What on earth had Lili Goodweather done to him?
Widower Tanner Rutland couldn't believe it when he found himself tiptoeing through a redwood forest looking for a dead body. How could he think, even for a second, that Fluffy had witnessed a murder? It was no use. One look into her gorgeous eyes -- Lili's, not Fluffy's -- and Tanner was a goner.
And when he finally kissed her . . . pure magic.
Now he had to decide if Lili's gift with animals really did exist -- or if she just had a screw loose. But deep down, his heart was telling him to find the real killer and prove his Dr. Dolittle was innocent.
Award-winning author Jennifer Skully is back with her own unique brand of sexy humor in this terrific new romance. Don't miss it.
"Sinopsis" puede pertenecer a otra edición de este libro.
"CAN YOU REALLY talk to animals?"
Translation: "I don't believe you can. I also don't believe in ghosts, vampires or Bigfoot. And let's not even get into the Santa Claus myth."
Lili Goodweather was used to skepticism from adults, but not in twelve–year–old girls. Children had a wonderful capacity for believing in the unbelievable. Unless it got squashed out of them early on. Which was obvious in Erika Rutland's case.
A shivering tabby sheltered in her arms, the girl stood on Lili's back stoop, her grandfather a step behind her like a guardian angel. Erika's straight blond hair straggled over her shoulders and dark circles beneath her blue eyes contrasted with the pink glow of childhood innocence on her cheeks. Sign of a type A personality, poor kid.
Lili decided to save the metaphysical explanation of how she communicated with animals for later. "Yes, I can."
"Well, since you say you can, then will you try talking to Fluffy?" Erika cuddled the animal in her arms.
The cat's dilated pupils almost obscured the sunflower–yellow irises of his eyes, and the tremors coursing his back made the hair stand on end, giving him a fluffier than normal coat. A muddy blue aura like a churning river shrouded his body.
"Of course I will." Lili pushed open the screen door, letting in the warmth of the April afternoon.
Roscoe Rutland—Rascally Roscoe as Wanetta had called him—stuck out a steady hand and pumped Lili's with a firm grip. "We're happy you're living next door to us."
She'd officially moved into Wanetta Crump's house five days ago, but she'd met Erika and her grandfather during her many visits here when the elderly lady had been alive.
Roscoe had plenty of lines on his face, but they were happy lines, as if he laughed a lot and had thoroughly enjoyed his many years, which Lili guessed to be about sixty–five. He also seemed a bit on the thin side, as if he ate to live instead of living to eat.
With a sparkle in his blue eyes, he added, "And my son Tanner can't wait to meet you."
Lili had never met Erika's dad, the mysterious Tanner Rutland. All right, he wasn't really that mysterious, not like an ax murderer or anything, he just worked a lot and didn't seem to be home much. Lili had her doubts Tanner Rutland had professed any interest in meeting her. People often said exactly the opposite of what they meant out of politeness, and Roscoe's glowing statement sounded a little fishy.
Lili's long skirt swished across her knees and the tops of her boots as she backed up against the open screen door. "Welcome to my home." Saying that felt grand.
Stepping inside, Roscoe's gaze dropped to the checkerboard floor, which was once again black and white instead of gray...and gray. "You've done a great job with the place."
"Thank you." Wanetta's house had been built in the early 1900s, with a wide front veranda, a swing hanging from the porch rafters, shutters and dormer windows in a tiny third–floor attic. The upstairs bathroom had a claw–foot tub, and of the three bedrooms, Lili had taken one for an office. The living room fireplace would be wonderful for rainy winter nights, but the kitchen, even with its ancient appliances, was Lili's favorite spot. She often sat at Wanetta's big wood table in front of the window to watch the blue jays squawk at each other and dig for worms. The forest was almost in her backyard.
She'd spent the week cleaning from top to bottom, and was thankfully done, since tomorrow, Friday, she had to get back to work at the flower shop.
"Wanetta was grateful for the way you came running whenever one of her cats needed help. Not to mention the litter box problem." Roscoe plugged his nose dramatically.
"That was easy enough," Lili answered. Wanetta had left Lili with seven cats. This week, they'd gotten discombobulated with her move–in. Taking to hidey–holes throughout the small house, they had yet to come out, except at dinnertime or to slip through the laundry room cat door for a potty break. When Wanetta had first called on her in distress—she'd had a full house of twenty at the time—Lili had talked the cats into using the universal outdoor facilities instead of the indoor carpeting. The house was as fresh as a daisy now, after Wanetta had had the carpets torn out and discovered the hardwood underneath.
