LENGTH: 15,883 words
Dale Thomason isn’t much of a cat person. In fact, he doesn’t particularly care for animals of any kind. Or people either, for that matter. A food critic for the local press, he dines out on the company tab without the hassle of going on a date. His sex life is non-existent, particularly when compared to that of his bisexual BFF, Jill.
When a stray orange tomcat brazenly follows Dale home one night, he calls Jill to come rid his apartment of the feline terror. But he can’t seem to keep the cat out of his home, and the next time it comes inside, Jill isn’t there to rescue him, so he lets it stay.
That night Dale has the sexiest, most vivid dream starring the hot new redhead who just moved into the apartment across from his.
In the morning, the cat has mysteriously vanished and Dale is left reeling from the wet dream. Did he imagine the whole thing? Or does his new neighbor harbor a furry secret?
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Halfway up his walk, he stopped in mid-step and stared at the large, fat, orange and white tabby cat now sitting on his stoop. Blocking his door.
“Shoo,” he tried.
The cat blinked at him as if amused.
He tried again. “Get off, you. Get.”
No luck. The cat sank down on all fours, watching him, as if it could hear the sudden pounding of his heart. Had he mentioned he wasn’t a cat person? They set him on edge -- they were too fast, too stealthy, too unpredictable.
“Come on,” he pleaded, taking a step nearer.
The cat’s ears swiveled, but otherwise, it didn’t move. In his sandals, he didn’t dare get too close. He could only imagine how those sharp little claws would feel sinking into the exposed skin on the top of his foot. Why hadn’t he stopped to slip on his sneakers?
Another step, a third, then mercifully, the cat stretched its tail in the air and jumped down off his stoop. Before it could change its mind, Dale hurriedly crossed the few yards separating him from his home. The door wasn’t locked -- he twisted the knob, pushed open the door, and felt the revolting press of a small body against his lower leg as he stepped inside. Even as he closed the door behind him, he knew the cat had snuck in.
Sure enough, it strode across his kitchen floor, tail in the air like a question mark as it darted under the table.
“God damn it!” he swore. Snagging the door again, he jerked it open and pointed at the cold night. “Out.”
The cat, safe under the table, sank to its haunches and began to lick one of its front paws. Its eyes shut as a contented purr filled the kitchen.
“Out!” Dale rattled the door knob and stamped his foot. “Get out! This is my house. Out!”
It didn’t work.
Slamming the door shut, he snatched up his cell phone from where it sat on his counter and pushed the SEND button twice to redial the last number he’d called. The phone rang as he glared at the cat. The damn thing refused to look at him. “You fucker,” he spat.
In his ear, a woman’s bored voice drawled, “Same to you, asshole.”
“Jill, God.” Relief flooded Dale at the sound of her voice. Thank God she usually stayed up late -- the tattoo parlor where Jillian Murphy worked didn’t open until noon, so a phone call at midnight wasn’t likely to wake her. “Get down here already. You will not believe this.”
Faking a yawn, Jill asked, “Why is it the only booty calls I get any more are from my gay BFF?”
Dale stared at the cat as if afraid it would attack, but it was too busy washing its face now to pay him any attention. “Girl, you know it ain’t like that.”
Jill’s throaty laugh filled his ear. “What, we aren’t BFF?”
“I don’t want your booty,” Dale replied. “At least, not the way you wish. Now get it down here, pronto. I need your help.”
“Again,” Jill sighed. “What is it, another spider? I saved your ass from the last one.”
Before he could reply, the phone went dead in his ear. He tossed it onto the counter, sure she was on her way. Jill lived in the townhouse three down from his, and sure enough, within seconds he heard a door slam outside. Soon he picked up the sound of slippers shuffling on the sidewalk, then a rapid knock hammered on his kitchen door. As he reached for the knob, it turned and the door opened, spilling Jill into the apartment.
Bleached curls tumbled atop her head, but her blonde bangs were smoothed down across her forehead and held in place with a small, silver barrette. Her heart-shaped face had a freshly scrubbed look, but even without her usual Goth make-up, she was a pretty girl. Her cheeks were pinked from the cold, her lips damp with Chapstick, and the hoop she frequently wore in her nose had been replaced with a tiny stud for the night. Black liner still edged her eyes where she hadn’t quite managed to remove it all. It gave her a wide-eyed, frightened appearance, accented by the oversized bomber jacket in which she snuggled.
“Well?” she snapped, hugging herself to get warm. Below the jacket, her legs were covered in gray tights, and she wore black, Mary Jane-style slippers on her feet. “What’s so damn important you had to drag me out of bed at this hour?”
“Like you were asleep,” Dale replied, but seeing her made his heart stop its crazy patter. “Thank God you’re here.”
Darkly, she warned, “I could’ve been in the middle of something. Or someone.”
Dale rolled his eyes. “As if. You would’ve texted me the moment you knew you were getting laid. Don’t try telling me otherwise.”
“Dale,” Jill warned. She patted a hand over the top of her curls as if checking to make sure they were all in place. “What’s this all about? Your DVD player cut out again in the middle of a raunchy sex scene?”
In response, Dale pointed at the table. Or rather, under it.
Jill followed his finger and frowned. “What?”
He shook his hand, adamant. “Look.”
“I’m looking ...” She ducked a little, frowning, but he knew the moment she saw the cat because she squealed, a sound not unlike the one his door had made when he opened it. “When did you get a cat?”
Dale sighed heavily. “I didn’t.”
Jill knelt on the floor, already crawling under the table. In a high, sing-song voice, she cooed, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.” Then, in her normal, crass tone, she told Dale, “I didn’t think you liked them.”