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The Man Of Her House by Constance Masters – Sample

The Man Of Her House by Constance Masters DetailChapter One

Alyssa stood in the backyard staring at the large yellow house. To the outside world it was probably much the same. A little worse for wear and needing a bit of love and care, but mostly the same house that had stood there for some fifty years. It was odd that things could be so much different and yet so much the same. Their neighbors probably walked past this house every day assuming that it was just as it always had been. But nobody knew how full of love it used to be on the inside or how empty it was now.

Alyssa scraped around under the pots at the back of the house in search of the key. After she’d lost several, her mom and she had come up with a system so she’d never be locked out. The strong scent of herbs wafted through the air as she lifted each small container. Maybe her mom had forgotten which plant to put them in, but she wouldn’t have forget to leave her keys completely. The system was her safety net. Her mom knew that. She knew she couldn’t get in without them.

“Damn.” she said, laying down the last coriander-filled planter. Her mom must have decided to be stricter with security than usual, to seal the house up tight before she’d gone away. Or maybe she’d just stopped leaving out her key. Out of sight out of mind, she guessed. Whatever. It certainly mustn’t have crossed her mind that her only child could quite possibly be locked out of the house. There was a clap of thunder, and then the rain started.

“Just great! That’s all I need.”

There was only one thing to do. She just hoped she could do it without drawing too much attention to herself, but she had to do something. After hitching for two days and then spending the night in a park when she couldn’t get a lift, she was tired and hungry. She was in need of a hot shower, a warm bed, and the bathroom. Even more so now that she was being rained on.

She went around back to the window with the dodgy lock. Hopefully her mom had forgotten about that. She’d have to force it, but there’d be time to worry about fixing the lock later, like after she got a job. God knows when she would be able to get a job. Her mom wasn’t clear about how long she was going to be away. At least a month though, so she had time. Of course, there was the problem with food. Her mom would have paid the bills up before she left so she would have basic utilities. Hopefully there was some food in the freezer. It would be easier to tell her mom that she wasn’t going back to school if she could tell her that she had a plan. That could be tomorrow’s problem—after she actually got into the house.

Alyssa laughed aloud when she saw what was under the window. Some sort of lacerating garden. Plants of different shapes and sizes that were all some sort of cactus or spiky plant. The one blocking her access was huge. It was pretty, though, and the least deadly looking of the bunch, but seriously, could this day get any worse? As thunder clapped again, seeming to shake the ground beneath her, she jumped, her negative thoughts leaving as she focused on getting out of the rain. What she needed was something to climb on, so she wandered up the back garden to look for a ladder or anything that would get her high enough to dodge the pesky bush.

“Nice touch.” she muttered when she saw some men’s clothing hanging on the line outside. She had to give it to her mom, hanging a man’s clothes was actually pretty smart. Making any potential intruders think that a man was staying there would help deter anyone from trying to break in. Most people anyway. Not her. Luckily no one had to actually wear the fairly drenched clothes.

Right up the back in the corner was a neat little rock garden that looked like it had been recently laid. A variety of pink, red, and yellow flowers and evergreens were lined up beside it like they were about to be planted—which was kind of a strange thing to do for someone about to take a vacation. The outdoor setting was still there but thrown in the corner as though its days were numbered. Something here was a bit off.

No ladder. In fact, there was a lot of stuff that seemed to be missing. She wandered into the old shed, but it was cleared out too. There were a few tools hanging on the wall, and the sawhorse was still there, but that was all. Okay, something wasn’t just off, it was seriously weird.

Alyssa sighed. She just wanted to get inside. Why was everything so hard? She ran her hand over the sawhorse but realized it was too short. Then she remembered the outdoor setting and ran back outside, determined to make that work. One chair wasn’t going to be tall enough, but she could stack them.

The tired and grumpy young woman grumbled under her breath as she dragged each chair towards the house. “First she doesn’t put out a key, then she plants a bunch of people-slicing greenery under the other easy way to get in the house.”

She climbed over a couple of the smaller plants, cursing as a couple of the sharper spikes scratched through her jeans. One left a pretty decent sized tear.

“Fucking great!” she said, realizing she now needed the bathroom. She dumped the stack of chairs down on top of the plant that had scratched her legs and then climbed up. She could only just reach the window with her fingertips. She knew the lock was loose, but she’d need to be a little closer in order to break it. She climbed down off the chair, carefully nudging each spike until she had a safe place to land. She shoved at the large bush until she could get the stack of chairs closer. She could finally get a better hold on the window, but she squealed as something stung her tummy. “Ow!” she squeaked. “Stupid thing.”

