I thought it made a good quirk to have Grant be a cat guy instead of a dog person. Hmmm… in my current work in progress, the hero is also a cat lover…
Grant stared at the ceiling instead of sleeping. His shoulder throbbed and he’d already taken a pill that refused to dull the pain. Trying to carry Petey into the vet’s office had been a mistake. The strength he’d diligently built up in the last weeks had drained away as Petey slipped from his grasp. Grant rolled onto his left side and pulled a pillow close to his body for his right arm to rest on.
A black shadow leapt onto the bed and crept towards him.
“Hey, Orca.” Grant rubbed the cat’s head and listened to the purr. “You’ve been fed and you have fresh water. What else do you need?” The cat ducked and butted his head into Grant’s hand. “Just some affection, huh?”
“Oh, no.” Grant sat up straight. “I forgot to ask Cami about lunch Saturday.” The numbers of his bedside clock glowed, 11:43. “Should I call?” They hadn’t had a late night phone chat before. Isn’t that what couples do? So it would be a new element in their relationship. Orca continued to rub and purr which Grant took as an assent.
He dialed Cami’s cell number.
He knew by the warmth in her voice that she’d checked her caller ID and recognized his number.
“Hope I didn’t wake you.”
“No. I should be exhausted but I can’t sleep. Paige and I talked for awhile, trying to remember when all this started.”
“The phone calls started in February, and I also got some unsigned Valentines with odd messages. I thought one of my friends was playing a joke on me, but now I’m not sure.”
“The more pieces you can put together, the quicker we find and stop this guy.”
“I need to ask you another favor.”
“Name it.” He’d wrestle crocodiles if it would help her trust him.
“I can’t keep Petey with me here at Paige’s.”
“Technically,” he said, lowering his voice, “that’s a favor you’d have to ask Orca. I’m not sure he’ll agree as easily as I would. If it were up to me, that is.”
“Will he take a bribe?” A lighter note crept into her tone. Was she finally relaxing enough to joke with him?
“He’s been known to accept offerings of tuna or scrambled eggs with cheese.”
“How about caviar with crème fraiche?”
His heart skipped. A definite joke. “Did I mention that’s only step one?” Maybe he could lighten her mood and make her forget the day. From the phone call that morning, to Petey’s narrow escape, and her near breakdown.
“Now I’m in for it.” He could hear the smile in her voice. “What’s step two?”
“Frequent visits to keep Petey out of Orca’s hair. Literally and figuratively.”
He leaned back into his pillow. “Then I have his authority to accept the deal. When should we expect him?”
“Will you be around in the morning?”
“Except for therapy.”
“I’ll call you after I talk to Doctor Lorenzo,” she said. “It’s late, so-”
“Hey, I almost forgot why I called. Ellen Spencer is having some of the players’ wives and girlfriends over for lunch on Saturday, and she’d like you to come.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” She paused. “I would love to, I like Ellen. But I can’t think that far ahead right now.”
“I’ll let her know you’re a maybe. She’ll understand.”
“Thanks. I better get some sleep. You should, too.”
“I will.” Too bad he couldn’t keep her talking all night. But there was nothing he could say that wouldn’t scare her off. He settled for a simple parting. “Goodnight, Cami.” He waited for her response.
The silence lingered until she finally spoke, her voice wistful. “ ‘night.”
Encouraged, Grant hung up the phone and returned to his back, to watch shadows inch across the ceiling. And think about a certain auburn-haired artist.
Cami dozed fitfully until she heard Paige in the shower at 5:15. She gave up hope of any sleep and wandered into the kitchen to start Paige’s coffee and the kettle for tea. When Paige entered a few minutes later, she stopped in her tracks.
“Who are you, and what have you done with my friend?”
“Very funny.” Cami sat at the small table in the nook, waiting for the kettle to whistle.
“You haven’t seen this hour with the letters AM after it in how many years?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“When will you call the vet?” Paige poured herself a bowl of cereal and leaned against the table while she ate.
“Not till eight.”
“I’ve got appointments all day, and a mystery shop tonight. Will you be all right?”
