Chapter Three

 Chapter Three
Morning in Bloom

February 15. The Bloom House. Canterbury, England.

Aurora had always been the crafty one of the pair. So it came to no surprise to Orlando when Gus and Aurora had decided to join him and Della in bed one morning that it was Aurora’s idea.

The air had been still before the twins’ arrival. As he climbed up from the depths of slumber, he felt a hand slide down his chest to his navel. As it hovered teasingly above the waistband of his boxers, a smile curved his lips.

“I would think you would have a little mercy for me,” Orlando murmured as his blood hummed.

Della laughed, low and mischievously. “I just love torturing you. I can’t help it.” She leaned over and kissed him on the lips. Before she could escape, he pulled her close to deepen the kiss. Before she could pull away, Orlando had brought her atop him. She smirked as his exploring hands scaled her thighs.

“I think this is how we got this one,” Della remarked, blue eyes twinkling with mirth.

“Oh really?” Orlando feigned an innocent expression. “I really wasn’t sure how that happened. It seems so long ago.”

“Ha, ha. Very funny.” She glanced worriedly at their closed door, then peered down into his sleepy, aroused brown eyes. “They could come in any second.”

Orlando traced a curve of her lace underwear with his thumb, starting an old, familiar ache. “I promise you, love, it won’t take long.”

Della threw back her head and laughed. With her mother’s ears, she could hear the patter of little footsteps coming down the hall. She allowed one little indulgence for her husband, trying her hardest to keep it short. The will of the gods might have been hell bent on torture—and embarrassment.

As she figured, a minute passed, and then her daughter’s voice came from behind the door. “Mummy? Daddy?”

Orlando cursed under his breath and had Della swallowing a giggle. As deftly as she could, Della slid off of her husband and grabbed for her robe. Orlando settled back into the pillows and groaned. He muttered something about having children and no sex life.

Della opened the door with a flourish. The twins raced past her and jumped onto their parents’ bed, jostling Orlando. Della turned as squeals of laughter filled their bedroom. You wouldn’t guess by just looking at him that the man was sexually frustrated.

“Uncle, uncle!” Gus cried, trying to escape the onslaught of his father’s tickling hands.

“What was that?” Orlando asked, pretending that he couldn’t hear very well. “Did you say…uncle?”

Gus giggled harder as Orlando tickled him more. Della climbed back onto bed, and Aurora leaned into her. She smiled and placed a kiss on her daughter’s forehead. Yes, she didn’t regret hurrying off and marrying Orlando in secret one bit. But she suddenly sighed, worrying over the phone call she was going to have to make to Audrey. Her cousin was currently in charge of her image, and at the moment, the image Audrey had carefully constructed was one of a single mother with twins and one on the way, unknown father AWOL.

Orlando, who had been watching her like a hawk (much to her dismay) over the past ten days, paused suddenly and stared at her as if she was set to pass the baby right then.

She caught him staring. “What?” she demanded.

Orlando didn’t blink. “You sighed.”

“Bloody hell,” Della swore, borrowing one of his curses and forgetting for a moment that little ears were listening. She caught herself and apologized profusely, telling them not to ever repeat what Mummy had just said.

“Okay, Mummy,” Gus and Aurora promised in perfect accord.

She gazed at her husband, fighting for patience. She loved him and understood his concern, considering the fact that her health and the baby’s were at stake. But it was about to drive her batty.

“Look, I was just thinking about the fact that I’m going to have to talk to Audrey about this,” Della told him. “As much as I would love to keep this a secret, the world is going to find out that you and I got married.”

“I know,” Orlando said. “And I’m prepared to handle it.” He reached across, took her hand. “We can handle this together. It’s not quite the way we planned things, but…we can make it work. And then the world can know about my little warrior”—he tickled Gus again—“and my little roaring Bloom.”

Aurora tilted her head up at her mother. “Why does Daddy call me that, Mummy?”

Orlando, amused, and Della, exasperated, shared a knowing look, then Orlando laughed. Gus and Aurora gazed at them puzzledly.

“You had colic as a baby,” Orlando told her. He looked down at Gus, who was staring at him with rapt attention, for a second before looking back at Aurora. “I remember the night your mum called me. She was on the verge of pulling her hair out.”

Della glared at him. “I was not,” she insisted.

Orlando smirked at the twins. “Well, I’ll just tell the story and you two can be the judge.”

FLASHBACK. About four years and eight months ago. Della’s apartment in New York.

It wasn’t an easy acclimation from being pregnant to becoming a mother to two newborns. August was the serene one of the pair, while Aurora seemed to cry enough for the two of them. Della made this known to Orlando on his nightly calls.

“She cries all the time?” Orlando asked in sleepy disbelief. He wanted to sleep, but he had been determined to check on his family first. Unfortunately, it seemed to only cause him more anxiety.

