Now that was just what her bloody reputation needed. More wounds. Thanks, Jim.
Jimmy’s eyes narrowed on her as if he knew what she was thinking. “It’s your ass now, Sue. I did my best to save it. You can do what you want, but I’m out of here.”
Before she could say anything more, he left her standing alone in the room… and returned the cat cage to the floor by her feet.
As she dabbed at her nose, the door opened to show her Angie, who stared at her with a frown. She entered the room and shut the door behind her. “What did you say to Jimmy?”
“Nothing really. Why?”
“He wants me to leave with him right now.”
Susan sighed at the fear in her friend’s voice. “Did he tell you what was going on?”
She shook her head. “Not exactly. He said too many people were missing and dying and that he’s terrified that the ones responsible will come after him next. He wants us to head out for his parents’ house in Oregon.”
“Did he also tell you about the vampires?”
“The what?” By Angie’s face, Susan could tell that Jimmy hadn’t shared that bit of information with his wife.
“Yeah. According to him, the vampires are out to kill all of us off. No offense, Ang. I think Jimmy needs some help. Has he been doing a lot of overtime?”
Anger flared deep in Angie’s eyes. “Jimmy’s not crazy, Sue. Not by a long shot.”
Maybe, but she didn’t want to argue with her friend. “Yeah, well, thanks for the hot news tip.”
As she started for the door, Angie stopped her. “Here. Take the cat with you.”
She gaped. “Excuse me?”
“Please. For whatever reason, Jimmy is terrified. Take the cat to keep up appearances and I’ll come by and pick him up after work.”
Sue cringed at the thought, but she would do anything for her best friend. “All right, but you owe me. Big-time.”
Growling low in her throat, Susan picked up the box and followed Angie to the counter out front.
Angie handed her some papers while she wrote out a check for the adoption fees. “Now don’t forget to spend time with him until he gets used to you.” She was back to being stilted and odd again.
“Hope you enjoy your new pet,” the receptionist called.
Yeah, when pigs fly. “Thanks,” Susan said with a smile so fake, it would make a politician proud.
Sneezing again, she headed for her car and set the cage in the backseat. “Thanks a lot, Puss in Boots,” she said as she eyed him with malice. “I hope you seriously appreciate the misery I’m enduring for you.”
Angie watched as Susan pulled out of the parking lot and headed south toward her house. Releasing a relieved breath, she turned to see Jimmy motioning for her on the other side of the door that led to the employees only area of the shelter.
One minute, she mouthed to him.
She was just about to grab her coat from behind the counter when she saw Theo heading straight for her. His handsome face was paler than normal as he slammed the door shut from the cat room. Two seconds later, his assistant, Darrin, came out of the cat room just behind him.
Theo’s dark brown eyes were flaming angry. “Where is he?” Theo demanded as he stopped in front of her.
Angie was baffled by his anger and accusing tone. “Who?”
“The cat.” He spat those words at her as if they were evil. “The one that was brought in early this morning. Where the hell is he?”
“Is that the one that was just adopted?”
Angie cringed as the receptionist spoke. “Is there a problem with him?”
Theo and Darrin exchanged a hostile glare. “Yes. He’s feral.”
“Oh.” Angie started to say she’d go get the cat back when she saw Jimmy making odd gestures at her through the door. It looked like he was telling her to run toward him. She frowned at her husband.
Theo turned to see what she was looking at. Jimmy dropped his hands and tried to look nonchalant.
Something dark descended over Theo’s face as it turned to stone. “Darrin?”
“Lock the door and shut the blinds.”
Ravyn wasn’t sure if he should be happy or not by his rescue. One thing was certain, he’d be a whole hell of a lot more grateful had his rescuer not put him in direct sunlight on her backseat. The painful rays forced him to cower in a corner, and cowering wasn’t something he relished.
He sniffed the air. Damn. Was that his fur getting singed? Of course it was… what would make him think for one minute that it wasn’t him getting burned?
Nothing was worse than to have burning hair and a heightened sense of smell. Well, maybe there was something worse—burning flesh and turning into a pile of flaming ash, which was exactly what he’d be doing if he were in human form.
Okay, on second thought, this was better, but even though he could tolerate the sun as a cat, it still hurt like a mother. He might not burst into flames like this, but if they didn’t get him out of here soon, he would be blistered pretty badly.
