My stomach growled loud enough to wake the dead. With a groan, I turned over and lifted the covers to block out the bright light streaming in through the window. Since when did the sun have the audacity to rise this freaking early? I curled up into a small ball, tighter and tighter as I tried to force myself back to sleep, but a loud clamor downstairs made me open my eyes again. I sighed, the last vestiges of a restful sleep fading away into nothing.
I was so hungry.
When was the last time I ate anything? Yesterday? The day before that?
Sure, it was nice being on my own, but it had its drawbacks. It was far better taking care of myself than living at Tammi and Bryan’s house. It’s not like they offered much in the caretaker front anyway. They were just fostering girls like me so that they could get the tax write-off. We meant nothing to them otherwise.
On my own though, coming by consistent food was becoming harder and harder. Already my clothes were fitting so much looser than they had before.
At least I’d found a comfy bed to sleep in at night.
After I’d run away, I’d crashed on a couple of friends’ couches along the way, but I’d made sure not to overstay my welcome. When I’d stumbled on this old mansion late one night, I’d assumed whoever lived here had gone on vacation or something. I’d watched it from outside, seeing no sign of life.
Eventually, I mustered up the courage to sneak in. The place was abandoned. Sheets covered all the furniture and a thick layer of dust coated anything that wasn’t. I couldn’t believe my luck.
I hadn’t meant to stay here long, but one day turned into two, then two became three until it had been three months.
I grabbed my cell phone off the nightstand. It was cracked and several years old, but it had been a gift from a friend. I could buy minutes occasionally. I wasn’t much of a phone person though, so I hadn’t needed to in a while.
I sighed when I saw the time. It was later than I thought—nearly lunch already.
The stairs creaked and I jolted up in bed. Quickly, I gathered my things and dove under the bed right before the door to my room opened. I covered my mouth, trying to stay quiet.
Three people walked in together. I didn’t know who they were. For all I knew, they could be drug lords or gang members. Maybe word had spread on the street that this place wasn’t occupied, and I was going to have to find somewhere else to go.
“How many bedrooms is it?” a female voice sounded.
“Seven. The master bedroom is on the main level at the back of the house,” a man explained.
I hung my head, keeping silent as my body sagged against the floor in relief when I finally realized what was happening. These people weren’t criminals or anything of the sort. They were simply a real estate agent and an interested couple that was looking to buy a house. More footsteps sounded on the stairs. More voices talking about the layout of the place, the number of bathrooms, you name it. One lady even asked which direction the house faced. Another was talking about painting the walls bright pink.
From under the bed, my stomach growled again and the three people in the room stopped short.
“Is that the house settling?” one of the men asked and the woman cleared her throat.
I covered my face in embarrassment.
“Maybe old pipes or something like that. This place was built in the early eighties with only one owner. He did some renovations since then, to my understanding, but this place might need a bit of work before it’s move-in ready,” the real estate agent explained. I prayed that my stomach would remain quiet long enough for them to leave the room so I could make my escape.
I needed to walk into town and see what I could find to eat. Occasionally, I’d be able to get a meal from the homeless shelter or the women’s sanctuary kitchen. Sometimes, the pizza place in town saved extra food. One of the chefs had taken a liking to me. Whenever he was there, he would slip me something if I knocked on the door in the evening. He didn’t work all the time though. I was pretty sure Saturday was his day off.
I chewed my lip. Maybe I could wash dishes at the diner in exchange for lunch.
The three people finally walked out of the room and I slumped down, pressing my forehead to the carpet. When all was quiet for a little while, I snuck out from under the bed and slipped down the back stairwell and out the rear entrance. I’d deliberately chosen that bedroom to live in because of its easy exit just in case anything like this ever happened.
The property went on for several acres and when the coast was clear, I ducked into the surrounding woods and used the trees for cover. I went the long way to town, making sure to give the mansion a wide berth so that I didn’t run into anyone along the way.
I decided to give the diner a try first. The woman who owned the place was an older lady with a bitter expression painted on her face, but I knew her to be kind. She sighed when she saw me walk in. I sat down at the counter in the corner, making sure to pick a seat that wasn’t usually taken by paying guests.
