Book Review: The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton

The Hideaway
Lauren K. Denton
Thomas Nelson, April 2017
ISBN 978
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

After her last remaining family member dies, Sara Jenkins goes home to The Hideaway, her grandmother Mags’s ramshackle B&B in Sweet Bay, Alabama. She intends to quickly tie up loose ends then return to her busy life and thriving antique shop in New Orleans. Instead, she learns Mags has willed The Hideaway to her and charged her with renovating it—no small task considering her grandmother’s best friends, a motley crew of senior citizens, still live there.

Rather than hurrying back to New Orleans, Sara stays in Sweet Bay and begins the biggest house-rehabbing project of her career. Amid drywall dust, old memories, and a charming contractor, she discovers that slipping back into life at The Hideaway is easier than she expected.

Then she discovers a box Mags left in the attic with clues to a life Sara never imagined for her grandmother. With help from Mags’s friends, Sara begins to piece together the mysterious life of bravery, passion, and choices that changed her grandmother’s destiny in both marvelous and devastating ways.

When an opportunistic land developer threatens to seize The Hideaway, Sara is forced to make a choice—stay in Sweet Bay and fight for the house and the people she’s grown to love or leave again and return to her successful but solitary life in New Orleans.

When it comes to eye-catching book covers, The Hideaway is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Immediately, it made me think of summers on a Southern front porch of an old house with floor-to-ceiling windows and, in fact, that’s exactly what this book is about, an old house that’s as much a character as its humans. I’d like to acknowledge the artist but the advance reading copy I have doesn’t give the name. Whoever it is, kudos!

If it weren’t for the fact that running a bed and breakfast requires much more labor than I’ve ever been willing to do, it has always appealed to me but Sara’s reluctance to restore The Hideaway to its former life is understandable. Sara has her own life in New Orleans and she’s truly happy as an antiques dealer; at the same time, she loved her grandmother and there are memories in Sweet Bay, Alabama. It’s easy to see why she would be drawn in by her grandmother’s last wish, her directive for Sara to not only renovate the house but live in the house during the work.

Mags and Sara had different and yet very similar lives and as Sara’s time in Sweet Bay goes by, we see Mags through her own eyes and narrative. While their respective tragedies weren’t at all alike, the one constant is the importance The Hideaway played in their pasts and Sara begins to learn so much about Mags that she had not known before.

Ms. Denton’s debut is a charming tale of family and hidden lives blended with the sometimes annoying but always loyal people who become extended family, often more important than blood relatives. In essence, this is a tale of reaching for what one’s destiny can be and how those closest to us become embedded in our souls and anyone looking for a comfortable, easy story would do well to pick up The Hideaway.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

************

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Books-A-Million

Audible // Amazon // Indiebound

************

About the Author

Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, Lauren K. Denton now lives with her husband and two daughters in Homewood, just outside Birmingham. In addition to her fiction, she writes a monthly newspaper column about life, faith, and how funny (and hard) it is to be a parent. On any given day, she’d rather be at the beach with her family and a stack of books. The Hideaway is her first novel.

Connect with Lauren

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

************

Follow the tour here.

************

Book Review: A Fatal Twist by Tracy Weber—and a Giveaway!

A Fatal Twist
A Downward Dog Mystery #4
Tracy Weber
Midnight Ink, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-4878-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Yoga instructor Kate Davidson’s life takes a chaotic turn once she agrees to not only be the doula for her pregnant best friend, but also play foster mother to two puppies. The chaos only gets worse when Kate finds the dead body of a philandering fertility doctor and Rachel, one of her yoga students, fleeing the scene.

Kate is convinced her student is innocent, and she sets out to find the real killer before her testimony condemns Rachel to a life behind bars. But her hands are full with caring for three dogs, teaching yoga classes, and gaining an unexpected crime-solving partner. If she’s not careful, Kate’s next yoga pose may be a fatal one.

Babies! They’re springing up everywhere, both humans and puppies, and Kate has her hands full learning to be a doula for her best friend, Rene, as she and her husband Sam await twins. In the meantime, Kate’s boyfriend, Michael, has brought home a pair of six-week-old abandoned labradoodles, Mutt and Jeff, and Kate agrees to foster them for a short while as long as Bella, her anxious German Shepherd with special needs, doesn’t get a chance to kill them.

