At the bookshelves, she ran her fingers over the titles, slipping one free to read the first page before putting it back. She moved to the desk, sliding into the leather chair and curling her legs to the side. Did he read in here every night? Had she stolen that freedom from him with her presence? Was he that intent on not joining her and Kelly, ever? Laura knew children, and his child wasn't going to be satisfied with this arrangement for long, and she dreaded the moment when Kelly asked to see her father. Just because he was a recluse, he couldn't really expect a little girl to be locked away, could he? How could he expect Kelly to live this way? Well, Laura told herself, she wasn't going to be leaving this castle until she was sure that he and his daughter could find their way to each other.
She rubbed her arms, then stilled when her gaze landed on an array of framed photos on the edge of his desk. She uncurled from the chair, bending over the desk to inspect them, then reaching for the wedding photograph.
"Oh, my word," she whispered, sinking back into the chair. It was Richard, before the accident. "He was gorgeous." His late wife was lovely, pageant perfect, but he dominated the picture. His sinfully dark hair fell down over his brow; blue eyes, so like Kelly's, laughed at the photographer. His features were carved and flawless, aristocratic. He wasn't just handsome, he was downright devastating. Her heart skipped just knowing this man was attracted to her.
Across the hall from the library, in the shadows, Richard rubbed his mouth, her softly whispered words tearing him apart. He'd forgotten about the photo. Since he was in high school, he'd had more women than he could count because of his looks. Until the accident.
His gaze moved to her bare legs as she slung them over the side of the chair. She wore a black scoop-neck T-shirt, and from what he could see, nothing else. His body tightened harder, at her nearness and the knowledge that only a few yards separated them.
But it might as well be miles. If she ever saw his face, she'd know that the man in the photograph died four years ago.
Laura frowned, laying the picture down. Her gaze shifted over the room, to the metal knight in the corner, then to the doorway. A shadow shifted across the wall of the main hall and she quickly left the chair, crossed the room and peered into the corridor. "Come out, come out, wherever you are."
No answer, no one there. Yet as sure as if he was standing next to her, she could feel him.
"Stop this, Mr. Blackthorne," she warned, moving into the center of the hall and searching the dark. "You're only a ghost if you want to be one. If you want to talk to me, just speak up, dammit."
Silence, unending, echoing with loneliness.
"Well, I want to talk to you!"
Movement at the end of the wide hall sent her hurrying after him, and she entered the kitchen in time to see him step outside and pull the back door closed behind him. She rushed to the door, following him out.
He hesitated for a second, then, fully hooded in a dark sweatsuit, he took off in a run down the beach. She watched until the reflecting designs on his sneakers faded into the dark.
You can't keep in the shadows forever, she thought.
* * *
Children were far more resilient than adults, Laura thought.
When she'd expected Richard's daughter to be wary and afraid the next morning, the child proved her wonderfully wrong. Kelly had scampered out of her bedroom and into Laura's with a bright smile and an inquisitive attitude. She wanted to see her new home, play, be a child, and Laura was more than happy to blow off a day's housework and be young with her.
And she wasn't one to just stand by and be an observer, either.
Kelly giggled as Laura struggled to get her legs between the rail guards of the slide. Clearly, she thought, this was not meant for adults. Especially ones with hips. She looked down at Kelly, wiggled her brows, then she scooted off the platform and slid down. Right off the edge and landing on her bottom.
Kelly laughed and raced for her.
"I suppose I'm a little rusty at this."
"Do it again!" Kelly hopped up and down.
"Oh, no, I think you should be the Slide Queen for today," she said, climbing to her feet and dusting off the seat of her jeans.
Kelly was quick to oblige and Laura smiled when she climbed, her short legs barely reaching between the rungs. She slid, launching herself off the end, and Laura wondered if executing a proper landing was something you grew out of.
Kelly went from swing to glider, until she finally lost interest and Laura suggested a walk on the beach. Kelly was racing ahead before Laura had time to snatch up the plastic pail and shovel from the sandbox under the slide. Together they ran down the beach. Hot on her heels, Laura tossed the bucket aside and gathered Kelly off her feet, swinging her around and making her laugh loudly. Well, the tickling could have something to do with it, she thought, loving the little girl's squeals of delight. They plopped down in the damp sand, and though that seemed to shock Kelly, Laura went to work building the moat for their sand castle.