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Kissed by Cat
By Shirley Jump
Thorndike PressCopyright © 2005 Shirley Jump
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBeing chased down Broward Street by an ugly, hungry Great Dane at one in the morning did not rank on the top ten of Catherine Wyndham's favorite ways to spend an evening. She'd much rather have been curled up in front of a fireplace with a fuzzy blanket, a saucer of warm milk and a freshly opened can of tuna.
The lumbering beast of a dog opened his jaws and lunged forward. Catherine scampered up someone's back porch, across the railing and into the next yard, leaving the dog barking at nothing but cold November air.
For the ten thousandth time in two hundred years, Catherine regretted ever tangling with that witch. She'd always had a bad habit of helping stray and mistreated animals. She'd picked the wrong black cat one day and had thus been cursed by Hezabeth the Witch to live a half life - which was really no life at all.
Today, though, had been a good day, relatively speaking. Catherine turned the corner, quite pleased with her getaway.
She jerked to a stop. There it was. Their scent. She lowered her head to the ground, concentrating as she tracked. Her instincts perked up, telegraphing a warning signal, but she ignored it.
Five more seconds. I've almost -
And then she was being scooped up by a pair of strong, masculinehands. She shrieked and tried to twist away but the man held tight, depositing her into a small metal cage, with no more effort than he'd use to flick a whip.
She let out a second scream of protest. "I know, I know," he said in a soft, crooning voice. "Right now, you probably hate me, but believe me, it's for your own good."
She glared back, swatted at the bars. Futile gestures. He had the upper hand - not to mention bigger hands that could transport her anywhere he wanted her to go.
She hated that. Hated being eight inches tall and about as powerful as a gnat wrestling a gorilla.
He did have a kind face, at least. Better to be kidnapped by a prince than an ogre. She'd been with both in the last two centuries. Handsome didn't always equal nice or bright, but it did provide a better view.
Ugly or cute, none of the men she'd met had been the knight in shining armor that could end the curse put in place by Hezabeth - her revenge against Catherine for setting the witch's cat free.
"You love animals so much, how about a taste of life like one?" the witch had cackled. Before Catherine could get away, Hezabeth had thrown some powder at her and muttered something in an ancient language.
From that day forward, Lady Catherine Wyndham, heir to the Wyndham estates and fortune, daughter of the Earl and Countess of Wyndham, had ceased to exist. And, thanks to Hezabeth's addition of a catch-22 twist, Catherine had no hope of ever breaking the curse with some storybook ending.
It didn't matter. Finding Prince Charming wasn't at the top of her To Do list. Hadn't been in fifty-odd years. If he even existed, the chances of meeting him when she wasn't sporting whiskers were pretty slim.
In the half light of the car, she could see a day's worth of stubble on the man's chin, softening the hard edges of his jaw. Faint lines zigzagged down the left side of his face, disappearing beneath his collar.
Scars. From what? From who?
Her gaze skipped over the marks and connected with his eyes. Large, brown and almost ... soft.
They looked at her with a kindness and compassion she'd rarely seen in two hundred and twenty-five years of life. She'd traveled the world, by land and by boat, before ending up in the United States and now, the Midwest. All those cities, all those people, and not one had seen her as much more than a waste of DNA. But now, in this small city in Indiana, a man with an almost empathetic gaze.
As if he understood.
Impossible. No one knew what she'd gone through. What a nightmare her life had been since Hezabeth had damned Catherine to an existence filled with pain and loneliness, one no sane person would find believable.
She shook herself. She must be due for a distemper shot. She was getting maudlin again.
"You're going to be much happier where you're going." That quiet, soothing voice again. "It's warmer there, too."
Fat chance. Being locked in a cage didn't fit Catherine's definition of happy. She wrinkled her nose and cast him her iciest look.
He chuckled. "You'll thank me after you get a good meal in you." He shut the door to the car, came around to the driver's side, got in, then put the car in gear and started driving. He did a good job ignoring her plaintive wails from the seat beside him.
Nice eyes or not, she didn't want to go wherever he was taking her. She had things to do and this man, with his do-gooder, save-the-world-and-the-whales charity crusade, was getting in the way.
Catherine paced the cage, inspecting every inch. Thin metal bars, secure lock. A flat metal base, cool against her feet.
She silently cursed in English, then added a few choice words in French. The orphans had been close by, maybe five minutes from her. She'd been so focused on finding them she'd ignored the warning signals and thus, had ended up in the hands of Dr. Dolittle.
She'd rescued so many animals over the course of her lifetime - kittens, puppies, even a lost turtle once. It had become her mission, she supposed, which was ironic given that all the trouble in her life had started with saving one black cat.
Still, she wanted to find those kittens. If she could reunite them with their mother, she hoped it would give her a little more closure. Make it easier to accept the inevitable end of Catherine's life.
And then, just maybe, she'd find a taste of what she was seeking when she came to Indiana in the first place. The ordinary life. No castles. No kings. Just a house with a white picket fence and cookies in the oven.
The problem was getting away before her "rescuer" took her home and made her over into his pretty pet by stringing pink ribbons and a silver bell around her neck.
"Here we are," he said cheerily a minute later, as if he'd just pulled up outside Buckingham Palace. "Your temporary home." She hissed, but he just chuckled again.
"Ah, give it a chance, little one." He came around and opened the door. He lifted out the cage, hefted it awkwardly into one arm and carried it toward the building.
Tall and well-built, he had the muscles of a man who had worked hard in his life, not one who bench-pressed his way to perfection. The scent of him - a dark, very human scent - teased at her nose. Wood shavings, pine, a bit of sweat. And warmth. Like a blanket she could cuddle into.
Excerpted from Kissed by Cat by Shirley Jump Copyright © 2005 by Shirley Jump. Excerpted by permission.
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