Saving Sirena

Saving Sirena
Jove (October 1997)
ISBN-13: 9780515121575 ♦ ISBN-10: 0515121576

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“Save cat, get witch: When a rescued black cat turns into a beautiful, ever-so-grateful witch, Jack Danner has his hands full trying to ward off her latest seductive spell.”

Read an Excerpt

Saving Sirena

Jack turned the collar of his raincoat higher around his ears and wondered why he bothered. He was already soaked to the skin, and it wasn’t as if he had any reason to rush home.

Tonight’s clinic had been particularly difficult. Oh, not for himself, but for all the people he had so little power to help in the ways it mattered most. The free legal aid he gave them seldom completely solved their problems. He’d only seen a fraction of this suffering when he’d been a county prosecutor.

Law and order. That had always been his mantra. He’d learned in the past eight months how blurry the line could get between right and wrong, justice and injustice. And how necessary pro bono work was. And how hard it could be to make ends meet on temporary day-job wages when no one would hire him for what he was trained to do. No one wanted a prosecutor whose blunder had let a con man walk. Especially when half the town of Vinatera had been bilked by the bastard.

Jack slowed as he passed Walter’s hardware store and stared into the dark, rain-streaked window. Ditch the self-pity, Danner. You can keep going as long as it takes. Until someone’s willing to overlook the past.

Sheer stubbornness had kept him in town when he could have gone someplace where they wouldn’t know or wouldn’t care about his slip-up. He could have found work in another county, or a big city like San Francisco, even L.A.

But he’d grown up in Vinatera. Here he’d earned the money to work his way through law school. This was home. He had to prove he wasn’t the fool the whole county thought he was. Somehow.

He was turning for home again when someone cried for help.

It was a very faint voice, almost childlike. It was coming from the alley next to Walter’s. Jack didn’t stop to analyze it further; he stepped into the alley.

Something small and white ran between his feet. He jumped. Only a damn mouse, but he didn’t have much use for rodents. He waited for the voice again, but it didn’t come.

He took another step into the alley, peering into the gloom. No one. Nothing human, anyway. Only the mouse and something else moving under the dubious shelter of a stack of crates. Something black and soaking wet, with wide green eyes that blinked at him fearfully.

A cat. Jack straightened and passed his hand over his face, wringing off the wet. He needed to have his hearing checked. The poor beast looked miserable enough, but he didn’t think cats had learned how to talk.

But if they could . . . if they could, this one might have quite a tale to tell. It was small and scrawny, with its fur plastered against a half-starved body. Its eyes were the only feature remotely attractive about it, and they were fixed on him as if he were a judge about to hand down a life sentence.

Jack crouched. “Here, kitty kitty.”

The cat arched its back and tried to make its wet hair stand on end, none too successfully. Jack gave it a lopsided grin.

“Scared, huh? You look as crummy as I feel. How long you been out here?”

Disdaining to answer, the cat scrunched farther back into its corner. The rain pursued it mercilessly.

Damn. Jack stood, glancing over his shoulder. What could he do? Pretty obvious the cat wouldn’t let itself be caught. But it wasn’t right leaving an abandoned creature out in weather like this.

He had to try. He’d come into the alley thinking he’d heard a cry for help. Maybe that part had been his imagination, but he knew when something needed him.

Something he could save.

“Okay, kitty. Your luck is about to change.” He noted the length of the alley, the high chain-link fence at the back. The cat probably couldn’t climb it. He had a suspicion that it would have run if it could.

Saving Sirena

After a moment’s deliberation he shrugged out of his coat. The inside was fairly dry, and warm with his body heat. He tucked it over his arm. Cold rain sluiced down his shirt.

“Nice kitty,” he said, stalking forward. “I won’t hurt you. I’ve got some milk at home–”

The cat hissed and streaked from its hiding place to the back of the alley. There it huddled, ears against its head. As Jack drew closer it seemed to press flatter and flatter to the ground. He thought it was too scared to fight. He hoped it was.

Just a few more feet. Jack crouched again and gingerly held out his hand. “That’s right. Just relax–”

A black paw shot out. Jack gave a startled yelp. He looked at the neat parallel scratches on his finger. They hurt like hell. The cat followed up with a hiss that made its opinion of him very clear.

“Okay, kitty. If that’s how you feel . . .” He stood up. The cat tried to squeeze through the chain link fence. Almost skinny enough to do it, too. Jack muttered and imagined a nice cup of coffee and a sandwich and a late movie–thoroughly escapist fare that had nothing to do with rain, dark alleys and ungrateful felines.

He was turning to go when the cat whimpered. Not a mew, or a purr, but a whimper.

