Kaia had refused Sev’s offer of an escort home and waited for her brother, Benjamin, to finish his work at the office to give her a ride home. Normally, she would walk, but she wasn’t too sure she’d be alone the whole way, so she waited. She couldn’t, however, make the feel of his soft lips pressed against her knuckles before they separated disappear—after she had given him her number for the possibility of a date with the man.
But after the interaction with that man in Five Guys, Kaia noticed little quirks in Sev, ones that resembled two old friends. Two of her odd friends. Sighing, she came back to Benjamin’s car and the streets of Miami as they zoomed through traffic to their parent’s house for dinner. It would be late before their dinner would be ready, which was fine because her head couldn’t wrap around anything but how that Sergeant was able to wow her. That in its self was cause for alarm. She’d never been wowed and then had things turn out well.
He was so big, and blond, and blue eyed, and his hands…they had swallowed hers when he brought the backs of her fingers to his mouth. How much Kaia wanted…
A hard buzz dropped her back into Benjamin’s car. She pulled her blackberry from her purse and opened a text from her brother. La la land, KK.
“Really?” She turned to look at him, his brown hair curling around his eyes, and his smile crookedly reached for his left ear.
“Only called your name three times to ask you where you’re at.”
Shifting in the passenger seat, she stuck her phone back inside of her purse. “Just had a peculiar day is all. Met a real hunk of a man at work today.” A blush filled out her cheeks, and she waggled her eyebrows at him.
He chuckled, shaking his head. “I haven’t seen you with that look since that old bear of yours.”
The connection between the two had been obvious to her when she saw the Sergeant, Sev. Unfortunately, that connection and the idea of a romantic type of anything with him weren’t in his favor. Besides, she didn’t date. Not for a long time.
“Maybe, but that’s not particularly good since that old bear of mine broke my heart.” Kaia twisted the ring on her pinky finger, a small, fat Cat’s Eye bedded in steel—the stone the color of the bear’s fur.
Ben reached for her hand, ceasing her fiddling and giving her comfort. “You can’t let that man ruin every chance you may have at happiness. I see it in your face, Kaia. You haven’t come out of that little daze of yours since we left. I can only imagine how long you were like that before.”
“Ben, make your point please.”
“You’re infatuated. Don’t let your past stand in the way of something good.” With a squeeze and a pat, Ben released Kaia’s hand and turned them into their parents’ driveway.
Stopping herself as she moved to twirl the ring again, her fingers clenched softly, and she nodded with resolve. “I guess one date couldn’t hurt.”
“That a girl.”
Dinner with her family went like it always had. Mom put out finger foods as she cooked the big meal—a traditional cuisine from somewhere different each week. This week Mom had made palomilla steak with those little caramelized onions, black beans and rice with sweet plantains and fries, which they sat down to at eight. Mom could make some mean Cuban food, especially here in Miami. They finished eating some time after nine, which wasn’t too bad since Kaia only had to walk a few feet down the block to her condo.
Of course, she couldn’t get out of there fast enough once her father had his bourbon. He became a real pita when he drank and liked to hound Kaia about her marital status. She wasn’t in the mood for it, not after she’d been reminded of the bear—the only male with big enough hands to hold her heart.
Outside her condo, where the beach meets the manicured grass before the patio swallowed it all in concrete, Kaia stopped, the weight of an intrusive gaze along her form. Goosebumps broke out under her hair and along her neck and shoulders. Turning, she didn’t see anyone close enough to illicit that type of reaction from her.
Shaking her head, Kaia stepped up onto the cement slab that led to the back door of her condominium. As soon as her feet hit the solidness of the concrete, a warning tremor of fear tore down her spine, making her gaze shift to her right, to the corner of the building where a set of yellow eyes watched her from a nearly completely curtained shadow. But she could make out the form of a black bear, taller and wider than the only other bear she’d ever met.
He bared his teeth as a low snarl crawled across the sandy concrete, snapping for her on its way.
Her legs broke their stillness, shoving her toward the back entrance, card key in hand. God, she prayed, let her swipe it right the first time. Trembling in her fingers missed her first opportunity as the bear lunged forward after her, barreling down the side of the building.
She swiped again, the red light turned yellow, keeping the lock in place. Kaia swore under her breath at it. The bear’s sour breath almost a solid mass against her face.
She swiped. Green Light. The click of the lock. An open door.
Swinging herself inside, she shifted her weight, pressing against the door to close it and hope for the lock to activate again in time.
The lock clanked back into position as the bear’s weight slammed against the metal door meant to withstand the winds of a class three hurricane—or so the sticker boasted every time she swiped her key.
But the door groaned against the weight of perusal. Kaia turned and ran for the stairs, taking them as quickly as she could, sometimes in twos, and didn’t stop until she sat safely against the inside of her condo door. She sank to the floor and waited for her heart and lungs to calm.
With her phone in hand, she swiped her thumb across the screen and scrolled down to the bear’s number and hesitated—they’d gone more than a month without talking again. But her hesitation abated as chills broke out along her forearms, she pressed call.
The phone clicked after two rings.
“Yeah?” Dev’s voice growled through the phone, and the wound that had never completely closed tore a little wider.
“What the hell would a bear be doing chasing me?”
A crash sounded on the other side of the phone, like wood against wood, and he swore against her ear. “For the love of the Gods’…Little Red, if you’re breathing, he couldn’t have wanted you that badly. Stay indoors.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Her voice echoed back into her ear. The click of ended phone call salted that fresh tear.
Setting down the phone, she listened.
No harrumphing of a big animal climbing the stairs.
No noise other than the constant hum of the central air.
That was no normal bear, and hers…well, no, not hers. He didn’t seem too concerned over it. He hadn’t seemed to entertain the thought of coming to see if she were okay and not half-eaten.
Well, she seemed relatively safe for the moment, so she pushed herself off the floor, took out her newest bottle of raspberry dessert wine, and helped herself right there in the kitchen.
“Only ever been one bear in Miami crashing through my door, always on his way out.”