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Authors: Tatiana Caldwell

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BOOK: CatOutoftheBag
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Chapter Eight

 

Sofia took one last, long look from this place on the
mountain. With the sun still up, it was not too cool to enjoy the breeze, and
so she stood for a moment, enjoying the scenery and the wind flitting through
her hair. This high up, clouds were near eye level, forming a misty but serene
view of the other mountain peaks and the world below. It was three o’clock and
the late afternoon sun cast one last ray of light through the clouds in the
distance, like a beacon of hope and peace and promises of good things to come.

But all good things had to come to an end.

Who knew when would be the next time she’d get to enjoy a
view this gorgeous, a week this free, a moment this perfect. Tilting her head
to the side, she listened to Nathan moving in the tent behind her, cheerfully
humming some tune she didn’t recognize. She smiled to herself.

She certainly hoped this wouldn’t be the last day she got to
spend time with this man.

They’d spent two full days and two nights out in the
wilderness alone, conquering the tricky nuances of being Werecats and exploring
the carnal pleasures of being lovers. Not in a million years could she have
dreamed that this was how her week-long getaway would turn out. But neither in
a million years would she have had it any other way.

If only she could stay out here like this with Nathan
forever. Then she laughed at herself for wishing it.
Whoa, slow down there,
girl! So you had a great time with the man. What’s with this forever stuff? You
just met him this week!
She glanced down at her mobile phone in her hand,
miffed by the number of unread emails from work. Damn mountain and its
freakishly good cellular reception. Her fantasy week was just about over now.
It was time to go—she had responsibilities to return to. She exhaled deeply and
then turned around toward the tent.

“Would you like to go up to the summit?” Nathan asked.
“Might as well go all the way up while you’re out here, you know?”

“No, we should head back to the cave now,” Sofia said as she
went inside the tent and tossed her phone into the backpack. “I need to get
cleaned up, get my stuff packed and get ready to head to the airport. You guys
got a shower somewhere, right?”

Nathan lowered the energy bar he’d been snacking on and frowned
at her. “Already? It’s Saturday. I thought you said you weren’t leaving until
Sunday?”

Sofia tried to ignore her pain at the disappointment in
Nathan’s voice as she rolled up the sleeping bag. “I’m taking a red-eye at one
in the morning. Which basically means I’ll be heading for the airport tonight
at least by ten this evening.”

“What’s the rush? You don’t have to go back to work until
Monday, right?”

She walked out past him with the sleeping bag tucked under
her arm. “By the time I get in to New York in the morning and make it back in
the house, I’ll barely have a full day at home to take care of personal stuff
and to get prepared to head back to work the next day.”

Nathan pouted but he began taking down the tent in silence.
“The rest of us will be here another week,” he said after a while. “It’ll be
really odd for me without you here.”

Sofia’s heart fluttered in her chest, but she swallowed the
lump in the back of her throat. “I’m sorry,” she said as she stuffed the water
bottles and extra sandwiches back into the large backpack. “I didn’t know I’d
be meeting someone like you here. Or that any of this would happen. Or that I’d
run into an invitation from a Pride on a two-week retreat. I only prepared for
seven days.”

“What’s there to prepare for? There’ll be other flights.
Stay, and fly back with me next week. I’ll make sure to be the one to take the
window seat next time.”

She laughed. “I can’t stay here another week! I only brought
enough clothes for—”

“You haven’t worn much clothing all week,” he retorted.
“Plus the city is right down the mountain. There are Laundromats and they even
have stores that sell clothes that probably fit you.”

She stopped to make a face at him. “Okay, now you’re just
being facetious. But really, Nathan, I can’t stay another whole week. I can’t
even stay another
day
. I have to return to work Monday, they’re
expecting me. I have things to do.”

“Call off sick.”

“You want me to lie to my boss?”

“You really did develop a condition while out here.”

She scoffed. “What, am I supposed to tell my boss that I
spontaneously transformed into a big-ass cat?”

