Have you visited us in Lavender, Texas yet? Here’s where our story began – from Black Cat Crossing:
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 House went on as usual. Back when I was a kid visiting my Aunt Rowena, the shop was called Der Kaffee Haus, 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 if I'd ever finish this book or if I was destined to the status of wanna-be 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. "Thirty-something?"
The coffee shop's owner, Max Dieter, came up with a mug for Thomas in one hand and a steaming coffee pot in the other. The big man had a fringe of strawberry blonde 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."
Kay Finch is the National Best-Selling author of the Bad Luck Cat Mysteries by Penguin Random House. Though her character, Sabrina Tate, has left the paralegal profession behind to move to the Texas Hill Country, Kay still works as a paralegal at a Houston, Texas law firm. She resides in a Houston suburb with her husband and pets. Bad Luck Cat Mystery #4 – The Black Cat Steps On a Crack – is scheduled for a June release. Visit her at www.kayfinch.com.