Black Cat Crossing

Black Cat Crossing

by Kay Finch
Black Cat Crossing

Black Cat Crossing

by Kay Finch

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In the first in this cat-filled cozy series, aspiring mystery author Sabrina Tate is about to discover that when it comes to solving murders, her new feline friend Hitchcock is a master of sleuthing…

Sabrina has never been the superstitious type. Still, when she moves to Lavender, Texas, to write her first novel and help her Aunt Rowe manage her vacation rental business, Sabrina can’t avoid listening to the rumors that a local black cat is a jinx—especially after the stray in question leads her directly to the scene of a murder.

The deceased turns out to be none other than her Aunt Rowe’s awful cousin Bobby Joe Flowers, a known cheat and womanizer who had no shortage of enemies. The only problem is that Aunt Rowe and Bobby Joe had quarreled just before the cousin turned up dead, leaving Rowe at the top of the long list of suspects. Now it’s up to Sabrina to clear her aunt’s name. Luckily for her, she’s got a new sidekick, Hitchcock the Bad Luck Cat, to help her sniff out clues and stalk a killer before Aunt Rowe winds up the victim of even more misfortune…

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425275245
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/01/2015
Series: A Bad Luck Cat Mystery , #1
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 764,545
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Kay Finch grew up on a Pennsylvania farm, but she got to Texas as fast as she could and discovered her favorite vacation spot, the Texas Hill Country. Kay is the author of the Bad Luck Cat Mysteries, as well as the Corie McKenna, Houston PI Mysteries and the Poppy Cartwright Klutter Killer Mysteries. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the State Bar of Texas Paralegal Division. Kay lives with her husband, a rescue cat, and two wild and crazy rescue dogs in a Houston suburb

Read an Excerpt

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.

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.


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.


KRANE’S HARDWARE SAT on the outskirts of Lavender town proper and, as evidenced by the row of vehicles parked out front, the store did a bang-up business. I pulled my small car into a space between a couple of 4x4 pickups and climbed out, feeling like I’d arrived in the land of the giants.

Hardware made up only a portion of Krane’s inventory. With departments devoted to household goods, hunting and fishing, plants, and pets, the place drew customers who didn’t feel the need to drive an hour to the nearest Walmart. I pulled Thomas’s list from my shorts pocket and headed inside, hoping they had the locks he wanted.

I was looking at the piece of paper in my hand while stepping up to the entrance and nearly got clobbered by a humongous bag of dog food perched on a cowboy’s shoulder as he headed out. I ducked in the nick of time, and he went on to his truck without ever seeing me. I pushed through the swinging glass door and walked into the store.

A heavyset young woman in a green bib apron with “Krane’s” embroidered on the breast pocket stood at the front window, staring into the parking lot. She glanced at me and said, “Isn’t he dreamy?”

What? Who?

I walked over to her and followed her gaze. The cowboy who’d almost taken me down hefted the dog food from his shoulder into the bed of his white pickup. When he turned toward the driver’s door, I got a good look at him.

“Pretty cute,” I agreed, though that was an understatement. The man looked to be a little over six feet, late thirties or so, with dark hair and a five-o’clock shadow several days old. The rugged, outdoorsy type. Definitely dreamy. He wore a belt with the requisite Texas-sized belt buckle and jeans that fit him ever so well. The yellow Lab riding shotgun in his passenger seat was super cute, too.

“Who is he?” I asked the clerk.

“Luke Griffin,” she said. “Lives on the Kauffman ranch.”

I didn’t know where that was, and I might have asked except that my attention was drawn to a fiftyish man getting out of a cherry red SUV. He approached Griffin, who sure didn’t look happy to see him. In fact, he seemed downright perturbed. The two erupted into what looked like a verbal battle with a lot of waving arms and finger-pointing.

The store clerk and I exchanged glances.

“Who’s that guy?” I said.

She shrugged. Behind us a loud voice snapped. “Hallie, where the devil are you? You have customers to take care of.”

We turned away from the window in unison. At the U-shaped checkout counter, one cashier was efficiently ringing up an order while five people waited in line to check out. The second cash register stood unused.

