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Chapter 16: Assorted flavors

Upon entering Tara, Cassie at once noticed everything in its usual place, as if her Friday evening dessert picnic with Jacob had never taken place.

Had the evening been a figment of her imagination, another dream? Was that why she’d heard nothing from Jacob? It had seemed real, but then, so did the other one, until she woke from it each time in a cold sweat.

She made her way through the maze of scaffolding toward the loud buzz of a power tool until finally locating Jacob near the back of the large central room. She watched him work for several minutes in silence, impressed with his deep concentration on his task at hand. Of course, she always enjoyed watching Jacob work, whatever he was doing.

When he finally turned the power tool off and reached for the cold bottle of beer sitting in front of him, he saw her. Removing his protective goggles, he said, “Cassie! I didn’t hear you come in. What a nice surprise. I was just thinking about you.”

“Were you?” she replied, hoping to appear nonchalant, not wanting him to know how much it pleased her to know she was on his mind. “I wasn’t expecting you to be here. Do you always work overtime on your jobs?”

He laughed. “When necessary, yes. But I don’t consider this work. It’s more of a hobby, how I spend my spare time. I just came out to put things back in order before the crew showed up in the morning and got involved in a project.”

to put things back in order

Cassie heaved a sigh of relief. Good. It wasn’t just a dream. But Jacob hadn’t called all weekend. That part was equally real. Not good.

“Good to see you,” Jacob continued. “I started to call you yesterday to see if you wanted to see a movie or something, but then got a call from a potential client and ended up spending the afternoon, and evening, with them.”

“A movie might have been nice,” she replied, still trying to appear at least somewhat indifferent, not wanting Jacob to know how much that thrilled her—relieved her—to know he hadn’t merely dismissed her from his mind following their evening together. But now the idea of this new client concerned her.

and ended up spending the afternoon, and evening, with them

Them? Or her?

“New client? That’s great. Something big?”

“Not as big as Tara, but a good project.”

Cassie was hoping for more details and was disappointed that he hadn’t offered any, but knew it was none of her business, so she chose not to pry.

“Well, I hope it works out, but I also hope it doesn’t take your attention away from Tara too much.”

“Don’t worry about that. This one will take a while to get started. Meantime, Tara will have my full attention, as always. So, what brings you out here this afternoon?”

She smiled, pleased with at least that acknowledgment from him. “Just wanted to bring this out,” she said, holding up the plastic bag she held in her hand. “Just a little something for Prissy and her friends.”

“A little something? As in?”

Cassie reached in and pulled out a can of cat food to show him.

“Cassie! You’ll spoil them,” Jacob teased.

“Well, I just thought they might enjoy a flavor other than rat once in a while. I bought an assortment. Tuna, chicken, seaside dinner—”

Jacob shook his head, laughing. “I saw Prissy earlier. She stuck her head in the door, looked around, and left. I think she was looking for you.”

“Yes, I’m sure she was,” Cassie said, skeptically. “So, what project are you working on?”

“Some different designs for the built-ins you want in your apartment for your approval.

“Mind if I hang around for a while and watch you work?”

“Not at all, if you don’t mind the noise and the sawdust. I’ll enjoy the company.”

Cassie walked over to a nearby stack of Sheetrock, reached back with the palm of her hands on the top of it, and pushed herself up on it.

“You’re pretty dressed up to come out here, especially to feed cats,” Jacob remarked.

“Oh. Well, I had a few other places to go before coming out here.”

“I see.”

Jacob replaced the goggles and resumed working, glancing up at her often. She sat and watched, her legs crossed and posture perfect, never once slouching. After a short time, he flipped off the power tool once again.

“Did you want anything to drink? Water, beer, soda? There’s plenty in the ice chest there.”

“No, thanks. I’m fine.”

He returned to his project, for about a minute.

“I don’t have to work on this now,” he said, setting the power tool aside and removing his goggles for the second time. It’s way too loud and dusty.”

“Jacob, I didn’t mean to disturb your work.”

“No problem. Um—I believe someone’s here for dinner.”

Cassie turned to look in the direction that suddenly had Jacob’s attention.

“Prissy!” she exclaimed, keeping her voice low. She slid down off the Sheetrock, retrieved the bag of cat food, pulled out a can, as well as a small plastic plate, trying not to scare the cat away. Opening the tuna-flavored food, she dumped the entire contents onto the small plate. She strolled toward the cat, who was watching her with caution, her nose in the air as if she smelled something of interest.

When Cassie neared the cat as close as she felt comfortable without causing her to turn and run, she set the plate down and returned to where she had left the other cans of food.

Jacob joined her, and they both watched as the timid cat slowly approached the plate, looked up at them, sniffed the plate, looked up at them again, and then sampled a small bite of the food, licked her lips, and then proceeded to gobble down the rest.

“See, she likes it,” Cassie said, turning to Jacob.

“Sure she does, and she’ll thank you later this evening when she has a case of the runs.”

“The runs? Why do you say that?”

“Because she’s not used to her protein coming with a rich sauce.”

“Oh, no! Why didn’t you tell me, Jacob!”

Jacob chuckled. “Don’t worry; she’ll be fine.”

“I hate that she lives like this, having to fend for herself to survive, exposed to all kinds of weather and Lord knows what else. She should be a pet in someone’s home, pampered and loved.”

“I know. But there are hundreds of others just like Prissy. Even if you could save her, Cassie, you can’t save them all.”

“Well, I want to save her, just like Tara.”

“You’ve got a good heart, Cassie Monroe.”

“Too good?” she asked him.

“Nah, I don’t think that’s possible.” He leaned in and kissed her.

She wasn’t too sure he was right about that but was sure of one thing—she was slowly falling in love with Jacob Miller.

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