“Yes, they’re real. It’s all real,” he groused, and would have preferred she watch a craft show or something. “We can’t train men if they know they’re not experiencing real danger.”

“What’s it like when you’re out there knowing you could get hit?”

“I don’t think about it, Melanie. It’s distracting.” He worked his shoulders into the cushions, watching her and not the show.

And what kind of distraction would she and the baby be for him now? she wondered. “Are you afraid?”

“I’d be a fool if I wasn’t. Fear keeps you sharp.”

He still wanted to change the channel, but she refused, enthralled as she watched S.E.R.E.—Search Evasion Rescue Escape—training and saw several men drop out and ring the bell that signaled their final surrender.

Jack answered her questions, trying to minimize the danger involved, but Melanie wasn’t fooled. The man sitting beside her had endured that training. He’d suffered crawling through mud, no sleep for days, eating food out of a trash can because that was all they’d been allowed the first days of training. Her admiration for Jack skyrocketed, and she tried to imagine him doing all that when she’d just seen him folding baby T-shirts and teasing her. It was like there were two men in him, and she admired the fact that both didn’t show at the same time.

He leaves his work in the field, she thought, and wondered about the women who chose to marry men like SEALs and Marine Recon and Special Forces, who were the first ones in harm’s way. Those women must live in fear for their husbands’ lives the instant they walk out the door.

She was about to ask him about his buddies, but when she looked at him, he was asleep. She shut off the TV and moved to the edge of the sofa. Jack automatically stretched out his legs.

He’d look like a little boy if it wasn’t for the muscles in his shoulder and arms that didn’t relax. She stood, pulling an afghan over him.

His eyes flashed open and he started to sit up. “Sorry. Guess the sun today did me in.”

Alert and ready to move, she thought. “More like a six-month-old girl, I think. No, stay there,” she said, pushing him down into the cushions.

“You sure?”

“Yeah. It’s late. Stay. See you in the morning.”

Melanie locked up the house, smiling at him as she walked toward her bedroom and thinking she didn’t have to worry about anyone breaking in, not when they had to get past a SEAL to do it.

The next morning Melanie’s alarm went off as usual, but when she stepped into her daughter’s room, she found the crib empty, and panic swept over her. Then she remembered Jack was here. Pulling on a robe, she walked into the living area and found him reading the paper and having coffee. Juliana was chasing cereal around the high-chair tray.

When the baby squealed, Jack lowered the paper. His gaze slid over Melanie like warm sheets on a cool morning, and Melanie tightened the sash of her robe.

“Morning,” he said, and his voice was like velvet.

“Hi. You’re up early.” It was a crime to look that good in the morning, she thought.

Jack inclined his head to Juliana. “She was having a conversation with the mobile. I figured I was better stimulation.”

Melanie smiled, said hello to the baby, then went into the kitchen for coffee. She returned and slid into the opposite chair, nursing the cup and thinking of the dreams that had plagued her half the night. All about Jack. Jack in danger, Jack walking through her door, Jack sitting across the table like he was right now. Jack making himself indispensable.

“I really should be getting a shower.” She started to rise.

“Relax. You have time. I’ve already fed Juliana.”

She lowered herself back into the chair.

“Hungry?” he asked, folding the paper and setting it aside.

“No, I can’t eat this early.”

Jack logged that into his memory.

“How was the sofa?”



He just grinned. It was good to be here in the morning, he thought, and wondered how Melanie managed to get ready for work, what with the baby and short a pair of hands. “Does Diana show up this early?”

“No, not till I’m ready to leave. Juliana doesn’t take too well to my leaving her in the morning.”

Jack arched a brow. “She seems fine now.”

“Yes, well, she gets breakfast with Diana. Juliana’s not a morning person…well—” Melanie frowned at her daughter “—not usually.”

“Something to be said about having two parents around, huh?”

Melanie made a face. “Even if you were here all the time, you’d have to leave for work early, too.”

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