Purrder She Wrote: New Excerpt
By Cate Conte
Purrder She Wrote by Cate Conte is the second book in the pawsitively charming Cat Cafe Mystery series set off the New England coast, where curiosity leads to some killer small-town secrets.
It’s the grand opening of Daybreak Island’s cat café, where customers can get cozy with an assortment of friendly felines―and maybe even take one or a few home. Co-owner Maddie James is purring with excitement over her new warm-and-fuzzy venture … until she becomes entangled in a petty drama between one of her volunteers―an ardent animal-rights activist―and a wealthy woman who insists on adopting a calico kitty right this instant.
The catfight that ensues is bad enough for business. But when the snubbed socialite is found dead with a tell-tale catnip toy on the scene, suspicion lands squarely on Maddie’s staffer. Now, with her reputation and her career prospects on the line (to say nothing of her budding romance with a handsome pet groomer), Maddie must do whatever it takes to solve the crime―before her nine lives are up.
Grand opening day of my new cat café, and I was envisioning long lines of cat lovers and a plethora of adoption applications. Instead, I got a catfight. Between two humans.
This was not how I pictured the Daybreak Island version of rescue work.
I know the rescue business has its moments. I mean, I wasn’t a cat rescue virgin or anything, having done years of the work out in San Francisco. But that was different, in-the-trenches stressful. Going to a shelter every day and working with different personalities, even with the kitties’ welfare as top priority, had its challenges. But here, back at home on Daybreak Island, it was supposed to be different. Here I’d had visions of people coming from all over the island to visit JJ’s House of Purrs, simply looking for some love from a fur baby. They’d sit on the floor and coo over the cats. The cats would purr adoringly—never swat or hiss—and wait for someone to say the magic words: I want to fill out an application to adopt. We’d have happy endings every day, and find homes for all the island strays.
I used all my visualization techniques to bring this story to life. I was convinced it couldn’t go any other way.
Instead, it was my first day open and I had two women facing off. One, my volunteer, with her hands clenched into fists and coarse, graying hair frizzing out around her head like a steel halo. The other, an indignant blonde wearing designer flip-flops, poised to grab a can of the latest organic hairspray out of her Louis Vuitton purse and use it like Mace. And my purring, happy cats? Scattered to the nearest hiding places for safety.
Nothing in my world was destined to be easy.
“The only way you’ll be getting one of these cats is over my dead body. Maddie, you tell her.” Adele Barrows, my volunteer, wasn’t budging. She directed her words to me while clenching those fists tighter, training an impressive death stare on her adversary. Her stocky, five-foot-seven frame alone might have been intimidating to the wispy woman still clutching one of my cats, a pretty calico named Georgia. And that was notwithstanding the look of utter rage on Adele’s face at the notion that this woman would even consider herself eligible to look at a cat, never mind take one home.
And frankly, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be telling this other woman, because I had no idea what was going on here. Although she looked vaguely familiar, and I was a little distracted trying to figure out why. It wasn’t strange that anyone on this island looked familiar though. I’d grown up here, and even though I’d been gone for a decade, most of the players were still the same.
Grandpa Leo’s eyes widened in panic as he watched the scene unfolding before him. “Maddie,” he stage-whispered finally. “Do something!”
Despite the situation, I nearly laughed. Grandpa Leo, in addition to being the best grandfather in the world, was also Leopold Maloney, the former police chief of Daybreak Island. Our island was comprised of five towns and in the summer months there were more people than could reasonably fit on its total square footage. He’d seen a lot in his years on the job, and no doubt faced down more dangerous criminals than two ladies arguing over a cat. But I had to admit, for a sixty-year-old woman, Adele could be pretty scary when she got cranked up. And cats definitely got her cranked up.
“Don’t worry, Grandpa,” I said, patting his arm. “I got this.” I strode over to the face-off and planted myself in between the two. “Ladies. What can I help with? I’m Maddie James,” I said to the blonde, offering my hand in a lame attempt to defuse the situation. “I’m one of the owners here.”
She stared at me, disdain seeping out of every pore. Her tiny button nose flared slightly at the indignity of the situation she’d found herself in. She was pretty, but in a pampered, rich-person way. Flawless makeup, lips that had an exaggerated puff to them, suggesting some sort of collagen treatment. Gold jewelry dangled off her earlobes, around her neck, and from her wrists. She had a tiny gold ball in the side of her nose and a defiant set to her jaw.
Clutching Georgia closer, she glared at me. “I know who you are. And I didn’t come in here to be verbally abused. I came in here to do you a favor and take one of these cats.”
Georgia arched her back, her eyes wide. I could tell she was seconds away from digging her claws into Blondie’s perfectly tanned arms to gain purchase for her great escape. Smoothly, I reached over and plucked the cat from her, setting Georgia down on the floor. She bolted for the nearest cubby.
