He looked down at Juliana, touched the top of her head and suddenly knew this little girl was the best part of his life. Yet knowing Melanie was like a lioness protecting her cub right now, defensive and distrusting, Jack didn’t try to take his child into his arms. Yet they fairly ached to hold her, to feel her little body against his chest, hear her heart beat.
Instead, he said, “I’ll see you both real soon,” then spun around and left the room.
Melanie gripped the crib rail. Because her knees had melted. Her heart had stopped. She looked down at Juliana. The baby gurgled, and blew bubbles.
“That was Daddy. What did you think?”
Juliana jerked in her arms and smiled.
“Yeah, he does that to women. He’s going to be a real pain, honey. What are we going to do?”
Her daughter didn’t offer a solution and Melanie didn’t have one, either. All she knew was that Jack Singer could turn her inside out and upside down with a glance. And with a kiss…oh, she was useless.
But she wasn’t going to marry him. So it would be best just to keep him out of her life completely. Big talk, she thought, when just now his presence turned you into a puddle. Well, she wouldn’t let that happen again, nor would she give him any ideas that she’d agree to marriage. Going into a marriage with such low expectations wasn’t her dream of a future. She had a future. She and Juliana would be just fine.
Part of her dreaded Jack’s showing up again. And he would. She might not know a lot about the man, but one thing was for sure. He’d drawn a battleline in the dirt and she was scared of the first attack. Because Lt. Jack Singer, Navy SEAL and handsome as the devil, was a gentleman.
His attack would be subtle. But she didn’t doubt that when it came to something he wanted, he’d fight dirty.
Jack drove his sports car around town for an hour with no destination in mind. He thought about calling his buddy, Reese, then decided that he didn’t want anyone ever to get the wrong idea about Melanie or his child. Not like they’d had about him when he was a kid.
His fingers tensed on the steering wheel and he pulled up to his hotel and shut off the engine. He didn’t get out, his mind tripping over plans, over ways to get into his daughter’s life.
And into her mother’s.
Man, he thought, rubbing his face. Melanie Patterson didn’t look like a mother. He didn’t think it was possible for her to look better than she had that night after the wedding. But she did and her kiss was just as hot. He tried to imagine what it had been like for her, tried to imagine her belly swollen with his baby, and when he did, something sparked inside him. Longing?
Did he want in her life because of the baby?
He checked that thought off the list in an instant. He’d done nothing but think about her for months. For fifteen of them. Being unable to talk to her all that time was like salt in the wound. She’d moved to live with her parents, sure, and her number here was unlisted, but the time wasted gnawed at him. He sighed. It wouldn’t have changed much. Hell, he would have gone nuts if he’d known she was carrying his child, anyway, he thought. He’d have wanted to be there. With her, for her. He’d have done anything for that chance, and with his job, that just wasn’t possible. He couldn’t walk out when his commander called. When his teammates and his country needed him.
But dammit to hell, he hated that he’d missed it all.
Sighing with resignation, he left the car and headed up to his room. He didn’t notice the women offering smiles as he passed. Didn’t notice the way they tried to get his attention. All he saw was Melanie holding his daughter to her breast, stroking Juliana’s little spine. He’d wanted to take the baby in his arms, feel the responsibility. But he didn’t have to touch the baby to know it. It was already inside him.
Juliana was his daughter. His flesh and blood. And he was going to give her everything he’d never had. And that included her daddy’s name.
Melanie looked at Lisa. “I know you’re sorry. Forget about it.”
“Well, you should have tried harder to tell him,” Lisa said insistently. “It would have been easier if he’d known from the start.”
“Yeah? How so? Would he have been any less…determined?”
“My big brother’s a handful, huh?”
Melanie rolled her eyes. Her sorority sister was a romantic. Melanie wasn’t. She’d given that up after her fiancé broke their engagement. Once was hard enough, but to be dumped twice? Melanie had a stellar record, falling for men who seemed to find the right girl after they’d already proposed to her. It was humiliating and the reason she didn’t ask a guy for promises. They couldn’t keep them. Jack wasn’t any different. Well, maybe a little. He knew the meaning of honor, at least.