Clearly nothing wrong with those.
There was absolutely nothing he could see that could be responsible for her upset. Nothing external, anyway. Fear twisted in his stomach as he took a step into the room. It was always what you couldn’t see that was the most dangerous.
One pudgy little hand gripped the top rail of the side of her crib, the other reached out helplessly...toward what? Looking around, he spotted a toy on the floor. From its position, he’d guess that it had been in the crib with her and she’d flung it across the room. And still she screamed.
Was that all this was about? A stupid toy?
He gingerly picked up the mangled black-and-white zebra and handed it to her, avoiding actual physical contact. The sobs ceased for a moment—but only a moment before she hurled it back to the floor, plonked herself down on her bottom on her mattress and began once more to howl.
“Oh, dear, so it’s going to be one of those days, is it?”
Alexis bustled past him and toward the crib.
“Where the hell have you been? She’s been crying for ages,” Raoul demanded, pushing one hand through his hair.
“About a minute, actually, but yes, I agree, it feels like forever when she’s upset.”
She competently lifted Ruby from the crib and hugged her to her body. Raoul became instantly aware of how the child snuggled against Alexis’s scantily clad form—in particular Alexis’s full, unbound breasts that were barely covered by a faded singlet. She wore it over pajama shorts that, heaven help him, rode low on her softly curved hips and high on her tanned legs.
A surge of heat slowly rolled through his body, making his skin feel tight—uncomfortable with recognition of her lush femininity. But then he became aware of something else.
“What is that god-awful smell?”
“Probably the reason why she’s awake earlier than normal. She needs a clean diaper and she’s very fussy about that. It’s good really, it’ll make potty training so much easier later on. Some kids are absolutely oblivious.”
Raoul backed out of the room. “Are you sure that’s all? Maybe she ought to see the doctor and get checked out.”
Alexis just laughed. The sound washed over him like a gentle caress—its touch too much, too intimate.
“I see nothing to laugh about. She might be sick,” he said, his body rigid with anxiety.
“Oh, no. Nothing like that,” Alexis replied, her back to him as she laid Ruby down on her change table.
With one hand gently on the baby’s tummy, she reached for a packet of wipes, the movement making the already short hemline of her pajama shorts ride even higher and exposing the curve of one buttock. The warmth that had previously invaded his body now ignited to an instant inferno. He turned away from the scene before him, as much to hide his stirring erection as to avoid watching the diaper change.
He turned back a minute later, almost under complete control once more, as Alexis dropped the soiled packet into the diaper bin, one Raoul distinctly remembered Bree ordering in a flurry of nursery accessory buying the day they discovered she was pregnant. He didn’t even remember when it had arrived or who had put it in here. He should probably have given it to Catherine but here it was, being used in a nursery he’d never imagined being used at all after Bree’s death.
“Raoul? Are you okay?”
Alexis’s voice interrupted his thoughts, dragging him back into the here and now as she always did.
“I’m fine,” he asserted firmly, as if saying the words could actually make them true.
“Good, then please hold Ruby while I go and wash my hands.”
Before he could protest, she’d thrust the baby against his chest. Instinctively he put out his arms, regretting the movement the instant his hands closed around the little girl’s tiny form. His stomach lurched and he felt physically ill with fear. He’d never held her before. Ever. What if he did something wrong, or hurt her? What if she started crying again? He looked down into the blue eyes of his daughter, eyes that were so like her mother’s. Her dark brown lashes were spiked together with tears and to his horror he saw her eyes begin to fill again, saw her lip begin to wobble. He couldn’t do this, he really couldn’t do this.
“Thanks, Raoul, I can take her back now if you like?”
Relief swamped him at Alexis’s return and he passed the baby back to her with lightning speed. But the moment his arms were empty something weird happened. It was as if he actually missed the slight weight in his arms, the feel of that little body up against his own, the sensation of the rapidly drawn breaths in her tiny chest, the warmth of her skin.