Physically, she’d always been incredibly drawn to Raoul—not only to his body and his mind, but to his heart. He’d been a fabulous husband to Bree and it was his devotion to her friend and their obvious love for one another that had made their happiness together all the more bittersweet for her to witness. Seeing how they’d felt about one another was a reminder to herself that she never wanted to settle for anything less. She wanted the kind of love that Raoul and Bree had had—the same kind of enduring love that her parents had enjoyed through multiple trials and tribulations in their marriage.
Most recently, all through her mother’s rapidly advancing early-onset dementia, Alexis’s dad had stuck by her—caring for her at home by himself, since Alexis had been overseas, until he was forced to see her admitted to hospital. Even then, he’d barely moved from her side until her death almost four months ago.
Alexis wanted that kind of devotion in a relationship. She was prepared to give it and she believed she deserved it in return. But none of the men she’d dated had ever shown that capacity for love. Then she’d met Raoul, the handsomest man she’d ever met and someone who loved so fully and deeply that it took her breath away. Was it any wonder she’d fallen for him in a matter of moments?
But what were his feelings toward her? After the blisteringly hot kiss, she knew attraction was part of it...but was that the extent of it for him? Was he capable of feeling anything more for her? She knew it was still early days for Raoul, that the pain of Bree’s death was still a simmering thing lying on the surface of his every day.
She was caught between a rock and a hard place. Did she keep gently pushing him to expose the attraction she knew he felt for her any further? Or did she wait and see what happened next after today’s kiss?
Bree would forever be a part of their lives. Ruby was full testimony to that, not to mention the fact that true love, like energy, could never be destroyed. But she also knew that love, if it existed between two people, could grow and become enriched in even the worst of situations. Her parents were the perfect example of that.
The question was, however, could Raoul Benoit give that to her? Would he ever take down the barriers he kept so firmly erected between them again?
Did she even have the right to ask him to?
* * *
Her first month caring for Ruby had passed in a blur of time, Alexis realized as she watched a fun educational DVD with Ruby, clapping hands with her and jiggling along with the music. She’d lifted Ruby to her feet and was holding her hands as the baby pumped her thighs in time to the beat. She couldn’t help laughing at the happy energy the little girl exuded as she squealed and danced.
“Someone sounds happy. She’s got her mother’s sense of rhythm, I see.”
Alexis turned to see Raoul standing in the doorway, a look on his face that was half quizzical and half humorous.
“Dad-dad-dad-dad!” Ruby shrieked as she saw her father.
Alexis bit her lip. Over the past few days the baby had gone from curiosity about Raoul, to grim determination to make him acknowledge her. Ruby plopped down onto her padded bottom and Alexis let her hands go, only to see the child pull herself up using the coffee table beside them and take at first one, then two, then more tentative steps toward her father.
“Oh, my God, she’s walking. She’s actually walking!” Alexis cried.
“Should she be doing that already?” Raoul said, his eyes fixed on his daughter’s tiny form as it teetered toward him on the carpeted floor.
“Well, she’s a little early at ten months, but she’s been showing signs of wanting to get onto her feet properly for a couple of weeks now. Oops, there she goes.”
Ruby lost her balance but before she could hit the carpet, Raoul was right there. His large hands hooked under her tiny armpits and swung her up into an arc that made her release a gurgling laugh of sheer joy.
Alexis felt a pang in her chest at the sight. This was how it should have been all along. Father and daughter sharing special moments like this one.
“Dad-dad,” Ruby said again, her little hand patting Raoul on the face.
“That’s right, Ruby,” Alexis said from her position on the floor. “That’s your daddy. Good girl.”
“She can’t really understand I’m her father,” Raoul said, putting Ruby back down on the floor.
He was forced to reluctantly hold her hands as she tugged herself up onto her feet again and continued to want to walk, this time with him bent over, holding her hands as she tottled toward Alexis.