Cat O’ Nines Collection
by Lia Connor
eBook ISBN: 978-1-60521-461-0
Catkind — they’re rough, they’re tough and they don’t take no for an answer. But who’d want to say no? Not Gabriella, a barmaid in a tiny roadhouse named Gatos near the Mexican border. Nor her sister Marnie. Lucia’s a party girl with two hot, hunky Catkind on her trail. Orion, a white Tiger, and Jomei, a Bengal, are royalty among the Catkind.
This collection contains the previously released novellas in the Cat O’Nines collection: Cat’s Claws, Cat’s Eye, Cat’s Cradle, Cat’s Meow, and Cat’s Paw.
“So there I am, standing in the middle of the street, screaming at him en Espanol. I’m calling him things our abuela would turn over in her grave to hear me say. And then she’d wash my mouth out with soap.”
“Lucia, when are you going to learn?” Gabriella unlocked the door to Gatos’ cold storage unit. “You stay away from men like him. They’re trouble.”
Lucia, her sister, had the fire of a Roman candle and a temper to match. She jammed her hands on her hips in indignation. “Like you have room to talk,” she shot back.
“I do. Do you see me getting tangled up with any troublemakers like him?” She yanked open the door, and cold air escaped with a whoosh
. “Uh-uh. Oh, that’s good.” Gabriella closed her eyes and swayed in bliss. It was a gorgeous day outside in the shabby outskirts of San Miguel, the sky pure blue and the horizon clear for miles. Which meant it was hot enough to suit the devil himself, especially back in the warehouse. She let herself enjoy the cool air coming from the cold storage unit for a moment, then got back to business. She nudged the handcart. “Come on, you take one crate and I’ll take the other.”
“We shouldn’t roll out a keg?”
“If you think you can manhandle a keg in heat like this, dolly or no dolly, you’re welcome to try. Grab a case for now. Tony can get the rest later.” Gabriella sized up the hefty crate stamped with the Moctezuma Brewery logo. Nothing tasted as good or as rich as their cervesa. Moctezuma was why locals bothered traveling to her tiny, out-of-the-way bar. If the brew master hadn’t been a friend of her brother Tony, no way she’d have gotten her mitts on any of their goods. “Come on, Lucia, put your back into it.”
Lucia pouted briefly before bending and lifting the crate. Tendons stood out in her neck from the effort as she wrestled a heavy crate onto the dolly. “We need some strong young stud for this.”
“And there you go again, thinking about men,” Gabriella chided. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to have a strong young thing around, especially if he’s hot, eh? I’m saying we can get by fine without one. You seem to think that’s a mortal sin, which is why I’m listening to you pitch a fit in the street.” She tempered the sting of her words with the fondness of her tone.
Gabriella shut the door to the cold storage unit and clicked the padlock back in place before taking the handle of the dolly. Oof. She had to admit, the crates were terribly heavy. Together they headed back to the main room of Gatos, the tiny tumbledown bar that had been their sole legacy from their mother.
Not exactly a rich and abundant inheritance. Ah, well, Mama had tried.
Lucia was still stuck back on Gabriella’s opinions. “You’re telling me if a man like Roger came on to you, you’d say no? He looked so pretty.” She swung around to walk backwards. “Those cornflower blue eyes and his soft golden hair. Like a prince out of a fairytale.” Her pleading turned wicked. “And good in bed? He was a devil when it came to loving me.”
“And how many other women at the same time?” Gabriella bumped open the swinging kitchen door. “Would I say no to a man like Roger? Hell, no, I wouldn’t. But…”
Lucia rolled her eyes.
“But,” Gabriella went on, not letting Lucia’s scorn stop her, “I’d say yes long enough to enjoy his body. If he’s as good as you say, I’d have fun with him for a few days then send him packing. No harm, no foul, and no broken heart that needs someone to sweep up the pieces.”
Lucia scoffed. “You wouldn’t know how to let your hair down if someone gave you a hands-on demonstration.”
Gabriella’s pride was stung. “Says you!”
“You’re right, says I. You want to make a bet on this? Friday night’s tip jar says you don’t have the guts to take the next handsome guy who walks into Gatos for a test run.”
Ay, Lucia had her there. Gabriella could never back down from a challenge. “I’m listening. What are the terms?”
Lucia stretched her muscles out before unlocking the cooler. “So we have a deal?”