“Hi there, Miss Ethel,” I offered with a soft smile.
“How are you doing today, Cami?” she grinned. Her eyes were full of pity. I hated when people looked at me like that. It made me feel like something worse than a sewer rat.
“I’m well, thanks for asking,” I quipped, and she disappeared into the kitchen for a moment before coming back out with a plate of food in her hands.
“You’re in luck. The table back there sent this back because one of them is allergic to tomatoes and forgot to mention it, so we had to make another. This one is still warm,” she offered.
“I can help clean up this afternoon, if you’d have me,” I smiled. As much as I needed the food, accepting free handouts was really hard for me and I did it as little as possible.
“Sure thing, Cami. There’s always room in my kitchen for you. First, though, you’re going to eat every bite of that chicken sandwich. I don’t want to see anything left on your plate before you head back to give Tony a hand. You’re looking too skinny these days,” she said, her concern hardening her voice a little.
I popped a French fry in my mouth.
“You got it. Thank you, Miss Ethel,” I said.
She nodded and started wiping down the counter. I dug into my meal enthusiastically, knowing that she would be watching to make sure I was eating. The diner was a small one, but not necessarily one with a lot of patrons. I’d have asked her for a job ages ago, but I knew that she didn’t have the capital to hire someone like me. It was just her and Tony running this little place.
True to her word, the sandwich was still pretty hot. I ate it all, reveling in the feeling of a full belly before I took my dishes into the back.
“Hey, Tony,” I called out, hoping not to startle him.
“Hey there, Cami,” he smiled warmly. He was a kind older gentleman, his accent thick and very Italian. He always greeted me with a smile and a word of welcome. Every time I was around him, I felt at ease, sort of like he was the grandfather I never had.
“Ethel said you could use my help today?” I offered.
The part about Tony that I appreciated the most was he never looked at me with pity. To him, I was just another human being and that was refreshing.
“Want to get started on the dishes?” he asked.
I nodded. He turned the knob on his radio up higher. They were playing nineties music and an Avril Lavigne song started. I was humming along to it when Tony started singing the lyrics out loud.
I stifled a chuckle, hazarding a glance back at him. He winked, and I couldn’t hold back my laugh after that.
I remained at the diner well into the evening hours. Tony and Ethel insisted that I stay for dinner, and they wouldn’t let me leave until I ate a slice of her homemade apple pie too, with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. I was so full by the time I made my way back to the mansion that I knew I probably wouldn’t be hungry tomorrow.
There was no one at the house when I slipped inside. There were donuts and muffins on the kitchen counter, and I wrapped a few in some paper towels to hide in my bedroom. I slipped into the bed and curled up under the blanket, trying not to shiver. Thankfully, someone had turned the heat on, and soon enough, I was comfortably warm in my bed. I set the alarm on my phone, wanting to wake and get out before anyone showed up to see the house again.
The house went through several showings that week. Sometimes I hid in the house, but most of the time I managed to slip out unnoticed. That Friday though, I was hiding in my closet when a man came walking through with his real estate agent.
“The space has potential. This is far bigger than my place in California, but it would bring me much closer to home,” he mused. His voice was gruff, a bit growly and I peeked between the slats of the closet door. From what I could make out, he was pretty tall. Maybe six foot two or three, if I had to guess. His hair was a dark mahogany, and thick like a lion’s mane. I guessed that he was in his mid to late thirties. A beard covered his chin, well-groomed and trim. There were two long scars that cut across his forehead and the left side of his cheek. I stared at them for a while, wondering how he’d gotten them. I watched him closely, almost mesmerized by his strong stance and confident demeanor, as if the scars weren’t even there.
“It’s been on the market for quite a while. It’s overpriced in my opinion for its current condition. The original owner passed away and the house was left to his two children who want to get as much as they can for it,” the agent explained. I glanced at him for only a second, but my gaze was drawn back to the other man.
“Have there been other offers?” he asked.
“Not that I know of. Most everyone that has walked through wants something move-in ready at this kind of price point, Mason,” the agent said thoughtfully.
I let his name roll off my tongue in silence. I liked it.
“I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty. Plus, this place used to mean something to Hudson, right? If I fix it up, maybe I could bring some of that back,” Mason said.
