First, I want to thank you for coming to read this. When we all decided to write a Christmas Bonus Scene, I immediately had this idea to bring together two families I adore. I thought, what would happen if a Hennington stepped into the Arrowood family? And like a strike of lightning, I knew it had to be Hadley. She is the epicenter of this series. She’s why they even exist. And it really was complete luck that I wrote something in another bonus scene that aligned to make this happen.
I do want to preface this that because this takes place in the very far away future from where Come Back for Me ends … if you haven’t read all the brothers, there will be very small spoilers. I hope you enjoy and may you have a very healthy, safe, and happy holiday!
AUTHOR’S NOTE: These bonus scenes are hard to write sometimes. I do my ABSOLUTE best to make sure the ages and timelines work, but sometimes, I have to allow fiction to stretch a bit. I am 99% sure all of the ages, jobs, people living where they should and doing what they should are right but … I probably screwed it up somewhere. I know, I know, it should be perfect, but I am human and did this sort of last-minute as I’m chasing a deadline for the next book series I’m writing. Please have mercy and let’s pretend it works great. 😉
“I swear to freaking, stupid tree!” Connor yells from the living room and I look at my sisters-in-law with a grin.
“How long before he throws it out the door?” Sydney asks.
Devney snorts. “Three.”
Brenna shrugs. “I say ten.”
“Oh, you’re giving him a longer time,” I say as I grab my mug of hot cocoa.
She smiles and raises a brow. “Well, it is the holidays. We’re supposed to be generous.”
I hear something fall and then his brothers’ laughter. Yeah, I should go check on him.
When I enter the room, Connor is there, glaring at the tree while the other three men are sitting on the couch watching.
“You couldn’t help?” I ask and their heads turn like prairie dogs that just heard a sound.
“Help?” Sean asks, seeming confused.
“You want us to help him?” Jacob follows up with the next question.
I raise a brow at Declan, waiting for him to go next. He just smirks and turns back to Connor. “Everything good? Yeah? Great.” Then his gaze returns to me. “He’s got this, Ellie. We don’t want to ruin the good things he’s accomplishing.”
Connor turns and sighs. “I swear, next year, we’re getting a fake tree.”
“They don’t smell like a real tree.”
“Because they’re not. They’re fake. But they go up each year and have the lights already on them.”
I cross my arms over my chest. “Connor Arrowood, I want our kids to have this Christmas with a real tree.”
“Why? Why do they need a real tree?”
“Because it’s the first time we’re getting all our kids home. And it should smell like Christmas, which means, we’re having a real tree.”
All the kids in college got home yesterday. The older kids get in today and tomorrow from their big fancy adult lives. I want this time home to be memorable.
It feels like the older we get, the more we’re losing them.
He brushes his fingers through his dark hair that’s sprinkled with gray. Even now, he’s still the most handsome man I’ve ever known. It doesn’t matter that we’ve been together for much longer than I care to admit or that we’re as old as we are. He’s my whole world.
“Don’t argue with your wife, brother,” Sean says. “She wants a real tree and you better give it to her.”
Declan chuckles. “He gives her something all right.”
Syd to smacks the back of Declan’s head. “Idiot.”
“I love it when you whisper sweet nothings at me,” he says back to her which causes an eye roll.
Growing older has been hard for Connor and me. We miss our kids. I miss the noise, arguments, and laughter. Having time with Connor is wonderful, but our family was built on this craziness and I miss it.
The three brothers get off their butts and help him. As we’re adding ornaments, talking about life and some ideas my husband and his brothers have about the farm, I hear the door open.
“Mom! Dad! I’m home!” Hadley’s voice fills the room.
It’s been over five months since she’s been back to Sugarloaf. The law firm in New York City she’s working for keeps her busy, but she promised to be here this Christmas. I walk toward her, tears in my eyes and pull her in for a hug. “You’re here.”
“I’m home,” she says with a smile and then a weird look crosses her face.
Connor smiles. “My little girl.”
“I’m a grown woman, Dad.” She smiles at him and it doesn’t matter how old she gets, she’ll always be his baby.
