Jolene Navarro.

The Soldier's Surprise Family

Nodding, she followed him off the porch. Youre going to need stuff for a baby. Crib, changing table, bottles, car seat, probably clothes and shoes for both of them.

The lifeline that tethered him to Earth disappeared. It was as if he was floating away from everything he knew and had no way to get back. How was he going to make this work? Halfway up the steps, he realized Anjelica was still following him. He raised an eyebrow when he turned to look at her. What are you doing?

Im going with you. Well need to make a list. I probably have most of what you need.

I appreciate the offer, but you were heading into town. You dont need to change your plans for me.

She tilted her chin and looked him straight in the eye. Im not doing it for you. Im doing it for those two little ones... Lips pulled tight, she closed her eyes for a moment. If they came to find you on a Saturday, its an emergency situation. With me, kids always come first. Her normally open expression had a bit of steel in it as she narrowed her gaze.

Garrett sighed. I have no doubt about that.

I have a grandmother, a mother, sisters and cousins that will help.

He couldnt imagine that kind of large family. Of course, this morning he couldnt imagine being a father, either. Unfortunately, they didnt have any other options. Innocents couldnt be allowed to suffer because of his mistakes.

Besides, you forgot these. She held up the two folders. Folders that he was sure told an ugly story.

He had to make this right. As much as he wanted to keep his distance from Little Miss Sunshine, he had a feeling he needed her more than hed ever wanted, or needed, another person. He glanced behind her, scanning the fanciful farm. Especially a delicate female who seemed to live in another world altogether.

* * *

Anjelica kept her gaze hard and firm as she looked back up at Garrett. He sighed and turned his back to her, his hand resting on the wood rail. The muscles in his neck coiled. What kind of man didnt know he had a family?

Her cousin Yolanda said good looks spoiled a man. She would have argued that Garrett Kincaid was a solid man, a bit standoffish and a loner, but good. Now she wasnt so sure.

His jaw flexed as he unlocked the door. She gritted her teeth. How could men be careless?

They entered the apartment in silence. He had a son and a baby daughter he didnt know about. She pulled her gaze away from his jawline and studied her hands. How could she have mistaken him as a man of honor?

Anjelica, judging Officer Kincaid wont solve any of the problems. You dont know the whole story. She knew when it came to children she had to be careful of filtering thoughts through a haze of resentment.

Holding her daughter happened only in dreams. Esperanza would have been five next month. Tomorrows date was burned into her brain, the day shed lost her precious baby girl.

During this time, between Esperanzas death and due date, her emotions were always closer to the surface. A twist of the silver charms on her wrist helped her calm the negative thoughts.

Garrett moved to the kitchen counter that ran against the back wall. Redirecting her thoughts, she focused on him as he put the gun in a safe.

At the counter, he turned and leaned, arms crossed. His uniform stretched over broad shoulders. Okay, enough of the silent treatment. Youre bound to have questions.

Its really none of my business. She scanned the bare room. Did he dismiss the dangers of his job the way Steve had waved off her worries of his joining the Marines? Well, other than youre moving two children into my very small garage apartment. Theres no real kitchen. And you have a very dangerous job.

The urge to scowl at him needed to be tempered. Her family lived by the rule of speaking your mind if it was helpful, kind and true. She wasnt doing a good job of it. There was always something helpful and encouraging to say, and if she tried hard enough, the right words would find their way to her lips. What youre doing is a good thing. You stepping up and taking the kids, even if it is a little late. She bit her lip. That did not count as kind, it wasnt helpful and it might not be true. Her thoughts were going crazy.

Garrett stood across the room and stared at her, a tight, closed look on his hard face. Do you have any questions or just observations?

Sorry. Okay, she needed to come straight out and ask. You have a young son and baby daughter that you didnt know about? How does that happen?

Leaning back against the counter again, his masculine knuckles turned white as he gripped the edge. Im not sure. Right now Im feeling a bit blindsided. With his head down, he seemed to be studying his boots. It seems the boys mine. The girl has another father. He raised his head and looked her in the eye. Theres no excuse for abandoning a child, but I...I left town hoping to leave all my ex-wifes drama behind. I didnt know I was leaving behind a son to deal with the mess.

She didnt understand the blow to her emotions from hearing he had been married. Why would that even bother her?

With a heavy sigh, he stalked to the table and sat in one of the two chairs. Playing with the empty saltshaker, he never looked up. Anjelica moved to the other chair and waited.