“I think you could gain a lot of value in a property like this as long as you get it for a reasonable price,” the man replied.
“Let’s do it. Let’s send a cash offer that you agree is fair. I’m not really afraid of paying a little more to get the ball rolling. I want the timeline shortened though. Once this place is mine, I want the keys by next week,” Mason said bluntly, and his agent nodded.
“Got it, boss,” he grinned.
When they moved out of my room, I covered my mouth to suppress a gasp as the reality of the whole situation finally hit me. He was going to buy my home.
I’d have to find somewhere else to go.
I slunk back in the closet, hiding behind several boxes for a few hours until I was certain that the house was empty. The loss of my home left me feeling rattled and sad. I’d grown comfortable here. There was no way some rich man would let a homeless orphan stay here without paying some ridiculous rent that I couldn’t afford. I had no way of making money anyway.
No one would hire a girl like me.
Getting a job without a home address was impossible. I hadn’t thought to take my birth certificate or social security card when I ran away, and I found out later that I needed them for everything here. I hadn’t been able to find anything that paid cash or under the table yet, but I kept looking anyway.
When potential jobs had asked for paperwork, I’d just taken to promising to bring them next time and never returning.
My phone buzzed in my pocket.
Hey, stranger! Party at Jacob’s tonight. Hope to see you there! Eddie was asking about you, so wear something cute.
It was a text from my friend Sophie.
A night out would be fun. Maybe it would take my mind off the doom and gloom of my current situation. She always made the yummiest cocktails out of whatever she had in the fridge, and it had been some time since I’d had one. I got out of bed and changed into one of my nicer outfits. I’d been able to take some of my clothes from my foster house and I’d lucked out on finding a bag of clothes left outside the goodwill box that happened to be mostly in my size. I didn’t like to think that I’d stolen it, just that I’d taken advantage of an opportunity when I’d come across it. One of those outfits was a nice black dress and a pair of patterned leggings that went well together. I slipped them on and put on my chunky boots. I went into the bathroom, splashed water on my face and combed out my hair.
I had one lipstick still and used it to turn my lips a dark burgundy. By the time I was done, I felt human and maybe even a little bit pretty.
With a deep breath, I lifted my chin a smidge higher.
I made my way out of the house through the back exit. There was an old bike I’d found on the property that I jumped on and rode down the road. I kept my head down as cars passed by. No one stopped, but I hadn’t expected them to. No one looked twice at me. They never did.
The ride to Sophie’s was about forty-five minutes by bike. By the time I got there, my legs were tired, but I was looking forward to seeing my friends. I wheeled my bike up onto the porch and knocked on the door.
Sophie opened the door and a round of applause sounded from behind her. I grinned.
“Cami’s here!” Sophie called and they got louder.
“I take it your parents are away for the weekend?” I smirked and she gave me a knowing look.
“What they don’t know won’t hurt them,” she sassed.
“Let’s party then,” I replied with a chuckle.
“We already started. You’re late,” she exclaimed, and someone shoved a drink in my hand. I took a sip, deciding that I was going to enjoy myself and I would figure out the rest of my life next week.
I didn’t go home that night or the day after. I was having too much fun with Sophie to deal with the overwhelming state of my own problems. On Sunday morning, we were eating a bowl of cereal together and I mentioned having to find a new place.
“I can talk to my parents. Maybe you could stay here with me?” she offered, and I shook my head.
“I don’t want to impose or anything,” I answered. She looked at me with disappointment, but she didn’t press the issue any further.
“What’s the deal with Bryson Manor? I thought they said that place was never going to sell,” she said as she hunted in the freezer for a box of Eggos. “Want one?”
I nodded exuberantly. I liked them a lot.
“Yeah. Well… Apparently, some rich guy came in from California and he’s going to buy the place,” I explained.
She leaned against the counter, running her fingers along her chin. For a moment, she looked deep in thought and her face lit up.
“What about squatter’s rights? Have you ever heard of that? Supposedly if you live somewhere long enough, they have a hell of a time trying to evict you. I looked it up one time and it’s something like thirty days here in New York State. You have rights and maybe if you play your cards right, you could end up with a big ole house,” she suggested.
