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Authors: Susan Andersen

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BOOK: Playing Dirty
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EPILOGUE

I’m an auntie!!!

October 9th

A
VA’S PHONE
rang as she and Cade inched forward in the switchback lanes of the security check at Sea-Tac airport. “It’s Janie,” she said and shot him an apologetic look. “I’ll make it brief.”

He felt the corner of his mouth tic up as he took her boarding pass and ID and gestured for her to answer it. He knew better than to get between his woman and her posse.

Sticking a finger in her free ear to block out the ubiquitous loud speaker announcements, she said, “Hey.”

It had been an excellent several months. He’d moved into Ava’s place much more seamlessly than he’d imagined, blending the few things from his own that mattered to him and giving the rest to Beks, who had accepted his offer of a permanent position and followed him to Seattle. Now—

At his side Ava stilled. “
What?
Oh, God. When?”

“What is it?” he demanded.

“Hold on,” she said into the phone and lowered it. “Poppy went into labor.”

“I thought she wasn’t due for another three weeks.”

“Baby decided it wanted to come now, apparently. Jase has taken her to Swedish.”

“Tell Jane we’ll be there.” He reached for his own phone.

“But, your meeting—”

“Can wait. I’ll— Yeah, hi, this is Cade Gallari,” he said when a woman identifying herself as Sondra answered the number he’d called. “Put me through to Burt, will you?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Gallari, but he’s in a meeting and can’t be disturbed. Is there anything I can help you with?”

“Yeah, when he gets out tell him I’ve got a family emergency and I’m sorry but I’ll have to reschedule.”

“Certainly. How does next Thursday at four-fifteen sound?”

“I’ll have my assistant give you a call.”

He hung up a moment later and found himself with an armful of warm, grateful woman.

“God, Cade,
thank
you! You are so the best man in the world. I know this meeting is important. Investors like Mr. Forde don’t exactly grow on trees.”

He shrugged it off. “Poppy and Jane have become important to me, too.” It was truer than his casual tone suggested. In all the ways that mattered they were Ava’s family and—once they accepted that he loved their “sister” like crazy and would cut off his own arm before he hurt her—they’d become his, as well.

“Good thing we just had carry-on this trip,” he said. “Maybe on the way to Swedish you can check your schedule for next week and if it’s clear, we’ll call Beks and have her check mine and call Sondra.”

“You got it. She’d probably like to know about Poppy,
anyhow. Omigawd.” She turned a huge smile on him. “Do you believe this? Poppy’s having a baby!”

Between Ava and Beks, they had everything rescheduled before he and Ava hit I-5. Shortly after that, they were heading up the elevator to the Swedish childbirth center. “We’re going
in
there?” Cade demanded in horror when Ava headed directly for a room. “Whatever happened to the days when people waited in a fricking waiting room?”

“Oh, honey, that is so last millennium,” Jane said from inside the room as Ava opened the door.

“C’mon in, dude,” Dev said. “There’s a privacy screen between us and Poppy’s naked bits.”

“Jesus. Thank God for small favors.”

“I happen to like her naked bits,” Jason said from the other side of the curtain. “Breathe, baby.”

The latter instruction drew attention to the sudden cessation in the rhythmic, pneumatic, “Hee! Hee! Hee! Hee!” coming from the other side. “
You
breathe!” Poppy snarled. “But don’t hold your breath about ever seeing my ‘naked bits’ again, because the next time you poke that big thing in my direction, I’ll cut it off!”

“Ouch,” Dev murmured.

“I want my girls!”

Jason came around the curtain a second later, and his swarthy skin had a definite green tinge. Jane rubbed one wide shoulder as they passed, and Ava gave it a pat and stopped a second to murmur low in his ear.

He crossed over to a rocking chair next to the window seat cushions where Dev and Cade lounged, dropped down in it and rubbed long hands over his face. “God,”
he muttered. “She’s in such fucking pain. They call it back labor, whatever the hell that is.”

It went on for another five and a half hours, with Poppy hopscotching between wanting Jason with her or Ava and Jane or her mother, who had rushed in with her father shortly after Cade and Ava’s arrival. Nurses came and went, and the doctor stopped by during the early part of Cade’s time there.

Then, from behind the screen, Jase suddenly exclaimed, “Holy shit!”

The nurse with him said calmly, “The head’s crowning.”

The doctor strode through the family part of the suite less than a minute later, and after that it was a confusion of instructions, grunts and long, heartfelt groans. Then…silence.

Broken by the wail of a baby.

“Yes!” Cade pumped his arm as everyone waiting cheered.

“What is it?” Poppy’s mom demanded. “Is my grandchild a boy or a girl? Only you two, in this day and age, would decide you didn’t want to know the sex.”

“It’s a girl,” Poppy called.

“That’s what we need,” Dev joked. “Like we aren’t already awash in estrogen around here.”

Mrs. C swatted the back of Dev’s head at the same time she said, “Bella Luca de Sanges” in a dreamy voice.

Jane smacked his leg.

“Shut up, Kavanagh,” Jase instructed from behind the screen. “My daughter is beautiful.”

Cade turned to Ava. “This is what I want,” he said.

“What?” She laughed. “A baby?”

“Everything. You. Marriage. Kids.”

Her laughter stilled as she looked into his eyes. “Even after this? I thought for sure it would send you running for the nearest exit.”

“Hell, no, are you kidding me? This was
great
. I’d love to see my kid born. Except I’d wanna document it.” He gave her a level look. “You have to promise to let me film our kids’ births.”

She shook her head. “Only you, Gallari. Only you could listen to all this and be inspired to propose. That is…that
is
what you’re doing, right?”

“Damn straight. Contingent on the aforementioned filming—that’s a deal-breaker, Spencer.”

She laughed. “It must be the artist in you.”

“So, will you? Marry me?” You could’ve heard a pin drop—even the baby had quit crying—and he looked up to see he had the attention of everyone in the room.

And behind the screen as well, it seemed. “Say yes, Ava,” Poppy called from behind the wall. “And filming’s actually not a bad idea. I wish I’d thought of it for Bella.”

“Seriously?” Ava demanded. “According to you, Jase is never getting that ‘big thing’ near you again.”

Her friend laughed. “Birthing talk,” she said dismissively. “I guess it’s true what they say—you really do forget the pain of childbirth once you clap eyes on your baby.”

“So whataya say?” Cade demanded. “You want Jane’s approval, too, or are you going to marry me?”

“Because you’ve got it if you need it,” Jane said, and Mrs. C added, “Mine, too.”

But Ava didn’t appear to be paying attention. Her eyes were locked on his, and when she smiled at him, her entire face glowed.

Just like his heart, his soul, did when she said firmly, “Yes. Yes, you crazy man. I will definitely marry you.”

“That’s my
girl!
” he said with so much enthusiasm everyone laughed. But resting his forehead against Ava’s, he said just for her, “Thank you, baby. You’ve just made me the happiest man alive—and I’m going to spend the rest of my days doing the same for you.”

“Making me a happy man?”

His lips crooked up. “No, smart-ass. Making you the happiest woman.”

“Well, all right.” She grinned at him. “Sounds like an excellent plan to me.”

ISBN: 978-1-4592-0892-6

PLAYING DIRTY

Copyright © 2011 by Susan Andersen

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher, Harlequin Enterprises Limited, 225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario M3B 3K9, Canada.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

For questions and comments about the quality of this book please contact us at [email protected].

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