Republisher’s Note: I am very excited to restore the full text of this fanfic to the web and I hope you enjoyed it too.
Author’s Note: Well, for better or worse, here it is…finally the end. I couldn’t end this story though without first thanking Connie and Kai. Ladies, you’ll never know how much I appreciate our friendship. I respect and admire you both more than I can say and could never thank you enough for everything! And thank you for keeping me sane!!
To all of you who took the time to read my stories, thank you for allowing me to share a little of myself. And to those of you who replied, you’ll never know how much your support and encouragement has helped me continue doing something I love to do.
Wow…I guess I should just shut up now and get to the story! There’s really nothing else to say but thank you from the bottom of my heart. Here’s to better days ahead…
The Ties That Bind by Blue Eyes Epilogue
Michelle eased her shaky legs down the staircase, one step at a time, gripping the wooden banister as much as her unsteady hands would allow. She felt relief when she reached the bottom step, knowing her next step would carry her to the steady hardwood floor of the hallway leading her to her destination. Just as she was about to take that final stride, her toe stumped a rather large, metal object sitting on the floor just before her. She narrowed her eyes in the darkness at the object, as words she never wanted her children to hear from anyone, much less her, slipped from her lips. Once her eyes focused in the dim light, she saw the outline of a bright red toy fire truck. How many times had she told Justin his toys belonged in his toy box in the playroom? She sat down on one of the lower steps and began to gently rub her throbbing toe. Her anger soon subsided as the memories of the past year began to replay in her mind. There was a time not so long ago when she would have given anything under the stars to trip over one of his toys. Though she knew Justin was safe now and the threat that had been the source of his disappearance was, for the most part, gone from their lives, she still had the nightmares. Maybe a mother never got over something like that. When one of her children was in danger or in need, she knew. And she would never stop worrying about them or having that yearning to protect them at any cost.
Once the throbbing had diminished, she ungracefully pushed herself up to her feet and continued down the hall toward the living room. The soft glow from one of the table lamps greeted her as she rounded the corner. Just as she had suspected, Danny was fast asleep on the couch, the newest member of the family also sleeping soundly, nestled safely on his chest.
Madelyn Hope Santos entered their lives two weeks ago, weighing in at just under five pounds and arriving three weeks early. After spending the first twelve days of her life in the hospital, she was spending her second full night at home and had yet to spend more than ten consecutive minutes in the room her parents had lavishly furnished for her. It seemed baby Madelyn, or Maddie as her father loved to call her, would rather keep her parents awake all hours of the night.
Michelle had just come home herself from a longer than expected stay at the hospital. After a somewhat complicated pregnancy, which had landed her in the ER on two more separate occasions, she had been forced to spend the past six weeks on complete bed rest. She had suffered from a minor infection after delivering by cesarean which had Danny a nervous wreck for days before he finally accepted Dr. Sedwick’s assurance that Michelle would be fine. Then two days ago, both mother and daughter were given a clean bill of health and sent home to be cared for by their loving father and husband. Michelle was still moving around a bit slower than usual and Danny had been in his usual overprotective mode, insisting she stay in bed as much as their youngest daughter would allow her. After getting up with her just over two hours ago, she must have slept right through her latest cries. Gingerly touching her sore breasts, she knew it was almost time for her eat again and despite Danny’s proclamations that he could handle everything himself, that was one area where he couldn’t help.
She eased herself down carefully, one leg at a time, to kneel beside two of the most precious people in her life. Her eyes first focused on her daughter’s button nose then down to her small pouty lips which were parted slightly as she slept. Danny had told her from the day she was born that Madelyn’s nose and lips looked like tiny replicas of her own. But her dark hair and olive skin were most definitely inherited from her father. Rachel may look just like Michelle and Justin looked just like Danny, but this little one, she was a perfect mixture of them both. And after having survived the hardest year of their lives together, she wouldn’t have it any other way. She was their reward for everything they had endured, everything they had suffered. She was their miracle.
When her fingers began to run through his soft curls, Danny began to stir, his eyes parting enough to see his wife’s smiling face. “What are you doing up?” his voice thick with sleep. “Why aren’t you in bed?”
