A/N: I wrote this for prairiepirate on tumblr as part of my summer fic writing project. :)
Purr, Purr, Purr
Emma tossed back the last dregs of her morning coffee before snatching up the file for her next appointment. The veterinary hospital had only been open for two hours, and already they were running behind. Overnight, the emergency unit had admitted a German Shepherd brought in by the Humane Society that had been hit by a car. The case had tied up radiology for several hours and thrown off the whole day. The dog, thankfully, would recover just fine. But Emma was doomed to face a solid day of angry clients looking for someone to blame for the delay.
Bracing herself, she brushed some black dog hair off the front of her scrubs, and pushed open the door to exam room 5.
Two men — both of them startlingly handsome — waited inside, sitting side-by-side on the bench seat along the wall, with an orange and white cat nestled between them.
"Um... Hi," Emma said, her hand frozen on the door knob, momentarily thrown.
The specialty vet hospital she worked at attracted a particular type of pet owner — mostly wealthy, older empty-nesters with the time and money to spare for things like cardiology appointments for their aging cats. These two were far from the norm.
The one to the right of the cat wore a plaid shirt with blue jeans. A wild mop of gently curling hair gave him a friendly, approachable air that exuded pure charm. More than enough to throw any woman off her game. But it was the other man who caught and held Emma's attention. For a brief, slack-jawed second, she stood and stared.
Finally, she shook her head to snap some sense into herself.
"I'm Emma," she said and offered him her hand.
He'd scooped up the cat in one arm and shook her hand with the other. "Killian. Nice to meet you, love."
His touch made her heart flutter. Everything about him was exactly her type — soft, alluring accent; thick, dark hair; striking blue eyes; an artfully cultivated layer of scruff; and, if the last few guys who'd looked like him she'd dated were any indication, totally bad for her.
Good thing he was unavailable, she thought, turning to the other man.
He smirked and announced with deliberate emphasis. "I'm his brother, Liam."
Trying not to give away the tremulous thrill that shot through her, Emma decided to focus on the cat.
Best to be professional here.
"This must be…?" The file hadn't had a name listed for their cat.
"Roger," Killian replied.
"As in Jolly Roger," Liam added. "Because of the peg-leg."
The cat looked up from Killian's arms. Its whole back leg was wrapped in white bandages, from paw to haunch.
"It says here Roger is female?"
"Aye." Killian nodded and clutched the cat a little closer. "Doesn't mean she has to be saddled with some nonsense name like Princess."
"No. You're right," Emma agreed. "Just confirming. Let's get her up on the table and take a look at her."
Killian gently deposited Roger on the exam table, but kept a hand on her as Emma set about taking the cat's vitals. She was glad to have something to do to distract her from the man's proximity, but she lost count while taking Roger's respiratory rate twice: once when her arm accidentally brushed his hand, and again when he bent down to murmur reassuringly in the cat's ear.
From what she'd read in the cat's file, this was their third visit — Mary Margaret, another tech, had seen them before. Roger was recovering from surgery on a malformed joint in her back leg. An expensive procedure. But it hopefully would restore some of the feline's mobility.
"Dr. Nolan will be in to see you in a few minutes," she told him, then ushered Roger back into Killian's arms.
Lucky cat, she thought as the creature purred and rubbed her face against his chest, obviously in love. For his part, Killian appeared equally smitten, a soft smile crossing his face and making him even more devastatingly handsome.
Eager to flee before the cat started kneading in his lap or something equally as ovary-busting, Emma quickly excused herself.
She had only a second to lean back against the door and practice breathing again before David — Dr. Nolan — rounded the corner.
"Ready for me?" he asked.
Swearing under her breath, Emma followed him back inside.
David greeted the brothers like old friends, complete with back slaps and casual banter about a particular brand of rum that Killian had apparently recommended on their last visit. While David explained what they would be doing today, Emma hung back and observed. Killian wore a couple of odd rings, but none of them looked like wedding bands. And it sounded like he lived with his brother, which she hoped meant that he wasn't in any kind of serious, committed relationship.
