Date Published: 03-04-2021
Veterinarian Troy Shelton has no idea what he’s letting himself in for when he rescues a friend’s cat from the shelter after a dog attack. The friendly but demanding calico soon has Troy and his pregnant collie wrapped around her furry paw. But strange things begin happening in Troy’s home when he’s away, and he could almost think someone else was living there besides him.
Torn and hurting, Katerina appreciates Troy’s gentle care. She also appreciates his strong form and handsome face as much as the way he cuddles her. She’s trapped in her cat form until her wounds heal, but once she’s well again she finds herself oddly reluctant to resume her human form and life away from Troy. But someone else is interested in Troy, and that someone else has already tried to kill Cat once.
Excerpt – Chapter 2
She caught his scent first, all woodsy and maple and oak, with smoky undertones like a good fire in winter. The warmth of his scent went personality deep. She touched his mind as he came into the room. Although telepathic, she couldn’t read minds per se, but cats were good at impressions. He felt to her like a kind man, generous and compassionate, the kind of man who drew people to him through no conscious doing of his own, but his open nature drawing people to him like a magnet.
Cat sat up, not without some difficulty given her injuries and the bandages, pressing her face to the bars of the cage to be able to see him. He’d paused just inside the room behind a young woman who worked at the shelter, and was looking about. He was a big man, tall and tan, with broad shoulders and a long stride; an outdoorsman type, she thought, who spent his time doing things outside, in the woods and fields. That appealed to her, far more than the slick, manicured types she had to deal with in her line of work.
Wanting his attention, she yowled. She liked him. She wanted him to rescue her from this place.
“Marrrwww!” she cried plaintively, demanding his attention. She wanted him to see her, to notice her. To take her away from here. She butted her head against the cage, curling her good paw around the bars and rattling them so the metal clanged. Here! Here!
The shelter employee laughed. “She sure seems to know you. This must be the cat you’ve come for.”
“That’s her.” His amused voice was deep and slightly burry, a rumble of dark velvet.
Cat pawed at the cage door impatiently, wanting to be out.
“All right, all right,” the woman said, undoing the cage door latch. The moment the door swung open, Cat launched herself straight into the man’s arms.
“Whoa!” he said, laughing, catching her easily. “Take it easy, little one.”
His arms were strong and muscular as he held her. His fingers gently explored her slender body, moving knowledgeably over aching bones, torn flesh and bruised skin, as had the vet the night before, but without the clinical detachment of the shelter vet. As if he knew her, and cared.
The leap had jarred her scarcely healed wounds, and she was sure a couple of them had broken open again, but it was worth it to lie in his arms, cradled carefully against his broad chest, basking in his scent, the warm aura of comfort surrounding him. She purred deeply, feeling comforted and soothed.
“We’ll be off, then,” he told the young woman. “I’ll be in for clinic on
Tuesday evening, as usual.”
“Okay. I’m glad you found your friend’s cat, Dr. Shelton,” she responded.
Doctor? Oh yes, Douglas had several partners at his veterinary clinic, perhaps this man was one of them. Cat didn’t care who he was. He had come for her, and rescued her from this awful place. And he smelled nice.
She liked that he didn’t try to detach her from his shirt, which she kept snagged firmly in her claws, to put her into the cat carrier that he’d come prepared with. Instead he held her close as he bent to pick up the carrier, which he’d dropped to catch her. She clung to his flannel shirt, butting her head against the underside of his chin. She liked his aftershave. It was a subtle blend of scents, masculine and outdoorsy, suiting him perfectly. She purred deep in her chest as he carried her through the building and out the door.
He owned a big black truck, and Cat decided it also suited him. It was high off the ground, and wisps of hay and straw were scattered in the bed, the scent pleasing to her. This man had horses. She wrinkled her nose at the other odor, unmistakable, of dog. Well, she could live with a dog, once it understood its place. It would just have to learn that she was the boss. Her nose told her the animal was female, which would make it easier. Male dogs got all alpha and were always wanting to challenge her authority.
Once inside the truck, she retracted her claws from the man’s shirt, allowing him to settle her carefully on the passenger seat. His hands were big and gentle, and he stroked her fur gently, smoothing her thick coat. She rubbed her head against his arm.
“You’re a friendly one, aren’t you?” he said. His look was assessing. “A Maine Coon, too, or I miss my bet. Jacinth told me you’re a stray, but I’m guessing somebody will be looking for you, pretty girl.”
She liked that he thought she was pretty, and she blinked at him, settling herself as comfortably as she could on the seat. Her ribs and shoulder where the dog’s teeth had dug into her hurt terribly, and she ached all over, but at least she was out of that place, and the upholstered seats were more comfortable than the cold steel of the cage she’d spent the night in.