 

Oh, hell. Jack stopped with his coat half on and the rain plastering his hair to his forehead. He couldn’t leave her. He didn’t know what had put the idea into his head, but suddenly he was sure the cat was a she. Even if females were a load of trouble in general, he couldn’t abandon the cat to an undoubtedly grim fate.

He took off his coat again. Time to attack the problem from a different angle. And make sure the cat had no more chances to attack him.

She hadn’t moved when he turned back to her. He would have sworn the light was fading from her green eyes, her body going limp and melting into the puddle that gathered at her paws.

“I’m going to save you, kitty,” he said, “whether you like it or not.” And he spread his coat wide between his hands and cast it like a net.

He moved very fast and gathered the bundle of struggling feline in his arms. Her outraged yowls were faint and muffled further by the coat. After a few moments she went completely still.

In alarm he checked beneath the coat. She was staring at him, eyes slitted, exhausted but alive. He felt a surge of triumph.

“Let’s get out of this rain, kitty.” He frowned. “I’m going to have to come up with a better name for you. Kitty doesn’t cut it. What’s a good name for a nasty, bad-tempered, scrawny, ungrateful cat?”

The animal in question gave him a look of utmost disdain and sneezed in his face.

Jack covered her up again, tucked her under his arm and walked the remaining blocks home without further speculation about his unwilling guest’s obstinate nature. The apartment building looked even more run down than usual in the rain. He managed to get his key out of his pocket one-handed and checked his mailbox on the way upstairs.

He knew before he flipped awkwardly through the envelopes what he wouldn’t find: a response to his résumé. Not that he hadn’t hoped. After eight months he still hoped.

“How do you like that, kitty? Am I a fool?”

The cat shivered, and he remembered that there were a lot of folks much worse off than he was. At least he had a roof over his head–even if it was probably leaking.

Saving Sirena

But the place was warm and out of the rain. He got the door open and carried the cat inside, catching the light switch with his elbow. He looked around the small living room, considering the best place to put her. He didn’t have a cage, and somehow it seemed wrong to lock her up after what she’d been through. Even if she decided to claw his furniture, it wouldn’t be much of a loss.

“Listen up, kitty. I’m going to let you loose. I hope you have the sense to make the most of this. I think I have a can of tuna left, and it’s all yours.”

He set his bundle on the ugly green sofa. The coat rippled and rocked, and then the cat’s head emerged. He left her to her exploration and went into the kitchen to check the cupboards.

He found the tuna. The rest of the cupboard was depressingly bare. But he did have milk–enough for him and the cat. He poured a cupful of milk into a pan and set it on the stove to heat.

When he got back to the living room his coat was empty and the cat was nowhere to be seen. Hiding, undoubtedly, until she had a chance to check the place out. He didn’t blame her.

He set the warm milk and tuna down where she could reach it and sighed. He’d lost his desire for the sandwich and late show; better turn in. Tomorrow he’d have to pound the pavement for another temporary job–whatever he could find to keep body and soul together. And provide for his new roommate.

It might not be so bad, at that. At least he’d have nonjudgmental company. The cat wouldn’t care if he’d screwed up.

Maybe he and the cat needed each other.

“Make yourself comfortable,” he said to the room at large. “We’ll get better acquainted in the morning.”

The cat chose not to answer. Jack shrugged and removed his shirt and tie, leaving them draped over the permanently listing recliner. Had to remember to get to the Laundromat tomorrow . . .

On his way to the bedroom he nearly tripped over a tiny scurrying form. Another mouse, for God’s sake. They seemed to have it in for him. At least the cat might be good for keeping them away.

Pleased at the notion, Jack settled into his lumpy double bed. For once he went to sleep quickly; his last drowsy thought was that the apartment had become a little less lonely than it was this morning.

The next thing he was aware of was the incredible smell of frying bacon. Hot, sizzling bacon, burnt crisp just the way he liked it.

He rolled over with a groan, flinging his arm across his face and trying to hang onto the dream. Groggily he tried to remember the last time he’d had bacon. He couldn’t cook worth a damn–he’d spent most meals out when he’d been working for the D.A.

But this was heavenly. He might have gone right back to sleep except for the rather loud clang from the vicinity of the kitchen.

Jack sat bolt upright and looked at the clock. Barely after dawn. The cat must have gotten into some–

He stopped. He sniffed. The bacon smell was still there, permeating the apartment. And so were other smells, just as wonderful. Jack had the bizarre notion that the cat had learned to cook. Hadn’t he had some sort of weird dream about the cat and some woman with the same green eyes . . .

Who in hell was cooking in his apartment?

He swung his legs over the bed, grabbed hastily for his frayed terrycloth robe and jogged down the short hall. A quick glance into the living room brought no sight of the cat. And in the kitchen . . .

