Beyond HEA: Cravings
Caution: this story is not meant to stand alone. The Beyond Happily Ever After stories are vignettes and outtakes showing the O'Kanes in their daily lives, in between the adventures and often after their happy endings. These stories were written exclusively for readers and fans of the series, and will probably not make very much sense to anyone not familiar with the characters.
Length: 2,511 words
Characters: Noelle and Jas
Timeline: Set before Beyond Forever.
Creative Incentives: August 2017 Patreon Reward Story. This story is a short vignette voted on by our Patreon supporters. In it, Jas takes care of a very pregnant Noelle as they discuss the future they want for their family--and its legacy. It's short, it's sweet, and it's a lot of fun. (Also, find out what their kid will be named!)
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Pregnancy was starting to get on Noelle’s nerves.
Most of it wasn’t too bad. Hell, compared with what Rachel had gone through, she was having the easiest time ever. Morning sickness had come and vanished so fast she’d barely had time to get cranky about it, and she couldn’t even complain about waking up with absurd cravings when Jas would roll out of bed and find a way to satisfy them no matter how ridiculous and inconvenient they were.
But the belly was getting annoying. She couldn’t pull her chair close enough to her desk anymore, and there was a persistent ache low in her back that only got worse after a few hours hunched over the numbers for the grand opening.
She was hungry. And she had to pee.
At least the numbers looked good. Contractors had fought to underbid each other just for the chance to forge an important business connection with Dallas and Lex, and no one had argued when Dallas claimed the entirety of Smith Peterson’s sizable fortune as the spoils of his war.
They were too busy being surprised he hadn’t ransacked the whole damn city.
Snorting softly at the thought, Noelle leveraged herself out of her chair with a soft groan. The people who’d expected Dallas to rampage through Eden, pillaging and robbing rich and poor alike, still didn’t entirely believe their good fortune. Noelle supposed she understood—there’d been a time she’d been afraid of him too, after all. The sectors were the terrifying hell that Eden’s parents had threatened their children with for decades, and that didn’t disappear overnight. Not even with the walls coming down.
She tucked her tablet and the folder full of numbers into her bag and threw it over her shoulder. Then she winced and rubbed at the sore spot at the small of her back as she headed out of her office and down the narrow corridor that lead to the back door.
Stepping outside was still a shock. The new Broken Circle sprawled across half a block and cast a shadow so long she made it to the garage before she felt the warm spring sun on her face. Nessa’s music poured out of the open doors of the warehouse, cheerful and upbeat, and being pregnant didn’t seem like the worst thing in the world anymore, even if her stomach was growling by the time she got to the barracks.
She turned down the left hallway out of habit and made it ten steps before she remembered. She spun around and headed for the corner where Bren, Finn, and Hawk had spent two weeks with Jas knocking down walls and joining smaller rooms together.
That whole corner of the floor was theirs now, and Noelle forgot her sore back again as she stepped through their door and marveled at what Jasper had accomplished in the week since they’d finished construction.
They had a suite now. The sitting room was homey, with a thick area rug that cradled her feet once she kicked off her shoes. The furniture was sturdy leather with comfortable pillows, and on the other side of the couch they’d placed a large wooden dining table with room for six—and it wasn’t even covered with guns.
Noelle left her bag on the table and padded through the door to their bedroom. The massive bed looked tempting, but so did the huge tub she could see through the open door to their bathroom. She hovered for a moment, trying to decide—and was startled by a muffled curse from the baby’s room.
She circled the bed and headed for the nursery. “I thought you’d still be…”
Her voice trailed off as she reached the doorway and caught sight of him. Jasper was barefoot, in jeans and a paint-spattered T-shirt, standing in front of a brightly colored wall with a paint brush in one hand. A half-finished tree decorated the spot in front of him, part of a forest that wrapped around the room and gave shelter to woodland creatures.
At least, she thought they were woodland creatures.
“You shouldn’t be in here.” His face turned red. “It’s not finished. And this stuff has…fumes.”
It was a little whiffy, but the embarrassed look in his eyes cut straight to her heart. No doubt Ace had offered to paint a magical wonderland on the walls for them, but Jasper wanted to do it himself. Even if he wasn’t any good at it.
She loved him so much more for not being any good at it. “It’s beautiful.”