Beside her, the man pulled out his cell phone and pressed a couple of buttons. “Hey, it’s Troy.”
She swiveled both ears forward to listen, eyes half closed, a deep purr rumbling in her chest at the soothing cadence of his deep voice.
“Yeah. I’ve got the cat here just fine. She saw me as soon as I walked into the room and set up a howl, just like she knew who I was. She came out of that cage and clung to me like she’d known me all her life. She’s a sweet little thing. She’s cuddled up to me now here in the truck, purring like mad.”
Ah, he was talking to Jacinth. There was a pause.
“She’ll be okay,” he reassured Jacinth in his deep voice. “Her shoulder and front leg are a little chewed up, and maybe a broken rib or two, so I’m going to take her home with me. I got hold of Douglas before I left the clinic, and he said to tell you he had to be late or he’d bring her home himself. As banged up as she is, it might be best if she stays at my place for a few days anyway, where I can keep an eye on how she’s doing.
What’s her name?”
Cat slit her eyes open to see Troy shaking his head as if in dismay. “Cat it is. Well, I’m headed for home with her now. I’ll keep in touch and let you know how she is.”
She looked about the inside of the truck. A satchel was on the floor, and some loose mail on the seat where she lay. While Troy started the truck and backed out of the parking space, she stole a surreptitious look at an envelope laying on the seat by her paw. It was addressed to a Troy Shelton, DVM.
Troy. Troy Shelton. She turned the name over in her head, and approved. Like everything else, his name suited him. She sighed, pain and exhaustion overwhelming her now that she had effected her escape from that place, and she crawled across the seat to curl closely against Troy’s leg. She was too tired and hurt to feel the least curiosity about their destination. Instead, she gave herself over to the enjoyment of being petted and cared for. He drove with easy assurance, one hand on the steering wheel and the other gently stroking her fur, and she dozed, lulled by the rhythmic movement of his fingers as well as the high-powered rumble of the engine.
They drove for what seemed to her to be a long time. Her nose informed her when they left the suburbs and headed into the country. Fresh scents assailed her; trees, flowers, passing fields with horses and cows. Songbirds twittered from tree branches as they passed under spreading oaks and maples.
The truck slowed and turned off the paved road, the wheels crunching on gravel. Cat stirred, struggling to a sitting position on the seat. She thought she was as stiff and sore from the hours spent in the cold steel cage as she was from her injuries. Looking out the front windshield, a long drive wound its way through a grassy yard dotted with wide-branched trees toward an older farmhouse set back from the road. Behind the house was a large barn and beyond that pastures spread off to the right of the house. Large black horses grazed within the neatly fenced enclosures, a breed that Cat didn’t recognize. It wasn’t manicured and orderly, but just enough jumbled to be pleasantly attractive and homey. Cat felt an odd pulling at her heart, as if she had known this place in the past. It gave her the strangest feeling, almost of coming home.
Troy pulled the truck up in front of the house.
“Here we are, Cat.”
A large collie bounded out of the house, barking ecstatically. Troy stepped out of the truck, fending off the collie’s joyous advances.
“Down, Cherie,” he told the dog in his deep voice. “We have a
He reached into the truck, lifting Cat carefully, doing his best not to jar her wounds. He held her cradled close against his chest with one arm, the other latching firmly on the collie’s collar, keeping the collie from jumping at Cat. Cat sensed no aggression from the dog, only friendly curiosity.
Troy carried her up the few low, broad steps to the porch, then on into the house. It was cool inside, air conditioned. Cat looked about her with interest. Gorgeous polished red oak floors met her approving gaze, with braided rag rugs scattered about here and there. She only had a minute to look, as Troy carried her through a dining room into a large, oldfashioned kitchen.
He set her carefully on the kitchen table. Cat wrinkled her nose fastidiously. Ew, this must be some kind of a “guy” thing. Personally, she never allowed cats on her table. It was totally unsanitary.
At a quiet but firm order from Troy, the collie, Cherie, went to lay down in a corner, the soulful brown eyes fixed on her master as he moved about the kitchen. Well-trained. That was good.
“Now, let’s have a look at you, pretty Cat,” he said. He removed the bandages, exploring the deep bite wounds with a cautious touch. The probing, careful as he was, hurt her, but she knew he was doing his best not to hurt her, and she purred at him.
He opened a cupboard near the back door that she had assumed was a pantry, but appeared to be full of veterinary supplies. Again, this must be another guy thing. Most people she knew kept food in their kitchen, but Troy apparently kept first aid supplies in his. He returned to the table and smeared antibiotic ointment on the puncture wounds.
