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Authors: Catherine Gayle

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BOOK: Dropping Gloves
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It was the only thing that had been racing through my head for the last few days—telling Katie that I hadn’t meant it, that I would be her friend, if that was what she wanted, or her boyfriend, or whatever the hell she needed me to be. That I needed her in my life and didn’t care what corner of hers she put me in, as long as I could hold on to some piece of her.

God knew I was a fucking glutton for punishment, but I couldn’t give in and do that. She’d flattened my heart so many times she might as well have run over it repeatedly with an eighteen-wheeler. Someday, I wanted to be able to give it to someone, and I couldn’t as long as she kept ripping it to shreds. I had to stick to my original plan and stay as far away from her as I could.

Levi opened his door and climbed out. He was crossing the lawn and heading over to talk to them before I could make up my mind about what I ought to do—like pull my car into the garage, go inside the house, and pretend I hadn’t seen her.

Katie had seen me, though. There wasn’t any doubt about that, based on the way her jaw had dropped when she’d looked at the car. I figured I had to at least go and say hello. Maybe once she knew I lived here, it would help her realize this wasn’t the house for her and she should move on.

I undid my seat belt and put a hand over Spanky’s back so he wouldn’t take a tumble, and then I followed my brother.

“So you live here?” Katie asked as soon as I reached them. She blinked a couple of times, staring at the fuzz ball on my shoulder. “You have a kitten?” As soon as she remarked upon that realization, her voice had gone all soft and sweet, like women tended to do around babies. She reached out for the little guy, and he surprisingly allowed her to pick him up without leaving me a bloody mess. The next thing I knew, she had him cradled against her chest and was cooing to him.

Which drew my eyes there. Where he was. Or really more to what was under him.

Her breasts.

Which were amazing.

They were perfect and perky, just the right size for me to cup in my palms. The top she was wearing had a vee at the neck, lining the small amount of cleavage she had showing with a bright turquoise fabric that lit up everything about her. And my kitten was hanging out there. Enjoying himself immensely, it seemed, based on the way he was purring. I could hear his purr motor working like crazy. The tiny bastard.

Levi cleared his throat, and I forced my gaze up to Katie’s face. She was watching me with a bemused grin, one of her brows raised in question.

“Oh. Yeah, the house. I bought it over the summer. Figured it was time to set down some roots. I’ve been here seven years so far, and it doesn’t look like I’ll be leaving any time soon.” Unlike her, which made the idea that she was looking for a house, not only in the city but right next door to me, fishy. Not that I said as much. Was she looking at houses near mine for a reason? Portland was plenty big enough that she could live any number of places that weren’t in my immediate vicinity. But that should be a private conversation, if we had the discussion at all.

The whole time I was talking, she kept petting Spanky, drawing my eye down over and over, and leading me to thoroughly inappropriate thoughts that had nothing to do with that kitten.

“I had no idea you lived here. I just put in an offer on this house,” Katie said, and I was pleased to hear that she did sound at least a tiny bit hesitant about making her revelation. Granted, I could barely hear her reticence over the sound of my jaw grinding. “If I had known…”

“Speaking of your offer,” the other woman said, “I’d better get back to the office and see whether we have a response from the seller yet. I know he’s anxious to get something done.” She smiled and nodded, and within moments, she’d climbed into her car and backed down the drive.

“Right,” Levi said. “Well, I should probably get out of here, too.”

His departure wasn’t unexpected since I knew he had plans for tonight, but I shot him a look anyway so he’d know I thought he was acting like a damn traitor. He didn’t have to leave for hours, and the guy never took longer than seven minutes flat to get ready for anything.

“Got a date tonight,” he said, winking at Katie and ignoring me. “Double date with Koz and some twins he met last week.”

She grinned at him. “Sounds like fun.”

“Fun doesn’t even begin to describe what I expect it to be.” He backed away, waggling his brows suggestively, and headed into my garage for his car before I could stop him.

“Don’t stay out too late,” I called after him. “And don’t let Koz—”

“Are you coming along to babysit us?” he shouted just before disappearing in the garage. “Who’ll take care of Tiger?”

“Aww, is his name Tiger?” Katie asked. The kitten was gnawing on her finger and making adorably ferocious sounds, as though trying to prove himself worthy of a name like Tiger. Instead of pulling her hand away, Katie gave him another finger to chew.

“They’ve been calling him Spanky.” Admittedly, I felt like an idiot saying that name, particularly saying it to Katie.

Levi backed his car down my driveway and waved as he turned onto the street.
Asshole
. He could have stuck around until Katie was gone. Now that we were alone, I wasn’t sure how to go about this. Not any of it. I hadn’t been prepared to run into her today. I had hoped I wouldn’t have to bump into her at all, other than maybe at the occasional Storm event, since she might pop in now and then. But here, at my house, when I’d just come home with a kitten who had a ridiculous name? Absolutely not ready for that.

Katie laughed. “Who would give him a name like that?”

I dragged a hand through my hair, realizing too late that I’d just messed it up worse than it likely already was. “They said he was always beating up on all the other kittens when they wrestled even though he was the smallest of the bunch. Runt-of-the-litter syndrome or something.” I shoved my hands in my pockets so I wouldn’t fuck anything else up with them. “He’s an energetic guy.”

“I can tell.” She held up the fingers that the kitten had been chewing on, which were now pinkish on the tips. Not bleeding, at least. Just irritated.