“Sorry, Dad.” Hallie hurried over to her register and said, “I’ll take the next customer over here.”

Until now, I hadn’t known the clerk was related to the store’s owner, though I had seen her a couple of times before. I approached Krane, who looked like he’d had a rough morning. The sleeves of his off-white shirt were soiled with dark, wet stains. His face and neck dripped sweat, and his sparse salt-and-pepper hair needed combing.

“Sorry,” I said. “My fault. I distracted your daughter.”

“Did she help you find what you came for?” He looked pointedly at my empty hands.

“No, not yet.” I handed him Thomas’s list. “I need to get these.”

“She wasn’t gonna find any deadbolt locks by staring into space,” he said. “What to do with that girl, daydreaming one minute, listening to that noise she calls music the next? This way.” He turned and strode down an aisle.

The man was so grumpy I wouldn’t blame customers for driving to Walmart to avoid him. I needed the locks sooner rather than later, though, so I followed Krane. He stopped midway down an aisle, near another woman wearing a Krane’s apron. She was unpacking a box of fire ant poison and stocking the shelf in front of her.

The woman gave Krane a once-over and said, “You go Dumpster diving?”

He scowled at her. “Stupid cat got in the garbage again. Dragged stuff all over the place.”

“El Gato Diablo?” she said.

“Who else?” Krane said.

The woman looked at me. “Did he get you, too?”

“Gosh, do I look like I’ve been in a fight with a cat?”

She grinned. “No, I meant has the cat caused you bad luck?”

“Not yet,” I said, playing along rather than pointing out that cats do not affect luck.

“Good for you,” she said. “Just this morning the mailman came by and said he’d spotted the black cat. Next thing he knew a gust of wind ripped the mail he was about to deliver right out of his hand. Blew it into the street, and he nearly got plastered by a truck hauling a load of hay when he chased after the envelopes that got away.”

The cat controlled the wind. Right.

“Lucky he wasn’t hurt,” I said.

“A miracle,” she said with a touch of sarcasm.

Krane was focused on finding my locks and obviously didn’t want to talk about the cat. He ran a finger down a row of packages and pulled one off the rack to check against the list. “These deadbolts for Rowena’s place?”

“Yes,” I said, “Thomas sent me for them.”

“Having trouble out there?” He turned to me, and his brows drew together.

“No trouble.” I wasn’t about to give either of these people something else to blame on an innocent cat.

“Huh.” He picked up four identical packages. “I’ll take these to the checkout for you. Need anything else?”

“Not today.”

I followed him to the front of the store, where he recorded the purchase on Aunt Rowe’s account. He bagged the locks and handed them to me.

“Thanks, Mr. Krane. Have a good day.”

“Yeah,” he muttered. “You, too.”

I left the store and found myself disappointed that Luke Griffin and the angry stranger were gone. The brief conflict I’d seen between the two men was interesting and mysterious. Maybe I could use a confrontation like theirs somewhere in my book. I tucked the thought into the overstuffed “ideas” section of my brain, the section that could stand to have its files better organized.

I climbed in my car, backtracked into town, and hung a left on Gazebo Street. The short drive from there to Aunt Rowe’s property took me over rolling hills and past sparkling spring-fed creeks. My shoulders relaxed, and I sank back into my seat as I enjoyed the scenic drive. Two miles out of town, I turned again on Traveler’s Lane, the driveway to Aunt Rowe’s house and her Around-the-World cottages. I headed for my place first, the Monte Carlo cottage.

Guests who valued beauty over practicality chose to stay here rather than rent a typical Hill Country wood-sided, tin-roofed cabin. Aunt Rowe had designed each cottage in a style reminiscent of her trip to a particular city. In Monte Carlo, she had avoided overpriced lodging along the coastline and opted to rent a charming Tudor cottage.

I walked up the stone walkway, entered the cottage, and set my laptop on the small table in the combination kitchen/dining/living room. I opened the blinds on the window next to the stone fireplace to give myself a view of the steps leading down the steep incline to the river. Maybe creativity would flow better here today than it had at the coffee shop. I’d give the writing another try after checking in with my aunt. Thomas hadn’t said whether she knew about Bobby Joe Flowers’s impending visit, and I decided I wouldn’t bring him up unless she did.

