The SEAL's Secret Heirs(5)

By: Kat Cantrell

Somehow that seemed perfect for their little wrinkled faces. “Can I hold them?”

“Sure. This is Maggie.” She handed over the first one and cheerfully helped Kyle get the baby situated without being asked, which he appreciated more than he could possibly say because his stupid hands suddenly seemed too clumsy to handle something so breakable.

Hey, little girl. He couldn’t talk over the lump in his throat, and no one seemed inclined to make him, so he just looked at her. His heart thumped as it expanded, growing larger the longer he held his daughter. That was a kick in the pants. Who would have thought you could instantly love someone like that? It should have taken time. But there it was.

Now what? What if she cried? What if he cried?

He’d hoped a flood of knowledge would magically appear if he could just get his hands on the challenge. You didn’t learn to hack through vegetation with a machete until you put it in your palm and started hacking.

“You can take her back,” he said gruffly, overwhelmed with all the emotion he had no idea what to do with. But there was still another one. Another daughter. He found new appreciation for the term double trouble.

“This one is Maddie,” the woman said.

Somehow, the other pink bundle ended up in his arms. Instantly, he could tell she was smaller, weighing less than her sister. Strange. She felt even more fragile than her sister, as if Kyle should be careful how heavily he breathed or he might blow her to the ground with an extra big huff.

Equal parts love and fierce devotion surged through the heart he’d already thought was full, splitting it open. She’d need someone to look out for her. To protect her.

That’s on me. My job.

And then being a father made all the sense in the world. These were his girls. The reason he wasn’t dead in a foxhole flopped out next to Cortez right now. The Almighty got it perfectly right some days.

“And this is Hadley Wade, my wife,” Liam broke in with the scowl that seemed to be a permanent part of his face nowadays. “We still introduce ourselves in these parts.”

“It’s okay,” Hadley said with a hand on Liam’s elbow. Her palm settled into the crook comfortably, as if they were intimate often. “Give him a break. It’s a lot to take in.”

“I’m done.” Kyle rubbed his free hand across his military-issue buzz cut, but it didn’t stimulate his brain much. He contemplated Hadley, the woman Liam had casually mentioned that he’d married, as if that was some small thing. “I don’t think there’s much more I can take in. I appreciate what you’ve done in my stead, but these are my girls. I want to be their father, in all the ways that count. I’m here and I’m sticking around Royal.”

That hadn’t been set in his mind until this moment. But it would take a bulldozer to shove him onto a different path now.

“Well, it’s not as simple as all that,” Liam corrected. “Their mama is gone and you weren’t around. So even though I have temporary custody, these girls became wards of the state and had a social worker assigned. You’re gonna have to deal with the red tape before you start joining the PTA and picking out matching Easter dresses.”

Wearily, Kyle nodded. “I get that. What do I have to do?”

Hadley and Liam exchanged glances and a sense of foreboding rose up in Kyle’s stomach.

With a sigh, Liam pulled out his cell phone. “I’ll call their social worker. But before she gets here, you should know that it’s Grace Haines.”

Grace. The name hit him in the solar plexus and all the air rushed from his lungs.

Sucker punch number three.

* * *

Grace Haines had avoided looking at the date all day, but it sneaked up on her after lunch. She stared at the letters and numbers she’d just typed on a case file.

March 12. The third anniversary of the day she’d become a Professional Single Girl. She should get cake. Or a card. Something to mark the occasion of when she’d given up the ghost and decided to be happy with her career as a social worker. Instead of continually dating men who were nice enough, but could never live up to her standards, she’d learn to be by herself.

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