A Haunted Hallow-whiskers (Meow for murder 4) releases this Thursday 07/30/20! If you haven't read any of the Meow for Murder books, not to worry, this book can be read on its own so dive on in!
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A highly inaccurate vision. A grumpy writer. And a corpse. Welcome to Starry Falls. Running from the mob can be murder.
Confession: I’m no psychic. But I can sort of see the future, albeit not accurately. And you better believe I’ve never let that little detail stop me from prognosticating my way into a pickle. So when I ticked off the mob, the feds, and my wily ex, I decided to take my Uncle Vinnie’s advice and start over with a new name and new hair color while relying on my old shtick—getting my visionary wires crossed and putting myself in danger.
Something wicked this way comes. Opal volunteers to turn the manor into a haunted mansion for the entire month of October in hopes to turn a dollar, but the spooky festivities soon take on a haunted life of their own when a real corpse shows up at the scene.
Shep and I take on a life of our own as well, and a special guest from my past conjures up before me. Something tells me making it through this month of horrors will be murder.
Living in Starry Falls is proving to be deadly.
“Welcome to the Haunted Hallow-whiskers Ball, Shepherd Wexler!” My sister snaps her rubber gloves on as she ogles him with a devilish gleam in her eye. “You know, I didn’t dress up as a naughty nurse for nothing. It’s time for your examination, big boy.”
“Naughty nurse?” I muse. “You’re wearing a French maid’s costume, Stephanie,” I snip at my ornery younger sister who hasn’t stopped hitting on Shep since she arrived in Starry Falls last week. She just dyed her hair back to black this afternoon after a brief stint as a blonde, and her eyes look amber in the light. We’re both in our late twenties and share the same pig-headed disposition in life, which almost always gets us in trouble.
It’s the beginning of October, and Opal has agreed to transform the entire Mortimer Manor into a haunted mansion for the duration of this monstrous month, thanks to a brainstorm I had a few days ago. Let’s just say after Shep laid that kiss on me, I wasn’t exactly able to get a wink of shut-eye that night. Instead, I relived every last morsel of that dreamy smooch, and I also happened to come up with a dozen new ways to get the townspeople of Starry Falls to part with a little of their hard-earned cash.
Opal Mortimer is a wealthy socialite in her eighties who was taken to the cleaners by her wily ex and left with nothing but this haunted manor that sits crooked on a hill and her collection of strays that have morphed into furry little feline family members going on a thousand strong. And I sort of made a pact with Opal to help get her back on her feet by way of tapping into my wicked moneymaking ways and coming up with ideas that might prove prosperous.
You see, I’m in need of a cash infusion myself. A few months ago, back in my home state of New Jersey, I sort of took the mob to the cleaners. It was mostly the fault of my boneheaded ex. Instead of quietly laundering money like good little mobster minions by way of a donut shop and car wash, we siphoned some of that dirty money off the top for ourselves. Along the way, I may have accidentally tipped off the feds. And now, well, Johnny Rizzo, the ex in question, is behind bars awaiting trial.
I’m on the run.
Not only does the mob want to fit me with a new pair of concrete stilettos, but the feds would like to have a waterboarding word with me, too.
As for my nonsensical little sis and her uncalled-for presence in my life at the moment, last month I started getting a few strange notes here and there and I thought I was dealing with your run-of-the-mill stalker. But, as it turned out, Stephanie broke up with her boyfriend and, instead of eating a gallon of Ben and Jerry’s, she tracked me down and decided to set stakes right here in Starry Falls. Not a good idea by a long shot, but I still haven’t been able to convince her of it. As soon as my Uncle Vinnie found out I was at the top of the mob’s hit list, he outfitted me with a new identity and an old beat-up Honda that I aptly named Wanda.
Wanda and I were on our way to Canada when she had a little vehicular meltdown, and Starry Falls, Vermont was about as far as I got on my run for freedom.
Stephanie makes a face. “So I’m a doctor turned French maid who not only makes house calls, I make the bed. And I get in the bed while I’m at it.” She winks over at Shep. “How about a drink, hot stuff?”
“No,” I answer for him.
Stephanie makes a face. “Then how about giving me my tennis bracelet back?” She tries to snatch me by my diamond-laden wrist, but I pull it just out of reach.
Last month, while my so-called stalker—aka my naughty sis—was dropping hints regarding her identity, Stephanie happened to stuff this sparkly gem into my mailbox, not only to clue me in on her presence, but as a means for me to hock it in the event I was low on cash.
“No to that, too,” I quickly inform her. “I happen to look good in compressed carbon.”