“You’re a pretty, pretty thing,” he told her, his deep voice approving.
Huh. Cat’s whiskers twitched in amusement.
“It’s a damned shame what happened to you,” he went on, talking as much to himself as to her. That was another thing that she found herself liking about him. He talked to her as if she were a person, as if she could understand him.
“I wonder if they caught the dog that did this. Sounds like a mastiff, from the description the woman who brought you in gave them. She
offered to pay the bill for you to be fixed up.”
Cat flicked her ears forward. Well, now wasn’t that interesting? She’d have to have Douglas get the woman’s name and she could… “Yowwww!”
“Sorry, pretty kitty.” The large hands soothed her apologetically.
“Guess that’s sore, huh?”
He took a clean roll of bandages from his supplies, and wound it about her ribs and her shoulder, snugly but not too tight. That done, he stroked her head, his gaze admiring.
“Well, little lady, you got torn up some, but you’ll be fine. Jacinth and Douglas both assured me you’ve had your rabies vaccine, which is good, since from the description of that dog, it was a worry.”
Rabies. Cat considered that for a long moment, her golden eyes narrowing as she replayed the event in her mind. She hadn’t thought the dog was rabid, although it had been slavering when it attacked her. No, something else had been behind that attack. The dog had been set onto her by someone… or something. Something that was not quite human, and she had a pretty good idea who… or at least what… it was.
Troy brought her a bowl of water, and she drank gratefully. He brought a plate of cat food for her, but she turned her head away in disgust. She hurt so badly that food held no appeal for her, but even if she were starving she would never eat such gross stuff. She’d worry about that later, though, when she felt better.
After taking the food away, Troy picked her up again and carried her into the living room, settling her with care on the sofa, pulling an afghan from where it was draped over a chair and making a nest for her to lay on. A very nice afghan, too, she thought disapprovingly, even as she made herself comfortable on it, kneading the soft folds. Probably hand-made, and with a faint scent of lavender. Perhaps it had been his grandmother’s, it was that kind of afghan. He should be taking better care of it.
In the meantime, Troy had disappeared into some other part of the house, returning shortly with a cat box, which he put in the corner of the room and filled with litter from a large yellow box. Eww!! Cat wrinkled her nose. Like she was going to use one of those!
It hurt too much to curl up, so she stretched out, laying her chin on her paws. She drowsed, one ear cocked to listen for Troy as he moved about the house, the collie a constant companion at his heels. After a bit he returned to the living room, lowering his large form into a large leather recliner. Cherie whined a bit, then went to lay in a cushioned dog bed before the hearth, turning herself around and around before settling.
All the while, Cat turned over her options, considering what she should do. If she went home, she would have to take care of herself, which meant Changing… and she suspected her wounds would hurt much, much worse if she were to try the Change. Or she could stay here, in her cat form, with Troy until she had healed. That might even be the better idea. He would take good care of her. Besides, she liked Troy. She liked him, and his house, and she wasn’t much inclined to want to leave right now. There were of course disadvantages to that as well, but she was too tired and hurt to worry about those right now. But also, just to clinch the matter, if she stayed in her cat form to heal, she wouldn’t have scars when she returned to her human form. Shifters never did.
So that was decided. She would stay here in this spacious farm house with this gentle giant of a man to look after her, and Cherie to keep her company. She eyed the collie doubtfully, who was eyeing her with equal indecision. Cherie was pregnant, Cat realized, noticing the dog’s rounded, fecund belly. From the size of her, she was due to have pups any day. It was a testament to Troy’s handling and training that the dog accepted a strange animal into the household so easily when she was so close to giving birth.
Safe. He made the collie feel safe with him. Cat felt it too.
With a sigh, Cat closed her eyes and dozed, only the tip of her tail swaying to and fro. After watching the news on the large-screen television mounted on the wall across the room, Troy got up to move through the house, closing blinds and windows and flipping the lock on the front door. Cat kept one ear perked, swiveling to follow his passage as he moved past her into the small hallway and made his way up a narrow staircase to the upper floor.
The click-click of toenails on the wooden stairs informed her that Cherie accompanied Troy upstairs. Good. She felt her muscles relax, not aware until that moment how apprehensive she’d been to be left alone downstairs with the dog. Not that Cherie was like the one who’d attacked her. But it was good that she was upstairs. Cat rose, and gingerly jumped down from the sofa, her injured body protesting every move. She leapt up onto the recliner that stood at right-angles to the sofa. The leather wasn’t nearly so soft as the sofa and the comfy afghan, but it was clearly Troy’s chair, and she snuggled herself into his scent as she reposed herself for the night.
