Traded(10)By: Rebecca Brooke
Opening the door, I followed the path Ashton had taken last night, bringing me out at the main foyer. The house left me with a feeling similar to how Jack must have felt in the Giant’s house after climbing the beanstalk. Everything was so much bigger than I was used to. So much . . . more. Vaulted ceilings sat high above where anyone could touch without a ladder. Winding staircases led to the second floor. The heavy drapes that adorned the double-height windows probably cost more than my entire wardrobe. The whole environment was incredibly daunting.
The smell of freshly ground coffee filtered in from a hall to the right. Following its comforting scent, I found the door to the kitchen and pushed it open to find Ashton sitting at a table, reading the paper. I stopped in the doorway, unsure what to say or do.
“Good morning, Elena.” Ashton lowered the paper.
“Good morning,” I said, my voice squeaking at the end.
He stared at me for a moment and when I didn’t move, he said, “You can sit down and have breakfast. Unlike your husband, I don’t expect you to wait on me while you’re here.”
“Umm . . . okay.”
How did I explain to him that Dominic didn’t expect me to wait on him; that it was my job as his wife to take care of his needs?
I pulled out the chair in front of me and took a seat, folding my hands in my lap. I sat there, staring at the table.
“Elena, are you hungry?”
I shrugged. “I guess I could eat.”
“Elena, look at me.”
Lifting my head, I saw that Ashton’s gaze hadn’t moved from me. His proximity allowed me, in a moment of boldness, to take him in. His blond hair and green eyes were only the beginning, all of his features melding together to create the type of man who haunted women’s dreams. Unfortunately for women like me, men like Ashton were a pipe dream. I needed to follow the rules. Dominic was the only man willing to take care of me, and he wouldn’t do that if I let him down. I needed to make myself useful.
“What would you like for breakfast?”
I stood from my chair and walked to the middle of the room. “I can make you something, if you point me in the right—”
Oh God, what did I do wrong already?
Ashton came over and led me back to my chair. “You are my guest. I’ll make you something.”
“No buts. I understand Dominic expected certain things of you, and we’ll talk about that later. For now, you need to understand that I am nothing like your husband. Now tell me what you like to eat for breakfast so I can make it for you.”
“I . . . umm . . . I usually eat pancakes at the diner.”
“Pancakes it is then.”
Ashton began collecting ingredients from different cupboards, pulling out everything needed to make pancakes. Unlike the “just add water” kind I usually bought from the store, he was making them from scratch. While the pan heated, he brought over a cup of coffee.
“I wasn’t sure how you liked it. Pancakes will be done in a few minutes.”
The coffee smelled delicious. Taking hold of the cup, I took my first sip. It was unlike anything I’d ever tasted before, the flavor rich and sweet. Ashton had made it just right.
“Thank you. This is delicious.”
“I’m glad you like it.”
My knee started to shake under the table. Not many people went out of their way to be nice to me, except Gretchen. Many times, she’d tried to talk me into leaving Dominic, and while I understood that she was just trying to help, she didn’t get it. She didn’t see what Dominic did for me. He helped me. He wasn’t the easiest of people to get along with, but that was just his way. It had crossed my mind to get her to spend some time with him, show her the other side of him, but when I mentioned it he’d said, “If you have time to have friends over then you’re obviously slacking,” so I’d let it drop. In truth, Gretchen hadn’t seemed all that enthusiastic either, so it had likely been for the best.
Ashton came back to the table with two plates stacked high with pancakes and sausage. Definitely more food than I could, or should, eat at one time.
“Oh my God, that’s so much food.”
“Sorry. I’m used to making big portions. Eat as much you want, leave what you don’t.”
He dug into his pancakes while I picked up my fork slowly, my mind focused on his apology and the ease with which he delivered it. Sorry wasn’t a word I heard very often, especially from a man’s mouth. I didn’t know what to do with it.
“Is everything okay?”
I looked up to find him watching me. “I’m not used to people apologizing to me.”