Chapter One"I'M PREGNANT, ALEX."
Everything about the night is so very clear to me. Still is, after all this time, all these years that have passed, everything that's happened, the horrible murderers, the homicides solved and sometimes not.
I stood in the darkened bedroom with my arms lightly circling my wife Maria's waist, my chin resting on her shoulder. I was thirty-one then, and had never been happier at any time of my life.
Nothing even came close to what we had together, Maria, Damon, Jannie, and me.
It was the fall of 1993, a million years ago it seems to me now.
It was also past two in the morning, and our baby Jannie had the croup something terrible. Poor sweet girl had been up for most of the night, most of the last few nights, most of her young life. Maria was gently rocking Jannie in her arms, humming "You Are So Beautiful," and I had my arms around Maria, rocking her.
I was the one who'd gotten up first, but I couldn't seem to get Jannie back to sleep no matter what tricks I tried. Maria had come in and taken the baby after an hour or so. We both had work early in the morning. I was on a murder case.
"You're pregnant?" I said against Maria's shoulder.
"Bad timing, huh, Alex? You see a lot more croup in your future? Binkies? More dirty diapers? Nights like this one?"
"I don't like this part so much. Being up late, or early, whatever this is. But I love our life, Maria. And I love that we're going to have another baby."
I held on to Maria and turned on the music from the mobile dangling over Janelle's crib. We danced in place to "Someone to Watch Over Me."
Then she gave me that beautiful partly bashful, partly goofy smile of hers, the one I'd fallen for, maybe on the very first night I ever saw her. We had met in the emergency room at St. Anthony's, during an emergency. Maria had brought in a gangbanger, a gunshot victim, a client of hers. She was a dedicated social worker, and she was being protective-especially since I was a dreaded metro homicide detective, and she didn't exactly trust the police. Then again, neither did I.
I held Maria a little tighter. "I'm happy. You know that. I'm glad you're pregnant. Let's celebrate. I'll get some champagne."
"You like being the big daddy, huh?"
"I do. Don't know why exactly. I just do."
"You like screaming babies in the middle of the night?"
"This too shall pass. Isn't that right, Janelle? Young lady, I'm talking to you."
Maria turned her head away from the wailing baby and gave me a sweet kiss on the lips. Her mouth was soft, always inviting, always sexy. I loved her kisses-anytime, anywhere.
She finally wriggled out of my arms. "Go back to bed, Alex. No sense both of us being up. Get some sleep for me too."
Just then, I noticed something else in the bedroom, and I started to laugh, couldn't help myself.
"What's so funny?" Maria smiled.
I pointed, and she saw it too. Three apples-each one with a single childlike bite out of it. The apples were propped on the legs of three stuffed toys, different-colored Barney dinosaurs. Toddler Damon's fantasy play was revealed to us. Our little boy had been spending some time in his sister Jannie's room.
As I got to the doorway, Maria gave me that goofy smile of hers again. And a wink. She whispered-and I will never forget what she said-"I love you, Alex. No one will ever love you the way I do."