What a temptation, to discard her duties and have another romp with this hunk of man. But her partner needed her. "You could always interest me, secret agent man. But, I have to go."
She stood, bent to kiss him once more, leaving her scent branded into his skin, and he lay there like an idiot and watched her walk out of his life. Forever. He knew it was forever. Excitement like that was once in a lifetime and neither of them, obviously had the time or the will to grab hold and keep it. Bryce had a feeling that the lady in black was just a dream and none of this was real.
* * *
Five years later
Beaufort, South Carolina
Ciara needed to hide. To go deep under.
In a spot not even the CIA would think to look.
The world was a big place. She could be anywhere, right?
And this small southern town was just the right ticket. It was historical and touristy. If need be, she could blend in. A CIA safe house, a cabin in the wilderness would have been better, but she'd have to go through agency contacts to get one and Ciara wasn't trusting anyone just yet.
She'd already trusted the wrong man, she thought with a cynical twist to her lips and a glance in the rearview mirror to see if she were being followed. And that's the reason she was dropping out of sight.
She blamed most of that on herself. With the exception of a one-night affair five years ago, she'd been burned enough by men whose job it was to lie and deceive and gain crucial information. When did she get so clueless about them? When had she refused to believe a thing a man said? Gee, she thought. Maybe when her partner started showing up late for rendezvous and had more cash than they earned in a year. And the worst of this was, that two years ago they'd been lovers. Though it was long over, she'd let old feelings interfere with her judgment, and didn't see what was really going on. And it had taken her a while to admit it. He'd used her emotionally and professionally, and that she'd allowed it to happen was too humiliating to swallow. She'd never make that mistake again. Not with any man.
Her hand slipped off the wheel and touched the flight tote with the videotape stashed inside. It was backup, and she thought of the man she'd caught betraying his country on the film. Her partner, Mark Faraday was six feet of slender male, with sun-bleached hair that told her he had more time off than she did. Good-looking, but not too good-looking to draw attention, Mark was born with a silver tongue. Now the laid back surfer spy was a national security risk by giving classified material away. A mole. And a risk to her.
She made a sour face and for the tenth time, called herself a fool. Then she'd called in a favor from her old college sorority sister, Katherine Davenport. At first, Kat had been shocked to hear from her after all these years, and second, reluctant to give her a job. But Ciara would go nuts if she were stashed somewhere with nothing to do, waiting for the truth to come out and drag Mark to a high-security prison. She had to keep occupied, and her mind off her troubles. Caring for a one-year-old girl was going to be easy, like reliving her teen years. She'd practically raised her little sister Cassie after their parents had been killed in a jet crash over Scotland. Well, she and her older brothers. It hadn't taken much to convince Kat she was qualified. Childcare was how she'd earned extra money during college. Ciara knew baby care about as well as she knew when and where the satellites were aligned to pick up the best frequencies and take aerial photos.
Ciara had to assure Kat she wasn't putting anyone in danger. And the first thing she would do when she had a chance was mail the videotape to a neutral party. Then a carefully worded note that would take the heat off of her.
She wasn't paying much attention to the beautiful landscape until she hit a rut in the road. She braked, gawking at the gnarled live oaks draped in Spanish moss and the so-green-it-hurt-her-eyes lawn. The scent of jasmine came through the car's air conditioner, enveloping her. Throwing the car into park, she quickly climbed out, checking the address, then stared at the house.
Heck, this was Tara revisited. Two stories with wraparound porches on both levels, the white house was magnificent—spreading across an acre and surrounded by about ten more, if she had to guess.
Did only a widower and a baby live in all this?
She hoped he had a maid.
Grabbing her tote, she slung it onto her shoulder and walked up the steps, taking a deep breath of the fragrances of jasmine and wisteria. An odd peace came with it, and the tension she'd carried for days flowed out of her muscles.
This wasn't just isolation and safety, this was a dream.
* * *
Bryce felt warm slimy peaches slide off his face and plop on his chest. "Well," he said tiredly, staring blankly at his eleven-month-old daughter. "I see we're going to have to work on your table etiquette."