Lisa looked at Melanie, sympathy in her eyes. “You have to give the relationship a chance to find that out, don’t you, Mel?”

Before Melanie could argue that she had to risk an already bruised heart to do that, Lisa slipped out. Turning to her daughter, Melanie picked bits of cereal out of her hair and watched her bang her pudgy palms on the high-chair tray. There was no mistaking that Juliana was Jack’s baby. She had his eyes. Intelligent, probing blue eyes.

“Hey, Jules,” Melanie said, and the baby looked at her, smiled brightly and offered a fistful of squishy cereal loops. Smiling, Melanie leaned down for a pretend bite. “I love you, munchkin. God, I love you.”

Melanie blinked back tears and wondered what would become of them. She’d had it all figured out till Jack showed up. She liked things neat and in order, to know the outcome of events. Which was why she was a banker. Figures didn’t lie. Figures didn’t cheat on you while you were selecting china and bridesmaids. Numbers didn’t leave you with the pitying gazes of everyone you had to tell about the broken engagement. Twice.

She wondered what was wrong with her that men left so easily. She was nice. She had a good sense of humor. She wasn’t a supermodel, but she wasn’t ugly. What was it about her that sent men running to someone more interesting?

Jack’s face loomed in her mind as she gathered up her baby. She held Juliana closely and prayed Jack would just leave. She’d handled Craig’s betrayal with his old love. She handled Andy’s with his bimbo secretary.

But with Jack? If he got her hopes up and dumped her, well, she’d never recover. She was certain of that. And she’d have his daughter to look at every day to remind herself of her failure. No, it was better her way. No chance, no heartache. Right?

She looked at the baby. “Right?”

Juliana didn’t answer. It was just as well. There wasn’t one, she thought. There just wasn’t.

Juliana was fussing for her dinner, Melanie was trying to get a load of laundry collected and into the washer before she started the evening phase of her day. Her day off, too, she thought. A heavy knock shook the door and for a split second, Juliana stopped whining and looked with Melanie at the door.

“Probably a salesman again,” she said to her daughter, and crossed the living room. Propping the laundry basket on one hip, she opened the door.


“Good, you didn’t forget me.”

Like that would ever happen, she thought. Just looking at him made her insides turn to mush. “Why are you here?” Her voice sounded steady, right?

“Lisa and Brian took off and I was alone and hungry.”

“Good that you have a houseful of food, because Lisa is a great cook.”

Jack’s gaze slipped over Melanie. She filled out those jeans better than any woman he’d known, but her face showed signs of fatigue.

“Then I guess you aren’t up for takeout?” He held up the pints of Chinese food.

Melanie inhaled the delicious scent and smothered a groan. Moo goo gai pan. Her favorite. He fights dirty, she thought. “No thank you, we’re fine.” Juliana took that moment to exercise her lungs and Melanie glanced at her daughter. “Hey, be patient. It’s warming.”

“What’s warming?”

“Her dinner, her bottle, followed by a bath, quiet time, then sleep.”

“Then you get to do what, Melanie? Sit here alone and watch TV.”

She made a rude sound. “I get to keep cleaning, working. Ironing my clothes for work. Then I get to rest.”

“It’s tough alone, isn’t it?”

Her spine stiffened. She walked right into that one, she thought. “I manage. And will continue to do so, without your help.”

“Hey, I’m not taking over, darlin’, I’m just bringing chow.” She arched a brow. He calmly gazed back, then smiled. “You going to keep me standing out here all night for the neighbors to see or what?” When she just stared, he swung the boxes. “It’s hot. And I’m starving.”

Tempting…so tempting. Both Jack and the dinner. But if she let him in now, he’d only expect to be able to come back whenever he felt like it. “So go home and eat it.” She was too tired to deal with him now.

“Listen, Melanie, she’s my daughter, too, and I barely got a chance to look at her.”

A tiny twinge of guilt poked at her. “She has all ten fingers and toes, is in perfect health, and the longer you bug me, the madder she’s going to get about being denied her dinner.”

Jack pushed his way inside. “Then I guess you should hop to it, huh?”

“Jack.” Copyright 2016 - 2023