by Paty Jager
His footsteps thunked across the ceiling above her. She locked the front door, turned off the kerosene lamp in the front of the store, and turned the one in back down low enough she could see to find her bed later.
With deliberate steps she climbed the stairs. A bright light illuminated the room she'd cleaned earlier. A blanket stretched across the window facing the street. Before he left Van had carried up a table, two chairs, and a box.
Two plates and utensils sat on the table. Coffee brewed on a small potbellied stove. She placed the basket, pail, and two cups on the table and turned to watch him pile blankets in the corner of the room.
"This will have to do until they bring a bed tomorrow." He smoothed the last blanket and rose from his kneeling position on the floor. "I wish there was some way to get a bed in for you without the whole town knowing two beds were set up."
"I'm fine. I've been sleeping on the floor for nearly six months. A few more won't hurt me." She opened the basket to avoid the intensity of his gaze. The scent of fried chicken and fresh bread wafted out causing her stomach to growl.
"I worked you too hard today and didn’t feed you proper. Sit." Van held a chair.
She sat and felt the heat rising up her neck when his hand brushed against her shoulder. This was far too intimate a setting. Her dreams last night had been filled with the man. She'd not be able to sleep tonight knowing he slept above her.
"I'm not really hungry." She started to rise, and he placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Your stomach says otherwise. Eat. That's all. As soon as you're done, you can go back downstairs." He squeezed her shoulder, and her body flashed with heat. He squat beside her chair. "I'm not making advances. You worked hard today and deserve a good meal for your troubles."
"But you're paying me to work." She couldn't draw her gaze from his. The deep brown drew her in and held her completely.
"And I'll feed you to keep you happy and healthy." His hand touched her cheek. "Let me make up to you for the years I took away."
The warmth of his touch made her ears ring, but his words slowly sunk in. "You didn't pull the trigger that killed my father." Was his caring only because of the guilt he felt? If so she'd have to carefully guard her attraction for him. She'd not allow herself to fall for him when he only felt it his duty to provide for her. Come February, she'd be out of here and he'd be just a pleasant memory.
"I could have stopped it." He rose and sat in the chair opposite hers. "The whole time I sat in prison, I ran the events over and over in my mind. I realized my father had been right about me. All I wanted out of life was a lark and him to bail me out. I wasn't learning about responsibility. I didn't want to. I didn't want to become as hard and unyielding as him."