Thursday, September 06, 2012

Dying to Read


Book 1, The Cate Kinkaid Files
Lorena McCourtney

"Lorena McCourtney's lively cozy mysteries hit all the right notes for me, and her newest doesn't miss a chord. A quirky, likable heroine, a handsome guy, and oh, a murder. Don't miss Cate Kinkaid's first case as a PI. It's a killer."--Lyn Cote, author of La Belle Christiane

Cate Kinkaid, desperate for a job, goes to work as an assistant private investigator. Her first assignment is supposed to be easy and uncomplicated, no danger or mayhem, and murder isn't even a possibility. Instead, she finds herself up to her elbows in Whodunit ladies, a paint-blobbed hunk, a deaf white cat - and killers.

Chapter One

Cate glanced at the identification card her Uncle Joe had printed out just before she left his office. Cate Kinkaid, Assistant Private Investigator. Complete with the photo he'd snapped, which showed a spike of red hair growing out of her left ear, and the address and phone number of Belmont Investigations.
An identification card that made her – what? An overage Nancy Drew? An underage Jessica Fletcher? A clueless Stephanie Plum?
Whatever, she was getting desperate, and the job was only temporary, not a lifetime commitment. She was, as Uncle Joe had put it, just dipping her toe into the world of private investigation. Just until one of the many résumés she had floating around brought results. All she had to do today was check on a woman named Willow Bishop living at an address on Meisman Street here in Eugene, Oregon, and then write up a brief report for the files.
Although Cate hadn't expected the house to look as if it had jumped off the cover of some old Gothic novel. She parked at the bottom of the steep driveway and stared up at the unlikely old place sitting on an oversized parcel among a subdivision of modest homes. Not dilapidated, but weathered and brooding, with oddly-shaped windows tucked into unlikely nooks , and several upper windows painted over. A witch, or maybe a vampire or vulture, wouldn't look out of place peeking over the peaked roof of a corner turret.
No witches, vampires, or vultures lurking today, Cate decided as she walked up the driveway. Not unless they'd taken to using Lincolns or Buicks as transportation. A handful of older women milled around the front porch. One woman was punching the doorbell with open-up-or-else ferocity. Another had her hands pressed to the sides of her face as she peered in a window.
A plump, blond woman in pink spotted Cate and immediately charged out to meet her. "Willow, thank goodness you're here! We've been waiting twenty minutes and—" She stopped and peered at Cate with disapproval. "Oh, you're not Willow, are you?"
"Actually, I'm looking for Willow myself. Willow Bishop?"
"I don't know that I've ever heard her last name. Are you her sister?"
"Does she have a sister?"
"I don't know. You look like a sister."
Cate had realized the description Joe had given her for Willow Bishop, age 26, 5'4", 120 pounds, red hair, blue eyes, came close to fitting Cate too, but apparently the similarity was even closer than the numbers suggested. Although she was nearer the dreaded 30 than 26.
"No, I'm no relation. It's a business matter." Joe had emphasized that the work Belmont Investigations did was strictly confidential. "And you are?"
"Fiona Maxwell."
Another woman, tall and gaunt and clothed in more purple than Cate had ever seen on one person, said, "We're the Whodunit Book Club. We read a mystery and meet every other week to discuss it. Today we're meeting here at Amelia's house."

"She's our club president this year," a short woman with a squeaky voice added.

"Someone named Amelia, not Willow, lives here?" Cate asked.
"Willow lives here, but she works for Amelia.," Fiona said. "We're supposed to have lunch here at 12:00, and it's already—"
Purple Woman filled in a time. "12:30." The broad brim of her purple hat flopped with indignation as she spoke.
"Amelia can be so rude. Making us wait out here like this." This woman, in a long, suede skirt, cowboy boots, and spur earrings, waved the book in her hand. "And insisting we read Wuthering Heights was ridiculous. It's no whodunit."

