Taming of the Tabby

 

Taming of the Tabby publishes on Tuesday June 20. I’m really excited about this Cait and Cody crossover with Alyson from Seacliff High.  I really had fun with the story and hope you will as well. Here is a preview if you are interested.  http://amzn.to/2sMACnM

 

I could feel something brush my cheek as I struggled toward consciousness. I swiped at it with my hand, but it didn’t seem to help. I tried to open my eyes, but my head was throbbing and the effort seemed almost more than I could bear. I felt myself drifting toward the darkness, but whoever or whatever was brushing my cheek wouldn’t allow me to drift away completely.

“Stop,” I yelled, although it came out more like a croak. God, I was tired. All I wanted to do was slip back to the comfort of nothingness.

I swatted at whatever was irritating my cheek and slowly opened my eyes. It was dark. Eerily, totally dark. The only thing penetrating the inky black night were bright eyes staring at me. I stifled a scream and tried to move away, but I realized I was trapped.

Where was I?

After a moment the creature with the glowing eyes moved away, although I could still sense its presence. I raised a hand to my throbbing head. It felt wet and sticky.

Was I bleeding?

I lowered my hand and tried to get my bearings. I was sitting up, but I was tilted to the side and something was holding me in place. I struggled to liberate my tangled limbs but couldn’t get free. My heart raced and I began to breathe heavily as panic set in. After a few seconds of emotional terror as I struggled to untangle myself, I realized I was in Cody’s truck. I took a deep breath and looked around. I began once again to panic, but after a moment more I realized I was trapped in place by my seat belt and the airbag in front of me.

“Is anyone there?” I yelled into the darkness.

I paused to listen, but the only sound that penetrated my fogged mind was a soft rumbling that sounded like … purring?

I turned my head and once again locked my eyes on the dark figure beside me. I narrowed my gaze as I realized the rumbling was coming from the huge black cat with bright green eyes who must have been the one responsible for waking me in the first place. I immediately felt my heart rate slow and my panic ebb.

“How did you get in here?”

“Meow.”

I took several breaths, blowing them out slowly. Now that I knew where I was, I knew I needed to get out. I struggled to release the catch on the seat belt, which had become trapped between my body and the airbag. In a couple of minutes I’d worked the catch free and scooted out from behind the bag. The driver’s side door was jammed, but the window on the passenger side was open. I supposed that was how the cat got in. I moved my arms and legs to make sure everything was still functioning and then moved across the front seat and climbed out onto the wet ground.

Once I landed I paused to let the dizziness and nausea pass. I put a hand to my torn dress and tried to remember where I’d been and where I was going. I’d been driving Cody’s truck, so I knew he hadn’t been with me. Had anyone else? I looked around and didn’t see anyone, so I supposed I must have been alone. The truck had settled into a ditch, but from where I stood I couldn’t see the road or hear any traffic. I looked around for another vehicle but couldn’t see much in the darkness.

I realized I needed help and looked around for my phone. It wasn’t on the ground, so it must still be in the truck. I was considering crawling back inside to look for it when I smelled gasoline.
“We need to get away from the truck,” I said to the cat who sat watching me.

I paused as I tried to decide which way to walk. Nothing looked familiar. I looked down at my dress and remembered dancing. I was certain I’d been dancing. But if that had been the case why was I alone in a location so remote that not a single car had passed since I’d been here? I looked around, trying to get my bearings, but it was so dark I could only see a few feet in front of me. I figured the truck must have rolled down an embankment, which meant the road would be up the hill, so I started in that direction. I’d lost one of the high heels I’d been wearing, so I took the other one off and tossed it aside. It was slow going as I tried to walk across the rocky ground barefoot, but I had to put some distance between myself and the truck, which I feared could explode at any minute. The cat followed along as I dragged my bruised and battered body up the steep incline, one agonizingly slow step at a time.

