The fur is about to fly between a cheerful cat sitter and a grumpy hockey nerd in this hilarious and charming rom-com.
Kitty Hart has become internet famous as the Kitty Whisperer for her expertise on all things feline, and as a result, her cat-sitting business is booming. But lately, she has a terrible feeling that maybe her life isn’t quite going where it’s supposed to—especially after falling face-first into her newest client. Not exactly the best first impression.
Fortunately, Miles Thorn is just as bad at first impressions. Strike one: he doesn’t like cats, especially Prince Francis, the haughty and mischievous Sphynx his mom left in his care. Strike two: tackling her to the floor in a misguided attempt to save the pet he continually calls “the gremlin.”
As awkwardness slides into attraction and things start to turn purr-sonal, will these two complete opposites ever be able to find their furry-tail ending?
The Kitty Whisperer
“I can’t believe this is real.” I stare in mild disbelief at the top trending advertisement on my computer screen for several seconds before I move my cursor to hover over the website name. I’m afraid that what’s being advertised and what will pop up when I click the link are two very different things. I squeeze one eye shut and narrow the other, already expecting the worst.
A knock on my office door has me accidentally clicking the link instead of closing the window.
“The Kitty Whisperer?” Thankfully it’s not my boss. It’s my best friend and colleague, Josh Halpern.
I spin around, eyes wide. “Wanna say that a little louder? I don’t think Tom at the end of the hall heard you.”
He steps into my office and closes the door, one eyebrow raised as he surveys the space.
It’s a small office, but it has a window. The view is of the side of the building next door, but it opens, so that’s nice. And it’s better than my last job, where I worked in what we affectionately called the dungeon. Three other guys and I had cubicles in the basement. It was next to the laundry room, and noisy, and sometimes it smelled a bit funky, unless the laundry was on the dryer cycle. Then it was hot, but at least it smelled like dryer sheets.
“Uh, dude, unless you’re actively looking to get your ass fired during your first month, you probably shouldn’t be checking those sites at work.”
“It’s a cat-sitting service, not one of those sites. And to be clear, I would not willfully use the company server for that kind of browsing.”
Josh is the reason I have this job, and I don’t want to do anything to make him look bad. Or get myself fired before I even have a chance to prove I’m an asset to the team. We’re heading into the regular NHL season, and my role as a data analyst is to run player stats and help management know when to use players to maximize performance.
“You just gotta be careful, man,” he warns. “You’re new, and any non-work-related browsing should be limited to nonwork hours. Management is pretty strict about that.”
I motion toward the cup of ramen noodles in front of me. “It’s my lunch break, so I figured it would be okay.”
“Oh. Well, you don’t have to eat lunch at your desk.”
“I know. I just needed to get this situation managed, so I was killing two birds with one stone.”
“What situation is that?” He steps up beside me and leans in closer to get a better look at my screen, his face scrunching in confusion. “Is this for real?”
“It certainly seems that way, yes.” The website has an overwhelming number of cat videos. And there’s a meowing soundtrack in the background that takes all of five seconds to become grating. I turn down the volume.
“Why are you on this site?” He raises a hand in front of his face as a space cat gif cycles every five seconds. It’s a lot. “Dude, can you do something, like click to another screen? I’m getting a headache from all the flashing.”
I click on one of the social media icons, navigating away from the website.
“Kitty Hart? A hundred thousand followers? That can’t be her real name,” Josh mutters. “It must be a gimmick.” He steals the mouse from me and clicks on the individual images, apparently no longer concerned about the inappropriate use of my work computer. It’s understandable, since this is an alluring albeit strange rabbit hole to fall into. The first picture is a closeup of “Kitty” holding a…you guessed it…kitty. A tiny one with a smooshed-in face.
Kitty—the human—smiles widely at the camera, apparently unconcerned about the awkward angle of the selfie, so we’re essentially looking right into the black holes of her nostrils. Regardless, the image has seven thousand likes and nearly four hundred comments, most of which are positive with lots of heart eyes and people telling her they love her.
“Why are you creeping on this woman?”
