In honor of Den’s birthday, here’s an entirely new scene set a few weeks after the end of the fourth book.
To better understand what’s going on in this scene, please check out this one FIRST, the “Riley Kicked to the Curb” scene.
Riley Blackthorne found it nearly impossible not to fidget, but the last thing she wanted was for her demon trapper boyfriend to know what she had planned. It’d been way hard, but she’d kept it all a secret for the last week. There’d been some close calls, but luck had been with her as Denver Beck had other things on his mind, like recovering from a near fatal wound from a Fallen angel.
Now, as she waited for him to slowly ascend the stairs to Grand Master Stewart’s huge Victorian home, Riley sighed. She’d offered to take him in the back door to avoid those steps, but Beck insisted he needed the exercise. He joked that if he got too tired she could carry him the rest of the way.
If it was physically possible, she’d do it. She loved him that much.
The horrific wound to his chest was still healing, but Stewart had warned her that the ache from the archangel’s fiery sword would always be there. Stewart would know – he had scars like that of his own.
By the end of the year, Beck would be a grand master, one of the rare few in the world. But today, as she watched him work his way up each step, she was caught by how thin and worn he looked, nothing like the robust young man who had caught her heart years before. Still, he was healing, and she prayed that her surprise would boost his spirits even further.
When Beck looked up at her, she could see his discomfort, but there was something else in his eyes: determination. He wasn’t about to let the injury break him.
I love you so much.
Once he was on the porch, he asked her to wait a few moments as he caught his breath.
“Flowers… look pretty,” he said, gesturing toward a bed of daffodils and crocuses in full bloom. “We should… plant some at our house.”
Our house. She would never get tired of hearing that.
As he rested, Riley ran her fingers through her hair, then straightened the new sweater she’d bought just for today. It was royal blue and she knew Beck loved that color. He’d already made note of it and said she looked beautiful. She wished that was true.
Once they were inside the door and headed down the long hallway, the wooden floor creaking under their feet, she tensed.
Hope he likes this. You never knew with Beck.
The big old house smelled of delicious food, but was strangely quiet. Which meant everything was going according to her plan.
“How are you doing?” she asked, trying not to sound excited.
“I really hate stairs,” he mumbled.
Riley smiled. “Last week you wouldn’t have been able to handle them. You’re getting better.”
“Yeah, but it’s takin’ freakin’ forever.”
Good old Beck – impatient as always.
With her breath held, Riley opened the door to the den, stepping into a room warmed by a merry blaze in the fireplace. Master Stewart stood near the hearth, a broad smile in place and a glass of Scotch in his hand.
As Beck entered, he called out, “Happy Birthday, lad!”
The room was full of people and now every one of them was shouting “Happy Birthday!”
Beck came to a halt, his mouth falling open in shock. “Ah…” My God.
Faces grinned back at him, enjoying his astonishment. Besides Stewart, many of his fellow trappers were here, like Chris Jackson and some of the others. His buddy, Fireman Jack, the demon trafficker, grinned at him from near a table laden with food. In the middle of it was a birthday cake.
“Ah…” Beck’s eyes swept across a room full of friends. “I…”
He blinked hard to keep the tears away. Those wouldn’t do. Then he looked over at Riley, who was beaming.
“Ya did all this, didn’t ya?” he asked.
“Yup,” she said, placing a quick kiss on his cheek. “Gotcha good, Backwoods Boy.”
“Come on, lad,” Stewart called out, waving him forward. “There’s food to eat, whisky to drink and fine presents to open. Time to get to it!”
The distance from his truck to the front door of Beck’s house seemed insurmountable. And there was another set of those damned stairs. To think he used to run five miles with a fully loaded backpack.
He closed the truck door and geared up for the journey. He certainly didn’t feel twenty-three, more like seventy. But then, after this afternoon’s raucous party, maybe it was only fifty. They’d celebrated him being alive, and he’d loved every minute of it.
Beck slowly edged closer to the house, preparing himself for the steps. It didn’t help that he was full of fine Scotch, Mama Z’s amazing barbecue, and two huge slices of cake with ice cream. He hadn’t eaten that much in ages.
They threw me a damned birthday party. Me! He still couldn’t wrap his mind around that.
Riley was already at the front door, dealing with the lock and then the alarm panel. “You doing alright?” she called out.
“Yeah. I’ll get there.”
“Don’t worry about the presents. I’ll bring them in.”
Which was good, since there were a bunch of them. Beck shook his head at the thought as he worked his way up the stairs.
A birthday party.
He hadn’t had a clue. Though now, when he looked back, he could see hints that it’d been in the works, even though everyone had kept the secret. He’d thought they were just going to Stewart’s to talk about the master trapper exam.
There’d probably been other birthday celebrations when he was living with his grandparents in North Georgia, but he’d been too young to remember them. Once he lived with his mother full time, down in Sadlersville, she’d ignored his birthdays. She’d never saw a need for that kind of nonsense, so neither had he.
But Riley did, and she’d made this day more special than he thought possible.
She came back onto the porch, patiently watching his progress. She’d learned to let him do things at his own speed. He hated feeling weak like this, and sometimes he took that frustration out on her, even when he knew that wasn’t fair. In return, she gave him hell, or hugs, as needed.
