To Coach a Killer
Soaking up a luxurious new chapter alongside her saucy bestie, Cat Cooper plans on emerging as the premier life coach in East Hampton by summertime. All she has to do is survive an offseason replete with desolate beaches, slow business, and murder . . .
As the Hamptons drags through early spring, Cat's shot at becoming the toast of the town in time for Memorial Day is dwindling--and fast. The only client she can find has been housebound for decades and claims to be the victim of a devasting curse. Then there's the matter of Detective Shepherd's intense jealousy over Maks Grinkov, the handsome bad boy who approaches Cat with an unusual offer she can't stop thinking about. Havoc finally breaks loose when a string of murders rocks the coastal community, landing Maks on the hook as the culprit . . .
While the body count rises, Cat goes from life coaching to sleuthing for the truth about Maks's less-than-wholesome background. But after digging deeper, she questions if Detective Shepherd had an unwitting hand in a related homicide case after tangling with the wrong people. With a storm approaching shore and no one to trust, Cat and her sharp-tongued best friend, Gilley, must solve a client's curse and a series of violent deaths before a killer sends them all sailing to their doom…
Release date: August 25, 2020
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 306
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To Coach a Killer
Gilley wiped his eyes as he stepped into the office. I pretended not to notice. Fluffing a pillow on the love seat opposite my chair, I worked to appear busy while he pulled himself together.
Finally, Gilley cleared his throat and said, “You look nice.”
I glanced up and saw the pain in his eyes and it made my own eyes mist. Still, I forced a smile to my lips and said, “Thank you, lovey. You’re looking pretty smokin’ hot yourself.”
Gilley swiveled his torso in a way that told me he was pleased I’d noticed his layered sweater ensemble and skinny jeans, but then an awkward silence fell between us.
I decided to call out the elephant in the room. “Did Michel get to the airport on time?”
Gil swallowed hard. “He did.”
I walked over and took up his hand. “A month isn’t that long, you know.”
Gil’s chin dropped to his chest and he shrugged. “I know. It’s just hard watching him get on another flight for another far-off destination when he was only home for two and a half months.”
I squeezed his hand. “I know, sweetie. What can I do for you?”
Gil shook his head sadly. “Nothing, Cat. But thank you.”
I tilted my head sideways to try and make eye contact. “Really? Nothing? Not even a little retail therapy?”
Gilley sighed. “Maybe later. Right now I only want to sit at my desk and work on that e-mail blast for you.”
Gilley was helping me with a marketing campaign for the life-coaching business I’d started shortly after selling off my own mega-successful marketing firm, finalizing a divorce, and relocating to the Hamptons from Andover, Massachusetts, to be closer to my twin sons, Matt and Mike—who’d chosen boarding school over joint custody. A decision on their part that continues to break my heart. But I’d never tell them that.
Still, relocating to East Hampton had been a good decision, even if it had gotten off to a rather difficult start. I’d built myself a big, beautiful house—nicknamed Chez Cat, and a charming guesthouse, Chez Kitty—where two of my dearest friends in the world, Gilley Gillespie and his husband, Michel, had moved in after selling their ridiculously expensive place in Manhattan.
Initially, Gilley and Michel had only planned on staying a few months while they searched for a more affordable apartment in the city, but as time wore on, and Michel’s reputation for being an outstanding fashion photographer took off—he’s in high demand from Vogue, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar—it became clear that Gilley and I needed each other to combat the loneliness of my empty nest, and his constantly traveling husband.
So we settled into a routine; Gilley became my assistant and helped me launch my newfound purpose of becoming East Hampton’s premiere life coach . . . which was getting off to a much slower start than I’d originally anticipated five months earlier when I’d first hung out my new professional shingle.
“How’s that coming along, Gilley?” I asked, referring to the e-mail blast, which I hoped might spark up some business.
“Good,” he replied. “I should have some copy for you to look at by the time you finish with your client this morning.”
I rubbed my hands together eagerly. Finally! After nearly a month of radio silence I had a brand new client to focus on and parcel out some of my sage direction for the lost soul who needed it.
With a glance at my watch, I noted that said client—Willem Entwistle—would be here any minute.
“Perfect,” I told Gil, and turned toward my chair, which was set in the middle of a large, open space in what served as my office.