I grabbed a bottle of water from the mini-fridge in the kitchenette and took a long swig as I walked into the living area. Even though I’d never met Flowers, I wondered why he usually stayed in this cottage with its decidedly feminine decor, all pastels and lace. Aunt Rowe had decorated the Monte Carlo with posters and photographs of the French Riviera, casinos, and palaces. A framed photograph of her on a sailboat with one of the James Bond actors who had lived there when she visited stood on the mantel. A picture book from the Princess Grace Gardens sat on the coffee table next to a photo album of Aunt Rowe’s shots from her trip, alongside a journal she kept there for all guests in the Monte Carlo cottage to record thoughts about their stay if they so desired.

I pulled off my ponytail holder and ran my fingers through my hair, then retrieved the new locks from my car and walked the short distance up a gravel lane to Aunt Rowe’s house. I went in through the back door of her rambling one-story and left the locks in the utility room for Thomas.

Salsa music was playing, way too loud. I followed the music to the screened porch and found my aunt sitting on an oversized wicker chair surrounded by blue-striped pillows, her leg cast propped on a matching pillow atop a wicker ottoman. She wore a bright red off-one-shoulder top and a big yellow flower clipped in her dyed auburn hair.

“Wow,” I shouted for her to hear me over the music. “What’s the occasion?”

She looked up and gave me a big smile, then grabbed a remote and lowered the volume on her Bose sound system. “Sabrina, you’re back early. How do you like my Zumba workout music?”

“Zumba?” The woman was closing in on seventy and had a cast on her leg.

I sat in a chair across from Aunt Rowe and watched with amusement as she started moving her arms and snapping her fingers in time with the music.

“Zumba’s a workout without the work. More like dancing. And this—” She paused to run a hand across the fabric of her red top. “I bought in Paris and wore one night that I spent dancing with a special gentleman. It brings back good memories.”

She was in a happy mood, a rarity in the six weeks since I’d moved here. “That’s nice, but you might have to put the Zumba on the back burner for a few more months.”

“It won’t be months,” she said. “I’m on a new quick-healing program.”

“Oh? You saw your doctor today?”

“No. Claire Dubois came to visit and told me all about foods that promote bone healing. Glenda is off to the market as we speak, to make sure I’m stocked up on green leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified orange juice, sweet potatoes, yada yada yada.”

“Claire from the wine shop?”

Aunt Rowe smiled. “The very one.”

Odd that Claire would come here. She never seemed especially friendly, and Aunt Rowe had never mentioned her before. But now I was beginning to suspect the real reason for my aunt’s better mood.

“I didn’t know you and Claire were close,” I said. “Did she tell you about the Zumba workouts, too?”

“No, the Zumba was my idea. I’m sick to death of crosswords and daytime TV.”

“Did Claire happen to bring something with her to help you heal?”

Her smile"disappeared" “For Pete’s sake, Sabrina, so she brought me some wine. I knew you’d start nagging when you found out, but I didn’t take any pain meds today, at least not after I started drinking.”

“But, Aunt Rowe—”

“Don’t ‘but’ me,” she said. “If you’d rather have me grousing about my circulatory problems, the fact that I can’t sleep worth a darn, or those flippin’ crutches, I will. At least the wine made me forget about that crap for a little bit.”

“Okay, okay.” The wine had messed with whatever meds were still in her system. Aunt Rowe didn’t normally fly off the handle so easily.

“I want to be up and about, ready to greet my new weekend guests,” she said. “I live for that, you know.”

“I know you do.” Feeling sorry for getting on her about the wine, I moved from my chair and perched carefully on the edge of the ottoman supporting her cast. “I ran through the Barcelona, Florence, and Madrid cottages this morning and left your welcome baskets. Maybe you should try to take a nap this afternoon before the new guests arrive.”

She nodded. “A nap might be the thing. The wine made me a bit drowsy.”

We both started at the sound of a car on the gravel outside. I looked over Aunt Rowe’s shoulder to the driveway and the vehicle that pulled up to the closed garage doors.