I stared at her for a long moment. “I’m sure if he has money that he can use whatever legal team he has to force me out,” I answered lamely.
“Maybe. But you never know if you don’t try,” Sophie replied. “Worst case scenario, it doesn’t pan out and you end up moving in here with me. I’ll just tell my parents that’s how it is.”
“Sure thing. Then you’d end up grounded forever,” I scoffed.
“Nahh. They like you. They think you’re a good influence on me and all,” she laughed.
“Oh, yeah. I bet they love me,” I chuckled.
“Hey, you finished at the top of the class senior year. That’s what they like, not someone like me who is average and middle of the road. They only tolerated me taking a year off before college because you were doing the same thing,” she said.
“My cover story is going to need some work if I’m going to move in here,” I snorted.
She lightly punched my arm. “We’d help you get things figured out. You don’t have to worry. My mom loses her shit all the time. We’ll just tell her that you lost yours too.”
I laid my head on her shoulder as she sat down beside me. “You’re a good friend, you know,” I replied.
“I know. That’s why you keep me around,” she winked.
I didn’t go back to Bryson Manor until Monday morning. Tired, I slipped back into bed only to be awoken by the sounds of footsteps banging on the stairs. I tried to move quickly, but I was slightly hungover and the world was spinning a little bit. The door to my bedroom opened and I cried out in surprise when a tall dark figure walked in.
Fuck. My. Life.
It was Mason. His gray-blue eyes found mine, opening wide with surprise.
I could have kicked myself. I probably had bedhead and there were likely bags under my eyes from several late nights in a row. I wiped my cheek, hoping that I hadn’t drooled in my sleep. I was only slightly relieved not to find anything.
“Who the hell are you?” he demanded.
“Cami Davis,” I said softly. I searched his expression, trying to read what the right next move was. I expected anger, but I didn’t sense any. He looked more confused than anything. He glanced around noticing my things on the floor, my cell phone on the nightstand, a glass of water beside it. I curled my knees up into my chest, staying silent as I waited for him to make the next move.
He pulled his shoulders back and leaned against the doorframe. His initial shock had faded, and he was peering back at me with interest now.
“My name is Mason Pierce. You’re sleeping in my house,” he said. He didn’t say that as an accusation, but more of an observation and I relaxed just the tiniest bit.
“I am,” I answered. I licked my lips.
“How long have you been sleeping here?” he asked next, narrowing his eyes as he tried to assess the situation that was currently me.
“For a while,” I replied.
“Where are your parents?” he asked gently.
“Dead,” I said flatly.
“How old are you?” he questioned softly.
“I just turned nineteen last month,” I murmured. I’m not sure why, but I felt self-conscious about telling him my age. He cocked his head to the side, appraising me as he tried to figure me out. I worried my bottom lip with my teeth, searching his face. I kept looking for any hint of anger or resentment but found none. Would he lash out anyway? Was he that type of person?
“I bought this house. I’m moving in today,” he declared.
“I claim squatter’s rights,” I blurted out so fast it made my head spin.
He was silent for a long moment, still very clearly trying to figure me out. “Are you hungry?” he asked.
I swallowed anxiously, but my growling stomach answered for me.
He glanced down at my belly, and then back up into my eyes quickly. He smiled softly. “How about this? Come down to the kitchen when you’re ready. I’ll have my driver pick up breakfast for the two of us,” he offered.
I narrowed my eyes suspiciously. I didn’t trust him.
“It’s only breakfast. I promise. Maybe some nice conversation too, but mostly just breakfast,” he said simply.
I’m not sure why, but his demeanor seemed gentle enough to be comforting in a strange way. He was a perfect stranger to me, but my gut told me that I was safe with him, that he wasn’t going to hurt me. I hugged my arms around my chest. Nothing about him screamed danger. Sure, he was a rich man who bought this house with a massive amount of cash, but he mostly seemed like a normal person to me, at least on the surface.
“Will there be coffee?” I asked.
“Most definitely. Would you like a particular kind?” he asked.
“I just like mine with vanilla creamer and a little bit of sugar,” I answered.
