Zayne’s deep, booming laugh echoed in the silence of the empty bedroom. Beside him, his wife shushed him, trying her best to stifle her own laughter.
“Shhhh! If you wake up Harper, I swear to God…” Hope shook her head.
“Hey, this is your fault for springing it on me like this!” Zayne smirked playfully at her as he spoke. “Serves me right for working late, I guess…”
“Right? I’ve been waiting to show you all day.”
Zayne looked down at the magazine cover once more, half embarrassed, half amused. He’d nearly forgotten agreeing to a photoshoot and interview with one of Windenburg’s business magazines a few months ago. Dom had convinced him it would be good for business. And Hope, well, she’d been working so hard running the modeling agency for the past several years… But Zayne had a feeling she was eager for the chance to be in front of the camera again.
“God, did they have to use this picture?” He said at last. “I look ridiculous.”
“What are you talking about? You look hot!”
Zayne let out another loud burst of laughter.
This time, Hope didn’t even bother trying to shush him. “I just love that we somehow became ‘Windenburg’s hottest power couple’… And wait until you read the article.”
With a strange mixture of dread and anticipation, Zayne flipped through the pages to find his and Hope’s interview.
As he’d predicted, the article focused more on their personal lives than he would have liked… Especially his. Namedropping a bunch of famous Rosebrooks, detailing the tragedy of losing his parents, and, of course, all about Harper and the struggles they faced as parents.
A soft sigh passed his lips as his eyes scanned the article. “This is supposed to be a business magazine, right?” He asked Hope, half-amused.
“I know. It’s a little ridiculous, isn’t it? But… I guess sob stories are what sells these days.” She rolled her eyes. “They kept in some great quotes from you about opening that second location in Falkenburg though.” Hope pointed down at one of the pages for a moment.
“True!” Zayne agreed. “And look here… ‘From posing in front of the camera to sitting behind the desk at one of the top modeling agencies in Europe, Hope Forrester has single handedly changed the face of the modeling world as we know it’… Damn. That’s good.” His smile widened. “I guess this article isn’t all bad.”
“Definitely not.” Hope agreed. “It’s good publicity too, right?”
Her husband nodded as he closed the magazine and set it aside. “I just wish they’d taken a few pictures of the Peanut to put in there too… We spent half the interview gushing about her, didn’t we?” He laughed.
“Mmm… Our little girl.” Hope smiled warmly. “A picture would have been pretty adorable… But honestly, I’m really liking the eye candy.” She smiled playfully at him and wrapped an arm around his broad shoulders as she spoke. “Maybe you’re the one who should have been in a model instead of me.”
“Oh yeah? My face plastered all over magazines and billboards, huh?” Zayne shook his head. “You’re supposed to make people wanna buy the products, right?”
His wife giggled. “True. All those poor ladies will be too busy wiping the drool off their chins to even think of buying anything…”
“Unless I do an ad for baby bibs?”
A high pitched wailing suddenly pierced through the still night air. “WAAAAAAHHHHHH!”
Zayne felt a terrible sinking feeling in his chest at the sound. Oh no.
“WAAAAAAHHHHHH!” The screeching continued as Harper stumbled through their bedroom door, tears running down her chubby little cheeks.
Zayne was the first one to reach her. He crouched down so he could look Harper in the eyes as he spoke. “Come here, baby girl.” He whispered. “Tell Papa what’s wrong.”
Harper simply continued to cry, though her ear-piercing wails had dropped down to small sobs and sniffles instead. Zayne was grateful for that. Her sobs had already begun giving way to a bit of coughing and labored breaths. He hoped she would be able to calm down enough before they had to resort to her inhaler.
“Does she feel warm?” Hope asked nervously.
Zayne placed a large hand on his daughter’s forehead. “Hmm… A little warmer than usual. But I don’t think it’s a fever…”
His wife leaned closer to Harper for a moment. “Does it hurt, sweetie?”
The toddler continued crying, seemingly ignoring her mother’s question.
“Show us where it hurts, okay?” Hope tried again, carefully enunciating each word.
This time, Harper reached up one of her tiny hands and began tugging on her right ear. Her mother and father exchanged a worried glance.
Great. Zayne’s heart sank as he reached down to scoop the little girl into his arms. Another ear ache… “Guess we can’t take any chances.” He told his wife softly. “We’ll call the doctor in the morning?”
Hope nodded. “I’ll go grab the ear drops.” She quickly headed out the bedroom door toward the bathroom.
Zayne sighed, hugging his sniffling daughter to his chest. He could hardly count the number of times they’d taken Harper to the doctor since she’d been born. Back when she was a newborn, it had almost felt like they lived at the hospital — and they more or less did, for the first several weeks of her life, at least. But ever since, it felt like there was always something bringing them back.
Her weakened immune system and poorly developed lungs were a dangerous combination — one that still caused problems even now. Zayne just prayed it was another simple ear infection this time… The last time Harper had ear pain, it had been a symptom of walking pneumonia.
Her party was on Saturday, and the last thing his little girl needed was to be sick on her birthday.
“There.” Hope forced a smile as she squeezed a few drops into Harper’s ear. “All done, Peanut.” She spoke a bit louder than usual as she addressed her daughter. Whenever this happened, it was normal for Harper’s ears to become so blocked that she could barely hear. “It’ll be all better soon.”
“Tank oo, mama.” The little girl replied softly.
“You’re welcome, honey.” Hope reached out and took Harper into her arms, carrying her back toward the bed with her.
She scooped up the little girl in one of her hands, tickling her ribs with the other until a soft giggle escaped Harper’s lips. “Ah, there’s the smile.” Her mother beamed.
Zayne looked down at the pair of them, marveling at the beautiful sight of his two favorite people in the entire universe. He would never understand what he did to deserve either of them… But whatever he did, he was so grateful for it. He just wished he didn’t have to see his little girl in so much pain.
“Feeling better, baby girl?” He asked his daughter as he climbed into bed beside them. Zayne realized too late that he was speaking into her blocked ear. He looked toward his wife for a moment.
“Harper, Papa asked if you’re feeling better.” Hope repeated gently into the little girl’s left ear.
Harper nodded, the pout finally gone from her face. “A wittle.” Her soft little voice replied.
“Tomorrow, Papa will take you to the doctor, okay? And the doctor will make it all better.” Zayne assured her, speaking loudly and clearly. He supposed most three-year-olds would be dreading a trip to the doctor… But Harper didn’t even flinch. She was so used to it already. “And then maybe afterwards we can get some ice cream.”
Harper’s entire face lit up. “Isa cweam!” She pulled away from Hope, racing eagerly into her father’s arms.
“Aha, I knew that’d make everything better.” Zayne teased.
“Let’s try to get some sleep now, okay Peanut?” Hope asked kindly. “Do you wanna sleep in here with mama and Papa?”
The little girl nodded. “Pwease?”
As always, neither of her parents could say no to her sweet little face. Hope slipped out of bed to turn off the light while Harper pressed her lips against her father’s for a moment.
“Mama and Papa love you so much, baby girl.” Zayne smiled warmly at her. “Goodnight.”
“Nuh-night, Papa.” Harper turned toward Hope as she crawled back into bed with them. “Nuh-night, mama.”
“Sweet dreams, Peanut.”
Within minutes, all three of them were fast asleep.
Shoutout to Maladi777 for helping me edit the magazine cover in this chapter!