“No, it’s not.” He dropped the brush into a paint pan with a disgusted noise. “They don’t even look like the pictures in the book. Ace came by earlier—you should have seen the look on his face.”
Ace had all the tact and subtlety of a thunderstorm. Noelle held out a hand. “Come here.”
He wiped his hands on his paint-spattered jeans and wrapped his fingers around hers. “Tired?”
“A little. I was going over the final numbers for the launch.” She leaned sideways against his chest, letting him support a little of her weight. “We’re in good shape. Really good shape. Even after I made Dallas buy Jared and Lili a whole new set of glassware for upstairs.”
“You’re working too hard.” He pressed his hand just beneath her lower back, applying gentle pressure that helped ease the ache.
She groaned softly, melting deeper into him. “Oh God, that feels so good.”
“See? Working too hard.” He swept her up off her feet.
“Jas!” The world tilted, and she laughed and clutched at his neck for balance. “Put me down!”
“Nope. You want dinner on the couch or in bed?”
The bed was inviting, but it would be a lot more inviting later if she wasn’t rolling around in crumbs. “The couch.”
He steered past the bed and out into the sitting room. He placed her carefully on one end of the couch, then slid under her legs so her feet rested in his lap. “How’s the assistant search coming along?”
“Ohhh.” Noelle relaxed back into the plush stack of pillows and closed her eyes as Jas’s warm thumb swept over her inner ankle. “It wouldn’t be so bad if I just needed someone who could keep up with the numbers and organize stuff, but I need someone who can manage Dallas. And the last guy bolted after the interview because Dallas came in and glared at him. He’s probably in Sector Six by now.”
“Maybe that’s your answer.” Jasper grinned wickedly. “Only one person who can manage Dallas better than you can.”
Noelle huffed and nudged Jasper’s hip with her toes. “If you think Lex will park her ass in my office and do the work I do without stabbing anyone, you’re delusional.”
“Okay, no,” he allowed. “But she could step in and distract Dallas when he starts to glare. Or yell. He yells a lot.”
“More than usual,” Noelle agreed. She settled her foot into his hands once more and sighed with pleasure when he took the hint and rubbed the aching arch. “I’m glad the grand opening isn’t far away. All the contractors are making him ornery.”
“It’s not your job to fix that.” He reached over and laid his hand on the swell of her belly. “You’re kinda busy with other stuff.”
“I know.” She slid her hand over his, twining their fingers together. “Maybe I’ll talk to Jyoti. She handles Dallas almost as well as Lex does. And Mia was pretty good at it, too, once she got used to him. Maybe there’s a girl from Sector Two who wants a new job.”
“Could be.” He tilted his head. “How about Benjamin?”
“Benjamin?” She turned the name over in her head and tried to imagine whispering it to the baby beneath their hands. “It’s not bad. Do you know someone named Benjamin?”
“I read it in a book.” He went back to rubbing her foot, circling his thumb across her arch. “Why, do you want to name him after someone we know? Like a tribute?”
“It’s something people used to do a lot.” Her eyes started to droop at the soothing pleasure of his knowing fingers chasing away all her hurts. Jasper was good at that—chasing away anything that hurt her, until she was floating on the bliss of being utterly safe and cherished. “I keep thinking the right name will come. But what if he comes and we still can’t decide?”
He shrugged. “Then we let Ace name him.”
Her eyes popped back open. “That’s a joke, right?” She tried to poke him and groaned when her belly got in the way. “Maybe we should let Nessa name him.”
“Only if you want—” A knock on the door cut off his words. “That’s dinner. Come in.”
The door opened, and Jared stuck his head through. “Special delivery for Miss Noelle.”
She opened her mouth to greet him and the smell hit her—salty and starchy and oily, and she didn’t even know how she knew what those things smelled like, just that her stomach gave a sudden warning rumble. “Oh God, Lili made me French fries? I love you both.”
“And cheeseburgers.” Jared stepped inside and presented the picnic basket with a flourish.
Noelle flipped open the lid. Lili had provided them with a feast—three cheeseburgers, a huge basket of fries still steaming with heat, a plate of Noelle’s favorite cookies, two glass bottles of the lemonade she’d been craving, and four bright red apples. “It looks so good. Thank her for me, Jared.”
