Tempt Not the Cat, страница 1
An Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication
Tempt Not the Cat
ISBN # 1-4199-0544-9
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Tempt Not the Cat Copyright© 2006 J.C. Wilder
Edited by Sue-Ellen Gower.
Cover art by Syneca.
Electronic book Publication: April 2006
This book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.
The following material contains graphic sexual content meant for mature readers. This book has been rated S-ensuous by a minimum of three independent reviewers.
Ellora’s Cave Publishing offers three levels of Romantica™ reading entertainment: S (S-ensuous), E (E-rotic), and X (X-treme).
S-ensuous love scenes are explicit and leave nothing to the imagination.
E-rotic love scenes are explicit, leave nothing to the imagination, and are high in volume per the overall word count. In addition, some E-rated titles might contain fantasy material that some readers find objectionable, such as bondage, submission, same sex encounters, forced seductions, and so forth. E-rated titles are the most graphic titles we carry; it is common, for instance, for an author to use words such as “fucking”, “cock”, “pussy”, and such within their work of literature.
X-treme titles differ from E-rated titles only in plot premise and storyline execution. Unlike E-rated titles, stories designated with the letter X tend to contain controversial subject matter not for the faint of heart.
Tempt Not the Cat
To John & Duch—The gifts I have received in my life have been plentiful, thank you for reminding me.
My heartfelt thanks to my dear friend Dave for allowing me unlimited use of his home and for answering my many questions about life in Colorado.
Dave—you mean more to me than you’ll ever know.
And to Joe—WOOF!
Carol and Julia—My partners in crime, I would still be wandering the halls of unfulfilled dreams if ya’ll weren’t constantly kicking me in the backside.
Rosemary—For your biting wit, most excellent conversations and undying encouragement—Thanks, doll!
Lynne—Thanks for writing the perfect poem.
Jaycee—Thanks for reading this and not saying “You’re NUTS!”
Buttons—We miss you.
Thanks to the Columbus Zoo for answering my questions about cougars.
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
501s: Levi Strauss & Co.
Harley Davidson: Harley-Davidson Motor Company
Kendall-Jackson: Kendall-Jackson Vineyards and Winery
Buick: General Motors Corporation
Acura: Honda Motor Co., Ltd.
“You are such a liar!”
Erihn blinked at the intrusion of Vivian’s strident voice. She looked up from the book in her lap in time to see Jennifer shake her dark head.
“Vivian, I’m truly a fraud.” Jennifer sighed dramatically, amusement lurking in the depths of her blue eyes.
Vivian snorted. “All those stories…” She waved a glittering, ring-covered hand in Erihn’s direction. “I thought she was the fiction writer.” She pointed at Jennifer. “You’re the journalist and your stories should be based on fact.”
“Was a journalist.” Melanie raised her champagne glass in the air to signal the waitress. “She quit her job.”
Vivian’s perfectly shaped brow arched. “You did?”
Jennifer nodded. “I left about a month ago. I decided it was time for a change.”
“Oh, what I would do for a life of leisure,” Melanie sighed. “I’d never get out of bed, and I’d hire a platoon of handsome men to attend to my every need.”
“What would your husband say about that?” Vivian asked.
“Nothing complimentary, I’d wager,” Melanie smirked.
“That’s rich coming from Little Miss My-Last-Movie-Grossed-Seventy-Million,” Jennifer shot back. “What do you do, work about four months out of the year?”
“I have to work out every day to keep this figure,” Melanie protested. “It’s not easy being a star.”
“Yeah, with a personal trainer, masseuse, and a full entourage of assistants,” Vivian teased. “You probably hire someone to sweat for you.”
Melanie glared at Vivian. “You have a personal assistant.”
“Well, it is so hard to keep straight all those lunch dates, cocktail parties and secret assignations.” Jennifer winked at Erihn.
“I do more than just flit around to lunch dates and cocktail parties.” Vivian scowled at Jennifer. “I do very important things with my life.”
“Like your nails?” Melanie snickered.
“I think you’re parasites, every last one of you,” Erihn interjected with a grin. “I’m the only one here with a real job.”
“Romance writing is a job?” Vivian laughed. “Don’t you just sit around and eat bonbons all day while cover models do your bidding?”
“Maybe I need to add that clause to my contract…” Melanie mused.
Erihn snorted with laughter. “No, I sit hunched over a computer for hours until my entire body aches and I want to cry. I stumble around in a haze because characters are talking in my head and I can’t concentrate on anything else. As for bonbons…” She shook her head. “There are days I’m lucky to have that much in the house because I forget to go to the grocery store. On the rare occasion when I do manage to get out the door, I usually forget what I went there to buy.”
“You’re the one who needs a personal assistant,” Jennifer said.
“Not on your life. What would I do with a PA? They’d be terribly bored with my dull little life.”
“I can give you a few ideas…” Vivian drawled.
“NO!” the three women shouted in unison, drawing the curious looks of patrons at the tables nearest to them.
