A Purr-fect Relic Cozy Mystery, Book 2
Release Date:

Jul 8, 2024

ISBN:

978-1-964418-52-0

More From DeAnna →

Hisses, Hexes, and Homicide

by

DeAnna Drake

Join Rebecca and Aneksi in this engaging and humorous cozy mystery as they unravel a tale of murder, mystery, and mayhem while discovering more secrets in Citrus Grove.

Rebecca Cuthbert, no stranger to false accusations, rushes to defend her baker best friend when she’s accused of murdering Citrus Grove’s Elvis-loving mayor with a deadly petit four. 

But Rebecca recognizes the real clue: this death is the work of the Emerald Scarab, one of the cursed artifacts she vowed to track down after it was stolen from her grandfather’s quirky antique shop. 

Now she must navigate a peculiar maze of clues and enchantments, aided by her grandfather’s wise counsel and the scattered recollections of an immortal talking cat, Aneksi, who once encountered the scandalous scarab in Cleopatra’s court. With each revelation, her search becomes a frantic race to find the killer and the amulet before they can hurt anyone else. 

But her meddling puts her in the killer’s path, and Rebecca must rely on her fledgling investigative skills to save her friend from jail and herself from becoming the sleepy Southern California town’s latest murder victim.

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CHAPTER ONE

Petit Four Problem

Asking Aneksi to be my lookout while I jimmied the cash register’s lock probably wasn’t the smartest move, but sometimes I forget she’s a cat. An immortal cat who occasionally transforms into a tiger and who speaks with a prim British accent, but still a cat with distinctly catlike priorities. Once she found that sunny corner in the display window, she completely lost interest in me, curled up in the warm spot, and conked out.

That’s why I didn’t notice the footsteps behind me as I poked and jiggled the lock with my shiny new pick and tension wrench.

“Rebecca, you know the key is in the office. Don’t you?”

I froze, but it wasn’t disapproval in my grandfather’s voice. It was amusement.

“It looks so easy in the videos. I must be doing something wrong.” I dropped the tools on the counter and rubbed my temples.

“What’s the point of learning to pick locks, anyway? Our keys work perfectly well. Is there something you haven’t told me?” He slipped his wire-rimmed glasses down his nose and gave me a long look. It was his serious, I-am-your-grandfather look, and it made me feel like I was still in pigtails instead of the newly minted manager of Cuthbert Exotic Antiques, an unusual little shop packed with global handicrafts and replicas of treasures from the ancient world.

“Something for everyone,” my grandfather liked to say, and I suppose that explained why he shelved mass-produced tchotchkes like pyramid paperweights and tin King Tut pencil boxes alongside finely crafted statues, exquisite jewelry, and other tomb-worthy finds.

Now wasn’t the time to discuss the delicate art of merchandise display, however. He wanted an answer, and I was stalling.

“I’m trying to be better prepared.”

His scowl deepened. “I hardly see how picking the cash register’s lock helps anyone.”

“It’s not the cash register I’m worried about, and maybe I’ll never need to pick a lock, but I think a person in my situation should be prepared.”

“Prepared for what?”

Did he really not understand what I was getting at? He was well into his seventies, but his mind was sharper than anyone I knew. Including me, and I wasn’t even half his age.

How could he overlook the fact that we had a collection of cursed artifacts to track down? I glanced around to be sure it was still just Aneksi, Stirling, and me in the shop. After that unfortunate incident with the vent last month, I didn’t want to take any chances.

I lowered my voice. “Prepared to retrieve your stolen heirlooms.”

He pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I hardly think we’ll find the hexes by picking locks.”

That was Aneksi’s name for them, which she’d insisted she’d learned from Cleopatra during her time as the ancient queen’s pet. Or companion. Or whatever. I still wasn’t clear about the details.

“Maybe, but it couldn’t hurt. ‘A good detective must be as proficient in the criminal arts as the criminals themselves if she intends to bring them to justice.’”

“Another pearl of wisdom from your Adelaide Morris, I presume? Need I remind you she’s solving crimes from the turn of the last century, and, oh, what was that other thing?” He glanced up at the ceiling and tapped his lips. “Oh yes, she’s not real. You cannot follow the advice of a fictional woman. She’s merely a figment of some writer’s imagination.”

“Sherlock Holmes is fictional, but people quote him all the time.”

He stared at me with his wide green eyes. The same green eyes I saw when I looked in the mirror.

“You focus on keeping the artifacts still safely tucked away in the vault safe from harm,” he said. “I’ll deal with getting the rest of them back. What was stolen under my watch is my responsibility. I couldn’t live with myself if I put you in danger again.”

The desperation in his voice reminded me I wasn’t the only one in mourning. I’d lost my parents, but Stirling Cuthbert had lost his son, who he hadn’t seen or spoken to since before I was born.

When Stirling reached out to me after the funeral, it had meant the world to me. I’d believed I had lost the only family I had, but he showed me I wasn’t alone. I still had him. Now, he’s all I have left, and sometimes I forget that I’m all he has, too.

