Damn fools. I could have told them that orange cat is always out there, hoping to get inside. The only shock is that he didn’t kill both of those love birds. But the way the rest of the colony is acting, you’d think the orange cat had done something unnatural.
Bernard’s right. Being locked up in this house with Ophelia’s body is driving them all crazy. It’s up to us to keep them safe from themselves.
“Come on, guys,” one of the Calico twins says. “It’s not over yet.”
“The other bird got away,” her sister adds. “He’s probably scared right now, but he’ll come back. He knows we need him.”
“He’s a bird,” I say. “In five minutes, he won’t even remember why he’s outside. The best thing now is for me to go and talk to Bernard. Tell him we’re experiencing some difficulties with the escape plan and –“
“What’s this ‘we’ business?” Newcomer asks. “You were never part of anything we’ve done.”
“Look, I know we’ve had our differences—”
“You’ve been starving the two of us,” Boots says.
“Only until we take a vote—”
“Then let’s do that now,” Sneaky Manx says.
“Sneaky, sweetheart, you’ll want to think about this.”
“My name is Lola.”
“Call yourself whatever you like. As long as you’re under Ophelia’s roof, you’ll be Sneaky Manx to me.”
“You really are an ass,” she says and turns to the others. “All those who agree Ophelia’s death was an accident say Aye.”
Even the twins join the chorus of Aye’s making me the only sane voice in the room.
“Not everyone is present,” I remind them.
“Scruffy would vote with us,” Boots says. “Which leaves you and Bernard as the only dissenting voices.”
“Where is Scruffy anyway?” Annie asks.
“We saw him in Bernard’s office,” one of the twins says.
“When?” Fluffy asks.
“A while ago,” the other twin says. “He wanted to talk about Newcomer and Boots.”
“What happened?” Newcomer asks.
“We don’t know,” the twins say together. “We were only there to get some treats and Bernard told us to leave.”
“Bernard gave you treats?” Annie asks.
“All the time.” One of them holds up a bag. “He has a box full of them.”
“You’re lying,” I say.
The girl blinks at me. “No, actually. He’s got this huge box filled with treats and crunchies.”
“Scruffy saw it,” her sister says. “He said he was going to let everyone know, and Bernard told us to leave.”
I give those girls a well-deserved smack. “What’s gotten into the two of you? To tell barefaced lies like this—”
Annie touches a paw to my face. “Tom, I know you how much you trust Bernard, how much we all did. But with Ophelia gone, everything has changed, Bernard has changed.”
I push her away. “He’s in mourning. Bernard was Ophelia’s only cat for years. He misses her in ways none of us can. And he doesn’t deserve this kind of talk.”
“I understand,” Annie says, putting herself between me and those twins. “But his grief is making him irrational. He doesn’t come upstairs except to eat, he tried to starve Boots and Newcomer –”
“Only to ensure there’d be enough food for the rest of us.” I turn to the others. “This colony has always been his first priority. With Ophelia gone, he’s had to make choices, sacrifices. Boots, believe me, that decision was harder on him than you can imagine. And for those twins to start spreading rumours—“
“Tom listen to me,” Annie says. “The twins brought chicken treats. We don’t have chicken in our inventory.”
“They probably stole them before the count. Like Fluffy did to feed Boots and Newcomer.” That pretty kitty’s mouth falls open and I almost laugh when those boys move in front of her. As though they could stop me if I wanted to take the issue further.
“You think I didn’t know?” I ask Fluffy. “That I couldn’t smell it on them? I didn’t say anything because Bernard likes you and he already had enough to deal with. But you’ll understand why I can’t look at that bag of treats and believe those girls got it from Bernard.”
“Why don’t we find out for ourselves?” Newcomer says. “Pay Bernard a visit. Let him prove the twins wrong.”
“And tell us where Scruffy is,” Sneaky Manx adds.
The idea makes sense. No point in us going round and round this thing when Bernard can clear everything up in seconds. “Let’s go,” I say, and lead the parade down the stairs to the basement.
Bernard’s door is closed tight. Opening it is his party trick, a way to impress the young ones. But I’ve watched him enough times to know how he does it, so I knock once and don’t wait for an answer. This is too important to stand on ceremony.
“What’s the meaning of this?” he asks, climbing down from his La-z-boy as we file into his sanctuary, a place I’ve never been invited.
“The twins are making accusations,” I tell him. “Saying you have a box of food.”
His room smells bad, like he hasn’t been using the litter pools or worse. But it doesn’t stop the others from spreading out, peering into corners, showing no respect for his privacy.
“Why did you bring them in here?” he growls at me.
“So you can prove the girls wrong.”
“You need to get everyone out now.”
“Found it,” one of the twins calls.
She comes out from behind an end table carrying another packet of treats. Her sister follows with a bag of crunchies. Sample size, like the ones Ophelia got in the mail.
“Tom, wait,” he says, but I walk behind the table anyway, and there it is. Just like the girls said.
