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Authors: Kay Finch

Black Cat Crossing

BOOK: Black Cat Crossing
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THE CAT IS OUT OF THE BAG

He was sitting on a fallen tree limb. A rather large limb with one end resting on the riverbank, the other end submerged. The cat was taunting me for some reason, and I was crazy to be out here in the middle of the night following the animal around.

“If you want to be friends, come and visit me tomorrow,” I told the cat, then turned to retrace my steps.

I swear he meowed again, though I couldn’t be sure over the sound of the river. I turned the light back toward him and stopped when I spotted a brown ostrich-skin boot propped on top of the fallen limb near the cat.

What the heck?

I walked as close as I safely could to the riverbank’s edge, three feet or so above the water. The boot was actually lodged in the fork of a branch attached to the limb.

My heart raced. Was there still a foot in that boot?

I changed my position and saw the leg bent at an unnatural angle. A leg clad in khaki pants. A wave of nausea washed over me as I moved the light and discovered the rest of the body submerged in the water.

Earlier today I had wanted Bobby Joe Flowers to go away and leave us alone.

But not this way.

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

BLACK CAT CROSSING

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2015 by Kay Finch.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information, visit
penguin.com
.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-16202-0

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / September 2015

Cover illustration by Brandon Dorman (Lott Reps).

Cover design by George Long.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.

Version_1

For London, our own cat whisperer

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

My first heartfelt thanks go to Leann Sweeney and Jennifer Stanley. Without an extraordinary set of circumstances initiated by them, I would not be writing this series today. Thanks to my agent, Jessica Faust, for reaching out to me and for her enthusiastic encouragement. I’m so grateful for Michelle Vega, my editor, and the entire Berkley Prime Crime family, who have given me such a warm welcome. Getting to know you all has been a dream come true. Thanks to my husband, Benton, for willingly eating leftovers while I spend long hours at the computer. My critique group is top-notch in the advice and support department—thanks to Bob, Dean, Julie, Kay 2, Laura, Susie, and Millie. Thanks also to Amy, critiquer extraordinare, and to my coworkers Bobby, Cheryl, Lisa, and Susan, for listening patiently when I discuss the best way to kill my next victim. Last but not least, I appreciate my personal good luck cat, Alice, who sat with me and meowed her two cents during the writing of this book. Thank you, one and all, for everything.

CONTENTS

The Cat Is out of the Bag

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgments

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

 

Recipes

1

I
LACED MY FINGERS,
cracked my knuckles, and stared at the few words on my laptop screen. Behind me, the hum of early morning conversation in Hot Stuff Coffee Shop went on as usual. Back when I was a kid visiting my aunt Rowena, the shop was called Das Kaffeehaus, in keeping with the German heritage here in Lavender, heart of the Texas Hill Country. Then a transplant from San Antonio bought the place and changed the name to Hot Stuff. He traded the old
oom-pah-pah
background music for seventies disco tunes. I’d choose listening to Donna Summer over any polka band in history, but I had to wonder why he didn’t go with a country music theme. After all, this was Texas.

Boot Scootin’ Coffee, perhaps.

Or, if he had his heart set on Hot Stuff, he could stream songs by today’s up-and-coming hunky performers. More good-looking guys than I can keep up with, but dang it, thinking about country singers wasn’t supposed to be on my agenda this morning.

I yanked off one of the ponytail holders I wear on my wrist like extra bracelets and gathered my mop of hair at the nape of my neck. After fastening the hair with the pink elastic band, I tried to concentrate on my story. In the real world, I listened to the peaceful clinking of spoons against heavy crockery mugs and the Bee Gees crooning “How Deep Is Your Love,” but on the pages of my novel in progress, all hell had broken loose. Scarlett Olson and her toddler Melody were on the run from a killer, having barely escaped plunging into an icy river in Calgary, which would have meant their sudden death.

I sat back and nibbled my lower lip. Would this plot line fly? Should Scarlett have had more sense than to leave the safety of their hideout? She’d seen the weather forecast for torrential rain on TV that morning. She knew the killer was nearby. Would the reader rag on my character for not calling the authorities, even though she couldn’t risk turning on her cell phone for fear the villain would track her signal?

