Finding Answers

 

Finding Answers, book 2 in my new Rescue Alaska Paranormal Mystery series, will launch on May 29th. A preview of chapter 1 is included below.

About the book:

Rescue Alaska is the eighth series by USA Today Bestselling Author Kathi Daley. It is a fast moving mystery series with a paranormal twist.

Rescue Alaska is a small town in northern Alaska where visitors come to hike and ski. Harmony Carson is a lifelong resident who volunteers as a member of the local search and rescue team. Harmony has a unique gift which she often considers a curse. She is able to ‘see’ the individuals she is meant to help rescue, and more often than not she can feel their fear and their pain as well. When she isn’t aiding in a rescue, Harmony works at Neverland – the bar owned by her brother in law Jake, and volunteers at the local animal shelter. Harmony lives in a rustic cabin with six dogs, four cats, six kittens, eight rabbits, and a blind mule named Homer.

In the second book in the series, Jake and Harmony are in the process of training a new search and rescue dog when they get a call that a four year old boy has gone missing from the cabin his family rented while on vacation. They join the search and rescue team, along with the local police, in the hope of finding the child before it is too late. Along the way they discover the freshly dumped body of an important member of the community. The police are stumped as to why this popular town resident would have been murdered, until a second community member goes missing and a disturbing pattern begins to emerge.

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Preview: 

Chapter 1
Monday, June 18

He watched the boy skipping rocks across the clear, still water. From the cover of dense forest, he listened to the childish squeals of delight as the flat, hard surface of the stone met the firm, unyielding force of the lake. Each hop resulted in an ever-widening web of rings, each ring larger yet less intense than the one that came before. Life, he mused, was like those rings. The farther you traveled from the point of origin, the wider your reach, but the less intense the effect. He’d spent a lifetime struggling to affect change in the larger rings, but now, he’d decided, it was time to avenge the iniquities of his past, to claim the inner ring as his own.

Vinnie Truman had been missing for just over an hour. The four-year-old with the sandy blond hair, big green eyes, and a smattering of freckles had been playing with his eight-year-old brother, Kip, and six-year-old sister, Cammie, in the yard of the cabin his parents, Jim and Joan, had rented for their summer vacation. No one saw Vinnie wander away. No one could explain why he would have.

Both Jim and Joan swore they’d been keeping an eye on their children as they grilled burgers on the deck just off the kitchen. When we walked in, Joan had been telling Officer Houston that she’d only looked away for a minute and had no idea how Vinnie could simply have disappeared.

“She’s lying,” I whispered to my partner, Jake Cartwright, the Rescue, Alaska Search and Rescue captain.

“Why do you say that?” Jake asked, his eyes narrowing as he scanned the room, seemingly taking in the climate around us.

I looked toward the short blond woman who was wringing her hands in distress as she clung to the sturdy arm of the uniformed officer she was speaking to. “Her blouse is buttoned wrong, her feet are bare, and her hair is mussed. There may have been grilling going on, but it wasn’t in the kitchen, and they weren’t focused on their children.”

Jake snorted, I was sure, to suppress a chuckle. “Play nice,” he whispered as he stepped forward to greet the officer in charge.

“You got here fast,” Hank Houston, a tall, broad-shouldered man with chiseled features, dark hair, dark eyes, and a serious way about him, commented as he reached out to Jake.

“We were in the area,” Jake responded as he shook the man’s hand.

“This is Jim and Joan Truman,” Houston introduced the obviously distressed couple. “And this is Jake Cartwright from Rescue, Alaska.”

“Don’t worry. We’re going to do everything we can to find your boy,” Jake said, his voice gentle. He turned and gestured to me and the two dogs with us. “This is my teammate, Harmony Carson, and our canine helpers, Sitka and Yukon.”

“Officer Houston said he called for the search-and-rescue team,” Joan said through her tears. “There are only two of you.” I could see the woman was on the verge of hysteria, which could only serve to make the situation worse. “He’s just a little boy. He could be injured and is probably scared. Two just won’t do.”

“There are a half dozen police officers looking for your boy,” Houston assured her. “The search-and-rescue squad is well trained and familiar with the area. They can cover a lot of ground with just a few people and are here to lend a hand. I can assure you, ma’am, we’re doing everything we can to find Vinnie.”

Jake turned and looked at Joan. I watched the hard lines of his face soften as he took her hand in his. He’d been doing this a long time. He knew what to do: offer hope but get what you needed. “Harmony and I were running training exercises in the area when the call came in, so we came straight over, but we have four other highly trained members of our team in transit. We’ll do everything in our power to find your boy.”

Joan’s face softened slightly as I imagined her clinging to that promise. I watched as she smiled slightly at Jake and then looked doubtfully toward the dogs. “Can they find him? That one looks so young.”

Jake’s hand visibly tightened on Joan’s. “Yukon is still a puppy, but he’s been doing very well with his training, and Sitka is a veteran search-and-rescue dog. He has dozens of rescues under his belt. He’s one of the best at what he does, and I know he’ll do his very best to find your boy. We’re going to need your help, however. The most important thing you can do now is to stay strong. Can you do that?”

The woman nodded.

“Okay, good.” Jake shot her a look of approval. That seemed to calm her somewhat. “First, I’ll need a recent photo of Vinnie.”

The man Houston had introduced as Vinnie’s father handed Jake a photo he’d been holding since we’d arrived. Jake looked at it, then handed it to me. I tried to ignore the noise in the room and focus on the curious eyes and crooked grin of the boy we’d been tasked to find.

“I’ll need a couple of pieces of clothing Vinnie’s worn,” Jake added. “The more recently they were worn, the better. Perhaps his pajamas.”

“I’ll get them,” Vinnie’s dad said, seeming grateful for something to do.

Jake nodded at him, then turned his attention back to Vinnie’s mother. “How long have you been staying at this cabin?”

“Almost a week.” She ran a hand over her face.

“And I understand Vinnie has been missing about an hour?” Jake continued.

Vinnie’s mother nodded. “Yes. We tried looking for him ourselves for a while before we called the police.”

Jake continued. “Is there anywhere you’ve walked in the past week that seemed to fascinate Vinnie? Anywhere he might want to return to?”

Vinnie’s mother shook her head. “No. He was supposed to stay in the yard. I only looked away for a minute.”

Jake looked at me. “Are you picking up anything?”

I shook my head. “Not yet.” Jake didn’t bother to explain to Jim and Joan that I was often able to connect with people I was destined to help rescue. It certainly wasn’t an exact science, and I wasn’t always able to do it, but I felt as emotionally connected to the child in the photo as I felt irritated by the woman who’d been canoodling with her husband rather than watching her children.

“Where was the last place you saw your son, ma’am?” I asked as I tried to get a visual image that could help me to get a read on the boy.

“I don’t know. I can’t remember. It happened so suddenly.” The woman was gesturing wildly with her hands, as if to make me, to make us all, understand. “One minute he was there and the next he was gone.” A fresh stream of tears started down the woman’s face. “I only looked away for a minute.”

“So you’ve said,” I responded as I glanced down at the photo once again. I know it isn’t my job to judge the actions of the people we’re tasked to help, and I didn’t have children, so I wasn’t an expert when it came to the supervision of the under-ten crowd, but what I did know was that if I ever did have a child, which was highly unlikely, I wouldn’t leave him or her unattended in the Alaskan wilderness.

“You’ll find my boy?” Vinnie’s mother pleaded after I glanced up from the photo.

“We’ll try,” I answered. The team I belonged to was one of the best anywhere, our survival record unmatched. Still, I’d learned at an early age that when you’re battling Mother Nature, even the best teams occasionally came out on the losing end. I looked at Jake. “I’m going to head outside with the dogs. I might have better luck in a quiet environment.”

After leaving the house, I sat down on a bench and instructed both dogs to sit at my feet. Sitka was an old pro at this sort of thing and waited patiently for the hunt to begin, while Yukon, sensing that something important was up, danced around on the end of his lead. I scratched him behind the ears before instructing him, again, to sit and wait. Thankfully, he did. Yukon had so much raw talent, I was certain he was going to be as good a search-and-rescue dog as Sitka eventually, but he was less than a year old and, at times, still easily distracted.

Once Yukon settled into the wait position next to Sitka, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I’m not sure why I’m able to connect psychically with those I’m meant to rescue. It isn’t that I can feel the pain of everyone who’s suffering; it seems to be only those we’re meant to help that find their way onto my radar. I’m not entirely sure where the ability comes from, but I know when I acquired it. When I was seventeen, my sister Val, who was also my legal guardian after our parents’ death in a car accident, went out on a rescue. She got lost in a storm, and although the team tried to find her, they came up with nothing but dead ends. I remember sitting at the command post, praying harder than I ever had. I wanted so much to have the chance to tell Val how much I loved her and, suddenly, there she was, in my head. I could feel her pain, but I also felt the prayer in her heart. I knew she was dying, but I could feel her love for me as her life slipped away. I’d tried to tell the others I knew where she was, but they’d thought my ramblings were those of an emotionally distraught teenager dealing with the fallout of shock and despair. When the team eventually found Val’s body exactly where and how I’d told them they would, they began to believe I’d made a connection with the only family I’d had left in the world.
Since then, I’ve used my gift to locate and rescue dozens of people. I couldn’t save them all, but today, I was determined that our search for Vinnie would result in a check in the Save column. I tried to focus on the image of the child with the mischievous grin. I sensed water and was picking up the feeling of curiosity rather than fear. That was good. Chances are, as I suspected, the boy had wandered off chasing a rabbit or some other small creature and hadn’t even realized he was lost yet. It was a warm day, and Vinnie’s mother had assured us that he wore jeans, tennis shoes, and a hooded sweatshirt, so at least we didn’t have the elements to worry about, as we did with so many of the winter rescues on which we were called out.

I heard Yukon begin to whine. I opened my eyes and saw team members Wyatt Forrester, Dani Matthews, Landon Stanford, and Austin Brown walking toward us. Yukon stood up, preparing to greet some of his favorite people.

“Sit and wait,” I reminded the pup.

He plopped his butt on the ground but continued to wag his tail. Beside him, Sitka thumped his tail without having moved an inch.

The group stopped several feet short of the dogs. The animals were working, so playful scratches and enthusiastic kisses would have to wait.

“Any news?” Dani asked.

“Jake is inside, talking to the parents. I’m sure he’ll be out soon. I haven’t been able to establish a clear connection to the boy, but I sense water near his current location. I don’t think he realizes he’s lost. I sense curiosity but not fear.”

Wyatt was about to say something when Jake walked out of the house with two plastic bags, each containing a piece of clothing Vinnie had worn.

“Anything?” Jake asked me.

I told him what I’d just told the others.

“There are two bodies of water nearby,” Jake said. “Eagle Lake is about a half mile up the mountain and Glacier Lake is about a half mile down the mountain from here.” Jake looked around, as if sizing up the situation. “The family has hiked in both directions within the past twenty-four hours. It’s likely the dogs will pick up the boy’s scent in either direction, at least initially. We’ll divide into two groups. I’ll take Sitka, Dani, and Austin and head up the mountain. Harmony and Yukon can work with Wyatt and Landon and head toward the lower lake.” Jake looked at me. “If Yukon picks up a strong scent, radio and we can discuss a strategy. If you make a stronger connection to Vinnie, or are able to pick up anything more specific, let us know.”

Jake, as Sitka’s handler, and me, as Yukon’s, each took a plastic bag. Once we’d cleared the yard, we let our dogs sniff the piece of clothing, telling them repeatedly, “This is Vinnie; find Vinnie.” When the dogs seemed to understand what it was we were asking, we took them off their leads, then followed. I trailed directly behind Yukon, while Wyatt walked parallel to my route to the right and Landon paralleled to the left.

