She looked at him. “I sent the card to get you to come home and face your responsibilities.”
His brows shot up. “What responsibility?”
“The one to your daughter, Jack.”
He paled. “I don’t have a child. I’m not a father.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, she’s six months old and her name is Juliana. She has your hair and your eyes.”
Jack choked on his own breath. A baby? There was a baby in this world that was his? His gaze snapped to his sister’s. Reality slammed into his gut.
“Melanie. Where is she? I tried to call her.”
He gave her a look that said, “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” and he wasn’t pleased about it. “Yes, I did—when I got to a ship-to-shore phone. I sent her a few notes while I was out at sea, but she couldn’t write to me.” His look said what he was doing with the SEALs wasn’t up for discussion. “Still, when I got stateside, there was nothing, no phone listing, no address.”
Lisa met his gaze. “You really called her, huh? When she said she didn’t want you to know, I thought it was just a…well, that she was hiding her feelings.”
“Don’t you think I had the right to know?”
“Of course! That’s why I sent the card. Good grief, Jack, I thought you hadn’t contacted her. That’s the impression she gave me.”
“How did you find out?”
“Brian and I were in Charleston on a little vacation and I went into the bank to cash a check. Melanie was the bank manager. She’s moved back here now, but she really doesn’t want you in her life.”
“Well, she’s getting me, dammit,” he muttered, heading to the door.
“Jack, wait! She’s not going to like this.” Lisa moaned and folded her arms over her middle. “What are you going to do?”
“Talk to her, marry her, give my daughter my name. My child isn’t going to grow up like I did, Lisa. I won’t allow that.” He let out a breath. “Tell me where she lives.”
Jack marched up the neat path to the little house. It was a perfect cottage in the woods, far back enough from the street to be private and surrounded by a small picket fence to protect a child from the traffic.
He stopped short. A child. His child. Good God. Melanie had given birth to his baby. Alone, without him. Without him ever knowing he’d become a father. And his daughter was already six months old! He’d missed everything. Missed seeing Melanie round with his baby, missed the baby’s birth, those moments when dads go into complete panic with the coming of labor pains. He’d missed his baby’s first smile, her mother’s first look of pride… Damn. Inside, anger as wide as the Chechessie River warred with a strange feeling of absolute joy.
He was a father. There was a baby in that house that was half his. A life he and Melanie had created that night. And she’d tried to take that from him, take away his chance for something more than what he was.
Anger boiled and he continued to the door, knocking hard.
It flung open an instant later.
And his breath punched out of his lungs.
She looked incredible. More incredible than she had during those two weeks. His heart pounded like a hammer in his chest. His gaze ripped and dipped over her body. Jeans never looked so good on a woman. A T-shirt never looked so sexy. Red hair spilled over her shoulders, and if he hadn’t been staring at her body he would have noticed the look of surprise and anger on her face.
Then he did. Well, so what, he thought. She was the liar. She was the one who’d denied him his rights to his own child. “I hear you have something to show me.”
Her features yanked taut. “I’m gonna beat your sister up, just so you know.” The day in Charleston when his sister had walked into her bank, her whole world had crashed. Melanie had been feeling so alone then, and seeing her best pal had opened a floodgate of anguish she hadn’t known she’d held back. She’d missed Jack so much. Really missed him.
“Yeah, well. That won’t compare to what I’m ready to do to you.”
Her look was leery. “Perhaps you should come back when you’ve calmed down a bit.”
“I am calm.”
She arched a brow, trying not to let her heartbeat shoot through her throat at just the sight of him. “Try again, Jack. You look ready for battle.”
He stepped closer and enjoyed her indrawn breath. “I’m always ready—it’s my job. Or did you forget that about me, too?”
Melanie didn’t forget a thing. Not the look in his eyes when he wanted her, not the one he got when he was mad. And he was furious. But then, she knew he would be.