Crossing the Lion: A Reigning Cats & Dogs Mystery (Reigning Cats and Dogs Mystery)

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9780553592382: Crossing the Lion: A Reigning Cats & Dogs Mystery (Reigning Cats and Dogs Mystery)

CAN A SMALL-TOWN PET DETECTIVE HUNT DOWN A BEAST OF A KILLER IN ITS OWN LAIR?
 
Veterinarian Jessica Popper is still basking in newlywedded bliss when neighbors Betty and Winston beg her to investigate the suspicious death of Linus Merrywood, king of the corporate jungle. On stormy Solitude Island, the Merrywoods have enjoyed the lion’s share of wealth for generations. But from the suspects to the surroundings, Jess feels as if she’s walked straight into an old-fashioned game of Clue—except here the stakes are life and death.

 There’s the butler named Jives, a sexy assistant named Scarlett, teatime in the conservatory, and a house with secret passageways, moving walls, and a wailing aunt locked in the attic. With a storm raging around the island and Jess’s least favorite police detective assigned to the case, things are looking dire until Jess’s lionhearted husband, Nick, braves his way to Solitude to rescue her. Now it’s the two of them against a family steeped in secrets—and a killer on the prowl who’s ferociously determined to protect the biggest family secret of all.

Les informations fournies dans la section « Synopsis » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.

About the Author :

Cynthia Baxter is a native of Long Island, New York. She currently lives on the island’s North Shore, where she is at work on her next mystery.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :

Chapter One


“It is better to be a lion for a day than a sheep all your life.”

—Elizabeth Kenny

How on earth did I get myself into this situation? I thought miserably, zipping my jacket up to my chin and wondering why I’d ever put so much faith in Polarfleece.

On a dreary November evening like this one, I usually preferred snuggling up in front of a fireplace with my brand-new husband, Nick, and sipping hot chocolate, mulled cider, or some other beverage that was really good at adding warmth to the human body. It wouldn’t have hurt to have my pets around me, as well, since my two dogs and two cats happen to be pretty good at that aforementioned snuggling.

Instead, I found myself in the middle of Peconic Bay, huddling inside the cold, damp cabin of a boat that, at the moment, was being thrown around as if the turbulent waters were gearing up for a replay of The Perfect Storm.

Even though I didn’t remember having had a problem with seasickness before, the churning in my stomach told me that could be about to change.

Icy rain pelted the windowpanes, through which I could see that darkness had settled around the dense gray fog surrounding the vessel. I was beginning to understand why all those sailors on the HMS Bounty had decided to mutiny. Right now, nothing sounded better than dry land.

At least my traveling companions didn’t come close to the Captain Bligh category. In fact, for what it was worth, they looked almost as miserable as I felt.

Beside me, Betty Vandervoort Farnsworth sat hunched over, with her arms folded and her legs crossed. The oversize parka that nearly devoured her slender frame was the same shade as overripe limes, as if it had been designed to scare away bears. Even less fashionable was the multicolored wool cap she’d yanked so far down that it nearly concealed her sapphire-blue eyes. Her hat also covered most of her hair, although a few strands of her usually neat white pageboy stuck out at wild angles.

Her husband, Winston, looked as if he was on his way to a Halloween party dressed as the Gloucester fisherman. He wore a bright yellow slicker topped by one of those hats that looks as if it’s really good at redirecting rain toward the guy behind whoever’s wearing it. Being British, he was doing a much better job of keeping a stiff upper lip. The only thing that gave him away was the slightly green tinge of his skin.

Frederick looked a little green, too, although it was harder to tell, since he was covered with tan fur. It was also impossible to discern whether the wirehaired dachshund tucked beneath Winston’s coat was trembling because of seasickness or because he was simply terrified by the storm.

I might have been amused by the way Betty and Winston looked, if I wasn’t wrestling with a slew of conflicting emotions. After all, they were the ones who’d gotten me involved in this in the first place.

It had all started a few hours earlier as I lay on the bed in Betty’s guest room, working my way through a stack of veterinary journals. I’d lived in the former gardener’s cottage on her estate for years, but recent events had rendered it uninhabitable. Since June, Nick and I had been staying in Betty and Winston’s residence, a luxurious nineteenth-century mansion I’d nicknamed the Big House.

While Nick and I had every intention of looking for our own place, neither of us ever seemed to find the time. After spending a few years as a private investigator, Nick had decided to change careers. He was plowing through his second year of law school, which meant he spent every waking hour studying. There’s a saying about law school: The first year, they scare you; the second year, they work you; the third year, they bore you. And year two was turning out to be as demanding as it was reputed to be. As for me, I run my own veterinary practice out of a twenty-six-foot clinic-on-wheels. That means I routinely put in ten- to twelve-hour days driving all over Long Island, making house calls.

