Soldier Mine (Chapter Five: Claudia, page 2 of 4)

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"What can I get ya?" I ask.

"Pecan pie and coffee."

"We're out of both."

He stares at me.

I laugh.

Where the hell did that come from? Am I flirting with him? What the hell is wrong with me? "Lame attempt at a joke. Or something," I mumble. "Not sure your girlfriend will approve, though."

"She's not my girlfriend."

"Sorry. That wasn't appropriate."

Petr is grinning, his eyes sparkling.

I leave quickly, uncertain what to say and thoroughly embarrassed by the unusual slip. I can't afford to be interested in him. He's attractive, yes, but I'm in no position to open that door. Five minutes later, I return with his pie and coffee. The old me had a good sense of humor and used to tease people. The paranoid runner I am now is supposed to be all business.

"There's a karate class tonight at six. Have you made a decision about whether or not Todd can go?" he asks.

I hesitate. My instinctive, immediate answer is negative. I haven't yet decided if that's the right one yet. Petr being here, this morning, waiting for me …

"I haven't decided," I reply.

"Not a problem. I can come back tomorrow." He chuckles. "Want me to bring references? Someone to vouch for me?"

My face is warm. He can't understand why I'm like this, and I have no real way of explaining it. "Just eat your pie," I tell him in the tone I use with Todd.

Whirling away, I retreat to my counter.

He eats, pays and leaves without speaking to me again, though he does give me a small wave. I ignore it. I can't let anyone think I'm going soft, can't relax my guard until my ex is behind bars, which will probably take years given our court system.

I'm expecting Petr to drop it. I've been a bit of a bitch and haven't given him an answer twice now. A normal person would deem this effort too annoying to pursue and take the easier path by moving on. A man this handsome would never speak to me again.

But the next day, Petr returns.

And the next.

And the next.

On the fourth day, I even hide the pecan pie and tell him it's out for the season.

But he comes back the next day, too. Every day, he asks if Todd can go to karate, and every day, I crisply inform him I haven't made up my mind.

Petr shows up for ten days in a row. TEN. My brother has no idea this is happening, and I'm almost grateful he's got a girl to keep his mind off karate for the most part. This game between Petr and me is baffling.

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