Monday, March 26, 2012

Sneak peek (R-excerpt) from Eyes Of The Cat

Once upon a time, in a far, strange land (1883 Texas, to be precise), there arrived from back East a beautiful and headstrong young, I mean a scientist...named Tabitha Jeffries. Hardly more than a girl, really, but she had the courage of an Amazon and a heart as big as her intellect. To save another girl, named Gabrina, from an arranged marriage to this presumably wicked prince (well, a laird, anyway) called Alan MacAllister, Tabitha switches places with her. Expecting, naturally enough, that the awful Alan’s Highland Scots family (who just happen to live in a full-scale medieval castle) will release her the moment she confesses she’s not Gabrina. Only--and this is the annoying part--Alan’s family is actually more interested in
a bride than they are in a specific bride... “Gabby or Tabby, ’tis such a wee dif’rence”... In other words, they keep her--fussing and fuming, kicking, clawing, biting, punching and screaming, notwithstanding.

And Alan himself, who turns out to have wanted Gabrina even less than Gabrina wanted him, decides that he
does want Gabrina’s replacement. He decides this on first sight, in fact. And one can scarcely blame him, because that first sight was a lulu. It was the sight of said replacement--who had just escaped a tower by way of a tree that snagged off most of her clothes on the climb down--leaping wildly out of that tree in her unmentionables. Very interesting. Something to make a man stop and think. Catching her in his arms, he thinks he may be in love.

Numerous battles and embraces, some bloodcurdling adventures, and an emotional triathlon later, Tabitha is beginning to think the same thing. Now all she has to do is solve a ten year old murder, prevent a new one, and save herself and Alan from a horrifying family legacy. There’s always something, isn’t there?

Eyes of the Cat

A big fat juicy novel for only $2.99
Available now on Kindle:


“I should have scattered a trail of bread crumbs after myself when I left, so I could find my way back. I think I’m just going around in circles. Everything is starting to look the same,” Tabitha grumbled as she padded down what seemed the hundredth winding passageway she’d tried since reentering the keep. She’d found another lit candle, but it wasn’t helping much. “Honestly, this place is laid out like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. I’ll never reach my room at this rate.”

She sighed when the passage ended abruptly in a semicircular alcove. The area was bare, save for a few stools off to one side and a large, three-section Oriental screen standing near the back, looking rather incongruous. How curious. What could it be there for?


The sudden screech rattled overwrought nerves. Tabitha’s hair stood on end.

Death... Death... Leave before it’s too late!” a banshee voice wailed. “Ahooeeeooahh...”


Silently, Tabitha crept toward the screen, like a cat stalking a mouse. With a single quick move, she grabbed the nearest panel and snapped it back. The screen wobbled, overbalanced and tipped over, landing on the wood floor with a heavy thud.

“Oh! Now see what you’ve done!” A tall, willowy young woman with extravagant red hair, piercing blue eyes, and an almost blinding canary yellow negligee stood staring at the screen in dismay. She stamped her foot. “If it’s been damaged, Uncle Angus will hang me by my thumbs and then have me hurled into the moat! That screen belonged to his mother.”

She glanced at Tabitha, her brows suddenly pulled together with thought. “Or, maybe it was his grandmother’s. I can’t remember. Anyway”--she heaved a dramatic sigh--“he’s very fond of it. Here, help me set it right. I’m Mary MacAllister, by the way. But I detest being called Mary--it’s too mundane--so I’ve changed my name to Esmeralda,” she chattered as the screen was lifted back into position. “What do you think?”

Tabitha was studying the ornate panels as best she could by the light of her candle. “It looks all right to me.”

Mary-Esmeralda gave a disgusted snort. “I didn’t mean the screen! Who cares about that silly old thing?” She gave it a kick that almost toppled it again. “I want to know how you like my name. Don’t you think Esmeralda has the wildest, most romantic sound to it?” She closed her eyes in ecstasy.

“Why, yes,” Tabitha said in the voice she reserved for small children and fussy lapdogs. “It makes you sound like a Spanish flamenco dancer.”

The blue eyes snapped open. “Oh, no! That will never do. I can’t sound like a flamenco dancer. They make far too much noise. All that heel clicking and those castanets--they sound like a herd of stampeding crickets!” She angled away, her brow furrowed with furious thinking. “I know! I’ll call myself Ophelia,” she exclaimed, spinning triumphantly back to face Tabitha. “What do you think of Ophelia? Or... Wait!” She flung out an arm for attention. “Flavia! Or maybe Angelique? Sophia? Desdemona? Oh, it’s so difficult to decide! What do you think?” she demanded, stamping her foot again.

“How about Cassandra?” Tabitha suggested, thinking of the beautiful, mad princess from Greek mythology.

“Cassandra?” The young woman’s head quirked to the side, as though she were listening to some distant melody. “Cassandra MacAllister... I like that very much, I think. It’ll look good in print, too. I’m going to be a famous playwright, you know. And star in all of them myself. Cassandra it is then! Thank you, Tabitha.”

