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"…You've built a love but that love
Your little piece of heaven turns too dark.
Listen to your heart
when he's calling for you.
Listen to your heart
there's nothing else you can do.
I don't know where you're going
and I don't know why,
but listen to your heart
before you tell him goodbye…"
"Listen to Your Heart" by Roxette
Daniel opened the oven door and peeked in. So far, so good. The cake looked okay. He closed it carefully, not wanting the pastry to fall. He wiped his hands on the apron he'd tied around his waist. Read the directions for the casserole again. It seemed easy enough. He gathered the ingredients. Took out the pots needed for cooking, and the dish he'd need to bake it in. Took a deep breath. It's not brain surgery, he told himself. A glance at the clock spurred him into action.
The manicotti shells were boiling nicely, the ground sausage and onions for the filling was just about ready. He'd already stirred up the sauce that would be needed, as well as the cheese mixture that had to be added to the browned meat. When the timer went off for the cake he was momentarily at loss for a place to put the two round pans, he had every inch of the available countertop covered. He took trivets into the dining room and put them on the table, and carried the cake pans there. They'd probably cool quicker there than in the now very warm kitchen.
He looked for and found the cookie press. Glad that he'd watched that cooking show with Casey the other night. Great tips on those shows, he thought absently as he mixed the meat and cheese together, and carefully filled the cooled pasta shells. The sauce wasn't as difficult as he'd expected, either...although it wasn't as good as Casey's, he decided, when he sampled it. Sauce into the baking dish, the filled manicotti, more sauce, and it was ready for the oven. He set the timer, checked to make sure that there was enough shredded mozzarella cheese for the top.
Another glance at the clock. If he cleaned the kitchen, he wouldn't have time to frost the cake. If he frosted the cake, something he'd never done before in his life…he opted to clean the kitchen. He didn't want her to come home and find it a total disaster. And Janet or Sam could slip in here and show him how to put the fudge frosting on the chocolate cake.
The team had been on P5X 201, dead in that subterranean temple, on Casey's birthday. Her twenty-seventh birthday, as a matter of fact. He wasn't about to let it go by, even if they were celebrating a few days late. He'd talked to Sam, who had talked to Janet. They'd taken his Wife shopping today, and would keep her out until six. Giving him plenty of time to get dinner ready. He could have taken her out, but somehow the idea of making it himself, putting out the effort specifically for her, seemed like a better idea. He wanted her to know just how much he loved her.
He wished they were in the house. It would have been great to serve her dinner in front of a fire. God, how long could it take to get approval on a loan? There had been half a dozen inspections that had been required as well, and waiting on those was becoming nerve wracking. They'd spent nearly four hours at the local Home Depot, choosing colors to paint the walls, both of them anxious to move into their own home, the first for both of them. Daniel smiled when he thought about how her eyes had sparkled, that bright smile, when he told her that the colors were up to her. He liked blue just fine, and that was one of her favorite colors as well. He wasn't so sure about the yellow, but she'd begged him to trust her. When she explained that painting the Great Room yellow would make it look sunny even if the weather wasn't, and that the blue 'accents' would 'soften' the color more, he'd capitulated. He hadn't had a clue what she was talking about, but he trusted her implicitly.
One last glance at the clock. She should be home any minute now. He found the wine, opened it, set it on the table beside the two place settings of her Grandma Rose's china and crystal. Lit the candles. Music! She should have music! He dashed into the living room, opened the cabinet and pulled out the long, narrow baskets that held her extensive, eclectic collection of CD's. He paused when he located a Harry Connick, Jr. album. Yeah, soft love ballads. Perfect. He slipped the disc into the player at the same time he heard the key in the lock. He hurried to the entry hall to greet her.
Casey opened the door, still giggling over Janet's remark to Jerry. Her eyes widened when she was greeted with the tantalizing smell of food. And chocolate! There was a chocolate cake on the counter in the kitchen! She looked up into smiling blue eyes. "Daniel?"
"Hey, gorgeous. Did you have fun?"
"Hmmph!" Janet said, moving past the two and into the living room.
"Case?" he asked, frowning slightly.
"I had a blast," she replied. "Even if I didn't cave at Bed&Bath," she added, tossing the words toward Janet, her eyes dancing. "I did, however, cave at Victoria's Secrets."
He felt his body stir. Oh, hell! That has the anaconda's attention! "So, what'd you get?"
Sam brushed past him. "Don't get your hopes up, Daniel. It's flannel."
He looked from his teammate back to his wife. "Flannel?"
"They're the cutest pajamas, little teddy bears all over them."
Talk about deflation in the nether regions!
