To Catch a Leaf
A Flower Shop Mystery
Flower shop owner Abby Knight is aglow with happiness now that she's officially engaged to her longtime beau, Marco Salvare. Nothing can possibly dampen her joy-until wealthy dowager Virginia Newport is killed, and Abby's assistant Grace Bingham is the prime suspect. The plot thickens when they stumble upon mysterious stolen art and a missing cat, all part of an elaborate heist. Before Abby can throw her bouquet, she'll have to save her friend and throw a killer and a thief in jail...
Happiness oozed from every cell in my body. No, wait. Ooze sounded bad, and what I was feeling was definitely not bad. Not by a long shot. I was in a zone. I radiated bliss. As my assistant Lottie pointed out, I had a certain glow about me.
The best part of a glow of this magnitude was that nothing could dim it, not the ding in the paint on my refurbished yellow Corvette, not the snarl of traffic from a stoplight malfunction, not even the knowledge that my mother had completed a new art project and was going to deliver it after school let out for the day.
The reason for my blissful state was that after weeks of having to keep my news under wraps, the secret was out at last. I was officially engaged to the sizzling-hot man of my dreams, my sexy neighbor, former Special Ops Army Ranger–turned-owner of Down the Hatch Bar and Grill, Marco Salvare. Yes, the very male who turned the heads of women all over town, the pragmatic, enigmatic, charismatic, and, yes, sometimes autocratic Marco, my Italian American hunk, was now engaged to little ol’ moi.
Added to all that joy, my flower shop Bloomers was operating in the black for the first time since I’d bought the business from former owner Lottie Dombowski. Poor Lottie had been drowning in debt from her husband’s ginormous medical bills, while I was up to my freckles in failure, having flunked out of law school and having been unceremoniously cast off by the man I thought I wanted to marry. Instead of succumbing to despair, I took action.
Scraping together the remainder of my inheritance from my grandpa, I plunked down enough money to ensure my servitude to the bank forever, hired Lottie to teach me how to be a florist, put in a coffee-and-tea parlor, lured the foremost British authority on tea in Indiana, Grace Bingham, out of retirement, and attempted to make a go of it.
Needless to say, with the national economy in the tank, it had been a struggle. But a recent spurt in business had pushed my checking account into positive territory at last, giving me even more reason to ooze—I mean radiate—happiness.
Horns honked around me. People were getting impatient. In a small town like New Chapel, traffic jams were fairly uncommon. But I merely cranked up the volume on my CD player and sang along until I was able to turn off the main road and escape the congestion.
It was a gorgeous, sunny May morning, business was up, and I was engaged to the most wonderful man in town. Nothing on earth could dim my happiness.
Then I hit a cat.
Jamming on the brakes, I threw the car into park and jumped out, horrified at the thought of what I might find. I ran around to the front and saw a ragged yellow tabby cat crouched on the macadam a few feet in front of my car, staring at me in fright. I hadn’t run it down after all!
Seeing that I wasn’t about to do it harm, the tabby rose unsteadily and attempted to limp to the curb, dragging its right hind leg behind it. The leg was bent at the wrong angle.
“Oh, no! I did hit you,” I cried, blinking back a sudden rush of tears. “I’m so sorry. I’ll make it all right, I promise. Please don’t try to run away from me. I want to help you.”
The cat meowed pitifully, gazing at me with fearful golden eyes, ready to attempt to flee. I glanced around for assistance, but I’d turned off Concord Avenue onto a side street that had no houses and only a few businesses, none of which were open yet. Would an ambulance come if I called 911? Probably not.
The cat was in terrible pain, and so was I, the pain of horrendous guilt. I took off my jean jacket and approached the poor animal cautiously, talking to it in a soothing voice. “I’m going to take you to the vet, okay? I’m really, really sorry. You don’t know how sorry I am. I’m just going to pick you up gently now, so don’t scratch me.”