“I’m not creeping. I need to find a cat sitter.”
“But you have a dog,” he reminds me, as if I’m unaware that my four-legged friend isn’t the psychopathic variety.
“It’s my mom’s. She’s in the hospital, and we’re heading to Montreal tomorrow night, so I need to find someone to look after the little gremlin while we’re gone.” My mother has been relentlessly asking the hospital staff about Prince Francis and messages me almost hourly for updates.
“She’s still there?” Josh drops down into the chair across from me. “I thought she’d be out by now and that they were just checking her over. Is everything okay?”
Josh and I have been friends since middle school, and he’s very aware of my family history. “I figured she’d be out in a couple of days, but the doctors are running some tests and think there’s more going on and that she wasn’t sleepwalking or whatever.” I rub my temple, feeling the pressure there. Three days ago, the police picked up my mom after she was found wandering around in her pajamas and a pair of slippers in the middle of the night. When she couldn’t tell them where she lived, they brought her to the hospital, thinking maybe she’d been on some kind of drug or something.
“Why didn’t you tell me this until now? Can I do anything to help?”
I normally see my mom on birthdays and major holidays. Any other time I ever tried to stop by for a visit, she would cancel, or forget, or reschedule and forget again.
I message her regularly and call, but she has a habit of making me feel like crap for not calling more. Doesn’t matter if it’s weekly or monthly or every other day; she would make it seem like I hadn’t reached out in an eternity. Over the past year, my text messages and calls would often go unanswered for days, or sometimes longer. But now I’m starting to see that maybe it wasn’t her being passive-aggressive.
And since she’s been in the hospital, I’m fielding countless messages and several calls a day from her. “I talked to a doctor a couple of hours ago. They want to keep her for more tests. I’m still getting my head around it.”
In addition to the stress of my mother’s hospital stay, we had a team meeting this morning where the general manager announced that I would be traveling with them to some of the games. Which is great, because it means I’ll have more opportunities to prove the value of my role. But it’s unexpected, an added layer of complication, since it means I can’t be here to deal with my mother, and I need a dog sitter. The owner of the team is old-school and is on the fence about having me on board. Josh is the one who pushed for them to give me a chance, so I want to make sure I don’t let him down, or the team.
It’s a lot. I can’t afford to take time off to deal with my mom, not at this point in the season, anyway.
“Right. Yeah. Does your mom have any friends you can ask to help with the cat?” He taps on the arm of the chair.
I flip a pen between my fingers. “There are a couple of neighbors, but the only one who might be capable of helping is on some six-week cruise, so that’s out. And I’m sure as hell not bringing the thing back to my place.” I can only imagine the stress it would cause my dog, Wilfred. He’s a Dane, but he seems to think he’s a teacup poodle with the way he’s always trying to sit in my lap. Plus, based on how much my mother’s cat doesn’t like people, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in assuming he’s not great with other animals.
“Yeah, I don’t know how Wilfred would react to a cat. They can be territorial. So a sitter it is, then.” Josh glances at the computer screen again.
“Apparently this woman is top rated on all the websites in the area as the best kitty whisperer out there.” Whatever the hell a kitty whisperer is.
“Say that again.”
“Say what again?”
He tips his chin up and smirks. “You know what.”
I roll my eyes but smile. I can deal with stupid jokes a lot better than I can deal with what’s going on with my mother and her cat situation.
“She has to know how that sounds. I mean, how can she not?” Josh says.
“Well, I’m about to call her to find out if she’s legit.” I pick up my cell and unlock the screen.
Josh rolls his chair closer, pushing me over a couple of feet so he can scroll her feed while I dial her number, set my phone to speaker, and listen to it ring.
She picks up on the second one. “Kitty Hart, the Kitty Whisperer. Please hold!” Her voice somehow manages to be sultry and upbeat at the same time.
“You are the handsomest man in the universe! Are you going to show me your belly? Oh yes, you are!”
