Terrier Transgressions

I’m finally coming to terms with the fact I can speak to animals, even though the only one who ever talks back is the crabby tabby I’ve taken to calling Octo-Cat. What I haven’t quite worked out is how to hide my secret…

Now one of the associates at my law firm has discovered this strange new talent of mine and insists I use it to help defend his client against a double murder charge. To make things worse, I kind of have the hots for this Charles Longfellow, III.

And even worse than that? Octo-Cat can’t stand the guy and not-so-lovingly refers to him as “Upchuck.” Ugh! Despite none of us being happy about it, we’re a team now, which means it’s up to us to find out who committed the crime our client is being blamed for.

Throw in a spastic Yorkie who hasn’t figured out his owner is dead, and oh boy… How is this my life now?

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Read the First Three Chapters!


Chapter 1

Hi, I’m Angie Russo, and I have a talking cat for a pet. Well, he only talks to me, but still. A few months have passed since he came to live with me following the murder of his owner—a sweet old lady who was poisoned by a member of her own family in a greedy inheritance grab.

Since then, Octo-Cat and I have been settling into our new life as roommates, and he’s nice to me more often than not just so long as I feed him his breakfast on time and never, ever call him “kitty.” He’s even learned how to use his iPad to call me on FaceTime so we can check in with each other while I’m at work.

Yes, his iPad.

Have I mentioned just how spoiled he is?

Not only does he have his own tablet—and a trust fund, too—but he insists on drinking Evian fresh from the bottle and will only eat certain flavors of Fancy Feast when served on specific dishes and according to his rigorously kept, though fully unnecessary, schedule.

I have to admit he’s grown on me, something I honestly never thought would happen. I even kind of like my job as a paralegal at Fulton, Thompson and Associates these days. Things have been pretty interesting since the Fultons left town rather abruptly and our firm lost its senior most partner.

A cutthroat competition as to who will take his place has ensued. Until Mr. Thompson decides whom he’d like to promote, though, we’re simply Thompson and Associates. Lots of candidates—both from within our firm and from outside—have been passing through our office in hopes of securing the coveted position at Blueberry Bay’s most respected law firm, but Thompson is having a hard time making up his mind.

Can’t say I blame him. I definitely wouldn’t want to be in his shoes.

Our firm is now a bit infamous following the surprising murder involving one of its partners and his family. Everyone wants the scoop, but Mr. Thompson has made it very clear: we aren’t supposed to discuss what happened with anyone.

In the meantime, he has hired a new associate to help keep up with the newly increased workload. Charles Longfellow, III, came to us highly recommended with a great resume and even better looks.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a crush but—boy—do I have it bad for Charlie. He’s got this thick, wavy hair that falls in a perfect dark swoop on his forehead. He’s tall, like maybe-played-basketball-in-high-school-but-probably-not-in-college tall, and you could easily get lost in his deep green eyes. I know, because I already have a few times.

Yes, as much as I usually prefer books to boys, I often find myself a bit twitterpated whenever Charles is near. That’s probably how I made such a colossal mistake in the first place…

Now I’m being blackmailed about my biggest secret, the fact that I can talk to animals.

The worst part? I kind of like it.

I should probably start at the beginning, huh?

Well, here goes nothing…

* * *

Octo-Cat called me via FaceTime just before noon. I was at the office, of course, but since he knew not to call unless it was an emergency, I decided to put my research on hold to answer him. Besides, almost everyone had left the firm for an early lunch meeting, leaving me more or less alone in the building.

“What do you need?” I asked after scanning the premises just in case I wasn’t as alone as I’d thought. Normally I took my calls with Octo-Cat in the bathroom, but one of the junior associates had been holed up in there for at least half an hour before he left—and I definitely wanted to avoid whatever disaster scenario he’d left behind.

“There’s a fly in my Evian,” my cat complained with a keening mewl. His face looked utterly scandalized as he leaned in close to the camera.

“Oh, you poor thing,” I cooed while rolling my eyes just out of his view. Octo-Cat was definitely too spoiled for his own good sometimes, but then again, I received a five-thousand-dollar monthly allowance for his care, so I really couldn’t complain too much.