“Fine,” she says before sauntering past me. “If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll offer my services to Mud at the bar. He seems like a man who can really appreciate the finer aspects of latex gloves.” She snaps her head my way. “And for the tenth time, my name is Lola!”
Lola would be the name she’s using as a cover. I’ll admit, it’s kind of fun and flirty, just like Stephanie herself. Other than me, the only person who knows her proper moniker is Shep.
She growls as she heads for the bar—or more to the point, the bartender. Mud is a tall, thin, sinewy, scraggly-haired blond that has worked as the handyman around the Mortimer Manor far longer than I’ve been in Starry Falls. He’s essentially Opal’s go-to man for all things broken. And seeing that the manor is in a bit of a dilapidated state, he is one busy person.
At the moment, the ballroom at the Mortimer Manor is dimly lit, while each of the rows and rows of crystal chandeliers that hang above are covered with cobwebs and all sorts of creepy-crawlies dangling from them. Strings of silk fall leaves are draped around the periphery of the room, giant spiders and rats have been strategically placed here and there, bubbling cauldrons sit on every free surface, and a plethora of glowing orange lanterns hang from above, each one with a friendly jack-o’-lantern’s face painted on the front.
My name is Stella Santini, or at least it was. I go by the name of Bowie Binx now, and I’ve got long black hair, light brown eyes, stand at an average height of five-foot-five, and I can see the future.
Confession: I’m no psychic. Nor have I ever come close to predicting what the future might hold, not with any accuracy anyway.
You see, ever since I was a little girl, I had what my Nana Rose called the shakes. Technically, it’s more of a shiver, and when you get down to it, there’s a warm, fuzzy feeling involved that makes me want to forget about the world around me for a moment and retreat to the dark recesses of my mind where a thought plays out like a movie and I see things. And trust me when I say I have been wrong about interpreting the things I see on more than one occasion.
My sister, Stephanie, happens to share my quirky gift, although it’s never really benefited either of us. In fact, it often does quite the opposite.
As for my sister’s unexpected visit, it’s safe to say I didn’t see her coming.
And as for that kiss Shepherd Wexler planted on me last week? I definitely did not see that one coming, but boy, was it a welcome surprise.
Shepherd Wexler steps in front of me with his tall, commanding frame, and a spear of heat rides through me. Shep has dark hair, light blue eyes rimmed with navy, and both a face and body that makes every woman in the room sit up and pay attention. He’s not overly friendly by nature. He’s a part-time homicide detective-slash-best-selling thriller writer, and a full-time gorgeous pain in my side. He’s wearing a dark suit, black tie, and his somewhat infamous perpetual scowl. I’m guessing he’s dressed as his go-to, an ornery detective.
I happen to be dressed as a waitress, and considering the fact I manage the Manor Café, I didn’t exactly venture off into foreign territory either.
“You did it, Binx.” He flexes a dry smile. “The place looks great.”
“The place looks great because I hired that event planner Regina recommended.” I try not to scowl when I say Regina’s name.
Regina Valentine is one of Shep’s many exes. She used to manage the Manor Café before I did. But Opal gave her the axe, and that, more or less, was a segue into my fruitful employment right here in Starry Falls.
The music picks up a notch to near deafening decibels as the room begins to swell with costumed bodies.
I take a step toward Shep, and his thick cologne instantly surrounds me.
My shoulders bounce as I take in the Halloween decorations. “I was going to throw some crepe paper at the place and make Mud run around with a scary mask. If it wasn’t for Regina’s friend, my haunted house would have been a flop on night one.”
Opal pops up between us in a long black dress that looks as if it’s entirely comprised of shiny black vinyl. She has on a choke collar with spikes, and her typically gray hair is a shocking shade of purple. For the sake of the few follicles she has left, I hope that’s a wig, and I’m pretty sure it is with its far too short bangs and blunt pageboy styling. I’m not even going to ask what she’s supposed to be. Every day is Halloween if your name is Opal Mortimer. And in her arms is tucked one of her favorite cats, a brown and black spotted exotic Bengal named King.
“A flop on night one?” She gives a cheeky wink my way. Her pale skin is offset with the dark, thick kohl she wears ringed around her eyes, and her lips are stained her go-to dragon’s blood red. “Not I,” she says, fanning King with a handful of bills. “At this rate, Bowie Binx, I am going to be a very wealthy woman again.” She draws out each word in that odd way that only a true socialite can.
“And I’ll get fifty percent,” I proudly announce.
“Fifteen.” She bops me over the head with those greenbacks in her hand. “Make sure to have the café’s menu reflect the holiday theme like we discussed.” She takes off, and I can’t help but frown.
