Sarah's child (Chapter 10)

She faced him across the study, her slender body braced under a burden she wasn't certain she could carry. "I'd do any-thing for you that you asked," she said in a slow, careful voice. "Except that. I love you so much that I could never harm any part of you, and this baby is a part of you. I've loved you for years, not just for the past few months, since we've been mar-ried. I loved you before you married or even met Diane, and after. I loved Justin and Shane because they were yours." She shook her head a little blindly. "I don't expect I'll stop lov-ing you, no matter what you do. If you can't, absolutely can't, accept this baby, that's your decision. But I can't destroy it."

Rome turned away, his movements slow, like an old man car-rying too many years. "What now?" he asked in a leaden voice.

"It's your decision," she repeated. She couldn't believe her voice was so calm, but her back was to the wall and she knew it. "If you want to go, rather than live with me, I'll understand, and I won't stop loving you, ever. If you stay, I'll try – " Her voice broke suddenly and she stopped, breathing heavily for a moment before she could trust herself to speak again. "I'll try to keep the baby away from you, out of your way. I'll never ask you to care for it, or hold it. I swear, Rome, you'll never even have to know its name if you don't want to! For all in-tents and purposes, youwon't be a father!"

"I don't know," he said lifelessly. "I'm sorry, but I just don't know."

He walked past her, and after a moment Sarah managed to control her legs enough to follow him. He paused on his way out of the apartment, his dark head bent. Without looking at her, he said, "I do love you. More than you know. I wish I'd told you before now, but…" He made a helpless motion with his hand. "Something died in me when they died. They were so little, and they always looked to me for protection. I was their daddy, and there wasn't anything I couldn't do, in their eyes. But when they really needed me, I couldn't do anything to help them. All I could do…was hold them…when it was too damned late!" His mouth twisted with pain, and he rubbed his eyes, rubbed away the tears for his two little boys. "I have to go. I have to be alone for a while. I'll be in touch, one way or the other. Take care of yourself." At last he looked at her, and what she saw in his eyes made her clench her fists to keep from crying out.

Even after the door had closed and minutes had ticked past, Sarah stood there, staring at the blank expanse of wood, because she could do nothing else. She'd known it would be difficult, but never had she guessed his reaction would be so strong, or his pain so raw. She felt his agony like a knife cut-ting into her own flesh.

He'd said he loved her. How awful to have heaven offered to her with one hand and taken away with the other!

She groped her way into the living room and sat down, her entire body numb with shock, but slowly she began to come alive again. If he loved her, perhaps he'd stay. One miracle had already happened; was it so unreasonable to ask for an-other one? And if he stayed, perhaps in time the wound left by the loss of his sons would heal enough for him to love an-other child, her child. She'd keep her word though. If he stayed, she wouldn't try to force the child on him.

Rome didn't come home that night. Sarah lay in the bed she'd shared with him every night he'd been home since she'd had the flu, and she cried until she couldn't cry any longer.

She got up the next morning without having slept and went to the store as usual. Erica noticed her pale face and tear-swollen eyes but discreetly didn't mention them. Tactfully, she waited on most of the customers, while Sarah remained in the office and brought all the books up-to-date. Even that was painful, because everything reminded her of Rome. He'd set up the books, helped her choose her computer system, worked in here every Saturday, and possibly gotten her pregnant on the very desk she sat at.

Erica wouldn't ask, but when Derek came in that afternoon and saw her, he reached out to help if he could. "What is it?" he asked. "Can I help?"

Sarah felt a surge of love for him. How any sixteen-year-old boy could be so wonderful was beyond her. For Derek, she could smile, and she did. "I'm pregnant," she said.

He drew up the one other chair in the tiny office and folded his muscular body into it. "Is that bad?"

"I think it's wonderful," she said shakily. "The problem is that Rome doesn't want it. He was married before, and he had two beautiful little boys. They were killed in a car accident almost three years ago, and he can't bear being around chil-dren since then. It's still too painful for him."

Derek's beautiful eyes were sober, and endlessly kind. "Don't give up. He won't really know how he feels until the baby is born and he can see it. Babies are pretty special, you know."

"Yes, I know. So are you," she said.

He smiled his lovely, utterly peaceful smile, and got up to do his chores.

Another night came and went without word from Rome, but that night Sarah slept, exhausted from the lack of sleep the night before and the demands pregnancy was making on her body. Fatalistically, she realized that there was nothing more she could do, that they were both bound by the people they were and the circumstances of their lives. All her life she'd wanted a stable home, a husband and children to love, and she simply couldn't give up. As long as there was a chance, she had to hope, and she had to try.

