I am terribly sorry for the delay! I've been a little uninspired lately, but it got better! :) Again, thank you so much for your reviews, follows, favorites, etc.

The days following the business meetings seemed far more relaxed. They weren't constantly rushing around to clean or make something. Although, Christine rather missed the variety of tasks. Her cleaning chores were starting to get monotonous again. She wanted to listen to music, but after she discovered that Annette had heard her singing, she was terribly embarrassed. Listening to her iPod would only tempt her to sing, and she didn't want to Annette or even Mr. Destler to hear.

Mr. Destler was in a better mood. Well, comparatively, that is. He wasn't snapping at her like he had when all of his colleagues were around. He showed up to the dinner table occasionally. When she did see him, though, Christine tried her very best to be pleasant. After learning about his past, she felt she needed to show him that not all of humanity was horrible. It was difficult, though. He still made little comments here and there, but Christine would try to respond compliantly. She found his reactions rather amusing, actually. It took him off guard sometimes.

For example:

"Miss Denton, you know not to vacuum while I'm eating."

"Right. I'm sorry, Mr. Destler." He had looked up from his lunch with surprised eyes, which he quickly tried to mask. She turned off the vacuum and went to dusting the living room instead.

"The windows in the library weren't cleaned sufficiently," he stated not long after she had finished them one day.

"Oh." She took a breath. "I'll go back and give them a more thorough wash later today." His shoulders stiffened, and Christine smiled pleasantly.

"I'm making tea. Would you like some?" She stuck her head in his office one afternoon. His grey eyes stared at her in disbelief, but he refused to acknowledge the abnormality of the situation.

"Yes… thank you."

After that last encounter, Christine began to wonder if she might be acting too nice… Regardless, she liked the new challenge.

Annette had noticed a few of their exchanges and knew exactly what was going on. She was still unsure how to feel. But she decided to speak with Christine about it.

"Christine, please tread lightly," she said one evening after another odd encounter between the two.

She looked at Annette in surprise. She thought she was treading incredibly lightly. She was practically skipping. "What do you mean?"

That was the problem: she didn't quite know what she meant. But she felt like something was approaching. She sighed. "I just… I know what you're doing, and while I think it's wonderful, Erik might not understand. He might misconstrue—"

"What? Kindness?" Christine became defensive. Every way she acted toward him was wrong! She couldn't win!

"Perhaps if you—"

"You know what?" Christine took a breath to steady her anger. "If he doesn't like it or understand it, he can speak with me himself." Her tone ended the conversation.

Christine went to her room and sat at her desk. She rubbed her temples. She had never been so frustrated with Annette before! Yes, she meant well, but Christine was sick of trying to appease his weird personality. She had been reacting to him all this time, and it was interesting to see him react for once. She was going to continue acting this way whether he liked it or not. And he could talk to her about it if it bothered him.

After a week of these interactions, Erik was still as confused as ever. And it bothered him that he didn't understand. He sat in his bed one night thinking about it. About her. He pondered the questions he'd been asking all week: Why is she acting this way? Why is she being… nice to me? How could she possibly not have a response for that remark?

His comments seemed to no longer have an affect on her. They were his defenses and she was knocking them down. What did she want to gain from this? He'd had plenty of experiences like this before with women… They were pleasant and lovely when they wanted something. There was only one thing they had ever wanted from him. Erik felt his bare right cheek and lied back against his pillow. This infection had caused him so much grief. His hand slid down and across to his shoulder to feel the scars there. He blinked a few times.

Before he fell asleep, Erik resolved to figure out what Miss Denton's intentions were.

Annette had been nothing but pleasant since their disagreement, and Christine was grateful for her forgiveness. She didn't want there to be tension between the two of them as well. As they sat down to dinner Thursday evening, they figured that Mr. Destler would not be joining them. Christine took the opportunity to take a plate to his office.

She knocked and waited for his reply before entering. The room was dim—just a couple lamps were lit. Mr. Destler was reclining with his feet up on the desk, reading his manuscript. He had gone for dark jeans and a light grey t-shirt today. It was quite informal compared to what he usually wore. He finally looked up from his manuscript. She felt her breath catch slightly—the shirt made his eyes look so… intense. They stared at each other longer than Christine cared to admit.