The red SUV looked awfully familiar.

“Is Glenda back?” She was trying to turn and look, but her rigid leg kept her from finding the right position.

“No, it’s not her.” The man who climbed out of the SUV was the guy from Krane’s parking lot.

“Then who is it?” Aunt Rowe said.

“I’ll go see.” I walked over to the screen door, which was where the man immediately headed.

Was he one of the weekend guests? But why wouldn’t he go to the front door of the house?

I opened the door before he reached it. Definitely the guy who’d argued with the cowboy. He wore khakis with a crease, a green golf shirt, and brown ostrich-skin boots that looked brand new. His longish hair was gray and thinning on top, and he sported a sparse beard.

“Hello,” I said. “May I help you?”

He looked me up and down with a leer that would have made J. R. Ewing proud. “I’ll sure bet you could, darlin’. I’m Bobby Joe Flowers.”


ALL I COULD think of was Thomas warning me we needed to be ready when Bobby Joe Flowers arrived.

I didn’t feel ready.

The man standing in front of me was my father’s first cousin. My first cousin, once removed. The ne’er-do-well prodigal cousin I’d heard about my whole life but had never met.

“Is Rojo here?” he said.

A lump the size of an apricot formed in my throat. Rojo. My dad’s nickname for his sister, Rowena Josephine. I didn’t like the sound of her pet name coming from this man’s lips.

I cleared my throat. “She’s recovering from a serious injury,” I said, intending to send him on his way, but my aunt was too close and had heard every word.

“Bobby Joe, don’t even think about hitting on this young lady,” Aunt Rowe said.

I turned, surprised to see she had managed to get up and now stood a few feet behind me on her crutches.

“Give me some credit,” he said. “Would I hit on Saint Richard’s daughter?”

He gave me a smarmy smile that made me cringe inwardly. How did he know who I was? Even if he’d received childhood pictures of me in annual Christmas cards, which I doubted, it didn’t make sense that he would recognize me at thirty-eight. And what was up with him referring to Dad in that snide tone of voice?

Bobby Joe entered the house as if he lived here and went up to his cousin. “Place looks nice.” He leaned in and gave Aunt Rowe a kiss on the cheek. “Sorry to hear about your leg. What happened?”

Aunt Rowe and I exchanged glances. This was normally where she’d offer refreshments to someone who came calling, but her stiff posture and the lack of warmth in her expression told me how she felt about this unexpected visit. By her silence, I guessed she didn’t even want to tell him how she’d tumbled down the stone steps leading to the river. I checked my watch. This would be a great time for Thomas to get back.

Using the most formal tone I could muster, I said, “What brings you to Lavender, Mr. Flowers?”

His lips curled up, and he laughed. “Well ain’t you a chip off the old aunt? Call me Bobby. We’ll be gettin’ to know each other right quick seein’ how I’ll be living in these parts from now on.”

“Living here?” Aunt Rowe said. “In Lavender?”

“That’s right. I’m stayin’ with a friend, so you don’t have to worry about puttin’ me up for now. But you might want to have a seat before I fill you in on the rest of my news. Wouldn’t want you to take another fall.”

So he already knew she’d fallen? How? Not everyone with their leg in a cast had injured themselves by falling. My stomach twisted into a tighter knot with every word the man said. He wasn’t the type to care if Aunt Rowe asked him to leave. Unless we could bodily throw him out—an impossible task—we were stuck with the guy.

I went over to Aunt Rowe and put a hand on her arm. “Let me help you.”

She went willingly to her seat on the wicker chair, but she didn’t relax against the pillows. Bobby Joe took one of the chairs facing her, and I sat in the other.

“Spit it out, Bobby Joe,” Aunt Rowe said. “I don’t have all day.”

He grinned, drawing out the telling of whatever he’d come to say. He propped one of his spanking-new boots on the opposite knee. “I had a medical procedure recently, too. Not so serious as yours, Rojo, but it led to finding out a damn interesting fact about my blood.”

“And you came to share your medical history with me,” Aunt Rowe said, regaining some of her composure. “How special.”

