Blurb for Flash Point:
After fireman Dustin Hardesty saves a scruffy tomcat from a fire and then a neutering at the shelter, he has no idea he just moved a cat shifter named Tigs into his life. Tigs figures he owes Dustin, so he'll hang around to give Dustin some good times. He just never figured on Dustin not wanting to let go of his alley cat.
What was I thinking? I had no clue. My first day back at work after my bereavement leave, and I brought home a scruffy, loudmouthed stray tomcat with massive attitude. Guess I needed more therapy than I thought.
I hauled that heavy carrier up the two flights of stairs to my apartment and set the damn thing down on the floor. My muscles ached even more than my heart at the emptiness of my home, for once. Casey's family had cleaned out everything of value except what had clearly been mine, like my clothes. I'd been so depressed, I hadn't even fought for one stick of the antiques Casey and I had collected over the years. So, I had a fresh start to being a widower at the tender age of 35. I'd raided a thrift store for a few pots and some furniture, but I was still sleeping on a mattress on the floor, at least for now. You'd never know the charm the old furnishings had given it. Now it echoed like a mauso… I stopped that thought and slashed the zip tie with my knife.
I expected the cat to shoot out of the carrier like a rocket and hide somewhere. Instead, the cocky bastard sauntered out calmly and proceeded to give each and every room an inspection. The place obviously didn't impress him much, and I didn't blame him. He sniffed the ratty recliner I'd liberated from a dumpster downstairs with distaste and gave me a look I interpreted as surprise, as if he'd expected better of me.
I followed him around, and maybe it was loneliness that made me explain myself to His Majesty. "Yeah, I know. Doesn't smell great, does it? Guess the former owner smoked. It's temporary until I start getting money in the bank again. I haven't felt much like working or shopping for new stuff."
He seemed to accept my explanation and inspected the TV. That seemed to impress him. I didn't know what he made of the small altar with Casey's picture and a candle on the entertainment stand, but I'd swear he looked at me to ask.
So, I was compelled to answer. I have to admit, it felt kind of good to talk about all this. I was too humiliated to bring it up at work, knowing the guys would immediately have a fill-the-boot charity drive to get me new stuff, or go to my father's executor, who knew Dad had no love for his gay son. "Stupid as it sounds, it's a tribute to my dead husband. He'd always wanted a big home theatre, but we kept putting it off." I got kind of choked up at that point.
Damned if the cat didn't choose that precise moment to bound over and rub his head all over my boots. Either he was one darn smart cat, or I was anthropomorphizing typical cat behavior. No matter what, I felt comforted.
I realized I'd not even stripped off my gear. No wonder I was hot and tired. "Hang on, buddy. Let me get out of this stuff so I can prove I know how to dress like a regular guy, okay?" I shucked out of the suit, hat, belt, boots, and other crap faster than a probie at graduation, ready to party. I piled all my gear by the door and promised myself I'd take it back down to the car later. No one at the station expected me to have a brain yet. "Officially, I'm still on leave. I was at that particular fire only because I drove by on my way home from class. "
The cat actually put his head to one side, just like a puzzled dog. I started imagining the bubble thing over his head with a caption, like a cartoon, like he'd just asked, "Class?"
"Yeah, I'm thinking of changing careers. Firefighting's for the young with a lot to live for. Me, I don't have any spark left. Casey always said I was good at real estate." I caught my breath. I'd gotten his name out without choking up. Maybe I was healing, after all. "I already own a few investment properties from my parents' estate. So, getting a license to buy and sell real estate sounded good. I'll take the test in a few weeks."
Guess that satisfied him, because he started wandering around again. My home office definitely got his attention, especially the paint chips and wallpaper samples I'd put up on a wallboard. He studied them intently, gave me a loud meow and put his paw on the silvery blue that had been my favorite anyway.
I laughed. "I agree, that's my choice for this room too. Casey liked a dark, gloomy English office, but I'm more into Scan Design." I might have said more, but the room swayed. "Damn, I forgot to eat. I'm hypoglycemic and…" Let's just say I never felt the floor hit me in the face.
I awakened to the taste of honey in my mouth, and the most gorgeous man I'd ever seen kneeling over me. Moreover, he was naked as a jaybird, which caused me to blink. Naturally, the most intelligent thing I could think of to say was incoherent, at best.
He had huge, luminescent gold-green eyes and the dark café-au-lait skin that indicated mixed ancestry. Some incoherent part of me acknowledged that the mixed race folks always were spectacular in looks. "Open your mouth, Dustin. Have some more honey from ol' Tigs, man." He pushed a spoonful of the sticky stuff against my lips.
I swallowed the honey and let it slide down my throat. The question burning my mind popped out. "Why do I have a naked man feeding me honey?"
Tigs grinned. "Oh, good. You're back. Don't scare me like that, man. To answer your question, I didn't take the time to borrow some of your clothes. Mine got inconveniently burned up." He dipped the spoon back in the jar of honey I normally reserved for self-indulgent breakfasts. "Freaking cold in here. You mind if I borrow some clothes?"
"I'd rather you stayed naked. You're too gorgeous to cover up." Maybe my brain wasn't really rewired to my mouth yet. I shouldn't have said it, but I did.
He snorted softly and dropped the spoon in the jar with a rattle. "Yeah, yeah. That's what they all say. Back atcha, Grass Eyes. Thanks for the compliment. Upsy daisy."
Tigs was monstrously strong, apparently. He lifted me up from the floor with almost no effort and carried me to my mattress. I have to admit I was ashamed to have such a handsome man anywhere near my less than posh apartment.
Tigs tucked me into my bed like a baby. "Listen, you take a nap or whatever to recover for a few. I'll scrounge up something to keep warm and make a pot of coffee. Mind if I make a phone call?" He held up a conciliatory hand, and I noted calluses and healing cuts. Working man's hands. "Local, of course."
Sleep was creeping up on me. I'd had insomnia, mostly from not wanting to sleep alone ever since Casey's funeral. Now I was going to pay for all that lost time at once, and at the worst possible moment. I mumbled, "Don't leave me alone."
"Not planning on it." Tigs kissed me softly. "Curiosity killed the cat, man. I got questions for you."
"Same goes." I was out like a light.
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