Notes from the Author:
I’d gotten maybe 15% of Strawberry Nemesis written before I noticed that my publisher released a book almost exactly like it a few years ago. I honestly had no idea the book even existed. Great minds, I guess. I’d had a full synopsis/outline written and everything. Either way, I’ve worked with my editor to come up with a version of Strawberry Nemesis that’s much different than the book I saw. Explanations aside, here’s the older version of what I had, which I really, really love.
Blurb in Progress (will change):
Cat shelter volunteer and veterinarian-in-training, Ichigo Nakamura meets what he believes to be an injured cat, but the kitty turns out to be none other than a cat god who calls himself Bast. Shenanigans ensue.
~~~~Prologue & Chapter One~~~~
Battle of the Gods
The terrain suddenly changed leaving Bast and Inugami alone in the outer space realm above Earth. Now the game began in earnest. Having explored outer space, Bast led Inugami through the vastness; dodging planets, moons, debris, space stations, and asteroids. He’d go to the very limit of the time they could spend outside the gods’ realm before the Great Spirit tired of their sport and closed the way back. They passed close to Earth twice, once appearing as green and red aurora and then as a two-tailed comet. Bast shot by Inugami who laughed and chased after him, but nearly collided with him when Bast stopped, suddenly looking up as the constellation representing the gods’ realm began to disappear star by star. They were nearly too late. Both gods raced toward the entrance as fast as they could while more stars winked out. Inugami flew in just as the last star went out. Bast was too late. The impact from crashing into the closed door knocked him senseless and he fell through outer space to Earth appearing as the brightest meteor in a shower of many. He hit the hard ground and knew no more.
Bast came to feeling too big for his body. Much too big. He stretched and agonizing pain shot through his right leg. He looked and saw that he’d taken his cat shape. He sighed and it came out as a pitiful mew. It was raining. He was wet, in pain, and he couldn’t move. Not to mention he was getting hungry. He was on Earth though, judging by the sights and smells. He wasn’t sure where yet, but this was definitely Earth. Footsteps made his heart leap and plummet. Someone was coming and here he was out in the open, wounded, without a way to defend himself. He scrambled to flee, but his leg hurt too bad to support him. Most humans liked cats, but there were a few sadists who enjoyed torturing them. The footsteps moved closer and closer. A gasp.
“Oh no,” a young man’s voice said. “Poor kitty. It’s okay. I’ll take care of you.”
Gentle hands picked him up, careful of his injuries and wrapped him in soft, warm, and dry fabric.
The Black Cat
Ichigo Nakamura managed to hold his umbrella and the cat as he walked back to the Kitty Paws Cat Shelter. He volunteered there when he wasn’t studying to become a veterinarian. The shelter was a large, two story building with a waiting room, front office, and exam rooms on the first floor and the cages and play areas for the sheltered cats were on the second floor.
“What have you got there, Ichigo?” Miss Ogawa, the veterinary technician asked.
“I found a cat on my way home. He seems healthy except for his leg. I think it’s broken.”
“I’ll let Dr. Hara know.”
Ichigo sat down, removed his hoodie from the cat, and stroked the cat’s sleek, black fur. He squinted. The shelter was well lit, but the cat’s fur seemed to have a greenish glow to it. Maybe it was from the rain. There was no telling what the meteor shower had done to the atmosphere. Ichigo looked at his hand. It looked normal. Dry in fact. He lifted an eyebrow. The way it had rained, the cat should’ve been soaked. How long had it been out there? As if sensing his thoughts, the cat looked back at him. Looked him straight in the eye as if it wanted to say something. Ichigo swallowed hard and then remembered his training. Blink slowly. He did. The cat blinked slowly back and, Ichigo could’ve sworn that the corner of the cat’s mouth turned up in a smile.
“Ichigo! Back already? I hear you have an injured cat,” Dr. Hara said.
Dr. Hara was a dapper man, always in a suit and tie under his lab coat. He stood around five foot seven and always had a smile on his face and a kind word. He was the reason why Ichigo wanted to be a veterinarian. He loved how people could see and feel how much Dr. Hara loved his job. Besides, he let Ichigo observe simple procedures and mentored him.
