Never Steal a Cockatiel

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Never Steal a Cockatiel: Volume 9 (Leigh Koslow Mystery Series) 

Ninth in the USA-Today and Kindle Top Ten bestselling Leigh Koslow Mystery Series!

The brains behind this birdnapping
Had better run for cover!

Pets in the North Boros of Pittsburgh are disappearing… along with their owners’ hard-earned cash. The Koslow Animal Clinic has seen its share of mayhem, but when a spree of petnappings for ransom are targeted at its clients, suspicion falls uncomfortably close to Leigh Koslow’s veterinarian father. Leigh refuses to believe that anyone in the family is involved — never mind that her aunt’s notorious ex, Mason Dublin, has just flown the coop. Never mind that several of his fellow poker players have recently turned up missing… or murdered. And never mind that on his way out of town, Mason dropped off a few pets for Leigh to secretly take care of.

There must be a rational explanation, preferably one that has nothing to do with either Leigh’s relatives or the clinic staff. But as the evidence begins to mount, Leigh faces facts: the petnappings are an inside job. With the unofficial help of detective and new mom Maura Polanski, Leigh hopes to finger the traitor before any more pets disappear. Because when the animal-loving citizens of the North Boros start fighting back, feathers are going to fly!

Chapter 1

Leigh refused to open her eyes. She lay in bed, motionless and content. The sound she’d just heard wasn’t what she thought it was. Really, it wasn’t. Tap, tap, tap. She sighed. It was exactly what she thought it was. Someone was rapping gently on her bedroom window, trying to wake her up without disturbing anyone else in the house. As if that were possible. Warren slept like the dead, and both of their kids had inherited the trait. Leigh, on the other hand, had suffered from insomnia even before her husband hit forty and started snoring like a chainsaw. She opened her eyes and looked at her clock. It was 4:30 AM. Lovely. She rose. An ordinary person, she thought to herself, would likely be concerned about either a burglar or an emergency.

 Leigh Koslow, advertising copywriter, mother of two, and supernatural magnet for mayhem of all descriptions, was concerned about neither. Tap, tap, tap. She crossed to her window with a yawn. No burglar would intentionally try to wake her up, and a true emergency would rate use of the doorbell. Taps on her window in the middle of the night, in her unfortunately vast experience, indicated a family emergency. And that was something different entirely. She rolled up the shade expecting to see her cousin waiting outside. Cara lived at the farmhouse next door, attracted a fair amount of mayhem in her own right, and was by far the most frequent tapper on that particular window. It wasn’t Cara. Leigh blinked away the cobwebs and attempted to focus her eyes. It was Mason Dublin, Cara’s father.

Leigh stared at him in confusion. Mason was in his mid sixties, with a full head of once-red hair now turned a soft gray and eyes of the same sparkling blue-green as his daughter’s. He looked back at her with an embarrassed grin and gestured toward the front of the house. Leigh rolled the shade back down. What could he want? She had always liked Mason, despite the fact that neither she nor Cara had met the man until they were in their thirties. His nefarious behavior as a newlywed had led Cara’s mother to banish him from their child’s life, but after serving his time and proving a sincere interest in his adult daughter’s well-being, he had — albeit with great reluctance on the part of his ex-wife — gradually returned to the relatively good graces of the family. Most of the family, anyway.

Leigh crossed to her closet, threw on a robe, and stumbled toward the front door. It was July, it was hot in the house even without a robe, and dog hair stuck to her feet as she walked across the carpet. What could Mason possibly have to say to her that couldn’t wait until morning? She turned on her porch light, unlocked the door, and swung it open. Mason stood before her, blinking. He had a sheepish smile on his face. He also had a cat under one arm and a partially covered birdcage by his side. “Are you kidding me?” Leigh asked drowsily, wondering if she might still be asleep. That would be nice.