“What’s that smell?”
He ground his teeth at Susan’s question. It’s me, genius. He would project that thought out to her if it weren’t for the fact that it would shock him and he’d been shocked enough for one day. Ravyn hissed as sunlight cut across his footpad and blistered it. He jerked his paw and tucked it up under him.
His head was throbbing and honestly, he didn’t know how much longer he could maintain his form or hold back his magick. Time was running out for him.
“Is that you, Puss in Boots?”
Ravyn glared at her as she stopped for a red light. Irritation at her aside, she was rather cute in a very girl-next-door kind of way. Not a knockout by any means, but wholesomely pretty. With dark blond hair and bright blue eyes, she looked like she should be on a farm somewhere, tending a dozen or so kids. There was something about her that reminded him of a no-nonsense Mennonite woman. She wasn’t wearing any makeup and her hair was pulled back into a ponytail. If it were down, it’d probably fall just below her shoulders—the same length as his.
She rolled down the car windows. “Gah, what did you eat, Puss in Boots? I’m thinking I shouldn’t have taken that Benadryl. A stopped-up nose would definitely improve this aromatic nightmare. Someone shoot me.”
Oh, to have the ability to speak as a human right about now… Get me out of the sunlight, lady, and we’ll both be a hell of a lot happier.
Ravyn tried to swallow only to learn that he couldn’t because the collar was suddenly constricting his throat. His body was starting to grow again even with the ionic inhibitors of the collar that were keeping him in small-cat form. Since it wasn’t his natural form and it was daylight, his body wanted to return to being human, and before much longer he would switch back whether he wanted to or not.
If he were still wearing the collar when the change came, it would kill him.
Susan jerked as she heard what seemed to be a man’s voice in her head. It was followed by the cat hissing in the backseat.
“Great,” she mumbled under her breath. “I’m losing my mind now. Next thing you know, I’ll actually see one of Jimmy’s vampires or, better yet, I’ll buy into Leo’s psychosis.” She shook her head. “Get a grip, Sue. Your sanity’s all you have left and as worthless as it is, you can’t afford to let it go.”
And still she had this prickly feeling on the back of her neck as if her skin were crawling. It was so disturbing. It was as if someone were staring at her, but as she looked around at the traffic, she couldn’t find anyone. Completely unsettled, she closed the windows and wished that she hadn’t left her gun at home this morning.
By the time she pulled into her own driveway, she half-expected something freaky to happen. She wasn’t sure what that freakiness would involve—maybe her Toyota coming alive like Christine or Herbie (which begged the question, if the car could talk would it have a Japanese accent?), or her newly adopted cat talking like Morris, or even one of Jimmy’s vampires waiting in her house.
“I should write fiction,” she mumbled as she pulled the cage with the cat out of the backseat and slammed the car door. “Who knew I had this kind of imagination?”
Yeah, right. She really wasn’t creative at all. Her feet had always been planted firmly on the ground, with her only trips into the fantastic being the occasional Star Wars movie.
As she fumbled with her keys in the front-door lock, the cat started jumping around in the box as if he were in pain. “Stop it, Puss, or I’m going to drop you.”
The cat calmed instantly as if it understood her. Sneezing and miserable, Susan pushed open the door and set the carrier down just to her right before she shut and locked the door. She headed for the Kleenex, intending to keep Puss in Boots in the cage until Angie came to retrieve it, but as she blew her nose, she looked to see the cat crawling out of it.
How had the door come open?
“Hey!” she snapped. “Get back in the box!”
But the cat didn’t listen.
She took a step toward it only to realize that it was acting strangely. The cat could barely walk and appeared to be choking. It fell down and rolled to its side.
Her heart stopped beating. “Oh, don’t you dare die on me. Angie’ll kill me. She’ll never believe I didn’t do something to kill you.”
Wiping her nose, she crossed the room in short strides to reach for the lump of fur. Its breathing was labored and pain filled.
What on earth could be wrong with him?
It was then she realized that the cat’s collar was extremely tight on its neck. Poor Puss appeared to be asphyxiating. “Okay,” she said calmly. “Let’s get this thing off you.” She reached for the latch only to realize that it didn’t have a buckle.
Susan frowned. What on earth?
“Pull at it. Hard.”
It was that same deep, masculine voice in her head and it coincided with the cat hissing and squirming as if in even more pain.