Once Sitka had a scent, he was usually very focused on the task at hand, so the odds of Jake and his team finding Vinnie if he had traveled up the mountain were great. Yukon, on the other hand, was pretty green. He had been abandoned on my doorstep five months earlier, and I, as I always did, had taken him in. Over the course of the next month, I’d worked to teach him the house rules. During his training, I’d noticed what I felt was an innate ability to find whatever it was I sent him to look for. I spoke to Jake, and he agreed to help me train him for search and rescue. We’d discussed needing a second dog. Yukon caught on to the training like a fish to water, and although he’d only been training for a few months, he’d already been successful in locating the victim in five different simulations. Of course, a real rescue was a lot more intense than a simulation for both dog and handler, and this was the first time he’d participated in a real rescue without Sitka by his side to show him how it was done.

Yukon headed into the dense foliage of the nearby forest and I followed. I glanced at Wyatt, who was perhaps fifty yards to my right, and then Landon, who was fifty yards to my left. They nodded, letting me know they were able to follow despite the rough terrain. I glanced at Yukon, who sniffed the air and headed deeper into the forest. While we searched, I kept an eye on him, but basically let him do his thing. After several minutes, he alerted, showing interest where a fallen tree blocked the path. “Did you find something?” Yukon sniffed the log and wagged his tail. “Good boy.” I looked around and called Vinnie’s name. Nothing. I stood perfectly still and closed my eyes. I waited for a vision to appear. I could sense the boy, and, as before, he didn’t seem frightened. But there was something. Something dark. Something menacing. I tried to hone in on it, but I couldn’t get a clear reading, so I tied a flag to a tree branch to mark the spot, then took the pajama top out of the bag. I once again held it under Yukon’s nose. “This is Vinnie. Find Vinnie.” Yukon set off down the trail. I went after him.

I knew once Vinnie realized he was lost, fear would overcome him. That would help me to connect with him, yet I hoped for his sake we’d find him before he became terrified. The forest was thick with evergreens and underbrush. Yukon had left the trail after we’d come across the fallen log, which meant Vinnie most likely had left the trail as well. The area was home to a variety of wildlife, including grizzlies, wolves, and cougars. It was dangerous for anyone to veer off the established trail, but it was especially dangerous for little boys who had no idea that danger lurked in the dark places beyond the clearing.

It wasn’t easy to both follow Yukon and focus on Vinnie. If we didn’t either hear from Jake or find him in the next few minutes, I’d call to the dog to take a break.

As we approached the lake, Yukon alerted again. As before, I stopped and looked around. I called for Vinnie and then listened. I closed my eyes and tried desperately to make a connection. This time, the vision was a bit clearer. Vinnie had stopped what he was doing to look around. He must have realized he was lost and, as predicted, curiosity had been replaced by fear.

“Harmony to Jake,” I said through the radio.

“Go ahead.”

“I have a vision. He’s near Glacier Lake.”

“We’re on our way.”

I closed my eyes and focused again. He was terrified. Fear and panic fueled the boy as he ran through the underbrush. I cringed as I saw him trip over something. Pain. Now the fear was mingled with pain. He got up and tried to run, but the pain was too much. When he fell again, he simply sat on the ground, clutching his ankle and screaming for help. I took a deep breath. There was something else. Darkness. Danger.

I opened my eyes and looked at Yukon. “Find Vinnie. We need to find Vinnie.” I gave him another sniff of the pajama top and waited. He sniffed the air, then took off at a run. I tried unsuccessfully to keep up with him and was about to call him back when I heard three sharp barks.

“Vinnie,” I called as loudly as I could.

“Here. I’m here.”

I headed down the trail as quickly as I could manage. Sprawled on the ground was a terrified little boy with his arms around Yukon, who gently licked the tears from his face.

“Good boy,” I said to Yukon. I knelt next to Vinnie. “Are you hurt?”

“My ankle. I hurt my ankle.”

I radioed Jake to let him know I’d found Vinnie. He would need to be carried back to the cabin, so I waited for Wyatt and Landon to catch up.

“Other than your ankle, do you hurt anywhere?” I asked.

The boy shook his head. He was smiling now that Yukon had settled in next to him. “I was lost. I was on the trail, but then I looked around and nothing looked right. I was so scared. I ran as fast as I could. I wanted to get home, but then I fell.”

I looked back the way Vinnie had traveled. “Did you trip on a log?”

Vinny wiped the tears from his dirt-streaked face. “I don’t know. I didn’t see.”

“Help is on the way. We’ll get you home in no time. You’re safe now.”

“Mama will be mad. I’m not supposed to leave the yard.” The boy began to sob. “I’m going to get a time-out. I hate time-outs.”

I pulled my sweatshirt over my head and used it to wipe away the boy’s tears. “I can’t say for certain, but I think your mom will be so happy to see you that she might forget to be mad. Still, the rule about staying in the yard is a good one. You could have been in real trouble if Yukon hadn’t found you. There are all sorts of things out here that can hurt a little boy.”

“Like bears?”

I nodded. “Yes, like bears. And cougars, and wolves, and all sorts of animals that might be lurking nearby, waiting to attack.”

The boy began to sob hysterically. Yukon began to lick his face frantically to offer comfort. Okay, so maybe I oversold the danger angle. I didn’t mean to traumatize the kid; I just wanted him to understand the potential consequences of his actions.

“What’s wrong?” Wyatt said, arriving in the nick of time as far as I was concerned. He bent down and picked the boy up in his arms. “Are you hurt?”

“No.” The boy began to hiccup from hysteria.

“So why all the tears?”

“I was bad and a bear might have ate me.”

Wyatt looked at me and raised a brow.

I lifted a shoulder. “It’s not like I have experience talking to kids. Dogs are more my thing.”

Wyatt winked at me. “You did good. Yukon too. Let’s get this scared little boy back to his parents.”

“Wait,” I said as Wyatt turned to head back to the cabin. I stood up and slowly scanned the forest as Landon arrived. I could still sense the darkness I’d picked up before. I couldn’t identify what I was feeling, but an iciness settled into my chest. I felt pain and hopelessness and death. “There’s someone else. Someone near death.”

I closed my eyes and concentrated. The image of a man’s face filtered through my mind, but it was blurry and out of focus. It was as if the man was passing in and out of consciousness, letting me in and then pushing me out. “Oh God,” I whispered.

“What is it?” Wyatt asked. “What do you see?”

I glanced at Vinnie, who looked scared to death. I tried to level my voice despite the intense grief that had gripped my body. “Go ahead and take Vinnie back to his parents. Landon, Yukon, and I will try to find the source of my vision.”

Wyatt looked uncertain, but he didn’t argue. He nodded and began walking back toward the cabin. When he was out of sight, I closed my eyes and tried to see the face of the man again. Landon stood quietly next to me, holding Yukon’s lead. He took my hand in his free one and held on tight. He’d been with me long enough to know how draining this was for me.

“Anything?” Landon asked in a voice so soft I barely heard him.

“It isn’t focused. It’s a man. I can’t see his face. He’s hurt. His image is fading in and out. He doesn’t want to let me in.” My breath caught as I connected just in time to experience what I was sure was the man’s last breath. I shook my head, then opened my eyes. “He’s gone.”

“Where?”

I looked through the dense forest. “I don’t know. I wasn’t linked for more than a few seconds. He was resisting, but I managed to connect right at the end, when his only choice was to surrender. Now that he’s dead I can’t sense him.” I looked around at the thick trees. “We’ll need help to find him.” I radioed Jake and informed him of the situation, then Landon, Yukon, and I began to search for the man I had seen in my mind.

Jake’s dog, Sitka, had been trained to find missing people as well as those who had already passed on. Yukon was training to follow a specific scent, as we’d just done with Vinnie, but he had no training as a cadaver dog. Our best bet at finding the man whose death I had just experienced was to force myself to remember everything about that moment. Everything I had seen, heard, smelled, and felt.

“The man was lying on the ground,” I said in a soft voice. “He was cold. Weak. Wet, perhaps. He was partially covered, but the purpose of the cover wasn’t to provide warmth but camouflage.”

“You said wet? Is he near the water?” Landon asked.

“Maybe. It’s dark. The trees in the area are dense.” I opened my eyes and scanned the area. I could remember the pain, the fear, the urge to fight, and then the peace that came with the decision to give in and float away from the world toward whatever came next.

“Are you okay?” Landon asked.

I nodded.

Landon used his thumb to wipe a tear from my cheek. “I know it’s painful.”

“It’s okay. I’m okay,” I assured him. There are times I want to run from the images and feelings that threaten to overwhelm and destroy me, but I know embracing the pain and the fear is my only path to the answers I seek. “In the last moment of his life, there was fear, anger, and pain, but something else as well.” I focused harder.

“Acceptance and,” I tried to remember, “penance. He was sorry for something he did and with his last breath was seeking forgiveness.”

“From whom?” Landon asked.

I opened my eyes. “I don’t know. Maybe God. Maybe himself. Maybe someone he’d wronged.” I continued to scan the forest, looking for something familiar. The only thing I could see in my vision was trees, which didn’t help me a bit because there were trees everywhere.

“Do you remember anything from your vision that will help us know where to look?” Landon asked again. “Anything at all that will help us narrow things down?”

“There were trees and it was dark.” I took a breath and forced my mind to calm and focus. “The ground was gently sloped and covered with wild grass.” I bit my lip as I tried to get a feeling for direction. “There.” I pointed into the distance.

Landon set off in the direction I indicated with Yukon at his side. I followed closely behind. Shortly after we’d entered the densest part of the forest, Yukon began to whine.

“Do you have the scent?”

Yukon barked three times.

“Let him go,” I instructed Landon. “He may not be trained to retrieve those who have passed on, but he’s a dog and better able to pick up scent than either of us.”

It didn’t take long. No longer, really, than it took to take a breath for Yukon to find the body. I felt my knees weaken and my stomach lurch. “It’s Pastor Brown.” I gasped as Landon bent down and took a closer look at the man who was partially covered by the thick underbrush.

“If only we’d been a few minutes sooner,” I said to Landon as he pulled away the vines and ferns that someone seemed to have arranged from the man’s body. He knelt and felt for a pulse, then shook his head. The pastor’s throat had been slit and he had a piece of duct tape across his mouth.

“He couldn’t even scream,” I said, as if that somehow made it worse.

“I wonder how he got here,” Landon said.

I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Yukon began to growl from deep in his chest as I scanned our surroundings. I didn’t see or hear anything, but my intuition told me that Pastor Brown’s killer was still nearby. “Someone brought him here. Someone who’s still here.”

Landon stood up and looked around. “I don’t see anything. Are you sure you sense a second person?”

“I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I do sense someone. I don’t feel as if he’s a threat to us, though. I’ll call Jake to have him fill Officer Houston in on what we’ve found.”

I made the call, then returned my attention to Landon, who was still standing over the body. We both knew not to touch him because we could destroy evidence, but in that moment not touching was very difficult indeed. I’d felt the man’s life leave his body. There was a voice in my head that demanded I do something better than simply stand there.

“It looks like he’d been swimming,” I said. He was soaking wet, but he was fully dressed, and it was much too cold to have gone swimming in a lake whose source was melting snow, so the idea was probably ridiculous.

“I doubt that, but he is wet,” Landon replied. He nodded to the pastor’s bloody wrists without touching him. “It looks like he was bound at some point, though there are no signs of any ropes here.”

“Maybe he was tossed from a boat and swam to shore,” I suggested. “Once he made it to land, the cold-blooded killer who dumped him in the water slit his throat and left him to die.”

