His Temptation, Her Secret(9)

By: Barbara Dunlop


Their burritos arrived, along with condiments and utensils.

He slid her phone back across the table. “Thank you for showing me the pictures.”

She looked like she wanted to say something more, but she stayed silent.

“You should eat,” he told her.

She gave a jerky nod.

He flagged down the waitress. “Can I get a shot of tequila?”

“Painkillers would work better,” Sage said.

“It’s not for the pain.”

They ate in silence for a while.

Despite everything, TJ couldn’t help but think it was good she was eating something. He might not agree with her decision to keep him in the dark, but she’d obviously been through a lot taking care of a sick child all on her own.

Then it occurred to him that she might not be on her own. She didn’t wear a wedding ring, and her last name remained the same, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t in a relationship, or even married for that matter.

“Are you single?” he asked bluntly.

Her eyes widened in obvious surprise.

“Is there a man, somebody in your and Eli’s lives?” he elaborated. It would certainly give her a good reason for keeping TJ out of the picture.

“No. There’s nobody. It’s just me and Eli.” There was an echo of loneliness in the statement.

“Your family?”

He didn’t know if she had siblings. He didn’t recall any from high school. But it was a pretty big place, and he certainly hadn’t known the entire student body.

“My parents died a few years ago. Not that they were in the picture anyway.”

“Did they live out of state?”

“No. They cut me out of their lives. They didn’t want me to keep Eli.”

TJ’s horror was instant.

“They wanted me to give him up for adoption.”

“Why?”

“They weren’t willing to help me with him and they didn’t think I could do it on my own. But they were wrong.” Her gaze was firm on him. “I walked out of the house at six months pregnant and never saw them again.”

She should have contacted him. Why on earth hadn’t she contacted him?

“It was the right choice,” she continued. “For all our struggles, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

He couldn’t seem to stop himself. “I wish you’d done some things different.”

Her knuckles appeared white as she gripped her knife and fork. “I can’t go back in time, TJ.”

“I know.” He’d lost his appetite, but he forced himself to keep eating.

They could only go forward. And for that, he needed to be at his strongest. If there was anything on earth he could do to help Eli, he was going to do it.

* * *

Sage fought the urge to take TJ’s hand. It was an irrational urge, since their relationship for the past twenty-four hours could best be described as an armed truce. But her nerves were strung tight as they waited for Dr. Stannis to bring them Eli’s test results.

The guest chairs in Dr. Stannis’s office were jade-green leather. They were cushioned and comfortable. The room was decorated in muted earth tones, a painting here, some pottery there. It didn’t look sterile, not like a waiting room. She couldn’t help but imagine it was designed to keep people calm, people like her who were waiting for life-and-death results, or who were hearing the worst kind of news.

“Hey.” TJ’s tone was soft, and he was the one who took her hand.

She turned to look at him.

“Don’t do that to yourself,” he said.

He gave her hand a squeeze, which inexplicably made her feel better.

“It’s going to be all good,” he said.

“You don’t know that.” Her voice was dry, high-pitched. She tried to swallow, but she couldn’t.

He came out of the chair, on one knee in front of her, taking both her hands in his. “Positive thoughts,” he said, his voice as gentle as she’d ever heard.

She managed a nod, but she was terrified to be optimistic, as if karma would reach out and smack her if she dared to hope.

The door opened, and Dr. Stannis entered the room. “I won’t keep you in suspense,” she said briskly, breezing toward her desk. “The results are what we were hoping for. There are no signs of rejection or infection at this point.”

Sage thought she might faint with relief.

Before she could move, TJ’s arms were around her. He drew her to her feet and hugged her tight.

“Yes,” his deep voice hissed next to her ear. “Yes.”

His body was strong and solid against hers, warm and welcoming. She was suddenly transported back ten years, to their dance, their kiss, the acute and unexplainable feeling she’d had of coming home, like she belonged in TJ’s arms, like she’d been waiting her whole life to be held by him.

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