Life coach Cat Cooper and her best friend Gilley can’t wait to take a long vacation from low-key East Hampton. There’s just one more item left on their planning checklist: stopping a killer . . .
With Gilley heartbroken over the collapse of his marriage, Cat has the perfect remedy—a three-week-long getaway to Italy. But before the duo can pack their bags and sip prosecco on the sunny riviera, they first must help a troubled client carve out a fresh start of her own. Wealthy Scarlet Rubi desperately seeks a greater purpose and immediate distance from her toxic descendants. The urgency of the situation isn’t quite so clear until Scarlet takes healthy steps towards progress, only to turn up dead . . .
The matriarch of a wealthy family has been murdered in her home after finding a new lease on life. Cat’s suspicions deepen when she discovers Scarlet was set on cutting off her children and grandchildren, each one more money-hungry and dependent on financial support than the last. As Cat and Gilley investigate a slew of sketchy alibis and concrete motives from the corrupt Rubi clan while preparing to leave the East End for Europe, they soon realize the question isn’t who had a deadly vendetta against Scarlet—it’s who didn’t?
Release date: July 26, 2022
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 304
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I knew what was in that package, and I also personally knew how painful it was to receive the documents enclosed. With a tsk I turned away from the window and wrung my hands. I very much wanted to go over to Chez Kitty—my guesthouse—and whisk Gilley off somewhere fun to escape the full force of those dreadfully sad feelings.
But he’d been adamant that today, on the day he knew the papers were coming, he be left alone. He’d told me emphatically the day before that he didn’t want any witnesses or attempts at cheer. He simply wanted to read over his divorce papers, sign them, and absorb the fact that the man he’d loved for nearly a decade was no longer his husband. His partner. His one true love in the world.
Trying to busy myself, I moved to the stove, grabbed the kettle, and filled it with water. I then set it on the burner and got down my favorite tea from Harney and Sons. It was called “Paris” in its beautiful blue and white tin and it always lifted my own spirits. Opening the lid I inhaled deeply. Hints of caramel and vanilla hit my nose and I sighed with pleasure. Lifting two of the bags from the tin, I put them in the clay teapot I’d bought on a visit to the UK years before when I’d taken a long, leisurely shopping trip through Harrods.
After setting the teapot aside, waiting for the water to boil in the teakettle already on the burner at the stove, I moved to the fridge and rooted around, looking for some of Gilley’s absolutely scrumptious chocolate chip cookie dough.
Gil had taken several pastry and baking classes in years past, and it was my firm belief that he was as good as any professional now. He’d made some especially delicious creations in the past two months in fact, just as his divorce case proceeded through mediation. Gil had used baking to de-stress, and he’d also been donating most of his creations to various shelters and charitable organizations. I was grateful he’d come up with a distraction, because it gave him a little boost to be cheered when he walked through the door at the animal shelter or one of the nursing homes he visited.
After rolling out four balls of cookie dough, I set them aside while the oven heated and poured the boiling water into the teakettle to steep. Then I was back at the window again, staring out across the drive, willing Gilley to make an appearance so that I could wrap him in a hug and tell him I understood.
“If he doesn’t come over by dinnertime, I’ll check on him,” I whispered.
The beeper on the oven went off, startling me, and I smiled at myself as I put the cookies in the oven to bake. A few minutes later I was pouring myself a cup of tea when I heard the front door open and my AI butler announce, “Good afternoon, Sir Gilley.”
“Hey Sebastian,” Gilley said, his voice sounding thick and watery. I winced because I knew he’d likely been crying.
“Gil?” I called.
He didn’t answer, but the padding of paws on the floor told me that he’d come over with Spooks—the dog he’d adopted from the shelter ten months before.
Before Spooks even rounded the corner, I was reaching for one of the porcelain jars on the counter that was always kept fully stocked with bison chew sticks. Spooks loved them and I loved giving him a treat every time he came to visit. He was a marvelous dog and the perfect, comforting companion to Gilley these past several months.