“Not to me you’re not.” He wraps her in his arms, kissing the top of her head.
“Where are your bags?” I ask.
“My bags are, umm, they’re in the car. I’ll get them in a minute, but I . . . I have a surprise. I brought someone with me.” The change in her voice is slightly alarming and her father steps back.
“Who?” Connor asks.
“A friend. A really good friend and I promised this friend that my family would not be idiots. Which I can count on, right?”
Her uncles stand and walk over. Jacob speaks first. “We make no promises, Hadleybutt.”
“Great. Well, if you guys are mean, then I’ll have to leave—with my friend.”
Connor still hasn’t said much, but his eyes move to the car outside. “I’m assuming this friend is a man.”
“And this friend must mean something to you if you’re bringing him home for Christmas.”
Connor turns to me. “Did you know about this?”
“No, and if I did, your reaction would’ve just confirmed that you’re not mature enough to handle things.” I turn to Hadley. “Your friend is welcome here for Christmas.”
She smiles at me. “Thanks, Mom. I’ll go get him.”
As soon as she leaves, I face the Arrowood men. “Listen, if you chase my baby off because you are a bunch of dumbass men who think they can scare off this guy, I’ll kill you and bury you on your own land.”
“Ellie, you can’t be okay with this,” Connor says. “She’s brilliant and going places. She doesn’t need some guy bringing her down.”
“She’s twenty-six and she’s a grown up.”
“She’s still a baby!” He counters.
Devney laughs once and then covers her mouth. “Sorry, Ells, just . . . they’re all the same. They forget what they were doing at twenty-six.”
“No! We remember which is why we’re all a bit unhinged,” Sean replies. “We were once twenty-six.”
“A long ass time ago,” Syd says under her breath.
“I heard that,” Declan speaks.
“I’m shocked with how old you are,” Jacob takes a jab at his brother.
Brenna jabs Jacob in the gut. “Behave. I swear, you’re only like this when you’re around your brothers.”
“They bring out the best in me. Regardless of how old they are.”
“You are all old,” I say with a huff. “And as immature as you were when you were in your twenties. Now, this is Christmas and damn it we’re going to have a nice time.”
Everyone falls silent and just in time for the door to open.
Hadley enters, a smile on her face, but also fear. “Everyone, this is Cayden Benson-Hennington. My boyfriend.”
Sean’s the first one to speak. “Hennington? I know a Hennington.”
Cayden smiles and steps forward. “Yes, sir. I believe one of you know my stepfather. He’s been here actually.”
“Zach?” Sean asks. “Zach Hennington is your stepfather?”
“Well, I call him Dad, but technically, yes.”
“I’m Sean Arrowood, Hadley’s uncle and I played ball with your Dad. We were good friends and it’s been a while since I talked to him, but he met Hadley.”
Hadley touches Cayden’s arm. “Yes, I was like, eight and we’ve covered that. Anyway, Cayden, this is my Mom and Dad.” She guides him over to us.
“It’s nice to meet you, Cayden. Welcome to our home.”
He releases a hard breath but tries to look at ease. “I really appreciate it. We had talked about going to Tennessee and visiting my parents, but Hadley really wanted to come here first. I know it was last minute and a surprise.”
“Well, we’re glad you’re here, aren’t we?” I nudge Connor who still hasn’t spoken.
“Yes, welcome. We have guns.”
One of the brothers chokes and my jaw drops. “Ignore him.”
“I was also a SEAL.”
I roll my eyes. “He was also dropped on his head,” I explain.
Cayden blinks a few times and Hadley lets out a groan. “Daddy!”
“What? I’m letting your boyfriend know that he’s in a house with a man who was trained to kill and has firearms. It’s like a disclosure agreement. No one can claim they weren’t aware of the situation.”
Jacob bursts out laughing and then claps Cayden on the shoulder. “Don’t let him scare you, kid. He wasn’t a very good or scary SEAL. He worked on phone lines or some shit.”
Connor turns to his brother. “Want to test that theory?”
Jacob raises his hands. “My face is worth millions. I’d like to keep it that way.”