First to get killed, though, is a doctor Kate knows superficially, a man who appears to have been as low as a man can be. His wife is a student of Kate’s and the killing happened in a birthing center where Rene plans to go so Kate has reasons to snoop among a plethora of girlfriends (current and ex), nurses and other doctors, not to mention prospective parents who might have had reasons to hate the fertility doc. She really needs to step in because all clues seem to nail the wife, Rachel, and the police don’t want to look further.

With each murder Kate encounters, she becomes more adept at investigating and at least one of the homicide detectives doesn’t really object so much because Kate frequently has something useful to offer. Humor abounds as does a cracking good sleuthfest, not to mention reminders of the perils of puppiedom and the joys and heartbreaks of animal rescue. Tracy Weber never lets me down.

This time, Rene would have been justified—and I would have approved—if she killed Sam who’s incredibly obnoxious and obsessed with what Rene eats. On the positive side, Bella and the puppies are delightful and I’m more enchanted with her than I was before, especially since she reminds me of my beloved granddog who also suffers from social anxiety around people and other dogs. All the characters I’ve come to enjoy are back, even the somewhat annoying ones, and I felt right at home with old friends.

On a personal note, I’ve been taking warm water Yogilates classes and have become more interested in the ins and outs of yoga. I actually paid more attention this time to Ms. Weber‘s pointers and got more out of it; I won’t say I’m ready for land yoga but I love the water kind and can’t help thinking how my instructors compare to Kate (other than running around looking for killers). I just need to figure out how to listen to these books on my iPod when I’m in the pool 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for a gently
used advance
reading copy of
A Fatal Twist
by Tracy Weber,
leave a comment
below. The
winning name will
be drawn
Thursday evening,
April 13th.
This drawing is open
to residents
of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Cheesus Was Here by J.C. Davis

************

Title: Cheesus Was Here
Author: J.C. Davis
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Release Date: April 11, 2017
Genres: General Fiction, Young Adult

************

Purchase Links:

             

************

Cheesus Was Here
J.C. Davis
Sky Pony Press, April 2017
ISBN
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Sixteen-year-old Delaney Delgado knows miracles aren’t real—if they were, her kid sister wouldn’t be dead. So when the image of baby Jesus appears on a Babybel cheese wheel, she’s not buying the idea that God’s got a dairy obsession. Soon, religious signs begin turning up all over Del’s hometown, tiny Clemency, Texas. Overnight, news vans fill the streets and religious pilgrims start searching for God in the discount aisle of the grocery store.

Hell-bent on proving the so-called miracles are fake, Del convinces her best friend, Gabe, to help her find the truth. While Gabe’s willing to play detective, as a preacher’s son he’s more interested in finding evidence that supports the miracles. But when the whole town becomes caught up in religious fervor and even the late-night talk show hosts have stopped laughing and started to believe, finding the truth might cause more trouble than Del can handle. This novel is neither pro nor anti-religion, and will appeal to fans of contemporary YA novels that explore deep themes with an element of humor. The voice and characters are funny, strong, and full of heart.

I enjoy irreverent takes on religious themes, always have, and one of my all-time favorite books falls into this category. When such a book comes along, I’m always initially interested but I do my due diligence before I take it on because some of these can be mean-spirited. For me, the irreverence has to take place amidst a true honoring of the religion in question, a real reverence, if you will.

Cheesus Was Here, on the surface, sounds, well, cheesy but it isn’t, not at all. Yes, the image is on a Babybel but, hey, these images show up on pizza, bread, a Walmart receipt, everywhere you can think of so why not cheese?

Delaney Delgado lives in a tiny Texas town where religion plays an enormous role but she’s pretty much given up on God after having lost her sister to cancer and the rest of her family to a general falling apart. When a co-worker discovers what he sees as the Baby Jesus on a piece of cheese, Del sees a strangelooking heart, maybe a lopsided baby but Baby Jesus? Uh-uh, but little does she know that life in Clemency has just taken a very wide detour in the road.

The mania engendered by such sightings soon envelops Clemency and everyone in it and, finally, Del can’t stand it any longer. Determined to prove this is no miracle, she enlists the help of her friend, Gabe, to investigate this phenomenon. Trouble is, Gabe isn’t so sure it’s a hoax; after all, he’s a preacher’s son.

