I’m superexcited about my new series that launches on September 3rd. The Cat in the Attic is a series about starting again when everything you’d spent a lifetime working for is suddenly ripped from your grasp. I’ve included the first chapter of book 1 – The Curse of Hollister House. I hope you enjoy reading this series as much as I am enjoying writing it.
Preorder today: https://amzn.to/2TU72I1
How is one to start again after losing the one thing that speaks to your heart and fuels your passion?
After a serious accident leaves Calliope Rose Collins unable to continue with the career that has owned her soul for most of her life, she returns to Foxtail Lake, Hollister House, and Great Aunt Gracie, only to find, childhood friend, Officer Cass Wylander, knee deep in a murder mystery involving a twelve year old girl who died in the exact same manner as Callie’s best friend Stacy had died twenty years prior. Callie is certain the two deaths must be linked, but Cass has a suspect in custody and the Chief of Police wants the case closed in order to get the mayor off his back, so in spite of the fact that Callie is certain that they have the wrong man, it looks like the case will be closed. Callie knows that she owes it to both victims to find the truth, so she decides to look into things on her own, giving her not only a way to fill her days, but a means of renewing her passion.
Join Cass and Callie, along with Alastair the cat, as they seek out the hidden truths that will allow them to see what no one else seems to be willing too.
When I was a little girl, I would sit with my cat high up in the attic window overlooking the lake, dreaming the dreams only little girls can imagine. I’d plot adventures and weave enchanted tales as the seasons turned and the years unwound. It was a magical time, filled with possibilities that existed only in my mind. I’d imagined fairies in the forest, mermaids in the lake, and gnomes in the garden. As a child sitting in that window, nothing had seemed impossible, but as a broken adult sitting in the same window a quarter century later, I had to admit, if only to myself, that somewhere along the way, the magic I’d once believed in, had died along with my dreams.
“Callie, are you up there in the attic?” Great-Aunt Gracie called up the stairs.
“Yes, Aunt Gracie,” I called back.
“Is Alastair up there as well?”
I glanced at the black cat sitting in the window next to me. “He is.”
“I’m going to run to the market to pick up something for dinner. Is there something you’d prefer?”
I’d lost my appetite about the same time I’d lost my reason for living, but I supposed I did have to eat. “Anything is fine.”
“Okay, dear. I won’t be long.”
I pulled the cat into my lap as Gracie drove away. I ran my fingers through his long black fur as I turned slightly and looked around the room, filled with boxes and discarded furniture from generations of Hollisters. As the last Hollister daughter, I knew the house, lakefront property, private dock, and groundskeeper’s cabin would one day be mine, but to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted it.
Setting the cat on the floor, I unfolded myself from the window. I wrote my name—Calliope Rose Collins—in the dust covering one of the tables that had been stored by some previous resident. I remembered doing the same thing as a child living in this house after my parents died, and somehow, in that moment, I felt connected to that child and the dreams she’d once held in a way I hadn’t in a very long time. I’d done my best to go after those dreams. To bring my fantasies into reality. But along the way, I’d learned that what we plan for and what we are destined to have don’t always line up.
Alastair darted under a sheet that was draped across an old sofa. I supposed if you were a cat, the attic was filled with all sorts of magical places to explore. I could hear him swatting at something beneath the covering as I wandered around the large space, opening boxes and sifting through the contents inside. When I was a child, the boxes and their contents had seemed like treasures. The old clothes left by ancestors long gone had provided hours of entertainment as I tried on each piece and let my imagination take me where it might. The old top hat had become a magician’s hat, the costume jewelry a queen’s dowry, and the yellowed wedding dress a ball gown. The books stored in the boxes had provided hours of escape, the old art supplies a creative outlet, and the old piano, which some ancestor had schlepped all the way up to the attic before I was even born, a window to my soul.
