She dialed in the number and her heart thundered as she waited for the pickup. She wanted to hear a voice from the past. Just for a moment.
"Caldwell's," a man's voice said on the other end of the line.
Ciara felt a rush of emotions.
"Hi. Ah…" She swallowed, trying to gather her composure.
"Who is this?"
"It's me, Ciara."
There was silence and then, "Oh God. Ciara?"
"I know. It's been a while."
He scoffed and she could almost hear the bitterness in his tone.
Voices rumbled in the background and Ciara fought a flood of tears. Another voice came on. "Ciara? Oh Lord, girl. Are you near?"
Michael, she thought. Sweet dark-haired Michael. "No, I'm not. I just had to… I miss you."
"Yeah right, so much that you haven't called in what? Five years."
"Can it, Richard," Mike said. "Sugarbear, are you coming home?"
Ciara closed her eyes, realizing how much pain she'd caused her family, realizing that she'd left scars on them for the past years and they might never heal.
"Good grief, sugarbear, it's been years," Mike said.
"I know. I'm sorry. Is Cass there?"
"No, she's not," Richard said. "She followed your pattern and took off to parts unknown. Though she at least comes home occasionally." In the background Ciara could hear children and the voices of women. One was reprimanding Richard and making no bones about how she felt about the way he was treating his sister. She didn't blame Richard.
"I'm causing trouble, I'm sorry. I have to go."
"No, Ciara wait," Richard said into the phone and she could tell he was holding it close to his mouth. "Just come home, baby girl, we'll fix it."
She choked and her next words came on a sob. "Bye. I love you all."
Ciara cut the line, and clutched the phone to her chest, weeping quietly and wondering if she could ever go home. Or if she'd ever have one of her own. She put away the phone and computer before she went into the bathroom to freshen up and disguise the look of a good cry.
No, it wasn't a good one, she thought. It wasn't enough. Her oldest brother's anger was justified, and she wondered about the people she'd hurt because of her career. About to leave the room, she stepped near the window, gazing down at the people enjoying the beautiful day.
Her gaze focused first on the baby, then on Bryce. He laughed with Drew, tipping his head back and she could almost feel his delight seeping under his skin. Oh, I love that man, she thought. She was happy here. She felt fulfilled and needed and wanted. She had real friends with real honest normal lives and she was liking normal so much that she considered whether or not being an agent for the CIA was worth losing this kind of happiness.
In the next breath she knew it wasn't.
* * *
Bryce tasted her, loving how she sank her fingers into his hair, how her body flexed like a silken ribbon as pleasure filled her. She moaned his name, whispering for him to come to her now. And Bryce rose from between her thighs, smiling as she beckoned him into her arms.
She climbed onto his lap, sinking down on his arousal and wrapping her arms around his neck.
For a moment he just held her tightly, feeling her fingers dig into his skin. The soft shudder that wracked her body. She tipped her head back and kissed him, slow and thick, her hips rocking against his as he filled her smoothly, pushing deep into her warmth and feeling her tender muscles grip him.
His blood pounded, his arousal throbbing and yet she moved slowly, in control, torturing him.
She smiled slightly, pushing his hair off his brow and watching her motion before bringing her gaze back to his. Her breath came in short quick gasps and he knew she was near. Her body was alive with sensations and he could feel each one, savored them as they matched his own.
Nothing could touch them here, he thought and swore nothing would keep them apart.
Her movements quickened, the slow seductive lovemaking turning to raw passion, primal. He loved it.
She rode him, her hips thrusting harder and harder and Bryce thought he'd come apart in pieces any second.
"Bryce," Ciara whispered. "Don't let me go."
"I won't, baby, I won't." He held her, cupping her buttocks in one broad palm and pushing her into him.
Ciara felt her heart catapult and threaten to split her chest. Heat and that delicious tension tightened her muscles, clamping him to her, gripping him with sweet friction. She cradled his face in her hands, watching her world rip apart and come together in his eyes. He rose off his haunches and jammed her down, her legs clamped around his hips and pulling him harder to her.
He chanted her name as they clung, suspended in a pool of pleasure, absorbing the tide of sensation battering them before it slid quietly away.