Heart to Heart
First story in the Cat in Rabbit's Fur saga.
The sky threatened rain, yet Ime, the young boss of Rift, insisted on a little tea date. It was a warm day and a busier weekend than most with Razor City’s annual lunar festival in full swing. Angry grey clouds couldn’t put a damper on the events.
“You’re late,” Theodore announced, stirring the flavoring into his lemonade. A few festival prizes littered the outdoor table. Ime imagined none of them decorating the man’s simple apartment. Hoarding useless items wasn’t a Theo thing, and the Rift boss decided he won’t accept an offering.
With hands behind his back, Ime walked up beside him and leaned forward. He beamed his award-winning smile towards the impatient man.
“I had forgotten you disliked me walking around in my suits, so I went to the nearby store to dress in something more tasteful.” He kissed his boo on the cheek. “How did you know it was me?”
Ime knew the answer to his inquiry. Theodore was a werecat, a snow leopard variant, so his senses were heightened.
“Not many people deliberately walk around smelling of chocolate and cinnamon.” Theo kissed him lightly. “Or money.”
He pushed out a seat, and Ime joined him at the café’s table. The brown-eyed leader had an expansive list of alternative date spots, but he had chosen the location the last few times. Theodore wanted to visit some place “normal” that was within his “budget.” Ime never understood why Theodore insisted on making his own money. He could spoil him, but Theodore refused at every moment. Even now his kitten wore a no-name brand, yellow striped hoodie and tacky green, floral print shorts. Those dirty sandals were months old.
“Seeing you ticked at my choice of clothing brings me great joy,” Theodore said with a chuckle. Ime rolled his eyes. Was his expression that easy to read?
“They’re hideous,” Ime said with a smile curling his lips.
“Aren’t they ugly? I picked these out yesterday with you in mind.”
“You should let me buy you something as an apology. The store I visited has the type of clothing that fits your tastes,” Ime offered. He picked up a paper fan from Theodore’s festive stockpile.
“It’d be better to give the seven hundred bucks to a homeless guy. Knowing my luck, I’d trip in mud, and the clothes are ruined.”
Waving the moon-themed fan, Ime said, “Twenty-three hundred, kitten.”
“I spent about twenty-three hundred dollars on the outfit I’m fouling up in a cheap café seat and dusty table.” Ime used Theodore as a foot rest. “Now I don’t have to soil my sandals on the gum littered ground.”
“About what?” Ime hid another smile behind the fan.
The boss stared into Theodore’s intense pale green eyes. The price tag troubled him. How cute. Reaching for Theodore’s drink, he popped off the plastic lid, took a sniff, and after deeming it satisfying to his standards, tried a sip.
Finally, Ime said, “I might have been harsh on the establishment, but I still have the receipt for the clothes.”
Disappointment—or maybe irritation—creased his werecat’s brow. Theodore sat back in his chair. He scoffed, “You won’t ever wear them again. Why bother?”
“I’ll let you give them to a homeless person. I wanted to impress you, kitten. Did it not work?”
Ime watched Theodore’s expression go through a mix of emotions before settling into defeat. The well-dressed man smiled easily.
“I will admit you pull off the tee, shorts and sandals combo well,” grumbled the werecat.
“I’m glad. Wearing something casual makes this feel more like a date and less like a business meeting.”
“Speaking of—” Theodore claimed his drink back and twirled its contents again.
Ime lowered his feet and scooted the chair closer to him. He lifted the designer sunglasses onto the top of his brown curls and stared expectantly at his number one handyman. “I have a job.”
Theodore didn’t look away. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
“It’s right up your alley,” Ime smiled wickedly.
A flicker of hesitation danced in Theo’s large eyes. His thin fingers twitched about his cup while his shoulders tensed before relaxing. “Who’s the target?”
“My secret admirer.”
That caused Theodore’s dark eyebrow to perk up. Ime had been giving him unsolicited updates on the chief commissioner’s advances. Their relationship started as a joke to test the extent of Alexis F. Millard’s desperation for love. The two of them flirted lightheartedly. They slept together when they were bored. Occasionally they’d share a dinner or watch a movie.
Before he knew it, Ime nearly revealed that his legitimate enterprise dealt with criminal affairs. The chief commissioner eventually uncovered that he was the CEO of Rift. Fortunately, investigations fell short, and the reports only revealed the Rift corporation to be a perfectly clean telecommunications and philanthropic company.
If Ime was anyone else, the sudden love confession a week ago would have raised alarms that Alexis wanted to take his money to move up in the world. Ime had no energy to be cynical and believed the chief commissioner caught feelings for him.
Turning down potential relationships wasn’t a foreign concept, but to think the poor chief commissioner would fall in love made him laugh.
“Wouldn’t killing him be very suspicious?” Theodore asked worriedly. Ime expected that response.
“My birdies tell me he’s been receiving death threats as we approach the mayoral elections.” That didn’t appease Theodore. Waving the fan, Ime continued, “It’s public knowledge within the precinct that someone’s buying the chief commissioner off. I want to know who has cards in the game, and the mayor wants to clean her hands of this man without throwing him under the bus. She tells me Alexis knows some very powerful people.”
“You’re pretty powerful yourself,” Theodore mumbled. He shrugged. Sometimes Ime wished for friends in high places, but when one was at the top of the world, that wish proved difficult to fulfill.
Ime said quietly, “That’s why she asked me for help a while ago. Now will be the perfect time to gain some leverage with her and the police.
“You, of course, have full reign in how you complete your task, but I propose self-defense.” He waited a moment and smiled. “I lied. We will do self-defense.”
Confused, Theodore tilted his head. Ime kissed his forehead softly.
“Kitten, don’t look at me like that. I’ve been brewing on an idea for a while. It involves creating a situation where the chief commissioner shoots you in self-defense. I’ve already shown Alexis I’m a bad shot, so I’ll ‘accidentally’ shoot him while trying to take you out.”
“You want me to take a bullet for you?”
“I thought that assumption was the foundation of this relationship.”
Theodore sighed, rubbed his face, and ran his fingers through his hair. Folding the fan and setting it down, Ime admired his side profile. Theo’s thoughtful expression always caused his heart to flip. He resisted the urge to pull the hitman close, comb his fingers through that soft dirty blonde hair, and demand to know all that troubled him. The werecat sighed again and lifted the drink to his lips.
“Fine. I’ll need some time to mentally prepare myself. When’s the deadline?”
Lemonade spewed out his nose, and Theodore fell into a coughing fit. Ime offered his handkerchief. “I believe you’ll come home with the bullet wound already healed up, but I’ll nurse you back to health.”
“You’ve been plotting this?” Theodore asked with his voice slightly pitched.
Ime slid the sunglasses back over his eyes. “Ever since we matched.” He stood up and plucked the near empty cup from Theodore’s hands. “I’ll buy you another drink and send you details about our date.”
“What about this date?”
Ime sighed dramatically. “I suppose I can spend more time with you. You are risking your body for me, after all.” He shook the ice around the cup and glanced at Theodore. “I’ll bring back tea. I was promised tea.”