“She gets nervous around tension,” I said apologetically. “So, Miss…”
“Holly,” Blondie supplied with a haughty toss of her hair. “Holly Hawthorne. Don’t you remember me?”
Holly Hawthorne? I peered at her more closely, fascinated. The last time I’d seen Holly Hawthorne had been in high school. Which was the case for so many people I ran into on the island. But usually there were remnants of the person they’d been ten years ago. In Holly’s case, not so much. I remembered her as being pretty nondescript back then, with glasses and long, straight hair, nose in a book most of the time. And quiet. In fact, most people probably didn’t notice her half the time. Which was not jibing with the person standing in front of me.
Holly and her twin sister Heather had been two years ahead of me in school. Their family was old-money Daybreak Island and really well-known, involved in charities and fund-raising and all the sorts of things wealthy families around here did. Heather had been the one to play off of her family’s status. She’d been the loud, outgoing one, head of the drama club and obsessed with all the things her parents’ money could buy. While Holly didn’t style her hair to death or wear fancy clothes, or even seem to notice she could have whatever she wanted.
So what the heck happened to her? Had she and Heather swapped personas just for fun? Did twins do that in their thirties?
“Of course! Holly. So great to see you again,” I lied. “So you’re interested in Georgia—”
“She’s not getting her!” Adele piped up, appearing around my right shoulder, her finger jabbing the air in front of Holly’s face. “Not after what you did last year. And the year before that. I’m still feeding the offspring from the orange cat you just had to havethat you loved more than life itself.” She mimicked what I assumed had been words uttered by Holly in a previous encounter with exaggerated air quotes, then dissolved into a coughing fit. “You’re a disgrace. And you don’t deserve a cat,” she said, when she’d recovered enough to talk.
Blotches of red crept up Holly’s neck to stain her cheeks. “Just who do you think you are?” she demanded. “You can’t talk to me that way!”
I could tell Adele was about to throw a punch, so I took her arm and swiftly guided her to the back of the room, away from the curious stares of my other guests. They’d come in to relax and instead were getting front-row seats for a reality show. A crossing guard by day, taxi driver by night, and cat feeder and rescuer pretty much the rest of the time, Adele had one goal—to make feline lives better across the island. Her salaries went almost entirely to caring for cats. I admired her for it. But sometimes she got a little overzealous. This was one of those times.
“Can you please stop?” I said quietly. “I don’t need a scene in here.”
“But Maddie, she’s not fit to have pets!” Adele protested, still too loudly. “Are you telling me that just because she’s rich you’re gonna give her what she wants?”
Across the room, I could see Holly bare blindingly white teeth at Adele and open her mouth. I held up a hand to stop her.
“I get it,” I said to Adele, keeping my voice calm and reasonable. “Let me handle it. Okay?”
Adele stared at me, clearly evaluating whether or not she could trust me to do the right thing. Finally she gave a curt nod. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll be in the kitchen.” She turned and stalked out of the room.
Heaving a quiet sigh of relief, I turned back to the other half of my problem. Holly’s arms were crossed over her chest. She glared at me, one foot tapping an annoyed staccato beat on my floor. I breezed back over to her and handed her an application from the stack next to the door.
“Why don’t you fill this out and we’ll go from there?” I suggested.
“I would like the cat now,” Holly said. Her tone strongly suggested I should do as she said. “Don’t be difficult, Maddie. You know very well who I am and what I can provide an animal.”
Yeah. Lots of love, from the sounds of it. Had this nasty woman really lived underneath that quiet high school gal? I reattached my hopefully pleasant smile to my face and tried to speak as if I wasn’t gritting my teeth. “We have a routine we do for all our applicants,” I said. “We don’t send the cats home right away. We need to do vet checks and home checks, and talk to references.”
“I’ve never heard of such a thing.” Holly’s phone trilled and interrupted her new tirade. She glanced down and narrowed her eyes, punching at the screen. “Heather. Chill. Out. I said I’ll be right out.” She disconnected, then looked back at me. “So you’re not giving me the cat now.”
“I’m happy to consider your application,” I said. “But again, we don’t send cats home right away.” It wasn’t a total lie. We looked at each request on a case-by-case basis. Some cats we did send home right away. Katrina Denning, Daybreak’s animal control officer and my cat supplier, had given me the authority to do what I felt was right, given my prior experiences as an adoption counselor. In this case, I had no intention of adopting to Holly Hawthorne at all, based on this scene alone. I just wanted her out of my café.
“Then forget it,” she announced. “Your loss. This place is a joke.” And she sailed out the front door in what I’m sure she considered to be a dramatic exit.
Copyright © 2018 Cate Conte.