He didn’t answer. Instead, he studied her. Candace shifted nervously. In the dimness of the doorway she couldn’t clearly make out his expression. Of course, every emotion on her face would be visible to him under the overhead light. Could he see her apprehension? Was he really going to fire her for her clumsiness?
She flinched, and waited a heartbeat. Yet there was no dawning recognition in the narrowed gaze.
“Yes, I’m Candace,” she conceded at last. “And you’re Nick Valentine.”
He inclined his head. “You have the advantage on me. I don’t know your last name.”
“Morrison.” She gave it with reluctance, tensing as she waited warily for his reaction.
Nothing changed in the enigmatic navy-blue eyes. Her name meant nothing to him. Only by sheer willpower did she prevent herself from closing her eyes in relief. The longer he remained in ignorance, the better for her. Candace suppressed the notion that he deserved to know, then dismissed the momentary scruple and told herself he wouldn’t care. If he’d been the kind of man to care, everything would’ve played out differently.
Even as she grappled with what to do next, Jennie let out a howl of protest in the room behind them.
Candace could’ve kissed the baby for the timely distraction.
Nick spun around and hurried into the nursery, and she followed quickly in his wake.
He peered into the crib. “What’s wrong with her?”
“She’s tired and she wants her bottle.” Candace scooped the baby into her arms and handed her to Nick. He hesitated.
“Hold her while I get the bottle ready,” she said hurriedly. “Otherwise, she’s going to howl the place down.”
On cue, Jennie’s protests grew louder. Nick clumsily reached for the baby. Candace hovered, worried that he might drop her. He made some grunting noises, apparently intended to comfort the baby, but they only made Jennie scream more loudly.
“If you hold her a little more firmly, she’d settle.”
Watching him, Candace was visited by the insane notion that Nick had never held the baby before. It wasn’t possible. Yet he didn’t appear familiar with the baby at all.
Her heart ached for Jennie. Poor motherless tyke. Nick was an ambitious businessman who spent more time chasing deals than with his child. Of course, having a full-time nanny made it all too easy for Nick to avoid his parenting responsibilities.
Candace wasn’t ready to analyze the surge of emotions that flooded her. Instead, she grabbed his wrist. “Put one hand here…” she placed it behind Jennie’s bottom “…and the other here.”
“She’s my daughter. I know how to hold her.”
Who was he trying to fool? Yet the warmth of his skin beneath her fingertips drew her attention back to Nick, making Candace aware that her hand still gripped his wrist.
She released him as if she’d been scorched and stepped back, out of his force field, and ordered, “Walk with her.”
He gave her a brooding look, then complied.
Jennie’s bitter complaints forced Candace to hurriedly retrieve the tin of formula off the floor, open it and mix up a bottle. The howls turned to querulous grumbles that finally abated. Candace didn’t pause to see what had caused the change; she kept focused on what she was doing. By the time the bottle was ready, she turned to find Nick holding a bunch of keys in front of the baby, flaunting the famous Ferrari tag with its rearing horse.
Jennie was enthralled. Her plump fingers clutched the keys as she tried to shove them into her mouth. Nick was looking confounded, struggling to keep the keys a safe distance from little madam’s face. Every time Jennie opened her mouth, he flinched. What was he expecting—the baby to devour the keys or holler with frustration?
At the sight of Candace, relief darkened his indigo eyes to the shade of midnight. “Take her.”
Normally she would’ve jumped at the invitation. She loved feeding the baby, and the last bottle of the day had become a special shared ritual for them both. The quiet of the nursery, the old-fashioned tick-tock of the antique grandfather clock in the corner, the warmth of the baby’s body cuddled up against her. Moments to treasure forever.
Yet his terse command, the way he was ready to rid himself of the baby at the first opportunity, all caused the aching sympathy for the baby to deepen. He was Jennie’s father, after all.
Even though he appeared to have forgotten all about her for the past month.
Candace had to try to get through to him, show him what he was missing. No one knew better than she how it felt to yearn for a child…