Tracy Madison

An Officer, a Baby and a Bride

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loved growing up here. If he’d chosen a different career, he’d likely never have left—though the fact he piloted C-17s kept him relatively close to home, as he was based a few miles outside of Tacoma at McChord AFB. When he wasn’t deployed or away on an overseas mission, visiting his family on a somewhat regular basis hadn’t proved problematic.

      Stopping at a red light, Seth rolled down his window. Air, fresh and clean and vibrant with the city’s afternoon energy, filled his lungs. Yes, he loved this city. Even so, chances were good he’d never live here again. He’d known for a good portion of his life that he was built for the Air Force. This surety had less to do with wanting to fly—though that need ran hard and deep in his blood—than it did with what the Air Force represented.

      His desire to have an active role in the protection, stability and growth of the United States of America drove him day in and day out. Some would describe his unwavering commitment as a calling, and perhaps they were right. Seth could no sooner walk away from that aspect of his life, of who he was, than he could his own child.

      A possible quandary, given his current predicament.

      That reason alone made it worthwhile to keep moving forward. He’d screwed up his initial plan of using calm, reasonable logic to convince Rebecca to marry him the second he allowed his anger—justified as it might be—to get the better of him.

      As much as he despised the possibility of being a part-time dad, he gave the idea due consideration. Yes, he’d see his kid whenever he came to Portland. Later on, the child could visit him. If given no other choice, he could and would make the setup work. But every cell in his body resisted the notion. He wanted more. His child deserved more.

      Perhaps he was being overly idealistic, but he still felt marrying Rebecca made the most sense. His new plan was to show her that he was good father and husband material until she reached the same conclusion he had and proposed to him. A long shot for sure, but he had to try.

      Seth tightened his grip on the steering wheel when the burn of his earlier anger resurfaced. Eventually, he’d have to make peace with that anger, with what Rebecca tried to do. But not yet. Smarter, for now, to focus on concrete goals. He’d once seen the possibility of a future with Rebecca. It wasn’t such a reach to bring that future back into view.

      The female, robotic-sounding GPS voice told him to prepare for an upcoming left-hand turn. He did, and as he continued toward his destination, he tried not to feel too optimistic. It was still early days, and last night technically couldn’t be called a victory.

      Even so, Seth had spent almost an entire evening with Rebecca without once being asked to leave. His stomach did an unmanly flip-flop when he recalled the sultry-eyed, begging-to-be-kissed look she’d given him. The same look that haunted his memories.

      Maybe he could allow himself a minute amount of optimism. Cautious, in-no-way-was-the-war-won optimism. Next time, he might even take her up on that look.

      Seth pulled his car into the driveway of a well-kept house in one of Portland’s higher-income neighborhoods. The Carmichael family home was a two-story Colonial that boasted symmetrical lines, shuttered windows and a squared-in porch surrounded by pillars. A large willow tree graced the front yard, along with various types of neatly trimmed shrubbery.

      Unless he’d completely misconstrued Allison Carmichael’s voice when they’d spoken that morning, she hadn’t been surprised to hear from him. She’d been relieved. He hoped that was the case. It would make gaining her assistance that much easier.

      The bright red-painted door swished open seconds before he raised his fist to knock, but not by Rebecca’s mother. Ah, hell. He hadn’t considered that the wild-eyed, fit-to-be-tied, acid-tongued sister would be in residence. Based on the tight-lipped scowl currently decorating Jocelyn’s face, he guessed she was as unhappy to see him as he her.

      He reminded himself that he’d fought much tougher foes than a five-foot, one-hundred-pound, overprotective urchin of a girl. Perhaps this particular urchin caused him greater concern than any mission he’d ever undertaken, but she wasn’t going to derail his plans.

      “Jocelyn,” he said in greeting. “I believe your mother is expecting me.”

      Flashing green eyes narrowed. Her denim-covered hip jutted to the right as her arms crossed over her purple, pink-and-black tie-dyed tank. “You really are an idiot, aren’t you?”

      “Your mother isn’t expecting me?” he asked, deadpan. “I can come back later. When won’t you be home?”

      The barest hint of a grin surfaced. “August.”

      “What’s in August?”

      “California. Grad school. Going for my MBA,” she said in short, clipped syllables that didn’t mask her excitement.

      “Yeah? That’s great. Stanford?”

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