It was understandable that he would be overly protective, but there were cursed objects out in the world that had to be found before they could hurt someone. As much as Stirling might want to shoulder that responsibility alone, he needed my help. The theft wasn’t his fault. That vault in the basement had more cobwebs than a pharaoh’s tomb, and if it was ever orderly, that order had been buried long ago beneath decades of neglect.

If I was being honest, I wanted to be helpful. Maybe I even needed it. From the moment Stirling explained how his grandfather had brought these artifacts back from Egypt only to discover they held dangerous powers and then dedicated his life to hiding them away to protect the public, it changed me.

These events triggered something I’d never experienced before. Not when I thought I was destined to one day take over my parents’ bookstore in our hometown of Elk Pass, Montana, or when I expected to become Mason Morretti’s wife. This was completely different.

Sometimes people called it an epiphany. That sounded like it was a thought or an idea, though, and it wasn’t that. This was a feeling. A heart-pounding, toe-tingling, take-my-breath-away kind of feeling.

When Stirling explained the Cuthbert Legacy, that our family was responsible for protecting the world from the artifacts that landed in J. P. Cuthbert’s possession, I knew it was what I was meant to do. It was what I was always meant to do. I just hadn’t known it.

This was my purpose.

The fact that Aneksi, who had technically been one of those cursed objects, had almost instantly attached herself to me—or maybe it was me to her, the line tended to blur—made me even more committed to the cause.

I couldn’t sit on the sidelines and do nothing. But Stirling had a point. Following the advice of a fictional sleuth and picking locks weren’t the answer, at least not by themselves. So, it was a good thing that wasn’t the extent of my preparation. I was also going to learn the art of self-defense as soon as I found a proper teacher. I had someone in mind, but I hadn’t worked up the nerve to ask yet.

Stirling was still staring at me with that pleading look in his eyes.

I shoved my lock picks in my back pocket. “I won’t do anything stupid, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

He sighed and nodded. “You’re too smart for that. Just don’t let my problems become your problems. That’s all I ask.”

“Understood.” If he noticed that wasn’t exactly an agreement, he didn’t show it.

My phone vibrated on the counter beside the cash register. I grabbed it, intending to hit the decline button. If it was who I thought it was, I had nothing to say to him. But it was Luna Sage’s name on the screen. Why was she calling? She was supposed to be delivering dozens of freshly baked petit fours to a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Downtown Merchants Association, and as much as she’d been anticipating the opportunity to show off her new business venture and maybe snag some new clients, I doubted she was calling to chat.

“I’m sorry,” I said to Stirling. “Do you mind if I take this?” I showed him the screen.

“Not at all,” he said. “Say hello to Luna for me. I’ll be in the office, getting the register’s key.”

He seemed to think it was a friendly call, but I knew something was wrong.

So did Aneksi. She had risen from her slumber and was sitting in the window between a tin Tutankhamen sarcophagus and a new but ancient-looking clay fertility doll, staring at me with those startling blue eyes of hers.

I tapped the button to accept the call. “What’s up? Is everything all right?”

“No, it’s awful!” She was nearly hysterical.

Stirling was halfway to the office, but I turned anyway for more privacy. “What happened? Are you okay? Are you at the ceremony?”

All I heard on the other end was a gasp for air between sobs. Something had gone terribly wrong.

I stepped away from the cash register and went to the glass door. The Downtown Merchants Association was on the second floor of a building across the traffic circle from the shop. Eucalyptus and elm trees that surrounded the fountain in the central plaza partially blocked my view, but I could still see the door to the stairway that led to the upper offices. There were a few pedestrians walking their dogs, otherwise that side of the street was quiet.

“Did something happen to the petit fours?” What else could upset her like this? It was apparently the wrong thing to say because it set off another round of heaving sobs.

After a full minute, she finally took a deep breath. Then, with a still shaky voice, she said, “You have to come. I think I killed the mayor.”

CHAPTER TWO

Blue Suede Boots

My heart dropped at the sight of two blue suede cowboy boots poking out from beneath the plastic sheet in the Downtown Merchant Association’s conference room. I hadn’t known Mayor Bill Wooster well, but I’d seen him a few times at Malone’s Diner, and every time he’d been wearing those boots.

Bill Wooster—or Mayor Bill, as most people called him—stood well over six feet tall, sported a pompadour like his hero, Elvis Presley, and a belly that strained the buttons on his extra-large dress shirts. But it was always those boots that caught my attention.

The first time I’d seen him walk into Malone’s, I’d leaned over to ask Stirling about the man’s curious resemblance to the king of Rock ’n’ Roll, but when he sauntered over to the jukebox, dropped in a coin, and selected “Blue Suede Shoes,” the collective groan in the place told me all I needed to know.

“Every day,” Stirling grumbled as he poked at his omelet and hash browns. “You’d think he’d give it a rest once in a while, but no. It’s got to be ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ every single day.”

After that, I could always tell when the mayor was on his way in by the swarm of people rushing to pay their bill. Needless to say, Mayor Bill never had to wait for a table.

I always wondered if he realized the effect he—or at least his music—had on people, but now I guess I’d never know.