“I’ll make sure my driver gets that for you,” he smiled. His easygoing demeanor put me on edge. No one was ever this nice to me. When they were, they typically wanted something that I wasn’t willing to give. My guard drew back up.
“I don’t have money to pay you,” I muttered, feeling more than a little embarrassed and more on edge with every passing second.
“I wouldn’t accept it even if you did, Cami,” he replied gently. My stomach growled again, and he smiled, his eyes kind. “I’ll see you shortly?”
I nodded, still searching those gray-blue eyes for any hints of danger. He smiled at me, as if he could sense my uneasiness. He nodded once and shut the door behind him, leaving me alone. I listened to his footsteps descend the stairs and fidgeted in bed. Suddenly, the silence of my room seemed more than a little overwhelming. I chewed my lip.
I was a bit dumbfounded at his response. For a moment, I stared at the door. He’d never moved from his position beside it. He hadn’t raised his voice or struck out at me. I’d expected him to, but he’d done none of those things.
I climbed out of bed, a bit in awe. Should I take the opportunity to run? Should I stay and go down to talk with him? Should I chance it?
With a deep breath, I walked into the bathroom and decided to start with something simple like just brushing my teeth.
I’d figure out what to do after that.
I leaned against the kitchen island and let all the air in my lungs rush out in a single whoosh. Today was move-in day. After a few hours of tense negotiation over the weekend, I’d offered enough money to make the sister and brother happy. I’d wired them the cash right away on the condition that I could move in immediately. Today, I had expected to uncover all the furniture and take stock of what I wanted to keep or get rid of. What I had not foreseen was finding a malnourished young woman sleeping in one of the beds upstairs.
I sighed and dragged my hand down my beard. I didn’t know what to do about her. A part of me wanted to help her. Her face looked gaunt. From what I’d seen, she was far too skinny and her eyes were full of more sadness than a girl should have inside them at the young age of nineteen.
A part of me just wanted to be rid of the potential headache her presence could cause me, but I really didn’t want to do that either.
Right now, I wasn’t even certain that she would come downstairs. Her eyes had been as big as saucers when I’d opened that door. If I had taken one step into that room, I was pretty sure it would have made her flee in an all-out panic.
I sighed, trying to mull over my options in my head. I’d already texted my personal assistant to go get the two of us something to eat for breakfast. I’d put in my order, which was far larger than usual, and he’d asked if I was hungry. I’d replied with ‘something like that.’
I pulled the sheet covering the kitchen table off of it, which was a gigantic mistake I regretted pretty much instantly. Dust flew up into the air as I let it fall to the floor. I coughed and rushed to open a window. That was by no means an easy feat either. It stuck fast from disuse. With a loud grunt and a whole lot of upper body strength, I finally got it to budge.
“If you open that door over there, you can get a nice cross breeze, which should help with all the dust,” a small voice said from behind me and for some crazy reason, I was relieved to hear it. She hadn’t run away after all.
“That’s a good idea. Want to open it for me while I try to clear out my lungs?” I said, coughing slightly as I did so.
“Sure thing,” she beamed. She gave me a wide berth, still clearly wary of me. I walked over to the sink, found a glass, and turned on the water. The faucet sputtered a few times, but eventually a clean stream of liquid splashed into the sink. I rinsed the glass several times before filling it up and taking several big gulps. When my throat was clear, I made my way back over to the table. I took a seat, leaned back, and watched her with curious interest.
“Breakfast should be here soon. You got ready faster than I thought you would,” I said with a gentle smile. I didn’t want to scare her away.
“I’m pretty low maintenance,” she replied nervously. Her cheeks pinkened just a little at my observation. She was really quite beautiful when she smiled like that.
She stepped a little bit closer, just catching the sunlight in a way that made her pretty sage-colored eyes sparkle. Her hair was long and thick, a gorgeous mane of mahogany that shone with life. I wondered if it was as soft as it looked. She was tentative as she walked over to the door and opened it wide. There was a screen in place. A cross breeze swept through the room, just like she’d said it would.
A bit less warily now, she made her way back and sat down in the chair across the table. It was also the one farthest away from me. She peered in my direction, not exactly bold enough to look me right in the face, but curious enough to try.
“You must be pretty rich to afford a place like this,” she ventured.