Then she suddenly walked forward and placed the plate of spaghetti and glass of wine on his desk. She looked at him a bit longer, glancing at the mask. He put his feet down and sat up.

"Can I get you anything else?" she asked.

His eyes narrowed as he looked up at her. "No," he growled, "but can I get you something?"

Christine blinked. "What?"

"What do you want?"

She stared at him. "I don't under—"

"You know exactly what I'm talking about. We spent your first two months here with gritted teeth. And now you're suddenly the perfect maid? You do as you're told without question—even if it's re-cleaning all of the windows in the library! You smile instead of cringe. You willingly speak to me. What do you want?"

He was standing now, and it seemed like he grew taller with each phrase. Christine felt herself cowering beneath his gaze. But she tried to hold her ground.

"Are you kidding me? I'm trying to be civil! Unlike you! What do I want? I want this to be bearable or maybe even enjoyable. I'm trying to be kind, dammit!" Christine had inched toward him as she snarled back. They were both leaning over his desk, glaring at each other. When they realized their positions, they both stood back up straight.

"But no," Christine said more calmly, "you can't accept kindness. You simply reject it, like everything else." She turned on her heel and left his office. As she passed through the living room, she saw Annette standing in the kitchen. They had been quite loud, and she had obviously heard their argument. Christine stopped before going up the stairs and looked at her.

"I'm not very hungry."

Christine's mood hadn't improved the next day. She went through the motions of her chores, only cleaning the bare minimum. She slumped from one task to the next. Being nice to Mr. Destler had been a fun challenge for herself. And, quite frankly, it had helped put her in a good mood for the past week. It had given her something to think about. Now she was sullen, frustrated, and confused. Her plan had backfired, and now they were even worse off than before.

She was just glad it was Friday so she could be done with these chores. Then the thought of being alone with him for the weekend upset her all over again. Annette wouldn't be there to break up their arguments. Christine sighed angrily as she finished cleaning her bathroom. That had been her last chore of the day, so she made her way downstairs to return the cleaning supplies.

Annette stood by the front door, preparing to leave for the weekend. She gave Christine an encouraging nod. She tried to smile back before heading toward the supply closet. She grabbed a beer from the fridge after she heard the front door close. Standing at the island, Christine took a few pulls from the bottle. A foreboding silence settled upon the house. She felt her jaw clench. This was going to be a long weekend.

There was about an hour before she needed to start dinner, so Christine took her bottle to the library. A bit of light reading and drinking would hopefully ease the tension growing up her neck. She wandered up and down a few aisles of books before finding something. A small smile tugged at her lips immediately when she saw it. She took the very well-read copy of To Kill a Mockingbird from the shelf and sat down on her usual chair. Christine took another swig before opening the book. She could already feel her shoulders loosening—she burrowed herself deeper into the cushions of the chair.

A few pages in, however, she was interrupted.

In his usual fashion, Mr. Destler spoke before announcing his presence. "Shouldn't you be starting dinner?"

Christine, engrossed in the book, hadn't heard him approach—as usual—and jumped at the sound of his voice. The stiffness returned to her neck. She pursed her lips and twisted around to glare up at him. "I will. Soon." She went back to her book, trying to ignore him. He continued to stand there, hovering. "What?" she hissed, still looking at the pages. She felt him glare at her before he stormed off.

Christine decided to read for a bit longer than she had planned. And so dinner was started a bit later. Just to spite him. She went to the kitchen and just kind of stood in the middle of it all. I don't feel like cooking. Frowning, she looked into the fridge, then the walk-in pantry, then the freezer, then the fridge again. Ugh.

Erik stormed back into his office angrily. Now she was expressly hating him? First pursed lips, then smiling ones, and now this? He thought of the different expressions of her pink lips… No! He was sick of her and her mood swings and how she consumed his mind! It seemed like she was all he thought about lately. Erik began pacing, running a hand through his hair.

He hadn't been just standing there to upset her… He had been looking at the book she was reading. It was his copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Sure, all of the books in the library were his, but he'd had that one for a very long time. He had lost count of how many times he'd read it. It was very fragile… and close to his heart. Erik itched to go take it back, but he knew that would set her off.

