Cat's Lair(4)

By: Christine Feehan



To her absolute horror, she banged the door closed again as she threw herself forward and away from him. She nearly ran into the heavy glass, but his hands were suddenly at her waist, gently moving her away from the door.

One moment she was heading for danger; the next he had literally lifted her and put her a foot away from the door.

“Kitten, you’d better let me get that.”

Color rushed up her neck into her face. To her everlasting mortification, she could hear male amusement in his voice. She was an idiot – a tongue-tied idiot – and he’d think she was crazy. Still – she gulped air – that was for the best. He’d just dismiss her, hopefully never look at her again. Not with those eyes. Those beautiful, antique gold eyes. Who had eyes that color?

He pulled the door open and held it, waiting for her to go through. Thankfully she found her legs and moved past him, once again throwing a small, hopefully thankful smile at him over her shoulder. She walked stiffly to the counter and shoved her things beneath it on the other side.

She was absolutely certain someone needed to file away books in the back where no one could see her. Someone else could make the coffee tonight and she’d just go hide.

“Cat, great, you’re here.” David Belmont, the owner of Poetry Slam, threw her an apron. “Get to it, hon. Everyone’s been complaining because apparently my coffee doesn’t taste like yours. I’ve watched you a million times and I do exactly the same thing, but it never comes out like yours.”

“You don’t like making coffee, David,” Catarina replied, and put on her apron. Which she found hilarious because he owned the coffee-house.

The moment she was behind the coffee machine, David moved into position to take orders and money. Clearly there he was in his element, chatting up the customers, remembering their names, talking them into some of the bakery goods sold with the coffee. He even remembered the poetry or short stories they wrote. He was awesome with the customers, and she was awesome with the coffee. They made a great team.

She didn’t look up when anyone ordered. It was part of her strategy to keep in the background. The mouse in the coffee-house. Unfortunately, because she was great at making any type of coffee drink, the customers were aware of her. She was the reigning barista, and the customers had begun to fill the coffee-house nightly.

She had worked hard to learn what she needed to in secret. She read, watched countless videos and committed coffee books to memory. Before that, she’d had to learn to read. She was a little smug about it. Rafe would never, ever think to find her in a bookstore/coffee-house. Never. She was poor little illiterate Catarina.

She kept her eyes on the espresso machine when she heard Ridley give his order in a soft, low tone that set a million butterflies winging in her stomach. She already knew exactly what he wanted, just as she did with most of the regulars. He hadn’t been coming in all that long, but she was aware of every breath he took – just as the other women were. She certainly remembered what he liked for coffee.

She knew exactly where he sat without looking up. He always pulled out a book, usually on mediation or essays from a Zen master, while he drank his coffee. He savored coffee. She’d watched him, sneaking looks of course, and he always had the same expression on his face. She knew she put it there. She might not be a conversationalist, but she made spectacular coffee.

She forced herself to make fifteen more coffees before she looked up. Her gaze collided with his. All that beautiful, perfect, molten gold. She almost fell right into his eyes. She blushed. She knew she did. There was no stopping the color rising into her cheeks. He gave her a faint, sexy smile. She looked down without smiling back, concentrating on her work.

One look and her stomach did a crazy roll. What was wrong with her? She didn’t have physical reactions to men. It was just not okay. She couldn’t ever be stupid enough to wish for a relationship. She’d get someone killed that way. In any case, she’d be too afraid. She didn’t even know what a relationship was.

But he was darned good to look at, she acknowledged with a secret smile. Darned good. The familiar rhythm of the coffee-house settled her nerves. The aroma of coffee and fresh baked goods swept her up into the easy atmosphere. Once the poetry slam started, darkness descended. There was usually little joy in the poems, but she enjoyed them all the same.

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