Good lord, he wasn't getting the hint, was he? "I don't have one, anymore." In her line of work she'd had to cut all ties, yet for a second, the image of her brothers and her sister swept through her mind.
Bryce noticed the flash of pain in her eyes, the tightening of her features.
"You're alone, then."
"Yes." It wasn't a lie. She had to be alone. She couldn't contact anyone from her past and touching base with Katherine had been an operation in discretion and secrecy. "It's a choice thing. Don't sweat it."
"Does that mean you had some sort of falling out with family members?"
"You could say that." Or not. She wasn't giving him anything to chew on.
Good grief, Bryce thought, getting even a shred of information out of Ciara was like pulling teeth. He wondered if it had anything to do with why she was in Hong Kong. She had been an embassy secretary, she'd said. Bryce had his doubts. She hadn't acted like any secretary he knew and for a moment he remembered the lavish reception where he'd first seen her. Where he'd been stationed in one position, covering the doorways, she'd mingled with dignitaries, slipping around the ballroom, but there had been something… Was she with the NSA? CIA? FBI?
Ciara could see the cogs of his mind working for a solution. "Forget it Bryce, I'm not spilling my problems. Want a glass of wine with your dinner?" She walked to the cabinet to get it.
"Ciara, why are you so evasive?"
She spun around. "Why are you so interested in my past? It's nothing, average, and I don't want to relive it."
In the past thirty seconds, she decided to just make him believe that it was too horrible to remember. Then the images battered her: learning of her parents' death and taking over, taking Mom's place while her dreams were shelved for a while. Her brothers and their families and how much she missed being with them, and how much she couldn't. She'd always felt as if she were outside the fence, not allowed in, not allowed to experience love and tenderness. And a home. A real home. It hadn't bothered her. Well, not much. Not enough to do something about it, like leave the CIA, at least.
She lifted her gaze to Bryce's. Okay, so it hadn't bothered her until recently. But that didn't change a thing. It couldn't. Her career was all she had.
Yet Bryce and his baby girl touched her in places she'd been so certain were smothered. They were cracking through her training and she couldn't afford to let it happen. Regardless of the consequences to her and her heart, she had a job to return to and the sooner, the better.
Right now, Carolina needed her. Bryce didn't.
He was just being a man. He knew her in the biblical sense and felt that gave them a connection. It didn't. It wasn't deep, she told herself. It was just sex. Great sex, but one night didn't give them a past and she would make certain the coming weeks wouldn't, either. Yet the situation itself brewed intimacy. He was already too curious. She had to say and do the right things, keep her emotions and opinions under control. And not get near Bryce enough to want to touch him.
Because one stroke to her skin and it was as if she were a dried-up flower in need of the sweet touch of rain that only he could give her.
* * *
"I'll let it go for now," he said to her back. He could see that it hurt her to talk about her past.
Relief swept her and Ciara moved items on the counter uselessly.
"But not for long." He'd give his right arm to get a scrap of information out of her.
"I'm not important, Carolina is."
Suddenly he was there, behind her, gripping her upper arms and Ciara closed her eyes and drank in the feeling. "Don't," she whispered. Oh mercy. Nobody, she thought, nobody makes me feel like he does. She couldn't get control of herself and almost twisted in his arms right then. "You've already made it clear I'm the help."
His lips were near her ear, his words sending a delicious chill down her throat. "You could never be."
She swallowed hard. "Bryce," she hissed softly, the warm press of his body behind hers igniting fires that could never be extinguished.
"I had dreams about you saying my name like that. That night, with no names, no past or future. It was the most erotic one of my life."
Mine too, she thought, but wouldn't admit it. She was barely holding on to her control as it was.
Then he pulled her back against him, hard.
Bryce breathed in her scent, the feel of her this close, and though he knew he shouldn't, he pressed his mouth to her throat.
Her groan was low and wicked.
"Ciara. You're driving me nuts, you know."
"Same here." She kept her hands clenched tightly at her sides to keep from reaching back and touching him.