Scooping Jasper into her arms, she stood and busied herself with getting him into the carrier, but her mind kept working on what might happen next with Nick. Painting pictures. Creating scenarios. Playing out scenes that sent warm tendrils of desire through her.
She blew out a breath in a failed attempt to cool herself off as she locked Jasper’s crate. He glared at her, whiskers twitching. She patted the top of the carrier. “You’re not going to be a prisoner for long, I swear.”
“Ready?” Nick asked.
Maybe too ready. “Yep.” She shot a look at the sheriff. “You sure everything in here will be all right? I’ve got a lot of expensive supplies.”
“Promise. It’ll be secure. Probably more so than it was before. I’ll put a deputy in the alley to keep watch. And you’ll be safe at Nick’s.”
She smiled more than she meant to. She might be safe, but she couldn’t guarantee Nick would be. Not with what she was thinking.
It was almost midnight by the time they walked back to Nick’s place, but the evening was balmy and quiet and the walk wasn’t far. He unlocked the front door of the house he owned on Crossbones Drive. It wasn’t big, but it wasn’t small. Three beds, two baths, a good back yard. Enough space to grow into. “Welcome to my place.”
“It’s great,” Willa said. “Okay if I let Jasper out now?”
“Absolutely. I’m sure he’ll want to roam.”
“That’s a given. He’s super nosy.” She put Jasper’s carrier down and bent to let him out, then stood and looked around. “I’m guessing you either haven’t been here long or you don’t plan on staying.”
“What makes you say that?”
The cat stuck his head out of the carrier, his nose working.
“Not much in the way of personal touches.”
He looked around. “Yeah, I guess not. But I do plan on staying. This is my home now.” Years of being in the foster system had created a burning desire in him to put down roots and now that he had a house, nothing was going to keep him from doing that. “The personal touches will come, I guess. Or maybe I just suck at decorating. What kind of personal touches do I need?”
“You know, pictures of family. Stuff like that.” She took a few steps from the carrier and patted her thigh. “C’mon, Jasper. It’s okay.”
Then she looked at him. “Sorry, that was insensitive. I guess being a foster kid you probably don’t have family pictures.”
His foster years weren’t something he liked to talk about. “Not really. Just the Rangers.” He pointed to the one framed picture on the fireplace mantel. “That’s them there.”
“I see.” She picked it up and squinted at it. “Is that Sheriff Merrow?”
“Yes. He’s how I ended up here.”
Jasper jumped onto the couch, stared right at Nick and meowed loudly. Nick held up his hands and looked at Willa. “What’s that about?”
She laughed. “He’s trying to get you to feed him.”
Nick grinned. “He’s got a little Ranger in him, I think. Settles in quickly, doesn’t ask a lot of questions except where the grub is.”
She arched her brows. “Do Rangers also like to lounge around in the sun and lick themselves clean?”
She laughed. “Where can I set up his food and litter box?”
“How about food in the kitchen, litter box in the laundry room?”
“Great. Show me the way so I can get this beasty fed. Then we can have our dessert.”
He grinned, figuring for a moment she meant something a little more physical than actual dessert, then realized that was probably his own testosterone doing the thinking. He mentally dismantled and rebuilt an M4 rifle. It was the Ranger equivalent of baseball stats. Perfect way to cool himself off. “Dessert sounds good.”
But it was hard to see Willa in his house and not feel something. She was a bright, beautiful spot of feminine energy. Completely captivating and charming and he was drawn to her in a way that he neither wanted to stop, nor could.
Having her in his house felt like he’d been given a gift. Like Christmas morning and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one.
And so, still grinning, he gave her the fifty cent tour, proud to show off the house he’d worked for but also happy to watch her face as she admired the painting and other touches he’d added. He paused in the laundry room so she could set up the litter box, then finished in the kitchen. He took two bowls down from the cupboard. “For Jasper. One for food, one for water.”
“Oh, thanks, but I have bowls.” She pulled them out of the bag that held Jasper’s stuff and started setting up a spot for him to eat.
Nick leaned against the counter. He’d never known anyone outside of the military who kept go-bags like she did. “Why do you keep those bags packed?”
She pulled the lid off a can of cat food. Jasper came running at the sound. “I just like to be prepared.”
She didn’t look at him, just kept fixing Jasper’s meal as he wound around her. “For anything.”
“I’m not criticizing. I appreciate the readiness factor. It’s just not something most civilians seem to think is important.” Mostly because civilians never had a reason to bug out. Unless they did. What could her reason be? The stalker? He didn’t buy that. The stalker was a new thing. Those bags were well organized, not just stuff thrown together. At least Jasper’s was. The stuff in his bag was compartmentalized in plastic, zip-top baggies.