She smiled sweetly. “Oh wipe that silly shock off your face. Everyone here knows who you are. Didn’t you see your audience the other night when Alan dragged you up the keep’s ramp? That was quite a show you put on. I almost applauded. It didn’t fool me any, of course--I knew what you were up to--but it was entertaining, nonetheless. I may use it in my next play,” the redhead finally finished, because she’d run out of breath. She stared at Tabitha through narrow blue slits, a sly grin curling the corners of her mouth.

Tabitha stared back through equally narrowed eyes and the opposite of a grin tightening her expression. “What are you talking about, Cassandra?”

“As if you didn’t know,” the new Cassandra chanted, wafting dreamily across the alcove and seating herself on one of the stools in a billow of screaming yellow silk. “But enough of that. Here I am boring you with all this talk about yourself, when you must be dying to hear all about me.”

“Not really,” Tabitha said, still staring glaciers.

“I’m from Boston, and my father sent me out here last month because he thinks the theater is a scandalous career for a woman,” Cassandra cheerfully began, ignoring the ice. “He’s hoping I’ll marry one of Uncle Angus’s sons, instead. But I don’t like any of Uncle Angus’s sons. They’re all toads. And not the kind you could turn into princes with a kiss either.” She grimaced. “If I kissed any of them, I’d get warts.”

“So why don’t you go back to Boston.”

“No.” Mary-Esmeralda-Cassandra pressed her lips into a firm line, her eyes flashing blue fire in the candlelight. “You won’t trick me that easily, Tabitha. I know your game, but it won’t work.” She popped haughtily to her feet, shaking out her negligee like a queen shaking out her robes of state. “And I’m not going to tell you any more about me. You can perish of curiosity, for all I care.” Chin in the air, she billowed out of the alcove and was several catlike steps down the dark passage, when she whirled around and flew back.

“By the way, speaking of perishing, I’d keep my eye on Alan, if I were you. He may be a murderer,” she said brightly, gazing down at Tabitha’s stunned face with an angelic smile illuminating her own. “A murderer and a widower, to be specific. The two terms go together, you see, because he supposedly killed his wife. Her name was Heather, in case you’re interested.” Still smiling, she turned and drifted into the darkness, like yellow smoke vanishing in a midnight breeze.

And Tabitha fell, rather than sat, on the nearest stool. Her legs had turned to rubber. She was remembering the story of the original Cassandra and hoping that she hadn’t chosen too appropriate a name for her new acquaintance.

The first Cassandra had been a princess of Troy during its long ago siege. She had asked for and received the gift of prophecy from Apollo. But she’d also spurned the god’s advances, so he’d turned his blessing into a curse by declaring that no one would ever believe her. To all who heard them, Cassandra’s words sounded like the ravings of a madwoman, yet the poor doomed girl had spoken nothing but the truth.

Tabitha shook her head, jiggled one knee, then the other. The atmosphere of the castle had suddenly shifted. Before it had seemed a bit eerie, of course, but mostly just impractical and eccentric. Now it felt malignant and menacing.

She shot a wary glance around the alcove, the flickering glow from her candle making the curved walls appear almost as if they were pulsating. Even her own shadow looked somehow threatening. Steeling herself against a creeping panic, she cautiously rose to her feet, every nerve trembling like a touched fiddle string. Something hit against the hem of her skirt, and the squeal she let out hit high C.

She was that happy to see him.

“Hullo, angel, you always appear just when I need you the most, don’t you?” She knelt down to pet the cat. “You’re my little knight in furry armor.”

He dug his velvety head into her hand, that deep throaty purr of his vibrating like a hive of giant bees.

“You must know this castle like the back of your paw. Do you think you could show me the way to my room? Not that I really want to go there--I’d rather be far away from this dreadful place--but if I have to be anywhere here, I think my room is the safest. At least there I can lock the door and barricade myself in. Don’t you agree?” She gazed wistfully into his glowing amber eyes.

The eyes blinked once, and the cat gathered himself into a tight crouch beneath her hand. Like a spring unwinding itself, he shot around her and darted behind the screen. Tabitha heard a wild scrambling, a muffled woosh, like something large and soft hitting the floor, and then... Complete, breathless quiet.

“Now what was that all about?” Her voice echoed in the stillness. “Did you hear a mouse?”

As if in answer, the candle flame flickered frantically for an instant, then wisped out, leaving her in a darkness so dense it almost suffocated her.

But not quite. From somewhere a breeze was blowing. A draft that hadn’t been there before. Heart pounding, she groped her way toward the source of the moving air--and found not only it, but a bright light in the passageway the cat had uncovered when he’d clawed down the tapestry that had hung behind the Oriental screen. It was rather strange she hadn’t noticed the tapestry before. But then, meeting Mary-Cassandra had been more than a little distracting.

She stooped to retrieve the light that the red haired distraction must have left behind when she’d entered the alcove--from this direction, apparently. It was one of Simon’s electric lanterns.
Tabitha stood blinking and puzzling a moment, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the glare and wondering why the catty Cassandra had been there in the first place. It was almost like she’d been waiting for me. And what was she doing with one of Simon’s lamps? Did he present one to every prospective bride who came to Castle MacAllister?

