I struggled in that murky place between sleep and waking, awareness and oblivion. Rolling over to put out the heat licking my back, I groaned. Please God, don’t let the air-conditioner be broken! I couldn’t afford another bill. Hair tickled my nose and cheek. I brushed it away but it came back, stirred no doubt in the breeze of the overhead fan.
I snuggled deeper into my soft mattress, putting off facing another day of frantic unemployment and plain oatmeal. Out of sheer cussedness, the sheets felt clammy against my skin and smelled faintly of dank grass. I blocked the unpleasantness.
It refused to be blocked.
Shaking my head, I struggled to sit up. Nausea chugged up my throat and pink dusted my closed eyes.
While the world bucked and swayed, my brain clasped at the bobbing thoughts. Not my room at all. And… Pictures scrolled inside my head, accompanied by the pounding of gremlins and the rumble of an engine. The park. The dawn. More images—each led to another like pearls on a string. Mr. No Show Personal Trainer. The near splits on the sidewalk, Mr. Parks and Rec and…
And the dead body.
“Oh, God!” I tasted last night’s nuked dinner of shoe-leather parmesan and gagged on the lump before I managed to swallow it down. Some things should only be experienced once, even if they did cost a budget friendly ninety-nine cents.
Stop procrastinating, Rae. Your feet are propped up on a dead body. Another thought hovered in the fog clouding my mind. Its presence lingered like a malevolent stalker, but I couldn’t glimpse more than an impression. Sighing, I opened my eyes and glanced at my feet.
My feet were propped up on a log. Laughter bubbled on my lips. I moved my legs. Rough black bark ripped away from the bone-white trunk and scratched at the exposed skin above my ankles. Good heavens, it had been a dream.
All a dream.
Truck tires crunched gravel. From the corner of my eye, I watched Mr. Parks and Rec drive out of the horseshoe-shaped lot. A few branches and mounds of black garbage bags bounced in the open truck bed. At least, he hadn’t witnessed this humiliation.
I reached up to brush my bangs out of my eyes. Just as my fingers skimmed my forehead, pain blitzed my nervous system. My brain sloshed around and my eyes ping-ponged inside my skull. Idiot! Pulling back, I explored the fringes of the knot.
Mother Goose must have laid an egg on my forehead, when I’d tripped. But why had I fallen? I was much too careful to stumble over a tree. I glared at the large limb, basking in the dawn like a black and white crocodile on the river of green.
Obviously my rational mind had been affected by frustration. It couldn’t be Karma. Nothing I’d done would deserve this. And now my body would have to pay the price on the long slog back to my condo. I set my hands on the ground. Muck oozed between my fingers. As I levered myself up, static crackled inside my skull. The world dipped and swayed on the personal Tilt-A-Whirl that made up my equilibrium.
Ugh! Maybe I could unscrew my head and pack it in foam, before attempting to stand again. Maybe Prince Charming would ride to my rescue and carry me home.
What I wouldn’t give for a do-over. I closed my eyes, while my insides quivered in the aftershocks of my movements. The battle of the metal bands raging inside my skull prevented any thinking—positive or otherwise. How on Earth could I walk from here to my condo without moving?
Fly? Like that was going to happen. I sighed and my chin dipped. The world shuddered, measuring about twelve on the Richter scale. “Oh, God!”
“Women usually only call me that, after we’ve met.” A man’s voice rasped against my nerve endings.
Smooth, rich and deep, just the way I liked my chocolate. Had the head banging caused hallucinations? A shadow blocked out the pink sunlight shining across my closed lids moments before an acrid odor mingled with a musky scent. Male. My nose twitched.
My imagination wasn’t good enough to conjure up a picture.
Maybe I’d switch from positive thinking to positively avoiding more than my quota of bad events.
Grass shushed and the shadow fell away from my eyes.
Had he left? No, I turned my head slightly. A punk metal band joined the jamboree inside my skull. Still my ears didn’t detect any sound. Yet I felt him move closer. Man, the guy was quiet.
