Taming The Beast(6)

By: Amy J. Fetzer


She drew in a deep breath of the cooling sea air. October was still warm when the sun was up, but during hurricane season the rain came often, the cloud cover making the air overly humid and the island breezes adding to the chill. She wrapped her arms around her waist and quickened her steps down street after street, where the houses thinned to the long stretch of road leading to Blackthorne's house. Even more isolation, she thought, and rushed inside the warmth of the house.

After putting on a pot of coffee, she was rubbing the chill from her arms when she heard the distinct sound of someone chopping wood. Frowning, she went to the back door, brushing back the curtain covering the small window. Everything inside her that claimed her a woman jumped to life as her gaze moved over the bare-backed man swinging an ax, muscles rippling as he split a log with one swipe.

Blackthorne.

Oh, Lord, he was magnificent-looking, wearing nothing but jeans and boots, and from this angle she could barely see his profile. Obviously the unscarred portion, but what she could see of his face was sharp and aristocratic. Dark hair blew in the wind, fluttering at his nape, overly long and shaggy. His arms were ropy with muscles as he positioned another log, lifted the ax and brought it down again, neatly splitting the log and sending the two pieces of wood flying out. He cut two more, then paused in his work, the ax head on the stump and his arm braced on the handle. When he looked off and spoke, she realized he was not alone, and she moved to the window. Another man, older, sat on a bench, playing mumblety-peg with a pocketknife. Dewey Halette, she realized, and apparently he was more than just the groundskeeper. He was Blackthorne's friend, perhaps his only one.

Dewey spoke to Blackthorne, his animated features beneath the ball cap weathered as a wrinkled apple and tanned as rawhide. His dark T-shirt hugged his taut stomach, the knees of his jeans were worn to white. Her gaze shifted between the men, and as if Blackthorne knew she was there, he kept his back to her. Yet she glimpsed shiny scars marking his rib cage, like long daggerlike slashes. It must have been horribly painful, she thought, then wondered again over the specifics of his accident. Suddenly he threw his head back and laughed, the rough sound carried on the wind and startling her with a burst of warmth. At least he was not totally lost to the simple pleasures, she thought, and quelled the urge to join them. If he wanted her to see him, he would have shown himself first off.

He said something that made Dewey blush and the older man stood, shooting Blackthorne a grin, then smugly dumped another stack of unsplit logs at his feet. Blackthorne worked, splitting log after log as Dewey gathered and stacked. Then Dewey stilled, looking past Blackthorne and directly at her.

She stared right back.

But it was Blackthorne who threw down the ax and reached for a hooded jacket.

She stepped out. "I apologize," she called out. "I didn't mean to intrude."

"You did," Blackthorne said, his back to her as he slipped on the jacket.

"Forgive me, I'll go elsewhere."

Richard sighed, wanting to turn around and look her in the eye. "No, I can't have you feeling as if you need to be anywhere I'm not."

"But that's what you want, don't you? You'd rather I not be here at all." She saw his shoulders tighten. "The least we can do is be honest with each other, Mr. Blackthorne."

Richard pressed his lips into a tight line and sighed. "Yes, we can. I will tell you that I don't care that I no longer have the run of my own home."

"You don't have to hide."

"I do not hide. I chose this lifestyle, Miss Cambridge, and in the last four years, I've learned this is the best way."

"Easiest, you mean."

"Nothing about this is easy, lady."

"What about your daughter? She's expecting her daddy. She needs comforting. She's lost her mother, for pity's sake."

Richard's chest tightened, and he tried to imagine Kelly's grief and how much he ached to comfort her. "That's why I hired you, Miss Cambridge."

"Don't you even care?"

His spine stiffened. Care? How could he tell Laura that when he'd first learned of his child just a couple of weeks ago, all he'd felt was regret and anger at Kelly's mother for leaving him with his baby growing inside her, for not giving him the chance to even know his child before she stole everything from him. His love for his wife dissolved when she'd taken hers away like a punishment and sentenced him to this prison. And now he was to forget the past? "Yes, I care, but forgive me if fatherhood does not spring to life in me. I've barely grown used to the idea." He strode off toward the garage.

"Well, get used to it," she snapped at his retreating back. "The day after tomorrow she will be here, wanting to see you, and just how am I to explain that her father doesn't want to meet her?"

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