"That was then and this is now. Well?"
"Just what were you doing, besides kissing?"
Tessa blinked. "That's none of your business and tell me that's not the reason you hunted me down."
"No, Dana was worried and called. You've been gone all afternoon."
Tessa glanced at Chase as he finished loading the Jeep. "Yeah, I know."
Tessa frowned at her. "You were the one who said I should get to know him."
"Sure, so he wouldn't sue for custody. But that—" she waved to the spot near the tree "—is more than I meant."
"Afraid I'll stain your reputation?" Dia was the first of her family to oppose her decision to artificially inseminate.
That stung, and Dia knew the source. "No matter what I've said in the past, Tessa, it's you I worry about. You're vulnerable."
"Pregnancy does not make me stupid, Dia," she said, folding her arms over her stomach. "I know what I'm doing."
"It's the with whom I'm worried about."
"You need a break, Dia. Badly," she said, and left her sister standing on the grass, her expensive pumps sinking into the soft dirt. Tessa stopped beside Chase.
"I feel like a kid caught in the back seat of his daddy's car," he said.
She slanted him a glance. "You speaking from experience?"
"Nah, Dad never let me use his car. I had to buy my own and that didn't happen till I was in the Marines."
"Not in college?"
"Marines first, college came later." He shook his head, rueful. "I'm the black sheep of the family, you know."
He grinned. "A fault you like?"
Her lips twitched. "Only if it doesn't carry over into genes." She rubbed her tummy.
"Yeah well, going into the Marines ticked my dad off good. Not following in the family dynasty didn't help, either."
Chase's father was a politician, she recalled, a retired senator or something. "And now?"
"God, I hope he's over it," he said dryly, amused.
Tessa laughed uneasily, not ready to meet his parents. That was just a little too deep. They climbed into the car.
"Your sister upset you?" He inclined his head toward Dia.
Tessa shook her head. "She's just wound up a little too tight these days." Tessa glanced out the window and Dia waved, offering her sister an I-hope-you-forgive-me smile as she slipped into her red Mercedes.
"She was mad, Tessa."
She sighed, brushing dry bits of grass from her blouse. "She warned me that I'm oh-so-vulnerable while carrying her niece."
"Family has a right to worry."
"Do yours?" Instantly she wished the words back.
Chase scoffed happily. "My mom is champing at the bit to meet you and Dad claims that his first grandson is destined to be president."
Tessa immediately looked out the window, unexpected tears filling her eyes as she realized how her decision, her baby, was affecting so many people. Yet he'd never reminded her of anything but his own concern. She knew this was his family's first grandchild, an occasion they should be involved in, and she was cutting them off. Even her own family was sort of lax about the baby. As if they weren't sure they could love a baby made with a stranger's sperm donation. But Chase, she knew beyond doubt, loved this child.
He pulled into a slot before her shop, and she was discreetly drying her eyes when he opened her door. Immediately, he frowned. "Angel?"
She slid from the seat. "I had a wonderful day, Chase. Thank you."
When she wouldn't look at him, he tipped her chin. "Was it something I said?"
She rested her hand on his broad shoulder. "No. I think I just need some time to think."
He nodded and knew she meant without him around. He ducked and brushed his lips to hers and she clung to him, fighting back tears and kissing him deeply.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, and he thought she meant about crying.
But Tessa realized she was being selfish and cruel and that keeping Chase out of her life, at this moment, wasn't fair, no matter how much it might hurt her later. And as she left him and entered her shop, she realized that she no longer thought of him as a donor, or even her baby's father, but as her man.
During the next week, Tessa saw Chase every day, even if it was just for a few moments between picking up supplies for his jobs. Half the time he was covered with dirt and sweat and he'd steal a wet, smacky kiss, then head out, unmindful of his crew hooting from the back of a truck. Madison Construction built homes, she discovered, one at a time, customized. She admired the fact that he'd started out doing it alone, a one-man operation with no financial help from his father.