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Sunday, January 29, 2023

A Season to Celebrate

A Dallas Demons Bonus Scene-Lexi and Niko

“Lexi, darling, I’m so glad you are here! Oh, let me look at you. Yes, this dress is absolutely stunning,” CiCi says, sweeping me into her arms for a perfumed hug. I smile as she does, pleased that this woman with a critical eye for the latest fashion approves of my beaded black cocktail dress.

                I smile as CiCi embraces me. I step back from her, this woman who has been a second mother to me since I was a child, and place my hands affectionately on her arms. “I think you are the one who looks stunning, CiCi.”

                That is no understatement. CiCi is ultra-chic in a two-tone jumpsuit, one with a glittery top and flared black pants at the bottom. Her platinum hair is in her signature bob, not a strand out of place, and a gorgeous pair of diamond earrings adorn her ears.

                “Thank you,” she says. Then she turns to Niko, who is carrying our son, Dimitri, in his arms. “Niko, it’s so good to see you. It’s been entirely too long. And how are you, my precious Dimitri? I have presents for you upstairs, you know.”

                Joy courses through me as I watch Niko talk to CiCi.  Even though Dimitri is three, I still can’t believe I’m standing here, with a husband. Who is holding our son.

                I think of the changes my life has taken since I met Niko. I found the courage to embrace who I am. I’m working as an editor for Total Access Total Sports, a job I love and have learned to juggle being a working mom and a single mom when Niko is on the road. All I can say is thank God for my mother, who takes care of Dimitri during the day for me. We actually bought a home in the same suburb they live in before Dimitri was born, and my mother has been there every step of the way for me. I didn’t think it was possible but having Dimitri has brought us even closer. My mother says Dimitri is the biggest joy in her life, and I believe her, as the bond they have is incredible.

                Just like the bond my parents have with Niko. They treat him like he is their son, and once again, I found myself loving my parents more deeply than I ever have because of the way they have embraced the man I love. We spend holidays together. Take vacations as a group. My heart has never been so full as it is when we are all together.

                Niko’s family in Baltimore has never embraced me the same way, but I have come to accept that no family is picture-perfect. They are polite and show me respect, but they will never see me as the wife they wanted for their son. And I’m fine with that because I know I am the right woman for Niko, that he loves me like he could love no other, and that is all that matters to us. So we’ll go spend Christmas in Baltimore with them so Dimitri can have Christmas with his Yaya and Papou, along with his cousins. Then we will have a belated Christmas with my parents when we come back, and I feel like that is giving my son the best of both worlds.

                “Dimitri, you will want to go upstairs with all of the children, there are movies and Santa will be coming up later,” I hear CiCi say.

                I smile as Dimitri’s dark brown eyes—the ones that are just like Niko’s—light up with excitement.

                “I love Santa!” he cries excitedly.

                “Then we’d better get you upstairs so he finds you when he gets here,” Niko says. He drops a huge exaggerated kiss on Dimitri’s cheek and Dimitri squeals in response.

                We move through the elaborate foyer, the one with exquisite marble flooring and a massive Venetian glass chandelier suspended from the high ceiling above us. Players and team employees are mingling in the massive living room that opens up before us, and I can hear jazz music and the sounds of ice being poured into crystal cocktail glasses. Laughter and conversation fill the air around us, and the feeling is one of celebration tonight. After all, it is the holiday season, the Demons are in the top spot in their division. It’s time to be merry.

                “That tree is big Mommy!” Dimitri cries out, pointing to the massive tree that is in the living room, one I swear that is ten feet tall and every bit of it is covered with exquisite silver ornaments.

                “It is one of many,” I say, stroking my sweet boy’s dark brown hair. “You know Aunt CiCi has many trees. There will be another one upstairs for you to see.”

                “Poor Aga. How many trees did she wheel out of closets this year?” Niko says, a wicked glint in his espresso-colored eyes.

                I bite my tongue to keep from laughing. Aga is CiCi’s long-time housekeeper, and she is the one who wheels these massive trees in and out of storage each year.

                We walk up the huge curving staircase, one with banisters wrapped in exquisite greenery, silver and glass ornaments, and twinkling lights, and head up to the media room. As soon as we reach the second floor, I can hear the gleeful sounds of children’s laughter.

                I step inside the huge media room, which has been converted into the ultimate holiday party for kids. Rudolph is playing on the huge TV screen and some kids are sitting in the theater-style seats, nibbling on popcorn and elaborate sugar cookies. I grin. I know my best friend’s handiwork when I see it, and all of these cookies were baked by Kenley. There are two huge Christmas trees in the room, filled with lollipops and candies for kids to pluck off. Tables are set up for writing letters to Santa, and there are several women walking around to keep the party organized.

                “Hello, I’m Madison,” a beautiful young blonde says as she greets us.

                “She is my teacher at preschool,” Cecilia Johansson pipes up. “She is in charge of the party.”

                Madison smiles. “I’m here to help,” she says.

                Niko puts Dimitri down, and now he and Cecilia are standing in front of each other. I grin as I wait for them to interact.