The silver-coated American Staffordshire terrier greeted me with wagging tail and eager eyes and I bent to kiss the top of his large, bony head after I’d placed the chew in his mouth. This was our ritual. Spooks would always wait for me to kiss his forehead before dashing to the family room just off the kitchen to devour his treat.
Once he’d scampered away, I stood tall again and saw that Gilley had come to the doorway of the kitchen and had settled for leaning against the doorframe, looking heartbroken.
I said nothing; I simply opened my arms and he came in for a hug. “I’m so, so sorry, Gilley,” I whispered.
He embraced me tightly and sniffled. “Thanks, Cat.”
The bell on the oven went off, but I didn’t release Gilley until he was ready to let go first. “What’s baking?” he asked, stepping back.
“Your cookies. Can’t you smell them?”
He pointed to his nose, sniffling again.
“Ah,” I said, handing him a tissue box before I pulled the cookies out of the oven and set them one by one on a large dinner plate to cool. I then got down another teacup and poured Gilley some of the delicious brew.
It sat in front of him while he stared at the countertop, looking forlorn. “Michel wants to swing by late next week to get the rest of his stuff.”
“What belongings does he still have at the cottage?” I asked.
“His Nate Clean leather jacket; the art on the wall in the bedroom, the Adirondack chairs, a couple of cameras . . .”—he paused to shrug—“and my heart.”
“Oh, Gil,” I said, moving back over to him to squeeze his shoulders. He wiped a tear and I asked, “What can I do for you?”
He simply shook his head. “Nothing, sugar.” We were quiet for a moment, leaning into each other when Gilley added, “I don’t know that I can take seeing him, Cat. We haven’t been together in the same place in over eight months, and I’m so scared that I’ll lose it when he shows up to collect his stuff.”
“Well then, just come over here, lovey. You can stay with me in the main house and I’ll run interference with Michel.”
Gilley shook his head sadly. “Thanks, but that won’t work, Cat. I won’t be able to resist seeing him in person. You know I won’t.”
I sighed. “I do. What if you went into the City for the day?” New York City was a mere two and a half hours away, and there was plenty for Gilley to do to keep him distracted long enough for Michel to collect his things and leave before Gilley got back.
But Gil merely shook his head again. “That won’t work, either. I’ll find some excuse to stay in the Hamptons and spy on him while he’s here. I think he has a boyfriend, and if he brings him here . . . I’ll just . . . I’ll . . .”
Gilley’s voice trailed off as another tear slid down his cheek. My own eyes watered. I knew this heartbreak all too well. The end of a marriage isn’t simply the end of a relationship, it’s the end of an identity as the bonded partner of another person, and an end to the dream of the future you carried for the entire length of your marriage.
When my own ex-husband left me for a bartender at our country club, I was absolutely gutted. It was a blow I thought I’d never recover from, and yet, with time, I managed not only to pick myself up, dust myself off, and move on, but also to find love again and a new dream for the future.
But telling all that to Gilley wouldn’t take the sting out of what he was feeling or facing right now.
He sniffled again, blew his nose, then reached for his cup of tea. Holding it up to his nose, for the briefest moment his expression changed from heartbreak to inquisitiveness. He sniffed the brew a little harder. “This smells amazing.”
“Harney and Sons,” I said.
“Not your usual flavor though, right?”
“Correct. This is called ‘Paris.’ ”
Gilley sniffed the steaming liquid deeply for a third time. “My God, that’s incredible. Does Paris really smell like this?”
I smiled. “Not quite.”
Gilley sighed. “I’ve never been to Paris.”
I stared at him in disbelief. Gilley and his former business partner and still best friend, M.J. Whitefeather, used to be members of a ghost-busting troupe that investigated haunted locations all over Europe. “How is it possible that you’ve never been to Paris?”
He shrugged. “It was a language thing. None of us spoke French, and M.J. was worried that we’d be dealing with spooks that we couldn’t communicate with, so we stuck to the English-speaking places in Europe.”
“Ah,” I said. And then I had the most magnificent idea. “Gilley!” I said, grabbing him by the shoulders.
“Cat!” he replied, looking slightly alarmed.
I grinned. “What if we went on a European holiday together?”
