“You’re really here,” she whispered. “This isn’t a fantasy or a dream, is it?”
“No, bébé, it’s not. This is real. I’m real,” Beaumont reassured her as he lifted hand to tenderly brush her cheek with the back of his fingers. “Matter of fact, little one, I’m about as real as real gets,” he added softly, something slightly ominous in his words.
God, between his sweet voice and affectionate touch, Beaumont LaForte was turning her brain to mush. “B-but, there was a cat. A huge cat. Now, there’s you. A really naked you. And neither of those things should be inside my bedroom. Not that I’m complaining about you so much, but the gigantic feline was shedding, Mr. LaForte.”
Beaumont’s lips kicked up in a small smile at that. “Is that so, Little Lexie?” he murmured, caressing her full lower lip with his thumb. Alexa’s wordless, but adamant nod, pulled a chuckle from his lips.
“Sugar, what’ve I told you about that Mr. LaForte bullshit?”
Alexa blushed at his gentle rebuke. He’d invited her to call him by his Christian name dozens of times over the past six months since she’d started working at the coffeehouse, but she just hadn’t been able to do it. She might only be a barista, but she always tried to remain as professional as possible when she was working. “You’re one of my customers. It’s a habit,” she replied with a shrug.
“Well, then, how ‘bout I help you break that habit. I’ve told you that my friends call me Beau.”
“But I’m not your friend,” Lexie sassed, offering him a playful smile.
“Alexa, I’m standing here buck-assed naked with my hard cock wavin’ at you. I think it’s safe to say we’re gonna be a hell of a lot more than friends real soon, darlin’.”
Alexa shivered at the husky promise in those words. “Fine then. I’ll call you Beau. Maybe now would be a good time to explain to me what you are doing here, naked, in my bedroom. And where the hell did that huge cat go?” she asked again, looking around as if the animal would magically appear. She’d spent long minutes trying to get rid of it, but now that it was gone, she was worried for it.
Sliding his hand from her cheek to her neck, Beau gently caressed the warm flesh. “Panther,” he corrected her.
“What?” she questioned, her eyebrows drawing together in confusion as she frowned.
“That wasn’t a cat in your bed, sugar. It was an adult male black panther. ”
“So you saw it, too?” she asked excitedly, grabbing his arm as her eyes brightened. “Thank God!” she nearly squealed, thrilled to know that she wasn’t losing her mind. “Where did he go?” she asked anxiously, looking around. “I bet he slid under the bed when you came in,” she guessed hopefully, bending slightly at the waist to try and see if somehow the enormous beast had wedged himself under her bed. “I hope he didn’t run out of here. Somebody else might panic and shoot it, you know? As it is, I guess I’ll have to call animal control. They won’t hurt him, will they?” she worried out loud, sighing unhappily when she saw that there was nothing under the bed. “Shoot, he’s not down there!” she exclaimed irritably. Turning around, she ignored a still naked Beau in favor of resuming her search for the panther. “Here, kitty, kitty!” she called, her eyes darting all over the room.
Catching her arm, Beau cleared his throat loudly, pulling Alexa’s attention back to him. “Chère, wouldn’t you rather ask me how I came to be in your bedroom naked?”
“Well, yes,” she replied distractedly over her shoulder as she pulled away from him to cross the room to her opened small walk-in closet and peer inside. “I had wondered about that, but I’m trying to handle one problem at a time here. And the gigantic kitty with the enormous teeth is gonna have to take precedence over the hot hunk of nude man candy. I mean, I don’t have to worry that you’ll rip somebody’s throat out, do I?” Brushing the clothes aside, Alexa growled under her breath as she realized the closet, too, was empty of her panther. “Damn it! Where did he go?”
“Alexa, your panther is right here,” Beau replied from behind her.
Whirling, Alexa stared at where Beau stood, proudly naked, with his arms held out at his sides almost as if he was presenting himself to her. But why would he be doing that? Especially now when she was desperately searching for her missing cat – although why she suddenly felt responsible to the animal was beyond her. It wasn’t like the beast was her pet or anything. “Where?” she snapped impatiently, her eyes flashing with irritation. Watching as he dropped his arms, she saw Beau’s lips twitch. It was almost like he was fighting a smile, but for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out what could possibly be amusing him. There was a potentially dangerous animal on the loose in her house somewhere, and they needed to find him. The sooner the better!
