“Don’t open it, you idiot!” Cara shrieks, trying to climb up Parker’s back while the boys jump around behind her. Ignoring the craziness going on around me, I swing the linen closet door open then reach up and pull Leo down from his hiding place.
“It’s a monster!” Jordan screams, running off as Ashlyn drops to her knees, holding her stomach.
“It’s Leo.” I hold him out toward Cara and Parker. “He’s not a rat or a monster. He’s a cat,” I inform everyone, and Cara glares at me from behind her husband’s back.
“That is not a cat.”
“He is a cat.” I chuckle as Leo hisses and swipes at me to be put down.
“What’s wrong with him?” Kenyon asks, studying Leo as Ash finally pulls herself together enough to stand and take him from me.
“He’s hairless. There’s nothing wrong with him. It’s just the way he is.”
“Do you think you could have warned me that you have a hairless cat living in the closet?” Cara asks haughtily, and I laugh.
“Sorry, I didn’t think about it. Leo isn’t very social, so I forget he’s even here most of the time.”
“I swear, I thought I was going to die when it poked its head out at me.” She laughs, holding her chest, walking toward Ash so she can get a better look at Leo, who is fighting to get free.
“Is it safe?” Jordan yells, and I look down the end of the hall and see him sticking his head around the corner.
“It’s safe, bud. It’s not a monster. It’s just a cat,” Parker says. Then mutters, “An ugly cat, but a cat.”
“He’s not ugly!” Ashlyn cries in denial, holding a hissing Leo closer to her chest.
“Sure he’s not.” Parker smiles at her as Jordan and Kenyon both cautiously come over to pet Leo, but then shriek and jump away when he finally gets his way, breaks free from Ashlyn’s hold, and runs off.
“Do you have any other weird animals I should know about?” Cara asks as Parker ushers the still naked boys back toward the bathroom.
I smile, and she shakes her head, muttering, “That took ten years off my life,” before turning and following Parker and the boys down the hall.
“Okay, so the blowjob thing was funny, but that was hilarious.” Ash giggles.
“Nut.” I kiss her head then tuck her under my arm to lead her back downstairs, this time to the library, where I proceed to make out with her until Parker and Cara come down after putting the boys in bed.
Walking toward the door in the coffee shop, juggling my iced coffee, purse, and bag of treats, I stop dead in my tracks and stare at the rack of newspaper set up near the entrance. Gaping at the picture of police gathered around a white tent on the front page, I feel the color drain from my face as I read the caption.
Another woman found murdered. Police still have no leads.
“Sad, isn’t it?” Startled, I turn my head to look at the well-groomed man standing next to me, but then take a step back when I realize how close he is. “Sorry I scared you.” He smiles softly, tucking his hands into the front pockets of his dark jeans, causing his button-down shirt to pull tight across his chest.
“Umm… it’s fine,” I murmur, and he nods, scanning my face.
“Hopefully the police catch the killer before long,” he mutters, then turns away and walks toward the counter. Shaking off the weird feeling slithering over my skin, I leave the coffee shop and rush down the street to the office. Once inside, I lock the door behind me, dump everything in my hands onto the reception desk, and head down the hall to Dillon’s office. His head comes up from his computer, and he frowns.
“What’s wrong?” Without answering, I walk to where he’s sitting and climb onto his lap, curling myself against him, pressing my forehead into his neck, and breathing in his comforting scent. “Talk to me,” he says gently, rubbing my back, and my eyes slide closed. I know I shouldn’t be freaked out like I am, but the paper I just saw means there have been two women found dead in just a week.
“They found another woman murdered,” I whisper as his body under mine turns to stone.
“Pardon?” His hand stills and his fingers move under my jaw, forcing my eyes to meet his.
“I was getting coffee and—”
“How were you getting coffee?” he cuts me off with a growl and I try to sit up, but he keeps me in place, holding me tightly against him with an arm banned around my waist. “I thought you were shutting everything down out front.”
“I was, but I wanted a coffee,” I explain softly as his jaw begins to twitch like crazy.
“Why didn’t you come get me so I could go with you?”