Jamie Snyder may be thirty-four and single, but she's far from ready to mingle. After one too many bad relationships, she's ready to focus on herself—and her adorable tabby cat MacGyver, of course. Despite MacGyver's habit of sneaking out at night to steal things from the neighbors, he's still the only male Jamie trusts. He's also the only companion she needs . . . or so she tells herself.
MacGyver knows his human is lonely. He can smell it. It's the same smell he's noticed on their neighbor David, a handsome young baker who's tired of his friends trying to fix him up. But now MacGuyver the cat burglar is on the case. First, he steals something from David's house and stashes it at Jamie's. Then, he steals something from Jamie's house and leaves it with David. Before long, the two are swapping stolen goods, trading dating horror stories, and trying not to fall in love. But they're not fooling MacGyver. When humans generate this much heat, the cat is out of the bag . . .
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MacGyver opened his eyes. He lay snuggled with his belly against Jamie's soft, warm hair, his favorite sleeping spot. He purred with contentment. His person's scent, one of the few familiar ones in this new place, comforted him.
Except ... there was still that tang. It wasn't the smell of illness, but something about it reminded him of that scent. Mac suspected he knew the cause. He hated to think it, but humans were more like dogs than cats, at least in some ways. They needed others of their kind close around them, a pack.
Mac was more than fine being the only cat in his home, surrounded by his food, his water, his litter box, his toys, and his person. Jamie wasn't like that. Mac thought she should just go out and find a human for herself. There were humans everywhere to pick from. But sometimes Jamie missed the obvious. Like she just didn't understand that her tongue was made for washing. There was no need for her to endure submerging her body in water.
His purring faded. Now that he'd noticed the tang, it was bothering him more and more. He stood, abandoning his comfortable spot. It was time for action! He rubbed Jamie's head a few times with his own, so that anyone who smelled her would know she was his, then he jumped to the floor and padded through the living room and out to the screened front porch. Earlier he'd noticed there was a small rip at the bottom of the screen.
He stared out into the darkness. In this new place there had to be someone who could belong to Jamie the way Jamie belonged to him. But she wasn't going to find that person on her own.
Not a problem. MacGyver was on the case.
Mac squeezed through the rip in the screen and paused. It was his first time out in the outside world, at least without a car window or the mesh of his carrier between it and him. There would be dangers out here, but that didn't worry him. He knew he could handle himself in any situation that came up.
Ears forward, tail high, he slipped into the night, taking in the mix of scents — spicy tomato sauce, chocolate frosting, tuna steak, and dozens of other food smells; the waxy odor of the purple flowers that grew up the side of his house; a whiff of something sweet and rancid from the garbage cans along the curb; an intriguing hint of mice droppings; and the overwhelming aroma of dog piss. Mac gave a hiss of disgust. Obviously, there was a dog in the complex who peed on everything. The bonehead clearly thought that meant he owned the place. Wrong.
MacGyver trotted over to the tree the dog had doused most recently. He gave it a good clawing, and when he was done his scent was much stronger than the mutt's. Satisfied, he took in another breath, this time opening his mouth and flicking his tongue. It let him almost taste the air.
Jamie wasn't the only human in the area who was emitting that tang of loneliness. Going with his instincts, Mac decided to follow the strongest strain. He stopped a couple times to claw over the disgusting smell of dog, but quickly reached the source of the scent he was tracking, a little house with a rounded roof.
Other than the lonely smell, he liked a lot of the other scents around the house — bacon, butter, a little sweat, freshly mown grass, and nothing sharp, like the stuff Jamie liked to spray in the kitchen, interfering with his complete enjoyment of his food. Now, how to get Jamie to realize that there was a good choice for a packmate here? Mac thought for a moment, then he decided he should bring something from the house to his person. Her nose wasn't nearly as sensitive as his, but he was sure once she had something right in front of her and got a blast of the mix of scents, she'd know what to do.
There wasn't a screened-in porch, like the one at his new house, but he wasn't worried. Mac's upper lip curled back as he continued his surveillance. The bonehead dog had been around, that was for sure. He managed to ignore the reek by reminding himself he was on a mission. His eyes scanned back and forth, searching, searching. Then he saw it, a small circular window standing partway open on the second floor.
Getting up there — no problem. The big tree growing beside the house seemed designed as his personal staircase. He quickly scrambled up, gave the window a head butt to open it wider, then jumped inside. He landed on top of the perfect thing to bring back to Jamie. It was saturated with attractive odors, plus the scent of loneliness that would make Jamie realize the smell came from a person who needed a packmate as much as she did.
Mac snatched the wad of cloth up in his mouth, enjoying the tastes that went with the smells. Filled with triumph, he jumped back to the windowsill, then into the night, his prize flapping behind him.
* * *
A high, demanding meow woke Jamie the next morning. "I'm coming, Mac," she mumbled. She climbed out of bed, only about a quarter awake, took two steps, and smacked into the closet door. Well, that got her to at least the halfway-conscious mark.
