THERE WERE, in fact, several ways to skin a cat, but Zeke’s ancestors had only needed one.

His history books officially called it the selkie style, but it worked with more than just seals. A hearth-witch could use a fresh skin to shift into almost any kind of creature. And it was a pretty basic formula, from what Zeke had studied, with a simple list of requirements: an animal, a transmutation circle, a knife, a few pretty words, and a certain emotional deafness to the suffering of an innocent creature.

The Second Pacific Northwest Council had put an end to that practice, but some skins remained in tightly controlled circulation, reduced in number by conflict and semilegal confiscation. Zeke’s family had once possessed nearly a dozen: a troupe of domesticated cats, a couple lynxes and bobcats, and their highly impractical but majestic jaguar. Now the Schuyler clan had two pelts, and had to distribute them to their most worthy offspring. His cousin Abigail had taken up the mantle of interspecies magical espionage. Zeke, less ambitious, had suffered an extremely early midlife crisis and run off to Seattle to be a house cat.

Now, he didn’t want to say which one of them was making old Nana Schuyler proud, but it was probably Abigail.

Zeke didn’t care. Life was so much less stressful like this. His human, Toby, afforded him a spacious apartment, constant food and treats, and a tremendous amount of unearned praise. Who told Abigail she was beautiful and perfect eighty times a day? No one. Absolutely no one.

He stretched luxuriously over the blankets that littered the couch, trying to decide what to do for what he liked to call the Nap Intermission. Most of the day, he was content to sleep, but he found the whole situation more pleasurable when he conked out for about four hours, took a break to play, then went back to dozing for another four hours.

Then Toby would come home.