Romeow and Juliet is the first in a cozy mystery series set on Madrona Island, a fictional island within the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State. As a fourth generation islander Caitlin Hart is struggling to make her way as the economy and culture of the island evolves toward a tourism based industry. Cait lives in a cabin on her aunt's oceanfront estate where she helps her aunt run Harthaven Cat Sanctuary. When she isn't working with the cats, she helps best friend Tara, operate the coffee bar/bookstore/cat lounge they own, named Coffee Cat Books.
In the first installment to the series Cait and her dog Max find the body of a member of the island council dead in the back room of the old fish cannery. As Cait delves into the murder she finds herself with an unlikely sleuthing partner that might just lead to a relationship of a more personal kind.
Meanwhile, Romeo, as stray cat that followed Cait home, is causing all sorts of problems for Cait as, in spite of dire warnings from the neighbor next door, he refuses to stay away from her very expensive show cat, Juliet. Could Romeo really be trying to tell Cait something about the neighbor that she initially refuses to see?
Release date: January 1, 2015
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 174
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Romeow and Juliet
Saturday, May 16
“Well, if it isn’t my favorite passenger, Ms. Caitlin Hart,” John Goodwin said as I drove the white panel van with the Harthaven Cat Sanctuary logo painted on the side onto the ferry just moments before it was due to pull away from the mainland and head toward Madrona Island. “Cutting it a bit close, aren’t we?”
“I got held up at the adoption clinic and didn’t realize what time it was until it was almost too late,” I explained.
“So you had a good day?” John asked as he signaled the captain that they were clear to pull away.
“A very good day,” I answered the weathered seaman through my open window. John had once owned his own fishing boat, but a mild stroke had caused him to settle into semiretirement as a part-time deckhand for the Washington State ferry system.
“I managed to find homes for all eight kittens I brought with me,” I added, “and I squeezed in two follow-up visits for the adult pair I placed on my last trip. While I was there I also took possession of three short-timers from the kill shelter in town. I haven’t had a lot of time with the new cats, but I think they’ll all be adoptable once they get shots and health checks. You aren’t perchance in the market for a cat?”
“Every time you make the trip to the mainland you try to talk me into adopting a cat,” John pointed out.
“You can’t blame a girl for trying.” I grinned at the man, who was a good foot taller than my five-foot frame.
“Did you ever get your permit for the cats worked out with the county?” John wondered.
“Yeah. We were able to get a waiver, in spite of the fact that Mayor Bradley tried to get the sanctuary closed down. It was touch-and-go for a while, but in the end Maggie was able to convince the county that a cat sanctuary was a much better solution to the feral cat problem than extermination.”
“I for one am glad it worked out. Hate to see all those kitties rounded up and sent off to kill shelters. Based on the number of cats I’ve seen running around, I imagine you have a full house.”
“We do. Maggie rescued three additional pregnant females, and four of the females we’ve been housing have had kittens in the past couple of months. It’s been pretty crowded, but as the kittens are adopted and the adults neutered and spayed, we hope to regain a level of control over the number of felines in residence.”
“My grandson has been asking about a kitten for his birthday. I’ll have a chat with his mother about the possibility.”
“Thanks.” I smiled at the tall, thin man with thinning white hair. “We have an easygoing orange tabby who would be perfect for a younger child. She’s really mellow and loves to be held. She’ll be old enough for a new home in a week, but we can keep her longer if you decide you need more time to get ready for her.”
“I’ll definitely let you know.”
The wind began to pick up as the ferry left the protection afforded by the islands closest to the mainland and set off across the channel toward the westernmost island of Madrona. It really is beautiful in my corner of the world. The water is as blue as the sky and the endless miles of evergreen trees are so dense that it looks as if you could walk across the tops of them if you could get high enough. We don’t have the variety of wildlife they have on the mainland, but what we have is abundant and awe-inspiring.
“Heard J pod is back,” John said, referring to the resident orcas that hung out in the waters surrounding Madrona Island every summer.
“Yeah, they showed up a couple of days ago. The phone has been ringing off the hook at Hart of the Sea,” I said. That’s the whale watching charter boat my brother Danny owns. “Given the sudden increase in reservations, I probably should have stayed behind to help Danny, but Maggie’s still not back to her old self, so I didn’t want her to make the trip into the city.”
“Been a while,” John commented.
“Yeah, although she seems a little better than she was. She’s back to work at the Bait and Stitch part-time, though if you see her, don’t mention the part-time. She keeps telling everyone she’s back on her old full-time schedule, but most days she leaves early and lets Marley handle the lockup.”
Marley Donnelly was Maggie’s best friend and the co-owner of the Bait and Stitch, a unique shop that sold fishing supplies (Maggie’s passion) and quilting supplies (Marley’s obsession).
“Your aunt is a feisty old gal. I’m sure she’ll be able to shake whatever nasty has a hold of her.
If I know Maggie she won’t stay down for long.”