“Not yet.” Gabriella pulled the dolly close enough to the cooler to unload it. “Let me hear the details before I say yes or no.”
“Like you would,” Lucia smirked. “All right, here’s the deal. When we open tonight, you and I man the bar. When the first hot guy walks in, one I decide is enough of a handful for even you, I point him out and that’s when the game begins. You come on to him, you do whatever you have to do, and if he’s safe you get him into bed.”
“I’m not a slut,” Gabriella objected, all the while hoisting crates and holding them for Lucia to unpack and stow in the cooler. “And how am I supposed to know if he’s ‘safe’?” She dusted off her hands after the last bottle was stashed away. “You have to give me more than that to go on. I’m supposed to proposition a customer? That’ll give me a great reputation.”
Lucia shrugged smugly. “So you’re saying no? You’re backing down already?”
“Bitch. You know I’m not.” Gabriella undid her long ponytail, letting her hair fall loose to swing in thick, glossy black sheets down to the middle of her back.
Lucia watched in admiration. “I look at you and I know why they call it ‘crowning glory.’ You are so lucky. All I have to work with is this tangle of curls.” She shook her head to illustrate.
Contrary to Lucia’s opinion, her mane was stunning, silky jet-black ringlets and waves bouncing off her shoulders. Together with her cute-as-a-button girlish face and a woman’s ample curves, Lucia was hell on wheels. Gabriella and her two sisters both had the same Mexican mother, but different black fathers. Mama had been a hard, hard woman to live with, fiery as a demon. Their black-Latino heritage showed itself in different ways on all of them.
Replacing the scarlet scrunchie holding her ponytail in place, Gabriella swung her head back and forth to make sure it was secure. “Keep talking. Let’s say the deal is on…”
“It already is.”
“We haven’t shaken hands yet. Tell me more. I find a hottie, I screw him, and I take your money. That’s simple enough. But what happens if something doesn’t work out?”
“What, you mean like he can’t get it up?”
“Lucia!” Gabriella lightly slapped her impish sister’s arm. “Okay, if that happens, sure. Or if he doesn’t want to take me to bed.”
“Like that would happen. Have you really looked at yourself in a mirror lately?”
Actually, Lucia hadn’t. Long days, short nights and precious little time for anything else, they took their toll on a girl’s primping. “Or if he’s not safe after all,” she ticked off on her fingers, wishing she had a pretty manicure like Lucia’s, even if it would get ruined her first night at the bar. “Or if he turns out to be a jerk and I wouldn’t screw him if he was the last man alive.” She stripped off her plain white T-shirt and picked up a cropped black tank top, the unofficial uniform of Gatos. “So what happens then?”
“Depends. I’ll judge the circumstances. If I lose, you get my tip money — and the satisfaction of getting laid, which is a prize all on its own.”
“Sweeten the pot a little, eh?”
“That’s enough for you?”
“No. I got to have some leverage, or Lord knows what kind of jerk you’ll stick me with. You have to do the same thing, girl. If I win, I pick you a man, and you can’t back down.”
“You think I’d mind?”
“Maybe. I plan to pick you out a priest.”
“Wicked woman,” Lucia scolded before her indignant frown melted into thoughtful lasciviousness. “Ooh, you think he’d keep his collar on while we did it?”
Gabriella winced and crossed herself. “Lightning’s going to strike you down, I swear. All right, chica. If you agree, then we have ourselves a bet.” She held out her hand, palm up. “Yes or no?”
Lucia grinned and high-fived Gabriella. “We have a bet, girlfriend. We so have a bet.”
“Then let’s go.” Gabriella rolled her hips, displaying her toned tummy with its small gold ring. “May the better woman win.”
“May the sluttier woman win.”
* * *
Gabriella laughed as she headed out to the main bar. She loved Gatos, every inch of it. Right now, with the late afternoon light streaming through the big windows, she liked it best with the lights off. Made for a good resting spot and a peaceful atmosphere. The place would be crawling with rowdy men and horny women soon enough.
A woman popped up from underneath a table, where she’d either been crawling around looking for loose change or hiding. “Gabriella, thank God you’re here.”
Gabriella frowned slightly. “Marnie, what are you doing here? I told you to stay off your feet.” The youngest of her sisters, Marnie was pregnant, and as tiny as she was, Gabriella worried for her. Not only was she with child, but the baby was sure to have been fathered by her asshole on-and-off boyfriend. “That jerk isn’t after you, is he?”
