Page 9 of Anybody's Dad

A rap on the door and Dana popped her head around the panel. Chase looked up, glancing between the girl and Tessa.

"I'm sorry, Miss Lightfoot, but Miss Dewberry is asking for you. I tried to explain, but I think she's going to leave."

Tessa straightened, swinging her legs off the couch.

"You stay put," Chase commanded, pointing at her, and Tessa froze. He looked at the salesgirl. "Tell Miss Dewberry to keep her shorts on. I'll take care of her."

"You?" both women squeaked, stunned.

"Yes, dammit, me." He waved Dana on, then turned to Tessa, lifting her legs back onto the couch.

"I have to get back to her."

His gaze darkened. She looked more ready to sleep than work. "Let her wait."

"Chase Madison, this is my shop, my livelihood, and that woman—" she pointed to the door "—no matter how finicky she can be, is a very good paying customer."

He towered over her, forcing her to crane her neck to look up at him. His body blocked the light, blocked any escape, and she felt like a prisoner before an armed Marine.

"Don't try to tell me what to do," she warned. "Just because there's a child between us does not give you rights over my life."

Chase's shoulders drooped and he knelt beside the couch, looking her in the eye. "I deal with people like that woman all the time." Her expression was doubtful. "I can't tell you how many of my customers have decided what they wanted only to insist my crew rip it out and start over a week later." When he realized she wasn't buying the comparison, he tried another route. "You're tired, Tessa. Your feet are swollen."

She looked at them, wiggling plump toes. "I've learned to live with it."

Chase sighed and snatched up a pillow, stuffing it beneath her knees, then pushing her back into the cushions. "I'm not trying to take over. God knows, I don't know squat about women's clothes." He flashed her that devastating grin. "Except maybe taking them off." Her eyes flared. "But," he warned, "you're pushing yourself too hard." She opened her mouth and he put up his hand. "I swear I won't let that old biddy leave without buying at least one of your creations."

"She usually buys two, with shoes."

Chase smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling, and Tessa felt the warmth of his honest feelings down to her sore feet. How had he wiggled his way into playing concerned lover? No, he wasn't after her, she reminded herself, but his child, and she refused to believe he was interested in her, the woman. His marriage proposal was a path into her baby's life. The baby obviously meant more to him than she had first imagined. Suddenly, Tessa hated him for trying to get close and she hated herself for getting comfortable.

Chase's lips thinned as her expression suddenly hardened. He didn't think someone so soft and lovely could deal such a loathsome look with that much power. He sighed tiredly, took the glass and set it on the desk.

"Rest, Miss Lightfoot," he said tersely, then moved to the door.

"Chase?"

He stilled, his hand on the knob, his back to her. "Yeah?"

"This doesn't change anything."

He glanced back over his shoulder, looking her over. "If you say so."

Tessa did not like the sound of that. Not at all.

"He actually came in here and sold dresses?" Dia said when she arrived twenty minutes after Chase had left, and Tessa wanted to pinch her. It wasn't that big a deal. Yet when Dana nodded, Dia squealed with laughter. Tessa gave her sister a thin-lidded glare, and Dana, impressionable creature that she was, gushed.

"He's so cute and Miss Dewberry was just drooling over him. She bought the dresses you tried to get her to try on," Dana said to Tessa. "You know, the ones that actually fit." The salesgirl turned back to Dia. "He even sold her shoes and a hat! God—" Dana fanned herself, sighing dreamily "—he fills out those jeans sooo nicely. For a man his age, of course."

"Of course," Dia agreed, her smile quivering. Dana looked at Tessa suddenly. "How do you know him?"

Tessa's skin fused with heat and she glanced at Dia. "He's ah—um—" How was she supposed to explain this? It was all getting so complicated. She looked at Dia, her expression pleading for help.

Dia let her squirm for a few seconds, then said, "He's just a friend … of the family, you could say."

Dana nodded, obviously satisfied, and excused herself to collect the remnants of Chase's whirlwind sales victory.

"Where is he now?"

"How the hell should I know!"

Dia reared back, eyeing her sister thoughtfully. "God, you are tired."

"No, I'm not." Tessa flipped through hung garments, checking the sizes. "I'm angry. You were no help in that meeting yesterday, Dia. None."

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