Authors: Julie Lessman
Tags: #FIC042030, #FIC042040, #FIC027050, #Sisters—Fiction, #Nineteen thirties—Fiction, #Boston (Mass.)—Fiction
© 2012 by Julie Lessman
Published by Revell
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
Ebook edition created 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Scripture used in this book, whether quoted or paraphrased by the characters, is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
The internet addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers in this book are accurate at the time of publication. They are provided as a resource. Baker Publishing Group does not endorse them or vouch for their content or permanence.
To my beautiful daughter-in-law, Katie—
who taught me that “a son surrendered”
does not mean surrendering a mother’s love,
but multiplying it beyond my wildest dreams.
is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Boston, Massachusetts, May 1932
o help me, if I get caught tonight, Peggy Pankow’s name is “Mud.”
Susannah Grace Kennedy braced herself against the cool of the salty sea air—
her guilt—and hurried down the dark street toward Revere Beach, almost regretting she’d let her new friend talk her into sneaking out of the house. A crescent moon rose while the waning light of dusk cast purple shadows on the boardwalk where streetlamps were just beginning to glow. People milled on the seashore, mere silhouettes backdropped by a fuscia sky glinting across restless waters. The sound of music drifted in the air along with the scent of the sea, and suddenly a tingle of excitement trumped any worry she had.
“Hey, Suzi-Q,” Peggy had said after class last week, “my big sis says we can tag along to Ocean Pier on Friday night.” Her brown eyes had sparkled with the dare of adventure. “Wanna go?”
Susannah winced, the little-girl nickname her family had coined, a painful reminder of just how much her life had changed in three months. Her smile was patient. “Peg,
it’s Anna now, remember? Not Suzi-Q or Suz or Susannah or Gracie or anything else that reminds me of a past I’m trying to forget.” She battled the familiar malaise that always accompanied thoughts of her once-happy home. “Besides,” she said, her voice trailing to a whisper, “I’m not that girl anymore.”
“Okay, okay, but I refuse to call you Anna. Too stuffy.” Peg pursed her lips. “I should call you Dr Pepper Girl the way you guzzle the stuff when Aunt Eleanor’s not around, but with that strawberry-blonde hair and cute freckled face, you’re an Annie through and through.”
“Annie” chewed on her thumbnail. “I don’t know, Peg, you don’t think ‘Annie’ sounds too young or rural?” she asked, anxious to shed her small-town roots. “After all, I’m a city girl now, looking for a new name and a new life.”
“Nope, it’s perfect.” Peggy wriggled her brows. “And you mean
, don’t you?”
Annie’s stomach dipped and rolled like the seagulls over Revere Beach, and she gulped down a sliver of nail.
Not just sterile words written in her diary this time back in her hometown of Badger, Iowa, or in one of her many handwritten novels. Nope, this would be real flesh-and-blood kisses from real flesh-and-blood men. She swallowed hard. “Uh . . . maybe.”
“No maybes about it, kiddo,” Peggy said with a wink. “A deal is a deal. You tutored me in algebra? I tutor you in love. What kind of romance writer will you be without research? Not to mention our bet—you swore you’d get your first kiss at Revere Beach or I get to keep your favorite sweater, remember?” Peggy sighed when Annie hesitated. “For criminy sakes, Annie Lou, you’re a woman who’s never been kissed, and this is your chance. Besides, Ocean Pier is the perfect place to lose your heart.” She elbowed Annie in the side, eyes agleam with mischief. “
your reputation. What do you say, wanna go?”
Did she want to go? To Revere Beach? The Boston hot spot her older sister Maggie raved about in her letters from college? A shiver of excitement tingled as anticipation swelled. What seventeen-year-old girl wouldn’t want to go to Revere Beach?
Especially after her older sister’s chatter about the thrill of the Cyclone Rollercoaster, the romantic Hippodrome Carousel, or moonlight strolls on Ocean Pier with Steven O’Connor, Maggie’s old flame?
Goodness, Annie had boxes of Maggie’s old letters hidden away, boasting of good times at Ocean Pier with the “gang.” Names like Joe Walsh and Joanie Pankow, Erica Hogan, and Ashley Roberts were emblazoned in her memory. A small-town transplant mid-senior year, Annie had felt like an outcast, but the moment she’d heard Peggy Pankow’s name in roll call, she’d sought her out, elated Peggy had a sister named Joanie. Anxious to connect with anyone who’d known Maggie, Annie was thrilled when Peggy took her under her wing, transforming her drab small-town look into one more acceptable and stylish. The two became friends, not only because Peggy was crazy and fun but because she was the key to Maggie’s past. A past Annie had no inclination to share with Peggy just yet. No, not when Maggie’s later letters indicated a rift in the gang, convincing Annie that Erica and Joanie bore a monumental grudge against her sister.
