Tom Scratch

As a human Tom lived a carefree life working the professional gambling circuit until he played against a witch who cursed him. Turned him into a cat.

Julia attracted the wrong sort of men in the small coastal town of South Bend. Men like Eric-the-cheater or Paul-the-weasel. She should get out but that was easier said than done.

Tom’s and Julia’s paths cross in this fantasy romance from the author of Watching You Sleep.

1

Back when he was human, Tom Scratch would never have stooped to digging through a garbage dumpster for a meal. He didn’t much like doing it as a cat either, but the salty richness of salmon was irresistible.

He landed on the lip of dumpster, nailing the landing like a gymnast. The tail did all the work. He didn’t even extend his claws so he didn’t make any noise scratching the metal.

In the street at the end of the alley a logging truck snorted, coughed and rolled on past the puddles dotting highway 101, before continuing southward through South Bend. On the other side of the highway a hill rose up, dark against the lightening sky. It’d be another clear hot day on highway 101.

The highway was Tom’s corridor. An endless banquet of seafood spread up and down the coast. He sat, licked a paw and ran it across his face. Then he froze, staring at the offending orange-furred limb.

He wasn’t a cat.

Not really.

But he often caught himself drifting, and doing things automatically like cleaning himself. It was embarrassing and frightening. As if his mind was being nibbled apart by mice.

Tom shuddered from his whiskered nose to the tip of his tail. Neither the cat or the man liked that image.

The rich salty smell of dilled salmon caught his attention. His mouth parted and he inhaled deeply. Saliva pooled in his mouth. He swallowed. Dumpster diving might not be the most dignified way of eating, but right now he didn’t care. He hadn’t eaten anything since Astoria.

A lot of houses, they’d give him a plate of scraps if he scratched at the door. Not most restaurants. Last thing they wanted was a stray cat coming in.

Tom eyed the dark plastic lid propped up against the salt-stained brick. It didn’t look like it was going anywhere. In and out quick. That was the key. Go for the main target and get out.

It was dark in the dumpster but he could clearly see the shine from the black plastic garbage bags, each one knotted. Tom stretched out his paw and flexed, extending pale curved claws, each one sharp.

Like Wolverine, in a way. Tom sneezed. As if he had ever been a superhero to anyone. Even before that witch turned him into a cat.

Enough delay. His stomach rumbled. Time to eat.

He dropped lightly down on the top bag and crouched. He sniffed the bag. Through the plasticy smell of the bag he caught the richness of basil and oregano. Tomatoes and mushrooms. That wasn’t the dill salmon, and he couldn’t spend too much time in the dumpster. It wasn’t safe.

The bags crinkled underneath his feet like body bags, as if he walked on a dumpster full of corpses. His guilty conscience, that was all. Nothing but trash bags filled with paper napkins, packaging and left over food. Maybe the odd broken dish.

He sniffed along the next. Salty raw oysters, turning bad. No thank you. He moved on to the third bag. A purr rumbled through his throat. This one. Right. Here.

Tom made a quiet noise deep in his throat. He extended his claws again and slashed across the plastic. It tore, caught on his claws. He yanked his paw free.

A river of rich dill and salmon odors poured from the rent. Tom stuck his head down at the tear and inhaled deeply. His tongue vibrated, making a clucking sound.

As soon as that started he stopped it. Someone might hear, and besides, he wasn’t going to lose control like that.

Tom shoved his head into the tear, twisting back and forth until the plastic stretched and gave him access. He pulled at it with his claws, trying to widen his access. With his head in the hole he couldn’t see, but he didn’t need to see. His whiskers gave him a sense of the space, and the salmon smell was right there!

His tongue touched the fillet, cold but still good, covered in a creamy dill béchamel and cheese sauce. He lapped the sauce off the fish and then took small bites, savoring each.

Three bites and he could tell there was much more. Someone had thrown out at least half a large fillet! And it tasted wonderful. Amazing what people threw out.

