"How could you be so sure?"
She brought her gaze back to his. "Because that's what I would have done."
His expression turned to granite, unfeeling, unmoving, and Ciara saw her past coming back to bite her.
"This was too serious to keep from me Ciara. I can't believe I didn't see this coming."
"You weren't supposed to."
"Yes, you're damn good, I'll give you that."
She winced. "None of us were in danger until you started snooping around in my past."
"It isn't your past, is it? You're still CIA. Do you even know who you are?"
His words cut deep, making the muscles in her chest tighten painfully and threaten her breathing. "I thought I was the woman you loved."
His features twisted with more pain.
"Apparently I'm not even that."
When he didn't say anything, Ciara knew. She knew. She'd never gain his forgiveness. So she did the only thing she could to save a little dignity. She turned around and walked out of the room.
Bryce didn't watch her leave. He didn't have to. He could feel the loss seeping through him and stealing his air.
He sank down onto the bed, cradling his head in his hands. Oh God.
* * *
Ciara walked through the stone arch of the George Bush Center for Intelligence and didn't feel what she expected. It wasn't coming home, it didn't make her feel as if she were embarking on an adventure. It simply felt foreign. Her heels clicked on the marble floor as she walked down the hall, making a series of turns, riding an elevator and stepping into the almost sterile forbidding environment.
She'd spent three days debriefing her superiors, the senator and, unfortunately, the director. She refused to tell them where she had been for the past two months until she had a promise from them not to speak with Bryce. She wouldn't involve him more than he was. She wouldn't let them destroy his life anymore than she had. She stilled, pressing her hand to the wall and catching her breath. Oh God this hurts, she thought and forced back the tears.
She continued down the hall, pushing past the double doors and into her boss's office.
He barely glanced up. "Caldwell, I'm busy," Patterson barked.
"Good. This will only take a moment."
* * *
Bryce rushed into his daughter's room and found the new nanny pacing the floor, the baby in her arms.
The young blond woman looked at him. "I'm sorry we woke you, sir. She keeps waking and crying out for her mama."
"I know," he said, coming close and taking Carolina. "Go back to your room. I'll take care of her."
The nanny frowned softly, then nodded, and left them alone.
Bryce sat in the small rocker, and cuddled his daughter close. She settled a little, still whimpering and clinging fiercely to him. She was too young to understand anything beyond the fact that the woman who'd acted like her mother was gone. It was cruel. And Bryce blamed himself. He done what he'd sworn he wouldn't do. Ciara had finally trusted him, and he let her down by rejecting her. By pushing her out of his life. She was a strong independent woman. She'd been alone for years, taking care of herself and the fate of the world. Of course, she would solve her problems herself. And for the hundredth time he wondered where she was, what she was doing.
She'd left him before he'd roused himself from the bedroom. He'd caught a glimpse of her as she'd pulled out of the driveway. Of the tears streaming down her face. Later he'd found her bedroom stripped and a short note that said she'd called Wife Incorporated and they'd send someone over to help him with the baby in the morning.
As if she could be so easily replaced.
With one look at his house and his baby, he knew she wasn't all spying and CIA. Yet he couldn't help the thoughts that plagued him. That he would never be enough for her, that he and his boring life could never replace the intrigue and danger of being an agent. Hadn't he resented leaving his career for Diana? How could he expect that of Ciara?
He rubbed his face, his throat locking tight. Yet without her in his life, in his arms, it just hurt.
* * *
Ciara came around the side of the house and stopped, simply watching her family. She hadn't called, afraid they would shut her out. And she wanted to run, yet forced herself to take steps forward and push open the tall gate. It creaked as it swung and several faces turned toward her. She stepped out from under the shade of the wisteria bush and waited.
"Sugarbear?" Michael said, moving toward her.
From the far side of the yard, a young dark-haired woman shrieked and bolted toward her. Michael swept Ciara up in his arms first and hugged her. The instant he put her down, Cassie threw herself into her arms, sobbing. Ciara fought the tears and failed.
Then a deep voice said, "What do you have to say for yourself?"