Kendra was sprawled on her couch eating Halloween candy out of a plastic cauldron when she heard a crash in her bedroom. Or had it come from the TV? She turned down the volume on Zombie Wedding and waited.
Thumping sounds followed an inhuman yowl.
The remote slipped from her hands and landed in the oversized bowl as she shot to her feet, heart ramming her sternum like a caged madman. All the chocolate in her belly turned to concrete as she grabbed the broom from its spot between the fridge and the wall, wielding it like a baseball bat.
More thuds and another crash made her jump, and she laughed nervously. “It’s not a person, and ghosts aren’t real.” The movie just had her amped up. Maybe there was a mouse in the apartment? Could they climb five stories? Probably, especially if they were in the walls.
She shivered, but crept slowly toward her open bedroom door. Hand shaking, she flipped on the overhead light and—
Kendra gasped at the sight. And then laughed out loud, mostly at herself.
Sitting in the middle of the floor, hissing and yowling, was a black cat, tangled up in a string of orange lights that Kendra had flung on the bed after taking them down at nine p.m. Not a single child had knocked on her door this evening, and she’d felt like an absolute fool for thinking they would, given that her building was mostly filled with young, unmarried professionals and a few retired folks.
The cat let out another enraged cry, and Kendra leaned the broom against her dresser before kneeling down to help the little guy. “I don’t know how you got in here, but let’s see if we can get you free.”
Fur rose on the back of the cat’s neck, but it allowed her to carefully unwrap the wires. Once free, rather than darting away as she’d expected, the cat collapsed on the floor in a quivering heap.
“Poor thing.” Kendra held out her hand and waited for a reaction as she slowly moved in to stroke lightly between the fuzzy baby’s ears. “Did you wear yourself out?”
Gradually, the animal relaxed, and even nuzzled her hand.
Feeling emboldened, Kendra gently palmed the metal tag hanging from the cat’s collar.
213 Cypress St #55, Dayton, OH
Kendra laughed. “Of course your name is Jinx. And luckily, we’re neighbors.”
Gently scooping up Jinx, she carried him across the hall and two doors down, and knocked.
After a long minute, the door swung open to reveal the hottest guy she’d ever seen. He filled the doorway wearing gray joggers and a black waffle-knit shirt that hugged his sculpted chest and muscular arms. He blinked at her for a second, clearly waiting for an explanation for her presence at nearly ten o’clock at night, in a shirt that read “Resting Witch Face” and flannel pants covered in small pumpkins.
Get it together, K. She cleared her throat and opened her mouth to tell him—
His gaze landed on the cat in her arms. “Jinx!” He smiled broadly. “You found him.”
The breath stalled in her lungs, and she nodded. Brilliant.
He stepped back. “Come in.” After she moved inside, he closed the door behind her and said, “I’m afraid to do the hand off in the hallway. This one’s a runner.”
His voice was deep and smooth and sexy as hell.
“Yeah.” She gave him a shaky smile. “I live over in 52. I have no idea how he got in my apartment, but I found him in the bedroom tangled in a set of Halloween lights. I’d just taken them down but hadn’t put them away yet. I don’t have any pets, so I wasn’t worried about leaving them out—” She shut her mouth to stop the stream of babble.
“I’m so sorry.” Hottie reached out and she set Jinx in his arms, jolting at the little shock that ran up her arms when they touched. “I hope he didn’t scare you.”
Kendra laughed nervously. “Maybe a little.” She tugged at the hem of her shirt before she could catch herself. “But he was a total champ about letting me untangle him.”
“Were you good?” Hottie crooned, holding up Jinx to look him in the eye, and then met her gaze, his cheeks turning pink. “I should probably put a bell on him or something. This isn’t the first time he’s darted out the door without me noticing.”
She nodded. “It’s good you have that tag on him. He must’ve followed me inside when I came home with the groceries.” Including all the candy that had apparently been just for her.
“He’s chipped too.” He set the cat on the tile floor and watched Jinx wrap around his leg. Lucky cat. “I should’ve named him Houdini.”
“For sure.” She crossed her arms and gave him a polite smile that she hoped didn’t telegraph her innermost thoughts. “Well, I’m glad I could help.” She started turning toward the door. “Have a—”
“Wait. What’s your name?”
She turned back, her heart speeding up. “Oh, um, Kendra.”
Sticking out a hand, he said, “Nice to meet you.” His handshake was firm and warm, but gentle. “I’m Eric.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“Have you lived here long?” he asked. “I haven’t seen you around.”
Same. She definitely would’ve noticed. “A few months.”
“That explains it. I’ve been here a couple years, but I’ve been traveling a lot for work lately.”
They chatted about his job as an engineer in the Air Force, stationed at nearby Wright-Patt, and her IT work, their hobbies, their shared love of dark comedies, his childhood in a small town in Iowa, and hers just across the river from Cincinnati in Newport, Kentucky.
He made her a cup of tea, and offered her a snack—which she declined because…stomach full of chocolate—and listened intently when she spoke.
It usually took several interactions before she really connected with someone, but with Eric, she felt at ease almost instantly. When was the last time she’d clicked with anyone like this? Maybe never. She could’ve talked to him all night. Might have if she hadn’t noticed that the clock on his microwave said it was after one a.m.
“Oh, my God. I didn’t realize how late it was.” She didn’t want to leave, but she had to be up early. “I’m going to be a zombie at work if I don’t get to bed soon.”
He frowned at the clock and stuck his hands into his pockets. “A zombie would be fitting.”
She chuckled. “The way some of my coworkers party, I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one. We might even have a few still in costume.” She dipped her head and tilted toward the door, feeling awkward again. Would it be too forward if she asked him—
“Would you—” He cleared his throat. “Can I take you out to dinner on Friday?” He bit his lip, his ears turning bright pink.
Was he actually nervous? Her stomach swooped like a playful bat. “I’d love that.”
Eric’s grin lit the room. “How about I knock on your door at seven?”
Back in her apartment, Kendra smiled like a loon through her entire bedtime routine. She’d never consider black cats unlucky again.