Page 55 of Anybody's Dad

Dia threw the papers into her lap, ignoring the glares from Celeste and Samantha.

"Is someone going to tell us what this is about?" came from Samantha.

"Did he really petition to take Christopher?"

Tessa lifted her face to her mother and sister. "No. He didn't." She swiped at her cheeks with the back of her hand. "He signed away all his rights to Christopher, all claims except for yearly visitations."

Sam sank into a chair with a thump, stunned. Celeste cried without a sound, tears rolling down her flushed cheeks.

"There is a condition."

Tessa's gaze flew to Dia's.

"You'll notice it's not signed."

Tessa shook her head, confused.

"You have to spend this weekend with him, discussing it, first."

See him? No. She couldn't. She was already dying inside and that would kill her. "I can't. There's a—a businessmen's charity ball this weekend. I have to attend."

"He knows that. You're his date."

"No." She shot to her feet, anger spilling from every pore. "I won't. Not after this!"

Dia was in her face, her voice a low growl. "Do it, Tessa, or God knows what he'll be pushed to do next."

"He can't treat me this way!"

"You have exactly what you wanted. Your son. Free and clear of the donor."

"Damn it, Dia. It's not that simple anymore!"

Dia gestured to the papers. "It is to him."

Tessa's eyes narrowed, the document crunching in her fist. "I'll show him just how complicated this—" she shook the papers "—can get."

She left the room and Dia folded her arms over her waist, a tiny, satisfied smile on her lips. Her gaze slipped to her sister and, oblivious to their mother, a message passed. Sam's features tightened and she managed a smile. Tessa was going to fight.

Chase carried the bags to the car, then returned to the house, but Tessa was nowhere in sight. He felt strange just being inside the house with her here, since he'd played the sneak for the past two months. She was agreeing to the terms of custody, and even though Chase had put them to her, his hurt ground deeper that she would agree and not fight him. When Dia had called, he had hoped Tessa had refused his offer, hoping that she would be the next call.

But she wasn't. She'd accepted instead that he could easily dismiss his son from his life because of her.

Alone in the living room, he heard movement and soft voices from the back of the house. He glanced around, noticing few changes except for the evidence of a child in the house. Christopher's swing was tucked neatly in the corner, a basket full of his toys beneath; a piece of sheepskin lay spread in the center of the carpet. Chase crossed the room slowly, his fingers kneading a downy blanket tossed carelessly over the arm of a chair, then picking up a set of plastic baby keys.

God, he felt twisted inside and swore the slightest ripple in the air would make him snap. He was no better than the walking wounded, living in his anger, his hurt manifesting into an ugly thing he almost couldn't control. And masked beneath it was his love for Tessa. He buried it, every day shoveling another load of pain on top of it until no one recognized him. She knew where the phone was; she knew where he lived and worked. Why couldn't she see beyond her doubts and come to him? Why couldn't she give him the faith he'd given her? Was he doing all this just to hear her apologize and admit she was wrong?

No. It went deeper, so deep he felt raw inside, and he flinched when Samantha came into the living room, moving silently across the floor, opening her arms to him.

"Chase," she whispered, hugging him. Chase closed his eyes. Sam, he realized, chose no sides. "When I said to be stubborn right back, I didn't mean this."

His mouth quirked briefly as she stepped out of his arms. "She's late."

"Tessa's always late," she said matter-of-factly, and Chase suppressed a smile.

Celeste slipped into the room, Christopher in her arms, and Chase smiled instantly. She held the baby out to him and he gathered his son against his chest, turning away. Sam and Celeste exchanged a frown, but didn't comment.

"Hey, slugger. How's my guy?" Chase nibbled on Christopher's toes as he cooed and shrieked with pleasure.

"God, you've gotten big." He whispered privately to his son, inhaling the sweet baby scents of powder and lotion. He pressed his lips to the top of his head. "Dad's missed you, you know that?"

Tessa stood in the hall entrance, watching. Her heart hadn't stopped racing since she heard him enter the house, and the sight of him in the chic black tuxedo went straight for the jugular. He looked heavenly. And as he held Christopher in his arms, not caring if anything got on his tux, it reminded her that loving was more important to Chase than appearances or another's opinion.

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