Tracy Madison

An Officer, a Baby and a Bride

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in and her sister had taken full advantage.

      Planting her hands on her hips, Rebecca spun in a slow circle, taking in the entire spectacle. Maybe she could get away with pulling down a few of the Congratulations! It’s a Girl! banners, along with a good handful or two of the streamers.

      Except the last thing she wanted was to hurt her sister’s feelings. Jocelyn had put considerable effort into planning today, and the baby shower was important to her.

      “What do you think, kid?” Rebecca asked her rounded belly. “Will your aunt notice if a few of her decorations go missing?”

      Before her brilliant daughter—because of course, she would prove to be brilliant—had a chance to respond, the familiar sound of Rebecca’s mother and sister arguing floated from the kitchen. Now what? When Allison and Jocelyn got into it, they could keep going for hours.

      Resigned to playing peacemaker, Rebecca trudged toward the kitchen. Jocelyn was only twenty-two, seven years younger than Rebecca, and hadn’t yet learned to pick her battles with their mother. Allison Carmichael, as much as Rebecca loved her, was the type of mother that completely took to heart the saying, “Mother knows best,” even when she didn’t.

      Rebecca paused at the threshold, taking stock of the situation before making herself known. The two women were on the other side of the room, each gripping one end of a large, plastic platter filled with tiny, cutout sandwiches that, thankfully, were not pink.

      Allison’s platinum-blond-dyed hair was loose and disheveled, the greater part of it no longer clasped behind her head. Her cheeks were flushed a flustered red and her green eyes held the fire of defiance. She was definitely in mother-knows-best mode.

      She tugged on the platter. “Let it go, Jocelyn! I’m not finished with it.”

      Rebecca’s sister, a shorter and much younger version of Allison, whose blond hair had yet to need the help of a colorist, tugged the tray back toward her. “You are too finished, Mother! There is nothing wrong with the amount of sandwiches on this platter.”

      “You have at least twelve people coming here today, young lady. With you, me and Rebecca, that’s a minimum of fifteen. You need to serve enough sandwiches so everyone can take two.” Allison yanked at the tray again. “Why don’t you ever listen?”

      “Because that’s stupid! Not everyone will want—”

      “Stop! Both of you,” Rebecca said, deciding if she didn’t halt this now, her kitchen would shortly be decorated with flying mini-sandwiches. “Mom, let go of the tray. Jocelyn’s right. She’s planned this, so let her do it her way.”

      “Happy baby shower day!” Jocelyn said, her voice changing to its normal chipper tone. She continued to grip the platter with everything she had. “Did you see the living room?”

      “Yes, Rebecca. Did you see the outlandish amount of pink this child used?” Allison pulled the tray toward her. “I told her it was too much, but she refused to listen. As normal.”

      Wow. Rebecca didn’t agree with her mother often. Had the world stopped spinning on its axis when she wasn’t paying attention? “I think the living room looks terrific,” she said to save her sister’s feelings. “But I came in here to ask for your help, Mom. I see you’re busy, so…”

      “Oh!” Allison let go of the platter, causing Jocelyn to back up several paces in quick succession. “What can I help with?”

      Thinking fast, Rebecca said, “The nursery. Can you pop upstairs for a second?”

      “Of course I can.” Allison tucked a few strands of hair into place before focusing on Jocelyn. “Do what you want with those sandwiches, but I’m telling you there are not enough on that tray. The shower will barely get started and you’ll be back here refilling it.”

      Jocelyn set the platter on the counter while tossing Rebecca a grateful smile. “It’ll be fine. Go help Rebecca, Mom. I have this under control.”

      “Well, we’ll see, won’t we?” Allison whisked her petite form to the other side of the kitchen. “Are you coming, Rebecca?”

      “Go on up. I’ll be there in a minute.” Her mother nodded and exited the room. Rebecca waited until she heard Allison’s footsteps on the stairs before facing her sister. “Can you please try to get along with her today?”

      Jocelyn’s eyes—a mirror of their mother’s—narrowed. “I am trying. She’s ridiculous! She wasn’t even supposed to come with me this morning. She’s a guest! But no, she had to force her way into this like she does everything else.”

      “She means well. I know she’s been more high-strung lately than normal, but she loves us.” Rebecca stepped forward and pulled her sister into a tight hug. Well, as tight as she could with a seven-and-a-half-month-size stomach between them. “I’m having a baby. You’re leaving for grad school in the fall. For the first time in forever, Mom and Dad will be completely alone in that house. Give her a break.”

      Disengaging from the hug, Jocelyn said, “I didn’t think of it that way.”

      “Well, start thinking of it that way. They’ll miss you.”

      Jocelyn exhaled a long, drawn-out sigh. “Fine. I’ll add more stupid sandwiches to the platter, but I don’t see how that changes anything. You’re still having a baby and I’m still moving out of casa à la crazy in a few more months.”

      “It makes her feel good. Who cares why?”

      “She’s probably right, anyway.” Jocelyn coughed. “Just don’t tell her I said that.”

      “I won’t.” Rebecca chuckled as she made her way upstairs.

      Her family was her salvation. When she shared she was having a baby, they’d supported her instantly. Even her story about using a sperm bank to conceive had been accepted easily enough. Sure, there’d been a fair amount of concern, but that was natural. Being single and pregnant wasn’t on most parents’ to-be list for their daughters.

      Entering the nursery, Rebecca found her mother sitting in the antique rocking chair, her eyes misty and emotional. “Are you okay?”

      “Oh, honey. I’m fine. I don’t know what got into me.” Allison shook her head, as if surprised by her earlier vehemence. “Your sister’s all grown-up. I guess I need to accept that.”

      “You do, but I imagine it isn’t easy.” Rebecca leaned against the wall to support her aching back. “And I’ll need you lots after this little one is born. Six more weeks. I can’t believe how fast this pregnancy is flying by.”

      “I’ll be here for you every step of the way,” Allison promised. “I can’t wait to meet my granddaughter. I only wish…”

      “Wish what?”

      “I worry, that’s all.”

      “I’m ready for this,” Rebecca said with a glance around the fully furnished and ready-to-go nursery. “You don’t need to worry.”

      “You tell me that when your daughter is twenty-nine years old, pregnant and doesn’t have a partner to support her.” Allison blew out a shaky breath. “I know you believe you’ll never love another man like you loved Jesse, but honey-girl, you will.”

      Jesse. Rebecca’s heart still pinged at the memory of her first real love. He’d joined the Army and was killed in what the media liked to call “friendly” fire. If a person ended up dead, there was nothing friendly about it. Losing Jesse had been devastating, and it was because of this loss that Rebecca started writing to men and women who were stationed overseas.

      “My decision to have this baby wasn’t about Jesse,” Rebecca said quietly, adding another layer of duplicity to her original lie. “I miss him, but he’s been gone a long time.”

      “You still pine for him. And you haven’t dated a man in years.” Allison looked away. “As excited as I am about holding my granddaughter, I wish you’d given yourself a chance to meet someone else before deciding to become a single mother.”

      Rebecca pushed out a sigh. Part of her yearned to come clean about Seth Foster, the Air Force man she’d been pen pals with