“I woke up and found you gone. I figured you would be down here with her,” she smiled, resting a hand on her daughter’s tiny back.
“Yeah,” he mumbled, trying to clear the grogginess from his voice. “She finally quieted down and I guess I just dozed off. I’ll take her back upstairs to her cradle. Why don’t you go crawl back into bed?”
“I’m okay,” she sighed. “Besides, it’s almost time for her to eat again.”
“Already?” he frowned, his eyes straining to see the clock on the fireplace mantle. “What time is it?”
“About 11:45, I think,” she responded.
“Man,” he groaned, rubbing fiercely at his tired eyes. “We’ve only been down here for about an hour.”
“I can’t believe I didn’t hear her crying.”
“You’re exhausted, honey,” he stroked her cheek with one hand, while the other protectively held their baby girl.
“Well Madelyn needs her mommy to stay awake right now,” she managed a tired smile. “I’ll go back to bed after she eats.”
He felt his baby begin to stir against his chest and he looked down to see her wrinkled face, knowing her cries were about to begin. “Well, Maddie, must have heard her mommy’s voice.”
“Madelyn.” Michelle corrected with a playful grin.
“Maddie.” He laughed before the cries began to fill the room. “As much as I would love to be able to help here, I think this is your department.”
“What? You mean to tell me theres finally something you admit to not being able to do?” she playfully slapped his chest as she moved her hands to pick up her crying daughter from his chest. “Come here, my baby girl. Mama’s here.”
“Yes, I am a humble man,” a cocky grin covered his face as he helped ease his daughter from his chest. “I admit there are some things God just didn’t intend for men to be able to do. Michelle began to laugh as she tried to stand, but stopped short with a grimace. Danny’s smile quickly faded as his heart skipped a beat. “Slow down, Michelle. Here, take it easy.” He jumped to his feet and put a firm arm around her waist as he helped her stand. “You want to sit on the couch or in the rocking chair?”
“The couch is too hard to get up from,” she frowned. “I’ll just sit in the rocking chair.”
“Are you still hurting a lot?”
She rolled her eyes at him, shaking her head as she began to adjust her daughter against her body. “Danny, didn’t you hear Dr. Sedwick give me a clean bill of health?”
“That’s not what I asked.” He let out a frustrated sigh as he watched his wife giving his daughter the nourishment her little body needed.”
“Danny, I’m fine,” she looked up at him lovingly. “It’s only natural to be a little sore after a cesarean. It’s just going to take a little time for me to get back to normal. Don’t worry so much.”
“I’ll always worry about you, all of you.” He moved to straddle the ottoman sitting just in front of her chair as he continued to keep his eyes trained on his daughter.
“Guess I can’t stop you,” she smiled. “But we’re going to be fine,” I promise. She watched him as his gaze continued to stare at her and the baby. He looked as if he were in a hypnotic trance. “Hey. It’s not polite to stare, bud,” she giggled.
“Huh? What?” his eyes clouded in confusion as her voice snapped him from his trance. “I’m sorry. I just…”
“It’s okay,” she tried to suppress further laughter when she saw his cheeks stain a dark crimson.
“It’s just so amazing…”
“You,” he looked at her with a look of wonderment on his face. “I don’t think you’ve ever looked more beautiful than you do at this very moment.”
“What?” she frowned, running a hand through her tangled curls. She groaned when she felt the loose, frizzy stands that had fallen free from the ponytail she was trying in vain to keep her hair out of her face. “Danny, I look a mess.”
“You look beautiful.”
“I’m a mess.”
“You…are…beautiful,” he repeated, emphasizing each word. “Don’t ever doubt how beautiful you are.”
“You like my hair again, don’t you?” she teased as she shifted Maddie in her arms.
“I’ve always loved your hair,” his eyes danced playfully. “However you’ve had it.”
“Yeah, but you love it more now that the blond is back and it’s getting long again,” she frowned as she fingered the ends of her hair, realizing she was long overdue for a trim. “Getting too long actually.”
“You’re my Goldilocks again,” he grinned, resting his hands on her knees.
“I don’t think Rachel is ready to surrender that title,” she laughed.
