A Field Guide to Homicide – Lynn Cahoon

Late October can be the best or worst time to schedule a hike. Right now, the jury was out on Sunday’s activity for the participants of this month’s Warm Springs Writers’ Retreat. Seth Howard— Cat Latimer’s boyfriend, retreat driver, and, for this retreat, hiking guide—sat glued to his laptop. Cat watched him over her coffee mug. He’d been sitting at the kitchen table staring at the computer for more than fifteen minutes without saying a word. She glanced at the clock. “You’re going to have to leave soon if you’re going to make it to Denver before the first plane arrives.” Seth grunted. Cat looked at Shauna, who was busy on her own laptop working on the final, final draft of her Warm Springs Writers’ Retreat Recipes for Brunch cookbook. In Cat’s opinion, the title was way too long, but Shauna would have to be told that by a publisher or an agent. Mostly because she wasn’t listening to Cat right now. “Hey, help me out here. We’ve got guests expecting to find a ride to Aspen Hills when they land. You know Shirley took a cab from Denver because she hadn’t told us she was coming and it cost her a fortune.” “Seth.

Go get the writers.” Shauna didn’t even look up from her manuscript. “Cat’s getting nervous.” “I’m not getting nervous. It’s called project management. I’m just trying to keep us on schedule.” Cat stood and refilled her coffee mug. “Do you want a travel mug to go?” Seth closed the laptop. “I guess. Although there’s two hours in between flights, so I’ll probably just wait around for the second group and bring them back together.

Will the retreat pay for lunch for three of us?” “Sure, but don’t take them to some upscale place,” Shauna answered Seth’s question. “I’m on a strict food budget until the first of the year. We want to make sure we put as much on clearing the debt from the remodel in the next three months as possible.” “I thought the loan had over a year left on it.” Cat searched her memory to try to remember the terms of the bank loan. “It does, but I was talking to my brother, Jake, when I visited and he said the sooner you get the business out of debt, the more secure you’ll be in the retreat. I think we should save up for the rest of the remodel and not get another loan.” Shauna shut down her laptop and stretched. “Do you know how much money we could save by not paying interest?” “Now don’t get crazy on me. That remodel project is on my work schedule for next year and I’m counting on the revenue.

” He took the travel mug Cat had filled and grabbed the keys to the SUV. “It looks like that storm is going to hold off, so the guests won’t need snowshoes for the hike tomorrow.” “That’s good news.” Cat kissed him and handed him a bag of cookies. “Don’t break into these until you’re on your way back from Denver. There’s plenty for you and the guests.” “I might get hungry on the way there. You sure you don’t want to come with me and make sure I stay out of them?” He smiled and for a second, Cat’s heart stopped. They’d had a great week alone when Shauna had visited her brother and then a week lying on tropical beaches at a Mexican resort. They’d just gotten back last Sunday, so they’d been busy getting the retreat together and hadn’t had much time to spend together.

“You two need to get a room. Or just cool it until the guests leave.” Shauna picked up one of the field guides Seth had made and gotten printed at the office supply store. “Don’t forget to give me your receipt for the printing.” He pulled a wrinkled receipt out of his jeans pocket. “I forgot I had it.” Shauna took the paper and set it on the table, trying to rub out the wrinkles. “What does this even say? Don’t tell me you spent over a hundred dollars on the printing.” “I think one twenty. I got the glossy cover paper.

” He held up one of the booklets. “A Field Guide to Aspen Hills Hiking by Seth Howard. Now Cat isn’t the only author in the room.” “I estimated out my cookbooks if we go self-published and they were less per book than what you paid.” Shauna took the receipt to her desk and tucked it in the top drawer. “Next time, let me handle the printing. Hal down at the shop is a friend.” “I went to school with him. You think he’s going to give you a better deal than he gave me?” Seth glared at Shauna. “He could charge me full price and give me a better deal than what you paid.

” Shauna shook her head. “He must have seen you coming.” Cat pointed to the clock again, hoping to stop the argument. Sometimes Seth and Shauna sounded more like siblings than just friends. “Yeah, yeah, I know. I need to leave.” He shrugged into a jacket and kissed Cat. Before he left, he paused at the door. “Hal and I are going to have a talk Wednesday at the Vet’s Hall.” “Call me when you get back on the road.

