Heart’s Gift

Heart’s Gift

This short story was originally written as a holiday gift for my readers. It’s recommended that you read it after The Chocolate Heart and Shadowed Heart to get the most out of it.

 

A Luc & Summer Short Story

by Laura Florand

 

“Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God—” Summer clutched at Luc’s hands, writhing against the agony. Desperately, she tried to focus on him, to get herself through this, the light at the end of her tunnel of pain.

Luc’s gold skin was ashen. Black eyes clung to hers as if he was watching her drown, helpless to stop it. “Breathe.” His own breath came in sharp pants. “In, out, in—”

“Oh, Christ, it hurts, I can’t, Luc! I can’t!”

Black hair clung damp to his temples. She’d always said he had a face that looked as if he’d been forged in chaos to become a god. Right now, he looked as if he’d been thrown back into the crucible. “I’ll get a doctor. We’ll get a goddamn epidural. This—”

“Luc! Don’t you weaken me. You’re supposed to help me be strong. I want this. I want to do it this way—oh, God. Ogodogodogod—” Pain locked one monster fist around her middle and squeezed. Harder, harder, this incredible relentless grip that came from inside her. Her own muscles were torturing her this way.

“Breathe. Breathe, soleil, you—“

“Shut the fuck up about the breathing! Oh, God.

Pain worse than anything life had ever prepared her for, worse than heartbreak, worse than contempt, worse than every word her father had ever spoken to her, this deep-muscle, merciless pain. And then the monster slowly opened his fist. She gasped for breath, knowing by now that the monster wouldn’t relent for long. But in the moment of respite, her hand slowly relaxed on Luc’s. He flexed it silently, rippling the fingers, the marks of hers red and white against his skin. The glorious sea view and the pale walls of the luxury birthing room, there in Cannes, mocked her. Money couldn’t get her out of this one. She was in for it. It was going to get even worse.

“Fuck, why did I decide not to get an epidural,” she whispered. “My mom told me I would regret it.”

“Summer.” Luc leapt at the opportunity. “You can change your min—”

Summer slapped a sweat-damp hand over his mouth, locking her eyes with his. “Shut up. I mean it, Luc. Don’t you tell me all the ways I can cop out right now. You have to help me be strong.”

He stared at her a moment, eyes black as those of a man struggling with a nightmare. “Okay.” He took a deep breath. “Okay.” A bead of sweat trickled slowly down his temple. “You can do this,” he said flatly. He took both her hands again. “You’ve got this. You’re doing great.”

“Oh, fuck, here it comes again,” Summer gasped. “Ogodogodogod—”

***

Eight hours later.

“She’s coming! I can see the head!”

Summer had no more breath to yell, her face red with effort, the muscles in her neck and the veins in her forehead standing out as she strained. She looked horrendous. Luc, thirteen hours in, could only stare at that effort, every part of him feeling shaky and weak. Go, soleil. Go. God.

“Sir, if you want to catch the baby—”

Oh, God.

He moved between Summer’s spread legs, this incredible, intimate, ugly, beautiful moment that he never had imagined when he first imagined spreading Summer’s legs.

The wet, slimy head was coming out. And then the shoulders.

And then Summer made this god-awful sound and, oh, God, he was holding this tiny, messy creature in his hands, and that tiny creature blinked open her eyes and screamed bloody murder.

“Wonderful!” Doctors and nurses whisked around him, leaning in to check on the baby. He stared down into a crinkled face, beet red, mouth wide open in rage.

“Let me see,” Summer whispered weakly. “I can’t even see.”

Someone was clamping off the umbilical cord. The baby weighed nothing. Weightless in the crook of his arm, so tiny she didn’t even fill the length of a forearm, and as he tried to make sure he had a secure hold of her, and kept the head supported, and all those things he tried to remember from the birthing class, he was afraid he would break something just shifting her around. And, Christ, but she was mad. Blurry eyes searched through the light, trying to fix on his face so she could pin that glare on him. Shit, maybe he should have let the doctor catch her, so she would blame somebody else.

He brought the baby up the bed to Summer. Meet your maman. She wanted to do this to you, too. Bring you into our lives. Give you the world.

Maman. That incredible, beautiful, scary word.

Like…Papa.

“Oh,” Summer said softly, taking the slimy mess of a bawling creature into her arms, against her chest. “Oh.” Tears started to roll down her cheeks. “Oh, she’s beautiful.

Great lungs,” a nurse said, delighted. “Listen to her go.”

Luc leaned over the bed, so that he could lay his arm over Summer and the baby both. Dizziness pulsed in him, this black, dancing dot of a rhythm. Everything smelled of blood and sweat and hospital and…a living, breathing baby.

Right there.

Just right…right under his arm. His. They were both his.