He ignored her sarcasm. “See, my blood don’t have much in common with my brother’s or sister’s. Imagine my surprise. I’m here to tell you I think my blood’s a lot more similar to what you got runnin’ through your veins, Rojo.”

“What?” I blurted. “That’s a ridiculous thing to say.”

He chuckled. “Let me finish, little lady.”

“Explain yourself,” Aunt Rowe said. “Before I throw you out of here on your ear.”

Bobby Joe leaned forward and fixed his gaze on her face. “Ran into some people over in Austin. The Staffords. Remember them? They knew our folks real well back when we were kids.”

“I remember.” Aunt Rowe spoke slowly, as if she wished she didn’t know who he was talking about.

“Miz Stafford’s near ninety, still sharp as ever. She was surprised to hear my folks stayed together till their dying day.”

I remembered seeing Henry and Eliza Flowers and their other children, Becky and J. T., from time to time at family reunions. Bobby Joe was never with them.

“Your folks had issues,” Aunt Rowe admitted. “Lots of folks did.”

He shook his head. “But not yours. They were perfect, just like Saint Richard. And you. Always better than the rest of us.”

“Cut the crap.” Aunt Rowe raised her voice. “No one’s perfect.”

“Not your daddy, that’s for sure.” He gave us the smarmy grin again. “See, Miz Stafford tells me your daddy and my mama were especially close, right before the time I came along. Put two and two together, Rojo. I think I’m your baby brother.”

Aunt Rowe gaped at him. I gasped. He was saying PawPaw cheated on Granny. I wanted to call Bobby Joe a big fat liar. My grandparents were the happiest couple I’d ever known.

“Given this new information,” he went on, “I’d say the land we’re sittin’ on, including those profitable little cottages you rent out, is rightly half mine.”

Aunt Rowe moved quick as a snake. She jumped up from her seat and took a couple of steps toward him on her cast. She gripped a crutch in her right hand and swung it toward his head like a batter itching to hit a home run.

The crutch connected with his temple, and the impact sent his chair flying over backward.

Aunt Rowe’s face was beet red. “How dare you come into my house and slander my father’s good name,” she yelled. “You can take your lies somewhere else, ’cause you will never get your slimy hands on one square inch of this property. No. Way. In. Hell.”

Bobby Joe was down on the floor, flailing on top of the wicker chair, protecting his face with his arms. Blood spurted from the place where her weapon had connected with his head. She stood over him with a crutch poised in the air like she planned to clobber him again.

I jumped up. “No, Aunt Rowe. Stop.”

She was zoned out, livid, and didn’t seem to hear me. “You’re a lying sack of—”

A loud voice interrupted the melee. “Excuse me.”

I glanced up to see a man standing at the screen door. He had two children with him—a boy and a girl—and their mouths were hanging open.

“I’m Tim Hartman,” the man said. “And we have reservations for the Barcelona cottage. We’re, um, kind of early.”

•   •   •

TWO hours later, I was at my friend Tyanne Clark’s bookstore. The store had closed at five, and we sat in a cozy reading nook in the back enjoying glasses of sweet tea with lemon. Ty had kicked off her Crocs—I swear she had every new style they made and a pair in every color—and sat with her legs curled under her. She was as petite and blond as I was gangly and dark, and the easy chair seemed to swallow her.

Ty and I had met when we were eight, during one of my summer visits to Aunt Rowe’s. Since then, I’d married, divorced after four difficult years, and given up on finding a man I was willing to live with. Instead, I spent all my passion at the computer, trying in fits and starts to write a book I could sell. So far all I had to show for my trouble was a pile of rejection letters.

Tyanne had married, given birth to three children, and opened Lavender’s only bookstore, Knead to Read, a name inspired by her bookstore cats, Zelda and Willis. With Internet sales, e-book rentals, and a booth at every Hill Country bazaar and festival in three counties, Ty kept her business hopping.

At the moment, the store mascots were winding down their day. Zelda, an orange female, was asleep on Ty’s lap. Willis, a big tabby tomcat with striking markings, sat nearby kneading the braided rug under her chair.

