A Girl's Guide to Moving On (New Beginnings #2)(9) by Debbie Macomber

I must have given him a startled look. After the ugly things Sean had said to me, I didn’t think of myself as beautiful.

“You no believe?” Nikolai asked, shocked. “You no believe you beautiful?”

Embarrassed, I looked away, unable to answer.

He frowned and, reaching up, he ran his finger slowly, deliberately down the side of my face, easing it over my chin and down my neck in a gentle caress. I inhaled sharply at the electric shock that went straight through me. It’d been so long since a man had touched me that my body reacted instantly. Nikolai locked his gaze with mine and spoke softly in Ukrainian. I didn’t understand a word. Whatever the meaning, it sent a series of chills racing down my arms.

With effort I pulled my eyes away and picked up the pace, walking toward the parking lot, my steps hurried. Nikolai followed and he, too, seemed eager to move beyond whatever had transpired between us.

“Thank you again for the bread,” I told him, unlocking my car door.

“I am raining-cats-and-dogs glad to make it for you.”

I smiled, unwilling to correct him. “Did you get it from the bakery?” I asked, knowing he rose in the wee hours of the morning to bake for the deli.

“No, no,” he said emphatically, shaking his head. “That bread comes from machine. I make with my own hands this bread to show you thanks. As I knead dough I think of you, think of you eating my bread, enjoying the taste of my bread. I think of you smiling when I give you my bread.”

“I’m sure I’ll enjoy it,” I told him.

His smile was wide and warm. “I bake you more.”

“Nikolai, I am only one person. It will take me several days to eat all this bread.”

“Still I bake you more. I bake you bread every class. You will eat and enjoy my bread and I will remember your smile. Your smile make me smile here.” He tucked his hand over his heart.

I hated to squelch his enthusiasm by explaining I couldn’t possibly eat that much bread living alone; I would need to share it. I set my purse on the passenger seat and was ready to slide into the car. “You know the class is going to think you’re the teacher’s pet.”

A shocked look came over him as he stepped away from me. “You treat me like dog?”

“No, no,” I said, unable to hold back a smile. “It means you’re my favorite student.”

Immediately his look softened. “This is another idiom you say.”

“Yes, another idiom.”

His smile blossomed. “I see you Wednesday, Leanne.”

He stepped back from the car and raised his hand in farewell. As I backed out of the parking space, he walked alongside my car. Before I pulled away he knocked on my window. I rolled it down and he looked at me, his eyes dark and serious.

“I come again on Wednesday with more bread.”

“You must be Kaylene,” I said. Rocco had arranged for me to meet him and his daughter Tuesday afternoon at the Lloyd Center. His daughter was tall, thin, and straight as a toothpick. I remember being fifteen and wanting so badly to be as beautiful as my sisters. It was an awkward age before I started to develop. One look told me Kaylene was on the cusp. She was a lovely girl who’d inherited her father’s height and bone structure. It wouldn’t be long before she blossomed into a woman. I understood her need to be noticed, and her father’s fears that she would be.

The dance was the first one of the school year and was set for that Friday night.

Kaylene stood with her arms folded across her chest; her feet were braced apart and her face held a hard look of defiance. She didn’t respond until her father nudged her with his hand. She stumbled forward a couple of steps. “Yeah, I’m Kaylene.”

“I’m Nichole. I understand you’re looking for a dress for the school dance.”

She squinted her eyes up at her father. “I already have a dress, but my father thinks it shows too much skin. In his words, it makes me look sleazy.”

I met Rocco’s gaze. He might have been a bit more diplomatic. No wonder Kaylene was upset.

“My friends and I spent a lot of time picking out that dress. It isn’t like I’ve got a date or anything. It’s just a bunch of us girls going, so I don’t see what his problem is.”

“Are boys going to be at that dance?” Rocco asked.

“You know they are.”

“Then you’re not wearing that dress.”

I could see this was fast disintegrating into an argument between father and daughter, and I had best put an end to it now. “Why don’t we check out a few of the stores and see if we can find something more to both of your liking?”

“I like the one I have.”

“You mean the one you’re not wearing?” Rocco returned.

“It doesn’t hurt to look, Kaylene,” I said, hoping to be the voice of reason.

Her shoulders sagged, accepting defeat.

“Then let’s get started,” Rocco said.

“Just a minute,” Kaylene cried out, and came to an abrupt halt. “No way are you coming with us.” She glared at her father.

“How else am I going to approve your dress?”

“Dad. It’s not happening.” Her horrified look intensified.

“Listen here, Kayl—”

I cleared my throat in an effort to get their attention. I didn’t intend to stand between a father and daughter, or to get caught in the middle of this exchange, but clearly someone had to say something.

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