As he sat down at his desk, his stomach growled. He had asked her if she was making dinner soon because he was hungry… of course it didn't quite come out that way. He just didn't know how to talk to people. Or her, for that matter. Especially her.

Erik stood from his desk and went to one of his many bookshelves. He needed to read something to get his mind off of her. He grabbed his book of poetry. Also well-loved, this book had been in his possession for quite some time. It had served him as both calming and inspirational. He turned through the dog-eared, underlined, and stained pages he knew so well. He finally came upon Walt Whitman, one of his favorites.

He read for about an hour. As usual, he was beginning to feel more relaxed and a bit inspired. Erik picked up a notepad from a drawer and wrote down some scattered thoughts and ideas. A knock at his door pulled him from his musings.

"Yes," he murmured, writing a last thought down.

He looked up as Miss Denton entered his office. Her brunette curls were wild and free. She looked nice when she let them loose from that braid. Perhaps they had been rash before… Both of their emotions were a little high-strung. Perhaps they could both enjoy living in this house… She walked toward him with purpose and set down a plate and glass on his desk. Erik looked up into her chocolate eyes. She seemed expectant. Confused, he looked down at the items in front of him.

The plate was full of macaroni and cheese, clearly from a box. A glass of milk sat next to the plate. This wasn't exactly what he was expecting. He felt his brow furrow as he looked back up at Miss Denton. Her face suddenly looked spiteful.

"Since we're acting like children, I figured we should eat like them, too."

Erik's lips parted. For once in his life, he didn't really know what to say. He looked back down at the plate and decided to eat some. Miss Denton stared at him, waiting for a response. But he wouldn't give her one. Not this time. He heard her sigh angrily and leave his office in a huff.

The next morning, Christine woke up frustrated. She still couldn't believe he hadn't said anything or at least looked upset… He just seemed confused but then accepted it.

She rolled out of bed lazily and headed downstairs. After making a pot of coffee, Christine filled a mug and stood by the back door. The view was just as gorgeous as the first time she saw it. Everything was turning green again. Maybe she would sketch the mountain-scape again today. It was always changing—there was always something new to draw.

Movement closer to the foreground caught Christine's eye. It was Mr. Destler. He must have gone on a morning jog outside. As he came closer, she realized he was shirtless. Her eyes widened at the sight of his toned, sweaty body. She would have stared longer, but he was coming up the stairs of the deck. And she did not want to get caught looking.

Christine suddenly remembered that she was wearing very short shorts and no bra beneath her tank top. She sat down at the table and awkwardly crossed her arms in front of her chest. Mr. Destler opened the French doors and went straight for the fridge. He must not have noticed her. He was wearing a different mask. Flesh-colored and a different material. Her eyes traveled across his body as he drank from a water bottle. When he finished, however, she glared and drank her coffee.

Erik removed his earbuds and began unstrapping the iPod from his arm. A sound made his eyes snap to the table. Miss Denton had just set down her coffee mug. Her presence surprised him—he usually would have noticed if someone was in the same room as him. She looked over at him. Her wild mane was piled together atop her head, unveiling the elegant curve of her neck. Erik's eyes traced its outline.

"What?" she hissed.

He smirked and took another drink of water. "Nothing."

She rolled her eyes and turned to look back outside. He looked at her a moment longer before following her gaze. It really was the perfect view.

Erik moved forward and sat next to her at the table. She ignored him and continued to look outside. He took the opportunity to look at her more. She was rather nice to look at, he had to admit. He watched her throat as she swallowed. She had delicate shoulders. And— Erik immediately averted his eyes when he realized she wasn't wearing a bra. He stared straight ahead for a moment. Then he stood abruptly and went up the stairs to his room. His sudden movements surprised Christine, and she glared at his back as he left the kitchen. She decided to go finish her coffee on the deck.

After taking her time to enjoy the beautiful morning, Christine decided to go get ready for the day. She went back inside and upstairs to her room. She showered, styled her hair, dressed in jean shorts and a tank top, and decided to put on just a swipe of mascara. Heading back downstairs, Christine thought about what to make for lunch. She decided against trying to upset Mr. Destler with her menu choice again. It obviously hadn't worked before. Maybe panini sandwiches… they rarely used that panini press.