His to take care of. His to do his best by.

His.

God, and he had thought Summer was small and vulnerable and needed his care. Summer was strong enough to produce this. This tiny, exquisite mess of a creature.

“Let us get her cleaned up now,” a nurse finally said gently. “And check her over.”

Summer and Luc both made a soft sound of protest as the nurse eased the baby away to a nearby table.

“She’s so beautiful,” Summer said again, of this little furious creature with her crushed, wrinkled, red face. Exhausted by thirteen hours of labor, Summer still craned to keep watching the baby while the medical team worked, both on the baby and on her.

“Yes,” Luc said softly. Summer’s blood was splashed across a mirror that had been angled toward the birth, and her doctor’s hands were covered with red. Was that normal? Nobody seemed stressed about it. The medical team acted happy and brisk, cleaning things up, a job well done.

Someone should have warned him about the blood. It looked so…red. Like some horror film sadist had ripped his wife wide open.

His baby kept crying. Summer kept craning anxiously to see her, through the shifting nurses. Luc swayed and grabbed the bed for balance. Summer’s gaze flicked for just a second from her baby back to him. God, she looked like shit. He had never seen his wife look so awful, not ever. Nor so beautiful.

He tried to close his hand around hers, but his hand felt oddly weak. And his legs. What was wrong with his legs? They collapsed in this slow slide like a chocolate sculpture brought too close to the heat, until he was kneeling by the bed, his head tucked against Summer’s side, his face in the mattress.

Summer’s fingers came to rest tiredly on his head.

“You did great,” Luc managed, and then his whole body just got too heavy for him and slumped sideways onto the floor.

 ***

 “I did not faint,” Luc said with cool hauteur. “I…disengaged with consciousness for a moment. It was probably all the blood rushing back to my hands, once Summer let go.”

Patrick’s blue eyes lit with laughter. “Why don’t you just say you decided to take a nap? On the birthing room floor?”

Luc tried to raise a cool eyebrow at him, but he couldn’t put the proper slice into the look. Mostly because he couldn’t look away from the tiny baby curled in his arms. His T-shirt still clung to him in patches of drying sweat, his jaw unshaved now for more than thirty-six hours. It was probably a good thing babies were born with blurry vision. It gave a dad a chance to pull his act together again.

“She’s very cute,” Sarah said curiously, clearly a tiny bit undecided what to think about the whole baby thing.

“She’s adorable.” Patrick squeezed his fiancée delightedly into his side, bending his golden head toward the baby. Her little face was clean now but still held traces of that crushed look, so incredibly tiny, black hair a soft cap on her head. “Come on. When are you going to let me hold her?”

“She’s sleeping,” Luc said sternly.

“Summer,” Patrick complained, looking toward the bed. “He’s not sharing.”

Summer smiled. She still looked absolutely terrible—washed out as if she’d been through an extended and severe bout of the flu, hair a mess, clad in a floppy hospital gown. And she looked absolutely beautiful—filled with this sweet, intense pride and peace. His wife. His baby’s mama.

His baby’s mama declined to say anything at all about who should hold the baby.

“I’m supposed to be her godfather!” Patrick protested. “Come on!”

Luc stroked one long, strong finger over the tiny baby fist, ignoring his co-chef.

“Give him twenty-four hours,” a deep, strong voice said behind Patrick. “He’ll be glad to have some help holding that baby.”

Vitality expanded into the room, power-packed. Luc looked up with a sudden release of tension in his shoulders. Mack Corey. Summer’s honorary uncle, the man Luc had always wished he could have as a father-in-law but who was actually the father of Summer’s cousins, Cade and Jaime. If Mack Corey was here than he, Luc, might, just for a second, be able to trust in some other man to be the strong one, the protector.

Just for a second. Just while he regrouped. His baby was so damn little.

Hell, it was good to have two other strong men here to help protect her.

Summer pushed up a little in the bed, this wondering, touched look on her face. “You came?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Mack said, coming into the room with a stack of presents in his arms, followed by Anne Winters, cool and slim, blond hair cropped short as it had been ever since she got out of prison, carrying a beautiful basket full of special goodies that she set on the table by Summer’s bed. Luc had to respect a woman who had built herself a fortune of nearly a billion dollars and who still made all her gifts by hand. Also, who had treated a prison sentence as a minor inconvenience, certainly nothing she would let slow her down.

More tension relaxed out of him. Hell, these two wouldn’t let anything happen to his baby. These four. Patrick might be younger and act like an insouciant surfer, but he always had Luc’s back, and Sarah had Patrick’s.

“Look at there.” Mack leaned his gray head over the baby, touching her cheek very delicately with a big finger. “Damn, babies are beautiful.”