“Can you open your eyes, obecht?”
Obecht. The exotic word swirled around me and sliced through the pounding. Did it mean my love, or beautiful, or honey bunch? Fingers swept over my brow. How I dreamed of having a man’s caresses explore my dips and curves as if he were an artist and I his greatest sculpture. Calloused fingertips traced my cheek then ran lightly over my jaw. Pleasure skittered through me, sowing warmth that liquefied my muscles.
Part of me screamed to fight the spell he’d woven around me and reminded me that I was alone in the park at dawn. Primetime crime hour. For once, I could see why others found the rational part of me annoying. Besides, I needed help to get home.
“Obecht, you must open your eyes.” Steel laced the velvet chocolate voice. His touches morphed into insistent probes. One finger lifted my eyelid.
Light penetrated my skull, obliterating my view. Fear shoved into the vacant spaces created by my blindness. Could a whack on the head really knock the sense from me? I pulled free of his touch. Once I was certain I wouldn’t vomit, I opened my eyes. My heart thumped against my ribs.
The man was a shadow, no discerning features at all. Adrenalin chased fear’s chill from my skin. I had to get out of here. Back to the safety of my condo. To the presence of other people. Flattening my palms against the gunk on the ground, I pushed myself up. My muscles wobbled and I landed with a splat. Oops, I’d forgotten the whole ‘needing help’ bit.
“Easy.” He shifted, not further away as my fear wanted but closer to me. So close, I felt the heat emanating from his skin. “I’m just going to support you so you don’t sustain further injury. Okay?”
My stomach performed crazy acrobatics, while the world spun. I could use support. I could use a lift home. I blinked in the dim light and made out his broad shouldered silhouette.
I had asked for help.
And here it was.
Something told me I would never get home if I refused it. “Okay.”
“Let me know when you’ve recovered.” The deep timbre of his voice blanketed my fear like a balm and his arm settled around my shoulders. His fingers stroked my spine briefly, before tickling my nape and slipping under my hair to massage my scalp.
Hmm. That felt nice. The vestiges of my fear melted away, leaving only a building ache inside me. When was the last time a man had taken care of me? I wasn’t surprised when my memories turned up empty. Maybe being strong and independent was overrated, if it deprived me of massages.
Even if they were by a complete stranger who banished rational thoughts with his caresses and held me awfully close. A fissure of alarm bubbled up. Stranger, smanger. Someone who smelled like sunshine and soap couldn’t be all bad.
“We’ll just stay right here, until the nausea passes.” Peppermint-scented words stirred the hair on my neck.
“Nausea?” Was that my voice? It sounded a bit rusty and lower than normal. It definitely didn’t match the one inside my head. And just what had the man seen? Good grief! Didn’t witnesses to my humiliation have an occupancy limit?
“You’ve got a knot on your forehead.” His fingers gently combed through my hair.
I wanted to ask if he’d been watching me, but couldn’t summon the words. Instead I focused on the pleasure hemming in the pain. I could play Damsel in Distress.
“You didn’t pass out, did you?”
A glimmer of self-preservation stopped me, before I nodded. “I don’t know. I definitely had the wind knocked out of me.”
I straightened then waited for my head to settle on an even keel. Never had I been this affected by a simple fall. What if my brain was swelling? What if I went to bed and woke up dead? Should I call for an ambulance? See a doctor? Crap on a cracker! I didn’t have insurance to pay for an emergency room visit and there was the matter of getting there. I seriously doubted I should drive, even if I owned a car.
But I wasn’t helpless; I could Dial-a-Ride. Phone. I patted the flat pockets of my shorts. My cell must have slipped out, when I’d tripped. But where had it gone?
His arm fell away from my shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“Phone.” I brushed the grass near my bottom. Please God, don’t let it have gotten far. I opened my eyes, glanced down and tasted again the onion bagel I’d eaten two weeks ago. Note to self: stop moving head. And just how was I supposed to search for my phone?