The plastic around his head muffled sounds from outside, and amplified the noises he made eating. A satisfied rumbling echoed unbidden through his chest. Tom ignored it and kept eating.

Tiny flakes of fish stuck to his fur along with the dill and cheese sauce, but he could clean that off at his leisure after he finished. He shoved deeper into the bag to reach the last morsels.

A feast. That’s why he loved these coastal towns. If he had to be a cat, this was the place to do it.

Something landed on him, shoving him down into the bags. He yowled with surprise, and twisted around, lashing out. His claws found only black plastic. He hissed and struck. Slashed at the material.

His head was stuck. Static electricity snapped and crawled along his fur.

Tom spat, clawed and finally wrenched his head from the hole he had made in the bag, but another bag was pressing down on him. It wasn’t actually all that heavy but it pressed him down like a half-deflated water balloon. Where he’d struck at the bag vinegar squirted out as if he’d hit a vein.

He heard a loud bang above. A deep human voice chuckled, then said, “Fucking cats.”

Tom froze. His ears were back but he raised them against the plastic, listening carefully. He could make out the sound of footsteps moving away.

Good enough. He crawled across the garbage until he could squirm his way out from under the bag the man had thrown on him. It was much darker in the dumpster, but he could see a thin line of daylight around the lid.

The asshole had closed it!

Tom jumped at the side of the dumpster, stretching up his front paws. By standing on the garbage bags he could reach that small gap. He forced one paw through the gap but there was nothing his claws could get purchase on. They scratched uselessly along the plastic top.

He missed thumbs.

The lid wasn’t even that heavy, not for a person, but he didn’t have any leverage. The dumpster wasn’t full. If it was he might have a chance squeezing out between the garbage and the lid, but as it was he could barely reach the top.

Meanwhile his fur was tacky with dill and cheese sauce and flakes of salmon. Tom sat down and licked the fur on his right forepaw. When he’d first been changed that had grossed him out, but he was over that now. He just didn’t like it when his body did those things without him thinking about it.

He couldn’t slip away, forget that he’d once been a man. A professional gambler, right up until he’d crossed the wrong player. It wasn’t like he had even cheated, he was just good.

It hadn’t mattered to the witch.

Tom dragged his paw across his face, then licked it clean. The ritual calmed him. He continued to groom his fur. Sooner or later someone would come and open the lid. When they did he would jump out.

Easy.

Easy, so long as the garbage truck didn’t come first.

Tom crouched, sniffing the bag. His stomach was comfortably full from the salmon, but if he’d learned anything as a cat it was to eat when he had the chance.

One advantage as a cat, things didn’t stink. Most of the time, at least. As a human, if he’d been trapped in a dumpster like this, he would probably have found it pretty rank. Instead it was a delicious smorgasbord of culinary odors. Garlic, lemon and tartar sauce blending with pasta and marinara.

Tom’s tongue came out, flicking dryly across his nose. He sneezed.

How long before someone came? What if it was the same man that had thrown the bag at him?

Sitting still didn’t work for him. He needed to get out. Now. He hated feeling trapped.

Tom rose up onto his hind legs, bracing his front legs against the rusty metal walls that imprisoned him. His claws peeled off flakes as he dragged them down the rough surface.

“Rowwl! Rrrowwl! RRRoowwl!”

His cries echoed against the dumpster. He flattened his ears and breathed deep, for more volume.

“RRROOWWLL!”

From outside came a loud snorting, coughing sound, like that of a gigantic beast. It raised the fur along Tom’s back and tail. He settled back on the trash bag, muscles tense and ready to strike if the lid opened.

Another loud cough and then an unmistakable squeal of brakes. There was some large truck or something right outside. The garbage truck!

Tom threw himself at the side of the dumpster. He raked his claws down the side to produce a shrill fingernails-on-chalkboard sound.

“RROOOWWLL! RROOOOOWWL!”

