The Way Home (Chapter 7)

JVLarriage. The thought of it hovered in her consciousness during the day and crept into her dreams at night. Several times every day she started to throw caution to the winds and tell him yes, but there was a part of her that simply wasn't ready to take such an immense step. She had been willing before to settle for being his mistress, but now she was unable to settle for being his wife; she wanted him to love her, too, and admit it to both her and himself. She might be certain that he did love her, but until he could come to terms with his feelings, she couldn't rely on that. He could say "I want you," but not "I love you." She couldn't blame him for having difficulty with the emotion. Sometimes when she was alone she cried for him, at first a discarded infant, then a lonely, frightened toddler, and finally an abused youngster with no one he could turn to for help. No one could have endured such a childhood without emotional scarring, without losing the ability both to give and accept love. When she looked at it clearly, she saw that he had reached out to her far more than could reasonably be expected.

She didn't really expect more, but she wanted it.

She couldn't get the Bradleys out of her mind. From what he had said, he had spent six years with them, from the time he was twelve until he was eighteen. Six years was a long time for them to keep him and not feel something for him. Was it possible that they had offered him more than duty, but at the time he hadn't been able to see it for what it was? And how had they felt at not hearing from him ever again?

Surely they had worried, if they had any hint of human warmth about them. They had raised him from a boy to a young man, given him the only stable home life he had ever known until Anna had become his mistress and made a sanctuary for him in the apartment. It was always possible that it had been exactly as he remembered it, that losing their son had prevented them from feeling anything for him beyond duty and a sense of pity. Pity! He would have hated that. If he had sensed that they pitied him, no wonder he hadn't gone back.

But though she fretted about it for several days, she knew that she wasn't accomplishing anything with her worrying. If she wanted to know for certain, she would have to drive to Fort Morgan and try to find the Bradleys. It might be a useless trip, since nineteen years had passed; they could have moved, or even died.

Once she made the decision to go, she felt better, even though she knew Saxon would be adamantly against the idea. However, she didn't intend to let his opposition stop her.

That didn't mean she intended to be sneaky about it. After dinner that night she said, "I'm going to Fort Morgan tomorrow."

He tensed, and his eyes narrowed. "Why?"

"To try to find the Bradleys."

He folded the newspaper away with an angry snap. "There's no point in it. I told you how it was. Why are you worried about it, anyway? That was nineteen years ago. It's nothing to do with us now. You didn't even know me then."

"Curiosity, partly," she answered with blunt honesty. "And what if you're wrong about the way they felt? You were young. You could have misread them. And if you were wrong, then they've spent nineteen years feeling as if they lost two sons instead of just one."

"No," he said, and from the command in his voice she knew he wasn't refuting her suggestion but issuing an order.

She lifted her brows at him, mild surprise in her eyes. "I wasn't asking permission. I was letting you know where I'd be so you wouldn't worry if you called and I wasn't here."

"I said no."

"You certainly did," she agreed. "But I'm not your mistress anymore–"

"It sure as hell felt like you were last night," he interrupted, his eyes turning greener as anger intensified the color.

She didn't intend to argue with him. Instead she smiled, and her soft face glowed as she sent him a warm look. "That was making love." And it had been wonderful. Sex between them had always been hot and urgent, but since he had moved in with her it had taken on an added dimension, a shattering tenderness that hadn't been there before. Their love-making was more prolonged; it was as if, before, he had always been aware that he was going to have to get up and leave, and the knowledge had driven him. Now he was relaxed and leisurely in a way he hadn't been before, with increased pleasure as a result.

There was a flicker of tension across his face at the word "love," but it was quickly gone, with no lingering echoes.

"I'm not your mistress," she repeated. "That arrangement is over with. I'm the woman who loves you, who lives with you, who's having your baby."

He looked around at the apartment. "You may not think you're my mistress anymore," he said with soft anger, "but things look pretty much the same to me."

"Because you support me? That's your choice, not mine. I'll find a job, if it will make you feel better. I've never enjoyed being a kept woman, anyway."

"No!" He didn't like that idea at all. It had always been in the back of his mind that, if he kept her totally dependent on him, she would be less likely to leave. At the same time he had invested in stocks in her name to make certain she would be financially secure. The paradox had always made him uneasy, but he wanted her to be taken care of in case something happened to him. After all, he traveled a lot and spent a lot of time on construction sites, not the safest of places. He had also made a will a year ago, leaving everything to her. He'd never told her.

"I don't want you driving that far by yourself," he finally said, but he was grasping at straws, and he knew it.

"It's less than a two-hour drive, the weather forecast is for clear and sunny conditions tomorrow. But if you want to go with me, I can wait until the weekend," she offered.

His expression closed up at the idea. He had never been back, never wanted to go back. The Bradleys hadn't mistreated him; they had been the best of all the foster homes he'd been in. But that part of his life was over. He had shut the door on it when he'd left, and he'd spent the following years working like a slave to make himself into someone who would never again be helpless.