“Is it purple?”
My hero. Relief tumbled through me. How many purple cell phones could there be near me? I caught myself before I nodded. “Yes.”
“Here.” Warm fingers curled around mine.
“Thank you.” Seconds later the sleek casing slipped against my palm. Flipping it open, I raised it to eye level. The screen remained dark. My thumb pressed the volume button. Nothing. “Son of a—”
“You can say it.” Soft chuckles drifted on the pearly dawn. “I’m a big boy. I’ve heard lots of words.”
I resisted the urge to look at him. Barely. He’d have to be damn good looking for me to weather another skullquake. “Monkey’s butt!”
He choked mid-laugh. “Monkey’s butt? Is that even possible?”
Maybe not. But it was better than dropping a dollar I didn’t have into the swear jar. It wasn’t even as satisfying as swearing, but it was part of my new self-improvement regime. I snapped my cell phone closed and groped my leg before shoving the thing into a pocket. “You’d be surprised at the advances made in medical science.”
Or not. I would though. I hated science, medical or otherwise. Still, he didn’t need to know that my language could turn a sailor’s ears red. Just one of the many things I learned, when my parent’s moved to that commune near the oil fields in Oklahoma.
“I’ll take your word for it.” He cupped my chin. Gently but firmly, he turned my face to the pink sunrise. With his features still in shadow, he leaned closer. “Aside from a few cuts and bruises, I don’t think you have any other injures.”
Cuts. Bruises. That sounded quite manageable. It was the gremlins playing bass and drums in my head that complicated things. Like walking. Moving.
“Can you open your eyes for me?”
“My eyes?” I thought they were open. I could see him. Well, the shadows filling him at least.
“Widen your eyes, I mean. I need to check your pupils. See if you have a concussion.” A butterfly touch landed on my eyebrow. He exerted a little pressure and light flooded in.
Bile rose up my throat. The light hurt but at least this time my brain didn’t try to squeeze out the back of my head. Focus on something else. Like him. Thoughts of him calmed me more than a roomful of lavender. “Are you a doctor?”
With a voice like that, I wouldn’t mind playing doctor with him.
“Once upon a time I was a medic.”
Close enough. I had an impression of a strong jaw, before white light shone from his hand. I tried to blink but he held my eye open. The brightness seemed to brand the inside of my skull. My stomach cramped. After a calming breath, it eased. I switched my attention back to him. “You were a soldier?”
“Yes.” The light slid out of my eyes then rushed back.
Again, I tried to wince. He held my eye open and drew closer. His breath washed over my face. Minty fresh breath. I could get used to this. Even the pain seemed to have dulled.
“You have a beautiful soul.” He released one eye to focus on the other.
“Soul?” Had I blacked out and missed part of the conversation? Another alarm thrilled low inside me. Was it possible to hit my head so hard, my brain had to rewire itself?
“The eyes tell me.” Amusement lightened the serious tone of his words. “They’re the windows to the soul, you know.”
Ahh. That sounded familiar. “I’ve heard that before.”
“I’ll bet lots of males will say anything to peer into those beautiful brown eyes of yours.” He clicked the light off and released my eyelid but his fingers skimmed my cheek to trace my jaw before falling away.
Pleasure warmed me like summer sunshine. I closed my eyes, giving my vision time to adjust to the new light level. “You think I have beautiful eyes?”
“More than beautiful.” Sowing goosebumps in their wake, his hands skimmed down my arms to toy with my ring finger. “But obviously no one has convinced you, yet.”
Wow! I shivered and the brain bands cranked up the volume. I could deal with that. My special order hero was actually flirting with me. Should I flirt back? Did I even remember how?
He shifted, moving between me and the eyeball skewering light of the dawn.
Good heavens. Where had this guy been all my life?
“Can you stand?” His hand eased back up my forearm to cup my elbow.
