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Page 33

“How are you feeling?” I ask as I switch on the bedside light.

“I’m good.”

There’s blood on my sheets. Her blood. Evidence of her now-absent virginity. Her eyes dart from the stains to me and she looks away, embarrassed.

“Well, that’s going to give Mrs. Jones something to think about.”

She looks mortified.

It’s just your body, sweetheart. I grasp her chin and tip her head back so I can see her expression. I’m about to give her a short lecture on how not to be ashamed of her body, when she reaches out to touch my chest.

Fuck.

I step out of her reach as the darkness surfaces.

No. Don’t touch me.

“Get into bed,” I order, rather more sharply than I’d intended, but I hope she doesn’t detect my fear. Her eyes widen with confusion and maybe hurt.

Damn.

“I’ll come and lie down with you,” I add, as a peace offering, and from the chest of drawers I pull out a T-shirt and quickly slip it on, for protection.

She’s still standing, staring at me. “Bed,” I command more forcefully. She scrambles into my bed and lies down and I climb in behind her, folding her in my arms. I bury my face in her hair and inhale her sweet scent: autumn and apple trees. Facing away, she can’t touch me, and while I lie there I resolve to spoon with her until she’s asleep. Then I’ll get up and do some work.

“Sleep, sweet Anastasia.” I kiss her hair and close my eyes. Her scent fills my nostrils, reminding me of a happy time and leaving me replete…content, even…

Mommy is happy today. She is singing.

Singing about what love has to do with it.

And cooking. And singing.

My tummy gurgles. She is cooking bacon and waffles.

They smell good. My tummy likes bacon and waffles.

They smell so good.

Opening my eyes, light is flooding through the windows and there’s a mouthwatering aroma coming from the kitchen. Bacon. Momentarily I’m confused. Is Gail back from her sister’s?

Then I remember.

Ana.

A look at the clock tells me it’s late. I bounce out of bed and follow my nose to the kitchen.

There’s Ana. She’s wearing my shirt, her hair in braids, dancing around to some music. Only I can’t hear it. She’s wearing earbuds. Unobserved, I take a seat at the kitchen counter and watch the show. She’s whisking eggs, making breakfast, her braids bouncing as she jiggles from foot to foot, and I realize she’s not wearing underwear.

Good girl.

She has to be one of the most uncoordinated females I’ve ever seen. It’s amusing, charming, and strangely arousing at the same time; I think of all the ways I can improve her coordination. When she turns and spots me, she freezes.

“Good morning, Miss Steele. You’re very…energetic this morning.” She looks even younger in her braids.

“I-I slept well,” she stammers.

“I can’t imagine why,” I quip, admitting to myself that I did, too. It’s after nine. When did I last sleep past 6:30?

Yesterday.

After I’d slept with her.

“Are you hungry?” she asks.

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