“Well you both can be my Goldilocks.” His hands inched their way slowly up her legs to rest on her thighs, leaning up to whisper in her ear. “You’re just the sexy one.”
Her body involuntarily shuddered as his breath tickled the hairs on her neck. “Ststop,” she finally found the strength to muster a word. Shaking her head, she pushed at his hands. “I sure don’t feel very sexy right now.”
“Oh, believe me,” his laugh seductive. “You are most definitely sexy right now. You always are.”
“You sure the kids are okay with Rick and Abby?” she sighed, eager to change the subject.
Catching the not so subtle frustration in her tone, he decided to leave well enough alone for now. “Yes, sweetie. I’m sure they’re fine. They were excited to get to spend a few days with their Aunt Abby and Uncle Rick. Of course, you know they’re getting spoiled rotten over there.”
“Rick and Abby really are lifesavers for letting them stay there for a few days. I don’t think I could have handled them and the baby.” She placed her daughter carefully over her shoulder, patting her back gently. “I miss them though.”
“They’ll be home tomorrow night,” he rubbed her legs with his hands. “I think they’re both anxious to spend some time with their new baby sister.”
“I was kind of worried about Justin,” Michelle sighed. “He was the center of attention for months and I wasn’t sure how he would adjust when the baby was born.”
“I thought about that too. I know my mother always told me how Mick was jealous when they first brought me home from the hospital, but he…” Danny stopped short when he realized where his conversation had led and feeling contrite, tried to drop his hands from her legs.
Before he could move away, Michelle reached down and grabbed one of his hands, clutching it tightly as their fingers instinctively interlaced. “Honey, don’t be sorry. You don’t ever have to be sorry for talking about Mick. He’s your brother, Danny. He always will be.”
“I just don’t even want to think about him being a part of our lives until I know for sure he is going to follow through with everything he said he would.”
“So he and your mother still plan to turn over all of the illegal business to the other families?”
“That’s what they tell me,” he sighed.
“I hope they’re serious,” she shook her head slowly. “I really hope they are.”
“Well, if they aren’t, then there is no place for them in our lives. We aren’t going to live in fear anymore. I am not going to raise my children in the kind of life I had to endure as a child. They deserve more, you deserve more. And I’m going to make sure I give it to all of you.”
His eyes were so full of love and devotion, it brought tears to her eyes. She placed her hand against his face, cradling his cheek against her palm. “You’ve given us everything we ever could ask for. You’re a wonderful man, Daniel Santos. Don’t ever doubt that.”
He pressed a kiss to her palm and dropped to his knees beside her, reaching up to caress her face. “And you’re a wonderful woman, Michelle Bauer Santos. You’re a wonderful wife and mother and my very best friend.”
“Okay, we really have to stop this,” she wiped at the tears streaming down her face.
“Emotions still all over the place, huh?” he laughed through his own tears.
“Yes,” she smiled shyly. “At least Pilar understands what I’m going through. I think Bill is running out of patience dealing with her crying spells, though.”
“Well, my little sister has always been over emotional,” he laughed. “She’s always cried at the drop of a hat. And now that Isabella is here, well I’m sure it’s only gotten worse.”
“I can’t believe she’s almost a month old and I’ve barely seen her,” she sighed, resting her head against the back of the chair as she inhaled the sweet fragrance of her baby’s soft skin.
“You’ve been just a little busy, sweetie.”
“I know, but she’s my sister-in-law’s and childhood friend’s first baby. I want to spend some time with her and let her and Maddie be together as well,” she turned her around to cradle her against her chest.
“Maddie?” he looked at her playfully.
“Okay, okay,” she smiled. “What can I say? You’re rubbing off on me. Now, I think your daughter has finally drifted off to sleep,” she whispered. “We really should take advantage of this reprieve and get some sleep ourselves.”
“Why don’t you go lay her down and come back down here?” a devilish grin on his face.
“Why?” she quizzed.
“Just go lay her down,” he repeated with a smile.
“Okay,” her eyebrows arched in confusion and wonderment of what he was up to. “You want to kiss your daughter goodnight?”