In the kitchen stood a woman. A petite woman with tumbled dark hair cascading down her back. A woman with shapely legs visible to upper thigh, the rest of her barely covered by the shirt he’d left over the chair last night.

“Man, oh man,” Jake muttered.

She turned. The shirt was unbuttoned to the deep vee between a pair of very nice– He jerked his gaze up to her face.

Green eyes. They were the second attributes he noticed. Brilliant green eyes, slanted like a cat’s, shadowed by equally slanted dark brows that gave the woman a permanently mischievous look. Her nose had a Mediterranean cast, her lips were full, her chin pointed. And she was grinning at him as if she’d just won the lottery and he was the guy with the check.

But that was only the half of it.

Jack felt behind him for the wall. For a moment he was too stunned to do anything but stare. Between him and the woman was spread, on a huge table he’d never seen in his life, a breakfast banquet of epic proportions. The bacon was only a small part of it. He counted at least three kinds of eggs, each on its own silver plate; pancakes heaped nearly to the ceiling; bowls and plates of exotic fruits; lobster and roast beef; and a half-dozen other items he didn’t immediately recognize.

Saving Sirena

His stomach rumbled loudly. He disregarded it and met the woman’s laughing gaze.

“What the hell are you doing in my–”

He didn’t get a chance to finish. He didn’t even realize what she intended until, having somehow circumvented the table in a matter of seconds, she was on him. On him, her arms locked around his neck, her breasts against his chest, her mouth fitted to his.

The kiss was spectacular. It held a quality Jack didn’t think he’d ever experienced in a kiss before–unmitigated joy, a blending of sophistication and innocence that bypassed all the nice civilized controls of logic and reason. Jack found himself responding, his arms closing around her, his tongue touching hers.

And then his brain kicked in. He pushed her away–not without effort, since she seemed determined to attach herself to him permanently.

He caught his breath, dizzy with the most immediate and potent desire he’d ever experienced in his life. “Who,” he croaked, “who the hell are you?”

She laughed. “Don’t you know?” She spun around in a circle, hugging herself, and the tail of his shirt lifted to reveal the sleek curve of one hip.

Jack beat down his body’s instant reaction. “I don’t have the slightest idea who you are,” he said stiffly, “or how all this food got in here, but I think you’d better leave.”

“Oh, Jack.” She glided back to him. “You are my savior, and you must let me thank you.” She placed one delicate finger on his lower lip. “Don’t you like my gratitude?”

Okay. She was obviously disturbed. Someone off the streets, maybe–except he was sure he’d locked the door. And it didn’t explain where all this food had come from. Or how in hell she knew his name.

Or why he could stand here wanting a total stranger after what had happened last time.

“How did you get in here?” he demanded.

“Why, you brought me,” she said. She all but danced to the couch in the living room and picked up his coat, wrapping it around her shoulders. “Don’t you remember?”

He shook his head. No, dammit–no. He hadn’t been drunk last night. He hadn’t taken a drink since the mistake that had cost him his job. He wouldn’t have brought a woman home after that. He hadn’t. In eight months the only female he’d had any dealings with outside the clinic was the cat from the alley.

The cat. He looked to the place where he’d left the milk and tuna. Both bowls were empty.

Suddenly–he didn’t know why and didn’t question the impulse–it seemed vitally important to find the cat. Ignoring his unwelcome guest, he began to search. Under the sofa, under the recliner, in the closet, everywhere a cat could conceivably hide.

“She’s right under your nose,” the woman said, clearly amused. “Oh, you mortals can be so shortsighted.”

He straightened from his crouch beside the chair. “What?”

The way she moved was mesmerizing. One moment she was across the room and the next kneeling beside him, rubbing against his shoulder and jaw with a mass of slightly damp and curly hair.

“‘Here, kitty kitty,'” she purred. “Does that ring a bell?”

Good Lord. He scrambled to his feet. “How did you know that? Did you follow me?”

She stood and placed her hands on her hips. “Can’t all this wait until after breakfast? I spent the past two hours conjuring it up for you.” She plucked her lower lip. “I am a bit out of practice.”

Jack wondered if he’d heard her right. Conjuring? Was everything she said crazy, or was it him? “Look,” he said calmly. “whoever you are, I think–” He stopped as she moved closer, fingering the button of the shirt she wore–the button closest to the shadow of her cleavage. “Uh, where are your clothes?”

She stretched, arching her back in a way that came dangerously close to popping the button. “Oh, I haven’t had any in ages. What would you like me to wear?”

He clenched his teeth, trying to think with something above his belt. His lapse in judgment had been what got him into trouble before, and he knew less about this woman than he had about Bagley’s ex-wife.

Saving Sirena

He wasn’t like those guys who’d jump into the sack with anything in skirts. Or, in this case, shirts. Not even when they turned up in his apartment with a full-course breakfast.

