UPDATE: The winner is…Colleen C!
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Have you ordered your copy? Do you love Navy SEALs? Cowboys? Reunion stories? Well, if you do, Baby, It’s You should please you. I’ve included an excerpt below, just in case you’re waffling. 🙂
The story will release in the early morning hours on Friday. And yes, it’s every bit as sexy its cover. So, take the plunge. Have I ever steered you wrong?
Baby, It’s You is the 5th story in my Uncharted SEALs series. For a chance to win one of the four prequel stories in the series, answer me this…
What do you love about Navy SEAL stories?
Baby, It’s You
Carter Vance, Jr. stands at the fork in the road. Wounded in action, the Navy SEAL has a decision to make: whether to find work with a spec ops unit, or return to his family ranch in Texas and repair his fractured relationship with his dying father and the woman he wronged. Complicating the decision is his reignited attraction to Melanie Schaeffer and his confusion over his feelings for his dead brother’s little girl, whom Melanie has raised since his brother’s and her sister’s deaths by a terrorist’s bomb.
Read an excerpt
Carter walked into the house and had to remove his glasses due to the dimness inside. Nothing appeared to have changed, save for a new carpet atop the oak floors in the family room. He supposed his father had replaced the raggedy Navajo rug his mother had chosen due to Melanie’s influence. His father had always had a soft spot for women and girls.
Footsteps flew from the kitchen, so fast he tensed until he realized the person wasn’t some insurgent, but instead a slender little girl in blue jeans and boots. Emmy.
Carter didn’t want to feel it, but his chest filled with a sudden indrawn breath as he stared for the first time at the little girl with the red-gold curls. Daniel’s child. His now, by law. Despite his best effort to thwart his brother’s will by simply ignoring the lawyer’s letters.
Commander Callahan had stepped in and forced him to acknowledge his duty. And although he’d decided not to take her himself, Carter had changed his will, signed over his life insurance, and had payments removed from his checks to provide for her support although she hardly needed it.
Lastly, he’d assigned guardianship to Melanie Schaeffer, knowing he was giving the little girl her best chance.
Emmy stopped only a foot away and chewed on her bottom lip as she frowned up at him. “You the seffish bastard who won’ come see Gampa?”
“Emmy!” Melanie’s voice came from behind him as she hurried past to kneel beside the girl. “That’s not a word we use.”
“But Tildy said I was seffish for eatin’ all the snickerdoodles.”
“The B word, Emmy.” Melanie blew out a breath. “We don’t use that word.”
“But Unca Lee says it all the time.”
“Uncle Lee needs to be more careful with his words,” Melanie muttered. She lifted her gaze to Carter. “Sorry about that. This one hears everything and repeats it. Be warned.”
Carter couldn’t help freeing the grin that tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Sounds like she’s a Vance, through and through.”
Melanie slowly rose to face him.
Without the shield of his sunglasses, he hoped his gaze didn’t give him away. She was still lovely, despite the white scar that trailed down one cheek. Her face was still rounded and youthful. Her curves every bit as lush as they’d been the first day they’d met. He felt a stirring in his groin and grimaced. “I should unpack,” he said, lifting his duffel bag.
“Sure,” she said, tucking a lock of thick red-gold hair behind her ear. Still flustered, she barely met his gaze.
Seeing her fingers freeze beside her ear, he knew she remembered how he’d tucked her hair there, right before he’d kissed her. Or was she pausing because she’d forgotten the hair hid the worst of the scar. His chest tightened.
“You should see your father,” she said softly.
“That’s why I’m here,” he said, knowing his tone had roughened. From sympathy for the pain she’d suffered. Not because her tone chided him to move along. His relationship with his father, or rather, the lack of, wasn’t her business. Dropping his gaze, he bent toward Emmy and reached out, lifting her small chin with a finger. “Good to meet you, Emmy.”
Her green eyes flashed, and a coy smile plumped her small doll’s mouth. “Nice to meet you, Unca Carter.”
As he walked away, he acknowledged the shard of pain that stabbed at his gut. He’d been an ass ignoring her existence. But that could change. If he took the job in Dallas, rather than return to his unit, they’d all have to put up with his regular visits.
He climbed the stairs, slower than he would have liked. The repaired ligaments surrounding his knee were still tender and would be for months. His knee worked well enough, but he hadn’t gone to therapy in a week, and stiffness was setting in. Once he reached the upstairs landing, he strode toward the door at the end—the master suite his father had shared with his mother.
The door opened. An older woman, her face lined, her hair iron-gray, and wearing scrubs exited, and her eyebrows rose. “Took your time,” she chided.
“Hey there, Miz Davis.” She’d been the school nurse when he’d attended middle school and had bandaged many of his scraped knuckles. “He awake?”
“I saw you come up the drive. He’s waiting.”
Carter set his duffel beside the door and entered. Stepping inside was like stepping into a museum. Every artifact carefully reflecting the era of Susan Vance. Her vanity still stood in front of the window with her mirrored tray filled with perfume bottles and a silver-backed hairbrush. Framed photographs, all featuring her smiling face, lined the dresser. While there were pictures of her with his father or his brother Daniel, not surprisingly, there wasn’t one featuring him. As he approached the bed, he hardened his jaw.
His father’s long frame dominated the king-sized four-poster. His eyes were closed, tubing stretched one ear to the other, stubs disappearing into his nose. God, he must hate that. Being seen like this. An invalid. Carter cleared his throat.
His father’s eyes slowly blinked open. “Didn’t think you’d come.”
The man spoke in a voice that wasn’t his. Too raspy, too frail. Carter didn’t want to feel pain, but he couldn’t help it. He lowered into the chair beside the bed. “Hi, Dad.”
