Alexis held little Ruby’s weight against her, relishing the solid warmth of the child’s small body and inhaling the special baby scent of her hair and skin. So far, so good, she thought as they watched Catherine drive away. The older woman had been torn, clearly reluctant to leave Ruby behind, but Alexis had hastened to assure her that she was doing the right thing, for them all, but most of all for herself. She was already nervous enough about her upcoming surgery, she didn’t need the added worry of wondering how well Ruby would settle into her father’s home.
A light breeze lifted a tuft of Ruby’s fine auburn hair and brushed against Alexis’s cheek, the touch as soft and delicate as fingertips tracing lightly across her skin. A sudden pang for Bree cut her to the quick. The realization that she would never see her friend again, never share a bottle of wine and silly laughter over happy remembrances. Never again squabble over who was the more handsome out of the Hemsworth brothers.
Her hold on the baby in her arms, the child her friend never got to see outside of a sonogram, tightened and Ruby squawked in protest.
“I’m sorry, precious girl,” Alexis murmured into the baby’s soft fuzz of hair.
She fought back the burn of tears that threatened to cascade down her face and made a silent vow. I will look after your daughter, Bree, I promise. And I will love her and care for her and keep you alive in her heart forever.
Stepping back indoors, Alexis noticed that Raoul was nowhere to be seen inside the house. A good thing perhaps? Alexis couldn’t be certain. She popped Ruby on the floor with a few of the toys that Catherine had brought over with the baby and sat down with her. She seemed a placid enough child now, although Alexis knew from Ruby’s grandmother that she’d been very ill and demanding as a newborn. Understandable, given her start in life, she rationalized as she watched the little girl reach for a multicolored teddy and pull it to her, cuddling it as she popped her thumb in her mouth. Her big blue eyes stared back solemnly at Alexis.
Somewhere in the house a door slammed shut and Ruby and Alexis both jumped. Alexis laughed softly.
“Goodness,” she said rolling onto her belly on the floor and tickling the baby on one of her delightfully pudgy feet. “That was loud, wasn’t it?”
She was rewarded with a shy smile that exposed four perfect pearl-like teeth and she felt her heart twist in response. While Ruby’s coloring was exactly that of her mother’s, her smile was all Raoul.
“You’re going to be quite the heartbreaker, aren’t you, young lady?”
The baby’s chin began to wrinkle and her lower lip to quiver. Her thumb fell from her mouth and she let rip with a wail, her blue eyes filling with tears as she stared past Alexis.
“Oh, dear, was it something I said?”
Alexis pushed herself up into a sitting position and pulled the baby into her lap, rubbing her back in an attempt to soothe her but to no avail. A prickle of awareness up her spine made her realize they were no longer alone.
She swiveled her head and saw Raoul standing there behind them, frozen to the spot. His usually tan face was a sickly shade of gray.
“What’s wrong with her? Why’s she crying?” he demanded, his voice harsh and setting Ruby to cry even harder.
“Raoul, are you okay?” she asked, lithely getting to her feet and holding the baby against her.
His eyes were clamped on Ruby who buried her face into Alexis’s chest and continued to cry.
“I’m fine,” he said tightly, looking anything but. “Why’s she crying like that?”
“I assume it’s because she got a bit of a fright when you came into the room. Plus, this is all strange to her, isn’t it? Being here, missing Catherine, having me around.”
He nodded. “Please, can’t you do something to calm her?”
Alexis gave him a rueful smile. “I’m doing my best,” she said, jiggling Ruby gently. “Perhaps you could soften your tone a little?”
He made a dismissive gesture with one hand. “I’d prefer you keep the child confined to her room while I’m in the house.”
“But this is her home. You are kidding me, right?” Alexis said incredulously.
His eyes dragged from Ruby’s sobbing form to Alexis’s face.
“No. I’m not.”
He turned to walk out of the living room, but Alexis would have none of it.
“Stop right there,” she said with as much authority as she could muster. “You act like Ruby is an unwanted stranger here. She’s your daughter for goodness’ sake.”