Colin asked to hold Christopher, then scooped up her baby, carefully sitting in a chair. He showed Christopher the stuffed elephant he'd brought, one of several in the two weeks since the birth.
Chase's mother lifted her gaze to Tessa's. "Have you spoken to him?"
Tessa shook her head. The memory of the last time she saw him, in the hospital, his rage, his fist crushing the birth certificate as he threatened her, played over and over in her mind. She was scared to confront him and, mostly, she was devastated. She'd brought this on herself, hurt him beyond reason, and she hated herself for it, hated that the memory of her own parents' arguments kept coming back to haunt her, make her unsure of his love. Why were you so certain of your heart three months ago, so certain that you would die before admitting he didn't love you enough?
Now I do what's best for my son.
She felt doom approach every time she remembered the wounded look in his eyes. If her misgivings hadn't destroyed him, her refusal to let him into her life would. She would never deny him Christopher, but he hadn't made an effort to come see him, either. Or to see her. She couldn't decide which hurt worse—his threat to do what was best for their son or this feeling of total abandonment of their love.
An hour later, Carole Anne and Carl left, yet Colin lingered at the doorway, not ready to give up playing with his nephew. "It's killing Chase not to see you two, Tessa," he said suddenly, lifting his gaze from the baby. "You're not being fair. He loves you so damn much. God, he'll grill me for an hour when I see him."
It was killing her not to see him, not to see the love he had for Christopher grow, see him hold his son, talk to him. Tessa wanted so badly in that instant to call Chase, to invite him over, but his threats vibrated in her mind, holding her back. She had to protect herself and her son. She didn't want to interrogate his brother and make him betray a confidence, but as she took back her son, she had to ask. "Colin." She hesitated. "Do you know what he's up to?"
Colin arched a brow. "Nothing as far as I know." He studied her for a moment, his features tightening. "God, he's got you terrified."
Tessa looked away, rubbing her cheek against Christopher's head.
"He would never do anything to hurt you, Tessa." Colin shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged as if he couldn't explain. "He knows exactly what he wants, and he'll get it."
Tessa straightened and looked into Colin's Irish eyes. "So will I."
Chase nestled his son in his arms, rocking him back to sleep after his bottle. He was silently pleased that Tessa had found she couldn't breast-feed for long. It gave him the chance to feed his boy, be with him alone. God, if she knew he was here, he thought, dread racing up his spine. In the distance the phone rang, and after a few moments his mother slipped quietly into the room, her footsteps silent. She didn't have to say that Tessa was coming home. He knew.
For a few minutes he considered waiting, letting her see that no matter what she wanted, he was going to be Christopher's father in every way. He tossed the notion aside quickly, still too hurt by her quick dismissal of their love to confront her. He put his son in his crib, patting his diapered bottom before he left.
Dave nudged Chase.
"Who's that?" Dave said, and the admiration in his tone sent Chase's head up, his eyes narrowing. He straightened immediately as Celeste came toward him, her tiny feet agilely stepping over construction debris. He wiped his hand on his thighs, then grabbed a rag to wipe the sweat from his face and throat. He walked toward her, quickly noting she wrung her hands nervously. His heart rocketed to his throat and threatened his balance.
"Is it Tessa?"
She shook her head. "They're both fine." She hesitated, then said, "Can we talk, Chase, honey?"
He gestured to the shade of a tree, then folded his arms, bracing his shoulder against the trunk. Celeste glanced around, but wouldn't meet his gaze. "You're scaring me, Celeste," he said in a dark voice.
She looked up and her eyes were suspiciously shiny. "This is my fault. This mess with you and my girl."
"Tessa's a grown woman, Celeste. She chose to cut me out."
Almost violently, Celeste shook her head. "I was pregnant with Sam before I married Walter, and for years I based every fight on the fact that he married me for his daughter's sake and not for love."
Chase's features stretched taut.
"I think Tessa remembers what I went through. Even though she was just a little thing." A sob escaped her, and she covered her mouth with her hand. "This is my doing, the ways she thinks now, I mean."
She lifted her gaze and Chase felt cut in half. His harsh expression softened and he gripped her shoulders. "Did you ever change your mind about your husband?"