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Authors: Claire Donally

Catch as Cat Can

BOOK: Catch as Cat Can
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Praise for the
New York Times
bestselling Sunny & Shadow Mysteries

“Small-town Maine hasn't been this dangerous since Jessica Fletcher started finding dead bodies in Cabot Cove! In this debut, Sunny Coolidge, with the able assistance of a ‘big kitty' named Shadow, proves she has the skills to make a successful amateur sleuth.”

—Miranda James,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries

“Deftly combines heartwarming humor and nail-biting suspense for a fun read that leaves you looking forward to Sunny and Shadow's next adventure.”

—Ali Brandon,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Plot Boiler
, a Black Cat Bookshop Mystery

“A purrfect debut. Four paws up and a tip of the tail.”

—Carolyn Hart,
New York Times
bestselling author of
What the Cat Saw

“A charming, witty, exciting new entry in the genre, featuring the best-realized and most personable fictional character on four legs. You'll love Shadow. And Sunny's fun, too.”

—Parnell Hall, author of
NYPD Puzzle

“With a dandy plot and comic relief provided by Shadow,
Last Licks
continues a pleasing series packed with suspense and amiable characters.”

—
Richmond Times-Dispatch

“A must-read for all ailurophiles.”

—Melissa's Mochas, Mysteries & More

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Claire Donally

THE BIG KITTY

CAT NAP

LAST LICKS

HISS AND TELL

CATCH AS CAT CAN

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

CATCH AS CAT CAN

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with Tekno Books

Copyright © 2016 by Tekno Books.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information, visit
penguin.com
.

eBook ISBN: 9780698167100

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / May 2016

Cover illustration by Mary Ann Lasher.

Cover design by Colleen Reinhart.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

For Mom, who always liked dogs, and Belle, who always loved Jack.

Also, many thanks to Larry Segriff of Tekno Books for staying the course in difficult times and to Michelle Vega, who inherited me.

And finally, many, many thanks and a loud purr to all the people who read these stories and enjoyed
them.

1

The wind off
the water was frigid enough to cut through the thickest coat. He shivered, hunching his shoulders as his eyes flicked around, searching for someplace warm. Bright winter sunshine was giving way to darkness now. He'd spent the day wandering around town, mooching a bit here and there, keeping out of the cold, and watching . . . always watching.

Somehow, though, he kept winding up back here, unable to make up his mind. Side by side stood the office and the store. Looking through one large window, he could see
her,
all bundled up against the chill, her eyes on a computer screen.

Maybe that was just as well. If she spotted him, there'd be trouble. She'd let him know pretty clearly that she didn't want him around there. But he didn't care. She could say
what she liked, he knew he could walk in there and do as he pleased. He almost decided to tap on the glass, but there was the other window, the store. He'd spent a lot of time working on the owner and it had paid off—he'd been generous. But there was generous, and there was more. And he wanted more, even if he had to steal it.

How to do that? He could wait till a customer entered and the owner was distracted. Or . . . he could just do it under the owner's nose and dare him to do anything. Again, he was pretty sure he could get away with it. A quick peek showed that the store looked completely empty right now. If he managed to find a way in, he could take whatever he wanted, no problem.

So—love, or greed?

He never got a chance to make up his mind. The choice was yanked away from him as a hand descended, caught him by the scruff of the neck, and raised him high in the air.

His breath came out in a furious hiss as he dangled helplessly, his tail lashing in frustration. He tried to twist round, but he couldn't bring his teeth or claws to bear on this stranger. All he caught was a glimpse of a hairy face, a smoky stink . . .

And then a new voice started angrily shouting.

*

Sunny Coolidge scowled
at the computer screen, sighing. The shopping cart software on the website still wasn't working. And since online commerce was the lifeblood of the Maine Adventure X-perience—MAX for short—failure of the payment system meant big trouble. The upgrade for
the shopping cart was supposed to fit in seamlessly, but now it wasn't talking with the rest of the site.

Just like one of those girls in middle school suddenly bullying kids she's known since first grade,
Sunny thought.
And with about as much reason.

