Authors: Deadly Caress
PRAISE FOR BRENDA JOYCE’S
“Even more deliciously tangled lives . . . The carefully woven plot and memorable characters kept me riveted and I hate having to wait for more.”
“A riveting storyline with more twists and turns than a mountain road.”
Old Book Barn Gazette
“An addictive gift for the burned-out reader . . . vivid characterization, compelling drama, sudden twists, and a most gratifying shocker of an ending. The deadliest aspect of the ‘Deadly’ series is waiting for the next one.”
Writers Club Romance Group
“Another scintillating romantic murder mystery . . . Brenda Joyce perfectly balances a strong mystery with a love story so that readers get exactly what they are looking for, both suspense and passion.”
“Fantastic . . . I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a series as much as ‘The Francesca Cahill Novels.’ They are a fresh, clever, titillating mixture of fun and seriousness.”
Reader to Reader
“Immensely enjoyable . . . passionate and heartbreaking . . . readers will be captivated by Francesca’s charm, intelligence and courage as well as by Rick’s honor and integrity. I love this series and recommend it highly.”
Romance Reviews Today
“Continues to surprise . . . the sort of page-turning compulsions bestsellers are made of . . . Complex, engaging, and human, Francesca Cahill is a most unusual heroine.”
Writers Club Romance Group
TURN THE PAGE FOR MORE ACCLAIM . . .
“The suspense mounts with each book in the series. Waiting for the next one is going to be almost unbearable.”
Old Book Barn Gazette
“Intriguing . . . a smooth, continuous literary flow . . . A wonderful whodunit, Victorian style.”
Affair de Coeur Magazine
“Enchanting . . . a page-turning, thoroughly entertaining read that is loaded with adventure, vibrant characters, witty dialogue, sexual attraction, and an enjoyable visit to turn-of-the-century New York City. This is Ms. Joyce at her best, giving the reader an appealing and captivating story that is alive with humor and a dazzling plot.”
Writers Club Romance Group
“Fast-paced, sensual, and intriguing.”
“The steamy revelations . . . are genuinely intriguing, and just enough of them are left unresolved at the book’s end to leave readers waiting eagerly for the series’ next installment . . . Joyce excels at creating twists and turns in her characters’ personal lives.”
“Joyce carefully crafted a wonderful mystery with twists and turns and red herrings galore, then added two marvelous, witty protagonists who will appeal to romance readers . . . Add to this a charming cast of secondary characters and a meticulously researched picture of society life in the early 1900s. I can hardly wait to see what Francesca and Rick will be up to next.”
Reader to Reader
TITLES BY BRENDA JOYCE
House of Dreams
The Third Heiress
The Finer Things
Promise of the Rose Secrets
The Fires of Paradise
The Darkest Heart
Lovers and Liars
NOVELLAS BY BRENDA JOYCE
Heart of the Home
A Gift of Joy
ST. MARTIN’S PAPERBACKS
If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
Copyright © 2003 by Brenda Joyce.
copyright © 2003 by Brenda Joyce.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
Printed in the United States of America
St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / April 2003
St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
AHILL PRIDED HERSELF
on her common sense, her steady character, and her intellect. In fact, throughout the city she was considered a bluestocking and a reformer but also an eccentric. This was all much to her formidable mother’s dismay. Mrs. Julia Van Wyck Cahill, one of society’s leading matrons, wanted nothing more than to see her daughter successfully wed. Francesca, however, had other plans. Because recently, she had become rather infamous as the city’s most successful amateur sleuth. It meant she often had quite a bit of explaining to do.
And today, Francesca had received the most stunning proposal of marriage from the city’s most eligible (and most notorious) bachelor, Calder Hart. How happy Julia would be should she learn of his desire to marry her. Francesca was terrified of Julia and Hart conspiring against her. After all, not only did she have no wish to marry, but she was in love with another man.
Tomorrow she would call on Hart and set him straight. How she dreaded the encounter, knowing that it would be an unpleasant one.
If only she were fifty and fat, she thought, starting grimly from the salon. She promptly bumped into her father in the hall. “Papa?”
Andrew Cahill was a benign man in appearance, rather stout, of medium height, and to look at him one would never guess that he was one of the city’s millionaires. He had made his fortune in meatpacking in Chicago, moving his family east when Francesca was a child—she was now a woman of twenty. Francesca was well aware that she was the apple of his eye, and not because her sister and brother were older than she was. While she did not take after Andrew in appearance, as she resembled Julia, being blond and blue-eyed, she resembled him in character. Andrew was an avid reformer, as politically and socially involved as any one of the Mellons or the Astors. There was only one man whom she admired more—Rick Bragg, the city’s newly appointed police commissioner.