I met Viviana in the fifth grade. She was my best friend. By the time our freshman year came around, I was in love. I spent those four years rescuing her. When I left for Afghanistan, we stayed in touch. According to her letters, shed made better choices and gotten out of her fathers house. He was not a nice man. He looked up briefly, but with a sigh he lowered his head again.

She said she was waiting for me to return home. We met at the airport and I asked her to marry me right there. His focus moved from the simple saltshaker to the balcony door. Looking back, I realize I had made her into a woman of my dreams. I imagined us with a home and family that even included a dog. While reading her letters, I created a life in my head that wasnt real.

Wrapping her hands over her upper arms, she tried to stave off the cold that crept into her veins. All of the letters Steve wrote her during his tour in the Middle East had been about home, too. He talked about the long hours of doing nothing. Telling her how he reread her letters over and over to get a piece of normal. He would draw pictures of the farm and the projects he planned to start when he got home. There were pages where he wrote of their daughters future and all the kids they would raise. Her heart twisted. Dont go there, Anjelica.

She packed thoughts of her husband away and fixed her attention on Garrett. How old were you when you joined?

Eighteen. I had just graduated and didnt have many options. He blew a hard puff of air. The Marines were a blessing. They gave me focus and a sense of belonging, but it wasnt always easy. Standing, he rubbed the back of his neck. I thought we were ready for the next phase of our life. I wanted to feel normal. He gave a harsh laugh. That didnt work out so well.

Garrett walked to the French doors and opened one of them. The breeze released some of the tension that had weighed down the room. Four saxophone cases lined the wall. They were the only personal items other than a small stack of mail in his living quarters. The quietness lingered.

He reached for one of the cases. Shed heard him play several times, usually at night when he came in from work. Sometimes it was slow and soothing, other times energetic and raw, but it was always good. The music would wrap around her while she worked with the clay. She didnt feel so alone when he played.

Dropping the strap, he stared off through the French door. With a sigh, he joined her at the table. Its hard allowing the old nightmare to resurface. A few weeks after we were married, Ed, one of her boyfriends she forgot to mention, started calling. Viviana ran to him, until he beat herthen shed come home and I would patch her up. That had always been my job. After several attempts of trying to report him, I had to get out. At one point she threatened to tell the police I had hurt her. My career was on the line. I left. Changed my number. Deleted hers so I wouldnt be tempted to check on her. I made a clean break. I made sure she had no way to get in touch with me. If I had just left her one way to contact me... With his elbow on the table, he pressed his forehead into his palm.

She heard resentment in each word. If his ex-wife had hidden the boy from him, he had every right to be angry. Why are you taking the girl, too? It sounds like theres a chance the boy is not even yours. Why did they come to you for placement?

I guess we were still married when she gave birth, so my name is on the birth certificate and theres no one else. He shrugged. As a little girl, she had dreams of living in the county with lots of animals. He snorted. I promised her Id make her dreams come true. Maybe I can make good on the promise with her children. Also, Id guess there is a fifty-fifty chance the boy is mine. I couldnt take one without the othershes his baby sister. Can you imagine how much he would hate me if I didnt bring his sister home with him? He scanned the room and blew out a hard puff of air.

She still struggled with the idea of not knowing about a child and then taking in two. Wheres their mother now? Why have they been taken from her?

His jaw did the tick thing again and he nodded to the two folders she had set on the table. Everything about them and their mother is in the folders. He shook his head.

Picking up one of the folders, she flipped it open. You havent seen the children? It was the baby girl. Her heart melted at the big eyes, perfect tiny lips and tons of tight curls that surrounded the sweetest face. Oh, Garrett, shes adorable. Look at her.

As if wearing a neck brace, he turned and gave the eight-by-ten photo a quick glance. With his attention back on the door on the opposite wall, he nodded. She looks like her mother. He moved away. For now, I should clean out the office so it can become their room.

What happened? Howd she lose the kids? What about the fath...? She flipped to the next photo. Shocked by the scene, her stomach heaved. The folder fell from her grasp. She leaned over and braced herself. Im gonna be sick.

Garrett rushed to her side. He muttered under his breath as he pulled her hair back. Do you need the restroom?

Forcing in deep breaths, eyes closed, she shook her head. No, Im fine now.