She sounds like she should be a jazz lounge singer with the slight rasp and the somewhat singsongy tone she uses. I look at Josh, but her voice doesn’t seem to affect him in the same way, considering he’s silently laughing so hard he’s about to fall off his chair, so I focus my attention elsewhere.
“Who’s my favorite boy? Do you want a treat?” Something jingles on the other end of the line.
“Uh, miss?” I have no idea what’s happening right now.
“Just one second, please!” she calls out. “You need to ask for it nicely.”
I can’t decide if she’s intentionally trying to sound seductive or what. A muffled meow follows and the sounds of a digital voice, but I can’t make out what it’s saying.
The woman’s voice drops a couple of octaves. “Such a good boy. Oh! Listen to that motor run!”
Josh makes a cut motion across his throat and reaches for my phone.
“Okay! Sorry about that! I was in the middle of a training session. How can I help you?”
I swat his hand away and accidentally knock my phone off the desk in the process.
“Hello?” she calls from under my desk.
“Fuck,” I mutter as I try to reach it.
“If you’re just going to swear at me and breathe into the phone, I’m hanging up on you.”
“I wonder how often that happens,” Josh mutters.
I punch him in the back of the calf and manage to nab my phone. Just because I thought the same thing doesn’t mean I can afford to lose this potential contact. “No! Please don’t hang up!” I try to back out from under my desk and smack my head on the keyboard tray. “Ow! Shit. Sorry. I dropped my phone and now it’s covered in dust bunnies and I bashed my head on the edge of my desk trying to reach it. Don’t hang up, please.”
“Oh no! Are you okay?” She sounds genuinely concerned.
“I’m fine.” I manage to get myself out from under the desk, no thanks to Josh, who’s busy massaging the back of his leg while also grinning.
“That’s good. Dust bunnies aren’t nearly as cute as the real thing, are they, sweet little Misery? And wouldn’t you just love to chase one? Yes, you would! But you’re an indoor kitty, aren’t you?” She coos some more and then makes a sound that could be a sneeze, but I can’t be sure. “How can I help you, Mister…” It takes me a moment to realize she’s not talking to the cat anymore, but to me.
“Is that cat’s name Misery?”
“It is, and his brother’s name is Company. Misery loves Company. And it’s very true. Misery loves to hump poor Company any chance he gets. Don’t you, you frisky boy?” It’s followed by more cooing and Josh cough-laughing into his sleeve.
I silently threaten him with violence, and he manages to get himself under control again. Not that my threat has any real impact. Josh is built like a freight train, and I’m built more like…a more muscular upgraded version of Gumby.
“Hello? Are you still there?”
“Yeah. Yup. Still here.”
“I don’t think I got your name.” There she goes again with the sultry tone.
“Miles.” I clear my throat. “Miles Thorn.”
“Hi, Miles Thorn. I’m Kitty Hart, the Kitty Whisperer. I’m here to help with all your feline needs and questions. What can I do for you today?”
There is no way a human being can be this upbeat. I glance at the computer screen where Kitty Hart smiles back at me while dressed in a leopard-print cardigan, matching glasses, and a shirt that reads i’m a cat person. Or maybe it is possible.
“I uh, I need someone to watch my mother’s cat while I’m away.”
“Would you require the overnight service, or just the daily drop-in, feeding, and kitty love package?”
Josh makes a lewd gesture, and I spin around in my chair so I can’t see his face. “The kitty love—I mean the second option. Just drop-ins and feedings. I don’t know about the love part.” I scrub a hand over my face, take the phone off speaker and bringing it to my ear. Josh’s muffled laughter in the background isn’t helpful. This is the weirdest conversation I’ve ever had in my life, and that’s saying something, because over the past few days I’ve had some pretty freaking weird conversations with my mother.
“All kitties need love, isn’t that right, Misery? Yes, it is!”
“This one is…not the friendliest.” And I’m starting to question what exactly I’m signing on for. But the team leaves tomorrow evening, and with this job being so new, I can’t ask for time off to take care of a freaking cat. I could try a kennel, or whatever the cat version of that is, but I’d have to be able to catch Prince Francis, and so far all my attempts have left me are a bunch of scratches. The last thing I need is tetanus to round out my super-shitty week.
