He was entirely too mysterious, entirely too intoxicating.
Yet it was not his loneliness, nor his bitter remarks that drew her. It was the man, the one who'd suffered and survived. The one who dared not let a single soul close to him again. Protecting them as he protected himself.
She saw the shadow of his head ducking toward her and knew he wanted to kiss her. She almost wished he would.
"You smell like … freedom," he whispered, every cell in his body screaming he was a man and she was a soft, beautiful woman. And how long it had been since he'd felt like this, wanted like this.
Even as alarms went off in her head, even as Laura considered she was here, available, and this was likely the first physical contact Richard Blackthorne had had in ages, she was helpless against her need to touch him, and she lifted her hand, laying it on the center of his chest.
His sharp indrawn breath was loud in the stretching silence.
Richard reared back, suddenly aware of what he was doing. "I don't want your pity and this is wrong."
He set her back, almost thrusting her from him, and she stumbled as he rolled around the door frame and disappeared into the house, back to his cave.
She wanted to tell him that just then, in his arms, pity was the last thing she was feeling. The very last.
* * *
He was a fool.
As stupid as they came.
His wife leaving him hadn't taught him a damn thing, obviously, or he wouldn't have touched Laura. Sitting at his desk, the dawn breaking behind him, Richard punched the keys, made a half-dozen mistakes, then shoved the keyboard away. Leaning back into the leather chair, he closed his eyes and could almost feel the imprint of her body against his again, the soft yielding femininity he ached to explore.
What man wouldn't, he thought. Her body was full and shapely, and she had a walk designed to make him insane. And not only was touching her definitely unwise, thinking about it was going to send him over the edge. He shook his head. This was going to be tougher than he'd thought, and he knew the memory of touching her was as haunting as the real thing.
She was the nanny, he reminded himself. The hired help.
He scoffed and left his chair, walking to the window. Help, my eye. She was every man's dream. And she would be here for a long time, tempting him.
Behind him, his e-mail pinged, his fax machine whined, but Richard ignored it all, gazing down at the endless stretch of beach below. Dainty footprints marked the sand close to the road, and he knew they were Laura's. Would she take Kelly on walks, looking for seashells? Would Kelly even like it here? Would she like her room, the toys? Or would she be overwhelmed and scared? The questions pounded his brain, and he admitted he didn't know a thing about raising a four-year-old girl. But Kelly was all he had left in this world, and he would do his best, offer all he could.
Except yourself a silent voice prodded. Guilt swamped him.
What if none of it was enough, and he traumatized his daughter? She was so innocent and impressionable. At the moment, he didn't doubt that Laura would do just fine. The woman was charming, even with that sharp tongue, and he suspected that Kelly would finally have some fun, considering she had likely been passed from friend to friend since the accident. Both he and Andrea had no family. Hell, he'd learned of his wife's death from a uniformed police officer and five days later had learned of his daughter from an attorney, the executor of Andrea's last will. With his permission, Katherine Davenport had rescued Kelly from Child Welfare Services, and they'd made arrangements for a nanny and for Kelly to come here. It was all so cold, indifferent, Andrea hiding his child from him till tragedy struck. But he'd had a lot of time to think about the woman he'd met at a charity ball and married seven years ago. Andrea had been a beauty, like a china doll, fragile, yet during their marriage she'd grown selfish and grasping—loving his lifestyle, he felt now, more than him. She liked the maids and cooks, and the more he gave, the more she wanted. Until he wanted children and to stop traveling. She'd balked and argued till he'd given in. She must have gotten pregnant that wild night on the beach before the accident, he thought. Regardless, when the accident took the good looks he'd won her with, she'd left. He couldn't fault her for leaving. She had been weak, maybe a little immature, but nor was he the same man. Inside or out. Idly he wondered what Andrea had told Kelly about him, then dismissed it. It didn't matter. Releasing a sigh, Richard turned back to the computers, working until a soft voice drawled over the intercom.
"All work and no food makes Mr. Blackthorne a grouch."
Richard shook his head, half smiling. He punched the intercom on his desk. "Did you cook?" His stomach grumbled at the prospect.