We’re ordering pizza for the welcome night dinner,” Cat called after him. Instead of responding, Seth held his hand in the air to let her know he’d heard. Cat sank back into her chair. “Man, he was hot about the printing.” “Actually, I think he’s been worrying about something else. He’s not looking forward to that reunion next week at the Vet’s Hall. He got an e-mail from an old buddy in his unit who wants to talk to him about something. He wouldn’t tell me what, but I overheard him talking to someone on the phone.” “Why wouldn’t he tell you?” Cat sipped her coffee. Seth hadn’t told her anything except that he needed to be out of the retreat Wednesday night.

Since there wasn’t a need for a driver that night, she hadn’t pressed for an explanation. Now, she wished she’d pushed a little more. Relationships were hard. If you didn’t push, you were weak. If you did, well, then you were a word that rhymed with hitch. “I think the bigger question is why he isn’t confiding in you.” Shauna walked back from her desk and sat next to Cat. “You two aren’t fighting, are you?” “No . ” Cat sighed as she thought about their week away. “However, Seth doesn’t talk about his time in the army.

He never did, even when we were together back then. He’d change the subject when I asked. So I just stopped asking.” Shauna reopened her laptop and searched for a file. “Well, I say next week, after the retreat is over, we knock him over and sit on him until he gives and tells us what’s going on.” Chuckling at the imagery, Cat said, “Or we could just ask him nicely.” “Party pooper.” Cat set her cup in the sink and moved to the door. “That’s my signal to go upstairs and get some writing done. I love this being uncontracted thing.

I can write anything or everything. It’s surprisingly freeing.” “Your agent will call any day now with a new contract,” Shauna said, not looking up from her work. “Yeah, but by the time she does, I might just have another book finished and ready for her to shop.” Cat waved and moved out to the hallway. Climbing the two flights to her office gave her time to think about Seth and his secrets. Was it better to let sleeping dogs lie? Or, as a good girlfriend, should she dig into the issue even if he made it clear she wasn’t welcome in that part of his life. Relationship road mine. She opened her office door and sank into her couch instead of going over to the desk to write. She had some thinking time to do before she could move forward for the book.

Characters needed a clear path, or they’d wander around the page with no goals. Kind of how she felt right now. Wandering and lost. A lethal combination. When five p.m. came around, she and Shauna were in the kitchen finishing up a double batch of chocolate chip cookies. It had become an arrival night tradition. Cat turned the heat on the tea kettle and sat down with a couple of cookies to wait. “He didn’t call me when he started heading back.

” “He texted me.” Shauna put the last tray of cookies into the oven to bake. “Which leads me to ask one more time, are you sure you’re not fighting?” Cat shrugged. “I didn’t think so. I mean, typically when we disagree, it’s on the table and I know when I tick him off. But lately, he’s been moody. Do you think he’s reevaluating agreeing to do this hiking day? It can be a little overwhelming to be in charge of a full-day activity like that.” “I don’t think so. He’s been so excited about the hike and the trail guide he made up for the group. He told me that he’s going to offer to take them out again on Thursday as long as they don’t have a seminar.

” Shauna turned off the screaming kettle and poured two mugs of water. She sat one next to Cat and pushed the basket filled with tea options toward her after grabbing one for herself. “So if it’s not you, and it’s not the seminar, it has to be this army thing.” “Probably.” Cat knew Seth didn’t like to talk about the time they were apart. And she felt uncomfortable bringing it up, especially since she’d been married to another man. But she couldn’t change the past. A door banged in the foyer and Cat stood. “Speak of the devil and he appears.” Seth opened the kitchen door and poked his head into the room.

“We’re here. I’m glad the flights weren’t delayed.” “I’ll be right out to get them checked in.” Shauna glanced at the oven timer. “I’ve got five minutes left on this last batch.” “Come when you can. I’ll handle it until you do.” Seth grinned. “It won’t take much. Did you know you had two couples signed up?” Cat glanced at Shauna.

“I didn’t check the listing this month. We were so busy with the trip and then getting ready. Is it true? Are they couples?” Shauna shrugged. “I guess so. I mean, we don’t have a couple’s rate, so they signed up individually. Maybe that’s something we should look into. We could book more writers if we had people sharing rooms.” “And I’d have more writers to deal with.” Cat laughed as she finished her cookie. “I’ll have to think about this whole thing.

