“Yes, I can. Trust me, Piper. It is not even a possibility.” Of all the things he’d been considering over her week-long silence, that was not one of them.

“Do you think there is even a tiny chance that someday you might fall in love with me?” She buried her face against his chest and waited for his answer.

He wanted to lie; it would make things so much easier, but he could not. “If I was capable of falling in love, I already would have.”

“You really believe that?”

“Absolutely.”

Her head tilted back so he could see her glare. “Everyone is capable of love.”

“That is debatable.”

“Yes, I guess it is.” She grimaced. “There are certainly people that make a great case for that point of view anyway. I never considered you one of them, however.”

He could not help that. He shrugged. “What else scares you?”

“Oh, the usual, what will happen to my business, what if I lose the baby, what if I’m a terrible mother, am I going to turn into a whale, can I learn Greek?” Her litany of worries came out in a voice garbled by suppressed tears he did not know what to do about.

“You are going to marry me.” Why else would she need to learn Greek?

“How can I do anything else? I’ve looked at this situation from every side until I’m sick with it. If I don’t marry you, we’ll have to share custody and I’m not naive enough to think you are going to settle for being a weekend dad. You’ll fight for at least equal custody, if not majority custody.”

He was shocked. She realized that. “I…”

“Don’t try to deny it.”

“I wasn’t going to.”

Her lips trembled, but she blinked away the incipient moisture in her troubled blue eyes. “Good. We can’t build a marriage on lies.”

“I agree.”

“The custody issue wasn’t even the most distressing.”

“It was not?” What could have worried her more?

“No. It was the certainty that if I didn’t marry you, one day you would marry someone else and build a whole family with them.”

“The thought of me married to someone else bothers you?” he asked, just to clarify. She had left him without any sort of contact for almost a week after all.

“Of course it does. I love you.”

Something inside his chest stuttered. “You love me?”

“Yes.”

“Like a friend.” He attempted to qualify.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and shook her head, those terrifying tears of hers spilling over now. “No, not like a friend.”

“You won’t convince anyone you love me like a brother.” Maybe there was some special kind of love women left for the father of their children.

She shook her head again, a mysterious smile flirting with the edge of her lips, despite the sadness in her eyes. “Like the only man in my universe, like the other half of my heart, like the part of my soul that’s been missing my whole life but I didn’t know it.”

He would have staggered if they hadn’t been holding each other so tightly. “Is that how you loved Art?” He did not know why he asked except for as some form of penance, because one thing he never wanted to hear was that she had loved her ex like that.

“My feelings for Art weren’t even a shadow of what is in my heart for you.”

Could he believe that? And if he did, what difference did it make? His mother had loved him, too, but she’d walked away when a choice had to be made. “And yet, you did not call.”

“Loving you doesn’t make me perfect, or even perfectly unselfish. In fact, it makes me terribly self-focused because it makes me so vulnerable to being hurt by you. I want to marry you so I know you won’t—can’t—leave me.” The tears were in her voice now. “I want to be with you for the rest of my life and I wanted to be pregnant so bad, it was an ache in my gut that wouldn’t let me sleep at all the night before the doctor’s office called. I spent the darkest hours of that night in a perfect agony of guilt and unable to change my desires one jot even because of it. Did you hear all those I’s and me’s?”

“You wanted to carry my child?” he asked, ignoring selfflagellating guilt.

“Yes, more than anything. Which probably makes you wonder if I lost my patch on purpose, but I swear to you that I didn’t.”

“Of course not, but why did you want to?”

“Have you been listening to me at all? I knew a baby would tie you to me. Not because I’m not capable of being a single mother, but because you would not want me to be. I’m really ashamed of feeling that way, but I can’t change it. I never would have done it on purpose, but I won’t pretend I don’t feel wildly fortunate, either. Which probably should make you reconsider whether or not you should marry me.”

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