“Maybe,” Landon replied. “Someone tried to camouflage the body. I’m guessing he’d passed out before he died. Maybe he was tossed from a boat and swam to shore before he was killed.” Landon paused and turned his head. “It sounds like the others are almost here.”

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The Mother’s Day Mishap

 

The Mother’s Day Mishap publishes on April 24th. Book 3 in the new Tess and Tilly Cozy Mystery Series is filled with doggy fun and some good old fashion sleuthing. Here is a preview of Chapter 1.

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Chapter 1
Thursday, May 3

They arrived in the middle of the night. Two balls of wet and matted fur tied to a porch railing, huddled together for warmth and comfort as the rain slammed into the small town of White Eagle, Montana, from the east. The note said they were inseparable, brothers who’d shared a womb and eventually a life. Neither had spent time without the other, and, the anonymous person who’d dropped them on Brady’s doorstep asked, if at all possible, could they be placed together?

Placing dogs with just the right owner was a task Brady Baker, local veterinarian and shelter owner, and I, Tess Thomas, mail carrier and shelter volunteer, take great pride in doing better than anyone else, but this pair of medium-sized terriers were proving to be quite a challenge. It wasn’t that they weren’t adorable, with their huge brown eyes and long shaggy fur the color of damp sand; it was that they had never been trained or socialized to respond to or even care about anyone or anything other than each other.

And then they met Tilly.

“It looks like you’re making progress.”

Brady smiled in response to my statement as my golden retriever, Tilly, and I walked into the room where he’d been working on a sit/stay with one of the brothers. It appeared as if the training had been going well until Jagger saw Tilly. Ignoring Brady’s command to stay, he’d run forward to greet her with wiggles and waggles from one end of his shaggy body to the other.

I motioned for Tilly to sit, which she did immediately. Jagger, who Brady estimated to be about eight months old, plopped his butt on the ground right next to her. I praised them both and told them to stay. I walked away and spoke to Brady for a minute, keeping an eye on the pair as I did. After a minute, I motioned for the dogs to come and then sit and stay again. I asked both Jagger and Tilly to repeat the behavior several times, praising both dogs when my hand gesture was met with an appropriate response. When a dog was in training, repetition was key. Experience had shown that if a behavior was repeated often enough, even easily distractible dogs such as Jagger would begin to respond to the hand flip even when Tilly wasn’t around to show him what to do.

Once I’d released them to relax, Jagger came over to say hi. I knelt to greet the terrier and was welcomed with wet, sloppy kisses. The fact that Jagger now seemed delighted to see me when he’d all but ignored me in those first days was progress in my book.

“Where’s Bowie?” I asked about the second terrier.

“In his pen,” Brady answered as his blue eyes met my brown. “I’ve decided the only way I’m going to make any progress training the boys is to separate them for individual sessions. Initially, I tried joint sessions, but that wasn’t getting me anywhere. I figure once I have them responding individually, I can bring them together for training for short periods of time.” Brady bent over and greeted Tilly, allowing her to enthusiastically rain doggy kisses on his face.

“Seems like you have a good plan. How can I help?”

“I’m glad you asked. I hoped you and Tilly would have time to work with the brothers and me on Saturday. Between the clinic and the shelter, it’s hard to make time for the specialized training they need. Besides, Tilly is a good influence on Bowie and Jagger. They seem to settle down and pay more attention when she’s with them.”

Brady had a point. Tilly was an old pro at responding to both hand and verbal signals. When she was around, Jagger and Bowie tended to mimic whatever she was doing.

“Tilly and I would be happy to help,” I answered. “Did you have anything specific in mind?” Brady interviewed prospective doggy parents to find out exactly what they were looking for in a dog. He wanted to ensure that the dogs he placed were perfect matches for their new humans. If the shelter housed a dog who seemed to be compatible overall with one of the humans who came looking for a forever friend, more often than not Brady was willing to provide extra training to ensure the dog met the needs of whoever they’d spend their life with.

“I spoke to Jimmy Early. He came in to adopt one dog, but after we spoke, he said he’d be willing to consider the brothers provided they loved the water, were comfortable on a SUP board, and enjoyed traveling.”

I knew Jimmy. He and his girlfriend, Destiny, operated a paddleboat and stand-up paddleboard concession at the lake during the spring and summer. Once the snow began to fall, they packed up their belongings and took off in their camper for warmer climes. It made sense they’d want to adopt dogs who liked the water and travel. “Have you tried the boys in the water?”

Brady nodded. “They aren’t fans of the wet stuff. Tilly likes to swim. Maybe we can take the boys to the beach on Saturday and Tilly can show them how much fun it is. Once we get them used to the water, we can work on the SUP board. As for traveling, they seem fine riding around in my truck, so I don’t think that will be a problem.”

“Okay. I can do Saturday. Say around ten?”

“Ten would be perfect.”

I paused to put the appointment in my phone calendar. “The reason I’m here now,” I said, once I’d finished the entry, “is because I wanted to pick up some more of that nutrient-dense cat food for the kittens.” I had adopted two rescues of my own, an orange-stripped kitten named Tang and a black kitten with long fur named Tinder. As a shelter volunteer, I was able to purchase quality pet food at Brady’s cost, so it was only the best that my discount, combined with my adequate-but-far-from-generous salary, could buy for my animals.

“I was about to quit for the day,” Brady informed me. “Let me bring Jagger back to his brother and I’ll go to the clinic with you. You can grab the food as well as the flyers I had made up for the adoption event later this month.”

I followed Brady, who was dressed in faded jeans, running shoes, and a dark blue T-shirt. He dressed in slacks, a dress shirt, and a white lab coat when the clinic was open, but when he spent time at the shelter, he dressed down, which was the look I appreciated the most. “Did you decide on a theme for the event?”

Brady’s eyes lit up with enthusiasm. “Speed dating. I’ve arranged to use the football field at the high school. I’m going to section it off into twelve smaller areas using temporary fencing. Each individual pen will have a dog who’s available for adoption. Prospective doggy parents will each be assigned to a pen, where they’ll spend three minutes. When the time’s up, all the people will rotate in a prearranged pattern until everyone has visited all the pens. Once a prospective doggy parent has their visit with each of the twelve dogs, they’ll be able to request up to three dogs to spend additional time with. At the end of the event, prospective parents can fill out an application for the dog of their choice.”

“Are you going to allow for second and third choices just in case everyone wants the same dog?” It seemed that at almost every adoption clinic I’d ever worked, there were interested parties fighting over a few dogs, while others remained homeless.

He nodded. “Some prospective parents don’t do well with this sort of event, and they’re of course welcome to come in during the week to look at the dogs individually, but I’ve done speed-dating events before, and usually, dogs and humans manage to find one another in the time allotted.”

“Sounds like fun. I’ll start putting the flyers up tomorrow while I’m doing my route.”

“If you need more, just ask and I can run some out to you. I want this event to be a success, and I’m hoping we’re starting early enough this time to plaster the entire town.”

“I’ll make sure every bulletin board and store window in White Eagle has a flyer.”

I got the cat food and flyers from Brady’s veterinary clinic, and Tilly and I piled into my Jeep and headed home: a small, rustic cabin outside the town limits of White Eagle. While the plumbing was old and the heater temperamental, the view of the mountains from both my front and back decks was truly spectacular. The cabin was surrounded by national forest and my closest neighbor was far enough away that I couldn’t see any other buildings from any window.

When I pulled into the private drive that led from the highway to the cabin, I spotted my good friend Tony Marconi sitting in his truck in front of the cabin. Tony and I had met in middle school. He was not only the smartest kid in our entire school, but he was also sort of a geek. I’ll admit that when I first met him, I, like the other kids, had made fun of his looks and superior intellect, but after he helped me out with a mystery that resulted in the two of us sharing a pretty huge secret, the tall and gangly genius had grown on me and eventually become one of my very best friends.

Of course, now that he was an adult and had grown into his height, he was not only the smartest man I knew but the sexiest as well. Not that I would ever tell him that. We were, after all, just friends.

“What are you doing here?” I asked as I climbed out of the Jeep and Tony kissed me on the cheek. “Not that I’m not thrilled to see you; I just wasn’t expecting you.”

“I was in town and thought I’d stop by to see if you wanted to have a pizza-and-video-game night. It’s been a while.”

“It has been a while,” I answered as Tilly jumped out of the Jeep and greeted Tony’s dog, Titan, with a wagging tail and tiny leaps of joy. “And I don’t have plans tonight. I wish I’d known what you had in mind. I would have stopped to pick up the food on my way home.”

“No need. I have a pizza warming in your oven and a new microbrew I’ve been wanting to try in your refrigerator.”

After Titan greeted Tilly, he trotted over to say hi to me, while Tilly greeted Tony. “If you had a way into the cabin, why were you waiting out here in your truck?”

“It seemed presumptuous to wait inside. I knew you probably wouldn’t be long, it’s a beautiful evening, and you do have quite the spectacular view here.”

I ruffled Titan behind the ears, then kissed him on the top of the head. “I’m glad you’re here, but you probably should have called. What if I wasn’t free?”

Tony shrugged as Tilly and Titan headed to my front door together. “I would have taken my beer and pizza home. Let me just grab a few things from my truck and I’ll get the game set up.”

“Do you have a new one?”

“I do. It’s called Valley of Atonement. I’ve been asked to test it for a friend. You can help.”

One of the very best things about Tony, second to his good looks, giving nature, kind heart, millions of dollars, and superior brain, was that he knew a lot of people who developed video games and was always being asked to test them and offer advice before they were on the market. Most of the time he asked me and his other friend, Shaggy, to test them out as well.

“I hope you didn’t order pineapple on the pizza,” I said as I walked to the door with Tony trailing behind me.

“I would never get pineapple on any pizza I planned to share with you. There are also no mushrooms, peppers, or tomatoes. All meat, all the way.”

I grinned. “Thanks. I know you love pineapple on your pizza, so I appreciate the sacrifice. Why don’t you set everything up while I change out of my work clothes?” As a mail carrier, I had a uniform I was required to wear every day, but when I was home, it was sweatpants, jeans, or shorts.

I greeted both kittens and headed into my bedroom, where I put on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. I pulled my long hair into a ponytail, then returned to the main living area of the cabin, where Tony had the pizza on the table, along with plates, forks, and ice-cold beer. It was a beautiful day and I was tempted to move the dinner outdoors onto my deck, but it was still a little chilly in the evenings, although the snow had melted and the meadows were lush with green grass and colorful wildflowers.

“This really is the best pizza in town,” I said as I took my first bite of the thickly layered pie.

“Having Giovani’s Pizza on a regular basis is one of the things I miss about not living closer to town,” Tony said. “I noticed they had a few new specialties, including a buffalo chicken topping that sounds like it might be fun to try.”

“That does sound good. We’ll have to try it next time.” I slipped a second piece of pizza onto my plate.

“Shaggy loves chicken wings, so I’m betting he’d like to try it as well.” Shaggy owned a video game store, and the two spent quite a bit of time together. “I’m surprised you didn’t bring him with you tonight.”

“I thought about inviting him, but I wanted to talk to you about something.”

I set my slice down. “My dad?”

Tony had been trying to help me track down my father, who supposedly died twelve years ago. For some reason, I had a feeling there was more to his death than I’d been told, so I’d asked Tony to look in to it. Not only had he found what seemed like proof that Dad hadn’t died in the fiery accident, as everyone thought, but there was every indication he could still be alive and living an alternate life.

“No, not your dad,” Tony said.

“Okay.” I couldn’t imagine what Tony would want to discuss with me that he wouldn’t want Shaggy to overhear if it wasn’t regarding my father and his not-so-dead state of being. “Then what is it?”

