“Fight against? I don’t understand.”
“He’d shut himself down, put his feelings where no one could touch them. Not even Ruby. I still remember seeing him standing in the neonatal intensive-care unit, staring at her in her incubator. No emotion on his face, not even a flicker. I knew then that she would need help—they both would.
“Looking after Ruby helped me come to terms with losing Bree. It would have helped him, too, but with her being sick for that first month of her life, it only served to push him further away.”
“I still can’t understand how he did that,” Alexis said, shaking her head.
She’d seen photos of Ruby in the NICU. They’d raised every protective instinct in her body. She’d wanted to reach right into the pictures and cuddle the precious baby back to health. How could Raoul not have felt the same way about his own daughter?
“He’s a strong man with powerful emotions. Sometimes emotions like that can get to be too much, even for someone like Raoul,” Catherine said. “Bree’s father was like that, too. I’m sure she was drawn to that strength the same way I was with her father. But we had our troubles through the years, just as I know Bree had fights with Raoul, over the way that both men thought being strong meant shutting out anything that might make them vulnerable.”
Ruby had stopped playing and had gotten to her feet and walked over to her grandmother who happily lifted her onto her lap.
“The sad thing is, he doesn’t even realize what he’s been missing out on. Or maybe he didn’t, until you came along.”
“Whatever good I might have done has been destroyed now,” Alexis said ruefully.
“Maybe, maybe not. I think he needs a bit of time to come to terms with things.”
“Well, if, as you say, he’s looking for a new nanny, then my time is definitely running out.”
Catherine gave Ruby a kiss and popped her back on the floor. “Don’t give up, Alexis. If he’s worth fighting for, then you have to fight.”
She left soon after that, promising to call by again the next day. As Alexis and Ruby waved her off at the front door Alexis weighed Catherine’s words in her mind. Could she do it? Could she fight for Raoul? Would he even let her?
* * *
He hated to admit it, but he missed being with Alexis. That said, he’d made up his mind. She had to go.
Obviously that left him with a problem. Catherine wasn’t fit enough yet to take Ruby back on full-time so he had to find someone who would fill in for the short term.
In the meantime, he kept a surreptitious eye on Alexis. Watching like a hawk for telltale signs that she was overdoing things. He hated the thought of her leaving and yet he couldn’t wait for her to be gone—for things to go back to the way they were before she arrived here. He tried to tell himself, over and over, that he’d be able to forget her, to put her from his heart and his mind. He only hoped it was true. He never even let himself think about the child—his child. Their child.
Raoul walked into the house and braced himself. Today he would tell her that she had to go as soon as he’d found a replacement. He wasn’t looking forward to it. He went to his bathroom and turned on the shower, then stripped off his clothes and dived under the hot stinging spray. It had been cold out in the vineyard today where he’d begun cane pruning the vines. The work was slow but methodical and had unfortunately allowed him far too much time to think.
He closed his eyes and dropped his head to take the full brunt of the shower stream, blindly reaching for a bottle of shampoo. The instant he opened it he knew he’d taken the wrong one—his senses immediately filled with that fresh floral scent he always identified with Alexis. His body felt an unwelcome stirring of desire, his flesh growing semihard. He snapped the lid closed and threw the bottle to the bottom of the shower with a clatter.
She was everywhere. In his thoughts, in his dreams, in his bathroom. He finished his shower as quickly as possible. Determined to get facing her and telling her what he’d done over with as quickly and as painlessly as possible.
He could hear her in the kitchen with Ruby as he made his way down the hall and through the house. Could hear the love in her voice as she coaxed the little girl into eating her vegetables. It made something twist inside him, but he forged on.
“Hi,” she said matter-of-factly as he entered the kitchen.
Ruby squealed her delight at seeing him, banging on her tray with a spoon. From the look of her, she’d been attempting to feed herself, and not very successfully if the mush all over her face and hair was anything to go by.