Sarah's child (Chapter 9)

She was much better the next day, with no nausea at all, and only a light fever. She slept most of the day, and when she awoke, Rome fed her chicken broth. She wrinkled her nose at him. "This is invalid food. When do I get something really hearty, like Jell-O? Or maybe a mashed-up banana?"

He shuddered at the idea. "I draw the line at mashing up bananas."

"Okay," she agreed easily, a smile lighting her wan face. "I'll forget about the bananas if you let me have a bath and wash my hair."

He started to refuse, but she'd already divined his answer and the light had faded from her face. He sighed, relenting. She was too weak to do it by herself, but he could understand how she felt. "I'll help you after you finish this broth," he gave in, and immediately she was smiling again.

If he'd expected any sign of discomfort from her over the things she'd said, he was disappointed. He thought she might not remember the night very clearly, because she'd been fever-ish and disoriented, but he wanted her to remember. To find out for certain, he murmured, "Do you remember talking to me last night?"

For the first time in days, color was in her face, but she didn't look away from him. She lay back on the pillows and met his gaze evenly. "Yes, I remember."

"Good" was all he said.

He ran a tubful of warm water, then carried her into the bathroom and carefully placed her in the tub. Leaning against the wall, he watched her carefully as she soaped and rinsed herself, ready to pluck her out if she showed signs of faint-ing. She finished her bath without incident and raised her arms to him. "I'm finished." The natural way she reached out for him took his breath – that and the way the movement had lifted her high, rounded breasts. Taking her bodily from the water, he stood her before him and wrapped a big fluffy towel around her.

"Now my hair," she said determinedly.

She bent over the basin and he washed her hair, but it was so long that rinsing it was difficult, and he solved the prob-lem by stripping his clothes and getting in the shower with her. "We should have washed your hair first," he grumbled.

"I'm sorry; I didn't think about it," she apologized. She looked so fragile standing there before him that he gently pulled her to him, cradling her against his naked body. She put her arms around his waist and sighed in contentment.

"I'm glad you came home."

"Ummm. I think you need a spanking for not calling me when you first got sick," he muttered. "Why didn't you?"

"I didn't think you'd appreciate being interrupted while you were working. I knew I wasn't dying, though Marcie was a little hard to convince."

He hesitated, then lifted her on tiptoe so he could crush his mouth hungrily against hers, with water running in both of their faces. "You're more important to me than work," he growled. "You're my wife, and I want you healthy. If you don't call me the next time you need me, I really will spank you."

"I'm shaking in my boots," she teased him, and he cast a significant glance at her bare feet.

"So I see."

He turned off the shower and quickly dried her again, be-fore she could become chilled. Then he patiently dried her hair with a brush and a blow-dryer, turning it into living silk.

But when he tried to put her in a nightgown and return her to bed, she rebelled. "I want to wear regular clothes, and sit in a chair in the living room like a human being, and I want to read a newspaper!"

She was weaving on her feet, and she looked like a ghost, but her soft mouth was set in stubborn lines. Rome sighed, wondering why a woman who was normally unargumentative and even rather docile would turn so willful just because she had the flu. He wanted to firmly place her back in bed and make her stay there, but he also wanted to make her happy.

"We'll compromise," he suggested, trying to keep his voice soothing. "Put on your nightgown and a robe, because you probably won't feel like sitting up for very long. Deal?"

Sarah was heartily tired of nightgowns, but though he was trying very hard to be reasonable, she could tell that if she re-fused his compromise, she was going to find herself bundled back into bed. She didn't want that, so she gave in. His mouth was set in a grim line as he pulled a clean nightgown over her head, then helped her into her robe. He found her bedroom slippers and put them on her feet.

"I can walk," she protested when he lifted her.

He gave her a steady look that told her not to push it. "You can walk the next time."

She gave in and looped her arm around his neck, cuddling her face into the warmth of his neck, and she smiled a little. Being in his arms wasn't any hardship at all.

She found that she couldn't concentrate on a newspaper; it seemed like too much of an effort, and her hands kept shak-ing, so she gave up. But it was nice to be in a different room, and to sit up. Rome turned on the fireplace, and the cheerful flickering of the fire made her feel much better. He settled be-side her on the sofa, quietly reading the newspaper.