The cat either understood or was too injured to fight. I wrapped my jacket over it and picked it up, careful not to touch the damaged leg. I placed the cat gently on the passenger seat and prayed it wouldn’t try to escape, but it seemed to know that I wasn’t a threat.
I buckled my seat belt, put the ’Vette in drive, and headed for the veterinary clinic where my roommate, Nikki, took her cat, Simon. Fortunately, the clinic was only a five-minute drive, because the injured tabby’s plaintive meows were breaking my heart. How could I have been so careless? Why hadn’t I noticed the animal in the road?
I approached the reception counter, babbling wildly, holding the cat in my arms; the receptionist looked up in surprise, then jumped off her chair and ran to get an aide.
Within five minutes, Dr. Christine Kelly had the cat on a stainless—steel table and was administering a painkiller so she could perform an exam, while I sat on an orange plastic chair in the corner enveloped in remorse.
“Is this an outdoor cat?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I’d never seen the animal before I . . . hit it.”
She glanced at me from under nicely arched brows, then continued her examination.
“I can feel a break in the hind foreleg,” she said. “I’ll need to get an X-ray before I set the bone to know how bad the damage is.”
“That’s fine. Whatever you need to do, Doctor, I’ll take care of it. No problem.”
“How did it happen?” she asked.
“Right after I turned off of Concord Avenue, I caught a glimpse of the cat in the street in front of my car. It must have been hiding under a parked vehicle or maybe in a hedge, but whatever. I didn’t see it in time or I would have stopped. I just felt this thump—and I knew I’d hit it. Luckily, I wasn’t going fast. Well, not so lucky for the cat, of course . . .”
“You didn’t run her over,” Dr. Kelly said.
“What?” My brain cells were moving a little slow, no doubt due to shock.
“She would have suffered a lot more than a broken hind leg, trust me. This cat must have already been injured.”
“Then what caused the thump?”
“You’d have to go back and look. All I know is that you didn’t run her over or she probably wouldn’t be alive.”
I felt more tears welling up and quickly brushed them away. “I’m so relieved.”
“No collar, I notice,” the vet said, as her fingers gently probed, “but it looks like she might have had one once.”
“Could she have been dumped?”
“Quite possibly. Or she got out and roamed, couldn’t find her way back, and got so thin she slipped out of her collar. She’s a female, around five years old is my best guess. I’ll check for a computer chip. Smart people have chips implanted. If that’s the case, I’ll contact the owner. Uh-oh. I see fleas. So what would you like to do with her if we can’t determine who the cat belongs to?”
Wait. What would I like to do? “I don’t know, Doctor. What do you usually do in these kinds of situations?”
“Turn the animal over to the shelter.”
With a broken leg? To crouch in a wire cage, alone and frightened, until someone adopted her? What if no one wanted her? What then? Could I live with that?
“You’re good at solving mysteries,” Dr. Kelly said. “Maybe you can find out where she came from.”
I blinked in surprise. The doctor knew about me?
“I read the newspaper,” Dr. Kelly said, seeing the question on my face, “and Nikki talks about you a lot. I have to say, you’re amazingly brave the way you go after killers. That one murderer who tried to burn you alive? Wow. Solving the cat mystery should be a walk in the park after that. So what’s your decision?”
After such praise, how could I tell her no? I glanced at the shabby tabby with the shattered leg that had suddenly become my responsibility. “If there’s no chip,” I said with a sigh, “I’ll take her.”
Dr. Kelly smiled for the first time. “I was hoping you’d say that. Why don’t you have a seat in the waiting room while we fix her up? It’ll be about an hour.”
An hour? It was already eight thirty and Bloomers opened at nine o’clock. My assistants were undoubtedly wondering where I was. Plus it was Monday, which meant Lottie’s delicious egg and toast breakfast was waiting for me. But perhaps missing breakfast was part of my punishment for careless driving.
I exited the clinic to make my phone call just as an elderly couple with a yapping schnauzer was entering. The gray dog strained at its leash, teeth bared, trying to reach me, but the woman dragged it away, talking in a soothing voice. “Now, haven’t we discussed your behavior before? About being nice to strangers? Haven’t we?”
