Murder at Poodle Place
A dog-walking sleuth. A puzzling murder. Will Nikki, Sonia and their lovable pooches follow the scent and find the murderer before the trail goes cold?
Nikki Green loves animals, and she wants to spend her days with them and help as many as possible. Her dream is to have a large piece of land with an animal rescue shelter, training and boarding facilities. But until she has enough money, she is loving her job as a pet sitter and dog walker, and volunteering at the local animal shelter. When her friend, Sonia Whitter, sees an opportunity that might lead to Nikki’s dreams coming to fruition sooner than anticipated, Nikki goes to check it out.
However, their plans are put on hold when they come across a dead body. Nikki and Sonia decide to help move the investigation along, with their furry friends by their side. But they land up chasing their tails when it turns out that the victim has more enemies than friends.
The sleuths head straight towards danger. Will they find they have been barking up the wrong tree the whole time?
Buy Murder at Poodle Place by USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author Cindy Bell to unleash a gripping, page-turning cozy mystery that will keep you guessing until the end.
Release date: February 24, 2020
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 236
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Murder at Poodle Place
“Princess. That’s a toad, not a snack.” Nikki Green laughed as she rescued the toad from Princess’ curious sniffs. She released it into the pond, then scooped Princess up and carried her back to the sidewalk.
“You’re always rescuing animals.” Sonia smiled as she watched Nikki set Princess back down on the ground.
“All creatures deserve a little help.” Nikki smiled and gave Princess a light pat along her back. “Not all of them are lucky enough to be loved by someone as wonderful as you.” She looked up at her friend and grinned. Though Sonia was about fifty years older than her, Nikki considered her one of her closest friends. She always had good advice to give, and along with her Chihuahua, Princess, she could brighten any difficult day that Nikki had.
“And not all of them are lucky enough to have someone like you in their lives.” Sonia tilted her head to the side. “But perhaps we could work on changing that?”
“What do you mean?” Nikki guided Princess along the sidewalk as a chill carried through her. Winter was in full swing in Dahlia. The trees were bare of leaves and the air was crisp and cool. Nikki was very busy at the moment as she had gotten many new clients at the beginning of the year. After they started using Nikki’s services they rarely stopped as the dogs loved their walks.
“I heard from a friend of mine, that I’ve worked on a few things together with over the years, that she’s preparing to sell her kennels and cattery in Fuchsia.” Sonia raised an eyebrow as she gazed at Nikki. “I think it would be the perfect opportunity for you to start that rescue you’re always talking about.”
“Oh wow.” Nikki shook her head as she smiled. “No, I’m nowhere near ready for that. Yes, it’s my dream to have an animal rescue one day, but right now I’m just a dog walker. I don’t have the money to invest in something like that. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”
“Nikki, you shouldn’t limit yourself.” Sonia clucked her tongue. “You’ll never get ahead in this world if you’re always thinking of all of the reasons that you shouldn’t do something. You have to start thinking about all of the reasons you should do it. Including the fact that you are amazing with animals.”
“You’re right, I know.” Nikki sighed. “But it’s so hard not to think about all of the limitations I face. Every time I think I’m getting ahead, something comes up, and I’m back to where I started. I really thought that by twenty-six I’d be a little more stable than I am right now.”
“By twenty-six.” Sonia chuckled, then gave her a knowing smile. “Oh sweetheart, no one is stable at twenty-six. Your twenties are meant to be all about taking chances.” She eased her way a little closer to Nikki and smiled. “And romance.
Although I think you’ve got that department covered.”
“Stop!” Nikki blushed as she laughed. “See? Just another distraction in my life.” “Oh, I wouldn’t mind having a distraction like Quinn.” Sonia covered her mouth as she laughed so loudly that a few birds fled a nearby tree.
“It certainly isn’t something I’m complaining about.” Nikki’s cheeks grew even hotter. Thinking about Quinn sent her heart racing.
“How long have you been dating, now?” Sonia narrowed her eyes. “A few months.” Nikki cleared her throat.
“Oh now, it’s been longer than that, hasn’t it?” Sonia nudged her arm with her elbow. “It’s about six months isn’t it? Or maybe a bit more?”
“I don’t know. We didn’t really officially start dating at any point. I mean, we’ve always kept things pretty loose and casual. Even though we had Christmas together with our families, we have never made anything official.” Nikki sighed as she looked down the long street ahead of her. “I’m not exactly sure what to call us, to be honest.”
“In love? That’s what I’d call you.” Sonia grinned as she glanced at Nikki. “Maybe.” Nikki couldn’t help but smile. “But anyway, the point is, everything in my life right now is up in the air. I couldn’t even imagine starting a big business, yet.” “It’s not starting a business, Nikki, it’s following your dreams. It’s important to imagine it. That’s the first step in accomplishing it.” Sonia shrugged. “Opportunity doesn’t always show up at the right time. Sometimes it shows up when you least expect it. But if you ignore it, it might never show up again.”
