“You’re single?” a nurse, new to the clinic, asked as Melanie settled the bill.


The nurse glanced at the baby, then at Melanie. “And the father’s name?”

“Lieutenant Jack Singer. It’s all right there in Juliana’s record.”

“You’re not married to the father, so how can she have military TriCare benefits?”

“You’ll have to ask him that.” All Melanie knew was that Jack had arranged it, had been looking out for his daughter the only way she’d allowed him to.

“Illegitimate status might cause a problem, since the child isn’t listed on his service records.”


It rang as harshly as bastard. Melanie felt her insides tense and she gripped her daughter a little tighter. “Fine, put the visit on mine.” She handed over her own insurance card.

“Yes, ma’am.” The nurse gave her a testy look, then quite plainly snubbed her child.

Melanie snatched her card back and without waiting for a receipt, she left. Yet for the first time she felt the stares. Not so much on her, but on her child. An innocent baby who had nothing to do with the marital status of her parents. Damn, Melanie thought as she drove home. Damn those people. If it was this bad now, how bad would it be when Juliana was in school? When other kids picked up things from their parents and called Juliana names? By the time Melanie arrived home, she was on the verge of tears. Juliana fussed, sensing her mother’s turmoil. Melanie gave her a bottle and changed her for her nap, but she couldn’t help thinking of what it would be like years down the line. When kids would talk. When people would be cruel.

The decision came easily.


The knocking was frantic, and when Jack opened the door he didn’t expect to see Melanie. In tears. “My God, Melanie, what—”

“I’ll marry you.”


“I said I’ll marry you. Right now. Today, tomorrow.” She pushed her way inside and he closed the door.

“Wait a second. What’s going on? Is Juliana all right?”

Melanie swiped at her cheeks and nodded. “She’s fine. She’s with Diana.”

Thank God. His heart slipped back from his throat to his chest. “Now sit down and tell me what happened.”

“I got another taste of someone just like that old woman in the park.”

“I see.”

“And it hurt.” She clutched her throat, choking on her tears. “Oh, God, it hurt and I wanted to hit something.”

“I know what you mean.”

She looked at him. “I’ve been selfish. I didn’t see how my single status could affect Juliana, and the last thing I want is to let anyone hurt my child.”

Melanie fell apart again, filled with guilt and anger, and Jack came to her, closing her in his arms. She gripped him and cried.

“It was awful. They looked at her like she was to blame. She’s just a baby!” Melanie moaned low in her throat. “I’m so ashamed of myself.”

“Shh,” he said. “It’s all right.”

“It’s not all right, dammit. It’s unfair.”

“We’ll make it right, for her, not for us.”

Was it all really for the baby? Melanie wondered. Was that all Jack wanted? His name after their baby’s on a birth certificate? “It’s what you’ve been saying all along.”

Her tone was so disheartening Jack asked, “Is marrying me so bad?”

She lifted her face to his. Her gaze slid over his features as she thought of all he’d done, of the man he was. Melanie knew she’d already started the fall into love the instant he walked back into her life. She’d tried to ignore it, but it kept coming. He kept coming. It wasn’t just that he was a great help or that Juliana adored him, but that he was so willing to do right by both of them. All three of them. Melanie knew his honor was at stake, his feelings for their child laying the path. But what about his feelings for her? She understood all too clearly that he wanted her in his bed, but in his life? Really in his life?

It would change so much for both of them, but Melanie couldn’t see the future. She didn’t want to anticipate failure. In the past fifteen months she’d tried to be practical. She’d tried to do what was best for herself and her baby. And what she’d really done since he’d come home was protect herself and fail her child.

Juliana needed her father.

Melanie needed to be loved by him.

Because she was already falling deeply in love with Jack. Was she willing to risk her heart being broken again? Then she thought of her daughter, that one ugly look from the nurse that Melanie would have done anything to shield from Juliana.

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