“As long as you promise to enjoy it.”
“Oh, I will.”
He slipped back out the door, and Noelle held the basket out to Jas before hoisting herself upright so she could settle next to him. “Did you ask her for this?”
“You mentioned something about it, so I called in a favor.” He pulled an end table over beside the couch and began to unpack the basket. “Not that I had to. I think she wishes you’d ask her for more treats.”
Lili was busy helping Jared craft their new and exclusive VIP lounge on the second floor of the Broken Circle, and Noelle hated to make demands. But Jasper was probably right—Lili had never settled into a comfortable, easy exchange of affection like Noelle had. She showed her love through her cooking and baking, and sometimes the nicest thing someone could do for Lili was need something only she could provide.
She was a lot like Jas, that way.
As soon as the fries were free, Noelle stole them from Jasper’s hands and settled the basket on the swell of her belly. Underneath a napkin, the golden waffle fries were hot to the touch. She picked up one anyway and bit into it, groaning at the crisp crunch and the generous sprinkle of salt. She’d probably burn her tongue eating them like this, but it would be worth it. “Oh my God.”
Jasper chuckled. “You two need a moment alone?”
“Maybe.” She picked up another fry and licked the salt off the edge. “You getting jealous?”
“Hell, yeah.” He glowered for a moment, then winked. “Gimme one.”
She wrinkled her nose at him and cradled the basket closer, then made a big production of sighing. “Fine,” she said, holding up one fry in front of his face. “You get one.”
“Maybe you can barter if you want another.”
She pressed the fry to his lips, and he nipped her fingers as he took it. He chewed thoughtfully, then swallowed. “Okay, yeah. Those are good.”
“Told you.” A tiny piece of salt clung to his lip, and she rubbed her thumb over it to swipe it away. “I suppose I can share with you.”
“Nah, those are for you.” He touched her stomach again. “And him.”
Noelle’s heart melted into goo. Backaches and sore feet and scared assistants seemed a million miles away now. All that mattered was Jas and the baby resting under his hand, and the home they were building together. The family they were building together.
Because family wasn’t just who you were born being related to. It was who you loved.
And just like that, she knew the right name.
She set aside the fries and rose on her knees, thankful Jas had long legs. If her belly got much larger, straddling his lap was going to get awkward. But she settled facing him and brought both of his hands under hers, pressing down against where their son rested. “A tribute is about family, right? Like a legacy.”
“Mm-hmm.” His fingers threaded through hers. “What are you thinking?”
The last of Jasper’s humor faded. “You want to name him after Dallas?”
“And Lex.” She clutched at his hands. “He’s your family. And she’s mine. Without them, we wouldn’t be here. He wouldn’t be here.”
“I think it’s perfect,” he whispered. “Exactly right.”
Some anxiety she hadn’t even realized she was carrying broke away, and the baby chose that moment to kick at their joined hands. Laughing through sudden, inexplicable tears, she pressed her forehead against Jas’s. “I think that means he likes it?”
“That, or the French fries.”
“They are pretty good.” She brushed a kiss to his lips. “But not as good as you.”
He pulled her closer, turning his head to press his cheek over her thudding heartbeat. “I love you.”
She sank her fingers into the loose strands of his hair, cradling his head to her heart, and savored the joy of having everything she needed in the world right here, in her arms.
Family. A legacy that would start with them—a better legacy than their parents had been able to give them. One of laughter and French fries, dozens of doting aunts and uncles, and a world full of possibility and hope.
And love. So much love.
She threaded her hand into Jasper’s hair, intending to pull him up for a kiss—and her stomach rumbled loudly.
He locked his hands on her hips. “Food first. No arguments.”
It was no-nonsense and firm, and he didn’t even give her a chance to protest. Just lifted her like it was effortless and turned her across his lap, settling her where she could reach the table and the food and still lean back against the sturdy wall of his chest.
All that bossiness was doing funny things to her unpredictable hormones. So was the grip of his hands on her hips and all the muscles flexing against her back. It was tempting to push back, just a little, just to bring more of that delicious dominance to the surface.
But she knew Jas. When it came to making sure she was taken care of, he didn’t play games. The best way to get what she wanted was to let him pamper her, let him give her everything she needed.
And then, if she was very, very good, he’d spank her.