At its heart, Cheesus Was Here is really the story of a girl coming to terms with the bad things that have happened in her family and her emotional growth along the way. Faith battles with grief and Del, with all her snarkiness, her wall against life in general, learns that love and the healing a tiny town can offer, especially through her best friend, can make all the difference in the world. This is a heartwarming tale that all but the most cynical can enjoy.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

About the Author

A programmer by day, I write YA fiction, the occasional short story and have far too many hobbies to keep up with. I live in Dallas, Texas with my husband, two kids and a pair of hedgehogs with nerdy names.

 

             

************

Giveaway

  • (1) Signed Hardback of Cheesus Was Here by J.C. Davis
  • Swag including- bookmark, button, 2 art cards
  • A cheese wedge charm
  • U.S. Only
  • Please read our rules & regs in the Rafflecopter
  • Enter here

************

Follow the tour here.

************

Book Review: Beauty of the Beast by Rachel L. Demeter

 

Continue reading

Book Reviews: Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations by Simon Brett and Desperate for Death by Judy Alter

Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations
A Mrs Pargeter Mystery #8
Simon Brett
Crème de la Crime/Severn House, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-78029-092-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It is her characteristic generosity rather than her love of animals that finds Mrs Pargeter supporting her friend, Jasmine Angold, at a charity reception for PhiliPussies, whose worthy aim is to rehabilitate stray cats from the Greek island of Atmos into caring English homes. But the evening is to have unexpected consequences. At the event, Mrs P is taken aback to meet a woman who claims to be the sister of her late husband, the much-missed Mr Pargeter.

This surprising encounter leads to unwelcome digging into past secrets, the discovery of a body in Epping Forest, an eventful trip to Greece – and unexpected danger for Mrs Pargeter. In the course of her investigations, she learns the true nature of charity and the dubious skills by which Public Relations can make evil look good.

The Mrs Pargeter series is beguiling and delightful and this particular installment is no exception. Once again, the very wealthy and very kind widow finds herself in the midst of a puzzling crime and perhaps more.

Mrs Pargeter is always ready to help worthy causes with her money and her time but the latest, a cat rescue program, doesn’t really speak to her as she’s not particularly fond of cats. She agrees to go to a fundraiser because it’s important to her friend, Jasmine Angold, and Mrs Pargeter is all for supporting friends and those who are good to her, people such as Gary, her driver-on-call, and a security expert, Parvez. She found both in her late husband’s little black book full of experts in all sorts of activities. These experts were all connected in one way or another to her husband’s, er, illegal enterprises and while Mrs Pargeter would just as soon not know anything about said enterprises (to the point of not allowing anyone to mention them), she certainly appreciates the resulting wealth and the contents of the little black book.

When a very expensive necklace disappears from the charity auction, Mrs Pargeter is intrigued but even more so by the out-of-the-blue appearance of Rochelle Brighouse, a sister-in-law she never knew existed. Now, she has two mysteries to look into, the theft and this rather unpleasant woman, and she begins with a few questions to Gary and Parvez but is stymied by their surprising unwillingness to talk.

When Rochelle makes her agenda known and Mrs Pargeter realizes her husband’s reputation is at stake, she’s mobilized to do something about it. Add to that a murder connected to the cat rescue and our intrepid sleuth is soon doing what she does best.

 Mrs Pargeter is a woman wedded to fighting for good and against evil and this crime caper is as entertaining and full of dry humor as one could wish despite a bit of silliness (it’s puzzling why Brits would feel compelled to rescue cats from Greece when there are plenty of needy felines at home). She also is an unusual sleuth with her vast wealth and her ability to call on some of her husband’s very capable associates with their particular talents. All in all, it’s really easy to be charmed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Desperate for Death
A Kelly O’Connell Mystery #6
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-9960131-7-8
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Just when Kelly’s life has calmed, she faces yet another of life’s puzzles. Except the pieces in this one don’t fit. First the apartment behind her house is torched, then a string of bizzare “accidents” occur to set her off-balance. Who is stalking her? Where does the disappearance of a young girl and her disreputable boyfriend fit in? And why are two men using the same name? Is the surprise inheritance another part of the puzzle? At a time when she is most vulnerable, Kelly can’t make the pieces fit. Before Kelly can get the whole picture, she helps the family of a hostage, rescues a kidnap victim and attends a wild and wonderful wedding.