I blew out a breath and stared at the poster of John Travolta in
Saturday Night Fever
on the wall near me. I supposed he was considered “hot stuff” back in the day—around the time I’d been born. I rubbed my neck, feeling Scarlett’s predicament in every tendon, but did it come across on the page? For the millionth time I wondered whether I’d ever finish this book or if I was destined to the status of wannabe mystery author forever. I lifted my cup and took a whiff of the heavenly vanilla-and-almond-scented coffee—a house blend called Lavender’s Sunrise.

Try to relax, Sabrina. For God’s sake, focus.

Before I could get back into the story, the shop’s bell tinkled and the door thwacked open into the table behind it. I turned and saw Thomas Cortez marching straight for me. He wore a wide-brimmed straw hat, jeans over work boots, and a short-sleeved plaid shirt. I’d seen him—the handyman for Aunt Rowe’s rental cottages and her most loyal friend—tackling an overgrown hedge when I’d left this morning. His grim expression told me he wasn’t here for a great cup of coffee.

My heart leapt to my throat and I stood, fearing the worst. “Is Aunt Rowe okay?”

“She’s fine, Miss Sabrina.” Thomas pulled out a chair and plunked himself down.

“Thank goodness.” I eased back into my seat.

Thomas took his hat off and placed it on the chair across from me. “Your aunt’s having a good day so far. Glenda got her settled on the patio chaise so she can enjoy some sun before the day gets too hot. The physical therapist should be there shortly.”

My aunt, Rowena Flowers, took a nasty fall in early spring and was recovering from a concussion and a broken leg. Which was my impetus for finally quitting my Houston paralegal job and accepting her offer to come live with her for a while. In addition to keeping my aunt company, I was helping Thomas and Glenda, the housekeeper, manage the cottages during Aunt Rowe’s recuperation.

Thomas lifted his arm to check his watch, and I spotted a bloody cut on his forearm. Looked to me like he might need stitches.

“What happened to you?” I pulled a fresh napkin from the dispenser and handed it to him.

He accepted the napkin and dabbed at the wound. “El Gato Diablo is what. Gosh-darned cat crossed my path, next thing my toe caught on the curb, and I fell flat out. Arm caught the edge of one of them fancy metal planters in front of the wine shop. Better’n smacking my head, I guess.”

“A devil cat?” My forehead creased. “What are you talking about?”

“The black cat,” he said. “Big fella. Been around these parts since I was a kid.”

Since he was a kid?

“You’re what?” I said. “Thirtysomething?”

“Close enough.”

The coffee shop’s owner, Max Dieter, came up with a mug for Thomas in one hand and a steaming coffeepot in the other. The big man had a fringe of strawberry blond hair surrounding a bald crown and always offered a jolly smile. Without asking what Thomas wanted, he filled the fresh mug with a flourish.

“Heard you talking about the bad luck cat,” he said. “Legend around town. I thought we’d seen the last of him when Wes Krane loaded him up and carted him off to Nolan County.”

I’d met the crotchety Mr. Krane, owner of the local hardware store, and wasn’t surprised that he’d drive across the state just because a cat annoyed him.

Thomas lifted his arm to show Max his injury. “The cat’s here in Lavender. Did this to me.”

Max shook his head. “The animal better steer clear of my place. I remodeled to bring in more business. Don’t need bad luck scaring people away.”

I stifled a giggle. If you asked me, Max’s baby-blue leisure-suit-like pants and polyester print shirt were enough to drive customers away.

“Y’all be serious,” I said. “Cats don’t bring bad luck. And there’s no black cat that’s like thirty years old.”

Thomas said, “Remember, cats have nine lives.”

“Uh-huh.” I rolled my eyes. “You took a fall this morning, that’s all. It was an accident.”

“You’ll run into that cat one of these days,” Max said. “Most folks do sooner or later. You’ve been warned.”

“Right.” Thomas nodded. “El Gato Diablo.”

“We’ll see,” I said. “But you didn’t come to talk about a cat.”

