Cat's Lair(3)

By: Christine Feehan

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.

She turned her head, holding her breath, her smile fading. Her eyes met Ridley’s and the impact was so strong the air rushed from her lungs as if she’d been punched. He had beautiful eyes. Intense. The way he looked at her was intense. Everything about him was intense. And Zen. Very Zen.

She forced herself to nod out of politeness. She knew if she tried to speak she would squeak like a mouse and nothing else would emerge. Ridley Cromer was fine to look at. Daydream about. Even have night fantasies over, but there was no talking. No interaction. Not ever. If all the rest of the world of women were smart, they’d adopt her steadfast rules with him.

“You working tonight or just looking for company?”

His voice was low and sexy. Her pulse beat hard in her throat. She swallowed hard. She’d never had a crush on anyone in her life, but he was standing right in front of her. Towering over her. His eyes smiled and his white teeth flashed. He should be locked up to preserve all women’s virtues.

She shook her head and reached for the door handle. He reached at the same time, his hand settling around hers as she grasped the knob. A shiver of absolute awareness slid down her spine. Curled in her belly. There was a sudden tingle in her breasts and she felt heat gathering in her very core. Not like her night fantasies, where her body burned up, but still…

He didn’t let go of her hand, and she couldn’t remove hers from the doorknob. His touch was light. Gentle. She should have pulled her hand away but she was frozen to the spot. He stepped closer, so close she could feel the heat of his body seeping into hers. He was hot. He radiated heat. His breath was warm on the nape of her neck, and for the first time she wished she’d left her hair down to protect herself.

“It’s Cat, right? Malcom calls you Cat. You’re his favorite student. I’ve never known him to have a favorite. I’m Ridley Cromer.”

She closed her eyes briefly. Thunder roared in her ears. Her brain short-circuited. His voice was pitched so low that it seemed to slide beneath her skin and find its way directly into her bloodstream like some strange new drug. No one touched her. No one dared. He had broken that taboo. She didn’t know how to feel about it.

“You’re quick. Very fast,” he went on, as if she wasn’t the rudest person in the world for not answering him. “I couldn’t help but watch you sparring the other day. You were wiping up the floor with men ranked much higher than you. Men with a lot more experience. It was a thing of beauty.”

A thing of beauty. She would hold that close to her and think about it when she was alone. A compliment. Coming from someone who clearly could best anyone in the dojo, probably including Malcom, it was very high praise. Still, she couldn’t stand there being an absolute idiot.

She finally found her wits and gave the door a desperate twist, flashing what she hoped was a careless smile of thanks over her shoulder at him. She yanked open the door, but found when she stepped back she stepped right into him. Right into him.

His body was as hard as a rock. It was rather like smashing herself against an oak tree. His arms came around her automatically to steady her. The heat radiating from him nearly burned right through her clothes.

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