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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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?”
“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.”