My crazy old Nan loves making decisions on a whim. Last week, she took up flamenco dancing. This week, she’s adopted a trouble-making Chihuahua named Paisley. This wouldn’t be much of a problem, were it not for the very crabby tabby who also lives with us.
Man, I never thought I’d miss hearing Octo-Cat’s voice, but his silent protest is becoming too much to bear, especially since we just opened our new P.I. business together.
Things go from bad to worse, of course, when Nan and I discover that someone has been embezzling funds from the local animal shelter. If we can’t find the culprit soon, the shelter may not be able to keep its lights on and those poor homeless pets won’t have anywhere to go.
Okay, so I just need to find the thief, rescue the animals, and save the day—all while trying to find a way for Octo-Cat and Paisley to set aside their differences and work together as a team. Yeah, wish me luck…
Read the First Three Chapters
Hi, I’m Angie Russo, and this last year has been quite the wild ride for me. Yes, it’s been exactly one year since my entire life changed for the better.
Sure, I’ve come face-to-face with a lot of dangerous characters lately—murderers, kidnappers, creeps, you name it—but I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s.
Here’s the deal… It all started at my former job as a paralegal.
A wealthy old woman had just died, and her heirs had gathered at our office for the official will reading. I was instructed to make coffee, and, well, that was the last time I ever attempted such a dangerous feat.
You see, I got electrocuted and knocked unconscious. I woke up with a wicked fear of coffee makers—oh, and also the ability to talk to animals. At first, I could only talk to this one cat named Octavius Maxwell Ricardo Edmund Frederick Fulton. He was one of the primary beneficiaries of his late owner’s estate, and I now call him Octo-Cat for short.
Long story short, he told me the old lady was murdered and begged me to help him catch the killer. We did, and we pretty much became best friends in the process. Now he lives with me, and I oversee his care and also his generous trust fund.
And because I accidentally made an open-ended deal with him when I needed to get him to wear a pet harness, we now reside in his former owner’s exquisite manor house. Yes, a ten-dollar neon green harness ended up costing me a cool million.
At least most of the money was my cat’s, anyway.
Yeah. A lot has happened over the last year. My cat and I solved three more murders together. He got catnapped. I finally quit my paralegal job so we could open up a private investigation firm together, and oh, yeah… I got a boyfriend!
My nan might be even more excited about that one than I am. She’d been trying to matchmake me for years, and now that she’s finally succeeded, she’s not quite sure what to do with herself.
Yes, she continues to bake up a storm in the kitchen and take her community art classes, but lately she’s also been flipping through new hobbies like they’re going out of style. There’s been flamenco dancing, learning Korean as a second language, even Pokémon Go. She claims Pikachu understands her on a spiritual level. Personally, I don’t get it.
My mom and dad are busy with their jobs as Blueberry Bay’s local news anchor and designated sports guy. Nan and I have them over once per week for a nice home-cooked meal. Did I mention my grandmother and I live together?
It’s not weird. She’s not just the woman who raised me, but she’s also my best friend and the most amazing person I know. She even helps with Octo-Cat’s lavish demands and rigorous schedule.
And between the two of us, we keep him dining on only the seafood flavors of Fancy Feast and drinking Evian from his favorite Lenox teacup.
Most recently, he’s demanded a brand-new iPad Pro. His reasoning? That he needed a professional upgrade to go along with our new business venture. Never mind that he uses his tablet primarily to play various fish tank and koi pond games.
He’s given his old device to the president of his fan club, a raccoon who lives under our front porch. His name is Pringle, and he’s a pretty all right guy most of the time. Octo-Cat definitely enjoys having a fanboy to support every single decision he makes, including his regular criticism of me.
It’s true. Octo-Cat complains a lot, but I also know he loves me tons. That’s why I’m planning a special evening to celebrate our petaversary. I’m not sure he remembers, but after tonight he will.
I can’t wait to see the look on his little kitty face when he sees what I have planned for him. Let the games begin!
* * *
It wasn’t easy hiding my party preparation from Octo-Cat, but so far he hadn’t managed to catch on. Rather than cooking something myself, I asked Nan to pick up some grilled shrimp and lobster rolls from the Little Dog Diner in Misty Cove. It’s a bit of a drive, but worth every mile.
Nan would be returning any minute, which meant it was time for me to wake the guest of honor. I found him sleeping in his five o’clock sunspot on the western side of the house. “Wakey, wakey!” I cried in a sing-song voice he loathed.
