There was one final question that was the easiest to resolve…was Jennie his daughter? Deep in his heart he knew it didn’t matter, because either way she was his. The blood tie no longer mattered.
But there was something very seductive about the idea that part of him and part of Candace had merged to produce the little girl who was fast becoming the most important person in his life.
At midday, a break in his schedule gave Nick the opportunity to visit the doctor. Within twenty-four hours he’d know for sure whether Jennie was his child or not. Once a swab had been taken and bagged, he headed the Ferrari to Valentine’s Garden Center and walked down to the lake. The grassy edge was crowded with preening ducks—the ducks that had so intrigued his Jennie—while the trio of trouble-causing geese stood in the lee of a nearby willow tree.
Damn birds didn’t know what they’d unleashed. Nick knew he had his work cut out to convince Candace that he was perfectly capable of caring for Jennie. That he wasn’t the unfit father she’d pegged him as.
The question of what he was going to do about Candace remained unresolved.
If Nick was honest with himself, he knew precisely what he wanted to do with Candace. He wanted to take her to his bed, slake this restless need that vibrated through him—the hunger and desire that sent his thoughts winging her way at the most inopportune moments. Thoughts that had him fantasizing about pulling her to him, covering her mouth with his and…
Hell, why not call it what it was? He wanted to cover her body with his, and he hardly cared whether he got her naked or not. All he cared about was possessing her—every inch of her creamy flesh. Touching her, tasting her, making her his.
Yet if he did that, he’d be left with the biggest headache of all. Nick wasn’t certain that if he took Candace in every way he dreamed, he’d be left intact. Would the burning passion consume more of his sense of self than he was willing to risk?
Then there was the impact a hot, reckless affair with Candace would have on the baby. Would it jeopardize his relationship with Jennie?
Yet this was hardly the kind of question Nick could bring himself to ask his lawyer.
The call from Apple Orchards Rest Home came just after Candace had fed Jennie her lunch in the garden on a picnic blanket overlooking the ocean.
Candace’s mother had suffered a fall, the kindly rest home director explained, once she’d allayed Candace’s fears of the worst. Nothing was broken—the x-ray had confirmed that. But her mother had been badly shaken.
Candace promised to come at once.
Terminating the call, Candace considered Jennie, who’d crawled to the edge of the picnic rug, her hand reaching for a cluster of tiny white daisies that had sprung up in the immaculately kept lawn.
In principle, today was Candace’s day off. She hadn’t taken time off because she’d wanted to stay close to Jennie in the wake of the confrontation with Nick. To be truthful, despite the confirmation that she was Jennie’s biological mother, an unreasoning fear lingered that if she left the property she might not be able to gain access again.
Candace knew she was overreacting.
Yet it was impossible to forget that bone-chilling moment outside the café when Nick had told her he was taking Jennie home and she could collect her paycheck from his office.
In her mind Candace had seen the tall gates of the Valentine mansion closing to her forever. She’d known it would be impossible to get back into Jennie’s world once she’d been shut out…and that primal fear lingered. Enough for her to have decided against visiting her mother today. But now her mom had taken a fall.
The guilt was hard to shake.
Candace knew Mrs. Busby was more than capable of looking after the baby for a few hours while she checked on her mom. Yet she hesitated. Mrs. Busby had her own responsibilities. Wednesday was the day she planned the week’s meals and did the shopping. Candace hated the thought of throwing Mrs. Busby’s schedule off. Nor did she want to arouse the housekeeper’s curiosity. To raise questions Candace didn’t want to be forced to answer…
The alternative course was to leave Jennie with Alison. But that was quickly ruled out when she learned that Alison had gone with her husband to an urgent meeting. Turning her attention back to the baby, now with a fistful of daisies, Candace considered Jennie. A smear of apple puree on her chin had Candace reaching for a cloth. The baby laughed as Candace wiped it, and love for Jennie swept through her.
There was no other choice. She’d take Jennie with her to check on her mother, because she had no intention of asking her baby’s father for help. Ever since yesterday, she’d been plagued by unwanted images, her body prickling with unwelcome awareness of the man who was starting to consume far too much of her thoughts. He was Jennie’s father, for heaven’s sake. He could never be her lover…