Published: April 2002
As the heiress to a vast fortune amassed by her millionaire father, Francesca Cahill’s life should be mapped out for her: find an eligible suitor, marry, and have children. But Francesca is an unconventional young lady who is not about to give up her knack for sleuthing–even though she was almost killed in her last outing…
Murder strikes once again in the seamy underbelly of New York’s high society, exposing scandalous secrets and unleashing an intense investigation into one of the most brutal crimes the city has ever known. Francesca must join forces with Rick Bragg, New York City’s Police commissioner and the mans he cannot resist loving, as their search takes them through a twisted labyrinth of menacing lies, corruption, and a passion that refused to be denied…
Enter the glittering world of turn-of-the-century New York City, where a metropolis booming with life also masks a dark world of danger, death, and daring desire…
Listen to a audio clip from Deadly Love, now available on Audible, an Amazon company.
“Ms. Joyce has written a series that takes us into the world of turn-of-the-century New York City”
—A Romance Review
“Brenda Joyce perfectly balances a strong mystery with a love story so that readers get exactly what they are looking for”
“Joyce excels to creating twists and turns in her character’s personal lives.”
Friday, February 14, 1902—1 PM
The Channings lived on the unfashionable West Side of the city. Sarah Channing was becoming a good friend, ever since her engagement to Francesca’s brother, Evan. When her father had died, her mother, a rather frivolous and harmless socialite, had inherited his millions and promptly built their new house. As Francesca approached the mansion, which was quite new and horrendously gothic, she clutched her reticule as if she expected a cutpurse to appear and seize it.
Francesca was told by the doorman that Miss Channing was not receiving visitors.
“Would you care to leave your card?” the liveried doorman asked.
“Harold? Who is it?”
Francesca stepped forward at the sound of Mrs. Channing’s voice. A not-quite-pretty woman with reddish-blond hair who was extremely well-dressed and somehow reminded one of a flighty, mindless bird was entering the foyer. “Why, Francesca! This is quite the surprise!” She clapped her beringed hands together in childish delight.
Francesca managed a smile. “Hello, Mrs. Channing. I am sorry to hear that Sarah is indisposed. I hope she is not too ill?”
Mrs. Channing’s dark eyes widened. Then she put her arm around Francesca and leaned toward her, speaking in a conspiratorial whisper. “Perhaps this is a stroke of fate, indeed. That you should choose this very day to call!”
Francesca looked into her dramatically widened eyes- as there was little else to do, with the other woman’s face a mere two inches from her own. “Whatever do you mean, Mrs. Channing?”
“We are in the midst of a crisis,” Mrs. Channing said. Her breath was sweet, as if she had been eating raspberries and chocolates.
Francesca was in no mood for a crisis other than her own. “Perhaps I should leave word that I have called- and come back at another time.”
“Oh, no!” Mrs. Channing cried, finally releasing Francesca. “I told Sarah we should call for you! But she said you were recovering from that horrid encounter with the Cross Killer, and we mustn’t disturb you! But you are a sleuth, dearie, and we do need a sleuth now! Nor do I have the foggiest of whom else to call upon in our time of need!”
Francesca straightened. In spite of her worries, she could not help being intrigued. “You have need of an investigator?” she asked, a familiar tingle now running up and down her spine.
Mrs. Channing nodded eagerly.
“Why, what has happened?”
“Come with me!” Mrs. Channing exclaimed. And she was already hurrying into the hall.
Francesca followed, not bothering to hand off her coat, hat, and single glove. She quickly realized, as they moved down one hall and then another, that they were heading in the direction of Sarah’s studio. She was perplexed.
Suddenly Mrs. Channing turned and placed her back against the door of Sarah’s studio, barring the way. “Prepare yourself,” she warned, rather theatrically.
Francesca nodded, holding back a smile, more than intrigued now. What could be going on?
Mrs. Channing smiled, as if in satisfaction, and she thrust open the door.
Francesca stepped inside. The room was all windows, and brilliantly lit. She cried out.
Someone had been on a rampage in the room.
Canvases, palettes, and jars were overturned. Paint was splattered across the floor and walls, the effect vivid, brilliant, and disturbing. Amidst the yellows, blues, and greens, there were slashes of black and dark, dark red. For an instant, Francesca thought the red was blood. She rushed forward, kneeled, and dabbed her finger into a drying pool of dark red. It was paint, not blood. Then she saw the canvas lying face up on the floor. It had been slashed into ribbons.
