Single father Seeks...(9)

By: Amy J. Fetzer


Bryce recognized her look. Her features shuttered so quickly he felt it like a cold breeze. It was the same look she'd given him in the hotel room when she'd come out of the bathroom, dressed and ready to leave. All traces of the passion they'd shared were erased.

That she could hold his baby in her arms and could call on this emotionless look, added to his suspicions. "What were you doing in Hong Kong?"

"Embassy work." It wasn't a lie, she thought, just not the whole truth. "Now can I have a say?"

He nodded.

"What happened between us was a one-time thing. One time. This is a coincidence, a one in a million chance. Deal with it. I need the job, and you and Carolina need me. Let's just leave it at that, okay, boss?"

"My daughter needs you, not me."

"Thanks for clarifying that," she said. "I was having visions of weddings and receptions already."

Her delivery was cold and sarcastic. Bryce didn't like it.

"And while we're drawing battle lines, if I'd wanted more after Hong Kong, I would have looked you up again," she said. "Really great sex doesn't mean I want a lifetime."

His features yanked taut.

"Have I made myself clear?"

He nodded. "Fine. We understand each other."

"Not by a long shot, Ashland."

Bryce's lips tightened.

She arched a brow. Let him stew, she thought. She wouldn't be revealing anything about herself or her past, and that one night with him had nothing to do with the present. Except to remind her that while his life had changed and grown, hers hadn't. All that was different was the one mistake she'd made. Trusting the wrong man. The instant she thought of her partner and the magnitude of his betrayal, Ciara knew she couldn't trust her feelings. About anything. She'd botched it up badly by not seeing what was there, and with Bryce, she had to remember the price of loving—no, not love, the price of getting involved with someone had only rewarded Ciara with heartache. Besides she had to lie to him, she had to keep her real life secret. Involving him in any part of her career or the knowledge of it could bring harm to him or this sweet baby. She would never allow that to happen. She'd vanish first. Her job was to protect her country's interests—and its people were under that umbrella.

Even if it was raining where she stood.

"I'll put your bags in your room," Bryce said, effectively ending this standoff, "and your car in the garage."

She fished in the pocket of her jeans and tossed him the keys, glad she'd cleared the rental car of anything that bore her real name. "I'll be with your daughter." She turned sharply and headed back into the house.

"Where are you going?"

"The sun is too hot for her without a bonnet and sunblock, and she's tired."

Bryce silently approved and followed, then frowned at her back as she walked briskly through the house toward the foyer. Though she held his daughter gently, allowing Carolina to grab onto her ponytail, he could feel the remoteness about Ciara. It was as if she had an invisible wall around her now.

He didn't blame her, really. And it was better for him all around. But for his daughter? Though her actions toward his baby so far were tender, Bryce wondered if she'd deny Carolina her affections because of him.

It was another reason not to trust her.

He'd have to keep an eye on her for the next few days.

And nights?

Damn.

The thought of this woman sleeping down the hall from him made his body jump and rock to life.

"I have work to do," he said from behind her. "My home office is the library."

"Fine. Have at it," she replied as she mounted the staircase. "Though you might want to change."

Bryce glanced down at his clothes and silently groaned at the food splattered over him. He lifted his gaze to Ciara and his daughter stared at him over Ciara's shoulder. Bryce waved to his baby.

Carolina bounced up and down in Ciara's arms, kicking her feet, her cherub face lit up with happiness, as if to say, "See daddy, this is what it's like to have a mom."

Bryce's heart broke then and there.

And he decided he'd put up with just about anything to see his daughter smile like that. But how would he survive with that luscious, mysterious woman right under his nose? And regardless of what he'd said, deep inside, in a place that was lonely and hungry for female company, he wanted to experience another mindless night of desire in Ciara's arms.

* * *

Ciara bathed Carolina, and dried her off before warming baby lotion in her hands and rubbing it in slow circular motions over the sleepy infant. The child was nearly asleep on the changing table and Ciara made quick work of putting on a diaper and fresh clothes.

The infant fussed and rubbed her eyes, pulling at her hair as Ciara sat in the padded rocker, humming softly, the baby nuzzled on her chest. Ciara inhaled the sweet scents, rubbing up and down Carolina's spine, her own eyelids heavy with a comfort she hadn't felt in a very long time. She thought and wondered then about her brothers and their children. She hadn't seen her nephews in years and if her calculations were right, they were in school by now. Then her thoughts drifted to her sister Cassie, who'd finished college summa cum laude and was off somewhere doing something that had nothing to do with her financial degree. Ciara missed them all terribly. She didn't usually, because she simply chose not to think about them. It had become increasingly easy to block out her past and her family, she thought with regret. She'd never had time to sit back and think of them, her mind had always been focused on her assignment. The cold objectivity was a part of her after all these years. Her lips twisted with self-disgust. That hadn't stopped her from letting old feelings darn near ruin her career, she thought, and her anger at Mark Faraday settled like a simmering kettle in her chest. She left it there, refusing to waste more energy on him.

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