After fifteen minutes, she began to feel tired and sleepy, but she didn't want to go back to bed. She curled on her side and put her head in Rome's lap, rubbing her cheek against him. He put his hand on her head, sliding her long hair through his fingers. "Do you want to go back to bed?"

"No, not yet. This is nice."

It was more than nice, he thought, swallowing. He looked down at the bright head in his lap and thought of what he'd like her to be doing. He tried to control his thoughts, but with her cheek pressed against him like that, he was fighting a losing battle.

She knew it too, the little witch. She put her hand under her cheek, and he shuddered as her fingers rubbed him deli-cately. He caught the tiny smile that broke through her con-trol, though she quickly straightened her lips again, and he found himself grinning.

He tossed the newspaper aside and pulled her up onto his lap. "Sarah Matthews, you're a tease. You know damned well I'm not going to do anything until you're a lot better, so cut it out, okay?"

"But I've missed you," she said, as if that explained every-thing. With his arms around her, she knew everything was going to be all right. She had no worries at all when he held her. She found a comfortable place on his shoulder for her head and went to sleep.

He held her for a while, admitting to himself how much he'd missed the feel of her in his arms. Getting married had been a damned good idea. Coming home to her warmth was enough to lure any man.

She barely stirred when he finally carried her back to bed but she was awake and hungry when Marcie and Derek came to visit two hours later. They all sat in the kitchen, grouped around the tiny breakfast table, while Sarah drank a cup of broth. She demanded and got a slice of plain toast, and her stomach delightedly embraced the first solid food she'd had in almost a week. She looked up from eating to find every-one staring at her, and she self-consciously dropped the toast. "Why is everyone looking at me?"

"I'm just glad to see you eating," Marcie said bluntly. "I thought you were dying on me!"

"I just had the flu," Sarah chided. "Haven't you ever seen anyone with flu before?"

Marcie thought, then shrugged. "No. Derek's never sick."

Sarah cast a disgusted look at Derek, who smiled gently. Derek was always gentle, as if he felt obliged to be kind to mere mortals. No, it wasn't an obligation to him – he was sim-ply a kind person.

They didn't visit long, as Sarah tired easily. After they left, she resisted going back to bed. She went into the living room and that time managed to read the newspaper. She sat up, by sheer willpower, until the time she normally went to bed, then gratefully let Rome support her as she walked to her bedroom.

He left to turn out all the lights and check that everything was locked; she was drowsy when he came back to her room and began undressing, but she opened her eyes when he turned out the light and got into bed beside her. She was suddenly wide awake, and her heart was pounding. She was much better; she knew she didn't need anyone with her that night, and he had to know it too. He pulled her into his arms and settled her against him, with her head on his shoulder. His lips brushed her fore-head in the lightest of kisses. "Good night," he murmured.

He was sleeping with her!

She was almost afraid to let herself think about it. There had been signs that he was beginning to care for her; when she tried to think back, she realized it had been some time since she'd seen the bleak moodiness on his face that had al-ways told her he was thinking about Diane and the boys. Was time working its healing miracle? If he was finally recover-ing from his grief, then he would be able to start loving again, and she had the inside track!

"What's wrong?" he asked sleepily, sliding his hand up her arm. "Your heart's racing like a runaway engine. I can feel it."

"I've tired myself too much," she managed to say, press-ing even closer to him. The security of his big warm body began to calm her, and she eased into sleep.

The next morning, despite her reassurances that she was much better and could safely be left by herself, he called his secretary to let her know he wouldn't be working that day. "I'm staying," he told Sarah firmly after he'd hung up the tele-phone. "Now, what about breakfast?"

"Anything! I'm starved!"

She ate an almost normal breakfast, and decided that food was the answer to everything. She was much stronger, able to walk without weaving, and except for a lingering headache and a cough that occasionally seized her, she felt fine.

Rome worked in the living room, spreading papers out around him, instead of working in the small study, as he usu-ally did. Sarah knew he wanted to keep an eye on her, and the thought made her feel pleasantly warm. Being spoiled had its good points.

