Melanie looked down, feeling her heart moving on shaky ground. “I see.”

He tipped her chin up, dread crashing through him at the tears in her eyes. “Oh, honey, I didn’t mean to keep that from you this long.”

“But you did, when I’ve been honest with you.”

“Were you?”

“Of course I was. I’ve told you how I felt.”

“Sure, about everything except what’s in your heart.”

As if he’d discovered some secret, she curled away, breaking his hold. “And what have you said, Jack, other than the same thing all along—‘I want marriage for her sake.’ I actually feel jealous of my own child because she had your heart first.”

He reached for her. “Melanie—”

The phone rang. Jack snatched it up, about to bark at the caller before he took a breath and said hello. He listened, and Melanie watched his expression grow more serious, harsher. He grunted at the caller and hung up.

“That was Reese,” he said. “I have to report back in two days.”

“Two? But you still have a few days’ leave left.”

“Not anymore. This means I have to leave tomorrow morning for Virginia.”

Damn, Melanie thought. Panic swept her. Oh, damn.

She stared at him, angry with him, with herself for distrusting her heart, and wanting him just to hold her.

Her continued silence cut him. “I have to pack,” he said, and moved past her toward the bedroom.

“Let me give you a hand.”

“No, it won’t take long. I travel light.”

She felt a door shut between them, and she wasn’t going to let that happen. “Jack,” she called, following him into the bedroom. He already had a duffel bag on the bed. “Stop.”

He stilled, clothes in his hands, and looked at her with cool eyes. He was mad. Or just irritated with her?

“You can’t leave like this.”

“I have to. This is what it means to be in the service.”

“Dammit, you know what I’m talking about. Jeez, why do I feel guilty all of a sudden?”

“You figure it out.”

“You’re the one who lied.”

“No, I just didn’t tell you I was a bastard. I was, frankly, ashamed of it.”

“Oh, honey, you shouldn’t be. It’s not your fault.”

“Right, and I wasn’t going to make my father’s mistake with my daughter.”

“Yes, sure,” she snapped. “Marry the mom and make you feel better.” She wished the words back the instant they left her mouth.

He glared at her, hurt glittering in his blue eyes. “You know that’s not true, dammit.”

“I’m sorry, I do, but—”

Juliana began to cry, and when Melanie went to get her, Jack moved past Melanie, saying he would. She let him go, wondering what she was doing to them right now and thinking herself foolish. The phone rang a few minutes later. She answered it and then went to the nursery, where he sat with the baby in his arms and a solemn look on his face.

“It’s Reese again.”

Jack took the phone from her. “Yeah, okay fine,” he said into the receiver after a moment. He checked his watch. “No, I’ll be there.” He shut the phone off, handing it back to her.

Melanie clutched it to her chest.

“They have a Marine transport plane leaving from the Air Station, headed to Virginia, and room on it for me.”

“What’s that mean?”

“I leave tonight. At midnight.”

Melanie sighed and nodded. Her two days just turned into a few hours.

Well, she’d expected this. He’d warned her. She stared at the phone in her hand and swore she wasn’t going to make a scene. What had Maria said? It was her job to be strong so he didn’t have to worry. She swallowed and when he whispered her name, she met his gaze.

Jack’s heart shattered right then. “Come here,” he said, and she flew to him, trapping him against her. Juliana snuggled herself against her father’s chest and grabbed a lock of her mom’s hair.

Jack pressed his lips to Melanie’s temple. He didn’t want to leave. God, not now.

Melanie cooked as though she expected Jack never to eat again. He was amused and didn’t have the heart to tell her he wasn’t really hungry—not for food, anyway. But the meal eased the tension between them, and he hated that she was hurting. She wasn’t alone in her pain, and when Juliana was in her crib for the night, Jack struggled with the goodbye he didn’t want to say, knowing the baby wouldn’t miss him that much, since she was so young. Then he stowed his gear by the door, pressed and laid out his uniform and glanced at the clock. He felt like a man about to go to execution if he didn’t confess. And his salvation was with Melanie. Copyright 2016 - 2023