“I discussed, she listened. We’re talking pumpkin pancakes and spooky spider goulash,” I say to Shep as my eyes latch onto his. Just looking at Shepherd Wexler sends my stomach exploding with heat, and I’m forced to bite down on the silly grin floating to my lips. “Speaking of discussions”—I give a little shrug—“we haven’t exactly had a chance to dissect what transpired last week between your lips and mine.”
His lids hood low as he angles his chest toward me, and I can feel the heat emanating off his body like a fiery inferno straight out of Hades—and that’s one inferno I happen to approve of.
“Funny you should bring that up.” His lips twitch, and I’m tempted to run my fingers over that scruff on his face. That thick, glossy hair of his is practically begging for my hands to find a home in it.
“Bowie?” a female voice calls from behind, and I turn to see my newly minted bestie, Tilly Teasdale, with her chunky, skunky highlights and a tight-fitted police uniform.
Believe me when I say it’s formed to her figure in ways that make you wonder how she got into it in the first place. I’m guessing she’s already auditioning the male population to see who can help her get it off. Tilly is a sassy townie with shoulder-length brown hair, light eyes, and perhaps a bit too much of a flirtatious edge. She’s a touch older than me, maybe somewhere in her early thirties to my late twenties, has a sixteen-year-old daughter who is just as rambunctious as she is, and she just so happens to work with me at the café.
She nods my way. “Piggy is looking for you. She’s got questions about the setup.”
“Miggy,” I whisper to her just as Miggy Hill herself crops up with a smile.
Tilly pulls Shep to the side and Stephanie bops over to join them, but I choose to give all my attention to the woman in front of me. I’ll deal with my sneaky sister later.
Miggy Hill is just as colorful as her name suggests. She’s a curly-headed blonde who struts when she walks, has a bit of a country twang when she talks, and pretty big brown eyes that house the slight look of a threat in them. She’s spunky and has a touch of an attitude, and not shockingly that only makes me like her more. She reminds me of the girls back in Jersey, tough as nails and perfectly capable of getting things done.
“I’m all done with the setup, Bowie,” she says, adjusting her pointy black hat. She has on a little black dress and a long dark cape that only accentuates that witchy seductress look she’s going for. “The kid-friendly haunted house in the library is ready to go for tomorrow. I suggest you run it during after-school hours. No need to staff it when the kiddos are away.” Miggy Hill owns and operates an event company called Thoroughly Modern Miggy, and despite the fact she’s one of Regina’s so-called friends, we get along great. Regina and I? Not so much. “The cats are adorable. Can I take a few home?” A laugh trembles from her.
“All of the cats at the Mortimer Manor are very much family, but there’s a shelter about a mile from here brimming with cute little kitties that would love to find their forever home.”
“I’ll look into that.” Her shoulders bounce up and down. “As for the much more terrifying version of a haunted house upstairs, I let the actors know there is a strict no touching the guests policy—or each other. They are teenagers, after all.”
“And thespians,” I point out. It’s true. Miggy had the brilliant idea to mine the high school drama department to populate the haunted house. And in return for their stellar acting skills, I promised to write them each a letter of recommendation to their college of choice. “Let’s hope they scare the pants off of every lost soul that walks through those haunted halls.”
Miggy chuckles. “They’re teenagers. I’m guessing they specialize in scaring the pants off one another.” She waves it off, and yet suddenly I have an entirely new dilemma to worry about. “Oh, and before I forget, the carnival games out back are a huge hit. Good idea implementing that last minute.”
“I couldn’t have done it without you. And I have no doubt that people will lose their minds and wallets trying to score those adorable prizes.” There was really no way I could have pulled this off on my own, so I’m thankful Miggy offered to do all of this for free in an effort to put herself on the party-planning map.
A group of three women head this way laughing, each with a colorful drink in their hands—and I’d guess them to be somewhere in their early thirties. There’s another witch, Little Red Riding Hood, and a woman in a spandex tigress suit with cute orange ears and a tail that can double as a whip.
Miggy pulls the witch in close. “Bowie, I want you to meet my friends. This is witch Hazel.” She nods to the witch and we share a laugh. The girl has her hair tucked up in her wig, but I can see wisps of crimson locks falling loosely to the side. “A little play on her name.” She winks. “And Little Red is Annabelle, and the big cat is Carrie Clark. Hazel works for me.”
Hazel gives a quick nod. “Hazel Newton”—the redhead says—“nice to meet you. I used to work retail, but I was let go in the last round of budget cuts, and it was good timing because Miggy’s business just shot through the roof. I’m hoping to move up in the party-planning ranks. We’re so busy we don’t have a minute to ourselves.” Hazel glances to Little Red Riding Hood. “And I just might pick up a few hours here and there with Annabelle at the pumpkin patch.”
