Kat shivered. Sitting under a drippy roof certainly wasn’t helping her cough. Of course, she’d gotten sick just as the rainy season had hit. Admittedly, fall in New York wasn’t always the best time to leave home and choose to live on the streets, but it could’ve just as easily been winter.
So, there’s my silver lining for the day.
Soon, regardless of who was around, Kat would need to scrounge for food. Vagrants were everywhere and danger lurked around every corner it seemed. The adventures surrounding a meal were exciting. Regardless of who was around, transitioning would happen.
The slow drip, drip, drip of water hitting the top of her sweatshirt lulled her thoughts toward home. Although her family home hadn’t been a haven or a place filled with love, money, or even simple kindness, there had been good food. Warmth. No wet clothes.
Swiping at the stream of water running down the slope of her small, slender nose, she felt the heat emanating from her skin. She pushed a drenched strand of hair from her face—the shade of blonde looked darker than usual from the lack of cleanliness.
The cars whizzed by the fancy New York City hotel, with the famous Mario’s Italian Cuisine underneath the bustling reception area of the foyer. The spray and splashing of water from the vehicles narrowly missed her, but having been hit one time too many, her shirt was damp with the filthy spray. Evening traffic in New York was insane, and a sea of red taillights reminded Kat of Christmas. Happier times. In her youth, their family got along, enjoying each other’s company—the camaraderie of the family.
That was a long time ago, Kat.
It was easier to focus on the pungent scent of exhaust melding with the disgusting odor coming from the grates in the sidewalks. Sewer, fried food, and rain… New York in a nutshell. There was no other way to describe the city today.
Kat wondered what her friend Brittney was doing. They had been best friends since elementary school. Kat knew Brittney was worried about her, but Brittney had known that someday Kat would have to live on the streets to get away from her family.
I bet Britt is eating lasagna tonight.
A black limo stopped in front of Mario’s Italian Cuisine, dropping off a handsome man. His camel-colored wool coat was buttoned smartly around his trim physique.
I bet he’s ordering the best wine and food tonight.
Kat pulled her damp sweatshirt together, covering her trembling body from the cold air. It was definitely time to scavenge some food.
The maître d’ opened the door, the black canopy protecting customers from the elements.
“Evening, sir. Enjoy your meal.” The overweight restaurant employee, obviously enjoying the food of his employer a little more than he should, filled the doorway before stepping aside to let Mister Handsome in.
“I will, George, thank you.” The dark-haired Adonis paused, nodding his head in Kat’s direction. “How long has she been there?”
“Damn vagrants!” George trotted as quickly as his short, stubby legs would allow; waving his arms, he continued to yell, “You there. Go! You don’t belong here. I shooed you away from here a while ago.”
If she hadn’t been so sick, Kat would have leaped up, running down the sidewalk to another alley, but apparently, she’d become much sicker since sitting down.
Instead, with blurred double vision, she watched the man’s large hand grasp the other man’s arm. “Let me handle this.”
With an easy stride, he approached Kat, squatting in front of her. A shock of black hair fell over his forehead, and she felt mesmerized by his green eyes and long eyelashes.
Why is it that men get long lashes?
He furrowed his brow. “You okay? You seem sick. I’m going to touch your forehead; don’t be alarmed. I’m not going to hurt you. Just checking your temperature.”
His tan wool coat smelled of sandalwood and leather.
His hands brushed her brow and slowly slid down the side of her face. His long, slender fingers felt strong and masculine as they moved against her cheek.
“Sweetie, you’re burning up. Do you have a home or someplace I can bring you?”
“N-noooo. I live here.” Picking her head up, she looked at George, who was still guarding the hotel door. “I live here until he makes me leave.”
The emerald eyes looked back at her, the corners of those sexy eyes crinkling with his smile. His straight white teeth gleamed under his dark five-o’clock shadow and neatly trimmed mustache.
Laughing, he said, “George is harmless. I’m Brock. Brock DiBella. I’m a police officer.”
“No! Oh, no.” She struggled to break free, desperately seeking purchase on the wet sidewalk. A police officer would throw her in jail—-or worse, bring her back home.
And then they’d find her.
She wasn’t a minor, but she couldn’t risk a well-meaning cop getting her back home for shelter.
“Hey. Hey. Settle down. You’re safe. I won’t hurt you. Promise.” He tucked her into his chest. “Shhhhhh. Calm down. What’s your name, girl?”
“Last name, please, Kat.” He pulled her away, raising an eyebrow.
Her wary eyes darted wildly. “I have to go. You can’t… I need to get out of here. You’ll hurt me. They all want to hurt me.”