Riley had sat by his bed as he fought to stay alive after Sartael had wounded him. She’d never given up on him. Once, while in tears, she’d admitted she would have gone to Hell to bring him home, and he didn’t doubt that. Now she was doing everything she could to help him get better. He’d never know it was possible to love someone so much.
I don’t deserve you, girl. I never will.
Once inside the house, he collapsed onto the couch, trying to catch his breath. He was sweaty and exhausted, but he was better than he’d been a few days before. Stewart had said it’d take a couple of months, or more, before he was back in shape. Beck hoped the guy was right.
His initial worries about making the mortgage had been eased: after the deaths of so many demon trappers at the Tabernacle, the National Guild had established a fund to help their members through rough times. Beck would be needing that help for a time. Once he was back on his feet, everything would be good. Stewart had said he wanted him to take the master’s exam in July, so there’d be a ton of studying. At least Riley would be there to help him. And after that, in the fall, he’d head to Scotland to for training as a grand master. His life had certainly taken a different direction than he’d ever expected.
After Riley had brought in all the presents, she puttered around the kitchen, offering to make him some coffee. He refused. There was no more room in his stomach.
A few minutes later, she sat next to him, a cup of hot chocolate in hand.
She sipped her drink, then set it aside. “Did you have a good time at the party?”
“I did. I…never knew so many people cared about me.”
Riley rolled her eyes. “Of course they do. You’re awesome, Den. People love you.”
“Not everybody. But still…yeah, it was good,” he said, not knowing how to say what was in his heart. “Great, actually. I’ve never had anythin’ like that before.” He eyed her. “Of course, payback is a bitch. Your birthday is comin’.”
“You’ll be in Scotland,” she said, with a hint of sadness. “You know, learning how to be a grand master? You won’t even miss me.”
“Yeah, yer probably right,” he said, knowing that was a lie. But he also knew that Riley would be with him on her eighteenth birthday: He and Stewart had already talked about how they’d make that happen.
She reached behind the couch and retrieved a box, setting it next to him. The wrapping paper had bouncing bunnies on it, her way of kidding him about his pet rabbit.
“Happy Birthday, Den.”
She’d done so much for him already.
“So go on, open it,” she said, giving the present a nudge toward him. “Don’t worry, it’s not another pair of socks.”
His mind went back to a gift she’d given him two years earlier. A present he’d rejected at the same time he’d rejected her.
“Before I open this one,” he said, gingerly pulling himself off the couch, “there’s somethin’ else I gotta do.”
He made his way to the storage closet and, standing on tiptoe, he reached all the way to the top shelf. There, in the back, in a plastic bag, was a memory. Unfortunately, it was a sad one. Maybe he could fix that.
“You need some help?” Riley asked.
“Nope, I got it.” He pulled down the item, though the movement made his chest ache. Returning to the couch, he sat, placing the bag on his lap.
In lieu of an answer, he pulled the wrapped gift out of the bag. Her eyes widened in recognition.
“It’s the present I gave you a couple years back. The one from …” Her cheeks colored. “The day I seriously hit on you.”
“That’s how I remember it.”
“You kept the present? I figured you’d thrown it away.”
“No way I could do that,” he admitted. Cuz you gave it to me. Even after she’d told him it was a book.
Riley touched the paper fondly. “It wasn’t the best gift.”
“You didn’t know I couldn’t read, and I wasn’t about to tell you. My pride and all that.”
“But now you can read,” she said.
“Yeah…sorta.” He hesitated. “I’m so sorry I was hard on you that day. It just wouldn’t have worked between us. You were too young and I was too worried about what might happen.”
Riley nodded. “I know that now. But boy did I hate you. It hurt really bad, but… you were right.”
“It hurt me too,” he admitted and then pressed a kiss on her soft cheek.
“So open it!”
Beck unwrapped the gift and gazed in wonder at the book in his hands. He slowly sounded out the title. “Per-cy Jackson and the… the…”
“Olympians,” Riley said. “They’re gods.”
“Oh-lympians: the Lightning Thief. Hmm… can you really steal lightning?”
“You’ll have to read it and find out,” she replied.
“It’s beautiful,” he said, running his fingers over the cover. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I still believe you’re a hero, just like Percy.”
“Uh huh. So does this Percy guy have a hot girlfriend like I do?” Beck teased.
She grinned. “He will, later in the series. Annabeth is totally kickass.”
Just like you, then.
Beck opened the book and began to read, working through each word. Then he stopped. “Hey, it’s my birthday, so that means I can ask for anythin’ I want, right?”
Riley cocked her head. “Yeah…”
“Will you read this to me, just a bit of it. I like listenin’ to yer voice.”
He thought he saw a glisten of tears now. “Okay. And when you get done with this one, there’s more books in that present I just gave you.”
All that knowledge, just waiting for him.
Riley snuggled next to him on the couch, tucked under his right arm, just the way he liked it. When she began to read, he closed his eyes, listening to the words, seeing each one in his mind, knowing that they meant so much more because she was here.
After she finished the first chapter and set the book aside, he kissed her. “Thank you,” he whispered.
Riley looked up at him. “Happy Birthday, Den. I love you.”
Which was all Beck had ever wanted. He closed his eyes, thankful for being alive, for all his good friends and the girl in his arms.
Yeah, best birthday ever.
© 2014 – Jana Oliver
Jana is an international & multi-award winning author in several genres including young adult, paranormal romance and urban fantasy.