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So. Long

By:Kelley Harvey

So. Long._ Bad Boy Next Door - Kelley Harvey

I grab the lowest branch, looking left and right to check that no one’s around to witness what might be a potential viral video opportunity in the making.

Tree climbing is something I haven’t done since I was a kid.

“Chloe, you’re making me look ridiculous.” I hike my bare foot up to the first knot on the massive trunk as bark bites into my palms. “Don’t you go any higher, you little terrorist.”

Yellow eyes stare down on me, narrowed and accusing. Her mew is low, asking what the hell, Servant? You think you have nine lives? Get down before you break your fool neck and can’t do my bidding.

“I know. I know.” It’s not natural for people to climb trees; especially those of us who’s asses are usually glued to desk chairs rather than traipsing into the great outdoors. “Here, kitty, kitty.”

I heft myself up to perch my other foot on the next branch.

Please don’t let the bough break.

A cool breeze blows up my oversized sleep shirt.

Crap. I forgot.

Closing my eyes, I lean my forehead against the wood and sigh.

Imagine the viral video’s title: Woman Chases Cat Commando Style.

Across the street, Mr. Alberto’s front door is still closed.

Good, maybe I’ll catch the cat and climb down before he comes out to retrieve his newspaper and gets an early morning peep show in the process. The poor man’s pace-maker might fry at the sight of my twat airing out as the sun rises.

Rustling leaves pull my attention to the kitten. The white tip of her tail swishes three branches higher than ten seconds ago.

“Aw, c’mon. Give a girl a break.”

I grasp the next branch, hands shaking as much as my knees, while I inch upward a little more. “Chloe, come to Momma.”

I freeze when someone clears their throat from below my precarious position, hanging off the side of the tree.

“You all right up there?” The voice is deep and silky, like melted fudge.

“Yes.” I swallow. “I’m just trying to get my Chloe.”

“Well, I don’t know what a Chloe is, but I definitely found your sugar glider.”

I reach for Chloe as she scampers further out onto her branch. “She’s not a sugar glider. She’s a kitten.”

A soft chuckle speeds my pulse. “A lot of them are called kittens, but the one I’m looking at is definitely a sugar glider. Looks too sweet to be a cat.”

Holy fuck. From down there, he can see everything!

Heat steals over my chest and up my neck to my cheeks. More than anything I want to press my knees together to block my coochie from view, but I’m stranded, mid-climb, in this stupid tree, trying to get hold of my crazy escape-artist of a pet.

Lord, why do I even crawl out of bed most days?

My knuckles whiten as I grip the branches. “Stop staring up my shirt, you perv.”

I look over my shoulder. A pair of sunglasses perches over a more-than-full beard.

He shrugs. “I saw you up the tree, and was trying to offer my assistance. The fact that you’re underdressed doesn’t make me a pervert.”

Tossing a last glance at my sweet kitty stranded on that limb, I retreat to the ground. When my feet hit the grass, I brush off my hands.

I do my best to chastise whoever the fuck this guy is by looking him full in the face and giving him my hardest glare. “You’re absolutely right. However, it’s not my state of dress but the gawking and commenting that make you a perv.”

His lips twist a smidge, and then he sticks out his hand. “I’m Adam Hardick. I recently moved in next door.”

And just like that he expects me to forget that he was ogling my girly parts not ten seconds ago?

Fine. I can play that game.

I place my hand in his. “Kelsey Malone. I’ve lived here for months.”

His shades hide his eyes, and facial fur covers most of his features, making it hard to tell what expression he wears. His warm fingers grip mine with the perfect amount of pressure. He drops my hand and tilts his head, staring into the foliage above.

“I’ll get your Chloe.” In one swift motion, he turns away and grabs the branch closest to us and swings himself into the leaves with a grunt.

I bite my lip as he traverses the tree, wincing each time he pulls himself up to the next level. But before two minutes have passed, he’s high above, kitten in hand.

Chloe lets out a loud meow, as though she’s suddenly afraid.

“Got her.” He tucks my kitten into his breast pocket and makes his way to the ground.

Chloe’s nails hang onto his shirt when he pulls her from his pocket. “Let go, cat. I prefer claw marks on my back.”

On his back? I bet.

Chloe’s fur puffs out and her toes spread wide as he hands her to me.