“Really,” Vivian sniffed. She jabbed her finger in Jennifer’s direction. “That doesn’t get you off the hook, young lady. Lying to your friends and telling wild stories.” She shook her ebony head. “Is this how you pay us back for years of undying friendship, pounds of Swiss chocolates, and listening to your three a.m. phone dramas?”
“I’ve never called you at three a.m.,” Jennifer objected. “That’s Melanie, she can never remember what time zone she’s in.”
Melanie nodded. “True…”
Jennifer leaned against the arm of the couch. “I didn’t know how to tell you guys about Mac.” She squirmed, fixing her gaze on the tips of her sandals. “It was complicated.”
Melanie leaned forward and patted her on the knee. “I think it’s terribly romantic.”
“Oh, really,” Vivian snorted, rolling her eyes in disgust.
“Hi girls!” Shai arrived and energetically dropped onto the low-slung couch between Erihn and Jennifer. “Who are you castigating this time?” she asked Vivian.
“Jennifer. She lied about her supposed lovers and, all the while, she was pining away for one man.” Melanie swooned dramatically, waving her hand in front of her face as if she were flushed.
“Shrew,” Melanie shot back.
“Wear-white-after-Labor-Day fashion victim—”
“I think it’s romantic,” Erihn interrupted. “And I’m glad you waited for him, Jennifer.”
Vivian rolled her eyes. “What’s so romantic about waiting for one man to come and take you away from all this?” She waved her hand vaguely to encompass the interior of the coffeehouse. “I say go out, grab him and do it quick before you dry up and wither away.”
“We know how you feel, Viv.” Melanie leaned forward to pick up the champagne bottle from the ice bucket.
“Well, I did get him…in the end anyway,” Jennifer answered, a secret smile playing across her mouth.
“Boy, did she ever,” Shai snickered.
Erihn turned to look at Shai in disbelief. Whatever had happened to her shy, retiring friend? The Shai who’d dressed in baggy clothing and ducked her head when someone looked at her sideways was now dressed in a body-skimming, emerald green silk catsuit and a sheer ebony shirt with her normally unruly red hair caught up in a complicated twist. She looked sleek and sophisticated, confident. She certainly didn’t resemble the wallflower she’d been a few years ago.
“You’ve changed a great deal, my friend.”
“Really, how is that?” Shai asked, leaning forward to accept the bottle of champagne from Melanie.
“At your little birthday dinner a few years back…” Erihn began.
“Almost eleven years ago,” Melanie chirped.
“Has it been that long?” Jennifer shook her dark head. “Time does fly.”
“I’m getting old,” Vivian sighed mournfully.
“You still look twenty-two,” Jennifer observed.
“Oh, the marvels of plastic surgery…” Melanie teased.
“I have not had plastic surgery,” Vivian denied.
Erihn ignored the bickering that was her friends’ favorite form of conversation. “You could barely keep from blushing when Vivian mentioned the word sex.” Erihn smiled fondly. “Poor shy Shai.”
Shai laughed and filled Erihn’s empty glass to the rim. “Boy, was I a little mouse back then.” Her green eyes glimmered brightly. “I know better now.” She gave Erihn an affectionate poke in the arm. “As if you’re any better.”
“That’s so true.” Vivian snagged the bottle from Shai and filled her own glass. “I think we need to make Erihn our next little project. Look how beautifully Shai turned out. Only a few weeks after her birthday, she was hanging out with the richest man in the city and having the best sex of her life.”
Erihn shook her head. “Oh no you don’t! I don’t want to be—”
“It wasn’t hard to have the best sex of my life since I was practically a virgin when I met Val,” Shai laughed. “I had nothing to compare him to.”
Vivian offered the bottle to Jennifer. “One only has to glance at Val and know he’s a supreme fu—”
“Perfect!” Melanie leaned forward to intercept the bottle. “Just what we need, a new project. What stupendous timing, I’m not working right now so I have loads of time! I think we need to start with Erihn’s clothing.”
Erihn scowled at Melanie. “What’s wrong with my clothes?”
Jennifer accepted the bottle from Melanie and shook her head as if to warn Erihn to be silent and give in gracefully. “If you have to ask what the problem is, then you’re in bad shape, my fashion-unconscious friend.”
Erihn waved at Melanie’s skintight pink leather halter dress and matching high-heeled pumps. “I can’t dress like that. I’d look silly.”
“We can do something fun with her hair.” Vivian reached over and snagged a lock of Erihn’s hair and wound it around her finger. “A bob maybe.”
Erihn glared at Vivian as she pulled her hair away from her friend’s manicured claws. “I think not,” she snapped.
“Color it?” Melanie queried.
Erihn clutched her hair in one hand. She glanced down at the muted brown, dulled by the subdued lighting. “No way.”
“No.” Jennifer shook her head.
“Thank you, Jennifer,” Erihn huffed. “Finally, the voice of reason…”
“Layered, I think,” Jennifer mused.