Besides, people who’ve been married for only five months can find much better ways to spend their free time than searching for apartments on Craigslist.

Just like hunting down real estate, keeping up with my reading was one of those to-do items that was hard to squeeze in. So I was taking advantage of a few free hours on a gray rainy Thursday afternoon, exactly one week before Thanksgiving, to curl up on our comfy canopy bed with the American Journal of Veterinary Research.

The fact that my dogs and cats had snuggled up with me made the atmosphere even cozier. Max, my adorable Westie, was pressed against one leg, his furry white head resting on my thigh. Every few minutes he let out a sigh, although I couldn’t tell if he was expressing joy or was simply annoyed over having his reverie interrupted by the sound of pages turning. Still, every time I reached over distractedly to fondle his ears, he fixed his big brown eyes on me and appreciatively thumped his stub of a tail—a sad reminder of his previous owners.

Catherine the Great, better known as Cat, was curled up against my other leg. My dignified gray pussycat suffers from arthritis, and I hoped she found the heat from my body soothing. The other feline love of my life, Tinkerbell, was lying on my chest. She’d first gotten into the habit of acting like a lobster bib back when Nick brought her home after finding her abandoned in a cardboard box, and she’d immediately taken over as top dog—er, cat. But now she was fully grown, big enough that I had to hold my journal high in the air to keep her orange fur from blocking the pages.

Lou, my Dalmatian, was stretched out at the end of the bed. He happened to be doing a terrific job of keeping my feet warm. Like Max, he bears a sad souvenir of his earlier life: He has only one eye. At the moment, he was dozing, making cute snorting noises that led me to suspect he was dreaming about chasing tennis balls.

The other two animals that were part of my family were downstairs in the kitchen. I could hear Prometheus, my blue-and-gold macaw, screeching, probably trying to bully Betty into bringing him an afternoon snack of an apple or some other treat. At least Leilani was quiet. Then again, most Jackson’s chameleons aren’t very noisy, even when someone takes them out of their tank. Usually they just stare, lazily blinking the eyes on the sides of their heads.

I couldn’t have been more content—or more relaxed. It helped that I was dressed in sweatpants and a white T-shirt with a picture of a Dalmatian and the words Got spots? My straight dark-blond hair, which usually hangs around my shoulders, was pulled back into a low ponytail.

As I perused an article about the relationship between canine hip dysplasia and body weight, I couldn’t resist glancing up every once in a while to admire not only my menagerie but also the room that Nick and I were sharing. The large bedroom looked like the finished product from one of those home- design shows on TV. The walls were painted a serene shade of powder blue. In addition to the fairy-tale bed, the room was outfitted with lustrous wooden antiques, a beautifully crafted marble fireplace, and two huge windows that overlooked the back of the estate.

In fact, I was gazing out those very windows from bed, wondering if venturing out into the gray drizzle with Max and Lou would be exhilarating or simply uncomfortable, when I heard a soft knock. Glancing up, I saw Betty and Winston standing in the doorway.

Ordinarily, I would have assumed they’d stopped by to invite me for a cup of tea or a game of backgammon. But the distressed expressions on their faces told me this was no social call.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. I picked up Tinkerbell and, cradling her in one arm, began to extract myself from Max, Cat, and Lou.

From the serious look Betty shot Winston, I knew my first impression was correct: It was bad news that had brought them to my room.

“Jessica, Winston and I wondered if you could possibly help us with something,” Betty said.

“Of course,” I assured her. “Just name it.”

She cast her husband another wary look before saying, “I think I’d better sit down.”

An alarm sounded inside my head. I pulled myself over to the edge of the bed, stroking the velvety fur on Tink’s head. Betty plunked down on the opposite side, wedging herself between Max and Lou, while Winston lowered his lanky frame into a cream-colored upholstered chair that was as elegant as it was comfortable. Cat was only too happy to stretch out smack in the middle of the mattress.

“Jessica, Winston and I received some terrible news a little while ago,” Betty said, her tone earnest. “The wife of one of Winston’s friends called to tell us the poor man died last night.”

“That’s terrible!” I exclaimed. “I’m so sorry. Is it someone you were close to?”

“Linus and I had been friends for years,” Winston said somberly. As always, he spoke with an English accent that reminded me of the classic television series Upstairs Downstairs—with him being decidedly upstairs. “He and I belonged to the same club in New York City for . . . goodness, it must have been several decades.”

Smiling sadly, he added, “I met Linus Merrywood for the very first time during a rather heated discussion of whether Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter was likely to win the upcoming presidential election.”

“Linus Merrywood,” I repeated, running my hand along Tinkerbell’s back. Even though I couldn’t place him, I had the nagging feeling there was something familiar about the name.

“The man was quite a mover and shaker in the business world,” Winston went on. “He was ...

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