I’d first decided to hang my shingle in an older building with a ton of character, but not a lot of commercial appeal, until I’d purchased the building and subsequently poured a ton of money into renovating it. Luckily, the renovations had turned out fabulously, and the entire building was fully rented with professional tenants who paid their rents on time and seemed to keep mostly to themselves.
It’s probably what I liked most about the building, in fact; it was superbly quiet. Especially the third floor, where an accountant and an import/export merchant worked.
Of course, that could be due to the fact that the import/export merchant was rarely in residence. In fact, he hadn’t been to his office in the Hamptons—at least as near as I could tell—in over three months. Something that troubled me quite a bit, actually, but, like Gilley, I was trying hard this morning not to dwell on topics that made me feel sad.
As I sat down in the chair opposite the couch, I inhaled deeply, held it for a moment, then let it out very slowly. I did that two more times and felt ready to face any challenge.
In hindsight, perhaps I should’ve taken a few more deep breaths.
At promptly ten a.m., the main door to my office opened, and over the top of Gilley’s desk I saw someone enter who almost appeared to be walking in on his knees, he was so low to the ground.
It took me a full minute to realize that the person wasn’t on his knees. He was walking. At full height.
Gilley looked up from his computer and did a double take. He then shoved the heel of his hand into his mouth and tried to stifle a startled giggle.
He failed, miserably.
I stood up and rushed over to the desk. “Hello,” I said, subconsciously bending at the waist toward the stranger, who was all of four and a half feet tall, and trying to ignore Gilley. “May I help you?”
The stranger squared his shoulders, but a sheen of perspiration glinted off his forehead. Taking my outstretched hand, he said, “Hello. I’m Willem. I have an appointment for ten a.m.”
His palm was quite sweaty, and I felt my face flush, both at the embarrassment of having my assistant lose it in front of Willem, and for the fact that I’d once hired a crew of little people to dress up like cupids and dangle out of two pear trees at my sister’s wedding (which, not coincidentally, had ended in disaster). The shame I’d felt these few years later at my insensitivity caught up with me as I shook Willem’s sweaty palm.
“Wonderful to meet you, Willem,” I gushed, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically. “I’m Catherine Cooper. Your life coach.”
By this time, Gilley had recovered himself enough to look quite contrite, but I’d still have words with him later. I was furious that he’d so obviously insulted my client.
Willem shook my hand, and his gaze nervously darted around the room. I felt terrible that he’d come into my office for his first session and had been made to feel uncomfortable. “Can I offer you coffee, water, or another beverage?” I asked, waving my hand to indicate the seating area.
“Do you have any herbal tea?”
I nodded toward Gilley and narrowed my eyes to let him know that he was in trouble. “Gilley, would you please prepare a cup of herbal tea for Mr. Entwistle?”
“Right away!” Gilley said, trying to cover for his earlier insult. Jumping up from his chair and hurrying over to the counter where we kept our beverage selection, he pulled out the drawer for the tea and said, “We have chai, cinnamon, ginger, and . . .”
Gilley paused while he rooted around in the tray looking for other flavors.
“Any chamomile?” Willem asked.
Gil frowned. “No, sorry, we’re a little short.”
My eyes widened.
So did Gilley’s. He rushed to fill in the sudden awkward silence. “I . . . I . . . I mean we don’t have any. Not that you’re short—we’re short.... Out. We’re out. Of chamomile.”
Gilley’s face was flushed bright red, and probably mirrored my own.
Willem, however, seemed to find Gil’s sudden embarrassment funny. He cracked a tiny smile and said, “Cinnamon.”
Gilley nodded like an overly enthused bobblehead before turning away to make the tea.
Meanwhile, Willem and I sat down opposite each other, giving me the chance to fully take him in.
He was an interesting character, which had nothing to do with his being a little person, although, perhaps that did make him a tad more compelling. His face was quite handsome, fairly square with a prominent jaw, which was covered by a well-trimmed dark brown beard and mustache, but his forehead—which was also quite prominent—revealed that he spent a good deal of time with a furrowed brow as there were lines etched into his forehead. Overall I’d put him in his early-to-midthirties. And, while his head and torso were normal size, his legs and arms were shortened, which likely meant that he was born with a form of disproportionate dwarfism.