“Hmm. Well, I’ll just have to meet him or her and find out if that’s true, won’t I? Where are you and your kitty located? What dates will you need care for your feline friend?” she asks.
“Just west of Toronto, in Terra Cotta, and I’ll be away from Thursday to Sunday.”
“Oh! That’s a lovely location, and within my service area. Let me check my schedule.” It sounds like she hits the wrong button a couple of times.
I glance over my shoulder at Josh, who is now sitting in front of my desk, clicking on pictures of the Kitty Whisperer and scrolling through the comments.
“Okay! It looks like you’re in luck. I can definitely help. Would you be free this evening at six so I can meet the feline and get a sense of what they’re going to need while you’re away with your mother? Which, by the way, is very sweet.”
“Uh, that’s, uh…” I don’t know what to say, so I stumble over my words and avoid correcting her. “I can meet you at six.”
“Excellent. Why don’t you text me the address? Oh, and what’s the kitty’s name?”
“It’s Prince Francis,” I half mumble.
“How regal! I look forward to meeting Prince Francis tonight then! Have a wonderful afternoon, Miles. Meow for now!” And with that she hangs up.
“Don’t do it! Don’t you do it, Mr. Munchies!” I’m on the other side of the room, with a good twelve feet separating us. I can’t move fast enough to grab him before he knocks the vase of fresh flowers off the mantel, but I have other ways to deal with mischievous kitties.
His white and orange paw is raised in the air, little toe beans twitching. My hand is in my pocket, finger on the trigger. I need to be quicker on the draw than he is on the paw. I pull the baby-blue squirt gun free from my pocket, grateful that it doesn’t get caught on the inside of my cardigan this time. His eyes round and he rears back slightly as I close one eye and take aim and hit him directly in the face with the stream of cold water.
He yowls angrily and leaps off the mantel, knocking over a picture frame in the process, his tail swatting the vase, which teeters precariously for several terrifying seconds before it stills. I exhale a relieved breath and then groan at the sound of something crashing to the floor in the other room.
Most of the time I love my job, but dealing with cats who behave like wild teenagers is not my favorite. Although they’re often the same level of herdable.
I rush through the living room to the kitchen and suck in a horrified breath as I spot Hogwarts on the floor, pieces scattered all over the place. One of Mr. Munchies’s humans, Jeff, is a huge Lego fan. When he’s had a particularly difficult day, he comes home and unwinds by building something. Over the past several weeks he’s been working on Hogwarts. It’s quite detailed, with several buildings. The entire kitchen table is occupied by the project. Except now Hufflepuff’s dorm is no more.
I spot Mr. Munchies on the other side of the room, hiding behind the garbage can. I take aim, but he’s too fast, rushing off down the hall in a bid to escape the stream of water I’ve just shot at him. It misses, hitting the wall instead.
I sigh and slip the water gun back in my pocket, then check the time. I have half an hour to clean up this mess and drive across town to meet my potential new kitty and his human caretaker.
As I bend and start pushing the scattered Lego into a pile, my knee hits the floor, and a tiny plastic piece bites into the skin. Three more times I accidentally step on the camouflaged pieces and yelp in pain. I’m used to being scratched, and even bitten on occasion, but stepping on Legos is its own brand of torture.
Mr. Munchies makes another appearance, and when he’s sure I’m not going to spray him again, he rubs himself on my legs, meowing his apology for knocking over the Lego creation and causing me pain with all the Lego shrapnel. He steps on a piece, too, then does a donkey kick to unstick it from his paw. Once it’s free, he drops down on his butt, flops onto his side, splays his toe beans, gives them a lick, and then goes to work on his privates.
“Mr. Munchies, your manners are the worst.” I poke him in the side, and he lifts his head long enough to give me a disgruntled look, as if it’s my fault I’m cleaning up Lego while he’s in the middle of washing his furry nuts.
