Tracy Madison

An Officer, a Baby and a Bride

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write to? The last time I heard from you was about a month after my leave, after the weekend we spent together. Do you remember that weekend, Rebecca?”

      She didn’t bother trying to speak. What could she say to that, anyway? Of course she remembered that weekend. Every scorching second was engraved in her memory.

      “Humor me for a minute, while I ascertain my timing is correct.” Seth angled his arms over his chest and leaned against the porch railing, looking for all the world as a man completely at ease. “We saw each other in mid-October. We corresponded as normal until the second week in November, which was when you ceased all contact. Would you say that was accurate?”

      Allison gasped from Rebecca’s left, probably doing the math.

      “I’ve been a little busy.” Hey, why bother pretending there wasn’t a giant-size pink elephant hovering between them? “As you can plainly see.”

      “When is your due date?” He paused for a good fifteen seconds, as if to let the question—the insinuation—settle in. “If I’m right, I’d say you’re due in what… about six weeks?”

      “You’re wrong,” she said out of desperation. Her mother tensed beside her. “I’m due in August. The fourteenth. Ten weeks from now.”

      “Really? I heard something different,” Seth drawled. “You’re sure about that date?”

      “I know when I’m due,” Rebecca said, keeping her voice level and her gaze steady.

      Allison clasped her arm. “Sweetheart, is there a problem here I should know about?”

      “We should go inside, Mom,” Jocelyn said. “We still have guests here.”

      “Hold on a minute.” Seth’s jaw hardened as he looked from Allison to Jocelyn. “Maybe I should be asking you two these questions. Is Rebecca due in August?”

      “No,” her mother said clearly, if quietly. “She’s due in July, but I’m sure she has an excellent reason for saying August. You do, Rebecca, don’t you?”

      “This doesn’t concern us, Mother,” Jocelyn hissed. “You have to learn to butt out.”

      “It’s fine, Jocelyn.” Rebecca closed her eyes for a brief second and attempted to regain her balance. She wasn’t upset with her mother for being honest—no one should have to lie for her—but now she had to decide what to do about it. Could she salvage this? More to the point, should she? “My mother is correct. I’m due on July fourteenth.”

      Anger and disbelief, along with another emotion that Rebecca couldn’t identify, washed over Seth. “Six weeks, then, just as I said. Not ten. Why the lie?”

      “Because I knew you’d jump to the wrong conclusion and I didn’t feel like explaining the personal details of my life.” Swallowing heavily, she shrugged. “It seemed simpler and more expedient to fudge the dates a little.”

      “I don’t believe you,” Seth said flatly. “Stop with the lying, already. Were you ever going to contact me?” A pained expression darkened his face. “I was worried when I didn’t hear from you. I even sent my brother here to check on you.”

      He had. She shouldn’t have been surprised by the gesture. Seth was an honorable man, and she should have anticipated that he’d go out of his way to assure himself of her well-being.

      But she had been surprised. Disarmed, too. Enough of both that she nearly wrote Seth about the baby after Jace had left. An impulse she might have followed through with if not for the framed photograph that, at the time, sat next to her monitor. The very same photo she and Jesse had planned on using when they announced their engagement.

      As it turned out, they never had the chance to share that information with anyone but their families. The photograph had been used, though, along with many other snapshots of Jesse. At the funeral home, on a table filled with memories of Jesse’s life.

      Recently, Rebecca had packed away her memorabilia of Jesse. She was having a baby. It was time to focus on the future. Right now, though, she was more concerned with the present.

      “I told Jace I was fine,” she said to Seth. “You did get that message, didn’t you?”

      “I got it. But he tuned in to what you didn’t tell him,” Seth said, his voice etched with ice. “You tried to hide your pregnancy, but he noticed the signs. And yesterday, he told me everything. Granted, I would’ve appreciated being made aware of your condition earlier, but at least someone had the decency to fill me in.”

      “Rebecca? Who is this young man?” Allison broke in, apparently ready for an explanation. “Is he alluding to what I think—”

      “Give me a minute here, Mom. What signs?” Rebecca asked Seth, bringing that day to the forefront of her memory. “We had a cup of coffee, talked and he left.”

      “You had juice, not coffee. You were wearing what looked like a maternity shirt. The kicker was the bottle of prenatal vitamins in your kitchen.” Now, Seth’s eyes were filled with steely anger. “How could you keep this from me? I have the right to know about my child!

      A choked-sounding sob emerged. She tried to process everything that was happening but failed. What should she do now? Spontaneous decisions were not her strong suit. She needed time to reflect on every possible course of action. But Seth wasn’t going to give her that time.

      “Look, mister,” Jocelyn said, taking the heat for Rebecca. “My sister used a sperm bank to get pregnant. So I don’t know what happened between the two of you, but you’re upsetting her.” Jocelyn pushed herself to the front, shielding Rebecca. “I think you should leave.”

      “A sperm bank? Is that what you told them, Becca?” Seth leaned over, picked her itty-bitty sister up by the waist and gently moved her to the side. “Or is your sister lying for you?”

      “Jocelyn isn’t lying.” Rebecca folded her arms across her chest in defense of Seth’s endless questions. “And yes, that’s what I told them.”

      Every part of him grew still and silent, reminding her of those odd, bleak seconds before a storm blew in. When he spoke, it was with a quiet determination that made her heart pound even more furiously. “Tell them the truth. Before I do it for you.”

      “What’s the truth?” her mother and sister demanded in near-perfect unison.

      “Um… well.” The baby kicked, as if voicing the same question. Rebecca looked at her mother, then her sister and then at Seth. He wasn’t going to give up. He wasn’t going to buy into a story she had zero way of proving. He’d likely bring in attorneys and DNA tests and create all sorts of havoc until he learned the truth.

      If she continued to deny what he already knew, he might even try to take her child away from her. He might even succeed.

      “Tell them,” Seth pushed, his tone insistent and hard. “Tell me.”

      “Okay! I—I lied. To you, to my family, to everyone. Is that what you want to hear? This baby is ours,” Rebecca admitted in a tremor-filled voice. “And yes, you have the right to know.”

      Her mother’s relieved statement of “Thank you, God” barely registered in Rebecca’s numbed brain. Everything in her was focused on Seth. On his response. On what this moment would mean for her and for her child.

      But he didn’t speak. His reaction was a sharp intake of breath while he continued to stare at her in shock and disbelief. In anger, too, she was sure.

      She couldn’t blame him for any of those feelings. “I’m… sorry. But—” Tears sprang from her eyes, dripped down her cheeks, but she didn’t wipe them away. “I had reasons. I… I should explain. So you’ll understand why I made the decision I did.”

      This wasn’t about forgiveness. In truth, it would probably be best if Seth never forgave her. She needed to keep as much distance between them as possible, and if he disliked her, doing so would be a heck of a lot easier.

      She had no need for a man in her life. Especially a man who made everything inside of her melt when she so much as glanced in his direction. She’d felt the same for Jesse. Who’d then served their country and