“My thoughts exactly,” he answered with a grimace and a sigh. “I need you to come home immediately to rectify this situation.”

“I can’t. I’m at work,” I reminded him with a beleaguered sigh of my own while clicking through my overfull email inbox idly.

Octo-Cat growled when he noticed he didn’t have my full attention. “I thought you were supposed to only be going part-time now?”

Why was I constantly explaining my life choices to a cat? He rarely remembered what I told him, anyway. We’d had this exact same conversation about my work at least three times already. Rehashing it now felt like the ultimate exercise in futility.

Still, it was easier to explain yet again than to deal with one of his hissy fits.

“Yes, technically I am part-time,” I explained patiently. “But I need to help out extra until Thompson finally hires a new partner. It’s been really busy around here, and unfortunately I just don’t have time to stop home and pour you a new cup of water right now. I’m sorry.”

His eyes narrowed, ready to go to war over such a simple thing. “But don’t you receive a generous monthly stipend to ensure I’m cared for in the manner to which I am accustomed? Because I most definitely am not accustomed to having a wiggly-legged fly swimming in my Evian.”

Once again, it was easier to cave than it was to argue for hours or days on end. “Aargh, fine. I’ll send Nan by to pour you some more water. Happy?”

He yawned, which only annoyed me more. “Not exactly. It will take me days to recover from this horrible event. Could you make sure Nan knows she needs to throw out the contaminated cup?”

“You are a cat,” I said between clenched teeth. “You are supposed to be a fearsome hunter, not a spoiled baby. You know, other cats even—”

“Angie?” a deep, dreamy voice broke into the middle of our conversation.

Oh, no, no, no. Everyone was supposed to be gone!

I spun around in my chair to find none other than Charles Longfellow, III standing behind me and gawking over my shoulder at the image of Octo-Cat on my phone screen.

“Um, hi, Charles.” I tittered nervously as I pushed the button to end our call, but it was too late. He’d already heard and seen more than enough to figure out my secret. The best I could hope for now is that he would think one or both of us had gone crazy.

I took it as a good sign that he stood looking at me as if I’d sprouted a second head. Perhaps that would have been less strange than what he’d really walked in on.

“Is everything all right?” he asked, raising one thick eyebrow in my direction. The air suddenly felt impossibly thin like the office had been transported to the top of the nearest mountain.

I nodded, desperate for Charles to go away and stop questioning me. “Perfectly all right. Thanks,” I lied, wishing I’d inherited Nan’s legendary acting skills. As it was, I could tell my colleague wasn’t fooled by my feeble attempts to downplay the situation.

Sure enough, his voice dripped with sarcasm as he said, “Really? Because it seemed like your cat needed some help with his…” A delicious smile crept across his face, stretching from one high cheek bone to the next. “Evian? Is that right?”

My mouth fell open from shock, but no additional words came out to explain away the freak show my crush had just witnessed.

“Well?” he prompted, widening his eyes at me. “Were you or were you not just having a conversation with your cat?”

I tucked my hair behind my ears and swallowed hard before stumbling over my answer. “Um, I call him sometimes when I’m away. He has separation anxiety so…” I gave him my most ingratiating smile, but it didn’t seem to work. I was seriously outmatched here.

“But it sounded like maybe he was talking back to you,” Charles insisted. “Like you were having an actual conversation with each other.”

I blinked hard as I stammered, “What? No, don’t be silly. Of course I can’t talk to animals. I mean, who can?”

“You, apparently,” Charles said, narrowing his gaze at me. Clearly he wasn’t going to let me off the hook until I revealed the one thing I most wanted to hide.

I swallowed the giant lump that had become lodged in my throat, then broke out in hysterical laughter. “Gotcha! I can’t believe you fell for my little office prank.”

Charles shoved both hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels, but didn’t say anything.

Oh my gosh. Why wasn’t he saying anything?

My heart galloped like a wild stallion as my nervous laughter fell away.

Charles studied me for a long time, and stupidly I couldn’t bring myself to look away. “You’re coming with me,” he said.