“Yes. I’ll work till noon, then pick up Petey if he’s ready. Grant said he’ll keep him.”
“Good.” Paige rinsed out her bowl and put it in the dishwasher while wiping down the sink and digging in her purse, a vision of multi-tasking.
“What’s your shop?” Cami asked. She loved hearing about Paige’s stealth shopping. Being paid to eat and shop sounded like a dream job, but it paid little, not even minimum wage when you factored in driving and reporting time. Paige had started in college to supplement her living allowance and she still accepted a periodic job, just to keep her foot in the proverbial door. Because of her careful analyses and reports, she occasionally got to shop a gourmet restaurant or stay at a resort as a reward. So she still did fast food and casual dining reports.
“Dinner at the Waffle House. Yum.” She sighed. “Make yourself at home, here’s my spare key.” She tossed it to Cami and was gone.
Later, as she wrote a check to Dr. Lorenzo, Cami realized Janis’s coffee shop job would help cover the vet bill. She breathed a prayer of thanks Janis had approved the final result that gave her enough to pay the total without a panic attack about making her house payment. Of course, the cost didn’t matter as long as Petey was okay.
Doctor Lorenzo came out of an examining room to give Cami the final instructions for the dog’s care. “He was definitely given antifreeze. The plastic bone had pin holes so it really soaked it up. Ethylene glycol is extremely toxic and by the time symptoms manifest, it’s usually too late. Your quick thinking with the hydrogen peroxide and rushing him here saved his life.”
“I’m so glad he’s okay. I can’t thank you enough.”
“Hydrogen peroxide has to be fresh to work. If you’d used an opened bottle, he might not have survived.”
Cami’s mind flashed back to shopping at Target when she’d placed the brown bottle in her red cart, next to the fabric softener. “I happened to pick some up a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t know why, but I guess God did.”
“Here are instructions for his care. Basically, keep him quiet for a few days, make sure he has plenty to drink. Bring him back on Monday, for a quick look-see. I expect him to fully recover.”
Cami tucked the sheet of paper in her purse, and waited for the aide to lead Petey out.
“Hi, boy.” She squatted in front of the dog and hugged his neck. Hot tears stung her eyelids. “I missed you.” His tail swayed gently and he licked her cheek. She clipped the leash onto his collar and led him outside.
Several minutes later, he was loaded in her car. He didn’t want to jump in by himself. And the adrenaline rush fueling her the day before was gone. Finally, a combination of lifting, pushing, and coaxing got him stretched out across the back seat.
As she drove up the freeway toward Newport Beach, she kept glancing in her rear view mirror at the dog. His eyes were closed but his breathing held steady.
Once they arrived at Grant’s house, she rang the bell before unloading Petey. If Grant came and said hello to the dog, it might help Petey adjust to his temporary quarters. And her to seeing Grant for the first time after their late night phone call.
The door opened and Grant stepped out. “Hi.” He embraced her and all awkwardness flew away. She hugged him back.
“Hi, yourself. He’s still in the car, can you help me get him out?”
“I’ll try.” But once Cami opened the car door, Petey lumbered out by himself. He stood and moved his gaze from one of them to the other.
“Easy as sliding into first.” Grant shut the door and led the way back to his front entry.
“He must be feeling better, it took me forever to get him in there. And you don’t slide into first. Even I know that much.”
“That’s why it’s easy,” he said. “What do we need to know?”
Cami repeated the vet’s words and gave Grant the directions for Petey’s care. She’d brought his favorite food and some treats, as well as the huge plaid pillow he slept on. She’d stopped by her house long enough to pick up those things, her mail, and more clothes for herself.
“I started some chicken marinating for dinner. Can I interest you?” Grant asked, leading her into the great room.
“I’d love to. I didn’t want to impose, but I hoped to stay for a while and help Petey get used to you and Orca. Thank you so much for keeping him.” She moved to the kitchen and set the bag of food and treats on the table.
“We’re glad to have him. Orca promised to behave himself.”