“Angela,” he groaned, “haven’t you ever heard that you should let sleeping cats lie?”
“I’m pretty sure the expression is—you know what? It doesn’t matter. C’mon, I have a surprise for you.”
Whoa, close one. I almost used the word dog in a sentence. That little slipup would have ruined our whole night, but I caught myself just in time.
“A surprise?” he asked, yawning so wide that his whiskers overlapped in front of his nose. “What is it?”
“You’ll see. C’mon.” I patted my leg and motioned for him to follow.
But he sat his butt back down on the hardwood floor and flicked his tail. “Tell me, or I’m not coming,” he demanded.
“Octo-Cat, can’t you just—Ugh, fine. Today marks one year since we first met. Do you remember that day?”
“So you mean it’s been one year and one day since Ethel died?” he asked, raising his eyebrows and staring me down.
Oh, I didn’t think of that. I hoped he wouldn’t be too sad to celebrate.
“I’m just giving you a hard time,” he said with a cruel laugh, trotting over as he shook his head. “Happy anniversary, Angela. I’m glad you’re my human.”
Footsteps sounded on the porch. I hadn’t even heard Nan pull up, but now she was here, and we could officially begin our little party. I’d asked my boyfriend, Charles, to wait a couple hours before he turned up, since he and Octo-Cat didn’t get along particularly well as of late.
I secretly loved that my cat was jealous of my boyfriend but hoped that he’d eventually get over it.
“Nan?” I called when Octo-Cat and I reached the bottom of the stairs, but she still hadn’t entered. Padding over to the door, I twisted the knob and—
A wagging ball of black fur pounced into the house.
“I’m here! I’m home! Oh, boy. Oh, boy. Oh, boy!” the little dog cried, then immediately squatted and peed on the welcome mat.
I turned to Octo-Cat, who stood on the last stair with his back arched and his tail at full-blown puffball status. “Angela, what is this?” he screamed, unwittingly drawing the dog’s attention over to him.
“A cat! A cat! Oh, boy! Oh, boy! Oh, boy!” The dog, who upon closer examination appeared to be a Chihuahua, bounded right up to Octo-Cat and pressed his nose to the cat’s butt.
Octo-Cat hissed, growled, swiped with his claws, and sent the little dog shrieking away.
Yipe! Yipe! Yipe!
“What’s all this commotion?” Nan asked, charging into the house, spotting the little black dog and scooping the poor, whimpering baby into her arms. “Okay, fess up. Who hurt my Paisley?”
“Nan…” I pinched the bridge of my nose to stave off the rapidly building headache. “Why is there a dog in our house?”
“This is Paisley. Yes, she is,” Nan cooed in a baby voice, and the Chihuahua licked her cheek, the horrible, scary cat and the pain he’d inflicted apparently forgotten. “She lives here now.”
“Oh, heck no!” Octo-Cat shouted from his spot on the stairs. “I thought we were celebrating me tonight, not taking a visit to the ninth circle of hell!”
“Nan,” I said trying to make peace before everyone lost their cool. “We can’t have a dog here. Octo-Cat hates dogs.”
“Hatesssssss,” Octo-Cat hissed, then growled again.
“He hates me?” the shivering little dog asked. “He doesn’t even know me. I’m Paisley, and I’m a good girl.”
Nan continued to talk in a goochie-goo voice, keeping her eyes glued to the mostly black tri-color Chihuahua in her arms. “Well, I saw this little girl at the shelter and right away she stole my heart. What was I supposed to do?”
She looked up and narrowed her eyes at me. “Was I supposed to let her stay in that cage all by herself? Or, Heaven forbid, let them put her down when the shelter got too full?” She covered Paisley’s oversized ears and frowned at me.
“No, I mean…” I sputtered. “No, of course you couldn’t do that.” Ack, I was such a softie.
“Octavius is just going to have to get used to his new housemate, because I’m not taking her back,” Nan said in a way that made it more than clear that this topic was not up for discussion. “C’mon, baby, let’s go outside and meet the forest creatures.”
Once Nan and Paisley were safely outside, I searched around for Octo-Cat so I could both explain and apologize on Nan’s behalf.
But he was nowhere to be found.
Crud, he was never going to forgive me for this one.
I found Octo-Cat at last in my bedroom, where he was crouched under my bed, his wide amber eyes glowing in the darkness. When I flopped down on my belly to get a closer look, he emitted a low growl that made me jump in my skin.