She was being shaken, flung to and fro, huge sharp teeth like a vise holding her in their grip. With every movement they were moving closer to the prize, shifting higher, seeking her vulnerable neck, to shut off her windpipe. Unable to escape that clamp on her body, she cried out again and again.
A light came on, and footsteps sounded, coming nearer.
“Hey there.” A man’s voice, deep and soothing. A hand stroked her fur. “Come on, pretty kitty, wake up.”
She trembled, and drew a deep breath, her eyes opening. Troy. She shoved her head gratefully under his hand, relieved to be released from the nightmare.
“Bad dream?” Troy sympathized. “You’re safe now with me, kitty cat.”
He picked her up, cradling her in one arm against his bare chest. He was clad only in a pair of pajama bottoms, she realized. The air conditioner had been turned off when he went to bed earlier, and the house was beginning to heat up in the hot summer night.
Carrying her up the stairs, he walked into a large bedroom at the front of the house. The lights were off, but her cat eyes allowed her to see as clearly as if it were day.
Troy’s bedroom was furnished as comfortably as the rest of the house. A heavy wooden four-poster stood in the center of the room with a matching oak dresser against one wall, and what looked like an oldfashioned shaving stand in one corner. A bookshelf was crammed with hardbound books, with a few paperbacks to one side. She could explore those once she was healed enough to Change. The room was cooled by a ceiling fan, whirring lazily overhead.
She was struck for the first time at the overall cleanliness of the house. He must have a housekeeper who came in to do for him. He probably had farm hands too, given the large barn and the extensive paddocks and pastures beyond.
The blankets and quilt on the four-poster had been folded neatly at the end of the bed, but the sheet was tossed back and rumpled, as if the sleeper had left the bed hastily. Troy settled Cat comfortably on the folded blankets, then slipped back between the sheets.
“There, pretty kitty. You sleep here and know you’re safe.”
On a hook rug nearby, Cherie raised her head to gaze at the newcomer, decided it wasn’t worth investigating, and lowered her head to the floor, closing her eyes with a comfortable sigh.
She awoke in the morning to the sound of the shower running; Troy was getting ready for work. The soothing, steady sound of the water combined with the singing of birds outside and the warm patch of sunlight slanting across the blankets on which she lay, lulled her back to sleep.
Awhile later she protested drowsily when she was picked up and carried downstairs against a hard, broad chest.
“I don’t want you trying to manage the stairs yet,” he told her, as if she could understand him. He settled her on the sofa, then looked about. “I’m headed off to work now. You have everything you need here, pretty kitty. Water, food, and your litter box.”
He stroked her head, his eyes moving over her assessingly.
“You should be okay for now, and I’ll be back at lunch to look in on you.”
Again it struck her how Troy talked to her as if she were a thinking, reasoning human being, as if she could understand him, even though he believed her to be just a cat. The big vet had a way with animals, a sure touch and calm manner that inspired trust in the animals he looked after, and probably their owners as well.
Since he had taken care to place her right where a shaft of sun struck the sofa through the front windows, Cat had no real objection to staying where she was placed, but laid her head on her paws and closed her eyes, listening drowsily to the sound of his footsteps crossing the floor, the opening and closing of the door, the key in the latch. A few moments later the truck engine roared to life, and Troy was gone.
Cat dozed, half awake, half asleep, one part of her on alert in the way of felines. The birds sang loudly outside, and a short distance away horses snuffled and squealed, and the occasional vehicle roared down the country lane. Cherie’s toenails clacked on the floor as the collie wandered into the living room. She approached the small bowl of water that Troy had left for Cat, and Cat lifted her head to glare at the dog.
Don’t. You. Dare. She sent the thought firmly to the dog. That was the only water available to her in this form, and there was no way she was going to drink water tainted with dog drool!
With a whimper Cherie scrambled backward, eyes wide with alarm as she stared at Cat. The dog whined in confusion, and Cat reinforced the order, noting that her mental voice today was strong.
MY water. No.
Cherie retreated to the kitchen door, whining and casting nervous glances at Cat, who ignored her, closing her eyes once more.
After a bit Cat began to feel the first pangs of hunger. She jumped off the sofa, wincing at the pain that shot through her shoulder and back. She limped painfully across the floor. It hurt more than she’d thought it would, and she found herself panting by the time she reached the bowl of food by the kitchen door. Apparently the can of cat food he’d offered her last night had been his only such can, because this morning’s offering was canned mackerel… the kind for humans, not cats. Mackerel wasn’t her favorite, but it was fish and it wasn’t cat food, so she ate gratefully.