His daughters and their husbands poured into the room after him, this sudden influx of noise and people. “Dad, you’re blocking the view!” Cade pushed in under her father’s shoulder. For once, Cade didn’t look put together. She looked as if she’d gotten dressed so fast she’d barely had time to put a bra on. Who knew Cade had a faded old T-shirt with holes in the seams, stamped with the words “What Would Buffy Do”?

“Hey! I can’t see!” Jaime protested, thrusting her freckled face under her father’s other arm.

Luc brought his other arm up to cradle his baby more possessively. They were going to wake her up. Had they washed their hands? “She’s sleeping,” Luc told them.

Mack’s blue eyes met his, warm and indulgent. “I noticed,” he said, and touched Luc’s shoulder as he straightened. As if he…approved of Luc or something.

Luc’s shoulder felt funny now. Because obviously he didn’t give a damn whether any other man approved of him. And yet…the shoulder Mack had touched definitely felt warmer than the other one.

The press of energy and excitement into the room made it seem like a kitchen when the President of France was in the restaurant. Eight people were now pushing each other for glimpses of the baby, twisting among each other to offer congratulations to Luc and to Summer, shuffling for space in the room. Mack Corey and Anne Winters ended up behind Luc’s shoulder, a position that made him feel oddly solid. Backed up.

Sylvain, completely enthralled, jostled with Patrick for position as to who was going to get to hold that baby next, wiggling a small stuffed chocolate-colored bear in front of her face hopefully. Big, bad Dom set a metal box of chocolates down on Summer’s hospital bed table and then retreated to the wall of the room, gazing in awed, wary fascination, holding Jaime against him as if he needed a shield. Or possibly reassurance. Sylvain reached casually out and set a wooden box stamped with his own logo on top of Dom’s metal one. Cade perched on the bed, trying to find out how Summer was feeling. A small mountain of stuffed animals had suddenly grown on the end of Summer’s bed.

“If your father-in-law shows up, just leave him to me,” Mack murmured roughly in Luc’s ear. “And Anne will make mincemeat out of Summer’s mother.”

Luc looked up quickly. “Merde, would you?” he asked, keeping his voice low so Summer wouldn’t hear. “If they even get in here, Mai will start talking about a good plastic surgeon for Summer’s belly, and Sam will say something about hoping this girl turns out better than his, and I will fucking hit him.” Belatedly, he tried to cover his baby’s ears to protect her from his obscenities. Hell, he was going to have to clean up his language.

“I’ll handle Mai,” Anne said coolly, with a very faint curve to her lips.

Mack showed his teeth in one of those predatory grins of his. “We’ve got this one for you, kid. We kind of enjoy this kind of thing, and we don’t have any weak spots where they’re concerned.”

“Besides,” Anne said, with a slanting amused glance toward Mack. “Sam might take a while to make it down here. I believe there were some odd movements in the stock of one of his primary companies.”

Mack grinned, his teeth very sharp.

“Thanks,” Luc told him.

Mack squeezed his shoulder, and again his shoulder didn’t quite know what to do with how good that felt. “You just focus on Summer and the baby. This dad stuff is hard.”

“What are you talking about, I was an angel child,” Cade said, poking her head into their conversation. “You must be thinking of Jaime.”

“Are you going to let me hold that baby?” Patrick demanded. Past him, a big hand switched the chocolate boxes around, so that the metal one sat on top again.

Cade turned back to gaze down at Summer and shook her head. “No epidural? Jesus. You are a mad woman.”

Sylvain looped his arm around his wife and oh-so-absently reversed the chocolate offerings to Summer again, so that his own box sat on top of Dom’s.

“So…was it bad?” Cade asked Summer, her gaze going warily but also with a certain fascination over her cousin’s devastated body. “Did it hurt as much as they say?”

Sylvain looked at his wife quickly and didn’t even notice when Dom put his metal box back on top of his. With his other arm, Dom pulled Jaime back against him and absently massaged her belly, as if trying to ease it from future pain.

“It, ah…didn’t feel good,” Summer admitted, and Dom winced a little and tightened his arm around Jaime’s belly.

Cade grimaced, and Sylvain reached out and took her hand. I’m sorry, that hand hold said. I can’t do this one for you.

Yeah, and Sylvain didn’t even know the half of it yet. Wait until he had to watch his wife writhing in agony and screaming and he couldn’t do one fucking thing except tell her to breathe.

On the plus side, if Cade strangled Sylvain during the process, there were at least a couple of men in the room who would give her a medal. Dom and Mack, for example. A tiny smile escaped Luc. He stroked his daughter’s head, wanting to tell her funny stories about all the chefs around her. We’re all a mess, but it’s okay. It turns out we get to have happiness anyway. And give it to you.

