The Peculiar Pets of Miss Pleasance (Page 16)
“I’ve heard it said some women prefer it this way. Let me know, aye?”
She was about to protest when he pulled out and pressed back in, one finger stroking her cleft. Suddenly, everything fell into place. She let out a strangled cry and closed her eyes, finding her rhythm with him, meeting him with every thrust. Oh, the joy of it! That had to be how birds felt, flying into the sky. With every plunge, he struck some fine, secret place, and she felt a sensation building like a song, pounding toward a crescendo. His finger moved faster, their bodies in perfect harmony, the song spiraling on and on, until finally, she held her breath as the world stopped, the note spinning out inside her forever, higher and higher, until she saw stars against the inky darkness of her closed eyes.
“Gods, woman,” he said, and he pounded against her, drawing out that last note, finishing his own song with a groan.
When he collapsed against her back, her knees gave out, and they both tumbled to the blanket in a sweaty heap. She knew him well enough to know that he would be scared to crush her, worried about his weight.
“Bide a while,” she murmured, one eye on the stars. “I like how you pin me down.”
He chuckled and rolled to his side, taking her with him and making her yelp in surprise. “I won’t pin ye down, but I’ll hold you close enough.” Curling around her, he draped an arm over her side, pulling her against him.
Frannie relaxed into his chest, letting her head drop. Cradled by the warmth and magic of the secret she’d shared with a tender man who wasn’t about to leave, she drifted off to sleep.
Frannie peeked through her closet door, Thom a secure wall at her back. All was silent and still in her room, everything as it should be, right down to the puffball kitten curled on her pillow. She pushed past the coats and walked confidently into the cool darkness, her body chilled beneath the wet places on her gown, now that she was beyond the garden’s midnight warmth. Now that she was out from under Thom.
He shut both doors behind them and sauntered into the room with a leisurely stretch, his knuckles nearly raking the ceiling.
“We’ve still a few hours until morning. D’ye want me outside the door again, or . . .” He jerked his chin toward her bed with a warm grin.
She jerked her chin right back at the bed. “You go ahead. I want to check on the shop first. Make sure Casper didn’t break anything on his way in.”
He had been drawing his shirt over his head, but he paused and let it fall. “Let me check for you, or go with ye, at least. I can’t keep ye safe if I’m curled naked in your bed, lass.”
Hands on hips, she shook her head. “If you’re going to be around, you’ll have to get used to me being unruly. I’ve kept my own house and run my own business for too long. I’ll not tiptoe around my home. The walls are solid. The doors are locked. And the animals will let me know if something’s amiss. They’re silent, you’ll notice.”
He cocked an ear and looked her up and down, and she wondered what he saw. A wee wisp of a woman in a worn nightdress still stained with his mouth? Or a resilient London sparrow, accustomed to fighting her own battles and making her own way? The scales must have tipped toward the latter, or maybe he just knew well enough what was good for him.
“As you say, little love. I’ll be here if you need me.” He sat on the bed, fully dressed and alert. Waiting.
But that was his business. He’d have to get used to it.
Taking up her second-favorite but far less damp shawl, she wrapped her shoulders against the night’s chill and opened Casper’s door a few inches. It was too dark to see much, but she could hear him breathing. She rolled her eyes prematurely, dreading the braggadocio to come once he was awake. Plus, he’d probably want to know where she’d escaped to at intermission. The arrow had been wretched and unwelcome, but in hindsight, the night had gone rather well, and at least she hadn’t had to meet the bloody Magistrate.
She shut his door softly and headed down the stairs and into the pet shop. Everything was exactly as it should be, the room warm and sleepy, the silence broken only by the occasional tweet or the dry slither of scales on glass.
The puppies were fine, too, although their cage was messier than it should have been. She’d neglected them, and she would make up for it tomorrow with a couple of nice knuckle bones from the butcher. The kittens’ straw was empty, and she was startled for a moment before she remembered that she’d left them in a deep box in the warmth of the kitchen. They were more independent and on solid food now, but they couldn’t keep themselves warm without a mother during the long night.
Satisfied that all was well, Frannie passed into the parlor and went to bank the fire a little more carefully, as the kitchen was still a touch cool. She tripped on a bottle, sending it skittering into the corner.
“Drunk bastard,” she muttered. She would have to talk to Casper in the morning about the responsibilities of lodgers. Just because he was the most celebrated musician in the world, that didn’t mean he could leave wine bottles lying about. The bottle hit the wall with a clank, and the kittens sprang into motion, a chorus of desperate mews erupting from the crate.
“Hush, now. It’s coming, lads.”