Erik silently descended the stairs and headed for the kitchen. He could hear Miss Denton moving around there. As he neared, he saw that her back was to him. He stopped and watched her. Her curls were tamed now and flowed down to the middle of her back. His fingers itched to touch one. Just out of curiosity, of course. To see what it felt like. Her shoulders, arms, and the majority of her legs were all bare. Erik blinked a few times, trying not to stare at her lovely curves.

He walked forward to look over her shoulder. She was preparing sandwiches for the panini press. He made a sound of approval. She cried out in terror and nearly punched him in the face. Erik easily jumped back but gave her a startled look. They stared at each other for a moment. Then she rounded on him.

"Will you stop that!" she shouted. Erik stared at her. "I hate when you do that! When you pop out of nowhere and scare me like that! How long have you even been there?!"

Before he had a chance to respond, Christine brushed past him. She ran upstairs to her room and slammed the door shut. He could hear her rummaging around. After a minute or so, she came back downstairs. Erik noticed she was clutching a few things to her chest. She grabbed her sandwich and headed toward the back door.

"Where are you going?"

"For a walk. Is that all right with you?" she asked angrily. She left without waiting for a response.

Christine walked on the path next to the lake, nibbling on her sandwich. The peaceful landscape had finally helped her calmed down some. She found a grassy spot close to the edge of the water and sat down. Opening her sketchbook, she began to doodle aimlessly as she thought.

Of course she'd had no right to yell at Mr. Destler like that. It was just that she felt so helpless and out of control when he surprised her like that. And Rob taken enough control from her… No. She had finally stopped him from controlling her thoughts, her opinions, her life. And now she was done thinking about him.

Christine looked down at her sketchpad and found the beginnings of Mr. Destler's eyes. She sighed. She couldn't figure him out. Everything he did and said frustrated her, and yet she was still fascinated by him. She was drawn to him like a moth to the flame. Perhaps she should go apologize. It wasn't his fault she had control issues. Christine decided to enjoy the lovely weather for a bit longer. She expanded the drawing of his eyes to his whole face, hair, neck, shoulders, chest— She had to stop herself there. But then she admired her handiwork.

His hair was a bit messy, some pieces sticking out and some hanging over his mask. She was proud of her shading on his mask—that was something she had struggled with. He had thick eyebrows. Well, at least the one she could see. His grey eyes looked past the viewer intensely. Defined jawline, slight stubble. He had a strong neck and shoulders, and she had emphasized some tendons. She couldn't remember where specific scars were, so she decided to exclude them.

Christine found herself staring at the drawing for a long time. She suddenly remembered herself and closed the book. He can never ever see this… She thought awkwardly as she stood up and brushed herself off. Heading back toward the house, Christine decided to go apologize to him. When she got inside, however, she found an empty kitchen, living room, library, office, and music room. Perhaps he's in his bedroom. She had never even knocked on his bedroom door before. She stood at the bottom of the stairs, contemplating. It was late afternoon now. Perhaps she could apologize with a really nice dinner. Yes! If she started now, she could make lasagna and garlic bread and salad. Hopefully a delicious meal could cover a multitude of sins…

Erik stood in the same spot for quite some time after she had stormed out. He was completely bewildered. She had shouted at him. She had been genuinely angry. He had only been looking over her shoulder. Did he always do that? His stealth certainly wasn't intended to scare her. It was just something he had acquired over the years to avoid… everything. People, bullies, stares, whispers.

He went to the back door and watched as she ventured onto the path around the lake. She walked with purpose—with anger—but it slowly wore off. She looked at the nature around her and basked in the sun. Her gaze drifted to the lake and a grassy spot in front of it. She sat down and pulled out what she had been clutching to her chest. Erik wished he had binoculars so he could see better. Then she started to write on it. Or was she drawing?