“What?” I crossed my arms over my chest in defiance. “No. I have too much work to catch up on here.”

He placed his palms on my desk and leaned down so our faces were only a few inches apart. Given pretty much any other circumstance, I’d have enjoyed having his gorgeous face so near to mine.

As it was now, though? I was absolutely terrified.

“You’re coming with me,” he repeated with a devilish grin. “Unless you want me to tell everyone what I saw.”

I gulped. “Everyone?”

“Everyone,” he confirmed before returning to his full height and straightening his tie.

Completely bewildered and unable to see any practical alternative, I rose to join Charles.

“Excellent,” he said, leading me to the door and motioning for me to go through it.

I turned back to study him. “Where are we going?”

“My place,” he answered coolly as we strode through the parking lot toward his car. Charles had never invited me anywhere before, especially not his apartment. Unfortunately, something told me I wouldn’t like what was waiting for me there one bit.


Chapter 2


About five minutes after leaving the office, Charles and I pulled up to the Cliffside apartment complex. I was surprised to find that he lived in the budget apartments rather than the nicer condos on the other side of town. Normally, Cliffside was for newly graduated students or those who were otherwise just passing through.

As an attorney, Charles could easily afford somewhere nicer—and safer, too. Crime rarely occurred in Glendale, but when it did, nine times out of ten it happened here. As a criminal defense attorney, perhaps he wanted to be closer to his client base. Still, most of the crimes our firm dealt with fell under the category of white-collar crime. With its stained carpeting and peeling paint, Cliffside was anything but white collar.

Did Charles living here mean he wasn’t planning on making Blueberry Bay his long-term home? Was he just passing through like so many of the others who lived in this run-down cluster of buildings?

Even though he was kind of blackmailing me, I hoped he’d stick around a bit more permanently. Despite everything, I still liked him and preferred his company to the others at the firm. Lately, Bethany and I had formed a tentative friendship, but we often found it hard to relate to one another. We just came from two very different worlds.

Despite his fancy name, perhaps Charles and I weren’t so different, after all. No, I hadn’t grown up poor, but Nan had raised me to be humble even as others were showering me with praise. Her mantra had always been that the stage was for stars, and real life was for real people.

Maybe Charles had grown up under similar guidance, although Cliffside was a little more “real life” than even I preferred.

He’d remained tight-lipped on the drive over and stayed quiet still as he led me up the stairs to the third floor.

“This is me,” he said, turning his key in the door.

I shrugged and followed him in.

Immediately we were greeted by a hyper, barking dog, who was so excited to see us he piddled right on the floor at our feet.

“Sorry about that!” Charles cried, grabbing a roll of paper towels from the nearby counter. “He just gets a little excited sometimes.”

“I’ll say.” I politely patted the little dog on the head but resisted the urge to pick him up, seeing I was in no mood to be peed on today.

Something struck me as odd, though. Charles had already been in town for at least a month, but a quick glance around his apartment showed more unopened boxes than actual furniture or home decor. So, how did he already have a dog? And what did it do all day while he put in the long hours Thompson required of all his associates?

Charles finished cleaning up the mess, washed his hands, and motioned for me to make myself comfortable on the lone futon that sat against the living room wall.

“Where’s all your stuff?” I asked conversationally, feeling more than a little unnerved when he sat down beside me on the much too short futon.

The terrier also hopped up when he patted the seat beside him.

He just shrugged, not seeming the least bit embarrassed by my question. “I sold everything before moving east and haven’t had the time to pick up much since arriving.”

That made sense. He’d come to Maine by way of California, and as far as I knew, he didn’t have any family nearby. Why anyone would want to leave guaranteed sunny weather to hole up in small-town Maine, I’d never understand, but still, I was happy to have him here in Blueberry Bay.

The little dog spun in happy circles, racing from Charles’s lap to mine and back again and again. The poor thing was obviously deprived of the regular attention he needed.

“If you’re so busy, then why do you have a dog? That isn’t really fair to him.” I didn’t mean to sound accusing, but I knew very well from Octo-Cat that animals hated being left alone all day while their owners pursued lives outside the home. No wonder the little guy peed on the floor the moment he came through the door.