They took the injured cat into an exam room, looked him over, gave him preventative shots, and made sure he was otherwise healthy. His leg wasn’t broken. Just sprained. Dr. Hara wrapped it.
“Can he stay here?” Ichigo asked.
Dr. Hara shook his head. “Sorry, Ichigo. We’re full. We’ll have to plan an adoption event soon to clear space.”
“I guess I’ll take him then,” Ichigo said. The cat looked at him with that otherworldly gaze again as if he wanted to speak. “What sort of cat do you think this is?”
“Domestic shorthair,” Dr. Hara said, putting the sharps into the biohazard box on the wall.
Dr. Hara smiled. “That’s because he’s meant to be your cat. I’ll go get you a carrier.”
“I guess so,” Ichigo said, smiling back.
Ichigo took the cat home, amazed at how docile the cat was being. Most cats hated carriers and would meow, hiss, and spit while being put in one. This cat allowed Ichigo to place him inside without a fight and hunkered down without a sound. Ichigo caught the train home and watched the cat watch him the entire time. He nearly missed his stop. He walked home thinking of the cat’s brilliant green eyes and wondered what to name him. It had to be something awesome.
“Are you as hungry as I am?” he asked the cat. “Let’s have dinner.”
Ichigo unlocked the door to his house, greeted his grandfather, and took the cat up to his room. He took him out of the carrier and placed him on the soft blanket at the foot of his bed. He scratched the cat’s ears and went downstairs to make dinner.
Bast watched the human, Ichigo, leave the room, his heart strangely full. What a sweet, young man. His leg felt considerably better after being wrapped and it was healing already. He’d be as good as new in an hour or so. Healing was slower on Earth. He considered changing to his human form and revealing his identity. He owed Ichigo that much. No point in playing the cat when he didn’t have to or want to be. He sensed Ichigo’s loneliness. He needed a friend. A pet would’ve helped, but someone human would be better. Bast took a deep breath and let it out slowly as his body changed. He lay on the bed, naked, save for the wrap around his right ankle. He rolled onto his stomach and looked around.
Anime and superhero posters covered the walls. A bookshelf full of manga caught his interest and he got up, hopped to the shelf, and selected a volume at random. Yaoi manga. Bast smiled. So Ichigo was into yaoi. Fascinating. He read through the book while he waited for Ichigo to return.
“Dinner will be ready soon, Ojiisan,” Ichigo called.
Bast looked up from the book and smiled at Ichigo when he walked in.
Ichigo stumbled to a stop and stared open-mouthed at Bast.
Bast knew what he was looking at. He looked human enough in form, but still alien enough to stand out. His skin was the same inky black as his fur had been. His eyes were still brilliant green and his hair, despite being human, stuck up like cat ears on either side and trailed down his back. Ichigo’s eyes roved down his body and Bast remembered he was naked.
“Hello, Ichigo Nakamura. Thank you for taking care of me,” Bast said with a bow. He rose to find Ichigo still standing there. He’d closed his mouth, but now a trickle of blood ran from his nose. Had Bast spoken Godish instead of Ichigo’s language? No. He was certain Ichigo had understood him. The nosebleed must’ve been some kind of stress reaction.
Ichigo shook himself. “Who are you? Are you-are you the cat?”
Bast smiled again and Ichigo’s pale skin flushed. “Yes.”
“I had a feeling you weren’t just a cat,” Ichigo said, his voice wavering. “Wh-what are you?”
“You’re shitting me,” Ichigo said, taking a step back. His eyes were wide and his skin went pale again.
The slang would take some getting used to. “You seem afraid. Don’t be. I don’t hurt those who have helped me. Here,” Bast said. He took a tissue from the box on the desk and dabbed at the blood from Ichigo’s nose. “That’s better.”
Ichigo stepped back into the hallway. “You’re a god?”
“Yes,” Bast said. “My name is Bast. Why don’t you come back in and sit. You’re so pale.”
Ichigo sat at his desk and tried to focus on anything but Bast. He was a bit on the short side, but he definitely looked like a god with a lean, well-muscled body, smooth skin, beautiful eyes, and a silky voice that could charm Ichigo right out of his clothes. Bast was a wet dream come true. Was this a dream? The gods were real, he knew, but this…this made him want additional proof.