I should have warned you the crime-scene photos might be in there. He went to the mini refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water. Here. He pressed the cold plastic into her hand.

Sitting up, she leaned her head back. She adjusted her scarf. Knowing horrible things happened was one thing; seeing them in pictures was a completely different story. How was she going to get that out of her head? Oh, Garrett, those poor babies. We have to help them.

Garrett pulled the other chair next to her and placed his hand on her shoulder at the base of her neck. Im sorry. I shouldve looked through them before letting you see the folders. I was...just avoiding.

Were they in the room? Did they see what happened to their mother?

The boy mightve been. He was so close she could hear his breathing. Pilar is a baby and, hopefully, wont have any memory. Leaning back, he pushed his hair away from his forehead.

With the folder in hand, she was careful not to look at the bloody photos, instead focusing on the picture of the little girl and her information sheet. Her name is Pilar Rose. She just turned ten months old. Making sure to breathe, she reached for the second folder.

Hand flat on the folder, he spread his long fingers over it as if to protect her from the contents. I just want to see him. She held her hand out for the deceptively plain folder Garrett covered. Im prepared now. I was caught off guard. Let me see them.

Instead of handing over his sons file, he opened it.

She kept her gaze on Garretts face as he stared at the top photo of the little boy. He blinked several times and his throat worked up and down. Not able to resist, she peeked over his arm and saw a serious little boy with Garretts green-gray eyes staring back at them. He was a little darker with a mop of curly hair, but other than that, she was looking at a young version of the man sitting next to her. Garrett pressed his hand over his eyes.

She moved back, wanting to give him space to collect himself. Two breaths in, one hard breath out. Counting the steady rhythm gave her something to focus on instead of asking questions. He was breathing with his whole body. A broken heart was nothing new to her, but to watch such a controlled man fighting to hold it together made her want to wrap him in her arms.

The hard muscle along his jaw popped. This time, instead of wanting to scowl at him, she wanted to comfort him. Fisting her hand in her lap to keep from running her fingers along the tense muscle, she fought the urge to sooth him.

After a long while, he slid his hand down his face and covered his mouth, looking up at the ceiling. She saw moisture on his eyelashes. He handed her the photo, paper-clipped to an information sheet. Scanning the sheet gave her somewhere safe to look. Garrett River Kincaid Jr. He has your name.

And apparently everything else, too. No DNA test needed. Its like looking at an old picture of me as a kid. He stood but didnt go anywhere. The silence grew tense.

She didnt know what to say, so she tossed a few words around. He has curly hair. Well, that was a stupid thing to say.

I had curly hair as a kid, too. When I went to school, my dad shaved it off so I wouldnt look like a girl. It came back straighter. He lifted one hand and ran it through his own thick hair.

The neat cut was now unruly, but she still couldnt imagine him with curls. The kids in my family all start off with ringlets, too, but around five or six they lose them.

I dont know how to do this, being a father.

We can make it work. She blurted it out. Thinking of what happened to those two small children, she knew they needed a home full of love and good memories. Tears started burning her eyes. We have to make this right for them. We have to bring them to a real home.

He took his eyes off the bare walls and looked at her. We?

I wont let you not let me help. She hugged the folders.

The obstinate man lifted an eyebrow at her.

She gritted her teeth and pressed the folders closer to her chest. With one deep breath, Anjelica looked back at him. Okay, so I didnt word that very well, but you get my meaning. They need more than food and a bed to sleep in. They need consistency, a home filled with love, and you need help.

Right now they need a safe place. He disappeared into the smaller room he was using as an office.

She hadnt been up here since he moved into the garage apartment. There was nothing on the walls. The bookshelf remained empty. A brown sofa and a small round table with two chairs had been provided in the rental. He hadnt added anything of his own, not even a TV. The only personal items were the saxophone cases. Not a single picture of his family or friends.

Garrett came back into the living area and sat a laptop on the table. Hes five and shes ten months old. What am I gonna need? Maybe I should make the smaller room my bedroom and put them in the bigger room. He looked up at her. Or does a ten-month-old need to be in a room with an adult...a parent? I work nights sometimes and if theres an emergency...

The color left his face.

Garrett, youll need someone to watch them when youre at work.

Im going to call my mother. If she could move here, that could work. I can sleep on the sofa. Ive had worse.

She had a bad feeling he was going to be stubborn about taking help. I have some baby stuff. Its all unused. I have a crib, high chair, changing table, rocker and the smaller stuff like blankets.

