“No one realized I was pregnant,” Sascha said, rising to move around the table, “not even Marsha. She thought I’d put on weight because of my unregimented existence.” Her hand curved over his cheek. “I needed to talk to her.”
“Why?” He thought he knew, but he wanted to be certain after she’d sucker punched him with this stunt. “And sit.” Pulling out a chair for her, he took one to her right.
Placing one hand on his thigh in that way she had, his mate took another deep breath. “I wanted . . .” Her voice shook, and he could no more stop from reaching out to kiss her, pet her, than he could stop breathing.
“Kitten, you know you can tell me anything, anything.” Why had she felt the need to hide this? That was what had him so lost.
“I planned to tell you as soon as I got back,” she said at once, her fingers tightening on his thigh, “but you were so busy I thought I’d wait till tonight.”
“You’re supposed to tell me things like this before.” The panther snarled in agreement.
“I knew you wouldn’t let me see Marsha on my own,” she said, a stubborn angle to her jaw. “And I didn’t want you to worry—you do so much of it already.”
“Of course I do. You’re pregnant with our child—I have the right to go nuts looking after you.”
“And I love you for it.” An affectionate wave of emotion down the mating bond tied them together on the level of the soul. “But this, I needed to do alone.”
His panther caught the vulnerability beneath the steely will. Reaching out, he curved one hand behind her nape in a hold as protective as it was proprietary. “I still haven’t heard what you went to do.”
“Marsha’s been my mother’s advisor since before Nikita became a Councilor, since before she had me.”
The tenderness he felt for her made his soul hurt. “You went to ask her what Nikita was like during her pregnancy and when you were born.” His mate was so scared she wouldn’t be a good mother—when everyone around her knew she’d be an amazing one.
“Yes.” Her eyes were almost starless when she looked up. “But I couldn’t make myself ask any of those questions. I guess part of me was afraid of what she would say—that Nikita never loved me, not even when I was in her womb.”
It tore him apart to see her hurting. “Kitten.”
A reassuring squeeze of his thigh. “It hurts, but it won’t ever break me again like it almost did once. Not when I can feel you loving me every moment of every day.” Eyes shiny with emotion, she reached up to stroke her fingers through his hair. “Mostly, I think I need to hear the answers from Nikita herself.”
Lucas shifted closer, so she could more easily pet him with those hands he adored. “I’ll call her, organize a meeting.” He’d dance with the devil himself if that was what it took to ensure his mate’s happiness.
“Marsha missed my pregnancy because she’s so focused on work she’s oblivious to anything else,” she said, playing her fingers over his jaw and along his neck. “Nikita won’t.”
Lucas laid his hand over the curved mound of her stomach, knowing that if he pressed his ear to that same spot, he’d be able to sense the heartbeat of their unborn child. “We’ve managed to keep it quiet this far, but I think unless you plan to stay in seclusion, the jig is up. Max knew you were pregnant the instant he looked at you.” At five months along, she was gorgeously, radiantly beautiful—any man with a working heart would realize she carried a life in her womb.
“Are you calling me fat?”
He caught the gleam of laughter in those stunning cardinal eyes and knew his Sascha was more than tough enough to handle the woman who’d given birth to her. “According to Dev should mind his own business Santos, I should be feeding you more.” She’d gained little extra weight through the pregnancy. “Are you sure you’re eating enough?”
“Lucas, did you or did you not go out at three a.m. to get me a pizza with all the fixings?”
“Did you say thank you for that yet?” He leaned forward to speak with his lips against her ear.
Making a small, pleased sound, she nuzzled into his neck. “I seem to remember you purring.”
“Even though all I got was a single measly slice.”
“I rest my case.” A kiss pressed to the beat of his pulse.
“I eat like the proverbial horse.” Sascha patted her hand over the one Lucas had placed on her abdomen. “We’re both doing more than fine according to the doctor and Tamsyn.” The DarkRiver healer had examined her only yesterday.
A shift inside her, a strange, beautiful thing, then a tiny foot slamming into her with a strength that surely came from the baby’s father. “Oof.”
Lucas beamed with pride. “That’s my girl.”
Sascha made a face. “Why are you so convinced it’s a girl?” They’d made the decision not to ask the doctor or healer to confirm gender, though Sascha couldn’t help but know—her baby’s mind was developing day by day, becoming a stronger and stronger psychic warmth inside of her. Still, she liked to play with Lucas. He’d ordered her not to tell him.
“I just know.” Bending his head, he pressed a kiss to the top of her abdomen, much as he had a habit of doing late at night, saying good night to their babe.
She ran her fingers through his hair. “I love you so much, Lucas.” Her eyes teared, her voice got thick.