Tracy Madison

An Officer, a Baby and a Bride

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months before an unexpected leave brought him to Portland. They’d arranged a meeting, and the heat between them had been instantaneous. She’d known before she finished her first cup of coffee that they’d end up in bed together.

      That weekend, along with one broken condom, resulted in a positive pregnancy test almost four weeks after Seth returned to duty. Sleeping with a man she’d barely met—their pen-pal correspondence notwithstanding—was a complete aberration for Rebecca. Explaining her uncharacteristic behavior to her family, especially when she didn’t plan on seeing Seth again, had seemed impossible. That was when she came up with the sperm bank story.

      And she hadn’t communicated with Seth since. She’d even changed cell phone providers and accepted a new phone number so he couldn’t contact her by telephone.

      “I couldn’t be more prepared than I already am. I really am okay.” And most of the time, she was. Even if she felt horrible for her lie. Even if she continually questioned her decision to hide her pregnancy from Seth. “Seriously, Mom. I can do this.”

      “You can do anything you set your mind to, but that won’t stop me from worrying. Or from wishing you had a partner to support you.” Allison glanced around the nursery. “What did you need my help with? Everything looks perfect.”

      Rebecca’s eyes welled with tears. She rubbed her cheeks when they dripped down. Darn pregnancy hormones. “Honestly? I just wanted a few minutes alone with my mother.”

      “I’m here.” Allison stepped over and kissed her on the cheek. “I know you agreed to this shower for your sister, but try to enjoy yourself. You deserve to celebrate your child’s life.”

      “You’re right.” Rebecca smiled through her tears. “Let’s celebrate.”

      Almost two hours later, Rebecca was enjoying herself. True, her living room was stuffed with an assorted mesh of family and friends, but the atmosphere held support, love and a fair amount of hilarity—much of which was due to Jocelyn’s creative baby shower games.

      They’d started with a round of “Who can suck the fastest?” where each guest had a baby bottle half-filled with punch and whoever emptied the bottle first won the prize. Rebecca’s best friend, Felicia, won, which tickled Rebecca to no end.

      Next was a relay race type of game. Guests were put into teams, and each team member had to quickly blow up a balloon, stuff the balloon under their shirt and then pop their balloon. Stuffing anything under Rebecca’s shirt proved impossible, so her team had lost.

      Now, they were in the beginning stages of playing “Pin the Sperm on the Egg,” and Rebecca had decided to sit this one out. She’d already successfully matched sperm with egg about seven-and-a-half months ago. In her opinion, that made her the clear winner.

      “Okay, ladies. I need you to line up,” Jocelyn instructed in a loud voice. “When it’s your turn, I’ll blindfold you, hand you one of these—” Jocelyn displayed one of the cutout sperms, which elicited another blast of laughter “—and spin you in circles. Whoever gets their sperm closest to the center of the egg wins!”

      Everyone except Rebecca formed a line that snaked through the living room and into the dining room. She couldn’t see well where she was—and oh, she very much wanted to see her mother holding a giant sperm—so she moved to a chair that gave her an unobstructed view.

      When Allison reached the front of the line, Rebecca’s lips twitched. Maybe it was juvenile to find this so humorous, but she couldn’t help it.

      The sudden peal of the doorbell stopped Allison’s hand in midmotion. Rebecca struggled to stand since she was closest to the door. “Someone get a picture of my mother, please. It will make a great addition to the baby book.”

      Jocelyn giggled. “You got it, sis.”

      “Oh, stop. You’re not taking a picture of me like this,” Allison said, her tone a good three octaves higher than normal. “My granddaughter will not see me…”

      Her mother’s indignant voice followed Rebecca to the door. Assuming her visitor was a late-arriving guest, she swung open the door without any hesitation.

      The first thing she saw was a set of ridiculously broad shoulders. Next was the firm, hard line of a clean-shaven, angled jaw. Her eyes widened and a tremor of shocked awareness whipped through her, nearly causing her legs to buckle.

      No. Oh, God. No!

      A tiny, barely heard moan escaped from her lips. This was bad. Really, really, bad. This was trouble with a capital T.

      Seth Foster. Here. And she had nowhere to hide.

       Chapter Two

      “Hello, Rebecca.” Seth, looking far too austere in his dress blues, dipped his head in appraisal. “I would’ve called, but you ruled out that basic courtesy by changing your number.”

      Rebecca had been wrong earlier. The world hadn’t stopped spinning on its axis then, but it surely had now. Grasping the doorframe, she willed herself to hold it together. She blinked, hoping she was experiencing some type of a weird, hormone-induced hallucination.

      If so, he looked good. Tall and strong. Fierce and confident. Black hair in a military cut that highlighted the chiseled, almost exotic features of his face. And those eyes. Far too dark to be described as brown, but a smidgen off from being pure black. The color reminded her of strong, rich coffee lightened with the smallest dollop of cream.

      “Wh-what are you doing here?” she whispered. “Why are you here?”

      His intense gaze dropped to her stomach. “I’d say I’m the one who should be asking the questions. I have several in mind. I hope you’re prepared to answer them.”

      “You need to leave. I’m not prepared for an unexpected visit.”

      “I’m not leaving, Rebecca.” His lips curved at the corners in a grin that didn’t meet his eyes. Even so, her knees weakened another fraction. Just as they had the first time he smiled at her. “You owe me a conversation, along with a few explanations.”

      “This… isn’t a good time,” she somehow managed to say. “I’m having a… um… a get-together. There are a lot of people here. You really have to go.”

      Seth narrowed his eyes. “Let me make myself very clear,” he said slowly, carefully. “It does not matter how often you ask, I am not moving so much as an inch until we talk.”

      “You can’t show up and expect me to drop everything at your whim.” She pushed out the words with the intent of sounding firm and decisive. Unfortunately, her shaking voice didn’t lend itself to strength as much as it gave credence to her anxiety.

      “Oh, but I do expect that. Given your obvious distress at my presence, it seems clear that I have rights here. Rights that you have chosen to ignore.”

      He knew. She allowed herself ten seconds of panic before she lifted her chin. He couldn’t know. Okay, her condition was obvious. Nothing she could do about that. But if she stuck with her story, maybe she’d be able to bluff her way out of this. She opened her mouth with every intention of doing so when her mother and sister appeared, crowding in on either side of her.

      Great. It seemed their timing was as impeccable as always.

      “What’s going on?” Jocelyn asked from Rebecca’s right side. “Who is this?”

      One brow shot up and a dash of genuine amusement sifted over Seth’s appearance. “Yes, Rebecca. I’m as interested in your response as they are. Who am I?”

      She gave him the evil eye. “A friend… of sorts. One of the military personnel I write to.” Addressing her mother and sister, she said, “He—Seth—didn’t have my phone number, so he thought it would be appropriate to stop by and say hi in person. He was about to leave.”

      “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Seth,” Jocelyn said curiously. “I’m Jocelyn, Rebecca’s sister, and this is our mom, Allison.”

      Seth stared at Rebecca as if her sister hadn’t spoken. “Don’t you mean ‘used’ to