Winter swiped a heavy hand against the sandpaper abrasion wetting her cheek.
A cat meowed
Her brows drew into a frown. Meow?
More sandpaper, then a nudge on her cheek from a wet, somewhat smelly head.
The sound of the ocean registered, and as she struggled to pry her eyes open, memories of the early morning events filtered through her brain.
She squinted up to the sky. The sun was at about ten a.m. Obviously, she hadn’t made the start of her shift, first day.
She could still smell rain in the air but the storm had passed and now the skies were blue. Only in San Francisco.
She turned her throbbing head and met the unblinking golden eyes of a calico cat. “Scat Cat?” she asked in confusion, realizing the second drug hadn’t targeted her vocal cords.
The undernourished, soaking wet cat purred, long and loud.
“You can’t be Scat Cat,” she murmured, reaching up and scratching the feline under its chin.
It couldn’t be the same cat. It was impossible the alley cat who had followed her to and from school since kindergarten, followed her back and forth from her part time job each and every day, then even to the bus stop the very day she had left town, was the same cat.
Scat Cat, because Winter had shouted the words to the cat, along with a hissing noise and a stomping foot, each and every day, worried the fool cat would get hit by a car by following her around everywhere.
She shook the cobwebs from her head and sat up. She had been wedged between two large boulders, completely hidden from the spread of beach where she and her captors had gathered earlier this morning.
Her rain gear was gone, as was the bloody clothing underneath the gear.
She had her own clothes on, right down to her combat boots and she shuddered to think who of the twelve men had striped her and replaced her clothing.
Clearly they had breached the high tech security apartment on the third floor of one San Francisco’s Victorian ‘Painted Ladies’, to get her things. Her hand-held hologram cell phone lay at her feet, along with a sealed bag holding a manila envelope, with the word “Evidence” in bold letters stamped onto it at an angle.
It didn’t take much of a guess to know inside the envelope would be the photo of the man she was supposed to bleed for information, then kill.
She shuddered and scooped up her cell and the bag.
The cat continued to stare at her, almost like she was studying her. Unnerved, Winter waved the cat away. “Scat, cat!”
Just as with the cat back home — and no, she was not ready to consider this was the same cat — this cat simply sat and stared.
Winter lunged to her feet and the world went dark at the edges of her vision. She pivoted, her combat boots crunching wet sand and pebbles as she scanned the empty beach for who had spoken.
The cat meowed.
She jerked her gaze to the cat, sitting serenely at her feet, large golden eyes fixed up at her.
Winter pointed to the cat. “You didn’t just speak to me.”
Winter had had enough. She was late to work, and she’d been drugged twice. She was going to drag herself into the precinct late and looking like — she glanced at the cat again — like something the cat dragged in, and everyone one would put it off to too many drinks last night.
Download on April 11 to read the rest of this story. Or read about Winter’s grandmother, Dr. Allison Green, a veterinarian who also bore the Heartmark and was fated to face the enemy who chases the women of the Heartmark through time.