Exhaustion. Pure and simple. Neeve had spent only twelve hours at the bakery that day - a short day, compared to other recent workdays - but she felt like she had been on her feet for no less than twenty hours straight.
Neeve locked up that night after the last of her employees left, and climbed the stairs to her family's home, a cozy apartment above the bakery. It was past eleven o'clock already, she realized as she scaled the stairs, picking up discarded toys and shoes as she climbed.
Dragging her weary feet across the carpet, she first checked in on little Killian. He was fast asleep, tucked into his crib, his dark curls spread out around his head like a halo. Little baby Ryan, so pale and tiny, didn't stir at all when she kissed him gently on the head, inhaling the sweet smell of baby powder.
The last place she stopped before her own bedroom was to see Sheenagh. Neeve saw the light pouring out of the little pink bedroom, and her brow furrowed. Peeking her head in, she saw her little daughter, asleep with a book clutched in her hand. Neeve smiled and went to tuck her in, but as soon as she slipped the book from the little hand, the girl woke up.
"You're late tonight, Mama," Sheenagh grumbled sleepily. "You said you'd read to me."
Neeve frowned and nodded, speaking softly to her little girl. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. It's too late now...."
"Just one chapter, Mama?"
"Just a little? Please, Mama?"
"I...." Neeve stopped herself, looking down at her sweet little redhead. "Just a little."
She sat cross-legged on the floor beside her daughter's bed, and cracked open 'The Hobbit', her daughter's favorite book.
"In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit..."
Ten minutes later, with the little girl off in dreamland, Neeve heaved herself upwards and turned off the light, sliding the book into Sheenagh's full bookcase.
She came into the bedroom, kicking off her shoes, and closed the door quietly behind her.
She turned with a tired smile to see Tristan relaxing on the bed, a book in his hand.
"Ye said ye would be up an hour ago. And an hour before that," he pointed out in his heavy brouge, but he didn't sound mad.
"I know," she admitted, scuffing her way toward the bed, not bothering to even remove her apron before she climbed up. In an instant she was wrapped in the comfortable embrace of her husband's arms.
He kissed the top of her head, "Yer exhausted, darlin'. Why don't you let me open up the shop tomorrow mornin'?"
Already half asleep, Neeve grunted. "I have a delivery of flour coming at five, and you've got to be to work yourself...."
"The office can wait, love. Ye need to catch up on sleep."
All Neeve could do was sigh. She didn't require any further persuasion.