Wait. Why are you even thinking about this? she scolded herself. You don't even know if he's interested in you. And even if he is, there's no telling whether he's good boyfriend material.
She'd jumped too quickly before.
A girl should learn from her mistakes.
"We're just going to snap a few pictures," David was saying, "and get her right back to you. It'll only take a few minutes."
Emma reached for the cat, and Killian leaned close as he transferred the warm, furry bundle into her arms.
"Take good care of her for me, darling," he said. Again, his hands brushed hers, sending a shiver up her arms. This time though, she thought it was deliberate.
Was he flirting with her?
As soon as the door to the exam room closed behind Emma and David, she couldn't hide her curiosity anymore.
"So, what's their story?" she asked.
David looked over his shoulder at her. "What do you mean? About the cat? Apparently, Killian found her and thought maybe she'd been hurt, so he brought her in. I confirmed it was actually a congenital defect, and when I said I thought maybe I could fix it…" David shrugged and smiled.
The cat was remarkably compliant while they removed the bandages and took a few x-rays. Aside from the row of black stitches, everything looked good. Carefully, they lifted her up onto her feet to see how well she'd stand without the added support of the wrappings.
"Let's go give them the good news," David said, beaming.
It was always nice to have a case with a happy ending. Their hospital was the only one in the county that staffed veterinary specialists, so they dealt with a lot of seriously ill animals. Getting to tell someone their pet would be just fine always made the day a little better.
Killian had sat back down but shot to his feet when they walked back in. Liam remained where he was, his arm slung across the back of the seat and his legs crossed. Even though Roger lived with the both of them, it was obvious who she really belonged to.
When David told them how well the leg had healed, and that he expected it to recover a full range of motion, Killian gave the cat a proud grin before nodding to David. "Thank you, mate."
"No thanks necessary. There's still quite a bit of rehabilitation you'll have to do with her. She's never used that leg before. It's weak. I'll show you some exercises to build up her strength."
David showed them what he wanted them to do, and Liam frowned. "That's going to be a problem."
"Why's that?" Emma asked.
They were willing to go through the surgery, but not the rehab to make it worthwhile?
"We're getting shipped out for a week. So Roger's going to be on her own for a bit."
"Aye. Training exercise," Killian explained. "We're both Navy."
Seriously? Leather at night, and in uniform by day? Could he get any hotter?
"I could give you the names of some good pet sitters," David said. "We have a lot of clients whose animals require special care. In fact, several of our techs do some pet sitting on the side."
Killian's eyes immediately darted to Emma.
"Is that so?"
It was. In fact, more than any other tech at the hospital, Emma had a habit of volunteering her time to help care for the sick and injured animals whose owners needed to travel. Some of the staff even jokingly referred to her as "the Savior." She couldn't seem to say no to anyone who needed her help. And right now, both Killian and Roger were looking at her hopefully.
"What do you say, love?" Killian asked. "Care to drop by my place?"
Say no, Emma. You should really say no…
She opened her mouth.
Killian grinned. "I feel better already knowing Roger will be in your lovely hands."
Liam rolled his eyes and shook his head at David, who then turned to Emma with realization dawning on his face. His alarmed look almost made her laugh. David was only a few years older than her, but their relationship was more like father and daughter than anything else — something Emma had grown thankful for, since she had never known her real father.
"I'll give you my number and address," Killian was saying. "Let me know when you'd like to stop by to pick up a key."
David outright glared as Emma fetched her phone out of her pocket to copy down Killian's information.
Once the brothers had left, he wasted no time going into full-on-dad-mode.
"You realize he's after more than just pet sitting. Right?"
"I know him. I know his type," David continued. "He seems charming now, but he's not the sort of guy who is going to stick around. He only wants one thing."