Most of the time in a cozy, I get irritated with the love interest who’s a cop and he demands that his lady, our amateur sleuth, stay out of his business. This time, I’m irritated because Mike, the cop in question, blows off Kelly’s suggestion that the fire in her unoccupied guest house might have been set by someone out for revenge against him, a convict perhaps. Instead, he wants Kelly to think of someone who’s out to cause her trouble while he’s off doing his thing. Sure, she’s gotten involved in murders and other nefarious activities but surely any cop must know he’s a prime target. Weirdly, while dismissing any connection he might have, he also tends to disregard Kelly’s thinking about the case.

On the other hand, Kelly has a few other things on her mind.

My favorite character is definitely Keisha, Kelly’s completely indispensable assistant who’s flamboyant, nosy and very intuitive, not to mention streetsmart. I didn’t care for others quite so much, including Kelly and Mike, but the story was engaging. The action was a bit choppy but that actually kept things moving and the various leads and hunches gave me plenty to think about before all became clear.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

Book Review: An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock by Terry Shames

an-unsettling-crime-for-samuel-cradddockAn Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock
A Samuel Craddock Mystery Prequel
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-63388-209-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When the Jarrett Creek Fire Department is called to douse a blaze on the outskirts of town, they discover a grisly scene: five black young people have been murdered. Newly elected Chief of Police Samuel Craddock, just back from a stint in the Air Force, finds himself an outsider in the investigation headed by the Texas Highway Patrol. He takes an immediate dislike to John Sutherland, a racist trooper.

Craddock’s fears are realized when Sutherland arrests Truly Bennett, a young black man whom Craddock knows and respects. Sutherland cites dubious evidence that points to Bennett, and Craddock uncovers facts leading in another direction. When Sutherland refuses to relent, Craddock is faced with a choice that will define him as a lawman—either let the highway patrol have its way, or take on a separate investigation himself.

Although his choice to investigate puts both Craddock and his family in danger, he perseveres. In the process, he learns something about himself and the limits of law enforcement in Jarrett Creek.

It’s the early 1980’s, a time we like to look back on as more enlightened than the Vietnam War era but, in a rural Texas town, racism is still very much in the open, whether blatant or subtle.

I’ve had a remarkably hard time getting started with this review and it’s because Terry Shames has really plucked my emotions and, in some ways, memories. Samuel Craddock is one of my very favorite lawmen and his series is, I think, very tough to beat; An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock may just be the best installment yet (and will be on my list of favorite books for this year).

In the early 1980’s in a small town in Texas, nothing much happens but there’s a pretty severe drug problem, particularly among the younger set. In fact, Samuel was appointed chief of police, with no experience or training, because the city administrator thought his youth and brains were better suited to coping with the issue than the current chief. So far, he hasn’t really made inroads but then a terrible thing happens, a fire with five fatalities.

The house was located in Darktown, the community where all the local black people live. This is segregation, of course, but it’s not talked about or even acknowledged and racism is alive and well. Unfortunately, Samuel is officially kept out of the investigation since, according to state law, the highway patrol has jurisdiction over suspicious deaths in small towns, and then the Texas Rangers also become involved. Samuel keeps a hand in peripherally while also looking into what he believes may be a connection between the drug situation and whatever led to the killings.

Besides the arson, murder and drug investigations, we also meet Jeanne, Samuel’s beloved wife who wishes he hadn’t taken this job and his brother and sister-in-law who are never going to be named Parents of the Year. Local reporter Bonnie Bedichek will become an important, if annoying, aide in Samuel’s plans and Truly Bennett, an enterprising young man, is helping Samuel learn how to work with his brand new 20 head of cattle, Samuel’s personal dream. These people, along with many other characters, are so well-drawn that they come to life on the page and you can’t help having an emotional attachment to them, thanks to Ms. Shames‘ fine hand.

Because this is a prequel, it’s not a bad place to start the series but I think readers will do just as well to read the five books published earlier from the beginning. One way, you meet Samuel in the early days before he really knew what he was doing but was honorbound to try, and you get a taste of what influenced his later years. The other way, you learn to truly appreciate this man’s abilities, his experience, his grace, if you will, before finding out what he was like as a young, untried lawman. Take your pick—you can’t go wrong 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

Book Review: Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister

Girl in Disguise
Greer Macallister
Sourcebooks Landmark, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-4926-3522-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Inspired by the real story of investigator Kate Warne, this spirited novel follows the detective’s rise during one of the nation’s times of crisis, bringing to life a fiercely independent woman whose forgotten triumphs helped sway the fate of the country.

