Cat's Lair(2)

By: Christine Feehan

When she’d escaped, she hadn’t taken tons of money from the safe because she didn’t want Rafe to have more reason to come after her if by chance he’d given up on her. That meant she didn’t have a lot of money. It also meant, if he had given up on her, he’d send his kill squad after her. Either way she wasn’t safe and she needed to be very careful with her money.

Malcom slowly won her over with his many simple kindnesses. He casually dropped by to put the bars on the windows when she’d mentioned she was a little nervous. He’d also been the one to find her the job after she told him what her dream job would be.

Catarina loved her job. The coffee-house-slash-bookstore was old, the kind where poets and writers came and read their work every Friday. It was a throwback world that suited her. Books were everywhere, and people gathered to talk and read and show off their work. She liked that the place was a tribute to a bygone era and the regulars who occupied it were loyal and definitely different.

She made certain never to stand out. She dressed in loose-fitting jeans. A loose-fitting shirt. Her hair had always grown thick and fast and got worse the more she cut it. She’d given up on short hair so she pulled it back in a ponytail or braid and often wore hats. Since everyone who came to the coffee-house wore berets or felt hats, she wasn’t out of place. Most wore sunglasses, even at night, as well, so she did that too, hiding her unusually colored cobalt eyes.

The coffee-house stayed open nearly twenty-four hours, and she had the shift that ran from seven in the evening until three in the morning, when she closed the shop. They got a large influx of people looking to wind down from drinking, dancing and clubbing at the bars that closed at two. She wasn’t fond of that particular crowd, but she’d grown used to it.

She spent an hour on working the heavy bag Malcom had hung for her and another hour doing sit-ups and crunches and push-ups. She dressed in baggy sweats and went running. That killed another hour and put her to sunset. Another shower and she headed for the coffee-house.

She tried hard not to allow her heart to do a little stutter, wondering if the new instructor Malcom had hired would drop by again. She liked looking at him. He was a bonus at the dojo as well as the coffee-house. She’d never found herself looking at a man before – she’d never dared to. But he was special. Everything about him was special.

He’d been at the dojo a month, and she’d watched him with the same distrust she had for anyone new who came into her world. He was absolutely the most beautiful man she’d ever seen in her life. He was brutal when he fought, and yet, at the same time, graceful and fluid. Sheer poetry. He was light on his feet, very fast, so smooth. He was always, always utterly calm. She couldn’t imagine him ruffled over anything. He embodied the world of martial arts – he lived that way – not just in the dojo but out of it.

Still, she kept her distance, even when he’d noticed her in the dojo and smiled at her a time or two. She didn’t smile back. She didn’t encourage any kind of a relationship, nor did she want one. Not because she didn’t ever talk to people, but because he made her feel something she’d never felt before. But she liked looking at him. Maybe a little too much.

She didn’t have flights of erotic fantasy or dreams. Her body had never awakened, on fire, burning with need and hunger. Her breasts hadn’t felt swollen and achy, desperate for a man’s touch. Not until she laid eyes on Malcom’s new instructor. Something moved in her. Something took over, and unexpectedly, at night, when she wasn’t having nightmares, she had erotic dreams that burned through her body until she couldn’t breathe. Abruptly they’d leave her, and once they were gone her body would settle and she’d be perfectly fine again. He was definitely someone she needed to stay away from, but looking at him was acceptable.

He’d sauntered into the coffee-house two weeks after starting with Malcom. She’d noticed him immediately. How could she not? When he moved, the roped muscles of his body, even beneath his tight black shirt, did a delicious kind of rippling that drew every feminine eye in the place. Ridley Cromer. The name was as strange and unique as the man.

Catarina stood outside the coffee-house just staring into the windows, feeling happy. She always made certain she acknowledged being happy. That was important. She woke up in the morning and always, always told herself she would be happy that day.

“Hey, beautiful.”

She froze, the smile fading. The other thing strange about Ridley Cromer was the fact that she never heard him when he came near her. He didn’t make a sound. She heard everyone. She always knew when someone was close to her. The reason why she excelled in martial arts was because she always anticipated her opponent’s move. It was as if she had a kind of radar telling her where everyone was at all times within her space. Everyone but Ridley Cromer.