“Your tips are as good as mine,” Lucia sing-songed, paying no attention to their baby sister.
“Watch your mouth,” Gabriella scolded. “Marnie, what’s up?”
Marnie tucked loose strands of her straight, dark brown hair behind her ears. She looked less Hispanic than Gabriella or Lucia, favoring her father. She’d gotten slight, nervous hands and a Cupid’s bow mouth from their mother. “Could you use an extra hand tonight? I’ll go crazy at home.”
“You know what Friday nights are like,” Gabriella warned. “Are you sure?”
Marnie nodded eagerly. “Absolutely. I can handle myself.”
Gabriella wasn’t any too sure, but she did need another pair of hands. The weekends could be crazy at Gatos. “Okay, fine. Get changed and help me do the set-up.”
Marnie beamed a brilliant smile. “Thank you, thank you!”
“Go on.” Gabriella watched Marnie disappear into the kitchen, shaking her head. “There goes living proof of my point, Lucia.”
“A bet’s a bet.” Lucia was supremely unconcerned. She rose on tiptoe to peer out the window, Marnie already forgotten. “Looks like we’re opening early. Two guys heading this way on the road.”
“I don’t hear a car.”
“They’re walking.” Lucia started primping her curls. “Showtime, girlfriend. They’re hot, they’re young, and ooh, they look sexy.” She narrowed her eyes. “Is it a new style or something to wear your belt dangling down the back?”
“Doesn’t matter. One for you, one for me. My choice.”
The main entrance to Gatos swung wide before Gabriella could answer back. The two men, one tall and lean, one shorter and more compact, strode in without asking if they were open. As they approached the bar, Gabriella took in their musky scent, made stronger from walking in the heat of the day, and wanted to growl. Madre de Dios, but Lucia was right. She needed like fire to get laid. Either one of these two would work wonders for stress relief.
“Afternoon,” she said, already reaching under the bar for two frosty cold Cervesa Mocteczuma. “We’re not really open yet, but we won’t kick you out.”
“Good,” the lighter of the two purred, resting his crossed forearms on the bar. “We’ve come a long way, and we’d love to taste what you’ve got on tap.”
As he settled in, Gabriella saw his face clearly at last, and the sight drew a startled gasp from her lips. “Madre de Dios,” she whispered, taking a quick step back.
A man’s face, a man’s body, but with high, pointed ears on the top of his head, their softly furred tips poking through windblown hair the color of ripe corn. A broad nose and sharp canines. A long cat’s tail trailed from underneath his dark blue shirt. A switching, twitching tail the same shade as his hair, topped with a tuft of fur that looked touchable as a pussy-willow bud. She’d never thought she’d see one of his kind in the flesh.
The Catkind man grinned at Gabriella. “I’ve heard a lot about Gatos, pretty lady, and I’ve heard even more about the gorgeous barmaids. Glad we made the walk.” He gave her a once-over, not bothering to hide the way he undressed her with his eyes. “Can I have that beer you’re holding?” He didn’t wait for her to hand it to him, but snagged the sweating bottle in a hand that looked human except for the downy fur that covered his arms.
He elbowed his taller friend, who hadn’t moved or said a word. The second of the Catkind was dark as the tawny one was light, his face long and sexy and sober, no more human than his friend. “I win,” the tawny one informed his friend smugly. “You should know better than to bet against me.”
The darker Catkind flipped him off. Gabriella giggled. She couldn’t help but notice that their gestures were fluid and easy, feline grace shining through with every move, and their lazy smiles were as broad as a regular housecat’s after tasting some high-quality cream.
Catkind didn’t tangle with humanity, even after they’d been proved to be real. They kept to themselves and liked their privacy. Solitary hunters. Gabriella had no idea why they’d come to visit Gatos, but would she turn down a chance to satisfy her curiosity as well as turn away two men as hot as they were? Hell, no.
“Have a drink with us?” the tawny one invited, his grin wide enough to display his pointed incisors.
Lucia squeaked and fled. Gabriella resisted the urge to scold her. Instead summoned up her best smile, making no attempt to disguise her fascination with the Catkind men. “On the house,” she crooned, trailing her finger down the neck of the bottle. “Let me know if you need anything else.” She lowered her eyelids. “Anything at all.”
No way she’d back down now, not with two guys as yummy as these.
So what if they weren’t human? She’d have fun tonight.