Page 45 of Anybody's Dad

Yet she couldn't. God, she couldn't so much as move without him coming to her rescue, always attentive, smiling so much there were times she wanted to smack it off his face. And now that she was so close to delivering what she felt was a female version of Big Foot, they couldn't make love. It was just as well. She had no desire, felt too fat and awkward. But she missed the intimacy. It was something tangible to cling to when she felt her emotions get the better of her.

She couldn't ask for a better man and she loved Chase so much it hurt to look in his eyes and say no when he proposed, which he did every morning, swearing one day he'd wear her down till she agreed. Saying no was wearing on her just as much as asking was on him. But she couldn't marry him and she had tried for days to examine her feelings. All she found were doubts and fears, fears that he loved her because of their baby; that when their child was born, he'd lose interest; that she could never trust her heart or his words. The only way she could protect herself was to cling to her independence. To give it up would be like removing a protective cloak. If she married him, she'd never know if this was for real and everlasting. Or for the baby. And how will you know anyway? a voice pestered. The baby will always be there. Tears threatened and Tessa swallowed. I'm such a mess, she thought dismally.

"Excuse me? Tessa?"

Tessa flinched, so deep in her thoughts she didn't hear the door chime. She turned and found a sharply dressed woman in her late fifties. "May I help you?" Tessa frowned softly, then her features stretched tight. "Mrs. Madison," she realized. The picture in Chase's place. She was the woman who'd shopped here the day Chase waited on Lila Dewberry.

"Come sit down, dear. I'm exhausted just watching you move around," she said efficiently, and Tessa joined her on the small Queen Anne settee tucked against the wall. She was suddenly nervous.

"I'm Carole Anne." She held out her hand and Tessa grasped it.

Carole Anne noticed her cold hand trembled and rubbed it gently, her expression laced with so much compassion, Tessa felt her composure slip. "I know."

"Oh, Tessa," she said softly. "I haven't come to badger you, if that's what you think." Tessa admitted she did. "Chase didn't send me here."

Tessa blinked.

"Carl and I were hoping you'd come visit, but when you didn't—" she shrugged "—we understood."

"I wish I did," Tessa said sullenly.

Chase's mother scooted closer. "You aren't in this alone, Tessa. Nothing has to be done now. I know my son. He loves with everything he has. Yet he can be very persistent." Tessa smiled at that solid intuition. "But if it doesn't work out between you, I want you to know there is a place for you and your baby in our lives." She hesitated. "If you'll have us."

Tessa's eyes watered. "I won't deny you your grandchild, Carole Anne, but that isn't the problem. I love Chase. I do," she cried softly. "But I can't seem to trust it, to just let go like he wants. Not when I feel like this." She gestured to her stomach.

"Perhaps putting your feelings aside till after the baby comes is best, then?"

Tessa shrugged, staring at the floor and wishing she could see her feet. "Wish I could, but putting a hold on loving him just isn't possible."

Carole Anne smiled, pleased, but Tessa didn't see it. "Then perhaps seeing less of each other might help?"

A sound worked in her throat. The thought of a day passing without seeing Chase squeezed down on her heart. But what Carole Anne said was reasonable, and Tessa decided that's where Chase had inherited the trait. Until this child was born, they couldn't decide anything, and Tessa knew she was in no frame of mind right now.

"Mom? What are you doing here?"

Both women looked up and Chase's gaze shot between them, ending on Tessa. "Are you okay, angel?"

She nodded and he moved closer, giving his mother a stay-out-of-this look. Carole Anne stood, catching her eldest son's arm in a gentle but firm grasp, and Chase suddenly felt ten years old from the assessing look in her eyes.

"Patience, Chase. And remember our little chat," she ended in warning.

She brushed a kiss to Tessa's cheek, told her to call if she wanted to talk, then left the shop with all the class of a sloop in full sail.

He remembered his mom's little chat. She'd done all the talking and expected him to heed her warnings that men never have babies and can't sympathize nor understand the physical burden and the emotional upheaval women experience. That if he had any romantic notions about speaking vows moments before their child was born, he could forget it. Women were scared at this time, no matter the brave front they showed. Fear of stillbirth, handicaps, anything they could imagine might happen, fueled the prospects of impending motherhood, and men couldn't share in it. It made Chase feel cut out, and his Dad had stood by, listening, then finally agreed with his mom.