Emma put away Roger's file and pulled the chart for their next appointment. "Look, I appreciate the concern, but I'm a big girl. I cant take care of myself."
"Yeah, well…" David crossed his arms. "As your friend, I'm allowed to worry."
Emma laid a hand on his shoulder. "I'm just watching his cat. Really."
Somehow, even though she sincerely meant it (she needed another bad relationship like she needed a hole in the head), her protest didn't sound at all convincing. Either to herself or, it seemed, to David.
"If he hurts you," he said, his hands clenched, "I'll break his nose. Never got the chance to with that August jerk."
Emma shook her head and walked away, annoyed but also comforted by his protectiveness. Because, really, he had nothing to worry about.
This was just a job.
When she dialed Killian's number after getting off work, it was going to be all businesses.
It definitely, absolutely, was not to set up a date.
For a long time, Emma stood in front of her closet, debating what to wear for her meeting with Killian. So far, he'd only seen her in scrubs, her hair pulled up, and covered in a thick layer of dog hair. Despite herself, she wanted to look nice. Not date nice. Just…put together. After trying on and discarding several different sheer shirts, and even a skirt, she decided that she was most definitely trying too hard and pulled out a tried and true combination of boots, black pants, and a white sweater.
They had agreed to meet at his place around seven. He lived about half an hour away, so she left early, uncertain of the traffic and not wanting to arrive late. Truthfully, she was glad to get out of the house. Her place always felt so empty on the nights that her son, Henry, spent at his father's.
Killian and Liam lived in a nice looking apartment building in an old part of town, near the water. She saw their last name on their mailbox as she walked in: "Jones."
When she knocked, it took only a second before the door swung open.
Killian looked devastating in a dark blue, long sleeved shirt, with a black buttoned-up waistcoat over top. It would have seemed like a costume on another man, but he wore it so naturally that on him it was just effortlessly sexy.
"Please come in, love." He waved a hand and Emma stepped past him into the apartment.
It had a distinctly masculine decor, but more to the tune of a fine gentleman's club than a suburban man-cave. They had a huge bookshelf along one wall, filled with large volumes, and several model ships dotted the living room, which joined to an open, well-appointed kitchen that she could see was stocked with a rather large selection of both rum and wine.
Except for Roger, who meowed from her place on the couch, the apartment appeared empty.
"Liam isn't home?"
"He had other affairs to tend to, I'm afraid."
Killian closed the door behind her, then walked to the kitchen and retrieved a key from the counter. A flash of disappointment hit Emma as he handed it to her.
Guess this really is going to be all business.
"We will be departing early tomorrow morning," he told her. "Roger's food is in the cabinet beneath the sink in the kitchen, as is fresh litter."
Emma nodded. "I'll take good care of her."
"As for compensation…" He took a step closer. "Frankly, you could ask whatever you'd like, darling, and I'd pay it. But if you're interested, I'd like to start by treating you to dinner."
Warmth filled her. "Dinner?"
"Aye. As a gesture of my appreciation."
"Is that all it is?" She couldn't help the way she leaned toward him.
His tongue darted out to sweep across his bottom lip. "Well…I believe gratitude is in order. Is there something else you'd prefer?"
She could think of a few things.
"Dinner would be great."
He grabbed his jacket off the back of a chair and shrugged into it before holding out a hand to escort her back out the door, explaining that there was an excellent Italian restaurant just down the street. Emma's salary meant she spent more time eating bear claws and grilled cheese sandwiches than authentic Italian, but it sounded like a nice change of pace.
The restaurant had romantic date written all over it. Low-lighting. A quiet, cozy ambiance. And, she noticed when the menus arrived, a price tag to go with it. Not outrageous. But beyond what she considered reasonable purely as a thank you for pet sitting. Killian glanced over his menu at her, one eyebrow raised, as if daring her to say something.
Okay, she thought, let's see how interested this guy really is.
She carefully folded her menu and smiled. "This is great. I haven't been to a nice restaurant in forever. My son hates places like this."
