Cat's Lair(9)

By: Christine Feehan

“I can hear you, Jase,” she answered, without looking up.

“What’s it take?”

She made a mistake in pausing as she made his friend Marty his favorite latte. “I’m sorry?” she said, frowning a little, trying to puzzle out when he meant.

Ridley moved. He put down his book and stared hard at Jase.

“To fuck you. Tell me what it takes. We’re trying to figure that out and you’re giving us nothing.”

The coffee-house went utterly silent. David froze. Catarina blinked and Ridley was behind Jase, one hand on his shoulder. He spun the man around and punched him in the face. He hadn’t pulled back his arm for strength. It was a short punch, but Jase’s head snapped back on his shoulders and his legs turned to rubber. The only thing holding him up was Ridley’s hand on his shoulder.

“Ridley,” Catarina protested softly.

“Don’t speak,” Ridley snapped. “Just get this place shut down.” His eyes moved to each of Jase’s friends. “Either of you two got something you want to say before you leave? Because you’re leaving right now.”

Both took one look at the hard, implacable lines in his face, the smoldering golden eyes, and they shook their heads. Ridley, still holding Jase up, gestured toward the door. Without a word they turned and went out, Ridley trailing them, dragging a rubber-legged Jase with him. He thrust the man at the other two and wasn’t gentle about it.

He shut the door decisively and turned and walked back to his table. Applause broke out. The spectators liked their coffee.

Catarina glared at David, who was clapping along with the others. “You’re not helping. Don’t encourage him. He thinks I need protecting.”

“You do,” David said. “Jase is trouble.”

“I can take care of myself,” she muttered, sending Ridley a look that should have fried him on the spot. Not only did he not appear to fry, he looked a little amused.

She didn’t draw attention to herself. Not ever. Thanks to Ridley the entire room was aware of her as more than the barista, a body behind the coffee machine. She sighed and started the cleaning process. The coffee-house shut down at three and emptied. This time Ridley didn’t leave. He sat in the corner. She glanced up at him and scowled a couple of times, jerking her head toward him when David looked at her.

“He’s got to go, just like any other customer,” she hissed.

“I can hear you just fine,” Ridley said. “I’m walking home with you, so get used to it, Kitten. Just get your work done so we can get out of here.”

“Don’t you have anything better to do?” she demanded.

“No.” He didn’t even look up.

She shook her head, exasperated. Of course Jase would have to act like an ass in front of him and he’d use that to prove his point. She could have handled Jase, no problem.

She accepted her half of the tip money, shoving it into the pocket of her jeans. That much cash made her very happy. It was worth putting up with jerks like Jase until three in the morning to have extra money. She used every little bit she had to get extra lessons from Malcom. She’d been practicing a lot with her gun. That required time at the local range as well as ammunition. It didn’t come cheap.

Ridley fell into step beside her. She shot him a look from under her lashes. “You really don’t have to do this.”

“If you feel as if you owe me something, say thanks.”

“I feel as if I’d like to hit you over the head because clearly you aren’t listening,” she countered. It just burst out of her when she’d promised no sass. No attitude.

Just like earlier, his eyes immediately focused on her. He didn’t slow down. Didn’t miss a step, but suddenly his golden eyes were fixed on her with the same amused speculation. Total interest. And this time there was something else smoldering in his eyes. Something hot and sexy that sent a wave of fire rushing through her body, burning through her nerve endings and centering squarely between her legs like the hottest fireball imaginable.

Her breath hitched in her lungs. She kept her eyes on the sidewalk, shocked. Embarrassed. Terrified. He brought out something wild in her. Something uninhibited. Something she wanted no part of.

“I’m listening, woman. I’ll always listen to anything you have to say. You’re just talking a lot of crap right now so I’m dismissing what you have to say as the crap it is. Jase and his friends could just as easily be waiting for you. You don’t want them following you home, knowing where you live.”

“I’d know. I always know. I’ve been followed before and I handled it.”