“Sarah! I cannot believe what happened!” Francesca cried. She had been pacing in a huge, mostly gilded salon, which was as overdone as the outside of the house. A bear rug complete with head and fangs competed with the Orientals on the floor; chairs had hooves and claws for feet, and one lamp had a tusk for a pull cord. Mr. Channing, God rest his soul, had been a hunter and a collector of strange and exotic objects. Apparently his widow was continuing his hobby.
Sarah had just entered the room. She was a small and plain brunette, although her eyes were huge and pretty. Today, she was wearing a drab blue dress covered with splotches of paint. She appeared very pale, her nose and eyes red. Clearly, she had been weeping. “Francesca? What are you doing here?” she asked softly-brokenly.
Francesca forgot all about her own problems. She rushed forward and embraced her friend. “You poor dear! Who would do such a thing?”
Sarah trembled in her arms. “I told Mother not to call you! You have a badly burned hand and you are recuperating!”
Francesca stepped back. “Your mother did not telephone me. I called upon you, dear.”
Their eyes met. Tears welled in Sarah’s. “I did not want to bother you, not now, not after what happened on Tuesday,” referring to the aftermath of the Channing ball.
Francesca took Sarah’s hand with her own good one. “How could you not call me? I am your friend! Sarah, we must catch this miserable culprit! Have you called the police?” Her heart skipped madly. These days, the police and Rick Bragg were one and the same and never mind what Connie had said a few minutes ago.
“Not yet. I have been too devastated. I just found out this morning,” Sarah said, and she was shaking visibly. Mrs. Channing stepped into the room. “Sarah gets up before dawn. She takes a tea and goes directly into her studio. She will spend the entire day there, if I do not rescue her from her frenzy.”
Francesca looked from mother to daughter. “So you found your studio that way when you went down this morning?” she asked.
“Why don’t you girls sit down? Francesca, have you had lunch?” Mrs. Channing asked.
“No, but I would like a moment alone with Sarah, if you don’t mind, Mrs. Channing.”
Mrs. Channing seemed taken aback.
Francesca smiled, politely but firmly. “Do you wish me to take-and solve-the case? If so, I need to interview your daughter.”
“Oh, of course! My, Francesca, you are so professional.” Then Mrs. Channing smiled. “I shall have a small meal put out anyway. Do as you shall, then, Francesca.” She left, closing the door behind her.
“Francesca, how can you take my case now when you are hurt? Besides, didn’t you promise to rest for a few weeks?” Sarah looked her directly in the eye.
She had, and she had mentioned her resolve to Sarah. “Never you mind, my hand is healing very well, Finny said so himself. I would never let down a friend in need.” Francesca smiled and guided her to a couch, where they both sat down. She leaned forward eagerly. “What time did you first enter your studio?”
“It was five-fifteen. I get up at five on most mornings, and go directly there.” She smiled a little. “And I take coffee, not tea, black with one sugar.”
Francesca patted her hand. “And when were you last in your studio? On Friday morning?”
Sarah nodded. “I worked there until about noon on Friday.” Suddenly she covered her heart with her hand. “Francesca, I am so shocked. And worse, I feel ill. I feel … raped, I suppose. Or I imagine that this is what being raped feels like. I am shocked and sad and angry and I cannot stop crying! Why would someone do this? Why?” she cried, a tear sliding down her cheek.
Francesca sat up straighter. “I don’t know. I have no idea. But whoever it was, he got into this house to do his deadly deed sometime between noon on Friday and five-fifteen Saturday morning. I shall have to interview the entire household staff. Are there any new employees?”
“I don’t know. Also, we were out last night,” Sarah said. “We went to the ballet. But still, there is a houseful of servants, and a doorman is always on the front door.” “Still, a single doorman can fall asleep,” Francesca mused. “I shall have to speak to the doorman who was on last night while you were out.”
“That would be Harris,” Sarah said. “He has been with us forever, it seems.”
“And when you are out, where is the rest of the staff?” “In their rooms on the fourth floor,” Sarah said. Suddenly she sighed, the sound filled with grief. “Why, Francesca? Why?”