Max took the hint and walked back to the counter, but that didn’t mean he’d quit listening in on our conversation.

Thomas leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Weekend guests start arriving tonight.”

I picked up my mug and sipped my coffee. “We discussed that earlier. Is there a problem?”

Thomas nodded. “Heard through a friend of my sister-in-law’s neighbor that Bobby Joe Flowers is on his way here, too.”

I frowned. “He was my dad’s cousin.”

“I know,” Thomas said. “And Rowena’s. She won’t be glad to see him.”

“Okay.” My shoulders tightened, and this time my tension had nothing to do with fiction. “Dad had plenty of stories about cousin Bobby Joe, none of them good. He was the rowdy one in the family, the risk taker, the womanizer, the drinker. I never met the man. Maybe he’s settled down by now.”

“He hasn’t.” Thomas drained his mug in one long swallow and put it back on the table. “We can try to keep him away from Rowena, but she likes to face problems head-on, and he usually makes a beeline to her door.”

I cocked my head. “Why is that?”

“Always lookin’ for a handout,” Thomas said. “Never has a dime to his name to hear him tell it. Rowena’s done good for herself. But last time Bobby Joe didn’t ask. Stole a couple thousand in cash from her safe.”

My jaw dropped. “That’s despicable. Did Aunt Rowe report him to the police?”

“Nope.” Thomas placed his elbows on the table and folded his hands as if in prayer. “You know how she is about family.”

“Did she get the money back?”

“What he hadn’t already spent,” Thomas said. “I mean to see nothing like that ever happens again. Expect he’ll be here by dinnertime. We need to be ready.”

The thought of anyone, family or not, treating Aunt Rowe so badly made the coffee in my gut churn. “What can I do to help?”

“Glad you asked.” Thomas pulled a list from his pocket and handed it to me. “I’m runnin’ over to Emerald Springs to pick up rosebushes Rowena special ordered. She wants ’em planted by tomorrow. You could get these lock kits at Krane’s Hardware on your way back. Put them on the company account. I’ll install them later in the main house. I’m betting ol’ Bobby Joe hung on to a key.”

I wasn’t looking forward to meeting this relative whom, for some reason, I’d never laid eyes on—not even at Dad’s funeral.

“Where does Bobby Joe stay when he’s in town?” I said. “Not with Aunt Rowe, I hope.”

“Too close for comfort,” he said. “She usually gives him the Monte Carlo cottage, but now you’re in there. Ought to send him off to the nearest La Quinta, but she won’t. Since we’re not fully booked, she’ll probably put him up in one of the other cottages.” Thomas stood abruptly and picked up his hat. “We need to be ready,” he said again, then left me with the list.

I watched him go and wondered what his being “ready” entailed and whether it involved firearms. His acting like we were the Texans hunkering down inside the Alamo as Santa Anna’s army approached made me plenty nervous.

Good Lord, there was no way I could come up with a creative thought now. The writing would have to wait for another day. I shut down my computer and slid it into my carrying case, then felt around under the table with my feet until I found my flip-flops.

I waved bye to Max, wondering how much of our conversation he’d heard. I hadn’t been around long enough to know whether he’d keep private information to himself. Assuming that everyone in town didn’t already know our family’s business.

Outside, the sky was brilliant blue, the air thick with humidity that was nothing compared to what we’d have in another couple of weeks. I hurried to my Accord, which was parked under the shade of a live oak, and stopped short when I spotted a huge, coal-black cat sitting on the car, still as a hood ornament. The feline sat tall, with its vivid green eyes focused on me.

This had to be the cat Thomas and Max referred to as the bad luck cat, but I didn’t buy that for a second. I smiled at the animal and held out a nonthreatening hand as I took baby steps toward the car.

“Aren’t you gorgeous?” I said, and that’s when the cat took off through the flowering white oleander bushes that separated Hot Stuff’s parking lot from the wine shop’s lot next door.

I shrugged and climbed into the car. Technically, the cat had not crossed my path, so I should be good to go.

BOOK: Black Cat Crossing
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