Tony paused and made eye contact before he continued. Okay, he was making me nervous now. It wasn’t like Tony to hesitate. I watched as a myriad of emotions crossed his face. Eventually, he spoke. “Remember you asked me to check out the man who came to White Eagle to visit your mother over Valentine’s Day?”

“I remember. His name is Romero Montenegro. He lives in Italy, where his family owns a winery. You said he checked out. You said he used to work in a museum but now teaches history at a university in Rome, although he’s been on sabbatical. You said he’d never been married or arrested, though he did have one failed engagement seven years ago. You said he seemed like a good guy. Did you find something else?”

Tony hesitated. Oh, I didn’t like the look on his face. Tony was the sort who was always confident and sure. This look of doubt and indecision didn’t suit him at all.

“What is it?” I asked in a much firmer tone.

“Is your mom still seeing him?” Tony asked.

“He went back to Italy, so I guess she isn’t technically seeing him, but they’re still corresponding. She’s even made some noises to Ruthie and me about taking some time off over the summer so she can go to Italy to visit him. I’ve been trying to talk her out of it. I mean, she’s fifty-six and the mother of two adults, and he’s a forty-two-year-old playboy. I don’t see what she sees in the man. They have absolutely nothing in common.”

Tony raised an eyebrow. I knew what he wasn’t saying. Romero was a total babe in a cover-of-a-romance-novel way. Dark and fit, with a polished air and a wonderful accent. Of course my middle-aged mother would find him attractive. She’d have to be dead not to be. But sizzling-hot sex appeal wasn’t everything. Though in Romero’s case, it might be enough.

“Do you think we can move on from this line of thought?” I asked. “The idea of my mother having those types of feelings sort of grosses me out.”

“I guess I can understand that.”

“So, what’s the deal? Why are we even discussing the Casanova who’s caught my mother’s attention?”

Tony splayed his hands on the table, his long fingers open wide. “I’m not sure why I even continued to look into his past after that initial search, but something felt off, so when I had some free time, I poked around a bit more. Remember I told you that Romero hadn’t been married but he’d had a failed engagement seven years ago?”

“Yeah. So?”

“It looks like he didn’t break up with his fiancée, but she didn’t break up with him either.”

I sat back in my chair and crossed my arms over my chest. “Okay, what are you saying? Is the guy my mom has been fooling around with still engaged?”

“No. He’s not engaged. Romero Montenegro didn’t get married because his engagement failed. The reason he didn’t get married was because his fiancée died. She was, in fact, murdered.”

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Homecoming By The Sea

Book 1 in my new Haunting By The Sea Paranormal Mystery Series will debut on Tuesday, April 10th. I am in love with this new series and hope you will be as well. The series is a continuation of the Seacliff High Series although you do not have to of read Seacliff High to enjoy this new series that takes place with the same characters, in the same small town, in the same haunted house, as the original series.

Buy or read for FREE with Kindle Unlimited –  https://amzn.to/2uP21aR

 

Here is a preview:

Chapter 1
Monday, May21

I could hear the whispering long before I arrived. It started as a nagging in the back of my mind that grew to a symphony of voices calling me home. I’d felt the echo of what I’d left behind as I made the long trip from one coast to the other.

It had been ten years since I’d stood on this ground. Ten years since I’d heard the voices, felt the connection, seen the images of those who had come before. When I left Cutter’s Cove a decade ago, I knew I would return. What I didn’t know was how long my return would take.

I stood on the bluff overlooking the angry sea. The sky was dark, with heavy clouds that blocked what was left of the afternoon sun. The rumbling in the distance informed me that a storm was rolling toward shore, but it was the murmurs from the house that caused a chill to run down my spine.

I pulled my sweater tightly around my thin frame as the wind raged from the west. My blond hair blew across my face as I tried to emotionally confront the nightmare that had demanded my return. A good friend had died, brutally murdered in his own home. After six months, his killer still roamed free. This, I’d decided, was something I couldn’t bear.

“I’m here,” I whispered as the air became heavy with the approaching storm. Lightning flashed across the sky and still I waited. The house had once been my sanctuary, but now, after all this time, I was hesitant to find out who waited impatiently for my return.

I closed my eyes and listened as the waves crashed onto the rocky shore beneath me. I could feel a presence and wondered if my ability to see those who had passed on had been restored now that I’d returned to the house. It wasn’t as if I was born with the ability to see ghosts. I hadn’t, in fact, seen my first one until I’d moved from New York to Cutter’s Cove, Oregon, at the age of sixteen. At the time I believed the gift was the result of some sort of personal growth, but when I moved away from the house and away from the sea, the images faded.

My phone rang, and I turned back toward my Mercedes. I’d promised my mother I’d call when I arrived, so I hurried to the car. I opened the passenger side door and grabbed the phone, which had been resting on the charger.

“Are you there?” Mom asked from the other end of the phone line.

“I’m here.”

“How’s the house? Ten years is a long time to go without any type of maintenance.”

I looked toward the large home that Mom and I had bought and fixed up twelve years ago. We’d found the house—or perhaps the house had found us—during one of the most difficult times in our lives. Spending time together renovating the dilapidated old lady had not only been cathartic but life changing as well. “I haven’t been inside, but from the outside she looks just as I remember. She needs a coat of paint, but it seems she’s stood strong while she waited.”

“Are you sure about this?” Mom asked for the hundredth time.

“I’m sure.” I looked out toward the sea. “It’s been six months since Booker’s death. I spoke to Woody Baker,” I said, “and the police are no closer to solving the case than they were on the day his body was found.”

“I understand. I really do. But your life is in New York now. Doesn’t it feel strange to return to the place where everyone knew you as Alyson?”

I paused before I answered. An image of Alyson flashed through my mind. Although we’d shared the same body, in many ways she felt like a totally different person. When I’d lived in Cutter’s Cove a decade ago, I’d used the name Alyson Prescott, a persona I’d been assigned when my mom and I had been placed in the witness protection program. My real name is Amanda Parker, a name I resumed when the men who wanted me dead were murdered themselves. “Yes,” I admitted. “It does feel strange. But I have to do this.”

“You know I’ll support you, whatever you decide.”

I smiled. “I know. And I love you for it.” I felt a heavy weight settle in my chest. Deciding that serious conversations could wait for another day, I changed the subject. “How’s Tucker doing? Didn’t he have his checkup today?” Tucker was my German shepherd who stayed with Mom when I went away to college nine years ago. After college I’d secured a high-paying job in a very competitive industry and was rarely home, so Tucker had continued to live with my mother. He was twelve years old now and showing signs of slowing down.

“The vet said he’s doing really well for a dog his age. She gave me supplements as well as some mild pain meds to help with the arthritis.”

I let out a sigh of relief. “Good. I was worried about him. Give him a kiss for me and tell him I love him.”

“Always.”

I glanced back toward the house. “I should get inside and try to get the electricity and heat on before the storm arrives. I’m not sure if I’ll have reception once it does, so don’t worry if you can’t get hold of me.”

“Okay. Be careful.”

I smiled as the reality of my mother’s unconditional love warmed my heart. “I will. I love you. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

I opened the glove box and grabbed the keys to the house. When Mom and I had first come to Cutter’s Cove and found the house perched on the edge of the sea, we’d known we were home. Sure, it had stood empty since the death of the previous owner, and admittedly, it had been about as dilapidated as a house could be and still be standing, but it had history and character, and as far as we were concerned, it was love at first sight. Hoping the key would work in the old lock, I slipped it into the door. Luckily, it turned without effort and I stepped inside.

Finally, I heard the house whisper.

I’m not sure how to explain what I felt in that moment. A sense of homecoming, for sure, but also a hollowness I couldn’t quite explain. The furniture Mom and I had taken such care to choose was covered with sheets and every other surface was covered with dust. I took a step forward, batting at the tapestry of cobwebs that hung from the ceiling.

I took several more steps into the interior. “Is anyone there?” I said out loud. I hadn’t seen anyone, but the sense that I wasn’t alone was overwhelming.

As I stood silently and listened, memories I thought long buried suddenly consumed me. When Mom and I had first come to Cutter’s Cove I’d been so lost. My best friend had just been murdered and Mom and I had been forced to flee the life we’d always known because the men who’d committed the murder had identified me, the only witness to a gangland shooting. I’d thought leaving Amanda Parker behind would be both painful and confusing, and it was, but I found Alyson’s easygoing approach to life surprisingly refreshing. During the two years I’d lived as Alyson, I rarely thought of Amanda, yet it hadn’t been all that difficult to reclaim my old life when I returned to the place where Amanda’s had been the only identity I’d ever known.

“Is anyone there?” I repeated as I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye.

I paused, but no one answered. I supposed it could just be a trick of the light.

The gas and electrical turnoffs were in the basement, so I headed in that direction. The house was huge and so very different from anything we’d known in New York, with nine fireplaces spread among three floors of living space. There was also a basement and a finished attic. Mom, an artist, had replaced the wall on the ocean side of the attic with windows and had turned the space into a studio. She never spoke of it now that she’d resumed her old life, but I often pictured her there, standing at the window, looking out to sea with a contemplative look on her face.

As I entered the main living area, I glanced at the painting on the wall. Mom had captured me and my two best friends, Mackenzie Reynolds and Trevor Johnson, in an unsuspecting moment and converted the photo to oil. When I’d left Cutter’s Cove ten years ago, I’d promised Mac and Trevor that I’d come back to visit all the time. I promised we’d text and Skype every day, and one day find our way back to one another. And we had texted and Skyped. At first. But as the weeks turned into months, and the months into years, we’d become busy with our own lives and drifted apart.

A rustling overhead caused me to pause and listen. It could be animals who’d found their way into the house, though the last time I’d heard strange noises overhead it hadn’t been animals at all.

“Hello,” I called, louder this time. “Is someone there?”

There was no answer and the rustling stopped, so I continued into the kitchen. I focused on the clickety-clack of my heels hitting the deep blue tile floor as I crossed the room. At the stairs leading down to the basement, I turned on the flashlight on my phone and made my way into the inky darkness of the damp room. When we’d first moved into the house, the space beneath the first floor had been cluttered with remnants from previous residents, as had the attic. Mom and I had cleared out both spaces, and now the basement was mostly empty. My first stop was the electrical box. I’d called the power company a few days before to have the power turned on and hoped all that would be required to bathe the house in light would be a flip of the switch.

“Voilà!” I said as the power came on.

Now all I had to do was turn on the gas and I might be looking at a hot bath that evening. I’d been driving for days, but the journey seemed little more than a blur in my consciousness. Once I’d started the drive west I’d felt the pull of the voices and had thought about little else. After confirming that the gas was working, I went back upstairs to the first floor. It would take me a couple of days of elbow grease before the place was habitable, but for now, I had plumbing and a place to stay. I’d brought an ice chest with a few necessities as well as coffee and wine, so it seemed I could survive the night.

I was about to head upstairs to check out my room when my phone rang. I pulled it out of my pocket and looked at the caller ID. My first reaction was annoyance that my life in New York had found a way to intrude on my first minutes back in Cutter’s Cove, then realized how irrational that was and answered. “Ethan. I was just going to call you,” I said to my boyfriend of two years, Ethan Wentworth.

“Have you arrived?”

“I have.”

“And how did you find it?”

“I mostly remembered how to get here.”

Ethan didn’t speak for a moment. I knew he was confused by my response, but I couldn’t help but tease him after the way he’d framed his question. Ethan was a wonderful person and a kind and considerate boyfriend, but he was a product of old money and a rigid upbringing that resulted in a precise way of moving and speaking.

“I’m just kidding.” I laughed. “I found the house to be dusty but intact. How did your court case go?”

“Fine. Our case was impenetrable.”

“So you won?”

“Yes. I believe I just said that.”