I’d found a safe haven in this attic. Not only had I found solace during a time when little could comfort me but I’d found meaning and passion for the one thing that had pierced my grief and mattered. Pausing, I turned and looked around the room, searching for the piano. I remembered the first time I’d stumbled across the fascinating device that would deliver wonderful music with the touch of a finger. I’d been enchanted from the first keystroke and had begged Gracie to teach me to play. And she had. She’d taught me the notes and how to read music, but it was the hours spent alone with the melodies that existed only in my imagination that cemented a love affair that I was sure would last a lifetime. I looked down at my hands. Using my right forefinger, I traced the long scar that ran down my left arm from elbow to wrist. I tried to move fingers that, at times, refused to cooperate. Everyone said I’d been lucky. Everyone said that it could have been so much worse. Everyone said that having a life without music was better than having no life at all.
They were wrong.
I swallowed hard and forced myself to move on. While the attic was dusty, crowded, and unorganized, I did appreciate that everyone that had lived in the house had left something of themselves behind. Even I’d left boxes of old toys and outgrown clothing when I’d moved away. I wondered why Aunt Gracie hadn’t just taken all this junk to the secondhand store, but I supposed if she did, some future resident of the house would be robbed of the opportunity to play dress up and spin tales of salty pirates and kidnapped princesses the way I had.
Longing pierced my heart as I opened a box of photos. I picked up an old Polaroid of my parents on their wedding day. They looked so happy, so optimistic about the future. My mother and I looked a lot alike. Dark hair, dark eyes, a petite frame barely reaching five feet in height. My father, in contrast, had been tall and blond. His blue eyes sparkled with happiness as he stared back at the photographer. I knew I’d joined the couple and created a family just ten months after the photo had been taken, and four years after that, the people I most depended on would be forever ripped from my life.
Setting the box of photos aside, I lifted the sheet in search of the cat. “Alastair,” I called.
“Meow,” he responded from across the room.
I turned and tried to home in on his exact location. There were a lot of objects for something as small as a cat to hide behind, so I started across the attic in the general direction of the meow. I supposed if I didn’t find him by the time Gracie returned, I’d just leave the door ajar and he’d find his own way out. I maneuvered carefully through sheet-covered furniture and dust-covered boxes, jumping involuntarily as I bumped into the dressmaker’s mannequin. I remember how terrified I’d been of the lifelike shape when I’d first seen it. As a four-year-old, I’d been sure the form came to life when no one was looking. Gracie had been patient with me, taking her time to convince me that the stuffed dressmaker’s tool wasn’t real. It had taken several months, but eventually, I stopped screaming every time I saw the dang thing.
Aunt Gracie’d always had a lot of patience. After my parents died I felt so alone in the world, but Gracie had taken her time with me. She’d tried very hard to make me feel at home in my new surroundings, but I never really had until she’d introduced me to the attic and the magic that could be found in the little room beneath the rafters. Old houses, with their history, their lifelines, and their curses, fascinated me. Despite the tragedy that seemed to be connected to my own family home, I loved the idea of longevity, and places where multiple generations shared a single space.
Pulling a sheet away from the portrait of my great-great-grandmother, Edwina Birmingham, I thought about my parents’ death and considered the family curse. Apparently, Edwina had seduced Jordan Hollister away from her best friend, Hester Stinson and, in retaliation, Hester, a purported witch, had laid a curse on the happy couple that had stipulated that any Hollister daughter born to Jordan and Edwina, or any daughter born to their descendants, would suffer the tragic and early loss of their beloved. Neither Jordan nor Edwina were concerned about the curse, because the couple had only one child, a son they named Samuel. Samuel married a woman named Anastasia, who he brought to live at Hollister House. Anastasia gave birth to twin daughters, Gwendolyn and Gracie.
Gracie, the younger of the twins, continued to live in the house but never married or had children. Gwendolyn moved to Denver, where she married a man named Richard Hastings. Richard fell to his death on the couple’s one-year anniversary, so Gwendolyn, who was pregnant with twins at the time of her husband’s death, moved home, where she delivered Phoebe and Penelope. On the twins’ second birthday, Gwendolyn died of a broken heart, leaving Gracie to raise her nieces.
Penelope never married or had children. She loved to travel and never seemed to stay put until an unfortunate encounter with a French artist, a hot Ferrari, and an ill-advised joy ride, ended in her death on a narrow country road just outside Paris.