Electric motor noises sounded outside and grew louder. Something hit the dumpster hard, with a loud metallic banging noise, and he fell back from the side. It was the garbage truck! That noise was undoubtedly the mechanical arm about to lift the dumpster up and empty it into the back of the truck!

2

Julia stiff-armed the back door of Hal’s Crab Shack, swiping her thumb across the face of her ringing phone as she did. “Hello?”

Outside got her away from the clanging of dishes and the talk radio station that Hal insisted on playing in the kitchen, but the garbage truck was right outside. Diesel fumes combined with the stomach-turning smell of fish gone bad. The mechanical arm made howling noises and clanged against the dumpster not more than three feet from where she stood.

“Hello?” Julia shouted. She looked at the phone. Unknown number. “Just a sec! There’s a garbage truck!”

Rrroowwl! RROOOWWLL!

Julia lowered the phone. That howling wasn’t coming from the mechanical arm, it was coming from the dumpster. “Hey!”

She ran out in the alley waving her arms at the guy in the cab. “Hey!”

Motors whined and the arm clamped shut on the dumpster. It jerked, and rose a couple inches up.

RRROOOWWWLL!

“Hey! You! Stop!” Julia ran all the way to the door of the truck and pounded on it with her free hand. “Stop! You’ve got to stop!”

The window came down and a guy looked down at her, runner-gaunt, with a dark stubble shadow on his jaw. A dirty tan cap covered his head, but she didn’t see much hair under it, shaved or bald. He squinted at her.

“Why are you banging on my truck?”

Julia pointed back at the dumpster. “I think there’s an animal in the dumpster. A cat. I heard it howling.”

He leaned out the window and looked back along the truck as if he could see through the battered green dumpster. “A cat? Could be. They get in there, you leave the lid up. Always having animals get caught in dumpsters. Cats, raccoons, possums, even some dogs, sometimes. I’ve never dumped a load in back with a person, but mostly I think that’s been luck.”

Okay. Gross. “Let me get it out, okay?”

He waved a stained leather work-glove. “Go head, but don’t let it scratch you. Lord knows what sort of germs a stray cat’ll carry.”

“I’ll be quick,” Julia promised.

She ran back along the garbage truck, watching her step because the little black sandals she wore for waitressing weren’t high enough to protect her feet from the puddles in the alley.

RROOWWL!

“I’m coming,” she said.

She reached the dumpster and went to lift the lid and only then remembering that she was still holding the phone with a caller hanging on.

“I’ll have to call you back,” she told whoever it was, hung up, and dropped the phone back into her apron pocket.

Then she grabbed the lid and heaved it up. The dumpster shook and an orange-stripped cat sprang up onto the lip of the dumpster. Darker orange eyes, a sun-dried almost rusty color, looked at her.

He was beautiful. A big tom cat, you could tell just looking at him that he had to be male. Like a miniature tiger with all of his stripes. And he gazed steadily at her, as if suddenly content now that the lid was open.

The garbage truck driver shouted back. “Step back! I’m going to move the arm, it’ll jump off.”

“Wait! No!” Julia stepped up to the dumpster and just reached out for the cat.

If she’d been thinking about it, she wouldn’t have done it, but she just scooped him up. He was heavy and warm in her arms. He didn’t try hissing or scratching her, in fact he went as limp as a bag of potatoes, the kind that Hal used in the clam chowder.

It was nice, even if he did smell like the dumpster. Julia stepped back out of the way. The driver grunted and withdrew to his truck. The motors on the mechanical arm kicked in and the dumpster went up, up, and over. Bags of garbage tumbled into the back of the truck and then it put the dumpster down with a loud bang.

The whole time the cat lay snug against her chest. In fact, he had started purring, a deep vibration running through her arms. She stroked his side where she held him.

“You’re not so wild, are you? I’ll bet someone loves you. They’re probably wondering where you are.”

Could be anywhere really. He was heavy but beneath the soft fur he felt hard and strong beneath her hands. Not a fat housecat by any means, but he didn’t look like he’d been starving either. He smelled like rotten garbage, but he was just in the dumpster. A quick bath would clean that up.