The snickers from the room are enough to ease the tension. “Yeah, millions of nothing. Those women don’t know the real you.”
“Let me take your coats.” I reach forward and take Cayden’s, but when I reach for Hadley’s she shakes her head. “Hadley?”
She clears her throat. “Why don’t I grab the bags,” she says quickly.
Cayden’s hand reaches out. “I’ll get them, baby.”
I can feel Connor flinch at the endearment. God, I wish she had given us a heads up. At least I could’ve prepared, threatened, or done something to save this damn holiday.
She shakes her head. “I need some air.”
“What’s wrong? You’re leaving? If it’s your father, I’ll kill him for you.” I cut a look to Connor. He’s already chased her out.
“Nothing, Mom. It’s fine. I’m not leaving. I’m sorry.”
“Okay,” I say hesitantly. “Give me your coat. Your father and uncles can get your bags and we can get you guys settled upstairs.”
In separate bedrooms.
“Fine.” She releases a heavy sigh, eyes closing and then removes her coat, showing a bump that is definitely not extra layers of clothing.
I may not have been a scary SEAL, but I’m a deadly one and right now there’s one target. The man who defiled my daughter.
“So, Mom, Dad, Cayden and I have some news,” Hadley says with a smile.
“Yes, it’s clear you do.” My wife, who has been all holiday cheer is about to lose it. In truth, she looks slightly terrifying.
“I wanted to tell you before. I really did, but I’ve been so busy at the firm and Cayden and I have been trying to get things in order.”
“When’s the wedding?” I ask. Really all that other shit doesn’t matter. He’s going to take care of this and do the right thing.
Hadley’s eyes widen. “Umm, what?”
“The wedding,” I say, brows raised and looking at the two of them.
“Were you married when I was born?” Hadley asks.
“Irrelevant. You’re pregnant and he needs to marry you.”
She looks to her mother who just shakes her head. “Don’t look at me. Your father asked that one.”
My daughter glares at everyone. “Are we in some weird time warp? Since when do we have to get married to have a baby?”
I cross my arms over my chest. “Since you’re my daughter and are pregnant.”
Hadley’s face changes. She’s about to lose it and I’m going to probably regret that statement. “Seriously? What about me? Or Bethanne? Were you married when she was conceived? You had two kids without being married.” Then, my brilliant daughter turns to her uncles who are all standing there with various displays of shame and also glee at my suffering. “What about you, Uncle Declan? Uncle Sean? Uncle Jacob? Any of you? Are we suddenly to believe that babies out of wedlock aren’t a family tradition? I was just keeping the dream alive here, following in all your footsteps.”
“She’s got us there,” Jacob says. “The girl is too smart for us.”
Hadley smiles at him. He was always her favorite. That’s a lie. She loved whoever was spoiling her. We all did this. We made this monster and now she’s freaking pregnant.
“Shut up, Jacob,” Ellie says to him. “Hadley, I . . . I’m just . . . you’re pregnant.”
It seems we’re all able to only think one thing: daughter and pregnant.
“I am and it’s fine. I know it’s a bit of a shock and seems fast, but Cayden and I are happy and, well, I hope you’ll be too.”
The offending man who knocked up my daughter places his hand on the small of her back. Hadley turns to him, a soft smile on her face. The one like her mother gives me. I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of it. Where your whole world seems to settle into place because you know that this one woman wants you, needs you, will always be there for you.
I really didn’t want to see this. How the hell can I be angry now? Hadley loves him and by the doofy look on his face, he loves her too.
So, I do the one thing that absolutely no one would think I would. “We’re happy if you are,” I say to Hadley.
“We are?” Ellie asks.
“She’s a grown woman and we’ve done a good job raising her. Clearly we missed the safe sex talk somewhere along the way, but . . . she’s always made good choices.” I fight back the desire to mutter under my breath about how that’s not the case here.
However, leave it to my asshole brothers to do it. “Well, she did until now, huh?”
Hadley turns to Sean with a death look on her face. He laughs. “What? You’re going to tell us this was a planned thing?”
“No, it wasn’t planned, but I’m going to have a baby and I thought my family would be happy.”