As she drove home the next night she became abruptly aware that spring had arrived. It was still brisk, but not really cold, and trees were putting out tender, budding leaves. Late last summer she'd sat in her office, seeing the passing of sum-mer as the passing of her life, fading into autumn and then winter, with no future and no love, only an empty road spi-raling down for the rest of her years. Now she knew that after winter came spring. The winter had brought love into her life; with this spring, there was new life, inside her as well as springing forth from the earth. She felt suddenly more peace-ful; the sense of continuity in life itself calmed her.

Rome's car was in his parking slot.

On shaking legs, she went up to the apartment. Was he back to stay, or was he inside packing to leave? Knowing that the next few minutes were crucial to her happiness for the rest of her life, she opened the door.

A delicious, spicy odor greeted her.

Rome appeared in the kitchen doorway. He looked oddly thinner, though it had been only two days since she'd seen him, and his face was lined with strain. But he was cleanly shaven and still dressed in the trousers from one of his suits, as well as a pale blue dress shirt, and she knew he'd been going to the office as usual. "Spaghetti," he said quietly, in-dicating the kitchen. "If you can't eat it, I'll dump it out and we'll go somewhere for dinner."

"I can eat it," she said, her voice as quiet as his. "I haven't been sick yet."

He nodded, then leaned his shoulder against the door frame as if he were very tired. "I don't want to leave you, babe. I want to be with you, sleep with you, and look at that pretty face across the breakfast table from me. But I don't want to know about the baby," he said deliberately. "Don't talk to me about it, and don't involve me in it. I don't want anything to do with it."

Sarah nodded, too shaken to say anything other than "all right." Then she went to her bedroom to change clothes, leav-ing him leaning in the doorway.

Dinner was quiet, strained. She didn't ask him where he'd been, or why he'd made the decision he'd made, nor did he volunteer the information. He'd said he wanted to sleep with her, but when they went to bed, Sarah realized he'd probably meant in the rawer sense of the word, because he went to his own bedroom for the first time in a long while. She tried not to be disappointed, knowing what a shock he'd had, but she still missed him. Without him, she felt lost; the bed was far too big and cold. Moreover, pregnancy was having the curi-ous side effect of intensifying her physical needs, as one of the booklets Dr. Easterwood had given her mentioned. She wanted Rome as her lover, not just her sleeping partner.

Two days later Max came to see her at the store. "Have lunch with me," he invited.

Sarah glanced quickly at him, in time to see the concern in his eyes before he masked it. She nodded and called to Erica that she was going to lunch.

Max took her to a small, quiet restaurant; as it was an early lunch, they were the only customers, except for a man in the back corner who was absorbed in his newspaper. They ordered their lunch; then when the waitress had left, Max gave Sarah a searching look. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, of course," she replied, startled.

"I wanted to reassure myself. You see, Rome spent two nights in my apartment, and he was the closest thing to a bas-ket case I've ever seen."

So that was where he'd been. Sarah said "thank you" with deep open gratitude.

Max's crooked smile would have melted stones. "Dear girl, you know I'd slay dragons for you, if only there were any left to slay. Tell me what I can do."

"I suppose you know the entire story?"

He nodded. "As I said, Rome was in shock. I tried pour-ing tea down him, but he wouldn't have any, so I switched to Scotch. I couldn't get him drunk," he reflected, "not even on my favorite Scotch, but he stopped looking like walking death and finally began to talk. No one had ever mentioned his background; when he told me about his first wife, and his sons, it was almost more than I could bear in a civilized man-ner, and I'm not known as a particularly emotional man." For once, there was no devilish gleam in his turquoise eyes. "That was all he'd tell me the first night. He worked the next day, as normal, thoughhe wasn't normal. On my solemn oath, it was a danger to even speak to the man. The second night he told me that you're pregnant."

Sarah twisted her water glass around, her eyes sad. "Did he tell you – "

"Yes." He reached out and covered her hand. "I thought he was mad, or a fool, or both. If it were my child you were car-rying, I'd be intolerable with pride. But then, I haven't had his experiences."

"Diane was my best friend," Sarah whispered. "I knew his babies. It was…awful."

"He told me of your ultimatum. Love, you have to be the most courageous woman I've ever met. You gambled every-thing, didn't you? And you won."

"I haven't won yet, not completely. I have a second chance, that's all."