"It wasn't any worse than that awful spy thing you suggested last month, Texie," Fiona snapped.
"At least I had lunch on time," Texie snapped back.
Cate decided a prudent retreat was advisable before she found herself in the crossfire of a book war. Cowgirl-garbed Texie, more toned and tanned than the other women, looked as if she could be a tough adversary. Maybe she had a six-shooter tucked away in that outfit.

"Could Amelia be ill, and that's why she isn't answering the door?" Cate asked.
The women exchanged glances. What seemed a logical thought to Cate apparently hadn't occurred to them.

"I suppose it's possible," the woman in purple said, although the agreement sounded reluctant. "She's never sick, but she's always complaining about her fluttering heartbeat."
"It's her eyelashes that flutter. Whenever any good-looking male comes within flutter distance. And it doesn't matter who the male belongs to." Texie planted her fists on her hips. The venom in her voice suggested personal experience.
What Cate couldn't figure out was why this group bothered to meet, given the hostility billowing around them. Not her concern, however. She turned to go. She could come back tomorrow. Although it did seem odd that neither Amelia nor Willow was around to feed what was apparently an expected horde of hungry mystery readers.

"Is there someone you could call who would have a key so you could go in and see if everything's okay?" Cate asked.
"Actually," Fiona said slowly, with a wary glance at the others, "I have a key. I didn't want to mention it because when Amelia gave it to me she said not to let anyone else know I had it."
"But she gave me one and said the same thing!" Purple Woman dug in an oversized purple purse and whipped out a key on a metal ring.
Almost instantly, five identical keys on five identical metal rings dangled from five not-so-identical fingers. Purple nails on the gaunt woman. Short, bitten-to-the-quick nails on Texie. Elegant, silvery-pink on another woman who now said, "Well, isn't that just like Amelia?"

"Why is that like Amelia?" Cate asked.
Texie took a step forward to answer. "Because she's underhanded and sneaky, that's why." Texie sounded triumphant, as if this were something she'd wanted to proclaim for a long time.
Purple Woman tilted her head thoughtfully. "It's a psychological thing. A power play. She wants to make you feel special, so you'll be indebted to her."

"I was in a garden club that broke up because of one awful woman," Texie said. "So then we got together and reorganized without her." She glanced around as if looking for support for a reorganization.

"Amelia'd find out," Fiona said, her uneasy tone suggesting the consequences could be dire.
In spite of the dangling keys, the women didn't seem inclined to make use of them. When Cate suggested someone unlock the door, a discussion followed, the consensus being that Amelia would be outraged if she unexpectedly found them all inside her house.
Cate impatiently grabbed a key. "Tell her to blame me then." She marched up the front steps and stuck the key in the lock.
With the door open, the Whodunit ladies swarmed inside. They headed for the dining room, apparently hoping lunch would materialize there, but Cate took a moment to glance around the living room.
Unlike the Gothic-gloom exterior of the old house, the interior held sleek, Danish modern furniture, an oversized flat-panel TV, and recessed lighting. Bookcases winged out on either side of a white marble fireplace. A curtain of wooden beads hung over the entrance to the turret room. A curved staircase, more southern-plantation than Gothic, swept to the second floor. A flamboyant painting of three green eyes immersed in what looked like a cauldron of boiling beans hung over the fireplace. Cate wasn't knowledgeable enough about art to identify what style the painting represented, but this was definitely a house with a split personality.
"The table isn't even set for lunch!" the squeaky-voiced person squeaked from the dining room.
Another voice suggested they move the meeting to a nice tea-room over near the university.

"But it's Amelia's turn to provide lunch! She shouldn't get to just wiggle out of it. Sometimes she can be so cheap," Fiona said. "Remember that time she said she was serving lobster, but it turned out to be that imitation kind?"

"She's not cheap when she's buying shoes. Have you ever priced those Jimmy Choo's she likes?"
"Hey, wait." This voice came from farther back in the kitchen. "This is odd."

(Published by Revell. Copyright 2012, Lorena McCourtney. Do not reproduce without permission.)
DYING TO READ is available in both print and e-book editions in many bookstores and at:
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