“Sugar, I think you might wanna sit down,” Beau suggested, jerking his chin toward the end of the bed.
“Mr. LaFor-… I mean, Beau, we don’t have time….”
“Alexa. Please, chère?”
Huffing in frustration, Lexie crossed the room, perching on the edge of the mattress. “Okay, I’m sitting,” she informed him tersely, thumping her fist against the bed for emphasis and nearly whimpering as she noticed Beau pluck a towel from the basket of clean laundry on her dresser and wrap it around his lean hips. It ought to be a crime to cover up a cock that beautiful, she thought forlornly.
Padding toward where she sat, Beau slowly knelt in front of her, reaching for her hand and lacing his fingers through hers. Goosebumps rose on her arms as she stared into his eyes… eyes that seemed so familiar, yet so foreign. “Beau, what’s going on here?” she asked as his thumb drew slow circles on the inside of her palm and his lips pressed together to form a grim line. “You’re starting to scare me,” she stated softly when he remained silent.
Beau’s chin jerked up at that and his eyes darkened. “Sugar, the one thing you never need to be with me is scared. On the contrary, you’re the safest you’ve ever been right here with me. I know you don’t know me all that well yet, but that’s all gonna change soon. I hope you do know me well enough to know that I’m a decent man… one that would never hurt you or any other woman.”
Nodding, Alexa kept her gaze on Beau’s face. There was really nothing to say to that anyway. Months of waiting on him and serving him his daily expressos had allowed her to get to know him a bit. She saw him at least once a day, and lately, he’d stepped up his coffee intake and had been stopping by the coffeehouse at least twice a day. Morning and mid-afternoon. She assumed that since the weather had been nicer, his job had gotten busier and he needed the extra energy boost. She knew from talking to the other girls that worked with her that Beau was a much-sought-after electrician that owned his own successful business with a twin brother that she’d yet to meet. Unlike her, he’d grown up in the small town of Cartersville, Louisiana, and knew most everyone she worked with at Beans & Dreams. The gossip mill had shared that he and his family owned a lot of land on the outskirts of town and he’d recently built himself a large, luxurious log cabin. According to Tilly, whose older sister had gone to school with Beau, he was single at the moment and hadn’t been in a relationship with anyone for quite a while. Which Alexa supposed was lucky for her, since he was kneeling at her feet still wearing nothing but a towel and a smile. “I know you wouldn’t physically harm me, Beau.”
“Good. That’s good, chère,” he returned quietly, slowly licking his lips as he seemed to search for words.
“Beau…I need to find that cat,” she felt obliged to remind him.
“It’s a panther, Lexie, and I already told you, he’s right here,” he replied slowly.
“Where?” she growled, growing more agitated as it seemed like they were talking in circles.
Sighing, Beau rose and moved back a step, loosening the towel around his waist and letting it drop to the floor. “Sugar,” he drawled, “Promise me something, okay?”
Looking up into his troubled face, Alexa tilted her head to the side.
“Promise me you’ll try to keep an open mind for the next few minutes?” he returned evenly.
Shivering as she felt an odd shift of power in the room, Alexa didn’t have time to answer before she felt the room begin to heat and the air around Beau grow hazy. Blinking as the fluid muscles of his body seemed to contort, she gasped as the handsome man began to change…to…to…shift.
“Oh. My. God!” she breathed in awe. Because as quickly as Beau disappeared, her cat - ehrmmm, make that her panther - reappeared in exactly the spot Beau had been.
And there was only one explanation for that, she thought as the panther slowly ambled toward her, bumping his cold nose against her thigh and rubbing his massive body against her leg, his ultra-soft fur rubbing against her flesh. Dropping her shaking hand to the beast’s head, Alexa petted the animal gently as it began to purr. “Beau?” she whispered tentatively as the feline lifted his head to stare into her eyes. “Oh, my God! It is you!” she murmured wondrously as familiar eyes stared back at her.