“Not all the time, but a lot,” Della explained. It was the afternoon in New York; where Orlando was it was early morning. “It’s quite frustrating. Burping her doesn’t help. It usually takes me hours to calm her down, and Nick has to take Gus out walking while Aurora calms down.”

“Maybe you should take her to the doctor,” Orlando suggested.

“We have an appointment on Thursday,” Della told him. “Hopefully we can get some answers then.”

“It may be colic, love.”

Della winced. “Oh bloody hell. Please don’t let it be colic.”

* * *

Much to Della’s dismay, it was colic.

One day, while Aurora was sleeping, Della put her head in her hands and sighed. Monique had returned to California to resume her coursework at a California university despite her wishes to stay in New York. Itazura stayed behind. Margo and Nick were in Chicago at the moment, talking with one of Nick’s music producer friends about the True Dawn album. That weighed on Della’s mind, but not as much as her daughter’s colic.

Unfortunately, there was one particularly heinous night a week after the doctor’s appointment. Itazura had taken Gus out on a walk again to make sure he got some sleep. And Aurora had continued her wailing, well into the night. Della paced, rocked, swayed, sang. Nothing helped. She prayed for some sort of mercy from something, someone. Her nerves were on edge, and in one more minute, her sanity was going to plunge headlong to its demise.

And then, as if her prayers were being answered, the doorknob twitched as if someone was trying to unlock the door. Della froze, foggy mind racing. Did Itazura forget something? No, she would have called. Was someone trying to break in? God, she hoped not. But then again, a screaming newborn might be a better deterrent than mace.

Della took a sharply indrawn breath as the door swung open. Then she held it as a familiar but tired face loomed into view.

Orlando dropped his bags by the door and barely remembered to close and lock the door. He took in the expression of pure distress on Della’s pale face and Aurora’s flushed one. He crossed the room quickly and gently took his screaming daughter from her mother. Della remembered to exhale as she listened in disbelief to Orlando’s soothing murmurs.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she asked, but there was no heat in it.

Because he understood her astonishment, Orlando answered, “I decided to come home for a couple of days. You need help, love.” Della sighed, weariness crashing down upon her as her sanity was saved once again. She opened her mouth to speak, but Orlando spoke first. “Go lie down for a little while, Della. I’ll try to get her quiet.”

But it was still hard to let go of the fight before it was complete. “But Orlando—”

“Adelaide,” Orlando began in a warning tone that left no room for disagreement. Della nearly pouted. He never called her Adelaide unless he was annoyed with her. She took that as a sign she should back down and do as she was told.

Two hours later, when she woke up in her own bed, in the dark, something seemed strange. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, trying to figure out what was different.

When it hit her, she raced out of the room and down the hall to the nursery. And could only pause in the doorway and watch, misty-eyed.

Orlando sat in the rocking chair, a pillow supporting his neck, Aurora on his chest. She was quiet. She was in the throes of sleep, looking like a little dark-haired angel just like her sleeping brother in the opposite crib. He must have been dozing lightly, because when Della tiptoed over to the chair, he grinned a bit.

“I told you I could do it,” he muttered, eyes still closed.

Della rolled her eyes. “Bravo, Bloom,” she said dryly. “Say, do you do housework as an encore?”

He snorted softly. “You’ve got to be jesting.” When Della’s expression indicated that she wasn’t, Orlando groaned. “Can’t a bloke get a couple of days of rest—?”

Della laughed softly. “I was jesting. Put Aurora down and come to bed.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Orlando touched Aurora’s tiny knuckles with a fingertip. “She’s so beautiful, isn’t she Della? Such a darling little one.” His lips curved in a proud smile. “My little Roaring Bloom.”

Della didn’t say anything, just watched as Orlando rose and gently placed Aurora in her crib. He watched her for a moment, then turned to her mother and led her to the bedroom. What happened next—well, we don’t want to describe that for little ears, now do we?

* * *

“And that’s how Aurora got the nickname the Roaring Bloom,” Orlando finished for his enraptured twins.

“Because she’s loud, Daddy?” Gus asked.

“Hey!” Aurora cried defensively. “That’s not fair. I am not loud.”

Gus rolled over and sat up. “You are, too, Aurora. You’re like a tiger when you’re mad.” He growled for effect.

Aurora’s brown eyes flashed over, making Orlando laugh. Yes, she was going to be a firecracker in the coming years, causing more worry than peace.

“Maybe it’s time for breakfast,” Della broke in. She leveled impish eyes at her husband. “And it’s Daddy’s turn to make it.”

As the twins threw themselves at their father with their breakfast requests, Orlando narrowed his eyes at Della. She just smirked at him, feigning innocence as he did earlier. Yes, the mornings weren’t so bad at the Bloom house. They were the comfort of a hectic life, set to only get crazier and crazier.

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