I smiled. “You did, and I’m proud of you. I knew you would tear the place up with your research.”

Ethan was a junior partner for one of the top law firms in New York, while I worked as a graphic designer for one of the top advertising agencies.

“Have you had a chance to talk to your policeman friend?” Ethan asked.

“No. I’ll track Woody down tomorrow. Right now, I’m exhausted. I just want to settle in, take a hot bath, and maybe have a glass of wine.”

“I ran into Skip and Gina today,” Ethan said without a beat. He obviously hadn’t picked up on my subtle hint that maybe we should sign off now. “They’re planning a party next month to celebrate Skip’s promotion and their purchase of the new yacht. They asked if you’d be back by then. I told them I thought you would.”

I couldn’t help but notice his tone made it a question rather than a statement. “I took a six-week leave from the office, but if I get things wrapped up sooner, I’ll certainly come home sooner. Still, I don’t think I can commit to a party in just a few weeks. I’ll have to let you know.”

“Are you sure about this venture you’ve embarked on? You realize it’s not your responsibility to find this man’s killer.”

“Of course it isn’t. Still, I think I can help.”

“How? I understand he was your friend and his murder has gone unsolved and that makes you sad and angry. But really, Amanda, how can you help?”

I hesitated. Ethan didn’t know about my ability to see ghosts. He’d never understand, and I knew I could never tell him. That part of me belonged to Alyson. Ethan was part of Amanda’s world. “It’s hard to explain. Listen, I have to go. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Ethan let out a breath that sounded a lot like frustration. “All right. Be careful.”

“I will.” I hung up and held the phone to my chest. Ethan didn’t understand, and I supposed I didn’t blame him. I slipped the phone into my pocket and went toward the stairs. I’d just begun my ascent when a flash of something caught my eye. “Hello,” I called once again. “Is someone there?”

There was still no answer, but I was pretty sure what I was seeing and hearing wasn’t an animal. “Barkley?” I asked. Barkley Cutter had been the previous owner of the house and the first ghost I’d seen after moving to Cutter’s Cove. “Is that you? Are you here?”

There was no answer, but Barkley had never answered in the past. My ability to communicate with ghosts had been limited to seeing them. I’d never been able to speak to them. I was pretty sure Barkley had moved on once my friends and I had solved his murder and found his grandson, so the flash I kept seeing most likely wasn’t him.

I supposed any number of spirits could have moved into the house during the decade I’d been gone. In my experience, if they wanted to make contact they would, so I continued to walk on. When I reached the landing to the second floor, I glanced toward the room that had been my mother’s. It felt odd to be in the house without her, but she was busy with her new life, or maybe I should say the resumption of her old one. I took a moment to remember the way things had been when we’d first purchased the house, then went to my own room. When I opened the door, I expected to see sheets and cobwebs, as elsewhere, but what I found instead was someone lounging on my bed.

“Who are you?” I asked the apparition, who looked exactly like me. A younger version of me, but me nonetheless.

“I’m Alyson. Who are you?”

“Amanda. What are you?” The form really did look like me, although she was translucent, like a ghost. Somehow, I didn’t think she was a ghost. For one thing, I wasn’t dead. For another, I could speak to her and hear her response.

Alyson laid back against the pillow and lifted her legs into the air. She stared at her feet, which were in line with her hips, as if they were the most interesting thing she’d ever seen. “I’m not totally clear on this, but I think I’m the part of you that you left behind.”

I narrowed my gaze. “You’re part of me? Have you been here this whole time?”

Alyson shrugged. “I guess. What has it been, a couple of weeks?”

“Ten years.”

“Damn, girl. I had no idea.” Alyson sat up and crossed her legs. “No wonder I’m so bored. Things have been kinda dead around here since you left.”

I frowned.

“Get it? Dead around here?” Alyson giggled.

I tossed the Michael Kors bag that held my overnight things on the floor and then sat on the edge of the bed. A white sheet still covered the mattress. “You look like me, but you don’t sound like me. I left here when I was seventeen, and even though I was a teenager, I certainly didn’t talk or act the way you do.”

“What can I say? What you see is the new and improved version of Alyson. Alyson 2.0, if you like.”

I frowned. “How is that possible? Even if by some weird chance the part of me that’s somehow connected to this house remained behind when I left, why on earth would it have a completely different personality?”

Alyson shrugged. “I guess Amanda took all the stodgy, boring, elitist stuff with her and what was left behind were all the best parts. Did you bring food?”

“Do you eat?”

Alyson’s smile faded. “Unfortunately, no. But I can remember what it was like when I was you and you were me and we were one. It’s been a while.”

“If I eat, will you be able to enjoy it?”

“I have no idea, but I’d love to try.” Alyson tilted her head. Her long blond hair swept the mattress. I missed my long hair. At some point along the way I’d decided a woman of my age needed to present a more professional appearance, so I’d cut it. Not super short. Around shoulder length.

I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths. I still wasn’t sure if Alyson was real. For all I knew, I was suffering the effects of driving three thousand miles in four days.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Alyson said. “And I can assure you, I’m real.”

I opened my eyes. “How did you know what I was thinking?”

“Duh.” Alyson rolled her eyes. “I’m you, remember? And no…” Alyson got up and began jumping up and down on the bed. “You aren’t going crazy. And yes, you’ll eventually come to love me.”

Now I was sure I was having a hallucination. I never jumped on beds as Amanda or Alyson. Not even when I was a young child. Jumping on beds was something people like me simply didn’t do. “I’m going out to the car to get the rest of my things. I assume you’ll be gone when I get back.”

Alyson got down off the bed. “Amanda, Amanda, Amanda. How do I make you understand? I’m not going anywhere. I live here. Haven’t you been paying attention?”

“I’ve been paying attention, but that doesn’t mean I have to accept what I’m seeing. If you were me, you would act like me. Because you don’t, my only conclusion is that you’re a figment of my imagination.”

Alyson walked over to me. We were exactly the same height, so her blue eyes looked directly into mine. “What happened to you? Don’t you remember being Alyson? Don’t you remember wearing jeans and going barefoot and having fun? Don’t you remember how happy you were once you were able to shed Amanda and her zillions of dollars, private schools, and designer shoes that felt like torture every minute you wore them?”

I glanced down at the pantsuit I was wearing with matching pumps. I really was dying to kick them off and pull on some baggy sweats. Of course, Amanda didn’t own baggy sweats. “I do remember,” I said. “But that wasn’t real. Alyson wasn’t real. It was as if I took a vacation from my life, but somewhere inside I knew Amanda was always there, waiting to come out when it was safe to do so.”

Alyson shrugged. “Suit yourself. If you’re going to empty that fancy car of yours that probably cost more than you paid for this house, you’d better hurry. It’s starting to rain.”

Ghost me was right. It was starting to rain. I paused for just a moment and then hurried down the stairs to get the things I’d left in my trunk. When I returned, she was gone. Perhaps she’d been an illusion after all.

 

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Hippity Hoppity Homicide

It comes down to a few critical seconds as Zoe is forced to either outsmart a genius or watch her husband die.

With Easter only a week away, Zoe is pulled into a dangerous game after Zak is kidnapped, and the person who kidnapped him, challenges Zoe to The Sleuthing Game. Zoe is told that the only way to gain Zak’s freedom is to complete the challenges in the time allotted.

If she fails, Zak will die.

Zoe had promised she would retire from sleuthing now that she had an infant to care for, but the stakes are high, so she leaves the kids with Ellie, while she and Levi set out to beat a madman at their own game.

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I am really excited about this book. It was SO much fun to write. I hope you all will give it a try. If you’d like a preview I’ve included chapter 1.

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Chapter 1
Sunday, March 25

The first thing I noticed upon entering the room was that the bedspread didn’t match the carpet, which was a totally different color from the drapes. Mismatched decor is an odd thing to have float past your consciousness when you’ve just been told that a man whose friendship you value is dead and your husband is missing. On an intellectual level I knew I was in shock and the emotions that any rational person should and would experience were waiting just below the surface, but in that moment I felt nothing.

“Zoe, are you okay?” Sheriff Salinger asked.

I looked away from the drapes and stared at him with what I was sure was a confused expression. I knew something was expected of me, but I had no idea what it was everyone was waiting for.

“This is too much for her,” my friend, Levi Denton, said. He put his hands on my shoulders, turned my body toward him, and stared into my eyes, a look of concern evident on his face. “She shouldn’t be here. There must be another way.”

“I don’t disagree that it would be best if Zoe didn’t need to be here,” Salinger said, “but the instructions left by the person or persons who have Zak were very specific.”

I averted my eyes from Levi’s concerned gaze and looked around the room. There was blood splatter everywhere. My mind began to feel fuzzy as the room seemed to fade in and out. I felt a wave of nausea as I struggled to accept what I’d witnessed with my own eyes. This couldn’t be real. It didn’t make sense. I put my hand to my face to try to wake myself from this horrible nightmare.

“Zoe?” Levi put a hand on my cheek and gently turned my head so I was looking at him again. He looked so scared. So vulnerable. In that moment I knew this was real and not a dream, as I had hoped. I glanced to the floor and then back to Levi.

“How did he die?” I asked as I tried very hard to look away from the outline of Will’s body, which had been covered with a sheet.

“Shot in the head,” Salinger answered.

I cringed.

“He would have gone quickly, so at least he didn’t suffer,” Salinger added.

“When?” I asked in a voice so soft I wondered if anyone had heard.

“The 911 call reporting the sound of a gunshot came through about thirty minutes ago,” Salinger answered.

I closed my eyes as a single tear slid down my cheek. Thirty minutes ago, I’d been at home feeding my three-month-old daughter, Catherine Donovan Zimmerman, while Scooter Sherwood and Alex Bremmerton, the two children who lived with Zak and me, chatted about the funny thing they’d seen in town that afternoon. Thirty minutes ago, I was making plans for the Easter celebration I planned to host next weekend. Thirty minutes ago I hadn’t known that Will was dead or that Zak had been kidnapped by the monster who had killed him.

Levi put his arms around me and pulled me tightly into his chest. I closed my eyes and took comfort in the sound of his strong, steady heartbeat. I knew that giving in to the despair that threatened to overwhelm me wasn’t an option. I’d lost a friend today and my heart wanted to weep at the injustice of it. But if the note Salinger held was authentic, Zak was still alive, and it was up to me to save him. I glanced at the sheet on the floor and knew I must set the rage in my soul aside.

“I can take you home if you need some time to process what’s happened,” Levi offered as I felt my tears soak into his sweater.

I dug down deep for the strength I needed, squeezed him tightly around the waist, and then took a step back. “I’m fine.” I turned and looked at Salinger. “What do I need to do?”

I knew he’d found our friend and employee, Will Danner, lying in a pool of blood after receiving an anonymous 911 call. Will, a teacher at Zimmerman Academy, the private school Zak and I owned, had been staying in a motel near the Academy while his house was being remodeled. Zak had agreed to meet him that evening regarding a project on which they were collaborating. When Salinger arrived, he’d found a note in Will’s left hand and a burner cell in his right. The note detailed a very specific set of instructions stating that Zoe Donovan Zimmerman, and only Zoe Donovan Zimmerman, was to call the number provided on the piece of paper with the phone that had been left in Will’s hand.

“We need to call the number and find out what they want,” Salinger said. “There isn’t anything we can do to help Will. What we need to focus on is finding Zak.”

I swallowed what felt like a boulder in my throat, “I agree.” I held out my hand for the phone. Salinger handed it to me and I looked at it and frowned. “There’s blood on it. That doesn’t seem right.”

“Yeah, there’s blood everywhere,” Levi said.

