Mitch ran a hand over his tired eyes. He checked the clock on his dashboard, 1:00 a.m. It had been another long day, and he wasn’t any closer to catching the man who’d brutally murdered a couple in their home. All evidence indicated that the couple had come home and surprised someone in the act of robbing them. The would-be robber had shot both victims in the chest and then escaped on foot. Several of the neighbors reported hearing the shots. Two people saw a man of medium height and build running away from the scene, but they could not provide any other details.
It had been three weeks since the murder, and Mitch was beginning to wonder if they were ever going to catch a break. He’d interviewed members of a local gang, but they’d all had solid alibis. He’d questioned the neighbors several times about any unusual activity leading up to the night of the murders, but nothing had surfaced. He was also digging into the lives of the murdered couple, thinking maybe someone only wanted it to look like an attempted robbery. So far, he’d come up empty. Without any physical evidence, it was just a guessing game at this point.
He turned a corner a few blocks from his apartment building and spotted a teenager walking down the sidewalk. He had his shoulders hunched and his hands shoved into his pockets. Mitch rolled down his window and pulled up alongside the kid. The boy glanced over and quickened his pace.
“Easy, kid. I’m a cop. I just want to talk with you.”
“Leave me alone,” the boy mumbled. “I ain’t done nothing.”
“It’s one o’clock in the morning. Do your parents know where you are?” Mitch asked.
The kid didn’t answer. Mitch moved the car a few yards ahead of the boy and stopped. He opened the door and stepped out in front of him.
“Come on, let me drive you home,” he said.
“You’re nuts if you think I’m gettin’ in that car with you,” the boy replied. “I ain’t stupid.”
Mitch pulled out his badge and showed it to the boy who’d stopped a few feet away from him.
“That don’t mean nothing,” the kid replied, his eyes darting around looking for an escape route.
“Look, kid, I’m tired and I just want to go home and collapse. I can’t leave you wandering the streets alone at this time of the night. You’re right to be wary. There are a ton of nut jobs out here, but I’m not one of them. Now, get in the car and let me drive you home.”
The boy stood indecisively for several seconds. Finally, he nodded and walked around to the passenger side of Mitch’s car. He slid in and slammed the door.
Mitch got in and turned to him. “Where to?” he asked.
The boy shrugged. “I don’t know the address, but I can tell you how to get there.”
“You don’t know your address?”
“I just moved in today, okay?” the kid responded defensively.
Mitch sighed, trying to hang on to his patience. “Okay, which way?”
Jerking a thumb over his shoulder, he replied, “You need to turn around.”
Mitch turned the car and headed back the way he had come. Of all the nights I had to run into a kid roaming the streets, it had to be tonight, he thought irritably.
He was surprised when the kid directed him to an upscale neighborhood. Based on his unkempt appearance, he’d assumed he was poor.
“So, what were you doing wandering the streets in the middle of the night, anyway? Were you running away?”
The boy shrugged and continued to stare out the window.
“What’s your name, kid?” Mitch asked.
“Ethan, what?” Mitch prodded.
“Summers. This is the house,” Ethan replied, pointing to a gray, two-story house with maroon shutters sitting at the end of a cul-de-sac. The lawn was perfectly manicured. The house definitely didn’t match the boy.
Mitch turned into the drive and killed the motor.
Ethan threw him a worried look. “You don’t need to come with me.”
Mitch grinned at him. “Sorry, kid. I need to make sure your parents know you were out wandering the streets in the middle of the night.”
Ethan glared angrily at Mitch. Then he threw open his door, got out, and slammed it shut.
Mitch walked with him to the front door and rang the bell. A minute later, he heard a loud crash, followed by a mumbled curse.
“Coming!” a female voice called out.
Moments later, a tall, slender, redhead answered the door. Mitch could see a broken lamp laying on the floor behind her. Her green eyes narrowed on the boy. “Ethan, what’s going on?”
He stared at the tops of his shoes, refusing to look up. The woman swung her gaze to Mitch.
When their eyes met, his mind went completely blank. He’d been about to say something, but for the life of him, he couldn’t remember what it had been. Wow, her eyes are gorgeous, he thought as he stared into them.
“Who are you and why is Ethan with you?” Her voice held a sharp edge to it.
Mitch glanced blankly down at the boy. Struggling to find an answer, he thought, I must be more tired than I thought. Why am I here? Oh, yeah, now I remember.
“My name’s Mitch Holt, ma’am. I’m a detective with the Spring Valley police department. I found Ethan walking down Third Street. I gave him a ride home. Did you know he was out?”
The woman’s eyes widened in surprise. Mitch didn’t look like the typical police detective. His blond hair curled down over his collar. Wearing a bright yellow polo shirt and khakis, he looked more like a surfer than a cop. She shook her head. “No,” she replied.
“Can I go to my room, now?” Ethan asked.
“Yes,” the woman replied, stepping back to let him pass. She watched him walk up the stairs, a worried expression on her face.
“Does he sneak out often?” Mitch asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “He just moved in with me today.” She turned her gaze back to Mitch. “I’m his foster mom,” she added in explanation.
“Looks like you have your work cut out for you,” Mitch commented.
She sighed tiredly, her shoulders slumping. “Yes, it does, doesn’t it? To be honest, I feel like I might have gotten in a little over my head.”
“Just be firm. You’ve got to establish the rules early. Don’t let this go without some kind of consequence. Otherwise, he’ll think he can get away with anything,” Mitch offered helpfully.
“That’s what they told us in foster parent training class. I think making him follow rules might be easier said than done,” she replied. She straightened her shoulders and said, “Well, I won’t keep you any longer. Thank you for bringing him home.”
“No problem.” Mitch pulled a card out of his wallet. “Feel free to call me, if you have any other problems with him. As far as I could tell, he was just out for a walk. I don’t think he had any other intentions. I didn’t smell alcohol or marijuana on him.”
She nodded and took the card. “That’s good, I guess.”
Mitch turned to go. Remembering he’d never asked her name, he turned back. She had the door halfway closed.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but I didn’t get your name.”
“Catherine James,” she replied.
“Good luck, Catherine.”
Mitch arrived home around 2:00 a.m. He didn’t bother to turn on a light as he stumbled toward his bedroom. He was just about to the bed, when his foot caught on something. Losing his balance, he crashed face-first into the floor.
“Damned cat!” Mitch bellowed, pushing himself onto his elbows.
The big orange tabby walked over and rubbed its head against Mitch’s shoulder. “Next time, get out of the way, will ya?”
Grasping the bed for support, he pulled himself to his feet. Roscoe was sleeping in the middle of the bed. He raised his head and thumped his tail at Mitch. Rebecca had been right. Roscoe and the cat already acted like buddies, and it had only been a couple of days. He sighed as he slipped off his shoes. Not bothering to undress, he fell onto the bed and was asleep within seconds.
From the author of “Dogs Aren’t Men” comes “To Love a Cat”, a contemporary romance novel.
Catherine “Cat” James’ life is simple and orderly, and she likes it that way. She loves her job as an accountant. Working with numbers is safe and routine, no surprises. Her childhood had been very abusive and unstable. She vowed not to live that way as an adult. She also made a promise to herself to become a foster parent. She wished someone had been there for her as a teenager, to let her know she wasn’t alone.
Cat agrees to foster Ethan Summers, a troubled teenage boy whose childhood closely resembles her own. Suddenly, her nice and orderly life is filled with chaos and uncertainty. Things really start to spin out of control when circumstances bring police detective Mitch Holt into the picture. He’s handsome, charming, and definitely not what Cat needs right now, or so she thinks.
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Genre – Contemporary Romance
Rating – PG
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