“I don’t know. But I shall find out. Sarah, do you have any enemies?” And even as she asked, the question felt ridiculous. Who would dislike, no, hate, Sarah Channing enough to do something like this? She was a sweet young girl, and so reclusive that she hardly had any friends, much less enemies.
Sarah blinked at her. “I hardly think so. Why would someone hate me? There is nothing to be jealous of.” Francesca considered that. “I don’t know. It is absurd. But you are a wealthy young woman, and you are engaged to my brother, who is quite the catch.”
“I don’t think either reason is sufficient for someone to break into this house and destroy my studio,” Sarah said tersely. “Do you?”
“No, I do not. But people can be strange.” She was reflective now. Her last three cases had certainly proven that, and more. She had learned there was a goodly share of insanity going about undetected. “Perhaps you turned a client down? Perhaps you portrayed a client in a way he or she did not care for?”
Sarah sighed again, heavily. “Francesca, I cannot recall anyone being angry with me for a painting. And-I do not have clients. I am hardly an artist. Everyone I have painted has agreed to sit for me, usually quite happily.” Suddenly Sarah smiled. “Well, I do have one client.” Her smile widened. Francesca knew exactly whom she was talking about and tensed. “You mean Calder Hart?”
Sarah nodded, beaming. “He commissioned your portrait. Surely you haven’t forgotten?”
“How could I?” Francesca said sourly. “I hate to disappoint you, but Hart only asked for my portrait because he was angry with me. We have patched things up, and he will hardly want my portrait now.”
Sarah blinked at her. “Oh, I do think you are wrong. You are an amazing woman, and Hart sees that. He is very eager to have your portrait, I am certain of it.”
Her tension-and dismay-increased. Francesca recalled the Channing ball, which for her, personally, had been a disaster-and the moment when Hart had looked at her in her disheveled state, a state induced by spending quite a few minutes upon a sofa in Bragg’s arms. The look he had given her had been thoroughly unpleasant; he had known what she had been doing, and he had been quite clear that he did not approve of her interest in his married brother. (He had also, several times, admitted how perfect she and Bragg were for one another.) And then he had told Sarah that he wished to commission a portrait. Of Francesca-in her daring red dress, with her hair down, and her straps slipping, and her lips bee-stung.
Francesca flushed now. She hated recalling that nasty exchange. It was not Hart’s business if she remained enamored of his half brother. In fact, she had told him so several times.
“Francesca, you aren’t changing your mind, are you?” Sarah asked breathlessly.
Now it was Francesca’s turn to sigh-almost. Instead, she muffled the sound. Sarah had begged her to sit for the portrait. This was her chance to gain a foothold in the world of art. It was, in fact, a huge coup to have Hart commission a portrait from her. “If he remains serious, of course I have not changed my mind,” Francesca said, rather glumly. “I promised, and it would be the most stunning opportunity for you. But Sarah, do not be disappointed if Hart is no longer interested.”
Sarah grinned. “Yesterday he dropped off a check. A deposit, if you will. He has paid me half of the commission in advance.”
“Why, that’s unheard of!” Francesca cried, stunned and furious.
Sarah lightly touched her arm. “You see, he is deadly serious.”
Francesca stood, about to pace. Then she decided to dismiss Hart from her mind, as he had the knack of annoying her even when he was not present. “We have a case to solve. In fact, I shall go home, fetch Joel, and see if there is any word out on the street about the who or the why of this. Then I shall go down to Police Headquarters, as this is a crime, and it must be reported. First, however, I wish to interview Harris, the doorman.” She wanted a head start on the case before the police became involved. Sarah nodded. “I can see that, in spite of the unhappy circumstances, you are thrilled to be back at what you love most-sleuthing.”
Francesca smiled a little. “I cannot seem to help myself, I guess. We are very alike, you and I.”
“I realize that. Although no one would ever know it to look at us, as you are so beautiful and so full of life, while I am drab and shy.”
“You are not drab! You are not shy!” Francesca rushed to her and hugged her.
“I do not mind being drab and shy. You know I do not care what others think. I only care about my art.” Her eyes changed, glowing now, with anger. “I want to know who did this, Francesca, and I want to know why.”
“I shall not let you down,” Francesca vowed. And she meant it.