“New nanny? Nice piece of work there, buddy,” the guy said approvingly. His voice was full of innuendo as he continued. “Good around the house, is she?”
Raoul felt his hackles rise. Alexis was good around the house and great with Ruby, but he knew that wasn’t what this guy was aiming at.
“Alexis is an old friend of Bree’s. Ruby’s lucky to have her. Besides, it’s only temporary, until Catherine’s back on her feet again.”
His mention of Bree froze over the conversation as effectively as if he’d tipped a bucket of cold water over the guy.
“Hey man, my apologies, I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“That’s fine, then,” Raoul uttered tightly.
Anger still simmered beneath the surface for a while over the dismissive way the other man had talked about Alexis. She deserved more respect than that. While he might not necessarily have been warm or friendly toward her himself, he could certainly ensure she received the respect she deserved from others. He didn’t stop for a minute to consider why that was so important to him and he missed the look exchanged between his friends behind his back as his gaze remained locked on his daughter’s nanny.
* * *
Alexis felt a familiar prickle in between her shoulder blades as if she was under scrutiny. She turned and caught Raoul’s gaze fastened firmly on her, a serious expression on his face. The moment their eyes met he turned his attention back to the group of men gathered around the barbecue where, by the smells of things, they were making a sacrificial offering of the meat as only a large group of guys could.
Despite the fact he was no longer looking at her, she still felt the impression of his gaze and a flush of heat stained her cheeks and chest in response. What had he been thinking to have such a somber visage? she wondered. Whatever it had been, he’d obviously pushed it to the back of his mind as he now appeared to be laughing at something someone else had said.
The sight of him laughing like that sent a thrill of joy all the way to her heart. He needed to laugh more often, deserved to. The way he’d hidden himself away, devoid of all company and support, had been wrong on so many levels she couldn’t even begin to enumerate them. She knew everyone coped differently with grief, but he’d become a slave to his, and that hadn’t done anyone any favors—not Raoul and certainly not Ruby.
She watched him a moment longer, relishing the warm sensation that coursed through her as she looked her fill. Laughter suited him. Happiness suited him. And somehow she had to make sure he had his fair share of both back in his world. He reached for another drink from the cooler, a can of soda this time, and she watched the play of muscles along his shoulders beneath the fine knit of his lightweight sweater.
Warmth soon became something more complicated as she felt her body react in a far more visceral way, her breathing quickening and a pull of desire working its way from her core to her extremities.
“He’s easy on the eye, isn’t he?” Laura’s voice intruded from right next to her.
“What? Oh...um, yes.” Alexis felt her cheeks flame in embarrassment at being caught out staring at the man who was essentially her boss.
“Don’t worry,” Laura said with a gentle smile. “Your secret’s safe with me.”
Alexis deliberately played dumb, only to be on the receiving end of a gentle smile and a painfully understanding look.
“How long have you felt this way about him?”
Alexis sighed, the other woman’s compassion breaking down any barrier she had thought to erect.
“A few years now,” Alexis admitted, shocked that she’d given up her secret at the first sign of empathy from another person.
For so long she’d held the truth to her chest, fearful that anyone would find out how she felt and judge her for it. You didn’t get attracted to your best friend’s partner—it just wasn’t done—and you certainly didn’t act on it. That was a no-go area in every aspect.
It was terrifying to know that her secret was now out. Not even her parents had known how she felt about Raoul Benoit and, here, a virtual stranger had plucked it from her as easily as if it was a piece of lint on her sweater.
“You...you won’t say anything, will you?” she hastened to add in an undertone.
“Of course not, Alexis. To be honest, I’m glad.”
“Glad?” Alexis was confused.
“Maybe you’re exactly what he needs now, hmm? To mourn someone is one thing, but he’s been hiding away from living for far too long,” Laura said, reaching out to give Alexis’s hand a squeeze. “We all deserve a bit of happiness, right?”