As if Alexis sensed his observation of her, she stirred. A few of her pens slid off the cushion and onto the floor. They must have made some noise because she startled awake and moved to grab her pad from following in the same path. The sketch pad reminded him that she’d put her life on hold to come here.
He’d never have asked her to do that—to simply walk away from her growing business to look after a child who would have been fine with a different nanny, and a man who was perfectly capable of looking after himself. Things had been rolling along just fine here before her arrival—at least that’s what he’d tried to convince himself. He knew, though, in all honesty, they hadn’t.
What made someone do what she had done? he wondered. Simply shelve, at least for a little while, their own dreams and goals to help out someone else. Was it a lack of self-respect or belief? No, he knew she had self-respect, but she also had a big and giving heart. He’d seen it in the way she’d so quickly grown attached to Ruby.
He continued to watch as Alexis stood up and stretched, the movement pulling her long sleeved T-shirt upward, exposing the soft skin of her belly. In answer, his flesh stirred, reminding him that he’d been trapped in this awkward state of semiarousal this past week. He wanted her, but he didn’t want the complicated hang-ups that came along with having her. And if he knew anything about Alexis Fabrini it was that she had a power of emotion stored up in that enticing body of hers. She deserved someone who could match her, physically and emotionally.
He had no space left in his heart for emotion.
He turned and pushed through the edges of the garden and strode out toward the winery. Somehow he had to find a release for all the pent-up energy having sex with Alexis had created. Somehow, he didn’t think finishing labeling the wine bottles he was ready to put down would be enough.
Several hours later he was surprised at the sense of satisfaction he felt while recording the number of bottles of Pinot Noir he’d spent the better part of the day labeling. This wine was his best yet. While he was probably only looking at four hundred cases in total, he was sure that they would be integral in helping to establish his Benoit Wines label. If he could continue to ensure the same quality, and better, year after year, his reputation would be made.
The sound of the winery door creaking open surprised him and he looked up to see Alexis walking through the tasting room toward his small office. The late afternoon sun was weak, yet it still struggled through the windows as if determined to bathe her in shades of golden ocher. His body responded accordingly, again stirring to unwelcome life. His pulse beat just that bit faster, his gut clenched just that bit tighter.
She was alone, a fact that immediately put him on the offensive—the easiest way, he’d found, to cope with this unnerving awareness of her each time she was within a few meters of him.
“Where’s Ruby?” he asked, his voice gruff.
“She’s having a playdate with Jason over at Matt and Laura’s. I’ll pick her up in an hour.”
Raoul raised an eyebrow, his mind filling with all manner of things he could enjoy with Alexis in the space of sixty minutes. Just as quickly, he tamped those visions back where they belonged.
“Yes, the kids seem to get along in as much as they can socialize at this age. And, anyway, it’s good for her to get out of the house. I said I’ll do the same for Laura one day next week. I hope you don’t mind. I’m sorry, I probably should have discussed it with you first.”
Alexis seemed determined to justify herself to him. Was that what he’d reduced her to? Someone who constantly felt they had to make apology for their actions? He knew Matt and Laura well, he trusted them implicitly.
“If you think it’s best for Ruby, it’s fine. Did you want me for something?”
“I wanted to see if you’re planning to have dinner with us tonight. If not, I’ll put yours in the warmer.”
“The warmer is fine.”
She sighed, and the sound acted like a torch to touch-paper.
“What?” he demanded.
She shrugged. “Nothing.”
“No, you sighed. There’s something bothering you. What is it?”
“Well, if you must know, I’m sick of you avoiding me, avoiding us. Is it because we slept together or is it something else I’ve done?”
He was about to refute her accusation but, in all honesty, he couldn’t.