"It was a clearance sale, and I just couldn't resist," Casey continued. She wrapped her arms around his neck, kissed his chin. "I picked up a little…something…for you, too."
He couldn't hold back the grin that spread over his face. "Thanks," he said softly.
She giggled, then glanced around. Gasped when she stepped into the dining room. There were two settings of Grandma Rose's china and crystal, candlelight, wine…"What's all of this for?"
"Happy birthday, Angel," he said, stepping up behind her, wrapping his arms around his waist. "Why don't you go put your stuff in the bedroom?"
Wanted to get her out of the room, did he? That was all right. She wanted to show him what she'd picked up. Not the flannel pajamas. She smiled, turned in his arms. "I think I'll do that. Be right back," she said, winking at the two women who stood beside her husband.
He watched her walk down the hall, shook himself slightly when that sexy sway had sent his thoughts straight into the bed. "I need help," he said quietly.
Janet and Sam exchanged grinning glances. "How?" Janet asked.
Daniel grabbed her by the arm and nearly dragged the petite woman into the kitchen. "How do I get that," he asked, pointing at the two layers of the cake, "to look like that?" He pointed to the can of frosting, and the picture of the finished product on the label.
Janet giggled. "Do you have a cake plate?"
The dark haired woman shook her head, pushed Daniel aside. Searched through the cupboards, found the cake plate and its domed lid. "We need a spatula."
Sam, who'd followed them into the kitchen, burst into giggles. "Move, Daniel."
The two women managed to get the cake frosted in just a matter of minutes, although Sam had stepped back to let Janet do the majority of the work. She wasn't much of a cook, herself.
"Okay, it's all ready. Tell Casey goodbye for us," Janet said, stretching up to kiss his cheek. "This is really sweet, Daniel. She'll love it."
"See you Monday, Daniel," Sam added, fluttering her fingers as she walked past him. The door closed quietly behind them.
He grinned. The cake looked great. He carefully carried it to the table. Took the manicotti from the oven, and put it on the trivet that waited for it. He'd tossed the salad earlier. He filled two salad bowls, drizzled the vinaigrette that Casey liked on each of them, and carried them to the table as well. "Casey?"
She came out of the bedroom, wearing a light blue silk slip that just barely came down past her hips, and a matching robe that was just as short.
"Sweet Jesus!" he breathed, watching her walk toward him.
"I thought you might." She looked around again. "You did all of this?"
She looked at the table. Bit back a smile. Janet must have taken care of the cake for him, she thought. It had still been in the pans when they'd walked through the door. But he'd baked it! "Daniel, this is so sweet! You didn't have to do this!"
"Yes, I did. We weren't here for your birthday, but I didn't want you to think I'd forgotten it." He led her to the table. The card he'd purchased was waiting beside her plate. Green eyes looked up at him, shining with unshed tears. He watched her read it, hoping it wasn't too corny.
"Oh, Daniel," she sighed, just before she locked her arms around his neck. "Thank you!"
He grinned. Giving her things, spoiling her was just so damned fun! He wasn't about to let her know that she had a gift to unwrap, not until after dinner. Sam had helped him pick it out. He was certain that she'd like it. "Let's eat. I'm starving."
Casey giggled. "It smells wonderful! I love manicotti!"
"No kidding? How about that," he teased.
She rolled her eyes. "Like you didn't already know that!"
"Oh, I might have suspected it," he replied. He held her chair while she sat down, then sat down opposite of her. He filled their wineglasses, lifted his in a toast. "Happy birthday, Angel."
"Thank you," she replied. She took a bite of the salad. "Did you make the vinaigrette?"
"Nope. Bought it. It's not as good as yours," he said, taking a bite of his own salad. "But there was no way I was going to try and tackle that!"
"I like it."
"So what else did you buy today?" he asked.
She shook her blonde head. "Nothing. There isn't anything I need. The pajamas I bought just because Sam and Janet were complaining that I hadn't spent a penny. Then I saw this outfit, and I thought about you."
He smiled. He could see the faint outline of her areola's, and her firm nipples standing proudly against the silk. Which had him thinking about how sweet they tasted. Which in turn had him thinking about how his beauties felt in his hands, and how sweet her honey tasted, and that most definitely had the anaconda's attention! "Thanks," he murmured.
"You're welcome," she replied. She glanced at the cake as Daniel served the manicotti. "Is that chocolate fudge?"
"I love you," she sighed.
He laughed. "Almost as much as you love chocolate."
"I love you more than chocolate," she insisted. She took a bite of the pasta. "Daniel, this is delicious!"
"Thanks," he replied, rather pleased himself at how well the dish had turned out. He shrugged. "It's from your cookbook."
