A Purr-fect Relic Cozy Mystery, Book 1
Release Date:

Jun 5, 2024



More From DeAnna →

Paws, Claws, and Curses


DeAnna Drake

What are cursed artifacts, a talking cat, and a dead body doing in the sweet little town of Citrus Grove? That’s what spirited shopkeeper Rebecca Cuthbert wants to find out, and she had better do it fast because she’s the prime suspect in the murder of the town’s shadiest antiquities dealer.

It’s a troubling start to her reunion with her long-lost grandfather and a far cry from the Southern California vacation she was expecting. So far, nothing in Citrus Grove is quite what it seems. Not her grandfather, who suspiciously disappears at the strangest times, not his curious antique shop, which has more secrets than customers, and certainly not the oddball neighbors, with their hidden motives and questionable connections.

As Rebecca races against time with her new feline friend to uncover the truth behind a mysterious murder, she finds herself tangled in a web of danger and deceit as captivating as Queen Cleopatra herself. With help from unexpected allies and an often-exasperating, yet undeniably handsome detective, Rebecca must outwit the cunning killer before she becomes the next victim.

Dig into this delightful series of cozy mysteries filled with quirky humor, friendships, ancient mysteries, and magic.

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A Paw-ticular Problem

“I have Cleopatra’s cat,” a raspy, British guy croaked over the shop’s phone.

A week ago, I would have hung up and dismissed the call as a prank, but since I’d arrived in Citrus Grove—a sleepy Southern California town that more closely resembled Mayberry than Malibu—I’d learned to expect the unexpected. That was especially true here in my grandfather’s shop, where he technically sold antiques, just not the typical variety. There were no vintage gramophones or old silver tea sets. No tin lunch boxes with Scooby-Doo and the gang.

His antiques and what he called faux relics—he also allowed the term replicas but definitely not fakes, I’d learned that the hard way—leaned more toward the Hollywood prop shop variety. Imagine the kind of things someone would see on the sets of those adventure movies featuring ancient artifacts and chiseled, whip-cracking hotties.

Since I was here at least partly because the shop’s former manager had swiped some family heirlooms my grandfather had inherited from his globe-trotting granddad, which included an old feline figurine from Egypt, the caller had my complete attention.

“Hold on a sec. I’ll get the owner.” I set down the phone’s receiver and poked my head out of the back office to look for Stirling, but he was already gone.

“Sorry about that,” I said when I picked up the phone again. “He seems to have stepped out, but I can help you.”

“Who are you?” the caller barked.

“I’m Rebecca. I’m—”

“No. I need to speak with Stirling.” The caller coughed and continued in a voice even hoarser than before. “When will your grandfather be back?”

“How did—” I stopped.

I might be new to Cuthbert Exotic Antiques, but I’d spent the better part of my twenty-six years behind a cash register, and I knew it wasn’t good business to question customers, even if they were rude and claimed to have stolen property. Still, I’d only learned Stirling was my grandfather two weeks ago, so how could the caller possibly know?

“What I mean is,” I continued, assuming the man must know Stirling and had heard about our recent reunion, “we’re happy to hear the item is safe. If you’ll give me your name and number, I’ll have my grandfather return your call as soon as possible.”

Another cough filled the line. When it subsided, the caller said, “I need him here. Now.”

That was not a British accent. Maybe Australian? What I knew for sure was the frustration in the man’s voice was growing by the second.

Talk about bad timing. It had taken me all day to persuade my grandfather to go home and rest. He’d said he was just a little tired after a bad night’s sleep, but people who were only a little tired didn’t fall asleep while making tea or while watching an online auction for ancient Egyptian faience beads.

Okay, maybe the auction was a snoozer, but by three, the poor guy didn’t even have the energy to push his wire-rimmed bifocals back into place. For an hour, they sat teetering on the end of his nose.

When I caught him snoring in front of the computer, I nudged him awake and assured him I’d been helping my parents run their bookstore since I was old enough to see over the counter. I promised I’d been paying attention when he and I closed the shop together the past few nights and that I was more than capable of handling it alone.

He reluctantly agreed to head home, probably because we hadn’t had a single customer all day, anyway.

But now, not fifteen minutes after his exit, this happened.

“May I put you on hold?” I asked the anxious caller. “I’ll see if I can track him down.”

I dialed the landline in Stirling’s apartment, the only option since he didn’t own a cell phone. He lived a few doors away, in an apartment above a barbershop, so I expected him to pick up.

