The Way Home (Chapter 3)

chills of horror trickled down her spine, rendering her momentarily incapable of speech. All she could do was endure his tight grip on her shoulders, wide eyes fastened on him and her mouth slightly parted in disbelief. She tried several times to speak, and when she finally managed it, her voice was a hoarse croak. "Throw it away? Dear God! That's sick! Why on earth would you ever say something like that?"

He was shaking. She could feel it now, in his hands; see it in the visible tremors of his big body. His distress had the effect of relieving her own as she suddenly realized that he was upset and in need of reassurance even more, perhaps, than she was, though she didn't know why. Instinct took over and ruled her actions as she placed her hands on his chest.

"I would never do anything to harm your baby," she said gently. "Never."

His trembling intensified. His green eyes were stark with some savage emotion that she couldn't read, but he took a deep breath and locked his jaw as he fought to regain control. She saw the battle, saw what it cost him to win it, but in just a moment his hands were steady and his face, if still colorless, was as blank as rock. With great care he released her shoulders and let his hands drop to his sides.

"You don't have to leave here," he said, as if that was what they had been discussing. "It's a good apartment. You could take over the lease…."

Anna whirled away from him to hide the sharp upthrust of pain, all the more hurtful because, just for a moment, she thought he had meant that things didn't have to change. But he wasn't offering to preserve the status quo; he still intended to sever the relationship. "Don't," she said, warding off the words with a hand held back toward him. "Just…don't."

"Don't what?" he challenged. "Don't try to make it comfortable for you?"

She inhaled raggedly and let her head drop as she, in turn, tried to marshal her own control, but all she could find was weariness and a need for the truth. If this was the end, why not tell him? Pride? That was a pitiful reason for hiding something that had changed her life. She took another deep breath. "Don't ask me to stay here without you," she said. "You're the reason I'm here. Without you, I have no reason to stay." She turned and faced him, lifting her head so she could see him as she said in a clear, deliberate voice, "I love you. If I hadn't, I never would have come here at all."

Shock rippled across his face, turning it even whiter. His lips moved but made no sound.

"I planned to leave because I thought that was what you would want," she continued steadily. "You made it more than plain from the beginning that you didn't want any ties, so I didn't expect anything else. Even if you wanted to continue our–our arrangement, I don't think it's possible. I can't be a mother and continue to be your undemanding mistress, too. Babies tend to have their own priorities. So, under the present circumstances, I have to leave. That doesn't mean I'll stop loving you." Ever, she added in her thoughts.

He shook his head, either in disbelief or denial, and moved jerkily to sit down on the bed, where he stared unseeingly at the open suitcases.

Concern welled in her as she watched him. She had expected him to react with anger or cold retreat, but he truly seemed in shock, as if something terrible had happened. She walked over to sit beside him, her gaze fastened on his face in an effort to catch every fleeting nuance of expression. Saxon was hard enough to read when he was relaxed; his face looked like marble now.

Anna gripped her fingers tightly together. "I never expected you to act like this," she murmured. "I thought…! guess I thought you just wouldn't care."

His head jerked up, and he gave her a look like a sword edge, sharp and slicing. "You thought I'd just walk away and never give another thought to either you or the baby?" His tone was harsh with accusation.

She didn't back down. "Yes, that's exactly what I thought. What else could I think? You've never given me any indication that I was anything more to you than a convenient sexual outlet."

His heart twisted painfully, and he had to look away. She thought she was only a convenience, when he measured his life by the time he spent with her. Not that he had ever let her know; she was right about that. He had gone out of his way to keep her from knowing. Was that why he was losing her now? He felt as if he had been shredded, but he was in too much pain to be able to tell which was hurting worse, the knowledge that he was losing her or that he had fathered a baby who was also lost to him.

"Do you have a place to go?" he asked numbly.

She sighed inaudibly, releasing the last frail grasp of hope. "No, not really, but it's okay. I've looked around a little, but I haven't wanted to commit on anything until I talked to you. I'll go to a hotel. It won't take me long to find another apartment. And you've made certain I won't be strapped financially. Thank you for that. And thank you for my baby." She managed a faint smile, but he wasn't looking at her and didn't see it.

He leaned forward and braced his elbows on his knees, massaging his forehead with one hand. Lines of weariness were cut into his face. "You don't have to go to a hotel," he muttered. "You can look for another place from here. There's no point in moving twice. And we have a lot of legal stuff to get sorted out."

"No we don't," she said. He slanted his head to the side to give her another of those incisive looks. "We don't," she insisted. "You've made certain of my financial security. I'm more than able to provide for my baby. If you think I'm going to be bleeding you dry, you can just think again!"

He straightened. "What if I want to support it? It's my kid, too. Or didn't you plan on ever letting me see it?"

She was frankly bewildered. "Do you mean you want to?" She had never expected that. What she had expected was a cold and final end to their relationship.

That look of shock crossed his features once again, as if he had just realized what he'd said. He gulped and got to his feet, striding restlessly around the room. He had so much the look of a trapped animal that she took pity on him and said softly, "Never mind."

