Take My Dare

By: J. Kenner


I think that is one of the things I love most about him—the power he has to lasso infinity. To bring imagination to its knees and craft something beautiful from nothing more tangible than the illusive flicker of an idea.

He may have built this house for me, but together we made it a home.

And in point of fact, I’m still not the princess of this castle. That, however, is fine by me.

I turn back to face the interior of the room, smiling as my gaze lands on the tousle-haired little girl curled up in the oversized armchair. She’s the real princess, and right now she’s sound asleep beneath her favorite blanket, her thumb in her mouth and her dog, Fred, curled up on the rug in front of the chair. Veronica Amelia Steele who, like her father, has stolen my heart completely.

This early in the morning, I’m not surprised she’s still asleep. She’s staying home from kindergarten today, and so I’d let her play past her bedtime. I’m also not surprised she’s in that chair. Though she’d fallen asleep on her father’s side of the bed after begging three times for “just one more chapter” from her favorite Magic Treehouse book, she hadn’t stayed in the bed. She’s adopted the comfy chair as her own private domain, and sometime during the night she moved there as she so often does.

As I watch her sleep, Fred raises his head. He’s part corgi and part beagle, with ears that seem just a little too large and a tail that never stops wagging. His mouth opens in a wide yawn, and he turns toward Ronnie before looking back at me, his head cocked as if asking, Now what?

“It’s okay,” I whisper. “Let her sleep. I’m going to go check on the baby.”

As if he understands, his head drops down onto his paws, and I leave him to stand sentry over my daughter. I grab the portable baby monitor off the dresser before I pad barefoot down the hall. Ours is the only bedroom on this floor, but there is also a small den that we’ve turned into a temporary nursery for Jeffery, the other man in my life. He’s already a year old, and it amazes me how quickly the days have gone by. Once upon a time, I’d been crippled by the fear of failing as a parent. Now, I can’t imagine life without my kids.

I reach the nursery, but hesitate before turning the knob. As much as seeing his sweet face will brighten my morning, I can’t deny the allure of a few more minutes of peace—a very rare commodity in our house these days. Jeffrey rarely sleeps past six, but even though it’s already six-thirty, I know from the silence of the baby monitor that he hasn’t stirred. Open that door, and it’ll be all over. But if I go downstairs to the kitchen, I just might have a few quiet moments with my coffee on the back patio before the day begins.

“Soon, little man,” I whisper, then back slowly away and move eagerly toward the stairs.

The house is shaped like an H, with the crossbar being the one story section. It features our kitchen, two living areas, the library, and a small gym. The entire western-facing wall is made of sliding glass panels that can be pushed to the side, turning that section into indoor-outdoor living space. The really cool thing about the crossbar is that it forms the foundation for my rooftop patio. A decadent living space with comfortable outdoor furniture, an outdoor kitchen, a fire pit, and a narrow infinity pool.

The uprights of the H contain the home’s bedrooms. The kids’ and two guest rooms on the ground floor of the southern side with a media room and playroom above them, and Jackson and I on the northern side. Our bedroom and the den-turned-nursery take up the top floor, and our connecting offices fill the lower level.

An exterior staircase spirals down from the balcony off the master bedroom to the rooftop patio, then continues down to the first floor and the flagstone sitting area that flows into the manicured yard. This morning, I forgo those exterior steps in favor of the interior staircase that leads directly to the alcove between the kitchen and breakfast area.

I move slowly and quietly—because now that coffee is on my mind, I’m even more careful not to wake the baby—but I freeze the moment the breakfast area comes into view, my hand flying to my mouth to stifle a surprised little gasp.

Jackson.

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