Stand. Walk. I raised my chin. If he kept flirting with me, I could samba. The world shimmied and shook to the bass pulsing inside my head. Okay, maybe the dancing was a bit optimistic. Still, I’d have to move if I wanted to get home. “I think so.”
“Good. I’m going to shift to your side, wrap my arm around your waist then we’ll see if we can get you on your feet.”
The royal we. I hated when health care workers used it, like they shared a patient’s suffering. Still… There was no way I could stand on my own. And he said it in that yummy voice. “Okay.”
True to his word, he shifted to my right. Fire trailed in his fingers’ wake as they skimmed my waist.
I sucked in my gut. Maybe he wouldn’t notice the pooch I’d acquired since hitting the big three-oh, two months ago.
He paused before cupping my hip. “Sorry if I hurt you.”
“Nuh-uh.” Obviously the bump on my head had affected my ability to multitask. Of course, I’d always been tongue-tied around men. As my hand crept around his narrow waist, I felt the play of muscles under my palm. Lordy, the man was ripped.
“Let me know when you’re ready to stand.”
“Okay.” When he didn’t begin to rise with me, I turned to look at him. Despite the rockets of agony, my heart stilled in my chest. I knew that chiseled jaw, straight nose and jet hair with a single lock hanging over his cafe-au-lait brow.
My personal hero was none other than my condominium complex’s own Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Latino.
And he was touching me, holding me. Oh, man. Oh, mama. Air rushed out of my lungs in a gurgle.
He peered down at me. Sunlight glinted off the cobalt blue depths of his eyes and danced over the soft lines radiating from the corners. “Perhaps you should sit a bit longer.”
He caught me against him, thigh to thigh and chest to breasts. Tingles zinged through me and a soft humming joined the banging inside my head. Oh, baby.
With his free hand he tucked a lock of my hair behind my ear. “Maybe I should carry you.”
Carry me. Marry me. Rational Rae might stick obsessively to her plans, but Lusting Rae could be flexible. My palm molded the contours of his firm pecs. “Umm.”
Conversation was not my strong suit.
Hash marks appeared over the bridge of his nose. “Are you quite certain you’re okay? You’re alternately pale and flushing.”
“I—” I bit my lip before I confessed my lust. Embarrassment heated my cheeks as he continued to stare down at me. I studied his clean shaven jaw. Great. Not only was the man gorgeous and caring, he actually wanted to hear what I had to say. “I’m just not used to being so…so helpless.”
What a lame excuse. The truth threatened to leap from my tongue. I peeked at him through my lashes.
His eyebrows rose and his jaw went slack for a moment. “You’re not helpless. You’re hurt. There’s a big difference.”
I swallowed my confession. It would be rude to hurl his sympathy back at him. Besides, I was an adult. I could control my lust. As I straightened, my body slid against his. Heat blossomed inside my belly. At least, I hoped I could control my lust. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” He smiled.
Butterflies emerged from the heat building inside me.
“Shall we see about getting you home?”
Home. For a moment, the thought of my bed and condo eclipsed even his allure. I nodded and my body folded over just as cramps wrung my stomach.
Crap! I’d forgotten my mental note.
Vomit splattered his grass-stained running shoes and oozed onto the trampled vegetation. Embarrassment set my cheeks aflame and the burn spread down my chest. This was not how I envisioned meeting my dream man.
“That’s good.” His fingers skimmed my ear as he gathered my hair at my nape. “Let it out.”
I blinked at the tears stinging my eyes. Good heavens, could the guy get any more perfect? Saliva flooded my mouth the moment my stomach stopped trying to turn inside out, and I spit out the bitter taste.
With his free hand, he rubbed the small of my back. “Feel better?”
Not even close and this time it didn’t have anything to do with the bump on my noggin or the cacophony trapped inside my head. “Sorry about your shoes.”
He lifted one and shook off the goo still clinging to it. “I didn’t like them much anyway.”