His father’s gaze roamed his body, dipping down to his legs. “Heard you tussled with a roadside bomb.”
Carter let one side of his mouth slide upward in a wry grin. “Left a crater. Only tore up my knee. I think I won.”
His father’s grunt was familiar, if weak. “Can you still sit a horse?”
Carter narrowed his eyes. “Why? Will I be useless if I can’t?”
A frown deepened the wrinkles stretched across his forehead. “You liked riding. Would hate it if you lost that, too.”
The look he gave Carter said he understood what loss of mobility was like. Carter swallowed, not wanting to feel any sympathy for the old man, but his dad had always been a force of nature. He was thinner. Shockingly so. Now, he looked as though a breeze would blow him away. “You make it sound like I plan to stick around,” he said, his voice thicker than before.
Carter, Sr.’s blue gaze was as icy as ever. “Aren’t you?”
Before he answered, Carter glanced toward the window. “I’m considering job offers. Maybe one with an outfit in Dallas. I might still finish my last tour. If the docs will clear me.”
His dad’s gaze went to his knee again. “You end up in Dallas, you gonna be a weekend cowboy?”
Carter shook his head. “Won’t be weekends. But I would spend my downtime here. If I’m welcome.”
His father’s face turned away.
Carter thought he might have gone to sleep, and he shifted in his chair, preparing to rise.
“Man has a lot of time to think…when he’s stuck in a bed.”
Something Carter knew to be all too true. Sensing where the conversation might be heading, Carter tensed, his fingers digging into the faded flower upholstery covering the chair.
“I’m not sayin’ it wasn’t your fault,” his father said. “I’m sayin’…I forgive you.”
Carter squeezed his eyes shut. How long had he waited to hear those words? Spoken in a voice as raspy as fine sandpaper, his father’s statement didn’t give him the rush of relief he’d always dreamed about. Instead, anger flooded his veins. Remembering his dad was sick—he wasn’t about to upset him and have yet another death on his hands—Carter stood.
“Got someplace to be?” his father asked, turning his head slowly to lock his gaze with Carter’s.
“Anywhere but here,” Carter whispered, then turned on his heel a little too sharply and bit down hard to keep from groaning. With his dignity drawn tightly around him, he limped away. Stomping down the hallway, he nearly missed the sight of the slim body charging up the last steps.
Emmy glanced upward and gave him a smile. “Gampa wants a story.”
“You read?” he asked, trying to keep the amusement out of his voice. What was she? Four?
“Nah. But he likes my stories. ’Specially ones about me and the dragon.”
“You know a dragon?”
Her eyebrows lowered into a fiercely funny frown. “Don’t you know anything? Dragons aren’t real.” She jammed both hands on her hips.
He would have chuckled, but he sensed she’d be affronted, and he didn’t want her angry at him. A pang hit him square in the chest. He’d missed so much of her growing-up years. Done it purposely, but he hadn’t considered how he’d feel about the child. He’d also thought she was likely better off never knowing him. It wasn’t like he’d ever planned to leave the SEALs. Not until he was on the verge of being mustered out against his will.
But here he stood. Facing down a child who, despite her cherubic features, looked every inch a Vance with her stubborn stance and scowl. Daniel’s child. Not for the first time, he felt regret his brother would never have the chance to know her like this.
But he was here. Now. And perhaps, ready to take on the challenge.
Footsteps hurried up the stairs. He glanced beyond Emmy to Melanie as she climbed toward him. Another regret in a lovely package. He’d wronged her as well. “He’s awake. We spoke.”
“I take it that didn’t go well?” Her gaze was wary.
He shrugged. “Depends on your definition of well.”
A frown dug a line between her brows. “Whatever it is between the two of you, you need to get over yourself. You might not love him, but plenty of people inside this house do.”
A small hand tugged at the leg of his jeans. “You don’t love Gampa?”
Melanie arched a brow in warning.
He quickly smoothed his expression, knowing he had to be a little scary-looking to a child when he was angry. “Course I do, Emmy. But your Gampa and I haven’t seen each other in a while.”
She rocked back and forth on her boot heels. “I ain’t seen Petey Whitehead in a month. I might wanna punch him when I do.”
“Emmy…” Shaking her head, Melanie blew out a breath. “She spends too much time with Lee and the hands.”
Carter grunted. “She’s gonna inherit this place. It’s not a bad thing she’s got a bit of a bite.”
Melanie darted him a glance. “Dinner’s at six. Don’t be late. Tilda won’t like it.”
He narrowed his gaze. “Do not let her set my plate. She might spit in my food.”
Melanie shook her head and anger flashed in her green eyes. “Does every word have to be negative or sarcastic?”
“If ya can’t say somepin’ nice…” came a soft mutter from below.
Carter guessed he did deserve a lecture from a kid. “I’m sorry, Mel. I’ll do better.”
She stepped closer and tilted her head to meet his gaze. “This isn’t easy for anyone. We were doing fine. Emmy was happy. Things are about to change…again.”
Seeing the shimmer of tears in her eyes pitched his stomach to his toes. He didn’t know what to say, because every word that formed in his head would have been another unkind deflection. So, Carter did the only thing he could think of to escape her glossy, leaf-green eyes. He reached out one arm and pulled her against his chest.
For a moment, she stiffened, but then she gave him her weight, sagging against him. Her hands smoothed around his sides, and fingertips dug gently into his back as she returned the embrace.
And just as it had happened all those years ago, something settled into place inside Carter’s heart. He felt warmth. Yearning. He felt home.