"Go on, Laura, I know there is more coming."
"You were in pain, recovering from a terrible trauma. I read the articles. I saw the dates." Her voice tight with fury for the woman who'd taken everything he'd had and left, Laura went on. "It took weeks before they let you out of the hospital, and then you had to have physical therapy, and nurses attend to you daily. From the list of injuries you're damn lucky to be alive." His thighbone had been shattered and was now a steel rod, his hip fractured along with most of the left side of his body. His shoulder socket had been crushed and was now plastic, and there were pins in his arm, fingers and ribs. "Your determination to recover is remarkable."
Richard's head jerked up. Other than his doctors, she was the first person to say that. After the accident and hearing Andrea actually blame him for his own misfortune and what it did to her life, he'd fought back. "I was trying to prove to her that nothing had changed between us," he said into the dark. "After a while I realized it didn't matter. She was already looking at me differently."
"Like I was a creature instead of a man."
Her sympathy cut him in half, made him bleed, but the words came nonetheless. "She slept alone, dined alone, then suddenly one morning I was alone. She couldn't even face me to say goodbye." He crossed his ankle over his knee. "She left me a letter."
How cruel and antiseptic, Laura thought, but kept her opinion to herself.
"I realized I'd probably pushed her to it. No, don't defend me. Please, Laura, don't. I was a golden boy, everything I touched made money. And everyone wanted to be near me." It was as if he was talking about someone he didn't really know. Didn't care to know. "Everyone wanted to be a part of what I was doing at the time. I took it all for granted, the lifestyle, the freedom, the people, and it wasn't until that one moment, when I saw Mrs. Argyle in the front seat of that car, pregnant, struggling for air even as her baby moved inside her, that I realized who I really was. All the rest was just show. That single moment, the decision to push her car across despite the oncoming train … suddenly defined who I was inside. In my soul." He tapped the spot over his heart. "It separated me from the life I'd lived before. It was as if I hadn't lived, really lived until right then. It was the right thing to do," he muttered, as if trying to reassure himself. "It was the only thing I could do. And Andrea was cursing me for it with her surgeon's opinions, her repulsed looks she didn't think I saw. And I was angry at the world for showing me a man I wasn't certain I wanted to know."
Discreetly Laura swiped at the tears on her cheek and kept them out of her voice. "What about now?"
"I wouldn't change a thing from that night," he said, then surprising her, he chuckled slightly. "Except maybe to step on the gas a little harder."
"Yeah well, there is that."
Laura drank the last of her wine, then pushed the rest of the papers and photos into the box on the floor. Richard tensed as she left the chair and walked toward him, her robe molding her slender body.
"Stay back," he whispered harshly.
She didn't, bending into the shadows with him, and he smelled the scent of lemons on her skin, in her hair. "Laura." He was perfectly still, then her hand rose and he caught it. But she twisted and wriggled free, touching the unscarred side of his face, her fingers plowing into his hair, and he groaned softly, a whisper of sound.
"I'm not Andrea, and you're not Paul." Her lips fluttered over his, barely leaving an impression, and Richard fought the urge to drag her onto his lap and explore every inch of her with his mouth and hands. "You don't scare me, dragon. And I'm wondering if remaining a recluse is best for all of us…" She shifted, her mouth near his ear, her words a seductive whisper in the night. "Then why are you always coming so close to the light for me?"
Before he could respond she moved away and slipped into the darkened hall. He knew why. He was beginning to trust her. He told her things he never told anyone. Both were very dangerous moves. Because when he was near her, the last thing he thought about was what he saw in a mirror.
* * *
"Miss Laura?" Kelly called from the living room. "What's this?"
Laura dried her hands on a dish towel, slapping it onto her shoulder as she crossed the dining room. She stopped short, blinking at the stack of balsa-wood boxes tied with fat green ribbons.
"Well, honey, why don't we find out?"
She stopped beside the coffee table, looking at the note atop the boxes and addressed to her. She picked it up and flipped the card free. Show me some more of that hidden talent, it read. Beside the boxes was one of the sketches she'd done of Kelly, with a note that read "This is beautiful, you've captured her perfectly. Richard."