* * *
In his suite of rooms, Richard paced like a caged animal. Beyond the walls a storm rolled to life, and he felt each rumble, each flash of lightning as if it ripped through his body. He shoved his fingers through his hair, still damp from his shower, then rubbed the back of his neck. He wanted to go to her, see her, touch her, and yet he knew the danger of it. For both of them.
Last night was proof of that. One touch and he lost his willpower.
She wanted what he couldn't give. To let another human being, besides Dewey, see him. She didn't know what that meant. He'd be throwing himself open to her for her inspection. He hadn't done that for anyone. The risk of it would cost him dearly. And if she turned away from him? Look what he'd have lost. He admitted that his living in the shadows was wearing on him, making his temper short and his need strong. He missed walking in the sun. Hell, he missed walking into a room with the damned lights on!
He missed her.
Richard glanced at the mammoth arched doorway. The wood thick and carved. The wind howled and the suction in the house pushed against the door, making it jiggle, almost willing it to open on its own. He crossed to it, his hand hovering over the ornate latch.
He stared at his hand, the rips in his skin, and he flexed his fingers.
The he grasped the latch and opened the door.
* * *
Laura sat in the window bench, her legs curled to the side. Only one light burned in the far corner of the room, and she realized she'd grown accustomed to the house always being shadowy and dark.
Lightning cracked, the power flickered, went off, then popped back on.
In that instant she knew he was in her room.
Her body quickened with awareness and, wrapping her robe close to her throat, she slowly turned her head toward the doors. "Why are you here?"
"Honestly, I don't really know."
That was fair enough, she thought. "Have a seat." She gestured to the settee.
He took a step toward her, then stopped. "Good grief, it's freezing in here." He went to the hearth, bending to stack logs and kindling.
"I'm not that cold."
"It's damp. You'll get sick. And the power might go out."
He struck a match, the small flame offering a soft glow to his features.
Laura glimpsed the marks slicing his throat. "I could have done that."
"Sick of my company already?"
"Of course not. But you know it's not wise." She drew a long, full breath, then let it out. "I want more than to be touched by you. I want more than simply to be in your arms," she said honestly. "I want all of you."
He stilled, a piece of firewood hallway to the flames.
"Not just the man in the shadows, not just the voice that soothes me and makes me feel alive when you just say my name. Not just the body you never let me touch." She paused, gathering her courage. "I've had half of a man's love and attention before. I've had crumbs…" She swallowed thickly. "I won't stand for that again."
When he said nothing, her heart started to break, pieces chipping away by the seconds.
Then very quietly she said, "We can't share any of it if you won't trust me. It feels temporary. Too much like we're using each other."
"There is more than just sexual attraction going on between us, Laura."
His voice was rough and deep, and Laura's body thrummed with little pulses of heat. Each one growing stronger and stronger as the seconds passed.
"If you know how I feel, if you believe that, then why are you here?"
"I … I had to see you."
"Yet I don't get to see you?" She sighed and willed back the tears burning her eyes. "Save us both a lot of heartache. Go back to your tower."
Silence, except for the snap and sizzle of burning wood as the flames grew, lighting the room in a deep yellow glow.
He remained before the hearth, on one bent knee, slowly feeding twigs into the flames. The firelight danced and glimmered through his starched white shirt, outlining his shoulders, his chest, and magnifying his size. His shaggy hair shielded his cheek and jaw, curled on his white collar. She wanted to feel it sift through her fingers. Wanted to run her hands over his broad chest, experience his kiss, his mouth on her body. She covered her face with her hands, breathing slowly.
"Please leave," she whispered, her voice wavering with the desire rushing to the surface. With the need for him to trust her.
"No." He straightened, turning toward her, the fire at his back. "Not anymore."
Laura slid her bare legs off the padded bench, her hands clenched on her lap. Her heart pounded furiously.
He clenched and unclenched his hands at his sides.
Richard's gaze moved over her face, and he drank in every nuance, every bend and curve, her beauty classic, her features painfully flawless. Yet poised on the edge of the bench, she looked more like a girl than a woman, her hair falling over her shoulders in a riot of chestnut curls, the thin fabric of her robe hinting at her lush figure hidden beneath.