"You are not leaving," he growled. He couldn't bear it. Not for a moment.
"Please don't go, Miss Laura. Please!" Kelly squeaked, and the panic in her voice stabbed through her.
"I'm not leaving, honey. Not yet," she said in a lower tone to Richard, and wondered how she could even think of leaving them. "I told you. I can't go on like this."
He bent his head. His mouth a fraction from hers. "But you will."
For Kelly, he was saying, and ignoring the heat of his mouth so close to hers, she knew he was right. Damn him. But that didn't mean she liked his cavalier attitude. "We will continue this discussion later, Mr. Blackthorne." She twisted away and walked to Kelly.
"Yes, beauty, we will."
His words sounded too much like a threat, she thought.
"Are you mad at Daddy, Laura?" Kelly asked as Laura clasped her hand.
"Yes, honey. I am."
"Because he's … stubborn." And prideful and distrusting, and she wanted him to believe in her, trust her—then kiss her into oblivion like he had last night.
Laura smiled to herself. Kelly hadn't a clue and that was just fine. "Come on, honey, enough excitement for one day. You have a nap to finish before supper." Kelly whined her disappointment, but went on to her room, her kitten clutched to her chest. "And as for you, Richard…" she said.
"Yeah," he said calmly, gazing at her behind wrapped in a denim skirt and remembering what it felt like in his hands.
She paused at Kelly's bedroom door, looking back to where he stood, half in the shadows. "Great legs."
A chuckle snagged in his throat, her knowing look speaking volumes, her tone bringing the memory of last night up through his body like steam rising from hot asphalt. His muscles locked, his body screamed for her. He felt as if he were standing before a line drawn in the sand. Loneliness was on one side, surrounding him like a suffocating vapor, and on the other was Laura, hope, freedom and a chance for more.
* * *
Laura tossed on the bed, and for the first time in years, the sound of rain and thunder didn't comfort her. She was going to be dragging tomorrow if she didn't get some rest, she thought, and blamed Richard. After giving Kelly her bath and supper, she'd read a couple of chapters of a book, sketched, drunk chamomile tea, but even the relief over finding Kelly and learning Richard had spent time with his daughter every night didn't ease the tension running through her.
She felt on fire. She felt rushed and agitated, and … mad.
The moments in his arms kept splashing through her like the rain pelting the windows. She threw off the covers and left the bed, crossing to the window. She pushed back the curtain as she sat on the window seat and watched the storm. The water was as black as midnight, waves foaming white. She felt like the sea, alive and beating hard against the shore as if trying to drag them all under and into the darkness.
She glanced back at her robe lying across the chair, wondering if she should go to him and try to convince him to trust her. Then she knew she couldn't. He would when he was ready. If he would ever be ready. If she pushed, she was afraid that he would retreat, and for his daughter's sake, she couldn't risk that. She was here for Kelly, she reminded herself. The child needed her father to be a real dad, to be able to face his own child and the rest of the world without regret.
Part of her ached for the gentle man forced to hide from them. For the man who thought to spare others, when it was himself he spared by remaining in the shadows.
Laura realized how much she cared for Richard. And it scared her. Terrified her because he was a man who held so much in his appearance. She'd been hurt by such a man before, but knew that Paul had wanted her for only her looks, only for the picture she'd present to his friends and colleagues.
She and Richard were alike in some ways, she thought. The accident had been a turning point in his life, changing him irrevocably, resetting his priorities. Her broken engagement had made her stronger, made her see once again that there were few people she could trust to be honest with her. To like her for who she was and not what she looked like. Paul had been a life-altering part of her world. A slice of her past she'd learned from and had gone beyond.
Richard thought she was too pretty to want a man like him. But he didn't understand that she didn't see the scars, didn't notice the way he struggled to cover a limp in his stride. She'd fallen for the voice in the dark, the warm kisses that set her body aflame, for the man who was insightful enough to see the artist she'd packed away with her pageant tiaras and gowns.
And she wondered how she could be falling so hard for a man who couldn't trust her enough to let her see his face.