With no money and no husband, Kate Warne finds herself with few choices. The streets of 1856 Chicago offer a desperate widow mostly trouble and ruin―unless that widow has a knack for manipulation and an unusually quick mind. In a bold move that no other woman has tried, Kate convinces the legendary Allan Pinkerton to hire her as a detective.

Battling criminals and coworkers alike, Kate immerses herself in the dangerous life of an operative, winning the right to tackle some of the agency’s toughest investigations. But is the woman she’s becoming―capable of any and all lies, swapping identities like dresses―the true Kate? Or has the real disguise been the good girl she always thought she was?

Kate Warne really was the first female detective with the Pinkerton Agency, a woman far ahead of her time and with prodigious abilities; you can read more about her here. Ms. Macallister now offers a fictional account of this endlessly fascinating woman and brings Kate to life for us.

Kate’s adventures don’t seem all that exciting, on the surface, until you remind yourself she was a 23-year-old female doing a traditionally man’s job in 1856. To say she had to overcome some gender-based obstacles would be an understatement but she proved her worth and validated Allan Pinkerton’s decision to give her a chance. In effect, Kate broke the glass ceiling for all the women detectives who followed her.

The reader looking for a typical mystery won’t find it here because there’s no particular case to be solved. Rather, this is a lively recounting of a private detective’s adventures, made more interesting by the times and the excitement of being a Pinkerton.

The fun of this book lies in all the detective stuff we fell in love with as children—codes, deception, disguises and general shenanigans along with derring-do—and the tale is told by Kate herself, giving it a taste of reality as it existed in the mid-nineteenth century, especially during the Civil War. Ms. Macallister doesn’t fill the pages with thrills and chills but, considering how little is known about this captivating woman, she gives Kate a real presence.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

************

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon

Book Depository // Indiebound 

************

An Excerpt from Girl in Disguise

THE FIRST DISGUISE

August 1856

Like any Chicago tavern in deep summer, Joe Mulligan’s stank. It stank of cigars smoked the week before, months before, years before. Tonight’s smoke pooled against the basement ceiling in a noxious cloud. I acted like I smelled only roses. The woman I was pretending to be would have done the same.

I was also pretending the sharp tang of men’s sweat surrounding me didn’t terrify me. These were not good men. But I wasn’t a good woman, not tonight. My mission was to ignore the smoke and the sweat, blind a bad man with a wicked smile, and wring out his secrets. There would be no second chance.

So I breathed as shallowly as I could and made my way through the crowd to the bar. Men’s bodies brushed mine, hips and hands and God only knows what, lingering on my shoulder and every- where below. My nerves frayed, and I stumbled. With anything less at stake, I would have fled Joe Mulligan’s as if it were on fire. But I needed the money. The money would save me.

“Drink?” snapped the barkeep.

I squared my shoulders and answered him as the woman I was pretending to be.

“Well, I sure am thirsty,” I said, lowering my head as if sharing a confidence, “but I’m waiting on a friend.”

Empty glass in hand, he looked me over. The low-sweeping neckline of my claret silk gown and the pale expanse of décolletage it artfully framed. The intricately curled hair piled atop my head, shot through with ribbons. The coy smile, all lips, no teeth. I saw recognition flash in his eyes.

“Do your business, but don’t make no trouble,” he said and moved on down the bar to a knot of raucous, rowdy men. The first gate, passed. Now, I was just waiting.

And waiting.

At least thirty long minutes crawled by, and with each one, my relief drained away. The same disguise that had fooled the bartender fooled the patrons. Man after man took turns perching on the red leather stool next to me. They bent close. Their mouths offered drinks and conversation, but their eyes made it clear what they really wanted.

I hadn’t expected to be the only woman in the place. This late at night, the slatterns of Chicago did a brisk business in establishments like Joe Mulligan’s, which is why I’d chosen this place and time. I’d known how it would look and what they would think. But the practice was turning out to be much harder than the theory. Every man had to be skillfully parried away. A single slip would waste the night. The effort exhausted me.

“Oh, sir,” I was saying to the latest one, fluttering my fingers at him, “you do me a kindness. But I really must insist you leave that seat free for my companion.”

He leaned closer, breathing almost into my mouth, and slurred, “I’ll be your companion, sugar.”

I swallowed my disgust and kept my voice steady. Be pleasant, I told myself. Cheerful. Bland. “He’ll be here any minute, I’m certain of it,” I said and gazed over his shoulder hopefully. As if in answer, the door to the outside creaked open.

