GENRE: cozy mystery
While catering a gala for the Cruz Museum, Nora Charles agrees to look into the disappearance of director Violet Crenshaw’s niece, a case previously undertaken by her frisky feline friend Nick’s former owner, a private eye whose whereabouts are also currently unknown.
As Nora and her curious cat Nick pull at the string of clues, they begin to unravel a twisted tale of coded messages, theft, false identities, murder, and international espionage. Nora dares to hope that the labyrinth of leads will not only help them locate the missing young woman, but also solve the disappearance of the detective. That’s if Nora can stay alive long enough to find him...
“Well, Nick,” I murmured. “Looks as if you’re two for two tonight for valuable clues. Now we just need to figure out what they’re clues to.”
“Er-ewl,” mewed Nick. His tail went straight up, and his eyes gleamed in pure kitty satisfaction. The cat was good and he knew it, damn him.
“Okay, Sam Spade Junior. Let’s get back home.”
Nick suddenly tensed, tail straight, back hunched. His head swiveled toward the motel room door, and I heard a loud rumble, almost a grr sound, deep in his throat.
Someone was outside that door.
I tiptoed over to the window and moved the curtain a fraction so I could peep out. I could hear a gusty wind blowing, and I saw swirls of leaves flit across the parking lot. I saw a few cars, including my own SUV, but not a sign of a human anywhere.
Nick had stopped growling, but he still paced to and fro in front of the door, keeping his eyes fixed firmly on it. I stepped away from the window and moved back to press my ear against the door. I listened for a few minutes, but not another sound reached my ears. I slid the safety chain into place and opened the door a crack, peering first right, then left.
Nothing. The walkway around the motel was deserted.
I opened the door, walked back to the bed, grabbed Nick, and then got out of there and over to my SUV as fast as my legs could move. As I put Nick in the passenger seat, I thought I saw a shadow flit out of the corner of my eye. I whirled around, but the parking lot appeared to be deserted. The only shadows I saw were those of the trees, their branches swaying in the late autumn wind.
Imagination. It’s a wonderful thing, and the mainstay of every writer, but right now I had no time for it.
I buckled myself in, started up the car, and swung back out onto the main road. I could save time getting back to Hot Bread if I took a short cut, a little travelled road that ran along the coast. In the interests of time, I opted for that route. The road was narrow and quite dark, as there were no lights, and I sped rapidly along the road. I heard a sound beside me and spared Nick a quick glance. He’d risen in the seat, hackles up, and his head was cocked to one side, listening. Since a cat’s hearing is way more sensitive than ours, I didn’t doubt for a second he’d heard something.
“Hey, relax, buddy,” I said. “This is a shortcut. We’ll be home before you can say ‘Friskies’ – say what?”
The car had come up from out of nowhere. I saw the lights in my rearview mirror and heard the groan of its motor a second before the car’s front fender connected with my rear one.
“Hey!” I shouted, gripping the wheel tighter. “What are you doing, you lunatic?”
I cast a quick glance out the window. The road wound along the coast, and there were no guardrails on this stretch. If the other car should bump me along the side, and run me off the road…well, there would be nowhere to run. It would be a good fifty-foot drop down into the raging waters of the Pacific.
“Hang on Nick,” I said through gritted teeth. “Fasten your seatbelt, buddy, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”
I slid a glance in the cat’s direction. He had his head buried in my purse. “Don’t worry, boy,” I whispered. “I won’t let this nut hurt us.”
I pulled hard on the wheel and pushed my foot down on the accelerator, turning the car sharply to the left just as the car following me as about to smack my rear fender again. I made a swift ninety degree turn and started racing down the road back the way I had originally come.
“I guess this shortcut wasn’t such a hot idea,” I ground out. A quick glance in my rearview mirror showed the twin headlights boring down on us again. It closed the gap between us in record time. Now its grille was about ten feet away from my rear bumper.
I gritted my teeth and then a soft whirring sound made me look over. Nick had his paw down on the automatic window release and was lowering the passenger window. He had an object clenched between his teeth. The pouch!
“Nick! What in Hell—“
I slowed down just a fraction and Nick took that opportunity to leap out of the car. Headlights reflected in my rear view mirror blinded me for a second, and I gave the steering wheel a sharp twist to the left, sending my SUV up over a grassy knoll just as the other car whizzed past.
“Whew,” I murmured, glancing over at the taillights of my pursuer as it vanished, “that was close – CRAP!”
The tree loomed large in front of me. I pressed down hard on the brake, but it was too late. I braced myself as the hood of the SUV made contact with the tree, and the last thing I remembered was the airbag deploying and enveloping me as I slipped into unconsciousness…
While Toni Lotempio does not commit – or solve – murders in real life, she has no trouble doing it on paper. Her lifelong love of mysteries began early on when she was introduced to her first Nancy Drew mystery at age 10 – The Secret in the Old Attic. She (and ROCCO, albeit he’s uncredited) pen the Nick and Nora mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime – the first volume, MEOW IF ITS MURDER, debuted Dec. 2, 2014. Followed by #2, CLAWS FOR ALARM. #3, CRIME AND CATNIP, is out this December. She, Rocco and Maxx make their home in Clifton, New Jersey, just twenty minutes from the Big Apple – New York. Catch up with them at www.tclotempio.com and www.catsbooksmorecats.blogspot.com
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T. C. Lotempio will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.