"Boy, are you a downer on marriage and life in general."

He chuckled to himself.

"I'm almost glad you haven't been around. I'd hate to have Chris hear that."

"Ahh, darlin', nothing could destroy the incurable infatuation your husband has for you." Bryce leaned and pressed a kiss to Hope's forehead.

She gripped his arms and whispered fiercely, "We've missed you, Bryce. What will destroy this black cloud hanging over your heart?"

Before he pulled back, before he thought about it, he opened his eyes. His gaze collided with Ciara's across the pool yard.

Her, his heart screamed. Her.

* * *

After Bryce had left for work and the baby was down for her midmorning nap, Ciara had used the satellite phone and computer to contact her boss. She'd come very close to not calling him at all, not wanting to know if Mark Faraday was caught and behind bars. That fact told her she was getting too comfortable. She'd called immediately and was not all that pleased that Mark had been located and the CIA was setting up a sting operation to catch him passing information. Ciara volunteered to be the bait, but her boss felt that Mark was already wise to her involvement and would flee the instant he saw her. Especially since she was the only one who knew the details of his betrayal.

More than I care to, she thought, sipping tea while sitting on the living room floor. She watched as Carolina ignored the scattered toys and was content to walk back and forth in front of the sofa, holding on to the seat cushions. Smiling at the little girl's efforts Ciara leaned back against a stuffed chair and enjoyed the late afternoon.

She was tired and admitted that it was a different kind of exhaustion. A happy one. She wasn't groping for the bed at night, or drinking gallons of coffee to stay awake during an operation, but just a "satisfied, put in a full day" tired. She attributed that to her new friends and the constant activity since she'd met them a few days ago. Keeping up with Hope, Portia and Katey was a full-time job. They each might have had a career before the children, but the change in lifestyle hadn't stopped them from getting the most out of each day now. Bryce had been right about his sister, she was nosey. Not rude, but pushy enough that it took a few times of changing the subject to make the three women understand Ciara wasn't giving any information. Besides, she thought, keeping secret that she had known Bryce before was more than just wanting privacy. It was preserving a moment in time.

Especially when she hadn't seen him much in the past couple days. Since the day he'd fallen into the pool, he'd been working long hours and stumbling in late, barely getting a chance to see his child. When he could stand being in a room with Ciara, he questioned her about his daughter, said good-night to his baby, and often skipped dinner to go to his room.

She didn't think he slept much, though. Often she heard him prowling the house and the temptation to go to him nearly overpowered her enough that she felt that strapping herself to her bed would be the only way she wouldn't. She shook her head, wondering if she was just being jittery. He made her feel so vulnerable that avoiding each other was just fine.

No, she thought, it's not. Not for Carolina.

She missed her daddy, cried for him and Ciara felt lousy that the conflict between her and Bryce kept him from his baby.

Her gaze slid to the windows, her brows drawing tight when she heard the sound of a car engine. Setting her cup on the coffee table she walked on her knees to Carolina, wiping the baby's chin and wondering when those teeth were going to cut through. Carolina ignored her ministration, shifting down the length of the couch, and when Ciara scooted back, the baby turned toward her. She was several feet away, her hand reaching out to her.

Ciara started to go to her, then stopped. Carolina held on to the sofa cushion with one hand.

She's going to walk, Ciara thought.

The front door opened. "Ciara," Bryce called.

"In the living room," she said, trying to keep from startling Carolina.

He came into view and she whispered, "Get the video camera. I think she's going to take a step."

Instantly, Bryce set down his briefcase.

"It's in the hall closet by the stroller," Ciara said, and watched the uncertainty skate across the baby's face. "Hurry."

"I am. I am." Bryce went to the closet, retrieved the camera and loaded it. He came down on his knees, focusing.

"Switch places with me," Ciara said.

"What?"

"Let me shoot." She reached for the camera. "You hold your arms out to Carolina."

He gave her the camera, then knelt down in front of his daughter. "Hey, princess," he said. "What are you doing?"

He was rewarded with a jumble of baby talk and a very distinct da-da.

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