Tracy Madison

An Officer, a Baby and a Bride


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      “I have two thoughts on that, one of which I won’t share because it isn’t my place.” Allison moved around him to sit on the top porch step. “The other, however, concerns me.”

      “And that would be what?” Could he have screwed this up more? Doubtful. As angry as he was with Rebecca, he was equally so with himself. Losing control was unacceptable.

      Allison gestured for him to join her. Once he had, she asked, “Are you a good man?”

      A blunt question. Even in his current state, he could appreciate that. “A bad man who desired your approval would assure you that he was good and decent. A good man, having nothing to hide, would do the same. So, no matter how I answer, you’ll remain unsure.”

      “True, but that’s the case with anything I might ask.” Allison folded her hands on her lap. “For the moment, I’ll trust your answer. Are you a good man?”

      “I don’t think people can be so easily defined.”

      “It’s a simple question.”

      “Not really, but I’ll play along.” The need to do something coiled tightly in Seth’s muscles. This conversation might prove important, but sitting here when Rebecca was hiding made it impossible to concentrate. “I love my family, respect my elders. I’ve never cheated on a woman and I can’t imagine ever doing so. I don’t kick puppies, kittens or any other small, furry animal. But I’m not a saint. I’m not perfect.”

      “I see.” A faint smile appeared on Allison’s lips. “What about your mother?”

      “As far as I know, she isn’t in the habit of kicking small, furry animals, either.”

      Allison laughed softly. “That’s a relief. I’d hate to think of my grandchild’s other grandmother being cruel to small animals.”

      That brought Seth up short. He hadn’t considered what the existence of this child would mean to his family. He hadn’t told his parents anything as of yet, because it seemed pertinent to first ascertain that Rebecca’s baby was also his baby.

      His anger, which had begun to fade, ramped up. Rebecca hadn’t only tried to keep his child away from him, but from his entire family. His parents had already lost one grandchild. If Rebecca’s deception had been successful, they would’ve lost this grandchild, as well.

      Another layer of pressure came to rest on Seth’s shoulders.

      “I meant to ask,” Allison said, her voice pulling him out of his thoughts, “about your relationship with your mother. How would you define that?”

      “Normal, I suppose.” A sidelong glance showed Allison arching a brow. With a semi-aggravated sigh, Seth expanded, “My mother is nosy, stubborn and overprotective. Clichéd, perhaps, but she’s also the glue that holds my family together. And I couldn’t love her more.”

      “Good answer.” Allison pivoted to face him. A myriad of emotions darted over her before she finally said, “You should know that a mother’s love for her children is unyielding. As a mother, I will do anything to protect my daughters from pain. Anything.”

      “Of course you would. My mother would say the same.” Heavy frustration pooled and settled in his already twisting stomach. “As would my father. I have a right to know my child.”

      “You probably do,” she conceded.

      “Not probably. Without question, I have the same rights that Rebecca does.” This was getting him nowhere. “Look, I need to talk to Rebecca again. Maybe I didn’t handle things so well, but she can’t lock me out because of that.”

      Antsy, he started to stand when Allison grasped his arm. “Listen to me, Seth. I will talk to Rebecca, but for now, I think you should go home.”

      Like mother like daughter. “I’m not going anywhere.”

      “Because I know my daughter,” Allison continued as if he hadn’t spoken, “I know she’ll need time to process your arrival and the decisions she’s made. If you push her even another inch right now, she won’t react well.”

      “I’m not overly concerned about the time she’ll need to process anything. Sorry, but—”

      “Rebecca is far enough along that undue stress could push her into early labor,” Allison said, her voice bloodletting sharp. “Your baby is viable, but small. Why take an unnecessary risk? Give Rebecca some time.”

      “How much time?” he ground out.

      “Oh, I expect a few days should be more than enough.”

      “And if she decides to disappear on me? She has to know I can’t stay in Portland forever.” God. Leaving now, even if Allison’s argument was valid, seemed unthinkable.

      “She won’t.”

      “She might.”

      Allison stood and shoved her hands into the loose pockets of her skirt. “No, Seth. But if it will make you feel more comfortable, my phone number is listed.”

      “That helps,” he begrudgingly admitted. A few days. How hard could that be? He needed to regroup, anyway. Figure out what his next steps were. “I’ll leave. But this is only temporary. My child will know me.”

      “If I’m right about you, then I agree.” Allison straightened her shoulders and gave him the cat-about-to-pounce look he’d seen from Rebecca. “But if I’m wrong, then I’ll stand beside my daughter and fight you every step of the way.”

      “And I’ll fight back.” He started toward his car, thankful he always drove the distance between his apartment in Tacoma, Washington and his parents’ house. Under normal conditions, the drive took less than three hours. Well worth it to have his own transportation at his disposal.

      “Seth?” Allison called after him. “What about your ring?”

      Pausing, he pivoted. Gave it some thought and grinned. “Let it be. If I know Rebecca at all, she won’t be able to leave a diamond ring in her rosebushes.”

      Soft laughter met his ears. “I’d say you know her pretty well.” Allison lifted her hand in a small wave before slipping inside the white Cape Cod–style home that Rebecca lived in.

      In his car, Seth closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He was going to be a father. Rather soon, at that. And he only had six weeks to get everything in order. No. Not even that. He was due back at McChord Air Force Base in three weeks and six days.

      He’d have to work fast.

       Chapter Three

      Rebecca broke her concentration from a client’s financial statements to reach into her desk for her bottle of antacids. Heartburn, along with swollen ankles and sleepless nights, seemed to be a constant nowadays—though her recent bout with insomnia likely had as much to do with seeing Seth on Saturday as it did her daughter’s nightly bursts of activity.

      After chomping down the chalky-tasting tablets, Rebecca rinsed her mouth with a generous swallow from her water bottle. Unease cooled the back of her neck. Today was Tuesday. Three days had passed since her baby shower, and not one sign of Seth. What was he up to? Who was he talking to? And when would he bulldoze into her life again?

      Now that the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, Rebecca preferred to get the forthcoming confrontation out of the way sooner rather than later. A long shudder of emotion rippled through her. As her mother, her best friend and even her sister had pointed out once they’d heard all of Rebecca’s explanations, not telling Seth about the baby had been a serious error in judgment. Well, she’d known she was playing with fire all along, hadn’t she?

      Yes.

      But what she couldn’t seem to get across, no matter what words she’d used, was that she felt as if she had no other choice. Every time she’d considered writing Seth that letter, choking fear would settle in and suffocate her until she couldn’t breathe. Her heart would race, her skin would grow clammy and her hands would visibly shake.

      Ultimately, she couldn’t move beyond her panic to do what was right.