Matt shifted the two gifts to one hand as he opened the door to the bedroom he and Molly shared. He’d brought her to his folks’ house for the holidays so she could be closer to her family as well as his ma, since her growing belly did little for his peace of mind. While the impending birth of their child filled him with joy and pride, he also worried like a mother hen. His days as a Texas Ranger seemed tame by comparison to this next stage of life.
Molly sat on the bed, her back against a pile of pillows. Balancing a plate atop her ballooning stomach, she spooned a large bite of food into her mouth.
“Is that Rosita’s caramel cake?” he asked. “I thought it was all gone.” The Ryan’s cook had baked her delicious concoction for the large family gathering this evening. It was based on a recipe his ma had long used, however Matt was certain Rosita had added a few peppers to spice it up.
Molly nodded, unable to speak around the sweet dessert. Her auburn hair, having finally grown longer, tumbled out of the bun from earlier and she still wore the emerald gown his ma had given her as a gift a few days prior.
He approached the bed, sat beside her, and reached for a morsel of cake. Molly shifted the plate away from him.
He laughed. “I can’t have any?”
She glared at him. “It’s the last piece. And I’m eating for two.”
Matt knew not to come between his wife and food. He was glad she could keep something down at long last, having recently recovered her appetite after a long bout of morning sickness. But now that her hunger had returned, it was like the force of a passel of nursing piglets.
“I wanted to give you these tonight.” He placed the boxes beside her.
She beamed and quickly consumed the remainder of the cake, then set the dish aside. She opened the first gift and went still.
“Where did you get this?” she whispered.
The portrait featured Molly with her mama, papa, and sisters, Mary and Emma. It was likely taken around 1866 since Molly looked to be about eight years old. While everyone stared straight ahead with a stony countenance, young Molly had a mischievous smirk on her cherubic face. Matt smiled every time he looked at it. This was the Molly he remembered—wild, tenacious, and curious. She’d crawled into his heart, becoming a part of his blood and bones, the very spirit that breathed life into him.
He gave silent thanks that she was in his life, as he had every day since he’d found her again.
“My ma had it,” he said. “After your folks were killed, and your sisters were sent away, she went through the Hart homestead and collected whatever mementos she could find. I had a new frame sent from Dallas. I thought you might like to have it.”
Molly’s eyes welled with tears. Matt reached out to snag a crumb from her cheek. She kissed him, tasting of Rosita’s cake, both sweet and spicy.
“We can put it on the mantle of the Rocking Wren when the house is complete,” she said against his lips, referring to the ranch he was building just for her. She resumed staring at her gift. “I can’t wait to show Mary and Emma tomorrow.”
Matt knew this was a special Christmas for Molly. After having lived with the Comanche for years, she hadn’t celebrated the holiday since she was a little girl. And now, both of her sisters were with her. Emma had returned weeks ago and promptly married Nathan Blackmore; Mary had arrived a month ago with her husband and three children, having traveled from the Arizona Territory with Cale Walker—Molly’s new-found half-brother—and his wife, Tess. Matt’s folks had a full house at the moment, including his brother Logan, his wife Claire and her younger brother Jimmy.
He handed Molly the second gift. She swiftly discarded the paper and retrieved the item inside the box. Once again, she froze. Delight quickly transformed her face as she clasped the brand new slingshot, admiring the smooth design. Raising an eyebrow, she asked, “Am I allowed to use it in the house?”
She pulled on the rubber sling. “I’ll call it ‘Wren the Second’.” Watching him with a glittering gaze, she smiled. “These are very thoughtful gifts, Matt.” Molly took his hand and brought it to her belly. He felt the babe move, and he marveled at the good fortune in his life since encountering, many months ago, a woman he’d thought long dead.
“I have a gift for you,” she added. “And I know what you’re thinking, but that will come later, once the cake settles.” She gave him a sly look as a blush spilled onto her cheeks and, unable to resist the love of his life, he nuzzled her neck.
Pushing back, she admonished him with a mock grimace. “I have something else to give you.” She brought his hand back to her taut belly. “Emma told me we’re to have a son.”
Molly’s younger sister had a knack for the knowing of things. Matt never put much stock in such nonsense, but when Nathan had told him the wild tale of his adventure with Emma in the Grand Canyon, Matt found it difficult to discount Emma’s abilities.
He lowered his head and gently kissed the boy through the fabric of Molly’s gown.
Matt had everything he wanted.
“If Rosita makes more cake tomorrow,” he murmured, “I’ll swipe it just for you.”
He sat up and gathered her into his arms. “I promise.”
Here's my modern take on Rosita's cake, although there's no caramel or peppers in mine. My sister-in-law shared this recipe with me many years ago, before my first child was born, and I've made it every holiday since. My son, the eldest, can eat an entire cake by himself, so I make this many times during the Christmas season. It's very easy and is a great housewarming gift or quick dessert for those last minute dinners.
REALLY RICH CAKE
1 18-1/2 oz. package yellow cake mix
1 3 oz package instant vanilla pudding
1/2 cup oil (I replace half of this with applesauce for a lower fat version)
1/2 cup water
1 6 oz. package chocolate chips
1 6 oz. choc. candy bar broken into pieces
1 cup sour cream
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Pour into a greased and floured 10-inch Bundt pan and bake at 350deg for 50 minutes. Cool and serve.