It’s hard to stay mad at him, though. This is his way of telling me he wants attention and that he doesn’t like being left alone. I get it. Loneliness and boredom are two emotions I’m not fond of either. Although, with cats like Mr. Munchies to take care of, I’m rarely bored. Lonely is different, because we can be surrounded by people or pets we love and still experience that hollow ache sometimes.
Once the Lego pieces are back on the table, I email Jeff to tell him about the mishap and that I hope I got all the pieces. I leave two small spray bottles on the edge of the kitchen table to deter Mr. Munchies from jumping back up, give him a few extra pets, and feed him dinner. But I forgo the treats because of his naughty behavior and then lock up behind me.
I’ve only been caring for Mr. Munchies for a few weeks, so he’s a work in progress. He’s getting better, but it’s a slow process.
The neighborhood he lives in is upscale, with big houses and driveways with interlocking stone and manicured gardens tended by landscapers. A couple of the neighborhood kids are riding by on their bikes. They both raise their hands in a quick wave as they head toward the park. The woman who lives next door to Mr. Munchies pulls into her driveway. I suppress an eye roll as she gets out of her Mercedes SUV. She’s always dressed like she’s going to a funeral, and her mood seems to match.
She opens the back door as Rufus, her black Lab, jumps out. He bounds through her garden and across Mr. Munchies’s driveway, tongue lolling, tail wagging, barking excitedly as he approaches me.
“Rufus! Come back here! Rufus! Come back!” his human screeches.
Rufus doesn’t heed her command. This isn’t new. But before he can jump up on me, I hold out a hand. “No jumping, Rufus!”
He comes to halt, but stands up on his hind legs, then bounces three times, like he’s doing his best Tigger impersonation.
“Sit, Rufus,” I command.
And he does. I fight to suppress my grin, because I’m aware that my ability to get this dog to listen to me drives his human up the wall.
I might be a cat person, but I love all four-legged creatures. Except the ones who look at me like I’m a decent meal.
“Good boy, Rufus. Good boy.” I scratch behind his ear while his tail thumps against the ground. “Who’s a happy boy?” I ask him.
His human stalks down her driveway, heels clipping angrily as she traverses the sidewalk and continues to strut toward me and Rufus. “I don’t know why he never listens to me.” She grabs Rufus by the collar. “Come on, let’s get inside.”
I could tell her why, but the last time I offered her advice she nearly bit my head off, so I smile and shrug.
She yanks once, twice, a third time, but Rufus’s butt stays firmly planted on the driveway.
“Come on, Rufus!” Her face is turning red.
I take a step back to give her and Rufus some space, and of course he follows me. Likely because he can smell the treats in my pocket. Eventually she gets him to leave, but he’s reluctant. He stops and plants his butt on the sidewalk three times before she successfully moves him from the driveway I’m standing in to hers. And he barks the entire way.
When I get to my SUV, I punch the new address into my GPS and check the time. It’s a twenty-two-minute drive, which means I’ll arrive shortly after six. I hate being late, especially for an introductory meeting with a potential new client. It sets a bad precedent.
I send Mr. Thorn a quick message to let him know and go on my way. Luck and the lights are on my side, and I manage to make it to the new house at six on the dot. Not early, but not late either. The neighborhood is older and more established, with modest houses. The streets are lined with mature trees, the sidewalks cracked in places. The yards vary: some have lovely gardens, and others are dominated by weeds. One house has fake lawn turf instead of real grass. I would hazard a guess that an elderly person lives there.
I pull up in front of an older, slightly rundown backsplit. The shutters look as though they once were dark blue, but they have faded to a murky blue-gray. The white siding is slightly yellowed. The front gardens need a good weeding, and the driveway is cracked and pitted in places. A gold Buick that’s at least a decade old is parked in the driveway.
It makes me curious about the person who lives here, and whether this Miles person researched my rates before he called. I’m competitively priced, but talking about money is one of my least favorite parts of this job. Not because I don’t think what I do is valuable, but some people don’t understand how I can earn a living taking care of other people’s cats. Often those people are dog people. They can defend dog walkers, but they can’t comprehend that cats need just as much human companionship as their more dependent four-legged counterparts.