“I meant some of the truth. Tell him you had an allergic
reaction to something you encountered while traveling, you know, and it
triggered an episode. Which is true, actually. Cassandra Kennedy back at the
cave is a doctor. She can formally write you up.”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so. There’s so much work
to do. Too much. When I finally do get back next week, I’d be swamped for
weeks.”

“You’ll be swamped anyway. You said you’re always overloaded
where you work.”

Her cheeks began to flush with her frustration. He was
acting like a brat and she didn’t like it. “Listen, can we just drop this? I
already said I can’t stay. I wish I could, really, but I can’t. You’ll be back
in NYC next week, right? We’ll exchange phone numbers, and just plan to hook up
whenever we both have some free time.”

Nathan licked his lips and sighed then nodded. “You’re
right, it’s not that big of a deal. Sorry I pressed it, I didn’t mean to upset
you.” He seemed to withdraw from her a little bit immediately after that. Had
she said something wrong?

Neither of them said much else as they finished packing up
and headed back to the cave. The walk back was a two-hour journey in awkward
silence. Sofia sensed there was a lot more Nathan wanted to say. There was
probably a lot more to the whole quarterly retreat thing with the Pride than
she was fully grasping, but she didn’t really feel like discussing any of it.
The truth was, she didn’t like having to leave so soon after meeting him.

It was hard to believe she’d only met the man six days ago,
since already it was as if she couldn’t imagine her life without him. The idea
of waiting a whole week at minimum before she could see him again seemed
unbearable.

But anything more he had to say on the subject would only
make it worse for them both. She was a grown woman with a demanding job, her
own apartment and shit to do. It was silly to make like her departure was the
end of the world when she wasn’t even supposed to be on the mountain in the
first place. The last thing she wanted to do was spend her final night with him
fretting over things she couldn’t change.

It was about half past five and the sun was already low in
the sky by the time they made it back to the cave. It wasn’t until they neared
the entrance that Nathan broke the silence. “You can stay for dinner at least,
right? It’ll probably start in about an hour or so.”

“Sure. I’d like that.” She nodded and looked around. “Is
there a place I can get cleaned up for real first?”

“Yeah. There’s a really nice shower in that RV right there.”
He led her to one of the vehicles that were parked off to the side of the cave.
He knocked on the door, waited a moment then opened it and went inside. A
moment later he came back out and nodded at her. “No one’s inside, you’re free
to use it. There’s soap already in there and everything. I’ll go put this stuff
up and bring you something to wear from your suitcase.”

He was being nice and polite but the tension between them
was still thick and uncomfortable. Sofia flashed him a smile and thanked him
then stepped into the RV. She watched through the window as he carried their
camping supplies and disappeared into the cave before she headed into the
shower.

It felt like forever since she’d properly cleaned up. Tongue
baths were nice and all, but there was just no substitute for a bar of soap and
hot running water. She stayed under the stream for a long time, trying to
gather up the courage to go back out there and face Nathan, as well as the other
Werecats who she hadn’t even bothered to try to meet yet, only to say goodbye.

When she finally got out of the shower, she found her purse,
a set of her underwear and one of her outfits neatly laid upon a bench seat.
Sofia smiled with glee to herself as she zipped up her black dress pants and
latched them and began to work on the buttons of her green satin blouse. Now
that she’d gotten a handle on shifting, it was safe to wear something other
than that flimsy rookie dress that came off almost too easily. So good it was
to be in her own clothes again.

She started down the stairs of the RV and spotted Nathan
outside, standing nearby. His arms were folded across his chest and he looked
annoyed. Sofia hesitated and for a moment she wondered if she’d been in the
shower long enough to miss dinner and piss him off, but she checked her watch
it was only a little past six. When she fully exited the vehicle, she saw that
a man and woman were out there too, facing him, wearing angry expressions.

“Nathan?” She looked at him then the other two, then back at
him again. “Is everything okay?”

“No, it’s not,” the unfamiliar male snarled. Sofia studied
his unruly, dirty-blond curls and strangely colored eyes of dark-yellow mixed
with bright green. She couldn’t recall meeting him, nor had they been
introduced, yet somehow he seemed vaguely familiar. But not in a good way.
“Your friend Dawson here took you and kept you away for two days.”