“I thought cats had a goddess,” Ichigo said. “Bastet.”
“My mother,” Bast said. He picked up another volume of manga. “Although I have been female from time to time.”
Ichigo closed his eyes as if it could block out what he was hearing. “Do something god-like.”
Bast lifted a perfectly arched eyebrow. “God-like?”
Bast shrugged, put the manga down, took a deep breath, and began to shrink. He was the cat again, looking up at him. He sat and washed a paw.
“Change back then.”
Bast finished washing his paw, took another deep breath, and became him humanoid self again. He picked up the manga. “Satisfied?”
“Okay,” Ichigo said. “Okay. Wait. What are you reading?”
Bast slipped away from him. “Yaoi.”
“That’s mine,” Ichigo said, trying to corner the god on one side of the bed. He dove across the bed, but Bast slipped away again.
“I know,” Bast said. He grinned at Ichigo and waved the volume at him.
“Look, Bast…ard—wait. What’s that smell?”
“Uh oh. It’s dinner,” Bast said.
“Shit!” Ichigo ran downstairs.
Bast and Ichigo ate dinner at the desk. Bast’s ankle was mostly healed now and he moved it around to exercise it as he sat eating pan-seared fish, rice, and miso soup. He looked up to find Ichigo watching him. The human wasn’t bad looking. He was tall, although most men were taller than Bast, and pale with black, shoulder-length hair. His features were angular and he had no facial hair. His eyes had the epicanthic fold of his Japanese heritage and were full of kindness and curiosity. Ichigo smiled and Bast looked away, a funny feeling in his chest.
“So a god needs to eat? Are you mortal in this form?” Ichigo asked.
“Not mortal. Just human-like with human needs, wants, and desires,” Bast said. Had he just said desires aloud? What was wrong with him? Ichigo was human. He shoved the last of the rice into his mouth to keep from saying anything else. He stood. “Where’s the kitchen? I’ll do the dishes.”
“No!” Ichigo said. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to yell. It’s just…well…you’re naked.”
Bast put a hand on his hip and posed. “Like what you see?” What was wrong with him? Why was he flirting with this human?
Ichigo went an alarming shade of pink and took in a breath. He looked Bast up and down and swallowed hard. “I-I-I’ll find you some clothes.”
Bast chuckled as Ichigo fled into his walk-in closet. Humans were fun to play with, but he felt slightly guilty, which was absurd. Then again, Ichigo had been nothing but kind to him and here he was reading his manga, eating his food, and teasing him. Now the young man was even clothing him. He poked his head into the closet.
Like what you see? Bast had asked. Of course Ichigo had liked what he’d seen. He went to the very back of his closet and tried to gather his thoughts and calm his stirring cock. Clothes. Bast needed clothes. As soon as possible. He grabbed a pair of jeans he wore in high school. He’d grown five or six inches since then, they’d probably fit the god.
Ichigo jumped and bumped his head on a low hanging shelf. He grabbed a t-shirt and turned to see Bast poking his head into the closet. He thrust the bundle of clothing into the god’s arms and sat on his bed with his hands covering his crotch. “The bathroom’s down the hall. Please don’t go wandering around.”
“I won’t,” Bast said.
Ichigo watched him leave and lay on his bed with an arm flung over his face. He couldn’t hide Bast forever. They needed a cover story. What in the world would people believe? It wasn’t as if the god could blend in with the other Japanese. He didn’t look quite human enough to be a foreigner either.
“Sorry I teased you earlier and thanks for the clothes,” Bast said. He laughed. “The Black Panther t-shirt was a nice touch. Bit on the nose though.”
“Huh?” Ichigo sat up and saw that the t-shirt he’d randomly grabbed showed the comic book character. “Oh. I just picked up what was on top of the shelf. I didn’t look at what I was doing.”
“My ankle is much better too. Thanks again, for helping me.”
“You-you’re welcome. Are you leaving now?” Ichigo asked. There was a sudden pain in his heart.