“No, I’ve only had him for a little while,” he said with a frown. “And before you can say anything more, I know I don’t have time for a dog but… well, it’s kind of a long story, and it’s why I asked you here.”

My curiosity was definitely piqued now, but first, I had to clarify one thing. “You didn’t ask me here,” I said with a knowing look. “You forced me.”

His handsome face pulled down in a frown. “I’m sorry. Really, I am. It’s just.. I didn’t know how else to get you to come, and I’m kind of desperate here.” At least he had the decency to appear apologetic now.

I nodded even though I didn’t really understand what he was talking about yet. Obviously, he didn’t understand that I would have been more than willing to follow him anywhere if only he’d asked nicely.

Charles stroked the tan and gray, silky-coated dog and launched into his story. “This is Yo-Yo. He’s not mine. I found him, actually.”

I immediately went into fix-it mode. “How long ago? Did you call the shelter? I’m sure someone’s really missing him and hoping he’ll come home.”

Charles shook his head and cleared his throat, glancing from me to Yo-Yo before he said, “No. His owners are dead.”

I scooted a little farther from him on the futon. “What? How could you possibly know that if he’s just some dog you found?”

“The address listed here.” He thumbed the tag on the Yorkie’s collar. “And I know his owners are dead because I’m defending the person accused of their murder.”

Well, I’d heard more than enough now. Jumping to my feet, I cried, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. I may not be the one who’s taken an oath of ethics, but this seems really, really wrong. What are you hoping to accomplish by keeping this poor dog hostage?”

Charles stood, too, holding Yo-Yo against his chest with one arm and reaching the other toward me. I yanked myself away before he could make contact, though. The last thing I needed was my batty hormones intervening here.

“My client didn’t kill Yo-Yo’s owners,” he said, his eyes begging me to understand. “He’s innocent.”

“Yeah, everyone says they’re not guilty, but you know what? Usually, they are.” I briefly considered grabbing Yo-Yo and making a run for it. That poor, little dog. First his owners had been murdered, then he’d somehow inexplicably wound up with the man defending their killer.

“No, it’s not like that,” Charles insisted. “I know he didn’t do it, but the evidence against him, it’s bad. Like I said, I’m desperate here. So when I saw you talking to your cat, I thought maybe, just maybe, you could be the answer to my prayers. You could save an innocent man from jail and help get justice for Yo-Yo’s owners, too.”

I considered denying my ability, insisting that there was no way I could do what he was asking for, but Charles just looked so needy—and Yo-Yo also chose that exact moment to whimper and stare at me with sparkling, little doggie eyes…

“Ugh, fine!” I shouted, sinking back down onto the futon. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Relief washed over Charles’s face as he lowered himself beside me. “Thank you. You’re a lifesaver!”

“Yeah, well, I haven’t actually done anything yet,” I grumbled. There was absolutely nothing about this situation I liked.

“The fact that you’re willing to try means everything,” Charles said, and for the briefest of moments something passed between us.



That special bond between a blackmailer and his blackmailee?

Really, I had no idea.

He stood again, then set Yo-Yo on the futon beside me. The dog jumped on my lap where he immediately began licking my face, his tail wagging wildly with each lap.

“Hey, Yo-Yo,” I said, completely unsure of myself. The only animal I’d ever actually carried on a conversation with was Octo-Cat, and he’d talked to me first. This thing right now with Yo-Yo felt crazy, unnatural, and uncomfortable by comparison. Still, I had to try for the sake of Charles and his client. And for Yo-Yo, too.

“I understand you lost your owners,” I said slowly with an even voice. “Can you tell me what happened?”

The Yorkie continued licking my face without any signs of slowing down, so I picked him up and put him on the floor to see if it could help him focus.

“What happened to your owners?” I asked again. “Did someone murder them?”

Yo-Yo yipped merrily and hopped back up on the futon beside me. Now he decided it was a good time to douse my hand in a slobber bath.

