"Yes," he choked, grasping her hand. "Yes." Then he smiled and Laura felt her heart lift with the pure joy of it.
He started for Kelly. Laura laid her hand on his arm, stopping him. "Go slow."
He nodded, not wanting to frighten his daughter, and when the toast popped up, he turned quickly to the counter to butter it. "Do you like jelly, Kelly?"
His daughter laughed. "Blueberry is my favorite."
"Yeah, yeah," Laura said, rolling her eyes. "It was grape yesterday. And before that, peach." She tickled the child, giving her a smacky good-morning kiss on the cheek. Richard turned back to the counter and set the plate in front of his daughter. Then he slid into the chair and, with Laura at his side, watched his daughter in the simple morning ritual of having her breakfast.
The day, he thought, could not get any better.
* * *
The wind snapped at Laura's coat, and though the rain had stopped for a while, it didn't look like it would hold off for long.
"Come with us," Laura said.
"You two go on and have a girl afternoon."
"Please, Daddy," Kelly said from the passenger seat of the SUV.
Laura put her hand on Kelly's arm, stopping her pleas. She tried to understand Richard's apprehension. For over a week they'd lived without the shadows hiding each other. But for Richard to test the waters with the public was a step he wasn't willing to take. Not yet, anyway. The townsfolk hadn't been very receptive to him from the start, and to them all, he was still the beast in the castle. They whispered about him, made him into the mysterious creature that he once was. Once. Not anymore. But getting the townsfolk to grow accustomed to him would take time.
And getting Richard to take that step forward was even harder.
She felt as if he was dragging his heels.
"It's okay," she said to him. "We won't be long."
"I want to," he said softly. "But not with Kelly near. I don't know what I'd do if she heard some of the things they've called me."
Laura's lips tightened. "Me, neither."
He touched her face, tipping her chin up, and loving how she was so ready to defend Kelly and him, as she had in the past weeks.
"Does this mean you'll be with me and Kelly but not anyone else?"
"I can't. Not right now."
Her temper jumped. "This won't work forever, Richard. There are teacher conferences, Girl Scouts, ballet lessons. Will you deny Kelly and yourself a life because of what people might say?"
He arched a brow at the sudden surge of anger. "No, but you want me to jump in the deep end of the pool first off."
She sighed hard. "Okay, okay. I understand. Or at least I'm trying to. Maybe it's too much, too soon." She glanced at Kelly, who wasn't interested in the adults and played with the buttons and dials on the dashboard. Laura looked back at Richard. "I care about you both," she said softly, and his smile appeared. "I want you to be happy, and hiding with you is not what Kelly needs."
Richard let out a harsh breath. He knew this was coming. She'd hinted at it enough in the last couple of days. But this was not a discussion to have right now. "We can talk about this tonight, okay?"
"Oh, you bet we will."
He loved the belligerent look she gave him, her determination written from the top of her cute ponytail to her worn sneakers. But he wasn't going to trot down the middle of Main Street and wait for the ridicule. And as for the future, Richard couldn't think that far ahead, yet as he gazed down at her, he knew she'd stolen more than his heart. And he'd given it freely. He wanted these feelings to last forever, to keep the world from intruding, and standing before anyone else except her, Kelly and Dewey would ruin it.
"Tonight, then." He bent to kiss her.
Kelly giggled. Richard winked at her. His daughter had accepted him and his relationship with Laura. They were a family, she was his lover, and every morning when he woke with her in his arms, he experienced all over again a feeling of such peace and utter contentment that he knew he'd never felt this wonderful before. He would do nothing to jeopardize it. Nothing.
"You better get going before the rain breaks again." He kissed his daughter, then walked around the SUV with Laura.
She slid behind the wheel and buckled the seat belt, pausing to check Kelly's belt. He leaned into the car and kissed her again.
"Hurry back, baby," he said against her lips before he straightened.
"We won't be more than an hour." Laura was going to pick up milk and eggs, and maybe something to occupy Kelly during the next bout of rain. The grocery delivery was backlogged for a day, and she needed some time outside. Not that she didn't mind being with Richard and making love with him, sleeping with him.