“I can’t go back to the gods’ realm until the way opens again. That could be tomorrow or a year from now,” Bast said. He shrugged. “And I do owe you for helping me. I could stay here if you want me to.”
Ichigo let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. He did want Bast to stay. His parents were away all the time and there was no one to really keep him company except for the Internet and his half senile grandpa. “We need to come up with a cover story for you. My grandpa will be okay with you being here, but my parents, if they come home this month, will need an explanation.”
“Would it help if I changed my appearance?”
“You can do that?”
Bast laughed. “I am a god. I can do almost anything. How’s this?”
Ichigo gasped. Bast now stood before him now looking perfectly human and somewhat Japanese. His skin was tan as if he’d spent the summer swimming every day, but his eyes were still beautifully green. Ichigo couldn’t help but smile. “I guess something of your godhood always remains.”
“Now you’re catching on,” Bast said, returning the smile. “So what’s my story?”
“Hmmm. You’re a foreign exchange student from…we’ll just leave it at foreign exchange student. My parents did apply to house one a few years ago and there was a waiting list, so it’s technically not a lie. We’ll tell my grandpa that too.”
“Okay. I probably shouldn’t go around as ‘Bast’ either.”
“I was going to call you ‘Makoto’ when you were a cat,” Ichigo said.
“I like that. I’m ‘Makoto’. Makoto Asada.”
“Let’s go do the dishes then.”
Makoto followed Ichigo downstairs. Whatever Ichigo’s parents did left them quite well off and it was evident in the house’s size and modernity. Each room was clean, spacious, and full of beautiful tables, couches, lamps, décor, and plants. It reminded him a little of a museum. It made him slightly sad that it didn’t seem to be lived in. No wonder the guy was so lonely. Where were Ichigo’s parents anyway? Ichigo stopped at a room at the end of the hallway where the bitter tang of cigar smoke scented the air.
“Ojiisan? This is Makoto Asada. He’s an exchange student staying here for the year,” Ichigo said.
Makoto stepped into the room to see a bespectacled older man with a cigar between his yellow teeth. He sat in a big armchair with a beer in one hand and watched a flat screen television with disinterest. A trash bin filled with bottles sat next to him and he burped, fouling the air with the smell of alcohol. His expression appeared vague until he got a good look at Makoto. His eyes narrowed and he quickly removed the cigar from his mouth and put the beer on the table. Then he stood and bowed low. He hadn’t seen a young, Japanese man. He saw Bast, the god. Makoto wondered at this and then he noticed the old man looking from him to Ichigo with a smile on his face. Something told Makoto that the old man knew about the yaoi manga upstairs.
“Ojiisan? Daijoubu?” Ichigo said, putting a hand on the old man’s arm. “Are you all right?”
“Genki,” the old man said. He sat back down and put the cigar back in his mouth. He handed Makoto his empty dishes with an air of reluctance. “Fine. Don’t forget about your test this week. You need to study.”
“Yes, sir,” Ichigo said. “Let’s go.”
Makoto balanced the dishes in his hands and followed Ichigo to the kitchen. He breathed a small sigh of relief that the kitchen didn’t look as austere as the rest of the house. There were a few dishes in the stainless steel sink. The pot of miso soup was on the stove and he could still smell the fish Ichigo had cooked. They did the dishes in silence, Makoto washing, Ichigo drying, until a thought occurred to Makoto.
“What are you studying in school?”
“Just the basics right now, but I plan to be a veterinarian. That’s why I’m volunteering at Kitty Paws and shadowing the veterinarian there.”
“You’d be great at that,” Makoto said.
“Uh…thanks. You might want to enroll in school too. You can volunteer at the cat shelter with me or get a part-time job if you want to. I know the bakery is hiring.”
“I think I’d like to go to culinary school,” Makoto said. “My mother always said I need to learn how to cook for myself.”
“There you go then,” Ichigo said.
Makoto looked out of the window above the sink. It was dark out now and a few stars dotted the night sky. There were too many city lights to see the constellation to the gods’ realm, but he was sure it hadn’t reappeared yet. He missed home, but Earth was too intriguing right now to go back. It wasn’t like there was anything in the gods’ realm waiting for him…that he wanted to deal with anyway. His fiancée and the alliance could wait.