Tracy Madison

An Officer, a Baby and a Bride

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left her with a hole in her heart that had yet to completely heal.

      Seth Foster was far too much of a risk. A military man through and through, he’d already committed himself to his job and, like Jesse, to their country. Getting too close to him spelled danger and possible heartache. For both her and her daughter.

      “I will explain,” she said again. “And then we can figure out the rest.”

      “I’m not interested in explanations.” Seth swallowed hard enough that his Adam’s apple jerked in his throat. “My only concern is fixing this.”

      Shivers of foreboding trailed down Rebecca’s spine. “How do you expect us to do that?”

      His eyes, now so dark they were pools of black, locked on to hers. In one fluid motion, he dropped to his knees and pulled a small jewelry box out of his pocket.

      Allison half squealed, half gasped from her place next to Rebecca.

      Jocelyn whispered, “Oh, my God.”

      Rebecca slouched against her mother, needing the support. “Wh-what are you d-doing?” she stammered. “Because it can’t be what I think you’re doing.”

      “It seems that you and I are having a baby.” Seth spoke calmly enough, but Rebecca heard the weight of his determination in each and every word. Her apprehension increased. “The appropriate action to this type of dilemma is a wedding.”

      “A wedding?” Rebecca blinked. “You’re ordering me to marry you? Is this a joke?”

      “I don’t joke about my family.” Seth opened the velvet box. The diamond ring sparkled in the afternoon light. “Go pack your bags, Becca. We’re driving to Vegas.”

      This, Rebecca decided, was—at once—the most surreal and ludicrous moment of her life. “Wow. I am in awe of your romantic proposal. But I think I’ll have to decline.”

      “Perhaps,” Seth said with the faintest edge of disappointment, “I’d feel more romantic if you’d been honest with me from the start. You chose another path, so this will have to do well enough. I’m sure you can understand.”

      “What I understand is that you’ve lost your mind. Get up, Seth.” Goose bumps dotted Rebecca’s arms and she found it difficult to breathe. “Let me be very clear in this. I am not driving to Vegas with you. I am not marrying you. Not now. Not ever.”

      “There isn’t any point in arguing, Becca.” Seth stood and pressed the ring box into her hands. The heat of his touch swept through her, electrifying every cell in her body. “One way or another, we are doing this. Tonight.”

      Seth’s heart stuttered in surprised relief when Rebecca’s hand squeezed around the ring box. Nothing had gone as planned. His goals had been simple: remain calm, extract the truth and once she admitted he was the father, convince her that the only logical action was to marry him.

      That plan disintegrated the second she opened the door. Time seemed to stop as her crystalline blue-green eyes widened in shock, as one hand came to rest on her basketball-shaped stomach and the other smoothed her chin-length, strawberry-blond hair.

      She looked different than he remembered. The contours of her oval-shaped face were softer, rounder. There were now freckles scattered along her nose, cheeks and forehead. Purplish smudges covered the fragile area beneath her eyes. He fleetingly wondered if she was getting enough sleep or if there was cause for concern. And the square-necked, summery dress she wore—a long, flowing concoction of brown and cream—highlighted not only the impressive swell of her stomach, but her decidedly fuller breasts.

      The lithe, petite woman he’d spent the weekend with close to eight months ago was gone, replaced by a swollen, puffed-up version of that same woman. But somehow, and damn if he could explain it, she was radiant. And beautiful in such a refreshing, real way that it stole Seth’s ability to think, to reason, to behave in an expected manner.

      A rush of contradictory emotions took control, overriding all else. How could he be disillusioned and angry by her behavior, yet still want to protect her. Care for her, even?

      Unable to comprehend how such opposing factors could exist at the same time, his carefully thought-out plan fell to the wayside. Instead, he’d reacted with the instinctive, primal urge of a caveman, his only objective to claim what was his.

      No. Nothing had gone as planned, but somehow, he’d managed to succeed. He glanced at Rebecca’s fingers, which were still wrapped securely around the jewelry box, and the tight, frantic pressure in his chest evaporated. The pumped-up caveman inside went back into hiding.

      Seth’s sanity returned.

      “This is logical, Rebecca.” He attempted a smile. Unfortunately, his lips refused to budge from the severe, straight line he’d imposed on them earlier. He settled for nodding toward the house. “So if you’ll go get your things, we can be off.”

      Those gorgeous green-blue eyes of hers narrowed into slits, giving him the impression of a cat about to pounce. That didn’t bode well. Tilting her head downward, she looked at the ring he’d purchased that morning. A simple solitaire that had seemed the perfect choice.

      “If it doesn’t fit, we can have it resized,” he offered. “Or if you’d like to exchange it for another ring, that’s fine with me. Whatever you want.”

      She pried the ring out of its box with the tip of her pinkie finger, wrinkled her nose as if the diamond had a rank odor and then tossed the ring into the prickly, thorny rosebushes that framed her front porch. The box quickly followed the same path.

      With that, she turned on her heel and escaped into the house, leaving him alone with her sister and mother. Both of whom looked ready to kill first and ask questions later.

      Tossing a wary glance toward Allison and Jocelyn, he said, “That… ah… didn’t go nearly as well as I’d hoped.”

      “Brilliant deduction, Sherlock,” Jocelyn said, not bothering to hide her sarcasm. “Did you really think she’d run off and marry you because you told her to?”

      “Jocelyn, don’t,” Allison said quietly. “Go inside and take care of your sister. Keep the baby shower going, and it would probably be best if we kept this quiet for the moment.”

      “My guess is it’s too late for that, but I’ll do what I can.” Jocelyn touched her mother’s shoulder lightly. “What are you doing? Rebecca wouldn’t want you talking to him.”

      “I’m going to help this young man find his ring.” Allison patted her daughter’s hand. “Don’t worry, I’ll be along shortly.”

      Jocelyn let out a sigh before trailing in Rebecca’s footsteps. Seth peered in after her, hoping to catch sight of Rebecca. No such luck.

      He considered following her. Surely, given enough time, he could convince Rebecca to talk with him. Except Allison had said they were in the midst of a baby shower. Baby showers meant female guests. Females who were family members and friends of Rebecca, and therefore, would likely view him as the enemy.

      And hell, he’d rather drop down into a pit of poisonous snakes than take his chances with a houseful of protective females.

      “I wouldn’t go in there,” Allison said, as if she’d read his thoughts. “Those women have been forced to sit in a crowded room playing far too many baby shower games without a drop of alcohol to dull their senses. They’re high on sugar, low on patience and will view you as the perfect outlet for all of their pent-up energy.”

      Yeah, poisonous snakes sounded considerably safer. Friendlier, too.

      Giving Allison what he hoped was an irresistible grin, he said, “Perhaps you could bring Rebecca to me?”

      His smile apparently missed the mark, because after bestowing him with what could only be described as a pitying glance, Allison stepped outside and closed the door firmly behind her. “How well do you know my daughter, Mr….?”

      “Foster,” he filled in, working hard not to snap. “But please, call me Seth. And seeing as your daughter tried to keep me from being a part of my child’s life, not as well as I thought.”