“What?” Erihn shrieked, drawing more curious looks. She cringed under their gazes, embarrassment heating her skin. She hated drawing attention to herself and she tried to avoid it as much as possible. But whenever her friends were involved they invariably caused a scene sooner or later. She suppressed a groan.
Shai laughed and threw an arm around her shoulders. “I think you’re perfect just the way you are,” she said with a hug. “However, I do think a man is in order.”
“Traitor.” Erihn snatched her glass of champagne off the low table in front of her and took a healthy swallow.
“You have no idea how it could change your life,” Melanie offered.
“I like my life the way it is thankyouverymuch.” Erihn shook her head. “The last thing I need is a man mucking it up.”
“If you had a man in your life, you could quit buying all those sexual guides,” Vivian pointed out, accepting the champagne bottle from Jennifer.
“Research,” Erihn snapped.
“Yes, but you could try it out on a willing subject.” Jennifer grinned.
“I don’t need—”
Vivian snorted, leaning over to top off Erihn’s glass with the dregs of the bottle. “Yes, you do. Trust me, darling, there’s nothing like a good fuck to get your body and mind back into working order.”
Erihn blanched at Vivian’s blatant words. “I don’t need a-a…that,” she stammered.
“You’re afraid because of what that man did to you,” Melanie observed.
Erihn tensed. Of course she was afraid. She had good reason to be terrified of the opposite sex. When she was a teenager, she’d been kidnapped and held for several days by a brutal madman who’d used her in ways these ladies could never imagine. What wasn’t there to be afraid of? When had the opposite sex ever shown her anything but pain or brutality, or ignored her completely? She’d learned her lessons well, she wasn’t about to repeat a past mistake.
Her hand trembled when she raised the glass to her lips. She took a large gulp of the icy liquid to give herself time to gather her errant emotions.
“I’m not afraid,” she lied. “I simply like my life—”
“You’re afraid, and that’s okay,” Jennifer interrupted. “It’s okay to be scared. We just need to find you a nice, refined gentleman who’ll worship you…”
“Boring.” Vivian sighed and Jennifer shot her a dark glance.
“And take care of you.” Melanie raised her glass in Erihn’s direction as if to salute.
“Buy you flowers.” Shai grinned.
“Buy you jewels,” Vivian added.
“Take you out for long romantic walks,” Melanie sighed. “I remember romantic walks…”
“Hold your hand in the rain,” Shai said.
“Give you long, soulful kisses that make your toes curl…” Jennifer raised her hand to her lips, her expression dreamy.
“And fuck your brains out on occasion,” Vivian added dryly.
Erihn couldn’t prevent the laugh that escaped her. Vivian had a one-track mind, which was fine with her. She got some of her best fantasy material for her novels from Vivian’s conquests and tall tales. Vivian’s sexual appetites were legendary among the five friends.
Shai hugged her again. “Don’t worry, darling, we have everything well in hand and it won’t hurt a bit.”
“Unless you’re lucky,” Vivian purred.
Shai rolled her eyes at Vivian then turned to Erihn. She pointed to the book in Erihn’s lap. “What do you think of your birthday present?”
Erihn set down her glass and rubbed her hand over the worn leather binding. It was a first edition of Emily Brönte’s Wuthering Heights
“Val was tickled to death when he found it tucked in the back of a dusty little antique bookshop in Hay-on-Wye in Wales. On a bottom shelf behind a box of tattered Victorian erotica lay this little gem. He was quite dirty by the time he’d retrieved it, and when I walked into the room, he was sitting on the floor, grinning like a loon with this book in his hands.”
Erihn hugged the book to her chest, a tiny thrill of possession running through her. “I must call and thank him…”
“No need. He’ll be here shortly.” Jennifer picked up her glass of champagne. “He and Mac are escorting us to dinner tonight.”
“Only two of them?” Melanie laughed. “Do you think they can keep up?”
Vivian slanted a wicked grin at the blonde. “I have no doubt they can.” She turned her gaze to Erihn. “But the question is…” She leaned forward, her eyes bright with curiosity. “Will you go up there and recite a poem?” She nodded toward the tiny stage at the front of the coffeehouse.
Erihn looked across the crowded room to the stage at the far end. The Brew House was one of the most popular spots in Boulder. Half of the building was a coffeehouse, while the other half was a microbrewery. Well-dressed patrons sat at café-style tables or relaxed in cozy clusters of couches and overstuffed chairs. At the far end was a stage used for musical performers or literary readings, and Sunday night was amateur poet night.
A variety of colored lights transformed the stage into a kaleidoscope of motion. A small woman dressed in a swirling rainbow of a skirt stood in a narrow spotlight of white. The light turned her blonde hair to white, giving her an angelic look that clashed with the vibrant skirt. She undulated her hips as if she were swimming.
“Not like that.” Erihn shook her head, enjoying the floating feeling caused by the champagne. “Never like that…”