Friday, February 06, 2009

Cat and Mouse by Melinda Barron

Cat and Mouse
by Melinda Barron

Cover art by Kassie Thrace
ISBN (13): 978-1-60521-123-7
Genre(s): Paranormal
Theme(s): Ménage, Shapeshifters
Length: Novella


Cat shifter and private detective Jaci Dillard is hired to steal back a family heirloom from adventurer Simon Jaymes. She sneaks into his house during a party, intent on doing the job quickly. But when she’s discovered, she does the only thing she knows to get out of the situation. She shifts, and is caught on the security tape.

Simon Jaymes is amazed when he sees a woman turn into a cat. He and his best friend, police detective Josh Sage, track her down. Simon is more interested in Jaci’s shifting abilities, and Josh wants to know exactly what she was doing in Simon’s house that night.

But when Jaci realizes she’s been duped, and her client ends up dead, the three of them join forces to find out what happened. They also join together as lovers, realizing that in their case, three is the perfect number for solving crimes, and making love.


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If I were a stolen necklace where would I be?
Jaci Dillard took a sip from her champagne glass and glanced around the room. Getting into the party at Simon Jaymes’ Cherry Creek mansion had been ridiculously easy. Tonight’s black-tie affair had attracted quite a crowd, which meant she’d be just another face in the crowd.
Normally she could bat her eyes and run her fingers down the plunging neckline of her evening gown, and make up some story about forgetting her invitation. She’d mounted the stairs at Jaymes’ house tonight, dropped her wrap from her shoulders, and before she could spin her story, the doorman ushered her in.
Maybe it was the dress -- a black jersey knit with jeweled shoulder straps and a full, flowing skirt. Jaci knew the style complimented her frame, and the skirt allowed her to hide the small package strapped to her thigh: rubber gloves, a set of lock picks, and a stiletto, just in case. The tool kit always made her a little nervous. If she had to shift in a hurry, it would make an awful noise when it fell to the floor, calling attention to her location. Still, a large purse would look out of place.
She searched the room for Simon Jaymes, finding him easily enough, her eyes widening just a bit at the sight of him. His photos didn’t do him justice. He was absolutely gorgeous, with shoulder-length dark hair that gave him a roguish look, a classically handsome face and a beautifully fit body, not too muscular, but not too thin and scrawny looking. She pegged him as a swimmer who did laps every morning for his daily workout. She knew there was a pool -- she’d memorized the blueprints.
She studied her host as carefully as she’d examined his house. Her nipples tightened as he leaned over and kissed the hand of a woman who’d joined their group. Such chivalry. Too bad he was a thief.
You’re stealing, too, a little voice whispered in her head, stealing it from him.
Just to give it back to its rightful owner,
she argued. I’m recovering, not stealing. There’s a big difference.
If I were a stolen necklace where would I be?
Tonight’s party celebrated Jaymes’ donation of Mayan artifacts to the Natural History Museum. According to the newspaper article, he’d wanted the party at his home, which was as big as a museum, so guests could look through the artifacts he’d collected, those that would be added to his private collection.
Jaci glanced at the people streaming in and out of the exhibit room. The necklace definitely wouldn’t be in there. Jaymes had four rooms of antiquities upstairs centering on different themes -- Egyptian, Mayan, Roman, and Native American.
Jaci didn’t think a stolen family heirloom like the obsidian necklace would be on display. Supposedly Jaymes had stolen the necklace because of a longtime family feud. Her bosses at The Parr Agency, Gaius, Parr and their mate, Kalyn, had argued long and hard about whether to take this case. Their client, Justin Jaymes, had proof the necklace had been in his family for years, and he’d filed a police report the night the necklace disappeared from his Denver home, but there was no proof Simon Jaymes had been the one to steal it, despite Justin’s insistence.
Jaci’s job was to search the house during the party and find the necklace -- if it was there. Justin Jaymes had provided a photo -- he’d been in the picture with the woman wearing the obsidian choker, which had been a plus in his column, as far as Jaci was concerned.
She glanced at the man in question once more. He was great eye candy, that’s for sure. Too bad he was a thief. She took another sip, then put her mostly-full glass on a passing waiter’s tray. The easiest way to do this would be for her to find a nice, quiet space, strip and shift. Then she could roam the house in cat form -- if she ran into anyone they would just think she was Jaymes’ cat. It also meant she wouldn’t have any tools. No lock picks, no cell phone, no place to put the necklace when she found it. And she had no doubt she would find it.
Plan B. Take the servants’ stairs from the kitchen to the third floor. Hopefully there wouldn’t be a guard posted there. The kitchen was off the dining room, which was three rooms west of where they were now. She started to make her way in that direction, smiling and nodding at people as she went.
She went through two other rooms and moved toward a hutch, pretending to examine the fine crystal displayed within when she was actually watching servers come out of the kitchen.
One, two, three came out. Then one went back in and two more came out. She’d counted at least seventeen different waiters and waitresses that evening while she’d been looking things over. On her way back here, she’d counted nine. That meant fourteen were out on the floor now.
If she tried to sneak in, someone was bound to ask what she was doing. She entered at normal speed, careful not to look at anyone, and headed for the back staircase. For all they knew she was Jaymes’ girlfriend heading up to his private rooms.
There was one man who slowed her pace a little, a man wearing a suit, but not a waiter’s uniform. Obviously a guard for the back stairs. Luckily for her, he was flirting with a woman filling trays.
If I were your boss, you’d be fired. She hurried up the stairs, taking off her heels at the top so she could move faster. She stopped for a moment and donned her gloves. Wouldn’t do to leave fingerprints. The dress dragged the ground and she picked up the front of the skirt so she wouldn’t trip.
Examining blueprints did not prepare her for what she saw. This house was magnificent, more than a hundred years old, and in pristine condition. The mahogany wood shone and the floor runners were spotless. Antique tables lined the walls of the wide hallways. She stepped up to the first one, her eyes widening. There was a doily protecting the marble surface. On top of the doily sat a bronze bust of Julius Caesar. Jaci made a quick pass down the hallway. Four tables with four different statues, one Egyptian, one Mayan, and one Native American.
“Gee, Mr. Jaymes, thanks for the road map.” A fifth doorway was unmarked. Since this particular room hadn’t been identified on her blueprint, she decided to try here first. “Is this where you keep your stolen items?” She put her hand on the knob and turned. It didn’t budge and she smiled. After a quick glance down the hall she pulled up her skirt and grabbed her lock pick kit.
She made quick work of it, smiling in satisfaction when the lock clicked. Easy as pie.

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