An Excerpt from "Stalking Evan", a
(Book Two in the Felidae Series)
Chapter 1 (2800 words)
Cooley began her campaign to seduce her neighbor Evan Saballo like any nice Southern girl would do. She took him a pie she’d baked herself, and she wore a nice linen sundress to do it.
Evan, however, didn’t even glance at the dessert. Or her breasts, or her legs, or her lovely pink pedicure. Instead he glowered at her face, squinting into the bright May sunlight streaming through his doorway. “What are you doing here?”
“What does it look like?” She smiled and raised the pie higher. “Bringing you a little something to eat.”
He widened the crack in the door slightly. He wasn’t looking especially perky. Well, neither would she if she spent half of each night running amuck in the local park.
“I’m not hungry,” he said.
“Maybe not now,” she teased, “but you will be later. Our kind has a high metabolism.”
At the mention of their “kind”, Evan’s glare intensified. It had been a week since the extraordinary evening when she’d had to rescue him from the police station. A very long week in which she’d waited for him to thank her, at the very least. She’d discovered a wad of cash for the bail money in her mailbox the morning after he’d gotten arrested, but that had been it.
He’d been at home. He’d even had visitors, which was rare for him. But he hadn’t come to visit her. His savior.
You’d think two special people who’d finally met someone like themselves would have become inseparable, or at least chatted over an iced tea about the ins and outs of life as a shape changing panther, but no. Evan seemed as glad to see her and her pastry as he had been to see her at the police station, which was to say, not very.
“You have to be getting sick of rabbit by now,” Cooley said kindly, as if he weren’t poised to slam the door in her face like the time she’d handed him a petition about the state of his yard.
Evan finally directed his dark blue gaze at the pie. He didn’t look any happier. “I don’t like sweets.”
The pie was a beauty. A work of art, with a perfectly latticed crust and just the right amount of cinnamon sprinkled into the apple filling. With her hypersensitive nose, it smelled like apple Heaven. Since Evan had a hypersensitive nose as well, he should be equally impressed.
Yet there he was, scowling. Hairy. Ungrateful.
Cooley’s smile tightened. She’d suspected it wouldn’t be easy, chasing a man like Evan, but he’d shown no signs of coming to her. “Since you don’t like sweets, it’s a good thing I used some nice, tart Granny Smith’s. You’d think a man so recently freed from prison would be grateful for some homemade cooking.”
“That wasn’t prison, that was the police station.”
“You’d be doing me a favor,” Cooley said. “I always bake several pies at a time. They freeze okay, but they’re best right out of the oven.” She didn’t add that she’d only baked one this morning, and it had Evan’s name all over it.
“Fine.” He stepped onto the porch. “I’ll take it if you go away. I’m expecting someone.”
Evan was a head taller than she was, and she wasn’t short. He reached for the plate and frowned. “None of your business.”
When their hands touched, a shiver passed through her. The contact was innocuous, a brush of his fingers on the backs of her hands, but it was the first time in her adult life she’d touched another panther.
“Good gracious.” She placed her fingers gently on his wrist. Yes—a definite tingle. “Do you feel that?”
His gaze shot down to her hand, and his nostrils flared. “No.”
Oh, he was such a liar. First he tried to say he didn’t like sweets, and now this. She curled her fingers around his forearm as the sensation wound deeper into her body. “That’s so odd.”
He jerked away, nearly dropping the pie. “Cut it out, would you?”
“You don’t think it’s odd?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She tried to steady her breathing as the tingle coursed through her. There was no denying it. Evan might not look well groomed at the moment, but she was experiencing a definite urge to toss a perfectly good pie into the yard and touch him all over. Run her hands through his dark curls. Feel the rasp of his beard against her lips. Lift his stained T-shirt right here on the front porch and...
Wait. Was that the same T-shirt he’d had on three days ago when she’d spotted him in his yard? The same sweatpants?
Goodness. How could he stand himself? She couldn’t bear being dirty any more than her cats could, but apparently Evan didn’t share their love of hygiene.
Cooley felt her lustiness subside until Evan was no longer in danger of being shoved into his house and molested. If she were even strong enough to overpower a male of her kind.
Oblivious to her thoughts, Evan tried to close his front door. “If that’s all, I’m in the middle of a project.”
“It’s not all. I can’t go until you give me my plate.” And until she got one tiny admission he was glad they’d found each other. She’d let the admission about the electricity pass until a later time.
“Miss Johansen,” he said slowly, “I’m not going to sit and eat a whole pie so you can have your plate.”
“Cooley,” she corrected. He knew her name, the awful man. “I mean the plate from the cookies I gave you last week.” That had been before she’d discovered his secret—and before she’d decided to seduce him.
