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By:Sawyer Bennett

“Roberta?” I ask hesitantly, because suddenly I’m thinking this may be someone soliciting something…or maybe even a homeless person looking for a meal. The way those clothes completely swallow her makes me think she’s starving underneath all that material.

She gives me an outwardly bright smile and sticks a delicate hand out toward me. Her sweatshirt is so big, her sleeves are rolled up around her wrists. “Actually…I go by Kate. Roberta’s my first name, which I was named after my daddy, Robert, but seriously…who wouldn’t hate that name? So I go by my middle name, which is Kathryn, actually. So I shorted it down to Kate, because Kathryn sounds just so…I don’t know…like a Catholic saint or something, and I’m not Catholic. I was raised Southern Baptist, but I really don’t go to church anymore, so—”

She pauses…finally, and takes a deep breath. Her smile goes from politely earnest to a sheepish grin, and she gives an apologetic shrug. “Sorry…I’m nervous and I tend to prattle when I’m nervous.”

I just blink at her, completely shocked silent. I have no clue what to think about this strange woman…no, girl, I think, because she looks so fucking young.

“How old are you?” I ask, my eyes glancing suspiciously at her hand still extended toward me.

“Twenty-three,” she says. “Didn’t Delaney tell you about me? You knew I was coming today, right?”

“Um…yeah, she did. I guess I didn’t hear her mention your age,” I mutter.

Kate takes a small step forward and pushes her hand farther toward me, giving me a pointed look. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Her voice is soft, with a moderate southern twang. I can’t remember if Delaney told me where she was from or not. Fuck…I can’t remember anything she said.

I reach out hesitantly and shake her hand. It’s tiny and her bones feel small, but she grips me surely. “Yeah…uh, nice to meet you too,” I say absently.

Our hands break apart and we just stare at each other.

Her eyes are intent on me, yet filled with a sort of curiosity. I wonder what in the hell she could be curious about. I’m sure Delaney filled her in on my situation and what I needed her for.

Damn, this girl—well, fuck, woman—is just…weird. She’s sort of geeky-looking yet doesn’t have any shyness or awkwardness that is normally associated with geekdom. She looks like she’d rather be sitting in some computer science lab with tape on the bridge of her glasses and a pocket protector, discussing quantum physics or something equally boring. What in the hell was Delaney thinking? I guess I was sort of expecting maybe a more matronly type of person who would wear an apron and bake sugar cookies every day.

“Are you okay?” she asks, and I blink at her, my mind absolutely blank as to what she could mean.

“Yeah, why?” I ask, confused.

“Well, you’re just sort of staring at me like I’ve got antlers sticking out of my head or something. I know I’m not much to look at, but I promise…I’m the right person for this job.”

And clearly she’s the type of person who will say whatever is on her mind, which makes me feel even more awkward. I’ve been so removed from people in general—and those that I do interact with treat me with kid gloves—that I’m not sure how to handle someone as direct as her.

“Um…why don’t you come in,” I tell her suddenly. “I need to make a quick call and then we can talk.”

“Sure,” she says with a bright smile, and it irritates me how chipper she is. I step back, allowing her to walk into the foyer, shutting the door behind her.

She looks around with interest. “You have a beautiful home.”

I don’t respond because this house doesn’t hold a single ounce of beauty for me. Instead, I point to right where she’s standing and say, “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

Turning away from her, I bound up the stairs to the right of the entryway. I stride past Ben’s bedroom and see he’s immersed in a game on his iPad. Good…I don’t want him coming downstairs yet, because I’m not sure what in the hell to do with that girl down there.

Stalking into my office, which is basically one of the spare bedrooms, I close the door and whip my phone out of my pocket. I pull Delaney’s number up and stab at it urgently.

She answers curtly. “I’m heading into a meeting. Make it quick.”

“What the fuck, Delaney? I think you made a terrible mistake hiring this girl.”

She sighs into the phone, but her voice is firm. “She’s a woman.”