“I own a tech company. I design software for electric cars, robotics, etcetera. Boring stuff, but it pays really well when done right,” I said lightheartedly. She smiled.
“You’re moving here from California?” she asked.
“How did you know that?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I might have been hiding in my closet when you walked through the house the other day with your agent,” she blushed. She fidgeted in her chair, and I swallowed hard.
Naughty girl. She was really quite adorable when she blushed though. The longer I spent with her, the more curious I was becoming about who she was, why she was here, and where she would go if I turned her away…
“Were you now?” I raised an eyebrow and her cheeks reddened even more. My fingers twitched and I pressed them down on the table.
“Why move to New York?” she asked, very obviously trying to direct the conversation away from her. I decided to let her, at least for now.
“I’m from here originally. I own my company and much of what I do can be done remotely. I missed home and New York is that for me,” I answered.
“Did you come here alone?” she asked carefully.
“I did,” I replied. I didn’t explain fully, but I had plans to establish myself here and eventually run for office here in Hudson. I’d expected to buy a house, fix it up, bring more tourism here to upstate New York, and build a good life here. Maybe one day meet a woman and start a family, but I wasn’t in any rush for that. A homeless young woman was not in the plan, but here she was sitting at my table anyway.
“I want to know more about you, Cami,” I pushed. “How did you end up living here instead of your home?”
“I don’t have a home,” she muttered. She chewed her lip and took a deep breath, seemingly deciding to tell me her story in one full breath. “I’m an orphan. My parents died when I was little, and I had no other family, so I grew up in the foster care system. I ran away when I was eighteen. I’ve been making it on my own ever since,” she rushed.
She wasn’t exactly making it in my opinion. She was too skinny. She looked so tired. She needed help and the sudden urge to take care of her overcame me. I took a deep breath, ignoring that feeling as best I could.
“Are you still in high school? Starting college?” I asked.
“I have my high school diploma. I hadn’t planned on going to college because I can’t exactly afford it,” she replied. My jaw tensed in aggravation, not at her, but at the situation she found herself in. I drummed my fingers on the table. I found myself staring at her lips and when I realized what I was doing, I turned my eyes back down to the table.
The door opened and my assistant walked in with several bags of food. I hadn’t known what Cami would like, so I’d had him order the whole breakfast menu from the local diner. He bowed his head and left the room, leaving the two of us alone once again.
“This is from Miss Ethel’s place,” she said excitedly.
“You know her?”
“Yeah. She lets me help out in the kitchen sometimes. She’s really nice,” she added.
“Do you spend much time in town?” I asked.
“Yes. Sometimes the restaurants have extra food. My favorite is the pizza place. Sometimes they make mistakes and I get the extra food if I show up at night,” she smiled.
That was no way to live.
“What about the homeless shelter?” I inquired.
“It’s full most of the time. They run out of food if you’re not one of the early ones in line and the beds are awful. The ones here are old, but so much better,” she replied. She licked her lips, staring at the bag as if she was waiting for my permission to serve herself.
When she lifted her gaze to me, I was certain she was, and my cock hardened pretty much immediately at the sight.
Fuck. Get it together, Mason. She’s fifteen years younger than you, you fool.
“Go ahead. Dig in,” I said, only just able to hide the strain in my voice. Thankfully, it appeared that she didn’t notice in her hungry excitement.
I watched as she opened the first package. Inside was a breakfast sandwich of some kind and she dug right in without even really looking at what was in it. I slid her coffee across the table after adding cream and sugar to it.
“Thank you,” she offered. She took a tentative sip of the coffee and grinned wildly. “Oh, that’s delicious!”
“Good,” I replied.
I found a simple omelet with sausage and peppers. There were sides of bacon and sausage as well and I ate several forkfuls of eggs as I watched her eat. She was quiet as she chewed. She tried to be polite and take small bites, but it was obvious she was really hungry.
I considered what to do with her. It was clear that she had a place here in this small town and my public reputation was important to me. It would be in very poor taste to take this young girl to court over her claim of squatter’s rights, and it would look even worse for me if I just kicked her out on the street. To be honest, neither of those were options I would even remotely consider anyway. I wasn’t an asshole. Dragging this young girl into court would be a dick move. Not only would it be a major hassle, but she didn’t deserve it anyway. She hadn’t damaged the property at all. There wasn’t a single broken window or graffiti or anything like that. She’d simply used it as a place to live.
