Published: March 2002
Francesca Cahill comes from one of New York’s best families. Her mother is a leading socialite, her father, a millionaire. Their expectations for their daughter are simple—marry well, and soon. But the intrepid and self-styled “Crime-Solver Extraordinaire” has other plans…
Francesca discovered she had a penchant for sleuthing when she met Rick Bragg, New York City’s powerful and enigmatic Police Commissioner. Together, they solved what was known as the crime of the century. Now, their paths are destined to come together once again, but this time far more dangerously and fatefully. For Francesca is tempted to give in to the desire she and Rick have been resisting. And when Bragg’s arch-rival Calder Hart arrives in town, a respectable man is suddenly found dead, and now murder is the name of the game…
Step into the glittering world of New York City’s high society at the turn of the last century, where murder and pleasure are one and the same, and love becomes the ultimate weapon…
Listen to a audio clip from Deadly Pleasure, now available on Audible, an Amazon company.
“Brenda 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”
“Joyce excels to creating twists and turns in her character’s personal lives.”
Friday, January 31, 1902—9 P.M.
Stanford White was having a party, and for the first time in her life, Francesca had practically begged her mother to be allowed to attend, in an abrupt reversal of character and inclination. Indeed, ever since turning sixteen four years ago and being informally introduced to society, Francesca had determinedly avoided all such events.
Now, she paused with her mother, Julia Van Wyck Cahill, and her brother, Evan, inside the doorway of Madison Square’s Rooftop Garden, which White had not only designed, as he was one of the city’s most brilliant architects, but which he had also taken over for the evening’s soiree. Guests in tuxedos and evening gowns continued to move past them as they arrived, filing around numerous gold-swaged tables, all with exotic floral arrangements and set about a large dance floor. Francesca was oddly breathless, but she told herself it was due to the rush, and she had to try hard, indeed, not to keep glancing repeatedly over her shoulder.
Still, the doorway remained just within in the line of her vision.
“You are behaving most oddly, Francesca,” Julia murmured, elegantly clad in a pale green evening gown and more diamond jewelry than most women would ever set their eyes upon, much less wear. “First, you insist upon attending the White fete, and now, you cannot keep your eyes in your head. And you are fidgeting. What is this about?”
Francesca managed to smile at her mother, the arriving guests a blur in the corner of her vision. “Mother, perhaps I am finally maturing? After all, I am twenty now. I have finally seen the error of my ways. It is really quite simple. You have been right and I have been wrong; a young lady should be social and charming, and neither a recluse nor a blue-stocking.”
Her brother, who knew she secretly attended Barnard College and often stayed up most of the night to study, began to choke.
Julia, who had been gazing at the crowd, remarking all those whom she knew-and she did know everybody-whipped her regard back to her daughter, her eyes wide with suspicion. Evan, tall, dark and handsome, especially in his tuxedo, finally gave in to his laughter. Francesca gave him a very cross and dangerous look. It said, ‘keep quiet or you shall suffer the consequences’.
“You are up to something,” Julia stated firmly. “Of that, I have no doubt. I am only hoping it is as simple as wanting to gawk at White. We have had enough drama and mystery these past few weeks to last a lifetime, I dare say.”
Francesca smiled angelically at her mother, and as she was blond and blue-eyed, the effect was one of utter innocence. Her mother, she knew, referred to the terrible crime which had happened right under their very noses two weeks ago-their neighbor’s child had been abducted out of his bed by a madman. Her mother was also referring to the fact that Francesca had been up to her own nose in the criminal affair-but on the side of law and order and justice.
“I am not up to anything, Mother,” she murmured now, a tiny white lie. It was no easy task keeping her mother ignorant of all that she did these days. “But of course, as White is quite notorious for his personal affairs and his rather lavish if not self-indulgent lifestyle, it will be most interesting to meet him.” The truth was, Francesca could not care less about greeting their infamous host. Perhaps, before the events of the past few weeks, she might have sought such an opportunity. Now, she could not care less. White was not the reason she had come to the overly ostentatious party.
“And you will be polite but discreet when you do meet him,” Julia advised. “I will not have him, in his unorthodox views, encouraging you in yours.”
Evan chuckled again. “I fear you have made a vast mistake, Mother, and this is one event Fran should not be attending. I fear she and White just might get along-too well. What if he should decide to become her mentor?”
Francesca scowled at him. “Isn’t your fiancée somewhere about, Evan?” She asked sweetly. “Shouldn’t you attend Sarah Channing?” Evan had recently become engaged.