"He told me that he won't have anything to do with the child, that he isn't interested in it. If it works out like that, and you ever need anything, call me. I'd be honored to be a surrogate father. I'll drive you to the hospital, hold your hand during labor, what-ever you want. Do you realize," he said thoughtfully, "what I've just committed myself to? Rome isn't the only fool. I suppose I can always comfort myself with the thought that he's too bloody sharp to let any other man stand in with his wife like that."

Sarah began to laugh, touched by his concern. "You poor dear. You were doing so well until you thought of childbirth, weren't you?"

He grinned. "I've always been extremely gallant, as far as my squeamishness will allow."

Their lunch arrived, and Sarah ate hers with a good appetite, the best she'd had in days. Max waved his fork at her. "I re-alize now why Rome was so determined to have exclusive rights to you. After the trauma of his past, he must have been desperate to make certain of you, to put some sort of stability back into his life. He didn't know that you loved him, did he?"

"No, not then. He does now."

"He loves you too. I realize that he didn't when you got mar-ried, but he's not an idiot, so he promptly recognized what a treasure he had. He's still a barbarian, of course, but he's bloody smart, and stupidity is really the only thing I can't abide. It galls me, sometimes, to find that I like him as well as I do."

Max was priceless, using his casual, caustic wit to cheer her up and reassure her at the same time. He was sincere in his offer of help too. She was lucky in being surrounded by friends who cared for both her and Rome. Rome might feel as if his back were to the wall and he had to fight for his mar-riage, but in truth people cared about him and would do any-thing to help. Max had reassured Sarah of Rome's whereabouts the two nights he'd been away from her, as much to help Rome as to relieve Sarah's mind. He didn't want Rome's marriage in jeopardy over an erroneous conclusion.

"You're a marvelous man," she told him, then had to tease, "What you need is a marvelous Texas girl to shake you out of your British reserve."

He gave her a long mocking look. "My British reserve is tossed out the window on certain occasions, love, and for your information, I've found a marvelous Texas woman. I would take her home to meet the family, but she wants tam-ing first. I'm breaking her to the saddle, I believe is how you Texans would say it."

The idea of sophisticated Max with a fiery drawling woman was fascinating. She leaned forward, a multitude of questions bubbling to her lips, but he lifted a brow at her. "No, I do not kiss and tell," he said gently. "Have you fin-ished with your lunch?"

Rome came to her bed that night and made love to her very gently. She clung to him, responding to him eagerly. After-ward, when he started to leave, she put her hand on his arm. "Please, not yet. Stay with me a while longer."

He hesitated, then lay back down and took her in his arms. "I don't want to hurt you," he said into the darkness, his voice rough velvet. "I want you too much; if I stay, we'll be mak-ing love again."

The way he'd thought of it had changed, she noticed. When they first married, he'd always avoided the phrase "making love." She rubbed her cheek against the crisp curls on his chest, then tenderly bit his nipple. "I hope so," she said, and there was a smile in her voice. "I'd like you to sleep with me again, for as long as you feel comfortable with me."

He tangled his fingers in her hair and tilted her head back. "Comfortable? This is how I feel with you," he said, taking her hand and sliding it down his body. He was as eager for her as if they hadn't already made love. "It's not very com-fortable, but that's the way you affect me. If you're not phys-ically able to spend the night the way I'd like to, then you'd better let me go."

"I'm able," she breathed, wiggling atop him. "I'm per-fectly healthy."

He was careful with her, restraining his power and not let-ting her do too much. She knew his concern was solely for her, not for the baby, but still it warmed her. In the darkness he told her he loved her, and when they finally slept, he held her clasped to his side. Pregnancy forced her to get up sev-eral times during the night; every time she returned to bed, it was to find him awake. Without a word he'd draw her back into his arms.

When she went in for her biweekly examination, Dr. Easterwood checked her thoroughly, then gave her the thumbs-up sign. "Perfect," she pronounced. "Any morning sickness, or spotting?"

"Nothing," Sarah reported happily.

"Good. Let's keep it that way."

"Why are you seeing me every two weeks?"

"Your age, and the fact that it's your first child. I'm being overly cautious, I'm certain, but I want to deliver that baby in November. Take your vitamins, and every two hours, I want you to take a thirty-minute break, with your feet up. No ex-ceptions."