“No, Zoe’s right,” Salinger said, looking at both the phone and the note. Salinger pulled back the sheet, causing me to look away as he did. “There’s blood splatter on the phone and the note but not on Will’s hands beneath the phone and the note.”

“And that’s important because…?” Levi asked.

“It’s important because it suggests Will was already holding them before he was shot,” I explained.

Salinger carefully rolled Will’s body to one side and I forced myself to watch. “There isn’t any blood beneath his torso,” Salinger confirmed.

Levi paled. “Are you telling me some wacko made Will lay on his back holding the phone and note and then shot him in the head?”

“It could have occurred that way, but it’s more likely Will was already unconscious when he was shot,” Salinger explained.

“I guess that’s a good thing,” Levi mumbled.

I looked at the phone again. I knew once I started there was no going back. I had no idea where this first phone call would lead, but I had a feeling I was in for a bumpy ride. Nothing else made sense. The setup had been much too elaborate for an easy and painless conclusion to be on the horizon.

I looked at Levi again. He frowned, but I could see he was struggling to be strong for me. “I guess we should do this.”

He nodded.

I looked at Salinger. “Are you ready?”

Salinger nodded. “Hold the phone away from your ear so we can hear what’s being said as well.”

I nodded and pushed the Call button on the phone that had already been programmed. After only one ring a deep voice that sounded unreal came on the line. The message seemed to have been prerecorded using an automated voice system.

“Welcome to The Sleuthing Game. The purpose of the game is to solve the eight puzzles you will be provided before the allotted time for each runs out. If you are successful, your husband will be returned to you unharmed. If you are unsuccessful you will never see the father of your child alive again. The first set of instructions, as well as the first puzzle, has been taped to the bottom of one of the tables at the Classic Cue pool hall. You have until eight p.m. this evening to retrieve and follow the instructions. No cops or Zak dies.”

I glanced at Salinger. “What sort of sicko are we dealing with?”

Salinger frowned. “I don’t know.”

“It makes no sense that anyone would shoot one man and then kidnap a second one simply to make Zoe engage in a ridiculous game of some sort,” Levi stated.

“Do you really think whoever is behind this will kill Zak if I refuse to play?” I asked, fighting the dizziness that threatened to thrust me into a state of unconsciousness. I took a deep breath and fought the urge to slide into the darkness. Focusing on Salinger as he looked around the room, I felt the dizziness dissipate.

“I don’t know,” he repeated. “But given the fact that he or she has already killed once, I think we have to assume they will.”

“Who would do such a thing?” Levi asked a question that had been asked before and I knew would be asked a dozen times more before this was over.

“It’s obviously personal,” I said as I felt my strength begin to return. “Someone wants to make me jump through a bunch of hoops. I’m going to assume we’re dealing with someone I’ve harmed in the past. The fact that they’re referring to their sick ploy as The Sleuthing Game indicates to me that the person behind this is most likely someone I helped put in jail.” I looked at Levi. “I need to do this. I can’t risk Zak’s life by not cooperating. I need you and Ellie to stay with the kids until this is over.”

“You can’t do this alone.”

“I think I have to. I don’t want Ellie and the kids to be alone. I need you to be with them.”

I could see Levi wanted to argue, but then Salinger spoke. “I’m going to call the county office to see if I can get a couple of deputies to watch your house.”

“Thank you. I’ll feel better about things if I know the kids are safe and this psycho can’t grab one of them next, if that’s what they plan.” I glanced at my watch. “I need to get a move on if I’m going to find the next set of instructions before the deadline.”

“I’ll run home and change into plainclothes,” Salinger said. “I’ll borrow my neighbor’s car as well. I’ll follow you from a distance.”

“What if they see you?” I asked.

“They won’t.”

“The voice on the phone specifically said no cops,” Levi stated. “I know you said you were going to change out of your uniform, but the person who’s doing this probably knows what you look like. I think I should be the one to follow Zoe.”

I looked toward Levi and shook my head vigorously. “I don’t want to put you in any danger. This madman wants me and only me. I need to do this alone.”

I couldn’t help but notice the look of resolve that crossed Levi’s face. “I’m not letting you do this alone. That isn’t an option. Someone has to go with you and because the voice on the phone said no cops that someone can’t be Salinger.”

“But…”

Levi grabbed my shoulders. He forced me to face him. I could see he was as determined to help me as I was for him to be safely out of harm’s way. “I’m going with you. I know you don’t think you need me, but you do. I know you think you’ll be putting me in danger, but you won’t. You said yourself this seems to be some sick game between you and whoever is orchestrating it. I doubt they’ll have a bit of interest in me.”

My resolve hardened. “If it’s personal between me and this person why did they kill Will?”

“To get your attention,” Levi answered. “To demonstrate the lengths to which they’ll go if you don’t comply with their instructions. Please.” Levi looked me directly in the eye. “I’m going with you. Don’t fight me on this.”

I glanced at Salinger. “What do you think?”

Salinger shrugged. “I suppose Levi has a good point. You most likely will need help, and as much as I’d like to provide it, maybe he should be the one to go with you. The last thing we want to do is make whoever is behind this angry by ignoring the no-cops dictate. I’ll head over to your house and stay with Ellie and the kids until the guys from the county show up. Levi can call me after you retrieve the next set of instructions. I think right now we need to do what the kidnappers are asking to the best of our ability. Once we know what they’re really after we can work together to come up with a plan.”

“Okay.” I looked at Levi, having come to a decision. “Let’s go.”

The drive between the motel where the attack had occurred and the Classic Cue was accomplished in silence. It took every ounce of strength I could muster not to curl into a fetal position and sob until the sweet peace of unconsciousness overcame me. The thought that Zak was being held by a crazy person filled me with more terror than my mind was able to process and I knew it was only a matter of time before my determination slipped and a feeling of helplessness returned.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I needed to calm my mind so I could focus. I needed to stay strong for Zak. I let my mind wander until eventually it landed on a thought about Catherine and the prebedtime feeding the two of us enjoyed each evening. Catherine knew Ellie and I supposed she would be fine with favorite honorary auntie putting her to bed, but in the three months since she was born I’d never missed a single bedtime feeding.

Given what was going on, it was a good thing I’d been forced to stop breast feeding. I’d felt like a total failure when I learned my body wasn’t producing enough of the nutrients my baby needed, but now that I wouldn’t be able to be with Catherine for however long this sick, sick game took to complete, I was glad she was used to taking a bottle. It would have been a lot harder on both of us if we hadn’t already made the transition.

“We’re almost there,” Levi said, breaking into my daydream.

I sat up and opened my eyes. “When we get to the Classic Cue I’ll go in and find the next set of instructions while you call Ellie. I know Salinger said he was going to head over to the house, but she must be frantic.”

“Yeah, I’m sure she probably is.”

“Tell her that Alex knows where everything she’ll need to take care of Catherine is. And tell her to keep the kids home from school tomorrow. I don’t want them to go out at all until we’re able to track this guy down and put him safely behind bars.”

“Okay. I’ll tell her.” Levi turned onto the street where the pool hall was located. “Maybe we can figure out who he is and where he’s holding Zak. If we can find him we can end this. At some point he’s bound to make a mistake, give something away.”

I glanced out the passenger side window. Familiar buildings passed as we slowly made our way down the street. It was cool this evening, so the sidewalks were sparsely populated; still, it seemed odd that there were people going about their normal lives completely unaware of the fact that Will was dead and Zak was missing. “Yeah,” I whispered as Levi stopped at a crosswalk. “We should keep our ears open. The sooner this is over the better.”

We arrived at the pool hall and I went in alone. Levi and I weren’t certain how the killer would react to his presence, so we decided it was best for him to hang in the background. The pool hall was crowded and the tables were all occupied, which was going to make searching for a note taped beneath one of them difficult. I walked up to the first table, where two men who looked to be in their early twenties were engaged in a game of eight ball. “I’m sorry to interrupt your game, but I need to crawl under your table for just a minute.”

“Did you lose something, sweetheart?” one of the men asked after looking me up and down with a suggestive grin on his face.

“I dropped an earring the last time I was here,” I lied. “I’ll only be a minute.”

The men stepped back and I got down on my hands and knees. I tried to ignore the catcalls as I slipped under the table. Yes, I realized my jeans-covered backside was sticking up in the air in a most unfortunate position, but I had little choice in positioning my body as I tried to move around in the tight space. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the note, so I thanked the men, then went to the next table and repeated the humiliating process. There were sixteen tables in the room, which would mean a lot of time crawling around on the dirty floor with my butt in the air if the note happened to be taped to the last one I checked. Luckily, I found both a note and a cell phone taped to the undercarriage of the eighth table I crawled beneath. I grabbed both and headed out to the car.

The note contained a set of instructions along with a riddle that, when solved, would lead me to a location. The note indicated that the phone would ring at exactly 9:14. I was to answer it on the third ring. If I had solved the puzzle and ended up in the correct place I would have the information I needed to be able to answer the second question. Once I provided the answer I would be given nine additional minutes to provide five additional answers.

“Okay, so what’s the riddle?” Levi asked.

“‛To find the clue you must peel back the letters and find that which remains,’” I read aloud.

“Huh?” Levi asked. “What on earth does that mean?”

“I think it’s suggesting there’s a hidden message contained within the riddle. Or maybe invisible ink was used to write something on the back.” I continued to stare at the piece of paper in my hand. The psycho who had gone to all the trouble of orchestrating the game wanted me to play, so they wouldn’t have started off with a riddle I couldn’t solve.

“Peel back the words,” Levi said as he held out his hand, indicating I should give him the note. “Maybe he wants us to focus on part of what’s provided. I notice there seem to be a lot of pretty specific numbers.”

I thought about the note. The fact that he wanted me to pick up on the third ring and answer the second question was unusual, as was the time of nine-fourteen for the phone call.

“Okay; what numbers are mentioned in order?” I asked. I took out my phone to record them.

“The instructions state that you’ll get a call at 9:14, so that’s 9-1-4. Then you pick up on the third ring and answer the second question, so that gives us 9-1-4-3-2. After that you’ll be given nine minutes to answer five more questions.”

“That’s 9-1-4-3-2-9-5,” I said aloud. ‘I know where we need to go.”

“Where?” Levi asked.

“It’s Zak’s private line at Zimmerman Academy.”

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Farewell To Felines

 

It’s launch day for Farewell to Felines. This is the 15th book in the popular Whales and Tails Cozy Mystery Series. If you would like to take a sneak peek, here is chapter 1.

Buy or read for FREE with Kindle Unlimited. http://amzn.to/2otsWTh

 

Chapter 1
Monday, March 12

The hollow is a mystical place located in the center of Madrona Island. Given the rocky cliffs that encircle the area, it’s protected from the storms that ravage the shoreline. The hollow is uninhabited except for the cats who reside in the dark spaces within the rocks. One of the things I like best about the hollow are the whispers in the air. Most believe the sound is created by the wind echoing through the canyon, but I like to think the whispers are the cats, heralding my arrival.

“Do you hear them?” I asked Tansy as we hiked to the top of the bluff that overlooked the ocean in the distance.

“No. The cats are quiet, and that worries me.” Tansy has some sort of mystical power that’s tied in with the magic surrounding the cats. She and her best friend, Bella, are rumored to be witches. Neither of them will confirm or deny their witchy status, but both women know things that can’t be empirically explained. Tansy and I had decided to venture into the hollow after she had a premonition that the cats were unhappy and leaving the area for reasons she didn’t understand.

“It’s odd not to have seen a single cat by this point.” I paused and looked around. “Should we continue?”

“What does your intuition tell you?”

While I don’t have Tansy’s powers, it does seem I’ve been tasked with the responsibility of working with the island’s magical cats. It’s not something I asked for, but I know deep in my soul that my role with the cats is tied to my destiny. “My intuition tells me we need to climb higher.”

