Chapter Twelve

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"You're going out again."

Poppy shoved her wig and shoes into the gym bag and zipped it before turning to face her friend, a cheerful, yogurt-covered Jenny resting on Bea's hip as she stood in the doorway to the spare bedroom.

"Yep, I sure am," Poppy confirmed brightly, even though Bea hadn't posed her words as a question. "I joined a gym." She pointed at the bag as if to confirm the statement.

"And that's what you're doing on a Saturday night? With all that make-up on?"

Shoot. She'd forgotten she already shellacked on ten layers of foundation and mascara, hoping to save time before she met Todd at the strip club.

"Um, yes?" Even though lying came naturally to Poppy in all other areas of her life, she had a hard time not being straight with the people she cared about. "Look, I know it's a bit odd, me looking all made up." She searched for an appropriate excuse, landing on the handiest one—and the one that wasn't a total lie. "...but there's this guy."

That got her. Bea bounced Jenny and let out a contented sigh. "I knew it! I knew something was going on with you. Don't play with Mommy's earrings, honey." She set the toddler down. Jenny, true to the title, toddled on her unsteady feet toward the bed and started playing with a pile of Poppy's numerous lipsticks and giant blush brushes, which were spread out over the multicolored patchwork quilt Grandma Jean had made out of all Poppy's childhood clothes. "Who is he? Where did you meet? Please tell me he has a nice, normal job."

Poppy stepped back. "Whoa, Mama Bear. Slow down there."

"No way." Bea put her hands on ample hips. "You've been running in and out of this apartment for weeks, never mentioning where you're going or why. I'm trying to respect your privacy and everything, but I've been worried about you. Is he cute?"

Before she could stop it, an image of Asprey flitted through her mind, all the lean muscles of him folded into carefully tailored clothes, the easy laughter that rose to his full lips. "Yeah. He's really cute." A sigh from somewhere deep inside her chest escaped. "Polished. Fancy. Not at all like the guys I normally go for."

Bea didn't blink as she pulled an eyebrow pencil from out of Jenny's mouth. "You think he's got money?"

"Yeah, I do," Poppy said truthfully. "But it's not really something we've talked about. He's nice, but it's not like we're to the point where we're spilling all the deep, dark secrets, if you know what I mean." More like they were dancing around the secrets, whirling against one another until she had a hard time holding her balance.

"Taking it slow." Bea nodded firmly. Hoisting Jenny into her lap, she sank to the bed. This time, her gaze wasn't direct, and she busied herself with lining up the pots of make-up. "So he doesn't know about your past, then? About your grandmother? About prison?"

Poppy closed her eyes. There was no easy way to answer that question.

When Bea first offered her a place to live after she'd been released from prison, Poppy had been seconds away from turning her down. There was too much between them, both said and unsaid, to make life very comfortable. And that was all she'd really wanted—not the kind of comfort that came from a penthouse with a view or bubble baths every night, but the kind that could only be offered through a clean slate. She'd wanted anonymity. She'd wanted the freedom to come and go according to her own schedule, no questions asked.

Prison hadn't been terrible, at least not in the way the movies taught her to believe. There had been a surprising amount of opportunity inside—books to read, classes to attend, time alone to think about her life. A straightforward plea of breaking and entering hadn't made her worth much notice to anyone, and she'd done her best to keep things that way by putting her head down and staying out of everyone's path. In terms of life experiences, it wasn't the worst thing that could have happened.

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