“Sorry, kid,” he replied, scratching his head nervously with his free hand. “I hate to do this to you, but I need a favor.” Leigh took a closer look at his cargo. A small, cream and gray tortie nestled in the crook of his arm. It was curled up tight and hiding its head as if trying to make itself invisible. Whatever was in the bird cage, Leigh couldn’t see. The three-foot-tall wire box had a towel wrapped around its top half. “You need money?” Leigh asked hopefully. Mason frowned at her. “Of course not. When have I ever asked you for money?” She felt a twinge of guilt. Mason’s youthful lust for riches had been his downfall, and he was still a bit sensitive on the topic. “Never,” she admitted. “Look,” he began, shifting his feet awkwardly. “I really do hate to ask, but could you possibly take care of these guys for me? For just a couple days… I mean, like… a week?” Leigh shook her head in confusion. Surely she was only dreaming this. “Mason,” she asked, “since when do you even have a cat? Or a bird?” “I don’t. They’re not mine. The cat’s my next-door neighbor’s. At my apartment in Bellevue, I mean. He asked me to take care of her if anything—” His eyes flickered with distress. “I mean, if he went out of town. I don’t know where the bird came from, but I couldn’t just leave it there, could I? And I’ve got to get to the airport. My flight leaves at six.”

Leigh’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. Mason had just said so many things that made no sense, she wasn’t sure where to begin. Besides which, he didn’t look like himself. “Listen,” he said quickly, shifting the tightly curled ball of fur to his other arm. “I know I’m not making any sense. But the long and short of it is, I promised my buddy Kyle I’d take care of his cat, but I didn’t know he was leaving this week, and this week I’ve got to be somewhere else. I would have taken them to Cara’s, but Lenna’s afraid of birds, and I knew you and Allison would know how to take care of it.” Leigh blinked three times in quick succession, determined to wake herself up. It didn’t work. She let out a sigh. Mason’s last statement, at least, did make sense. His granddaughter Lenna was afraid of a great many things. Leigh’s own daughter, Allison, wasn’t afraid of nearly enough. “Could you watch them until I get back?” he begged. “Please, Leigh? I can pay for their board, if you like.”

“You will not,” she protested. “Don’t be silly.” “You’ll do it, then?” His expression softened, and with a slight cock of his head to the side, he gave her a dashing smile, his bright eyes sparkling mischievously. Her resistance crumbled. It wasn’t difficult to see how her Aunt Lydie had once been charmed into single motherhood. Leigh gritted her teeth, swung the door open wider, and gestured him inside. “I’m sure Allison would love to pet sit,” she conceded. “But I still don’t get it. Where are you going?” He hesitated. “Las Vegas. Pawnbrokers’ convention.” Leigh quirked an eyebrow. Mason was usually a better liar. He wasn’t even trying. He carried the cage inside and set it down, then extended the cat to Leigh. “Her name’s Peep,” he said apologetically. “I, um… I forgot to bring her food. Sorry. She did just eat a big meal, though. Poor thing woke me up, crying so loud next door.

Good thing Kyle gave me a spare key. I don’t know how long her bowl had been empty…” His voice trailed off uncertainly. Leigh reached out and tucked the cat under her own arm on autopilot, her brain still mired in confusion. There was definitely more to this story than Mason was telling her. If she was fully awake, she would interrogate him until she figured it out. But all she really wanted right now was to crawl back into bed. “When will you get back?” she asked, settling for the most obvious question. “Friday,” he said, “Probably. I’ll let you know. You have my number.” “Fine,” Leigh said with a yawn. “Go catch your plane. To that convention.” Mason cracked a knowing grin. They had always understood each other. “Thanks, kid,” he said tenderly, leaning in to plant a fatherly kiss on her cheek. “I owe you one.” “Damn straight,” Leigh responded.

He turned to let himself out, but swung around again at the door. “Oh, and Leigh—” he said, sounding uncomfortable again. “It’s kind of important. Could we keep this arrangement a secret? Where these guys came from, I mean?” Leigh’s vision began to blur. She was so, so tired. Tuning out Warren’s snores had always been difficult, but since he’d caught a summer cold, she’d hardly slept a wink. She knew she should be doing more to understand what the hell was going on here, and that if she didn’t, she would kick herself later. She rallied her neurons and made the effort. “And why, pray,” she asked heavily, “must we do that?” “Maybe no reason,” Mason answered smoothly. “But with a boy like Kyle… Well, you never know. I’d feel better if the critters stayed here incognito.” Leigh had no earthly idea who Kyle was. She tried to care. She failed. “Whatever,” she croaked.

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Edie Claire