“Sorry.” I don’t know why I apologized to her. Not really. I mean, she was the one who had given him her fingers to gnaw on, so it was her own damn fault. Still,
sorry
was one word that had been burned into me from a very young age. I grew up in Canada. Canadians tended to apologize for everything. It was a habit that seven years in the States hadn’t cured me of.

“It’s fine. Jamie, I—”

She averted her eyes for a moment, staring down at the kitten before raising her gaze again and looking at me full on. Her eyes were this clear blue, lighter than the summer sky and a hell of a lot deeper than the ocean. Her eyes fucking killed me. Always had. I was pretty sure I’d fallen in love with her eyes well before I’d fallen in love with the rest of her. And I had to stop thinking about how much I loved her. It would only do me more harm than good.

“I meant it. I honestly didn’t know that you lived here, or I never would have— Do you want me to see if I can take back the offer on the house? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

I had been growing increasingly more uncomfortable the longer we’d been standing here, but it had a hell of a lot more to do with thinking about moving that kitten away so I would have a better view of her cleavage than it did about the likelihood that she’d be moving in next door.

I shook my head. “If you want the house, buy the house.” It wasn’t like she would be living with me, just next door. I never really talked to my other neighbors, so she could be like the rest of them. We could wave in passing and leave it at that. Somehow, I could find a way to pretend I didn’t know the taste of her lips or the softness of her fingers when she would touch me. Couldn’t I? And even if I couldn’t, that didn’t mean I had to act on anything.

She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “You’d tell me if you didn’t want me here, wouldn’t you?”

“Your father told me,” I blurted out instead of answering her question. Then I wished I could take it back. “That the cancer is back,” I finally added.

“I know. He came clean this morning.” She swallowed visibly and pushed the kitten back toward me, almost apologetically.

As soon as I took him, he scrambled up my chest and settled into his preferred position on my shoulder, purring up a storm. Katie crossed her arms in front of her. That pushed her breasts in and up.

I had to force myself to meet her eyes. “Why didn’t you want me to know?”

“Trying to keep that separation you asked for. That’s all.”

She shivered, and it was only then that I realized she wasn’t wearing a jacket or sweater. Then I felt like an ass.

“Come on,” I said, putting a hand over the kitten’s back again so I wouldn’t jostle him. “Come inside. It’s cold out here.” I turned and crossed the lawn, heading for my house.

“Jamie…”

“Come inside,” I repeated, glancing over my shoulder to find her exactly as I’d left her. “Please.”

She looked back at the house she was buying, but then her feet fell into motion, and she followed behind me, a frown creasing her forehead.

It was only once she came into my kitchen that I realized I was doing exactly what I couldn’t afford to do—I was letting Katie back into my life, welcoming her in with open arms, and inviting her to beat my heart to a bloody pulp.

Normally, I didn’t
have a tentative bone in my body. Yeah, I got stage fright, but that was a different sort of beast. It had never kept me from getting up on the stage and doing my thing. It was just that adrenaline coursed through me in those moments, and the sensation just made everything
different
in some way, more than anything. I knew that about myself, and I could recognize it for what it was, and so I just powered through whenever stage fright hit me. But right now, following Jamie into his house, my feet were as heavy as those Acme anvils that were always dropping on
Looney Tunes
characters.

Ever since Jamie had pulled up with his brother and I’d realized I was buying the house next door to his, I’d been in a state of intense emotional turmoil. It was like having vertigo; I couldn’t figure out which way was up, and everything was spinning, and I had no sense of my bearings. He kept looking at me the way a man looks at a woman he wants, but the only thing Jamie wanted from me was to get out of his life.

Supposedly.

I was pretty sure we both knew there was still more there, but it was buried underneath a lot of hurt, and I wasn’t sure he was willing to let me unearth it.

Yet here I was, walking into his kitchen while he brought his new kitten home.

He shut the door behind me, and I set my purse on the counter and took a glance around. It was a state-of-the-art kitchen, very similar to the one in the house next door. Jamie’s counters were covered with a few small appliances that were surprising, at least if you knew much about him.

“Don’t tell me you can use more than a coffeepot and a toaster now,” I teased. It wasn’t all that long ago that he couldn’t do more than make a peanut butter sandwich, at least without running the risk of needing assistance from the nearest fire department.

“Maybe a bit. Zee always told me a guy has to be able to feed himself. I guess I finally listened.” Jamie bent over and set the kitten down on the floor, not that it did any good. He’d barely let the kitten go when it let out a pathetic meow and raced back up to his shoulder, causing Jamie to hiss in a breath with his eyes pinched closed. “Those claws are intense,” he said when he looked at me again.

“I think he feels safe with you.” When I’d held the kitten outside, it had been shaking, and I wasn’t convinced that it was just because of the cold. Now he was in a big new house where nothing was familiar. Nothing but Jamie.

“I guess he’s going to be my parrot, then.”

“You should name him Blackbeard.”

“Better him than me.” Jamie laughed, and warmth bubbled up inside me. At least I could still make him laugh. “You’re sticking around for a while, then?” he asked. He took a couple of glasses out of a cabinet next to the refrigerator and filled them with water before offering me one.

“For a while.” I took a sip and eased onto one of his barstools. “Probably for a lot longer than a while.”

He nodded. “Because of your treatments.”

BOOK: Dropping Gloves
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