“Go away,” he added in a rumbly, somewhat terrifying voice.
“That’s not fair,” I enunciated as if scolding a petulant child. “Might I remind you that I was just as shocked by that as you were.”
I searched my brain for the right way to spin things, the way that would make him understand. Unfortunately, all logic tended to go out the window whenever Octo-Cat was unhappy—and today’s unhappiness had already reached a record-breaking level.
With great difficulty, I managed to put a happy-go-lucky smile on my face as I said, “But, I mean, if you think about it, it kind of makes sense. Right? We have each other, and now Nan has a best fur friend of her own, too. Isn’t that nice?”
“No,” the tabby replied stubbornly and turned his face toward the wall.
I hated that he was this upset, but there was nothing I could do without him being willing to at least meet me partway. “Will you at least come out for our petaversary?” I begged, practically whined.
Octo-Cat turned toward me again; his eyes still held that eerie glow as he considered my request. “I’m not coming out,” he said at last. “But if you bring my shrimp and my Evian here and promise not to let that dog in, I shall consider sharing the celebratory meal with you in our private quarters. Privately.”
I couldn’t help but sigh. “Are you really not going to leave the room at all?”
He flicked his tail, waking a cloud of dust and pet hair that rose from the carpet in a sickening flurry. Wow, I really was not a good housekeeper.
If Octo-Cat noticed the filth, he didn’t seem to mind—not when he already had much bigger fish to fry. “Not until that interloper is gone,” he informed me with another hiss. “Need I remind you that this is MY house?”
“No, you needn’t.” It felt strange using Octo-Cat’s overly refined language, but he often listened better when I did. And right now, I needed him to understand that controlling Nan was every bit as difficult as trying to control him. Both were so stubborn about the things they wanted that we would have no choice but to find some kind of compromise to the Chihuahua situation.
I sighed again. “However, given your stance, it would probably be best if I brought your litter box up here as well. I’ll be back in a little bit.”
After pushing myself back into a standing position, I left my tower bedroom, careful to latch the door fully behind me. As much as I didn’t want to trap Octo-Cat inside, I was also incredibly worried about what might happen to Paisley if she nosed her way in there. She was half his size at most and clearly didn’t have an aggressive bone in her whole body.
My cat on the other hand?
He had a whole skeleton’s worth.
I found Nan in the kitchen setting out a pair of dog bone-printed ceramic bowls for Paisley in a spot just to the left of the pantry. “Sorry about Octo-Cat,” I muttered, ignoring the fact that he would be upset that the dog’s bowls were so near his stash of Fancy Feast.
“That cat was mean,” the Chihuahua whined as she rubbed at the fresh claw wound on her nose.
“He didn’t mean to hurt you. He’s just difficult sometimes,” I offered with what I hoped was a reassuring smile.
The little dog jumped up and pawed frantically at my leg, wiggling her whole body as she cried, “Hey! Hey! Hey! Did you just talk? Do you know how to talk? You’re a very good, very smart girl!”
I bent down and scooped her up, and Paisley immediately set to licking my face as if it were covered in gravy or bacon grease or some other irresistible treat. “Yes, I can talk to both animals and people,” I explained. “I don’t know why, though. It’s kind of just the way things are. Would it be okay if I talked to you?”
Paisley wagged her tail so hard her entire body shook, then she broke apart into a shivering fit. Whether she needed a sweater or some anti-anxiety medicine, I couldn’t say for sure. The shivering continued as she jumped into an excited monologue. “I’ve always wanted my own humans, and now I even have one that talks! The other dogs back at the shelter won’t believe it! When are they coming for a visit? Or, oh! Maybe they could move in with us, too. This house is plenty big, and there are lots of dogs that need homes.”
I laughed at her enthusiasm, even though her reminder of all the homeless pets that had remained behind following Nan’s impromptu adoption of Paisley made my heart feel heavy. “I’m sorry, Paisley. I wish I could adopt all your friends, but I already made a promise to take care of my cat the best I can, and he would be very upset if we filled our house up with dogs.”
As soon as I set Paisley back on the floor, she curled up against my foot and pouted. “He’s a very mean kitty.”
“Yeah, he kind of is, but he’ll grow on you, I promise. And I bet you’ll grow on him, too. He just needs time to get used to having you here. It’s a very big change.”
