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Leann Sweeney The Cat, the Wife and the Weapon

This book is for Morgan Elizabeth.

Acknowledgments

A book is a journey never traveled alone. Without the help of my husband, Mike, my writer’s group—Kay, Dean, Amy, Bob, Laura, Heather and Millie—as well as Susie, Charlie, Isabella, Enzo and Curry, I would have been very lonely. A special thank-you to the “cozies,” wonderful readers on the cozyarmchair Yahoo group, as well as all the other readers I’ve met through Facebook. My three kitties and my wonderful dog have been beside me as I typed every word. Lorraine and Jennifer, you have wrapped your arms around me and helped me through so much. Thank you. My agent, Carol, I thank you, too; and Claire, I could never thank you enough for your support. Lastly, a special shout-out to my two friends waiting on the Rainbow Bridge. My beautiful Himalayan, Indigo, and my tuxedo cat, Archie Goodwin, are right there. Rest in peace, dear, dear friends. You’re forever in my heart.

“It always gives me a shiver when I see a cat seeing what I can’t see.”

—ELEANOR FARJEON

One

Cats don’t worry, I thought as I pulled two of the three pet carriers from my minivan and lugged them to my back door. I disabled the security alarm and carried a couple fur kids inside. Cats are brave, sometimes afraid, always curious, but they do not worry. How wonderful that must be.

Worry had plagued me my entire trip home to Mercy, South Carolina. For the last week, I’d been on a business trip, traveling across a few Southern states selling my handmade cat quilts at craft fairs and cat shows. November can be a sweet month in South Carolina, weather-wise, and offers lots of opportunities to sell my wares. I’d had a successful tour, but my cell phone had not rung once during my journey home. I’d left at least ten messages for my friend Tom Stewart. Maybe more. Why wasn’t he calling me back? Had I left too many messages and he’d gotten tired of my calls? Or had there been some kind of emergency?

With concern a background thrum in my head, I carried in the last cat and the suitcase into my house. As for my three kitties, their plaintive meows to be released from captivity told me Syrah, Merlot and Chablis felt only relief that their journey was over. No, they weren’t worried at all.

I opened their crates and set them free, then watched them slink into the kitchen. I loved how cautious they were. Not worried, just careful. After all, who knew what creatures might have invaded the house during our absence? They might need to be pounced upon and eliminated. All three cats gracefully crept around the kitchen, noses and tails twitching.

But it was the invisible invader that continued to bother me—the one inside my head. I went outdoors again. This was the first real wintry day I’d experienced in a week, cold wind blowing, gray skies above. I unloaded the quilts left unsold, again rolling through possibilities as to why Tom was not returning my calls.

I went back in the house and set my suitcase by the washer. Before the trip I’d left a large box in the utility room and now, as I carefully packed away the remaining quilts, I recalled what had happened the night before I’d left town. Tom and I had enjoyed a nice dinner and then watched a DVD while cuddled on my couch. He said he would miss me. I knew I would miss him too.

I talked to him on the phone the first five nights while I was away. Then my calls started going straight to voice mail. Was it something I said? Problem was, I was so tired during our last conversation, I couldn’t even remember what we’d talked about. Did he think I was blowing him off?

Merlot pressed against my calf, his warbling meow pleading for me to quit standing around and provide him with food and water. He’s a big boy, a red Maine coon cat with a giant appetite. I opened the pantry and took out three cans of tuna cat food, thinking how I should have followed through—phoned my stepdaughter, Kara, and asked her to see what was up with Tom. Kara worked part time for Tom’s security business when she wasn’t running the Mercy Messenger, our small-town newspaper—or when she wasn’t supervising the construction of her new house on the outskirts of town.

I snapped open each can, and the noise brought the other two cats racing from wherever they’d been. Chablis, my seal point Himalayan, and Syrah, my amber Abyssinian, were as hungry as Merlot. They never ate much when I took them with me on business, but their semifasts ended as soon as we arrived home.

Why not call Kara now? I thought, setting three dishes of food and a stainless-steel pan of water on the floor in the utility room. I always used stainless or glass because plastic dishes are toxic to cats and can give them mouth sores or make them sick.

Kara is my stepdaughter, my late husband’s only child, and though she was an observant young woman and probably knew exactly how I felt about Tom, I never wanted to seem too romantically interested in him. She liked him, worked well with him, but the whole thing between Tom and me seemed awkward when it came to Kara. I felt as if calling her to ask about Tom would be like saying, “Hey, have you seen my boyfriend? The one who is slowly taking your father’s place?” No one could ever take her father’s place in my heart, of course, but it might seem that way to her.

“Oh heck,” I said aloud. “Quit with the mind games and do something.” I had to find out what was going on. Now.

I took my phone from my jeans’ pocket and stared down, gripping it as tightly as Chablis hangs on to her banana catnip toy. Call Kara. Do it.

She answered on the second ring. “Hi, Jillian. You home yet?”

“Just got in. Listen, I have a question. Is there something wrong with Tom’s phone?”

“Why?” she said.

I explained about the unreturned calls.

She said, “Maybe he didn’t take his phone with him, or forgot his charger.”

“Take it with him where?” Even though I couldn’t remember much from our last talk, I was certain he’d never mentioned a trip.

“He called me a couple days ago, asked me to handle any jobs or clients. Said he had to go away for a few days.”

“Oh.” A quiet “oh,” a small word that failed to hide the surprise and disappointment I felt that he hadn’t shared his travel plans with me.

Kara must have picked up on the emotion because she quickly said, “I got the feeling it was a last-minute thing, and he didn’t offer me any explanation. He sounded rushed or distracted or… something.”

“Oh,” I repeated. The worry was back. If there was one thing I’d learned since my husband’s death two years ago, it was to rely on my instincts. I knew Tom. I trusted him. Something was definitely wrong.

“You’re sure he’s not back in town?” I said.

“I’m sure. He’d call to find out about any new customers, Jillian,” she said. “I expect we’ll hear from him soon.”

“Maybe I’m overreacting,” I said, “but I’m concerned. What if he never got out his front door?” Thoughts of my husband’s collapse right here in this house, his instant death from a massive heart attack, flashed through my

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