Swallowing hard, I squeezed my eyes closed, blocking out the stringy mass. Should I offer to replace his shoes or wash them? One might put a dent in my dwindling savings while the other… The other would provide an opportunity to see him again. One where I could show off to a better advantage. Of course, I don’t actually do the laundry in pearls and a cocktail dress but I could make an exception in his case.
“I could wash them for you.”
The hand on my back stilled. “Why don’t we see about getting you home first?”
I wisely refrained from nodding but cleared my throat. The sour taste still coated my tongue. Oh, for a drink of water. Bracing my hands on my knees, I took a deep breath. “I’m going to try to stand on my own now.”
His hand left my back to hold my elbow. “Take it slow.”
At the moment, I seriously doubted I had any other speed. Still, it felt nice to have someone looking out for me. Vertebrae by vertebrae, I straightened until I stood upright. Too bad the rest of the world kept moving. My stomach clenched again. If I kept vomiting, I’d soon be throwing up things I’d eaten as a toddler.
“Try and focus on a point far away.” His arm encircled my waist and held me against his muscled chest.
I would have enjoyed it more without the skullquake.
“It might help with the nausea.”
Yeah, except that would require lifting my chin. Right now, staring at the ground seemed the safest choice for both my stomach and his shoes. “Where’s your car?”
Please be close. I slid my right foot along the matted vegetation and shifted my weight to follow. The motion transmitted up to my skull. Ugh. I had forgotten the ankle bone was connected directly to the skull bone.
“Unfortunately, it’s at my house.”
Okay. I dragged my left foot forward. I raised my head a quarter of an inch. We were about five feet from the yellow concrete poles opening onto my street. Once I cleared them I had maybe two hundred yards before I reached the condos and another fifty feet of twisting paths to my front door.
Maybe I’d make it home before the sunset.
I sighed and swallowed the bile pushing up my throat. And there was still the matter of feeding my neighbor’s cat.
“It’s not far.” His grip tightened. “I live at Oasis Springs Condominiums. Just up the road.”
“I know.” I tripped over a pebble. Geez, now the man would think I was stalking him.
“I thought you looked familiar.”
The words barely penetrated the skull bands’ din before I felt the pressure against the back of my knees. In one swoop, he scooped me up and cradled me against his chest. Looping my arms around his neck, I clung to him. The motion wasn’t too bad.
He hitched me a little higher against him. His forearm cut across my back while his fingers teased the bottom of my sports bra.
My breasts tightened to hard peaks. Oh man, oh mama.
“Yeah.” Maybe. The Fates must be rolling on the floor clutching their sides from laughing so hard. I’d dreamed of being in his arms all week and now that I was, I couldn’t exactly enjoy it.
“I’m going to start walking now. Let me know if I need to go slower.” His steps whispered through the grass and weeds.
The corpuscle cymbals crashed at the same rhythm and decibel level. “I can handle this pace.”
“Wait until we get onto the sidewalk and we’ll see how it goes.”
Cautious, heroic and strong. I wasn’t a stick insect thin yet he didn’t seem to be breathing hard. Of course, we hadn’t gone five feet. “Let me know when I get too heavy.”
“You? Heavy?” He twisted to ease through the concrete pilings. “I doubt that could happen.”
Wow, if he kept talking like that I’d slip right out of lust and into love. Gravel crunched under his sneakers and each step transmitted through him and out the top of my head. Two hundred yards. I could make it.
“How you doing?”
“Good.” I strained the word through my clenched teeth. As long as I don’t move too much. I managed to raise my head enough to keep his shoulder within sight. His freshly-shaven chin appeared in my peripheral vision. He had a nice chin. If it had a cleft, it would be perfect.
He followed the curved road. Cicadas sang in the Palo Verdes drooping along the sidewalk. Their red-brown pods rustled in the breeze. One hundred seventy-five yards to go.