“So, you think I should look into it?” Nikki’s heart skipped a beat at the thought. With definitely not enough money saved up, yet, how could she even consider it?
“I think you should at least check it out. It’s a good way to get a better idea of what it is you actually want. Fuchsia is such a short drive, and I’d be happy to introduce you to my friend if you would like. Sometimes getting your foot in the door leads you to new ideas. Let’s just see what happens.” Sonia tossed her arm around Nikki’s shoulders. “It can’t hurt, right?”
“I guess not.” Nikki smiled at the thought. “It might be fun to pretend that I’m ready to take that big step. I’d be happy to have a look.”
“Great. Then we’ll go. I’ll put a call in to Delores to arrange a tour of the facility.” Sonia gave Nikki’s shoulders a squeeze. “This is just a first step, but it’s an important one to take.”
As they neared Sonia’s large estate, Nikki allowed herself to imagine what it would be like to have her own rescue. Currently, she didn’t even have an apartment big enough to keep a pet of her own. The thought of being able to run a facility that could house animals that needed it, filled her with joy. Yes, it was something she hoped to one day accomplish. But that day was still far off. She dreamed of owning a large farm with plenty of space for all kinds of animals, but especially for dogs. She had a special connection with them, and although she wasn’t able to have one of her own, she considered every dog that she cared for to be part of her family. She wanted a large piece of land with a house as well as cat and dog boarding facilities, along with rescue and dog training facilities.
“I’ll give my friend a call to see if we can head over now, if you’re free.” Sonia smiled.
“I’ve already walked the other dogs this morning and I don’t have any particular plans until the afternoon rounds. I thought I would stop by to see Quinn, but I can do that later.” Nikki smiled as she let Princess into the house. “I think it would be nice to go visit at least.”
“Great. I’ll set it up.” Sonia fished her phone out of her purse as she stepped into the house. “How is Quinn doing by the way? And Spots?”
“They are doing well. Spots is settling in nicely.” Nikki grinned. “Quinn is still getting used to Spots getting him up early to go out and Spots sleeping in bed with him, snoring in his ear.”
“Oh, it’s sweet. He does love that dog doesn’t he.” Sonia laughed as she put her phone to her ear.
Nikki led Princess into the kitchen and gave her some fresh water, as well as a few treats. When she returned to the living room, Sonia had ended the call.
“Delores is going to meet us at the property. Her manager Laura is there right now, but she is eager to meet with us. I’m looking forward to seeing her, too. It’s been some time since we had a chance to chat.” Sonia tucked her phone into her purse and pulled out her keys instead. “I’ll drive, I’ve got some new tunes for you to check out.”
“Great.” Nikki ran her hand back through her ponytail to try to work some tangles free from her hair. She hadn’t planned on meeting anyone new when she’d dressed that day. But she doubted it would matter. It was just a chance to dream, certainly not a purchase she could actually make.
* * *
“So, this place is called Poodle Place, and my friend Delores has owned it since she was in her forties. She bought the land from a couple that used to breed Poodles on it, and she never changed the name. She opened the kennels with her sister then, who has since passed away. Delores has a daughter, Alana, but she was never interested in the business. When Delores turned seventy, two years ago, she decided to hire some more permanent help to take over the day to day needs of the business. Since then she’s been traveling a lot.” Sonia smiled. “I keep up with her from the pictures she posts, she’s been quite adventurous. I guess she’s just decided now that it’s time to let go of the business, and she’s ready to be truly free to roam.”
“That makes sense to me.” Nikki gazed out through the car window. “I think traveling is great, but the kind of business she has set up sounds more like paradise to me.”
“That’s why I wanted you to see it.” Sonia glanced over at Nikki. “I promise it’s not to pressure you. It’s just that life can really go by so fast.”
“I imagine it can.” Nikki shifted in her seat, then frowned. “But Sonia, there’s no way I can buy this place. Not at this point. I just don’t have enough saved up. I’d hate to buy it and then end up losing it.”
“That would never happen, Nikki. I would make sure of it.” Sonia met her eyes briefly before she looked back at the road. “I consider you family, you know, Nikki.” “Thank you, Sonia. I appreciate that. But this is something I need to be able to do on my own. I hope you can understand that.” Nikki braced herself as she looked over at Sonia. Her friend could be as stubborn as any person she’d ever known, including herself.
“Ah, to be young.” Sonia laughed and shook her head. “We’re almost there. Just promise me that you will keep an open mind, okay?”