Julia scratched his side. Would it be wrong to take him home? She lived alone now, since she’d kicked out Eric-the-cheater. She wouldn’t have ever considered getting a cat with Eric-the-cheater still around even though she didn’t think he was allergic like Paul-the-weasel.

The cat kept purring.

The garbage truck coughed, blowing out a cloud of black smoke and then lurched into motion down the alley with its lights flashing. Julia moved back toward the kitchen door and stopped.

Hal hated cats. She couldn’t take the cat into the crab shack. It dawned on her that Hal had gone out with the garbage, wanting it out before the truck came, only moments ago. Had he closed the lid of the dumpster knowing that the cat was inside? She wouldn’t put it past him.

And his big pumpkin head had been split in a wide grin when he came back in. People always seemed to like Hal, but she always thought that he looked like an extra from a Tim Burton movie.

Hal had done it, shut the cat in the dumpster. She held the cat tighter for  second and then relaxed her arms. She couldn’t take the cat home, not in the middle of her shift, and she had to get back inside. Hal’d already be wondering what was taking so long to answer a phone call.

She’d just have to let the cat go. If he was still around after work, well then it’d be fate, wouldn’t it?

Julia crouched down and set the cat down. She half-expected him to bolt as soon as his feet touched the asphalt but he didn’t make any move to run. Instead he leaned against her legs, rubbing his face along her shins.

She ran her hand down his back over that so-soft fur. She noticed a small notch in his fur behind his right ear. It looked like he’d gotten scratched at some point. Must have been pretty bad to heal without the fur coming back.  She moved her hand under his chin, fingers scratching gently.

The cat arched his back and purred loudly. His eyes closed in a delightfully blissful expression.

“Oh, I wish I could take you home,” she said. “But I’ve got to get back to work. If you’re here when I get off later, though, I’ll take you home and give you something to eat. Is it a date?”

The cat bumped his head against her hand. “Meow.”

Julia laughed and stood up. Her heart actually beat a little faster turning away from the cat. She laughed at herself, imagine getting so worked up over a stray cat? It was just the break-up and everything.

As she went inside she glanced back, sure that he would have trotted off already, but he was sitting up, very straight, with his stripped tail wrapped around his feet.

“Meow,” he said.

Julia smiled, and ducked inside.

3

After she was gone Tom was torn. Stay or leave? The smart thing would be to leave. He had a very good reason for not finding a home before now. Life as a stray might be hard, but life as a house cat?

Worse.

Controlled all the time? Forced to eat canned cat food? Deal with other pets, or even children? All a nightmare, but one thing topped all of those sorts of concerns.

Getting ‘fixed!’

He started licking his paw just to steady his nerves. Maybe it was ridiculous to be afraid of it, but seriously? Any responsible pet owner would take him to a vet and snip, snip that was it. He didn’t know if it was ever going to be possible to get rid of this curse, but if he did he wanted everything intact.

So no homes. No trips to the vet. Even though it meant a rougher life outside.

But this woman, she made him hesitate. His plan, when that lid had opened, was to jump up and take off before anything else could happen. Instead he’d seen her and it was like getting hit between the eyes with a sledgehammer.

She was petite, but as he’d had the pleasure of feeling when she held him, rather busty for her size. Fair almost milky skin just lightly sprinkled with freckles across her nose and cheeks. Very light, but completely adorable. And no surprise, given her complexion, she had bright red hair that hung right down past her shoulders.

The cute green waitress outfit and apron really brought out her most striking feature, her green eyes. Arresting eyes. Eyes like emeralds. Stunning.

It was her eyes that he saw first, then the rest, and they’d stopped him right there on the edge of the dumpster. He had even considered moving before she had scooped him up.

Tom kept cleaning his fur. He’d picked up all sorts of smells in that dumpster.