He blinked. Then blinked again. “When, like this summer?”
“No! Like the day before Michel shows up!”
More blinking followed.
“Okay, maybe two days before he shows up,” I said. “We’ll want to avoid any risk of bumping into him, and we can tell Sebastian to let him into Chez Kitty and lock up after he leaves.”
Gilley added a dropped jaw to the blinking.
I took that to mean he wasn’t outright opposed to the idea. “We can start in Paris and make our way anywhere beyond that that you want to go or haven’t already been to.”
“I’ve never been to Amsterdam,” he said, and I could tell he was starting to warm to the idea.
“Done,” I said, so excited I began hopping from foot to foot. “We’ll begin in Paris, make our way to Brussels—you’ll love Brussels—then to Amsterdam, unless we also want to take in Cologne, which has the most marvelous cathedrals and art museums, not to mention the most fabulous Excelsior Hotel Ernst with a restaurant run by a master chef that you will just die for!”
Gilley’s brows were arched and his eyes were wide. I could see my idea was sparking some appeal. “I’d want to pay my own way,” he said.
I cupped his chin gently and said, “You’re adorable. The trip’s on me, kiddo.”
“It’s too much, Cat,” he said.
“It’s not. And it’s what you need. If it’ll make you feel better, we can set a limit on the amount that I’ll spend on you when we go shopping in Paris.”
Gilley giggled, and my chest filled with hope. “Please say yes,” I said.
Gilley nodded. “Okay. Yes.”
At that moment Spooks came over to nudge his way between us, probably to see what all the excitement was about and just like that, Gilley’s face fell. “What about Spooks? What do I do with him?”
“We could board him,” I suggested.
Gilley scowled, and he got down from his chair to wrap his arms around Spooks’s middle. “He’ll think I’ve abandoned him.”
I eyed Spooks critically and the sweet pooch leaned against Gilley and closed his eyes for a moment, as if he were relishing his human’s affection. “You’re right,” I said, my heart melting. “There’s no way we can put Spooks in a kennel and risk having him experience even one anxious moment.”
Gilley nodded and kissed his pup on the forehead half a dozen times. The pair had really bonded. “What if we took him with us?” Gilley asked.
I let out a laugh before I could catch myself. “Sorry,” I said, clearing my throat. “That was rude. The truth is, lovey, while appealing, I doubt we could get the necessary paperwork required to travel through three separate countries with a dog in tow cleared in time to make it to Europe and avoid bumping into Michel. We’d probably need a ninety-day head start for something like that.”
Gilley’s face fell. “I can’t leave him behind, Cat.”
And then an idea hit me. “What if we ask Sunny if she can puppy sit?”
Sunny D’Angelo—wait, excuse me, she’s now Sunny Shepherd —was the twin sister of my main squeeze, Steven Shepherd.
Shep is a detective with the East Hampton PD and had been my significant other for nearly three years, and his sister and I were also now very close. In fact, she’d been the first friend I’d made when I moved to the Hamptons.
Sunny had a young son named Finley who was turning three in a few weeks, and both he and his mother were very big fans of Spooks.
“Do you think Sunny would agree to doggy sit?” Gilley asked, hope once again animating his features.
“There’s only one way to find out, lovey,” I said, moving away from Gilley to the fridge. “We’ll take her over some of your scrumptious cookies to butter her up.”
I heard the scraping sound of the barstool being pushed away from the counter and a moment later Gilley was next to me, practically pushing me out of the way as he bent toward the fridge. “We’re going to be asking her to puppy sit for the entire length of our vacation, sugar. No way are cookies enough to butter her up. This calls for something big.”
I laughed and stepped back to my chair at the island to give Gilley some room to create. And create he did. It took nearly an hour and a half but at the end of it was the most delicious-smelling (and probably tasting) chocolate raspberry pudding cake I’d ever gazed upon. Gilley even went to the added detail of cutting out a stencil in the shape of a dog and sprinkling powdered sugar over it, leaving the stenciled shape in relief.
“You amaze me,” I said as he turned to me, finished cake in hand.
