Page 44 of Anybody's Dad

Chase smiled. That he knew.

"No, understand. Even when the doctors said it was risky and could be painful, she charged ahead." Celeste shook her head and Chase sat up a bit straighter. "When I think how Dia made her life miserable, constantly offering unwanted legal advice and whatnot." Celeste broke her gaze, and Chase imagined he saw a flicker of guilt in her bright green eyes. She seemed to struggle with her words and when she spoke, Chase felt it wasn't what she really wanted to say. "If she doesn't want to marry you, Chase, it will be hard to change her mind."

Her tone implied hope, and Chase smiled. "Let me worry about it, Celeste."

"I will," she said as if she'd imagined no other prospect. She nodded, flinging long red curls off her shoulder before she stood. Chase rose, and after Celeste had peeked in on Tessa, sleeping like a wrecked train, he walked her to the door. "It'll work out in the end," she said, patting his hand, but her eyes said there would be a lot of pain in getting there.

"She gone?"

He whirled and found Tessa peering around the corner. "You little sneak."

"Mom tends to be a bit—"

He peered. "Zealous?"

She laughed softly, leaning against the wall as he came to her. Her body heated at the sight of him, lean and tan in cutoffs and a black tank top. And she slid her arms around his waist, envious of its trimness.

"She doesn't think you'll marry me."

"She's right."

He frowned, the scowl masking his hurt. "I swear I don't understand you, angel. I love you. You love me. Why not?"

Uncertainty. Was she feeling this way because he was her baby's father or was it because she'd finally found true, honest love? The uncertainty was eating at her. And then there was the fear. She kept remembering her mother and father, the arguments, the nights her mom spent sobbing when she thought none of her daughters could hear. She couldn't do that to her own child. But the uncertainty wore on her the hardest. "I just can't."

"I'll keep asking." He said it like a warning and she brushed her mouth across his.

"I know. You're annoying like that, but I love you anyway."

His smile was easy, but it didn't quite reach his eyes this time. Loving Tessa was almost a challenge of wills. Her will. He was happy. He adored her, God knew. But a man had only so much patience to stretch. And he wondered when and what would make his snap.

A couple weeks later, Chase helped Tessa into the car. She looked exhausted, her hair slipping from the knot on her crown, dark smudges under her eyes. A stab of sympathy bent through him. She was less than three weeks away from her due date and she was miserable. She hadn't slept well lately, couldn't get comfortable no matter how many pillows she propped under and around her. During the times he did stay the night, it was like fending off a rampaging sea of stuffed animals to get to her.

"Maybe you should close the shop for a couple … of days … a week." His words trailed off at the deadly glare she sent him.

"Stuff it, Chase. I'm not closing until I have to."

His features tightened. Her obstinance was no longer amusing, and he wanted to shake her. "Be reasonable, Tessa. Look at your feet, for God's sake!"

"I know what they look like. I feel it!"

He reared back and she stared out the windshield, regretting her waspish mood when he was only trying to be helpful. Chase moved around the Jeep and climbed behind the wheel.

Tessa hated that she was so big he had to drive her everywhere, hated that she had to depend on anyone just to do the simplest things, and Tessa knew, she knew, it wasn't his fault.

"I'm sorry," she said when he closed the door.

"I love you."

She lifted her gaze to his, her lips trembling as she waved him closer. Cupping his strong jaw, she stared into his blue eyes. "I love you too, darling. Don't forget that."

"Even when you rip into me like a wounded tiger?"

She kissed him then, silencing and warm, then smoothed her thumb over his lips. "Always."

He settled back into the seat and drove her home. The ride was painfully quiet.

"Do you mind if I don't ask you to stay?" she said at the door, and his expression froze on his face. "I'm just so tired."

"I'll miss you." He brushed a kiss over her soft mouth. "Rest. I'll see you tomorrow." She kissed him once more, then slipped inside.

It wasn't like they spent every night together, he reasoned, trying not to feel hurt. He wished she'd share with him whatever was really bothering her.

The next day, Tessa braced her hand at the base of her spine, massaging the ache, and stared out her shop window. Business was slow and she was grateful for the reprieve. Her legs and feet were killing her. She was as big as a house and she decided that being pregnant was only fun until the seventh month; then it was like a bothersome stone strapped to her middle. She swore if someone told her how wonderfully round and radiant she looked, she'd deck them and like it. Rubbing her back, she walked to the rear of the store. Dana smiled wanly and Tessa apologized for snapping at her earlier, then went to sort through sizes and collect discarded garments. She blamed hormones, the extra weight, the throbbing in her back or the pressure that wouldn't let her sleep, but really she wanted to blame Chase.

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