Seconds later, the air sizzled again as Beau shifted back into his human form, his worried eyes never leaving hers. “Lexie? Chère? Please say something,” he urged, reaching for her hand.
“I...I don’t understand.” Alexa’s voice shook as she stared at Beau with shock-filled eyes.
“It’s really very simple, sweetness,” Beau returned in a calm, steady voice. “You just became one of the very few humans on Earth that know man and panther can co-exist inside of one being. And in this particular instance, both man and panther are mated. To you.”
Several long minutes later her nearly hysterical laughter was beginning to unnerve him. Curled in the center of her bed with her arms wrapped around her knees which were drawn up to her chest, her uncontrollable giggles shook the mattress. “Lexie, chère, are you all right?” he asked as he finished resituating one of her soft bath towels around his hips and shot her another worried look.
“A-am I a-alright?” she cackled, her voice breathless as she clutched her belly. “Did you just ask me if I-I’m okay? You think you’re a freaking animal and you’re asking me if I’m alright?” she finally managed to gasp, shoving her great mane of hair over her shoulder as she swung her feet over the side of the bed to face. “I think, maybe, I should be asking you if you’re alright. Or better yet, what mental facility would you prefer me to call? I’m sure somebody around here will Uber your admittedly fine ass right over to ‘em.”
Arching one inky eyebrow, Beau braced his hands on his hips, unaccustomed to anyone doing anything so bold as to make fun of him. In his professional life, he was a successful, much requested electrician. He had clients that demanded his services from as far away as New Orleans and Baton Rouge. More importantly, in his private life, he was alpha of Pantere Nouveau Pack of Louisiana where no one dared make jokes at his expense. To have his brand new petite fairy of a mate laughing at him? Well, to say he was disconcerted might be the understatement of the year.
Clearing his throat, he tried to look forbidding without being frightening. He didn’t want his little mate terrified of him, after all. A little respect, however, would go a long way toward soothing the savage beast currently pacing inside him. “Lexie, I’m not sure what exactly you find so funny here? I don’t need the assistance of any mental health professionals because I am perfectly sane. You, though, ma petite chère, need to wrap your head around the fact that we are all animals. I just happen to have dual occupancy inside of my being,” he tried to explain.
“Yeah! I sure can pick ‘em when I get hung up on a guy! My first boyfriend in eleventh grade ended up fucking my mom after my junior prom. My next two boyfriends were winners, too. One cheated on me and one stole from me. I scored on both counts. Then, I swore off men, moved here, and started working at Beans and Dreams. Then I see you, this hot guy that I’ve lusted after every time I served up his expresso. He shows up on my flippin’ birthday, NAKED, claims he’s my freakin’ mate and says he a fucking werewolf!” Alexa burst out into another bout of laughter, shaking her head as she wiped at her watering eyes. “Maybe you’re right! Maybe I DO need to be committed!” Her cackles echoed through the room.
Blinking, Beau silently admitted that was a lot to take in for his young mate, but he couldn’t turn loose of the fact that she thought he was a WEREWOLF! “I beg your pardon,” he thundered, drawing himself up to his full commanding 6’4” height. He knew he was intimidating when he loomed over people, but at this point, he no longer cared. His mate thought he was a mangy wolf! Leaning over her until Alexa fell back against her pillows, Beau pointed a long finger at her nose. “I am NOT a werewolf and I would NEVER claim to be one! Those beasts are curs! Stains on the shifter communities everywhere, I tell you. And as Alpha of the Pantere Nouveau Pack of Louisiana, I can tell you that every uncivilized creature calling himself a werewolf has been evicted from our state by my panther brethren. Never call me wolf, Lexie. It is the greatest of insults to a panther, and it certainly should never be something the Alpha’s mate hurls at her panther. Even if she is human and virtually clueless to our ways.”
Looking down, he saw that Alexa had her lips held tightly together and her face was turning red as she pressed her head into the pillows behind her head. Shit! Maybe he’d gone too far too fast with his little human mate, he inwardly cursed himself. She was so small and helpless…it wasn’t her fault that all this was new to her. “Lexie…sugar, say something!”
