Cat's Lair(5)

By: Christine Feehan


He expected her to be a man-killer. She should have been. She had the face and the body. She had the voice. She had a soft drawl, barely there, the kind of drawl that reminded him of drifting down the bayou on a lazy summer night with the sky above him dark and a thousand stars shining overhead and a woman, naked in his arms.

She should have had all the confidence in the world. She had confidence when she sparred with any man Malcom put her against, and so far she’d wiped up the floor with them no matter their rank. She was that fast. She had confidence behind the espresso machines and she had every reason to. She had confidence when she walked home at three o’clock in the morning and she shouldn’t.

But she didn’t look at men. She didn’t talk to them. There was no flirting. He’d never seen her flirt with anyone. Not a man or a woman. She was definitely a puzzle, and one he wanted to solve.

He’d deliberately stepped up close to her, crowded her space, to see what she’d do. She hadn’t defended herself. She hadn’t told him to get the hell away from her. She froze. Breathless. Terrified. She’d confused the hell out of him, and that didn’t happen very often. She’d intrigued him, and that happened even less often. She’d also done something insane to his body.

He was a man always in control. Always. Control defined him. He was a man and lived his life as a man. He was tough and liked things his way, and he always got what he wanted. He was single-minded that way. Women, especially man-killers, didn’t do a thing for him. But Catarina… The moment her soft body had come up against his, the moment he’d touched bare skin, everything hot and wild and hungry in him responded. He wanted her. And he wanted her for himself. Exclusively. That had never happened before.

He looked down at his arms, at the tattoos he’d acquired so painstakingly over the years. He looked rough and mean. He knew that. It served him well to look that way. He deliberately wore his hair longer than most. He served notice to other men just who he was and what he was capable of. Men got the hell out of his way when he was after something. Especially a woman.

Women were easy for him. He didn’t have to work hard at all and that was okay, but it never lasted more than a night or two – not for him anyway. But this woman… She’d burn up in his arms, and it wouldn’t be enough. He got that already just by looking at her. So did every other man who came near her. The difference was, most of them would step back and wait for a signal that was never going to come. That was definitely not the way to handle a woman like Catarina. A man had to take over and be decisive about it.

Catarina felt the weight of Ridley’s gaze on her. She knew he was watching her without even looking up. Her body responded just as if he was standing in front of her. For one moment she felt restless, achy, in need even. That something wild crouched inside of her stretched. Her skin itched. She couldn’t breathe and her skull felt too tight. For one terrible moment, her skin went hot and that terrible burn began between her legs. She could barely breathe with the need and hunger.

Horrified, she dragged off the apron and tossed it to David. “I need a break, just a short one.”

Even here in her sanctuary, the one place she could go and be around others, her past tried hard to drag her down. She was aware of Ridley’s attention settling on her instantly, alertly, but she didn’t so much as glance at him. Her past was too close. Even from a thousand miles away, he was controlling her. She couldn’t look at another man without something inside of her turning ugly.

The book aisles were narrow, the stacks rising from floor to ceiling. She wound her way through them to the back door and pushed it open. The night air hit her face, cool and refreshing, enfolding her in its blanket of darkness. She drew in several deep breaths and stepped outside. The cool air felt good on her skin. She dragged the hat from her hair and sank down onto the steps leading to the back door.

Strangely, she’d always had great night vision, and this last month she’d noticed it had gotten even better. She liked that she could see in the dark. She loved the night. There was an entirely different world going on at night and she was part of it. That made her part of something. And Rafe couldn’t take that away from her.

“Kitten?”

She had to stifle a scream as she twisted, nearly throwing herself off the stairs. Ridley stood behind her, in the doorway, his tall body solid, both terrifying and safe. He stepped next to her and closed the door, sinking down onto the step beside her.

“Are you all right? You went very pale in there.”