Monday, February 11, 2013
Leave It to Beaver
The profits, and the leftovers from his supply of materials, gave him what he really wanted: time enough to play, and the wood to play with.
When the work day was over Chester let his creativity, and his nimble hands, run wild. There wasn’t a chunk of wood, no matter how small or misshapen, that he couldn’t turn into a thing of beauty with his knives and his imagination. The shelves at the Hart’s Desire Gift Shop bore the results of his play: exquisite little figurines, decorated bowls, pipes and flutes, duck decoys, wall hangings and signs. He drew the line at chainsaw sculptures; he found the method far too crude. He had created a seven-foot rearing grizzly out of a thick fir log, for a human bar just over the Talbot’s Peak borough line, but he’d done it in the traditional way, carefully gnawed and chewed to raw, vibrant perfection. Done after dark, when the humans couldn’t see him, of course.
His pop and siblings over at Beaver Brothers Builders just shook their heads at little Chester’s odd, day-dreamy ways. “It’s his mother what done it,” Pops proclaimed. “Put all that artsy-fartsy scat in his head when he was a kit.” Yeah, and when a house needed trim or unique fence posts or the buyers wanted top-of-the-line furniture, who was it they turned to, family included? Chester never regretted leaving the family business to start his own, not for one second. Let Pops gnaw that log down to a splinter, see how he liked the taste of it.
He’d just finished sanding a rocking chair for the cougar lady down in the valley when the shop’s bell jangled the alert. He gave the prospective customer a few minutes to survey the showroom before he went out. The showroom consisted of three sections—sample bedroom, dining room and den, with furniture, accessories and knickknacks all created by the artist. If they couldn’t find exactly what they wanted in the showroom, he had photos of additional styles in catalogues on the counter.
Maybe they’d want something custom-made. A chance to play. Chester hurried into the shop.
And stopped. Dead.
Holy towering timber. When had she come to Talbot’s Peak?
From the top of her head to her five-inch heels, everything about her screamed cat. Her hair was a tawny mane streaked with black, like a tiger’s pelt. A dress as red as fresh-spilled blood clung to every square inch of her skin. She prowled about silently in shoes that should have clacked on the showroom’s hardwood floor. I am dangerous, her body language announced with every step she took. Challenge me at your peril.
When she extended her long, scarlet-lacquered nails toward the bedroom set, Chester finally moved. Pure, unfiltered sex on legs or not, no way would he permit some stray cat to scratch up his demos.
“Oh. Hello,” she said, with a look of surprise that had to be fake, considering his bumbling entrance. She coolly overlooked the noise, and his inability to speak. “Are you the manager, or a salesman?”
“Owner. Manager. Salesman,” Chester blurted out. Did all cats have eyes that green? He’d never paid attention before. Gazing into her eyes was like falling through the canopy of a rain forest. “I do it all. I mean, I’m a one-man operation here.”
Her thin brows rose. “Surely you didn’t craft these pieces yourself?”
That got his hackles up. “Surely I did. My family takes pride in our woodworking.”
“You have every reason to,” she purred, smoothing his bristly temper. “I’ll come right to the point. I’m looking for a dining room set. A table and six chairs. Something rustic without looking cheap. Human-made pieces are too rough for my liking, and those horrid things in the chain stores—” She executed an elegant, body-length shudder. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I should have come here in the first place, to someone who appreciates wood.”
He was certainly appreciating it at the moment. Thank all the forest gods he had his apron on. He risked a quick glance southward to make sure nothing poked out. “What type of wood would you like? For the set,” he felt compelled to add.
Again with the throaty purr. She had to know what it was doing to him. Cats did everything deliberately. Her running her fingers up and down the bedpost like that couldn’t be an accident either. Chester could have sworn he saw the post shiver. He knew exactly how it felt.
“Pine,” she said finally, after a maddening deliberation and several more strokes to the bedpost. “I like the scent. I also like the designs on the backs of those chairs. That’s what I want. Something like that. Ornate without being gaudy. I like to give intimate dinner parties. I want to impress my guests.”
And Chester wanted to impress her. Badly. Desperately. Pops had always warned his boys about getting involved with a predator. “They’ll bite your ass.” But … dayum.
“Tell me what you want,” Chester said. “For the design."
“I knew this would be the right place. Let’s have a look at what you’ve got.” She started for the counter and the catalogues. On the way she just happened to brush up against him, leg to leg, hip to hip. Chester’s libido teetered on the brink of spontaneous meltdown.
Her emerald eyes impaled him. “What’s your name?”
“Uhhhhhhh …. ”
Her red lips curved upwards, revealing white, pointy teeth. “I’m Sela,” she prompted. Chester made a high keening noise. The cat shrugged. “You tell me your name when you’re ready. I’ll tell you right now, if I’m pleased with the dining room set … I may be in the market for a bed.”
Son of a fisher. “Flip through the catalogues. See what you like. We can do sketches. Uh, I’ll be right back.” He dashed for the back of the store and his closet-sized bathroom. Sometimes the harder woods could be a real pain in the ass.