Then she realized Chase was leaving. "No!" She caught up and grasped his arm.
He looked down at her, arching a dark brow.
He was going to make her ask, the rat. "Please. Stay." She stole a glance around them. They'd drawn attention and he noticed, smiled into her eyes, then brushed her hair from her forehead as if she were the most precious creature in his life and everything was normal. Hah. Far from it.
"You don't have to stay, but—"
"Thanks, angel," he cut in and meant it.
"How am I supposed to explain you to people?" she asked quietly.
"Not that you have to, but any way you want."
She cast him a sidelong glance. "You mean that?"
"Sure." He wanted Tessa to come out and say he was her baby's father, be proud of it. Hell, he was beginning to think he wanted more from Tessa than she could possibly imagine. But if he told her what he was really feeling, she'd run.
"Come on." He grasped her hand, tugging. "I've got a primo spot all picked out."
"Primo?" Her lips twitched. "Really."
He maneuvered her between the couples toward the rear and dumped the pillows on a section of mat. After unrolling a small blanket, he twisted toward her, offering his hand. Tessa stared at it for a moment, and knew this took their odd relationship to another level. What level she wasn't sure as she tucked her fingers in his, feeling the comforting warmth, the calluses of a man who worked hard for his livelihood. She lowered to the mat, using his shoulder for support, then sighed in a heap.
"God, I feel like such a cow."
His lips twisted in a soft smile. "You look beautiful to me, angel."
She rolled her eyes. "Quit with the flattery, Chase," she said in a low voice. She wouldn't believe it, couldn't. Allowing herself to imagine anything beyond his wanting her baby was ludicrous. But when she couldn't take off her shoes without a strain and he leapt to do it, Tessa experienced a strange burst of emotion. It was a simple yet intimate task, but he did it without a second thought and it forced her to take another, deeper look at this man whose genes she'd selected.
When he found her staring at him, he smiled knowingly and she felt her face warm. He really was too cute.
"Here, sit in front of me, then the pillows." He positioned the pillows between them. "Good. Now relax back."
"I don't think that's necessary." She didn't want to be that near, to smell him, feel him wrapped around her and doubt his every motion. She wasn't ready for that.
"We have to do it this way, Tessa."
She looked skeptical. "I suppose you know a lot about Lamaze?"
"Read a book on it last night."
She blinked. "Why does that not surprise me," she said and resolutely let him draw her back between his bent legs. She was grateful for the several inches of down and feathers separating them, but it really didn't help. Chase radiated his own kind of heat.
And she was just getting a good dose of it when a neighboring couple spoke to him and she twisted to listen in. It was a simple parenting-type question—removable car seats or cars with them built in—and it amazed her that Chase knew which he preferred and why. The engineer in him saw only design and logic and safety. Yet as he spoke, she felt herself becoming removed from the conversation, captivated by watching his profile, the genuine interest in his expression. He was so quick with a smile and a joke, she thought, tension slipping from her. And as she joined in the conversation, Tessa only half noticed his hand smoothing over her arm, slow and natural.
"What did you tell them?" she asked a few moments later.
He bent and whispered in her ear, sending a gallop of gooseflesh down her throat to her breasts. "Only that I want to be with you every step of the way during this. What else is there?"
Yeah, what else? Yet she liked that he wasn't offering any information. "You know, when I first started to show, it forced me to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions."
"But you handled it," he said with all confidence.
"Well, I avoided being accurate." Her gaze wavered and her hand rode over her stomach. "I've found people instantly looked at my tummy, my hand for a wedding band, and when they don't see the gold, they immediately feel it's open season to be nosy." She met his gaze, looking wounded. "Total strangers asking very personal stuff."
He hated that anyone made her feel uncomfortable about having their baby and he wanted desperately to protect her with at least his name. In this day and age he couldn't believe the gall of some people. But even in the light of that, Chase knew she wouldn't accept his proposal and he didn't want to scare her off. Not when she was getting comfortable with his presence.