He helped Michelle stand to her feet, steadying her with his hands as he leaned in closer to his daughter. Placing a tender kiss to her forehead, he whispered. “Goodnight my baby girl. See you in about an hour.”
“Sshh!” Michelle frowned. “Don’t jinx it.”
She heard him laughing quietly as she made her way slowly back up the stairs, clutching Maddie tightly against her body. As she made her way down the quiet hallway toward her room, she couldn’t help but feel a wave of emptiness sweep through her. She was used to hearing the laughter and even the fighting between Rachel and Justin and despite the joy this new little one brought her, she missed having all of her children with her. It would be a blessing to finally have her family, her entire family, all under the same roof.
Gently, she laid Maddie down into the small wooden cradle that sat beside her side of hers and Danny’s bed. She remembered wistfully the day Danny came home so excited because he had found this cradle, a family heirloom dating from the early 1900s. The very cradle, his grandfather, his father and he, Mick and Pilar had all slept in and his grandmother had wanted him to use for his first child. Abuela had passed away shortly before they found out Michelle was pregnant with Rachel and no one knew for sure where the cradle had been stored. Then, about three months before Maddie was born, Carmen had called to tell him his uncle had called and told her he had been storing it the attic of his house in California. Danny had felt guilty at first for taking it, knowing that Pilar may have wanted it for her first baby. But Pilar knew the special relationship Danny had had with their grandmother and there was no way she would deny him the right to have his little girl, the last newborn child he would ever have, sleep in this cradle. Having a Santos family heirloom in her house wasn’t exactly something Michelle was prepared for, but with one look at the pure joy on Danny’s face whenever he looked at it, she had no qualms about letting her daughter sleep there. Their children were going to grow up proud of their name. Their father had made sure of that.
Pulling the soft pink blanket over Maddie’s back, Michelle knelt to the floor and lowered her lips to press a gentle kiss to her daughters soft head. Closing her eyes, she offered up the same prayer she had recited every single day for the past eight years and especially over the past fourteen days.
“Thank you dear, gracious Father, for this miracle,this precious gift You have blessed us with. Thank you for all four of the miracles in my life. Please watch over my babies, all three of them, keep them safe and let them always know they are loved. And thank you for the love of my life, my soulmate, my best friend. Help him keep the peace You have bestowed on him and never let him doubt he is a good man and deserves the life You have blessed him with. And help me be the wife he is worthy of and the mother my children deserve. Amen.”
Placing one more tender kiss to her slumbering daughter’s cheek, she pushed herself to her feet, wiping the tears from her eyes she began to retrace her footsteps back down the stairs that would lead her to her husband. As she rounded the corner into the living room, her chest constricted almost painfully as the breath left her body. Her eyes scanned the dimly lit room at the dozens of candles that glowed from almost every inch of the room, the flickering flames sending shadows dancing across her face. She couldn’t have imagined this room looking any more beautiful than it did at this very moment in time, but then he appeared and she was proven wrong. Standing in the adjacent doorway, with a single long-stem red rose in his hands, was the man of her dreams, the man who had made every single dream she had ever had come true.
“Wh..what…” her voice eluded her as she followed every step he took, closing the distance between them.
“It’s after midnight,” he smiled as he held the rose out before her. He bowed his head toward her ear as he placed several warm kisses along her jaw until he reached her ear, his breath vibrating against her ear, sending shock waves through her body. “Happy birthday baby.”
“Birth…birthday?” As his arms tightened around her waist, drawing her to him, she was finding it even more difficult to complete a word, much less a complete sentence.
“Your birthday. You didn’t think I would forget, did you?”
“I almost forgot,” she smiled. “I can’t believe this,” her eyes darted from the flickering candles back to his handsome face. “I can’t believe you.”
“Well, this is just the first of things to come,” he smiled. “I have to make my sweetheart’s birthday memorable.”
“You make every day memorable.” Her fingers tenderly stroked his face as he began to pull back, walking backwards across the room while holding her hand as long as possible. “Wait, where are you going?”
“Patience, my dear.” His seductive smile nearly turned her legs to complete jelly, as their fingers finally slid from each others grasp.