Taking a thirty-minute break at the store was an iffy thing, until the customers found out that she was pregnant. She told Erica what Dr. Easterwood had said, and soon, promptly at eleven o'clock in the morning, Erica or someone in the store would say, "It's time for your rest." The baby was becoming a community project. Marcie got in the habit of dropping by at least once a day, Max came by at unexpected times, Erica and the customers rigidly supervised her rest, and Derek oversaw the entire operation. If she lifted anything, Derek somehow found out about it, and a gentle scolding from him had the power to make her feel as if lightning could strike her at any moment.

She was in her fourth month when Rome came home un-expectedly early one Wednesday, the day when the store was closed after lunch. She was putting new shelf paper in the cab-inets, and she was working on the bottom shelves, down on her hands and knees, with her entire torso inside the cabinet. Rome looked at her, bent down to grasp her hips, and firmly drew her out. "I'm hiring someone to do the housework," he said calmly. "Tomorrow."

The idea amused her. "Millions of women all over the world do housework while they're pregnant until the very day they give birth."

"You aren't millions of women," he said. "If I didn't travel so much, it would be different. I can help you while I'm here, but when I'm gone, I want to know that you aren't climbing around on cabinets, or in them."

She'd done it before, when she wasn't pregnant, but she didn't point that out to him. Having his concern based on her pregnancy was a very good sign. It wasn't because she was awkward or clumsy, because even though she was four months pregnant, she had gained only one pound and was still wearing her normal clothes. The only visible sign of her preg-nancy was the increased plumpness of her breasts, and then-added sensitivity, both of which seemed to fascinate Rome.

He leaned down and kissed her. "Promise me," he said, and she did.

He was quieter than he had been before, at the same time both closer and more remote. She couldn't tell what he was thinking, but whenever he went on a trip, he called more often to check on her. When he was home and had a business din-ner, he more often than not arranged for wives to attend, so she wouldn't be spending the evening alone. His hand was al-ways on the small of her back when they walked, and he al-ways held her hand while she was getting into or out of his car. But he never asked about the baby, how her latest checkup had gone, or even when it was due, though if he could count, he should have been able to figure that out.

She knew she wouldn't have the joy of picking out baby names with him, or speculating on the fascinating subject of whether it was a boy or a girl. On the other hand, a lot of fa-thers exhibited little or no interest in their offspring, then went to pieces when labor began. She still hoped. She had to hope, though she knew she had to face a lot of heartbreak in the future, not the least of which would be trying to explain to a small child that Daddy wasn't to be bothered – ever.

But she had a baby to prepare for, with or without Rome, so she quietly began preparing the third bedroom as a nursery. To make room for baby furniture she had Derek help her move several items of furniture she'd brought from her old apart-ment, and those she took down to the store and sold them. Mar-cie took her shopping, calling on her half-forgotten experiences as a new mother in helping Sarah select what she'd need. A baby bed was bought and installed, with a merry crib-mobile attached to it, ready to be wound up to fascinate the infant who would occupy the bed. A cradle and a rocking chair took up residence. A teddy bear appeared one afternoon, sitting smugly in the passenger seat of her car, but when Sarah looked around for Derek he'd already disappeared from sight. The teddy bear was placed in the rocking chair and promptly named Boo-Boo.

One night, searching for some papers he'd misplaced, Rome opened the door of the third bedroom and turned on the light. He froze momentarily, then quickly turned out the light and backed out of the room, closing the door behind him. His face was white. He didn't open the door again.

Sarah asked Marcie to attend natural childbirth classes with her, to be her coach and partner. Marcie drew a quick breath. "Are you certain?" she asked, pleased but uneasy at the same time. "I really don't know anything about having babies. I mean, I had Derek, but he had it all organized." She blushed like a young girl. "That sounds stupid, but I swear, that's the way it seemed. I went into labor at eight o'clock in the morning, just as the doctor was making his rounds at the hospital. Derek has always been considerate. He was born at nine thirty, with no trouble and very little effort on my part, just a few pushes. He cried by himself, before the doctor could make him, then began sucking on his fist and went to sleep. That was it."

They looked at each other; then Marcie rolled her eyes and they began laughing.

Sarah did all the exercises Dr. Easterwood recommended to strengthen her back and abdominal muscles, and took her vitamins faithfully. When she was five months pregnant, Dr. Easterwood performed a relatively simple test, drawing a small amount of amniotic fluid from Sarah's womb. The baby was pronounced perfectly normal, and the doctor then con-fessed that that had been her foremost concern, but everything was going along great guns.