She shook her head. “No, no, he didn’t take me. We left the
cave together,” she explained.

“Which shouldn’t have happened.”

Sofia knitted her eyebrows in confusion. What were they so
angry about? “I don’t see what’s the big deal—”

“He didn’t even tell anyone you were awake, let alone that
he was leaving with you,” the woman said sharply. “Not even me, and you were my
patient.” She approached Sofia and held out her hand. “I’m Dr. Cassandra
Kennedy. It’s good to see you’re up and about. And to get to meet you,
finally.”

Though she was still confused, Sofia nodded and shook the
hand of the petite, serious-looking but attractive woman with straight brown
hair that stopped just at her shoulders. “Sofia Saldana. Nice to meet you.”

The man approached her and Sophia resisted the urge to
shrink away from his hand. “I’m Justin Finland, it’s a pleasure to formally
meet you,” he said as he shook her hand.

“Justin…” she mouthed his name and looked over at Nathan to
try to ascertain if this was
the
Justin, the one who had jumped her
while she was jogging a few days ago. The ticked-off expression on Nathan’s face
confirmed it for her. She looked back at Justin with her mouth agape. “I don’t
understand what’s going on—”

“Our buddy Dawson here broke several Pride rules when he ran
off with you on Thursday morning,” Justin said. “We don’t take too kindly to
rule breakers here.”

Glancing between everyone, Sofia blinked and fidgeted
uneasily. Apparently Nathan was in trouble. And somehow it was all her fault.

* * * * *

Nathan took a deep breath and filled his lungs, trying to
tell himself to remain calm and patient. “So there she is, folks, alive and
well.” He held out his hand toward Sofia as if presenting her. “As I said—and
that I hoped both of you would have known me well enough to know—I haven’t hurt
her, or abducted her, or anything like that.”

“Don’t get so worked up over the accusation,” Cassandra
chastised. “The last we’d seen of her, she was unconscious. Then the next
morning, I come to check on her and she’s gone. And you’ve had her out for over
two days now, without leaving a word. That’s not like you. What were we
supposed to think?”

Nathan scoffed. “I told you all the day she got here that
she was with me. So I don’t know why you’re surprised I left with her.”

“Because you broke the
rules,
Dawson.” Justin got all
up in Nathan’s face. “It’s a rule that all newcomers get introduced to the
whole Pride. It’s a rule that all females get to
choose
who they mate
with, and when. You don’t get to scoop her up and snake off somewhere for two
whole days
and a half
, hogging a pussy all to yourself before anyone
else even gets a good fucking
whiff,
man!”

Nathan moved forward, brushing his chest threateningly
against Justin’s. “Back up off me,” he warned him. “I already told you it was
different with her, and that a formal introduction wasn’t necessary. She didn’t
come here for any pride, she didn’t want to meet anyone else yet, she wasn’t
looking to do any choosing. She was only on the mountain to see
me
and
she was only in the cave because
you
jumped her.”

“Dude, fuck what you already told me.” Justin’s voice grew
even louder, angrier. “The Pride
rules
.You fucking
broke
them!”

Nathan’s ears grew hot and a low growl began to rumble in
his throat as his aggravation at the accusations and Justin’s tone grew.

“Listen, it was me, not Nathan,” Sofia spoke up. She placed
her hand on Justin’s shoulder, turning him to face her. “I told him I really
didn’t want to stay. I don’t know any of you and as far as I’m concerned, I’m
not officially a member of this pride or a participant of this retreat. I won’t
even be in California after tonight. I’m brand-new to
all
of this, so I
didn’t know we were breaking any rules, and honestly I’m still not sure I
understand what we did that was so wrong, but it was all my fault, not his.”

Nathan felt bad that Sofia even had to be engaged in this,
at this time, when she and he were already a bit edgy with each other. But
there was more she needed to learn about Weres sooner or later, as well as
understand how the Pride worked, and why. Snapping off further at Justin and
Cassandra wasn’t going to do anything but make the situation even more
agitating for everyone, so he remained quiet.

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