Taming The Beast(4)

By: Amy J. Fetzer

Richard felt as if she'd slapped him. "Andrea left because she couldn't handle the repercussions of the accident. She wanted me to look the same and act the same. It was never going to happen. And it never is."

He drew in a breath. "Find someone else." He hung up the phone without saying goodbye, his fingers tightening on the receiver before he released it and moved behind his desk.

He dropped in the leather chair and swung it around to face the window. The sun struggled to push through the clouds and sparkle on the river, and Richard forced the memories back, banishing the accident, the tearing pain, and Andrea's reaction when they'd taken off the bandages. Horror. Repugnance. He'd always felt Andrea would be there, beside him, and he was stunned when she left. He should have seen it coming when she wouldn't share his bed, wouldn't touch him after the accident, He saw her revulsion every time he reached for her. The night before the crash was the last time he'd felt the tender wash of pleasure with a woman.

And now a woman voted most beautiful in the state was living in his house. It didn't matter that it was ten years ago, she could still stop traffic.

The knock was so soft he almost didn't hear it, "Mr. Blackthorne."

Something slammed through him at the sound of her voice, so southern and delicate. He almost hated her for it, "I said I would summon—"

"Gee, last I recall, my job description required that I take care of your daughter, not you. So you can summon and demand all you like, my lord—"

"I pay your salary."

"Big deal."

He arched a brow and twisted around to glare at the door.

"And didn't your mother teach you it was rude to interrupt a lady?"

"Didn't you learn diplomacy in the State Department?"

"Yes, but this is not foreign soil, and you can't claim diplomatic immunity."

Fighting a smile, Richard leaned his head back into the leather chair. "What do you want?"

"Aah, the negotiation stage," she said with relish. "Now, unless that rather bland pile of groceries in the fridge and freezer is your idea of a balanced diet, I think I need to do the menu planning."

"Fine. Order whatever you like."

Laura sighed and let her head loll forward. What a difficult man. She jiggled the tray, letting the beautiful china clink. "Hear that? It's dishes, with food on them," she said enticingly.

"Leave it at the door."

She blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Surely you heard, Miss Cambridge, the door is not that thick."

"Apparently your head is," she muttered.

"Set it on the floor and leave."

Laura set it down, and when she straightened, she glared at the wood, determined to get him out of that cave. "We are going to have a real hard time at this, Mr. Blackthorne."

"Only if you break the rules."

"And they are?"

"I will e-mail them to you on your computer."

"My, how positively sterile."

"It's the only way," he said softly when he heard her footsteps on the staircase.

Richard rubbed his forehead, his fingertips grazing the scars, and he cursed, thrust out of his chair and began pacing. Grinding his teeth, he wondered how he was going to survive with that gorgeous mouthy fantasy strutting around his house.

* * *

Laura did the dishes with a vengeance. She shouldn't be so upset. What was it to her if he stayed in his sanctuary and brooded? But Kelly would come into this. She couldn't let a child who was expecting to see her daddy, feel the instant exclusion Richard Blackthorne dealt with a few choice words. He wanted no contact whatsoever.

We will just see about that, she thought, throwing a load of laundry in the washer and deciding to investigate the house. Her sneakers squeaked as she walked down the wide hallways, decorated with medieval furnishings. A suit of armor, shields and at least three swords. This guy went all out, she thought, sparing only a brief glance in the other rooms, noticing a painting, an antique settee and a vase so delicate she thought looking at it too hard would crush it,

She walked into the living room. Or was it the parlor or study? She'd passed a couple of locked rooms and figured Mr. Blackthorne didn't want anyone in there and wondered idly if one of them was the dungeon. Well, there were enough nooks and crannies that it would take days to discover them all. And she already surmised that the top floor was off-limits. She threw open the patio doors, and the warm, moist wind hit her face like a gentle, frothy caress. She breathed deeply, tasting salt in the air, and closing the doors behind her, she took off down the beach. It was a pleasure she couldn't resist. Her feet dug into the sand as she pushed her muscles, then she threw her arms out and laughed. Oh, this isn't so bad, she thought, folding over to catch her breath. Of course, she should be in better shape. Straightening, she looked back at the house, the castle on the hill. A little hitch caught in her chest. It was the place of dreams, she thought. And evidently, a place for Richard Blackthorne to hide.