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Authors: Tatiana Caldwell

CatOutoftheBag

BOOK: CatOutoftheBag
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Cat Out of the Bag

Tatiana
Caldwell

 

By the Tail, Book One

 

Sofia is in desperate need of a
vacation and she’s determined not to let her aversion to flying get in the way
of that. Luckily, her trepidation is quickly forgotten when in-flight
entertainment takes the form of the sinfully gorgeous Nathan.

Nathan offers Sofia an electric
induction into the mile high club and he wants more. He wants to meet her again
once they land, but he has a dangerous secret—he’s a Werecat shifter and can’t
risk an ongoing fling with a straight-up human.

However, Sofia discovers she’s a
“Late Bloomer”. Her own Cat begins to awaken at Nathan’s touch. In the mountain
wilds, she asks Nathan to teach her to master her newfound abilities. But to do
so he must violate the rules of the Pride, putting them both at risk.

 

A Romantica®
paranormal erotic romance
from
Ellora’s Cave

 

Cat Out of the Bag
Tatiana Caldwell

 

Dedication

 

This book is dedicated to my friend Cece. When my confidence
was low, you helped me remember who I am, and reminded me why I shouldn’t be
afraid to reveal my true nature to the world…or to myself. Thank you.

Chapter One

 

Sofia Saldana expelled a long, deep breath and rubbed her
hands down her face as she tried to relax in her seat. She’d almost missed this
flight. Stupid job had even had her come in at five that morning to address an
issue before she left for her trip. Damn, she hated her boss, that team, that
company. It was going to be so good to escape all of that for a full week.

The plane was deceptively calm and quiet as it moved along
the runway. Any minute now they’d be picking up speed and the craft would be
vibrating with the violent roar of the engines preparing for takeoff. She hated
that she was stuck at a window seat. Right at the wing, on top of that. But
she’d booked the flight to San Francisco during a last-minute decision to leave
New York City for a much-needed seven-day getaway to try to save her sanity,
and this was the only seat left. She’d just have to either close her eyes or
keep her focus solely on the hardcover novel gripped in her trembling hands.

Small price to pay to not have to worry about the pressures
of work for a bit. She just had to make it through these few hours of anxiety.

“Don’t like flying?”

The gruff, masculine voice startled her. She’d barely paid
attention to anything at all on the aircraft since boarding it, not even the
casually dressed, attractive man she was seated right next to who was now
speaking to her. He was in his early-to-mid-thirties, about her age.

“Am I that obvious?”

“Yes. You are that obvious,” he said. The expression on his
face was a mixture of concern and amusement.

She gave him a laughing snort and a slight shake of her
head. “It’s funny, because it’s not the idea of being high up that frightens
me. I’m fine, so long as I don’t look down.”

“Hmm,” he nodded at her. “It’s the same way for me. Which is
why I specifically chose something other than the window seat.”

Sofia sat upright and took a quick but full survey of the
plane, including the large man at the end of their row, then sighed and leaned
back in the stiff airplane seat. “I would have too, if there’d been one
available.” She frowned at the window. “If they would let us close the shades
during takeoff, it wouldn’t be so bad.”

“I know what you mean. I can’t stand the airlines that
enforce that,” he said. There was a brief pause before he spoke again. “But we
can switch seats if it would make you feel better.”

“I thought you said you don’t like the window seat either?”

“I don’t. But I can’t relax knowing a lady is sitting next
to me shaking in fear because I wasn’t gentleman enough to come to her rescue.”

Her rescue?
Sofia winced inwardly as her “potential
chauvinistic asshole” alarms went off. She looked up at him again, real good
this time, and her defenses relaxed a bit. The smile he was giving her seemed
warm, genuine and trustworthy, even. But he had intense eyes—piercing green
like malachite—under lush, dark eyebrows. Sinfully thick lips under a straight,
well-defined nose and surrounded by a goatee groomed to perfection. This man
was so gorgeous, chances were high he could deceive her into believing the sky
was burgundy if he said so with
those
lips.

“That’s kind of you, but I’ll be fine,” she said politely
but with finality in her voice. “I’m not that big of a scaredy-cat. I don’t
need rescuing.” She tried to look away from him, but his mouth seemed to twitch
and his eyes damn near sparkled with amusement at her words.

He flashed bright-white teeth at her. “Okay then. Well, just
let me know if you change your mind.”

Muy guapo,
she thought. No way was he available. He
wore no rings or any jewelry at all, but a man
that
fine hadto
have a secret wife, a girlfriend, a boyfriend,
someone
pining for his
safe return.

