Her skin deepened with color. "It was a spontaneous decision. Since you've avoided me like the plague for weeks now—"
"Me?" He sat up a bit. "You're the one who insisted we shouldn't see each other."
She eyed him meaningfully, yanking on her robe sash. "I didn't mean permanently, Chase."
"Could have fooled me," he groused. He took a fortifying sip of coffee.
"I tried to talk to you, in the hospital, in the shop, but you just kept walking away and building a bigger wall. What was I supposed to do?"
He toyed with the cup handle, then set it aside and met her gaze. "Bust it down, maybe."
She pressed her knee to the bed, then settled on the edge, hands on her lap. "I would never have denied you time with Christopher."
"No," he scoffed, glancing away. "Only with you." He made a frustrated sound and met her gaze, months of hurt in his eyes. "I felt like an outcast, Tessa, and after Christopher was born, I felt as if everyone else was invited into your life, except me. Do you know how much that hurt?" His fist bunched in the sheets. "That you couldn't stand a minute around me?"
"Oh, Chase," she cried softly. "All I could do was feel your emotions, how much I was hurting you by not marrying you, and how much I loved you despite the uncertainty and fear I felt." Her eyes dampened, shined. "I wanted you with me every second, but I couldn't think with you around. You badgered me every day just by proposing. And I never wanted to feel as vulnerable and weak as Ryan made me feel."
"I'm not Ryan!" he exploded, lurching from the bed, naked. Stunned by his angry burst, Tessa watched as he grabbed a pair of shorts from his duffel, jamming them on.
When he looked as if he'd walk out, she blurted, "My mom was pregnant with Sam before she married Dad—"
He looked up from fastening his shorts. "She told me."
She was startled, then frowned. "Did she tell you that they argued for years over whether he married her for Samantha's sake or for love, that he would storm out and not come back for days and she'd cry herself to sleep?"
Chase shook his head.
"I hated him for making her feel so rotten. I didn't want that for us."
"You're not your mother, Tessa," he bit out, his eyes sharp. "And I'm not your dad." He left the room and she chased him, catching hold of his arm.
"I know." He wouldn't look at her and she could feel every cell of his capped pain. "But can you see what I've been fighting?"
He gave her a half-lidded glance. "All I see is a woman hiding behind some childhood memory that has nothing to do with us," he said, pulling free. "And she still doesn't know what she wants." He strode out the open French doors and onto the sun deck.
"I want you!" she called, then followed. "I want you," she said again, softer.
Gripping the railing, Chase stared down at the dark water. "How can I believe you?" he said, then pushed away to face her. "Don't you think I had fears? Hell, Tessa, you didn't even need me to get pregnant with my baby. You certainly didn't need me to give birth. You didn't need me to be around at all." He flung his hands out in a helpless gesture. "Ever." Looking somewhere beyond her, he clenched his fists at his sides, veins and muscles flexing as he said, "You did everything without me, didn't want my help, and for a while there," his gaze collided with hers, his anger erupting, "I felt like some security blanket you snuggled with then discarded when you got yourself together!"
She gasped and stepped back. "That isn't true!"
"No! For God's sake, Chase. Just because I'm self-reliant doesn't mean I don't need you."
He scoffed. "You've dictated this relationship. Organized it into a nice little square where you could deal with it on your terms, in your own time. Well, I've got news for you, Tessa Lightfoot. I'm a round peg. And I don't fit."
Fear struck through her. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying I don't want to be second to your unfounded fears and your need for … independence."
She planted her hands on her hips and gave him a cocky look. "Look who's talking. You bullied me from day one, Chase Madison. And need I remind you that you forced your way into my life and threatened everything I'd struggled over for years." She shrugged, palms out. "Of course, I held on to it. Half because it was the only security I had, except our baby, and half because I was afraid that what I really wanted … wasn't real."
He blinked as understanding struck, then his eyes narrowed, distrusting the calm in the storm. "And what makes you so sure you know what you want now?"