She kept poking at the source code, but she couldn't find the problem string. If she didn't make any progress soon, she'd have to roll the whole site back to its previous configuration and hope that didn't leave any exploitable security flaws.

Good thing it's a slow day,
she thought. Tuesdays didn't see a lot of tourist action in the dead of winter. Things would pick up a bit later in the week, with people booking romantic weekends in the local bed-and-breakfast scene. That's why she'd taken the opportunity to install the new shopping cart and had spent the whole day trying to get it to play nicely with the rest of the site software—or at least notice it.

Sudden noise outside brought her eyes from the screen to the big plate glass window at the front of the office, just in time to see a furry gray streak taking cover under a parked car.

What's Shadow gotten into this time?
Sunny wondered.

Her dad had already called earlier in the day with a missing cat alert. That had become all too common lately, Shadow hitching rides into town with her. Since he'd adopted her more than a year ago, Sunny knew the big gray cat was a wanderer. But the situation had gotten a lot worse since an attractive nuisance had opened next door to the MAX office.

Among his many business enterprises, Sunny's boss, Oliver Barnstable, owned a bit of real estate here in Kittery
Harbor. Specifically, he rented out the row of shops around the MAX office—the New Stores, as the locals called them, although they'd been built back when Sunny's dad was a kid. Names tended to stick in Kittery Harbor—the folks were on the conservative side.

But the space next door to MAX was a symbol of hope and change. Hopeful entrepreneurs opened businesses, failed, and the premises changed hands yet again. It had happened so often since Sunny started working that she had a hard time keeping count.

When Neil Garret opened Kittery Harbor Fish, she'd worried about the smell, but figured it wouldn't last long. Actually, Neil had kept the place spotless and odorless, keeping his stock on fresh ice or in a state-of-the-art walk-in freezer.

Shadow, however, had caught a whiff when Sunny began coming home with fresh fish as a healthy alternative for her dad's suppers. The cat had stowed away to find the source, shamelessly playing up to Neil as the fish merchant's new best friend. Now he often went visiting the fish market in hopes of snagging himself a snack.

When Sunny's father called to say that Shadow wasn't around, Sunny figured he'd snuck aboard her Wrangler for a ride into town—probably while she'd left it to warm up.
Well, he got skunked this time,
Sunny thought.
I haven't seen Neil at all today.

Kittery Harbor Fish had survived longer than other tenants in that jinxed location, but lately Sunny had been seeing the signs—late openings, early closings. Today, it looked as if the store hadn't opened at all.

It didn't bode well for the business.
And it means that if Shadow hopes to score the occasional piece of fish, he'll have to use his charms on me—provided he survives his latest adventure.

Even as she thought that, Sunny rushed through the door and outside into the chilly weather to find an upset Zach Judson standing on the sidewalk. “Whatever he did, I'm sorry,” she told the shop owner.

Zach turned, a look of surprise on his blunt features. “Nah. Shadow is innocent—for once.”

Sunny had to smile. Zach had actually known Shadow longer than she had. Before the cat had settled with Sunny, Shadow often used to turn up at Judson's Market, and probably a lot of other places around town, in hopes of a handout.

Zach shrugged his massive shoulders, the product of years spent unloading food deliveries. “At least I didn't have a problem with him, but somebody else may have. I stepped out of the store and spotted some guy grabbing your friend here.”

As Zach spoke, a familiar face appeared from under a salt-splashed Chevy parked at the curb. Shadow still looked skittery and wild-eyed, scanning for possible enemies. But he must have recognized Zach's deep voice. Then Shadow spotted Sunny, and his eyes went wide. She could see the conflict on his furry face, whether to run toward her or stay under the relative safety of the car. Slowly, he edged up onto the sidewalk and slunk his way toward Sunny. About halfway to her feet, he suddenly stopped, swiping out with his paw and hissing.

“Whatcha got there, Shadow?” Zach bent to retrieve
whatever had upset the cat. It seemed to be a piece of string or twine.

“Maybe he's catching a whiff of whoever grabbed him from that,” Sunny suggested. But her voice faltered as the string dangling from Zach's fingers fell straight, to reveal a loop tied at the end—a crude but effective noose.

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