The little girl’s father walked after her and picked up the apron. He dusted it off carefully and returned, handing it back to the shop’s proprietor. He expected a look of disgust from this very clean woman. No one liked grubby, smelly homeless people and this woman was working with food. Cleanliness would be a major priority for her.
“Thank you, Sir,” she answered when she took the offered apron from his hands.
There was nothing but kindness and gratitude in her eyes now. Not even pity. When had been the last time anyone had called him “Sir”? He couldn’t remember, but it felt good. Way too good for a scruffy man like him. Did he still deserve to be called thus, he wondered?
He nodded at her and smiled politely, holding her eyes. Not good. She would remember him now. He shouldn’t look into people’s eyes. They were more likely to recall his face when he did. He quickly lowered his gaze again and smiled at his daughter instead, who stood behind the woman.
“Come on, princess, we have to hurry,” he said quietly, trying hard not to look at the woman again.
By God, it was difficult not to. Even in his days of service, a woman like her would have been a special shot and he’d had women throwing themselves at his feet to spend a night with him. He hadn’t looked at them, however. He’d been married and he’d always taken his vows seriously.
“Yes, daddy,” the little girl said, knowing this wasn’t the time to argue.
Not in front of a stranger. Her father had drummed into her that they couldn’t draw attention to themselves. People would remember and someone might report them.
“Wait. Is this your daughter?” the woman asked, looking at the child now.
Shit! His daughter was beautiful. She looked like an angel even in her worn old clothes and with a dirty face. She was just too beautiful to be overlooked. Pride and concern filled his chest in equal parts.
“Excuse me now, we have to get to the shelter,” he addressed the woman without meeting her eyes.
“We have nowhere else to go, ma’am. Please.”
He didn’t see how her face set in determination, the look of horror and surprise disappearing at the same time.
“You do now. Please, come in,” she offered in a gentle tone. “That’s no place for a little princess.”
“You both look like you could do with some hot chocolate and a cookie or two,” she said.
Tirza's Christmas Tales are a series of standalone romance novellas with a seasonal theme and can be read in any order.