Gilley blushed. “Aww,” he said. “It’s nothing. A small effort given the favor we’ll be asking.”
I nodded and then went over to my pantry and rooted around on the shelf where I kept my teas. “Here,” I said, bringing out another tin of Paris that I’d purchased in a two-for-one special. “We’ll add a tin of this to sweeten the pot.”
“I love that you’re willing to part with your favorite tea, Cat.”
I walked over to a drawer at the far end of the kitchen where I kept a sampling of tissue paper, ribbon, and gift bags and pulled out some blue ribbon. “Anything for Spooks,” I said, tying a bow around the tea tin.
“Let’s go before the cake cools down too much. I want Sunny to enjoy it while it’s still warm.”
Gilley and I drove over to Sunny’s house and I was very careful to drive slowly and smoothly so as not to jostle Gilley’s creation.
We arrived at Sunny’s and we both immediately noticed a sleek new Tesla convertible in the driveway.
“Is that Sunny’s?” Gilley asked.
“No,” I said. “She got another Range Rover, remember?”
Gilley turned to look at me. “Does she have company over?”
I bit my lip. Gilley and I thought nothing of stopping over at Sunny’s unannounced. She was always so happy to see us, but suddenly, I realized that it was likely a habit that was probably a bit intrusive if not downright rude.
“Should we leave?” I asked.
Gilley frowned and glanced at the cake he’d spent the better part of two hours creating. “I really want to give her my cake, Cat.”
I eyed the front door to Sunny’s house and then Gilley’s cake. “Well, if she does have company over, it might be nice if Sunny and her guest had a little cake to nosh on, right?”
“And tea,” Gilley reminded me.
“And tea,” I agreed. “Okay, let’s go ring the bell.”
We got out of the car and approached the house, walking up the two steps to the front door. We were about to press the bell when the door opened to reveal Sunny, lip-locked in the embrace of another dear friend of ours, Marcus Brown.
Our reaction was total, stunned silence. Marcus had been my attorney on a couple of occasions, and he’d also represented Sunny at one point. He was an absolutely gorgeous man, and the best criminal defense lawyer in the Hamptons if not in all of Long Island.
I’d always thought of Marcus as a bit of a player where women were concerned. To my knowledge he’d never been married, and I imagined he had a string of women eagerly anticipating a call from him. So to see him holding Sunny so tightly, so protectively and kissing her with such care and passion took me totally by surprise.
And judging by the dropped jaw that Gilley was sporting, the feeling was mutual.
Right around that point, Sunny and Marcus seemed to become aware that they had an audience. They both turned their faces slightly and each of them peeked with one eye at us, standing just on the other side of the storm door.
Marcus and Sunny shot apart like water on a hot griddle.
“Gilley!” Sunny said, eyeing him first.
“Cat!” Marcus said, eyeing me first.
“Hello,” I sang, allowing the huge grin on my lips to spread wide, wide, wide.
“How’s things?” Gilley asked, oh, so casually.
Sunny and Marcus cleared their throats in unison and Sunny’s face flushed a deep red.
The four of us stood there, staring at each other for a solid ten seconds before Marcus lifted his wrist to eyeball what looked to be a very expensive watch and announce, “I’m late. Busy afternoon. Sorry.”
And with that he opened the storm door and eased in between Gilley and me to walk quickly to his car, the whole time pretending to eyeball his watch like the Mad Hatter who just couldn’t believe how late he was.
We all watched him go and after he’d left her driveway, Gilley and I turned to Sunny with expectant expressions.
In turn, she stared back at us with the innocence of a newborn foal.
Neither one of us was buying it.
“We brought cake!” Gilley announced, holding up his creation, which still smelled heavenly.
Sunny’s expression turned pained. “Uh . . .” she said.
Gilley ignored any hesitancy she was projecting to let us in and stepped forward into her foyer, his cake raised high like a shield.
I grinned at Sunny and followed after Gilley.
We all arrived in Sunny’s kitchen and for the first time since I could remember I didn’t wince upon entering. Something terrible had happened to me here several months before, and it had become nearly impossible to step into Sunny’s kitchen since then without bracing for an attack.