But Evan was not to be dissuaded. “Perhaps I will chaperone you, Fran. God forbid White should affect and even increase your independent thinking and ways. Then what would the world do!”
Had he been closer, she would have stepped upon his foot with her pointy heel. Just then, she felt sorry that he knew the first but not the last of her secrets, even though she did adore him. “Thank you, Evan, for your loyalty.” Then she realized another guest was arriving, and she whirled to stare-only to be disappointed, as it was a gentleman she did not know.
Evan leaned close as Julia stepped away to speak with a couple who lived just down the avenue from the Cahill mansion. “Careful, Fran. You will give yourself away.”
“I do not know what you mean.” She batted her eyes at him.
“I think you do.” He grinned and winked. “Mother will discern whom you are waiting for in all of two seconds if you continue to carry on so. And I do believe she has forbidden any interest on your part in our new police commissioner.”
Rick Bragg had recently been appointed Commissioner of Police. The appointment was a controversial one, as their new mayor was a man of principle, having been elected on the platform of reform, determined to right the ills inflicted upon the city by Tamany Hall. As Seth Lowe’s appointee, Bragg was expected to reform the notoriously corrupt police department, no easy task, indeed. He also hailed from the Texas Braggs, a fine and wealthy family, although he had been born in New York City in rather unfortunate and improper circumstances; that is, on the wrong side of the blanket. The tall, tawny-haired, darkly handsome and very determined police commissioner had been educated at Columbia University and Harvard Law School, and he had, until recently, resided in Washington DC, where he had been in private practice. Francesca had met Bragg exactly two weeks ago when she had discovered the first of a series of extremely bizarre ‘ransom’ notes left by the madman who had abducted Jonny Burton.
“I am hardly carrying on,” she said, low, vastly irritated now. Evan knew her too well, but then, she was not adept at hiding her feelings-she had never had to do so before.
For she had never had feelings like this before.
“You are acting like all of the marriage-mad, love-struck females you so disdain,” he said, giving her a direct glance, one filled with more mirth. “You are a woman after all, Fran.”
She stared, wanting to protest that it was not true. But she could not deny being a woman, of course. Still, she had so prided herself on being different from the marriage mad females her own age. Now, she remained mute. Because in the matter of a few days, in the course of one fantastic criminal investigation, her entire life had been turned upside down.
He patted her shoulder, which was bare, as she wore a peach chiffon gown with tiny cap sleeves that fell upon her upper arms. “You are cute, this way,” he said, his tone rather patronizing. “It’s nice, for a change, not to listen to you sermonizing about sweat shops and temperance, about the poor and the indigent, about Tamany Hall and everything else you can think of! Perhaps you are normal after all, Fran,” he said, laughter in his dark blue eyes.
“I am not cute and I am not ‘normal’ and I am not being any way,” Francesca huffed. “And nothing has changed,” she declared, wishing that she meant it.
He grinned and walked away.
Francesca took a deep breath and glanced around, somewhat shaken-because Evan was right, no matter how she might pretend that he was not. And it was almost inexplicable. How had this happened? Francesca had spent most of her life avoiding the hobbies and pastimes enjoyed by other young women her age. She had discovered books at a very tender age-she was six when she began to read, and her love affair with the written word and all that it entailed had never ended. For Francesca Cahill was a blue-stocking through and through-enrolling at Barnard College had hardly been a whim. In fact, knowing how her mother would react should she ever learn of her pursuit of a higher education, made it a very serious act, indeed. But attaining her degree was only the beginning. Francesca was a reformer with a capitol R. it ran in the family, her father, Andrew Cahill, a self-made millionaire, also championed dozens of charities and supported political candidates like Lowe, not just in New York City, but all over the state and the country. . She was proud of her intellect and her passion for reform. She had no time for or interest in parties, shopping or marriage; she could barely understand why every other young woman she knew did. She actively belonged to five societies, all dedicated to fighting injustice and easing the poverty rampant in the city, and she had founded one society herself-The Ladies Society for the Eradication of Tenements. In many ways, her young life knew few bounds.
Once, she had thought to follow in the famous journalist’s, Jacob Riis’, footsteps. She had intended to write articles and books about the city’s worst side of life, in order to enlighten the ladies and gentlemen living so blithely and elegantly uptown. But her ambitions had, suddenly and drastically, changed. Two weeks ago. For Francesca had discovered her true calling in life.
It had been a most unfortunate yet fortuitous accident, stumbling upon that first ‘ransom’ note. From that moment on, she had taken it upon herself to help the city’s new police commissioner solve the ghastly crime of the small boy’s abduction. Together, she and Rick Bragg had faced the gravest dangers, uncovering clue after clue, each one pointing to the likelihood that the boy was dead, but in the end, against all odds, little Jonny Burton had been found alive and safely returned home, to his waiting mother’s arms.
