A while ago she’d have said a flat-out no. She had always wanted a relationship she could pledge herself to, fully and completely, and know that that pledge was returned. But Raoul had made it perfectly clear that he couldn’t give her that. Could she settle for less than love from him?
A little aftershock of pleasure thrilled through her body again. Maybe she’d just have to give it a try and see what happened. At best, the ice around his heart may begin to thaw. At worst, well, she didn’t even want to think about that just yet.
In the bedroom she grabbed her handbag and pulled her contraceptive strip from the side pocket. She’d missed three tablets in this cycle but not consecutively. Hopefully she’d still be safe. To avoid further memory lapses she added a new alarm to her cell phone, reminding her to take her pill each morning. To be doubly safe, she’d visit a pharmacy in town and consult with them about the morning-after pill, as well.
Sounds came through the baby monitor that Alexis kept on the bedside cabinet. Ruby was stirring. She quickly dressed and went through to the baby’s room to start her working day—except somewhere along the line it had ceased to be work and was becoming something else instead. And as she lifted the little girl for a good-morning cuddle she realized that being needed was something she’d craved all her life.
Her parents had been sufficient to one another while she was growing up. And that was exactly as it should have been, she reminded herself as she changed and dressed Ruby. They’d always loved her, been there for her, but no one had ever truly needed her before. Not the way Ruby did now. Not the way she began to hope Raoul did, also.
A tiny flame of optimism flickered to life deep in her belly. This could work. They could become a family. She had to keep believing it was possible...because the alternative didn’t even bear thinking about. Despite everything, despite her determination not to completely give her heart to anyone unless she was certain those feelings were returned, Alexis knew she was falling deeper and deeper into love with Raoul Benoit.
Only time would tell if he could feel the same way about her. She hoped against hope that he could, because if not, walking away from Raoul, walking away from Ruby, would be the hardest thing she’d ever had to do in her entire life.
She’d done something similar once before—distanced herself from him before she could let her feelings grow, knowing them to be futile when he loved Bree and was loved so passionately in return. But things were different now, so very painfully different, and it was going to be a difficult road ahead.
* * *
It had been a week and still he couldn’t get her out of his mind. What on earth had possessed him to visit her room that night? Worse, what had made him take her back to his and then, in the morning, tell her in no uncertain terms to keep taking her pill? He’d had no right to any of that, a fact he’d reminded himself of constantly these past seven days as he’d forced himself to keep his distance. It hadn’t stopped him wanting her, though, or remembering in excruciatingly vivid detail their night—and morning—together.
From his vantage point out in the garden he watched her sleeping in the window seat of the family room. She had a sketch pad on her lap and an array of colored pens spilled across the cushion she lay on. Her hair lay in a swathe across one cheek. Hair he knew was silky soft and carried a scent he found unique to her.
In sleep she looked peaceful, as if she no longer bore the weight of the world on her capable shoulders. His fingers tingled as he remembered how her skin had felt beneath them. How smooth and warm. She was so alive, so giving. Try as he might, he could not help but be pulled into her magnetic sphere.
She’d become a part of his every day in ways he had never imagined. Ways he never wanted or expected to imagine. But more, he now found himself wanting her to become a part of his nights, as well. Just one night with her had been nowhere near enough. He’d barely slept ever since for the memories of her in his arms, in his bed, crowding his thoughts. Replaying, time and again, the exquisite sensation of sliding into her body, feeling her welcoming heat, watching her shatter from the pleasure of his touch.
There’d been no recriminations from her. Not even when he’d treated her so bluntly these past few days. Ill-tempered and filled with mounting frustration, his fuse had been short and he hadn’t been afraid to show it or to use it to push her away. She wasn’t a fool, she’d read the signals. As a result, he’d noticed that she and Ruby had spent a lot of time away from the house and, dammit, he’d missed them—both of them.