“Oh?” I perk right up at the mention of those happy orange globes. “Do you own a pumpkin patch?”
“Actually, my sister and her husband own it.” She nods. Annabelle has long caramel-colored hair, almond-shaped blue eyes, and deep-welled dimples on either side of her cheeks. She’s stockier than the rest, taller, and she seems friendly enough with a smile that keeps blinking on and off. Her red cloak is cinched beneath her neck with a long red ribbon and she’s holding a rectangular picnic basket in her arms with a red and white checkered cloth over it. “It’s just sort of side work for me. Seasonal.” She holds up a fruity-colored drink. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to top off my libation.” She trots off and the tigress among us suddenly looks cagey.
Hazel winces. “Annabelle does some event planning as well.”
The tigress nods my way. “I’m Carrie. It’s nice to meet you, Bowie.” She has luscious olive skin, chestnut-brown waves, amber eyes that glow, and she happens to have one of those lucky faces that looks like a work of art, carved high cheekbones, full lips, the works. “I’m good friends with Miggy.” She shrugs. “We hit it off when we met at a party last summer.”
Hazel scoffs. “Hear that, Miggy? Why, she makes you sound like a pole dancer.” Hazel leans in a notch toward the girl and the move looks threatening. “You would be the pole dancer around here, Carrie. Don’t ever try to devalue my friend. And what a wonderful costume you chose—a man-eater. I couldn’t have dressed you better myself.” She shoots a look to Miggy. “I’d watch it if I were you, Mig. A girl like that is destined to stab you in the back. I think I’ll join Annabelle at the bar.”
Hazel takes off and Carrie shrugs my way.
“I’m sorry, Bowie.” Carrie takes a breath. “Some girls just never grow up.” She glares over at Miggy. “Is she really going to make my life miserable forever? I say we cut her out of the klatch. All she does is stir the pot. I guess she wore the perfect costume, didn’t she? I’m heading out to get some air, maybe pet a cat or two.” She stalks off in the direction of the exit just as the music picks up in tempo, and soon we’re surrounded by a pack of werewolves, all howling and gyrating their limbs.
“My apologies, Bowie.” Miggy pulls off her hat. “My friends can be a little testy.” She piles her blonde hair up into a knot before putting the hat back on and pops the collar slightly on her cape. “That’s better. At least I can feel a breeze on my neck.”
“It is stifling in here,” I say. “So I take it you’re the glue that holds your friends together?” They may have been sharing a laugh in the beginning, but toward the end of that two-minute breakdown, none of them looked as if they could stand one another.
“My book club is the glue.” She nods. “It’s just the four of us, but I’m hoping to grow it. We call it the Coffee Klatch. We meet once a week at the Delicious Drip down the street and gush over our shared love of books. We’re doing a paranormal theme this month.” She glances past me. “Hey? I couldn’t help but notice you were talking to S.J. Wexler. Do you know him?”
S.J. Wexler just so happens to be Shep’s author nom de plume.
I give a quick nod. “Yup. He hangs out at the café and pens his brilliant novels while I feed him all the muffins he can eat. He also happens to be my landlord.”
She sucks in a quick breath. “Do you think you could ask if he’d join the girls and me one night for our book club? I just know they would love it. We read one of his novels last summer. I’m really into those mobster books. His Manon Tate series is one of my favorites.”
“Sure. I’m sure he’d be happy to do it. Mind if I tag along?”
“You’re more than welcome.” She glances to the door, and her expression darkens. “I’d better go put out a fire. I’ll talk to you later.”
I glance to the exit myself and spot witch Hazel in what looks to be a heated argument with a vampire—a tall man with a receding hairline, handsome despite the fact, and he looks rather angry at the moment. He grabs ahold of Hazel’s wrist just as Miggy shows up on the scene.
I’m about to make my way over to Stephanie, Shep, and Tilly when the room begins to sway underneath my feet. A warm, fuzzy feeling rides through my body, and suddenly the music becomes muted. Everything around me seems to crawl to a halt as a vision pops into my head. A feeling of genuine fright takes over, and I’m rattled right down to my bones. I see Stephanie standing before me, and she looks equally as terrified. She holds out her hands and they’re covered in blood, and we both begin to scream.
“Bowie?” A crisp slap lands across my cheek, and I come to, only to see Stephanie standing in front of me. “Wake up. I just had a vision.”
“I just had a vision,” I pant.
“You had blood on your hands!” we shout in unison before gasping at one another.
Both Stephanie and I had blood on our hands.
I give a quick look around the room as laughter roars above the raucous music.
Something tells me this night is about to take a turn for the terrifying.
Blood will be spilt.
***Need more? Pick up a copy and head back to Starry Falls!