"See, I told you, if you can read, you can cook. Nothing to it."
"I've been watching you, Case. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have had a clue what to do, cookbook or not," he argued.
"That's silly. All you have to do is read what to do. There isn't anything magical or difficult about cooking."
"The sauce isn't as good as yours, but it's okay," he said.
"I think it's absolutely wonderful," she countered. She ate two and a half of the large pasta shells and their rich filling. Kept glancing at that enticing chocolate cake. She looked over at Daniel. Except for Grandma Rose, no one had ever baked a cake for her, and Grandma had only been able to help her celebrate her birthday twice. Kelley had bought her a cake a time or two. Usually the tall redhead had taken her to dinner, and that had been the extent of the birthday celebration. Neither woman could afford much more than that. "Thank you," she whispered.
"You're welcome," he whispered back. Grinned when her eyes went to the cake for what must have been the twentieth time. "Would you like to wait until later for the cake?"
He laughed out loud. "Okay. Let me clear this up and bring in clean plates."
Casey started to stand.
"Just sit down. I'm doing this," he told her. He gathered the dirty dishes and headed for the kitchen. "Oh, Case, there's a box on the coffee table. Grab it, would you?" He couldn't help but chuckle at the squeal of excitement that echoed through the apartment. He grabbed two small plates, and the wedge-shaped serving knife.
Her heart was pounding against her ribs as she cradled the small package in her hands. Getting gifts had been a rare occurrence in her life. Christmas gifts had consisted of whatever the local charities were handing out. Sheryl usually got one or two things, and when Grandma Rose had been alive, there had always been a gift from her. But her birthday had been just another day for as long as she could remember. Maybe they weren't celebrating on the twenty-third. But they were celebrating. Daniel had gone out of his way to make this day special for her. If she never acknowledged another birthday, the memory of this night would stay with her forever.
"Well, aren't you going to open it?"
She looked up into laughing blue eyes. Could see the love that reflected in them. Shaking fingers pulled the ribbon loose, carefully tugged the taped side open. Inside was a small velvet box from a local jeweler. She glanced up at him, then flipped the lid up. And gasped out loud. "Oh, my god!"
Daniel grinned. Sam had suggested the earrings, telling him that a pair of diamond earrings were practically a necessity. She'd also suggested the half-carat size, one carat total weight, saying that they'd be noticeable without being too ostentatious, something that Casey certainly wasn't. They were simple, round diamonds, in a platinum setting. "Like 'em?" he asked softly.
"Oh, Daniel, they're beautiful!"
He reached out to wipe away the tear that had escaped and was rolling down her cheek. "You're sure? We can take them back and get something else if you'd rather."
She unconsciously pulled the small box against her body. "No! They're beautiful! I love them!" Her index finger traced each one. "You didn't have too," she whispered.
"Yes I did," he whispered back, pleased at her reaction. He'd seen the way she cradled the box with her hands, how she pulled it tight against her when he suggested returning and exchanging them.
"Because I wanted to. Because I love you. Because it's your birthday."
She couldn't reply, because the lump in her throat wouldn't allow any sound to move past it. She wrapped her arms around his neck and clung to him. "I love you," she said softly, once she could speak again.
"I love you, too." He held her tightly, let her cling to him as long as she wanted. When she finally stepped away, her cheeks were wet. "Oh, Angel, there's no need to cry!"
"It's been a long time since I had a home baked birthday cake, or a gift," she admitted. In fact, she'd been eleven the last time her Grandma Rose had baked a cake. A book of poetry had been her gift that year. The following year her beloved grandmother had been ill. She'd passed away before Casey's thirteenth birthday.
So cold. So damned dark and cold and bleak, he thought again. Her life had been a hell on earth. It still amazed him that she was as vibrant, as caring, as sweet, as happy as she was, considering what she'd…survived. A true testament to her character, he knew. "Well, it won't be the last," he promised softly.
Her response was to kiss his chin, then press her lips against his, waiting for him to work the combination that always gained him entrance to her mouth. She put all of her love, her happiness, her gratitude into the motion.
His senses were reeling from the emotions attached to the kiss that she was giving him. Later she'd use that sexy body, and thank him again and again for her gift. That was another reason he loved giving her things. She had one hell of a way to say thank-you!
Casey pulled away from him, looked again at that chocolate cake. "If I don't get a piece of that cake soon, I'm gonna explode!"
He chuckled loudly. "Let's have some cake then, Angel."
They sat side by side on the sofa, eating chocolate cake, Casey telling him about her day at the mall with her best friends. After a game of chess, she pulled him into the bedroom, where she allowed him to take the silk slip off of her, and then thanked him for her birthday surprises…three times.
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