"Well," he said as he walked toward the door. "Guess it's good that she sees us at our worst, huh?"
His hand on the door, Bryce tipped his head back. Please Lord, let it be some dowdy grandma type who can really help us.
He opened the door.
Her back to him, at first all he saw was a nicely rounded behind tucked inside jeans, a white blouse and a brown leather vest. And chestnut-brown hair pulled up in a ponytail.
Not exactly grandma, he thought.
The woman turned and her features slackened.
Bryce thought his knees would fold beneath him any second.
Staring him in the face was the one woman, the only woman, who'd rocked his world and set it on fire.
"I can't believe this," he said more to himself.
"Well, hey there, secret agent man," she replied softly and the words held the echo of the one and only time they'd been together.
Bryce's body seized with the memory. Naked and wild. The feel and taste of her rocketing through his mind. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm from Wife Incorporated." Her brows knitted slightly. "Weren't you expecting me?"
"I was expecting someone, certainly not you."
"Life is full of little surprises, huh?"
Surprise, hell. This was a "knock him into next week" shock, he thought, holding her gaze and seeing much more in her cognac-brown eyes, the way they flared when he was inside her, the sly look she got when she knew she was giving him pleasure.
And Ciara saw it, in his expression, the memory of that one night. She swallowed hard, trying to keep her cool and not remember the only time she'd seen this man … when he had her up against a hotel wall and was devouring her. Greedy and primal. The instant their eyes met, her body had jumped to life. Now she felt her breathing increase, heat twisting through her. He was the only man who could do that to her. With just a look of those ice-blue eyes.
And now she was suppose to live in his house?
Her gaze swept him. He looked ragged, and far from the man she saw last. Baby food clung to his hair and T-shirt, and there was a dark brown streak hastily wiped off his cheek near his ear. His jeans were splattered with assorted bits of soggy cereal and spilled coffee. It was almost comical, except in his arms a dark haired infant was twisting like a slippery fish trying to get back in the water, and crying to be let down.
Ciara instantly dropped her bag and stepped closer. "Hey," she said softly, tugging on the baby's dress, which was in as bad a shape as her father's shirt and slacks. "Hey there."
The baby came upright sharply and stared at her with wide blue eyes. "Hello there, sweetie," she said, her gaze on the child as she asked, "Are you going to introduce me, Mr. Bryce Ashland?"
Bryce blinked and followed her gaze to Carolina, who was still crying, but looking curious. His gaze shot back to her. "Maybe when I know your name."
Smiling, she held out her hand. "Ciara. Ciara Stuart."
Bryce grasped her hand and the pulse of her blood hummed through him. Oh God, he thought. It hasn't changed one bit. One touch and his entire being jumped to life, his nerves jingling and leaving his heart thumping like a sledgehammer in his chest. Everything he remembered about her came back tenfold and Bryce realized in that moment that this woman had done more than leave an impression.
She'd branded him.
It was so strong that Hong Kong seemed like days ago, not five years.
Her memory was just as clear, and Ciara's heart skipped into high gear, the warmth of his fingers around hers reminding her of how seductive they could be. How they felt on her skin, slipping inside her body. Suddenly she ached with a longing so deep she had trouble not groaning aloud. Just looking at him made her feel alive and hot. Her secret agent man. Her fantasy man. Oh, this was too weird. A shock, yes, a danger, maybe. How was she going to be around this man? Especially when all she could think of was that seductive night and that in those few short hours he'd made feel more alive and female and wicked than in her entire life. Or that the memory of him had kept her company when she was isolated and completely friendless.
Her fingers moved in his and his grip tightened warmly. For a moment she thought he'd lace his fingers with hers and pull her toward him like he'd done in the elevator that night. As if he understood, he gave her a sexy smile that made her toes curl, then pulled free.
Bryce inclined his head. "This is my daughter, Carolina."
Ciara dragged her attention back to the baby and noticed the brown goo all over her. "Chocolate?" Her eyes went wide. "For a baby? Are you nuts? Oh, you do need help." She lightly clapped her hands, then held them out to the child.
Carolina launched into her arms. The crying instantly stopped.