Digging her fingernails into her palm, she sucked in a shaky breath. Marry me, Jax. I love you, Jax. Were those ideas such a foreign concept?

“Listen, Suit,” she said, struggling to keep the fury from her voice, “if you find it difficult dealing with a woman who is so irrational...” She swallowed against the massive lump in her throat, the agony in her chest twisting tighter. “You shouldn’t want to marry me.”

A scowl overtook his face. “This conversation would be a lot easier if you would stop comparing me to the people from your past,” he said. “I am not the one who skipped out when I learned the truth about your scars.”

“No,” she fired back. “You’re the man who’s claiming I’m being unreasonable because I’m not letting you call the shots. Because I’m not going along with your stupid rational plans.”

“Jax,” he said, his expression unyielding, “I’m the reason my mother lost her husband. I’m the reason Nikki lost her father.” A muscle in his jaw bunched, and she could tell he was teetering on the edge of losing control. “I screwed up and got my father killed. And I screwed up and got you pregnant.”

She was part of his screwup....

The awful moment expanded, filling every available space in her heart, stealing the rest of the blood from her face.

He stepped closer, his expression dark. “And I am not going to mess things up for my kid,” he said. “I have to make this right.”

She blinked back the stinging bite of tears. “Nice, Blake,” she said, the tone so heavy it was a wonder she managed to form the words. Her heart so low she knew she’d never recover. “What a way to make me feel wanted.”

Knowing that a total loss of mental functioning was near, she turned and headed for the front door. And away from Blake.

But he clutched her elbow, as if to escort her, his expression one of pure frustration. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I think you meant every word,” she said, her heart thudding hard beneath her ribs.

“So here’s a plan for you, Blake,” Jax said, pulling her arm from his hand. “You need to deal with your guilt so you can work out your problems with Nikki. Which would include you easing up and letting her make her own mistakes, so she can quit feeling the need to push back. And as far as I’m concerned—”

She sucked in a fortifying breath, because the moment of decision was at hand. And she’d never survive living with a man who doubted her judgment.

“I’ll be happy to share custody of the baby, of course,” she went on, holding her chin high even as her heart was breaking. “But your mom and Nikki and this baby are all the family I need,” she said. “I won’t marry you.”

The last of Blake’s patience evaporated, and he shoved a hand through his hair. “Jax, you are pregnant with my—”

“I don’t need your approval,” she said, jabbing his chest with her finger. “I don’t need you to protect me from myself. And I sure as hell don’t need a husband who thinks I’m an unstable mistake.” She stared up at him, wondering how a broken heart could still function enough to thunder so violently in her chest. “Obviously your list of rules was right.” Her voice cracked, but her words were firm. “I’m the wrong woman for you.”

And with that, she turned on her heel and exited the building.

* * *

For the second time in as many weeks, Blake found himself in a doctor’s office. Nikki was scheduled to have her cast removed, and, fortunately, the orthopedist’s office was nothing like Dr. Murphy’s. This time the pictures on the wall were of manly muscles and bones and detailed posters of different joints, the artwork consisting of athletes in beautifully photographed positions of execution. All in all, Blake was pleased with the much more male-friendly environment.

Too bad the rest of his life had fallen apart.

He couldn’t sleep, and his concentration at work had been shot to hell. For the first time in several years, Blake had taken a week off. Which would have been nice except for the constant agony of missing Jax.

And his worry about her, the baby and their future...

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