Cat's Lair(5)

By: Christine Feehan

Bernard Casey, a regular who was usually first up at the microphone, accepted his caramel macchiato from David, took one sip, and pushed his head over the counter the way he did each evening.

“Hey, coffee woman. Heaven again.”

She shot him a smile. It was safe to smile at Bernard. He loved coffee, his poems and little else. “Hey coffee man, glad you think so.” He only looked at her once a day, and that was when he gave her the nightly compliment.

It was their standard greeting. Bernard waved and settled at his usual table right in front of the microphone, making certain he would be the first and last poet of the night.

Ridley observed Catarina over the top of the book he no longer had any interest in. She was beautiful and she was scared. Very scared. She thought she’d managed to downplay her looks, but a man would have to be blind not to see through her baggy clothes and attempts to tame her wild hair.

Her sunglasses didn’t hide the perfection of her skin, and when she took them off and looked at a man with her exotic cobalt blue eyes, the color a deep intense violet at times, ringed with those long dark lashes – well – the punch was low and it was just plain sinful.

And then there was her mouth. Full lips like a cupid’s bow. Turned up at the corners just slightly. Her lower lip could make a man go to his knees and fill his nights with erotic fantasies. When her lips parted and she gave a small, distracted smile, the one that meant she wasn’t seeing you, any man worth his salt couldn’t help but take on that challenge. When she smiled, like she’d just done to Bernard, the strange poet who poured out his feelings for her through his poems, Ridley knew a man would kill for her.

She was nothing at all like he expected her to be. He watched her at the dojo with Malcom during her lessons and training sessions. She was focused. Intelligent, which, when fighting, was important. She was quick, her reflexes good, and she moved with a fluid grace that took his breath away. He wasn’t the only man in the dojo who stopped what he was doing to watch.

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.

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