My mother, Phoebe, unlike her twin, was the sort to settle in and plant roots. She married a man named Roderick Collins. Ten months after marrying, they had a daughter, me, and four years after that, Roderick and Phoebe were killed in an automobile accident. I supposed there were those who would argue that the tragic yet unrelated deaths of three Hollister women over five generations didn’t constitute the results of a curse, and perhaps they’d be right. But I also knew that things like curses weren’t to be trifled with. I was now the only Hollister offspring alive and of childbearing age to carry on the curse, if one existed. Whether or not the curse was real didn’t really matter; even if it was, I knew it would end with me.
Picking up the cat, I headed for the door. The dust in the attic was beginning to irritate my sinuses, so perhaps a walk out by the lake would help. I set Alastair on the floor after closing the door behind me and headed down the stairs. Stepping out of the house onto the lawn that grew from the edge of the front porch down to the waterline, I stood and watched the sun as it dipped toward the horizon. I placed a foot onto the garden path that led down to the dock. Gracie loved her garden. She’d always said her prizewinning flowers filled the space in her soul left by the children she’d never had. The winters were harsh here in the Colorado Rockies, but every spring Gracie coaxed her garden back to life, and every winter she tucked it in beneath a scattering of hay to protect the delicate plants.
After walking down the path lined with flowers in warm fall colors, I stood at the water’s edge. I closed my eyes and listened as the frogs, with their long-drawn-out calls, competed with the buzz created by insects hovering over the crystal-clear water. I thought of the lush gardens and magical fairyland I’d played in as a child. I thought of the wraparound deck where I’d rocked in the swing with Gracie’s cat, Archie, as I’d shared with him my hopes and dreams. When I’d left, I hadn’t planned to return to Foxtail Lake. I’d believed the answers to my dreams lay elsewhere. I couldn’t wait to leave the sleepy small town behind, but I had to admit I’d been happy here once. Perhaps with enough time I’d find the peace and solace I longed for within the walls of the Hollister family home, the way I’d found peace and solace within those same walls after my parents’ death.
Taking a deep breath, I lifted my face to the setting sun and allowed the warm evening air to wrap me in a warm hug. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life now that the career I’d poured my entire being into had come abruptly to an end. I’d worked so hard to get where I’d been, only to have it stripped from my hands by a drunk driver who never should have been on the road in the first place. While Gracie’d taught me to understand the keys and play simple songs, it was the years of relentless focus and practice that had helped me to perfect my gift until I’d managed to get it just right. By the time I’d graduated high school, I’d wanted nothing more than to focus on my music. Sharing the music in my soul with auditoriums filled with people who loved my melodies almost as much as I might seem like a lofty goal, but it was a dream I’d worked hard for, and had realized by my twenty-fourth birthday. It hadn’t been an easy life, and the hours of practice were long, but oh how I’d loved traveling to interesting places and meeting new people. I’d had a good life, a meaningful and complete life. Until…
I tried once again to flex the fingers on my left hand. I could move them, but the movements were slow and the range of motion limited. My doctor said that with a lot of hard work, maybe I’d regain the full use of the hand, but I knew in my soul that I’d never again have a chance to play at Carnegie Hall.
I blew out a breath, closed my eyes, and tried to refocus my mind. I knew that obsessing over what had happened would get me nowhere. Life, I’d decided, was cruel and unfair, but what was done was done, and nothing I could do would bring the music back to me. I opened my eyes and looked around at the peaceful setting. Glancing toward the caretaker’s cabin, I thought about Mr. Walden. He’d lived on the property since before I’d come to live here as a child. Gracie hadn’t mentioned him since I’d come slumping home with my tail between my legs two days ago, which made me wonder if he still lived on the property, or even if he was still alive. This was the first time I’d ventured from the house, so I supposed he might be around and I just hadn’t noticed.
I was about to head back inside when I heard sirens in the distance. That sound always transported me back to the accident in which my parents had died but I’d escaped with only minor injuries. I’d been told that being strapped in a car seat in the back seat had made all the difference, but there had been many occasions in those first painful years when I wasn’t certain that surviving had been a good thing.