Tansy smiled and nodded for me to walk ahead of her on the narrow path. The trail was steep and covered in shale, making for a difficult and dangerous passage. I’m in pretty good shape, so I’m well equipped for a laborious hike, but I could sense a storm coming and was afraid it would arrive before Tansy and I would be able to make our way back down the trail and out of the hollow. Still, over time I’ve learned to trust her, so I continued, despite the risk. The trail narrowed as it wound steeply up the mountain. My legs burned as I struggled to keep my footing on the unstable ground.

“If your sense is that the cats are leaving the hollow, where are they going?” I asked. “We do live on an island, after all. It’s not like they can venture very far.”

“If the cats are intent on leaving they’ll find a way.”

I supposed Tansy was right. I knew one cat in particular who seemed to make his way between the islands with seemingly little difficulty. Of course, Ebenezer was a special cat who seemed almost human at times, but then again, all the cats I’d worked with were special in their own way.

Once we arrived at the summit, I paused to catch my breath and admire the view. The ocean looked dark and angry as the storm gathered just beyond the horizon. I listened once again, turning slightly so I was facing the sea. “My instinct tells me we should head inland, but a storm is coming and I’m not sure continuing is the best idea.”

“Never doubt your instincts, Caitlin Hart.”

I glanced back toward the narrow path. “I guess it couldn’t hurt to go on for a bit. I’d hate to have come this far and not find out what’s causing the disturbance.” The detour was going to add time to our journey and I hoped it wasn’t all for nothing. Usually it was Tansy who would lead the way while I followed. It felt somewhat unnatural for her to be walking behind me. I wondered if this wasn’t some kind of a test to prove my worthiness to expand my role as guardian to the cats.

We had just started down the path when Tansy gasped. I stopped walking and turned around to find her holding a hand to her chest. Her long black hair blew in the wind, creating a vail of sorts that framed her pale face. “Are you okay?” I walked back the way I’d come until I was at her side.

“No. I don’t think I am.”

“Should we go back?”

Tansy shook her head. “I am certain we must continue.”

“Are you in pain?” I didn’t think going on with a sick witch was a good idea at all.

“It’s the hollow that’s sick. For magic to survive, a very specific balance must be maintained. I feel that balance has been altered.”

I had no idea what Tansy was talking about, but a bit of color had returned to her normally pale complexion that made me feel better. “Are you sure you want to continue?”

“I’m sure.”

I took a deep breath and turned back to the narrow path. “Okay. But let me know if you need to stop.”

I walked down the trail slowly so as not to tax Tansy, but to be honest, the farther I traveled, the more urgent was my desire to run. “There’s a fork,” I said after we’d been walking a while. “Both paths are narrow and both continue inland.”

“Close your eyes and focus on the paths ahead of you,” Tansy suggested.

I did as she instructed.

“Which path feels right to you?”

“The trail to the left,” I said with a confidence I wasn’t really feeling.

“All right. Then we’ll continue to the left.”

I nodded and headed down that trail. I could feel Tansy walking behind me, but I could also sense her distress. I stopped and turned around. “I can go on alone if you want to wait for me here.”

“No. We’re close. Can you smell it?”

I took a deep breath and wrinkled my nose at the stench. “What is it?”

“The source of the disturbance. It won’t be long now.”

“Until what?” I had to ask. This whole thing was beginning to freak me out. After several years of witnessing some truly spectacular things, there’s no way I was going to try to argue that magic didn’t exist, but the idea that it depended on some sort of perfect balance was a bit hard to swallow.

“There.” I turned around in time to see Tansy pointing to a small body of water in the distance.

After we’d traversed the space between where we’d stood and the small pond, I looked down at the murky surface of the usually pristine blue water. “Something’s wrong with the water. It smells awful. I think it’s been contaminated.”

Tansy frowned. “Yes, I’m afraid it has been tainted. I imagine the lack of clean water is the catalyst that’s driving the cats away.”

“How can we fix it?”

“I sense the tainted water is a symptom of a larger problem. The answers we seek will reveal themselves in the coming days. We’ve done what we can for now.”

I turned and headed back in the direction from which we had come. As we neared the top of the path and the bluff, I heard thunder rumbling in the distance. I glanced out at the dark sea as we paused momentarily before continuing down the other side. The dark clouds had completely blocked the light the sun would have provided. I just hoped we’d make it back to the car before the worst of the storm hit.

“Do you think the cats will return if we can find the source of the contamination and fix it?”

“Perhaps.”

The walk down from the summit was accomplished much more quickly than the trip up. When we arrived at my car I noticed a large brown cat with bright eyes and pointy ears sitting on the hood. “Am I to assume this cat will be leaving with us?”

“Apollo is here to help.”

“With the water in the hollow?”

Tansy picked up the cat. She closed her eyes and whispered to it in a language I didn’t understand. The cat meowed a couple of times, and Tansy opened her eyes. “I’m afraid Apollo is here to help you resolve a different issue. Follow his lead and you’ll find the answers you seek.”

“Has someone died?”

Tansy nodded but didn’t answer. My heart sank. Occasionally, cats appeared to help me deal with a problem other than a murder, but most of the time when one of them appeared someone had died. I wondered who.

As we drove back to Pelican Bay, where Tansy lived with Bella, the sky continued to darken. The wind had picked up quite a bit, and I could tell by the heaviness of the clouds that we were in for a serious storm. I dropped Tansy at her house, then drove back toward the peninsula, where I lived. I was nearing the point where I turned on to the peninsula road when Apollo started meowing and jumping around the car. I slowed and eventually pulled over.

“What is it? Are you trying to tell me who’s died?”

“Meow.” Apollo began pawing at the glove box. I opened it, and a sheet of yellow paper fell out of it and onto the floor.

“That’s just the program from Sunday services at St. Patrick’s.”

Apollo jumped from the front seat onto the floor. He picked up the paper in his mouth, then leaped back onto the seat. Once he was settled he placed the program on the seat between us.

“I don’t understand what you want me to do. Today is Monday. Services are on Sundays.”

“Meow.” Apollo placed his paw on the program.

I looked at what he seemed to be pointing to. “That’s the set list the adult choir sang during yesterday’s service. Do you want me to go to St. Patrick’s?”

The cat didn’t respond.

I tried to figure out exactly what it was the cat was pointing to. “Do you want me to pay a visit to Father Bartholomew? Oh God, he isn’t the one who died, is he?”

The cat still didn’t respond.

“It isn’t Sister Mary?” My heart began to race as the thought entered my mind. I’d known Sister Mary for most of my life. She was my best friend’s biological mother and almost a member of my family. “Please tell me it isn’t Sister Mary.”

Apollo just stared. I’m not sure if cats can experience frustration, but I got the feeling this one was quickly becoming impatient with me. It seemed his silence represented a negative response, so I continued to guess at what it was he was trying to tell me. “Maybe someone whose name is on the list?”

“Meow.”

“Okay, good. Now we’re getting somewhere.” The first name on the list was Thea Blane, the new director of the adult choir. “Do you want me to pay a visit to Thea?”

“Meow.”

“Is Thea the one who’s died?”

“Meow.”

I closed my eyes and offered a silent prayer. She and I hadn’t been close, but I’d known her casually for quite a few years. She was single, lived alone, and didn’t seem to have any family on the island. Still, I was sure there were those who would mourn her passing. I looked at the darkening sky. Thea lived all the way over in Harthaven and the storm was getting closer. If I continued to her place, we risked getting caught in it. “Are you sure Thea’s the one we need to find?”

“Meow.”

I glanced at the sky one last time. It would be a risk to make the trip, but I couldn’t go on the off chance Thea was still alive and Apollo’s insistence was to save her, not simply to discover her remains. Making a decision, I pulled back onto the road and headed toward Harthaven.

When Apollo and I arrived at Thea’s place I saw her car in the driveway. I still hoped she was alive and Apollo had brought us here for another reason. Once again, I prayed we weren’t too late. I opened my door, which allowed Apollo to slip out of the car before I could stop him. I watched as he went to the door, then joined him on the front porch, rang the bell, and waited. My heart was pounding the entire time. I waited another minute before ringing the bell for a second time. When Thea still didn’t answer, I knocked on the door and called her name. When she still didn’t answer I tried to turn the knob. The door was locked.

“Maybe I should call Finn,” I said as the first raindrops began to fall. “Come to think of it, maybe that’s what I should have done in the first place.”

“Meow.” Apollo hopped off the raised porch and ran around to the back of the house.

I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my hair and followed him as the rain increased in intensity. At the side of the house, I found the wooden gate leading to the backyard open slightly. Apollo slipped inside and out of sight. I felt I had no choice but to follow, so I lowered my head and trotted to the gate. When I reached the back door I saw it was ajar, and Apollo was nowhere in sight. I opened the door wider, calling Thea as I did so.

I walked through the kitchen to the main living area of the house. “Thea,” I called once again. “It’s Caitlin Hart. Are you home?”

My words were met with silence. I looked around for the cat and spotted him sitting on top of a small desk against the wall near the foot of the stairs. When he saw I’d found him, the cat jumped down and ran up the stairs. As I followed, I heard the first rumbling of thunder in the distance.

At the top of the stairs was a short hallway that led to four rooms. The first contained a bed and a dresser and looked like a guest room. It appeared to be empty and undisturbed, so I continued to the second room, which turned out to be a bathroom. The third room looked a lot like one of the rooms in my Aunt Maggie’s house that she used for a craft and sewing room, so I imagined the last door would lead to the master bedroom. When I saw a pair of feet sticking out from the far side of the bed I knew for certain what I had feared since Apollo had snuck into the house was true. Thea Blane was dead.

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Writing By The Sea

 

Ken and I are at the coast for a couple of weeks enjoying the milder temperatures and sandy beach. I have a LOT of work to get done while we are here so this is far from a vacation in any real sense but the change of scenery has been awesome. Luckily both books I am working on while at the ocean take place at the ocean so the sound of the waves and the long walks on the beach  have been very inspiring.

The sunsets have been fabulous and have provided a routine of sorts. Unless it is actually raining we try to stop for the day once the sun begins its descent, open a bottle of wine, and welcome the evening. A day of writing bookended by a long walk on the beach in the morning and sunset on the beach in the evening barely feels like working at all.

I have new releases all lined up and ready to go so look for a sneak peek of Farewell to Felines next week.

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The Valentine Mystery

 

http://amzn.to/2CKnpki

 

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Book 2 in my new Tess and Tilly series, The Valentine Mystery,  publishes on Monday February 12th. I’m really enjoying this new series and hope you are as well. I’ve included a preview of The Valentine Mystery below.

 

Chapter 1
Wednesday, February 7

“Mornin’, Tess, mornin’, Tilly,” Queenie Samuels greeted my dog Tilly and me. “It looks like a two-bagger today.”

I groaned as I accepted two large mail bags from the postal employee who had recently been hired to help with mail distribution for the White Eagle, Montana, branch of the United States Postal Service. I supposed I should have anticipated the extra workload with Valentine’s Day just around the corner.

“Your mom has a package requiring a signature,” Queenie informed me. “If you want to sign it out, you can just drop it by her place with the mail to save her the trouble of coming in for it.”

I accepted the clipboard and signed my name, Tess Thomas, in the spot reserved for a signature from my mother, Lucy Thomas. I had to admit I was curious about what was in the small box with the foreign postmark.

“The box came from Italy,” Queenie informed me as I studied the postmark. “I’m not sure who Romero Montenegro is, but I do love the name. It’s so strong and masculine; I can’t help picturing a half-naked man with dark skin, chiseled features, and dark and soulful eyes every time the name Romero rolls off my tongue.”

