Julie had been cool about it and he’d been . . . happy, truly happy for the first time in his life. That had lasted two weeks until she’d dumped him, saying she’d only been in it for a good time and because he had a hot body, and she was sorry but he wanted way more from her than she could give.
He hadn’t reverted to his shyness around women. Instead he’d accepted that he wasn’t good with or made for long term, a fact made easy to back up since he had no desire to give his heart away again.
But one-night stands . . . he’d gone on to excel there, for quite a few tumble-filled years. Until now, in fact. Willa was unlike any woman he’d ever met. She was passionate, smart, sexy . . . and she made him laugh.
And her smile could light up his entire day.
He wasn’t actually sure what to do with that, but he knew he wanted to do something.
The weight on his chest got heavier. Yep, probably a heart attack. Well, hey, he’d nearly made it to thirty and it’d been a pretty good run too.
Well maybe one—that he wouldn’t get to kiss Willa again or see that soft and dazed look on her face after he did, the one that said she wanted him every bit as much as he wanted her.
The pressure on his chest shifted, getting even heavier now. He opened his eyes and nearly had a stroke instead of a heart attack.
Pita was sitting on his ribcage, her head bent to his, nose to nose, staring at him.
“Meow,” she said in a tone suggesting not only that she was starving, but that he was in danger of having his face eaten off if he didn’t get up and feed her.
Remembering Willa’s admonishment that he hadn’t tried to connect with the damn thing, he lifted a hand and patted her on the head.
Pita’s eyes narrowed.
“Right, you’re a cat not a dog.” He stroked a hand down her back instead and she lifted into his touch, her eyes half closed in what he hoped was pleasure.
“You like that?” he murmured, thinking middle ground! So he did it again, stroked her along her spindly spine for a second time.
A rumble came from Pita’s throat, rough and uneven, like a motor starting up for the first time in a decade.
“Wow,” he said. “Is that an actual purr? Better be careful, you might start to almost like me.”
On his third stroke down her back, she bit him. Hard. Not enough to break the skin but she sank her teeth in a bit and held there, her eyes narrowed to slits.
“Still not friends,” he gritted out. “Noted. Now let go.” When she didn’t, he sat up and dislodged her, and with an irritated chirp, she leapt to the end of the bed, turning her back on him and lifting her hind leg, going to work cleaning her lady town.
He looked down at his hand. No blood, good sign. He slid out of bed and . . .
Stepped in something disgustingly runny and still warm. Cat yak. He hopped around and swore the air blue for a while and then managed to clean up without yakking himself.
He found the little antichrist sitting up high on the unfinished loft floor, peeking over the edge down at where he stood in the kitchen.
“Are you kidding me?” he asked.
Shit, she was stuck. There was a ladder against the wall because Mason had been working up there this week. Keane, hating heights, had avoided going up there at all and had absolutely no idea how she’d managed to climb the construction ladder in the first place.
Blowing out a sigh, he climbed up halfway and held out his arms. “Come on then.”
Pita lifted a paw and began to wash her face.
He dropped his head and laughed. What else could he do? Clearly the cat didn’t give a shit that he had a height phobia. And yeah, it was a ridiculous phobia for a builder to have but that didn’t change a damn thing.
He glanced down—oh shit, he hated that—and assured himself it was only eight feet. Then he kept going. “Cat,” he said at the top and reached for her.
She jumped, but not for him. Instead she hit the ladder over his shoulder, lithely running past him like she was Tinker Bell complete with wings.
From the top, Keane looked down and felt himself start to sweat. Grinding his back teeth, he climbed down and found Pita staring disdainfully at her food bowl, which was still full from last night.
This got his attention. “You didn’t eat? Since when don’t you eat?”
She swished her tail and gave a “mew” that he figured translated to that shit is for cats and I’m a Queen Bee, remember?
He took a closer look and realized she seemed a little thin, at least for her, which concerned him in a way her attitude hadn’t. He’d called Sally three times this week alone but hadn’t gotten a return call. What if Pita wasted away and died before Sally came for her? How would he explain that?
Worried, he went hunting through his admittedly not well-stocked cabinets and found a can of tuna. Score. “Cats love tuna,” he told Pita. “Willa says so.”
Pita just stared at him censurably with those deep blue eyes.
Finding a can opener took a while, making him realize something a little startling. He’d lived here for going on six months now and though it was by far his favorite property he’d ever owned . . . he’d not ever really moved in. Yes, he had all his stuff here but that wasn’t much. He’d moved around frequently over the years, from one property to the next as he fixed them up and sold them, so he’d gotten good at traveling light.
Maybe too good.
Once he got his hands on a can opener, he waved it triumphantly at Pita, who looked distinctly unimpressed. He opened the can and dumped it into another bowl and set it in front of her.
She froze and then sniffed it with the caution of a royal food-taster.
“It’s albacore,” he said. “The good stuff.”
She gave it another brief sniff and then turned and walked away.
He stared after her. “Seriously? You lick your own ass but turn your nose up at fucking tuna?”
He was still staring after her in disbelief when his cell phone rang. “Keane Winters,” he snapped, not reading the display. “Cat for sale.”
There was a long pause.
“Hello?” he said.
“Are you selling my cat?” came a soft and slightly shaken older woman’s voice.
Shit. His great-aunt Sally. “Sorry, bad joke,” he said and grimaced, shoving his free hand through his hair. “And am I ever glad to hear from you. I’ve been calling—”