By the time Candace and Jennie joined him at the table in the sunny sheltered spot outside the café, Jennie had stopped crying. After Candace secured her in the stroller, the baby lay back and focused intently on the Micky Mouse Band-Aid wrapped around her finger.
Nick winced. “Is it very bruised?”
“A little red. But no bruising—and no blood.”
“That’s a relief.”
A black-skirted waitress who’d been hovering while Nick waited took their coffee order. As an afterthought, Candace added a request for biscotti.
“Jennie will enjoy chewing it—the teeth coming through have been niggling her.”
Nick glanced at the baby. The stroller had been angled so the hot February sun didn’t fall on Jennie’s face, but her eyelids were drooping. “The biscotti might have to wait. She looks sleepy.”
Candace leaned forward across him and a hint of that sexy, spicy perfume wafted over Nick. It was becoming all too familiar—and so was the intoxicating effect her closeness had on his senses. He inhaled slowly and resisted the urge to stroke back the curl that had fallen over her face.
“She’s already asleep.” Candace couldn’t hide her astonishment. “The shock and tears must’ve tired her out.”
Nick sensed implied accusation. “It’s been a long morning for her—an outing to the doctor, the ride in the car, the fresh air and the excitement of seeing the ducks. It all added up.” He fixed his gaze on Candace, challenging her to mention the mishap with the goose.
Her lips pursed and she sat up straight. “There’s something you need to know.”
Folding his arms behind his head, Nick rocked back on his chair and gave her a lazy smile. “What is that?”
“I haven’t been completely honest with you.”
His smile disappeared. “What do you mean?”
Nick thought about Candace’s alarm when the goose pecked Jennie. It had hardly been the cool composure he would’ve expected from a nurse. Alison had sworn her references had been top rate. Was she a fraud? Not a nurse at all? Had she taken his sister in? “Don’t tell me. Not only are you not a nanny, you’re not a nurse, either.”
“I am a nurse—I’m fully qualified to take care of Jennie,” she said quickly.
The way his stomach dropped forced Nick to take a steadying breath. How bad could it be? “Spit it out.”
“I’m Jennie’s biological mother.”
Nick blinked. Whatever he’d expected, it wasn’t this. It took a moment for him to absorb her statement, and once he’d digested it, the tension in his belly unwound like a compressed spring uncurling and he let out a shout of laughter. “Don’t be absurd!”
“I’m not being absurd. I am Jennie’s mother.”
Nick took in the set of her pink mouth, the sparkle in her eyes—and lust, wholly unwelcome, surged in his groin. Giving her a slow smile, he lowered his voice and murmured, “Do you honestly believe I would’ve forgotten making love to you?”
“No!” A flush stained her cheeks. “I don’t mean you…” Her voice trailed away.
“Yet you claim to be Jennie’s mother.”
Disappointment flooded Nick. The woman might look like an angel, but she was the worst kind of fraud. A fallen angel. He didn’t know what she was after yet, but Nick was sure he would find out. All it would take was patience—and he’d always possessed plenty of that. He settled down to play her for all he was worth.
“But? You’re suddenly no longer so certain?” Nick raised an eyebrow to express his disbelief. As she rushed into speech, he raised a hand to cut her off. “Before you sink yourself any further, you should know that even though I was away on a string of business trips while Jilly was pregnant,” he emphasized, “I certainly never messed around during my marriage.”
“I’m not implying—”
“Then what are you suggesting?” he asked silkily.
“Jilly is not the baby’s mother. I am.”
She spoke Jilly’s name with easy familiarity. As if she’d known her…
Nick’s eyes narrowed.
Was it possible that the connection between the women was his late wife’s lover—Jennie’s father? Was that what this whole charade of pretending to be Jennie’s mother was all about? This must be what she’d been hinting at when she’d told him earlier that she wanted to talk to him about Jennie.
“So let me get this straight. Are you trying to say that Jennie was switched at birth?” Nick drawled.