The pain must have dulled her appetite, or maybe the exhaustion from the effort to reach the kitchen, because a few bites seemed to be all she could eat. The living room seemed a long way away, and she hurt too much to jump back up onto the sofa anyway, so she settled herself on the hooked rug beneath the kitchen table and let sleep overtake her once more.
When she awoke from her nap she felt much better, more alert than she had been before, and curious to explore Troy’s house… or at any rate, the first floor. The motif of hardwood floors and wooden furniture carried through the rest of the house as well. The dining room had a large table that would probably fit ten people easily; it was a table made for large families. An open-work buffet stood at one of the room and held a full service of china. Everything looked as if it had been here a long time. Cat thought perhaps this had been Troy’s family home; it was the kind of home that a family lived in and passed on for generations. There was a nice lived in feeling, and the smells of human and dog and good lemon furniture oil combined pleasingly to her sensitive nose.
The kitchen was laid with linoleum, and white eyelet Priscilla curtains hung at the windows. Blue cupboards with butcher-block tops lent a cheerful note to the large room. It had been renovated recently. The appliances were all shiny and modern, and not much used either, Cat noticed.
Behind the kitchen was a small room that served as both laundry room and mud room. The door leading to the back yard and barn beyond had a large flap in it, allowing Cherie to come and go as she pleased. Cat gazed at it, but didn’t feel up to tackling the outdoors. She wrinkled her nose in resignation. She was going to have to use that cat box after all, at least until she felt up to venturing outside. Turning, she limped slowly back into the living room. Across the room was a small hallway with a bathroom and at least one other bedroom from the little she could see, but she was sore and stiff. She could explore those later. At least she was somewhat better than the night before. The pain had faded to a dull, nagging ache.
Well, mostly. If she didn’t move or breathe.
Clicking toenails on the wood floor announced Cherie’s arrival, and Cat turned to see the collie watching her wistfully from the hall door. She hadn’t had to speak to the collie since that morning, but Cherie gave her wide berth, casting anxious glances her way whenever they were in the same room. Time to bridge the gap. Cat padded across the floor to where the collie stood, walking boldly beneath the long, narrow head and letting her tail drape around and beneath the slender muzzle. Cherie whined slightly. Twining between the dog’s legs, Cat stropped against the thick fur and the dog’s head dipped down to snuffle at her, wondering but not unfriendly. This was a good dog.
Cat gave a reassuring purr, reaching up to rub her muzzle along Cherie’s cheek. Yuck. The things she had to do. But Cherie had lost that anxious look, and the plumy tail began to wave slowly back and forth.
Cat passed underneath the collie, letting her tail drape along the dog’s rotund belly, and padded into the living room. Her muscles were loosening up now that she was up and about and moving. Her shoulder ached, though, where murderous teeth had dug deep, and her leg was sore enough that although she could bear weight on it, she preferred not to. She leapt onto the sofa, turning around and around in the sunbeams that streamed in through the wide windows, before settling herself as comfortably as she could.
Her head came up as tires crunched on gravel, and she tensed. That wasn’t Troy’s truck. Cherie charged through the kitchen and out the dog door in the back door, but her barks were welcoming. Still, Cat rose warily and padded into the back bedroom on the first floor, on the opposite side of the house from the kitchen. The window in the small room overlooked the back yard and the barn. Cat leapt for the windowsill, but her hind legs faltered and her claws scrabbled for purchase on the wood before she fell to the floor. She lay a moment panting through the pain. At least that dog hadn’t been here to witness her humiliation. Her fur ruffled as much from the indignity as from the fall, Cat gathered herself once more and made a relatively smooth leap to the sill.
From here she peered out to see who had arrived. Cherie was frisking about and leaping at two men in jeans and t-shirts who’d emerged from a battered old pickup truck. One disappeared into the barn, the other going around the side to the back of the barn, Cherie at his heels. Cat relaxed. The stable hands, of course. Not being interested, she left her perch, returning to the living room. Her fall hadn’t helped the aches and pains, and it was a struggle to jump back up to the sofa, although she didn’t fall again. But it was a relief to dispose herself on the soft crocheted afghan and let her battered body rest.
Copyright© 2021 by Allie McCormack
About the Author
Allie says: “A writer is who and what I am… a romance writer. I write what I know, and what I know is romance. Dozens of story lines and literally hundreds of characters live and breathe within the not-so-narrow confines of my imagination, and it is my joy and privilege to bring them to life, to share them with others by writing their stories.”