“Just relax,” she said soothingly as she grabbed the collar and pulled. What the hell? Maybe the weird voice knew something she didn’t.
At first the collar seemed to tighten even more, causing the cat to wheeze and choke. Susan pulled at the collar with all her strength. Just when she was sure it was useless, the collar snapped in half with a foreign surge of electricity so powerful, it actually knocked her back three feet.
Cursing, she righted herself, then froze as she caught sight of the cat, which was growing on the carpet, right before her eyes. In a matter of heartbeats, it went from small house cat to full leopard size.
And still it writhed on the floor as if it were in agony.
She flinched at the man’s voice in her head. Far from a coward, she moved forward… at least until all hell broke loose. Lightning shot from the ceiling and rebounded all over her room, shattering frames and breaking lightbulbs. The hair on her body stood up on ends as the air was rife with static electricity that snapped in her ears.
The leopard let out a feral snarl as it clawed at her carpet.
Unsure of what to do and unable to get to her gun since the cat was between her and the staircase, Susan took cover behind her couch as more lightning flashed and the windows rattled so badly that she wasn’t even sure why they hadn’t shattered. She shrieked as a bolt came dangerously close to her, making her hair stand on end in what she was sure was a truly attractive sight.
Just as she thought her house would ignite into flames from the powerful bursts, the lightning stopped abruptly. It was eerily quiet as she sat cringing with her hands over her ears. So quiet that all she could hear was the pounding of her own heart. The heaviness of her own breathing.
She half-expected the lightning to return.
But after a minute of waiting with nothing else running amok, she dared a glance over the back of the couch to discover the most incredible thing of all had happened…
Her leopard was gone and in its place was a naked man.
I have got to be dreaming ….
But if she were, wouldn’t she have given herself a better house than this?
Ignoring that thought, she narrowed her eyes. The man lay unmoving on her dark green carpet. From her angle, all she could see was a well-muscled backside with a strange double bow and arrow tattoo on his left shoulder blade. Long black wavy hair was plastered against his damp body and he had the nicest naked butt she’d ever seen in real life.
Granted he looked mighty fine lying there, but then Ted Bundy hadn’t been hard on the eyes, either.
Susan grabbed the closest thing she had to a weapon—her table lamp that had fallen over during the chaos—and crouched low, waiting for him to move.
He just lay there so still and quiet she wasn’t even sure he was alive.
With her heart lodged firmly in her throat, she unscrewed the lamp shade and crept closer to him.
“Hey?” she said sharply. “You alive?”
He didn’t respond.
Preparing to run just in case he was faking, she poked him with the tip of the lamp. Okay, I’ve seen this movie before, she thought. Hapless moron sticks head over unconscious body to check vital signs and the bad guy opens his eyes and grabs her.
She wasn’t about to fall for that. So she decided to creep around to the front of him.
Still, he didn’t move. “Hey,” she tried again, poking him with the lamp.
Nothing but a body so prime that it made her want to take a bite out of it to see if he tasted as good as he looked. Stop it, Sue! She had much more important things to think about than how good he looked naked.
Susan narrowed her eyes as she sat back on her heels. It was hard to get those thoughts out of her head. He had a long, lean body that was dusted with short black hairs and lean, hard muscles that let her know he would be extremely formidable while awake. He was well over six feet tall and there was something about him, even while out cold, that said he wasn’t meek or mild.
A body like his wasn’t something a woman came up against often. In more ways than one. He was all tanned flesh from tip to toe. But what captured her attention was the beauty of his hands. He had elegant, strong fingers and the palm of his right hand appeared to be blistered.
How absolutely odd. But that wasn’t what concerned her. The fact that he was on her floor did.
Ready to whack him hard if he moved, she used the lamp to roll him over onto his back. Something that wasn’t exactly easy to do, since he appeared to weigh a small ton, but eventually she had him there. His long hair completely obscured his face even though the rest of him was laid out bare to her gaze.
Feeling a teensy bit better that he hadn’t made any moves to grab her, she crept closer. So close that she could finally touch that delectable skin. Susan frowned as she saw a line of awful bruising around his neck—like the cat might have had from the collar…
She wasn’t sure if that comforted her or scared her. Lowering the lamp, she reached to touch the bruised area so that she could feel for his pulse. God, he had a sexy neck. The kind a woman dreamed about teasing between her teeth.