"I'm so glad she left you the house," Roscoe went on. "I can never thank her enough for that." Lili was terribly grateful for the lady's legacy to her. On her salary at the flower shop, Lili could never have bought a house, even in the little town of Benton, which was nestled in the mountain foothills an hour and a half south of San Francisco. The town was twenty minutes by bus from the beach (and the Boardwalk amusement park, which Lili loved) and the deep forest was only a tenminute walk outside the back door. As much as she missed her parents after their retirement move to Florida, she couldn't bring herself to leave her hometown. There was no more wonderful place on earth.
"Grandpa, do you think we could talk about Fluffy now?"
Lili understood how Erika felt. Adults, they talked, talked, talked, when there were more important things to be done. Such as getting to the business at hand and helping Fluffy.
"Why don't we sit down?" They all crowded around her kitchen table, she in the middle, Roscoe to her left, Erika on her other side with Fluffy in her lap.
Before Lili could do a thing, Fluffy growled low in his throat, and his gaze shifted to kitchen floor central.
Einstein had slipped in on silent kitty–cat paws and was now sitting in the middle of the checkerboard floor, her tail swishing. A regal Russian Blue with soft, sleek, silver–tipped fur, she'd been with Lili for seven years, and she was generally a great help in interpreting animal issues.
Looking at Einstein, Fluffy's muddy–blue aura shifted, deepening, swirling. Lili wasn't sure if other people saw auras the same way she did; she only knew how an animal's aura made her feel. And Fluffy was mad as all get–out at Einstein.
Einstein merely flicked her tail in irritation. "I don't think they like each other," Erika said as she rolled her fingers in Fluffy's coat. He settled, and his aura ceased swirling. Erika's touch obviously had a positive effect.
"Someone invaded somebody else's territory," Lili explained.
Einstein had been the invader when they'd first moved in, with an abrupt rebuke from Fluffy, and though Lili had hoped the two could get over the animosity, Fluffy wasn't backing down. Einstein claimed the marmalade male didn't like females who were more intelligent than he was.
The guy's a wimp. What self–respecting tomcat would answer to Fluffy?
Animals thought in pictures and most humans thought in words, but over time, Lili and Einstein had managed to translate their differing thought processes quickly. Lili received an image of a tomcat having his masculinity...er...Einstein could be very graphic in her imaging.
Have some sympathy, Lili admonished. People didn't realize that names were extremely important in the animal world. Names were images. Alpha dog. Protector. Fluffy lost all his dominance every time Erika called him by the name she'd given him. Animals revealed their names if their owners knew how to listen, not that animals could actually be owned, per se, especially not cats. If anything, it was the other way round; a cat owned its human. That was certainly true for Einstein.
But explaining all that to Roscoe and Erika right now was ill–timed. "Let's discuss how I talk to animals." "Yes, please." Erika regarded her with intense blue eyes. She had the serious gaze of an old person. Or a skeptic.
Lili flicked her long hair over her shoulders and clasped her hands in her lap. "Well, first I look at their colors." She touched Fluffy's marmalade fur. "Not the color of their coat, but the colors around their body." She cupped and circled her hands for effect. "Their mood is reflected in the colors encompassing them. Just like people."
"You mean an aura."
Lili beamed. "Yeah. An aura."
"It's supposed to be an electromagnetic field surrounding the body. But I've never seen one." Erika raised an almost white brow several shades lighter than her hair, and her meaning was clear. Since she'd never seen it, it probably didn't exist.
Skeptic she might be, but little Erika was a smart one. Where had she read about auras? "Not everyone can see them. You have to be...open."
"What's my aura look like?"
Well. Erika had a bit too much brown in her yellow aura, as if she were feeling stressed about school, or something. But Lili didn't want to tell her that. With a child, it could be counterproductive. "It's yellow. Which means you're creative, optimistic and easygoing."
Erika blinked. Once. "Okay."
Lili didn't think Erika was those things at all. But she had great potential if she could rid herself of the stress.
Finally, the little girl said, "How else do you communicate with animals?"
"Animals think in pictures. And I can see them. We sort of—" she tipped her head, thinking of the best way to describe how she communed "—send movies back and forth, like Netflix."
"Netflix are DVDs you send through the mail. I don't think that's how you do it." Obviously Erika was a literalist.
Roscoe made a sound a bit like a stifled snort. "It's the best analogy I could come up with," Lili offered.
"It was a very nice try." Ah. Erika was a polite literalist. "May we please begin? I have homework to finish, and my dad will be upset if I'm not done with it by the time he gets home." The child was definitely a tough nut to crack.
"You might as well face it, Lili, Erika doesn't think you can do it."
She'd dealt with a lot of nonbelievers. It didn't bother her. ...Review:
"Skully brings readers intense emotions, high-voltage drama and adventure." -- The Road to Romance
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