Would it really be too much of a risk to wait for her to get off work? If she took him home that didn’t mean that he couldn’t leave if he wanted. For one thing, she might think he was just a cat but he was more than that. If it looked too risky he could probably find a way out.

And cat or not, he wanted to see her again.

Like the town, she had also seemed a little sad. Maybe he could cheer her up before moving on.

Tom finished licking the end of his tail and stood up. He couldn’t just sit here. A cool drizzle was starting to fall and he wanted to get out of the rain before he got soaked.

4

Julia’s feet felt heavy as she clomped out of Hal’s onto the sagging, weathered gray porch. Hal really needed to get it fixed, she’d told him that it was driving away customers. It made the place look like one of the many empty buildings dotting the highway instead of an open business.

Not that Hal ever listened.

Other than the incident with the cat back in the alley, it’d been a long slog of a day. She’d gotten off work with a whole ten bucks and change in tips. If things didn’t pick up she was going to have to dip into her savings just to make rent.

Rain pounded on the rusted metal roofing and fell in thin streams off the edge. No gutter. That’d come off in one of the storms last winter and Hal still hadn’t gotten around to putting up a new one.

She had her little black umbrella and she took a second to get it opened up, and readjusted her purse strap, before stepping through the waterfall over the steps. Another reason customers didn’t come in, who wanted to walk through that? And the puddle at the bottom of the steps.

“Meoow?”

Julia had just reached the unpaved parking lot when she heard the meow and looked back. The big orange tom cat from the alley was sitting on the uneven porch railing, watching her.

“You’re still here!”

He stood up and his tail rose straight up as he walked along the railing toward the steps.

Julia bounced up the steps, the heaviness she’d felt getting off work evaporating. The cat stopped.

She stopped and raised her free hand. “Don’t be scared. I wouldn’t hurt you.”

The cat watched her with big unblinking green eyes. Kinda like her eyes, but his were a much prettier green. Still, it was funny that they matched.

She extended her fingers. “Come on then. I’ll take you home with me, if you want. I might even let you sleep with me, if you let me give you a bath first!”

The cat tilted his head as if considering the trade-offs.

“Jules!” A voice called. “Why didn’t you answer my call?”

Julia recognized that voice. Not a voice that she wanted to hear from again. It was male, and hard, and angry.

She turned, not surprised that Eric-the-cheater was standing in the rain looking up at her.

“Jules, you gotta forgive me,” Eric said.

Eric was handsome enough. A lot taller than her, and dark, scruffy. An artist that did a lot of work with metal sculpture. Everything about him was always hard. Sometimes it was good, but always a bit scary. She had handled all of that up to the point she learned that he was cheating on her.

“No I don’t,” she said. “You’re a liar and a cheat. We’re done.”

He didn’t have an umbrella. He shoved wet hair back out of his face. With his black coat and clothes he could have been made from shadows. Except for his pale face like the moon surrounded in darkness.

He came at the porch, boots splashing in the puddles. His face was as hard and angular as one of his sculptures. At the moment there wasn’t anything handsome about his face. It was ugly and frightening.

Julia took a step back before she realized she was doing it. Eric hadn’t ever hurt her, but the way he was acting, there could be a first time.

Then a loud hissing cry ripped from the tom cat crouched on the railing. A loud rumbling cry followed.

Eric stopped, one boot on the bottom step. He laughed, a nasty sound. “That your guard cat?”

Julia moved closer to the cat. She could see the cat’s whole body vibrating with barely contained fury. The cat didn’t like Eric at all, but wasn’t running away either.

“Hal’s inside,” Julia said. “Why don’t you get out of here before we call the police?”

Eric came up another step. “For what? Talking to you? Besides, you don’t want to see me angry, Jules.”

This wasn’t angry?

The cat hissed and spat again. A loud howling noise came from his throat, rising in volume like a warbling alarm. It was impressively loud over the rain on the metal roof.

“You should get that cat away from me,” Eric said. “Damn thing probably has rabies or something.”

“He just doesn’t like you. I don’t either. So leave!”

