by Paty Jager
"Let me make sure there's no one around." Van opened the door, stepped out, and glanced up and down the alley. "Okay."
She hurried to the small building in the back of the alley. Would he wait until she was finished? The thought made taking care of business even harder. Finally, she left the privy.
Van stood by the back door of the shop. She scanned the alley, scurried across the area, and into the building.
"If you want to clean up with warm water, I stoked the stove in the shop and put a pan of water on."
His thoughtfulness impressed her. His mother must have instilled good things in him before he ended up in prison.
"Thank you." She watched him in the low glow of the kerosene lamp. The faint light darkened the planes of his face, heightening his attractiveness. Creating an aura of mystery.
"You're welcome. I'll see you in the morning." He raised a hand as if to touch her, then dropped it and shifted toward the stairs. "If you need anything…"
"I'll be fine. I've been sleeping here for a while and haven't had anyone to run to." She smiled at the embarrassed half grin he shot her.
"Yeah, I guess so. Night."
"Good night. Thank you for the lovely dinner and the job." She wasn't scared to be alone, but she also didn’t want him to leave. His presence filled her with a longing she didn't understand and a camaraderie she'd never had
"You're welcome – for both." He put a foot on the bottom step. "Tomorrow, we'll get the inventory and tools set up."
"I'm looking forward to it." She smiled and backed away. This was ridiculous. One of them had to make the move. "Good night," she said, again, and turned her back to him, fumbling in her valise for a towel.
"Night." His footsteps thumped up the stairs.
When she heard his steps moving about above her, she brought the heated water to the backroom and slipped out of her dress, washing away the sweat and dirt she'd accumulated not only today but since her last bath at the bath house a week ago.
Van heated water to clean today's sweat and dirt from his body. His mind kept weaving visions of Tessa doing the same in the storage room. The more time he spent with her the harder it was to keep his thoughts from straying to what it would be like to kiss her. Hold her. Make love to her. He groaned. He couldn't go there. She had plans. Good plans. Ones he wouldn't interfere with.
If she received a teaching certificate she'd be set until she found a husband.
Air whooshed out of him at the constriction of his chest. He didn’t want to think about her with anyone else. She was charming, smart, and looking into her eyes made everything in his life seem right. The longer he gazed into them he wanted to lay her down and love her until they were both spent.
He flung the cloth in the pan of warm water and pulled on a clean set of drawers. Van turned down the kerosene lamp and lowered his tired body onto the thin pile of blankets on the floor. Not since leaving the prison had he worked his body as fully as he'd done today. He had aches in places he didn't know he had muscles. He'd bet anything Tessa's small hands could work the knots out.
He growled and flipped to his side. The thin blankets were no match for the hard floor. How did she sleep every night like this? He had to find a way to get her a decent bed. Or get her to sleep in his.
The thought heated his body. He flung the covers off and flopped onto his back. It would be a long night.