Deadly Kisses

By: Brenda Joyce

About the Author





Brenda Joyce is the bestselling author of 33 novels and four novellas. She wrote her first novella when she was 16 years old and her first novel when she was 25—and was published shortly thereafter.

She has won many awards, and her very first novel, Innocent Fire, won the Best Western Romance award. She has also won the highly coveted Best Historical Romance award for Splendor and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Deadly series, which is set in turn-of-the-century New York and features amateur sleuth Francesca Cahill.

There are over 11 million copies of her novels in print and she is published in over a dozen foreign countries. A native New Yorker, she now lives in southern Arizona with her husband, son, dogs, cat and numerous Arabian and half-Arabian reining horses. For more information about Brenda and her upcoming novels, please visit her Web site at www.brendajoyce.com.





1





Monday, June 2, 1902, New York City—Before Midnight





“Francesca, I think it’s wonderful that you have volunteered to chair the Ladies Citizen union   Funds Committee,” Julia Van Wyck Cahill remarked, handing off her ruby-red velvet mantle to the doorman. Slim, beautiful and elegant, and wearing a very famous ruby pendant that had belonged to a Hapsburg princess, she stood with her daughter in the front hall of their Fifth Avenue home, beaming with pleasure.

Francesca, however, was preoccupied. She handed off her own light wrap, a turquoise satin to match her evening gown. “Mama, I did not quite volunteer. I do believe you and Mrs. Astor decided among yourselves to make me co-chair.”

Julia’s blue eyes widened as she feigned innocent ignorance. “Darling! Whatever makes you say that? My dear, you are the youngest lady to ever chair the committee, and I know you will be superb, Francesca—you always are.”

In truth, Francesca did not really mind being named the chair, as her current investigation was so routine. A neighbor had realized that certain items in her attics were missing, including several valuable family heirlooms, and having read all about Francesca’s last case in the city’s numerous newspapers, she had requested Francesca’s sleuthing services. Francesca was almost certain that Mrs. Canning’s son-in-law was the thief.

“It is a good cause and someone has to raise funds for the party.” Francesca sighed. “I simply wish you had asked me first if I had the time to give the position all of the effort and attention it deserves.”

Julia took her arm. “I’m sorry, dear. Of course, I should have asked.”

Francesca knew very well what her mother was about. Julia was a great society hostess, and she had been aghast by Francesca’s new profession. Even with Francesca’s success, she remained opposed to her daughter’s involvement in any investigation, although she seemed relieved that Francesca finally had a case that was neither life threatening nor scandalous in nature. Francesca knew her mother wanted her so preoccupied with fund-raising for the Citizens union   that she would have time for nothing else other than her fiancé.

At the thought of Calder Hart, her heart skipped uncontrollably. But then, Hart had that effect on her, from the time they had first met, when she had refused to admit her attraction to and fascination with such a notorious man. He was one of the city’s wealthiest millionaires, yet he had come from humble beginnings, born out of wedlock on the city’s poverty-stricken Lower East Side. Until recently, in spite of his reputation as a womanizer, he had been considered the greatest catch in town, with almost every socialite vying for his attention for their debutante daughters. Hart, however, preferred to attach himself to infamous courtesans and divorcées, shying away from any serious involvement. Francesca still had to pinch herself from time to time, in order to realize that it was real—she, Francesca Cahill, who owned an equally notorious reputation as an eccentric, a bluestocking and a sleuth, had somehow snagged Calder Hart. These days, when she walked into a supper party or a ball, knives were sharpened and daggers were drawn behind her back. Once, the whispers and gossip had hurt her feelings; now she rather enjoyed the attention. But then, usually Hart was at her side, whispering in her ear, reminding her to revel in the limelight.