“Edgar Allen Poe. You come here. Ow! Dammit, Poe. Aunt Gertie will have my hide in a sling if something happens to you. Although, personally, I’ve always found you to be more trouble than you’re worth. Isn’t that right, kitty, kitty? Come on, now. Come here. Pretty please? Kitty, kitty? We’ll go inside. I’ll open one of those expensive tins of cat food for you. How about the one with the picture of the pretty white Persian on it? You’ve got a crush on her, don’t you, Edgar Allen. I know you do. I’ll open it and you can eat her—dammit, Poe! Owwwww!”
Daniel Webster shamelessly eavesdropped on the conversation between an unidentified woman and Gertie Petry’s tomcat, Poe. Daniel could hardly help it since the woman’s behind was sticking out of a circle of knockout roses Gertie’d planted two years ago, and he’d happened upon the scene purely by accident when he’d stopped his golf cart out front a minute ago.
Daniel happened to know that cluster of rosebushes was Edgar Allen Poe’s favorite place to hide each and every time he escaped the confines of Gertie’s two-bedroom, two-bath home. Gertie had called Daniel twice to help her corral the wayward cat, fretting the entire time until Poe was safely back inside.
Daniel also knew Poe wasn’t going anywhere. Not with a woman around to dote on him and cater to his every whim. Poe got two squares a day, his very own pristine litter box, scratching post and a basket full of catnip mice and assorted other playthings. At night, Daniel assumed, Poe curled up next to Gertie and slept the sleep of a cat who knows he’s king.
But this wasn’t Gertie’s behind peeking out from the bushes and it wasn’t Gertie’s voice alternately cursing and sweet talking the as-of-yet-unseen cat.
Daniel folded his arms across his chest, taking in the unexpected entertainment on what had so far been a fairly routine Wednesday here in the senior citizen manufactured housing community of Idlewood Estates. Oh, he’d had to settle a dispute between Don Clark and Buck Overly about whether the staghorn fern that had been living in the middle of the camphor tree that straddled their lots belonged to Don or to Buck. When Daniel, who’d mediated this exact same argument more times than he could count, suggested they cut the fern in half, they’d both looked horrified and once again agreed to shared custody.
That Solomon, Daniel thought, as he’d returned to his company-allotted cart, he knew a thing or two about keeping the peace. Don and Buck had been muttering together behind his back as he walked away about the craziness of the idea to kill such a majestic staghorn fern. Why it had been in that tree ever since Buck had bought his place from Myrtle MacCafferty four years ago. Long before that, Daniel could have told him. When Stella and Paul Sterling had sold their place to Don and his wife, the fern had been too massive to transport so they’d left it behind.
“Thanks a lot, Poe. You see this scratch on my arm? It’s bleeding. That’s what you made me do. I’ll be scarred for life and it will be all your fault. You are a worthless piece of poop, you know that? If I didn’t love Gertie so much, I’d leave you out here to fend for yourself. Serve you right, you spoiled, overgrown, sorry excuse for warm bloodedness.”
The bushes wiggled and so did the feminine rear end which was covered in a tent of pastel plaid housedress. Still, Daniel had seen an awful lot of fifty-five and over females from behind since he’d been managing Idlewood Estates. For that matter, he’d had the pleasure of seeing quite a few well under fifty-five year old feminine derrieres as well. This particular one, if he had to guess, was at least twenty-five years light on the age requirement for park residents. His day had become a whole lot more interesting.
Not to mention entertaining. The voice that floated out of the bushes had a soft Southern rhythm to it. Even when she was saying the most awful things to Poe she was using a sweet talking, coaxing tone, which apparently Poe wasn’t falling for. Probably that cat knew she’d insulted him whether he could understand the words or not. Daniel would not have been surprised to learn that Poe understood every word she’d spoken and had decided to teach her a lesson by retreating further and further into the circle of bushes until he came out on the other side.
More of her disappeared into the bushes. He could hear her murmuring softly to the cat. The oversized housedress had snagged on the branches and was not making the trip with her. Slowly the material lifted to reveal an inch of smooth thigh just above her bent knees. Definitely not the thighs of a senior citizen. Her feet were bare. Sadly, Daniel had seen a lot of elderly feet in his line of work as well. These feet were not a day over thirty-five. He’d bet his brand new circular saw on it.
“Aha! Gotcha!” she cried in triumph at the same time a massive yowl emitted from the edge of the bushes. There was a mighty rustle and every stem and branch in the circle trembled. A surprised “oomph” was followed by a black cat leaping out of the foliage and running straight at Daniel. When Poe leapt Daniel caught him, holding the cat securely close to his chest, although Poe seemed to have absolutely no inclination to go any further. He started to purr and they both watched and listened as a string of muttered unpleasantries issued from inside the circle and kept up as the body sporting that spectacular set of buns began to back out.