Her need for the bathroom overpowered the pain from the scratchy plant, however, so she shoved with all of her might until the window finally freed and the broken lock tinkered onto the kitchen floor. Success! Now all she had to do was climb up to the window ledge.

When she dropped to the floor she smiled. The kitchen was the same old kitchen. Same fridge with the alphabet magnets. The little frame with her first grade picture in it stuck in the middle. There were some new appliances, but basically things were the same. As complicated and fraught with annoying people and situations as the last few days had been, it was all worth it. She was home.

It seemed the first thing she always did when she came into this room was head straight to the fridge, even if the counter had been laden with the beginnings of a home cooked meal. That wasn’t going to happen this time. No Mom, no dinner. She’d have to make her own food. Bathroom first.

* * *

Time away at school had taught her to be a little independent, even if it meant rustling up a quick meal rather than gourmet cooking. Her mouth started to water when she found the unopened package of bacon. She checked the date to make sure it was still good and then did the same with the eggs.

With the food situation figured out, she opened the freezer hoping to find some ice cream or something sweet. Oooh, cookie dough, her favorite! And there was a loaf of bread, which meant she could have some toast with her eggs. It was looking like her meal was leaning towards gourmet after all. Well… that was a stretch, but it was a step up from boxed macaroni cheese. It was actual food. Comfort food even. What could be better than breakfast for dinner when you were tired and alone?

Looking down at her disheveled appearance, she stopped just before she turned on the flame under the pan. Except for her hands that she’d washed after using the bathroom, she was filthy and her clothes were damp. Her body was achy, and parts of her were suffering the aftermath of the plants that had attacked her. If she was going to have breakfast for dinner, she may as well have a shower and put on some pajamas. The food would taste better if she were clean.

Once the thought had seeded in her mind, she could almost feel the hot water on her back as it rinsed the scented shampoo from her hair. The fragrant steam would clear her head and take away all the annoyance of the last few days, even if it was only superficial. She didn’t think there was anything that could take away the heavy heart that had settled on her with her mom’s latest news.

The news that had been the final straw to a bad few days, and it was what had sent her running home. All the way home she’d been flying by the seat of her pants—hitching, resting in a park with one eye open while she sat on her bag. At least now she was home safe and she didn’t have to stay on hyper-alert every minute anymore. Alyssa shook off the negativity and headed for the shower, clomping up the stairs with her mud-filled shoes, determined not to let her disappointment in the woman who had always been closest to her ruin her homecoming. This might be the last chance for her to have some peace in the home she’d always loved. Let her mom have her vacation with her new boyfriend. What did she care? For now, a shower would fix what needed fixing.

* * *

Alyssa was grateful that she’d left some of her stuff here last time she was home, because she wasn’t able to bring much with her. Hopefully her friend would forward it on in a few days. With a towel wrapped around her, she padded into her room to get some pajamas. She shook her head. Seriously, Mom? There was actually men’s clothes hanging in her closet. She was starting to think that the things on the line outside weren’t all for show. Ew, did this mean that her mom’s friend slept in her room? In her bed? That was so gross. Thank God he was on vacation with her mom, because she didn’t want to look at him, not ever.

* * *

By the time Alyssa was ready to start her dinner, she was positively whacked. It was all she could do to get the simple meal together. She managed though, pushed along by the hunger that was tearing at her.

She took her ladened plate into the living room, where she put on the TV. It was a large flat screen, a big improvement from the twenty inch that had been there for as long as she could remember. Apparently they now had cable, she realized as she took a bite of her toast. Had her mom won the lottery or something? She’d begged to get cable when she was a kid. Begged. She’d been the only kid… well one of the only kids that didn’t have it. She’d hated that standing-on-the-outside feeling when everyone talked at lunch about what they’d watched the night before.

Finally full, Alyssa went in to the kitchen to get a drink. She looked around at the devastation of the room. She’s knocked over one of the canisters when she’d climbed through the window, and there was gritty sugar all over, not to mention the mud on the floor and in a trail up the stairs. She didn’t even want to think about the remnants of her hastily-prepared meal all over the counters or the used frying pan on the stove.

“Too tired,” she said to no one. “Mom would hate it, but then Mom’s not here.” She opened a can of soda and after a few sips left it on the counter to be part of the mess to be dealt with the next day.