“It’s a big change for me, too.” The little dog ran in a circle to indicate the giant manor in which she now lived. “At the shelter I had to share a cage with two other dogs. It was very crowded. That’s why I thought we could give some of the others a home, too.”
Three to a cage?
I hadn’t spent much time at the local animal shelter, but from what I remembered, we’d never had an overcrowding problem in the past. Maybe things had just been a bit different for Paisley than the others due to her extremely small size.
I already felt guilty about not being able to adopt more animals. Thinking of them now all cramped together made me feel that much worse. Maybe a few volunteer shifts or a small donation were in order, both to help them out of a potentially tough spot and to ease my guilty conscience.
“Hey,” I said, crouching down so that Paisley and I were at closer to the same level. “How would you like to visit the shelter with me tomorrow? You can say hi to your friends, and I’ll see if there’s anything we can do to help them find new homes.”
Paisley let out a high-pitched cry and began to shake furiously once again. “You’re not making me go back. Are you?” the dog yelped. “Because Nan said this is my home now.”
This poor thing. No wonder Nan had been charmed enough to bring her home.
“Oh, sweetie. I promise I wouldn’t do that to you. Nan’s right. This is your home now, and nothing’s going to change that.”
Paisley stood on her hind legs and reached her paws up my leg. “I love you, new mommy,” she said. “This is the best day of my entire life.”
My heart swelled at the Chihuahua’s confession of love. It had taken me almost dying at the hands of a gun-toting psychopath to get Octo-Cat to even admit he liked me. Yet Paisley had only needed a single short conversation to forge the deepest of bonds. As much as I adored my Octo-Cat, it sure felt nice to be appreciated rather than insulted.
Hmmm. Maybe I’m not as much of a cat person as I once thought.
Of course, I immediately felt guilty for thinking that even in passing. It was our petaversary, after all, and I’d promised my feline overlord freshly grilled shrimp by way of celebration.
It was time to leave Nan and Paisley to celebrate their own adoption day together while I did my best to ease the poor, put-out kitty that sat waiting for me in my bedroom tower.
I closed my eyes tight and wished that one day we could all be one big happy family. I didn’t have a candle to blow out and it wasn’t anyone’s birthday, but I hoped the special wish magic I’d grown up believing in could save us now.
Honestly, we were going to need a miracle to get my stubborn cat to change his heart when it came to the poor, shivering dog that needed us.
Just in case, I said a quick prayer, too.
One way or another, we would find a way to all live peacefully together.
After all, we didn’t have any other option.
When I returned to my room with grilled shrimp and Evian for both Octo-Cat and myself, I found him sitting on my pillow flicking his tail pensively.
The moment he saw me, he popped to his feet and began to pace the length of the mattress. “Well, did you talk some sense into Nan about the unappreciated monstrosity she has wrought on our house? On my house?” He didn’t even look at me as he spat each word. If he had, I’m sure my face would have given away everything he needed to know.
“Umm, a little,” I hedged, trying hard not to sigh yet again. “Mostly I talked to Paisley, though, and she is really happy to be here.”
Octo-Cat stopped pacing and stared at me with open disdain. “And I’d be really happy for her to not be here.”
I let out a groan and sunk down onto the bed beside him. “I know change is hard, but—”
The tabby diva lifted a paw and shook his head. “I’ll stop you right there. If you’re not for me, then you’re against me. And thus…” He paused and sighed heavily. “I bid you good night, Angela.”
I watched helplessly as he hopped off the bed and crawled back beneath it. “Hey, I didn’t ask for any of this, either,” I called after him.
But Octo-Cat refused to respond.
“We can’t just send her back. From what Paisley told me, the shelter is already pretty overcrowded, and that’s not a very nice way for her to have to live, especially when there’s a family who wants her. Our family.”
He still said nothing to acknowledge me or my arguments.
“You can’t just ignore me,” I huffed, throwing myself back onto the bed in resignation. “How are we supposed to solve our cases if we’re not talking to each other?” I asked while studying a smudge on the ceiling.
Octo-Cat didn’t answer, which was probably for the best regarding this last point. The truth was even though we’d opened Pet Whisperer P.I. for business more than one week ago, we still had yet to book our first case.
If I could do it all over again, I might have rejected the kooky name that Mom and Nan had saddled us with. Around Blueberry Bay, calling yourself a pet whisperer pretty much guaranteed that folks thought you were crazy—or worse, a fraud.
And I was neither, thank you very much.