Around noon, she became sleepy and dozed off in the chair where she'd been reading. Rome glanced up, saw her closed eyes, and got up to carry her to bed. She woke when he began undressing her but didn't protest when he made her put on a nightgown. She was asleep again before he could pull the cov-ers up over her.

She slept for almost four hours. She woke to use the bath-room and drink several glasses of water; she felt as if she couldn't get enough water. Still feeling drowsy, she went back to bed and had just pulled the sheet up when the door opened and Rome came in.

"I thought I heard you moving around," he said, seeing that she was awake. He came over and sat on the side of the bed, gently touching her face. There was no fever at all. She was warm, but it was the rosy warmth of sleep.

She stretched lazily, then sat up to put her arms around his shoulders, hugging him. The way she'd stretched had pulled the thin fabric of the nightgown tight across her breasts, and now he felt the soft mounds pressing against him. He caught her to him and cupped her chin, lifting her mouth for his kiss. Sarah melted against him, her lips parting to accept the play of his tongue. He kissed her several times, and each time his kiss was harder, more demanding. Gently he lowered her back to her pillow, and he went with her, his mouth still on hers. She felt his hand close warmly around her breast, and she arched to his touch. It seemed as if it had been forever since he'd made love to her; the cold she'd had prior to the flu had made her feel miserable too, and he'd left her alone. "Yes," she said against his mouth, pulling at his shirt. "Please, don't stop now."

"I wasn't going to," he said huskily, sitting up and remov-ing the offending shirt. He dropped it to the floor, then stood to unfasten his pants and step out of them. Sarah watched him with wide dreamy eyes, her body already tingling in antici-pation of his touch. Leaning over her, he removed her night-gown, enjoying the sight of the soft, slim body that belonged to him. He put his hands on her and stroked her silky flesh, finally cupping both her breasts and leaning down to kiss them, then sucking both nipples to hardness. Drowning in pleasure, Sarah reached for him, pulling him down to her.

When they got up later, she felt satisfied in every pore of her body, and the satisfaction was plain on her face. She was radiant, her skin glowing with the warmth generated by his caresses. As they sat across from each other at dinner, Rome felt his gaze returning again and again to her face. He'd put that look on her face, and he knew it. When Sarah looked at him like that, something moved inside him. He'd wanted to break down the barriers of her reserve, to find the heat of her passion, but he'd found much more than that. The ice-queen was gone, and in her place was a woman who glowed from his touch. Was she falling in love with him? He liked the idea of that; having the devotion of a woman like her was nothing to be taken lightly. Her love would warm the years, provide a tender, safe haven for him to come home to, a cushion against the painful memories of his past.

As she showered and got ready for bed Sarah wondered if he'd sleep with her that night. She was actually trembling, wanting him so much, wondering if the past two nights had been due to unusual circumstances. If he went back to his bed-room that night, she didn't think she'd be able to bear it, not after having the two best nights of her life. He'd acted as if he really cared, giving her a glimpse of paradise. If the gates closed again and left her on the outside, it would be a blow she'd never recover from.

A brisk knock on the door made her jump. "Are you going to spend the night in there?" Rome asked, impatience in his voice.

She opened the door, gasping as she found him leaning against the facing, totally naked. He was awesome, so tall and muscular, with that virile field of dark curls on his chest. Her breath coming quickly, she dropped the towel that she'd wrapped around herself and reached for her nightgown, then dropped it too. "I don't think I need a nightgown," she said breathlessly.

"I don't think so either." Dark amusement lit his eyes for a moment as he held his hand out to her, but the amusement faded into something far more intense when she walked into his arms.

They made love, then slept, and he made no move to seek his own bed. He woke after midnight and took her again, sliding deeply into her before she was really awake, enjoying the spontaneous response she gave him. He lingered over her that time, using his expertise to prolong the experience and carefully raise her to shattering heights. Sarah was totally lost in the intensifying physical sensations as he fondled her breasts and sucked them in just the way she liked, as he stroked her and touched her in ways that made her cry out. His slow, steady thrusts were driving her mad, carrying her just to the brink of satisfaction but not putting her over.