“What did he say?” Charles asked eagerly. His eagerness made this whole thing that much more frustrating. I’d always hated letting people down. Yes, even when they were blackmailing me, I guess.

“He barked,” I said simply.

“Yes, but what did it mean?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted honestly.

His face fell. “But I thought you could talk to animals?”

“I talk to my cat, but that’s it.”

“So why can’t you talk to Yo-Yo?” This was the hundred-thousand-dollar question. I’d stopped questioning my sanity when it came to my ability to talk to Octo-Cat but still had no idea why I could speak to him or what the extent of my powers might be.

I raised my palms and shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’m trying.”

“Well, try harder,” he urged. “It’s really, really important.”

“I am trying,” I muttered to Charles through gritted teeth, then turned back to Yo-Yo with my most pleasant expression. “Hey, there, little guy. If you could talk to me, it would be a huge help. Maybe start by telling me what you really think of this guy you’re living with now?”

I hooked a thumb toward Charles and made a goofy face, which resulted in Yo-Yo grabbing hold of my sweater and giving it a firm tug.

“Hey, stop!” I cried, but this only made him tug harder. When I finally managed to wrestle my shirt away from him, it had been stretched beyond repair. I leaped to my feet so he couldn’t destroy any other parts of me before we were through here.

“What did he say?” Charles asked, hope reflecting in his dark eyes.

“He said you’ve got the wrong girl,” I answered. “And that he liked my sweater but still thought it deserved to die a horrible, untimely death.”

Charles deadpanned. “Just like his owners, huh?”

Okay, now I felt bad, but it didn’t change anything about my inability to speak with Yo-Yo. I’d tried. It hadn’t worked. It was time to move on.

“I don’t know what he said or even if he said anything,” I explained, hoping Charles would finally take me at my word. “I guess I can’t talk to dogs.”

“But you can talk to cats?”

I shrugged noncommittally, but he seemed to interpret this as my agreement.

“Great,” he said, shuffling through the items in a junk drawer before extracting a long, black leash. “C’mon, Yo-Yo. We’re going for a walk,” he cried in a slightly higher pitched voice that made me forget my irritation for a moment—but only a moment. “Want to go for a walk?”

“And I’m going back to work,” I said, traipsing toward the door. “Drop me off on your way to wherever it is the two of you are going.”

“Sorry, can’t,” Charles answered while the Yorkie ran furious, barking circles around the apartment to convey his enthusiasm. “We need you to come with us.”

I crossed my arms and eyed them both suspiciously. “Why?”

“Because we’re going to your house to talk to your cat,” Charles explained, grabbing Yo-Yo into his arms and clipping on the leash.

To my house?

Crud. Octo-Cat was definitely not going to like this.


Chapter 3


Less than two miles stretched between Charles’s apartment complex and my rental home, which meant we were in one place almost as soon as we’d left the other.

I opened the door to find Octo-Cat waiting for me with a rapturous look upon his face.

“Finally!” he cried. “I’ve been so thirsty.” His expression quickly changed to outrage, though, when Yo-Yo nosed his way into the house and gave Octo-Cat a big, wet kiss right on the nose.

Charles pulled back on the leash, then lifted the visiting dog into his arms.

Octo-Cat shook with fury as a bead of drool dripped down his face and onto the carpet below. “Why would you do this to me? Haven’t I already been through enough today? First the fly and now a-a-a dog?” he spat out that last word as if it were the foulest curse word he could imagine.

“What’s he saying?” Charles asked with rapt interest.

“He’s mad at me,” I admitted. “And he’s not happy about Yo-Yo being here, either.”

Octo-Cat arched his back and hissed. “You can say that again,” he muttered before jumping onto the kitchen table.

“Just give me a minute here,” I whispered to Charles before joining my irate tabby in the kitchen.

Octo-Cat took a giant leap from the table to the counter, then sat with his tail flicking back and forth wildly. “Unbelievable,” he growled without so much as looking at me.

I knew I was in the wrong here, but I also had no other choice but to comply with Charles’s wishes. If anyone else found out about my special ability to talk to cats, I’d lose my job, be made a laughing stock, and possibly have to move away from the only home I’ve ever known to start life over with a clean reputation.