Still, sitting across from me, his height was far less noticeable and I focused on other features, like his brown hair, parted on the side, and the perfectly tailored charcoal-colored wool blazer, crisp white silk dress shirt, black slacks, and Italian leather shoes he wore, suggesting that he’d spent quite a bit of money on his attire. And if that weren’t a big enough clue, the gold Rolex on his wrist and the diamond-studded cufflinks were dead giveaways.
The most striking thing about him, however, were his eyes. Large and colored a deep chestnut brown, they were framed by impossibly long lashes, giving him an innocent quality I found endearing.
“So tell me why you’re here, Willem,” I said, reaching for a pen and pad that I kept on a table next to my chair.
Willem sat on the couch and folded his hands, his feet dangling above the floor. “Wow, where do I even begin?” he asked.
I smiled. “Start anywhere. We can piece together what we need to later. For now, just tell me what impulse led you to my door?”
“Um . . . okay. I guess it’s because of my grandmother.”
“Yes. I live with her. And I’m not some loser who can’t earn a living. I handle my grandmother’s portfolio and do some freelancing for several luxury car magazines, so I do okay.”
I jotted myself a note. He was intelligent, educated, and obviously a self-motivated worker. That was a relief. It’d be one less problem to solve.
Willem continued. “Grandmother and I live together because, for the most part, she raised me from the age of four, and we look after each other.”
“Your parents . . . ?” I inquired.
“Dead to me.”
I nodded. “Ah. Yes, I’ve got parents in that category as well.”
Willem cocked his head, but a small hint of a smile touched his lips. We in the dysfunctional childhood club feel especially reassured when meeting other members.
Gilley approached us with a steaming cup of tea and a dispenser of honey. “Here you are, Mr. Entwistle,” he said, setting down the cup and the honey.
“Thank you, you’re too kind,” Willem said. And it was a genuine statement, and one, I noted, which made Gilley’s face flush. I could see he was beginning to feel really bad about laughing at Willem when he’d first appeared. Perhaps I didn’t need to lecture him after all.
Gilley then turned to me, dipped his chin as if to apologize to me personally. I nodded slightly and there was peace between us once again. He then scurried over to his desk to get focused on my newsletter.
“You know, I haven’t spoken to my parents in many years either,” I said, getting back to Willem’s point.
Willem picked up the steaming mug next to him and hovered his lips over the brim while looking at me with raised brow. “Are they divorced or still together?”
“They’re still together. Making each other miserable for nearly fifty years, now.”
Willem smiled and nodded knowingly. “My parents have been divorced from each other since I was three. They’ve each been married and divorced from four other people throughout the years too, but I remain their only child, which, I suppose, is a blessing considering . . .”
I bit my lip. I hoped that Willem wasn’t referring to his dwarfism as something that should never be replicated. True, the condition came with its setbacks, but Willem seemed to be a perfectly lovely young man.
To get us back on track I said, “You had said that your grandmother is the reason you’re here?”
“Oh, yes, almost forgot. Grandmother has requested I get out into the world and explore it. She wants me to go places and meet people—you know, socialize and all of that—but I’m reluctant.”
I nodded. I could only imagine how difficult it might be for him as a little person. The stares. The ridicule. The inappropriate giggling . . .
“Is it really so bad?”
Willem shifted slightly. “Well, yes,” he said. “It’s pretty much a disaster anytime I step foot into a new setting.”
“People can be so cruel,” I agreed.
Willem stared at me oddly. “Oh, you think it’s the reaction to this that I’m concerned with?” He made a sweeping motion down the length of his body.
I was caught off guard. I mean, wasn’t it? “Well . . . I . . . I didn’t want to assume, but you did say . . .” I let out a sigh and gave up. “Willem, I apologize. Please continue to tell me why you’d like to employ my help.”
Willem bit his lip, as if suddenly nervous about speaking to me. He then glanced over his shoulder at Gilley, who sat typing away on his computer.
I looked over too, and, although I couldn’t say for sure that Gilley wasn’t listening, it didn’t seem like he was. “Whatever you have to say will remain private,” I encouraged. “It will never leave this office.”
