Excerpt: 'Cathy's Ring'

Read an excerpt from Sean Stewart's and Jordan Weisman's new book.

July 1, 2009— -- Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman present the third and final book in a trilogy that stars a spunky teen who must escape assassins, stalkers and solve murder cases -- all while dealing with boyfriend troubles.

Read an excerpt of "Cathy's Ring" below and head to the "GMA" Library for more good reads.

Pot of Poison (Hour of My Evil Twin)

Mom was at the hospital working the graveyard shift, and I was alonein the sweltering house. I turned off the air-conditioning as soon as she leftfor work, trying to save money. On hot nights like this, going to bed feltlike I was pitching a tent in a toaster oven. But, in view of my spectacularfailure to pay my share of the mortgage, it seemed like the least I could do.Summer was getting on, and it had been months since the dust had tastedrain. Wildfire season had started: a twenty thousand acre blaze in the Sierrafoothills, and closer to home big grass fires were burning near Gilroy andVacaville and Palo Alto. Dozens of smaller fires had left patches of blackenedgrass along the freeways all the way into San Francisco.

I changed into my lightest PJs, but after a second I decided not totake off the good luck charm my boyfriend, Victor, had given me—aChinese coin threaded on a slim silver chain. He said he'd picked it up atthe hospital gift shop earlier in the day. The unfamiliar weight swung andbumped against my collar bone as I trudged into the bathroom to splashmy face with cold water. The eyes looking back at me from the mirror werebloodshot and exhausted. I shambled back into my bedroom and opened thewindow wide. There was no breeze, just the smell of burning, as if someone inthe distance was holding a match to the darkness and waiting for it to catch.I shoved the blankets off my bed and lay down on top of the sheets towait for sleep. It had only been ten hours since I'd seen a man shot. Everytime I closed my eyes I saw him looking at his bloody chest in surprise: thered blood soaking into the carpet and spattered on the wallpaper behindhim. In the darkness the scorched air smelled like gunpowder.

The dead man's name was Tsao. The last thing he said before he diedwas, "Cathy, I will love you forever."

They say love warms the soul, but it burns it sometimes, too.

It was after midnight when I gave up trying to sleep. I crawled out ofbed, turned on the bedroom light and closed my window. I dug a perfumebottle out of my purse and sat on the end of my bed to examine it. The bottlewas almost round, shaped like a piece of crystal fruit, an apple or a peach.The heavy stopper had been fashioned into a stem with one leaf still clingingto it. The liquid inside was the color of sunlight with a teaspoon of bloodmixed in.

I brought the bottle of perfume up close to my face and took out thestopper. I used to smell things by leaning in and sorta sucking air throughmy nose, like most people do, but when I was being trained as a perfumedemonstrator at the mall they told me you actually get more fragrance if youbreathe normally with your mouth a little open and waft the air toward youwith your hand. I let the scent curl around me, a sweet odor like peacheswith an ugly little undertone of formaldehyde and smoke. It smelled likedesire without hope. Like angels burning.

My phone rang, and I picked it up instantly, thinking it would besomeone in trouble, Emma or Victor. I was half right.

"You stole my perfume," said an angry voice with a sharp Texas twang."Hey, it's my Evil Twin, Jewel." The last time we were in a room together,ten hours ago, she was the one who killed Tsao. Then she took the money outof his wallet and forced me to give her my driver's license at gunpoint. I hadbeen hoping I would never hear from her again. This is known as wishfulthinking. "Gee, it's great to hear your voice," I said. In the background Icould hear drunk people talking, bottles clinking, and the steady thud-thudof loud obnoxious dance music. "Where are you calling from?"

"Payphone at the Baptist church," Jewel said. "Listen, you took thatperfume out of my purse this afternoon."

"No way," I said, turning the crystal bottle in my hands. "That would bestealing." Strictly speaking, the liquid in the bottle wasn't really perfume,it was a very special sort of poison—a complex chemical agent that tookaway the gift of immortality. My life had suffered a sudden and surprisinginfestation of immortals—my father, my boyfriend, and my boyfriend'sangry ex-boss, Ancestor Lu, to name but a few—so to tell you the truth,there was something very comforting about holding that little pot of poison.In a small, mean way it felt good to think that with one well-timed spritzthose godlike beings with eternal lives, lightning reflexes, and supernaturalhealing abilities could be reduced to ordinary human status again, at themercy of pain and time and death like the rest of us. "Maybe you just forgotwhere you put it," I said. "For example, I can't find my driver's license.""Very funny." I could hear Jewel stop to take a drink of something."Have the cops showed up yet?"

"Not yet." Ever since I got home I had been wondering if I was about toget a visit from the Flat Feet of the Law. Because of an incident a few monthsback, the police had my fingerprints on file. If they got a good print fromthe hotel room, it was only a matter of time until their computers wouldidentify me as a person of interest in Tsao's murder. Technically speaking Iwas innocent, but lying to the police is always dangerous, and telling themthe truth—that my boyfriend's immortal father had a crush on me but wasshot to death by my evil twin after having been dosed with a secret mortalityserum—that was obviously a non-starter.

Jewel turned her mouth away from the phone. "Barkeep," she said. "Hey,Numb Nuts—yeah, you. Gimme another beer. Okay, I'm back. No cops, huh? Well, thatmight be good, or it might be bad." She chugged thoughtfully on her beer."Good version, maybe you just didn't leave a lot of prints."

"What's the bad version?"

"Well, Tsao told me Ancestor Lu has some real spooky computer guyswho can make things like police records just disappear. They might havewiped out your old fingerprint files."

"Why would Ancestor Lu do me a favor?"