“What about it?”
The big jerk could at least compliment the cookies. “I’ll just pop in and get it.”
“I don’t want you in my—”
Cooley summoned enough shifter strength to bump past him. He rolled his eyes and let her open the door. She made it three feet into his living room before stopping cold.
And she’d thought his yard and clothes were poorly tended.
“Oh. My. Lord.” The only furniture items were a rumpled couch and a giant television. Boxes upon boxes sat everywhere else, clothing draped over some, books and papers and bills and mail scattered in stacks against the walls, even in the middle of the floor. “Holy...muck.”
She heard the snick of the door closing behind Evan. “What?”
“What in the world?” Glad she was no longer holding the pie, Cooley wrapped her arms around herself. She had a tendency to let things go sometimes too, but not like this. If cleanliness was next to Godliness, Evan was the devil.
“Are you possibly getting things ready to donate to charity?” she asked hopefully.
“Donate? Why would I give my stuff away?”
So he kept it like this on purpose? “I hate to say this, but your house is a wreck.”
“Please. It’s a few boxes. I told you I was in the middle of a project.” Evan gestured with the pie. “You didn’t exactly give me time to clean.”
Her grandmother would have grounded her for a month if she’d let her room get this messy. “It would take a week to clean this place.”
“Whatever, Martha.” He clomped past her and through a doorway. “Your plate is probably in the kitchen.”
“Probably?” She followed him down a hardwood hallway. A tacky area on the floor had attracted a lot of what looked like panther hair. She avoided it, only for her bare foot to land on a different gummy spot. Ack.
She hopped away. Every time she put her poor, sullied foot on the ground, it stuck like double-sided tape. She’d thought going barefoot would remind Evan of their connection, as neither of them liked to wear shoes, but now she regretted it with every step.
The kitchen, when she hopped into it, was no better than the living room. Dishes teetered on the counters, pizza boxes interspersed among them. Utensils filled the sink. More cardboard boxes and stacks of newspaper cluttered the floor. Recycling tubs overflowing with glass, plastics and aluminum nearly blocked the other entryway. The fact that Evan recycled didn’t make up for the state of the house.
The smell wasn’t lovely, either. The odors of cold pizza, moo goo gai pan, rabbit and panther musk hit her so hard she flinched.
“What in the world?” she repeated, almost helplessly. “How can you live like this?”
Evan thrust aside a scattering of coffee mugs and set the pie on the counter. “Who are you, my real estate agent? Nobody asked you to critique my housekeeping.”
Cooley put her hands on her hips, the crisp linen of her sundress a reassuring, clean sensation. It was so disappointing to find out the object of her desire was a slob. In fact, it was almost a deal-breaker, but he was the only panther she knew. She wouldn’t give up on him yet. “There’s no housekeeping going on here.”
He crossed his arms and leaned against the sink, his back inches from a dirty butcher knife. “You wouldn’t say that if you could have seen it a week ago.”
“I’m glad I didn’t. I would have called the cops on you for creating a health hazard.” She didn’t want to jostle any of the towering stacks of crockery to unearth her plate, but it was her excuse for barging in.
“What a shock. You, overreacting about something and calling the cops.” The expression on his face might have been a smirk and might have been a frown. It was hard to tell since his scruffy beard concealed his jaw line.
“I’m a concerned citizen.” Remaining current on local politics—and knowing the police officers by name—was part of Cooley’s strategy for controlling her environment. So was reporting malfeasance. She never knew when a friend in a high place might come in handy. “We can’t be too careful.”
“We...panther people,” she said, dropping to a whisper as if hunters could be outside the house right now, listening with a parabolic microphone. “Technically, I think we’re closest to leopards, but panther is a generic term that covers all the bases.” She wanted to touch him again, to emphasize their similarities, but his bristly attitude stopped her.
And also, his sneer.
“The police involvement was your doing. You’re the one who raised a ruckus about a so-called wild animal, not me.”
“You know that’s not entirely true.” She’d never met a hunter first-hand that she knew of, but she firmly believed they existed and were the reason her parents had died. Her grandmother had tried to gloss over it—while training her to be paranoid—but Cooley was no dummy. Now here was Evan, unable to control himself, getting tossed in jail, living on her street. Her street! He was attracting attention to the safe existence she’d created here in suburbia. “You’ve been running wild, sir. It was only a matter of time.”
“Is that so?”
“If I hadn’t gotten you out of the police station, you’d have changed right there in the jail cell, and then where would we be?”
“Ah, but why was I in the police station?”