Willem folded his hands together and straightened his shoulders as if gathering his resolve. “I need your help, because I believe—very strongly—that I’m cursed.”
Then blinked again.
Then I leaned in a little and cocked my head. “You believe you’re . . . what now?”
Somewhere in the background, I heard the steady clicking of keys on Gilley’s keyboard come to an abrupt stop.
Willem leaned toward me too, mirroring my stance. “I’m cursed. Hexed. Damned. Doomed. Jinxed. Vexed. Pick your synonym, it’s all the same affliction.”
I sat straight again and found myself smiling. It wasn’t that I found Willem’s confession funny; it was simply that I didn’t quite know how to react. So, seeing that he was obviously an intelligent person, I tried stating the obvious. “Willem, curses aren’t real. They’re something roadside fortune-tellers level at gullible patrons.”
“Oh, they’re real, Cat,” Gilley called out.
I shifted my gaze to send him the most smoldering look I could muster. But Gil merely ignored my warning glare and got up from his seat and came over to perch on the arm of the couch at the opposite end of where Willem sat. “Who cursed you?” Gil asked.
“Directly? No one I know,” Willem said.
Gilley and I exchanged a confused glance before I addressed Willem again. “Then why do you believe that you’re cursed?”
“My mother inherited a series of run-down apartment complexes in the Bronx. While pregnant with me she wanted to evict a woman from one of her buildings based solely on the fact that other tenants had complained that the woman was a gypsy who’d been setting curses on people in the building. The building’s super was too afraid to confront the woman and tell her to get out, so, in a show of bravado—which my mother is famous for—she went down to the building herself with two thugs in tow and personally evicted the woman, throwing all of her meager belongings onto the street.
“On her way out the door, the woman issued a curse. Allegedly, she pointed to my mother’s belly and said that the son born to her would become the source of her greatest shame and bring nothing but disaster to any new environment wherever he would go. Five weeks later I was born like this,” he said, waving to himself again. “And disaster has followed me wherever I’ve gone.”
I stared at Willem with widened eyes, and then pulled my gaze away to look at Gilley. We exchanged an unspoken Yikes!
“Willem,” I said calmly, focusing back on him, “I’m quite sure your dwarfism isn’t due to any curse. From the little that I know about it, it’s a condition that’s caused by genetics, correct?”
“Typically,” Willem agreed. “But there’re no other little people on either side of my family. I’m the anomaly, and when I was born, I was indeed the source of my mother’s greatest shame. She detested the fact that I wasn’t perfect, and that I drew stares and pitying looks from others. She sent me to live with my paternal grandmother early on, thank God. My grandmother has never shown me anything but unconditional love.”
I took that in and then tried another, reasonable tactic. “Well, when you moved in with your grandmother, that was a new environment for you, correct? No destruction or chaos followed you, did it?”
“On the contrary,” Willem said. “The day I went to live with her a freak storm struck and caused major destruction to her estate. She and my grandfather spent months and a fortune repairing it.”
Gilley and I exchanged another unspoken, Yikes!
Willem continued, as if he really wanted to convince us. “When I was five and attended my first day of kindergarten, a pipe burst in the building, flooding the entire school. When I was six, Gran treated me to a vacation in Montauk. The day we arrived the hotel’s parking lot developed a sinkhole that swallowed up three cars, including the hotel’s shuttle van. On the first day of middle school, a construction crew hit a gas line and the resulting explosion caused the gymnasium’s ceiling to cave in. My first day of high school, the bus I was supposed to ride to school in, crashed into a pickup truck twenty feet from my bus stop. And on and on it goes. The only silver lining is that no one has ever been seriously hurt, but I have literally dozens of these stories, Catherine. They all end in some kind of disaster.”
I could feel my heart rate tick up a tiny notch as a seed of doubt crept into my mind. All I knew about curses was what my sister, a world-renowned psychic, had told me; and that was that they weren’t real—just a gimmick the corrupt played upon the vulnerable.
But Gilley’s insistence to the contrary had rattled me. Gilley had spent a decade as a professional ghostbuster in partnership with two very gifted psychic mediums, M.J. and Heath Whitefeather.
Out of the corner of my eye, I’d watched Gilley nod his head while Willem had recounted some of the chaos and destruction that had followed him throughout life and I began to think that perhaps my sister had been mistaken. I mean, Gilley would know better than anyone if there was some credence to the idea.