Hopefully Octo-Cat would understand that my hands were tied once I had the chance to explain a bit more. First, though, I needed to find a way to give Charles what he wanted. Once I did, the threat hanging over my head would be eradicated, and Octo-Cat could go back to being mad at me for the usual reasons.

I grabbed a fresh bottle of Evian and a clean china tea cup from the cupboard. The cup came from the set we’d inherited from his late owner Ethel and was used for the sole purpose of offering Octo-Cat his daily libations. After presenting the fresh water to him, I made quick work disposing of the dead fly.

He took one quick lap from the dish, then trotted off to my bedroom without so much as a thank you.

“You’re welcome!” I called after him with a scowl. Jeez, it felt like no one appreciated me today.

“So what now?” Charles asked, bending down to unleash Yo-Yo.

“No, wait,” I cried, but unfortunately it was too late.

The Yorkie immediately darted into my bedroom, barking manically the whole way. A dreadful hiss-growl-meow hybrid reverberated through the house, and a second later Octo-Cat appeared with his tail poofed out so large that it resembled that of a raccoon.

“I hate you!” he screamed, tearing through the house as the dog gave chase.

“Grab him!” I yelled to Charles, who made a leap for the rambunctious animal and missed.

“Hey, Yo-Yo!” I called, racing back toward the kitchen. “Want a treat?”

The Yorkie immediately turned in his tracks and trotted after me, releasing a joyous series of high-pitched barks. I reached into the fridge and grabbed a slice of lunch meat to offer him as a treat just as Charles managed to re-clip the leash to his collar.

“Well, that was an experience,” he said with a weary chuckle.

“I wouldn’t laugh if I were you,” I told him. “It’s going to take forever for my cat to forgive me now.”

Charles stared at me in confusion.

“If he won’t forgive me, then he also won’t help. Don’t you know anything about cats?” I grumbled, despite the fact that I hadn’t really known anything about them myself until a few months prior.

He looked properly chastised as he hung his head and let out a giant sigh. “Sorry. What should we do?”

“We aren’t going to do anything just yet. You are going to take Yo-Yo outside, and I guess I’ll go offer up my firstborn in a last-ditch attempt to get Octo-Cat to talk to me.”

Charles began to smile but quickly retracted it immediately upon seeing the stone-cold serious expression on my face.

“Uh, okay. C’mon, Yo-Yo,” he said, yanking the little dog toward the door.

“Don’t come in until I tell you it’s okay,” I shouted after them.

“It’s never going to be okay,” Octo-Cat hissed, emerging from wherever it was he’d been hiding. “Why would you do that to me?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to,” I rushed to explain. “He made me.”

Octo-Cat wagged his tail, which had mostly returned to its normal size. “So you sold me out for a pretty face,” he cried. “I thought we were friends! I thought we were family!”

My heart clenched. Normally I didn’t let his dramatics get to me, but this particular reprimand cut deep. This is what I got for confiding my workplace crush to my cat. He was thankfully getting better at telling humans apart and could accurately guess gender about four times out of five now. Of course, when I needed him to identify a murderer, he was hopeless, but when it came to figuring out my crush? Sure, that was no problem.

“I didn’t want to,” I repeated yet again. “He walked in on us FaceTiming earlier and forced me to help him.”

Octo-Cat scoffed. “So he walked in on you. Lie! Seriously, Angela, how hard is that?”

He rarely used my name, and even more rarely my birth name. Oh, yeah, I was in serious trouble now. Someone would most definitely be waking up to vomit in her shoes tomorrow—and, sadly, that somebody was me.

“Look,” I said, trying to reason with him. “Regardless of whether you would have handled things differently, we’re here now. Charles wants us to talk to that dog to learn about how his owners died so that he can better defend his client who is being wrongfully accused of their murder.”

Octo-Cat nodded but maintained his cold, narrow gaze. He’d been watching a lot of Law & Order reruns lately in an effort to better understand my job, and I was glad to see he’d learned enough to keep up with the legalese required to understand the situation.

