So what are we doing today? Cerberus asked.

"We are not doing anything. I am meeting Lucinda for dinner." I glanced at him. He was stretched out, looking limp and relaxed. His fur was matted and his paws were coated with muck. "You need a bath."

Not again! I just had one. He yawned.

"If you're going to share space with me, you'll be clean." I glanced at him casually over one shoulder. "So how long have you been a dog?"

The startled look on his face was comical. Even more comical was how he tried to hide it. What do you mean?

I turned back to my computer. "You obviously haven't been a dog for long, otherwise you'd have known that candy would make you sick."

I just have a sensitive stomach, he assured me. It's got nothing to do with dogness.

"Right." I let my skepticism show in my voice. The only extensive telepathic speech I'd had with animals had been with Persa. I assumed Cerberus was a Companion, like her, which meant he was a shapeshifting human who could assume animal form. If he chose to hide that fact, it didn't matter to me.

So what's interesting on the computer? he asked, yawning again.

Before I could reply my phone rang. I answered on my conference line.


I recognized that low, hesitant voice. "Lucinda, it's good to hear from you."

Ooh, she's calling again. It must be love.

I put a hand over the phone. "Shut up."

"I hope I didn't call too early. I was worried about your dog. Is he okay?"

I glanced at the creature in question, who lolled on the rug, mesmerized by the flickering fire. "He was so sick last night," I said with what I thought was a flash of genius. "He looks very weak and tired. Is that normal?" I injected concern and worry into my voice.

I told you, I'm fine. Cerberus twisted to look at me, ending up on his back with his massive paws dangling over his chest. He looked relaxed, happy and content.

"Is he still sick? I knew that candy would upset his stomach. Dogs aren't the brightest creatures in the world, they insist on eating what's bad for them. Is there anything I can do? I feel so guilty."

"I don't know. I'm not sure if I should take him to the doctor."

Please. You know I'm fine. No need to bother the local medical establishment.

"I'm sorry. Was it awful?" She managed a nervous laugh. "When pets are sick it's so messy and worrisome. You've never had pets before, have you?"

"What makes you say that?"

"I don't know, just something in the way you talk to him. I mean it, Nico. Is there anything I could do to help?"


"Please. Let me help."

I leaned back in my chair. "Maybe if you could take a look at him? I hate to take him to the vet if it's something that will pass."

Very smooth, Cerberus said, his voice amused. Lure her here with your concern for the poor homeless critter.

"You mean come to your house?"

I heard wariness in her voice. I chose to ignore it. "I'm sorry. Of course you can't. You're a busy businessperson. And your car -- did you get it fixed? What am I thinking of? It would be terribly inconvenient. You have to be at the office."

"My car's fine. It's not that. I mean, I do need to be at the office, but..."

I could almost hear the wheels turning in her brain. "No, don't worry. I'm sure he'll be fine." Make noise, I commanded. Sound sick.

Cerberus gave a pitiable woof then groaned loudly.

"Is he there with you?"

Do it again. "I'm keeping him nearby. He just looks so weak."

Cerberus padded over to stand near me. Ow, he moaned loudly. Oh, owie. It hurts so baaaaddddd...

"Okay," I muttered. "Enough. Are you sure, Lucinda? I know how busy you are."

"I can get away. Tell me how to get to your house."

I gave her directions and she promised to be there within the hour. I hung up and looked at Cerberus. "You need to look sicker."

Give me another cookie and I won't have to pretend.

I shook my head. "No way. Act."