Still, perhaps because I was scared, I tried pushing back against the notion one more time. “But, Willem, you’ve been here . . . what? Fifteen minutes already, and nothing even remotely unusual or destructive has happened.”
The second that last word left my mouth the building’s fire alarm went off.
All three of us jumped at the ear-piercing sound, and Gilley let out a high-pitched squeal.
I lifted my chin and began sniffing the air. Sure enough, the smell of something burning wafted faintly to my nose. “Call nine-one-one!” I yelled at Gilley before turning to run out the interior door, which placed me in the central hallway leading to the stairs and the upper floors.
Dashing up to the second-story landing, I shouted to the wide-eyed tenants standing in their doorways, “Get out of the building! Everyone, clear out!”
The tenants and their staff began to rush for the stairs, and I did too, but instead of going down, I went up.
I know it was stupid, but my first obligation as landlord was to make sure that everyone got out of the building, so, against all common sense, I rushed up the stairs to a now thickening haze of smoke and, upon reaching the landing, I was picked right up off my feet and carried back down the steps.
The move was so sudden and unexpected that I didn’t take in who’d lifted me into his arms until we reached the second-floor landing. It was as I was shifted slightly in those strong arms that I realized I was staring right into the handsome face of Maks Grinkov, my former . . . or maybe current . . . flame. (No pun intended.)
“Maks!” I exclaimed. “What’re you doing here?”
Maks rounded the landing and began to fast-track us down to the first floor. And even though he was exerting himself, he was still able to offer me a crooked smile. “Currently, I’m earning my hero badge by saving a beautiful woman from a burning building.”
I held on to Maks and said nothing more until we reached the exterior door; he turned and pushed on it with his back. Once outside I felt the bite of the early spring cold and shuddered.
Maks held me tighter. “It’s all right, Catherine,” he said soothingly, obviously misinterpreting my reaction to the cold. “You’re safe.”
I eyed him skeptically. “Am I?”
His smile widened. “Of course,” he said, easing me to my feet again.
Gilley appeared next to me, his phone in his hand and a desperate look on his face. “What were you thinking?!” he shouted.
I took a step back. Gilley had never screamed at me like that.
“You could have died!” he went on, and then I understood.
“Oh, Gil,” I said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I’m perfectly fine.”
“Gilley has a point,” Maks said.
I narrowed my eyes. “You’re not helping.”
“Catherine, when a building’s on fire, you find the nearest exit, not the nearest way to the top floor.”
“I was trying to warn my tenants.”
Maks pointed up into the air, where the sound of the smoke alarm and now approaching sirens were becoming far too loud to ignore along with the ever present smell of smoke. “I think we would’ve figured it out,” he said.
I stared up at the top floor as if expecting to see the glow of orange flames, but only a thin sliver of smoke eked out the top right window.
Just then Martin Wallace came running down the street toward us. He was the tenant in that section of the building. Holding a cup of coffee and pale as a ghost, he came to a stop next to us and said, “Oh, God! I think that might be my toaster!”
Turning to me as if he needed to explain himself, he said, “I put my English muffin in, and that’s when I noticed I was out of coffee, so I went down the street to grab a cup. I’ve only been gone a few minutes!”
A fire truck pulled to a stop in front of the curb and three firemen jumped out. They were all looking up at the window leaking smoke. “Is the building manager here?” one of them asked.
I stepped forward. “Yes, sir. I’m the owner of the building.”
He took his eyes off the building, waved to the two others, and they dashed inside. “Can you take a head count for me, please?” he asked, motioning to the gathering crowd. “We need to know if there’s anyone still inside.”
“Yes, of course,” I said.
Moving through the crowd, I silently counted all of my tenants, including Maks, but I then approached the dentist, Dr. Strickland, and because I wasn’t familiar with his entire staff, I had to ask if all of his employees and patients were accounted for. He pointed to the small group surrounding him and confirmed that everyone had made it out safely.
At that moment, the two firemen who’d dashed into the building appeared again, one holding a smoking toaster, which he set down on the sidewalk and then blasted with a fire extinguisher. It made a huge mess, but I wasn’t about to complain.
