The SEAL’s Convenient Wife - Leslie North Page 0,2

rapidly than Patrick’s—and, of course, he wasn’t hindered by the emotional responses that had made it difficult for Patrick to remain calm and professional. Anderson had even called the base to talk to a JAG officer to see how the Navy might help. Patrick knew he wasn’t the only SEAL who’d faced a custody battle. Long deployments took a heavy toll on relationships. More than one of his teammates had returned home to find his wife and kids gone.

Once JAG got involved, the process had moved a little faster, giving him insight into what had happened and whether it was fixable. The answer to that was maybe, but it wouldn’t be easy. Patrick just hoped he could get everything sorted out before Anderson’s short leave was over and Patrick was on his own.

“I can’t believe Rachel just took off,” Anderson said after their cheeseburgers and fries arrived. “I mean, she was…”

“Go ahead. Say it. She was a piece of work.” Patrick had no hesitation about finishing the sentence, but even he was surprised that Rachel had abandoned Ellery. He’d never thought she’d up and leave like she had. “She saw an opportunity and took it.”

From what they’d pieced together, Rachel had become involved in a whirlwind romance with a wealthy guy who hadn’t been interested in being tied down by a child, so Rachel left Ellery in the care of a hastily hired nanny. The nanny had thought Rachel was going out of town for a few days, but after a full week with no contact—and no payment—she’d driven Ellery to the police department and handed her over. She either hadn’t known about Patrick or hadn’t had any way to reach him. Patrick didn’t want to think about his girl being dropped off like a lost wallet.

“I thought you two had worked something out,” Anderson said after a few minutes of silence while they ate. “I mean, it’s been years—it’s not like this was a brand-new situation.”

“Yeah, but she never wanted Ellery. Rachel was—is—a party girl with aspirations to land a guy with money. She and I were never meant to be serious.” He and Rachel had never had more than a tenuous relationship after she discovered she was pregnant. Before that, they’d enjoyed casual sex and fun dates. Neither had wanted anything real or permanent, but he’d gotten her pregnant and he’d promised to support the child. And he had, handing over money whenever Rachel demanded it—which was often. He imagined she’d never been a great mom, but he hadn’t expected anything like this.

“Right,” Anderson said. “But that all happened years ago. What changed?” As his buddy and teammate, Anderson knew a lot of the history, but Patrick hadn’t wanted to distract him with personal problems when they were on a dangerous mission.

“We had an epic fight right before my last deployment,” Patrick admitted. “I mean epic. She screamed that she no longer wanted to be a mom. She hated the responsibility. She felt tied down.”

“And you were stuck,” Anderson said, nodding in understanding.

“Yeah. I mean, her timing couldn’t have been worse—I had to report to base the next day.” He sighed. “And then she cut me off. I didn’t hear one damn word from her. No pictures, emails, nothing to let me know how Ellery was. I figured she was punishing me for not, I don’t know, going AWOL and racing over to help her. But I never thought…”

“She put you in a hell of a spot. You should have said something, man. We’d have had your back.”

“Nothing anybody could do while we were gone, but that’s why I took the extended leave. I need to straighten this mess out and be a better dad. I’d been planning to fight Rachel for joint custody anyway. I was still trying to figure out what I’d do during deployments, but I wanted more say in my daughter’s life.” He’d known before Ellery was born that he’d never have a relationship with Rachel, and he hadn’t wanted one. Ellery, though, deserved better than what she’d been getting with her father deployed so often and a mother whose first priority had always been herself.

“Anything I can do to help you, I will,” Anderson said. “Can’t imagine how much this sucks for you. I guess it proves the point that you should never trust a woman unless you’re damn sure everything she says and does is true.”

Patrick eyed Anderson, wondering about his friend’s attitude. “There’s that,” he agreed after a minute, “but I

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