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The Singer Elizabeth Hunter 2022/7/22 11:38:27

Ava woke in the pitch black, her body aching in awareness and his voice whispering in her mind.

“I love you, reshon.”

She pressed her eyes tight, holding on to the dream. She could sense his phantom touch. Smell his scent. Feel the rough stubble along his jaw as it brushed over the sensitive skin on her belly. Her stomach was in knots and she ached.

As if her muscles remembered loving him, even though months had passed. As if she could turn over in her bed and he would be there. She forced back the tears in her eyes, shutting them in the darkness and holding on to the shadowy images that haunted her nights.

Ava sat up, pushing back the down comforter and letting the cold bite her skin. She rubbed her arms in the brisk northern air and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. She’d get no more sleep that night. Dressing in the warm clothes Max had found for her in Turkey, she crawled out of bed and headed toward the kitchen. The clock in the corner told her it was only three a.m.

Amazingly, when she got to the kitchen, she saw a lantern set on the counter and a woman’s figure bending over the table.

Ava halted, trying not to be alarmed.

The woman must have heard her, because she turned and held up her hands, smiling. “I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“I’m Karen. I woke very early this morning, and I just knew you would need breakfast.”

“Hi.” She relaxed. She’d heard Karen’s name before. “I’m Ava.”

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The woman gave a rosy smile. “I know.”

She was short and curvaceous, exactly what Ava would have pictured for the woman who made the delicious breads and pastries that were delivered fresh every morning. Her blond hair was tucked under a wool hat, but Ava could see spun-gold curls poking out around her ears. She was bundled against the cold morning air, and a basket of steaming baked goods was sitting on the table.

“I was just going to tuck these in the oven and leave a note. It’s getting so cold in the mornings I don’t like leaving the bread outside.”

“Thanks. That’s really considerate.” Ava’s stomach growled to life. “You’re an amazing baker, by the way. I’ve been meaning to thank you.”

“You’re welcome!” A dimple popped out on Karen’s cheek just as Ava heard a rustling and stomping at the door. “Oh, that’s Bruno. He’s probably wondering what’s taking so long.”

The door cracked open, and a bear of a man poked his head through. He had to have been six and a half feet, with a long brown beard and shaggy hair that hung over his ears, as if he were overdue for a haircut. His shoulders filled the doorway, and his flannel shirt hung open at the neck, revealing dark talesm that stood out against pale skin.

“Sweet, what is taking so—oh, hallo!” His eyes swung toward her, and Ava pulled on her sweater as she lifted a hand in greeting. The bear grinned. “How did my sweet girl know you would be awake? But that’s her gift, yes? She just knows these things, my Karen. A touch of Chamuel’s blood in her.”

He stepped through the door and seemed to get impossibly taller.

“Bruno,” Karen hissed. “It’s early. Ava might not want company.”

Bruno’s eyes turned toward hers, wide and blue, as if shocked by the thought of a neighbor not wanting to visit at three in the morning.

“Sorry. Would you rather we…” He motioned to the door.

“No.” Ava was quick to smile. Something about the giant man reminded her of Leo. “No, that’s fine. I’m not going to get any more sleep.”

“Well sit, then.” Karen began bustling around the kitchen. “I’ll make coffee. I’m sorry about this, Ava. You were probably hoping for a quiet morning.”

All her mornings were quiet now. There was no teasing Malachi trying to keep her in bed, whispering delicious secrets and making her laugh. There was nothing.

“No, it’s fine.” She forced a smile. “I like the company. I haven’t met many people yet.”