She clutched at him with damp, frantic hands, begging for release. He held her hips, not letting her speed the pace, hold-ing her to his rhythm. He kissed her deeply, then lifted his mouth just enough to command deeply, "Tell me you love me."

Her response was automatic, plucked from a deep reservoir of primitive need that she couldn't control. Without thinking about it, without even realizing the significance of what he asked and what she answered, she moaned, "Yes. I love you."

He shuddered, the soft words setting off small explosions deep inside him that signaled the swift approach of his own satisfaction. He slid his hands beneath her and lifted her to receive his deep thrusts. "Tell me again!"

"I love you… I do…love…" Her voice trailed off, and a choked cry came from her throat. Feeling the exciting gut-wrenching sensual inner convulsions that signaled her re-lease, he groaned aloud, ground his teeth, then was totally lost in his own response.

Lying under his heavy body, Sarah came to slow aware-ness of what she'd said to him, and cold dread filled her. "I…about what I said…"

He lifted his head from her breasts, primal satisfaction etched on his face and in his eyes. "I wanted to know. I thought you might, but I wanted to hear you say it."

She sucked in her breath at the possessiveness of his man-ner. "You don't mind?" she whispered.

He stroked a bright strand of hair back from her face and lingered to trace the soft outline of her lips with his finger. "It's more than I expected when I asked you to marry me," he ad-mitted deeply. "But I'd have to be a fool not to like it. You're a warm, loving, fantastic lady, Mrs. Matthews, and I want everything you have to give."

Hot blinding tears gathered in her eyes and slipped down her cheeks. He gently wiped them away, a little shaken by the trust and devotion she offered to him. In swiftly rising pas-sion, and in an effort to comfort away her tears, he made love to her again.

Rome had already left for the office the next morning, and Sarah was rushing around trying to get ready so she could open the store on time, but memories of the night before kept distracting her. She'd find herself standing in the middle of the floor, staring dreamily at nothing, instead of putting on her makeup or dressing, as she should have been doing. He had-n't said that he loved her, hadn't returned the words, but a deep feminine understanding told Sarah that the wish she'd made in the deepest recesses of her heart, in the darkness of count-less nights, was coming true. He cared for her, and he was growing to love her. A man didn't treat a woman with the so-licitous, tender concern he'd shown if he didn't feel far more for her than a lukewarm respect and liking. The intimacy of their married life had spun a web that had drawn him to her, binding them together. She was so happy, she felt almost blinded by the sheer brilliant glory of it.

Shaking herself back to awareness once again, she dashed to the dresser to get out a bra, and happened to see her small packet of pills. "Whoa! I almost forgot," she said and took out the pack.

Abruptly she realized and dropped the pills from her sud-denly nerveless hand. She'd taken the last pill the first day she'd been so sick, though she doubted it had stayed down. She'd missed six pills. Frantically she searched through the dresser drawer for the instructions she knew were in there, fi-nally locating the folded sheet way in the back.

If more than three pills were missed, don't resume taking them. Wait until the fourth day of the next cycle, then begin taking as normal. Pregnancy was unlikely, but not impossi-ble, so normal precautions should be taken during intercourse. Sarah read the words over again, trying to calm the wild gal-loping of her heart. Unlikely, but not impossible. She tried to forget the last three words, and just concentrate on the reas-suring "unlikely."

She thought of how Rome would look when she told him and knew immediately that, wrong or not, this was something she couldn't tell him. She couldn't even worry him with it. The way he'd looked when that young mother had called the name Justin had broken her heart, and she still remembered the pain of the way he'd rejected her comfort. She couldn't face that again.

But she'd have to tell him. She realized with a sinking heart that there was no other way she could explain having to take other precautions. When she thought of the closeness they'd shared, the possibility that it would be shattered made her clench her fists in pain. Not now. Please, not now.

She pulled herself together, dressed, and managed to make it to the store just as Erica did, right at opening time. She did-n't have time to worry about anything – soon the store was busier than it had ever been, with regular customers who'd gotten to know her over the months coming in to see how she was, as they'd heard she'd been ill. People needed yarn and patterns, odd buttons, supplies from the doll room, finishing nails and picture frames. It seemed as if all her customers had simply waited until Tools and Dyes was open again, instead of going to another store, and the thought filled Sarah with a special warmth. A small but energetic woman of at least eighty brought in an afghan made from the softest yarn, in varying shades of green, and insisted on giving it to Sarah as a gift. "To keep the chill away from you," the old woman said, her faded blue eyes twinkling.