“Kat. Kat! Stop.” His huge hands gripped her arm tightly. Reaching into the breast pocket of his dress coat with the other hand, he pulled out a leather billfold; flipping it open, the gold police badge gleamed.
“Ohhhhh, shit!” He wasn’t lying.
It was the last thing Kat needed. The fucking police. She needed to change, probably should change, but Kat hadn’t learned how to overcome the mental and emotional blocks with stress this high.
Instead, she sprang up forward, dodging his hands, and hightailed it down the sidewalk.
He can’t find out. No one can.
“Kat! Stop.” Brock had begun to chase her, and with the long stride of his legs, she knew she wouldn’t outrun him.
A strong arm wrapped around her waist, picking her up off the ground. “If you don’t settle down, I swear I’m not only going to restrain you, I’m going to paddle your ass. Clear?”
I haven’t heard that threat in years.
The words gave her pause only minutely. The fight rose within her again. Not caring in the least, Kat flailed, kicking and clawing wherever her hands and feet encountered his body.
True to his word, he swatted her ass. Hard.
The swat stung like fucking hell. Not that she’d let him know. The shock of the smack immobilized her.
Setting Kat on her feet, he bent his head a bit, coming in close. “I don’t know what the hell this is about, but I’m not going to hurt you. I’m here to help you. You’ve seen that I’m a cop, and once I get some food into you and let you sleep, we’ll make a plan of action. Together. Deal?
Kat didn’t answer, and Brock’s eyes narrowed before he winked at her.
“Listen, I get you don’t trust me, and I’m sure my spank to your ass is still burning. Right?”
Fighting back the tears, Kat nodded.
He continued, quirking an eyebrow in her direction. “There’s more where that came from. Don’t fight me on this. You’re hungry, wet, and cold. And appear to have a fever. I can fix those issues for you. Okay?”
She did need food. And for fuck’s sake, a bath sounded like heaven. Kat hadn’t felt her toes for hours now. “Okay. But I’m leaving tomorrow.”
“Good girl. We’ll discuss a strategy tomorrow.” Brock stroked her hair, tucking her back into his chest. “George, call my driver, please.”
Brock’s arms comforted Kat. Closing her eyes, she drifted away, feeling content for the first time in a long time.
“C’mon, pretty girl. It’s time for your bath.” Brock sat on the covered toilet seat while warm water ran in the clawfoot tub. He stood Kat between his legs, a hand on each hip, steadying her.
Although he had walked her through his small but comfortable house, he was pretty sure she would have no memory of it by morning. So the first thing he’d done was give her some ibuprofen to take her fever down. After that, he’d keep an eye on her to be sure she didn’t need medical attention.
Kat had stayed tucked into his chest for the duration of the ride to his subdivision. Brock couldn’t remember the last time he felt this protective of a stranger. Yet, part of him felt like he’d known her for years—one of those deja vu moments.
Is it possible I’ve met her before?
Brock shook his head, letting the thought flee. It made no sense. He had checked her identification, safely tucked into her jeans pocket. Now that she was with him, he’d get someone to see what Miss Kat’s history entailed.
Thankfully he had a spare bedroom for his niece. Although it may appear a bit childish, it was comfortable with a new bed, warm bedding, and more comforts than Kat would’ve had on the street.
Brock returned his attention to the sprite standing before him. “Let’s get these wet, dirty clothes off of you.”
She slapped his hand away, and despite the fire sparking in her eyes, her exhaustion made the swat no more than a childish attempt.
Grasping both of her hands in his one, Brock narrowed his gaze. “You. Will. Not. Slap me again. Understand?”
She grit her teeth, her lips thinned with anger, and she didn’t answer.
“It’s okay; I know how to remedy this.” Brock’s other hand reached around her hip and smacked her jeans-covered backside three times in quick succession.
Kat had to take a baby step forward to catch her balance, and she gasped quietly, her eyes widening in surprise.
“Now I have your attention. You will not slap me again. Understand?” He dipped his chin, staring pointedly at her, willing her to give the appropriate response.
“Yes.” She bit out the response, obviously refusing to acquiesce.
“The response is yes, Sir.”
The tic in her jaw and the tilt of her head led him to believe he was in for a fight.
“You need more?”
“No!” Catching herself, she quickly added, “No, S-sir.”
“Better.” Brock let go of her hands. “We will gradually settle on rules later, but for now, you just bumped into Rule Number One. I think we’ve come to an understanding of it, am I right?”
“Good. Now we need to get these clothes off.”
Kat opened her mouth.
“Nuh-uh. You’re weak and half asleep, and I’m helping. Period.”
Pausing, Kat looked at the water, back at him, and then her eyes stared at his hands. He couldn’t help but smile. He had no doubt she had a red little ass from his swats earlier and just now.