“I read a quote recently that said, ‘After scolding one's cat, one looks into its face and is seized by the ugly suspicion that it understood every word. And has filed it for reference.’ Will Orca hold a grudge against you for allowing Petey into his home?” She walked back to where Petey sat at Grant’s feet and rubbed his ear.
“Probably,” Grant said. “My favorite cat quote is, ‘Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.’ I don’t think Petey needs help learning to relax or I’d offer to help.”
“You’re right.” Cami sat on the leather couch and tucked her feet under her. The dog ambled over and with a groan of fatigue, collapsed on the floor near by.
Grant sat in his recliner and pushed back, raising the footrest. “Did you call the police about all this?”
She sat up straight. “I forgot! What time is it?”
Grant glanced at his watch. “Only a little after four. You can try Detective Bermudez.” He flicked the wooden lever on his chair, stood, and went to the kitchen. He returned with a cordless phone.
She dug in her purse for the officer’s business card, then took the phone and dialed the number. She stood to pace while waiting for the connection. Grant sat back down, on the sofa this time, and ran his hand over the dog’s head.
“You scared us, buddy. Who gave you the toy? You can tell me.” Petey rolled onto his back and lifted his front legs into the air, forcing Grant’s hand to his chest.
Cami watched them while listening to the police line ring before an automated announcement picked up. “He’s gone for the weekend,” she said.
“Leave a voice mail.”
Cami talked into the receiver, telling Detective Bermudez the details of Petey’s poisoning. She disconnected and stood, not sure what to do. Sit next to Grant? Take his place in the recliner? Stand and pretend to look at the view?
Grant patted the couch beside him. “Have a seat. I’ll start the salad in a bit. How’re you and Paige getting along?”
Cami sat and leaned her head back. “Fine, so far. Of course, it’s only been about fifteen hours. We couldn’t room together in college. Hopefully we’ve both matured enough so we can last more than a day.”
“You’re always welcome here.” He shifted on the couch to face her, his eyes wide, his expression sincere.
She steeled her heart not to fall for a line. “I appreciate that, Grant. But I can’t stay with you.” She tucked her hair behind her ears and hoped he wouldn’t press her. She didn’t want to get into another theological discussion and be reminded of their different views.
“Are you afraid of what people will say?”
“Partly maybe. But mostly because it wouldn’t be right.”
Grant wrapped his good arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. “Cami, I’ve been wanting to ask you something.”
Her heart froze. “What?”
“Can you tell me about that night with Patrick?”
She stiffened. Her immediate response was to refuse, but Grant continued talking, as if anticipating a negative reaction.
“I’m not asking to cause you pain by bringing up bad memories.”
“Then why?” She forced herself to speak in a calm voice in spite of the knot that always formed in her stomach whenever Patrick was mentioned. The only thing worse than being stalked was reliving that spring evening two years ago.
“I care for you and I want to learn everything about you. Your likes and dislikes. What hurts you and what makes you laugh.”
Tears welled, but he couldn’t see them since her head was tucked into his shoulder. She’d never known a man to be so gentle. He’d done everything to prove himself. She wanted to trust him. Could the chain-link around her heart be pried apart? Even a little?
He continued, almost reading her thoughts. “I should know these things if we’re going to have a real relationship. Not just one where you need help and I rescue you. That means talking about tough things.”
She gulped and nodded. “I haven’t talked much about this and never to a man. I’m not sure how.”
He adjusted his shoulder under her head and stroked her arm, as if warming her from a chill too deep to reach. “But I think you need to, for us. If there’s going to be an us.”
“I want to try,” she said softly.
“I’m glad.” He shifted and tilted her chin with his good hand. He looked into her eyes, then brushed his lips across hers. She didn’t pull away and he kissed her again, longer this time. When he moved away, her heart beat wildly. Could he feel it?
He leaned back into the couch again, holding her close against his side. “This might seem far fetched, but is it possible Patrick’s your stalker?”
She sat up straight. “I never thought - ” She started to rise, but dropped onto the couch again. “That would explain some things, but I don’t think so.”
“He’s in prison.”