Mayor Bill left a larger-than-life impression, and it was difficult to see a man like that lying lifeless under a black plastic sheet. For a long moment, I didn’t even notice the surrounding commotion. Then, all at once, it seemed there were paramedics and police and businesspeople all hurrying in and out of the association’s conference room.

Someone touched my elbow and pulled me from my thoughts.

“Rebecca, are you all right?”

The voice startled me, but it shouldn’t have. I knew Nick Devon was working today, and as one of the police department’s only detectives, it made sense he would be called to the scene.

“I think so,” I said.

When I looked up into those soft hazel eyes, it was almost true. Then my insides fluttered, and I had to drop my gaze to the silver badge clipped to his navy polo shirt collar so I wouldn’t lose my cool. We’d only been on one official date, which had already turned rocky even before the restaurant became a crime scene. When he’d walked me home that night, he’d asked if we could try again, but so far it hadn’t happened.

I’d promised myself I wouldn’t push—or ask for self-defense lessons—until he made a move, if that ever happened.

The way he was looking at me now gave me hope it might be soon. “It’s a shock, you know? I just saw him at Malone’s.”

Those familiar strains of “Blue Suede Shoes” played at the back of my mind, and I wondered if I’d ever be able to hear that song again without thinking of this man.

“Yeah, everybody’s on edge.” Nick pulled his notepad from the back pocket of his khakis and glanced around at the people still bustling around us, most in uniforms but others in business attire. “I need to clear the room, though. I’m sorry, but I have to ask you to step outside, too.”

The touch of his hand on the small of my back sent an electric current racing through me. When I stiffened, he pulled his hand away.

“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“No, it’s fine.” It would be weird to say it felt nice, so I changed the subject. “Have you seen Luna?”

His eyebrows pulled together. He was in full detective mode now. “Why do you want to talk to Luna?”

Why shouldn’t I want to talk to Luna? Her frantic words came flooding back to me. I think I killed the mayor.

It was an exaggeration, wasn’t it? Luna was the sweetest, kindest person I knew. After the Golden Oldies memorabilia shop closed and her job there ended, we’d grown pretty close. We’d only known each other about a month, but it had been an eventful month. She’d had my back when she barely knew me and had no reason to believe I was innocent when I’d been accused of murder. That alone had earned my gratitude, as well as my friendship. After Stirling and Aneksi, Luna was the only friend I had here in Citrus Grove.

“You don’t think she had anything to do with what happened to Mayor Bill, do you?”

Nick stared at me for what felt like an eternity before he answered. “It’s not about what I think. It’s what the evidence will prove.”

My heart dropped because when he talked like that, it meant he hadn’t ruled it out. That scared me. “Whatever happened, if she was involved, I know it had to be a mistake. You have to know that, too.”

He reached for my shoulder. “You have to calm down.”

When anyone told me to calm down, it inevitably had the opposite effect, even if that person was a tall, staggeringly handsome detective with a heart-melting smile. That was what happened now. I was struggling to keep my cool when a door opened, and Officer Brandt Meadows appeared.

Even in uniform, his shaggy, sun-bleached hair and Southern California tan usually matched his laid-back, surfer-boy attitude. At the moment, his attitude was anything but laid back. He was searching for someone.

When his glance landed on me, I braced. I’d been a suspect in a homicide investigation the last time we saw each other, but he’d still been kind to me. I wiggled my fingers in a little wave before spotting a halo of tight tawny curls behind him.

Luna!

I rushed past Officer Meadows with a quick apology and before Nick could stop me. “Luna, I came as quickly as I could. What happened?”

She rubbed her hands over her face before lifting her head to look at me, but I could see her eyes and cheeks were red from crying. She swallowed hard. “I didn’t do anything. I would never hurt anyone, but they’re acting like—” Her hands flew to her face again.

“Of course you wouldn’t hurt anyone.” I touched her arm to reassure her. “Whatever happened, I’m sure they’ll sort it out.”

By they, I meant Nick. He knew as well as I did what kind of person she was.

When he entered the room behind me, I expected him to reassure her.

Instead, he addressed me. “You can’t be in here, Rebecca. I need to speak to Luna alone.”

Luna’s shoulders shook with sobs.

“Give us a minute,” I begged.

“I can’t. You need to go with Officer Meadows.” He touched my elbow and whispered, “Please. I know you want to help, but you have to let me do my job.”

Couldn’t he see she was in no shape to answer questions?

“Please let us have a minute. What harm would that do?”

The sadness in his eyes was answer enough.

I was making things worse. “Okay, I’ll go.”

Luna’s hands had slipped down to her nose, and she was watching me with bloodshot eyes.

I leaned in closer. “I’ll be right outside that door. If you need anything, you let me know.”

She sniffled and nodded.

I backed away, but I held Nick’s gaze. “You know she had nothing to do with this. Please be kind.”

He gave me a half-hearted salute. “You have my word.”

End of Excerpt

This book will begin shipping July 8, 2024

Hisses, Hexes, and Homicide is currently available in digital format only:

ISBN: 978-1-964418-52-0

July 8, 2024

Digital:

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