I’m thrilled to host author Claire Naden today with an excerpt from her debut novel, Cache Under the Stacks. Claire is a fellow board member of East Valley Authors, a chapter of Romance Writers of America. One of the great joys of belonging to a group like EVA is watching members go from aspiring author to published author.
And look at this cover! That little puppy on the spiral staircase is Claire’s own baby.
Huge congratulations, Claire, and without further ado, here is
Cache Under the Stacks
Cate Wagner, a divorced empty-nester sees a chance to make a new start when she inherits a thriving bookstore from her late great aunt until a phone call in the middle of the night wakes Cate, changing her life. The call is the first in a series of threats against her and Bungalow Books.
Is it what lies hidden under the stacks of Bungalow Books or is it simply a distraction that will deter Cate from finding the cache of valuable artifacts?
The ringing phone jarred me from a deep sleep. I glanced at the clock and reached across the cluttered night table for my phone. 2:00 a.m. Damn, who could be calling at this hour? “Hello,” I answered my voice tinged with an anxious waver. Middle of the night calls were never good, were they?
No response. Then heavy breathing.
I was about to hang up, when a deep, almost inaudible voice said: “Pay close attention and follow my instructions.”
Every trace of grogginess left me by that menacing command. My heartbeat rushed ahead of me.
“Who is this?”
“No need for you to be concerned with who I am. Cate, I’ve been watching your every move and followed you to your home in Pasadena. I must say you are not very observant of your surroundings. Today you wore a trench coat and carried a blue plaid umbrella.”
How does he know my name? This must be a sick joke. Or maybe a wrong number?
“I have planted a bomb at your bookstore and if you hang up the results will be catastrophic for you.”
My heart was nearly exploding in my chest.
He spoke in a calm, almost eerie voice. “I’m warning you not to contact the police.”
“Okay, tell me what you want.”
“Not quite yet.”
I waited for more but was met with a silence even more terrifying than the voice had been. I kept listening, waiting for him to speak.
“Hello. Are you there?”
He hung up.
My eyes popped open, and I groped for a plausible reason I should be awake at 6:00 a. m. on a Monday. And though something in my subconscious seemed to be gnawing at the back of my mind, I couldn’t quite grasp it. Damn Ambien!
I looked down at the floor beside my bed and saw my white, fluffy Maltese staring up at me.
“Okay, Minnie. I’m up.”
I slipped my iPhone into the pocket of my robe and followed my little dog to the French doors that led from my living room to the backyard. I let her out but not before scanning the yard. I gave her a few minutes to take care of business and walked back to my bathroom to brush my teeth.
Once in the kitchen I started the coffee and filled Minnie’s bowl, a sound that normally brought her scratching at the doors to be let back in but heard her barking in the distance. But when I returned to the French doors, she was nowhere to be seen.
I opened the doors. “Minnie!”
My dog was out of sight, but I could hear her angry barking somewhere beyond the grassy knoll adjacent to the pool. I stepped out onto the patio and called her name. It was strange for her to be so distracted as she wasn’t usually like that for once she finished her business, she was eager to come back into the house. I walked past the pool and noticed Minnie was sitting at the chain link fence looking down at the wooded arroyo beneath the house, barking ferociously. As I approached her, I looked over the chain link fence and saw a man in a black jacket staring up at us. Stunned and taken aback by the sight of him, I stepped back, turned, and said: “Minnie, into the house.” The Maltese looked up at me and made a mad dash for the house as I hastily followed her. Once I was safely inside although still shaken, I poured my usual cup of coffee. Trying to pull myself together, I walked into the living room and picked up the remote to turn on the television. As I sat down, I sipped my coffee and pulled out my phone. The first message was from my youngest son,
Checking in Mom, how about lunch or dinner sometime this week?
I texted back: Sure would love to. Decide what works for you and give me a call. Love, Mom.
The next text was not so pleasant:
Sorry to have woken you last night but I needed to get your attention. You may be biting off more than you can handle. If I were you, I would step back and rethink what you’re doing. Not everyone is as they appear to be.
The call. The voice. The threats. Now I wished my sons were back home living with me.
Hands clammy, I clicked off the television, got up and rushed through my morning routine. I ran a brush through my short blonde hair and headed straight to the walk-in closet and grabbed what I saw first: a pair of black pants, white tee shirt, and black sweater. I dressed quickly and slipped my feet into a pair of black flats.
As I raced down the hall to the kitchen, I stopped to turn off the coffee pot, and as I did so, my phone rang. “Oh shit, why must the phone ring now?” Thinking it was too early for the store to be calling, I answered the phone, “Hello.” Silence followed and then heavy breathing and as I was about to hang up, the voice said: “Pay close attention to every word I say.”
“Who are you and what do you want with me?”
“You’ll find out eventually. I’ve been watching you, and if you doubt what I’m saying, I can tell you that you stepped out in your backyard to call for your dog, Minnie. Cute but a barker. You would miss her if something happened to her.”
“How dare you threaten my dog? What do you want?”
My voice sounded braver than I felt. My heart was pounding in my chest.
“You’ll see. Don’t you go calling the police. That wouldn’t turn out very well for Minnie. Or you.”
His words felt like spiders creeping over my skin, leaving threads of fear behind them.
I waited for more. I strained to hear his voice over the sound of my shallow breathing.
Then I heard a dial tone.
About the Author
A native of California, I was born and raised in the Pasadena area and write under my pen name, Claire Naden. My husband and I still live here although we have talked about living elsewhere that is less expensive. I have two adult sons and two adorable granddaughters. We live in a condominium with precious pups, Minnie a 2 ½ year old Maltese who is a secondary character in my debut novel Cache Under the Stacks A Cate Wagner Mystery and Mandy a 2-year-old Terrier Mix. They keep us on our toes and give us hours of unconditional love and fun!
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