This girl had no one. No family. No home. Nothing.
I had this great big mansion all to myself. Maybe her company would be a refreshing change from living here alone. I tried to tell myself it would be the kind thing to do, but a tiny selfish part of me wanted to get to know her a bit better too.
“I have a lot to do in this place to bring it back to life,” I began again, and her eyes lit up.
“My friend Sophie and I like to watch those home renovation shows on television sometimes. There’s so much you can do in a house this big,” she smiled. Her eyes sparkled with possibility. I hadn’t noticed earlier, but she had a cute little dimple on each cheek.
I tapped my fingers on the table. In that moment, I made my decision. “Cami, I’d like to make you a deal. I’d like to ask you to stay. I’m not going to kick you out, but I have a few requests that I’d like for you to agree to before you accept,” I said quietly.
She blinked and pulled back just a hair. “What do you mean?” she asked timidly. Her wariness had returned tenfold.
“The first condition is that the upstairs wing where I found you sleeping would be your wing for your own personal use. I won’t disturb you there. With that being said, the rest of the house will be for my individual and business use. When I am working, you are to entertain yourself and stay out of my hair,” I said.
She studied me for the longest time before she answered. “That sounds reasonable,” she replied. She was sitting on the edge of her seat. She didn’t know what to expect and I could read it all over her face.
“The second is that I’d like your help in updating and designing this place. I think a woman’s touch would make it homier rather than something of a bachelor pad,” I continued.
She cocked her head, trying to read between the lines. “I’d like that,” she finally said. She fidgeted in her seat and took a sip of her coffee. I studied her expression. Her uneasiness had faded a little more. I wondered if she had any aspirations for her future, but I didn’t want to push too much, not yet. She was guarded, maybe rightly so.
“What do you think? Does that sound fair?” I asked.
“Is that all?” she asked nervously.
“Yes. Those are my only conditions,” I replied quickly.
“I won’t be able to pay you,” she added. There was definite shame in her voice, and I didn’t like that one bit.
“I didn’t ask for money, did I?”
“No,” she replied softly. She bit her lip and my cock hardened at the sight.
Caught off guard, I looked away quickly and swallowed hard. That was unexpected. I sighed and turned back to her, only to see her watching me fretfully.
“Can I ask you a question?” she asked tentatively. Her eyes kept glancing at the scars that marred my face. I knew what she was going to ask before she even said a word. I’d seen that look on countless faces.
“You want to know where my scars come from,” I offered with a smile.
“Were you in a knife fight or something dangerous?” she quipped.
“No,” I chuckled. “It’s nothing like that. When I was a boy, I went out camping with my dad. We stayed up late, roasting marshmallows and telling scary stories. One of the campsites close by had forgotten to tie up their extra food and I heard a girl yell out. I rushed to help, thinking maybe she was hurt, but I saw a fifteen-year-old girl standing almost toe to toe with a bear. I thought I was indestructible at that age and when the bear reared up, I got close enough to push her out of harm’s way. She didn’t get hurt luckily, although I ended up taking his paw across my face instead. My dad hadn’t been far behind me though, which was lucky for me. He shot his gun into the air and that was enough to scare it off.”
“A bear,” she echoed. Her eyes narrowed and I could tell that she was trying to decide whether she believed me or not.
“Yeah. I named him Smokey. He’s still out there somewhere in the Montana woods,” I chuckled.
She smiled in return, and I could tell she felt more at ease.
I sat back and took a sip of my own coffee. “I have an appointment with a contractor shortly. If you’re still here tonight, I will take that to mean you’ve accepted my offer,” I said firmly.
She nodded and took another bite of her sandwich. I took several large mouthfuls of my own meal before standing up.
“I hope to see you for dinner tonight. If not, I understand,” I said more gently this time. I took the rest of my coffee in my hand and strode off, but I knew she was watching me with every step.
I tried to ignore the way my cock strained at the thought of her eyes on me like that.
A girl like her should be off limits to a man like me. I should know better.