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“Is there anything I can do?” he asked. “Can’t you hug your daughter?”
The cat peeked out from behind a chair.
“I’m Sophie, by the way,” said the woman. “Sophie Hines. The reason I can’t do the hugging myself is that I’m not strong enough. Tim is a big man, six three, muscular. He knew just how much pressure to exert in the hug and it quieted her down every time. When she gets this way, she won’t let me near her. She doesn’t like strangers, so you wouldn’t be able to help.”
The screams from the back room got louder.
“How long does this last?”
She shrugged. “Usually about forty-five minutes. Maybe you should buy some good ear plugs.”
He looked her over. She was short and dark blonde, maybe thirty-one, thirty-two, small breasted and wiry, large gray eyes. Not his type; he liked curvy brunettes. He felt sorry for her, though right now he needed the damn sleep. “I’m Marcus,” he said.
The little girl suddenly walked into the living room. She appeared worn out herself with hair askew and face swollen from crying. “Who’re you?” she said loudly.
“Your neighbor,” Marcus said. He turned to leave.
“You have funny hair,” said the girl. “It stands up.”
“Tracy, that is not a nice thing to say. You can think whatever you want about his hair but if it’s not nice, don’t say it aloud.”
“Well, I’m going to try and get some sleep,” said Marcus. He opened the door and the cat streaked out.
“No!” cried Sophie, dashing after it, but once in the hall the animal was nowhere in sight. “Kahlua!” she yelled.
She sighed and rubbed her forehead. “This is the last straw. It isn’t even my cat. Like I need to worry about someone else’s damn cat while I have all the rest to deal with.” Sophie looked ready to keel over.
“Whose cat is it?” asked Marcus.
“My sister’s. She and her partner are in England right now. I’m supposed to keep it while they’re gone, a few more weeks.”
“Does it ever go outside?”
“Heavens, no. She’s strictly an inside cat. They’d have a fit.”
The little girl stood six feet behind her mother, observing Marcus warily. At least she was quiet now.
“I really need to sleep,” he said. “Not much of the night left.”
As he finally dropped off, he thought about the cat. Kahlua? For the next three hours, she moved in and out of his dreams and by the time he awoke, he had the odd feeling she was watching him. His heart leaped to his throat as he climbed out of bed and saw her outside the window in the flower box. She opened her little pink mouth and meowed loud enough to be heard through the glass.
He opened the window and the cat majestically hopped inside and down to the floor. She methodically checked the place out, sniffing everything. He watched her. He forgot about rushing to get ready.