But today I realized I hadn’t winced or braced myself at all. I’d simply strolled in, happy as a clam to catch two of my favorite people in a romantic embrace.
“I brought tea,” I said, wiggling the tin for her to see.
“How nice,” Sunny said, but her warmth and her smile were both forced.
Setting down the tin I eyed her curiously and realized why she seemed so tense. “Shepherd doesn’t know, does he?”
Sunny grimaced. “No,” she whispered.
“And you don’t want me to tell him,” I said next.
“Definitely not!” she said, and then rushed to add, “It’s not because I’m trying to hide anything from him . . . it’s just so new, Cat. And I don’t want Steve to weigh in on it yet.”
Sunny frowned—a rare expression for her. “Every boyfriend I ever had, including Darius, Stevie made sure to point out all their flaws to me over and over like he was trying to protect me from a bad relationship, but all it did was plant the idea in my mind that I continually choose bad men. I don’t want to look at Marcus under that spotlight. I like him, Cat. A lot. Like a lot—a lot.”
Gilley and I exchanged a look and then we both spread our arms wide and rushed to hug Sunny, who was caught completely off guard. “Oh, honey!” I sang as we all hugged. “We love Marcus and couldn’t be happier for the two of you!”
Sunny laughed and I noticed that her eyes were a little misty. Her recent divorce had been swift but very painful for a number of reasons. She’d had a tough, tough year and deserved a little happiness. “It’s not officially a thing yet, though,” she said. “I mean, we’ve been seeing each other only for the past four months.”
“Four months?” Gilley and I exclaimed together.
“How did we miss that?” I asked.
“We’ve been very, very discreet,” Sunny admitted. “When we’ve hung out together, we’ve mostly stuck to Sag Harbor.”
Sag Harbor was on the north side of this section of Long Island, directly across from us here in East Hampton. “That was smart,” Gilley said, moving back to his cake and digging through Sunny’s drawers, probably looking for a knife to cut it with. “Shepherd has been so loaded down with home improvement projects and work lately, I doubt he gets to Sag Harbor very often.”
“Almost never,” Sunny said.
“We won’t tell him,” I promised, holding up my hand in a vow of secrecy, and Gilley promptly mimicked the move. “We’ll let you tell him, and if he even thinks about saying anything negative about Marcus, you tell me and I’ll set him straight!”
Sunny sighed with relief. “Thanks, you guys.”
“Come,” Gilley said. “Sit. We’ll make you some tea and serve you some cake and have a little chat.”
Sunny considered him with a sideways smile. “A little chat? Something tells me you two are up to something.”
Gilley and I exchanged another look and I nodded to him so that he could explain on my way to the teakettle by the stove.
“We’re not up to something so much as we’re embarking on an adventure,” he told her.
“Oh?” Sunny said. “What adventure are you two about to have?”
“A European one,” I said, setting the burner under the kettle to high.
Gilley finally found a knife and began to cut into the cake. “We’re headed to Paris, Brussels, Cologne, and Amsterdam for a grand tour!”
Sunny clapped her hands. “Oh, that sounds wonderful! When do you leave?”
“Next week,” Gilley said, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
Watching him excitedly tell Sunny about our plans made me feel so relieved. He would’ve been so depressed, thinking about Michel coming to Chez Kitty to clear out his belongings. Now he had something to look forward to, and a great deal of planning and packing to occupy his idle time, which is always the worst time when you’re struggling with a heartbreak.
“You’re leaving so soon?” Sunny asked, and she quickly followed that with, “Do you need someone to look after Spooks while you’re away?”
I grinned at Gilley and he smiled wide in return. Our plan had worked perfectly.
A bit later as we were finishing up our tea and cake, Sunny suddenly exclaimed, “Oh! Cat, I almost forgot. I know you’re leaving very soon, but do you think you could talk to the friend of a friend of mine?”
I eyed her curiously. “Talk about what?”
“Gabriel Ducey is one of my oldest friends. We go back to elementary school together. Anyway, as I might’ve mentioned before, Gabby is a. . .
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