“Quite the ruckus going on across the lake.”
I turned and smiled. “Mr. Walden.” I hugged the grizzly old man whose skin was a sort of leathery brown after a lifetime in the sun.
“I guess now that you’re all grown up, you can call me Tom.”
“Okay. Tom. How are you? I was wondering if you still lived on the property.”
“I’m fine. Been a while.”
I nodded. “It has. I know I should have come back for a visit sooner, but you know how it is.” I turned back toward the lake. The flash of lights from emergency vehicles could be seen against the darkening sky. “I wonder what’s going on.”
“I heard on the scanner that a body was found near the campground.”
I narrowed my gaze. “I’m sorry to hear that. Do you know what happened?”
“There was talk of a bear. I guess we’ll see. The last time there was a bear attack it didn’t turn out to be a bear at all.”
“Like with Stella.”
“Exactly like with Stella,” Tom agreed.
Stella Steinmetz had been my best friend when I was in junior high. She’d disappeared while walking home from school one day. There were no clues to what had happened to her until her body was found weeks later in an unmarked grave. It appeared that she’d been attacked by a vicious animal, most likely a bear, but we all know that bears don’t bury their prey.
At the time of Stella’s disappearance I’d been devastated. Not only had she been my best friend, but the only reason she’d been walking alone, and probably the only reason she was attacked, was because we’d argued and I’d left school without waiting for her as I usually did. Yes, I was only twelve at the time, and I realize now, after years of counseling, that twelve-year-old friends tend to have spats, and I’d almost let the therapist convince me that her death wasn’t my fault, but there hadn’t been a day since Stella’s body was found that I hadn’t wished I’d done things differently.
They never did figure out who’d attacked her or why her face had been shredded the way it had been. They never figured out who had robbed a young girl on the cusp of womanhood of the life she’d been meant to have.
I turned when I heard a car in the drive. It was Gracie. I waved to her but didn’t make an effort to close the distance between us. I didn’t suppose I’d be able to learn any more than I already knew by standing there watching the lights in the distance, but somehow, I found myself unable to walk away.
“Looks like another girl has died,” Tom said to Gracie when she walked up and joined us.
“I heard. They think it is Tracy Porter.”
I glanced at Gracie. “Tracy Porter?”
“Young girl who went missing a month or so ago,” Tom answered. “She was walking home alone, same as Stella and, like Stella, she never made it to her destination.”
“It’s been twenty years since Stella died. Surely we can’t be looking at the same killer,” Gracie pointed out.
“Is Deputy Quinby still in charge of the local sheriff’s office?” I asked. To be honest, when I’d lived here, I found the man to be very nice but pretty useless when it came to tracking down individuals behind any serious crimes.
“He retired,” Gracie answered. “Cass Wylander is in charge of the local office now.”
I raised a brow. “Really? I hadn’t heard.” Cass and I had been kindred spirits when we were kids. We both had active imaginations and a willingness to seek out adventures. Next to Stella, Cass was probably the best friend I’d had when I’d lived here. He’d played the guitar and I’d played the piano and keyboard. We’d talked about forming a rock band, but that was before I realized it was a different type of music that was surging through my soul.
“I thought the two of you kept in touch,” Gracie said.
“We did,” I answered. “At first. But you know how it is. I left Foxtail Lake fourteen years ago. I guess as time went by, we drifted apart.”
“Cass is a good cop,” Tom said. “If anyone can figure out who killed Tracy, he can.”
“You should look him up when you have a chance,” Gracie suggested.
Gracie looked at Tom. “I’m making spaghetti. Do you want to come by for a bite?”
“I’d like that very much. I’ll need to clean up a bit first.”
“That’s fine. I’ll see you in an hour.”
I watched as Gracie made her way back to the house while Tom headed toward his own cabin. The two had lived on this property together for close to forty years. I knew they were friends, but at times I’d wondered if they might not be more. I knew that Gracie believed strongly in the Hollister curse and had vowed never to marry, but vowing not to marry didn’t mean she hadn’t ever fallen in love.