Soon after that, Rome settled her into place one night to sleep, with her head on his shoulder and her body curved against him. He'd just made love to her, and Sarah was sleepy, her body replete. At that moment, the baby kicked, hard, the first time it had moved so vigorously. Sarah had felt small, discrete flutters for several weeks but never before an honest kick. The tiny foot thudded against her abdomen where she was pressed into Rome's side. He went rigid, then shot out of bed, stifling a curse.

He turned on the light, and Sarah stared at him, uncon-trollable tears stinging her eyes. He was sweating. "I'm sorry," he said hoarsely. He leaned down and kissed her, stroking her hair. "I love you, but I can't take it. I'll sleep in my bedroom until after it's born."

She tried to smile, despite the tears in her eyes. "I under-stand. I'm sorry too."

Two days later he left on an extended trip. Sarah sus-pected that he'd volunteered for it, but if that were so, she supposed she couldn't blame him. Things were out of his con-trol, and despite his efforts to ignore it, her pregnancy kept making itself obvious to him. Her figure was rounding out now, and she had to wear maternity clothes. The baby had changed his sleeping habits and his love life; no wonder he felt the need to get away.

While Rome was gone Max called her every day. She'd never been so cosseted in her life, all because of a perfectly normal pregnancy. Derek ruled her like a gentle despot at the store, and since school was out for the summer, there was no break from him. He was there when she arrived and left only when she did. The only privacy she had was when she went home at night to the perfectly clean apartment. Rome had in-deed hired a housekeeper, a nice comfortable middle-aged woman who didn't at all mind receiving a nice salary for cleaning an apartment that was never really mussed anyway. Mrs. Melton knew a good deal when she saw it, and the apartment was always spotless, the laundry always done. If it hadn't been for the interest and distraction of the store, Sarah would have gone crazy.

Rome was gone for three weeks, three of the longest weeks of her life, but everyone made a herculean effort to keep her cheered up. Not everyone knew all of the circum-stances – only Marcie, Derek, and Max – but all her cus-tomers fussed over her as well. If only Rome had looked forward to his child's birth with even a fraction of the ea-gerness that relative strangers revealed, she'd have been delirious with joy.

He called her at work one day to tell her briefly that he was in a meeting but would be home the next day. Sarah hung up the phone and began crying.

Derek took her in his arms and led her to the office, clos-ing the door behind them. She cried on his strong young shoulder, while he rocked her soothingly back and forth. Then he dried her eyes and seated her in her chair, pulling up the other chair to sit before her.

"Was that Rome?"

"Yes. He'll be home tomorrow." She gave a watery snif-fle. "I was just so glad to hear his voice and know he'll be home soon that I couldn't handle it."

He smiled and patted her knee. "I received the final con-firmation on my scholarship yesterday," he said, taking her mind away from Rome. "Rome and Mr. Conroy really went to bat for me, didn't they? And all because of you."

"I'm glad for you. You deserve the best."

He was watching her steadily. "I've been reading about pregnancy and childbirth, just in case something happens and you need me, before you can get to a hospital. I think I could deliver a baby."

There was no doubt in Sarah's mind, if Derek had been reading up on something, he could do it. Some people would have thought he'd changed the subject, but knowing Derek, she simply waited for him to tie delivering a baby in with his scholarship.

"I've decided that I'm going to be a doctor," he said, with great dignity. "An obstetrician. Watching you grow, with the baby inside you, is the greatest thing I've ever seen. I want to help a lot of babies into the world."

"I can't think of a better start a child could have," Sarah said, touched almost to tears. No man would be a better doc-tor than Derek Taliferro.

"I love you, you know." His calm golden brown eyes drifted over her face. "You've given me a chance I wouldn't have had otherwise, and helped Mom too. I'm not talking man-woman love, because I'm not ready for that, but it's still love." He leaned over and put his palm on the swell of her stomach, a touch of love. "But if this baby is a girl, I just might wait for her. I fig-ure your daughter would have to be something really special."

A tender smile touched her lips, and she stroked a black curl away from his forehead. "She couldn't have a better man waiting for her," she whispered and kissed his cheek.

She went home early the next night, leaving Erica and Derek to close up because she wanted to see Rome. Feeling that she'd burst into tears if he wasn't home, she almost cried anyway when she saw his car. She ran inside and fretted as the elevator made its way upward. "Rome!" she called as she unlocked the door and thrust it open. "Rome! Where are you?"

"In here," he called from his bedroom.