I laughed. “I hope so. I always figured it would be Maggie’s strong opinions that led to her demise and not some stubborn flu. I’m helping her as much as I can. I try to take care of the cats and see to the cooking and whatnot, but she just seems so tired all the time. I’m really worried.”
John buttoned the front of his jacket as the wind picked up. “Don’t worry. Maggie is a firecracker who’s been fueling the local gossip line her whole life. I’m sure when Maggie goes she’ll make sure she goes out with a bang. She still talking about running for the island council?”
“She’s turned in all the paperwork and is officially the front-runner of a very competitive campaign. I’m not sure the island can survive the name-calling that’s been going back and forth between the four contenders for the only open seat. Personally, I can’t wait . . . oh, crap.” I slid down in my seat so I was completely hidden from view.
“Is there a problem?” John leaned in and looked at me through the open window.
“Of course there’s a problem,” I snapped. “I wouldn’t be cowering under my dashboard if there wasn’t a problem.”
“Care to elaborate?” John raised one snowy white eyebrow.
“Do you see that man who just got out of the Mercedes at the front of the ferry?”
John pulled back a bit and looked toward the front of the vessel. “Dark hair, nice suit?” “Is he coming this way?”
John turned and looked at me. “Nope. He took the stairs to the passenger deck.”
I let out the breath I’d been holding and sat up slowly. I looked around just to be certain John hadn’t been mistaken.
“I take it you’re avoiding this man?” John asked as I tried to straighten the tie I’d wrapped around my unruly hair earlier in the day.
“His name is Camden Bradford. He’s the new district manager at the bank.” “Are you behind on a loan?”
“No. It’s just that Mr. Bradford happened to have a front-row seat to the most embarrassing moment of my life. I still wake up in a cold sweat from the nightmares I’ve suffered almost every night since it happened. I’m fairly certain I’ll never be able to look the man in the eye again.”
“Care to elaborate?”
I took a deep breath. I really didn’t want to talk about my blunder, but I’d known John a long time and he certainly wasn’t unaware of my tendency to get myself into embarrassing situations. Besides, he was a good listener and I really could use a sympathetic ear for the rant that had been building inside me for months.
Despite the fact that we were the only two passengers on the car deck, I sat up straight and leaned in close so I could lower my voice and still be heard. “When Maggie was in the hospital a few months ago things got tight financially. Really tight. She had a lot of testing done and the doctor bills were becoming a serious problem. I decided that the only solution was to go to the bank and ask for a short term loan. Marley convinced me that the best shot I had at getting one was to let the girls do the talking.”
I blushed as I quickly glanced down at my breasts.
“Ah, the girls. Your aunt’s business partner suggested that you use your breasts to get a loan?”
“Well, she didn’t tell me I should sleep with the man, but she did suggest that I show up for my interview in a low-cut sweater. A very low-cut sweater. We both know how I tend to ramble on and on when I’m nervous, so we figured I’d have a better chance of success if I provided a distraction.”
“And did it work?”
“It might have if Veronica hadn’t popped out when I bent over to pick up the pen I’d dropped.” “Veronica?” John’s blue eyes, faded with age, sparkled as he tried not to chuckle.
I glanced down at my chest and looked from the right to the left. “You know, Betty and Veronica.”
“You call your breasts Betty and Veronica?”
“I didn’t start it; Archie Longhorn did in the tenth grade, and I guess the names stuck.” John laughed out loud.
“It’s not funny.” I glared at him. “I’ve never been so humiliated in my life. I’m pretty sure that if Mr. Bradford comes back down to the car deck and heads in this direction I’m going to have to jump over the side and swim back to Madrona Island.”
“What about the cats?”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot about the cats. I guess we’ll just have to hope our local banker stays upstairs until I can make my getaway.”
“You know, it might just be better to say hi to the man and get it over with.” “There’s no way I’m going to say hi to the man. Ever.”
“You can’t avoid him indefinitely.” “Watch me.”
“Madrona Island is a tight-knit community. Everyone runs into everyone else at some point,” John said.
“Maybe, but Mr. Bradford doesn’t live on Madrona, and he only spends time at the island branch on Mondays and Wednesdays. I’ve avoided him so far and I’m fairly confident in my ability to continue to do so.”
“Today is Saturday,” John pointed out.
I frowned. “It is Saturday. I wonder why he’s coming to the island on a Saturday.” “Maybe he’s decided to transfer to the island full-time.”
“Don’t even say that. If he transfers I’ll have to move. If you see him coming warn me so I can duck back down.”
“If he comes this way I’ll divert him away from your van altogether,” John promised. “Thanks. You’re a good friend.”
I let out a sigh of relief and looked back toward the open channel. The water was calm, as it often was late in the day when there were few boats out and about. I loved the way the setting sun sparkled as it hit the water at just the right angle. It looked like little diamonds floating on the deep blue water.
“So did you get the loan after all that?” John asked after a bit.
