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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Tell Tail Heart

A Cat Cafe Mystery

Cat Cafe Mystery Series (Volume 3)

Cate Conte

Minotaur Books


Chapter 1

“How do you suppose he can work with all this noise?” I nodded over the rim of my coffee cup at the guy sitting at one of the larger tables in my cat cafe, JJ’s House of Purrs. “He hasn’t even looked up from that computer, even when it sounded like they were taking down the wall right next to him. I mean, I’m glad he’s here drinking our coffee and eating our pastries, but wow. That’s some concentration.”

“Hmm?” My sister Val glanced up, distracted, from her cell phone, where she tapped out a text. I’d convinced her to have a cup of coffee with me since she’d stopped home in the middle of the afternoon, but she clearly wasn’t very engaged in our sister time. “What’d you say?”

“Jeez, you too?” I sighed and set my cup down on the nearest table. We’d opened the French doors between the living room and cafe room, and Val and I were camped out in the living room so as not to disturb my single guest. I didn’t even have to whisper so he wouldn’t hear us, the banging was so loud. “I wish I could ignore the noise. I’d be getting so much more done right now. I know it’s better to do all this now instead of during the season when we’re busy, but I just wish it was all done. You know, the banging? In case you hadn’t noticed?” I waved a hand around to indicate the sawing, hammering, and general construction noise from the other side of Grandpa Leo’s house. The work was necessary to fully convert the first floor into the layout I’d envisioned for the cafe, and for all intents and purposes it was going extremely well. But regardless, living in a construction zone wasn’t the most peaceful way to exist. Not for me, and certainly not for the feline residents of our cat cafe.

Aside from dust, errant nails, and new hidey-holes where I could lose a cat without even trying, the holes-in-my-walls thing just didn’t do it for me. Yes, I was a perfectionist, and yes, I liked everything just so, but who could blame me? Especially when it came to my places of business. And my house. Which, at this juncture in my career, were one and the same.

“If you’re gonna live in California, you’ve gotta get a little bit more laid back, Maddie,” my business partner, Ethan Birdsong, used to tell me all the time back in San Francisco.

Despite ten years there, that laid-back thing hadn’t really sunk in for me. I guess I was an East Coaster at heart.

Val’s thumbs raced over her keyboard, then with a final swish indicating her message was sailing to its recipient, she turned back to me. “Say that again? Oh, right. The noise. It’s not that bad.” She shrugged. “It will certainly be better than the ad hoc design we had before. Cats basically hanging out in the house with some extra tables and chairs.”

In her usual acerbic way, she was right about that. I’d opened the cat cafe along with Ethan and Grandpa as a joint business venture in a hurry over the summer, hoping to take advantage of the last push of the high season here in my hometown of Daybreak Harbor, on an island just off the coast of Massachusetts. Our efforts had been successful, despite the fact that we’d basically moved the cats into Grandpa’s house as is and hoped for the best.

But the house had been designed as, well, a house, and over a hundred years ago at that. Despite some remodels over the years, it still had the same basic design, and that design wasn’t a cafe with additional rooms and cubbies built for cats. So now the “cat cafe” was what used to be our dining room, when Grandma was alive and we had Sunday dinners. Now the dining room had been relocated to, well, wherever we ended up eating.

But soon it would be set up like a real cat cafe and the rest would be a real house. If we all lived through the remodel.

“True, but at least we got to open before the summer people left,” I countered. “It was good to get our name out there while all the vacationers were still on the island. We’re in good shape for next year. Especially with the good press.” My best friend, Becky Walsh, had been instrumental in that. As the editor of the Daybreak Island Chronicle, she’d gotten JJ’s House of Purrs front-page press when we opened, dubbing it “the genius brainchild of the island’s prodigal daughter, entrepreneur Maddie James.”

And my cat JJ had gotten even more press, which delighted me to no end. He’d had his own profile in the Chronicle, and to everyone’s delight, the Boston Globe had even run a short piece on the cafe in their Sunday edition, with JJ in the featured photo. The feel-good story of how he’d appeared at my grandmother’s graveside and basically adopted me over the summer and later inspired the cat cafe idea appealed not only to animal lovers but to anyone who was tired of bad news all the time. JJ had become quite the little orange celebrity.

I won’t lie, the publicity was kind of awesome. And genius brainchild? What could beat that label?

“Yeah, I guess it was good you made it work for the tourist season.” Val eyed the customer in question, who was still bent over his computer, completely fixated on whatever he was doing, pausing every so often to scribble in a black Moleskin notebook on the table next to him. Jasmine, our resident black-and-white long-haired cat, had curled herself contentedly into his lap. I might’ve thought he didn’t even know she was there, except that every so often he absently reached down and stroked her head.

Val nodded in his direction. “Anyway, he probably needs to be able to concentrate in his line of work. It must be second nature.”

I gave her a blank stare. “You know him?”

“Know him?” Val looked at me like I had two heads. “Sure. Who doesn’t?”

“I don’t know, me?” I said, exasperated. “Who is he?”

“That’s the writer guy who comes here every summer.”

“Writer?” I looked back at him with interest. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t place the face, although he admittedly was handsome. Dark wavy hair that he wore unkempt, full lips that were slightly off-kilter, and killer blue eyes behind a pair of small wire-rimmed glasses. “Really? What’s he write?”

Val rolled her eyes at my continued oblivion. “I can’t believe you don’t know him. That’s Jason Holt.”

Copyright © 2019 by Liz Mugavero