“And if she’ll let me, I’ll slay Mommy’s, too.”

Melanie swallowed hard and tried not to notice the flutter of her heart. Quietly Jack lowered the side of the crib and bent to kiss Juliana’s soft brown curls. The night-light illuminated his features, fierce, and loving.

Her daughter had a champion, Melanie thought, backing out of the room. Whether she wanted it or not. But that didn’t mean she had to like it. And it didn’t mean she had to marry him just because he wanted it. She and Juliana had done just fine without him. She slipped into the living room and sank onto the sofa. She didn’t want to doubt herself, her capabilities.

When he came out, he paused at the edge of the hallway, his hands on his hips. Tipping his head back, he took a long cleansing breath and let it out, smiling as he did. He hadn’t noticed her yet. He looked as if he was measuring himself against the responsibility of fatherhood. She understood that. The day she’d learned she was pregnant with his child, she had done the same thing.

He met her gaze, like an arrow shooting straight toward a target. “Hi.”

“Hey,” she said. Lord, he was devastating to look at, she thought. In fitted jeans and a black T-shirt that flowed over every contour of his chest and arms, she wanted only to run her hands over that body. A body she’d had only one night to learn.

He moved toward her and her heart skipped an entire beat at that sexy hip-rolling walk of his. Did the man even know how powerful he was? Maybe he did, she thought as he slid down onto the sofa beside her.

His face was inches from hers, his gaze making a slow prowl of her features, the neckline of her blouse. Her breasts tightened in instant reaction.

“You keep looking at me like that and we won’t be dining on Chinese takeout,” he said softly.

“I’m starving,” she said, and knew she should have kept her mouth shut.

“Me, too. But I’m only hungry for you.”

Melanie felt herself turn to mush. “Jack, don’t.”

“What? Don’t be honest? Don’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about you?”

“This isn’t helping.”

“Denying isn’t helping,” he said, and leaned closer, his mouth a fraction from hers.

She could feel his breath on her lips. Almost taste him. And if memory served her, and it did, he tasted great. She leaned, and an instant before his mouth crushed hers, the phone rang.

She lurched to get it before it woke the baby.

“Hello,” came out on a croak and she had to clear her throat. “Oh, hi, Michael.”

Jack’s blue eyes narrowed dangerously, and Melanie thought that between her disappointment at the interruption and the stupidity of falling into his arms again, this was the bucket of ice water she needed.

“Busy? Well, actually I am.” She didn’t look at Jack. “Sure. Bye.” She hung up.

“Who was that?”

“A friend.”

“How close a friend?”

She didn’t mistake the edge to his voice. “I work with Michael.”

“Was he asking you out?”

“I imagine he was trying.”

“You’d date this man?”

No, she wouldn’t. It would be trading one piece of heartache for another. But she couldn’t resist asking, “Any reason I shouldn’t?”

“Yes, I can barely get you to sit still long enough to speak with me and we have a child together.”

And you’re more dangerous to me than Michael could ever be. She could barely recall the guy’s eye color, but there wasn’t a thing about Jack she’d forgotten. “What is it that you want to say, Jack? Except propose marriage.”

“You’re not even going to consider it, are you?” he said.

“No, but thanks for the offer.”

“You act like I did this without thinking first.”

She folded her legs under her on the sofa. “It was a gut reaction, Jack. An obligation. I will not be a man’s ball and chain when he doesn’t want it.”

“Who says I don’t?”

“If Juliana wasn’t between us, would you have come here first?”

“I’ve been in-country for three days and two of them I’ve been here. What do you think?”

“You want to do the honorable thing. I can understand that. But I don’t need you to. Nor do I want to marry a man only for the sake of a child. Marriage is tough enough without going in with such low expectations.”

“I don’t have those—you do. I’ll be a good father.”

“Oh, I know you will,” she said gently. “But you don’t have to marry me to be one.”

Jack thought of his own blood father. The man didn’t marry Jack’s mother, wasn’t there for Jack when he was young and impressionable. Later, his mom had fallen in love with a great man, David, and they had married. Lisa was the product of that love, and the man Jack called Dad had been great to him, even when he didn’t have to be. But Jack resented that his birth father hadn’t the guts to marry his mother and left a little lost kid to bear the reaction of being a bastard. He would never do that to Juliana. Even if things didn’t work out between him and Melanie, he was in his daughter’s life for good.

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