Silence ballooned in the space between me and him. I groped for words to fill the gaps. His muscles trembled against my back. “I’m sorry to be such a burden.”
“I’m not sorry.” He cleared his throat and his fingers dug a little into my leg. “I noticed you about a week ago and was working up the nerve to talk to you when I stumbled across you this morning.”
His voice wobbled a bit on the end. Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Latino had to work up the nerve to talk to me? How could someone this good-looking be shy?
“Now I don’t have to worry about asking for your phone number, I get to take you home.”
I blinked. Cool beans! All that positive thinking was paying off. Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Latino was interested in me. I stroked the silky black hair at his neck before I caught myself.
We’d reached the wrought iron fence circling the complex. Card activated gates blocked vehicles from entering the parking strip rimming the units but the pedestrian entrance swung open on silent hinges in the breeze.
A bead of sweat plopped onto my shirt and an occasional gasp swirled past my ear.
“If you could take me to 2557, I’d appreciate it.”
“2557.” He huffed and angled through the opening. Eucalyptus trees towered over us. Their round silvery leaves tumbled to the sidewalk. “No problem.”
A chill washed down my spine at the transition from sunshine to shade. “Which unit did you buy?”
“2972.” He slowed as he passed the placard with the units’ numbers. “Or 2792. I forget.”
He forgot where he lived? “That could be awkward since all the units look alike. You might accidentally walk into the wrong condo.”
Too bad it hadn’t been mine.
“Yeah, it’s a pain being dyslexic.” When the path forked he took the right branch. “Fortunately, I navigate using landmarks. There’s a purple bush next to my door and a thorny one with red flowers next to that.”
I smiled. Finally, a man who adapted to the world and didn’t demand it change to suit him. Maybe I should put a Justice of the Peace on speed dial. “The condo is just up ahead. First door on the right.”
“Got it.” Within a minute he’d reached the entrance. “I’m going to set you down now.”
“I’m ready.” I gritted my teeth.
Slowly, he lowered my knees. A moment passed then another. One hand settled on my hip, the other caressed my jaw. His warm breath stirred my bangs as he leaned into me. “How do you feel?”
“Not too bad.” Aside from the Caribbean band playing bongos. I might feel better with a kiss or two. Of course, I’d have to tilt my head back to do it. I licked my lips. Or I could invite him inside, push him onto the couch and sit on his lap. Would he wait until after I fed Vivian’s cat and we walked to the next group of units over to my place? Only one way to find out. “Look I—”
“Rae!” A woman yelled.
Sherbet! I turned my body toward the sound.
Ms. Roberts jabbed her cane in my direction. Water dripped off her bathing suit and pooled on the sidewalk. “You tell Oscar to stop making all that racket. I pay good money to live here and I expect to be able to hear my soaps without him carrying on.”
“Yes, Ms. Roberts.” I straightened. I’d tell Oscar the grouchy cat but I doubted the fur ball would listen any more than he had since my cat-sitting stint began a week ago.
The stooped, old woman thumped her cane on the sidewalk. “See that you do.”
I glanced at her.
She glared back.
I wasn’t in the mood for a staring contest with a crotchety octogenarian. Sighing, I turned back to my rescuer. “Well…”
I’d invite him in, but the Roberts’ tattler would snitch on me and Vivian was most particular about who she let inside her house.
My hero cocked an eyebrow. His lips thinned for a moment. “Oscar?”
“It’s a long story.” I tugged on the black cord rubbing against my neck. Keys jingled as they came free of my sports bra. “I’d love to tell you about it over dinner.”
His gaze cut to Ms. Roberts. “Sure. You know where I live.”
Without another word, he spun on his heel and stalked away.
I raised my hand. Crap on a cracker. I hadn’t gotten his name. And I didn’t really know where he lived. But I could find it. I would find it. And we would have dinner together. And—
“You shouldn’t let a man lay his hands on you, Rae.” Ms. Roberts’ gray curls bounced against her pink scalp. “In my day, we didn’t have a choice, but your generation does.”