“You’ve definitely been reading too many romance novels.”

“There’s no such thing as reading too many romance novels.” Queenie winked.

I opened the top of one of the bags and peered inside. “Did you happen to notice a box for my Aunt Ruthie while you were packing everything up?”

“There was a package. Flat and heavy. I’m thinking a book of some sort.”

“It’s a photo album. Her son Johnny just had a baby a few weeks ago and Ruthie has her first granddaughter. Johnny promised to send a photo album of baby’s first week, and Ruthie has been asking about it every day since she spoke to him. She’ll be thrilled it finally arrived.” I glanced down at my golden retriever, Tilly. “Are you ready to get started?”

Tilly barked once in reply.

I thanked Queenie, and then Tilly and I headed out to my Jeep. Normally, I just parked on one end of Main Street and made my deliveries up one side and down the other. A two-bagger, however, required a slightly different approach; I parked in the middle of the long row of small mom-and-pop-type businesses with the intention of starting in the middle, working one side of the street, crossing, and then doing the other half of the north end, before returning to my Jeep for the second bag and repeating the effort on the south end of town. The diner my mom owned, along with my Aunt Ruthie, was close to the center of town, so I decided to park there and deliver their packages first.

“You’re early today,” Mom greeted as Tilly and I walked in through the front door at around the same time the breakfast crowd was beginning to disperse.

“Two-bagger.”

“Ah. I guess that makes sense. Would you care for some coffee?”

“I don’t have time to stay, but I did want to bring you this.” I handed my mom the package from Italy.

She looked so completely shocked and so completely delighted when I handed it to her that I knew there had been more going on with the foreigner she had met briefly last summer than she was willing to let on.

“Isn’t the package from the same man who sent you a card at Christmas?”

“Yes,” Mom said, slipping the small package into the large pocket on the front of her apron. “As you know, we met when he was passing through last summer. Since then, we’ve exchanged correspondence. He’s a very nice man I’ve enjoyed getting to know.”

“Queenie said Romero Montenegro sounds like a name belonging to a muscular man with chiseled features and soulful eyes.”

Mom quickly glanced away. She picked up a rag and began wiping an already clean counter.

“So, does he have soulful eyes?” I couldn’t resist teasing the woman who, as far as I knew, had never even been on a date since she’d been informed my father died fourteen years ago.

“He’s a very nice-looking man. Now, if you don’t mind, I have customers to see to.”

I looked around the half-empty restaurant. Everyone looked to be taken care of, but I didn’t argue. I hated it when my brother, Mike, teased me about my love life, and I thought it was mean of me to tease Mom about hers. “Ruthie’s photo album came. Is she in the kitchen?”

“She is. She’ll be thrilled it’s finally here.” Mom hurried over to the kitchen door and pushed it open. “Ruthie, come on out,” Mom called. “Tess is here, and she brought the photo album Johnny sent.”

The next twenty minutes were taken up by Ruthie showing Mom and me, as well as every customer who hadn’t managed to escape before she opened the book, photos of little Holly Ruth Turner. She really was cute, but the extra time spent at the diner meant I was going to have to hustle to get my two bags of mail delivered before the shops in the area closed for the day. It was winter in White Eagle, which meant that, except for a few of the restaurants and the bars, the shops in town locked their doors and rolled up the sidewalks by five o’clock.

I managed to make up some time with my next few stops. I tried to pause and chat with a handful of people each day, figuring if I mixed it up, I could maintain the relationships I’d built over time without taking a ridiculous amount of time to complete the route assigned to me. Of course, the one stop where I could never seem to get away with a drop and run was the Book Boutique, the bookstore my best friend, Bree Price, owned.

“Oh good, perfect timing,” Bree said as I walked through the front door with a large stack of mail. “Wilma was just asking me about the Valentine’s Day party Brady’s throwing at the shelter.”

I smiled at Wilma Cosgrove, White Eagle’s new librarian and a fellow dog lover, who had been standing at the counter chatting with Bree. “What do you want to know?”

“I’ve been thinking of adopting a second dog. Sasha gets bored at home by herself all day, and unlike you, I’m not lucky enough to be able to bring her to work with me. How exactly does the party work?”

I set Bree’s mail on the counter. “It’s basically an adoption clinic, but Brady has arranged to use the high school’s multipurpose room. He’s going to decorate it with a Valentine theme and offer punch and cookies to those who show up. He plans to secure the exits other than the main entry, so the dogs and prospective owners can socialize in a casual atmosphere without having to worry about the animals getting out. He even plans to provide bean bag chairs for cuddling, balls for throwing, and toys for playing. He wants folks to relax with and really get to know the dogs available for adoption.”

“It sounds like fun. The event is Saturday?”

“Ten to two,” I confirmed.

“Great. I’ll plan to attend. Right now, I should get going. The library opens in twenty minutes.”

After Wilma left, Bree grabbed me by the arm. “Come with me. You have to see this.”

I let Bree drag me down the hallway to her office. Tilly trailed along behind us. Sitting in the middle of Bree’s desk was a beautiful bouquet of flowers. “Wow. That’s some bouquet. Who’s it from?”

Bree shrugged. “No idea. The delivery guy who brought it this morning said the flowers had been ordered and paid for by a source who wished to remain anonymous.”

“Was there a card?”

“Just a small one that said, ‘Happy Valentine’s Day from a friend.’ I love the mystery of an anonymous gift, but I’m dying to know who it’s from. I’ve been racking my brain since it was delivered, but I can’t think of a single person who would send such a wonderful bouquet.”

Like Bree, I had no idea who would have sent the flowers, but I was grateful. Bree had been so depressed since her last boyfriend had been sent to prison after admitting to stealing an old man’s life savings. It was good to see a smile on her face and a sparkle in her eye for the first time in weeks. “Maybe the flowers were sent by a customer? Or someone from book club?”

Bree tilted her head, causing her long blond hair to drape over her shoulder. “There are a couple of guys in book club who’ve asked me out, but I made it clear to each of them that I wasn’t looking for a romantic entanglement at this point. I can’t think of a single guy who would do something like this.”

“I’m sure the flowers are just an icebreaker, and the man who sent them will follow up. In the meantime, enjoy the mystery.”

Bree shrugged. “Yeah. I guess that makes sense. Are you coming to book club tonight?”

“If I can get the route done in time. I have a two-bagger today, so I’d best get going.”

“Okay. Let me know if you aren’t going to make it for some reason. Otherwise, I’ll plan on you being there. If you want, we can get dinner after.”

“I’d like that. I’ll see you at six.”

I left the bookstore and continued down the main street. I’d finished a quarter of the route and was nearing the halfway point, where I’d exchange my empty bag for the full one, when I got a text from Brady Baker, the new veterinarian in town. He asked if I had time to hand out some flyers for the Valentine party. I texted back that I had time to hand them out, but I didn’t have time to pick them up. He texted that he would have Lilly meet me in midroute.

Lilly Long was Brady’s new partner. She seemed to have been a good choice because she not only had been a practicing veterinarian for eight years, but she appeared to be a small-town girl at heart. She fit right in with the local crowd, which I knew was wonderful for Brady, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about her living and working with White Eagle’s most eligible bachelor. Brady and I were just friends, and he’d said on several occasions that he and Lilly were just friends as well, yet the thought of the two veterinarians spending so much time together caused a twinge of jealousy I couldn’t rationally explain. I texted Brady again and informed him where I’d be, so Lilly could meet up with me. Then I slipped my phone into my pocket and continued on my route.

“Afternoon, Hap,” I said to Hap Hollister as I entered his home and hardware store.

“Seems like you’re late today,” Hap said as I set his mail on the counter. When I only had one bag of mail to deliver, his store was one of my first deliveries.

“Double-bagger.”

“I should have known. Lots of folks getting cards from their sweethearts, I imagine.”

“Cards and packages. Have you decided what you’re getting Hattie for Valentine’s Day?”

Hattie Johnson was Hap’s wife, or ex-wife, or something. To be honest, I wasn’t sure exactly where they stood legally. What I did know was that Hap and Hattie used to be married, but they separated, or possibly divorced, a few years ago and moved into separate residences, but they continued to spend time together and went out on weekly dates.

“I’m struggling with that one a bit. We have our date night tonight. I’m hoping she’ll drop a few hints as to what she’d like.”

“Will you be taking her out on the big night?”

Hap frowned. “I’m not really clear on that. On one hand, our relationship agreement stipulates that Hattie will make dinner for me every Sunday, as well as on the seven major holidays, and in exchange, I’ll take her on a proper date I plan and pay for every Wednesday and every other Saturday. The problem is, Valentine’s Day is on Wednesday. Wednesday is my night to provide a date, but Valentine’s Day is a holiday and therefore Hattie’s day to cook for me.”

“I guess you’ll have to talk to her about it when you see her tonight.”

“Yeah. I guess I will. By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask how Tang is doing. I miss the little guy now that he no longer does your route with you.”

“He’s doing well. I’ll try to bring him by for a visit later in the week.”

Tangletoe, or Tang for short, was an orange-and-white-striped kitten I found tangled up in some fishing wire just before Christmas. When I first found him, he was too young to be left alone, so Tilly carried Tang on the route with us in a backpack. When he got a bit bigger, I knew it would no longer work to bring him everywhere I went the way I brought Tilly, so I adopted a buddy for him, a beautiful longhair black kitten named Tinder. Tang and Tinder seemed quite happy staying behind and destroying my cabin while Tilly and I delivered the mail.

Lilly was just pulling up into the loading zone in front of Cartwright’s Furniture as I approached with the mail. I took a small detour to greet her at her car. The pretty woman with long black hair and huge brown eyes rolled down the driver’s side window and handed me a stack of pink and white posters advertising the adoption event on Saturday.

“Brady says thank you, as do I,” Lilly said as I tucked the posters into my bag.

“Tilly and I are happy to help. It’ll be wonderful to find homes for as many of the shelter residents as possible.”

“I know you plan to show up early on Saturday.” Lilly tucked a lock of her long hair behind one ear. “Do you think you’d have time to stop by the bakery on Saturday morning to pick up the cookies Brady ordered?”

“No problem at all. Did he order them from Hattie?”

Lilly nodded. “Five dozen heart-shaped sugar cookies with pink frosting. Hattie said she’d throw in a cooler of punch.”

“Okay. I’ll pick up the sweets and be at the high school by eight to help with the setup.”

“Thanks, Tess. You’re a peach.”

Lilly rolled up her window and pulled into traffic while Tilly and I continued our route. By the time I’d delivered all the mail I’d been entrusted with for the day, it was almost five o’clock. I knew I’d have to hurry if I was going to make it home to change and drop off Tilly and make it back into town by six o’clock for book club. We’d had snow earlier in the week, so I couldn’t drive too quickly; still, I pressed the speed limit just a bit so as not to be late. My cabin was located outside of town in a rural area off the highway. It’s an old, dilapidated building on a large piece of land surrounded by forest that I wouldn’t trade for anything. There are times during the winter when having such a long commute gets tiresome, but whenever I stand on my deck and listen to the sweet sound of nothing, I know I’m truly living in heaven.

I was just slowing down to navigate a tight curve when I heard a loud crash. I barely had time to apply my brakes when a deer ran onto the road ahead of me. I swerved to avoid hitting him, which caused me to fishtail before coming to a stop in the middle of the road. After taking a few deep breaths to calm my nerves, I slowly pulled onto the gravel shoulder, where a vehicle sat motionless. Based on the damage to the front end, the crash I’d heard must have been this vehicle hitting something just seconds before I arrived.

 

The winner of the $10 Amazon gift card is Jeanette Mulroy. Please email me at kathidaley@kathidaley.com to collect your prize.

 

 

 

 

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