“Okay, fine,” he said after a thoughtful pause. “But why didn’t you just talk to the dog yourself? Why did you need to drag me into this circus?”

“Because,” I whined, wishing that he could just take me at my word for once in our lives. “I couldn’t understand Yo-Yo, and I don’t think he could understand me, either.”

“Again, why couldn’t you have lied? For goodness’ sake, Angie, make something up so we can all move on with our lives.”

Well, it was nice to know my cat had no problems with lying to get out of a scrape. My morals were less questionable, however. Also, I’d already tried lying to Charles and it hadn’t worked.

At this point I had seriously begun to worry about the ramifications of my midday work break. How much time had passed? Had Thompson and the other associates returned to the office and realized I was missing yet?

“I am not going to lie to him,” I said, choosing to take the high road. “Especially not about a case. What if his client really is innocent? What if he has to spend the rest of his life in jail because my lie messed up the case? Yeah, no thank you.”

Octo-Cat groaned and rolled his eyes, a new human gesture he’d picked up from me. “So what? You need me to translate because you can’t speak dog?”

“Yes, please.” I clasped my hands in front of me. I wasn’t above begging, and Octo-Cat just so happened to love it when I groveled.

He took on a self-important air, glancing down his nose at me. It made his eyes cross, and I had to fight to suppress a laugh. “You know dogs have a much simpler language than cats. It matches their simple minds. If you understand me, then you should definitely be able to talk to Dum-Dum out there.”

“So you’ll help?” I asked, praying he could see how desperately I needed him.

“Fine, I’ll help” he said with a growl. “But you owe me. Big time.”

I raced to the door to let Charles and Yo-Yo in before my cat could change his mind. “Keep him on the leash this time,” I instructed as they passed back through the threshold into my home. “Better yet, keep him on your lap.”

Charles took a seat on my living room couch with the dog perched on his lap. “What now?” he asked as I took up residence in my arm chair.

“First, promise me that you won’t tell anyone about any of this.”

He bobbed his head in rapid, enthusiastic agreement. “Yes, I promise.”

I nodded, too. “Good. Now remember I don’t even know if this is going to work, but give me a few minutes and we’ll be able to find out.”

Charles fell silent, his eyes fixed squarely on me. It seemed that maybe Octo-Cat frightened him a bit, and that was just fine by me.

I turned to my tabby companion and said, “Would you please ask Yo-Yo what happened to his owners?”

Octo-Cat hopped up onto the coffee table and faced the dog on Charles’s lap before repeating the question.

Yo-Yo gave a happy, little yap and began to pant, which my cat translated as, “He says his owners are the nicest people in the whole world and that the guy he is staying with right now is nice, but he misses his family and wants to go home.”

“He said all that?” It took Octo-Cat at least ten times longer to translate that than it took Yo-Yo to speak it.

“I told you,” Octo-Cat said, taking a quick break to lick at his paw. “Dog language is incredibly simple. What he actually said translates to ‘best, miss,’ but when dealing with dogs you have to add a ridiculous degree of enthusiasm to get a proper sense of what they want to tell you. It’s exhausting, really.”

“What are they saying?” Charles asked.

“Shhh,” Octo-Cat and I both hissed.

Charles slumped back on the couch and watched us with a mix of intrigue and fear.

Turning back to my cat, I requested, “Would you please ask him if he was present when his owners were murdered?”

When Octo-Cat relayed my question, Yo-Yo let out a long, shrill series of screams and clawed at Charles’s lap in a panicked attempt to get away.

“Oh my gosh, what happened?” I cried at the same time Charles asked, “What the heck was that about?”

I looked to Octo-Cat for an explanation.

The cat’s eyes widened as he revealed, “He says his owners aren’t dead, and that pretending they are is a mean and terrible joke to make.”

So much for using Yo-Yo to plan a defense for Charles’s client. It sounded as if the little dog were being murdered himself simply by being asked about their deaths. How could we get any useful information from him if he didn’t even realize they had died?

One thing was for certain: I wasn’t going to be the one to break this poor, sweet doggie’s heart.

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