She shrieked, twisting her head to the side when he offered her more. Bryce tossed the spoon aside and sagged into the chair, giving up this battle.
Carolina proceeded to play with the mess on the high chair tray.
Bryce looked around at the results of feeding his daughter and knew his late wife was laughing. Diana would say this was justice for not loving her like she needed. God knows he had tried. He'd done everything he could to make the marriage work. A marriage he hadn't wanted. She'd loved him, but in the end, he knew she'd hated him.
Guilt swam through Bryce. He and Diana had been lovers briefly when he'd come home from the Secret Service for a visit. Those two nights produced the little girl in the high chair. And when Carolina had arrived, Diana's life ended. He loved his baby more than his life, and he knew that marrying Diana because she was pregnant was the right thing to do then, but he hadn't mourned her.
The guilt intensified and he pushed his fingers into his hair and pushed the thoughts out of his mind.
He swore he was never going to get involved with a woman again.
Heck, he was terrified of letting this tiny female down. Of ruining her life like he had her mother's. He couldn't trust himself not to destroy another woman's life. Not to mention the damage it did to his soul.
His daughter flung the mushy beige food, a glob landing on his shirt. He didn't bother to wipe it and thought of his former colleagues in the Secret Service seeing him now. A far cry from the man who lived dangerously, moment to moment protecting the first family. He was now Mr. Mom and a complete failure at it, he thought. There should be a school or something for dads who had to be moms, too.
Four days without a nanny and he was seeing exactly how useless he was at being a reliable father. He didn't think he'd miss the skills of a woman more than he did right now. His sister had helped him a few times after Diana's death, but she had her own family. His parents were retired, leaving him the family business and this monstrous house while they traveled the world. It was only right, but the shrimping business was taking off like a runaway train and he hadn't been able to operate it from this house since before his daughter was born.
He looked at his baby. He'd had a nanny, but she'd refused to be a live-in. Carolina needed consistency, someone there for her when he couldn't be. Someone who would be tender and loving. And almost a mother. What his baby didn't need was a parade of strangers marching through her life now. She was so young and had a tendency to scream bloody murder when a stranger got close. Probably because all she ever saw was him and the nanny. The maid, well she was from a service, and all business. And rarely the same one each time.
The last nanny said Carolina was difficult. And when he'd found the woman lounging around, watching soap operas while his daughter cried in a playpen, Bryce had fired her. The next three nannies hadn't been any better.
Neglecting his child was not an option, nor was putting her in a day-care center where she'd get sick and there were too many children. He wanted his daughter to have attention while he was at work. Lord, he didn't think finding child care would be so difficult. Luckily, someone had recommended Wife Incorporated to him. He'd spoken with the owner, Katherine Davenport, and though she sounded nice, what mattered was that she'd come to his rescue. She was sending a nanny out today. Any minute.
Bryce prayed it was someone with a tender heart.
And he hoped she arrived soon.
Carolina shrieked, her lip curling down, and he left his chair to walk over to a cookie jar. He gave her one cookie. Instantly she quieted.
He would deal with the chocolate mess later.
Bribery, he thought as he dropped back into the chair, was acceptable in grave situations.
Bryce started to clean up the mess, bending down on his hands and knees to get the food spilled on the floor. He chased a piece of cereal and when Carolina burst into tears, he flinched and bumped his head on the table. He stood, staring down at her as she reared back in that squirm he'd come to know meant she was done and wanted down now. Then she started kicking and crying. Bryce rushed to finish cleaning up the mess, then handed his daughter a carrot to grind against her cutting teeth.
"Five minutes, princess," he pleaded. "I just need five minutes."
She threw the carrot and cried harder.
Then the doorbell rang.
Taking Carolina out of the high chair, Bryce struggled to keep a safe hold on her when she squirmed, refusing to be still. Since she was already climbing out of her crib and crawling away with amazing speed, he didn't dare put her on the floor yet. Besides, he could tell how clean it wasn't anyway.
"We have company, sweetie."
Carolina looked up at him, chocolate cookie smeared over her face and clothes. She worked the mush in her hand as if it would hurry it into her mouth. Then she stilled and offered him a bite, missing his mouth and jamming the soggy cookie somewhere near his ear.