Declan walks toward her, he lifts her chin until their eyes meet. “I’m happy for you, princess. Always.”
Jacob is next. “Just means I get to make fun of your father and call him grandpa.”
Ellie groans beside me and I flip him off.
“We’re not talking about that,” I warn him.
“Well, some of us are,” Declan says with a laugh. “Gramps? Papa? Or maybe just Pop?”
And the rest of my night is going to be just like this.
The house is quiet, my brothers are gone and Ellie is sound asleep. Tomorrow, we’ll all wake up, sit around the tree and celebrate Christmas.
Around this time fifteen years ago was a very different scene. I was still awake, but because I had to put together some stupid dollhouse that took six hours and was missing parts, to make sure the girls had what they wanted when they woke.
Now it’s because I can’t sleep and would give anything to go back in time.
I grab my coat and hat, walking outside and down the path. When the treehouse comes into view, I see there’s a light on and my smile is automatic because I know exactly who is out there.
I climb up the spiral staircase I put in for her ninth birthday and into the largest of the rooms.
I knock, so as not to startle her. She looks over, a smile on her face. “Hi, Daddy.”
And just like that, she’s my little girl again. The one who would wait for me here, bring her homework or cookies to hide away.
I crawl over to where she sits, blankets around her and the small space heater on because it’s freaking freezing.
“Couldn’t sleep?” she asks.
“No, I had a lot on my mind. You?”
“Same. I guess we’re both a little . . . overwhelmed.”
“I guess you could say that.” I look around this tree house, amazed at the time that’s gone by. Hadley and I spent so much time here. It’s where I found her, scared and hiding. It’s where I built her a shelter that she could always come to when she needed it.
This tree house is as much a part of her and I as anything on this farm.
“I’m sorry, Daddy.”
I look over at her, my heart heavy because she has nothing to apologize for. “No, sweetheart. I’m sorry. I reacted like an ass when you showed up. It’s not what you needed and I’m not proud of what I said and did.”
She nudges me with a grin. “You reacted like my daddy. I knew you weren’t going to be happy.”
I pull her against me, remembering how she used to fit right against my side. “But I am. I’m happy for you. I’m happy that you found someone who you love. You do love him, right?”
She giggles. “I do. More than I ever thought I could.”
“And he’s good to you?”
“Very. Cayden is a wonderful man. We met at NYU at law school and then started interning at the same firm. He’s already been hired on and is a great guy. He loves me and does everything he can to take care of me. I promise, you’d really like him if you didn’t want to kill him right now.”
I guess that’s the best answer I can ask for. “If he hurts you, call me.”
Hadley rests her head on my shoulder. “Always.”
The two of us sit here and I know this is a Christmas I will never forget. Not just because I found out my daughter is going to have a child, but this moment, right here. Sitting together, watching the sunrise in this place where I feel my life actually began.
“You know, having kids is the most wonderful and terrifying thing in the world.”
She sighs deeply. “Well, I figure I had the best parents in the world to show me how to endure it so I’ll be okay.”
“Don’t try to make me cry,” I warn her.
I kiss her temple and give her one last squeeze. “We better head in. Your sister still tries to give me that bullshit that she believes in Santa because your mother told her that when you stop believing, the presents stop. She’s going to ride this train until the wheels fall off.”
Hadley snorts. “Sounds like, Beth.”
“And your mother can’t say a damn thing because she created this mess.”
Each year, I try to get that girl to slip up. To even just hint at it, but she’s committed now. Ellie challenged that girl and she will never give up. As much as people think Hadley is like me, Bethanne is my clone. She’s crazy, headstrong, and that girl will go down with the ship if she thinks it’s the right thing.
I love her, but she drives me insane.
If there was anyone I worried about coming home pregnant, it would’ve been her.
Hadley places her hand on my arm as I move. “Do you think I’ll be a good mom?”
I sit back down, looking at my daughter with a mix of wonder and surprise. “I know you’ll be a good mother. You’re too much like your own mom that it would be impossible for you not to be wonderful. You’re kind, courageous, and fight for people who need a voice. Don’t ever doubt that.”