"He wouldn't," Jewel said dryly. "The bad version is that Lu wants totake you out himself, and you're easier to whack if you aren't locked up in anice secure jail cell."

I swallowed. "Ah."

"How's Denny?" Jewel asked. "Did you get him to a doctor?" Denny wasJewel's brother. Tsao had broken his arm earlier in the day. The last thingJewel said before she killed Tsao was, "Nobody hits my brother but me.""He's in the hospital. I was there until a couple of hours ago. He won't beplaying the piano anytime soon, but he'll live."

"Listen, Cathy, you got to get him to head back to Texas. If he don't getback, the you-know-what's gonna hit the fan with his probation officer.""Loyalty's a big thing with your brother, Jewel. He's not going to leaveyou here."

"I know it. That's why you're going to tell him you talked to me and Iwas already back home." Rap music pounded and thumped from Jewel'send of the phone.

"So, you're calling from a church," I said.

"He can tell when I'm lying but he's sweet on you. He doesn't knowany better."


"Hey," she said sharply. "You drug my brother into this mess, Cathy.You get him out. Do it first thing tomorrow," she added. "I want to makesure he gets the message before Ancestor Lu's people take you out." Thenshe hung up.

It took me quite a while to get to sleep.

Scissors (Hour of Someone Coming to Kill Me)

I woke up with a gasp, terrified, staring into the darkness of mybedroom. My heart was pounding and I was listening for something, awakeand electric, as if my whole skin was waiting for a sound. The clock on mybedside table said 4:13 AM.


I heard it again, something gnawing at my bedroom window. Someonewas working around the frame with pliers or a screwdriver. Trying to get in.Someone was coming for me, just like Jewel had said they would.I needed help. I was alone in the darkness, and nobody would hearme scream. Ever since my dad "died" there had only been two of us in thehouse, my mom and me, and my mom was at the hospital working thegraveyard shift. My cell phone was still lying on the dresser where I left itafter Jewel hung up on me. If I grabbed it and called 9-1-1 I figured the copswould show up in time to find my dead body. If everything went well, they'deven catch my killer and put him in jail, where he would come to see theerror of his ways and take up crosswords or knitting, and be featured yearslater in a documentary about cons who had rediscovered their humanityin prison, and finally be released on parole and start a modestly successfulstore selling fashionable knitwear with a jailhouse swagger—but that wouldbe cold comfort to me, wouldn't it? Because I'd be dead. I would be dead andmy mom would come out to the cemetery every six months and stare bitterlyat two graves instead of one.

Scritch, scratch. Scritch-scritch, scratch. The soft complaining creak ofthe metal window frame being quietly pried open. Then:

• soft thumping footsteps outside, someone running up, and• muffled sounds of a struggle, and

• the damp smack of something hard clubbing into flesh• a gasp, and

• people grappling outside my window in murderous silence, and• a snap of bone breaking

• the faint ring and slash of metal, and

• a spatter, like raindrops hitting my window.

I threw myself out of bed and scrambled across the floor on my handsand knees, waiting for the window behind me to explode in a fountain ofglass—waiting for bullet holes to open in my back. I scuttled around thecorner into the hallway.

• A heavy grunting thump, and

• bodies thudding into the side of the house.

Once out of the line of fire from the bedroom window, I got to my feet, aclumsy low crouch. I started to slap on the hallway light switch but stoppedbecause turning on the light would just make me easier to shoot. The factthat I knew the house in the dark was the only edge I had over whoever wastrying to get in.

I ran to the bathroom and yanked open the makeup drawer, pawingthrough it in the dark: combs, my mother's hairbrush, hair ties, compact,lipsticks, and eyebrow pencils rattling around—crap I never wore anymore.Finally my hand found the little pair of scissors my mom used to use totrim my dad's eyebrows. I shut the bathroom door, locked it, and crept intothe bathtub, quietly, quietly. I pulled the shower curtain closed, steel ringswhispering and clinking along the rail as I crouched with my back under theshower head. I imagined a killer forcing the door—I would have to stab downwith the scissors as hard as I could because I would only get one chance.I stood there in the bathtub, my whole body shaking with fear, the littlescissors like a toy in my hand. Waiting behind the locked door like AnneFrank in her attic, wondering if I was going to die.

Another thump, hard against the side of the house. A short bubbling shriek.Silence.


What the hell was going on out there?



Waiting, barely breathing, no sound, no sound except my heart bangingin my chest.

*I stayed in the shower for what felt like forever, listening and listening,but after that last shriek there was nothing to hear. Finally, still clutching myscissors, I got out of the shower. I crept into the kitchen and let myself outthe back door. Outside it was not yet dawn, but the night sky had begun tofade, the blackness thinning from oil paint to watercolor. The air had finallystarted to cool, but it still tasted like ashes in my mouth. I could hear thethin endless snarl of traffic from the freeway a couple of blocks away. With astuttering hiss the Johnson's sprinklers came on next door. 5:00 am.No sounds of struggle anymore. No sound of anyone trying to get intomy room.

I edged to the corner of the house and peeked around. The huddledshapes of three bodies lay on the ground outside my window. They werequite still, limbs stiff and awkwardly placed, like dolls suddenly droppedby kids called home for dinner. They were all dead—obviously dead. In acouple of places I could see pale blurs of exposed bone. I turned away andthrew up.

Somewhere in the darkness a mockingbird started to sing. Dawnwas coming.

ResetOkay, I know: gruesome. Sorry about that. All I can say is, imagine howI felt.

For those of you—like me—whose attention tends to wander in class, Ibetter stop for a quick refresher on how a perfectly ordinary girl whose worstproblems were usually somewhere between Troubled Hair and Sarcastic Co-Workers came to be finding dead bodies underneath her bedroom window.