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I dug into the earth behind my crumbling abode, cramming soil under my short fingernails as the weeds threatening to choke my garden came loose. The pile would be turned into mulch, chopped and left to rot with other scraps. Not that we had many of those.

All of my digging created two trips to the composting pile and a scant two carrots, two potatoes, and smattering of tomatoes that were mildly chewed up by bugs. I gathered them in my apron pockets and lugged my tools back to the house.

Sweat and grime swathed my face, neck, and chest, but most would have to stay until tonight’s scheduled bath, but I wiped some away from my eyes and mouth with a damp cloth and wished I’d done more when the exotic scents of vanilla and honey permeated the back entrance.

Patting loose strands of hair, I turned to find the young gentleman who liked to come read to me and my three little brats. The twinkle in his midnight eyes made my stomach flip-flop.

I curtsied a little at his entrance. “Mr. Sotir, what a pleasant surprise. Would you like some tea? I can set you up in the drawing room.”

“I would, but I am in no need of such special treatment. I can take it here with you.”

Why did his eyes sparkle that way when he looked at me? I shuffled around the kitchen, putting my haul beside the sink, filling the kettle for the stove, and pulling cups and tea leaves and a strainer.

“Did you bring a book to read to us today?”

“I did. If that pleases you. I brought ‘The Tale of Tsaritsa Dinara.’ It’s a Russian tale about a Christian queen who struggles against a Persian king due to her refusal to comply with his demands for a tribute. She galloped into battle against him armored on a white steed. I think you would like it very much.”

“A female hero?” I smiled to myself. “I think I would like that, but the kids are about their chores and lessons right now, and I’m afraid that they will be for the next few hours.”

The water whistled on the stove, and I poured the tea to serve, leaning against the counter to enjoy my own.

“Perhaps until they are finished, I can regale you with stories in the oral tradition as we walk.”

A blush burned my cheeks, hopefully hidden under the smeared soil. “What stories do you know so well to recite to me? Is it a means to parade your position over me for some kind of perversion of your own?”

He laughed silently and shook his head. “Nothing of the kind. I assure you.”

I nodded, and he extended his elbow to me as an escort.

Flutters exaggerated the flopping of my stomach, and I had a hard time following the obscure tale he wove.

When we circled back under the bridge to the muddied creek, he pulled me to a stop.

Thudding in my chest made my breath go wild as this man leaned in closer. Perhaps a perversion wouldn’t be quite so bad.

The pad of his thumb brushed dirt from my cheek.

“You are an awfully forward man, Mr. Sotir.”

“Eugene. I believe we are familiar enough for you to call me Eugene.”

The touch of his mouth replaced the sun with stars, and my fingers found his suit before he retreated.

“Forgive me,” he said against my lips. “I couldn’t seem to help myself. Perhaps, we should return to the house to keep me from overstepping my bounds again.”