All the food that he’s been hoarding while the rest of go hungry.
“It’s not what you think,” he says.
“You’re right,” I say as we circle our leader. “It’s worse.”
Just the Way You Aren’t
by Lynda Simmons
What happens when an everyday Cinderella makes a play for the prince?
A moment of madness. That’s all muralist Sunny Anderson expected when she donned a glittering mask and a fabulous gown to crash the gala at Manhattan’s newest boutique hotel. Project manager Michael Wolfe has no idea that the beauty staring up at the mural on the ballroom ceiling is also the artist who painted it. He’s captivated and she’s willing, but when their moment of madness on the sofa in his suite comes to an abrupt end, his princess is off and running, leaving nothing behind but a pair of earrings. He’s determined to find her again, but all he has to do is look closer at the woman painting the mural in his office to see that the one he needs is standing right in front of him.
Sunny’s feet moved of their own accord and she stared straight ahead, horrified and thrilled at the same time. Wondering what she was playing at and not at all surprised when he fell into step beside her.
This was why she wasn’t ready to leave, she realized. She was enjoying herself too much. Enjoying the fact that as Sonja she could do anything or say anything. Be shocking and sexy, and make Michael Wolfe sit up and take notice.
She glanced over at him as they walked, feeling beautiful, powerful, but most of all desirable. Because if that wasn’t hunger she saw in those dark eyes, then she’d been out of circulation for far too long.
Which was a distinct possibility given that her last sexual encounter had been almost a year ago in the back of Vince Cerqua’s convertible when the top wasn’t the only thing that wouldn’t go up. She’d spent the drive home assuring him that it happened to men all the time; at least that was what she heard in the tearoom.
She felt her face warm, knowing instinctively that Michael’s top would never let him down. Not that she wanted to find out. Not really. Not now, at any rate.
“Where will you be going in the morning?” he asked.
He drew his head back and she laughed. “There’s a theater group I’m rather fond of. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. I’m just a wanderer. Never in one place long enough to plant a garden as they say.”
“Is that what you’d like to do? Plant a garden?”
“Yes,” she said, slipping in a touch of Sunny, but staying true to Sonja. “Of course, with so many emerging artists, I’m not thinking about that right now.”
He stopped and took her hand. “What are you thinking about?”
Trouble. And sex. Mostly sex. For all the good it did her.
Truth to tell, Sunny wasn’t the kind to have a one-night stand. She was conservative in her thinking and cautious when it came to matters of the heart. She was the kind who delivered hampers at Christmas, painted faces at the community center on Halloween, and made sure her organ-donor card was signed. No question about it, she was Sunny the good: Balanced. Friendly. And utterly predictable.
But Sonja? Now there was a real vixen. A woman who traveled the world, took risks every day, and was never, ever predictable. It seemed a shame to make her leave the ball so early when she was only in town for one night. And Sunny had the rest of her life to spend being good.
Michael ran his thumb across hers and the pull was stronger than ever, bringing her back a step. After all, it wasn’t as though he was a total stranger, some masked man she picked up at the sushi bar. This was Michael Wolfe, Beast of Brighton, Terror of the Tradesmen. And she already knew he looked good without a shirt.
Maybe Hugh was right. Maybe a moment of madness was good for the soul.
The music changed again, the singer launching into a slow, sultry torch song that begged an answer to the question women had been asking for centuries: what is it with men and commitment?
Sunny had wrestled with that issue herself for years, convinced that the boy she’d loved too much would come back for her one day. Pale and contrite, wanting nothing more than to love her the way he should have all along. But commitment wasn’t on her mind at all when she twined her fingers with Michael’s and gave him Sonja’s best come-hither smile. “I’m thinking we should go to your place,” she said, and was sure she was floating as they headed for the door.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Lynda Simmons is a writer by day, college instructor by night and a late sleeper on weekends. She grew up in Toronto reading Greek mythology, bringing home stray cats and making up stories about bodies in the basement. From an early age, her family knew she would either end up as a writer or the old lady with a hundred cats. As luck would have it, she married a man with allergies so writing it was.
With two daughters to raise, Lynda and her husband moved into a lovely two storey mortgage in Burlington, a small city on the water just outside Toronto. While the girls are grown and gone, Lynda and her husband are still there. And yes, there is a cat - a beautiful, if spoiled, Birman.
When she's not writing or teaching, Lynda gives serious thought to using the treadmill in her basement. Fortunately, she's found that if she waits long enough, something urgent will pop up and save her - like a phone call or an e-mail or a whistling kettle. Or even that cat just looking for a little more attention!
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Lynda-Simmons/e/B001KI3Z4O
BUY LINK: Amazon
Prizes for the tour are as follows:
• One randomly chosen winner via rafflecopter will win a $50 Amazon/BN.com gift card.
• One randomly chosen host will receive a $25 Amazon/BN.com gift card.