“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” the teasing voice whispered in my ear.
The cliché would have been trite and lame had it not been delivered with such a handsome and not-at-all-lame smile. The voice belonged to Sam Gallanos, my friend, my confidant, my sometimes date.
But not tonight. Tonight I’d arrived with the esteemed Hollywood publicist, Kitty Bardot, who was my next-door neighbor and also human-mom to the famous cat-painting twins.
Now, by this, I don’t mean human siblings who paint portraits of cats. I mean two cats who paint.
Kitty’s Bengal cats, Tobey and Minou, to be specific.
The extravagant fete at the wonderful Hotel Montage was the launch of a traveling collection of animal art work. Kitty (the human one) was not only publicist to some of the top Hollywood stars, but also represented Mano, the Jack Russell terrier, a famous artist in his own right.
Mano had done solo exhibits in Milan, Brussels, Paris and New York. He was the headliner for this traveling exhibition, but Tobey and Minou were no slackers. The past year their art had been winning competitions, had been part of some west coast shows, and now the two Bengals had five paintings included in this exclusive event.
I looked around the room at the large canvases, full of life and color, and, well, paw prints. Kitty tells me they’re abstract expressionists.
I know, I know. I don’t see it either.
But back to Sam, who’d handed me a glass of champagne. “How do you think it’s going?” he asked.
“Well, I think,” I took a sip and answered, “the room is packed, champagne is flowing, people and checkbooks are loosening up.”
Usually Kitty’s partner, Franklin, attended events with her, but tonight he was under the weather, and so she’d asked me to accompany her as a favor.
Kitty had sold the idea as, “it’s good to have a pet therapist in the house,” but truly Tobey and Minou were so well behaved, I was more moral support than anything else.
I’m Caro Lamont, and though I’m a trained psychologist, my current vocation is pet therapist. I have my own business, PAWS, the Professional Animal Wellness Specialist clinic, here in Laguna Beach, California. Originally from Texas, I’d picked Laguna Beach partly because I knew the community (my family had summered here), but mostly because you couldn’t ask for a more pet-friendly corner of the world. Oh, and to get away from my overbearing Texas family and the scandal created by my ex-husband. He was the reason I was no longer a practicing “people” therapist and had instead turned my attention to the more loyal species.
Grey Donovan approached from across the room. He was alone, and I have to tell you I was a bit disappointed.
“Hey there, Carolina.” He gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, then reached out to shake Sam’s hand. “Great crowd.”
“I know. Who would’ve thought?” I looked around at the packed room.
“Mostly the curious but a few collectors,” Grey noted. “From what I’ve heard, it sounds like there has been some big interest.”
Grey owns a local art gallery. As far as I know all human artists, not dogs and cats. Grey is also almost family.
“Where’s your errant fiancée?” I referred, of course, to Melinda, my cousin who Grey was engaged to. At least last I’d heard the engagement was back on. But hey, what day is this? It could be off again.
“She and Darby had some big event at the shop.” He smiled.
“Really?” It could be they really did have an event or it could be Melinda was avoiding me.
“Yeah, I think they’re calling it Yappy Hour. Mel was serving drinks and pupcakes, and Darby is taking pictures of customers’ dogs.”
Mel owned a high-end pet accessory shop called the Bow Wow Boutique and her friend, Darby, had Paw Prints, the pet photography studio next door.
“Sounds like a lot of fun. Leave it to Mel to come up with a brilliant marketing theme.” I meant the compliment. My cousin was incredibly smart, strikingly beautiful. If it weren’t for her stubborn streak . . . well, more than stubborn. Mule-headed, in fact. If not for her mule-headedness, we’d still be fast friends like we’d been as kids.
“I’m sure you’re disappointed she’s not here.” Grey looked pointedly at the brooch pinned to the bow on the shoulder of my basic black Kate Spade dress. I hadn’t been certain what was appropriate attire at a pet art affair. A little black dress is always a sure fire fallback.
“I am, sugar.” I smiled a smile that I have to confess was not all that sincere. “I am very disappointed.”
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