Sarah almost cried, and hugged the old woman. She'd been making afghans and bringing them to the store to be sold on commission, and Sarah knew that the money they brought did a great deal to supplement the woman's fixed income. It said a lot that she'd spend her time and supplies on a gift.

Just before lunch Rome came in. Sarah glanced up at the bell, her eyes widening as she recognized him.

"Let's go in the office for a minute," he said gently, and Sarah called Erica to run the cash register for her.

When the door closed behind them in the tiny cubicle that she used for an office, she looked at him worriedly. "What's wrong?"

"I have to leave, to finish up everything I left in the lurch when I came home to see about you." A crooked smile touched his mouth. "I could've told you out there, but I want to kiss you too, and the way I'm going to kiss you shouldn't be done in public."

She went weak and leaned back against her desk. "Oh? How is that?" Her voice was husky, almost a purr.

An almost predatory expression crossed his face, and he reached out to lock the door. "Naked," he said.

That night, lying alone in bed and missing the warmth of him beside her more than she would have thought possible, she knew. Even then, with an almost telepathic insight, she knew, and her hand strayed to her stomach. "Rome, I'm so sorry," she whispered to the empty darkness.

"It's not unheard of," Dr. Easterwood said quietly. Her own examination had told her all she needed to know, even without the confirmation of the tests that lay before her on her desk. "Those pills were the lowest effective dosage available; given the right timing, a pregnancy is very possible when the dosage is interrupted as yours was. In your case, pregnancy is a reality."

Sarah was very composed. She'd had weeks to accustom herself to the idea. She didn't know what she'd do, but she'd already accepted the reality of the small life inside her, and already she loved it. She'd loved it from the moment of its conception; how else could she feel about Rome's child?

"You'll be thirty-four when the child is born," Dr. Easterwood continued. "That's late, for a first child, but you're healthy, and I don't expect any complications, though of course I want to keep a very close watch on you, and I want to run certain tests on the child at various stages of its development. I'm going to set you up for a biweekly checkup, rather than once a month. The only possibility of a problem that I can fore-see at this stage is that, if the child is large, you'll probably have to have a cesarean section. Your pelvis is very narrow."

Sarah listened, too full of other concerns now to worry about the circumstances of the child's birth. That was months in the future, and she had a very big problem to handle in the present. How was she going to tell Rome? More important, how would he react?

Dr. Easterwood gave her enough vitamins to put a corpse well on the road to good health, then did an odd thing. She hugged Sarah and kissed her gravely on the cheek. "Good luck," she said. "I know you've wanted this baby for a long time."

Forever. She'd wanted it forever. How cruel it would be if she had to choose between Rome and this baby!

She told Rome that night. The temptation had been strong to keep it a secret for as long as she could, to put off the con-frontation and steal every moment she could with him, but she knew he had a right to know. If she kept it from him, he'd rightly resent that as much or more than he'd resent her preg-nancy. Telling him wasn't easy; she tried all through dinner to say the words, only to find them sticking in her throat. After dinner he went to the study to work on some papers he'd brought home with him, and finally Sarah went into the study. Very simply, she told him.

Every vestige of color washed out of his face. "What?" he whispered.

"I'm pregnant." She kept her voice steady, and her icy fingers were laced together in front of her to keep them from shaking.

He dropped his pen, his eyes closing. After a moment he opened them, and they were black, full of bitterness. "How could you do this to me?" he asked rawly, shoving himself away from the desk to stand with his back to her, his head bent while he rubbed his neck.

The accusation lashed her with pain, robbing her of speech. She'd known it would be a shock to him, but somehow she had never dreamed he might think she'd become pregnant de-liberately, in spite of his wishes.

His wide shoulders were tense. "You knew how I felt. You knew…and you did it anyway. Is that all you married me for? To use me as a stud?" He turned, revealing a face full of pain and rage. "Damn it to hell! Sarah, I trusted you totake the damned pills! Why didn't you?"

