Her thoughts drifted immediately to Bryce.
She cocked a look at the sleeping baby in her arms, then stood and carried Carolina to her crib. Laying her down, she tried to remember if at this age they slept on their stomach or back, then laid Carolina on her tummy. Just before she did, Carolina opened her eyes, staring at her so trustingly, and Ciara thought suddenly that nothing she did in her life, nothing for her country, for the CIA, was more important than what she was doing right now. For this child. She stroked her back and the baby's eyes drifted closed.
How much tenderness had this little girl missed because she didn't have a mother? Bryce had to be both mother and father and Ciara remembered the different relationships she'd had with her parents. Her mom had been her role model, and made Ciara feel special, as if they shared a secret that men took years to understand. Ciara's mother had given her pretty things and taught her to take pride in her appearance for herself, not for anyone who might happen to notice. Ciara tried to pass that to Cassie. Yet her dad had been the one who let her hang with her brothers, who won the argument with her mother when she wanted to play soccer. Dad had kept telling her there was nothing she couldn't do. He'd pushed her to excel, to learn more than one language and make the grade to join the CIA.
Lord she missed them. But they were dead now, killed in a jet crash over Scotland. She hadn't been able to attend their funeral because she was stuck somewhere in Asia, hiding in a warehouse surveying gunrunners. And somehow, over the years, she'd lost the rest of her family, too. It was a hard fact to swallow, but Ciara admitted silently that though her parents were taken from her, she'd allowed her brothers and sister to fade from her life. Because of her career. Shame rippled through her along with a surprisingly sharp stab of homesickness.
The baby cooed in her sleep, wiggling under the thin blanket, and something hard wrenched in Ciara's chest. For some reason, she couldn't leave the baby just yet. Not alone. She was so little.
And for the first time in a long time, someone truly innocent, needed her.
* * *
Bryce stood in the doorway, studying Ciara. He tried not to notice how beautiful she looked there bent over his baby's crib, rubbing Carolina's back, watching her sleep. Seeing her there struck a chord in him and twisted his insides. She looked so at ease and though Carolina had known the touch of Bryce's mother and sister, it seemed that a perfect stranger was more soothing than either of them. Instantly he thought of Diana.
Would she approve?
Not if she knew he and Ciara had spent a night together. He'd never told anyone about that night, keeping it private, for himself alone. Telling Diana would have been mean and unnecessary. And caused more problems because she'd been possessive from the start, wanting him to quit the Secret Service for her and their unborn child. Married only a month, and seeing no way around it and feeling equally responsible, he had. Though he resented it at the time, and constantly being around her likely made things worse between them, he didn't resent leaving the service anymore. Not since his daughter had filled his life and his heart.
"She's so beautiful," Ciara said into the silence, startling him, and Bryce realized she'd known he was there all this time.
"Thank you." He watched her give the blankets a last tuck, then straighten and walk toward him. The tender look she gave his daughter still on her features.
He stared, absorbing it.
"How long have you been caring for her alone?"
"Other than when she was first born, a week."
"How do you get your work done?" she asked, admiration coloring her voice.
"I don't. I'm way behind. That's why I hired Wife Incorporated."
Ciara shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans when she really wanted to touch him, run her hands over his taut muscled chest. "And here you get me."
Bryce saw the flicker of reservation in her eyes and wondered over it when she seemed so confident earlier. Trusting her seemed further away than he first thought. "Carolina seems to like you."
Ciara gazed up at him, her body sensing his, that current shooting up from her heels. "She's great."
Bryce experienced the same heady heat that drew him to Ciara that night in Hong Kong. She was inches from him, in the doorway and knowing he shouldn't, he lifted his hand to her face. Before he touched her, she stepped back, her tender expression vanished, replaced with an indifferent mask he already recognized.
His brow furrowed.
Her eyes were glacial, hard. Then she turned and walked down the hall.
Leaning on the door frame, Bryce watched her leave, thinking that no matter what they felt when they were near each other, there was a part of Ciara that was isolated, a woman hidden behind a wall. She might be gentle and tender with his daughter, but she wasn't letting down her guard.