The Hero's Redemption(7)

By: Janice Kay Johnson

She handed over the pizza. “I have bottled water and some Pepsi in the fridge. Milk, too. What would you like?”

When was the last time anyone had given him a choice? He didn’t want milk, he knew that, but only said, “Anything.”

She disappeared into the house, returning with two cans of pop and a bottle of water, as well as what looked like a wad of paper towels. When she saw him sitting on the bottom porch step, legs outstretched, she put the drinks down within reach and sat, too.

“We aren’t going to end up on our butts in the dirt if we move wrong, are we?”

He felt a tiny spark of amusement, which surprised him. “There’s not far to fall.”

“Well…that’s true.” She picked up a slice of pizza and started eating.

She’d bought a half-meat, half-cheese pizza. He sank his teeth into a slice heaped with sausage, pepperoni and mushrooms, almost groaning with pleasure.

“How far did you get with the weeding?” she asked eventually.

“About halfway around.” Did she realize it might take a couple of weeks to do the job she’d talked about, rather than the two or three days he’d originally expected?

“Any surprises?”

“Some siding that’ll need to be replaced.” He’d used the screwdriver to check for rot as he went.

She scrunched up her nose. “Figures.”

Two pieces later, he said, “The gutters are in bad shape.”

“I noticed rain was running right over them.”

Without a ladder, he hadn’t been able to look closely, but they were obviously packed full of leaves, fir needles and debris. They’d also torn away from the eaves in places. She might decide to hire a company that specialized in gutters to replace them instead of keeping him on.

He stopped eating sooner than he would have liked, and began unloading the Jeep. Erin came to help him. The lumber went in the garage. He propped the new ladder against the house, figuring they’d need it today. When she put on gloves and started scraping, he went back to taming the wild growth.

By now, there was some burn in his muscles as he swung the machete. Lifting weights built muscle, but this required a different kind of motion. To block out the discomfort, he turned his thoughts in another direction.

He hadn’t let himself speculate about another person in a long time, but as the next couple of hours passed, Cole did a lot of thinking about Erin Parrish. How could he help it?

Despite his wariness, he spent some time savoring the pleasure of watching her. Whenever he passed behind her, his gaze lingered on the long, slim line of her back, the subtle curve of her waist and hips, her ass and astonishing legs. He had a feeling he’d have no trouble picturing her face tonight when he should be trying to sleep. Her eyes were beautiful, the gold bright in sunlight, the green predominant in the dimmer lighting of the garage. The delicacy of her jaw, cheekbones and nose turned him on as much as her body did. He hadn’t seen anything this pretty in ten long years.

But mostly he tried to understand what she’d been thinking.

Why would a lone woman hire someone like him, no questions asked? He could be a rapist, a murderer; how would she know? She might have assumed she was safe, midday in a residential neighborhood, but he could have pushed her into the house more quickly than she realized. Or yanked the garage door down while they were piling lumber in there. Done whatever he chose, then walked away.

He wanted to ask why she’d hired him, but he wanted the job more. Encouraging her to have second thoughts wasn’t in his best interests.

Yeah, but this could be a setup. What if she got what labor she could out of him, then refused to pay him? He’d have no recourse. Although, considering what she knew about him, it seemed unlikely she’d take the risk of pissing him off.

A darker scenario occurred to him. He could get some of the hard work done, and then she could cry rape or assault. Whether there was any physical evidence or not, her word would be taken over his.

Hell, he thought. Accepting this job hadn’t been smart. But he circled back to hard reality—he was desperate. No one else would hire him. He’d already run out of the limited amount of money he’d been given on leaving the joint. And he was flirting with trouble, anyway, because one of the conditions of parole was having a place to live and a job. His sister had agreed he could say he’d be able to stay with her, but that had never been an option. Her husband wanted nothing to do with her ex-con brother, refused to let Cole near their kids.

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