Sofia couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something
fiercely enticing about this man—even beyond his good looks. The thought
crossed her mind that they might have met somewhere before, because the draw to
him was so strong. Startling, almost. But as she studied him, there was no
visual recognition. From time to time he glanced at her inquisitively, and
every time their eyes met, the spark of attraction made her stomach flutter.

She had the most unusual urge to press her lips against his,
stroke the black, close-cropped curls on his head, even though she didn’t know
a lick about him. She couldn’t even quite guess his ethnicity. His complexion
and features were definitely multiracial. African-American, most likely, and
something else. White maybe, or perhaps he was even Latino. It didn’t really
matter though—he was one hundred percent fine as hell. Plus he radiated “good
fuck”, and it’d been oh so long since she’d had one of those.

Scolding herself, she turned her head away from him and the
tension between them, only to find herself staring out the window as the plane
accelerated. A short, low whimper reverberated in her throat as she anticipated
the impending liftoff.

This flight was going to be six-and-a-half hours of pure
agony for more reasons than one.

* * * * *

Nathan Dawson watched the female passenger beside him with
silent, lustful interest. A pool of warmth grew in his belly when he heard the
woman’s soft whimper. That sound instantly made him think of all the things he
hadn’t had the pleasure of doing since the last quarter’s meet-up in the
mountains in Connecticut. Things he was looking forward to doing at this
current retreat in California. Things it was pointless for him to even think
about doing until he arrived in San Francisco with like-minded folks.

But this woman was an interesting one. A dark-skinned Latina
with long-lashed, big brown eyes and a wide, full mouth. Attractive, but she
seemed like the stuffy type. She was wearing a navy-blue dress suit and high
heels. On a plane.
Who does that?
Nathan wondered. Still, she was oddly
enticing. He glanced at her fingers, which donned a French manicure, and noted
that they were all ringless. Suddenly his mind went straight to imagining those
petite fingers wrapped around his dick—which in turn jumped at the appealing
thought—and he quickly looked away.

His eyes collided with the armpit of the big, sweaty man
sitting at his left, who was reaching up to twist the knob of the blower facing
him to give him more cool air. Nathan had been actively keeping his sense of
smell in check all this time, but now he was assaulted with the odor of
deodorant working in overdrive and was forced to turn his nose back toward Miss
Sexy.

He took a deep breath and filled his lungs with her scent
instead. Her aroma startled him. Underneath the vanilla perfume, Ivory soap,
her natural fragrance and the scent of her fertility, there was a trace of…nah,
it couldn’t be. Had to be his imagination. Or wishful thinking.

The plane reached maximum speed and she gripped at the
corners of her book as if it were going to anchor her. He could literally smell
her fear and his instinct was to protect her, even if it meant subjecting
himself to the same discomfort. But she seemed adamant about not switching
seats with him, so there wasn’t much he could do there.

Besides distract her with conversation.

He flashed a warm smile at her. “So is California home, or
New York?”

The woman tried to return a friendly smile, but she gritted
her teeth as she spoke, her knees knocking into each other. “New York.”

“Me too. How long have you lived in New York?”

She spoke with a slight Spanish accent that he found sexy
and easy to listen to. “I’ve lived in the city now for about seven years. You?”

“Born and raised, lived in the city all my life,” he
answered. “So what’s taking you to Cali?”

“I’m heading to San Fran for a vacation.”

“So am I, for two weeks. It’s good to get away from the
hustle every so often and take a time-out with nature where it’s slower and you
can relax, you know?”

“I just need to get away, period,” she said. “Doesn’t matter
if it’s slow or not—so long as it’s not work for a while, I’m good.”

“Heh,” he chuckled. “So what do you do?”

She had to bend toward him and raise her voice to compete
with the plane’s roaring engines. Long waves of her thick, dark hair fell
forward and across one side of her face. “I just got promoted to IT Manager at
the company where I work. It’s a lot more stressful than I would have hoped.”

He leaned in closer too. “Oh yeah? How so?” He inhaled her
again. It was faint but she almost smelled like one of
them!
But she
couldn’t be… Could she?

“It’s our Sales team. They’re nuts! They’re always promising
customers this amazing shit we can’t deliver, with a crazy budget and deadline
we can’t adhere to.”

Nathan laughed. “Hey, I’m a sales manager, always promising
my customers amazing shit. You don’t work at DodgeTech by chance, do you?”

