“Tell me—” He paused to clear the frog from his throat. “Start from the beginning.”
Jesus. He almost couldn’t look at her, seeing his own fear mirrored back in those beloved gray eyes.
“There’s a lump in my neck. I felt it this morning in the shower.”
“And you’re just telling me—?”
“I didn’t want to ruin the gala,” she said simply.
“And I didn’t want you to carry this by yourself.” Man. That edge in his voice was getting sharper by the moment, wasn’t it? “I thought we’d established that, Talia. I thought we were partners in this. You think I’m okay with having the time of my life while you’re scared shitless? Does that seem fair to you?”
It took her way too long to answer. “I didn’t want to see that look on your face.”
Well, he knew that feeling, didn’t he?
“Where is it? Show me.”
“Why do we need to—”
Moving in super slow motion, she raised a hand to her neck, felt and pointed. “Here.”
Jesus. His hands were shaking. Reaching out, he pressed his hand to her warm skin and—
There it was, knotted and hard. Foreign. New.
Was this the thing that would kill her and rob him of the greatest happiness he’d ever known, then? Their own personal Taliban that they couldn’t see to fight?
He snatched his hand away, trying not to see the misery in her expression.
“So.” His voice was getting more hoarse by the syllable. “Doctor.”
“Monday at eight-thirty.”
He nodded. That was the best they could do, he supposed. They couldn’t very well storm her oncologist’s home, demanding a Saturday-night appointment, could they?
“I’ll be with you.”
She said nothing, which wasn’t good for his morale.
A terrible moment passed, full of silence, distance and stark terror.
“Well,” she finally said, edging toward the bedroom. “It’s late. I’m going to bed. Are you staying?”
Speaking of not good for his morale…
“Excuse me? Did you just ask if I was staying? Is this a joke?”
“You don’t have to.”
What the hell was going on here? “Try this on for size, Talia—I want to.”
Her brows flattened and she made a little tsking sound. “Do you?”
“It’s not like we’re in the mood for making love, is it? You can barely look at me, and just now you acted like you’d dipped your hand in nuclear waste, so I don’t think you’ll be touching me at all. Why don’t you spend the night in your penthouse—”
“Don’t do this, Talia.”
She pulled a blank face that made him want to smash something. “Do what?”
“Push me away. I told you I loved you tonight. Did you hear that? I asked you to marry me—”
“Yeah, but that was before you knew—”
He held up a finger to stop her, too choked to speak and too angry to risk hearing another nonsensical word that might come out of her mouth. “Before…I knew? What? That you were human? That you might get sick one day?”
“Might get sick?” she cried. “Are you serious right now? Skylar might get sick—”
“You might get sick. Sandro might get sick. Me? I probably will get sick. You should find another woman and hedge your bets against the whole sick thing.”
“I don’t want another woman. I thought you knew that. One of your letters talked about ‘the one’ being the person who was the sun in your life. Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, you’re that for me. And I will be with you through this—”
That seemed to be too much for her. “Through this?” she shrieked, tendons straining in her neck as she made a sound that was way too ugly to be a laugh. “How noble! What do you think this is, Love Story? What’re you—Ryan O’Neal? You think I’m going to get sick off camera and then graciously climb into bed and die—”
“Don’t say that!”
“—while my cheeks are still dewy and my hair is long and thick? Please!”