Page 27 of Anybody's Dad

"You ought to ask some personal stuff right back, angel. See how fast they lay off."

Angel. Why was he calling her that? For the eavesdroppers' benefit or for her? Before she could wonder about it, he nodded toward the front of the room as Debbie introduced herself. He never stopping touching Tessa. If it wasn't his hand resting on her shoulder with a gentle weight, it was his thighs cradling her. Almost absently his fingers stroked her neck or toyed with her braid as they listened, and Tessa wondered how conscious he was of it, since he was engrossed in the seminar. But one thing Tessa realized was how much she missed the touch of a man. And how much she enjoyed this man's touch.

She got comfortable with him as Debbie showed diagrams, offered other birthing techniques, detailed the procedures after entering the hospital and, most importantly, described the pain medication options, something Chase thought she ought to consider.

"No," Tessa said, then flashed him a quick grin. "Of course, that doesn't mean I won't be shamelessly screaming for it at the last minute, either."

He did everything that was asked, took notes, and kept flashing her a funny glad-it's-not-me look when Debbie described birth in more graphic detail. Next time they'd see a film. Tessa was not looking forward to it. Chase, on the other hand, couldn't wait.

He asked her opinion on everything and twice they were hushed for talking too loudly. And Tessa relaxed, really relaxed, for the first time since that day in the lawyer's office three weeks ago.

"I was going to tell them the father died," she confessed during a break.

Chase looked up from the stopwatch he was setting. His expression was blank, unreadable.

She shrugged, a little ashamed. "I couldn't think of a better solution, and you, of course, were not supposed to be involved, especially not like this." She waved at the room of plump moms and eager, nervous dads.

Chase stared at his hand, watching the numbers click off in seconds. She was afraid of him. And he didn't like it. "I'm here now, Tessa, and I want to share this with you, you know that." She nodded minutely. "The last thing I want is to scare you or hurt you." He caught her hand in his, making slow circles over the back with his thumb, watching his movements. "I'm not going to steal this child and run for the hills, angel. I swear on my life, I won't."

He met her gaze and saw the soft sheen of tears in her eyes.

His composure crumbled. "Ahh, Tessa, don't."

She wouldn't let him get closer or hold her like he made to do. "I was just scared, Chase. That's all."

Just scared? More like terrified out of her mind. Yet he let the matter drop and as Debbie instructed, he helped her back into position, stuffing pillows for proper support, then tucked himself behind her. They practiced slow, even breathing, something she was good at, he realized, but when it came to pant-blows, which Chase thought were far too much like a puppy in the middle of summer, she had trouble.

Tessa panted, then blew out a long breath. Sitting beside her, he watched his timer, but watching her was more interesting and he got caught up in matching and coaching her breathing. Tessa panted. Chase panted. And as the imagined contraction increased, she sped up.

Unfortunately, so did Chase.

Then she noticed his skin was flushed, his eyes glassy.

"Chase? Chase, stop," Tessa said, sitting up and reaching for him.

"Whoa!" Then he fell back on his rear and clutched his head.

Tessa laughed softly and offered him water. "Getting into it, huh?"

"More like taking off. God, my head." It was spinning.

Tessa laughed harder and Chase lowered his hands slowly, looking up at her and loving the soft, husky sound. He couldn't get enough of it.

They moved on to the next stage of controlled breathing and when Tessa needed something to focus on, Chase pulled a little frame from his backpack and positioned it near her feet. She inhaled sharply and her gaze flew to his.

It was the sonogram.

Her eyes teared and Chase smiled, yet when she wanted to speak he hushed her, ordering her to concentrate. How could she? He kept pointing to the spot on the printout that she knew were fingers and kept saying, "See, a boy," right in the middle of her breathing.

When it was time to relax on her side, he hovered close, adjusting pillows, yet it was the caressing way he positioned her legs, her arms, that made her heart pound. His hands lingered, grew more intimate in their stroking as he massaged her back. Then he tucked himself behind her, torso propped on one elbow, his breathing low and even with hers. Tessa found it hard to focus on anything, except the great-smelling man and the warmth of his body behind her. It was as if they were sharing a bed.

"Tessa?" Chase whispered.

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