A sleek black car passes me and pulls into the driveway. It’s a nice car. Probably expensive. I glance at my reflection in the rearview mirror, checking to make sure my hair isn’t a complete wreck since I was driving with the windows down.
I grab the lint roller from the seat beside me, give my cardigan and chest a quick roll, cut the engine, take a deep breath, and give myself a pep talk. “You can people today, Kitty. Humans and cats aren’t that different. Smile, be friendly, and don’t bite.” I roll my eyes at myself. I’m much better with animals than I am with humans. Animals don’t have conversational expectations the way humans do. But I can deal with people in small doses. And I’m successfully running my own business where I converse with clients regularly, so clearly I’m not that terrible with the whole social thing.
I round the hood of my SUV as a man opens the driver’s side door. His foot hits the paved driveway. The first thing I notice are his black polished shoes. The second are the socks covered in a bone and paw print. Dog person? Then the black dress pants. I allow my gaze to climb as he steps out of the car, rising with his lean frame.
His attention is on the phone in his hand, which gives me the opportunity to do a thorough visual assessment. And I embrace that opportunity with enthusiasm.
He’s wearing a pale blue button-down and a tie with what looks like a binary code pattern on it. His jaw is angular, his lips full, his nose straight. He’s wearing black-rimmed glasses, his dark hair is parted at the side and styled with purpose. My mouth goes dry as I put together the individual components and create a whole picture.
Miles Thorn is exceptionally good-looking. The kind of good-looking that makes me think of Hallmark movies, or bumping into someone and accidentally on purpose dropping everything in my hands just to have an excuse to stage an introduction.
“Hi! You must be—”
He doesn’t even spare me a glance as he cuts me off by raising a single finger. Then he turns away so his back is mostly to me and raises his phone to his mouth. “I’m meeting with a cat sitter right now. I’ll message when I’m done. Shouldn’t be long.”
I’m so busy being disappointed that’s he ruined his attractiveness by being horribly rude that I don’t pay attention to where my feet are going. My toe catches on the curb, and I stumble forward.
I lose the battle with gravity and go sprawling across the driveway. My purse flies out of my hand, and because I never zip it up, the contents scatter.
“Shit. Are you okay?” Polished black shoes appear beside me, and then two strong hands slide under my arms, lifting me back to my feet.
And now I’m back to finding him attractive. “I’m fine. Thank you. Embarrassed, but fine.” Heat climbs my neck and settles in my cheeks.
“What the hell happened?” He glances around as if he’s expecting someone to have been responsible for my clumsiness.
“I didn’t see the curb.” I touch my temple and realize my glasses are no longer on my face. Without them my vision isn’t the best. Not so bad that I can’t see someone standing in front of me, but bad enough that I can’t read road signs. “I lost my glasses.”
“I see them.” He sidesteps me and bends to pick them up.
Instead of handing them over, though, he brings them up as though he’s going to place them on my face like my eye doctor used to do when I was a kid. I startle and he ends up poking me in the cheek with one of the arms.
“I don’t know why I did that. Here.” He shakes his head and thrusts them at me.
Our fingertips graze with the handoff. It’s innocent contact, fraught with my embarrassment and his, but even with how mortified I am, warmth, not from mortification this time, spreads through my limbs and settles awkwardly in the pit of my stomach.
Do not get butterflies over a cute guy with questionable manners, Kitty.
I manage to get my glasses back on without poking out my own eyeball or bursting into flames, which I’m considering a win. There are new scratches on the right lens, but a bit of buffing should take care of it.
He checks his phone again, while asking, “You’re not going to sue me or anything, are you?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
He shoves his phone in his pocket. His cheeks, which are high and sharp, are tinged pink. “Nothing. Sorry. It’s been a day. You’re okay?”
“Fairly embarrassed and feeling like this is an introduction I wish I could erase and try again, but otherwise fine.” I extend a hand, wishing my mouth knew when to take a break with the awkward words and hoping we can start fresh with a handshake. “I’m Kitty Hart, owner of the Kitty Whisperer, cat care and training services. You must be Miles Thorn.”
