Ciara instantly dropped the high chair and reached for him.
With a helpless, wide-eyed look, he caught her hand, and fought for balance … and lost. The force of his weight and the simple tug of gravity sent them both into the pool.
Under the shallow water, Ciara fell hard against him, and Bryce wrapped his arms around her and rolled to protect her from the hard cement floor of the pool. He could hear her shriek under water and she gained her footing first, pulling him by the lapels, and pushing to the surface.
When they broke through they were gasping for air and she still had a hold of his jacket.
"You okay?" Ciara asked above everyone else's amused laughter.
"A little damp," he said calmly, feeling as if it had been weeks since he'd been this close to her.
"Good." She let go of his lapels with enough force to send him stumbling backward. "Serves you right for sneaking up on me."
"I didn't sneak. I was just standing there," he said to her back as she waded toward the stairs. His gaze fell on her round behind, then traveled upward. Not another woman on this planet could do justice to that low-cut one-piece, he thought. It gave him visions of what she looked like without it.
Ciara could feel his gaze on her, burning her and she tried to ignore it, looking at Carolina. The dark-haired baby was holding on to the rim of the playpen and bouncing up and down. Then Ciara saw Hope, Portia and Katey, each with a big smile. She sent them all a sour look and climbed out of the pool.
Bryce pulled off his shoes and tossed them on the cement deck, then followed Ciara.
"Hi sis," he said to Hope as he stood dripping on the pool tiles.
She grinned. "Nice entrance."
"You should have warned her I was there."
"How were we to know she'd turn on you like that?" Hope said, still smiling.
"Yeah, Bryce, just what did you do to make her so defensive?" Portia asked, glancing at Ciara.
"Nothing," she answered for him, throwing a towel at him.
Bryce dragged the terry cloth off his head and frowned, wondering what she was so hot about. He was the one who had just ruined an expensive suit and now looked like a fool in front of four women.
"Shouldn't you be at work? Hauling nets, selling mackerel," Ciara said, wrapping a towel around herself, then picking up the high chair. She opened it under the shade, then sent him a tight look before she headed back to the house for Carolina's lunch.
Hope scowled at her brother. "She's steamed at something."
"I don't think she likes surprises." Bryce sloshed to his daughter and lifted her in his arms. Carolina shivered at the cold contact of wet clothes, but Bryce was rewarded with a sloppy kiss and a hug. He settled her in the high chair, then strapped her in.
From inside the house, Ciara watched Bryce. His suit was ruined and she blamed herself. Then she blamed him for startling her. It was instinct to defend and too late she remembered she didn't have to around here. Resting her elbows on the kitchen counter, she cupped her face in her hands and let out a long breath. The man unnerved her. She wouldn't admit that aloud to a living soul, but he did. Just looking at him made her realize what she was missing in her life. The long hours of surveillance, the meals out of a bag and the bottles of antacid to cure the aftereffect. She lifted her head, watching him chat with his sister, hold her children and then talk with the other women. Something touched Ciara deeply when the women defended her, offering friendship to a stranger just because she was caring for Carolina.
Ciara's throat tightened, and the longing in her swelled. She forced it down, angry with herself for letting it surface. She remembered her job, her career, the years she'd spent climbing the corporate ladder to get where she was today in the CIA. Her job was a thrill ride of danger and intrigue, of solving crimes that affected millions. It was honorable. A duty to her country.
The familiar prickle of excitement coursed through her and she thought of returning to what she did best, of wearing a weapon and giving orders and catching the bad guys. It wasn't gone, she thought, that need, and she decided if she could just keep Bryce out of her mind, she'd be fine.
Then what, a voice asked, about your heart?
Boy, she thought, picking up the baby's lunch plate. She really needed to get back to her real job. Soon.
Bryce looked up as she walked outside and moved to his daughter.
"Here, be a dad." She handed him the plate of baby food.
He gave it back. "I have to change and get back to the office."
"Why did you even come by then?"
"I intended to join my daughter for lunch and didn't expect to go headfirst into the water."