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It's been fun but it's over. I can't be a father. Like you keep telling me, I haven't grown up yet myself. Have a happy future. Good luck with the kid.
P.S. I used Tracy's computer to set up online banking for you and took the money you owed me. Your password is goodbye.
Jesse Manning pulled the sticky note off the unopened early pregnancy test and crushed it in her fist.
With a sick feeling of dread she rushed to Tracy's computer, booted up and logged on to her bank account. He'd cleaned her out.
He'd left her. Taken her money and left her alone and possibly, probably, oh-God-she-prayed-she-wasn't pregnant.
Dragging in a deep breath, she swept her red hair behind her ears and tried to regroup.
She hadn't owed Tad any money. As always he'd owed her. A half-hysterical laugh escaped her tear-clogged throat. How ironic that he was the one who had always chided her for keeping her money in a shoebox rather than the bank. And when she finally followed his advice, he wiped her out in one swipe.
On top of that Tracy had hit her up this morning for $150 because she was short on the rent. Tad's fond farewell along with Tracy's shortage left Jesse reeling, emotions and finances both strained to the breaking point.
She called the bank to see if she could reverse the transaction. They advised her to put the complaint in writing and contact the police regarding the theft.
She would, too.
No more protecting Tad, no more making excuses for him. He'd gone too far this time.
His desertion didn't surprise her. His timing could have been better, but in reality, they'd been over for a long time. But this time he hadn't just taken from her, he could potentially have stolen from his child.
She'd made a break a year ago when she'd left him and the Midwest behind for a new beginning in San Diego. Her mistake was in believing he'd changed when he'd shown up on her doorstep three months ago.
Her spirits sank further as she realized he'd stolen her dream along with her money. Again. She wanted to teach, and had been saving for tuition and books while she gained California residency status.
Now she'd have to start saving all over again.
Ignoring the pregnancy testshe had neither the time nor the strength for that right nowshe ran a brush through her hair, then reached for her mascara before running to catch the bus. She wouldn't be sorry Tad was gone, wouldn't regret the loss of a man too shallow to see she was the best thing that ever happened to him.
Working the tables at the Green Garter, a bar and grill not far from the 32nd Street Navy pier, she brooded on Tad's disappearance and the thin state of her bank account. So, when Stan told her he was short-staffed, she wearily agreed to a double shift.
"Hey, red," a voice called out, "we need another round over here."
Clenching her teeth at the stale, hated nickname, Jesse nodded to indicate she'd heard. She caught her manager's eye from behind the bar. His grin was really big, a reminder to smile at the customers.
Dutifully she showed her gritted teeth.
No surprise that by the time she started her second shift a headache beat behind her brown eyes. A gnawing low in her belly reminded her she hadn't eaten since leaving for the grocery store that morning. She'd meant to grab something at home, but she'd been running behind, and Tad's note had distracted her. Despite the hollow feeling, she lacked any desire for food.
She knew she should eat, to keep up her strength and give her a dose of energy. Lately she'd allowed herself to become run-down. At least, that's all she'd thought her problem was until she realized she'd missed a period.
But she refused to think about the unlikely pregnancy right now. She blamed stress for her lack of appetite as she pushed the concept of a baby away along with the reminder to eat. The very notion of food made her queasy.
Which made serving the bar's specialtygreasy burgers and friesno easy task. The combined scents of alcohol and sweat didn't help. Long before ten o'clock she regretted taking on the extra shift.
She'd be on until three, and the long, energy-sucking night stretched ahead of her. The Lord knew dodging the groping hands of randy sailors could be considered an aerobic sport.
"Jesse, order up."
Hoping to settle her stomach, she grabbed a sip of cola and went back to work.
Looking for a drink and some downtime, Navy Chief Brock Sullivan entered the Green Garter. Country rock boomed loud enough to prevent thought, and the savory tang of grilling meat and onions filled the air.
His stomach growled at the mouth-watering scent. Just what he needed.
In a glance he noted the presence of friends, troublemakers and a brown-eyed, redheaded waitress. When it came to making the choice between the Garter and Mac's Place on 31st, the view made the difference. Pretty and friendly, if a little young, the waitresses here had it all over Mac's Place.
Set to ship out in six days, he'd spent his duty hours drilling foreign procedure into his crew, including advising them on what was needed to put their personal effects in order for a stint overseas. He'd then spent four hours taking care of his own business.
"Brock," a voice hailed him from across the dim room. He acknowledged the call with a wave but shook off the offer to join his fellow chiefs. Instead he chose to sit alone at his usual table in the corner.
He wanted a beer, a burger and an hour or two of bother-free time to himself.
Sprawled back in his chair, he watched the redhead approach. Call him a sexist, but he did admire a long-legged woman in a short black skirt. A white dress shirt, open to show a hint of cleavage, topped the skirt. A green garter worn high on her right thigh teased a man with the notion of peeling it from her body.
Too bad Jesse was too young for him, or he'd be tempted to spend a few hours of his remaining leave tangling the sheets with her. Seeing if her passion matched her fiery hair.