When she got to the top of the stairs, she started to turn towards her own room but then shuddered at the memory of the man’s clothing. Her mother’s room was a better idea. It’d be nice to spread out in her mom’s large bed and put on the television. Like staying in a hotel. She knew her mom wouldn’t go away without putting clean sheets on the bed, and it was always tidy. She loved sleeping in a tidy room, she just didn’t like what was involved in getting it that way.

The room smelled vaguely familiar but not the same. There was a mix of washing detergent from the freshly laundered bedding and just a hint of her mom’s perfume. It made her a little sad that there was no lingering odor of her dad’s cologne. She opened the closet and sighed. His clothes were gone. It was like he’d never been there. Her dad had only been gone four years, and her mom had wiped him out of her life like he’d never mattered at all.

Tired and sad, Alyssa flipped back the covers and climbed into her parents’ bed as she had when she was small after she’d woken from a bad dream. Only this dream she wouldn’t wake up from. This dream was a bad one. It was real, and what was worse was that there was no one to hold her and tell her everything was going to be okay.

* * *

Jesse picked up the bags and dumped them in the cart. He had breakfast stuff in the fridge, but that was about all besides milk, bread, and butter. It was way past time that he stocked the fridge with some healthy food. It had been a few days since he’d moved in, and he hadn’t done a full shop yet. He needed a steak, a baked potato, and a salad, and he needed to be eating it really fast, which meant it was probably going to have to be a microwave baked potato. His stomach growled in protest at the wait. As a second thought, he picked out a bag of potato chips to munch on while he drove back to the house.

It was dark as he pulled his truck into the driveway and walked around the back. The rain had appeared out of the blue and had drenched the clothes he’d hung out. He had to do some more work on this garden. If he could find the time to get the fountain done tomorrow, then he could install that before putting the plants in. That was part of the reason he was here in the first place. The yard, and of course some renovations inside.

This job was a little different than any he’d done before. Jesse had been close to his Uncle Ned since Jesse’s parents passed away in a car accident when he was just sixteen, so when Ned asked Jesse to travel two states away from his home to do this renovation for his lady friend, he hadn’t hesitated. After the death of his parents, he’d gone to live with his grandpa, and since Uncle Ned had lived close by, the three of them became a tightknit family. Grandpa Jack had been a big believer in keeping busy, so he’d thrown Jesse into his contracting business. Between him and Ned, they’d always managed to give Jesse the love and guidance that he’d needed. It had been his grandfather that had taught him everything he knew about the hands-on part of the business, and his uncle that had pushed him into getting a degree in business.

Jesse’s grandfather had passed when he was two years out of college, and he’d taken over the business then. That was five years ago, and here he was, twenty-eight-years-old and a long way from home. He liked this place, although being here had made him think a little about just how alone he was now. It would be nice to meet someone.

He had done this type of renovation before, but usually he’d been able to complete his work and then go home. So when his uncle’s girlfriend had pointed out that the house was empty and suggested he stay there while he worked, Jesse had agreed. The crew that worked for Jesse had loyally agreed to come with him, and they would be arriving soon if they hadn’t already. They would be settling into their accommodation tonight and would be starting work the next day. It would be nice to have their company and their assistance with the work. He’d arrived a few days before but had mostly been doing a couple of odd jobs around the place and collecting the materials they needed to start when the guys arrived. He had made a bit of a start on the gardens, but not nearly as much as he would’ve liked.

Lost in his thoughts as he neared the house, Jesse barely noticed as the motion of his body turned the automatic light on. That wasn’t unusual, but the kitchen window being open was. So was the pile of chairs under the window and the smashed shrubbery. His mouth dropped open as he saw the damage and the penny dropped. There’d been a break in. He quickly opened the back door with the key and flipped on the light.

“Oh, crap,” he said surveying the devastation that used to be a neat kitchen. Well it had been when he’d left that morning. What the hell did they do? Did whoever it was that had broken in cook themselves dinner? His eyes then fell to the floor where muddy prints marred the once clean floor. The footprints were in messy patterns in the kitchen and trailed up the stairs. “No,” he said, realizing the intruder could still be there.

He took the stairs two at a time wondering if he was about to come face-to-face with the culprit. The door to the master bedroom was open. It had been closed this morning, he was sure of it. Actually, it had been closed ever since he got there, and there had no need to open it. He sidled along the wall, hoping not to be seen or heard.