"They may have moved," she said, offering comfort. "I just want to know."

He made a weary gesture. "Then pick up the telephone and call information. Talk to them, if they're still there. But don't involve me in it. I don't want to talk to them. I don't want to see them. I don't want anything to do with this."

She wasn't surprised at his total rejection of the past; it was hardly the type of memory he would embrace. And she hadn't expected him to go with her.

"I don't want to talk to them over the telephone," she said. "I want to drive up there, see the house. I may not approach them at all. It depends on what I find when I get there."

She held her breath, because there was one appeal he could make that she wouldn't be able to deny. If he said, "Please don't go, for my sake," then she wouldn't go. If he actually asked for anything for himself, there was no way she could turn him down. He had been rejected so much in his life that she wouldn't add to it. But because of those prior rejections, she knew he wouldn't ask in those terms. He would never put things in the context of being a personal consideration for him. He would order, he would make objections, but he wouldn't simply ask and say, "Please don't."

He refused to talk about it anymore and got up restlessly to stand at the terrace doors and look out. Anna calmly returned to her own section of the paper, but her heart was beating fast as she realized this was the first normal domestic quarrel they had ever had. To her delight, they-had disagreed, and nothing major had happened. He hadn't left, nor did he seem to expect her to leave. It was wonderful. He was already able to trust her enough that he wasn't afraid a disagreement could end their relationship.

She had worried that he would overreact to arguments, since they were part and parcel of every relationship. Normal couples had disagreements; probably even saints had disagreements. Two years ago, Saxon wouldn't have been able to tolerate such a personal discussion.

He was really trying, even though it was extraordinarily difficult for him to open up. Circumstances had forced him into revealing his past, but he hadn't tried to reestablish those protective mental walls of his. He seemed to accept that once the emotional boundaries had been crossed, he couldn't make them inviolate again.

She didn't know what she could accomplish by finding the Bradleys again. Perhaps nothing. She just wanted to see them, to get a feel for herself of what that portion of Saxon's formative years had been like. If they seemed interested, she wanted to reassure them that their foster son was alive and well, that he was successful and would soon be a father himself.

With his back still to her, Saxon asked, "Are you afraid to marry me because of my past? Is that why you want to find the Bradleys, so you can ask them questions about me?"

"No!" she said, horrified. "I'm not afraid to marry you."

"My parents could be anything–murderers, drug users. My mother may be a prostitute. The odds are pretty good she was. There may be a history of mental illness in my background. I'd be afraid to marry me. But the Bradleys won't be able to tell you anything, because no one knows who my parents were."

"I'm not concerned with your parents," she said levelly. "I know you. You're rock solid. You're honest, kind, hardworking and sexy."

"So why won't you marry me, if I'm such a good catch?"

Good question, she thought. Maybe she was being foolish in waiting. "I don't want to rush into something that might not be right for either of us,"

"I don't want my baby to be born illegitimate."

"Oh, Saxon." She gave a sad laugh. "I promise you I'll make a decision long before the baby is born."

"But you can't promise me you'll say yes."

"No more than you can promise me our marriage would work."

He gave her a brief, angry look over his shoulder. "You said you love me."

"And I do. But can you say that you love me?" she asked.

He didn't answer. Anna watched him, her eyes sad and tender. Her question could be taken in two ways. He did love her, she thought, but was incapable of actually saying it. Maybe he felt that as long as he didn't say the words aloud, he hadn't made the emotional commitment.

Finally he said, "Is that what it'll take for you to marry me?"

"No. It isn't a test that you have to pass."

"Isn't it?"

"No," she insisted.

"You say you won't marry me because you don't know if I can handle it, but I'm willing to try. You're the one who's resisting making a commitment."

She stared at him in frustration. He was too good at arguing, agilely taking her previous arguments and using them against her. She was glad that he felt sure enough of her to do it, but she could see what she'd be up against in the future if they did get married.

It would take a lot of determination to win an argument against him.

She pointed her finger at him, even though his back was still turned and he couldn't see her. "I'm not resisting making a commitment, I'm resisting making it now. I think I have a right to be a little cautious."

"Not if you trust me."

That turned back was making her suspicious. She gave him a considering look, then suddenly realized he had turned his back so she wouldn't be able to read his expression. Her eyes narrowed as she realized what he was doing. He wasn't as upset or even as indignant as he sounded; he was simply using the tactic as a means of maneuvering her into agreeing to marry him. It was all part and parcel of his determination to have his way.

She got up and went over to him, wrapping her arms around his lean waist and leaning her head against his back. "It won't work," she said softly. "I'm on to you."

To her surprise, she felt his chest expand with a low laugh; then he turned within the circle of her arms and looped his own around her. "Maybe you know me too well," he muttered, but his tone was accepting.

"Or maybe you need acting lessons."

He chuckled again and rested his cheek against the top of her head. But all humor was absent from his tone a minute later when he said, "Go see the Bradleys, if you have to. There's nothing there to find out."