“Wow, are those your sketches?” Jenny asked as she came into the kitchen where Alexis was working at the table. “You’re good.”
“Thanks. I’m thinking of expanding into maternity wear. These drawings are just ideas for now.”
“So, you’re a designer, not a nanny?”
“Both, really. I trained and worked as a nanny after I finished school. The designing has come in the past few years and I spent most of the previous year, before I came here to help out Raoul, in Europe, traveling and looking for inspiration.”
Help out Raoul. The words sounded so simple, so uncomplicated. Nothing at all like the tangled web of unhappiness and adversity it had turned into.
Jenny picked up one sheet and then another. “So is that why you’re leaving? To get back to your work?”
Alexis looked up as Raoul entered the kitchen and helped himself to a coffee from the carafe on the warmer.
“We’ve imposed on her for long enough,” Raoul said before she could say a word. “It’s time she returned to her own life.”
But this was the life she wanted. This life, with him, with Ruby. She could work from anywhere when it came to her designing, and goodness knew there was plenty of space here for her to establish a workroom. But he didn’t want her, not like that, not as a partner, not as a piece of his heart. And that was where her dreams began and ended.
Clearly sensing the undercurrent that crackled between Raoul and Alexis, Jenny made a vague excuse about checking on some laundry and left, leaving the two of them staring at one another. Expelling a breath of frustration, Alexis gathered up her things and got up from the table.
“So have you warned the new girl off falling for the boss?” she said, determined to provoke Raoul in one way or another.
“Low blow, Alexis.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have insulted her like that. I’m sure Jenny has far more sense. She’s very well trained, and she is good with Ruby.”
“Yes, I think Ruby will be quite safe with her.”
“Safe, Raoul? Safe? Is that all you can think about? What about loved? Don’t you think that’s equally as important in her life? Weren’t you loved as a child, weren’t your parents there for you every step of the way? Of course they were because that’s what real parents are. They’re the people who are always there for you—not the ones who just pass the buck on to someone else.”
“That’s rich, coming from a nanny. Without parents ‘passing the buck’ as you call it, nannies wouldn’t even be needed.”
She groaned, fed up to her back teeth with his bullheadedness. “At least every family I’ve worked for before has openly loved their children. Has included them in their lives when they haven’t been tied to work.”
“Enough!” He made a slashing movement with his hand as if he could just cut her off as effectively as he’d cut off his own feelings. “Stop pushing me, Alexis. Ruby has settled with Jenny, who has proven she’s competent and knows what to do. Catherine is at hand if she needs any advice or help. You can leave today. I’ll pay you through to the end of this month and you will hear from my lawyers regarding support for you and—”
“Today? You want me to leave today? But I still have another week.”
Alexis sat down abruptly in one of the kitchen chairs, feeling as if all the breath had been knocked out of her. She looked at him, taking in his features and committing them to memory. The curl in his brown hair that had begun to grow overlong since she’d been here. The flecks of gold in his hazel eyes. The breadth of his shoulders and the lean strength of his body. All of it so achingly familiar, all of it so completely out of bounds. It was impossible to reconcile the lover who had filled her nights with pleasure with this cold shell of a man who stood before her, seemingly determined to never see her again.
“I don’t need you anymore,” Raoul said.
“And that’s the trouble,” she whispered. “You never did.”
He didn’t need her anymore. The words echoed round and round in her head as she pulled herself to her feet, gathered her drawings and staggered from the room. Alexis tried not to hear them when she returned to the master suite and began haphazardly throwing her clothing onto the bed as she picked the drawers of the tallboy clean. Tears streamed unchecked down her cheeks.