Instead, she’d chickened out.

Perhaps it had been the look on his face. There’d been something—a vulnerability—that had tugged at her heart. He’d looked…lonely.

Candace told herself that she was being ridiculous. Men like Nick Valentine weren’t lonely. They married wealthy trophy wives, lived in glossy architect-designed mansions, owned multimillion-dollar businesses.

Except Nick’s wife was dead…

He couldn’t possibly be missing Jilly, Candace told herself. Hadn’t Nick told her he’d suspected Jilly of having an affair? The extent of Jilly’s deception over the baby signaled to Candace that theirs had not been a healthy marriage.

A footfall scraped the deck and Candace turned her head. The sight of Nick coming toward her, threading his way between the lounging chairs, caused a flutter in her belly.

This made it two days in a row that he was home early…maybe being the boss had its perks after all.

“You’re early,” she commented, squinting up at him as his highly polished Italian shoes halted at the pool’s edge.

“I secured a contract to do the landscaping and supply the plants and garden furnishings for two coastal resorts. It’s a coup. I called it a day.” Nick glanced at his watch, then met her gaze and raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Half past six is not much earlier than normal.”

“Half past six?” Candace squawked. “Already?”

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

Candace ignored his quip. “Gosh, Jennie will turn into a prune.”

“She looks fine to me.” Nick squatted down on his haunches and wiggled his fingers at the baby. She gave him a delicious smile and chuckled. “I might go change into swim trunks and join you.”

The notion of being trapped with a good-humored, nearly naked Nick in a pool on such a balmy summer’s evening was more than Candace could handle.

“I should get Jennie out. She must be starving.”

His face went wooden, and she felt suddenly small and mean. “You know, a little while longer won’t kill her. You go change…we’ll wait for you.”

It took Nick only five minutes to change into swim trunks, grab a towel and hurry back to the pool.

Candace and Jennie were still in the water, the baby squealing with pleasure as Candace swung her back and forth, skimming the pool’s surface.

After dropping his towel on the lounger, Nick launched himself into the water. Jennie’s eyes popped out as he surfaced beside them. Her face puckered in distress and for a moment it looked like she might cry.

“Hey, hey,” he murmured, mentally kicking himself. “It’s only me…not some sea monster.”

When he looked up, Candace was watching him, but she was smiling.

“She wants you.”

Jennie had her arms out, and she rewarded him with a gurgle as he swam closer.

Nick’s insides melted. “Come here, you.”

Taking her from Candace, he scooped her to him and made little growls against her neck.

Jennie giggled, and bounced excitedly in his arms. Her fingers hooked around his hand as she bumped up and down.

“Hey, take it easy. I’ll be in trouble if I drop you,” he whispered. The memory of the day she’d been pecked by the goose and he’d nearly fallen in the lake still made him shudder.

That wasn’t happening again…

Jennie stuck out her fingers and closed them around his. Gold glinted on his left hand in the slanting rays.

“You wear a wedding ring.”

He glanced at the wedding band, then across to the woman who’d asked. Her gaze was still trained on his hand. “Yes.”

“A lot of men don’t wear a ring.”

“Jilly bought it for me.” She’d bought her own rings, too, Nick remembered with a touch of discomfort. But wearing a ring had saved him plenty of explanations at inopportune moments—not that some of Jilly’s acquaintances had paid much attention to the band of gold that had marked him as her property.

“You’re still wearing it.”

“I hadn’t thought about taking it off.” There hadn’t been another woman in his life so it hadn’t entered his mind. Except now there was Candace…

Their eyes meshed—and held. Her pupils, so black against the misty gray eyes, expanded. Trapping him.


He gazed down at Jennie’s fist clutching at the dusting of hair on his arm. “That hurt.”

The baby dimpled up at him, showing a gleam of pearly white.

“She’s got a tooth.” He stared at Candace.

“One. Lower incisor. The next one should cut any day now…”