Okay. Got it. She was in her new place, and in her new place the closet was on the other side of the bed than it had been in her old apartment.
"I. Am. Coming," Jamie told her cat as she walked the short distance to the kitchen. Mac gave another of his I-Want-Food yowls. It was like he had studied her to decide which of the sounds in his repertoire made her eardrums throb the most and now he used them to request meals.
"I keep telling you, if you learned to work the coffeemaker, it would make both our mornings more pleasant," she reminded him. She didn't bother attempting to make her coffee before serving His Majesty. MacGyver had her too well trained for that.
But even jonesing for caffeine, she couldn't help smiling as Mac began weaving around her ankles the moment she took a can of cat food out of the cupboard. She thought her kitty was brilliant, but there were some things he just didn't get. Like that she'd be able to get the food into his bowl a lot faster if he didn't try to tie her feet together with his body.
"Here you go." She managed to get the food into Mac's bowl without dumping any of it on his head. She watched while he took a few sniffs, then a bite, then another bite. It seemed like Alli-Cat was still on his approved foods list. She couldn't believe she was feeding her cat alligator. But the vet had said wild food was good for him, and he liked it — for now. She amused herself by imagining Mac, all eight and a quarter pounds of him, bagging breakfast by twining himself around a gator's big ankles until it went down.
Jamie took a step toward the coffeemaker, one of the few essentials she'd unpacked last night, then sank down in one of the kitchen chairs, suddenly overwhelmed. She'd just trashed her whole life. Quit her job and moved about as far away as she could while still staying in the United States. She wrapped her arms around her knees. What had she been thinking? She was thirty-four. When you were thirty-four, you were supposed to be settling down, not attempting a complete reboot. Her friends had. They were all married now, all as in all, and more than half of them had kids — and not just babies. One of Samantha's was an actual teenager.
"Don't do this. Do not do this. This is not how you start." But how was she supposed to start? She thought for a moment. First, she had to stand up. She shoved herself to her feet. Now what?
The answer hit her almost immediately. She was going out! And that meant she needed to get dressed. She hurried to the living room and unzipped her biggest suitcase before she could change her mind. She pulled on her favorite jeans and the upcycled top she'd found on Etsy. She'd only worn it once, even though she loved it. It just didn't seem to fit with Avella, PA. It was a little crazy, most of it coral with black roses, but with long pieces of colorful fabric in a mishmash of patterns around the hem and green leaves appliqued here and there.
The top was perfect for LA, or at least she thought so. And who cared if it wasn't? Jamie had declared that 2018 would be "The Year of Me." She'd declared it silently, but she'd declared it. She'd gone through The Year of the Self-Absorbed Man, The Year of the Forgot-to-Mention-I-Was-Married Man, The Year of the Cling-Wrap Man, The Year of the Non-Committal Man. And, the worst year of all, The Year of the Sick Mother.
The Year of Me wouldn't involve men of any kind. It would involve wearing clothes she thought were gorgeous, even if no one else did. It would involve following her dream, as soon as she figured out what her dream was. She knew for sure it wasn't teaching high school history.
The Year of Me would involve living in a place where she didn't know anyone and where every place she went was a fresh start. The Year of Me would change her life! She shook her head. Give herself one more second and she'd be bursting into song like Maria leaving the convent in The Sound of Music. She grabbed her purse and started for the door, then stopped. Probably she should brush her hair. And her teeth.
That done, she headed out. Her gaze snagged on something crumpled on top of the doormat. She picked it up. It was a plain white terry-cloth hand towel. She was sure it hadn't been there yesterday, and it wasn't hers. She didn't go for plain white anythings.
She started to open the screen door so she could toss the hand towel on the porch. She'd only opened it about three inches when suddenly Mac was there — darn those silent little cat feet — and then out.
Jamie bolted out the door after him. Mac had never been outside. Her brain jangled with a dozen horrible things that could happen to him. "MacGyver!" she yelled. He kept going — big surprise. She tried again, knowing it wouldn't work. "MacGyver!"
"The voice of authority," someone said, with a snort. She turned and saw Al Defrancisco weeding the little flower patch that ran beside his porch steps. She'd met him and his wife, Marie, when she'd arrived yesterday. They lived in one of the twenty-three bungalows — bungalows, how glamorous Old Hollywood was that? — making up Storybook Court. It was named for the 1920s storybook-style architecture of the little houses. That architecture, which gave the complex its historical-standing status, was the only reason Storybook Court hadn't been torn down and replaced with a high- rise. She'd so lucked out that one of the adorable houses had become vacant on the very afternoon when Jamie had started searching for a place.
"He comes when he's called ... sometimes. When I have a can of food in my hand. Or when I'm eating a tuna sandwich," Jamie told Al. At least Mac hadn't gone too far, not yet anyway. Her tan-and-brown tabby was using one of the palm trees near the courtyard fountain as a scratching post.
