The Bean kicked again and Chloe nodded. “I like your spirit,” she told her daughter. “And the answer is yes, there will be dancing and, God willing, cake.”
She texted Jax. She could’ve called either of her sisters, but they were on Sawyer’s side and would come up with excuses to keep her home. Maddie’s hubby, Jax, had a soft side for Chloe, and she used it ruthlessly.
He showed up in five minutes flat, a little breathless. “What’s wrong?” he demanded, stepping close, hands going to her shoulders to look her over. “The Bean—”
“—is fine,” she said. Jeez, would it kill anyone to ask about her first, just once in a blue moon? “I need a ride.”
Jax got her in his Jeep in two seconds flat, quite the feat given that she was the size of a house. She knew he assumed he was driving her to the doctor, but she directed him to her friend Olivia’s vintage clothing shop.
When Jax pulled over in front of the store, he swiveled his head and narrowed his eyes at her. “What. The. Hell.”
“I need a dress for the Christmas party,” she said. “Nothing fits.”
He tore off his dark sunglasses and stared at her. Jax was hot. Super hot. But he wasn’t as scary when he was pissed off as Sawyer or Ford, so she offered him her most charming smile.
“You got me out of a client meeting not because you’re in labor but because you wanted to go shopping?”
This wasn’t really a question, more a statement of disbelief, so Chloe went on the offensive. “Tara and Maddie want me to sit on my ass. And my ass is sore from sitting, Jax. I’d have called Ford, but I was pretty sure he would’ve just hung up on me.”
He stared at her.
She started to slide out of the truck, heard him swear like a sailor, and then he was there to help her.
“I’ll only be a few minutes,” she said.
A lie. It took her and Olivia an hour to go through each and every dress in the store.
Chloe sat in the dressing room, just she and the Bean filling the entire space, and stared at herself in the mirror. She was too tired to put her own shoes back on and get outside to Jax’s Jeep. Plus she couldn’t even see her feet.
“You okay in there?” Olivia asked.
“Peachy,” Chloe said with just the right amount of snark to have Olivia leave her alone.
She hadn’t realized her eyes were shiny with her own unshed tears until Jax pushed his way into the room and crouched at her side.
“Honey, Sawyer will be back before you know it,” he said quietly.
Her throat tightened, and she spoke the words that had been flitting through her head for two days, the ones she hadn’t been able to admit even to herself. “He didn’t kiss me good-bye.”
Jax let out a breath and ran a hand down her hair. “You know how he is, stoic as shit. And he’s worried about you.”
“Then he shouldn’t have left.”
“It’s his job,” Jax said.
Chloe closed her eyes. God, she wanted that to be true, wanted to know that Sawyer wasn’t taking on all this crazy dangerous DEA work in order to escape her.
Then maybe you should stop driving him away with all your crazy…
“He loves you,” Jax said.
Chloe sniffed and dropped her head forward until it rested on her brother-in-law’s shoulder. “You’re my favorite,” she said.
He snorted. “Only until Ford brings you dinner.”
“Can I take you home now?” Jax asked.
“Can’t see my feet to put on my shoes.”
Jax had been through pregnancy hormones with Maddie, and he was a smart man. He didn’t make a comment until he picked up one of her shoes. “Kick me and I’ll make sure Ford brings you liver and onions,” he said mildly, and had her laughing as he got her out to his Jeep.
Jax drove her home but not before picking up hoagie sandwiches—for the baby, she’d told him. When he dropped her off, he walked her in, made sure she had everything she needed, and then left, promising her things would get better.
“When?” she asked, but he was already gone.
It wasn’t until that night that she found another wrapped present, on her pillow this time.
A cashmere scarf softer than air.
She called Tara. “Thanks for the gorgeous scarf.”
There was a beat of silence. “I’ll be there in five,” her sister said.
“I don’t need—” But Chloe was talking to air. Tara had disconnected. She showed up ten minutes later and took Chloe to the B&B that the three sisters ran. Maddie met them in the kitchen and served hot chocolate and cookies.
“Not that this isn’t delicious,” Chloe said, stuffing her face. “But what’s up?”
“Neither of us sent you any gifts,” Maddie said, face worried. But Maddie, the middle sister, the peacemaker, was perpetually worried. “Honey, do you think you have another stalker?”
“Jeez,” Chloe said. “One time…”
“We should call Sawyer,” Tara said.
“No,” Chloe said quickly. Too quickly.
Her sisters exchanged a look. “Sugar,” Tara said, “you’re drowning in pregnancy hormones so you might have forgotten just how much that man would live or die for you.”
Damn it if Chloe’s eyes didn’t suddenly burn. She closed them and set her head on Maddie’s shoulder. “I’m making him be a daddy. I’m afraid he’s going to resent me for that, or worse, that he already does.”