After I spilled the whole sordid story about what had happened at Aunt Rowe’s, Ty said, “You’re lucky Thomas showed up when he did, before Rowe killed the man.”

“I know. Thomas even managed to convince Mr. Hartman to keep his reservation and checked the family into the Barcelona cottage. I’m not sure how, given what the poor guy and his children witnessed.” I took a sip of tea and put my glass down on a side table. “Aunt Rowe went ballistic, but if she hadn’t hit Bobby Joe, I might have done it for her.”

“Do you believe his story that he’s her brother?” Ty asked.

I shrugged. “I’d rather believe this is another ploy to get money. If it’s true his mother and my grandfather had an affair, then why didn’t anyone hear rumors before now?”

“People were more discreet about their private lives when your grandparents were young,” she said. “These days people don’t mind showing up on reality TV and announcing to the whole world: ‘I was seduced by my brother-in-law and I’m having his baby.’”

“Stop,” I said. “My grandfather didn’t seduce anyone.”

“Maybe you’re right.” Ty ran a hand through her short blond curls and gave me a conciliatory smile. “You think Flowers will turn your aunt in for assault?”

I shook my head. “He was laughing about the whole incident when he left. Stayed only long enough for Thomas to patch up the cut on his forehead with a butterfly bandage from the first aid kit. His head bled like crazy.”

“With all that blood, you should have collected a sample. Had it tested against your aunt’s and gotten an answer. Wouldn’t have to make yourself sick wondering.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think collecting a blood sample would do the trick. Years ago, I did some DNA research for a book. Don’t you need the father’s blood to get conclusive test results?”

“They have more-advanced tests these days,” Ty said.

I didn’t want to hear that. “Bobby Joe has to know Aunt Rowe’s not handing over her inheritance on his say-so. Probably won’t give him a dime even if science can prove he really is her brother. The law might protect her, too, depending on what exactly PawPaw’s will said. I’m sure Bobby Joe has a plan. He said Aunt Rowe would hear from him again soon.”

Ty raised her eyebrows. “Or his lawyer. Or the cops. Or both.”

“He can bring it on,” I said. “I’m angry that he tarnished the memory of my grandfather. And I sure hope he can’t lay claim to Aunt Rowe’s property.”

Willis walked over and rubbed against my leg as if he knew I needed comforting. I reached down to scratch behind his ears.

“Don’t let this change your feelings about family,” Ty said. “I mean the family you’ve known and loved, not this Flowers character.”

“Easier said than done.”

She grinned. “I know exactly what you need to do.”

“Find an attorney to represent my aunt against criminal charges?” I said dejectedly.

“No. Use this somehow in your book. Conflict on every page, remember?”

Tyanne was always harping about conflict. She was the only person I allowed to read my manuscript pages, and though she was a harsh critic her insights were usually spot on. I sat back and thought about how I might weave details of what had happened today into my book. Maybe a twist on real events. I could have Scarlett Olson run to an uncle she hopes will keep her and her daughter'safe, only to learn he isn’t her uncle at all.

“You gave me an idea,” I said. “I’m going home to write.”

•   •   •

BACK at the house, I learned from Thomas that Aunt Rowe had taken a sedative and was sleeping like the dead. Bobby Joe Flowers hadn’t been seen or heard from again. Thank goodness.

In my cottage, I booted up my laptop and read over the last few pages of my novel. I mapped out possible plot changes but wasn’t happy with any of the ideas I came up with. Sometimes writing was nothing but a big time suck. Around eleven I called it a night and went to bed.

I tried to sleep, but apparently I was too wound up after what had happened today to write or to sleep. By two, I gave up on the bed and decided to bake. I had a craving for pecan tarts. I changed my nightgown for shorts and a T-shirt, added socks and tennies, then grabbed a flashlight and keys and headed to Aunt Rowe’s. Not my first middle-of-the-night foray into her large country kitchen. I had baked things there as a cure for insomnia two or three times a week since coming to live in Lavender. Though Aunt Rowe claimed she had trouble sleeping, she had yet to interrupt me during a baking frenzy.