That was a discussion I would have loved to witness.
Grace answered the phone, her delightful accent a reassuring sound to my frazzled nerves. “Good morning. Bloomers Flower Shop. How may I help you?”
“Grace, it’s me. I hit a cat—” I paused as a woman carrying a feline into the clinic gave me the evil eye.
“You hit a cat with what?” Grace asked.
“Well, that’s a relief, isn’t it? I didn’t like to think you’d gone off your rocker, running about whacking animals with your purse.”
Sometimes there was just no way to understand the workings of Grace’s mind. “The cat’s hind leg is broken,” I said quietly, as more people walked past with their pets, “but that may not have been my fault. I’m at the veterinary clinic now. I should be back in about an hour.”
I heard Grace whisper, “It’s Abby. She hit a cat. She’s at the vet.” Then I heard Lottie say, “Lordy, what will that girl get into next?”
Grace said to me, “Well, that’s a bang-up way to start the week, isn’t it? And you freshly engaged.”
“You know about my engagement?”
“It would be a rather odd statement to make otherwise, wouldn’t it?”
Damn! I’d wanted to make the announcement at breakfast. We’d only revealed the news to our family two and a half days ago. “Who told you? My mom?”
“Would you like the whole list?”
I heard paper rattling.
“First off, your mum rang up at eight o’clock on the nose.”
“And five times thereafter.”
“Then your cousin Jillian phoned—”
The mouth that roared.
“—but said she was going back to bed so she would call you at lunchtime. The next call was from Marco’s mum.”
“She must have wanted to let me know she made it back to Ohio safely. She was supposed to get in late last night.”
“I believe she’s still here, love. She said she’d see you later today.”
What? No! That wasn’t the plan. The plan was for Francesca Salvare to go back home so she wouldn’t be here to pester us for wedding details. Because there weren’t any yet.
“Then Marco called,” Grace said, “but he didn’t say a word about the engagement.”
He’d probably phoned to enlighten me as to why his mother was still here. I couldn’t wait for that explanation. “Okay, Grace. Thank you. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“I hope so, dear. A large shipment of flowers just arrived, and Lottie said many of them are damaged. She’s trying to sort through them now, but we’ll be opening soon, and you know the rush we always have in the coffee shop on Monday mornings. And don’t forget today is the meeting of the Monday Afternoon Ladies’ Poetry Society.”
Twelve senior citizens waxing poetic about the benefits of fiber. “Can’t wait. Listen, Grace, this cat appears to be a stray. If the vet can’t determine the owner, I’m going to have to bring her home with me unless . . . you or Lottie want to take her?”
I heard Grace whispering, and heard Lottie whisper back. Then Grace said, “Shall I keep your breakfast in the fridge, then?”
No takers. Damn. “Yes, please.”
Cold scrambled eggs and hard toast.
“Just a minute, dear,” Grace said. “Lottie would like a word.”
“Abby,” Lottie said a moment later, “how did you happen to hit the cat?”
“I don’t know, Lottie. The cat must have darted out just as I turned off Concord.”
“Why did you turn off Concord?”
“Oh, good,” she said with relief in her voice. “I’ll see you back at Bloomers.”
“Wait, Lottie, what’s up? Why all the questions?”
“I just wanted to make sure you weren’t trying to shake a tail.”
“Well, a stalker.”
At once I felt someone’s eyes upon me. Goose bumps dotted my arms as I glanced around. Then I saw the receptionist standing at the glass door, motioning me over.
“Okay, that’s all,” Lottie said.
That’s all? “Lottie, don’t leave me hanging like this—”
The line went dead.
The receptionist was motioning frantically now, so I ended the call and hurried toward the door. “Sorry,” I said, following her inside. “It was a business call.”
“That’s okay. Dr. Kelly just wanted you to know that there’s no microchip.” She smiled. “Looks like you have yourself a cat.”
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