There were palm trees by her house! How cool was that? This couldn't be her life. But it was. Thanks to the inheritance her mother had left her, she could spend a year here. She didn't even have to get a job. Not for this once-in-a-lifetime year. She had no intention of being a slacker, though. She knew, for sure, she didn't want to teach. But she was going to find out what she did want to do — and then do it!
"Al, I told you to wear a hat." Marie came out of the house next door and threw a straw fedora down to her husband. She was small and frail, both she and Al probably in their eighties, but her voice was strong and commanding.
Al put on the hat. "The voice of authority," he muttered, jerking his chin in Marie's direction.
"Where are you off to?" Marie asked Jamie.
"Once I corral my cat, just out for coffee. I saw that Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf a few blocks away when I was driving in," she answered.
Marie gave a huff of disapproval that seemed to be directed at Jamie and went back inside. Jamie was used to everyone knowing her business in Avella. The town didn't have even a thousand residents. She'd been sure LA would be different, but it was seeming like she was mistaken.
Jamie glanced over at Mac, trying to act like she wasn't checking on him. Knowing her cat, the best way to get him to come home was to act like she didn't care whether he did or not. He was sunning himself beside the palm. "I can't leave him out here. He's an indoor cat. He has zero car sense," she told Al, then added, "He likes it in the courtyard. Maybe I should get him a leash and walk him around."
Al only grunted in response. Jamie debated going inside for a can of food. But Mac had just eaten. She didn't think it would work. Maybe the feathered cat toy ... Before she could decide, Marie came back out. "Coffee," she said to Jamie, holding a cup over the porch rail. "Twenty-seven cents a cup. It's probably ten times that at your Bean."
"Thanks. That's so sweet of you," Jamie answered. She took a sip. It was perfect.
"Take this over to Helen." Marie handed a second cup to Al. He walked over to the bungalow on the other side of his and Marie's.
"Helen. Coffee," he hollered, not bothering to climb the two steps to the porch.
A few moments later, a woman, maybe ten years younger than Al and Marie, came outside. Helen took the coffee, drank some, then glared over at Marie. "You forgot sugar. Again."
"You don't need sugar," Marie shot back. "You're getting fat." Helen continued glaring. "Nessie still has a lovely figure. You could —"
"I told you not to talk to me about —" Helen stopped. "I'm putting in sugar," she declared, then noticed Jamie. "You! You're Jamie Snyder. I wanted to see you. I have a godson just about your age. You're not exactly his type. He usually goes for exotic, not blond girl-next-door types. But he's a teacher, too. I'm going to give him your number."
Blond girl-next-door type? Was she the blond girl-next-door type? She wasn't exotic. She knew that. But blond girl-next-door type sounded extremely wholesome and extremely boring. Okay, she was wholesome, but not extremely. And she —
"Number?" Helen prompted.
"No. I mean, thanks, but I'm not interested in meeting him. In meeting any guys," Jamie protested, the words coming out too fast and too loudly to be polite. "I mean, I just got here. I want to get settled in." She took another glance at Mac. Still sunning himself. "How'd you know I am — used to be — a teacher?" she asked. She was almost positive she hadn't mentioned it to Al and Marie yesterday, and she hadn't talked to anyone else in the complex yet.
"If it was on the credit check or rental agreement, these two know it," Al said as he returned to his weeding. Jamie was sure it was illegal for a landlord to share that info, but she decided not to make an issue of it.
"Her godson's not right for you anyway," Marie said. "He won't even change a lightbulb for her when she needs it. I have to send little Al, our son, over. He comes every Sunday for dinner." She pointed one bony finger at Helen. "Besides, your godson is too young."
"Only five years younger than she is," Helen retorted.
"My great-nephew is three years older. The man should be older. They mature later." Marie returned her attention to Jamie. "He might be good for you."
Jamie began backing away slowly. As if sensing her discomfort, MacGyver trotted over and gave his Pick-Me-Up meow, which was softer and much more pleasant than the I-Want-Food one. Gratefully, Jamie scooped him into her arms. She traced the M on his forehead with one finger. The brown marking was one of the reasons she'd named him MacGyver.
"Your godson is allergic to cats, isn't he?" Marie called to Helen, her voice infused with triumph.
"I'm going to get sugar," Helen muttered and retreated inside.
"Just leave the cup on the porch when you're finished," Marie told Jamie and went inside herself.
"I really don't want to be set up with anyone," Jamie said to Al, since neither of the women had paid any attention to her.
Al gave another of his grunts. "You think that matters?"
It definitely mattered to Jamie. She was not letting The Year of Me start with awkward meetings with great-nephews or godsons or any other men.
* * *
"You told her about Clarissa, didn't you?" Adam demanded as soon as David sat back down at the table.
David didn't answer, just took a swallow of the sour IPA Brian, owner of the Blue Palm, had recommended. David was usually a Corona guy, but you didn't order Corona at the Blue Palm.
Excerpted from "Talk to the Paw"
Copyright © 2018 Melinda Metz.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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