“No. I took off after the incident and was too embarrassed to go back. Things turned out okay, though. Aiden worked out a discount with the doctor and Siobhan sent a check to cover what he couldn’t negotiate.” I referred to my oldest brother, who operates a fishing boat, and my sister, who lives in Seattle.
“Heard Aiden is headed to Alaska for the summer,” John added.
“Yeah, he’s chasing the fish.” Aiden was the oldest of the Hart siblings and the heir to the family business. “A lot of folks think he should throw in the towel and sell his boat, but Aiden is the type who’ll never give up in spite of the fact that the cannery has closed and many of the original fishing families have moved on.”
“Fishing is a tough life, but for those of us who are born to it, it becomes part of our soul. If it weren’t for my medical orders I’d be heading to Alaska myself this summer.”
“It does seem like Aiden is only really happy when he’s on the water,” I admitted, “though I know Mom and Cassie really miss him when he’s gone.”
“Cassie still flunking math?” John asked about the youngest Hart sibling, who was sixteen years old.
“I’ve been working with her and I’m happy to say she’s now the proud owner of a solid D plus. Sometimes I don’t get her reluctance to do the work necessary for a respectable B, or even a C. She spends a lot of time socializing and playing games on her laptop, so I know she has a rudimentary knowledge of the machine, but when it comes time to dig into her homework she looks at it like it’s a demon come to steal her soul.”
“They do math on laptops now?”
“They do everything on laptops now,” I informed him. John shrugged. “Cassie is a smart girl. She’ll figure it out.”
“I hope so.” I watched as the sun dipped beyond the horizon. Soon it would be dark, and with the darkness would come the cold. I loved the cabin I lived in on Maggie’s property, overlooking the ocean, but it had been built as a summer home, so during the winter I had to be sure to keep a fire burning in the woodstove to ward off the chill.
“So are Maggie and Marley going to enter a float in the Founders Day parade this year?” John asked.
“They always enter one for the Bait and Stitch.”
“Guess you heard that Francine is on the judging committee.”
“Yeah, I heard.” Francine Rivers was one of the contenders for the single seat on the island council, which had opened up when one of the members had announced he was going to retire. She also lived on the estate next to my aunt’s. The two once had been good friends . . . until Maggie had built the cat sanctuary on the edge of her property. Not that Francine didn’t like cats; she has a white Persian worth several thousand dollars named Juliet. The problem is that Francine doesn’t want so many mangy strays—her words—near her cat show champion. She’d been trying to force Maggie to close or move the sanctuary ever since it opened.
“She’s had quite a lot to say about her competition,” John said. “I hope the fact that she’s been going round and round with your aunt doesn’t hurt her chances of getting a fair score.”
“I’m sure Francine won’t let her feud with my aunt interfere with what she thinks is best for the event.”
Francine was a nice woman, and I personally got along well with her, but, like Aunt Maggie, she tended toward public displays of opinion.
“How are things going with your bookstore project?” John asked.
“It seems to be moving along, although it’s still much too early to claim success. Still, Tara and I are hopeful that we can negotiate a deal. We’re going to tour the facility on Monday to try to better assess what needs to be done.”
My best friend Tara O’Brian and I have been trying to find funding to convert the old cannery, which has been empty since it closed down, into a coffee bar/bookstore/gathering spot that would not only provide a service to the community but also showcase the cats Maggie and I are trying to place in homes. Our idea was to convert the building into two spaces with an adjoining door. One side would house the coffee bar and bookstore. The second side would feature a lending library and reading room in which several hand-chosen cats would roam freely to interact with the general population. Madrona Island is a great place to live, but it’s a small community that lacks a movie theater, bowling alley, night club, or other source of entertainment. The island residents needed a place to gather and socialize, and the old cannery was just sitting empty, without a purpose.
“I expect it’s going to cost a small fortune to convert the space,” John commented.
“It will, but Tara has applied for a loan, and a lot of our friends have offered to help out with free labor. I know we have a long way to go, but I’m really starting to get excited about the idea.”
“Seems like a good project. Folks need a place to gather during the winter, when there isn’t much going on. Have you come up with a name?”
“Coffee Cat Books.”
John chuckled. “Clever. I like it. Have you addressed the issue of allowing the cats on the premises?”
“We have,” I said proudly. “According to the board of health, as long as the cats aren’t allowed in the area where food is prepared or sold, we don’t have a problem. We plan to divide the space into two separate rooms joined by a glass wall and a glass door to provide a feeling of continuity, so we’ll be fine.”
“Sounds like you’ve thought it all out.” John seemed impressed.
“The county has already approved our design and Danny drew up flyers that depict the concept we’re going for.”
“Can you e-mail me one?”
“Sure; let me get a pen.” I dug around in my bottomless backpack for a pen and a pad of paper. I tend to be disorganized and forgetful at times, so the very organized Tara suggested that I start carrying around a pad and pen on which to take notes. The problem is that I can never find the pad and pen when I need them.
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