Contact between them was minimal for the rest of the day, and Richard had waited impatiently for night to fall, for shadows to envelop him and give him freedom. He felt like a damned vampire; the night was his friend, although it was the daytime and the sun he loved.
Now he stared down at the woman sprawled on his sofa, asleep, an open book on her chest. He tilted his head to read the title. Children and Grief. It hit him again how much Kelly would rely on her when he wished it was him she would turn to for comfort. But he'd only make it worse for her. God, he wanted to hold his baby, know all about her, read to her and simply watch her grow and learn. He cursed Andrea again for not letting him share Kelly's life. He realized, with tremendous regret, that he was relying on Laura to love his daughter in his place.
* * *
Laura tapped her foot as the ferry docked and the fantail gate lowered. People strolled off the boat, and she searched the crowd for the little girl, for the nurse who would escort her here. What she found was the most beautiful child she'd ever seen, dark-haired and cherub-faced, her hand clinging to Katherine Davenport's manicured fingers.
She met her old sorority sister's gaze and smiled. "I'm glad you brought her."
Katherine glanced down at the little girl and smiled. "I thought someone familiar would be better than a stranger."
Laura could see the question in Katherine's eyes, as to how it was going between her and Richard Blackthorne, and not wanting to give even a hint of last night, she was grateful when a man came up with Kelly's bags. Laura led him to the SUV Richard let her use, and he hefted the cases into the back seat. She tipped him and returned to the pair.
Laura knelt and smiled at Kelly. The little girl buried her face in Katherine's skirts.
"Hi, I'm Laura," she said anyway.
"Hullo," came the muffled reply. Katherine inched away, forcing Kelly to look at her.
Laura sat on the ground Indian-style as if they had all the time in the world. "Been a tough week, huh?"
"Well I'm going to take very good care of you, Kelly." Still the child looked at her warily. "I promise. I know how to do lots of things. We can play on the beach, ride bikes and maybe even ride a horse."
That perked her up and Laura prayed she remembered how to ride. "Your daddy has three horses, and I don't think they get much exercise, so we will have to take care of them."
"Did you see my daddy?"
The hope in her voice brought a sting to Laura's eyes. "Yes. He's very nice."
"Momma said he was hurt."
"Your mommy was right, he was. But he's okay now." She wasn't about to scare the child with details. "He just doesn't like to be stared at."
Kelly's brows knitted as if she was trying to understand that if he was okay, why didn't he like being looked at. Laura wanted to postpone that meeting till Kelly was settled and feeling safe.
"So, are you ready to see your new house?" Kelly nodded, chewing on the corner of her sweater. Laura reached up and pulled it free. "Speak up, I can't hear your brain's rattle."
The child almost smiled. "Yes, ma'am."
"You're going to love it, Kelly. It's a castle, just like in Cinderella."
"Really?" the girl said.
Laura stood and held out her hand. Kelly looked up at Katherine, sighed, then accepted her hand. Laura's heart nearly wept with joy.
"Do you want to come up to the house?" she said to Katherine. "Have some coffee and take a later ferry?" People were already walking past them to get on the boat heading back to the mainland.
Katherine shook her head. "I think it's best if I let you two get acquainted. I'll call you later, sugah."
"I'd like that," Laura said, her gaze direct as she leaned closer and whispered, "since there is nothing temporary about this job and you knew it."
"He needs her in his life, Laura."
"I know, but—" She looked down and found Kelly staring curiously up at them. Laura exchanged a glance with Katherine that said they would take this up later on the phone. Katherine smiled beautifully, then bent to kiss Kelly.
The child wrapped her arms around Kat's neck and held tight for a second. Laura's chest constricted. How frightened and uncertain she must feel, with Katherine as the only familiar face.
Katherine patted her back and whispered that she would come visit soon and that she loved her. Kelly sniffled pitifully and went to Laura as soon as Katherine set her down. Kelly gave Katherine a brave smile, and Laura led the child to the SUV, buckling her into the front seat, then climbed into the driver's seat.
Laura snapped the seat belt and turned on the engine. "Ready?"
Kelly looked up at her with wide blue eyes and nodded, the edge of her sweater caught in her teeth. Laura noticed the sheen of tears and she leaned over, hugging her and whispering, "It will be all right, honey. I know you're scared." Tiny fingers dug into her as Kelly clung tightly.