Lay hands on me? I ducked to lift the keys from around my neck and a wave of nausea burst over me. Oh Lord. Ms. Roberts thought Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Latino had hit me. I would have laughed but that would have hurt. Leaving the cord around my neck, I bent my knees and inserted the key into the deadbolt. “Yes ma’am.”
“Humph.” Ms. Roberts shuffled back to the pool accompanied by the rhythm of her thumping cane.
The condo’s door swung open and a rush of air-conditioned air sowed goosebumps on my exposed skin.
Oscar lounged on the back of the chintz sofa edging the tiled foyer. Yellow-green eyes narrowed to slits and his bushy gray tail curled and uncurled in agitation.
“Yeah. I know. I’m late.” I kicked the door shut and dropped the keys. The cord cut across my nape as they jangled to a stop between my breasts.
Oscar turned to look at his dish sitting on the kitchen island’s granite countertop.
Toeing out of my sneakers, I padded across the pristine white foyer and veered to the left into the galley kitchen. Pewter knobs and handles gleamed on the cherry cabinets as the recessed halogen lighting blinked on. If Vivian wasn’t such a fussy person, I’d stretch out on her designer sofa and take a nap.
“Rowrr.” Oscar scolded, stretching along the sofa back.
Remembering to turn my body along with my head, I eyed the gray striped cat. He was as big a snitch as Ms. Roberts, even if he couldn’t talk. I eased to a stop near the can of cat food sitting next to the stainless steel gas range and peeled off the sticky with the word Friday in red sharpie. Oscar was probably already collecting evidence that I’d fed him his entrees out of order. “With the day I’ve had, you’re lucky I showed up.”
Oscar hunched down before leaping the four feet from the arm of the sofa onto the island counter. He nudged his water dish. Bits of food rolled in the rippling water.
“Yeah. Yeah. Food and water.” I popped the top of the gourmet cat food and upended the can into the appropriate dish. Bossed around by a cat. My life certainly hadn’t gone the way I planned.
Oscar stuck his head in the dish and shoved against the can.
But then I was getting paid a hundred dollars to look after Vivian’s precious baby.
“Hold your horses.” I whacked the bottom of the can and the wet pate splatted out.
Oscar reared back. His pink tongue curled over his nose and licked off the dots of gravy.
I lifted the can and rinsed it out in the island sink. Sliding open the specially designed cabinet, I tossed it into the recycling container. The steel rattled against the others inside.
Still eying his water dish, Oscar lapped at the gravy circling the pate.
“Yeah, I get it. You’re thirsty.” Welcome to the club. I licked my dry lips and padded to the refrigerator. Too bad I couldn’t drink one of the bottles of water. But like everything else, Vivian had numbered those too. I plucked the half-empty designer container from its place amongst the ordered regiment then carefully made my way back to the island.
After emptying and rinsing the water dish, I twisted the plastic cap off. Of course, there was nothing to say that I couldn’t finish off this bottle and give the kitty tap water.
Oscar looked up at me and flattened his ears.
Okay, there was his foul temper. No point in adding nasty scratches to the bump on my head. I dumped the water into his dish. “See, I didn’t do it.”
He hunkered lower onto the counter.
Geez was he judgmental. I chucked the empty into the recycle bin and watched the cabinet glide silently closed. “Thoughts don’t count.”
Like I needed this. Wiping my hands on my shorts, I glared back at him. “If that’s your attitude, I’m leaving.”
His tail swished.
Ungrateful creature. I retraced my path to the foyer and stepped into my sneakers. The backs folded under the weight of my heels but I didn’t care. I didn’t have too far to go to get home.
“Oscar, really. I don’t feel up to dealing with your male-diva attitude now.” I set my hand on the door knob just as the hair on the back of my neck prickled.
A moment later, a hand covered my mouth and a body slammed me into the door. I hit my forehead. Stars danced in front of my eyes before winking out.
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