Would you...? Could I...?
"Would you...? Could I...?" she asked softly, her words a mere whisper in the crowded, noisy room, her head down, unable to meet his gaze. He had approached her slowly, moving toward the lone woman at the end of the bar, making no effort to be inconspicuous - a near impossible feat when he stood taller than everyone in the room.
Would you...? Um...
He kept his distance but smiled at her when he took a barstool - three stools down - two bowls of popcorn, one dirty paper napkin - a clean ashtray - south west of her around the curve of the mahogany bar - just beyond his physical reach and the ease of her state of mind.
He had watched her the other times, attracted to her ash brown shoulder length hair, a brief glimpse of deep gray eyes that seemed to see more than what was in the room. For some reason, that bothered him and intrigued him as well. He wanted to reach for her.
I was wondering if...? Each time he'd seen her, she was dressed conservatively, a suit, a dress and jacket, or jumper with a turtleneck, one-inch heels. Tonight, she wore faded jeans, a sweater and leather boots and he wanted to get closer, except... she seemed younger somehow.
He turned toward her, his body speaking volumes, one hand on the bar - "Scotch on the rocks," he ordered. "And a tall glass of ginger ale, lots of ice," - the other on his thigh. Smiling, he pushed the soft drink toward her hand, slowly... carefully... trying not to frighten her... gently... he kept her calm by the slow movements of his hand.
Would it be all right if I...? She watched the large hand slide across the polished wooden bar - it looked like it could be a gentle hand. She wondered... gambled... the tip of her tongue on her upper lip... tasting fear and moisture... and reached for it... took the proffered bait, snatching it into her hand, her feet locked into the foot rail, keeping her balanced.
She braved his gaze, looking up into warm brown eyes, bedroom eyes, eyes that could easily seduce her into mindless ecstasy, eyes that saw too much, eyes that asked... She licked her lips and swallowed hard. God gave him too much, she thought. He's a beautiful man.
"Any chance I can get a smile?" he asked, giving her a gentle one of his own.
"I... don't have any," she whispered, her head down again, conditioned to keep it down in front of a dominant man.
"Yes, you do," he said, his voice like gravel coated with molasses, rough and sweet, at ease with her reluctance. "I'm sure one is in you somewhere," he said softly. Would you look again? I'm not asking for more than one."
Her eyes widened at his teasing words and one side of her mouth lifted just a fraction.
He arched a brow. "There it is," he grinned. "You've found it. Now let it all come out."
He laughed softly as her face began to pink and she turned away from him. "I think your smile's too shy to show itself. Perhaps...?"
"Who are you?" she asked, head up, her smile hidden once again.
"I hope I'm someone you've been looking for," he said quietly. "But if I'm not..."
"I wasn't looking for anyone," she said determinedly, the stubborn streak surfacing, the one that irritated that other man who beat her for having a will to live.
"I wasn't, either," he admitted, "until I saw you sitting here. I've seen you here before and each time I wonder why you look so sad." Lowering his voice, he asked the reason why. "Do you want to tell me why you look like someone just ran over your cat? I'd be happy to get you another one," he offered, turning fully to face her, "if it would make you smile again."
"Do you do that a lot?" she asked.
"Go searching for smiles."
"No," he said softly. "But I'd like to see yours. Any chance...?"
"Where would you get the cat?" she asked, wondering why she said something so dumb.
"The animal shelter," he smiled gently again. "I'd pick one that needed a second chance at life, one that wanted to live. We could pick one out together if you'd like."
"You ever have a cat?" she asked this perfect stranger who was too good looking... too perfect... too...
"Yes," he answered. "And I know they like to be stroked gently... very gently..." his voice got softer. "And they're skittish... and have claws... You can shower them with special treats... love them unconditionally... and only hope they rub against you once in a while... only hope they'll seek you out. Some of them take a lot of extra special care..." He spaced his words, pausing between each one. "Warm... gentle... patient... loving care."
"You're thinking of a certain cat?" she asked.
"Yes, I am, Puss. How'd you know?"
"I was thinking... maybe... you...?"
"Maybe... I what?" he asked, moving one barstool closer to his goal.
"I know this is going to sound strange, but..." she took a sip of ginger ale, her defenses partially lowered.
"I'm listening," he said softly, bending toward her, his gentleness a wafting breeze, brushing her wounded parts. "I was wondering if..." she bit her lip and looked away, fear rising again like smoke, circling her.
"If...?" he paused, trying not to scare her off, only one barstool and years of physical abuse between them.
"I was hoping you wouldn't... mind... if... um..." she swallowed the lump of fear in her throat.
"I won't mind," he assured her, "whatever it is."
Fear made her look away as she toyed with the ginger ale, her fingers playing with the ice, her arm - with a will of its own - suddenly darting out to reach for the popcorn bowl.
"If I'm imposing..." Her hand brushed his and she yanked it back as if she had been burned.
"Sor... sorry... I shouldn't have..." the shiver iced down her spine.
"It's okay," he said gently, daring to reach out and cup her chin. "I don't bite. I don't hit. And I don't hurt."
That's all it took.
"Would... would you let me lean on you for a minute? You wouldn't have to hold me or anything, just let me... just let me lean... please. I... I'm so tired of standing alone."
Instantly, he rose to his feet and opened his arms wide waiting for her to accept his invitation. She hesitated, her mind registering his size, a broad chest and a thickly corded neck - tall, arms and thighs like tree trunks, a ruggedly handsome face - much too manly, too beautiful, she thought.
Taking a quick breath, she drummed up the last of her new found courage, then dived into his arms before she chickened out, burying her face in his chest, her hands fisted in his shirt. He smelled so good - a clean smell - after shave and leather and talc and something else - something she couldn't identify. His arms gently enfolded her, a large hand began to rub her back, the other cupped the curve of her cheek as he gazed at her. "It's all right, little one.
