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READ THE EXCLUSIVE FICTION
Food sits in the pantry. Third shelf from the bottom, dry on the left, cans on the right. Eye level for Ophelia, but more than a stretch for me. But first, there’s the matter of the door. “Maybe if I stick my paw in here,” I say to Annie, the Articulate Abyssinian and my best friend in the colony. “And turn it like this . . .OUCH!”
“Let me.” Annie nudges me out of the way and sits down to think about her next move.
Annie’s older than me, smarter too because she’s travelled; living in embassies and meeting important people before landing here. She doesn’t talk about how that happened, but it’s not hard to imagine. Everyone in the colony is what Ophelia called a survivor, including herself. Which is why I can’t believe she’s gone. Lying at the bottom of the stairs, dead so the others say, and they’re probably right. But I can’t stop thinking that any second now she’ll get up, open the big front door and the day will start over again.
“We have to open this from the bottom,” Annie says. “When I push the door back, you stick your head in to hold it.” She glances over at me. “Ready?”
I nod and together we get that door all the way open.
We’ve always been a good team, Annie and me. I was six weeks old when I came here – rescued from a dumpster so I’ve been told – and she took me under her wing. Taught me which cats would tolerate my ninja ways and which ones would knock me into tomorrow if I went near.
The worst curmudgeons are finally gone and the colony is peaceful, more organized, pretty near perfect. If Ophelia hadn’t let that Newcomer in, none of this would have happened. But if he was poking around our yard after dark, there’s no way she would have let him just walk away.
“Cats should be inside when it’s dark,” she always said. “Or Kiotee’ll get you.”
I’ve never seen Kiotee, but I believed her. And I know she would have used every treat in the bag to get Newcomer inside where it was safe because that’s who she was. The lady who helped any cat in need. Even the ungrateful ones.
“Now how do we get the bag down?” I ask Annie.
“You jump,” Newcomer says, strolling into the kitchen like he belongs there.
Annie narrows her eyes at him. “I take it you’ve done this kind of thing before.”
“Once or twice.” He looks up at the shelf. “It’s all about the timing. Grabbing the bag on the way up and taking it back down with you. Making sure you get out of the way before it lands, of course.”
“Piece of cake,” Annie says.
“Absolutely.” He goes into a crouch. “You should stand back a little.”
He’s not much to look at – basic black and too skinny to be called sleek. But he’s a good jumper, and he’s got interesting green eyes that seemed to shine even brighter earlier, when he was spitting and growling and spoiling for a fight in the living room. If I’d know he was in the house, I would have warned him not to challenge Bernard. That cat didn’t get to be head of the colony by democratic vote. He’s huge and strong and he fights dirty; taking a challenger off guard with a couple of good, hard blows to the head before the growling ritual is even finished, then hanging on to the lead by whatever means I figured Newcomer only escaped a beating because Ophelia hollered at them from the top of the stairs. But watching him up there with his claws stuck in the bag and the rest of him dangling in mid- air, gives me pause. The boy is strong and not too bright. Might have given Bernard a run for his money after all, something Ophelia would have liked.
“How’s it going?” I ask.
“Swimmingly,” he says, arching his back and swinging from side to side. Sure enough, the bag starts to move forward little bit by little bit.
“You’re going to regret this,” Annie says to him.
“Not when I’m filling my face with delicious crunchies.” He arches one more time. “This is it,” he yells and that food bag starts to tip, almost in slow motion with his claws still in it. Is he stuck or stupid? “Let go,” Annie and I shout and suddenly he jerks his body to one side, turns a flip in the air and lands on his feet as that bag crashes down in front of us. The side splits open, crunchies fly in every direction and the rest of the colony is already on the way; Scruffy skidding around the corner, the Calico twins falling over each other and Sneaky Manx thinking no one sees her under that chair.
“Nice work,” she purrs to Newcomer. “You must be really hungry.”
“No food for him,” Old Tom says, giving Newcomer a shove. “And nothing for you either,” he Boots lowers his head, starts to back away.
I stop him and face Old Tom. “That’s not fair. Ophelia’s death was not their fault.”
“Opinion is split on that issue,” Bernard says, strolling past Newcomer and Boots to where the crunchies are deepest. “Until the matter is settled by a vote, neither of them eat.”
Newcomer turns to leave. “I got things to do anyway.”
“Where are you going?” Tom demands.
“To find a way out.” He glances back at me. “Care to help?”
“Fluffy, don’t,” Annie whispers and my cowardly feet stay put.
“I’ll help you, sugar,” Sneaky Manx says and sidles up to Newcomer. “Where do we start?”