* * *

Alyssa woke up with a start. She wasn’t sure why at first, but then she heard heavy boots on the stairs. Without much time to think, she grabbed the first thing she could see to defend herself, yanking the cord from the wall as she jumped behind the open bedroom door. She made it just in time to see a large male figure heading towards her. She wanted to yell and call for help, but she also wanted to stay invisible. Her voice caught in her throat, making it impossible to scream even if she attempted to.

Too late. He was there in the room. She raised the lamp as high as she could and then brought it down with as much force as she could muster. The large figure ducked, and the lamp smashed noisily on the bedroom wall.

“Were you gonna hit me with that thing?” the intruder asked as he snatched what was left of the would-be weapon from her hand.

Alyssa swung her fists at his face, but he caught first one and then the other easily in his big paws. She kicked out at him, desperately trying to release her hands, but instead of getting free she found herself on her back on the bed, her heart pounding with terror as he straddled her, pinning her beneath his weight. “Get off me!” she yelled, trying hard to wriggle out from underneath him. “Perverted prick!” He might be bigger and stronger, but she wasn’t going to give up without a fight.

The intruder raised his hands while keeping her in place with his legs. “I’m not going to hurt you. Just calm down.”

“What do you want with me?” Alyssa yelled, whacking the big man in the chest. He wasn’t going to hurt her? Apart from throwing her on the bed and holding her down? She tried hard to bounce him off, but he didn’t budge.

“Stop that! I’m just trying to find out what’s going on. Why you broke in.”

“This is my house!”

“You’re Alyssa? Alyssa is twenty years old and away at college. You don’t look old enough to be in high school.”

“Well, I am! Now get the hell off me!” the young woman said, pulling herself up to her full five feet two inches as she was let up. She straightened her pajamas and gave him another whack in the chest.

“I thought you’d broken in. I’m sorry if I frightened you.”

“Who are you anyway, and what are you doing in my house?” Alyssa was so confused.

“I’ve been asked to organize some repairs to the house and to fix up the garden. This killed two birds with one stone. The work can be done without inconveniencing your mom, and I can keep an eye on the place as well. In other words, I’m here at your mother’s request. I’m Jesse.”

Alyssa looked at the outstretched hand but refused to shake it.

“I’m a contractor, and my uncle is seeing your mom. That’s how we met.”

“Well! Isn’t that convenient?”

“Look, I was contracted to do a job that I’m qualified to do and watch the house. That’s it.”

Alyssa pouted. This wasn’t how she had envisaged her trip home at all. “Well, that was then, and this is now. I’m here, so you don’t have to stay.”

“Nice of you, but no dice. I didn’t do business with you, I did it with your mother. So if you don’t want to be here with me, maybe you better take yourself back to school where you’re supposed to be. I’m not going anywhere.”

“I have more right to be here than you.”

“Very mature. By the way, I saw the broken lock and the mud you trailed through the house and the remains of your cooking spree. You should have cleaned up after yourself. “

“I didn’t want to clean it up, so I didn’t.” She had no idea who this man was or why he was telling her what to do in her own house, but she certainly wasn’t going to be told what to do by him. “It’s not bothering me.”

“Well, it is bothering me.”

“You can fix it yourself then. I’m going back to bed.” She balked when he grabbed her wrist.

“You can clean up first.”

She pulled her hand from his grasp. “No way! According to you, you’re the hired help, so you do it.” She went to walk away, sucking in her breath as one of the little cuts on her hand began stinging, but Jesse caught the back of her baggy pajamas.

“What’s wrong with your hand?” He grabbed her hand and turned it over.

“Some idiot planted some things with spikes all over it under the window.”


“Oh, I might have known it was you.”

“I’m not going to argue with you, but you need to put something on that before it gets infected.

“I had a shower. It’s clean. I just want to go to bed.”

“It’ll only take a minute,” he said tugging her towards the bathroom.

“It’s nothing.” Seriously, why does he even care, she thought irritably.

“Alyssa, stop being a big baby.”

“I’m not!” She wrapped her fingers around the doorway and hung on tight, planting her bare feet onto the floor.

Jesse plucked her fingers free with ease.

“Leave me alone!” she squealed. He lifted her up like he was dealing with a three-year-old that didn’t want to take her medicine and plonked her on the counter.

