Puppy Breath

Kate wakes to a rush of warm breath over her face, the touch of a nose to her cheek.

“Mommy, now?” her daughter whispers – still so loud in the quiet of the bedroom – backing away as Kate’s eyes slit open.

“Lily,” she breathes, fumbling to open the covers to her daughter. “Not now, baby, s'too early.”

Her girl whines at being put off, evades the hand she extends to her. “Mama, no. Now. We gotta now.”

Kate sighs, sinking deeper into her pillow, feeling the last dredges of sleep attempt to seize her. But she can’t, not with Lily perched on her side of the bed, unmoving and insistent.

“Okay, Lil, okay,” she concedes, glancing behind her to make sure her husband hasn’t stirred. This is for him, after all; it would be a shame to spoil the surprise early by being too loud. “Now.”

With just the early streaks of dawn slipping through the blinds, she can see Lily brighten. The girl nods, climbing down and skidding from the room as silently as she must have approached, trusting Kate to follow.

And follow she does, sliding from bed and lifting her robe from the chair beside the bed before trudging through the loft to the laundry room where she’d stashed Rick’s present late last night when Alexis brought him over.

The puppy greets them with a soft yip and the rapid wag of his tail, skittering around Lily’s legs to the little girl’s extraordinary delight.

“Yes,” Kate murmurs, leaning over to scratch his ears. “We see you, we see you. Time for you to meet your Daddy. He’s not going to know what hit him.”

She scoops him up, turning her face away from the dog’s lapping tongue. The rescue puppy is adorable, but she sure as hell isn’t awake enough for dog kisses.

Lily bounces at her side, lifting a hand. Kate meets her halfway, allowing the girl to stroke their new addition’s paw. “Goo’ morning, baby,” she greets, repeating words Kate herself uses some mornings. “Supwise time!”

Kate yawns, nodding. “That’s right, surprise time. Lead the way, Lily. Quiet feet,” she adds, knowing that without the warning her daughter will tear through the loft with all the grace of a stampede of wild animals. Even with the warning, it’s a toss-up as to how quiet she’ll be.

Lily nods, curling her fingers in Kate’s robe and giving it a gentle tug. Beckett hums, shuffling behind her daughter’s sure footsteps, hoping she’s not making a mistake by not taking the dog out for a walk first. He has the puppy pads in the laundry room, so maybe he’s relieved himself already – as much as the thought makes her cringe – and won’t do it on her bed.

That would be a hell of an introduction, wouldn’t it? Bought you a dog, and oh, we should’ve taken him out first.

“Please don’t pee on my bed,” she murmurs, earning an enthusiastic slurp to the nose in response. “I’ll take that as an agreement.”

Her daughter giggles, leading Kate around the table, around the minefield of toys behind the couch, and through the doorway to the master bedroom. Rick sleeps on, but he’s rolled onto his side, facing Kate’s empty pillow. Lily grins over her shoulder before darting to the foot of the bed and hoisting herself up to rest by her father’s knees.

“Weady, Mama,” Lily says once she’s settled, giving Kate a sage nod.

Kate smothers a smile; her daughter’s so serious for someone giving a puppy as a surprise.

“Ready,” she agrees, lowering the puppy to the mattress. “Say hi, Daddy.”

She watches him sniff the space her body had once occupied, his tail wagging furiously with each step, before he trots up the bed to inspect the sleeping human on the other side.

The look on Rick’s face is priceless – part confusion, part glee – as the puppy pounces on him, and it’s all Kate can do to compose herself enough to remain standing. Oh, this is so good; exactly as she had hoped it would be.

“Morning, babe,” she manages, sinking onto the bed, dragging her giggling daughter into her arms. “Guess what? We got you a puppy.”