and those other asshats.”

“AJ!”

“Sorry. I know I need to watch my language around her.” His blazing black eyes met mine. “Besides, I thought we both agreed not to listen to those books and raise her in our own way.”

“Yes, I know, but—”

He exhaled a painful sigh. “I just want to do this as long as I can, Mia. I mean, we’ll be leaving for the East Coast tour in two weeks.” He bit his bottom lip like he was trying not to cry, but the tears welled in his eyes anyway. “I already feel this choking panic that I need to memorize every detail of her face, her hands, and body before I have to go so long without seeing her.”

“We’ll Skype together every night, and I’ll text you pictures every day,” I protested, softly.

He gave a quick jerk of his head. “It isn’t the same thing as holding her in my arms, cuddling her close to my heart, and smelling her sweet, little baby scent.” He pinned me with a glare. “And don’t you dare say something to lighten the mood like ‘well, you won’t be thinking she smells so sweet at the next diaper change’!”

“I wasn’t going to,” I murmured. After all the issues we’d had, the only argument AJ and I had experienced in our last five months together was my decision not to come out on the road with him once Bella was born. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be with him—I just wanted Bella to have the comfort and safety of a nursery not on wheels. There was also my job to contend with, which even though AJ thought it was absurd, I wanted to go back to nursing in a few months. It wasn’t about the fact we didn’t need the money—it was the need within me to help and heal people.

But as I watched the tears drip off of AJ’s cheeks and onto Bella’s blanket, some of Mama Sofia’s words echoed through my mind. “Marriage is all about compromise, Emiliana. It’s give and take, but in the end, it’s always going to be the woman giving more because she’s the soul and heart of her man and her family. And when it comes to being a mother, there is nothing that you won’t sacrifice to ensure the happiness and health of your child.” The more those words rolled through my mind, the more I realized what I had to do. “AJ,” I said.

“Yeah?” he questioned, not taking his eyes off of Bella.

“I don’t want you to have to be separated from Bella or from me.”

He jerked his gaze over to mine. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying I’ll go on the road with you—if you’d still like that.”

“Like it? I’d fucking love it!” He leapt out of the rocking chair and came to my side. With Bella nestled in one arm, he leaned over the rails of the bed with the other. He gave me a lingering kiss that warmed my heart. When he pulled away, his brows furrowed. “You’re really willing to quit your job and live a chaotic life on a cramped bus just for me?”

“Not just for you.” I kissed the top of Bella’s capped head. “For her, too.” I smiled at AJ. “Like her mom, she’s blessed with an amazingly, loving father, and she shouldn’t be deprived of one second with him.”

“Oh God, you make me so happy,” he said, bringing his lips back to mine.

“I feel the same way about you.” And in the middle of a very idyllic, very romantic kiss, Bella let out a wail that I could only classify, as ‘I want milk, and I want it now!’ Pulling away, I rubbed AJ’s cheek tenderly before taking Bella in my arms. I didn’t know how I became so blessed, but I was certainly grateful.

After all, a year ago during the darkest times of my life, I would have never thought it was possible to be experiencing the happiness I was now. I wouldn’t have dreamed there could be a man like AJ—one who was so wonderful, so sweet and caring, so generous both in and outside of the bedroom. Most of all, one who was my true soul-mate that Mama Sofia had always said would one day come along. Instead, I would still be believing the many lies my ex’s from my battered and broken past had told me.

But when I least deserved it and after being so stubborn, I had found acceptance of myself, the love of a lifetime, and a family of my own.

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