Title: The Cat Collector
Author: Lori Herter
Genre: Cozy Mystery/Romance
THE CAT COLLECTOR includes these novellas set in a picturesque suburb of Chicago:
The Coffee Caper: Veterinary Technician Claudia Bailey discovers the body of her church’s deceitful new minister. Detective Steve O’Rourke views her as a suspect. Nevertheless, she helps him look for clues, all the while treating a Maine Coon with a litter pan problem.
The Winged Witness: Claudia cares for an ill Himalayan brought to the cat clinic by a married couple. When the husband is found stabbed to death, Claudia once again finds herself helping handsome detective Steve solve the murder. Steve’s interest in Claudia grows, taking widowed Claudia by surprise. She’s become quite content with her single life.
The Clairvoyant Cat: Wrigley is a feline celebrity famous for predicting the winners of Cubs’ baseball games. When his wealthy owner is murdered during an attempted catnapping, Steve and Claudia must solve a newsworthy homicide that endangers Claudia. Her heart is also in danger of falling for Steve.
In a while, O’Rourke lithely ducked under the yellow tape stretched across the door and approached Claudia and Destiny.
“The paramedics are giving the lady inside oxygen. Is there someplace I can interview you?” he asked.
“Fellowship Hall,” Destiny said.
He followed them the twenty yards to the double doors of a rectangular brick building. Destiny found her keys and unlocked it.
Claudia assumed they all would go in, but he surprised her by asking Destiny to wait on the bench again under the uniformed officer’s watchful eye.
“Come with me, please,” he said to Claudia, who wondered if she was a suspect because she’d found McGrath.
A long table and folding chairs had been set up for a committee meeting in one corner of the large, linoleum-tiled hall. He asked her to sit down and he took a seat across from her. He pulled out a notepad and then a digital recorder and set them on the table between them, causing Claudia to draw in a deep, uneasy breath. She’d never been under the scrutiny of a police detective before. Or been part of a crime scene.
“Just routine.” He asked for her full name and wrote it down. He turned on the recorder and stated the time and place, and who was present. Then he looked up at her. “You said you came to talk to the pastor? What time did you get here?”
“About nine-fifteen,” she replied, being as accurate as she could. “The church office opens at nine. I saw his red car.”
O’Rourke nodded. “What did you want to talk to him about?”
She had to pull her thoughts together, rubbing her forehead with a shaking hand. “I knew he’d erased a program on the church calendar without telling anyone, blaming it on his secretary. He’s been threatening her job, and Destiny’s, too. Verna said she didn’t erase it, and I believed her. I wanted to confront him about his lie.”
“Is Verna the woman getting oxygen?”
“Yes. And Destiny’s the receptionist waiting outside.”
O’Rourke made a note. “Who else works in the church office, or has access?”
“Mattie’s the bookkeeper, but she’s recovering from heart surgery. Sue Ember, a church member, has been filling in for her.”
The detective wrote on his pad, asking Claudia to spell everyone’s full name. He looked up and raised one eyebrow. “Did you like McGrath?”
Claudia chewed her lip for a moment, wondering how much she should say. Sometimes she was too honest for her own good. But she knew being truthful was always best when dealing with the police. And he might find her input helpful.
“No. He was misusing church funds and lying to people. He’s been here six months, and some of us think he came with a hidden agenda. He was extremely conservative.” She explained how he’d put the kibosh on the Trialogue. “But he has . . . did have loyal followers like Sue Ember. They thought he was wonderful.”
O’Rourke looked at her directly, his brown eyes unblinking. “Where were you before you came here to talk to him? Home?”
“At work. The clinic opens at seven on Wednesday.”
“The Briarwood Cat Clinic on Main Street. I’m a licensed veterinary technician.”
He eyed her clothes. “That’s why you’re wearing this outfit with cartoon cats, I suppose.”
Claudia looked down at the tunic top she wore over white pants, one of several cheerfully printed scrubs she owned. Her face felt a bit warm as she figured this no-nonsense police detective probably thought it looked childish.
“Were you alone at the clinic?” he asked.
“No, everyone was there. The veterinarian, the receptionist, the groomer and the woman who runs the office.”
“So they can vouch for your whereabouts.”
Claudia straightened her back against the metal chair. “You mean, do I have an alibi?” She felt affronted. “Yes, everyone saw me at work this morning.” She paused. “I don’t know what time McGrath died. I live alone and no one can attest that I was at home before I left for work.”
“His body is still warm,” O’Rourke said. “Probably dead less than an hour. But I have to ask these questions.”
She bowed her head and nodded that she understood, nevertheless feeling horrified that he had thought she might be capable of murder.
“You have any reason to think McGrath might have killed himself?”
Claudia blinked at the idea. “He was too much of a narcissist.” Her tone grew a bit sarcastic. “Besides, suicide is a sin and he wouldn’t have wanted to meet his Maker that way.”
Immediately she wondered if she should have blurted that out.
O’Rourke smiled slightly as he wrote something more on his notepad. “I’ll need your address and phone. May have further questions for you.”
She gave him her information. As he wrote it down, he said without looking up, “You live alone. You’re single?”
“A widow. My husband died several years ago.”
He folded up his notepad and turned off the digital recorder. “Thank you. You can go now.” He pulled a card out of his suit jacket. “Call me if you think of anything that might be pertinent,” he said, looking up as he gave it to her.
Claudia’s hand was still shaking as she took the card. She felt a little strange and lost as she met his steady gaze.
O’Rourke’s eyes softened. “Finding a dead body is a shock. But you seem like a strong person.” He rose from his chair. “You’ll be okay,” he added, reassurance in his voice.
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The Cat Collector features three lovable felines who each play a part in a trio of mysteries, including a Himalayan named Jasmine whose medical emergency is based on the author’s own beloved Himalayan.
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Lori Herter grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, graduated from the University of Illinois, Chicago Campus, and worked for several years at the Chicago Association of Commerce & Industry. She married her husband Jerry and they moved to Southern California a few decades ago. They have been “mom and dad” to a number of cats over the years. Lori has written romance novels published by Dell, Silhouette and Harlequin. She’s published several romantic vampire novels with Berkley, and a book set in Ireland featuring Irish fairy lore, titled THE THIN PLACE, available on Amazon.
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