Instead of reassuring him, her words seemed to disturb him even more. He ran his hands through his hair, then turned abruptly toward the door. "I can't–I have to think things through. Stay here as long as you need." He was gone before she could call him back, before she truly realized he was leaving. The front door slammed even before she could get up from the bed. She stared at the empty space where he had stood, and recalled the haunted look in his eyes. She recognized that he was more deeply disturbed than she had ever considered possible, but had no clue as to why. Saxon had kept his past so completely private that she knew absolutely nothing about his childhood, not even who his parents were. If he had any family at all, she didn't know about them. But then, it didn't necessary follow that she would; after all, he still had his own apartment, and his mail still went there. Nor did she think it likely that he would have given out his mistress's telephone number so his family could contact him if he didn't answer his own phone.

She looked around at the apartment she had called home for two years. She didn't know if she would be able to stay here while she looked for someplace else, despite his generous offer. She had been telling him nothing less than the truth when she had said that she didn't want to stay here without him. The apartment was permeated with his presence, not physical reminders so much as the sharp memories that would be a long time fading. Her child had been conceived in the very bed she sat on. She thought about that for a moment; then her lips curved in a wryly gentle smile. Perhaps not; Saxon had never felt the need to limit their lovemaking to the bed, though they had usually sought it for comfort's sake. It was, she supposed, just as likely to have happened in the shower, or on the sofa, or even on the kitchen counter, one cold afternoon when he had arrived while she was cooking dinner and hadn't been inclined to wait until bedtime.

Those days of wondrous passion were over now, as she had known they would be. Even if Saxon hadn't reacted as she had anticipated, the end result was the same.

Saxon walked. He walked automatically, without aim or care. He was still reeling from the twin blows Anna had dealt him, incapable of ordering his thoughts or controlling his emotions. He had controlled every aspect of his life for so long, closing a door in his mind on the things that had happened years before, and he had thought the monster tamed, the nightmare robbed of horror. Yet all it had taken to destroy his deceptively fragile peace was the knowledge that Anna was pregnant. And she was leaving him. God, she was leaving him.

He felt like raising his fists to the sky and cursing whatever fate had done this to him, but the pain was too deep for that. He would have crouched on the sidewalk and howled like a demented animal if it would have relieved even a portion of the swelling agony in his chest and mind, but he knew it would not. The only surcease he would find would be where he had always found it: with Anna.

He couldn't even begin to think of the future. He had no future, no anchor. The image of endless days stretching before him refused to form; he simply couldn't face even one more day, let alone an eternal procession of them. A day without Anna? Why bother?

He'd never been able to tell her how much she meant to him. He could barely tolerate even admitting it to himself. Love, in his experience, was only an invitation to betrayal and rejection. If he allowed himself to love, then he was making himself vulnerable to a destruction of the mind and soul. And no one had loved him, not ever. It was a lesson he had learned from the earliest reaches of memory, and he had learned it well. His very survival had depended on the hard shell of indifference he had cultivated, so he had formed layer after layer of armor.

When had it changed from protection to prison?

Did the turtle ever long for freedom from its boxy shell, so it could run unhindered? Probably not, but he wasn't so lucky. Anna had said that she loved him, and even if it wasn't true, in saying it she had given him the opportunity to stay just a little while longer, if only he had dared to take it. He hadn't, because it would have meant shedding at least a few layers of his armor, and the prospect filled him with a terror founded in earliest childhood and strengthened through long years of abuse. When he arrived in front of his apartment door he stood staring at it in bewilderment, not quite certain of his location. When he finally realized that he was, in fact, at his own apartment, that he had walked several miles to reach it, he fumbled in his pocket for the keys.

The apartment was silent and musty when he entered, without any sweet welcoming presence. Anna had never been here, and it showed. He could barely stand to spend any time here. It was dark and empty, like a grave, and he was incapable of bringing any light into it. The only light he'd ever known had been Anna's, and he had shared it for too short a time, then driven her away with his own unbridled lust. He'd never been able to keep his hands off her. He had made love to her far more often than he ever would have thought possible, his male flesh rising again and again for the incredible sweetness of sinking into her and joining his body to hers. He had made her pregnant, and because of it he had lost her.

What would he do without her? He couldn't function, couldn't find it in himself to give a damn about contracts, or whether the job got done or not. Even when he had spent days on a job, he had always done it knowing that she was waiting for him. By working so hard, even if it took him away from her, he was able to take care of her and make certain she never had to do without anything. Every time he had expanded the stock portfolio he had set up for her, he had felt an intense satisfaction. Maybe he had thought that his diligent efforts in that would keep her with him, that they would show her that she was better off with him than with anyone else, or out on her own.

He couldn't let himself think, even for a moment, that she might have stayed with him only because he was establishing her financial security. If he thought that about Anna, then he truly had nothing left to live for. No, he had always known that she had disliked that part of their arrangement.

There had been no reason at all for her to stay… unless she did love him.

For the first time, he let himself think about what she had said. At the time, it had been too much for him to take in, but now the words circled tentatively in his consciousness, like frail birds afraid to light.

She loved him.

He sat in the silent apartment for the rest of the day and into the night, too far withdrawn into himself to feel the need for light or noise, and sometime during the dark hours he crossed an internal barrier. He felt as if he were pinning his desperate hopes on the slimmest of chances, as if he were shooting for the longest odds, but he faced the cold gray fact that he could do nothing else.

If Anna loved him, he couldn't let her go like this.