Bursting into another fit of giggles, she shook her head against her pillows as she stared up at him. “See, all I heard there, big guy, was….yadda, yadda, yadda, not a werewolf…yadda, yadda, yadda, instead I think I’m a freaking CAT!” She cackled maniacally as more tears rolled down her cheeks. “Oh, yeah, AND the cat thinks he’s gonna be my husband or my mate or something! Dude, I sincerely hope this kind of crazy isn’t hereditary or your poor kids are gonna be fucked!” She guffawed, clutching her belly again as she turned away from him to curl on her side, still laughing.
“They will be our children, Lexie,” he maintained through gritted teeth, but he knew she was no longer listening. No, she was lost in her mad giggles again. One thing was abundantly clear, Beau thought mutely. His mate was definitely NOT afraid of him. Frowning down at the profile of her way-too-amused face, Beau exhaled a long breath through his nose and prayed for the patience it was going to take to convince this tiny female that yes, he was a panther (not a goddamn cat!) and yes, he was indeed her mate (and soon to be her husband as well if he had his way which he usually did!).
Moving to the other side of the bed so he could see her, Beau took her hands in his and pulled her up, helping her get situated on the side of the bed before he knelt at her feet again. Cupping her cheeks gently, he directed her dancing eyes toward his. “Lexie,” he began sternly, but kindly, “Sugar, I need for you to try to calm down and listen to me. Can you do that for me, chère?” Seeing her eyes slowly focus on his serious face, he smiled when she nodded against his hands. “Good girl,” he praised softly. Taking another deep breath, he searched for what to say to this sweet woman that would assure he wasn’t crazy and neither was she. He started with an apology. “Sweet, I’m sorry for the unhappy life you had before I found you. What your boyfriends did before me…well, let me just assure you that those were not the actions of a real man,” he began, sweeping his thumb against the apple of her cheek. “And that mother of yours deserves to be shot for the part she played in things.”
“Yeah,” she scoffed. “Tell me something I don’t already know,” she mumbled, her eyes darkening with remembered pain.
“I’m not like those asshats that hurt you, chère,” Beau tried to assure her as her whiskey colored eyes narrowed.
“No, I don’t think you are, Mr. LaForte,” she acknowledged quietly, her voice almost disappointed. “It’s even worse. I think you’re a really nice guy. Kind. Sweet. You just happen to have a side of crazy that I can’
Beau chuckled at that. One thing about a life with Alexa… he knew he’d never be bored. “First, we agreed you’d call me Beau.”
“No, you demanded. I just didn’t argue with you,” she sassed with a shrug.
“Second,” he went on like he hadn’t heard her, “I am not crazy. You saw me shift with your own eyes, Lexie,” he pointed out to refresh her memory. “It only happened a few minutes ago, but I can turn again if you need to see it again.”
“No!” Alexa denied, grabbing his arm. “I don’t wanna see that again. I’m still not sure what I saw the first time. I’m hoping this is a dream…or that I’m drunk. I could be drunk. I had a lot of sangria.”
Beau did laugh at that. His little mate was adorable when she was desperate. And it was clear that she was willing to latch onto any possibility but the obvious one. The one where she had to admit that he really was a panther shifter. “Lexie, you aren’t drunk. You’re also wide awake. See?” he asked, pinching her leg with enough force to pull a wince and a gasp from her lips.
“Ouch!” she yelped, smacking his arm. “Stop that!”
Releasing her abused flesh, he smoothed his warm hand over the injury. “I’m sorry, chère, but that seemed like the quickest way to convince you. You’re definitely awake and sober.”
“Fine,” she snapped, glaring at him. “I’m awake. And unfortunately stone-cold sober. What I saw you do still doesn’t make sense. You say you’re a cat that’s also a man. A Catman,” she snickered. “So does that make you Catwoman’s worthless cousin or something?”
“Lexie.” Beau’s voice was deep and admonishing.
“What?” Alexa questioned innocently, blinking up at him. “There just weren’t enough capes for all the superheroes, huh, big guy?” she teased, her eyes twinkling with mischief.
Cat Scratch Fever Page 2