"Oh Bryce, look at that smile."

Carolina let go of the sofa, cooing at her daddy, her arms out for balance as she trotted her first hurried steps toward him.

"That's it honey, come on." She took two more steps, then tumbled into his arms. Bryce grabbed her up and howled with laughter. "Did you see her? She's a pro already!"

Setting the camera on the coffee table, Ciara rushed close. "What a good girl!"

The adults kissed and hugged Carolina, and when Bryce laughed and held the baby up above him, telling her how proud he was of her, Carolina blinked at them, tears filling her eyes. Her lip curled down.

"Uh-oh," Bryce said, holding her close as Carolina burst into tears.

"Oh dear," Ciara said with a smile, her own eyes glossy. She stroked the baby's head, whispering soft words of praise. The baby sniffled and finally looked between the adults. Ciara clapped softly and the baby mimicked her. Ciara bubbled with laughter and she bent and kissed her charge.

When she straightened, she met Bryce's gaze, grinning. "Something, huh?"

"Yeah," he said his gaze sketching her features. She was so close he could smell her perfume.

"She's been practicing all afternoon. I was hoping she'd wait 'til you got here."

"Thanks for letting her come to me."

"Well, it's only fitting that I do the work around here and you get all the fun stuff," she teased.

"You're done a great job with her, Ciara. Thank you."

"You're welcome." Ciara's gaze searched his and when she started to move back, Bryce slipped his hand behind her neck and pulled her toward him.

She braced her hands on his chest. "Bryce, I don't think—"

"Don't think, Ciara. For God's sake, don't. I'm not."

His mouth pressed warmly to hers and she moaned at the warm contact, trying, in her mind, to resist, yet her heart refused to be ignored. She wanted this man. She wanted more than she had a right to, but that didn't stop her from sinking into his kiss, worrying his lips until he crushed hers beneath his own.

It was like coming home, a welcome back, soft and tender and filled with banked passion. Oh, how I've missed him, she thought and gripped his shoulder, longing for the feel of his strength against her, for the moment when she couldn't tell where she ended and he began.

His kiss grew stronger, his head shifting back and forth to take more and give more.

Bryce felt as if he were drinking in pure joy. She'd driven him insane with desire for those first days and now he was just plain hungry for the sight of her. For the sounds she made, to be close enough to hear her breathing, feel her warmth. Carnal pleasures were outweighed with his want of her, of the woman, to uncover her secrets and share some of his own. He hadn't wanted to feel this way, hadn't wanted to get involved with her, but he admitted that she'd invaded him for five years and there was no use in battling for twenty more. He deepened his kiss, pushing his tongue between her lips and she answered with a deep throaty moan that set his nerves endings on fire.

It wasn't enough. He needed to feel her skin and reached…

Carolina squirmed between them, crying out her discomfort, and slowly they parted, stealing short quick kisses before looking down at the baby in his lap.

"Da-da! Moooo," the baby said, smiling.

Bryce blinked. "Is she calling me a cow?"

"Better you than me," Ciara muttered, her mouth and body tingling from his kiss.

He lifted his daughter off his lap and set her on the floor. Carolina immediately tried to stand and plopped down on her behind.

"I've got a few days before she starts running at least."

Bryce didn't say anything, his gaze shifting from his daughter to the woman he wanted more than just in his bed. He wasn't sure where this relationship was going, but he wasn't willing to discard it, either. Staying away from Ciara had given him nothing but sleepless nights and endless days of work trying to push her image out of his mind. But she was ingrained there. Lately, he found himself reasoning out why he should open this dangerous door more often than listening to the warnings of the past year.

Wanting her body beneath his had little to do with it. It was the woman she was, his mind finally separating a one-night fantasy from the real person kneeling on the floor with his daughter. He looked forward to glimpses of her, and conversation with her no matter how stilted. And for some reason, seeing her with his daughter made him want her more. Bryce still wasn't certain he wanted to take a chance and he would settle for simply being near her. Without fighting, without pushing, and hopefully she wouldn't close him out.

Because he didn't know what else to do.

Ciara had haunted him for five years, and ignoring the ghost of his past was a hell of a lot easier on his heart than ignoring the flesh-and-blood woman.

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