The downtown streets were quieter than they’d been three hours ago. I hadn’t passed a single person in two blocks. Everyone else was probably tucked away in a fancy restaurant eating dinner.
The thought of dinner made my stomach growl. Why hadn’t I brought along a change of clothes? I could’ve been enjoying dinner with friends instead of parading down the street like someone on their way to a Halloween party.
I glanced back over my shoulder and saw my tail lying on the ground. Stupid tail.
Keeping it attached to the back end of my costume was an exercise in frustration, so I shoved it into my oversized purse.
Back when I was in high school, my father had suggested I get a part-time job to develop a good work ethic. So, I did.
Bagging groceries seemed easy enough, but I was let go for being too friendly with the customers. Did they want me to walk around looking at the ground and grunting when asked a question? Apparently.
I stepped into the fast-food world after that. We weren’t a good match. That was what every manager said.
After that, I ended up working in the mail room at my daddy’s company. And I excelled. It wasn’t hard. The envelopes had names on them. Cubicles had names on them. It was like a giant matching game.
My parents had laid out clear expectations for what I was supposed to do after high school. And I followed them . . . mostly. I went to a reputable university. I studied engineering. I graduated with honors and landed a job at a prestigious company.
That was where their plan for me and my plan for me diverged. I hated the job. Then I dated my boss because I thought it would make the job more exciting. That didn’t work out. Being dumped during my lunch hour in my boss’s office was exciting, but not in the way I’d hoped.
Then after flirting with his new assistant for weeks, the toad had the audacity to say he missed me and wanted to go out again. I quit.
That was the short version of how I’d ended up dressed in a cat costume in downtown San Antonio. Posing as a model paid actual money. And I needed that to eat. Running home to Mom and Daddy was not an option.
I’d do anything to avoid that. Well, maybe not anything. I never wanted to sever that relationship. I wanted them to be proud of me.
Quitting my engineering job already had me on thin ice. And displeasing Daddy was a choice carefully made. Call me spoiled, but I liked my creature comforts.
When he found out that I’d quit the engineering job, he’d suspended my fun money. Temporarily.
My phone rang, and I dug it out of my purse. “Hello?”
“Cami, are you sure you don’t want to come to dinner with us?” Nacha asked. “There’s a group of us getting together.”
“Nah, I didn’t bring a change of clothes, and what I’m wearing isn’t quite dinner attire.” I hooked my purse on my shoulder and kept walking.
“Where did you park?”
“Not too far away. Up the stairs. To the left. Five stoplights to the right, then three stoplights left. Then down this alley type thing. Near that big shiny new building.”
She chuckled. “Are you almost there?”
“About halfway. Maybe.” If I hurried, I could make it back to my car before dark. “Have fun. Bye.”
It was one thing to be dressed in a leopard costume when the sun was still blazing in the sky, but after dark, it sent a different message.
And these high-heeled boots were not made for strolling down city streets. My choices were watching my steps to avoid breaking an ankle or watching my surroundings so I wasn’t snagged off the street.
While I was fending off kidnappers with my x-ray vision, I missed the wad of gum on the sidewalk. I wrestled my boot free then dragged it on the concrete, leaving a faded pink smear behind me as I went.
I’d have to get some peanut butter to get it off my shoe. Or was that what they recommended for getting it out of hair? Either way, it was worth a try.
On Halloween when every teenager waited for the sun to disappear from view, it always took forever. But today, when I needed the sun, it dove toward the horizon like there was a prize for making it there before I reached my car.
I stopped and scraped my boot a time or two before walking again. Footsteps sounded behind me.
Speed-walking, I turned left. Had I passed five stoplights or only four? Definitely four. I turned right at the next light.
Three more lights and then the alley. If I could stay ahead of the creepy shadow, I could escape downtown with my life.
Even mostly broke, I liked my life.
The shadow rounded the corner, and I sped up a little more.
My heart thumped on my eardrums, making it hard to determine how close he was. I hung a left.
The parking lot was just through the little alley. I needed to make it through there, then I could run across the street to my car.
The footsteps sounded closer. Maybe they were just echoing off the walls. No one would see me in here if that shadow stalker grabbed me.
Another man appeared at the end of the alley, and he was headed straight toward me. As he drew closer, I noticed the firefighter logo on his t-shirt.
He had to be a good guy, right?
Hope so. I needed a superhero, and besides the shadow stalker, the firefighter was the only one around.
I broke into a run. He froze as I ran up and threw my arms around his neck.
“Please help me. There’s a man following me.”
His arms tightened around me. “It’s so good to see you.” He played the part perfectly.
“Thank you. You’re my hero.” My lips brushed his stubble, and I regretted trying to whisper in his ear.
Of course he did. A woman wearing a cat suit just threw herself at him. He probably thought I’d kissed his cheek.
Superhero guy didn’t let go, and I didn’t mind in the least.
All the romance novels I’d ever read talked about a tingle when fingers touched. My body felt like I’d stuck my finger in a wall socket.
I looked into his green eyes and swallowed. “Thank you.”
“Ma’am, I’ve been trying to catch you. You dropped your jaguar tail.” The voice didn’t come from the man holding me. The shadow man had said that.
Was there room for me in the crack in the sidewalk?
After a deep breath, I stepped away from the hunky firefighter. “It’s a leopard tail.”
Later, I’d tell Nacha and Haley all about the muscles under his shirt. Right now, I needed to gather the last shreds of my pride and escape.
Shadow man was as old as my father but wasn’t in great shape. It wasn’t a wonder he hadn’t caught me. The poor man was still trying to catch his breath.
Putting my escape plan into action, I stepped into the street. Running would seem undignified, so I marched—I was probably jaywalking—across the street, then climbed into my car.
The firefighter ran after me, but he had to wait for a bus to pass, so I was able to get moving before he ran into the parking lot.
When I looked in my rearview mirror, he waved.
Crap! My tail was in his hand.