The housedress had not got the memo that it was to reverse and Daniel watched with interest and no small amount of lust as the material floated up another couple of inches. Definitely not the thighs of a senior citizen, he assured himself once again.
He did some quiet cursing of his own when a slight breeze blew alerting her to the fact that a few adjustments were in order. She yanked the hem of the dress down where it draped to mid-calf as she continued to back out. “Damn cat,” was the last thing she said before she cleared the bushes and sat down hard on the velvety grass in defeat.
“Gertie’s going to kill me,” she said sadly to herself. She swiped delicately at her nose with the back of her hand. Surely she wasn’t going to start crying over Poe’s supposed disappearance. Was she? Daniel hoped not. Women in tears scared the hell out of him. Made him feel helpless. He didn’t like feeling helpless and went out of his way to avoid it at all costs.
“Gertie’s not going to kill you,” he said from behind her. “Poe’s right here.”
She gasped and turned around at the same time she stumbled to her feet, moving way too fast and almost losing her balance. She righted herself and stared at him through a pair of ridiculously old-fashioned cat-eye glasses with black rims. He was pretty sure her eyes narrowed in irritation when she saw Poe sitting contently in his arms.
On her head she wore one of those equally ridiculous turbans women of a certain age and stage seemed to favor. It had come askew and several strands of blond hair were trailing around her ears and temples. One fell across her face and she blew it aside in irritation.
“Who are you?”
“Daniel Webster. Most folks call me Web.”
She continued to stand and stare at him so he returned the favor. The longer he looked, the more he liked what he saw. Even behind the crazy disguise she was wearing, which, by the way, wouldn’t fool even the least discerning observer, he could see she wasn’t a day over thirty, thirty-five tops. The intermittent breeze continued to blow and every time it did, the tent of a housedress got caught on her curves. He didn’t know what she was hoping to hide beneath all that material but from what he could tell she had nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, she probably had a lot she could show off if she were so inclined.
Her gaze was lasering through the lenses of those glasses, which he sincerely doubted were prescription. That turban? Maybe she needed to wash her hair or something, but even slightly askew, it lent her a rather dashing air of mystery. He half-expected her to pull out a cigarette in one of those old-fashioned holders and start speaking with a French accent. The thought came to him that maybe he was being punked. Yet there was something very vaguely familiar about Poe’s nemesis.
“And you are?” he finally said.
“None of your business,” she said huffily, absently rubbing at a scratch on her arm, courtesy, no doubt, of her encounter with the rosebushes.
Daniel cocked his head to one side surprised by her response. Most folks here in Idlewood Estates were the friendly type, and the ones who weren’t were, at the very least, civil. He didn’t want to throw his weight around, but he would if she pushed him.
“You want your cat back?” he said with a smile, stroking Poe’s black head right between his ears the way he knew Poe liked.
She sniffed. “He’s not my cat,” she informed Daniel. “And frankly, if it were up to me, he’d never set foot inside again.”
“But it’s not up to you, is it?”
Her bottom lip trembled. A tear slid out from beneath the frames of her glasses. “No,” she said so softly he almost couldn’t hear her.
“Want me to bring the cat in?”
She took a deep breath and Daniel took note of what that did to the material covering her chest. Then she let it out with what sounded like a heartfelt sigh of resignation. “Sure. Why not.”
He followed her, assuring himself that her walk was not the walk of a woman who’d been on earth more than half a century. She held the door open to Gertie’s unit and Daniel walked through. The moment she closed it behind her Poe made a leap for freedom, darting into a bedroom. She walked past Daniel and firmly shut the door to the room as if she’d finally taught the cat a lesson. Daniel bit his lip to keep from smiling. He happened to know Poe’s favorite place in the world was underneath the guest bed.
She proceeded down the narrow hallway to the kitchen, so Daniel followed. She opened the refrigerator door and reached inside. “Want a beer?”
“It’s barely ten o’clock in the morning,” he pointed out.
“Yeah, well, I’m having a rough morning.” She unscrewed the cap and took a long draught from a Bud Light. “You in or out?”
Daniel had been so mesmerized by the movement of her throat as she swallowed, that long smooth column of throat without a line or wrinkle in sight, he barely registered her question. No way was he leaving now and he had the uncomfortable notion that she’d kick him out with pleasure if he didn’t agree to be her mid-morning drinking buddy. “In. I guess.”
She withdrew a second bottle, opened it and handed it to him. She tapped the neck of her bottle against his. “To new friends.”
“New friends,” he agreed, although he was becoming more uncertain by the minute if that’s what she was going to be to him.
When she yanked the turban off her head and sent it sailing toward the overstuffed recliner in the sitting area, he forgot all about the cat in the bedroom and the beer in his hand.
Above is the start of an idea for a contemporary romance novel. I wish I knew where it was going, but it’s all a bit muddled at the moment. Look for more FIRST CHAPTERS posts in the future. Meanwhile, visit me at www.barbarameyers.com
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