Bragg could not have done it without her. He had even said so.
Francesca smiled at the thought and found herself openly regarding the doorway, through which more guests continued to arrive. Her father had said he would be at the White party tonight.
Of course, they were only friends. They had only just met. But soon there would be another crime for them to solve-together. How could there not be, in this city of hooks and crooks? In fact, yesterday Francesca had picked up the new calling cards she had ordered at Tiffany’s, and she had already begun handing them out. They read:
Francesca Cahill, Crime-Solver Extraordinaire, No. 810 Fifth Avenue, New York City. All Cases Accepted, No Crime Too Small.
“Where is your father? He promised me that he would stop at his club briefly. He is late,” Julia said, frowning, having returned to Francesca’s side.
Francesca had to tear her gaze away from the doorway now, as she did not want her mother to become more suspicious of her than she already was. Stealing about the city-and into some of the worst wards-was no easy task in itself, but eluding Julia made it even more difficult. And she had learned that in order to be an effective sleuth, one must travel quite freely about town, dealing with every possible kind of person. But more importantly, Julia had noticed Francesca’s interest in Bragg, and she had told her daughter in no uncertain terms that a bastard was not acceptable as a suitor, never mind that he was educated, a gentleman, the Police Commissioner and a Bragg.
Still, she was as anxious as a schoolgirl on her first date. And it was absurd. She was no marriage-mad ninny-she was a college student and a crime-solver. She must get a grip-and fast. By tomorrow at noon, in fact, when he came calling for her.
Yesterday, he had invited her for a drive in the country. Francesca smiled to herself. Clearly, he wished to now court her.
“Francesca, do look. There’s White. I think I will wait for your father to greet him.” Julian Van Wyck Cahill gripped her arm, not even looking at Francesca, moving away from the doorway.
They paused behind several ladies and gentlemen, all surrounding Stanford White. He was a tall, heavyset man with a booming voice, somewhere in his middle years. Julia studied the group surrounding White. Two of the women were clearly not from their social circle. “Oh, dear,” Julia said. “Are those women what I think they are?”
Francesca wanted to say yes. The two gorgeous women were probably very well-kept mistresses. “I wonder if they are at White’s?” She murmured. “I have heard he keeps an apartment not far from here for his dalliances.”
“Chase all such thoughts from your mind!” Julia cried. Then, “And just where did you hear such a thing?”
“Evan,” Francesca said sweetly. Her brother deserved a little nick.
“I shall certainly have a word with him. And what else did he say?” Julia demanded.
“Oh, here is Papa,” Francesca cried, turning away from her mother’s speculative regard.
But Julia said, softly now, “I know you are up to something, dear, and we both know that sooner or later the truth will out.”
Her cheeks warmed. Francesca waved gaily at her portly father. She was always pleased to see him.
Andrew Cahill had been raised on a farm in Illinois; he had made his fortune in meat-packing in Chicago. He had moved his family to New York when Francesca was eight. Now, he beamed at his youngest child and kissed her cheek. “In the nick of time, eh, Fran?”
“Your timing is impeccable, as always, Papa,” she returned. Then, in a whisper, “I cannot believe Mother wished to come to a party given by White.”
Andrew Cahill had plump cheeks and heavy, gray-white sideburns. “Curiosity kills most cats, but it won’t kill Mother.” He turned to Julia. “Dear.” He kissed her warmly. “That is quite the dress. I don’t believe I’ve seen it before.”
“If you think I shall forgive you for being late, you are wrong,” Julia said, as warmly. “And yes, Andrew, the dress is brand-new.”
“I like it.”
Julia smiled. “I’m glad.”
Francesca saw the look they exchanged and she turned away. Andrew spoke. “Ran into the Commissioner on the way out of the club, and had to speak with him.”
Francesca stiffened instantly. She was all ears.
“No politics, tonight,” Julia warned.
“What news, Papa?” It was hard not to speak Bragg’s name.
‘The rumor is true. Unbelievable!” Andrew exclaimed.
Her heart raced. “What rumor?” What could she have missed? She had seen Bragg yesterday, deciding to call on him at Police Headquarters-where she was now somewhat known-after picking up her new calling cards at Tiffany’s.
“Rumor has it he demoted all three hundred of the departments’ wards men. It’s true!” Andrew exclaimed. His eyes were bright with excitement and he faced only his daughter. “Can you believe the nerve of that man?”