Maybe if I started a website or took out an ad, business would pick up a bit. My boyfriend Charles had already offered to refer business from the firm our way when he or one of the associates needed extra help. I’d originally rejected his offer, preferring to either succeed or fail totally on my own. Now, however, I was starting to wonder if I was being too stupid, too proud. If I could help people, do what I loved, and get paid for it, then who cared how I came about my clients?
“Can we please talk about this?” I begged my still fuming cat.
“You already know where I stand on the matter. When you decide to join me, then I’ll decide to talk to you,” Octo-Cat mumbled in that horrible patronizing tone I loathed.
“Fine, then you can spend our petaversary alone.” Even though I knew he wasn’t going to answer me, I still stormed off and slammed the door.
Of course, I hated to leave my kitty companion like that, but being together at that moment was, unfortunately, creating more problems than it was solving. Maybe with a good night’s sleep, we’d be able to start this conversation fresh in the morning.
But until then, I just couldn’t take any more fighting.
And so I set his food and water on the floor, went to retrieve his litter box, and then moved my bedding to one of the spare bedrooms so we could both have a bit of time to cool off. Once I’d settled in, I shot Charles a quick text to let him know not to come over that night and went to bed several hours earlier than I’d planned.
Happy Petaversary to me!
The next morning, I woke up feeling refreshed and much less irritated than I’d been the night before. The moment I left my temporary quarters, Paisley raced over to lick my ankles and tell me about the great adventures she’d had touring the estate with Nan.
“There are so many great places to pee! So many!” she gushed as I reached down to scratch her between her adorable oversized ears. “I love it here! It’s like a paradise for dogs! I can’t believe I get to live here now! I love my new life! I love you!”
I chuckled to myself while she zoomed off again. She ran in such fast, tight circles that soon she was almost completely out of breath from the exertion of it all. When Paisley slowed down and approached me again, her tongue lolled from the side of her mouth and she panted heavily, smiling up at me with unmistakable affection.
“I’m glad you like it here,” I told her. “Nan and I will do everything we can to make sure you love everything about your new life. Hey, by the way, do you still want to go to the shelter with me for a quick visit today?”
“Oh, boy. Oh, boy! Oh, yes! Yes, please!” the little dog trilled, running another manic lap before returning to me once more.
I laughed again, something I could tell I’d be doing lots of now that Paisley was a part of my world. “I don’t think they’re open yet, but let me check their hours online and find out when they do.”
Paisley followed me up the stairs and toward my bedroom—the bedroom where I just happened to know that one very crabby tabby would still be sitting by his lonesome and bemoaning his bad luck.
I stopped so abruptly that the eager Chihuahua bumped into my lower leg. “Um, I’m sorry, but Octo-Cat is going to be upset if you come in with me. Would you mind waiting outside for me? I promise to come back very soon.”
The little tricolor dog plopped her butt down on the top stair and wagged her tail furiously. “I will be a good girl and wait, because that’s what you said to do!”
Well, that was an entirely different response than I ever would have received from Octo-Cat. Oh, a pet owner could most assuredly get used to this. I wiped my face of the smile that had just spread from cheek to wicked cheek and quietly let myself into my cat’s self-imposed prison.
“Octavius?” I called out, using his preferred name in the hopes it might earn me some sorely needed brownie points. “Are you in here?”
“Of course I’m in here, Angela,” he growled from beneath the bed. “But I also smell that the dog is out there.”
“Oh, Paisley? She’s not coming in. I—”
Just then, the door burst open and an exuberant Paisley bounded through the door and rushed straight under the bed. “I heard you call my name. I’m a good girl. I’m coming to you!” she called as she shot past me in her renewed pursuit of her new cat roommate.
“Betrayal!” Octo-Cat cried, shooting past me and bolting down the stairs in a whirlwind of fluff and attitude. “Betrayal of the highest order!”
Even from all the way up here, I heard his electronic cat flap beep and pull open from the foyer.
Paisley at least hadn’t given chase. Instead, she stood proudly at my heels, beating a steady drum with her small black tail against the floorboards. “Did I do good, Mommy?” she asked.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her no. “You did good,” I hedged. “But next time, wait until I say come. Can you do that?”
“Yes, Mommy. I surely can do that! You’re my best friend, and I love you!” With this said, she began licking my toes and didn’t stop for at least three whole minutes.
Okay, fine. So maybe I was starting to find her enthusiasm a little annoying…