I then headed back over to the man in charge. “Everyone made it out of the building safely.”
The fireman nodded and pointed to the toaster. “That seems to be your culprit. My guys are still gonna do a suite-by-suite check just to be thorough. We had to break down the door to the suite to get to the toaster, but it’d be a good thing if we didn’t have to repeat that process for all the others. Do you have a set of master keys handy?”
I motioned over my shoulder toward the building. “They’re in my office.”
He waved us forward. “I’ll escort you in.”
Once inside, I headed straight to Gilley’s desk, quickly rummaging through the top drawer to locate the master key ring. After handing that over to the chief, he then escorted me out of the building. Luckily, I was able to grab both my coat and Gilley’s on the way out.
Everyone waited in the cold for about twenty minutes as the firemen went floor to floor and suite to suite. At last we were able to move back inside, and Martin followed me, Maks, and Gilley into my office. “Catherine, I’m so, so sorry,” Martin said. He looked absolutely beside himself.
“Martin,” I said calmly, “Please, don’t worry too much about this. The building has insurance, and, if you could cover the cost to repair the door of your suite, and promise that you’ll never leave a toaster unattended in your office again, then I think we can put this whole matter behind us.”
Martin nodded vigorously, thanked me profusely, and left.
Once he was gone I collapsed onto the sofa. The morning had been quite eventful on a number of counts. Sitting up again, I looked around. “Where’s Willem?” I asked Gilley.
“He ran to his car and drove away the moment we got outside.”
My jaw dropped. “And you just . . . let him go?”
“What did you want me to do, Cat?” Gilley snapped. “Hang up with nine-one-one to give him a comforting hug and beg him to stay right before something big, like a meteor, fell out of the sky to kill me?”
I stared at Gilley wondering if he’d lost his mind. “What on earth are you talking about?”
“You heard him,” Gil said, positioning his hand on his hip to show me he wasn’t about to back down. “The boy is cursed! I’m not cuddling up to that. In fact, I should get some holy water and spritz this whole office just to flush out any bad juju.”
I put a palm to my forehead, feeling the first painful twinges of a stress headache. “Gil,” I sighed.
“What’s this about a curse?” Maks asked. He’d been hovering near us, listening to our conversation, and he seemed genuinely concerned.
Before I could tell him that it wasn’t anything I could discuss—I’d meant it when I’d promised Willem that our conversation would be private—Gilley said, “Cat’s new client is cursed. It’s why the building caught fire.”
“Well, it’s true!”
“It is not!” I yelled, my temper getting the best of me. “The building didn’t catch fire, a toaster did, and Willem had nothing to do with that!”
Gilley pursed his lips and eyed me skeptically. “So it’s just a coincidence that he walks in at ten this morning, confesses that a gypsy cast a spell on him in utero, and that he’s had a string of catastrophes follow him his entire life and by ten-twenty all the smoke alarms are going off?”
I stared incredulously at Gilley. Was he kidding? “Of course it’s a coincidence!”
Gilley crossed his arms, his lips still pursed. “I think not.”
Meanwhile Maks had taken up a corner of Gilley’s desk to perch himself on and watch our back and forth like taking in a tennis match. To Gilley he said, “Was he really cursed by a gypsy?”
“Yes,” Gil said.
“No!” I yelled.
Gilley turned again to me. “Cat, I know you don’t believe in curses, but they’re real, okay? Just ask M.J. or Heath. We’ve dealt with them before, and their aftermath, and they were never anything to take lightly or dismiss.”
I sighed heavily. It wasn’t even eleven a.m. and already the day felt long. “My sister says they’re a bunch of hooey, and I’ll take her word for it.”
“Really?” Gilley said, tapping his foot. “And Abby’s handled exactly how many demons in her time?”
I frowned. “Well . . . none that I know of, but I think she’d know if any of that was real.”
“Would she?” Gilley asked, then he lowered his voice another octave and dipped his chin. “Would she?”
“I can’t even believe I’m having this conversation,” I said, completely exasperated. “Gilley, get me Willem’s phone number. I want to call him and see how he’s doing.”
“Why call when we could probably just turn on the news and follow the path of destruction all the way back to his house?” Gil muttered, but he did head around his desk to peck at his computer for a moment. . . .
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