“I know. But I take about ten minutes to get ready.”

“Bully for the trained SEAL,” she said, and he laughed.

“Drink more coffee,” he said.

She had a second cup and played with her daughter for a little bit.

“I might as well go get ready for work,” she finally said.

The idea wasn’t at all appealing.

Jack noticed how reluctant Melanie was to leave, and he took the baby from her. She disappeared into her bedroom and thirty minutes later, almost to the second, she came out looking ready to battle the corporate world, in a dark-blue suit and a crisp high-collared white blouse.

All Jack could think of when she was dressed like that was that under it all she was wearing lace and silk. It drove him nuts to know it, and he whistled softly. “Look at Mama, Jules.”

Melanie flushed a little as she gathered her handbag and briefcase, which were exactly where she’d left them yesterday. As if on cue, the baby whimpered, reaching for her mother. Jack noticed the expression on Melanie’s face. Guilt. She held the baby for a little while, talked with her, then glancing at the time, finally handed her back to Jack. Jack soothed his daughter as Melanie stepped into her high-heeled shoes.

“I’ll see you tonight,” she said.

“Can you get away for lunch?” Jack asked.

“I won’t know till I get to the office. I’ll call.”

“Try. I’m sure Jules would like to see her mother more than just for meals and baths.”

Jack knew it was a cheap shot, but it was the truth.

“I have to work, Jack, and no, don’t say that marriage will change that. I know it would. But I can’t marry for financial reasons and you know it.”

“You won’t do it for a name, for more time or for yourself. What will it take?”

Already half out the door, she met his gaze. “Love, you idiot,” she said, and closed the door.

Jack let out a breath. Love. He certainly liked Melanie, a lot, and he wanted her, but what did he know about loving a woman forever? His own reservations plagued him and he cuddled Juliana close, soothing away her whimpers. He spent the rest of the day trying to sort out his feelings for Melanie and wondering if he ever did love her and told her so, she would believe him or think that he was saying it just to get his name on a certificate for his child.


Melanie laughed, a deep-throated sound that wafted through her backyard. But Jack, sitting across from her on the blanket, didn’t return it. Of course, the baby food dribbling down his face could have something to do with that, she thought.

“Well, when she doesn’t want something, she doesn’t,” he said resolutely.

Still laughing, Melanie came up on her knees and with a cloth, wiped at the globs. “Just think if it had been an apple,” she said, giggling.

“I’d be out cold.” Jack watched her, enjoyed the moment of having her close, touching him. She’d kept at least two feet away from him at all times lately. Since he’d kissed her.

“Oh, tough guy.”

“You smell great.”

“You smell like strained peas.”

“It’s hard for you to take a compliment, isn’t it.”

“No, not really.”

“You just don’t trust men to tell you the truth.”

“Well, there is that,” she said, and started to sit back.

He grabbed her wrist, holding her there. “I’ll always tell you the truth, Melanie. I swear on my honor I will.”

Melanie stared into his cool blue eyes and saw only sincerity. “I think I believe you.”

He grinned, then before she could back away, he kissed her, quick and deep, a warm play of lips and tongue that made her insides yank tight. She was breathless when she eased back and finished feeding the baby. Who, much to Jack’s disappointment, ate the peas she’d just spat at him.

“She knows you’re a pushover,” Melanie said at his pained look.

“I wish you were,” he muttered under his breath, and when she asked him what he’d said, he smiled. “How about you go out with me tonight?”

She blinked at him, stunned. She stammered a bit before saying, “But what about Juliana?”

“We get a sitter like normal parents. Diana will do it, I bet.”

“I haven’t had time with the baby, I’d rather—”


“Excuse me?”

Lord, he loved that righteous look of hers. “You’re afraid to be alone with me without Juliana as a buffer.”

She looked appalled. “I am not.”

“Good, then we’ll go out.” He whipped out his cell phone, dialed Diana’s number and within minutes lined her up as a sitter. Shutting off the phone, he smiled. “Dinner and a movie okay?”

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