"Yup, and Dewey can't even begin to eat it all." There was a pause, and then she said thoughtfully, "Never have been able to scale down my cooking to less than six. Good thing I like leftovers, huh?"
Richard wondered if this woman was ever in a bad mood, and he was thankful she didn't mention last night. He didn't want her thinking he was some rutting stag stalking her. Nor did he want her pity. He'd had enough of that from his ex-wife. That and her cringing when he so much as reached for her. He shook his head over what an idiot he'd been last night, but a part of him wanted to know if she'd felt as much heat as he had. Not even Andrea could generate a fire in him like that, and he had loved her.
"I am hungry."
Laura tried not to like the sound of his voice so much, nor remember how it seduced her senses in the darkness last night. Ten times till Tuesday, she'd asked herself how she could be so attracted to a man she hadn't seen, yet she knew that looks, money or charm had little to do with anything the body had to say. And Richard Blackthorne's body said a lot. Laura wished hers would just forget how to listen.
"I'll bring it up," she finally said.
He hated that he was marooned up here. "Thank you," he replied.
A moment of silence, and then she said, "I got your e-mail, by the way. The rules."
"And I know you have a comment to make," he said to the speaker on his desk, and could almost see her lips pull into a tight line.
"Are any of these negotiable?"
Ever the diplomat, he thought. "Such as?"
"This one about not going to the third floor. How is the maid supposed to clean?"
"She knows the rules. She lets me know before she comes up and I simply move to another part of the house," he explained.
"I see." Her sigh drifted through the speaker. "This intercom thing is so impersonal."
"It's the way it must be, Laura."
Below in the kitchen, Laura banged her forehead lightly against the wall. Stubborn man. "Nothing is written in stone, then?"
"No." A pause and then he asked, "What do you want, Laura?"
His irritation was like a flag going up. Want? She wanted normalcy. Normal before Kelly arrived. But she knew Richard would light her every step of the way. "Oh, nothing," she said sweetly. "I will find a way around your rules, you know. Especially this one about not walking through the house at night. I like the night. I like to drink hot chocolate in the dark, look at the stars."
"Then you should feel right at home here."
"Yes, actually, I do."
Richard needed her to feel welcome, and with Kelly arriving in the morning, he was desperate for her to remain, especially since Katherine Davenport had called this morning and said she couldn't find a qualified replacement soon enough. Richard decided that she was mad at him and wasn't looking hard, anyway.
A few minutes later a knock rattled the door and Richard stepped near, peering through the peephole. She certainly was persistent.
"Leave it there."
She stuck her tongue out at the door.
"Charming, Miss Cambridge," he said dryly.
Laura smiled weakly and set the tray aside. "Mr. Blackthorne, about last night…"
Richard groaned to himself and tapped the intercom beside the door. "It was wrong of me to touch you."
He blinked. "You're my daughter's nanny."
"And convenient, huh?"
She winced at the bite in his tone. "Well, I'm here and a woman, and—"
"Terribly easy on the eyes."
Her lips twisted into a bitter line. She almost wished she was scarred like Blackthorne. At least she'd know men wouldn't want her for just her looks. "That's not what I meant."
"Wondering how long I've been without a woman?"
The husky drawl of those words weakened her knees. "Of course not!"
She folded her arms over her middle and glared at the door. "Name-calling is a childish defense."
"Forget I mentioned it."
"Fine." But she didn't trust that. Especially when he kept the world at arm's length, then suddenly grabbed her last night as if she were a lifeline on a sinking ship. Yet she could not ignore the electricity she'd felt then, the heat jumping through her. And the need to touch him, to feel the hardness of his tall body. He made her feel small and defenseless and in those few seconds, cherished.
It was not something she could easily forget.
"If you want seconds, just holler," she said, and her steps thumped down the staircase.
Richard took the tray inside and gaped at the monstrous amount of food: eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, coffee, toast, jam, hash browns and even grits. He was going to have to run an extra mile for this, he thought, and sat down to enjoy it. And not think of the woman who'd prepared it.