“Well?” she said, tossing her luxurious hair over her shoulders. “Perhaps you’d rather I wore nothing at all?”

He blinked. When he looked at her again she was wearing . . . nothing. He spun away before he had more than a glimpse, fiery heat washing his face.

“I think you’d better go,” he choked.

“You wouldn’t throw me out when you just took me in,” she said behind him, her voice a throaty whisper. “You aren’t the kind of man who’d do that. You’re far too kind.” Her hands settled on his shoulders, fingers curving in, massaging his rigid muscles. “Don’t you even want to know my name?”

“Uh . . .”

“It’s Sirena.” She put her lips to his ear. “Sirena. And you saved my life, Jack Danner. You saved it when you rescued that scrawny, ungrateful black cat from the alley. Of course–” Her lips brushed his neck above the collar of his robe. “I do think I look much better now, don’t you?”

The touch of her mouth on his skin was making his pulse do cartwheels. “You–the cat–”

“That’s right, silly. But I’d rather not talk about it. There are so many better ways of . . . spending our time.”

The primitive part of Jack agreed completely. His brain was still trying to make sense of what she’d just said, and coming up with utter nonsense.

“You, uh–were in the alley with the cat?” he asked blankly.

She sighed, and he felt the thump of her forehead against his back. “Jack, Jack, Jack. I am the cat.”

“You are the–”

“Come on, before it all gets cold.” She took his hand and tugged him toward the kitchen. At least she was dressed again–more or less–but that was little comfort. Jack dug his feet into the worn carpet, freeing himself from her tenacious hold.

“Hold it. Did you just say you are the cat?”

The woman’s–Sirena’s–full lips were curved, her eyes sparkling. She clapped her hands. “I knew you’d understand. Now, would you rather have orange juice . . .” She eased up against him, working her hand beneath the collar of his robe. “. . . or something a little more exotic?”

Her innuendo raised the temperature in the room by another ten degrees. With a supreme effort Jack shook off his befuddlement and took her by the shoulders, holding her away.

“Listen,” he said carefully. “Maybe you should go lie down. You’re not . . . well.”

She rolled her eyes. “I summon you as witness, Demosthenes. I’ve been totally honest with this man.” Her attention seemed focused on an invisible object. “Oh, very well. If you think it will make a difference.”

Oh, brother. Now she was talking to invisible Greek orators. Jack wondered if she’d escaped from some kind of institution. Except there wasn’t one here in Vinatera. The nearest hospital was–

“Come along, Jack,” she said, grabbing him by the hand again. It was only a few steps to the kitchen. The incredible smells hadn’t dissipated; in fact, they were more overwhelming than ever. Sirena let him go and walked, hips swaying, to the other side of the laden table.

“Now watch carefully,” she said. “I’ve never shown this to a mortal before. But Teeny is right. I do owe you my life.” She grinned. “It might even be fun.”

With a dramatic flourish she lifted her hands and closed her eyes. Her lips moved. The air over the table seemed to shimmer like a country road on a hot summer’s day.

And then the table . . . wasn’t there anymore. Or the plates and bowls and silver. Or the food. A faint scent of bacon lingered in the air, and then that too was gone.

Jack laughed. He coughed. He passed his hand over his eyes and pinched himself. When he was perfectly certain he was awake and hadn’t lost his mind, he met Sirena’s triumphant gaze.

Saving Sirena

“Would you mind telling me . . . how you did that?”

Sirena brushed her fingers through her hair. “The technicalities, you mean? It’s all so boring. Esmeralda could have explained– Yes, Teeny, I know she’s Crone now. But she was always so . . . logical.”

Jack didn’t ask who “Teeny” was. “Is this some kind of illusion?”

She walked across the room to him and draped her arms over his shoulders. “Of course not. It’s magic.”

Okay. He’d go along. It was hard to concentrate when her lips were inches from his. “And you’re a magician?”

Her laugh was sparkling. “How funny you are, Jack. I do like you. And I know I can trust you.” She leaned closer still. “Haven’t you guessed by now? I’m a witch.”

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Read the Reviews

SAVING SIRENA by Susan Krinard — Sirena misused her powers and a spell was cast, turning her into a cat, left outside to roam the streets. She wants the spell to be lifted, she is so cold and hungry. Jack Danner is feeling crummy but brings the kitty in out of the storm. The next morning he finds a beautiful woman in his kitchen. He doesn’t want to have anything to do with her and wants her gone. He’s trying to get his life in order and no woman is going to interfered. Suddenly things begin to happen, and Jack’s life will never be the same. The threads used to interlock these wonderful characters, tremendous passion, and a magical plot are magnificent. A delightful story.”

— Rendezvous