Nate stopped before her, his blond head bent, cradling a small ball of fur—white, black, and brown. He held it so tight she didn’t know if the poor thing could breathe. Her heart sank and she didn’t know what to think. They’d never had pets, afraid of how Nate would react to anything climbing on him or, worse, licking him. Not to mention the hair, the litter box. A kitten was the last thing she’d expected to see Nate walk in with tonight—and her face showed it.

“Look!” Nate exclaimed.

“A . . . a kitten!” she stuttered.

“Yes,” Nate replied matter-of-factly. He was looking at the kitten. “It is a calico kitten. It’s a girl. Did you know that all calico cats are girls? I learned that.”

“Where did you get her?” Dora tried to keep her voice cheery.

“We got her at the animal shelter. The ASPCA.” Nate looked at Devlin for confirmation.

“That’s right,” Dev said.

“It’s your present,” Nate told her.

“Mine?”

“Yes. But I will have to take care of her. She needs a lot of care. I will give her food in the morning and at night, too. It’s dry food. They call it kibble. We also got some cans because she is so little. And a litter box. Dev got you the litter box. That’s his present for you, and the kitten is from me. But I will take care of it for you.”

Dora shot a level glance at Devlin. He was still smiling and winked at her. “Wait for it . . . ,” he said sotto voce.

“She got her shots already. And she’s really good. She already peed in the litter box.” Only then did Nate look up, slowly, his eyes shining in appeal. “Do you like her? Do you want to keep her?” His brows knit and he reminded her, “She is your present.”

Her present? Dora almost laughed aloud. She peered at Nate clutching the kitten as if his life depended on it. The mother in her knew that in fact she would be the one caring for the kitten. She would be the one to change the litter box, to pick up the hair balls, to despair at the tears in her curtains and newly upholstered sofa. The kitten was one more responsibility for a single mother. Dora didn’t think she could handle one more.

Dora shot a glance at Devlin laced with accusation that he’d put her into this position of being the one who had to say no. Devlin stared back at her with wide-eyed innocence while a small smile of encouragement lingered on his face.

When she turned back to Nate, she watched as the kitten began crawling up his chest. Its tiny claws dug into his sweatshirt as she made her way up to his neck. Dora tensed, poised to leap, waiting for Nate’s scream of “Get her off!” There would be tears, maybe even a meltdown.

But none of that happened.

The kitten reached Nate’s shoulder and, after mewling a bit, settled there, curled beside his neck. Nate reached up as though it were the most normal thing in the world to have a cat curled by his neck and stroked her gently. In the stunned silence, Dora could hear the kitten’s soft purring. She sat staring, not believing what she was seeing. Her son, a boy that didn’t like to be touched, was allowing this kitten’s claws to dig into his clothes and its fur to rub along his neck. And he was petting her! He seemed to be enjoying the physical contact. Dora’s heart expanded with wonder, and in that moment Dora knew she would keep that sweet calico kitten no matter if it tore up the whole cottage. She turned again to Devlin, tears of disbelief in her eyes.

“There’s your gift,” he said softly.

Dora loved Devlin in that moment more than she ever had before. He really got her son. Knew what he needed and how to handle him. Devlin knew, too, what made her world light up.

Thank you, she mouthed.

He smiled and nodded in mute acknowledgment.

“Yes, of course you may keep her,” Dora told Nate. “She’s very sweet. I’ve never received a better gift. And I know you’ll take very good care of her. Thank you.”

“Good!” Relieved, Nate slowly extricated the kitten from his neck as it mewled piteously. Nate was not the least off put by the kitten’s complaints. He put the kitten firmly back into his arms, holding tight. “I am going to put her to bed now. Oh, she needs to sleep in my room. So I can take care of her.”

“Does she have a name?” Dora wanted to know.

“Miss Calico.”

“Will you call her Callie for short?”

“What do you mean? Like a nickname?”

“Yes. Something short and easy, for when you call her.”

Nate considered this. “Okay. Callie for short.”

They watched him walk with care from the room and close his bedroom door behind him.

Dora turned to Devlin. “How did you ever manage that? I want the whole story. All the details.”

The candle was burning low and the rain continued to patter on the tin roof, a mild drumming that was a soothing white noise. Devlin poured more of the champagne into their glasses, then put his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “Are you really okay with the kitten?”

“It means a bit more work. But I couldn’t refuse. My lonely, remote, difficult-to-touch son was just cuddling that kitten. He was hugging it!” Dora sipped her wine. “That’s a first. To see him love like that meant the world to me. Of course I’m okay with it.”

“I thought it might. But, hey, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll take the kitten. Seems only fair.”

Dora set her elbows on the table and leaned toward Devlin. “So tell me.”

Devlin swirled the wine in his glass. “Well, you know I’ve been looking for a rescue dog. So I go to the pound from time to time, to see if one speaks to me. Last week I took young Nate with me. He was curious and wanted to go. There we were walking around and looking. Truth be told, I was hoping he’d find some dog he liked and I could get that one. But what happens? I turn around and find him squattin’ down in front of a kennel filled with a litter of kittens staring like a coon dog on the scent. He was smitten, I could tell. I tried to persuade him to come see the dogs, but you know Nate when he’s got his mind made up. He wanted a kitten. Period. And not just any kitten. There was a black one, a gray one, and a gray-and-white-striped one. All furry and bright eyed, one cuter than the other. But he had his eyes set on that there calico.”

“So you asked the attendant to let him hold it.”


Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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