Recap of Chapter 31: Haze picked the exact right time to present the baby booties to Jake—it was during their Valentine’s Day picnic. It was too bad that while they were clutched in a celebratory embrace that Crowley ruined their picnic. As they snacked from what was redeemable, Jake had a splendid idea: They should duck through the hedge to share the news with Sydney.

Haze and Jake stomped their feet to stay warm while they waited on Sydney’s porch. “Maybe she isn’t home,” Haze wondered. “Where would she be?” Jake questioned. Haze shrugged. “Well, it is Valentine’s Day. Maybe she has a date.” Jake blew off that idea. “I’m serious,” Haze said. “She’s quite the hottie in her circles, you know.” Jake made a face. Just then, the door locks turned and Sydney appeared, loosely wrapped in a gorgeous silk kimono. She stood in the doorway, blocking the entrance with her arm. Her hair suggested she’d just tumbled out of bed.

“Oh no!” Haze said. “Did we wake you?”

“Wake me? Uh—no, but I was in bed.”

Haze took in the scene, or what she could see of it. Jazz music playing in the background, soft light glowing from within… and Sydney’s peculiar demeanor. It was clear they weren’t going to be invited inside. Jake, revved on excitement, blurted out, “We have excellent news to share with you—” but Haze pulled on his sleeve and interrupted. “It can wait until tomorrow, Jake,” she said, imploring him with her eyes to take a hint. “Sydney is entertaining tonight.” She added, “And we’re interrupting.” Sydney smiled wryly and waved her hand as she quietly closed the door in their faces.

“Oh,” Jake said. “You weren’t kidding.”

“Told you,” she said, looping her arm in his. “She’s quite the catch.”

They glanced back at the house before popping through the hedge. Featured in the big living room window in a kimono of his own stood a silver-haired fox, holding out a glass of brandy to Sydney.

“Hmm. Can I just say that at her age, I hope we’re still chasing each other around the house on Valentine’s Day,” Jake said.

“Count on it,” Haze said. “Starting with tonight.”

They started kissing on the porch and then continued in the foyer while they stripped off their coats and kicked off their boots. In stocking feet they skittered down the hallway and into the bedroom where he kissed her on the neck while tipping her backward to land on the bed. “I’m afraid I didn’t plan on anything sexy to wear tonight,” she admitted. “Oh, you need nothing sexier than the skin you’re in to entice me,” he said between kisses, leaning his body against hers. “Do you doubt me?” he teased. She shook her head and giggled.

Their lovemaking took on a new passion. He seemed enthralled with the small changes already detectible in her body, treating her like new lands to explore and conquer. When, finally, they were spent and exhausted, they fell asleep wrapped in each other’s arms, covers twisted around their limbs. At one point in the night, Jake got up and banked the fire in the fireplace—its flickered shadows bouncing off the open door and the hallway beyond. Haze stirred when he moved the blankets to cover her shoulder and kissed her on the forehead. “Sweet dreams, Babe,” he whispered. She smiled and sighed as she snuggled down into the comfort of the bed.

The next day, Jake couldn’t stay away from the phone, sharing the big news with his family. Much laughter and congratulations all around. How fun that Jennifer’s baby and theirs would be so close in age. It would be good to have cousins to play with at family gatherings. He moved from room to room in the house, talking easily with his siblings and his dad. It always amazed her to witness his relationships with his family. Hers, although close, was small and quiet. She had no siblings, no cousins, no aunts or uncles, no family at all beyond Sydney next door and the family she married into. She spent the day in her studio, painting quietly, entertained by the rise and lilt of his voice and his laughter. How she loved him and his family.

They were getting ready to sit down to lunch when Sydney rang her signature chime on the big bell. “Oh, it’s Sydney!” Jake said. “Should I tease her about last night?”

“No!” Haze warned. “Absolutely not!” She made her way to the door.

“You’re just in time,” Haze said, opening the door wide. “We’re getting ready to have some homemade chicken vegetable soup and Jake’s famous grilled cheese sandwiches. There’s plenty to go around.”

“Oh, that does sound wonderful,” she said, making her way inside and removing her coat to hang on the peg by the door. “My timing is impeccable! If the offer is sincere, I’d be happy to have lunch with you two.” Haze couldn’t help but notice that she seemed very chirpy and full of smiles. It must have been a lovely night. They gathered around the bar in the kitchen—a casual meal among friends. Jake pulled down the little soup crocks with lids and set out a plate in the center of the bar with quarter parts of grilled cheese sandwiches. The mixed cheese oozed onto the plate.

They concentrated on eating for a bit before Sydney said, “I have to apologize for last night. It was plain rude to not invite you in.”

Haze and Jake waved her off. Haze said, “It’s us who should apologize. We had no idea you had company. It was foolish of us to assume that you were alone.” She felt a blush creep up on her cheeks.

Jake couldn’t stop smirking. “And was your company good?”

Haze’s mouth dropped. “Jake!”

Sydney bit back a smile. “Actually, I don’t mind telling you that he was good. Very good, in fact.”

Jake offered a fist bump to Sydney. “Right on!”

Haze was beet red.

“You are one bad-ass lady!” Jake congratulated her. “Good for you!”

“Why yes, it was quite good for me!” Sydney continued, adding to the bawdiness. She joined Jake in a great laugh. “But enough about me. You two showed up at my door last night to share something exciting. So, let’s have it—what’s the big news?”

Jake reached into the refrigerator and retrieved an unopened bottle of champagne leftover from New Year’s. He took out three glasses.

“Ooooh, exciting news, indeed!” Sydney said, eyeing Jake’s actions as he opened and poured a bit of bubbly in each glass.

He raised his glass and the other two followed. “You are looking at the future parents of one baby Peterson.”

Sydney gasped, her hands flying up to her mouth. “A baby! How wonderful!”

She stood and embraced Haze and Jake. “To the best news I could get today! Congratulations to you both!” They all took a sip. “Oh—wait! This means I am going to be an auntie! I get to be the extravagant Great Auntie Sydney from next door. Oh, this will be so much fun!” And she was lost in a whirl of plans. “I can teach her naughty words in foreign languages and how to apply lipstick. I can teach her how to wear a terrific scarf and how to spot a cad from across the room… ”

“Wait!” Haze objected. “What makes you so sure it will be a girl?”

“Oh, I just know,” Sydney said. “I know about such things. And I’ll have you know that I am rarely wrong. It’s a daughter you are carrying. I’d bet on it!”

Jake raised his glass. “Well then, to our baby girl!”