“Are you certain, Alexis? Because if you can’t, we stop now. I don’t want you to be under any illusion that we’re going to fall in love and have a future. I’m never going down that road again. I did it once and I can’t trust anyone that way again.”
She caught her full lower lip between her teeth, the sheen in her eyes a telltale giveaway. A shaft of fear sliced through him. She wanted more. Of course she did. It was in her nature to love, to nurture. It was only natural she’d want the same in return. She was the kind of person who always put others first, the one others turned to when in need. But he didn’t want all of that from her—couldn’t accept it, couldn’t give it to her in return.
“Can I have some time to think about it?”
“If you need time to think about it, you obviously have questions. If you have questions, or doubts, then we should probably forget the whole idea.”
He could see her weighing his words. Before his eyes she changed. Her eyes cleared and the expression on her face hardened. She drew herself up to her full height and looked up at him. Then, to his surprise, she gave a brief nod and spoke.
“Yes, I accept.”
He barely dared to hope she was giving him the answer he desperately wanted to hear.
“Yes, I’ll be your...” she hesitated just a barest moment “...your sexual partner.”
“No strings attached.”
The clarification was important. Vitally so.
“Agreed, no strings attached.”
“And you’ll keep taking your pill. I don’t want there to be any mistakes. If you’re not happy with that I’ll take care of protection myself.”
Maybe he should be using condoms as well anyway. You could never be too safe.
“I’m still taking my pill. I don’t plan to stop, so don’t worry. Is that everything you wanted to discuss?”
Hell, no, it wasn’t.
“Just one more thing.”
“And what might that be?”
“Our sleeping arrangements. I can’t stay in your room.”
“That’s okay, I can sleep just as well in your bed—if you want me there all night, that is.”
Did he? Of course he did. The idea alone had him hardening again.
“I do,” he admitted, his voice roughening with mounting anticipation and desire.
She drew in a breath and then slowly released it. “Is that all?”
He nodded, suddenly unable to speak.
“Fine, I’ll go and collect Ruby, then.”
He watched her through the window as she left the winery and walked up the hill to the house, feeling as if something vital had changed between them and not for the better. But he didn’t doubt that he’d made the right decision. He was just happy that she’d agreed. When he turned back to his work he didn’t stop to question how right it had felt to hold her, or how desperately he needed to lose himself in her softness again. And again. All he wanted to think about was that, from tonight, he could.
No strings attached. God should have smote her for that lie. Her agreement had come back to haunt her virtually every day these past couple of weeks. There’d been strings attached to Raoul Benoit from the moment she first laid eyes on him—the very day Bree had excitedly introduced him as her fiancé. That instant attraction, that irresistible tug of physical awareness that happened every single time she saw him, only grew stronger.
He’d kick her out of here faster than she could imagine if he had any idea of how she felt about him. How each day, each hour, each second with him only made her love him more. She stayed with him every night. Falling deep into sleep after they made love, sometimes waking in the small hours to feel him reaching for her to make love all over again.
Last night, after he’d fallen asleep again, she’d committed a cardinal sin. She’d given in, against all her promises to herself to the contrary, and she’d whispered that she loved him. It had been a relief to get it out in the open, even if only for her ears alone.
She shifted her attention back to what she was doing and poured another jug of warm water over Ruby’s head. Ruby squealed and splashed the bathwater vigorously, dragging Alexis’s thoughts firmly into the present and her duties to her little charge. She laughed out loud at the child’s sheer pleasure in bath time.
Strings, yeah, there were strings all right. Not least of which being the one that came from little Ruby and was now securely tied around Alexis’s heart, as well.