She went to the icebox and doled out a bit of the mush she’d made for them of goat’s milk and bread and finely ground chicken and spread it around the plate so they’d all have a chance of a bite. With such tiny stomachs, they still needed to eat quite frequently.
As Frannie held her shawl with one hand and set the plate of mush in the box, the kittens began to leap and mewl furiously, each little puff of fur crawling over the others to reach it. One took up hissing, and she let go of her shawl to swat it gently, saying, “Calm down, fussy. There’s plenty for everyone.”
And that’s when it wrapped needle claws into her wrist and dug tiny teeth deep into her palm.
The plate dropped from Frannie’s hand and shattered against the stones as she tried to shake the kitten off. She’d been bitten dozens of times before, by dozens of animals, and her response was always calm, firm, and quiet. But something was different this time. This wasn’t a kitten clinging or learning or playing. The thing was dug into her skin, gnawing at the meat of her hand with razor-sharp teeth, growling as it ripped the hole bigger. She caught the scruff of its neck, trying to dislodge it, but it only dug its claws in with wicked tenacity. When she stepped back, scanning the parlor for a spatula or a spoon or something to smack it with, she stepped barefoot on the shards of the plate and stumbled to the ground, falling hard on her knees.
Two more kittens plopped out of the box, and the sound of claws on wood told her more were on the way. She shook her hand, thrashed it, her instinct to toss the kitten away even if it was cruel, but the fuzzy gray creature only hissed and bit deeper.
A small weight landed on her leg, tiny claws pricking deep in her thigh as another kitten clumsily climbed up her body. Years of training and familiarity and softheartedness had given Frannie the patience and sacrifice to deal kindly with helpless creatures, but her heart’s frantic thumping and the ice-cold fear wrenching down her spine told her that something was deeply wrong. She rolled her eyes upward and whispered, “I’m sorry.” Then she bashed her hand on the hard stones, knocking the kitten off and flinging her own blood across the hearth.
The kitten leaped up and bunched its tiny legs to pounce, its eyes glowing red as it hissed at her.
Fear shot through her. These weren’t kittens.
“Thom!” she screamed. “Thom, help!”
She yanked the kitten-thing off her leg, its claws shredding her nightgown. Another one jumped on her back and skittered up to her neck, leaving a trail of red-hot welts that fueled her panic. By the time she had tossed the animal off her legs into the shadows of the kitchen, the one on her neck had burrowed under her hair, sinking teeth into the nape and ripping deep into the flesh as if hunting for her spine.
She felt the blood running down her neck before the small, scratchy tongue began to lick. And then she heard the rumbling purr. On instinct, she wrenched it off and dropped it in the box, where it licked her blood off dainty paws.
When one of the kittens started up her leg again, she grabbed it tightly by the scruff of its neck and held it up to the fire’s meager glow. Red eyes glared back, and the little pink mouth opened with a hiss to reveal sharply gleaming fangs.
Footsteps pounded down the stairs as Thom landed in the kitchen, clad only in a kilt, knife in hand. “What is it, lass?”
“Bludkittens. Don’t kill them. They can’t help it.”
She scrambled to her feet, slipping in a puddle of her own blood and diving for the drawer where she kept carefully folded grain sacks. Thom reached down to pluck a fast-crawling kitten from the hem of her nightdress.
“Gah! Bugger bit me!”
“Put it in here.”
She held open a sack, and Thom pulled a kitten from his thumb. It held on as long as it could, stretching long, like a furry leech, before its teeth came unstuck with a little pop and a dribble of blood. He held it up to his face, and its eyes went wide and round, its miniature paws swimming in the air and its stubby tail twirling.
“I don’t think so, moggy.”
He dropped it neatly into the sack and went for the box, grabbing two more and tossing them in. Their claws immediately sank into the rough cloth, their little bodies swarming upward, but Frannie’s fist cinched the neck of the bag, trapping them.
“There are two more. I threw one in the corner.”
“Where’s the other?”
“Ah! On my ankle!”
She hopped on one foot, trying to dislodge the little orange tabby wrapped around her foot. It purred while it sucked blood from the meat of her calf, and Thom knelt to pull it gently away. Its legs wheeled in the air as it hissed, and Frannie held open the bag, jiggling it to knock the others away from the opening.
“One more,” she said.
Careful not to step in the shards of porcelain and forgotten kitten mush, she flicked on the light. With the bag in one hand, she prowled the room, checking the kittens’ box, under the tables, and in the corners. The fifth kitten, a white one, had utterly disappeared. It was unsettling to think that a creature so rabid for her blood would be intelligent enough to run in the opposite direction. She held up the now-shredded hem of her nightgown and called, “Here, kitty. Here, puss. Come have some nice blood.”