                “Dimitri. We are going to play house. You can be the Daddy.”

                Dimitri scowls. “I want to do something else.”

                Cecilia wrinkles her nose. “But you have to be the Daddy!”

                “Cecilia,” Nate says, approaching us and bending down so he’s on level with his daughter, “what did we talk about last night? You want your friends to have fun.”

                “Playing house is fun, Dimitri doesn’t know!” Cecilia says defiantly.

                Oh, the force of CiCi is strong in this one.

                “For you. But Dimitri wants to do something else. It’s not nice to make him play house if he doesn’t want to. You need to ask Dimitri what he wants to do. That is the nice thing to do.”

                Cecilia’s eyes flicker. She folds her arms.

                “Do I need to find the timeout chair?” Nate warns.

                Cecilia drops her arms. She sighs and turns to Dimitri. “I’ll play house with Parker instead.”

                “That is not what I said,” Nate insists.

                Lord, Nate is so good at this. If I had Cecilia, I’d be exhausted by now.

                Cecilia scuffs her patent shoe across the carpet. Then she ruffles the taffeta of her fancy dress. Finally, she lifts her eyes to meet Dimitri.

                “What would you like to do?” she asks reluctantly.

                “Dimitri, you can help us decorate a gingerbread house or write a letter to Santa,” Madison suggests.

                “I’d like to make a gingerbread house!” Dimitri says, his little face lighting up.

                “Okay, let’s do that,” Madison says, taking his hand. “Say goodbye to your mom and dad, and let’s have fun.”

                “Bye Mommy! Bye Daddy!” Dimitri says happily over his shoulder as he walks off with Madison.

                “That’s better, Cecilia,” Nate says, stroking her hair with his hand. “You ask every friend what they want to do. That’s being a good friend.”

                “When Daphne is born, she will do what I want to do. I’ll just wait for her.”

                Then she spins on her little heel and walks off.

                Nate sighs heavily and rises. “She’s only three. I can’t imagine her being sixteen.”

                “I think you need to go downstairs and hit the bar if you are going to think about that,” Niko teases.

                “Where’s Kenley?” I ask, looking around for her.

                “Downstairs. She didn’t feel like making the big trek up the stairs,” Nate says. “We just got here, and I wanted to make sure Cecilia was going to do what we told her to do. Which means I probably need to stay up here a bit longer. Even though I’m pretty sure Madison knows how to keep my little girl in line.”

                “Hey, has Easton seen Madison?” Niko asks, lowering his voice.

                I furrow my brow. Easton is a player for the Dallas Demons, and his love of partying and women know no limits, which has not pleased the coaching staff—or ownership.

                Nate rolls his eyes. “You’re right. He’d go after her. I’ll have to tell him Cecilia’s teacher is off-limits.” He leans in closer to us. “He reminds me of a younger Matt Rhinelander, but with no Holly to turn him around,” Nate says, referring to his sister.

                I nod. I know Matt completely changed when he fell in love with Holly. I also know that Easton’s contract is up this year and Peter Deveraux—the owner and CiCi’s husband—is about done with the sideshow he brings to the team.

                “Niko, let’s head downstairs and find Kenley. She is no doubt obsessing over that dessert table, and I want her to sit down,” I say, thinking of how Kenley is not good at resting during pregnancy.

                “Thank you,” Nate says, grinning at me.

                We head out the door, and I’m about to step toward the staircase when Niko pulls me the other way.

                “Where are we going?” I ask, giggling as Niko pulls me along the hall.

                “You’ll see,” he says, his voice low and sexy.

                There’s a large tree at the end of the deserted hallway, and he quickly whips me behind it, pressing me up against the wall.

                “Mrs. Xenakis,” he says, his hand sliding into the curve of my waist and stroking it, “have I told you how hot you look this evening in this dress?”

                His lips find my neck and breathe a kiss there. I turn hot the second he touches me.

                “You can tell me again,” I whisper to him.

                “You are so beautiful,” Niko says, his mouth finding mine and brushing a kiss against it. “I can’t wait to get this dress off you later when we are alone.”

                Okay, the party is over. I think I have a headache and need to go home. I need urgent attention only my sexy husband can give me.

                “Promise?” I say, slipping my hands inside his suit jacket and up his sculpted back.

                “Yes,” he says, kissing me again, but this time slipping his tongue inside for a deeper kiss.

                I kiss him back briefly but then break it. “Let’s go downstairs. We don’t want to get caught.”

                His eyes dance with desire. “If you say so. As long as you allow me to catch you later.”

                “I will,” I say, removing my hands and smoothing out the lapels on his suit jacket.  “I see you, me, the fireplace and a bottle of wine. Among other things.”

                Niko takes my hand in his and we emerge from behind the tree. “I think that party will be the best of all. I love you, Lexi.”

                “I love you,” I say, gazing at him as we walk. He squeezes my hand in his and as we descend the stairs, I think of my husband. My child. My family and friends and how I ended up in this place, I’ll never know, but I’m so grateful I can’t even put words to it.

                And that is something I will celebrate tonight—and for the rest of my life.

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