Clea Simon | Grey Expectations

Grey Expectations Cover

Grey Expectations available now!

The new Dulcie Schwartz feline mystery: Could a missing book be haunted? Dulcie Schwartz doesn’t want to think so, but ever since it disappeared from the university, things have gone from bad to worse – one of her colleagues accused of homicide, and another revealed as an impostor. To top it all off, both the ghost cat Mr Grey and the kitten Esmé seem to have switched their allegiance to her boyfriend. Deprived of feline assistance, Dulcie must uncover the truth by herself, or else find herself on the hook for the theft – and murder.

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Excerpt from Grey Expectations:

The horses thundered on, as if drawn by traces unseen to their destination. Miles beyond the cresting ridge they they had carried her without pause, but her thoughts lay elsewhere, lost in the inky night. Writing, she should be writing, and yet she journey’d on this dark path. Propelled to continue on, not by fear or base desire, but from a strange and wond’rous destiny, a dream that so moved her, she traveled. Exhausted, spent in both body and soul far beyond what mortal woman should endure, she clung to the carriage bench, its worn leather no longer soft beneath her hands as the seemingly everlasting night faded into dawn. An hour more, perhaps two, before the horses would be changed. An hour or two before she could–

“Stop!” Dulcie woke with a start. “Bad Esmé. That hurt!”

If anything could bring Dulcie back to the light of day, it was her kitten. Specifically, her kitten’s teeth. Dulcie had been dozing, lost in a dream. Oblivious to the book on her lap, she must have let her hand slide off the page to dangle by her side. Maybe she’d even twitched. At any rate, she liked to think there had been a provocation. Dulcie didn’t want to believe the little tuxedo cat would just bite her for no reason.

“No!” She tried to sound firm, shaking her finger in what she intended as a stern gesture. “No biting. No. Bad kit–” Dulcie stopped herself. The last thing she wanted was for the young animal to develop self-esteem issues. Unlikely, true, but when acting in loco parentis one couldn’t be too careful. “Bad behavior,” she corrected herself, as well as the young feline. “Biting is a bad thing to do.”

But the extended digit offered too much temptation, and the kitten grabbed it. And while the claws in her neat white paws were sheathed, her teeth sunk into soft flesh.

“Ow!” Dulcie tried to extricate her hand, all thoughts of socially correct pet parenting momentarily shelved. “Esmé!” Every move, though, only served to egg on the overexcited kitten who now had her front legs wrapped around the offending hand. “Let go!”

The little cat only held on tighter and started to kick with her white hind booties. In desperation, Dulcie pulled back – and knocked the heavy book on her lap to the floor. The ensuing “thump” finally served to interrupt the kitten’s frenzy, distracting her enough to allow Dulcie to free herself. Deprived of prey, the cat sat back and eyed her person. Like the kitten, Dulcie was on the small side, with a tendency toward plumpness. Unlike the kitten, Dulcie’s hair was brown, with a reddish cast and a pronounced tendency to curl, especially as late May brought the first wave of humidity to the city. For a moment, though, the two resembled each other. Esmé hesitating, as if wondering where to pounce next. Dulcie considering her small but rambunctious pet. And then, as if heeding some inner summons, the kitten turned and bounded out of the room, allowing Dulcie to turn her attention back to work.

Instead, Dulcie watched the kitten bounce off with a smile. Rubbing the red marks those tiny teeth had left, she realized no real harm had been done. It wasn’t as if the kitten’s antics had interrupted anything productive. The afternoon thus far had been a waste, and the kitten may have even done her a service, waking her from her nap. The warm breeze coming in the living room window only hinted at more dreams to come, and the book at her feet suddenly looked too heavy to lift.

She should get back to work – specifically to the large and unpromising book on the floor beside her. Dulcie knew that. If only the reading waiting for her between those dull brown covers was just a little more exciting. If only, she admitted with a sigh, she could simply dive back into her longtime favorite adventure, The Ravages of Umbria. That book might have just as colorless a cover – Dulcie looked up at the well-worn edition that always graced her desk – but its insides were anything but.

Set in a haunted version of Italy that existed in fantasy only, The Ravages featured a beleaguered noblewoman who had to save herself from a panoply of dangers, including not only the usual ghosts and monks, but also the sneaky betrayal of an unfaithful friend. And the only tools she had at her disposal were her own wits. Unusual for her era, Hermetria – the heroine of The Ravages – was the kind of character Dulcie could really believe in. Only two segments of the book survived, which put off more casual readers, but for Dulcie, the lack of a definitive ending made the novel more compelling. Even more fascinating, the author, who had managed to remain anonymous for two centuries, just might have lived a life that was almost as tumultuous as her heroine’s – although probably with fewer ghosts.

From Grey Expectations, copyright 2012, Clea Simon