Read an Excerpt
On a crisp Sunday morning in late summer I went downstairs to get the morning paper. When I opened the door, I found my werecat boyfriend Chase McGregor standing on the sidewalk outside his cobbler shop, which isn’t strange since our businesses sit side by side on the Briar Hollow town square.
Here’s the strange part.
He had his smartphone out and was snapping pictures of someone sitting on the bench by the front door. Neither one of them were saying a word. I was holding a coffee cup in one hand, but I hadn’t taken more than a sip, so my brain wasn’t fully engaged. It took several seconds to process what I was seeing — a knife sticking out of the front of the man’s shirt pinning a note against blood-stained denim.
That’s when things really went bad.
I dropped my coffee.
Chase must have heard me open the door, but he didn’t turn toward me until the cup shattered on the concrete.
Quickly pocketing the phone, he said gravely, “I think someone just sent us a message.”
For as much as I didn’t want to get a closer look at the body, I did want to read that note.
I stepped up beside Chase and gasped. I knew the dead man. Fish Pike, the half-mad old coot the sorceress Brenna Sinclair hired to break into the shop just weeks before. Deep claw marks raked the length of his torso. The crimson strips of torn flesh revealed shocking flashes of white bone and his throat . . . well, let’s just say the knife didn’t kill him.
Even as my mind scrambled to make sense of these details, I did notice one important thing. There was no blood on the bench or the sidewalk underneath the body. Fish was killed somewhere else and put on display for our benefit.
“I . . . I . . . can’t make out the note,” I said, the quiver in my voice making it hard to get the words out.
“It says, ‘the cat’s out of the bag,’” Chase replied, staring at the body.
“What the heck is that supposed to mean?” I asked, but a kind of cold dread crept over me. Sometimes you just know something before it’s explained to you.
“It means,” he said, “that someone doesn’t like me seeing you.”
Even as my mouth launched a protest, my mind knew he was right.
“Aren’t you jumping to conclusions?” I stammered. “Maybe it has something to do with Brenna.”
Looking hopefully up into Chase’s face, I noticed he hadn’t shaved yet. The morning sun threw his profile into relief, making the dark stubble stand out along his jaw where clenched muscles worked restlessly under the tanned skin.
“That dagger,” he said, pointing at the knife, “is a sgian-dubh.”
Gotta tell you, when the people in my world start using Gaelic? We’re in for trouble.
“I don’t know what that means,” I said.
Chase turned, fixing me with the full force of his attention. When he spoke, the words came out in a harsh whisper so intense, I almost took a step back.
“A sgian-dubh is a Scottish dress dagger,” he said. “I’ve already called Sheriff Johnson. He’ll be here any minute. I need you to say you just stepped out to get the paper and saw me standing here looking at Pike’s body. Nothing else. Do you understand?”
“I did just step out and find you standing here,” I replied with growing confusion. “What else would I say to the Sheriff? Chase, tell me what’s going on.”
“There’s no time,” he answered, “It’s too complicated. Just do this my way. No extra details. Please, just trust me.”
“Of course, I trust you,” I said. “But I don’t understand why you’re acting this way when you’re not even asking me to lie.”
“No,” Chase said, “I’m not asking you to lie now, but if Sheriff Johnson wants to know if we have any information that might explain why Pike would be left here, that’s when the lying needs to start.”
Good grief! He was acting like I would just conversationally mention to the Sheriff that the dead man had been in the employ of a centuries-old sorceress we killed in the basement earlier that month. I opened my mouth to say something to that effect when the sound of a car door slamming stopped me.
“What in the hell is going on here, Chase?” a man’s voice demanded, the words punctuated by heavy steps.
“Good morning, John,” Chase said, his voice now perfectly normal. “I have no idea what’s going on. I came out to get the morning paper and found the body.”
Sheriff John Johnson is a big man with close-cropped graying hair he keeps hidden under Stetson hats. He must have been getting ready for church because he was wearing dress pants and a clean white shirt, his badge haphazardly pinned to the pocket. He stopped beside Chase, swiveling his head back and forth taking in the scene, including my broken cup and the splatter of coffee on the sidewalk.
“Morning, Jinx,” the Sheriff said. “Mind if I ask you what you’re doing here?”
“Uh, I live here,” I said, pointing toward the store, “and good morning.”
Johnson looked at the door to my shop, and then he looked me up and down. I was standing there in my pajamas. As obliquely as a man like him can manage, the Sheriff asked, “Whose door did you come out of?”
“My own,” I said, an edge coming into my tone. “What is your point, John?”
He regarded me calmly. “My point is that this is . . . what . . . the second or third dead body for you this summer?”
“Hey!” I said indignantly. “I am not to blame that some whack job serial killer left bones around for people to trip over. And, may I remind you that solving that case won your department a citation for excellence from the state police? All I did was walk out my front door to get the paper. Instead, I found Chase staring at a dead man. That kinda got my attention.”
“You’re not seeing just any dead people, Jinx,” Aunt Fiona said soothingly. “I’m your kin.”
By this time, my back had hit the refrigerator, and I had no choice but to stop. When I didn’t say anything, Aunt Fiona went on. “You’re squishing that bread, honey. Put it down.”
My mother raised me to mind my elders, so I did as I was told, staring at Aunt Fiona all the while. My deceased aunt couldn’t have looked more like herself. Her long, gray hair was tied back, and she was wearing her usual “uniform” — baggy jeans and a loose peasant blouse — which was odd since we buried her in a nice pink polyester pantsuit.
When I said as much, Fiona actually glared at me. “That’s a bone that needs picking with you, Jinx Hamilton. Why in tarnation did you let your Mama put me in that God awful git up?”