“That was before I got to really know you. And we’re doing that now, aren’t we? Shooting for the lifetime?”

His smile was slow in coming. “Oh, yeah.”

“You have to be the gentlest man I’ve ever known, which contradicts your profession, you know.”

“You made me this way, baby.”

She shook her head. “If anything, Juliana did.”

He smiled, all papa proud. “Yeah. She is something.”

She laid her head on his shoulder, hugging him. “So’s her daddy,” Melanie said. “He’s a knight you know. Sir Galahad. Maybe you’ve heard of him?”

Jack laughed to himself. A man would never have to worry about his ego or pride around Melanie. He felt like a king in her arms. He felt loved and wanted. And Jack already knew that he’d fallen madly in love with Melanie.

And he was worried that because he didn’t tell her he was a bastard, the little lie would tear them apart and destroy her trust.

Sarah Beauchamp was a tall leggy blonde from California married to a lieutenant commander in the Navy, who was a fighter pilot with the Navy squadrons attached to the Marine Air Group 31 in the area. Sarah was a civilian OR nurse and the head of the Naval Ombudsman Association, a job that, coupled with wife and nurse, seemed monumental to Melanie. Sarah had been adding bits to the conversation, but right now was enthralled with Juliana, whom she was holding.

Beside Sarah, wearing chic slacks and a blouse, was Sue Bradshaw, the LINKS team leader, who was married to a marine gunnery sergeant in Force Recon. While her son, Shawn, was having a blast on the gym set, Sue’s husband, Gary, was on the other side of the yard standing at the grill with Jack and Sarah’s husband, Daniel. Maria, a black-haired Hispanic woman who seemed to know every answer to every question, sat next to Melanie. She was a former Marine, though at first glance, she was the last person Melanie would have expected to carry a weapon and shout “oo-rah.” Maria was head of the Marine Key Volunteer Program for two bases in the area. The women were a font of information, yet after about ten minutes of talking in abbreviations and acronyms, they had Melanie’s head swimming.

“Okay, let’s see, BX means Base Exchange, PX means Post Exchange,” Melanie said.

“Yeah, Post is Army talk,” Maria said, “and practically blasphemous.”

Melanie smiled. “MP means Military Police, MWR means Morale Welfare and Recreation, and that includes child-care centers, BX bowling alley, gyms, shops, theaters.” She stopped. “So what’s TMO?”

“Traffic Management Office. Those are the household-goods supervisors, freight shipping, passenger travel, all on orders. They’re the people who’ll organize the moves for you.”

“They do it all?”

Sue laughed softly. “No, they don’t. You have to fill out paperwork until you are blue in the face, but they do great things like come by and inspect the movers in action. Take action if anything is damaged or improperly packed.”

“And sometimes you do it all yourself if your husband is out of the country,” Maria said. “My husband is deployed right now.”

“I can do that.”

“Good, because with Jack’s MOS—method of service,” Sarah clarified, “you’ll likely do it at least once alone.” Sarah crossed her legs and bounced Juliana on the top of her foot.

Melanie was learning more in one afternoon than she thought she could in a year. They brought her booklets and actual books on how to be an officer’s wife, books about protocol, relocation packets and change of duty. Services. She’d be reading for a week, she thought, feeling overwhelmed.

“Hey, Singer, do you need a Marine to show you how to cook that steak?” Sue called out.

“The Navy can handle it,” Jack said. “Anyway, we have a Marine, though I don’t know what good he’s doing.”

“I’m reminding you when to flip the steak,” Sue’s husband said.

The four men growled out “Hoo-yah” and “Oohrah.”

“Oh, Lord, the testosterone level is hitting new heights,” Sarah said, cuddling Juliana, then looking for permission from Melanie before she offered the baby a cookie to gnaw on.

“Ask and you shall receive,” Maria said. “If I don’t know the answer or Sarah doesn’t, then we know who can give it to you.”

“And come to LINKS,” Sue said. “It teaches you how to be a military wife. Sometime the service member thinks either we don’t need to know or we already do know after one coffee klatch or a chat in the commissary.”

Collectively they rolled their eyes in agreement.

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