Alexis had thought the pain of saying goodbye to her mother had been hard enough, followed soon after by discovering Bree had gone, too. But this was something else entirely. This was raw and sharp and jagged and sliced at her insides with unrelenting strikes. He didn’t need her, didn’t want her, didn’t love her. Each fact hurt as much as the other.
She went to the walk-in wardrobe to retrieve her case. As soon as she opened the door she felt a sense of Bree, as if she’d only stepped out for a minute and would be back any moment. The soft hint of her floral fragrance teased at Alexis’s nostrils, reminding her of the kind of woman Bree had been. A woman so loved, so missed, that her husband wouldn’t take a chance on love again. She couldn’t compete with that. It was an impossible task. Her love simply hadn’t been enough to bridge that breach.
“I failed, Bree,” she said softly through her tears. “I thought I could do it, that with enough time, enough patience and enough love that I could bring him back, but I failed. I’m sorry, my friend. Sorry for everything, but especially sorry for letting my feelings for Raoul get between you and me.”
In the distance she heard Ruby wake from her nap and Raoul’s deep tones murmuring to her as he tended to the little girl.
“But he’s doing more with Ruby, getting closer to her and learning how to be a father—at least I achieved that much, if nothing else.”
Her voice cracked on the last words and she wheeled her case from the wardrobe and closed the door behind her. Closing it on so much more than a half-empty closet. Lifting the suitcase onto the bed, she shoved her things inside together with her toiletries, reaching every now and then for a tissue to wipe her face and blow her nose with.
She had to pull herself together, even if only long enough to say her goodbyes to Ruby. Whether Raoul would be there when she left was something else she’d have to face with her backbone straight and her shoulders squared. Part of her wanted to see him one last time, to draw this entire episode to a natural close, but there was another part of her that hoped he’d make himself scarce so she wouldn’t have to face the pain of looking into his eyes and seeing nothing reflected back at her but relief that she was leaving.
Logically she knew they’d have to have some sort of ongoing contact, especially after the birth. He’d already made it clear he would financially support her. While that was probably the least she ought to be expecting from him, for her that was the lowest denominator in this complicated equation. She simply wanted him. All of him. Not just a no-strings lover.
She drew in a shuddering breath and then another until she felt as if she had herself under control. Taking a last look around the room, she pulled the suitcase off the bed and stood it up on its wheels. Could she do this? Could she really walk away from Raoul and Ruby and never look back?
Only time would tell.
Feeling as if her heart was breaking a little more with each step, she slung her handbag over her shoulder and, wheeling her suitcase behind her, left the room.
Jenny was in the hallway with Ruby in her arms. The instant Ruby saw Alexis she clamored to be let down and raced toward Alexis the instant her feet touched the ground. Alexis bent down and scooped the little girl in her arms, burying her face in Ruby’s neck and inhaling that special, fresh, soft baby smell that was so precious. Three months, she’d cared for her, but it had only taken about three seconds to fall in love.
The pain in Alexis’s chest sharpened as she whispered a goodbye to Ruby and handed her back to Jenny.
“Well, I’d better be off, then. If I’ve left anything behind, perhaps you could send it on to me? Catherine has my address.”
“Don’t worry, Raoul told me family matters have drawn you away. Thanks for helping so much this past week. It’s made taking over that much easier.”
“I aim to please,” Alexis answered with a bitter twist to her mouth. She looked around but couldn’t see Raoul anywhere. “I thought I’d better say goodbye to Raoul, is he around?”
“Oh, he had to go down to the winery. Something about a truck coming to pick up some cases of wine, I think.”
So, it was to be like that between them.
“I see,” she said.
But she didn’t see at all. Had their time together meant so little to him that he couldn’t even give her the courtesy of a farewell face-to-face? She swallowed against the lump in her throat and grabbed at the handle of her suitcase.
“Well, I’d better be on my way, then. I’ve got quite a drive ahead of me.”