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Page 43 of Third Time's a Charm (Holland Springs 3)

Glancing at his phone, she could barely make out the instructions. “Are those fun to play with?”

“You’d have more fun playing with me.” His fingers drifted to the arch of her foot. She giggled and jerked, almost kicking him in the chest. “Good God, woman, behave.”

“I’m too ticklish,” she gasped.

“Fine, we’ll go to painting straightaway then.” Letting go of her foot, he rummaged through the bucket and pulled out two different polishes. One was dark blue mixed with glitter and the other a bright pink. “Pick.”

“Which one do you think I like?” she asked, feeling a little flirty.

His gaze dropped to the bottles and she watched with a sinking heart as he placed the dark blue one on the floor. That was the one she wanted. It reminded her of midnight skies with sparkling stars. “Galaxy suits you,” he said and gently lobbed the pink one to the side. “So does being pampered.”

She peered at him through her lashes, a shy smile covering her face. “I think being pampered by you suits me.”

He paused and tilted his head to the side, his eyes glinting in the firelight. “It suits me to pamper you, love,” he murmured and bent his golden head to see to his work.

Sublime pleasure filled Rose.

After she’d been properly polished, Rose held her hands out and wiggled her fingers, grinning. “That was my very first manicure and pedicure.”

He paused in the middle of cleaning off the kitchen table. “Honestly?”

“Yes.” She nodded and stuck out a foot. Silver sparkles caught the light as Blackbeard examined her pinky toe. “I’ll help you finish cleaning.”

“No, you’ve been up since six. I’ll take care of this,” he said, dumping liquid dish soap in a sink rapidly filling with hot water. “You take Ivy and go to bed.”

Impulsively, Rose ran over to Sasha and gave him a brief hug. “Thank you.” Then she turned away, not wanting to see his reaction. She unfastened Ivy, scooped her out and bolted for her bedroom.

***

On Thursday evening, she found him at the stove, wearing her grandmother’s apron.

“You’re late.” He waved a spatula at the nearest chair. “Sit.”

“What’s on tonight’s menu?” The aroma made her mouth water in anticipation.

Sasha placed three bowls on the table, only two with serving spoons. “A very special meal.” He pointed to each dish. “Roasted butternut squash, sazda with nyama, and for dessert, mapopo candy. It’s made from papaya. You’ll love it.”

“What makes it so special?” she asked as he removed the apron, folding and setting it on the counter.

He moved to the table and sat down beside her. “It’s a traditional dish of Masvingo. That’s where my mum lived when she was little.” Pinching off a bite-size portion of what looked like a thick tortilla, he rolled it in his palm and dipped the ball in the meat stew.

“Where’s that?”

“Far away from here.” He lifted it to her mouth. “Open.”

“You’re going to feed me?”

He gave her a crooked grin. “Sharing food is something that family does in Masvingo.”

“I don’t know.” She squirmed in her chair. Somehow the act of him feeding her seemed very intimate, something lovers did for one another.

“It’s not poison, Rose.” He dipped the ball of sazda, then drew air circles with it. “One bite, love.”

Feeling slightly silly, she barely opened her mouth.

“Wider.”

Sighing, she widened it and Sasha’s green eyes glinted.

“Not that wide—I don’t want to actually watch you chew it.”

Jerking back, she began to clamp her lips together, but he popped it in before they closed. Flavor exploded in her mouth and she moaned in appreciation.

“What every man most likes to hear when a woman has her mouth full of his…cooking.” Sasha waggled his eyebrows as she chewed.

She giggled. “More please.”

He fed her another bite. “That particular phrase a close second.”

“Stop, I’ll choke.” Somehow she managed to swallow and he fed her yet another bite.

“Third.”

“Now I get to feed you,” she said, pinching off a bite-sized portion of the thick tortilla, rolling it in her hand, then dipping it in the meat stew. He grinned as she held it up to his mouth. His lips parted and she pushed the sazda inside.

“Delicious,” he said, after chewing and swallowing it down.

They fed each other. Sasha purposefully nipping at her fingers when it was her turn. She couldn’t stop giggling. “Quit biting me.”

“But I like the extra flavor,” he said with a teasing smile. “One last bite then dessert, yes?”

“Yes.” She began to part her lips, but the heat of his gaze stopped her. “What?”

“Close your eyes this time,” he gently ordered, his voice husky.

Her lashes fluttered down, but she quickly opened her eyes again to find him leaning closer. So close that she could count the freckles on his nose. Forget counting them, she wanted to kiss each one. Instead she concentrated on the meal he’d fixed. So simple, yet so exotic. Unexpected.

As if sensing her inner turmoil, he set the sazda in the middle of his plate and said, “You’re the first person I’ve shared this with since both of my parents were alive.”

Taking a deep breath, she wiped her mouth with a cloth napkin, then set it on the table. “Why’s your mom in a coma?”

“Failing health.”

“But what made her health fail in the first place?” She wanted, no she needed, him to be honest with her.

His jaw worked and his eyes got a faraway look to them. “Drunk driver hit the car we were in. The shite facilities did the rest.” He stood and grabbed one of the bowls, then dumped it into the sink. “I’d rather not talk about this.”

“What about dessert? I promise to keep my eyes closed this time,” she said, trying to tease him.

“This was a bad idea.”

Before she knew what she was doing, she had risen from her chair and crossed the small space between them. Laying a hand on his arm, she gave a light squeeze. “It’s not your fault, you know.”

He rubbed the back of his neck with his hand, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else than with her. “You’re wrong.”

“How so? Were you the drunk driver?” Her heart began to pound in her chest. Was that why he refrained from drinking most of the time?

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