Did she want to go to Revere Beach with Maggie’s old gang? Annie sighed. More than anything in the world. After all, everybody loved Revere Beach.
Everybody but Aunt Eleanor, that is, who’d forbidden her to go. A gust of wind brought her back to the dark streets en route to the beach, flapping her bulky cardigan and chilling her to the bone. A group of men whistled as she passed, and Annie instinctively wrapped her sweater close, wishing she’d asked Peggy for a ride instead of walking to the Pier alone. But she couldn’t risk leaving the house before Aunt Eleanor retired, so she’d waited in her room until dark. Because as Peggy had so artfully argued, what Aunt Eleanor didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. Annie’s palms began to sweat despite the cool of the night.
I just hope it doesn’t hurt me . . .
“Hey, doll, what’s your hurry?” Two men strolled from the shadows of a dark alley and blocked her path, forcing a gasp
to choke in her throat. One delivered a lazy smile distorted by the flicker of the tungsten lamp overhead, his white shirt rolled to reveal muscular arms. His thumbs hooked around suspenders while smoke furled from the cigarette glowing red between his teeth. “Well, looky here, Grove, this little dish is all by herself. Ya need some company, sweet thing?”
Annie faltered back, cigarette smoke and garbage from the alley making her as nauseous as the man before her. Her gaze darted down the empty street she’d taken as a shortcut, and her throat went dry. A stone’s throw from the Pier, she doubted anyone would hear her cry, not with the roar of the waves, the screech of coaster rails, or music from the ballrooms along the boardwalk. Her throat convulsed as she cinched her sweater tight. “Uh . . . no, thank you, I’m meeting friends at the dance pavilion. They’re waiting now.”
The man called Grove sidled close to drape an arm over her shoulder. “Come on, doll, you’ll have more fun with Harv and me than you will with them. What’s your name, sweetheart?”
Fear crawled up her windpipe to steal her air. “P-please, no.” She twisted free, but Harv jerked her back, his calloused hand smothering her cry. Eyelids flickering, she grew faint as he casually forced her toward the alley. “Come on, baby,” he whispered, “you wouldn’t be here by your lonesome if you weren’t looking for a little fun.” He attempted to grind his wet mouth against hers, and she dropped her purse, lashing her head to the side to avoid his lips. Her stomach curdled at the stench of liquor on his breath, and when she thrashed and tried to scream again, vomit rose in her throat.
God, please, no.
Harv pinned her arms behind. “Whoo-ee, a regular she-cat, ain’t she though?”
“Let her go . . .” A warning bit into the night, as deadly as the lash of a whip.
Harv spun around, muscled arm looped to Annie’s waist as he squinted into the dark where a shadow emerged, not twenty feet away. Annie cried out when Harv jerked her close, his fingers gouging her side. “Yeah? Says who?”
The stranger’s face was obscured by the night, but the dominance of his tone left no room for rebuttal. “Says an officer of the law, wise guy.” In slow, deliberate motion, he reached into his coat jacket to open a battered leather wallet where a nickel badge glinted in the lamplight. “Let her go—
A guttural laugh iced Annie’s skin when the man called Grove ambled forward and spit, fingers sliding along the back of his waistband. With a faint swish, a blade shot forth from a knife in his hand, and Harv muffled another scream from Annie’s throat. “You ain’t got no authority here, flatfoot, so scram.”
“Got all the authority I need, dirtbag,” the officer said quietly, the lightning click of his revolver faster than the hitch of Annie’s breath. “Had a lousy day, scumball, so I’m just itching for a reason to vent. I suggest you drop it real slow.”
Grove hesitated for several seconds before hurling the knife down, his surly look as sharp as the blade that clattered to the sidewalk.
Two-fisting the gun, the officer eased toward Harv, arms extended and aim level. “Not going to tell you again.
Let her go
With a muttered curse, Harv shoved her away. Annie stumbled forward, and the officer steadied her with a firm grasp before calmly steering her behind him.
