He kept walking, leaving boot tracks in the sod. "Tell her the truth, Miss Cambridge," he called out. "Her father does not want to be another source of nightmares for her."
That left her stunned, and before she could respond, he was out of sight. She turned her head to look at Dewey. "That didn't go very well, did it?"
Dewey studied her slowly, assessing and judging in one sweep, and Laura didn't know how she came out in that contest. His expression revealed nothing.
"No, ma'am," he said.
"I'm Laura Cambridge."
"Mr. Blackthorne said as much."
"What else did he tell you?"
Dewey's expression shuttered, and he turned away to gather logs and stack them between two trees. The pile had to be thirty feet wide and five feet tall already. They probably needed the wood for heat when the power went out during storms. The stone house, she imagined, would get damp and cold.
"Everyone in town believes a totally different story about him, but then, you knew that, didn't you?" She admired the fact that the older man kept Blackthorne's secrets, even at his own expense.
Dewey positioned the logs on the pile, then turned back to the stump.
"Will you at least tell me his routine so I don't start another fight?"
Dewey met her gaze and tipped his ball cap back, staring at her for a second. "Nope."
Her eyes went wide. "I beg your pardon?"
"Mr. Blackthorne does as he pleases, ma'am, and if you run into him again, then I 'spect you'll just have to handle him."
"Oh, you're a big help." She threw her arms out and let them fall. "Would you rather see him hide like a mole in this palace—" she flung a hand at the castle "—or actually get to know his daughter?"
He didn't respond, taking up Blackthorne's chore, and Laura realized she wasn't going to get anything out of Dewey. It was clear where his loyalties lay. Yet when he went to raise the ax, her hand on his arm stopped him. She met his dark gaze head-on, and said, "I am not leaving here until I feel Kelly will get good care and absolutely tons of love," she drawled, letting her Carolina accent slide over him and do the job for her. "You hear, Mr. Halette?"
There was a little twinkle in his eyes just then, and though his expression didn't change, he said, "Yes'm. And call me Dewey, ma'am."
"Laura," she conceded, then turned toward the house and added, "I'm having groceries delivered, which means company's coming. So if you've a mind to keep up this pretense, I suspect you'd better wipe that smile off your face."
Behind her, Dewey blinked, fighting an even bigger smile. "Yes, ma'am."
* * *
The sweet aroma of something baking drifted up through the house, and with it came a chorus of laughter. It drew him, though he kept to the old servants' staircase that had been walled up for years. Hidden passageways created a maze through the house inside the walls; the corridors were steep, narrow, and barely able to accommodate his size. He hadn't been inside these walls since he'd discovered them, and part of him loathed that he was in here now. But there were people in his home, when for years only he and Dewey roamed the halls. But now she was here, making herself at home, baking in his kitchen. The temptation to see was as overwhelming as the scent of baking chocolate. Yet it was the laughter that pulled at him. And he could pick her laugh out of the din of voices. Bright, clean, unscarred. It did not stun him as much as he thought, for there was something about Laura Cambridge that grabbed him in places he didn't want touched. She defied and rebelled, and the urge to tempt her to the brink surged in him, yet he suppressed it, for he knew he had everything to lose if she saw his face. His daughter depended on Laura being here for her when he could not.
He stopped at the end of the dank corridor and depressed the spring panel, catching it so it did not swing open completely. She was at the oven, removing a cookie sheet, then sliding cookies onto a plate. It was such a domestic scene, something Andrea had never bothered to do, but what caught him off guard were the three people perched on stools around the butcher table. She brought the cookies to the counter, offering them to the guests. Guests. In his house. For the first time. He wanted to be angry. He wanted them gone for the simple reason that he could not join in. And seeing her talking so animatedly made his isolation all the more agonizing and bitter.
Damn, but she was beautiful, and the three men surrounding the counter hung on her words. Then when she went to put a batch in the oven, he noticed them leaning out to get a good look at her behind. Granted, it was a sweet creation, he thought, but why were they really here? To gape at his house, him or at her?