Ciara patted the baby's back, and Bryce watched in complete amazement as his daughter nuzzled her dirty face against Ciara's chest.
Bryce blinked. "It's got to be a woman thing."
"Not really, it's a baby thing. I'm just not fighting with her." She grinned at him, a little devilish and his heart choked. "Besides, she's warm, messy, sticky and I can't believe you gave her sugar." She plucked the remains of the cookie from the baby and dropped it into his hand.
Carolina didn't make a fuss. Then Ciara stepped inside the house, brushing past him. "Which way to the kitchen?" she said as she walked.
"Your next right." He stood there for a moment, then grabbed her bag and her suitcases off the porch and brought them inside. Closing the door, he strode into the kitchen, tossing the cookie in the trash.
She had Carolina on the counter and was gently washing her face and hands, talking softly, smiling. "Well, darling, you need a bath and some fresh clothes." She glanced at Bryce, then her gaze swept meaningfully to the mess on the kitchen table. "How much of that did she really eat?"
"Not much. She more or less made missiles of it all."
Ciara nodded. "Does she use a bottle or a cup?"
"As of recently, one of these," he said, holding up a tippy cup that rolled when he set it back down.
"Is she on a schedule?"
Lifting the child in her arms, she looked at him. He was washing his hands, and not more than two feet away from her. It set her nerves tingling again.
"A schedule. Nap time, bedtime, bath time."
"So she's been ruling the roost."
His shoulder sagged a little. "Pretty much." Why did that embarrass him? Drying his hands on a towel, he eyed her. "You aren't going to regiment Carolina into a routine, are you?"
"No, but I've learned from the best that setting times for meals and naps helps babies as much as it does the parents." She cocked her head. "How do you think moms get anything done?"
"It's a talent that has escaped me, obviously." He cleared his throat and asked, "Are you a mother?"
"No, and never married."
He nodded. "So how did you get experience with babies?"
"I have all the requirements you wanted, but I raised my younger sister and I earned money in college by being a nanny. Mostly on the weekends, though."
"Made for dull college days."
"I wouldn't say that." She looked at the baby in her arms, realizing that it had been a while since she'd cared for a child this young. Years. Since she'd joined the agency. Yet the memories of her college years swept through her like a warm, gentle breeze. Those other people's children had been her saviors when she'd felt lonely and homesick. And though she never considered herself mom material, especially after years with the CIA, this child needed her. It was obvious with the chaos in this house. But could she be objective, walk away when everything in her career was back to normal?
Bryce's tone warned her that he'd called her more than once and she blamed her inattention on the alias last name she'd given him. She met his gaze and smiled. "Call me Ciara. I think it's a bit more appropriate."
His features tightened, as if fighting a smile.
"She looks just like you," Ciara said and somehow that pleased him.
He looked at his daughter and his entire body softened. He moved closer, touching Carolina's hair. "You think so?"
He met her gaze and their close proximity made his thoughts skip and stall on her, made him imagine what she looked like naked. What she felt like in his arms. This was going to be tough if he couldn't even look at her without remembering that night. He wanted to call Wife Incorporated and ask for someone less … beautiful and exotic. But he needed help now. Besides, he could handle this, he thought. He wasn't going to get involved with the nanny, no matter who she was. However, just seeing his baby cuddled in her arms did something to him.
"So Mr. Ashland, are we going to stand in this tornado of a room all day or are you going to show me this house and tell me what I'll be doing?"
Bryce watched her stroke Carolina's arm, then press her lips to the top of his daughter's head. As if she'd known his child from the day she was born. But household duties were not what he was thinking about right now. He couldn't take his eyes off Ciara. She hadn't changed. She was still a classic beauty, and though she looked a little thinner than before, she was still curved and womanly. The thought of putting his hands on her bare skin again made him hard, and he instantly knew he could get into real trouble with her around. He reminded himself she was his employee and old fantasies were just that. Old and buried. Well, he thought with a long look at her, not quite buried.