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A Shot in the Dark (A Trick of the Light #2)
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Matthew is determined to find his run-away sweetheart.
And then he’s going to marry her. Well, that is, if he can get her to hear him out before rival gangster, Tommy Kennedy, woos her into believing that Chicago power and prestige are better than quite towns and true love.
And if she won’t listen, then he’ll just have to tie her up and drag her home.
Part 2 of the A Trick of the Light duet.
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Alice lowered her coffee cup, a little moon of crimson lipstick lingering on the rim. Shifting in her seat, she answered the frowning man across from her. “No, Matthew. I already told you. I haven’t seen the blonde you were with before.”
He’d shaved again, put on his new suit, almost looked like he fit in, yet lacked all Chicago swagger. “What about Radcliffe?”
“He comes and goes.” She was openly uncomfortable when Matthew’s glare grew jarring, sputtering as she rushed to say, “You don’t want to get mixed up with that man. He’d shoot you just as soon as look at you.”
Matthew tried to keep his voice smooth, but to the point. “Listen, Alice, I need to find Charlotte right quick.”
While Nathaniel and Eli scouted the Drake’s lobby, Matthew had combed the city, going to every place he could remember Charlie showing him. Even so, since coming to Chicago, not one of the Emerson boys had caught a glimpse of her. Sheer desperation led him to seek his old flame, to press Alice into coffee when she’d turned up her nose at his initial approach and forthright questions.
“I can’t help you.” Alice sat back, frowning at her cup. “She’s family to Radcliffe. That man won’t allow a soul to muss a hair on her pretty, spoiled head.”
Matthew snorted, would have laughed if capable of enjoying the irony. “Can you find out if she’s even staying at the Drake?”
Alice put a cigarette between her lips and struck a match. “No.”
“I’m not risking my neck asking questions about a mobster’s kin.”
Impatient, Matthew pressed. “I ain’t asking you to risk your neck. I’ll give you money if that’s what you need.”
Her sulky voice turned sharp. “Don’t insult me, Matthew.”
Feeling the entire awkward conversation had been a waste of time, Matthew stood from his seat. “She saved your life once, Alice. Doubt you knew that.”
“What do you mean?” For a split second, Alice lost a bit of her haughtiness. After chewing her lip at his stony silence, she offered an aggravated sigh. “Fine… sit. I’ll check and see if she’s on the register—but no more.”
Thirty minutes and two cups of coffee later, Matthew was starting to think she’d stood him up, but the door chimed and a disgruntled Alice shimmied out of the cold. “Suite 2334.” Sullen, she offered her hand in a final goodbye. “If what you say is true, then thank her for me… But I don’t want to see her, or you, again.”
There had been a time the raven-haired woman had not been so cold. Once he even tried to convince himself he cared for her. “This place ain’t any good for you, Alice. Go back to your kin in Jackson.”
Sneering, Alice walked away.
* * *
A few days had passed since coming to the city, most of the time spent locked up tight in her fancy suite, sleeping and ordering room service. Charlie was moping, she knew that, but everyone was entitled to a good sulk now and then. Eventually she pulled it together and called on Martha, the woman overjoyed to hear she’d stay past Christmas.
Beaumont, when he’d arrived home in the evening, looked entirely unsurprised at the news. He said no word about it, just pulled out a cigarette and took a seat while Martha prepared his drink.
Handing a dram of whiskey to her man, Martha smiled at her girl. “Charlotte will join us for New Year’s. Make sure the mayor knows we’ll have another guest for the Gala.”
Beau’s answer was the smallest of winks and a long slow pull of his cigarette. “Tommy will escort you.”
There was no point in arguing. Charlie nodded, willing to at least try on the life and see if it fit. Besides, it wasn’t like she had anywhere else to go.
Uncustomarily quiet, she just listened while Martha began outlining what would need to be done. “We’ll go shopping tomorrow and get you something appropriate for the party.” Martha’s dark eyes skimmed Charlie’s simple cotton dress, her nose wrinkled at the country fashion.
“Whatever you say, Martha.”
Those seemed to be the magic words.
Christmas came and went, spent at the Radcliffe’s table just like when she’d been a girl. Every day after was a whir, Charlie’s room and unacceptable wardrobe ignored at the Drake in favor of the family home and comfort of friends.
She didn’t mind any of it, not really. Being lavished with attention from a woman she loved helped ease the melancholy, and the distraction of preparing for the New Year’s party gave Charlie something to do—beyond pine for a life she would never have. Finding a dress had been easy enough, there were only three or four shops in town Martha Radcliffe would even consider walking inside. The day of grooming was not. Charlie had been poked, prodded, plucked, waxed and painted. By the time she was dressed in her velvet gown, she wasn’t Charlie anymore. She was Miss Elliot, Martha’s fashionable niece and Beaumont Radcliffe’s re-hatched Blackbird.