Erik headed for his room. The sun was streaming in through the glass of a pair of French doors. He opened them to reveal a small balcony. He stepped out into the warm mountain air and leaned against the railing. It took him a moment or two to find Christine. Yes, she must have been drawing. He propped his left elbow up on the railing and rested his chin in his palm. He watched her. She drew for a very long time, looking up only every once and a while either at her subject or to think. Erik watched her for a couple of hours. How odd. Why am I so fascinated by her?

He finally decided to stop. Leaving the doors open, he went back into his room. He sat on the bed and rubbed his shoulder. He hadn't done much today, but leaning over a railing and watching someone for a couple hours could really take it out of you. Erik sighed at himself and laid back against his pillows for a nap.

A vivid dream woke him an hour or so later. Erik sat up suddenly and stared into space as he thought about the dream. He quickly got out of his bed and headed straight for his office. The day's events and the dream had inspired him, and he didn't want to forget a single thought he had. As he swiftly descended the stairs, something in the back of his brain acknowledged movement in the kitchen and the smell of garlic. But he ignored everything else and shut his office door behind him.

Christine had heard him practically running down the stairs and then his office door slam. She tossed the salad and wondered why he had been holed up all afternoon. Was he avoiding her? Was he upset with her for yelling at him? She bit her lip and hoped the dinner would make up for it. Perhaps they could actually discuss things instead of avoiding or yelling. Christine decided to set the table in the formal dining room. She went to the large windows and pulled back the thick drapes. The sky was orange, the mountains were purple, and the lake reflected them both. It was gorgeous. She plated the food and poured wine and set it out all beautifully on the table. Christine smiled. It was all so picturesque! She was very proud of herself.

Now that dinner was ready, all that was missing was Mr. Destler. She went to his office and tentatively knocked on the door. She thought he heard a grunt. Shrugging, Christine opened the door and found him scribbling furiously on a notepad. She stood in the doorway and watched him for a moment. He was wearing a navy v-necked tee shirt. He wrote fluidly—she wondered if he had nice handwriting. He ran a hand through his hair, messing it up enough to look like the picture she drew earlier. Christine realized she had been standing there for an uncomfortable amount of time and cleared her throat. He didn't respond.

"Um, excuse me, Mr. Destler—"

"Yes, hold on." He sounded a little frustrated.

She waited a few more seconds but grew impatient. "I made—"

"Just bring it in."

"But I was hoping… Well, I—"

"What?" he finally looked up, eyes irritated.

Her lips pursed. "I made a very nice dinner and set the table—"

"I don't have time for that nonsense." He waved her off and went back to his writing.

Christine surged forward to his desk angrily, grabbing his notepad. He stood up quickly and rounded his desk to face her. She ignored the fact that he towered over her.

"Now do I have your attention?" she spat. "You listen here, Erik. I worked for hours on that meal as an apology to you, you asshole. Yes, I'm apologizing. For everything… I will not be pushed aside again!" She was positively fuming.

Erik reached for the notepad. "I don't want your goddamn apology," he hissed through his teeth. She held it behind her back and his hands tried to follow. They were very close.

She started poking his chest with each word for emphasis: "If—you—think—"

Erik suddenly grabbed the sides of her face and kissed her. It was hard and uncomfortable. The edge of his mask was digging into her cheek. They awkwardly stared into each other's eyes. She tried to push him away, shoving the notepad against his chest, but he held her there. Apparently he didn't want the notepad, either.

Erik's lips softened and his eyes closed. He tilted his head so his mask didn't touch her. Christine stared at him. What the hell is he doing? His hands became less demanding and forceful. She thought about all the drawings she had of his hands as they ghosted across her cheeks. They caressed her jaw and neck. It was… hot. She dropped the notepad. His lips prodded hers and she finally surrendered. Her eyes slid closed as she deepened the kiss. She touched the sides of his strong neck and pulled him closer. Her heart raced as she felt his toned body against hers. She moaned very softly into his mouth. Christine felt him harden against her hip…

Which brought her back to her senses. She suddenly pushed him away and brushed her fingers against her lips. How insane! They stood there for a moment, a few feet apart now, breathing heavily. Erik looked at her with a grey fire that stirred a heat between her— Christine jerked back to reality, took a couple steps forward, and slapped him square across his left cheek. He looked bewildered as she turned on her heel and ran out of his office.


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