“You’re not old,” Candace said automatically, though her mother had aged since the accident. Being outside would lift her spirits and the vitamin D would be good for her, too. “Are you sure you’re up to it?”
“Oh, yes. The sunshine is beautiful.”
Candace helped her mother into a wheelchair and planted Jennie on her lap. Then she pushed them both out into the sunlight.
“Let’s go to the rose gardens,” Catherine suggested.
Halting the wheelchair in her mother’s favorite spot, Candace said, “Here, let me take Jennie from you. She must be heavy.”
“She’s fine.” Catherine gave her a faint smile. “It’s been a long time since I held a baby. She smells just as I remember you did…of that special fragrance babies have. Clean skin, well-laundered clothes and something else—” she bent her head and inhaled “—lavender?”
“And tea tree.”
“Lavender will help her sleep.” Her mother looked startled. “I’d forgotten that.”
“It has good antiseptic properties, too.” Candace didn’t want to look too elated at the tiny breakthrough in her mother’s ability to recall information.
“But the lavender doesn’t always work.” Reaching out a hand, Candace touched the baby’s head tenderly.
“She doesn’t sleep?”
“Most of the time she’s an angel.” That instantly reminded her of Nick. He’d called her an angel…
“There’s a rocker in her room that I sit in when I give Jennie her nighttime bottle. That sends her to sleep most nights.”
“But what about her parents?”
Candace looked up to find her mother watching her, a frown wrinkling her forehead.
“Where are her parents?” Catherine asked again.
Drawing a deep breath, Candace said, “Her mother is dead.”
“Oh, poor little tyke. What about her father?”
“He’s a businessman—he owns a string of garden centers that keep him busy.”
“That’s a shame.” Her mother’s brow wrinkled. “I used to visit Valentine’s Garden Centers. I loved buying plants—particularly my roses.”
Candace stared at her mother. “I work for Nick Valentine,” she said slowly, the air that had been so summery suddenly chilling her. She shook the eerie sensation off.
Her mother wouldn’t—couldn’t—know that Nick and Candace were Jennie’s parents. It wasn’t possible. Catherine only remembered the centers because she’d been an avid gardener before the accident.
“In fact, we recently took Jennie to one of the centers—she loved the ducks.”
“There must’ve been swans, too.”
“Oh, there were.” Was her mother starting to remember? Months ago the doctors had said that her mother might never remember things from the past, so each recollection was a moment to treasure and be grateful for. “There were geese, too—one pecked Jennie.” That memory was one Candace would sooner forget.
But there would be other memories to replace that. Like the sight of Jennie in her grandmother’s lap. This was a moment Candace would treasure forever.
By the time Candace pulled the station wagon up in front of the Valentine mansion, the late-afternoon rays of sun had taken on a golden hue. The light warmed the stark lines of the residence, softening the hard, sculpted angles of the design.
She—and Jennie—were exhausted. But in Candace’s case it was the exhaustion of deep satisfaction, the feeling of a mission accomplished.
The glow didn’t dissipate when the front door opened and Nick appeared.
“So you’ve decided to come back,” he said from the bottom of the stairs as she clambered out of the car.
A quiver of apprehension fluttered in her stomach. Nick Valentine always looked crisply immaculate, but the man who faced her appeared nowhere near as well-put-together as usual. He was wearing suit pants, his jacket had been discarded and the white striped business shirt hung out, giving him an unusually rumpled look. She noticed that the top two buttons were unbuttoned, revealing a triangle of golden skin at his throat. Candace jerked her gaze upward, and clashed with a stormy pair of navy-blue eyes.
“Where have you been?”
She couldn’t have found her voice even if she’d tried.
“I’ve been calling you for hours,” he bit out.
Oh, no! Candace scrabbled in the side pocket of her tote and extricated her phone. Switching it on, she was met by a chorus of beeps signifying missed messages.
“My phone was off.” Remorse filled her. “I’m sorry, Nick. I didn’t realize.”