She ran to his room, her heart thumping wildly. He came out of the bathroom just as she skidded through the doorway, looking lean and gorgeous with his hair damp and a white towel slung around his neck. She caught a quick breath and fairly leapt across the room, only to falter midway. She gave him a helpless, confused look, then fainted for the first time not only in her pregnancy, but in her entire life.

Rome gave a startled cry and leapt for her but wasn't able to catch her before she hit the floor. Swearing beneath his breath, he lifted her in his arms and placed her on the bed, a cold sweat breaking out on him at the limpness of her body. He wet a washcloth in cold water and washed her face and hands with it, then placed it across her forehead. Her eyelids flut-tered open, and she stared at him in confusion. "I fainted," she said in tones of pure astonishment.

He couldn't think of her doctor's name. "Who's your doc-tor?" he asked fiercely, leaning over her.

"Easterwood. But why – "

He grabbed the phone book and flipped to theE 's, then began running his finger down the column. "Rome," she began patiently, trying to sit up. "There's nothing wrong with me. I just fainted."

He put his hand on her chest and pushed her back onto the bed. "Don't get up again," he warned flatly, punching out the numbers on the phone.

"She's not at her office; you'll get an answering service."

"Dr. Easterwood, please," he said into the phone, all the au-thority of a senior vice president in his tone. "This is Roman Matthews, Sarah Matthews's husband."

Against all the laws of nature as well as those governing doctors' offices, Dr. Easterwood came on the line. Sarah lay on the bed and glared at Rome, wondering if, somehow, he and Derek were related. It was disgusting.

He briefly told the doctor what had happened, then Dr. Easterwood asked a few questions, and he gave Sarah a grim look. "Yes, she made an abrupt movement. She wasrunning ."

He listened for a while longer, and his expression became even grimmer. "I see. What are the dangers if she goes into premature labor and the baby is in the birth canal before a ce-sarean can be performed?"

Sarah groaned aloud, knowing now that she'd had it. All the signs were that she'd have a perfectly normal labor and birth, as the child didn't seem to be a large one, but she knew that it wouldn't make any difference to Rome. He was giving her a look that would have scorched grass.

He hung up the phone and turned to face her. "You're in a certain amount of danger by having your first child at your age," he said with scathing control. "You're at an even greater risk because of the narrowness of your pelvis. And you wererunning, damn it!" His face contorted, and he clenched his fist. "I don't want this baby at all, and certainly not at any risk to you. Why didn't you tell me? What do you think it would do to me if something happened to you because of a baby I'd – " He broke off, his chest heaving as he fought for control again.

Sarah sat up and went into his arms, holding him and try-ing to comfort him. "Rome, darling, I'm fine. Honestly. And don't worry, because the only possibility of my needing a C-section is if the baby is a large one, and so far, it isn't."

He shook his head, his arms closing around her. "Don't you remember how big Justin and Shane were? They both weighed over nine pounds! Shane only lacked one ounce of hitting ten pounds. The very thought of you even carrying a baby that big is…it's scary," he finished.

"Don't borrow trouble before it happens. Please. I haven't had any difficulty at all; no nausea, no swelling in my feet, no back pain. I'm in perfect health!"

He tilted her head back, hungrily examining her face, see-ing the love and concern there, concern for him instead of for herself. He kissed her, then held her head to his chest. "I love you," he said shakily. "Don't let my miracle slip away from me now."

"I'm not going anywhere," she assured him. "I've waited too long for you; I'm not about to let anything happen now. Years and years and years," she said softly. "That's how long I waited for you. That's why I never married, and why every-one thought I was so devoted to my job. I wasn't interested in any other man except you."

He rubbed his chin against her temple, his eyes closing.

"I love you so much, it scares me," he finally said, very qui-etly. "I loved Diane, but the pain of losing her is gone, because of you. It's as if Diane prepared me for you, gave me the base to stand on so I could reach you. I always knew you were there, and I think I always knew that someday, when I knew how to love enough, I'd have you. If I forget to say it sometimes, re-mind me, because I don't ever wantyou to forget how I feel. I can't want this baby, but that doesn't change the way I feel about you, and I want you to always remember that. There's just something in me that broke when the boys died, and I don't think it will ever heal. Another baby won't replace them."

No, nothing would ever replace the little boys he'd loved, and he couldn't yet see that this new child wasn't a replace-ment, but a person in its own right. That was the other mira-cle she prayed for, the day when he would look at his child and feel his heart mend.

If that day never came, eventually her own heart would break.