Rumbles of laughter sounded as half a dozen men guffawed their way down the stairs into the tavern. I recognized my target immediately. He wasn’t the tallest of them, nor the most handsome, but it was clear he was in charge. His smirk showed he was the one who’d told the joke everyone was laughing at.

Henry Venable, better known as Heck, was a sallow man with deep-set, hooded eyes. He wore a hat worn soft with age. The rest of his clothes were so new they practically gleamed. If I were closer, I’d be able to see my reflection in his shoes. He looked, unmistakably, like he’d recently come into money. Which the Pinkerton Detective Agency and the First Eagle Savings Bank believed he had, several weeks before, with the help of three accomplices and four shotguns. Eyewitnesses had given a description that matched Heck’s, but it wasn’t enough. The best way to prove he’d done it was to find the money. He’d spent some of it, clearly, but rare was the man who could spend five thousand dollars in less than a month without leaving some kind of trail. The rest had to be hidden somewhere.

I had to find out where.

Easy, easy, I told myself. I couldn’t shove my way over to him right off the bat. I had to get him to come to me. Somehow.

Still laughing and jostling one another, the six men took their seats at a booth in the corner, much farther away than I would’ve liked. I was too far off to catch his eye, and it would look odd if I changed my seat for no reason. Given that, I sidled down the bar and forced myself to slide onto an empty stool next to a stoop- shouldered man. I sat much closer to him than I needed to and dangled one foot close to his.

“Evening,” I said.

He glared at me through bleary eyes, clearly three sheets to the wind already, maybe four. Well, that wasn’t all bad. He couldn’t cause me trouble if he slipped out of consciousness. I hoped.

“Evening,” he slurred, barely able to manage even the two required syllables.

“What’re you drinking? Looks delicious. I sure could use a drink myself,” I said and gestured to the empty bar in front of me.

He managed to raise two fingers to the bartender, who came right away—clearly, this was a regular—and said, “’Nother round, Jim.”

“Coming right up.”

I edged even closer to him and peeked over my shoulder as discreetly as I could toward Heck and his men. All seated, and some looked restless. Good. There were still possibilities.

My ever-drunker neighbor half raised his glass of bourbon to me. I took a sip and nearly choked. It took all my concentration not to gasp at the burning, searing sensation. I’d have to get better at that. Any man in possession of his faculties could easily see I wasn’t used to strong drink. Tonight, this one’s faculties were thoroughly drowned, but that was luck on my part, not skill. If I made it through this night, I’d put it on my list of things to learn.

Finally, one of Heck’s men eased out of the booth. As I’d hoped, he came toward the bar, into the larger-than-usual space on my far side. He flagged down the bartender and rattled off a complicated order. As soon as he was done and his elbow was resting on the bar next to me, I ignored my marinated neighbor, as I’d planned, and leaned over toward him, my décolletage almost spilling out onto his arm.

“Evening,” I said.

He nodded back silently. He was a striking man, with blue eyes like ice under his thick black brows, but there was something cruel about his face. Something cold. Locked away.

I’d have to generate enough warmth for both of us. “Say,” I nearly purred, inclining my head toward the booth, “would you mind introducing me to your friends there?”

“Yes, I’d mind very much,” he said, turned square toward the bar, and then ignored me as if someone were paying him a goodly sum to do so.

Damn it. The wrong target, I supposed, but what was I to do? I was beginning to panic in earnest. Heck was only ten feet away from me, but he might as well be ten miles if I couldn’t get myself into his orbit. I had it all planned out. Delicate fingers laid on his arm. Breathless, admiring questions. He was known as a boaster with an eye, and other parts, for the ladies. If I was in the right place at the right time—which I was so, so close to being—I could get him to boast to me. Then I’d have what Pinkerton wanted, and in turn, he’d give me what I wanted: a position as the first female operative of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, at full salary.

But it all depended on Heck, and to get to him, I had to get through this man-shaped woodcut first. And all he was doing was staring at the barkeep, waiting.

We stayed like that a few minutes. My brain worked madly, thoughts zooming and swooping around my skull, but I had no good ideas. It could all fall apart this easily. Damn it. Damn it. The drunk on my other side finally laid his head down on the bar; he’d be no help.