“I promise.” Nikki nodded, then turned her attention back to the window. It meant a lot to her that Sonia would offer to help, but it made her uneasy at the same time. She loved Sonia, but she never wanted her to think that she would take advantage of her. Luckily, she didn’t have too much time to dwell on it before Sonia turned into the parking lot of a large building. Instantly, Nikki disliked the place. The giant boxy building was covered in off-white stucco with small, high up windows dotting its plain face. It looked more like a jail to her than any kind of home for animals.
“I know, I know, it doesn’t look like much on the outside.” Sonia parked in front of the building. “But once you get inside it gets much better. And keep in mind, you could always make changes to suit your ideas.”
“Are you reading my mind, now?” Nikki grinned at her as she stepped out of the car. On one side there were houses that boarded the property, and the rest was surrounded by wide open fields.
“I just want you to keep an open mind.” Sonia met her eyes with a determined stare.
“I am, I am.” Nikki smiled, then took Sonia’s arm. As they walked into the building, Nikki was confronted by the usual smells she would expect at a place that housed many animals. However, she noted that it was not as strong as it could have been, which meant that it was likely kept very clean. However, the front desk was empty, and no one came from either of the two hallways that branched off the main lobby to greet them.
“Hello?” Sonia called out. “Is anyone here?” Several dogs began to bark in response.
“They’re here.” Nikki laughed, then peered down one of the hallways. “You said Delores was going to meet us here, maybe she’s not here, yet?”
“Maybe, but Laura should be here. Laura?” Sonia walked towards one of the hallways. “I guess I could just give Delores a call and see what’s happening here.”
“The dogs won’t stop barking.” Nikki frowned. “Maybe I should just go say hi, so they know everything is okay. Some of them sound alarmed.”
“Sure, go ahead. I’m sure Delores wouldn’t mind.” Sonia put her phone up to her ear and walked towards the front door. “I might have to go outside to hear anything.”
Nikki nodded and walked towards the sound of the barking. The hallway was narrow, but also clean, and even had a fresh scent to indicate it might have been cleaned not long before. Sonia was right, there was definitely someone there recently.
“Laura?” Nikki peered down the hallway. She didn’t want to startle the woman. The barking only increased. She pushed open a door at the end of the hallway and stepped into a spacious room filled with dog kennels. Each had a small door that opened to an outside dog run. However, all of the dogs were at their kennel doors, barking as loud as they could.
“Hi there, puppies!” Nikki smiled as she stepped up to the first kennel. “Don’t worry, I’m a friend.” She spoke in a soothing tone that usually calmed most dogs. But these dogs were in a frenzy, feeding off each other’s barking, and riled up about something. “What’s going on, don’t you like visitors?” She kept her tone pleasant and relaxed as she walked along the kennels. The farther along the row she got, the more the barks began to change from anxious and curious, to alarmed. The dog in the last kennel barked so hard that spittle flew out of his mouth with each bark. His entire body rocked with the force of it.
“Okay buddy, all right, it’s okay.” Nikki crouched down in front of his kennel. He appeared to be a Standard Poodle, not a breed she expected such a forceful bark from. She followed his line of sight and noticed that a large bucket of food had been spilled across the floor. If the dog had been calmer, she might have thought he was just excited to get to it, but something about the forcefulness of his barks made her certain that it wasn’t excitement he was feeling. She stood up and began to walk over to the bucket of food. Maybe someone had spilled it and forgotten to clean it up? She doubted it, as it was a lot of food, and not the cheap kind. Beyond the pile of food was a hallway lined with a few doors. She could see that one stood open.
“Hello?” Nikki inched her way towards the open door. “Is someone in here? I’m a friend of Sonia’s.”
The Poodle’s barks increased with every step she took. The closer she came to the door, the quicker her heart pounded. When she peeked through the opening, she saw what she feared, a pair of shoes, followed by legs, sprawled across the floor. As her eyes traveled up the body of a woman not much older than her, her breath caught in her throat.
“Nikki?” Sonia’s voice carried over the frenzied barking. “Nikki, are you back here?”
Nikki lifted her eyes from the body on the floor, to the other person in the room. A woman, a bit younger than Sonia, trembled in the corner, her eyes wide.
“Delores?” Nikki’s voice softened as she observed the fear in the woman’s eyes. “Delores, are you okay?”
“She’s dead!” Delores forced the words out in two bursts.
“I’m so sorry.” Nikki edged her way around the body. As she did, she noticed the knife in Laura’s chest. She looked quickly away and opened her arms to Delores. “It’s okay, we’re going to get some help.”
“Nikki?” Sonia stepped through the door, then gasped at the sight of the body. “What’s happened?”
“Laura’s dead! She’s been killed!” Delores clung to Nikki as she spoke. “Someone killed her!”
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