Jennie was the sweetest baby in the world. In her job as a pediatric surgery nurse, Candace had seen many, but this one was special.
Her face softened and she tightened her arms. Jennie made a snuffling sound of contentment against her T-shirt and Candace’s heart melted like honey in summer sunshine. Poor little motherless thing. The first time she’d held the baby she’d felt the inexplicable bond. This wasn’t her child, she had to remind herself—Jennie belonged to someone else. Yet she couldn’t help being smitten…and more than a little envious of the gift that Nick Valentine treated with such cavalier disregard.
Pushing the door leading into the house open, Candace tiptoed into the glossy marble-and-silver perfection of the foyer that made her feel like she’d stumbled into the pages of an architectural design magazine every time she entered the house. No plants softened the hard edges; no flowers spilling out of vases broke the palette of black, silver, icy lemon and white.
The baby in her arms was the only real thing there.
She glanced through to the black-and-chrome kitchen. It was empty. Across the lobby she could hear the blare of the television. Her pulse quickened and her stomach tied itself up in knots. She resisted the urge to flee upstairs. No point putting this meeting off. The sooner she met her boss the better.
Hoisting Jennie higher into her arms, she halted in the doorway to the sitting room. A tremor of shock quaked through her.
Nick Valentine lay sprawled across a white leather sofa in front of a wide-screen television. His dark-as-midnight hair was rumpled as though he’d raked his fingers through the strands. His suit jacket had been abandoned over the back of the couch and the top two buttons of his striped business shirt had been undone to reveal a patch of bare, tanned skin. He was so much more than she’d bargained for—Candace hadn’t expected his sheer physical presence.
Thankfully, the man was asleep.
Candace swallowed. Hurriedly, she forced her delinquent gaze away. A fluffy omelet lay untouched on a tray next to his highly shined shoes, which were propped up on the outsize glass cube serving as a coffee table. A half-empty tumbler of amber liquid sat beside him on the couch.
What had she expected?
A father who couldn’t wait to see his baby? Nick Valentine was a businessman—first and always. Jilly Valentine had told her that. Her gaze flicked to the mirror table cube. The kind of man who drank Scotch rather than eating a carefully prepared meal, and fell asleep in front of a sports channel rather than seeking out his daughter after a month’s absence.
The hope that perhaps she’d misjudged the man flickered out. Turning away, Candace hugged Jennie closer, suddenly desperate to get away from the baby’s uncaring father.
Upstairs it was time to bathe the baby. Afterward, with Jennie changed and ready for bed, Candace headed for the fridge set under the counter in the corner of the nursery where the bottles she’d sterilized earlier waited. In fact, every modern convenience a baby could possibly need was at Candace’s fingertips.
There were certainly uses for Nick Valentine’s millions. But what did they help a baby whose father showed so little interest in her?
Candace grimaced on discovering that the formula was finished and she’d forgotten to bring another container up. Now she’d have to go fetch it from the well-stocked pantry in the kitchen downstairs.
Putting Jennie in the crib, she shut her ears to the wails of complaint as she made for the door. “I’ll only be a moment, Jennie.”
A profound sense of disorientation shook Nick.
The bright screen flickering out into the darkness confused him, and he blinked to escape the drowsiness that pressed down on him like smog.
Guilt knifed him. The hectic rush of the past few weeks was no excuse for his reluctance to see the baby. If he’d stayed away much longer, she wouldn’t have recognized him.
Nick staggered to his feet. This time the stairs seemed to take forever to climb. And this time the nursery door was firmly closed—not open as he’d left it earlier. Relief flooded him. Jennie might already be sleeping, then he’d be off the hook.
He advanced into the nursery.
A snuffling noise told him the baby was still awake. Swallowing, he took another step. A pool of muted light surrounded the crib where Jennie lay. A quick glance around revealed that the party of teddy bears had been put away…and the rocker that Jilly had insisted on ordering for the nursery was empty. Jennie was alone.
Where the hell was that fancy nurse his sister had raved about?
Three strides took him to the side of the crib.
Once there, he hesitated, fighting his reluctance to pick up the baby. At last he managed to master the fears little Jennie would never know about.