He stares at my hand for a few seconds before he wraps his around mine. He has long fingers with neatly filed nails. There’s a mark of pen on his thumb. “You can just call me Miles.”
But it’s the strange hum that seems to run up my arm and then ping its way through the rest of my body that makes my brain cells turn off for a moment and my hormones fire up like a furnace on full blast. It’s also the reason my voice gets all husky when I say, “Hi, Miles.”
He smirks, like maybe he realizes he’s having this effect on me, and says, in the same husky tone, “Hi, Kitty.”
I let go of his hand and put some space between us. “I should pick up all this stuff and then meet Prince Francis.” I crouch and start gathering the items my purse vomited all over the driveway, like a drunk college kid after a night out on the town.
Miles stands there for a few seconds, watching, before he shoves his glasses up his nose and mutters, “Let me help.”
I can’t tell if he’s equally as awkward as me, or rude, or just…socially inept. I’ve always been what people call quirky, which is basically a nice way of saying I’m weird. I’m aware that driving around in an SUV that looks like a cat with the Kitty Whisperer advertised on the side is atypical. And I embrace that side of my personality. Why be beige when you can be a calico?
I shift and nab the tampons before Miles has a chance to.
“Wow, you have a lot of pens.” He gathers an entire handful. “And lip balms.”
“Your lips can never be too soft!” I say, then immediately wish I could drop those words down the closest sewer grate.
He gives me that smirky grin again, while tipping his head to the side, as if the smile weighs his head down. “Hmm.” He flips the lip balm between his fingers and holds it up. It advertises a book by one of my favorite authors. “I’ve never seen lip balm like this before. Is it man flavored?”
I snatch it from him and jam it back in my purse, feeling my face heat again. I can’t tell if he’s poking fun or not. “It’s swag from a book convention I went to.”
“They give out lip balms with half-naked dudes on them at book conventions?”
“The romance ones, yes.” I push my glasses up the bridge of my nose and grab the packet of tissues that fell out, and a used one I need to toss in the garbage.
“There are book conventions specifically for romance?”
“There are. Thousands of people attend them.” And now I sound defensive.
“Huh. I had no idea.” He passes over the mitt full of pens, most of which are also from the author convention I attended a few months ago with my sister, Hattie.
Once the driveway is clear and my purse is full again, I fall into step beside Miles as we head for the front door.
The porch is small, with a single rocking chair and a tiny bistro table. A wilted plant sits on top of it, looking like it’s in need of a serious drink.
Miles unlocks the door, but pauses before he opens it. “Just so you’re aware, my mom is a bit of a hoarder, and I haven’t had a chance to tidy up.”
“Don’t worry.” I smile in what I hope is reassurance. “I take care of cats for all types of humans.”
He nods once and slips the key in the lock, turning it until it clicks. He steps inside first, flips on the hall light, then motions me inside.
“You can keep your shoes on,” he tells me when I start to toe off my Bobs.
“I don’t mind.”
“It’s safer. My mother’s cat is a destructive little shit.” His tone does not imply affection.
“I see.” I try not to judge him for the derogatory way he refers to the cat. They’re only badly behaved when they’re in need of attention. I’m surprised when he doesn’t announce our arrival. “Will I be meeting your mother today as well as our feline friend?”
He moves away from the door, making more room for me to step inside the hall. The front entryway is narrow, and a small closet to the right is stuffed full of jackets and shoes. To the left is a narrow sideboard piled high with mail, magazines, and newspapers that have spilled over onto the floor. The name on the envelope reads Tabitha Thorn, who I’m assuming is his mother.
Miles shakes his head. “She’s in the hospital.”
“Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry.” I reach out and put a hand on his forearm, then retract it immediately, because I don’t know him well enough to randomly touch him. “I didn’t realize.”
“I didn’t say anything over the phone because there was no good way to phrase it, so I just left it out. And she’s okay, but there’s a solid chance she might need more care than she can get living here.” He waves in the direction of the living room.