Her smile is soft. “Thanks, Dad.”
“It’s me who should thank you. You came into my life, saving me and you gave me a life I only dreamed of. Now, let’s go open some gifts and give your boyfriend a hard time. We can consider that my present this year.”
She shakes her head, but the smile never leaves as we head back into the house.
“Give it up, Beth, you’re almost twenty! We know you don’t believe.” I swear, this girl is going to drive me to drink. Every gray hair I have on my head is from her.
“You really shouldn’t ruin the hopes and dreams of your children, Mother. I know that Santa is real. How else would we have the presents that we do? It’s a blessing and each year he reminds me of the miracles that occur.” She clutches the new laptop she got. There are things as a parent I regret telling her, Santa and believing are one.
Hadley reaches over into the bag she brought and pulls out a gift, handing it to Beth. “Here, Santa came to my house for you too.”
Bethanne grins and takes it. “The spirit of Christmas lives for us believers.”
I roll my eyes and Connor laughs. The laughter continues as we open gifts.
Connor damn near screamed when he opened the box that had keys to his new side by side. Boys and their toys, I guess.
I turn to Cayden who is sitting on the couch, arm around Hadley and hand resting on her belly. “I wish I knew you were coming. I hate that you’re just sitting here with nothing to open.”
“I promise, this is great. I don’t need to open anything. I appreciate that I’m not dead or digging my own hole in the field.”
Connor laughs. “That can always be arranged.”
“It’s probably no less than I deserve. I know my mother is going to want to kick my ass when we head there tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” I ask, feeling crestfallen. They just got here. I wanted a little more time.
“The firm doesn’t really care about holidays and we’re both fresh out of law school. Our time off is limited,” Hadley explains. “I’m sorry, Mom. Mr. and Mrs. Hennington haven’t seen Cayden in over a year and we need to make a trip there. I know I’ve been away, but we’ll come out for a weekend soon.”
“Now that she doesn’t have to hide the pregnancy, she can come back all the time,” Beth unhelpfully adds.
Hadley sticks her tongue out and Beth returns the gesture. I swear, these girls are the same as when they were little.
“She didn’t have to hide anything,” I tell them both. “But, now that we know I expect it won’t be so long until the next visit?”
“No, I’ll do better.”
“We just want to tell his family next and also see his brother.”
Hadley stands and moves toward a bag. “I have a present for Cayden.”
“You do?” he asks.
She walks over and hands it to him, but before he opens it, he walks over to grab something for her.
“You first,” he says.
Connor looks at me, his eyes misting over and my chest gets tight as I start to wonder if this is what I think it is.
Hadley unwraps the larger box, to reveal a smaller box inside. “Cayden? What is this?”
He takes the velvet box, that surely she must know the contents of, and lifts it. Sure enough, there is a diamond ring nestled in the soft black cushion. My hand flies to my mouth as he gets on his knee.
“I wanted to come here with you so that I could talk to your dad before I did this. I fell in love with you the first time you argued with me in class. You’re smart, funny, beautiful, kind, and so much more. I spent two years just trying to get the courage to ask you out and when I did, you said no.” They both laugh and she sniffs at the same time. “After our first date, where you spent two hours scolding me about how I was wrong about my stance on a law, I knew there was no other woman for me. Hadley Arrowood, I want to spend the rest of my life loving you and I’m asking you to do me the honor of being my wife?”
She launches herself forward, tears falling and peppers him with kisses. “Yes!”
Connor comes over toward me, wrapping his arms around me from behind. “I know you wanted the perfect Christmas this year.”
In front of me is everything I hold dear. Bethanne is there, wiping her tears as she stares at her sister. And then there’s my oldest daughter, in the arms of the man she just agreed to marry. And Connor, my rock, my heart, my life, holding me and loving me more than I ever knew possible.
I turn my head, gazing back at him. “It’s more than that, it’s the perfect life.”
Thank you so much for reading this special bonus scene. It was truly so fun to write. These two families have been a cornerstone in my career and life. As you see, there is A LOT more of the Arrowood brothers to get to know. Each one of them is so incredibly special. To continue on in that series.