He suddenly understood. “You were angry that your parents and Gemma and, later, Sarah left you. You felt abandoned.”
He got it.
“But I’m not allowed to be angry with them because they didn’t have a choice to stay or to go.”
“But I had a choice and I didn’t choose you.”
Alex nodded and scratched her head above her ear. “Being all grown-up, I thought I could handle having a fling with you. I thought I would sleep with you and keep it light and fluffy. And I was okay when I called it quits. I mean, I missed you but I knew that I could live without you. I think it helped that we didn’t make an emotional connection, that it was all about sex.”
They didn’t make that connection because they’d both been too damn scared to go there. They still were. “Anyway, as for our current predicament... It makes sense for us to be together, to live together, to raise our child together,” Alex quietly stated.
Thank the baby Jesus...
“But it also doesn’t.”
Daniel looked at her and waited for her to continue, conscious of his heart thudding in his chest. Where was she going with this? “Carry on, Lex. Tell me what you are thinking.”
“I’m scared of moving in with you, falling for you and then having to deal with you leaving, whether that’s by death or a woman or whatever life might throw my way.”
She was worried that he might leave her for someone else? Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. Not now, not ever. Alex pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. “I’m scared, Dan. I’m scared to try this, terrified that it won’t work. I’m scared that you will become the center of my world again and when the day comes for you to make a choice, it won’t be me.”
She was a lot stronger than she gave herself credit for. They were both strong people; they’d both, in their different ways, survived so much. They could handle this.
He had to touch her, so he used the tip of his index finger to stroke the inside of her wrist. “I know you’re scared, sweetheart. But there’s something more frightening than fear and that’s regret.”
Alex released a heavy sigh and lifted her shoulders in a tired shrug. He could see that she was feeling overwhelmed and out of her depth. So was he but his childhood of rolling with the punches had taught him to not make decisions when he was emotional, that it was always beneficial to step back and look at a situation with some distance.
As much as he wanted to install Alex in his house as soon as he got back to Royal, he needed to give her time to find her way back to him. It was going to be hard, when his instinct was to take control, but if he wanted a family—this family—he had to take it slow.
“Can you see yourself staying in Royal? Is that something you can do?”
Alex stared at the pool below them and it took all of Dan’s patience to remain silent. Eventually she nodded her head. “Yeah, I think that’s a decision I am comfortable making.”
Thank God. Do not punch the air, Clayton. You are not a child. Daniel held himself still. You still have work to do but, God, that was a massive hurdle overcome. “Okay then. Good.”
He put his hands on her knees and waited for her troubled eyes to meet his. “Lex, you don’t need to make any more decisions today. Take some time, think it through.”
Alex bit her bottom lip. “What if I’d decided to move to Houston?”
He pushed his hand through his hair and met her eyes. “I don’t know, Alex. It would’ve been more complicated, financially and logistically. But I like to think that we would’ve made it work.”
Daniel prayed that she wouldn’t pursue this line of questioning, that she wouldn’t ask whether he would’ve moved to Houston and left The Silver C. Maybe. Possibly. Yes. But admitting that was a step too far. He was opening the door to his heart a bit too wide. Alex needed time and so did he.
“Rose and Grandpa are going to pressure us to get married,” Alex said, directing her words to the pond and refusing to meet his eyes.
The last time he asked, she almost drew blood, her reply had been so cutting. “Do you want to get married?”
Alex shook her head. “I’m still coming to terms with my decision to stay in Royal. I can’t think much beyond that. But, Lord, the gossip!”