Her tears mixed with droplets of water and they stared and stared. Then suddenly Tessa sank under the surface, emerging before him, her body brushing his. Chase gazed into her green eyes, his heart beating so fast he swore it would burst from his chest any second.
She wrapped her arms around him and felt him tremble. That he would risk everything for her, to erase all final doubts, made her love him more than she'd thought possible. "Poor, lonely man," she whispered. "Feel sorry for me, Chase. Take pity on me. I couldn't see what I had till it was gone. I feel like such an idiot."
"Stubborn, scared and a little too self-reliant for my ego to take, maybe." The teasing went out of his voice and his expression. "But I was never gone, angel." He smoothed the hair back from her face, his eyes suspiciously bright. "Just waiting."
"Marry me, Chase. Please."
He choked a laugh. "'Bout time you asked, woman. I was running out of ways to get back into your heart."
"You never left." She cupped his face in her hand and shook him a bit. "God, I'm so glad you stuck around, Chase Madison!" He grinned his sappy grin. "I think I knew you would since the day you waited on crabby Miss Dewberry." Her mouth neared, tempting him.
"You could've come around before now," he groused good-naturedly.
She scoffed, denying the kiss. "And blow your supreme confidence bigger than it is? I don't think so."
He laughed, hugging her. "Bothers you, doesn't it? That was right about us."
"No." Her eyes softened and her words warmed his lips. "But you can keep thinking that if it makes you happy."
The petition floated by and Tessa grabbed it, ripping it into pieces as Chase backstroked toward the shore, Tessa lying across his body.
"Let's go home and tell our son."
"Later," he growled, drawing her on the soft shore, immediately covering her body with his. "I want to make certain his momma knows how babies are really made."
She arched a brow, working his cutoffs open. "Making up for lost time?"
"No, angel," he whispered against her lips as he tore at her panties. "Making a lifetime."
"What a wonderful start." The last word came in a breathless rush as Chase filled her, their love flowing around them as they slid sweetly into heaven.
* * *
Five years later
Chase watched his wife settle to the edge of the dock, her feet in the water. Tessa was still slim after three children, and they'd decided that was all they could handle. All boys. All with energy to spare. Often she told him she wanted a girl just so she wouldn't feel outnumbered. Suddenly she hopped into the water, splashing him, then swimming out to the kids.
"Momma ride!" Their three-year-old begged, arms out, his life jacket making him look like an orange buoy.
Tessa pulled Chance from the boat and onto her back, swimming back to the dock. She gripped the edge. "Somebody's tired." She inclined her head.
"You mean the dad?" Chase asked.
She made a face. "Here, take this lug. God, he's heavy."
Chase grasped Chance and bobbed him in the water. He kicked wildly, then whined. "I'll put him down." Chance's lower lip curled pitifully and Chase sent him a warning glance. "No. Nap first, pal." He looked at her. "How about those guys?"
"In a bit. I want to play."
He chuckled, stood and walked back down the pier, distracting Chance from his inevitable nap by swinging him down between his legs and back up into his arms. The baby squealed and begged for more, and Chase groaned, looking back over his shoulder. Tessa gave him that I-told-you-not-to-wind-him-up look.
"Hey, Mom!" Christopher called, sliding his legs over the edge of the boat. "Race you." He and his brother Casey were the spitting image of their father; only Chance had her green eyes and black hair.
"Sure. To the rope." Chris dropped into the water and swam as if a shark was on his heels. Tessa couldn't catch him if she tried. He grasped the rope and climbed it halfway, waving wildly.
Chase came out of the cabin, sans a child, and she frowned as she swam back to the pier. "My mom," he said, inclining his head to the house.
"Wimped out, huh? You just didn't want to deal with it. You gave him the donuts this morning and let him O.D. on sugar."
"I know, but I get tired of that pouting lip of his. It makes me feel like a creep." He settled beside her and she propped her arms on the floating dock, gazing up at her husband. Christopher yelled for his attention and he gave it, watching his son swing on the rope, then drop into the water.