“No, Jules. Fuck that! You don’t just get to walk away from what we have together!”

“Walk away? You cheated on me!”

“So I screwed around a couple times. Big deal, it was just sex. It doesn’t have anything to do with how I feel about you.”

Julia’s breath was catching in her throat but she wasn’t about to let him see that he was scaring her more. She pointed the umbrella at him. “Get out of here!”

Eric moved so fast she hardly saw it, but the umbrella was torn out of her hand. He brought it down across his knee, snapping the thin metal handle in half. He threw the top part of the umbrella out into the rain, leaving him holding the handle with a sharp twisted point where it had broken.

He shook the handle at her. “We’re not done until I say we’re done!”

Now she was really scared. All of her attention was focused down on that twisted metal point. Was he going to hurt her with that? He wouldn’t, not Eric, she couldn’t believe that.

But she’d never seen him like this.

Eric took the last step up onto the porch.

Right then, before she could do anything else, the tom cat leapt at Eric. The cat was a streak of orange before he hit Eric’s chest.

Eric shouted and stumbled back.

It almost looked like slow motion, Julia could see it happening, as Eric lost his footing and fell back off the porch. It was only three steps but he went down flat on his back into the puddle at the bottom of the steps.

The cat rode him down the whole way.

Water erupted around them when Eric hit the puddle. She could hear the cat’s howling and spitting noises.

Beside her the door of the crab shack burst open and Hal trundled out onto the porch. “What in the hell?”

Eric was rolling over and she saw his arm raise, still holding onto the handle of her broken umbrella.

“No!”

He thrust the handle down. She heard the cat scream in pain.

Then Eric was up, staggering back. He still held the handle, looked at it and threw it away. Not before she saw red on the end, melting away in the rain.

She started forward but Hal went down the steps first. Hal waved a cell phone at Eric. “I’ve called the police! You get out of here!”

Without a word Eric turned and ran off through the rain. Julia didn’t care. She ran down the steps to the orange shape lying in the mud and rain.

The cat was still alive, wide, wide eyes looked up at her. There was fear, but also recognition in that look.

It was hard to see in the rain with all the mud on his orange fur, but there was blood on his side.

“I’m going to help you,” she said. “You’ll be okay.”

She scooped him up, trying to be careful, hoping that he wouldn’t claw or bite her. She’d understand if he did, but he didn’t. He lay limp in her arms.

“What’s going on?” Hal demanded.

“Eric stabbed him. I’ve got to get him to the vet.” She headed for her car across the parking lot, not even caring that she was getting soaked.

“What do I tell the police?”

Julia ignored him. She got to the car and had to hold the cat with one arm while she got her keys out of her purse. The Jetta beeped when she hit the button and then she pulled the door open.

Inside the windows were completely fogged up. She leaned over and as gently as she could laid the cat in the passenger seat.

“Just rest there,” she said. “I’ll take you to the vet and get you all patched up.”

The cat looked at her. A tiny pink tongue came out, licking his nose, and it left behind red smears.

“Oh no,” Julia said.

She got the car started and turned on the air to clear the windows. The cat’s eyes closed but she could see his chest still rising and falling.

She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel and as soon as the windows cleared enough to see she put it in drive and took off. As she turned out of the lot she saw Hal standing on the porch, watching her leave.

Heading north up the highway toward the vet’s, she kept looking over at the cat. He’d defended her from Eric. He couldn’t die.

Before she’d gone a mile down the road she looked over and realized that his chest wasn’t moving.

Julia slowed, alternating looks between the cat and the road. Had he really stopped breathing?

Yes.

The thought sat in her throat like a lump of ice. She eased off the gas, realizing that she was speeding through town.

At Hawthorne she turned and headed home. The vet couldn’t do anything for him now. It only took a few minutes to get home. She parked in her carport and went around the passenger side to get the cat.

He was clearly dead. Tears ran freely down her face. It was horrible. Such a brave, beautiful animal, and she’d only just met him! She thought of Eric and if he’d been there right then and she had the means she didn’t know what she would have done.

