Before his imagination took off to parts unknown, he cleared his throat and gestured to the room. "The kitchen obviously," he tossed a thumb back over his shoulder. "The garage, laundry room and back door are that way. There's an old servants staircase there, too."
Servant. That's what she was to him. Even if he was looking at her like they'd made love last night instead of five years ago. And despite that and the fantasies floating through her mind when she looked at him, she had to keep that in mind, remember why she was here and that she'd be leaving soon. It wouldn't take the agency long to nab Mark.
Needing a distraction, Ciara looked around the huge peach, green and white kitchen. It was decorated like something out of a magazine, with all the latest appliances and an island counter with a sink. A chef's dream. She couldn't wait to see the rest of this place.
"Can you cook?"
"Sure." She frowned a bit. "With Wife Incorporated, it's a requirement. Why would you ask?"
"Home cooking is the last thing I'd expect from you," he said with a sly glance.
Ciara's heart skipped an entire beat at the sound of his voice and she looked him over. "Being a dad is the last I'd have expected of you."
He gave her a velvety look. "No expectations, remember?"
She smirked. How could she not remember?
Bryce walked ahead and with the baby in her arms, Ciara followed him into the living room. "Front parlor," he said, then pointed out the dining room beyond before walking into the main hall. The foyer was wide, a staircase on the right sweeping to the second floor. He pointed to it. "Bedrooms and baths upstairs, den and library there," he said, gesturing to the left as he walked down the hall.
Carolina made noises, adding her own input.
Now that she'd had the chance to really look, Ciara was floored. The carved ceiling panels and wainscoting were works of art. Paintings hung on the walls and the hall was wide enough to fit a settee. When she'd driven up the long oak tree-lined driveway and had first seen the two-story house with double porches, she wondered how she was supposed to take care of this place when it went on forever. White with green plantation shutters, it spoke of old charm and grace, and she admitted it gave her a strange sense of home.
Odd, when she hadn't had a real home since joining the CIA.
He led her back through the kitchen, then into a large Carolina room banked with windows and filled with casual furniture, the TV, a stereo. He crossed to a pair of French doors and threw them open, letting her step out onto the back deck first.
And as she passed he whispered softly, "Welcome, Ciara, to River Bend."
* * *
« ^ »
Ciara stilled for a second. His tone made it seem as if he'd waited a lifetime to say that. And he meant it. She didn't dare look back over her shoulder at him. She could already feel the heat of his muscled body behind her like the sweet warmth of the sun. The urge to stop and sink back into him was nearly overpowering.
She mentally shook herself. Fantasy ends here, she thought. She hated that just his presence gave her ideas she'd no business having. She stepped farther onto the back deck and said, "Thank you. So, you named your house?"
He eyed her. "I take it you're not from the south."
Finally, she looked at him. "Well, I could fake a southern accent, if you want." She couldn't tell him that yes, she was from the south, born and raised only a couple hundred miles away from here, but she'd taken great pains to lose her southern accent. In the CIA, it didn't help to have her speech marked so clearly.
They walked farther out onto the deck.
Ciara scanned the landscape and lost her breath. "My God, this is heaven."
Though they were a good hundred yards from the water, the view was incredible—the river, houses on the other side, the sea toward the inlet. There was an in-ground pool and beyond it a gazebo big enough to house a table and chairs and chaise lounges. Live oaks and palm trees shaded the yard here and there, and even as the sun began its descent, she could see an intricate flower garden off to the left, a wicker sofa and table tucked under the spreading branches dripping with Spanish moss. That same sense of peace swept her again and her gaze landed on a wood swing hanging from a tree limb, and then a babbling fountain resting under the shade trees. Ahead of her, a dock stretched for half the length of a football field over the marsh to the water, a screened porch lay a few yards before the end of the pier. There were two boats anchored at the end, a dinged-up, well-used johnboat and a ritzy gleaming cabin cruiser. The contrast spoke volumes about Bryce.
"All this from the Secret Service?" she said softly.
He chuckled to himself. "Lord no. I barely made the rent working for the government. This house has been in my family for generations. It was my parents' home."