As I walked, I listened for the sound of…well, pretty much anything. If I had been in an accident there must have been a second car. Were there survivors in need of help? And even if there hadn’t been a second car it seemed like I should be able to hear traffic on the highway. I paused and put a hand to my throbbing head. God, it hurt, but I needed to find my way back to the road, so I kept going.

As I walked, I tried to remember the events leading up to the accident. I looked down again at my dress, which was, by this point, little more than a tattered rag barely covering my body. Yellow. Siobhan’s favorite color. The wedding! My older sister, Siobhan Hart, had finally married the love of her life, Deputy Ryan Finnegan, and I, Caitlin Hart, had been her maid of honor, while my boyfriend, Cody West, had been one of the groomsmen.

I sighed with relief, now that my scrambled mind was beginning to put things back into place. Finn and Siobhan were supposed to marry a week ago, but she’d come down with a nasty virus and there was no way, she’d declared, that she was going to try to get through one of the most important days of her life when she felt like she wanted to die. It had been a juggling act requiring a lot of hard work and negotiation, but eventually we were able to postpone the event until today. Finn and Siobhan had been cutting it close with the postponement because it meant a lot to them to have Father Kilian officiate at the ceremony, and tomorrow was his last day as a priest at St. Patrick’s before his retirement.

I paused to take a breath and once again wondered where I was. I could remember the wedding and subsequent reception, but then everything seemed to go black.

I crinkled my nose as the smell of smoke penetrated the air. I looked back toward the truck. I didn’t see any flames, but perhaps there was a small fire on the far side of the vehicle that was hidden from my view. I gauged the distance between me and the truck and realized I was still much too close should it explode. I looked down at the cat, then continued forward. The brush was dense on this part of Madrona Island, requiring me to navigate the steep hillside carefully. I couldn’t see my legs, but based on the number of scratches I could feel, I was sure it was going to be a while before I was going to be able to wear shorts again without looking like the subject of a medical experiment.

It probably took me a half hour to make it up the embankment to the road. I looked carefully in both directions, but there wasn’t a single headlight on the horizon. I did see something on the side of the road ahead of me, though. My feet were raw and bleeding and I winced in pain with each step I took, but eventually I was close enough to the object that it began to take form.

Oh God.

I put my hand to my mouth and moved forward at a slightly faster pace. On the side of the hill just a few feet down from the road was the still form of a man lying on his stomach. “Are you okay? Can you hear me?”

He didn’t move. Kneeling beside him, I placed two fingers on his neck. I’m certainly not a trained medical professional and I’ve had zero experience taking pulses, but I didn’t feel one, so I had to assume he was dead. I looked around but didn’t see a second car. I wondered who he was and how he’d come to be there.
Had I hit this man before plunging over the embankment? I didn’t remember it, but, to be fair, I couldn’t remember anything else either.

I carefully checked the man’s pockets for identification or, better yet, a cell phone, but they were completely empty. That in and of itself was strange, but I didn’t have time to dwell on it now. I looked carefully at the side of his face that was exposed. I didn’t know who he was, but for some reason he seemed familiar. Mostly, I felt certain I hadn’t known him before tonight, but a memory flashed through my mind as I studied his face. My head began to spin and I was certain I was about to pass out, so I looked away. I hated to leave him lying on the side of the road, but I needed to get help and because not a single car had passed by, I wasn’t confident waiting was the best thing to do.

“I’m going for help,” I said to him, just in case he was alive and could hear me, which, to be honest, I pretty much doubted. “I’ll try to hurry. If you’re alive and regain consciousness wait here for me.” I looked around. “Wherever here is.” I stood up, then looked down at the cat, who was pacing back and forth alongside me. “What do you think? Do you know where we are?”

“Meow.”

“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing.” The only thing that made sense was that we were on the northern end of the island, which was only sparsely populated. There weren’t any retail outlets there, but there were a few homes. Based on my best guess, if I walked long enough in either direction I should come across a house, which might contain a Good Samaritan willing to let me use their phone. “What do you think? Left or right?”