” “I’ve got two waiting in the lobby and I’ll run out and get the other couple now. They wanted to stretch their legs a minute.” Seth held the door open for her as she walked out to the foyer. “They’re really nice. One couple writes a travel blog. You should hear some of the stories they tell.” “You’re making my ears burn.” A tanned blonde smiled at Seth and Cat. “I told Tristin he shouldn’t tell that story. People don’t get the right impression of me when they hear about my obsession with skinny-dipping.

” “Cat Latimer, meet Sydney Evans.” Seth nodded to the woman standing by the double dozen of red roses on the desk in the foyer. “Sydney and her husband, Tristin, are writing a travel book on the Pacific Islands.” “We adore the Philippines. Tristin never wants to go anywhere else. I guess we should capitalize on his obsession.” Sydney touched one of the roses. “These are lovely. I can’t believe you go to the expense of two dozen for a retreat.” “Actually, those are a gift from a former guest’s widow.

She loves celebrating the retreat every month with us.” Cat took in the overwhelming smell of the cold roses. They’d only arrived a few minutes ago and every time they arrived, Cat thought of Linda Cook and her husband. “Let me get you checked in.” “Well, the retreat must have changed this world for her to send such a lavish gift.” Sydney put her arm in her husband’s. “Tristin, this is Cat Latimer, she writes those witch schoolbooks I’m so crazy about.” “Nice to meet you. My wife has read every book more than once.” He flashed a wicked smile at Sydney.

“I’m supposed to ask you, casually, if the series got picked up for another contract. She’s dying to know but didn’t want to fan girl.” “Way to be casual.” Sydney slapped his arm. She turned toward Cat. “But I am dying to know.” “Me too. My agent says she believes they’ll pick up more, but we haven’t heard anything yet. So I’m writing a new idea. It’s still young adult paranormal, but it’s a boot camp for the school’s graduates who have joined the army.

Not the US Army, but the other world’s troops. So they are learning all about their powers and how to protect the ones who are gifted in that way.” Cat laughed as Seth stared at her. “Or something like that. I’ve been meaning to get this guy alone and talk about his boot camp experiences, but we’ve been busy.” “I think you’ll find it’s a different world.” Seth nodded to the luggage. “What room are you putting Tristin and Sydney in? I’ll take these up for them. Pizza should be coming any minute, right?” Cat handed Tristin a key. “Two-oh-one.

It’s one of the bigger rooms on the floor. I’ll have Sydney fill out the registration, and you and Tristin can drop off the luggage.” She handed Sydney the card just as the front door opened and the second couple walked in. Archer and Jocelyn Winchester were an older couple, probably in their sixties from what Cat could guess. Jocelyn sat her quilted flowery bag on the bench, along with a leather purse, and took one of the pieces of luggage from her husband. “I was just heading out to get your bags.” Seth hurried over to take another case off of the pile. “We’re good. Josh and I travel a lot, so we’ve got this down to a system.” Breathing a little hard, Archer stacked the other bags near the door.

“We didn’t have to do this in one load,” the woman snapped at him. “We have all week to start researching.” “You know me, Josh.” He looked down at his wife in amusement. “I don’t want to waste any time. I can’t believe we’re actually in Colorado. Google doesn’t do this place justice.” Jocelyn’s, or Josh’s, as her husband called her, face softened as she reached up and touched his face. “You’re living the dream.” Cat smiled and waved them over to the desk.

“Seth will be right down to help with the luggage. I’ve got your key ready if I could get someone to fill out the registration?” “I’ll do it.” Jocelyn set the luggage next to her other items. Archer was busy checking out the beams in the foyer and the construction of the house. “My husband, Archer, here is too busy freaking out since we’re in the land of his dreams.” “I take it this is your first trip out west?” Cat handed her a card and a pen. “I see from your registration that you’re both writing western historical fiction?” “Add romance to my genre and you’ve got it. We met at a writer’s group in Pittsburgh twenty-five years ago and we’ve been making up stories about western expansion ever since. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to talk a little about publishing this week because I’m tired of all the agent rejections saying westerns aren’t selling.” Jocelyn focused on the card, then handed it back to Cat.

“There you go.” “We’ll definitely have a lot of time to talk about your concerns. This is your retreat. We structure a lot of the sessions around your needs.” The door opened and a tall, handsome, twenty-something man walked inside. He grinned at the three women standing at the registration desk. “Well, this retreat is just getting better and better. I didn’t know I’d be surrounded by such beautiful writers.” Cat glanced down at the last name on Shauna’s list of attendees. “You must be Brodie Capone.

” He dropped a tote bag at his feet. “In the flesh. The party can begin.

.

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