She heaved a small sigh. This was hardly a concern, considering all else she had to deal with--such as kidnapping, imprisonment, and a murdering fiancée--but it did smell somewhat suspicious.

? The whole fortress and everything in it was beginning to stink like a kettle full of rotten fish!

Shaking her head, Tabitha glanced down the passage. Her black furred knight was nowhere to be seen, but that was all right, because she recognized where she was now and knew how to get from here to where she was going. She placed the lantern back on the floor and scurried back to her room.

She was a little breathless by the time she reached it, and more than a little dismayed to find no key in the door’s lock.

“But I’m sure there was a key here when I left. I should have taken it with me,” she muttered while dragging her trunk several feet across the floor and shoving it up against the door’s base. “No, that won’t work.” Panting with the effort, she pushed it aside and began a determined wresting match with the large mahogany dresser that stood against the wall directly to the right of the door. “Ugh,” she grunted, “this weighs a ton. I defy anyone to get past this monster.”

“You’re right. We don’t want to be disturbed tonight. But that’s far too heavy for you. Let me do it.” A powerful pair of arms reached around her and slid the dresser into place.

Tabitha screamed loud enough to wake the dead. Which she sincerely hoped she wouldn’t be joining anytime soon.

Alan clapped a hand over her mouth.

“Hush.” He laughed softly, close to her ear. “They’ll think I’m murdering you.”

A poor choice of words, from Tabitha’s standpoint.

Argh,” Alan bit out through clenched teeth, as her teeth bit into his fingers. He stared at her with a mixture of surprise, amusement--and something Tabitha didn’t want to think about. “What’s the matter with you, lassie?”

“N-n-nothing’s the matter with me. Get out of here!” She flew to the far wall, pressing her back against it. “What are you doing in my room?”

“Our room. ’Twas mine, in fact, but now ’tis ours.” He flexed his hand to make sure everything was still adequately connected.

Our room?” Tabitha choked, unable to pull her gaze off him. She felt pinned, like a butterfly on a mounting board.

Alan began a slow, languid approach toward her, looking as though he couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. “Aye. Husbands and wives often do share the same bed, don’t they?” He paused to remove his collar and vest, then resumed his approach, unfastening his shirt en route.

Tabitha watched in horrified fascination as more and more of that rock hard, tanned chest came into view. The knowledge that she’d seen it before offered not a whit of comfort. A bare chest had seemed...well, natural on a Comanche. It had been easier to deal with then. Now it seemed somehow improper. Indecent. And nerve-wrackingly sensual. She gulped as the shirt hit the floor. He pulled off his belt, and her knees started to quiver.

“What difference does it make what husbands and wives do? We’re not m-married,” she strained out, thinking that if he reached for his trousers, she would probably faint.

“Aye, but we are,” he said. And reached for her, instead.

Her knees buckled, but she quickly caught herself, swiveled, ducked under his arm, skidded across the floor, and plastered herself against the opposite wall. “We are not! We’re merely engaged.”

Alan heaved a sigh and turned to face her, the muscles in his torso rippling like burnished copper in the glow from the oil lamp. “Look, dear, according to old Highland law, two people are married simply by saying so in front of witnesses. That’s what you and I did on the ramparts, if you’ll recall. And that makes us man and wife.” Stealthily, he closed the distance between them. “At least, that’s the tradition the MacAllisters follow. And for once in my life”--a sudden grin lit his face--“I find myself most glad to be part of the clan.”

Pausing two paces away, he raked her with a look that almost set her hair on fire and ordered softly, “Now come here, Tabitha. Stop acting so frightened. What do you think I’m going to do to you, anyway?”

Gauging by his expression, Tabitha didn’t know. Strangle her? Kiss her? In her current state, all possibilities seemed petrifying and probably fatal. She doubted if she could survive any of them.

“’re not going to do anything to me.” She dodged sideways and back to her previous wall. “Because I won’t let you get close enough to even try. And I won’t accept this so-called marriage, either. It’s preposterous!”

“What’s preposterous is the thought of me spending our wedding night chasing you around the room,” Alan said, his rich voice something between a growl and a purr. “Now come here.”

He took a single step toward her. And waited.

“Tabitha?” He took a second step, then a third and a fourth, his eyes pulling at her like magnets. “This is your last chance. Don’t make me come get you, lassie. You might be sorry for it when I catch you.”

“You might be sorry for it, too,” she warned, watching him approach the way a caged canary watches a cat. He moved with an easy feline grace that sent disturbing hot tingles shooting deep into her abdomen. “Whatever you’re planning, I...I won’t make it easy for you.”

Alan halted in midstep. “And what do you think I’m planning, dear? I can understand a new bride being nervous on her wedding night, but aren’t you being just a wee bit extreme?” He chuckled.

Infuriated, Tabitha glared into his eyes. A mistake. They nailed her to the wall, sucked the air and the movement straight out of her. She stood transfixed a breathless moment, just long enough for him to cover the last several feet between them, sweep her up into his arms, and toss her into the center of the large four-poster bed...