She reminded him of a time of youth and promise. Of another world and another woman, both lost to him long ago. Sherry rarely touched his thoughts after sixteen years, and when she did he lived with the guilt and her ghost for days.
"Evenin'," the redhead greeted in a husky, slightly weary tone. She blinked as if trying to bring him into focus. "What can I get you?"
One glance at her too-pale features immediately took his mind off the rest of her body. Something was wrong, real wrong. So white the pink on her cheeks and lips stood out in garish lines, she actively swayed on her feet.
"Hey." He instinctively reached out a hand, holding her steady with a hand under her elbow. "Are you okay?"
"I just need to sit." She licked dry lips, but he saw perspiration beaded her delicate brow. The hand clutching her order pad rested on her abdomen. "Dizzy."
"Sure. Here." He stood to help her. But before he got fully to his feet, her head wheeled and she crumpled into his arms. "Well hell."
"Jesse," an insistent, gentle voice called to her. "Jesse. Come back now."
Disoriented, she tried to place where she lay. The Green Garter, of course, but why was she on the floor? Why was her head spinning? What happened?
"Stand back, give her room. Jesse? Open those pretty brown eyes."
She recognized the voice but found it impossible to place. Forcing her eyes open, she looked directly into a light overhead. Flinching, she closed her eyes again, tried moving her head away from the glare. Cloth rustled under her. Someone had placed a jacket under her head, a jacket smelling of musk and man, the scent telling her exactly who stood over her attempting to revive her.
"That's my girl. Come on, sweetheart, open your eyes." The minty scent of toothpaste told her how close he was bent over her.
Too close. Soon he'd realize she was awake, and she'd have to open her eyes and face him.
Navy Chief Brock Sullivan. Always polite, always respectful, always the one the sailors went to in a crunch. A true gentleman, except for the hungry eyes.
Sometimes when he looked at her, she felt he wanted to eat her up.
More than once she'd thought if she weren't currently with Tad, she'd be tempted. Though Sullivan was over thirty, he was a fine specimen of manhoodover six feet, muscular but lean with it, and shoulders wide enough to carry the world.
She'd be crazy not to be tempted, especially when she looked into those true-blue eyes.
She'd heard the young crewmen talking about him. They always spoke of him with respect edged with fear. She got the impression he was strict but fair. He helped them out of tight spots but expected them to learn from their mistakes. And pay for them.
How embarrassing to fall flat at his feet. Maybe if she stayed very still, he and the others gathered around would leave her to expire of mortification on her own. Yeah, she thought as she listened to the advice being jockeyed back and forth, that was her best course of action. She had a good chance of the earth opening up and swallowing her whole. This was California after all.
Where was a good earthquake when you really needed it?
"She's not responding," another voice stated. "Time to call 911. She needs to go to the hospital."
No. She couldn't let them call 911. She had all of $39.80 in her bank account. She couldn't afford the cost of an ambulance or a hospital.
Forcing her eyes open, she looked right into Sullivan's vivid blue eyes.
She blinked once, twice.
"Hey," he greeted her in a voice both gentle and calm. "Welcome back. You were out for a couple of minutes. How do you feel?"
Because she saw real concern in the depths of those incredible eyes, she tried for a smile. "Peachy."
"Do you hurt anywhere?"
Hurt? Other than her pride? She took a minute to take stock. Her head throbbed, the nausea still churned her stomach and an ache beat on her left side below her waist. Too many sodas. So she'd cut back, switch to water and go back to work. "I'm fine. I missed lunch is all. I just got a little light-headed."
"Lunch, huh?" He quirked a dark brow. "It's ten o'clock. Does that mean you missed dinner, too?"
"Maybe." She frowned, disliking being caught in a weak moment. "I'm fine now."
To prove it, she tried to sit up. Immediately her head and stomach protested and the burn in her side flared again. Biting the inside of her lip, she tried to hide the hurt, continuing to move through the discomfort even as worry niggled at the back of her mind.
"Whoa, take it slow and easy." He instantly offered support, his hands warm and strong on her back and upper arm.
Weak and hurting, she leaned heavily on him as she climbed to her feet. The effort cost her in pain and strength. In pride. Gratefully she settled into the chair her manager pulled forward. Stan had hovered behind Sullivan the whole time he tended to her.
She realized Stan had been the one to suggest calling 911. Pulling her shoulders back, she sat up straighter to show everyone she was fine. She couldn't afford to be sick.
She focused on Stan. "I'm sorry for the trouble. I'm okay now. There's no need for the hospital."
As soon as the words left her mouth, black dots began to dance in front of her eyes. The same dots she'd seen before she fainted. Light-headed, she leaned forward in the chair letting her hair fall around her face to hide her condition from the men.
The black receded a bit, enough for her to feel the clamminess of her skin, the sweat breaking out on her brow.
No, not again. She fought off the dizziness, taking deep breaths. She needed to get back to work. She couldn't faint again.