Or could they?

“But something changed.” Nick interrupted her thoughts. “When Jilly stopped talking about our baby, I became convinced she had a lover, someone she preferred to father her baby.”

“Maybe she stopped thinking of the baby as hers,” said Candace slowly. “After all, the eggs and womb were mine. It had nothing to do with your role at all.”

“That would make sense.” Nick shook his head. “God, what a mess. I drew the wrong conclusion. But I didn’t care enough to confront her. I was relieved—all I could think about was paying Desmond back. In the back of my mind I knew I would eventually divorce Jilly. It suited me that her child wasn’t mine. It was an easy way out for me.”

She touched his hand where it lay on the table. “I’m sorry, Nick.”

He held her gaze. “It’s not a very nice story.”

“No. But you must’ve felt terribly trapped.”

“Like my back was against the wall,” he admitted.

“Yet you never took it out on Jennie.”

“I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t confess that I did resent her a little—I believed she was another man’s baby. But it didn’t take me long to figure out she’s the innocent in all this—and it’s not hard to love her. She’s very special.”

Her fingers were still resting on his hand. It was a masculine hand with scrapes and calluses. A strong, capable hand. His fingers closed around hers. Her gaze flicked to his, only to be snared in the blazing heat.

After that, Candace couldn’t have said what she ate when the main course arrived. The intensity of Nick’s gaze, the way her stomach bottomed out every time their eyes met—all left her with an edgy feeling of expectation that grew as the evening wore on. She couldn’t help thinking that Nick had depths she’d never expected. He’d suffered so much, worked so hard…and proven himself to be a man of honor.

A man worthy of being a father to Jennie.

Once back home, Nick followed Candace up the marble stairway.

She paused on the landing where it widened into a sitting area. “Thank you for dinner—it was lovely to get out.”

There was a moment of awkward silence, then Nick muttered, “The hell with it.” He stepped closer, gave her a brief chance to escape.

Candace murmured huskily, “I’ll go to my room now.”

Yet she didn’t move.

The silence between them stretched out. Two beats. Then three. At last, when Nick was quite sure she’d had all the time in the world to make her decision, he reached for her. Candace never hesitated. She flew into his arms.

It wasn’t a gentle kiss—Nick was far too aroused for that. The tension that had been rising in him for days had reached a breaking point. By the time it ended, he was breathing heavily.

Their eyes met. Something shifted, subtle, impossible to recognize.

Nick’s hands came up to tangle in her silky hair, holding her so that when he lowered his head a second time his mouth slanted across hers, creating the perfect kiss.

Candace didn’t object. She kissed him back with enough eager intensity for him to know that the blazing attraction was mutual.

Hunger twisted inside him, hot and wild.

When the kiss ended this time, Nick had to battle for control as tremors of anticipation quaked through him.

Slowly…

He’d thought he could leash the power, but Candace quickly proved him wrong. It didn’t take much. Her hands crept up, along his shirtfront…up…until they rested on his shoulders. Rising on her toes, her tongue tip tantalized his bottom lip, shredding what little restraint he still possessed.

His hands shaking, Nick unfastened the frustratingly small buttons of the chemise-style front of her dress. The edges parted, and his fingers found the soft skin of her breasts. She wore no bra. Heat exploded in him.

Nick groaned.

“I don’t know how much of this I can take,” he muttered hoarsely, his hands closing over the curves.

She leaned closer, her body pressing up against his. Nick released the soft flesh, and his arms slid around her. He let his hands wander down her back, over the cotton jersey that fell in soft folds over her hips. He clasped her hips, pulled her close to him, so she could feel his body’s hard response.

Candace moved in little restless circles against him. Nick’s erection leaped, straining to be free.

This was more woman than he’d ever held…even in his dreams. Nick groaned again.

She nibbled his bottom lip. Nick yanked her closer so that she was plastered up against him, her softness yielding to him. The shoestring straps of her dress slid down her shoulders. He bent his head and pressed openmouthed kisses along the crest of her shoulders tasting her…inhaling the hauntingly familiar sweet, spicy scent of her until Candace shuddered in his arms.

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