“No,” she snickered. “Maybe I wish I did, though. I honestly
love the work I do but absolutely hate who I do it for. I almost missed this
flight because my boss insisted I come join him in person for a virtual meeting
with a couple of the overseas stakeholders before I left.”

He quirked his brows. “You had to go in for a virtual
conference? Why didn’t they just conference you in on your mobile? Did he
forget you were traveling today?”

“Oh he knew,” she frowned, “but they figured they would go
ahead and have me join the live video feed, since I needed to come in anyway to
restore the production database.”

“I thought you were an IT manager? Couldn’t you have someone
else go in and deal with that?”

She gave a hearty laugh at that. “I am. And the lead systems
analyst, the applications architect, the database and reporting analyst, the
quality assurance lead, the technical writer and end-user support. The ‘IT
Manager’ title is just a nicer way of calling me their technical bitch.”

Nathan grinned. “Because you’re so damn good, it sounds
like. They hit the jackpot with you if you can do all of that.”

“That’s just it, though. I
can
do all of that, but
I’m tired of doing it. They are drowning me with shit to do. We’re seriously
understaffed, and they seem determined to keep it that way.”

“Well, that’s shitty,” he remarked. “Too many companies have
no concept of a work-life balance. If you get sick of that place, you should
check out DodgeTech. We’ve got lots of opportunities for someone like you, and
we’d treat you much better.”

Just then the plane’s nose started pointing up and they were
both dropped back against their seats. He watched for a moment as she squeezed
her eyes shut, her lips pressed tightly together as the plane ascended. Nathan
didn’t know why he felt both compelled and bold enough to do so, but he placed
his hand on top of hers and caressed it reassuringly. She didn’t open her
eyes—she merely gripped his fingers tight in response. This reflexive but
intimate interaction between them invoked feelings of warmth and empathetic
familiarity. It also fueled his sordid imagination.

Once the plane leveled off and it was safe to unbuckle their
belts, she let go of his hand and slammed down the shade on the window. Then
she glanced up at him with an embarrassed expression.

She cleared her throat. “Thanks,” she said hastily before
opening her book and turning her focus on it.

“My pleasure,” he said.

Nathan rested his head against his seat and tried to relax.
As time went by, he found himself scooting away from the man on his left, whose
right hip and thigh were encroaching upon him, and closer to the woman. The
energy emanating from her was engulfing. She
couldn’t
be a normal woman.
When was the last time he was this drawn to a complete stranger? He
contemplated letting her read in peace, but his curiosity wouldn’t rest.

“What’s your sign?” he asked.

She stared up at him for a few blinks as if debating his
motives before answering. “Cancer. But I don’t really buy into that zodiac
stuff. It’s pretty much all wrong, from what I can tell.”

“Hmm.” He mulled that over for a bit. Her answer almost
completely eliminated the chances of her being what he thought she was. But
only almost. “So what are you going to do to unwind in San Fran, if I may ask?”

“Honestly, I haven’t really thought about it too hard. I
just wanted to go someplace else, anyplace other than NYC right now, and there
was a good deal for this flight. I guess I’ll check out the film festival in
Napa Valley. Maybe rent a bike and trek across the Golden Gate. I definitely
plan to get some good eats in downtown Frisco.”

“Sounds nice,” he replied, but he realized he might not
exactly get the answer he was looking for this way, so he slyly switched to a
more direct approach. “It’s crab season right now, so I might stop by
Fisherman’s Wharf and grab some fresh crab myself before I head up to Contra
Costa County.”

“What’s in Contra Costa?”

“A mountain.”

She raised her brows. “A mountain? For relaxation?”

He chuckled. “Well, it’s not like I’m going to be hanging
off the edge of any cliffs, you know. It’s beautiful up there, once you get
over the fact you’re so high up. Even though it’s smack-dab in the middle of
several suburban towns, when you get on top you feel as if you are away from it
all. Quiet. Just you and Mother Nature.”

“So are you going to meet up with someone there or will you
hang out in the mountains all by yourself?”

The question caught him off guard. Was she just making
conversation, or was she looking for an invitation? Would it even be safe to
extend her one? He considered the possibility that she
was
one of them,
that somehow she had abnormally low pheromones and a slightly off birthday, and
had slipped undetected through the cracks in bustling New York City. It was
possible she was uninformed of the quarterly meet-ups or, even worse,
completely alone and unaware that there were others at all.

BOOK: CatOutoftheBag
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