The baby fell silent. Her head turned, and wide-spaced eyes gazed up at him. Their color had lightened from the navy blue they’d been the last time he’d seen her. Jilly’s eyes had been sapphire blue while his own were a much darker indigo shade. Neither hue was apparent in the cloudy gray depths of Jennie’s eyes.
The unspoken dread deepened.
There was a moment of stillness when neither of them moved as they examined each other. Then Jennie gave a coo and stretched out a hand. Nick stilled. What did the past matter? This was a baby…innocent of it all.
He touched her hand with one finger.
Jennie’s hand clutched his forefinger. They gazed at each other. Nick held his breath. The silence in the nursery was absolute, the moment powerful and intense.
He cleared his throat, told himself he was being fanciful. Yet something had changed—even as Jennie’s fingers wrapped more tightly around his.
It was too much. And too soon. Nick gently shook the baby’s fingers loose and turned blindly for the door, head down, desperate to escape, his hand groping for the door handle.
Before he’d found it, the door swung open.
Nick caught sight of a blur of movement and the next instant a hard object thudded against the side of his head.
“Ow! What the—?”
He glared down into the most angelic face he’d ever seen. Wide-spaced silver-gray eyes, an upturned nose, a sweetly curved pink mouth and cascading golden curls.
Nick was in no mood to be converted.
Yet the sudden pull of attraction unsettled him. Fingering the tender spot above his ear, he straightened to his full height, and snarled. “Do you always rush in without looking where you’re going?”
Candace stared up in horror at the man blocking her way to the nursery.
She must’ve said it out loud, because his glare intensified. “Who else were you expecting?”
“Uh…” She scanned the hard features. The strong, square jaw. The bladed nose, and an ancient scar that cut through one black eyebrow, giving him a dangerous air. Eyes so dark a blue as to appear black. He was much bigger than newspaper photos had suggested, at least six foot three.
Awake and up close, the handsome features were even more forbidding—not helped by that piratical scar and the almost-black eyes. Her heartbeat grew faster.
“I thought you were still downstairs, sleeping.” Damn. Damn. Damn. “I’m so sorry.”
“I’m going to have a lump like an egg,” he accused, rubbing his head.
She stared at his fingers, cursing herself for being in such a hurry. “We should get some ice on it.”
“Get some ice on it? That’s all you’re going to say about assaulting me?”
He was furious. Her pounding heart sank into the comfortable Ugg boots she’d taken to wearing inside to protect her feet from the acres of shiny marble. Her first meeting with her new boss couldn’t have gone any worse.
Candace became conscious of how close he was standing. The warm, tangy scent of him swirled around her. “It was an accident,” she protested halfheartedly. The force of the contact had jarred her elbow. It must hurt him like blazes. She started to apologize again.
“You need to watch where you’re going,” he said.
The unfairness of the accusation caused her to flush. “You ran into me,” she defended herself.
His fingers probed along his hairline above his ear. “What the hell was the weapon?”
“A tin of formula.”
The other hand released her arm, and his gaze followed hers to the floor. “A tin of baby formula?”
The disbelief in his voice compounded the realization that she’d hurt her boss, and her knees went weak. Was he going to think she was totally incompetent?
She sagged against him and mumbled, “I’m truly sorry.”
Thankfully, this time he didn’t say anything.
And this close to him it was even more difficult to think clearly. Nick’s body was taut and unexpectedly muscled under the crumpled, striped business shirt, and much warmer than she’d expected. Much firmer, too. It wasn’t the body of a man who sat behind a desk all day.
What was she doing thinking about Nick Valentine’s taut and admittedly well-honed body? It struck her that she wasn’t giving him a very good impression of her professionalism. Candace jerked upright as a quiver of fear feathered across her heart. If Nick Valentine doubted her ability to look after his daughter, he’d dismiss her without a second thought.
She searched for something to restore normality and asked a little breathlessly, “What did you come upstairs for?”