His voice was as steely as the gun in his hand. “I suggest you lowlifes call it a night, ’cause if I find you anywhere near the beach again, you’ll be picking on fleas in a jail cell instead of little girls in the streets.”
“Didn’t mean no harm, officer,” Harv said quickly, his tone conciliatory even if Grove’s menacing look was not. “Just thought Little Miss might need some company, that’s all. Come on, Grove, Ann Street’s got better action than this.” The men backed away, their glares prickling Annie’s skin until they disappeared down the alley.
The air rushed from her lungs, body quivering like the lights looping the boardwalk, swaying in the breeze. She peeked up at her savior, studying his broad back as he watched
the men slink away. He dwarfed her with his height, maybe six foot two to her five foot one, and his hair was as dark as the umber sky. She exhaled loudly when he holstered his gun and bent to pick up the knife, feeling safe for the first time all night. “Thank you so much, Officer.”
He turned, lamplight illuminating blue eyes that singed her to the spot. “What the devil are you doing walking this street alone at night?”
She blinked, shocked as much by his handsome face as his sullen look.
“What’s your name?” he asked. A tic twittered in his hard-chiseled cheek, indicating he was clearly perturbed. “And how old are you?”
“A-Annie . . . and I’m seventeen . . . almost e-eighteen.”
His shuttered gaze traveled the length of her, down her body and up, settling on her face with obvious disapproval. “You don’t look seventeen to me,” he muttered. He slacked a hip. “Does your mother know where you are?”
Her chin shot up. “My mother’s dead,” she snapped, the fire in her eyes challenging the nasty look in his. “And you don’t look like an officer either.”
She heard his heavy exhale as he tunneled blunt fingers through perfectly groomed hair, disrupting several dark strands that toppled over his forehead. The tight line of his angular jaw softened. “Look, I’m sorry, miss, but you have no business walking these streets alone at night. Do you have any idea what could have happened if I hadn’t come along?”
His question unnerved her, and she clutched her arms to her waist, moisture pricking her eyes at what might have happened if not for him. She swallowed hard and nodded, dropping her gaze.
“If you were my sister, I’d cart you home right now and let your father deal with you.”
Her head jerked high, temper charred once again. “Well, I’m not, so why don’t you go bully somebody else?”
His eyes narrowed. “You’ve got a smart mouth and not a
lot of brains, you know that, kid? Your daddy needs to keep an eye on you.”
Her chin lashed up. “Yeah? Well, he’s dead too, are you happy?”
He blinked, lips parted in shock. His voice was a rasp. “You’re an orphan?”
The sound of that awful word stabbed anew, and anger resurged. “Yes.” She fought off the sting of tears. “Can I go now?”
“Hold on.” His hand stayed her arm, his voice suddenly kind. “Where do you live?”
“With my aunt,” she said quietly, chin quivering. “And my little sister.”
With another heavy blast of air, he stooped to retrieve her purse and nudged it into her hands. The gentleness of his voice sparked more tears in her eyes. “Look, kid, this area’s not safe after dark for any woman alone, seventeen or seventy, so promise you won’t do this again.”
She nodded, but her cheeks burned at the way he made her feel—seven instead of seventeen. Her gaze dropped.
Just like Aunt Eleanor.
“So, where ya headed?”
She hooked a stray curl over her ear, careful to avoid his gaze. “To meet my friends at Ocean Pier Dance Pavilion,” she whispered. Tucking her purse under her arm, she pinched her thick sweater closed before gingerly backing away. “Thank you, Officer . . .”
“Wait.” His touch jolted her, forcing her eyes to span wide. A hint of a smile played on his lips as he released her. “I’m going that way, so I’ll walk with you.”
“No!” Heat swarmed her cheeks.
A police escort in front of my friends?
“I mean, I’m late, Officer, but thank you again.” Before he could object, she sprinted the half block to the boardwalk as if she were escaping the ghost of Aunt Eleanor herself, finally darting across Atlantic Avenue onto the sandy beach. She almost tumbled over a stray piece of driftwood, but she dared not stop till she reached the cobblestone landing of
the Pier. Chest huffing, she glanced back. Her eyes scanned the dusky boulevard for any sign of him among the smattering of people and autos, but it was as if he’d disappeared into thin air. A sigh shivered from her lips, tinged with more than a little guilt. She put a shaky hand to her eyes, squeezing them shut.
I should have never come. Never defied Aunt Eleanor. Never risked getting caught.