“For being belligerent and hateful,” she countered. “It’s not as if they’d have found a leopard if you would have let them search your house the first time they asked.”
He shrugged, which she took as acquiescence. “The fact is, you cannot, absolutely cannot, continue like this. Running around the park, shifting every night, eating all the game and scaring innocent people and their cats.”
“Innocent?” he said with a snort. “You?”
“I don’t so much as coast through stop signs, thank you very much,” she said. “And you realize wild rabbits have tapeworms, don’t you?”
His face twisted. “I, ah, figured that out.”
She chose not to pursue that line of conversation. She’d already tread close to indelicacy as it was, mentioning it, but he needed help.
They went silent for a moment, studying one another. She knew he struggled with the change, because she saw his panther every morning as he galloped past her fence. Turning feline on a regular basis was risky. Foolhardy. She could go months without shifting if she felt like it. Discretion was her life, what kept her alive. Granted, from what little he’d told her, he’d been made, not born, but that wouldn’t mean anything to a hunter. Or to the rest of the world, if they stumbled across the existence of shape shifters.
“You have to get a grip,” Cooley decided. “It’s not right, the way you’re behaving. Do you want to expose us all?”
At that, his lips thinned and his pupils flickered into slits. The scent of challenge filled the air, as strong as pickle juice. Which was saying something, considering the way his kitchen smelled.
In response, her fingertips began to sting in a way that bore little resemblance to the tingle when she’d touched him. Her claws were coming out, something she never allowed to happen in front of others.
Good gravy. Evan Saballo was outside of enough. His wildness was rubbing off on her, and that was unacceptable.
“Being angry isn’t going to solve anything,” she warned him, rubbing her fingertips on her dress.
“Who says I’m angry?” He slammed open the dishwasher, which was crammed as full as the sink and countertops. In seconds, he was shoving her platter at her. “Here’s your plate.”
“Thank you.” She accepted it as if he’d offered it politely. His manners were something he must work on once their relationship deepened. Though the thought of all that unshaven ferocity in bed...
But she was getting ahead of herself. Her prey was stubborn and uncooperative. She was going to have to dredge up stronger tactics to break through his walls. The first thing she needed to do was find out whether his hostility was due to his upbringing or his becoming a panther. One must understand why walls had been built in order to knock them down.
“Evan,” she said, averting her eyes from the stains on the unwashed plate, “tell me about yourself.”
He skritched his fingers through the stubble on his chin. “All you need to know about me is I’m busy.”
“No-one is busy all the time,” she said. “Would you like to come over for dinner Saturday? We can get to know each other. After what happened, I’m sure you’ll agree it would be beneficial.”
“I would not agree.”
When she stared at him, he said, “I’ll tell you one thing about myself. I don’t appreciate being taken for granted.”
Well, someone was feeling oversensitive. “How is my offering to cook your dinner taking you for granted? You have to eat, and you’ve cleared out the free-range bunnies.”
“You’re assuming I give a shit that we have some little thing in common.” He straightened. “You’re not going to leave, are you?”
“Not until we talk. It’s foolish to ignore one another.” Both of them being panthers—how was that some little thing?
“It’s not foolish. It’s self-preservation.” To her complete surprise, he grabbed her shoulder, turned her around, and force-marched her toward the front door. He didn’t hurt her, but the shock that he’d lay hands on her overpowered the delicious tingle that woke at the physical contact.
“You’re overreacting,” she fussed. She thought about struggling but decided she didn’t want to know if he could overpower her. Better to maintain the belief he couldn’t. Besides, she might break her Wild Rose china platter, which would mess up the set.
They reached the doorway, and he bumped her onto the porch.
“That was completely unnecessary.” She flipped her hair out of her face and glared. It was hard to maintain a positive attitude with his expression all growly and stubbly. “And very disrespectful.”
“If you’ll excuse me?” he said in a mocking voice.
But Cooley was angry now, and she let her own pupils narrow, allowed just enough of the panther through that he should be able to sense it. “Actually, I don’t believe I will excuse you.”
He blinked several times, frowned, and slammed the door.
It wasn’t the first time he’d slammed the door in her face, but the next time he did it, she was tempted to rip the darned thing off its hinges and show him how unwise it was to rile a pantheress when all she’d done was be neighborly.
Well, she had gotten him arrested, after a fashion, but she’d bailed him out, hadn’t she? Wasn’t that a demonstration of her intentions? He couldn’t sulk forever.
And here she was, offering friendship and pie. Offering a lot more, though that could come later. Of all the nerve!
There was no call for him to be so nasty. It was almost enough to make a girl feel unwanted.
© 2012 Jody Wallace
Back to the Book Page * Back to the Excerpts Page