Get over it.
But the sight of his grim face knocked her off the frivolous emotional seesaw of her own dilemma.
Something terrible had clearly happened.
Nick crossed the carpet, tossed a large envelope on the coffee table, and reached for Jennie.
“Nick…” The cold, set expression on his face as he lifted the baby into his arms unnerved her. “What’s happened?”
He turned his head and gazed at her over the baby’s head. There was a blank opacity in his eyes that made her heart stop. “Talk to me,” she said. “You’re scaring me.”
“Desmond—” He broke off, burying his face in Jennie’s neck.
“What about him?” What could his father-in-law have done to evoke this kind of reaction?
“He wants Jennie.”
“What do you mean?” Chills goosed over her skin. “What’s going on?”
“He’s launched legal action.” Nick raised his head and nodded toward the envelope he’d cast onto the table. “He wants custody of Jennie.”
Candace covered her face with her hands. “Oh, my God.” Spreading her fingers, she raised her head and stared helplessly at Nick. “Will he get it?”
“Not while I breathe.” Determination turned his voice to steel. “He has money and power, but so do I. And this time I’m going to fight him.”
“Why is he doing this?”
Nick hesitated, then said reluctantly, “He claims that I am a womanizer, that Jennie is neglected. It appears it was sparked by seeing you with me at the carnival—perhaps he thought I’d defiled his daughter’s memory. That I’d already replaced her…with you.”
That only made her feel so much worse. Because Desmond hadn’t been wrong. By the end of the day she had been in Nick’s bed. Jilly’s bed. Oh, darn… How sordid.
So much for putting it all behind her. It was proving to be impossible.
“Surely he won’t have a case? He’d have to prove you grossly neglected Jennie.” Anyone could see that wasn’t true. Jennie was exploring the buttons of his chest, so at home in his arms that it brought a lump to Candace’s throat.
Nick’s mouth slanted up. “Even you thought that was true at one time.”
“But not anymore.” And that was true.
“He’ll call Jilly’s friends as witnesses to say I never cared for her, that I ignored her while we were married. Emotional abuse, they’ll call it.”
“But it was understandable,” Candace defended him. “And it doesn’t relate to Jennie.”
“The same people will say that I wasn’t interested in Jilly’s pregnancy, that I wasn’t even present for the baby’s birth, that I went away for long periods for work and didn’t even return when my child was ill—and it’s all true.”
He sounded so wretched that Candace’s heart went out to him.
Nick settled down on the carpet beside her. Jennie stretched her hands out to the toys scattered around Candace, and he set her down. Both of them watched the baby as she tried to crawl toward the nearest blocks.
“How could I ever have known that she would wrap herself around my heart?” His gaze met Candace’s. “I won’t lose her. Desmond doesn’t realize what he’s started. I’ve already instructed my lawyers to oppose it. I think his suit is based on a pack of lies, but I’m not prepared to risk losing.” Nick shifted closer. “Candace, we’re going to make it clear he has no claim to Jennie—no biological tie exists between Jennie and Desmond.”
“But Jilly adopted Jennie.”
“I’m still waiting for proof that the adoption went through. You and I are Jennie’s biological parents—and we both love her.” His hand settled on hers where it pressed into the carpet. “I don’t think this is about Jennie—I think this is about clinging on to Jilly. He can’t accept that she’s gone.”
Candace shifted her weight to enable her to turn her hand palm up, and laced her fingers with his, drawing immeasurable comfort from his touch. She’d been so careful to stay out of Nick’s reach for the past couple of days in case she gave away her newly discovered feelings to him. The tender emotions were so precious, she had to shelter them from the bruising and battering that were inevitable.
But this time his touch wasn’t about sex. It was about so much more.
“It must be hard for Desmond to have lost his daughter.” Watching Jennie playing, she couldn’t stop a twinge of sympathy for Jilly’s father from stirring within her. How terrible to lose a child. “Poor man.”