The Mating (Wild Cats 1)
“HELLO. What can I get you today?”
Iliana’s heart was pounding as she walked towards the man in one of her tables. He should have become familiar by now, but he still confused her like no one she knew.
As if she knew anyone even remotely like him.
His almond-shaped, green, piercing eyes were on her face. He was dressed in black. With his dark hair a little longer than usual, his dark complexion and sensual full lips, he looked like a pirate.
A pirate dressed as an aristocrat.
His name was Nickolas Benson. Or that’s what her co-worker Anthony told her after he researched about him. And he was supposed to be sinfully wealthy.
But that was beside the point. Whenever he’s here in the coffee shop, his sheer presence overwhelmed the place.
While he was here, he was only this powerful-looking, handsome man who confused her with his focused attention.
As she approached him, his posture changed. He pulled his long legs in and sat straight on his chair.
Not a pirate, she corrected herself. A panther, ready to attack his prey.
She almost shivered at the reminder of the most exotic, dangerous cat that ever passed through her life. How could she have likened him to a panther, of all animals?
“Coffee. Black,” he answered in a deep, husky baritone.
“Thank you very much,” she replied, smiling automatically.
His stare burned into her back as she walked back to the bar to get the order ready. She wanted to run but the manager’s eyes were surveying the room at the moment.
Anthony was smiling. “Let me guess. Coffee. Black. Right? Did we at least get a hello or something more today? Or just the usual silence?”
She didn’t answer. She couldn’t.
She could still feel the stranger’s eyes on her and she felt as if she were on fire.
If only he wasn’t so handsome.
He had the kind of magnetism no woman could resist. And it was hard for her, too, even when she constantly denied it to herself.
And of course, Anthony and the others could see what was unfolding. Except for Iliana, her co-workers enjoyed the hour Nickolas spent in the shop everyday, drinking his coffee, watching her as she steadily gets nervous, and leaving a huge tip for her afterwards, which she shared with everyone and the manager as per regulation of the shop.
This torture has been going since that first time he came in to have coffee with a client almost a month ago.
She remembered his eyes locking on her that first day—and the sizzle of heat she felt as she got caught staring back involuntarily at his perfectly handsome face.
And since then, every afternoon he would come in. He would order coffee and would stay for one hour.
It was like clockwork. Every-freakin’-day.
She wondered at his discipline. She hadn’t even seen him look at his watch. But in precisely one hour, everyday, he would leave.
He was the weirdest, yet handsomest man she had ever encountered.
Anthony’s teasing whisper intruded in her thoughts. “Oh… if I were in your place, love, I would have gotten a date by now. A god like him, coming to the shop every day just for me, sitting for hours with a coffee he never drinks… staring at me constantly… and then leaving the hugest tip we’ve ever received from anybody—daily—hell, not just a date. He would already know how big my bed is!”
“Right. And next morning you would be found in some gutter with your throat cut like a chicken,” she said under her breath. “Or maybe?” Her voice held the curiosity and confusion that she felt. “As far as we know, this guy could be the next Ted Bundy. He is rich, and he is good-looking.” A huge understatement. “What could he possibly want with a waitress from a coffee shop at the edge of the city? It’s not like I’m some model!”
She told that as much to herself because it was the truth.
“Honey… how many times have I told you? You are a piece of candy with that red hair. If you’d just take care of yourself a little better.” Anthony was now looking down at her so critically. “I mean… that dreadful ponytail. And no makeup!”
She straightened her wide black blouse and tight trousers. “I’m fine the way I am, thank you very much.”
She did not say what was really on her mind—even if she tried making herself beautiful, she would only look merely presentable compared to the hundreds of women who undoubtedly vied for his attention.
She was not one to fool herself. She might not know the man, but no one could dispute this other truth. She was highly inappropriate for someone like him. And she knew without a doubt what plans he would have for her if given the chance.
Of course she knew. She had been through that road before and she was able to escape.
She has no intention of going back.
She took the coffee and brought it to the man’s table, and then got busy with other customers.
Or at least she tried.
His eyes bore into her back at every turn. And as resolved as she was to ignore him, she still got so nervous that she would take orders from customers twice, only to realize that she couldn’t even understand what she had written in her notebook.
The second time, she had to go back to a table to retake the order.
Committing stupid mistakes weren’t like her. It was beginning to irritate her. The black high heels she was wearing, obligatory rule of the management, were killing her legs and adding to her irritation.
And to make matters worse, her boss had picked this day to come to the coffee shop and check things out. He was already throwing her cool looks because he had noticed her mistakes. She did not know if he even knew about Nickolas Benson, because he would only come here occasionally in the mornings.
But she noticed how he became nervous of everyone’s actions, especially of hers, once he spotted the lone man in one of her tables. He has been guarding her every move. She couldn’t afford to make a mistake because she would be punished for sure.
Or, if the look the manager was throwing at her right now was any indication, she could get fired.
She was sure he has already noticed how Nickolas Benson watched her.
And Iliana couldn’t afford to lose this job. How long would it take to find another one? She was already low on funds. And she has friends here.
But the tension was just too much to bear.
She lost her cool an hour later. A tray with four coffee pots slipped through her fingers onto the floor. Her heart skipped a beat as the dishes collided on the tiles, shattering the silence.
She was cleaning up the mess when the boss approached her and whispered into her ear, “The cost for this loss will be deducted generously from your salary, Iliana…”
That was the final straw.
As she was throwing part of her month’s payment into the garbage, angry tears flooded her eyes.
It was his fault.
That green-eyed panther-pirate.
This really has to stop now.
She rushed straight to his table as soon as the manager slipped into his office to answer a call.
“Could you please stop staring at me?” she hissed at him. “What are you? Some kind of a pervert? Stop this now! Stop staring at me. In fact, stop coming here! Go somewhere else to order coffee you don’t drink anyway! You are not welcome here!”
She did not realize her voice had gone up until she noticed how quiet the coffee shop was.
Horror-struck, she turned.
Everyone was staring at her.
The man from the table stood up and she abruptly turned to him again.
God, he’s taller than I originally thought. Oh, why did I get angry again?
“I am terribly sorry, Miss Iliana,” he said, not looking at her name tag.
He already knew her name. His voice was soft, with no hint of anger. Then he smiled.
She lost her breath because the smile literally brought light to his face.
“I never meant to make you nervous. On the contrary—”
“W-who told you I was nervous?” she replied defensively. “Why should I be? I don’t even know you.”
Instead of answering, he reached over and softly held her hand with his.
His touch, how her hand looked enclosed in his big ones, gave her a sudden feeling of security that confused her so much it did not even occur to her to pull away.
He gave her such a sweet and innocent look that she felt a smile tug on her lips.
She managed to suppress it before it got obvious.
This was a very dangerous man. And not just from a physical standpoint.
He was a danger to every woman who could see and feel how virile he was.
He was a danger to her.
And in the back of her mind, she had this tiny yet nagging feeling that his virility was just the tip of something more…