But the closer they came to her due date, the more Chase felt Tessa was pushing him away. Giving birth shouldn't have anything to do with their love, he kept telling himself. But as he looked into her face, strained and unhappy, he knew it did.
He sat down beside her, and Tessa sank into his arm, snuggling her cheek against his chest.
Chase closed his eyes and prepared himself. "You've decided something, haven't you?"
She nodded, quiet tears soaking his shirt.
"Whatever you want Tessa, I'll do it." His hand roamed familiarly over her belly, "If it's what you want."
Dread deepened his voice and Tessa didn't want to hurt him, never wanted to, but she just couldn't rely on her feelings right now. She couldn't think clearly. And although she doubted being apart would make her life simpler, she hoped she'd have a decisive bearing on their situation, maybe even erase the doubts that hovered like an ax about to fall. She was breaking his heart and draining his patience. Her emotions and logic did a constant sidestepping, giving her real contentment and love one moment, then riddling her into a pile of emotional mush the next. And it was growing harder and harder to look into his hopeful eyes each time he asked her to be his wife.
She squeezed her eyes shut, forcing the words past her pain, the agony she'd give him. "Till the baby comes, I don't think we should see each other."
Hurt stabbed through Chase, and his mouth tightened in a grim line. He was right. She could destroy him with just a few well-chosen words.
What she'd said didn't really hit him until later that day when he went to put on his cutoffs and realized they were at Tessa's. It made him irritable. And during the next week, he felt like a voyeur, a pervert, stealing looks at her from a distance. Seeing, but not touching. He passed her on the road and nearly smashed his Jeep, saw her in the market and felt as if she'd kicked him in the teeth when she made a complete turnaround, leaving her basket in the center aisle.
Yet he called her every day, needed to hear her voice, and though she wasn't her usual conversational self, she talked about anything except what she was feeling. Or what she was doing to him. And when he hung up the phone, he felt drained from avoiding the subject of how totally she'd pushed him out of her life.
Then, after a week, he got angry.
"You're acting too much like Christian," Colin said from across the table. Chase's eyes shot over the poor excuse for a poker hand as he tossed a chip onto the table. "Is that right?" Colin didn't notice the explosive edge in Chase's tone or he would have just kept his mouth shut.
"Yeah, lighten up. One depressing hermit brother is enough. Besides, Bro, it's only till the baby comes."
"Back off, Colin," Tigh said and anted up.
Colin glanced at his sixth-grade buddy and frowned, then looked at Chase. "You want to talk about it?" Colin said, waiting till he met his gaze.
"Nothing to say." Chase slapped the cards on the table, the chair scraping back as he stood. "I have nothing to say about it. Tessa rules, didn't you know that? Tessa says leave, butt out, and like a goddamned trained puppy, I do it!"
Colin reared back and the other men—his foreman, Dave, and another co-worker—blanched.
Tigh said nothing, staring at his cards.
Chase looked around the table at his friends, friends he'd vented his anger on in the past two weeks. It would serve him right if they beat the tar out of him. And Chase realized that's just what he wanted, a good fight. "Later," he muttered, heading to the door.
He could hardly stand himself. He'd fought with everyone around him, rode his crew as if the world would end tomorrow and, God forgive him, yelled at his mother for interfering. His dad had nearly put him through the wall for that.
Chase was furious. With Tessa for kicking him out of her life and at himself for letting her dictate their relationship. He'd been damn noble about this, he reasoned. He'd dredged up every tender feeling and scrap of sympathy to see things her way.
As he drove to her house, he planned to have it out with her.
And say what? Hurry up and have the baby so I can reason with you? Marry me or else? I love you so much I can't stand another moment of being apart, of not holding you and hearing your laugh?
He pulled up in front of her house, viciously shoving the gear into park, and caught a glimpse of his reflection in the rearview mirror. He looked awful, tired. If he looked this bad, how did she feel? He pressed his forehead to the steering wheel, closing his eyes. Don't weaken, he warned, don't compromise. Anger was the only thing he wanted to feel right now. To let anything else in would turn him into a marshmallow the instant he saw her. Suddenly he left the car, slamming the door and heading up the walk like a Marine charging an enemy camp. He rapped hard on the door, rattling the windows, then shoved his hands in his pockets, pacing. Nothing. He squinted into the windows, but the curtains were drawn. At least the lights were on, he thought, and rapped again.