The night was humid and still. From the path, I could barely hear the gurgle of the Glidden River—a narrow section of which ran through Aunt Rowe’s property. Clouds drifted across the half-moon, and I flipped on the flashlight to guide me. At her back door, I stubbornly tried my key three times and then smacked my forehead with the heel of my hand.

Of course. Thomas had changed the locks.

I stood there for a few seconds, grieving for the pecan tarts I would not be eating. I’d have to settle for the banana bread I had leftover from my last middle-of-the-night bake-fest. I hurried back along the path toward my cottage. The clouds slid away from the moon, and I switched the flashlight off to conserve the batteries.

Something darted across the path in front of me.

I stopped and scanned the area. Up ahead, eyes glowed in the dark. My heart raced. I turned the flashlight back on and found a large black cat sitting about twenty yards ahead of me. The same cat I’d seen sitting on my car the day before.

This time it had crossed my path.

If that had happened before Bobby Joe Flowers’s visit, I’d say he was the bad luck. Or if the cat had shown itself on the way to Aunt Rowe’s house, I’d say the bad luck was that I didn’t have the right house key.

Black cats don’t cause bad luck, Sabrina, remember?

I resumed walking, and the cat stayed right where it was until I got closer. Then it jumped up and ran ahead.

When I reached my cottage, I saw the cat sitting on the top stone of the steps leading to the river. I stooped down and talked to the animal.

“You’ve made quite a trip coming all the way out here from town,” I said. “You might want to steer clear of Thomas, though. He probably won’t be happy to see you.”

The cat meowed.

“Glad to meet you, too,” I said. “You remind me of a cat I used to have. Smoky went all the way through college with me, but then I married Elliott and he was allergic. Should have made him move out instead of the cat. But Dad kept Smoky for me until he passed. Smoky, I mean, not Dad, but Dad’s gone now, too.” My eyes teared.

Get a grip. You’re talking to a cat as if it’s your therapist.

The cat stood and looked at me, then turned and darted down the steps.

“Wait.” I ran to the top of the steps and shone my light in the direction the cat had run.

There, another flash of black.

Where was the danged cat going? I thought cats didn’t like water.

I took the steps a little too quickly and had to stop for a moment to catch my balance on one flat stone that rocked when I put my weight on it. I slowed down, taking care so I wouldn’t slip and fall. When I reached the bottom, the cat’s green eyes appeared in a place that made it seem like the animal was suspended over the water.

No, 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.


FOR A FEW seconds I considered jumping in to rescue Bobby Joe. I had years of experience leaping into the water from this bank. The river pooled here and was about eight feet in the deepest section. There were some large rocks I’d have to avoid, a tricky maneuver to pull in the dark. I slipped off my tennis shoes, but then logic kicked in. Bobby Joe was facedown in the water and looked like he’d been there for a while. I was too late.

With shaking hands, I patted my pockets for my cell phone. No luck. I’d left it on my nightstand. Not very far away, but now that I’d found the body, I felt weird about leaving Bobby Joe. Like I was abandoning a long-lost cousin. What if the river’s current dislodged him and carried him downstream? I told myself he couldn’t be swept off into some large body of water and lost forever, at least I didn’t think so. Still—

Move, Sabrina. Make the call.

I turned and took the steps with care so I wouldn’t fall and meet the same fate as Bobby Joe. I shone the flashlight around the sparsely wooded area surrounding me, looking for the black cat. He was nowhere in sight. He had led me to the body, then"disappeared"as though his work was done.

After reaching the top of the steps, I hurried inside and retrieved my phone. I dialed 911 and told the dispatcher about Bobby Joe. The woman took my information and told me the authorities would be on their way and I should stay on the line.

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From the Publisher

"Black Cat Crossing has everything a cozy mystery could want—intrigue, memorable characters, a small-town setting, and even a few mouth-watering recipes...A purr-fectly cozy read." — Ellery Adams, New York Times bestseling author of Murder in the Mystery Suite

"If Charlie and Diesel ever make it to Texas, they'll be heading straight to Lavender to meet Sabrina and Hitchcock to talk about solving mysteries of Black Cat Crossing and I loved every page. I can't wait for a return visit to Lavender." — Miranda James, New York Times bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks mysteries

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