A flutter. Like the softest brush of a butterfly’s wing against the wall of her belly. Sydney had felt it. Unlike the heat in Cole’s gaze, she hadn’t imagined it…right?
She stiffened, going still. Not even daring to breathe.
“Sydney?” Cole leaned forward, the concern coating his voice etched into the frown darkening his expression. “Baby girl, are you okay?” He settled a hand just above her knee, studying her. “What’s wrong? Is it the—”
She shook her head, not even concentrating on his murmured “baby girl” or how damn sexy that was. No, every bit of her focused on her body, on feeling that sweet sensation again. But, after several heartbeats, nothing. Disappointment rippled through her. Dr. Prioleau had assured her everything was okay, that this milestone in her pregnancy could come later. Still…
She stifled a sigh. “I’m good. I just thought—oh shit!” She pressed both of her palms to the slight swell of her stomach, eyes stretched so wide the skin pinched at the corners. Joy, indescribable joy, surged within her, pressing against her chest, her throat. And love. Jesus, how could she possibly love so much that her body almost seemed incapable of containing it? “I knew it! The baby. The baby just moved. Oh my God. Feel it!”
Without thinking, she grasped Cole’s wrist and lifted his hand from her leg and planted it over her belly. Only when his long fingers splayed wide over her did the impact of her impetuous actions slam into her.
“Oh God, I’m sorry, Cole. I’m so sorry,” she breathed, nearly shoving his hand away in her haste to undo the harm she might’ve unintentionally caused in her excitement. “I wasn’t thinking.”
His body had gone as still as the statue of W.E.B. DuBois outside of city hall. She couldn’t detect the whisper of a breath or the rise and fall of his chest. But his eyes. Jesus, his eyes. They flared wide, as if deep within the cage his body had become, he’d plummeted into a full-blown panic attack. And the amber depths swirled with so much pain, so much grief, that she couldn’t contain her gasp.
It could’ve been that soft sound that snapped him from his paralysis.
Cole slowly tipped his head down and inspected the hand she’d tossed aside as if it were a separate entity from his body. His fingers curled into a tight fist against the cushion. Then, slowly, he stretched them out.
And raised his arm until his palm hovered over her stomach.
“I’m…” He paused, swallowed so hard his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down in his strong throat. “Can I?” he whispered.
The request sounded as if it’d passed through ten pounds of chewed-up gravel before it emerged, rough, jagged and worn. As if he asked, not because he truly wanted to touch her—touch the place where her unborn child lay—but more so to prove a point. Prove that he could.
And because of the almost grim determination in the clench of his jaw and in his pain-drenched golden eyes, she took his trembling hand and guided it to her belly.
Once more, his big hand spanned the length of her.
And once more, as if greeting him, or maybe even congratulating him for his bravery, her baby moved.