Now, distraught and worried, she prayed that her distress did not show, as her father knew her too well and would demand to know what was bothering her so. Worse, she sensed he was looking for her and he did not look pleased, oh no.
“You have a telephone call, Francesca. It is Rick Bragg,” Andrew said without smiling, his tone grim.
She stiffened with surprise. It was late and hardly the time for a social call—worse, Bragg would be furious if he ever learned of Calder Hart’s proposal. Calder Hart and Rick Bragg were half brothers—and theirs was a tense, uneasy relationship. She knew why her father sounded disapproving—Rick Bragg was a very unhappily married man. Her parents did not like their friendship. She thanked her father, changed direction, and hurried into the library, a room paneled in wood with stained-glass windows and beamed ceilings. The receiver was off the hook, on his desk. She lifted it to her ear. “Bragg?” She had to smile breathlessly, his image
coming instantly to mind—handsome, golden, resolved.
He was one of the most charismatic men she had ever met and, more important, the most noble-minded. If anyone could reform the city’s terribly corrupt police force, it was he. Unfortunately, the political pressure he was under now to do so was vast.
“There has been another act of vandalism, Francesca,” he said without preamble.
She clutched the receiver, forgetting her personal dilemma instantly. Last week the studio of her friend Sarah Channing had been ravaged and nearly destroyed. The case had been temporarily shelved, however, as Sarah had not been hurt. “Not another art studio?” Francesca gasped.
“Yes, and it has been thoroughly destroyed, in a similar manner to Sarah’s studio, but in a more extreme way. It gets worse,” Bragg added tersely.
“How can it be worse?” she whispered, already sensing what was to come.
“The artist was a young woman, just a few years older than Sarah.”
Her heart lurched. “
There was a pause. “She has been murdered,” he said. “Francesca, I need you.”
Francesca forgot to breathe. Her heart leaped with excitement and a thrill she knew too well. “Where are you?”
“I’ll be right there,” she said, and she hung up the telephone, stunned anew. A killer was on the loose—another case was at hand. But this time the artist had been murdered. Francesca was suddenly afraid. Sarah’s life might very well be in danger, too.
Francesca rushed from the library, determined not to alert anyone to the fact that she was about to enter another criminal investigation—one with Bragg at her side. Her family was well aware of her sudden penchant for sleuthing, as she had been a feature in the press several times, unfortunately. Neither her mother nor her father approved. And while Francesca
was rather adept at wrapping her father about her little finger, Julia was a formidable opponent indeed. Francesca wished to avoid her now at all costs, for otherwise she would never get out of the house at this hour, and there was no possible way she could bypass the scene of this terrible new crime.
As she hurried upstairs, past a hallway lined with several paintings, an image of Calder Hart reared itself in her mind—darkly handsome, dangerously arrogant. Even the sudden happenstance of a new crime could not quite keep her mind off the personal matters confronting her. And following his image came an equally compelling one of Bragg. She shivered. How had her life ever come to this impasse?
She hadn’t meant to fall in love with him. But it had been impossible not to do so, with them working so closely together. And he despised his wife, who had left him four years ago, who roamed Europe while he paid her bills, collecting lovers. More dread filled Francesca. But Leigh Anne was no longer in Europe. She had returned to the city, and she had made her intentions clear. She wanted her marriage back—intact.
Francesca knew she must not dwell on Bragg and his wife now. She quickly rushed into the bedroom of a large guest suite where Maggie Kennedy’s four children lay sleeping on two large beds. Maggie was a seamstress and Francesca had suggested that she and her family stay with the Cahills for a while, since Francesca’s most recent case had put them in harm’s way. Her eldest boy, Joel, was a cut-purse, but he had become indispensable to Francesca in her investigative work, as he knew the worst wards of the city intimately. She quickly roused him. “Joel!”
“Miz Cahill?” he murmured, brushing long black bangs out of his dark eyes.
“There has been another murder,” Francesca whispered in his ear. “The commissioner just called. Meet me in the hall.”
And Joel was instantly awake. Their gazes met. Then he nodded, leaping out of bed as Francesca quickly left. A few
moments later, she and Joel, both bundled up in their heavy winter overcoats, were slipping from the kitchen’s back door, so as to avoid the doorman in the front hall. Outside, the night was inky blue, with a million glittering stars—and it was frigidly cold. Snow-clad lawns encircled the mansion, and a graveled drive led to a pair of wrought-iron gates, closed now, which let out on Fifth Avenue. The gaslights there lit up not just the avenue itself but Central Park on its other side. Carriages and broughams crowded the street, with one black motorcar in its midst. But as it was a weekday night, the traffic was moving quite swiftly. Francesca had just seen a horse and hansom. “Let’s run. There’s a cab!” she cried.