“You can’t blame Ruby. She doesn’t deserve that.”
“I don’t,” he answered simply.
“How on earth can you expect me to believe you when you can’t even stay in a room with her for more than five minutes, let alone spend any time alone with her?”
Raoul rubbed a hand across his eyes and shook his head. “It’s not what you think. I don’t blame her. I just can’t let myself love her.”
His words struck her like an arrow through her heart. “How can you say that?” she gasped, shocked to her core.
“Because it’s true. I can’t love her, I won’t love her. What if I lose her, too?”
“What if she lives to be a hundred years old?” Alexis countered.
“You don’t understand, she was born prematurely, she was seriously ill for the first month of her life—”
“And she’s overcome all that, she’s a fighter. She’s a strong, healthy growing girl and she needs her father—not some coward who’s prepared to pay everyone to take over his obligations!”
Raoul stood up straighter at her accusation—anger flaring in his hazel eyes, making them seem more green than brown, standing out even more as his complexion paled. “You’re calling me a coward?”
Alexis stood her ground. “If the cap fits.” She shrugged with feigned nonchalance. Right now she was worried she may have stepped over the mark. But it was too late to back down. Besides, she wasn’t about to break the momentum now that they were finally getting to the heart of his issues. “Let’s face it, you can’t even bring yourself to talk about what we shared last week, about our night together. Instead you’ve been snapping and snarling at me for days, when you haven’t been avoiding me altogether. What’s wrong, Raoul? Can’t you admit that what we did, what we had together, was good? Do you not believe you even deserve even that?”
“No, I don’t!” he shouted. “It’s a betrayal.”
“Of Bree? As hard as it is, as cruel as it is, she’s dead, Raoul. You’re living—although not as if you’re alive. She wouldn’t have wanted you to do this, to cut yourself away from everyone and everything that mattered to you both, especially the daughter you both wanted so badly.”
“So what are you saying, that I should jump into bed with you at every opportunity, pretend I’m alive?”
“If that’s what it takes,” she said quietly.
He moved up to her, grabbing her upper arms in his strong hands. Even though he vibrated with anger, his hold was still gentle. She knew this was the real Raoul Benoit. This man with such passion in his eyes that even now, after her goading, she knew he wouldn’t hurt her.
“And if I said to you that I want you now, what would you do?”
Alexis calmly looked at her watch and then back at him. “I’d say you have about forty minutes. Is that enough?”
“For now, maybe,” he growled.
In the next breath he was kissing her and she thrilled to his touch. Their night together had only made her want more. His last words about taking her birth control had made her believe that he’d come to her again, but instead he’d been so aloof this week, so filled with latent anger. If releasing that anger was what it took to prize him out of his ice cave than that’s what she’d do. She’d make him so mad he made love to her every single day. Anything to bring him, the real him, back again.
She shoved her hands under his sweater and scraped her nails across his belly. His skin reacted instantly, peppering with goose bumps. He backed her up until she felt the hard edge of his desk behind her thighs, and bent her backward onto its hard surface. Immediately, his hands were at the waistband of her jeans, tugging at the button and releasing the zipper. He yanked the denim down her legs and cupped her through her lace panties.
The instant he touched her she was on fire. Wet with longing and burning up for what would come next. His palm bore down on her clitoris, the firm pressure bringing her nerve endings to life. She tried to open her legs wider but was restricted by her jeans pooled at her ankles. Somehow, she toed off her shoes and kicked the offending garment away, spreading herself now for his invasion.
As he moved between her legs, she wasted no time unsnapping his jeans and pushing them down, her touch now hungry for the feel of him. She slid one hand under the waistband of his boxers, pushing the fabric away and freeing him, her fingers closing around the velvet coated steel of his erection. Already his tip was moist and he groaned against her as she firmed her grip on him, stroking him up and down, increasing and releasing her pressure as she did so.