A soft cry filtered from the hall and Jack froze.
“Now you’ve done it,” Melanie snapped, then shifted past him and headed down the hall.
His temper defusing like a puff of smoke, Jack followed, but she was already out of sight. He listened for sounds, following them, and stepped into a small room decorated with pink and lavender fairies. But he wasn’t interested in wallpaper and mobiles, but the woman who stood near a crib.
There was a coolness about her, a reserve that hadn’t been there before. He could feel a wall neatly erected between them and she was doing her best to keep it strong. Was it to keep him from her or his daughter? Things were too brittle between them right now for Jack to make huge waves in Melanie’s life, but he wasn’t going anywhere. He was well-known in his unit for his patience, and he’d exert some of it now. Because she still set him on fire with just a glance, it was all he could manage not to grab her in his arms and kiss the living daylights out of her. His memory was damn good, and he pushed down the need to satisfy the hunger that had simmered for nearly a year and a half. Patience, he warned himself, his gaze sliding over her as she hung over the crib.
Everything in him went still as she reached inside. She lifted the baby, fat little legs pumping the air. The child squealed and Melanie held her close.
Jack felt his heart fill and explode at the sight of his daughter.
“Juliana,” he said, and Melanie looked at him. “Lisa told me, and…” He gestured to the name in stuffed letters hanging on the wall and held by two pink fairies. He stepped closer, his gaze moving over his daughter. Round-faced and healthy, she had dark hair like his, eyes like his, but her beauty was all her mother’s. Her head tucked under her mother’s chin, she stared at him with wide eyes the color of cornflowers. Jack had never seen anything so beautiful. And he loved her instantly.
Melanie watched Jack, the wariness she’d never thought to see in him coming to the surface. He faced bullets like most people faced the morning. But he approached his daughter with a gentle hesitancy that touched her heart.
“Yeah,” Melanie replied as he ran a fingertip along Juliana’s arm. The baby simply stared at him, as if familiarizing herself with his face.
Jack moved as close as he could, their baby between them. “Look what we made, Melanie.” He leaned down to kiss the top of his daughter’s head, thinking she smelled of powder and innocence.
Melanie’s heart melted just a little. She’d been alone with Juliana so long that sharing her with Jack felt strange…and sweet. She hadn’t known what to expect from Jack Singer, Navy SEAL, but watching him fall in love with their daughter in less than a second wasn’t it.
“I want to hold her, but I know I’ll scare her,” he said softly.
“She’s still sleepy.”
“I’m sorry if I woke her. I didn’t think.”
“It’s okay,” Melanie said, watching his eyes, the way he touched Juliana, as if coaxing her into accepting him a little bit at a time. Yet when his fingertips slid up Juliana’s arm tucked against her mother, they brushed Melanie’s breast. Heat ripped through her, and her breath snagged.
He looked at Melanie, his gaze moving over her with the same intensity as it did with their child. “I’m here. I’m staying, and I’m in her life whether you want it or not.”
“You don’t like it.”
He arched a brow, stroking the top of Juliana’s head and loving the sounds she made. “Then it’s war, huh?” He tipped his head, catching Melanie’s chin and tilting her face till she looked him in the eye. “I think you’ve forgotten why we came together in the first place.”
“We were both randy.”
The corner of his mouth curved. It scared her. He looked more dangerous at that moment than he would have if he’d been armed with an assault rifle and wearing camouflage paint.
“Yeah, sure.” He brushed his mouth over hers. She tried to retreat, but he wrapped his arms around her and held tight. Their daughter fussed and gripped his shirt, one of his medals. Jack felt something new and strong rocket through him, and he increased the pressure on Melanie’s mouth, molding her lips to his, and wanted to shout when she responded.
The instant she did, he drew back. She was breathing a little harder, her eyes a little glassy. Victory loomed on the horizon, he thought. He had to have patience for the long journey. “Expect me in your life, Melanie. Constantly.” He grinned. “Daddy’s home.”