He rubbed his eyes and stared at the screen.

You need some sleep.

He checked his watch. Im fine.

She reached over and pushed the top down on his computer. Get some sleep. Ill have the things they need by the time you wake up.

She took a deep breath and smiled. Could she do it? Could she hand over all of Esperanzas furniture? She closed her eyes and felt the peace wash over her. Garretts baby girl needed a room full of love, and Esperanza didnt.

It was time. She opened her eyes and smiled at Garrett. God provides.

He sighed. Not sure about God, but Im not your problem to fix. I do need some sleep, but I dont have a lot of time to waste to get everything ready for...

You have enough time to sleep. Im telling you, almost everything you need is close. Okay? When you wake up, come over to the house.

Yes, it felt right. Maybe this was why she hadnt cleaned out her baby girls room yet. God knew Garrett would need it.

Chapter Two

An explosion rattled the walls. Garrett jerked straight up from sleep. No, not an explosion, just another nightmare. He threw back the heavy blanket and sat on the edge of the bed. Avoiding the frayed braided rug, he made sure to plant his bare feet on the cold tile floor. Taking several deep breaths, he anchored himself in Clear Water, Texas. In the present. Sand blew against the roof. Grinding his back molars, he buried his fingers in his hair. Not sand. Afghanistan belonged in his past. The thin glass in his window shuddered under the force of the violent wind outside.

The sound that had woken him penetrated the room again. Not in his head, but outside. A hefty storm was making a fuss and building power. Barefoot, he left the bedroom and walked across the apartment. The security light keeping it from being too dark to see. Opening the French doors, he stood at the threshold of the small balcony. Tiny bits of hail had collected on the deck. A few minuscule chunks pelted him. His thin T-shirt offered little protection from their sting.

He blinked, confused by a cloth flapping in the desert wind, twisting around a group of kids playing soccer. His fingers closed around the iron railing. It was cold, hard...real. He inhaled, pushing his lungs to their limit. With eyes shut, Garrett fought to get his mind back to the here and now. I am standing on my balcony in Clear Water, Texas.

It had been a while since hed had this type of episode. Maybe the news hed gotten today was part of this mixed-up nightmare. He was taking full responsibility of two kids. He knew firsthand no matter what you did, bad things still happened. Another boys smiling face and bright dark eyes came to mind. Counting breaths, he shook his head.

His mind latched on to the present, and he opened his eyes again. This time, he made sure he saw Anjelicas backyard. Even in the dark he could still make out the miniature farm surrounded by ranches that gave the illusion of endless hills and trees. A cry came from the area of her large garden.

A bedsheet? Okay, that was real. Why was that crazy woman chasing a bedsheet across her yard in the middle of a storm? He didnt even have a sense of time. He glanced inside and saw the clock, which read 10:33 p.m. He had slept longer than hed planned.

Shaking his head, he grabbed his trench coat and slipped on his boots. With his hat firmly planted on his head, he made his way down the stairs of the garage apartment. He knew she was a bit on the fanciful side, but this was strange behavior even for her. She had no business being outside with hail and lightning. Did she have a death wish?

By the time he walked through the gate, she was balanced halfway up the deer-proof fence, attempting to untangle the sheet from the eight-foot corner post. Her bare feet were precariously poised on the tie bar between the huge cedar post and the stay. Her new fluffball pet leaped about and barked.

Bumper! Stop it! She tugged at the sheet. Anjelicas long dark hair was plastered to her like a second skin, making her look more like an elf. Even standing on the tie bar, she couldnt reach the top of the corner post. Did she notice the hail? Cutoff sweatpants exposed her golden-brown skin to the elements. He shook his head as he cut across the tilled garden.

The dog finally caught the edge of the white sheet between its teeth. Bumper! No! Bad girl! Let go! As she tried to pull the sheet away from the Yorkie, Little Miss Sunshine lost her balance.

Garrett rushed to catch her. She landed in his arms with an Oomph. Lightning streaked across the sky as he ran for her covered back porch. He counted the seconds between seeing the flash and hearing the thunder. Five seconds. Too close for comfort. His arms tightened their hold when she started wiggling. Hold still or Ill drop you. She might be small, but she struggled against him with toned muscles.

He leaped up the three steps and under the eclectic collection of ceramic wind chimes that lined her porch. Their musical notes sounded angry tonight.

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