Alyssa saw red. Before she knew what she was doing she had slapped him hard across his arrogant face. She held her breath and watched in horror as the pink stain of her hand welled up on his face. She actually thought she saw a little flame flicker behind his eyes.

His hand latched onto her wrist with a vice like grip, and he sat on the edge of the bath.

Alyssa had no other option but to cling to the cool porcelain as she was tipped over his hard knee.

“That was a mistake,” he warned her, his tone deadly serious.

Alyssa had no idea how big of a mistake it really had been—not until the palm of his hand suddenly landed sharply on her bottom. “What do you think you are doing, you bastard!” she cried out in shock and fury.

“Teaching you a lesson, little girl,” Jesse responded sternly, before landing another hard, stinging smack on her bottom.

Alyssa sputtered but found herself at a loss for words as his hand started falling in rhythmic slaps all over her pajama clad behind. Her struggles did nothing to stop the intense and growing pain in her poor backside. She had one hand on the bath and a fistful of denim in the other hand. He was holding her firmly, but she still felt like she was flailing in mid-air as his hard hand pelted her thinly-clothed bottom. In an almost involuntary motion, she squeezed, managing to pinch his skin through the denim.

“That’ll help,” he said sarcastically bringing his hand down even harder and faster, quickly building the already fierce sting in her behind into a blazing fire.

She squealed and kicked her legs as hard as she could, trying to shake him off. “You can’t do this!” she protested loudly. Apparently he could, though, because the spanks kept coming hard and fast, each thud igniting a fresh wave of burning pain.

Stop! Please!” she wailed. Her bottom really hurt, and by now she was quite sorry indeed that she’d slapped him.

Jesse popped her helpless bottom a few more times and the stood her on her feet directly in front of him between his legs.

“You hurt me. You had no right!” Alyssa sniffed and rubbed her burning bottom. She couldn’t remember a time when she’d been more humiliated. She’d just been turned over a stranger’s knee and spanked like a child. “I should call the police.” She swiped a tear off her cheek angrily while she glared at this man. Who did he think he was?

Jesse moved her to the side and got up.

“Where are you going?” Alyssa’s eyes blinked in surprise as he strode past her.

“To get you the phone.” he said. “Of course, I’ll need to talk to them after you’re done. To tell them about the break in.”

“I’ll tell them I’m supposed to be here.” she said falteringly. The police would take her side, wouldn’t they? She was, after all, the victim.

“Fine. I guess you’ll want to explain to your mom when she phones you back why you’re not at school?”

“They won’t call her.” They wouldn’t, would they? Even as the thought drifted through her mind, she knew he was right. They would want to talk to the owner of the house.

“Yes, they will. Still want the phone?”

“You’re loving this, aren’t you?” He’d won and they both knew it.

Jesse shrugged. “I’m not hating it. Now, are you going to let me fix your scratches?”

“I guess.” Alyssa really didn’t want to give in, but she could see that if she was ever going to be able to go back to bed, she would have to do so. She wasn’t going to give in without giving her opinion though. “I don’t think it’s necessary.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Where’s the first aid kit?”

“Bottom drawer.”

“Thanks. See? That wasn’t so hard was it?”

Alyssa hissed in a breath as Jesse dabbed at each of the cuts with some iodine soaked cotton. She went to pull her hand away, but he held her arm tight, blowing on the freshly cleaned wound to take away the sting.

“Anywhere else?” he asked.

She raised her pajama leg a little. “My leg.” She didn’t want to admit it even to herself, but the graze on her leg was stinging.

“Ouch. We might have to cover that one with a small bandage.”

“I won’t bother telling you that’s not necessary.” It probably wouldn’t hurt to cover it, and having someone else cover it for her felt kind of nice.

“Good idea,” he smirked as he sat on the floor to take care of the rest of her war wounds.

“Okay, done.” He packed away the kit and slid it back into the drawer. “Look. I know you’re tired and I’m tired too, so I’m willing to do some of it just to get it over with. But you need to come downstairs and at least help to clean up that mess. I’ve been out all day, and I’m tired and hungry. There’s no way I’m attempting to cook amongst that mess.”

“So, call some Chinese food.” He was making money from her mom wasn’t he?

“No. I bought food, and I intend on cooking it.”

Alyssa couldn’t see how this was her problem. “So cook. I’m not stopping you.” Seriously there were other pans, other dishes, so why was he making it such a big deal?

“You are going to come and help clean up young lady… You made the mess. It’s only fair.”