And now I feel awful for bringing it up. Maybe he’s being nice by saying it’s okay. Maybe it’s the opposite of okay, and now I’m making things more uncomfortable. Maybe this explains why he’s been so rude. “That must be difficult.” I try to think of something else to say, but my brain seems to have lost the ability to form thoughts and put them into words of comfort.
He clears his throat. “It’s life. I’ll get it sorted out. Why don’t I introduce you to the resident demon so we can get this wrapped up? I’ve got a game to watch at eight.”
Or maybe he’s a completely heartless jerk. His mom is in the hospital, and he’s more worried about catching some game than he is anything else. And that’s the second time he’s referred to Prince Francis with disdain. It’s clearly not meant as a term of endearment. I’m trying to be understanding, but his impatience and tone aren’t particularly reassuring.
I follow him down the narrow hall, past a set of stairs leading up to what I assume are the bedrooms—they too are half covered in magazines and small boxes. We make a right, and I suck in a gasp as I take in the living room.
“As you can see, I wasn’t lying about the hoarding.” Miles tips his chin toward the very busy living room and stuffs his hand in his pants pocket.
I take in the room, my gaze skipping over the sideboard to the right. It’s full of those porcelain-headed dolls from the early nineteenth century, and their eyes follow me wherever I go. I suppress a shudder as I take a small step forward and absorb the rest of the room. There are two huge floor-to-ceiling shelving units on the other side of the room. They’re filled with knickknacks and framed photos. Between them is a gas fireplace. The mantel houses a plethora of gnomes, spanning every holiday. There are Christmas and Easter gnomes, spring and summer gnomes, one whose hat is decorated in a Canadian flag pattern. There’s even a Halloween gnome.
And then I spot him. The non-gnome amid the gaggle of stuffed, bearded men.
I reach out and grab Miles’s arm. I don’t know why, apart from the fact that I’m irrationally excited over the discovery I’ve made. This is like finding a poster of your favorite band at a garage sale.
In my excitement, I squeeze his forearm and am pleasantly surprised by the firmness. I must enjoy it a few seconds too long, because his gaze shifts to where I’m kneading his arm. I hastily release him. “You didn’t tell me Prince Francis is a sphynx.”
“Huh?” Miles seems confused.
“Prince Francis is a sphynx cat. Hairless.”
“Oh, yeah.” Miles rubs his forearm absently and sniffs.
I tentatively take a step toward Prince Francis, who regards me warily from his perch on top of the mantel. His forehead wrinkles and his nose twitches. “Hello, handsome, aren’t you just as majestic as your name implies,” I croon.
“He looks like a shaved ball sack with eyes,” Miles mutters.
My head whips around. “What a terrible thing to say! He’s beautiful.”
He gives me a disbelieving look. “He looks like one of those house elf things from Harry Potter in cat form.”
Oh, Miles is definitely one of those humans. The animal lover who can only appreciate the furry friend who believes the sun rises and sets on him. I tamp down the urge to give the man a piece of my mind. His mother is in the hospital. People deal with that kind of stress differently. But it doesn’t negate the fact that all animals need love.
When we hear a low thud, we simultaneously look toward the mantel and watch the sunflower gnome tumble to the floor.
Prince Francis licks his paw and yawns loudly.
I give the kitty an unimpressed look. “Prince Francis, that’s not nice.” I take another step forward and notice the floor around the shelving units is littered with casualties. Not all of them have survived their swan dive in one piece.
Prince Francis tips his head and makes a noise, somewhere between a meow and a squeak. I tip my head as well and slip my hand in my pocket. The water gun is still in there.
“Stay very still,” I warn.
“Are you talking to me or the gremlin?” Miles asks.
I frown. I’m losing count of all the insults Miles has lobbed at Prince Francis since we set foot in this house. He’s not a cat person. At all.
“I’m talking to you.”
Prince Francis raises a paw and bats at the gnome next to him. A tap. A test.
“Prince Francis,” I warn.
When he raises his paw again, I withdraw the water gun.
“What the hell?”
Before I can take aim, I’m tackled to the floor.