Very thinly, she said, "I had the flu. I couldn't take anything."

He froze. Swallowing, he looked at her paper-white face and the hell in her eyes. As he realized what he'd said and how it must have hurt her, remorse hit him with a force that almost doubled him over. She loved him. If he knew anything, he knew that, and he also knew she would never have purposely betrayed him.

He moved, reaching for her, but she stepped back, her hand coming up to ward him off. "I saw Dr. Easterwood today," she said, her voice still thin and expressionless. "When I had the flu and couldn't take the pills, the break in the schedule al-lowed for ovulation…and conception."

She'd seen the doctor that very day, and had had the courage to tell him immediately, had loved him enough to tell him. He'd reacted by lashing out at her for something that was more his fault than hers. If he'd thought, he'd have known that she hadn't been able to take the pills; the first day she'd felt better he'd tumbled her into bed. Had it been then, he won-dered, or the other times he'd made love to her that night? Or the next day, in her tiny cramped office, with her perched on the desk, her lovely face ecstatic from his rough, hasty, and wonderfully satisfying possession? "I'm sorry," he said gen-tly, wishing more than anything in the world that he hadn't hurt her. He saw the stiff way she was holding herself, as if braced against further pain, and an odd pain squeezed his own heart. In that moment, despite his own pain and desper-ation, he knew he loved her, and the realization made it vital that he ease her hurt. Slowly he reached out for her again, and this time she allowed him to take her in his arms.

He folded her against him, rubbing his hands up her slender back, trying to take away the hurt that he'd dealt her. She wasn't crying, and that worried him more than violent tears would have; if she'd been crying, she'd have had an outlet for the emo-tions she was holding inside. Her body was stiff in his arms, and she hadn't put her arms around him. He kept holding her, stroking her back and murmuring gently to her, until she began to relax against him. Slowly her arms crept up to his shoulders.

It took some time before he could coax her completely out of her shocked, silent condition, before he felt that she would be able to discuss the best solution to the problem. Still hold-ing her, reassuring her with his touch, he asked, "Did you make an appointment?"

Sarah was confused, not quite understanding. "Dr. Easterwood wants me to see her twice a month."

He shook his head. "I meant an appointment for an…an abortion." Even the way he felt, it was hard to say, and he shuddered with the effort it took.

She jerked and looked at him wildly. "What?"

In that moment, he knew that she hadn't thought of the so-lution to the problem, hadn't even considered it, and some-thing cold touched him. He moved away from her, his eyes black with his inner hell. "I don't want you to have this baby," he said rawly. "I don't want it. I don't want any baby, ever."

Sarah felt as if she'd received a huge blow to the chest; she tried to suck in air, and couldn't. Blindly she stared at him, afraid she'd faint; then she finally managed to pull some oxy-gen into her constricted chest. "Rome, it'syour baby too! How can you want – "

"No," he interrupted, his voice harsh with pain. "I buried my children. I stood by their graves and watched the dirt cover them up. I can't go through that again. I can't accept another child, so don't…don't ask me to try. I've learned to live without them, without my boys, but no other child can ever – ever! – replace them." His face twisted with agony, and he was gasping for breath too, as if it were almost im-possible for him to continue. He fought for control and gained it, though sweat had broken out on his brow from the effort. "I love you," he said, more quietly. "Sarah, I love you. That's more than I ever thought I'd have again. Loving you, having you, has given me a reason to live again, something to look forward to every day. But another baby…no. I can't do it. Don't have the baby. If you love me, don't…don't have the baby."

She staggered, then brought herself upright only by sheer bone-crunching determination. No woman should ever have to hear this, she thought dimly. No woman should ever be faced with this decision. She loved him, and because she loved him, she had to love his child. She understood the strain he was under; she'd seen his face when he'd stood by the graves of his sons, and known that he would have lain down and died with them, if he could. But knowing, and under-standing, didn't make it any easier for her.

He looked at her with pure screaming hell in his eyes, and suddenly his eyes and his cheeks were wet. "Please," he begged shakily.

Sarah bit her lip until her teeth went through flesh and brought blood. "I can't," she said.