Now's the part where he gets up and runs.
He looked surprised, but not alarmed. "You have a son?"
"Yeah. His name is Henry. He's ten."
"Where is he right now?"
"At his dad's. We share custody."
He tilted his head. "You don't sound too happy about that."
"I'm…" She hesitated, stunned at how clearly he'd read her. "I'm not."
The waiter interrupted them then. Killian reassured Emma that he'd be picking up the tab, then ordered salmon and a bottle of wine. Emma selected the strip steak.
"You're not on good terms with your ex then, I presume?" Killian said once the waiter had left.
"Neal and I have a…complicated history."
The waiter returned to pour their wine. Emma quickly lifted her glass and took a sip.
Was she really going to get into this with him? Killian was practically a stranger. And she had people who'd known her for years who she'd never told the story to.
He'd sat back in his chair, ignoring his drink, his pose casual but intensely interested. His blue eyes searched hers. And she found herself wanting to tell him, because with the way her stomach flipped when he looked at her like that, she thought it might be better to be upfront about all of her baggage. If he was going to leave the way everyone else had, best he did it now.
"I was young," she started. "Only nineteen. We met when I tried to steal his car."
Killian's eyebrows shot up, but he looked more amused than judgmental.
"Turned out that he'd stolen the car first." Which should have been a big red flag to her, but she'd found the whole outlaw thing incredibly edgy and appealing at the time. "Our relationship sort of went on from there. Until he got arrested and thrown in jail for some watches that he'd stolen about a year before he met me. I had Henry while he was in prison. And it was a real wake-up call. I knew I needed to pull my life together, for Henry's sake."
"Your family…?" he asked gently.
She shrugged. "Don't have any. I was bounced around the foster system until I aged out. I was on my own."
"So you became a veterinary technician?"
"No. Actually, I became a bounty hunter."
He laughed. "Quite the turn around."
"I was a good one, too. Did it for five years. But it didn't quite pay enough, and I worried sometimes about what would happen to Henry if I got hurt. So, I quit and went back to school. Figured, hey…I like animals. Henry likes animals. And it would be great to be in a field where I can really make a difference and save lives. Even if they're small and furry."
"Aye. You're a hero in your own way."
"The bounty hunter stuff turned out to be good experience," she admitted. "Nobody else in the clinic can wrestle down a big dog quite like I can."
Their food arrived then. It all looked absolutely mouth-watering. Killian's salmon had been sautéed in capers, red onion, and white wine, and came with a side of polenta. Emma steak sat amongst a heap of roasted potatoes and spinach, all of it smothered in a balsamic reduction. She picked up her fork and knife, took a bite, and closed her eyes with pleasure.
While she ate, Killian couldn't seem to focus on his own meal. His gaze kept drifting to her mouth, her fork, and her fingers as she swiped a bit of sauce off her plate. When she realized what she was doing, and what it was doing to him, she slowed down, hoping to make the torment last.
"How about you?" she asked. Now that she'd bared her soul, she wanted to see his as well. "You seem well-spoken. Did you go to a private school and then straight into the Navy?"
"Not exactly." He finally took a sip of his wine. "My mother died when I was young. And my father—" He sighed. "Liam was more a father to me growing up than he ever was. It's because of Liam I ended up in Navy. Before that, I was a bit of a miscreant."
Something they had in common.
"But you're on the straight and narrow now?"
He smirked and gave her a suggestive look that sent heat all the way down to her toes. "For the most part. But I'm still able to be a dashing rapscallion when I need to."
They talked for the rest of the meal — easy conversation that made it feel as if she'd know him for years rather than just a few hours.
For dessert, Killian ordered a slice of torta della nonna — cake with lemon patisserie cream, pine nuts, and almonds — and shared it with her. Emma leaned across the table to take a bite, stabbing her fork into the end and raising it slowly to her mouth. The rich lemon cream gave her the terribly vivid thoughts of licking it off his lips and other just as interesting parts...and of having it licked off of her. By the time they'd finished, she was melting into her chair.