You're safe. I won't let anyone hurt you."
"How'd you know?" her voice muffled by his chest, seduced by the warmth of his body, the gentle strength of him.
"Sixth sense," the former Navy Seal replied. "A gut feeling, my sweet Puss."
"I'm not yours," she said softly. "Just borrowing your arms for a moment.
"You could be," he said seriously, tilting her head up with one finger.
"I'm damaged goods," she announced.
"Not to me, you aren't."
"Thank you for letting me lean on you," she sighed into his chest, not sure how long he had held her.
"Any time," he murmured softly, his lips brushing the top of her head.
"I'd better go now." She lifted her head to look at him. "You don't have to," he answered softly, looking into her dark gray eyes, content to hold her.
"Don't want to wear out my welcome," she said with regret, loath to leave the safe haven of his arms.
"You're not," he replied, wishing she'd stay a lot longer... maybe, an eternity.
"Have to go now," she dragged herself away. "Thank you."
"Can I give you a ride home?" he asked, his eyes asking more.
"Um... I... I'm afraid..." she admitted.
"You don't have to be..." his voice trailed off, thinking of persuading her to agree, but not willing to alarm her. "Maybe, next time." "Thank you," she gave him a genuine smile, her heart racing for no reason.
He nodded and stepped back out of her way, smiling gently, wondering why he was letting her go.
She bid her friends goodbye, said she was calling a cab, and got as far as the parking lot. Doing an about face, her body followed her feet back into the club, her head and her need going along for the ride.
"Would you...? Could I...?"
"Another hug?" he asked when he saw her, lips curved into a teasing smile, arms opening to embrace her. His heart did a serious flip-flop when she came into his arms and he took a deep breath, trying to rein it in. "A ride?" she asked. "Is the offer still good?"
"Yes," he smiled, happy to spend more time with her.
"I won't jump into your bed," she warned, when they pulled up to her building.
"I won't jump into yours, either," he teased, squeezing her hand.
"Not unless you want me to, Puss."
"Really? You won't?"
"I won't," he assured her quietly.
"And if... I want you to?" she asked a little breathlessly, mentally slapping herself for the uttered words.
"I'll love you gently," he murmured, one finger stroking her cheek.
"How?" her voice softened, her lip trembling, wondering what he meant by "gently" since it had never accompanied any sex she had experienced. "Do you like your belly rubbed?" he asked, watching her face as her expression changed.
"I think so, I don't know," she answered honestly.
"Do you like your bottom petted?"
"Yes." She remembered how it felt when the fiery welts were traced - a finger smeared in her blood painting it over her ass and her thighs and her breasts and... the memory stabbed into her gut and she caught her breath, lost for a moment in yesterday.
"What else do you like, sweet Puss?" his voice brought her back, watching her face change from neutral to fear and back again.
"Do you know a lot of contented cats?" she asked out of the blue, looking up at him.
"I'm a little scruffy around the edges... with a scar or two."
"Inside and out?" he asked, his voice heavy with regret.
"A couple on my back," her expression stoic, thinking he'd turn away from her.
"And inside?" his voice a murmur in her ear, his breath warming a cold spot in her heart.
"A few." Her breath came faster, pushing the memories back into their hole.
"A lot?" he persisted softly.
"A few." Her eyes focused in the past.
"Just a few?" the healing and concerned voice asked.
"A lot," she rasped, her voice choking on a breath, adrenaline coursing through her and making her nauseous and weak.
"If you let me, I can ease those scars for you, rub them away until they no longer hurt," he murmured in her ear, inhaling her the scent of her, able to smell her fear.
"Why are you being so nice to me?" she said suddenly aware of her surroundings.
He cupped her cheek, his thumb briefly caressing her skin, one finger tracing the line of her jaw.
Because you're my mate, Puss, he said in his head, and tigers mate for life.
"When can I see you again?" he asked, ignoring her question, desperate to kiss the rapid pulse at her throat.
"I don't know, next Friday at the club?"
It was a long week for both of them - she couldn't get him out of her mind. She was strongly attracted - it wasn't just his masculinity although he was a handsome, virile looking man; it was his attitude, his patience, his aura of strength and gentleness.
His job occupied most of his day, though she was constantly on his mind. The look of defeat on her face had overwhelmed him, like a kitten who had almost drowned. There was no doubt in his head that she had been beaten into submission and what remained was raw and wounded bits and pieces.
He wanted to hold her, hide her, and heal the hurting inside. He wanted to kiss her, touch her, and soothe those wounded parts. He wanted to show her how loving could be, how it should be... he wanted... more of her.
He waited at the bar.
Last call," the bartender remarked when the hour turned late, taking the empty glass, wiping a well-worn rag over the polished mahogany surface one last time. The chairs were already upside down on the tables and the lights were dimmed. Disappointed she hadn't shown up, he got up to leave and then felt a warm breath on his arm.
She gave him a tremulous smile, an angel's face framed by long brown hair. He noticed the lip gloss right away, the first makeup he'd seen her wear. His eyes swept down, her dark gray, V-neck sweater was form fitting and very sexy, the floor length paisley skirt had a slit on the side, and wine colored leather boots peeked under her skirt. He was ready to scoop her up into his arms and ride off into the sunset, hoping there was a horse outside.
"I thought you changed your mind," he said, straining to keep his hands at his sides.
"I was afraid to come," she said softly.
"What changed your mind?"
"I was afraid not to," she looked up at him, moving into his arms as if she had found her way home.
His whole body sighed with pleasure as he held her. "I'm glad you did," he murmured.
"So am I. Would you...? Could I...? Can I lean on you for a moment?"
"As long as you like," the tiger purred, content to have his puss in his arms.
And so it began.