The cat took off trotting to the west and I fell in behind. I was several hundred yards down the road when I heard a boom, followed by a flash of light. It looked like Cody was definitely going to need a new truck. The ground and surrounding forest was wet from all the rain, so I doubted the fire would spread. At least I hoped it wouldn’t.

The road was narrow and twisting as it wound through the dense forest. I had the sense we were heading toward the coast and hoped that if I managed to make it that far we’d either come across a residence or perhaps a car. The loop road that hugged the coast of Madrona Island was fairly well traveled, though not necessarily on the north shore and not necessarily at this time of night.

Every step I took sent pain shooting up my leg. My feet were covered in deep cuts, making walking agony, but I needed to get help. I figured Cody must be worried and looking for me by now, although I had no reason to believe he’d be looking for me here.

I frowned. Why was I even on the north shore?

I took a deep breath, focused my mind, and struggled to remember.

Finn and Siobhan had gotten married. It had been a beautiful ceremony, with our family and friends surrounding them. Finn was the resident deputy for the island and Siobhan was the mayor, so they knew a lot of people. The church had been packed to capacity for the ceremony and the reception, which had been held in the church hall, had been a festive and happy affair.

I remembered them leaving to catch the last ferry to the mainland. They were going to Italy on their honeymoon, which struck me as perfect and romantic. Their flight left from Seattle early tomorrow morning, so they were spending the night in a hotel near the airport.

After Finn and Siobhan left the guests began to disperse. I remembered discussing cleanup duties with my best friend, Tara O’Brian, and that’s where things got fuzzy. I could picture a girl with blond hair. She was somehow involved, but I couldn’t quite nail down how.

I paused and looked around. Large clouds covered the moon, plunging the narrow forest road into almost complete darkness. Tiny fingers of panic began to work their way up my spine. I needed to fight the urge to curl up and cry if I was going to make it out of the forest alive.

I glanced down at the cat, who must have sensed my panic because he began to wind himself through my legs, purring so loudly that he chased away the eerie silence of the night. I bent over and picked him up, then buried my face in his warm fur. I willed myself to relax as I took comfort from my four-legged companion. I kissed the cat on the top of the head, thanking him for the affection he’d offered, then set him gently on the ground and looked around again.

I felt so small and insignificant. How would anyone ever find me? The temperature had dropped significantly as the time passed, but I didn’t think it would get so cold that I needed to worry about hypothermia. Still, I needed to keep moving.

It would help if I had something to wrap around my feet, but I couldn’t immediately think of anything that would stay in place as I continued my trek. After a moment I decided to tear strips from what was left of my dress and tie them around my feet to act as protection between my torn skin and the rough ground.
I ripped several strips of fabric and sat down on a log. I flinched as I tried to remove the small rocks that had become embedded into my flesh before wrapping my feet. God, they hurt.

I waited for the pain to ease and then stood gingerly. My feet felt like they were on fire and pain shot up my legs, but the only thing to do was keep going, so I did.

I let my mind wander back to the wedding. It helped to divert my attention from the pain, and I hoped determining a sequence of events would lend perspective to the situation. I could picture gathering discarded cups as I worked the room and thanked everyone as they left. I noticed that one of Siobhan’s bridesmaids, a woman named Shelby Long, had imbibed a few drinks too many and wasn’t in any shape to drive home. I’d offered to drive her, despite the fact that she lived on the north end of the island. I didn’t have my car at the church, so I took Cody’s truck. Ah; that answered the question of why I was on the north shore, but Shelby lived on the coast, so what had I been doing on an old logging road in the island’s interior?

“Meow.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” I said to the cat, who had started to pick up the pace.

Now I remembered Cody volunteering to go with me, but Tara and her date, Dr. Parker Hamden, needed help cleaning up and returning all the tables and chairs to the storage area in the church hall. We discussed it and agreed it would be better for Cody to help Tara and Parker while I ran Shelby home. I’d delivered her home safe and sound and then …

I narrowed my gaze as I tried to remember. I was in the truck driving back toward Harthaven when …
When what?