At last, another man rose from the booth and joined Blue Eyes, standing close to both of us. His hair was drenched with brillian- tine, and his small, sad mustache was little more than a pencil line above his lip. “Boss wants to know what’s taking so long.”

“See for yourself,” said the taller one, inclining his head in the direction of the culprit, who was hard at work pouring coppery brown liquid out of a silver shaker into six matching coupes. “Ragman’s taking his sweet time.”

The new arrival inclined his head toward me. “Looks to me like you’re caught up in conversation.”

“Heavens no,” I said, pivoting my body toward  his.  “This clod couldn’t make conversation if I spotted him both ends of the sentence. Are you more of a…talker?”

“I could be,” he said with a wolf’s leer.

“Then perhaps I might join your party?” I smiled, but not too wide. Softly, sweetly. Let him think me a sheep.

“Sounds good to me,” he said. “No,” said the first man.

“You’re no fun,” said the second.

“That may be,” said Blue Eyes. “But no need for the boss to get distracted. There’s business to be done.”

“Aw, plenty of time for business when the sun rises,” Mustache replied. “Tonight, I think he’s more in the mood to celebrate, if you catch my drift.”

“I like to celebrate,” I said.

“I bet you do,” both men said in unison, with very different inflections.

With much clattering and fanfare, the bartender finally poured the sixth drink and pushed the glasses across the bar. Mustache immediately grabbed one in each hand. The elegant stems looked especially fragile in his fists. He carried them over to the table, where his arrival was greeted with appreciative hoots.

I assumed Blue Eyes would follow, but instead, he grabbed my elbow sharply and growled in my ear, “What are you playing at?”

“What?”

“Walk away,” he said. “Right now. Walk away.” “No,” I hissed, but my heart pounded.

“All right, then. Come with me.” “I’ll scream,” I said.

“You do that,” he said, cool as the far side of the pillow.

He was right. A scream would call attention my way, but what for? What man among these would rush to my side? I scanned their faces. Heck Venable and his crew were hardly the only wrongdoers here, and some were doubtless worse than mere robbers. First Eagle had been knocked over with no fatalities. There were things far worse than money to steal. I was likely better off taking my chances with Blue Eyes, as poor a prospect as that seemed.

Mustache returned for the rest of the drinks. “You helping?” he asked, clearly confused.

“Naw, you take ’em. I’ll be back in two shakes,” said the taller man, shifting his grip on my elbow around to the inside, so it looked less overtly threatening. His long, rough fingers moved over the delicate skin on my inner arm, and I couldn’t suppress a shiver.

“Oh, I see,” leered Mustache.

Annoyance crossed his face, but Blue Eyes said, “Don’t drink mine. I won’t be long.”

“Sure.”

I wished I could think of something to say to Mustache that would result in him getting me away from Blue Eyes, but my mind was a blank. I never should have taken such a risk. Never should have come here. I didn’t even protest as the taller man hauled me to my feet.

“This way,” he said, steering me up the stairs. I dragged my feet as much as I dared, and a new wave of terror swept over me. Upstairs was the hotel. That was a key reason Joe Mulligan’s was particularly popular with the whores of Chicago: convenience.

His hand was locked around my arm like an iron cuff. He didn’t relax his grip at all, even while using his other hand to unlock the door of a room that I assumed to be his. My throat was dry, and my head swam. Damn it, damn it. I’d disguised myself as a prostitute to crack the case, believing it the best, if not the only, way to achieve my aim. Now, unless a miracle happened, I’d have to choose between certain exposure and an unthinkable act. Blue Eyes was clearly expecting me to follow through on my disguise. Unless I wanted to give up all hope of ever gaining the confidence of Heck Venable and prying loose his secrets, I’d have to deliver on my unspoken promise and do what prostitutes do.

With one more tug, he pulled me inside the room and shut the door.

************

About the Author

Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist whose work has appeared in publications such as The North American Review, The Missouri Review, and The Messenger. Her plays have been performed at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. She lives with her family in Brooklyn.

Social Media Links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/theladygreer

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theladygreer/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/greermacallister/

************

“an exciting, well-crafted historical novel. Loaded with
suspense and action, this is a well-told, superb story.”
 Publishers Weekly, STARRED 

“Macallister’s story is a rip-roaring, fast-paced treat to
read, with compelling characters, twisted villains, and
mounds of historical details adeptly woven into the tale
of a courageous woman who loves her job more than
anything or anyone else.” – Booklist