“Hey,” a new voice said from the door. “I brought some—” Burly Nico broke off as he took in the number of people in the room. He looked down at the containers he held. “Well, I brought some food for the new parents, but maybe I should get some more.”

Luc felt like a bucket that was overflowing. People kept adding more drops of water to it, and it just couldn’t hold anymore. He took a deep breath, and then another, his baby riding gently against the rise and fall of his chest, as he looked from Nico to Patrick to Sylvain to Dom to Mack.

Summer, gazing around with her own relief and wonder, hugged one of the stuffed animals to her—a big, brown growly-looking bear that had come from Dom and Jaime. Her own eyes were shimmering.

“Is she sleeping?” a whisper came from the door. Big, uncontainable Gabriel Delange, trying to keep himself as quiet as possible. “Can we come in, too?”

Summer’s smile was absolutely radiant as a tear spilled out, and then another. “Yes,” she said. “Oh, yes.”

“Rafe sent some food.” Gabe held up a sack full of containers as he tiptoed into the room, followed by Jolie. Oh, hell. Luc’s bucket trembled.

“Hey,” Patrick whispered softly, awed, to Luc. “Are you crying?”

Luc dashed a hand across his eyes. “Of course not. My eyes are just starting to water. I’ve been up for twenty-four hours.” But as that masculine support surrounded him and his baby, he had to dash his hand firmly across his eyes one more time.

“Just for five seconds,” Patrick begged him. “All right? I’ll give her back.”

So many people, all around him, to help him take care of his baby. So many people who gave a damn, who were saying, with this act of welcome, that they would be there, that they were his team.

He had to let his baby go, to them, though. He had to actually take the help. Trust it.

Patrick. His friend and foster-brother and co-chef, the pseudo surfer-dude who was never, ever genuinely careless. His child’s godfather. Luc looked a long, long moment at him, and then slowly, carefully, eased his baby into Patrick’s arms.

Patrick took her as if she was the most delicate, fragile creature in the whole universe. He beamed with a wondering delight, rocking the baby gently against his broad chest, utterly awed. He took a lot longer than five seconds, but then Sylvain insisted on a turn, and then Mack claimed priority as the baby’s “honorary grandfather”, something that made Summer smush more tears off her face with a stuffed bear, and Anne pretended that she needed to hold her “honorary granddaughter” a moment to show them how to hold an infant correctly, and then didn’t seem to want to let the baby go either, and then…

Luc finally gave up hovering anxiously and came to sit on the bed beside Summer, taking her hand, as their baby was passed gently from arm to arm. Dom ended up holding her, looking baffled and utterly fascinated, his big, callused index finger touching her little nose curiously as if it was a butterfly’s wing.

She yawned and opened her eyes a moment, staring fuzzily up at him.

“I think she smiled at me,” Dom whispered.

Anne opened her mouth to perhaps mention that babies couldn’t smile when they were less than four hours old but then thought better of it and just smiled herself.

“Are you happy?” Summer murmured to Luc.

“You were amazing.” He stroked her messy hair back off her face. “I—” One hand pressed hard against his heart, and his voice could barely force its way out of him. “Right now, it’s too much for me to say.” And after another second, very choked,“Yes.

Summer squeezed his hand.

“Are you?” he whispered.

“Oh, yes,” Summer said softly, staring at all these people gathered to welcome her baby into the world. She couldn’t get her eyes dry. She reached, and Dom brought the baby to her right away, a mother’s privilege. Her fingers stroked over that soft dark fuzzy head. Then she linked her fingers with Luc’s and settled both their hands gently against their baby’s swaddled tummy. Luc stared down at them, large hand and small and both together bigger than their baby’s entire torso, but all of them linked together. “Lucienne,” she murmured. “Lucie. Like her father.”

Her father. Luc’s stomach tightened into the joy of it. He was so happy to have his baby named after him that it made him feel like a supernova again. That thing that Summer had done to him once before, and was now even more intense. Like all the atoms of him had just exploded in one huge, beautiful burst out to the far edges of the universe and he’d never catch them back to hold in close and tight inside him ever again.

“I love you,” Summer whispered, to their joined hands, to that little baby.

Luc’s fingers squeezed oh-so-gently on hers and that tiny belly, as delicately as if his child was spun sugar. And his arm squeezed tight, tight around Summer, who had just demonstrated as graphically as only a woman can that she was anything but breakable. “I love you, too,” he whispered to them both.

Summer looked at all the people gathered around them, her eyes full of shimmering stars. “Did you know Luc and Lucie both mean light?”

 FIN

© Laura Florand, 2014.

[Author’s Note: In The Chocolate Heart, Luc and Summer’s children’s names were erroneously given as Océane for the older and Lucienne (Lucie) as the younger child. In fact, as you see in this story, Lucie is the first born and Océane the second. With my apologies for all confusion.]

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.