The answer to how I’d ended up on this rarely used logging road in the middle of the night probably wasn’t as important as the fact that I might have run down a pedestrian. My heart ached at the thought that I’d taken a life.

I raised a hand to my head as a wave of nausea gripped me. It felt like the wound had stopped oozing, but my head still pounded and my thoughts were still unclear. My feet were mostly numb by this point, which I supposed was a good thing considering that based on my calculations I still had a good two miles to walk before I hit the coast road.

I wasn’t sure how much time had passed when I heard the hum of an oncoming vehicle. The driver wouldn’t be expecting to find someone walking around in the dark, so I didn’t want to stay where I was, in the middle of the road. I was trying to decide how best to get the attention of the driver when headlights shone from around a corner. Before I could react the cat darted across the road and the driver slammed on the brakes.

I held my hand to my chest as my heart raced. Had the cat been hit? I looked around frantically but didn’t see it.

A man jumped out of the car and looked around. When he saw me standing on the side of the road he came in my direction.

“Are you okay?” he asked in a heavily accented voice.

My eyes darted around. “The cat. Did you hit it?”

He shook his head. “I don’t think so. I didn’t hear a thud. I tried to stop in time, but I can’t be sure. He came out of nowhere.”

“I know. I saw what he did. He wanted to get your attention. He didn’t want you to miss me in the dark.”

He gave me an odd look. I was certain he thought I’d lost my mind. “What happened to you?”

“I was in an accident. Do you have a phone?”

“Yes.”

“I need to call my boyfriend, Cody West. He’ll know what to do.”

He lent me his phone and I made the call. As I’d thought, Cody had been out looking for me and wasn’t all that far away. He assured me he’d be there in five minutes, so I thanked the man and he went on his way.
I called to the cat who had helped me while I waited for Cody, but he seemed to have disappeared. The fact that I didn’t see his body lying on or near the road meant that at least he hadn’t been killed by the oncoming car. Still, he could have been injured. My heart ached at the thought that he might have given his life for mine. I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer as tears streamed down my face.

A few minutes later Cody pulled my car to a stop at the side of the road, followed almost immediately by Dr. Hamden’s car.

“My God, what happened?” Cody wrapped me in his arms.

“I don’t know. I was in an accident. I don’t remember.”

Parker pulled up and Tara jumped out and joined us in the middle of the road. She hugged my back because Cody was still hugging my front. “What happened? We were so worried.”

“I’m fine.” I struggled to breathe amid all the hugging.

Parker walked over and shone a flashlight in my face. “You have a fairly serious head injury. We need to get you to the hospital.”

“Wait.” I put up a hand. “There’s a man down the road. I think I might have hit him, although I can’t really remember. I think he’s dead, but I can’t be sure.”

We all piled into the cars and headed down the road. We drove slowly, so we wouldn’t miss the place where the accident had occurred. The fire from Cody’s truck was still smoldering. Luckily, as I’d hoped, the damp forest hadn’t burned from the explosion. I got out of the car and walked to the edge of the embankment, a wave of nausea gripping me as I looked down. The remains of Cody’s truck were clearly visible, but up here, the man was gone.

“I found him on the side of the road. He was right here, I swear.”

Cody and Parker both used flashlights to search the area while Tara took me back to my car. The men looked for a good fifteen minutes, but neither found evidence of a body, a second car, or even any blood.
“But that can’t be,” I insisted. “I saw him. I felt for a pulse. I swear to you, there was a man in this very spot.”

Parker put a hand on my shoulder. “You were in an accident, leaving you with a serious head injury. You’re in shock. It’s completely possible you were hallucinating. We’ll notify the sheriff’s office; for now I have to insist we take you to the hospital so I can look you over.”

“But…”

“Please.” Cody placed his hands on my face and forced me to look at him. “We’ll call the sheriff’s office and they’ll handle things regarding the missing man, but Parker’s right; we need to get you to the hospital. You could have internal bleeding.”

“Okay,” I reluctantly agreed. “But I know what I saw.”

Standard

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