Soldier Mine (Chapter Five: Claudia, page 1 of 4)

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I buy Todd's phone in the morning, before work and set him up on a monthly plan. I'm out all of my savings, but holding the device brings a smile to my face, along with a trickle of hope.

What I'm not expecting to see when I arrive to work is Petr. He's seated in the same booth as yesterday. Mornings are quiet on Saturdays, when the downtown businesses are closed or opening late. I pause as I walk through the door. He's facing the door this time and waves.

I did my own research online to verify his story and ensure he wasn't a psycho. He's not. If anything, he's the town's much loved war hero, a man wealthy enough to pay for other injured soldiers and vets to receive additional medical care.

He's what I would've called a good guy before my life went to shit.

But seeing him here … knowing he knows where I work and when I might be in … it stirs my sense of paranoia, the instinct that's kept me alive and also interfered with my ability to trust anyone.

Without returning the wave, I go to the staff area at the back of the kitchen and tuck my coat into my assigned cubbyhole. I pull on my apron and finger his card. I left it there purposely yesterday instead of taking it home with me, as if the card itself was one of the two people who invaded my life yesterday.

"You need help lifting anything?" I call to the cook.

"He's set. Already broke my back for the day," replies Eileen, the older waitress I split my shift with for half a day. With platinum-dyed hair and leathery skin, she looks more like the women in Florida than in Massachusetts. "Table four was asking for you."

I don't flinch but I want to. Anxiety stirs, and I suppress it with effort. "Thanks. I'll check on him."

"Oh, and Henry was in early today. Didn't want you to miss him. Said he had to go to his son's for the weekend."

I smile. "He's a sweetie." Fixing my hair, I leave the back room for the counter and snag my ticket pad as I go.

Petr is wearing a maroon sweater today, one that brings out the ruddiness of his cheeks. I catch myself looking a little too long. He's wide of shoulder and chest, muscular, with a friendly, warm air and genuine smile I find somewhat … compelling. Maybe because it's been so long since I dealt with someone genuine, someone who noticed me the way I did him.

Actually, I don't think that's ever happened. Ignoring the strange thoughts, I focus on him.

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