Whatever it took to keep her safe.
Brock gripped the hem of her shirt, whisking it effortlessly over her head. A dingy tan—or maybe it had originally been white—bra came into view, her small breasts overflowing in the cups, her chilled and pointy nipples poking through the silky material.
Avert your eyes, Brock.
“Poor baby. Sweetie, you’re drenched. How long have you been sitting in the rain?”
She shrugged in a non-caring manner. “For a bit.”
While she was talking, Brock began undoing her bra. His first instinct was to throw it in the trash can near them, but he resisted. He’d do that later.
A frisson of something—it could have been nerves, fear, or sexual arousal—ran through her body. Her nipples furled, gooseflesh breaking out over the pale, almost translucent skin.
Unable to resist, he brushed the back of his hand down her belly. “Are you cold, girl?”
“That’s a good girl. Soon I’ll have you in this water, nice and warm. You must be hungry.”
Brock undid the button and zipper on her jeans, hooking his thumbs into the band of her pants and panties and expeditiously accomplishing the task of taking them down, leaving the shivering girl unsure of her next move.
Rising from the toilet seat, Brock held her hand. “In you go.” He steadied her with the other hand on her ass.
“I’d behave, Kat. Your backside is a pretty pink from the small spanks you’ve received. I’m going to make some dinner.” Winking, Brock left the bathroom, giving her privacy.
Kat watched his broad back leave the room, wondering if he’d caught a glimpse of her eye roll before he left.
Her cheeks flushed. It wasn’t that she’d never been naked in front of a guy, but it was uncomfortable in this situation. After all, they’d just met.
And he’s a cop.
Kat let her eyes study the room. The bathroom was clean and orderly, white towels neatly folded in a wicker shelving unit; a double sink unit gleamed in the bright white lights. Kat had never been in a bathroom as massive as this one. The accents in the room were gray.
He’d left her with some bubble bath, shampoo and conditioner, and a brand-new soap with a crisp, clean white washcloth.
I’m so dirty. I’ll wreck the cloth.
It was true, but she needed a bath desperately, and just the thought of washing her hair made her giddy.
Sliding under the clean water, she drenched her body and hair. The pearly pink essence was quickly squeezed out of the shampoo bottle, and she lathered the soap, rubbing her scalp, washing away the stress of the day… and the whole month.
In the distance, Kat heard Brock’s footfalls on the wooden floors. He hummed. If men only knew how much women enjoyed their humming, they’d do it more. Pausing, she smiled, trying to guess the tune.
It was ‘A Hell of a View’ by Eric Church. Good song. She hummed along with him.
Brock seemed sweet and polite, caring as well as protective.
They always seem nice. Don’t fall for it.
Usually, that was true. Most men in her life had been untrustworthy in her life. Would he be different?
He might be. But could she share her innermost secret? The one that made people flee and pretend they didn’t know her? How would he react?
She wouldn’t trust him. Not for a long time.
Slipping under the water again, she rinsed her hair and sprang up, squeezing the water out. The golden shimmer was back. The small bathroom smelled of apples from the bath soap and shampoo. Squeezing the conditioner into the palm of her hand, she worked it through the long strands, massaging her scalp again.
Drenching the cloth, she squeezed the pink, apple-scented soap onto it, making a lather before washing her face, arms, and legs. The tub water definitely was dingier than when she started her bath.
Sighing loudly, she felt like herself again. Kat couldn’t remember the last time she needed a bath this much.
Submerging her hair back under, she shook it under the water, working the conditioner out.
While wringing her hair tightly in her fists, Kat noticed a window between the toilet and shower. She listened to the noises in the house. Brock was still upstairs, but he had mentioned making dinner, so he’d be leaving the second floor soon.
As she vacated the tub, bubbles from the bath sluiced down Kat’s body to the water below. She didn’t pull the drain, not wanting to alert him to the end of her bath.
Swiping a towel from the rack, she quickly dried herself and noticed Brock had a flannel shirt and a pair of sweats hanging from a hook on the back of the door.
Donning the warm clothing, Kat scurried to the nearby master bedroom. Checking behind her, determining Brock was nowhere to be seen, she opened the window near a tree.
It was still raining!
Thankfully she was skinny enough to fit. She stretched her leg over the ledge and pushed herself up onto the sill. Catching her breath and planning her next move, she paused for a moment, eyeing the trees. Grasping the ledge, she shimmied her body slowly out the window. The plan was to pull her left leg out until she could hopefully bend her knee, and the rest would be cake.
“What in the name of fucking hell are you doing?” An angry Brock peered down at her. His hands felt like bands of steel around her calf and ankle.