"Of course not."
"Then drop it. You're making a mountain out of a molehill. I would take any harm for this child," she said, stroking her hand over the baby's head. Carolina looked up at her, unaware of the tension between the adults, and smiling as she offered her a mushy cookie. "Isn't that enough?"
She lifted her gaze to his. And waited.
"Yes. It is."
She nodded and lifted the baby out of the cart, silently telling him to finish loading.
Bryce deposited the last bag in the trunk and shut the hood, watching through the window as Ciara strapped his daughter into her car seat, kissed her, then shut the door. Across the hood they stared at each other, and though what she said sounded logical, natural, he had his doubts. She'd been ready to pull that cart down on top of her for protection. She'd instantly moved between the vehicles for an extra shield.
Maternal or not, most people didn't know to do that. And most people wouldn't be thinking that fast on their feet.
"Want me to put the cart in the rack?"
He blinked and shook his head, pushing the cart into the rack and coming back to the car. She was already inside, twisting in the seat to talk to the baby.
And ignoring him.
He felt it and wondered why the incident had damaged something between them. She didn't like being questioned but then, he knew that from the start. As he started the car and pulled out of the parking lot, Bryce realized he needed some answers. And for the ride home he debated on pressuring her for them, or finding the answers out on his own.
For the remainder of the day Ciara went on as if nothing happened. As if she hadn't had a moment of complete and utter panic in the store parking lot. As if Bryce wasn't looking at her strangely. She fed the baby and took her outside to play, and though Bryce joined her, the conversation was a little stilted. She could feel his eyes on her, and not in a seductive way. He was trying to read deeper and it scared her.
She wanted so badly to reveal everything to him, to get it out in the open and go from there. She trusted everything about him, except his reaction. She couldn't, because as much as she loved him, she couldn't bear to see it destroyed. She didn't think she could take a rejection from him. And telling him could endanger his life.
Until Mark Faraday was caught she had to stay hidden and that meant hidden enough so that nothing would touch her or him and Carolina. She knew she should contact her boss, but each time was a risk and she really didn't want to put all her faith in her superiors. She was out of the loop, away from the workings of her team, and being uninformed made her vulnerable. But climbing back into the ring could make her a target, too.
She let out a long sigh and kept her gaze on the baby, who was walking all over the place and shrieking with happiness about it. She glanced at Bryce. He was staring at his feet and she wondered what was going on in his head right now, then decided she would never know until he spoke up. She took a risk and pried open the can of frustration she could see building in him.
"What's eating you?" "Nothing."
She rolled her eyes. "Come on, talk."
"You going to answer?"
He tipped his head back and met her gaze. "Where were you born?"
Well, that was out of left field, she thought. "Georgia."
"You don't have an accent."
"Lost it when people kept making southern jokes about me. I never did have the power that usually comes with it. You know the steel magnolia quality."
His lips quirked. "Any brothers or sisters?"
Ciara stared into those beautiful blue eyes and knew he wasn't testing her. He just wanted to connect to her. She tried to see herself from his point of view and the picture wasn't all that attractive. She saw a woman who was living on the surface of life. His life. Keeping him at arm's length. And she'd bet that was exactly how he was feeling right now.
She hesitated for another moment, considering the harm, and what he might do with the information. Because of her job, her family had different names than she did. Bryce knew her as Smart, not Caldwell. She didn't think he'd run to his computer and start doing a search if he wasn't satisfied. But it came down to two questions. Did she love him enough to reveal some of her past to bring them closer? Or did she want to reveal it for herself?
Trust. With her heart, with her life? Ciara knew she'd never know until she took a chance. The price was great, yet her love for him was greater.
"I have two brothers, Michael and Richard, and a little sister, Cassie. She just graduated from college and is off traveling the world with fashion designers." At least she thought she was. "Mike and Rick own a construction company. They have families."
"So you lied to me?"