Jesus. Pull yourself together, she chided herself. It hadn't been that long.
Course, the last guy hadn't been nearly this attractive…
Killian paid and let her go before him as they left.
They'd taken their time with their meal, and it had gotten late. The chilly night made Emma rub her arms, wishing she'd thought to bring a jacket. She'd barely had the thought before Killian whipped his off and offered it to her.
"What happened to the dashing rapscallion?" she asked.
"I'm also a gentleman. Here. Take it."
She pulled it on gratefully. It fit a little too big and smelled like leather and something else that she identified purely as him. She wanted to curl up inside of it.
They didn't talk much on the walk back to his apartment. But the silence was comfortable.
When they arrived in front of his door, Emma reached out to brush his hand with hers.
There was no more denying it.
"This was a date."
"Aye. I think perhaps it was." He snagged her hand and slipped his fingers through hers. "Perhaps next time we can dispose of the pretense."
"Next time?" She moved closer.
He looked down at her hand twined with his, then back up at her face, his expression filled with such earnest wanting that her breath caught.
"Will you go out with me again?" he asked, barely above a whisper.
Emma had no voice to answer. Instead, she closed the distance between them and kissed him.
Her knees trembled as their lips met, but Killian held her steady, his arm looping around her waist to tuck her close. She let go of his hand to grasp desperately at his waistcoat.
He tasted vaguely of lemon. And she wanted more. She opened her mouth, encouraging him to deepen the kiss. When he did, she turned to liquid in his arms. They moved perfectly together — tongue and teeth and breath all in expert rhythm. Her weight forced him back until his shoulders hit the apartment door with a heavy thud.
He broke away then, his hand cradling the back of her head, and leaned his forehead against hers.
Emma closed her eyes, trying to collect herself, but it didn't help any. Instead, the taste of him lingering on her lips and her awareness of his body molded to hers only intensified.
"How long did you say you'd be gone, again?" she asked.
She groaned. It sounded like an eternity.
"I'd invite you in," he said, his voice ragged, "if I didn't have to be up before dawn."
"Mmm." Emma sighed. "Maybe that's for the best."
He murmured his agreement, then added, "I don't usually pillage and plunder on the first date."
"Me either. Perhaps next time," she said, echoing his earlier words.
"Aye." His thumb brushed her cheek. "Next time."
Separating herself from him took a herculean amount of will-power, which frightened her at the same time as it made her heart race. How had this gotten so serious so quickly? Maybe after a week, things would cool down. She wasn't usually so quick to let someone in. There was just something about him…
"Goodnight, Killian," she said.
He smiled, a promise in his eyes. "Goodnight, love."
Every day for a week, Emma went to Killian's apartment to feed Roger, change her litter, and do her physical therapy. A few times, she brought Henry along. The cat immediately took a shine to him, and they spent more time than they should have sitting together on Killian's couch, playing with Roger. She hesitated to tell her son that she might be seeing Killian again — that this wasn't just a pet-sitting job, and he might get to see plenty of the cat in the future. She didn't want him to get any expectations, just in case it didn't work out.
Of course, he figured it out anyway.
"I think I like this one," Henry said off-handedly as they were leaving the apartment.
"This one, what?" Emma asked.
"This guy. Killian."
"You've never even met him," she pointed out.
Henry shrugged. "He took Roger in even though she was hurt, gave her a home, and he's helping her heal. Seems like a good guy to me."
With her therapy, Roger made huge strides.
A month later, she woke Emma up in the middle of the night by jumping up onto the bed — something she'd never been able to do before the surgery. Emma rolled over into Killian's arms and jostled him awake to see. He smiled, pressed a kiss to her temple, then tucked her close before drifting off again.
Emma sighed contentedly as Roger settled on the pillow next to her head and began to purr.