She watched as he turned his back to her slightly toward the elaborate stereo system he had insisted on buying last Christmas. The music that stereo had seen thus far hadn’t extended beyond some boy band Rachel loved to listen to or a Barney song they still had not shook Justin from. But as the first strains of the music began, she realized this wasn’t a boy band and it most definitely wasn’t a Barney song. Danny’s seductive eyes, now filled with even more love and passion, found their way back to hers. He crossed the room making his way back to her as he extended his hand to her. “The first of your birthday presents, my lady. Would you do me the honor of this dance?”
Without breaking the spell his eyes held over her, she nodded slowly and placed her hand in his. As he pulled her close, their bodies molding together as if they were made for each other as they swayed to the music, any thought she had of not being beautiful or sexy or being too flabby after giving birth to her third child, it was all gone. His hands gliding up and down her spine, his lips feathering tender kisses to her neck, in his arms she felt like the most beautiful woman in the world, he always made her feel beautiful.
I don’t know how I survived
In this cold and empty world for all this time
I only know that I’m alive
Because you love me
When I recall what I’ve been through
There’s some things that I wish I didn’t do
Now I do the things I do
Because you love me
As his lips found their way to hers, he paused, their faces mere centimeters apart as he looked into her eyes. “Do you know how much I want to take you upstairs right now and just make love to you all night long?”
“I’m sorry,” her voice disheartened and remorseful as their forehead touched. “I know it’s been a long time, what with all the problems before Maddie was born and now…”
“Ssshh!” he silenced her with his finger on her lips. “I know we have to wait. And your health comes first and foremost before anything else. I want you to be completely well. I just miss you.”
“I promise it won’t be much longer before…”
This time it was his lips that silenced her. Leaving them both breathless, he managed a soft whisper. “No more talking.”
And now that you’re in my life
(Oh) I’m so glad I’m alive
‘Cause you showed me the way
And I know now how good it can be
Because you love me
I believe in things unseen
I believe in the message of a dream
And I believe in what you are
Because you love me
He continued to re-familiarize himself with her body, his hands journeying down her back, up to gently massage her shoulders before gliding up her sides. His fingers sliding the strap of her cotton nightgown down her shoulder to expose the upper swells of her breasts. He removed his lips from hers and bowing his head, trailed delicate kisses down her throat until they reached their destination. She lost herself in the hypnotic trance he held over her, reveling in the pleasure he was giving her as he touched places that his lips hadn’t touched in a long time too long. Letting out a frustrated groan when his lips stopped the magnificent work they were doing, her frustration only lasted a millisecond as those very same lips began an assault on her lips that literally caused her knees to buckle. He tightened his arm around her waist, holding her even closer as he broke the kiss, leaving them both breathless. She looked up at him with lustful eyes to see him smiling slightly in triumph, he knowing the power he held over her. Returning the favor, she cradled his neck in her hand and forced his lips to come crashing down on hers. Their tongues dancing the familiar rhythm they both knew so well before she broke their kiss. This time she was the one smiling in triumph as his chocolate eyes had turned to onyx pools, darkened with desire. Enjoying this game, he knew it was now his turn again. He lowered his head, his teeth tugging fiercely at her earlobe causing a low groan to escape from deep within her. She held onto his arms for support as his lips rested against her ear, his voice softly singing the last few words of the song as it came to a conclusion.
With all my heart, and all my soul, I’m lovin’ you and I never will let go. And every day I let it show, because you love me because you love me.
Cradling her face between his hands, he looked deep into her eyes. “I love you, Michelle.With all my heart and will all my soul.”
Feeling the tears pricking the backs of her eyes, she stared back into the eyes she loved so much, the eyes of the man she loved more than her life. “I will always love you Daniel Santos. You have my heart forever.”
He swept her off her feet, cradling her in his arms and he moved to carry her up the stairs. “I know we can’t make love, but I just want to hold you close tonight.”
Smiling at him with complete and utter adoration, she slowly nodded her head. “Is this the happy ending you’ve always promised me?”
“No,” his own eyes glistening with tears. “This is only the beginning.”
Song: “Because You Love Me” by Jo Dee Messina (John Scott Sherrill/Kostas)