He didn’t. After eight rings, I hung up and bit my thumbnail. What would Stirling want me to do? We rarely discussed the theft or the ex-manager behind it. My grandfather had only mentioned it in passing when he’d called that first time after the funeral because he wanted me to know why he couldn’t come to Montana to meet me.

He couldn’t leave town, he’d said, because he was hoping the police would track down the thief and retrieve his stolen property.

Even in that short conversation, I’d felt the magnitude of his loss. When he said the stolen items were part of a personal collection that held mostly sentimental value, it reminded me of my father. He’d kept a box under his bed that was filled with tattered volumes of ancient histories and myths that would never be considered valuable in the traditional sense, yet they meant the world to him.

I sensed the same devotion in Stirling, and it made me wonder what other qualities they shared and what had kept them apart all these years. I suppose that was one reason I said yes when Stirling asked if I’d be interested in visiting him.

The fact that I needed a distraction from my own problems sealed the deal. Helping my newfound grandfather navigate this difficult time in his life meant I wouldn’t have to navigate my own, at least for a while.

I switched the line back to the caller. “I couldn’t reach him, but the shop closes in an hour. Can I take a message? I’ll be sure he gets it.”

“Yes! I must see him as soon as possible.”

I thought the guy was going to jump through the receiver.

After another coughing fit, he added, “The name is Gunther Vernon. He knows me. Tell him to come as soon as he can.”

“Does he have your address?”

He gave it to me, and I scribbled it on a yellow sticky note.

“It’s urgent. Understand?”

Normally, I’d push back on a pushy customer, but this guy was trying to return something that belonged to Stirling. So, I let it slide and assured him I was happy to help.

It was the truth. Getting that heirloom back would make Stirling’s day, and that made me want to drop everything and run to his apartment to deliver the good news. But I still had a shop to watch, so I had to be patient.

Unfortunately, patience wasn’t my strong suit.

To distract myself from the ticking clock, I filled the shop’s electric kettle with water and browsed through the drawer full of colorful boxes and bags of tea. Coffee was my preferred source of caffeine, but my grandfather was a tea drinker, so for the past few days I’d been trying to make do. I’d tried a few different varieties, and so far, the Scottish breakfast tea was my favorite. It was nearly as robust as coffee, offered a noticeable jolt of caffeine, and was so smooth it didn’t need sugar.

You only live once, though, so I still added a couple teaspoons of the sweet stuff after dropping the tea bag into a cup and dousing it with the almost-boiling water from the kettle.

Despite the diversion, I couldn’t stop thinking about the phone call and Stirling. So, I did what I always do when I’m nervous or stressed or both. I cleaned. I found a dust cloth in the storage room—which was really more of a closet—and got to work.

My grandfather kept a tidy shop. All the tiny statues of Egyptian gods were arranged in neat rows in the cabinets, an assortment of turquoise and carnelian collar necklaces and bracelets were carefully displayed in a glass case, and the brass lanterns hung attractively from the ceiling. Everything had its place.

But dust was everywhere. In some spots, it was hardly noticeable, like the counter near the cash register. Other places had a layer so thick you could see a trail when you dragged a fingertip through it. Those were the areas I went after, with occasional pauses for a sip of tea.

The stuff wasn’t half bad once I got used to it.

I cleaned and nursed my tea until something occurred to me. A concern, actually, tangled in a question. Why disturb my exhausted grandfather and send him off to retrieve something I could easily get myself?

Not only that, but Gunther Vernon was also obviously sick, so exposing Stirling to that couldn’t be a good idea. He seemed to be an exceptionally healthy septuagenarian, but why take the chance of getting him infected with whatever that man had? My grandfather would need a ride to the man’s place anyway since Stirling didn’t own a car.

I should just go myself. It made more sense, and it would be a nice surprise for him. Getting back one of his stolen items was the least I could do to thank him for all the warm hospitality he’d shown me since I’d arrived.

I stared at the address on the yellow sticky note. Five forty-two South Partridge Lane. I pulled out my phone and typed in the address. A red pin on a map marked a spot several blocks away.

Close, but not within walking distance. Stirling would definitely need a ride.

Closing time was still a half-hour away, but what were the chances anyone would come in now when the shop had been deserted all day? None, I told myself as I rinsed my cup in the washroom sink, flipped the open sign to closed, and locked the doors.

Once I reached my faded blue Subaru hatchback, parked on the street a half a block away, there was no looking back. If Stirling returned to the shop and found me gone, he’d forgive me when he saw his Cleopatra’s cat. That was what mattered.

At least I hoped it was.

End of Excerpt

Paws, Claws, and Curses is currently available in digital format only:

ISBN: 978-1-964418-32-2

June 5, 2024

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