#Nerd (Page 19)

I leaned back into the opening and held out my hand for him. He rubbed his nose against it, but I didn’t move to grab him. That would only scare him more.

“Sit,” I told Romeo.

He looked around like he wasn’t sure what to do, and I giggled. He smiled and then sank down behind me on the tile.

“You like it here, huh?”

“It’s my favorite place,” I replied honestly. I didn’t feel as guarded, like a door to my insides opened up when I was here and I felt it was okay to let him see just a little.

Murphy crept a little closer to the door, but I didn’t let on that I knew. Instead, I started scratching behind his ear.

“That cat sounds like a lawn mower,” Romeo quipped.

I laughed again. “Yeah, he kind of does.”

My hair was wet and felt heavy against my back, making my shirt wetter than it already was. I pulled back my hand and lifted the heavy mass up and away from my shoulders and face using a hair tie around my wrist to secure it into a messy bun at the top of my head.

The air brushed against my neck and I shivered.

“Your shirt is soaked,” Romeo said.

I shrugged and leaned back to pet Murphy some more.

“Rimmel,” he said softly. Whatever I heard in his voice caused something in me to stir. I turned toward him, my body answering the call in his tone.

He didn’t say anything. He just looked at me. His eyes roamed my face like he’d never seen it before. I felt the blush creep up from the bottom of my neck and work its way up until my cheeks felt warm.

“What?” I said, my voice coming out more as a whisper.

“Nothing. I just wanted to look at you without your hair in the way.” He continued to stare, unapologetic. When I couldn’t take any more, I ducked my head, causing a strand of hair to fall loose against my cheek.

Romeo leaned forward and lifted my chin with his fingers. My eyes connected with his and this… this current went through the room. His fingers slid from beneath my chin and tucked the hair behind my ear. “You’re beautiful,” he said, a hint of surprise in his tone.

A rush of warmth filled my chest, but then reality came crashing back and I snorted. “Are you trying to get me to do your work again?”

He winced and his hand fell back to his lap. “I mean it.”

I was saved from having to reply when Murphy crawled back into my lap. I smiled and stroked down his back and turned to face Romeo. “This is Murphy.” The affection was clear in my voice.

“Is he yours?” Romeo asked, holding out his hand to the cat. Murphy smelled him tentatively.

“He would be if I didn’t live in a dorm.”

Romeo moved slowly, sliding his hand back to rub the cat behind his ears. The loud purring started up again. “So are all these cats homeless?”

“They’re up for adoption.”

“How long’s Murphy been here?”

I lowered my gaze and my stomach rolled. “He came right after I started volunteering over a year ago.”

He paused in petting and looked up. “That long?”

I nodded and cleared my throat. “People tend to overlook him.”

“His eye,” he murmured.

Emotion clogged my throat so I didn’t speak. We sat there in silence for long moments. And then Murphy climbed off my lap and climbed into Romeo’s. He seemed taken aback by the cat’s easy affection.

“He likes you,” I said, my voice thick.

“He’s pretty cool.”

I got up, unable to sit here like this with him anymore. It was affecting me too much. I reminded myself not to get taken in by his smile and the fact that Murphy liked him.

I grabbed a bag of cat treats out of the cupboard and passed them out among the cats. Then I held one out to Murphy, who was content in Romeo’s lap.

He perked up and stood, arching his back in a stretch as he sniffed at the treat. “It’s your favorite,” I told him. He took it in one bite and then licked his lips like he wanted more.

“Oh no you don’t,” I told him. “One’s enough.”

I felt Romeo’s stare and I looked up. Sometimes I forgot just how blue his eyes were and then I would realize all over again and it would make my stomach flip.

The sound of muffled barking came through the walls, and Romeo blinked. “You have dogs here too?”

I nodded.

“Can we see them?”

“Sure,” I said and lifted Murphy out of his lap. I tried not to notice how my arm brushed against his chest as I lifted the cat.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Murph,” I said and set him back in his shelter. Immediately, he went to the back and curled in a ball.

I led him to the room across the hall where the dogs were kept, but before I could pull open the door, his voice behind stopped me. “Here.”

I looked and he was shrugging out of his varsity jacket and holding it out for me. He might as well have been growing another head because his action was totally foreign.

“You’re wet and freezing,” he said when I only stared.

“I’m okay,” I argued.

He looked down at my chest and his eyes grew a little heavy. I followed his gaze and wanted to die.

Okay. So maybe I was a little cold.

Or a lot.

My nipples were drawn into little pebbles that you could totally see through my wet shirt plastered against me.

“Uhhh,” I stuttered. I needed to take the jacket. I was putting on a show for him. But I couldn’t. My shirt was so wet it would just get the inside of the dry coat wet too.

Romeo cleared his throat and gestured to the coat again. “It’s just a jacket, Rimmel.”

I spun around, putting my back to him, and yanked the oversized shirt over my head. I was wearing a tank top beneath it, and while it was damp, it wasn’t wet like my shirt. I tossed the top aside and reached around me for the jacket. He slid it into my hand with a warm chuckle.

I pulled it around me and bit back a groan because it was like being wrapped in an electric blanket. The material swallowed me whole. I didn’t have to worry about showing too much in this because there was so much fabric I was totally concealed.

It hung well past my hands and almost to my knees.

He grinned when I turned around. “You’re gonna get lost in that thing.”

It was so warm and it smelled just like him. Whatever comeback I was going to make died on my lips.

I showed him the dogs and we spent some time playing around with them. It didn’t surprise me that Romeo liked them. They were all high energy and sort of wild just like him.