“Second floor,” he says, and I wonder if I’m the only one who caught the slow blink she gave Old Tom as they left.
READ THE BLURB
What happens when an everyday Cinderella makes a play for the prince?
A moment of madness. That’s all muralist Sunny Anderson expected when she donned a glittering mask and a fabulous gown to crash the gala at Manhattan’s newest boutique hotel. Project manager Michael Wolfe has no idea that the beauty staring up at the mural on the ballroom ceiling is also the artist who painted it. He’s captivated and she’s willing, but when their moment of madness on the sofa in his suite comes to an abrupt end, his princess is off and running, leaving nothing behind but a pair of earrings. He’s determined to find her again, but all he has to do is look closer at the woman painting the mural in his office to see that the one he needs is standing right in front of him.
READ AN EXCERPT
Sunny’s feet moved of their own accord and she stared straight ahead, horrified and thrilled at the same time. Wondering what she was playing at and not at all surprised when he fell into step beside her.
This was why she wasn’t ready to leave, she realized. She was enjoying herself too much. Enjoying the fact that as Sonja she could do anything or say anything. Be shocking and sexy, and make Michael Wolfe sit up and take notice.
She glanced over at him as they walked, feeling beautiful, powerful, but most of all desirable. Because if that wasn’t hunger she saw in those dark eyes, then she’d been out of circulation for far too long.
Which was a distinct possibility given that her last sexual encounter had been almost a year ago in the back of Vince Cerqua’s convertible when the top wasn’t the only thing that wouldn’t go up. She’d spent the drive home assuring him that it happened to men all the time; at least that was what she heard in the tearoom.
She felt her face warm, knowing instinctively that Michael’s top would never let him down. Not that she wanted to find out. Not really. Not now, at any rate.
“Where will you be going in the morning?” he asked.
He drew his head back and she laughed. “There’s a theater group I’m rather fond of. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. I’m just a wanderer. Never in one place long enough to plant a garden as they say.”
“Is that what you’d like to do? Plant a garden?”
“Yes,” she said, slipping in a touch of Sunny, but staying true to Sonja. “Of course, with so many emerging artists, I’m not thinking about that right now.”
He stopped and took her hand. “What are you thinking about?”
Trouble. And sex. Mostly sex. For all the good it did her.
Truth to tell, Sunny wasn’t the kind to have a onenight stand. She was conservative in her thinking and cautious when it came to matters of the heart. She was the kind who delivered hampers at Christmas, painted faces at the community center on Halloween, and made sure her organdonor card was signed. No question about it, she was Sunny the good: Balanced.
Friendly. And utterly predictable.
But Sonja? Now there was a real vixen. A woman who traveled the world, took risks every day, and was never, ever predictable. It seemed a shame to make her leave the ball so early when she was only in town for one night. And Sunny had the rest of her life to spend being good. Michael ran his thumb across hers and the pull was stronger than ever, bringing her back a step. After all, it wasn’t as though he was a total stranger, some masked man she picked up at the sushi bar. This was Michael Wolfe, Beast of Brighton, Terror of the Tradesmen. And she already knew he looked good without a shirt.
Maybe Hugh was right. Maybe a moment of madness was good for the soul.
The music changed again, the singer launching into a slow, sultry torch song that begged an answer to the question women had been asking for centuries: what is it with men and commitment?
Sunny had wrestled with that issue herself for years, convinced that the boy she’d loved too much would come back for her one day. Pale and contrite, wanting nothing more than to love her the way he should have all along. But commitment wasn’t on her mind at all when she twined her fingers with Michael’s and gave him Sonja’s best comehither smile. “I’m thinking we should go to your place,” she said, and was sure she was floating as they headed for the door.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Lynda Simmons is a writer by day, college instructor by night and a late sleeper on weekends.
She grew up in Toronto reading Greek mythology, bringing home stray cats and making up stories about bodies in the basement. From an early age, her family knew she would either end up as a writer or the old lady with a hundred cats. As luck would have it, she married a man with allergies so writing it was.
With two daughters to raise, Lynda and her husband moved into a lovely two storey mortgage in Burlington, a small city on the water just outside Toronto. While the girls are grown and gone, Lynda and her husband are still there. And yes, there is a cat a beautiful, if spoiled, Birman. When she's not writing or teaching, Lynda gives serious thought to using the treadmill in her basement. Fortunately, she's found that if she waits long enough, something urgent will pop up and save her like a phone call or an email or a whistling kettle. Or even that cat just looking for a little more attention!
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