Behind the fridge, the ‘Big Cheese’ rat bait remained untouched.
Cat clenched her teeth and shoved the appliance back into place. How could she possibly relax and enjoy Christmas with that furry, disease infested creature sneaking around the house? “Blasted rodent!”
Her sister, Ginger, flounced into the kitchen, tucking a sheer silk blouse into snug blue jeans. “What’s going on?”
Cat slapped the door of the fridge. “The stupid rat won’t eat the bait.”
“Mmm… maybe it’s time to call a truce.”
“Never!” Cat raked her nails through the air. “His tail is mine.”
Ginger’s glittering green eyes widened. “You’ve become a little too obsessed with this rat. It’s not normal.” Her lips twitched. “You need to get laid.”
Cat gave her the middle finger, to which Ginger chuckled and headed towards the door. “Enjoy a night alone with your elusive rat. I’m going out to find me a dirty rat and have some fun.” She winked. “Don’t wait up.”
Ignoring Ginger’s jab at her celibate streak, Cat pulled out the old-fashioned trap she’d bought for a pittance and set it up using a piece of cheese, smeared with Nutella, for the bait. A sharp twinge lanced her heart. As much as she wanted the rat gone, the thought of his be-headed remains strewn across the trap didn’t sit well. Still… there wasn’t room enough for her, Ginger, and the rat in their tiny two-bedroom cottage. She flicked off the light, dread gnawing at her insides, as she padded down the hallway.
The next morning Cat slouched over the kitchen bench, mourning her failed trap. The jaws had sprung, but all traces of the cheese and Nutella had vanished, along with the rat. There was no blood. No bits of fur. No entrails. Nothing. She lifted her head, arching her back to smooth out the kinks, as a dishevelled Ginger crawled through the front door.
Cat shook her head. “I take it you found your dirty rat?”
A wide, freaky smile curled on Ginger’s lips. “You bet.”
Cat wrinkled her nose. “Have you got blood on your boots?”
“What?” Ginger glanced down. “Oops. It’s not like me to be sloppy.” She pulled her knee-length beige suede boots off and inspected them. “Damn! That’s gonna stain.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t mix business with pleasure?”
Ginger smirked. “Ah, dear sister. One day you’ll learn it’s the only way to do business. You gotta find fun where you can.”
Cat pursed her lips. “Yeah, well, that might work for assassins like you, but I’m an accountant. Boring is my middle name.”
“You could change jobs.” Ginger gestured towards Cat’s face. “The crazed look in your eyes when you talk about taking out the cute little rat in our apartment is pretty scary. Even to me.”
“It’s a rat.” Cat stomped her foot. “It can’t be cute.”
Ginger slinked off to her bedroom, sniggering. “You don’t know that. All you’ve seen so far is its droppings.”
Later that night, Cat set a new trap at the foot of the Christmas tree—a bait cage, with fluffy marshmallows as the main attraction. The rat wouldn’t slip through her fingers this time.
She settled on the lounge, night vision goggles fixed to her face, and eyed her dirty socks with disgust. When was the last time she’d showered? Changed her clothes? Eaten?
A grunt and the rattle of the cage woke Cat from a deep sleep. Her eyes popped. A huge, buffed and very naked man hunched over the twisted metal pieces of what remained of the trap, blood dripping from his nose.
Cat’s vision blurred as a mouth-watering metallic tang engulfed her. But not watering in a, I want to eat him up sort of way, although she craved that too. What had her heart thumping in her chest like a pack of rats trapped in a cage was the insane desire to let him eat her. She scrambled back against the lounge. What the hell?
The man’s hazelnut gaze raked over her, his lips curling into a cheeky grin. “Mate.”
“Woah. What?” She tumbled off the lounge and hit the floor with a thud. “Ouch.”
His smile widened. “We’re mates.”
Her throat constricted. “Impossible. You’re… you’re a rat.”
Ginger sauntered down the hallway. “What’s all the noise?” Her gaze darted between Cat and the naked man, her eyes twinkling. “Oh, this is hilarious.” She doubled over with laughter, smacking her denim-clad thighs with the palms of her hands.
The man took another step towards Cat. “Mate.”
“No! Back off rat boy. This…” she waved her hands at him, “… can’t be.” She averted her gaze from the yummiest part of his nakedness.
Well, she might have looked once.
All right… three times.
Ginger coughed, tears streaming down her face. “What did you use for bait?”
Cat tilted her head at her. “What’s it matter?”
Her eyes twinkled. “Given the size of that rat and his obvious affection for you, it matters. A lot.”
Her sister wasn’t joking about the man’s affection. It stood at attention like the most lethal catnip ever. Cat groaned. “He wasn’t falling for the usual foods, so I used marshmallows.”
Ginger shook her head, her entire body vibrating. “You should have paid more attention in science classes.”
“What do you mean?”
Rat man stepped closer. “She’s talking about a witch’s spell.” His voice was smooth, like melted marshmallow, not the harsh grittiness you’d expect of a rat. It slid deep inside, turning her bones to liquid.
“Yeah. I’ve been trapped in my rat form for two years. Only the sweetness of marshmallow and my mate’s undying passion could free me.”
Cat jabbed a finger at him. “I was trying to kill you. Not snog you.”
Ginger cackled. “You know what they say… there’s a fine line between love and hate.”
Cat pinned Ginger with her best death stare. “You can’t be okay with this. He’s a rat. You kill them for a living.”
Rat man straightened to his full height, six feet and then some, his brown eyes narrowing on Ginger.
She held out her hands. “Settle down, big boy. If you’ve been loafing off us for the last two years, you must know we’re cat shifters. I only kill rogue rats. Cute house rats, on the other hand…” Her gaze dipped to his crotch and then to Cat. “I’m thinking I should go on a different kind of hunt.” She pranced towards the kitchen. “I’ll just grab a few marshmallows to take with me.”
Cat wrung her hands. “Ginger!” Her voice screeched like a cornered cat which, in a way, she was. “What am I going to do with him?”
“Well…” Ginger’s gaze slid over the man again. “If it was me, I’d accept my Christmas present, all nicely unwrapped as he is, and spend the day playing with him.” She slunk out the front door, her body heaving with laughter.
Cat rolled her eyes. That was a lot of help. Not. She turned to the naked man in her lounge room. “Ahem. Well…”
He snaked an arm around her waist and buried his face in her hair. “Your sister makes a lot of sense. You have no idea how painful it’s been watching you and not being able to touch.”
She jerked away from him. “You’ve been spying on me?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m a rat.”
“Hmf. I don’t think this is going to work.”
He nuzzled her ear. “Give me a chance. Let me prove to you this is real.”
Cat wriggled against him, his musky scent awakening her long-neglected lady parts. Had she sensed something about him on a deeper level? Could they really be mates?
“I promise to nibble every inch of your body like it’s the most delectable Camembert,” he whispered in her ear.
Cat melted. Who was she to question the vagaries of a witch’s spell? She flung her arms around Rat Man’s neck and captured his mouth with hers. The little problem of rats and cats being mortal enemies could wait until tomorrow. For now, she was going to enjoy her best Christmas present ever.
Karen Lieversz 2020
Banner photo (Photographer, Ann Mironova) and naked man photo (photographer, Stefano Cavoretto). Courtesy of Shutterstock. Christmas tree photo (Nastya Sensei). Courtesy of Pexels.