Settling in a lounge chair, she watched the children and three mothers playing in the pool. She'd met Bryce's sister Hope at the park when Hope recognized Carolina, and Ciara had struck up an easy conversation with the dark-haired woman, which surprised her, since she hadn't had much chance to talk to any woman who wasn't an agent, or a source. Ciara never expected the quick friendship forming with these women, she admitted. She'd little in common with Hope or her two friends, Portia and Katey.
That reality had hit her when she was driving over to the park and found herself looking for snipers, escape routes and possible threats. It had taken a few minutes to remember where she was. She'd bet a year's pay that not another woman at the park, or in this town had done that this week. She reminded herself that she wasn't in danger, that her only real care in the world was making Bryce's baby happy. She wasn't used to it and wondered if she could ever forget her past and be normal.
Because pathetically normal sounded so damned appealing lately.
When the morning grew increasingly hotter, Ciara had suggested to Hope and the other women that they come over to use the pool. The moms snapped at the chance. Apparently, Hope hadn't been over in a while because her brother hadn't invited her. Something Ciara found appalling.
And made her suspect that Bryce was still mourning his late wife.
But then, Ciara had family she hadn't seen in years, so who was she to criticize?
Suddenly, Hope plopped down beside her and smiled brightly. "So, how's life with my big brother?" she asked cheerily.
Ciara had wondered when they were going to get around to the personal stuff. They'd been polite and friendly, but she could tell the women were itching to ask about Bryce. "Interesting."
Hope smiled knowingly. "Yeah, I'll just bet. I did notice he's been at work a lot lately. Some late hours."
"He's catching up on overdue work, I imagine." And avoiding me.
"Baloney," Portia said from the pool, her infant son propped on her hip. "He's hiding from life. He can afford to have some shorter days."
"Yeah, he never goes out, rarely shows up at family outings unless I holler real loud," Hope said. "I think that's why mom and dad moved to Florida. They got tired of his refusals."
"He did lose his wife." Why was Ciara defending him? From what she'd learned, he'd been a hermit and had kept his daughter secluded with him.
"I know. But he wasn't much different before Diana came into the picture. He took the Secret Service stuff way too seriously."
"It's a serious job." What would they think of hers?
"I still think he resents that he had to leave it."
"Had to?" Ciara said and tried not to sound too surprised.
"Diana wanted him home more."
"He must have loved her a lot to give up the Secret Service."
The other women exchanged an odd look.
"Or not," Katey muttered half under her breath.
Ciara smoothed the baby's hair. Curiosity was killing her, but she wasn't going to pry. She didn't have to.
Hope said, "Diana and Bryce knew each other briefly, as in one night."
So did I, Ciara thought, yet he married Diana. Not liking the train of her thoughts or wanting to hear any more about Bryce and his late wife, Ciara rose. "I need to feed Carolina. How about I make some lunch for all of us?"
The other women exchanged a sly look she didn't see.
"We brought lunch." Hope pointed to the thermal coolers they'd dragged in with the eager children. "We were going to have it at the park. Though this is way better."
"Yeah, swimming will tucker them out and maybe give me some fun time alone with that man I married," Katey said, wiggling her brows as she climbed out of the pool. She fetched the coolers, while Portia, with her son in her arms, grabbed a diaper bag and tossed it on the table. Ciara watched her maneuver on the most amazing instinct; shoving her hand into the diaper bag and coming back with a diaper, wipes and a bottle. With the fussing child against her shoulder, Portia managed to open a drink for her older son, lay out his lunch, wipe his mouth, feed her infant son and change him, all the while chatting easily with everyone.
Ciara put Carolina in the playpen so she could prepare her lunch. When she came back with Carolina's high chair, she noticed the others staring at her.
"What? Is my butt hanging out of my suit?" she said, snapping the elastic lower over her behind.
Then she noticed they were staring past her.
On instinct, Ciara brought the high chair up in front of her in a defensive move as she spun about. The legs of the chair hit a solid wall of man and sent him stumbling sideways toward the pool.
Ciara watched in horror as Bryce, in a tailored business suit, flailed wildly to keep from falling in the water.