She scoffed and lifted her gaze. He stood tucked between two open doors, one leading to the front of the house, one leading up the backstairs. She was tempted to flip on the overhead lights. But she'd promised, and Laura Cambridge did not break her oath. Even to the dragon prince.
"Were you trying to escape your roots?"
"Heck, no. I just didn't want to be a farmer's wife with five kids, scraping pennies each month and praying every night for rain so the crops didn't burn in the heat."
The sharpness of her voice startled him.
"No, don't be." She sighed and held up one hand. "We had it rough when I was younger, but we didn't really know we were poor. Everyone around us lived the same way. Mom and Daddy aren't doing so bad." She made a sound between a laugh and a scoff. "In fact they're doing rather well now. But Mom was so used to not having anything, she still does stuff like save bacon grease and old clothes, can vegetables and make jams, just in case." She shook her head. "Some things you just can't change, I suppose." She picked up the saucer and headed through the dining room to the living room, not sure if he would be there when she came back. Or if she'd come back. She set the saucer on the stone floor, helped Kelly and her kitty to a spot far enough from the fire to be safe, then asked Kelly if she wanted some hot chocolate. The child's smile was answer enough, and as Laura stepped back into the kitchen, she sensed he was still there.
A little part of her leapt with pleasure that he hadn't vanished into his tower retreat. A more logical part of her said she really needed to get a reality check and remember the lessons Paul had taught her about men and their minds.
She found the cocoa packets and warmed water in the microwave. "Would you like some?"
"No, thank you."
How could those three words sound so seductive in the dark? she thought, and could not help but notice how they danced around the fact that they'd come apart like teenagers in each other's arms two nights ago. It was easy to be polite when you're not allowed to look each other in the eye.
Laura cleared her throat as she cleared her mind of the erotic memory. "What about your parents, your family?"
"Kelly is all I have. My parents died six months after each other a year before I was married."
How sad to be so alone, she thought, but knew he wouldn't want her pity. "All the more reason to get to know her, Richard. Soon it will be just the two of you."
Richard couldn't think about that. As far as he was concerned, Laura was staying. And the temptation of her was something he would have to live with and avoid. More so because he couldn't let Kelly see him. He knew his daughter already had an image in her head, and her four-year-old mind could not fathom the damage to his body. She would turn away from him and that was a moment he did not want to experience. Andrea had not bothered to even couch her reaction when Richard's bandages had come off. He could expect no less from a child. Maybe a little more tolerance from Laura. But he would not risk it. Not after he'd held her. Not after a single kiss rocked him to his heels. Her rejection would cut even deeper.
Kelly was his concern, he reminded himself, and not the workings of his body and his need for a woman. It was better to remain in the dark and stay at least three yards from Laura. Any less was dangerous.
"What about your wife's family?"
"Ex-wife," he said. "And she didn't have family, either. At least none she ever talked about."
Laura nodded, curious about the woman he'd married, and not wanting to pry into tender wounds. The way he'd said "ex" spoke of the pain he was still holding, yet he was only hurting himself. The dead didn't care, and Laura decided that only a witch would kick a man when he was down. But no family meant that Kelly would never know what it was like to have grandparents, and cousins. Both of them are so alone without each other, she thought, now even more determined to get him out of the dark and into the light.
She mixed two mugfuls of cocoa, then headed toward the doors to the dining room which led to the living room.
"What made you leave teaching children of foreign dignitaries to work for Wife Incorporated?"
She looked back to where he stood, the setting sun hidden behind rain clouds offering a dark, misty silver silhouette of his tall body. "A man," she said honestly. "A man I truly loved."
Richard felt as if he'd been cut in half with a sword, the anguish in her voice clear and brimming with embarrassment and making him hurt for her. "Oh, Laura, what did he do?"
"Lie, betray, cheat, and the worst, wanted me for just my looks. So you see, Richard, you and I have more in common than you think."