Tracy Madison

An Officer, a Baby and a Bride

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      “How do you know for certain?” Seth asked, picking up the conversation where Jace had left off. “Have you talked to her again? Seen her?”

      “I haven’t, but… a friend kept tabs on her.” Jace spoke quickly, as if worried Seth would interrupt him. “I know she’s pregnant. What I don’t know is who the father is.”

      “What friend? You didn’t involve Olivia or Melanie in this, did you?” Grady asked, speaking of his wife and Jace’s fiancée.

      “If I’d told Olivia, I might as well have told you,” Jace shot back. “And you’d have gone to Seth right away, which is what I was trying to avoid. Nor did I tell Melanie. She wouldn’t have approved of what she would describe as my… ah… kinglike attitude.”

      Grady chuckled. “She’s called you out on that a few times already, hasn’t she?”

      “You’re one to talk.” Jace glowered at Grady. “Because talking Olivia into dating you instead of giving her the divorce she wanted was so unkinglike.”

      Grady shrugged, apparently not bothered by Jace’s statement. “We didn’t get divorced, so I’d say my methods worked fine. Besides, what happens between…”

      Frustration roared through Seth’s blood. On a different day, he’d love to hear every detail of his brother and sister-in-law’s reconciliation. The couple had separated after their five-year-old son Cody had died in a tragic car accident. A drunk driver had lost control of his vehicle and smashed into Grady’s, killing the boy almost instantly.

      It had been a horrible time for all of them. Seth hadn’t believed that Grady and Olivia would be able to move beyond such an all-encompassing pain. Somehow, though, they had. He was happy for them. And when he learned Olivia was expecting a baby in August, now only a few months away, he’d been even happier.

      Now, though, he wanted to hear about Rebecca and the baby she carried.

      “How did your friend keep tabs on Rebecca, Jace?” Seth asked, dragging his brother’s attention back to the current topic of conversation.

      “It’s like this… I hired an investigator friend of mine to—”

      “You hired a P.I. to spy on Rebecca?” Seth was three seconds away from leaping out of his chair and strangling his brother. “A little overkill, don’t you think?”

      “All he did was employ Rebecca as his accountant and set up monthly appointments to see how she was doing. He didn’t spy on her.” Jace pulled in a breath. “Look, if she needed something, I wanted to know. But no one followed her around or snapped pictures of her.”

      “So you hired a P.I. to spy on her,” Seth repeated, his anger growing by the second. “Whether he saw her once a month or sat in front of her house every damn night, his goal was to retrieve information in a covert manner. Is that correct?”

      “Okay, yes.” Jace planted his elbows on his knees. “I know it was wrong, but I wanted to be in a position to help if she needed anything. I swear, Seth, my intentions were honorable.”

      Seth gave a short nod, hearing the truth in his brother’s words. “You realize that you wouldn’t have had to go to such lengths if you’d shared your suspicions up front? Dammit, Jace! If she is carrying my baby, I had a right to know the second you thought that was a possibility.”

      “Why?” Jace countered, his eyes unflinching. “She wasn’t responding to your emails or letters. You couldn’t reach her by phone. There was nothing you could do.”

      “I would’ve liked the opportunity to try.” Seth swore again. “I’m working real hard here to keep my temper in check, but you’re making that difficult. We’re brothers. We’re supposed to look out for each other, so for the life of me, I cannot comprehend—”

      “What do you think I was doing? I knew you’d be ticked.” Jace gave a tired shake of his head. “But I was looking out for you. My goal was to protect you.”

      “Protect me?” Seth said, his voice dangerously soft as he deduced what Jace was getting at. “You believed I wouldn’t be able to do my job safely if I knew Rebecca might be pregnant with my child? Am I getting this right?”

      Seth’s job, as a pilot in the Air Force, typically didn’t carry that much risk. And while his deployment to Afghanistan, where he was part of a planning cell, had placed him in a few precarious situations, his role there had also been relatively safe. Even so, his family worried.

      “I wanted you to come home safe.” Jace’s jaw set in the stubborn line all Foster men were known for. “So yeah, bro, I decided to wait until you were here to tell you. So you could focus on facts and not what-ifs. Why is that so wrong?”

      “Because it was an idiotic move,” Grady said without rancor. “Imagine if I knew something about Melanie that involved you and I kept that away from you?”

      “That’s an idiotic statement,” Jace retorted, also without rancor. “I’m here. I have the ability to go to Melanie and deal with whatever you might have discovered. Seth wasn’t here. Seth was in Afghanistan, doing God knows what.” He set pleading eyes upon Seth. “I worried about you nonstop. This family can’t take another loss.”

      Jace was referring to Cody and the pain everyone in their family had gone through, still went through. If there was one thing Seth would change if he had the power, it would be the senseless death of his nephew. The fiercest edge of his anger receded. He didn’t agree with Jace’s decisions, but he understood his brother’s motivation.

      “I get it,” Seth said with a sigh. “However, you went about it the wrong way. I have been trained to focus on the job, on the objective of any given mission. Emotions do not, cannot, interfere when you’re on the job.”

      “Look, you’re my baby brother,” Jace said. “I’ll always want to protect you. I can’t apologize for that, but I’m sorry for upsetting you.”

      Well, that was considerably more than Seth figured he’d get. He remained frustrated with Jace, and he was drowning in the knowledge that he might have a child coming into this world. How could Rebecca keep that away from him?

      The possibility existed the baby wasn’t his, and that was why Rebecca had stopped communicating. On a logical level, that scenario made the most sense. But his ramped-up intuition and the facts of that weekend told a different story. Even without those facts, Seth had learned years ago to trust his instincts. He wasn’t about to stop now.

      Clenching and unclenching his empty hand, he considered if he should push the subject with Jace. Why, though? Wasting minutes arguing wasn’t the smartest use of Seth’s time. A better use would be deciding how to proceed.

      In any mission, the first step was gathering all of the necessary intel. Only then could the following steps be planned and executed with success.

      “Fair enough,” he said in a controlled manner. “I’ll set your misguided actions aside because you’re my brother and I believe you were operating with good intentions.” Seth finished his beer, waited a beat and said, “Tell me everything you know.”

      If a room could be a living, breathing entity, then this room had devoured hundreds of stuffed pink teddy bears, swallowed several dozen bottles of Pepto-Bismol and then spewed all of it out in a massive spray of pink. There were pink streamers, pink balloons, pink plates, pink glasses, pink napkins in pink napkin holders and pink flowers. Not to mention the multitudes of little pink cakes and pastries, which the guests could wash down with pink punch that had pink ice cubes frozen in the shapes of tiny baby feet and baby rattles.

      In other words: a major overabundance of pink.

      Rebecca Carmichael rubbed her swollen belly while holding back a groan. Her unborn daughter responded with a flurry of miniature kung fu kicks, as if expressing her profound agreement with her mother’s silent assessment.

      Yes, definitely too much pink.

      Rebecca could only blame herself. If she’d gotten out of bed earlier, she could have helped Jocelyn decorate, and by doing so, limited the explosion of color that had overtaken her earth-toned living room. But she’d slept