Something broke inside him. It was tangled up with hurt and disbelief and I didn’t have anything worth staying for. But a marrow-deep belief in family had him asking with outrage, “Don’t you care about our baby at all?”
“Of course I care!” Her flare of mother bear fury was strangely reassuring, despite how charged and dangerous she became. “Why the hell do you think I’m here?”
“I don’t understand you,” he bit out. It was the understatement of the century. He didn’t understand himself, either. The idea of her handing him their child and walking away... He swallowed against the ache in the back of his throat.
“I’ve told you. I have nothing.” She flung out a hand, voice raw. “I won’t be my mother, cleaning houses and raising my child on stale bread, marrying a stranger because I’m tired of poverty only to have him—” She cut herself off, throat flexing.
“What?” Ben prompted.
“You don’t care, Ben,” she dismissed tightly. “Will you give me a place to sleep? Please? I’ll work under-the-table, try not to cost you more than a bed and whatever doctor bills my pregnancy requires.”
The cynical side of him said there had to be a catch, but the prospective father and the lover who’d made that baby with her was appalled at how little she expected of him.
“I’ll do a paternity test. Sign anything you want,” she promised.
A pang reverberated in his chest. He realized there were dark circles under her eyes and tension around her mouth.
“You’re five months or so?”
“Everything is going well?”
Silence stretched. Her eyes welled with fresh tears and her mouth trembled. She was pale and scared. There was no mistaking that was fear gripping her.
Of course she was terrified. This news was sending his own brain into all-system alerts, trying to formulate a plan before he’d fully absorbed that he was going to be a father.
He moved before he realized what he was doing. He needed to hold her. She needed to be held. No matter what had transpired, they were having a baby.
She looked up with surprise as he closed in. Her breath hitched in a sob that held helplessness and apology, regret and plea.
As he closed his arms around her, the gaping darkness inside him began to heal closed. But even as he drew her in, she stiffened and gasped, a noise he thought was the beginning of a healthy dam break of a cry.
“It will be okay,” he murmured. It might have been a lie. He had no idea, but he tried to comfort her, ran his hands across her back—
She cried out again, stronger, and pressed her forearms against his chest. “Let go, let go.”
He did and she stood before him, head bowed into her hands, crying inconsolably while his arms hung uselessly at his sides.
“For God’s sake, Henriqua.” What did she want from him?
Then she told him, voice so faint he barely heard it, but her words nearly cut him in two.
“I need a doctor, Ben. He caught me taking his mail and beat me.”
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