She hated him.

Julia took a deep breath. She’d give the cat a decent burial at least. Maybe plant a rose bush on his grave. But not in the rain. She’d take him inside, clean him up and bury him when it cleared up.

She picked up the cat, holding him close. Her tears fell on his already wet fur.

Inside she took him to her small kitchen and laid him on a clean towel on the kitchen table. Then she went to the hall closet get some more towels so she could get him properly cleaned up.

While she had her head buried in the hall closet she heard a noise, like wind blowing inside the house. She stepped out and bright sunlight was streaming out of the kitchen, even though she could still hear the rain on the windows and roof.

Julia clutched the towels to her chest and went to the kitchen door.

It looked like the sun had come down to rest in her kitchen, above the kitchen table. She raised a hand, shielding her eyes.

A dark shape in the center looked like the cat, suspended above the table. As she watched he stretched and moved. The tail shrank, limbs and body grew larger.

The room smelled of the sea and spring flowers and a wind tugged at her wet hair. A summer warmth evaporated the water on her clothes. Napkins flew around the room. Her pots above the stove clanked together.

Her eyes watered trying to see in the light.

And then it faded. The wind stopped.

A naked man sat on her table and he was beautiful. Lean, and muscled, with long, almost at his shoulders, dark red hair. More rusty stubble covered his chin. He twisted around, hands poking at a knot of pink scar tissue on his side.

Julia couldn’t speak. The sight of him tore away any words.

Then he looked up at her and he had eyes the color of dark pines. It was the same look that the tom cat had given her when it landed on the edge of the dumpster.

“I’m Tom,” he said. “I don’t mean to scare you.”

She shook her head. “I’m not scared.”

She wasn’t. It was a miracle. He was Tom, the tom, how? She didn’t have a clue. Such things shouldn’t be possible.

“Are those for me?” He was looking at the towels she held.

Julia flushed. “Yes, I mean, I was going to —”

She stopped talking and held one out. He took it and for an instant their fingers touched. His fingers were warm, holding onto that summer heat from the light. He smiled and took the towel.

Held it up. A dish towel. He glanced down. “I don’t think this is going to cover much.”

Julia blushed deeper. “No. Umm, I’ve got some sweats upstairs that might fit?”

Tom slid off the table. He was magnificent, he moved like a cat or a dancer. He came to her and took the towels away. He set those aside. Then his hands slid up the sides of her face.

He bent down.

His lips touched hers, as light as a cat’s paw at first, than harder. She found herself kissing him back. One hand pressing against his hard, bare chest.

When they broke apart he smiled, green eyes sparkling. “You saved me. You broke the curse.”

“What?”

Tom shrugged and she felt his muscles move beneath her hand. “I was cursed, turned into a cat. But you broke it, how?”

She shook her head. “I didn’t do anything. You saved me, from Eric. But he stabbed you. You died. I mean, you the cat died. I saw it. I was just going to clean you, I mean the cat, up before I buried it.”

She couldn’t organize her thoughts. Especially not with his lips right in front of her, begging her for another taste.

Tom moved. At first she thought he was moving away but he bent down and then she found herself scooped up, cradled the way she had cradled the cat earlier.

He laughed and it was a rich, warm sound. She buried her face against his chest and laughed too. Then she found his nipple and flicked her tongue across it, bringing it to a hard point.

Tom stopped laughing. “Let’s take this to the other room?”

Julia wrapped her arms around his neck. “Yes. Let’s do that.”

He carried her easily through the house, down the hall to her bedroom. Julia shivered with each touch, eager to learn everything she could about this remarkable man.

 

5,693 WORDS

Author’s Note

This story is the 39th weekly short story release, written in May 2012.

Eventually I’ll do a new e-book and print releases when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the stories. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new  e-book and print versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. I’m also serializing novels now on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Check back next Monday for another story. Next up is my fantasy story Death in Hathaway Tower.