She opened her mouth but then closed it again as she could tell she wasn’t going to win. “Fine.”

“Good girl. We’ll clean up, I’ll have my dinner, and we’ll both get a good night sleep. Then we’ll talk about our predicament after breakfast. Okay?”

“Like I said. Fine.” She stomped out of the room with as much dignity as a person could that had just been spanked like a five-year-old by a hot stranger whom they hated on sight. Did she say hot? No, she thought hot, but what she really meant was dirty, bossy, and mean. He may have been good looking if you liked that kind of thing. Tanned skin and a sculpted body from working outdoors may have been some girls’ thing, but that didn’t mean it had to be hers.

* * *

Alyssa opened the dishwasher and started heaving things into it, ignoring the loud clanging and clinking. The fact that Jesse winced every time some small thing landed made it quite satisfying. “Problem?” she asked with a bored expression.

“You need to rinse those things and stack them in the slots, or they won’t wash properly.”

“You wanted cleaning, I’m cleaning. You asked me to help. You didn’t set out any criteria for how it should be done.”

“You’re not cleaning. You’re not even trying. You’re throwing things into a dishwasher like it’s some kind of magic box that’ll clean off absolutely everything. The blades can’t even turn around.”

“Oh for f—! What do you want me to do?” He was so unreasonable and picky!

“For a start, rinse everything and stack them properly into the machine. Then close the door gently.”

“I have open wounds!” Alyssa griped, holding up her iodine dabbed cuts. That had absolutely nothing to do with why she didn’t rinse the dishes.

“Okay. I’ll rinse the dishes and stack the dishwasher. You go and collect anything else that needs to be washed. Then you can vacuum.”

“Who said you were in charge anyway?”

“I’m making suggestions because you don’t seem to know where to start. If you did, you would stop whining and just clean up.”

“This is my home. If you truly are employed here, then doesn’t that make me your boss?”

“Oh don’t you even dare try to play that card. Yes, I’m employed. Being employed means that some money exchanged hands between the employer and me. It has nothing to do with you.”

“Whatever. I’m tired!” she whined.

“So am I, so why don’t we just get on with it, and then we can both go to bed. Well, you can. I still have to eat and do laundry, so you’re a step ahead of me.”

“This isn’t fair. All I did was tap the window a little so I could get into my own home. My keys were gone!” She didn’t mean to make this mess—she really didn’t.

Jesse rolled his eyes. “Are you working your way up to another tantrum? I’m happy to take you back over my knee again. Believe me, it wouldn’t be a chore.”

Alyssa’s belly flipped, and she shuffled nervously under his stern gaze. She couldn’t say her bottom was hurting but an unfamiliar tingle was creeping all over her freshly smacked flesh. Warmth crawled up her neck, threatening to embarrass her further, so she turned away from him without another word so she could do what he’d asked. It felt like her only option, but she was disgusted with her lack of resolve. To make it worse, a tear escaped and ran down her cheek, but it was more from frustration than sadness.

“It won’t take long, Alyssa. Come on.” Jesse brushed the tear away with his thumb. “Things will look better in the morning. We’ll figure this out.”

Alyssa nodded, the gentleness in his tone silencing her at last. May as well get it over with, she thought.

It took no more than forty-five minutes to get the kitchen back into some kind of workable order. After bringing out her plate and such from the living room, Alyssa fetched the wet vacuum cleaner and flipped it on, making sure she vacuumed around Jesse’s feet as many times as she thought she could get away with. When he almost tripped, she pursed her lips for a second to keep her raised spirits under control. “Sorry,” she said insincerely.

“Uh-huh.” As he closed the dishwasher, Jesse grabbed her hand and flipped off the vacuum.

“What now?” Alyssa said pulling her hand from his grasp. Was he really going to start picking on her again? She’d done what he asked.

“I was just going to say that you’d done enough. I’ll run the mop over the floor before I go to bed.”

“Oh.” To say she was surprised was an understatement. She’d expected him to complain.

“Thank you,” he said with a smile.

Alyssa’s heart leapt, but she closed her eyes for a second while she tried to make herself stay angry. She wasn’t ready to entertain happy feelings about this intruder. She didn’t even understand why it would make her feel happy that he was pleased with her. It shouldn’t matter.

“I guess I’ll go to bed then.”

“Okay. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Alyssa gave an awkward smile and took herself up the stairs as fast as she could.

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