THE MARSHAL'S PURSUIT
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Thirty-Third Street and Park Avenue
Tuesday, April 9, 1901
SHE'D FOUND THE MAN she wanted, but if she wasn't careful—
"I will not lose this one. Not this time," Malia Vaccarelli said to no one but herself. She leveled her chin, keeping her gaze high despite the giddy tumble in her stomach as if she were a schoolgirl and not a mature woman of twenty-five. Look confident. Be confident.
With her beaded pochette in one white-gloved hand, she used the other to raise the hem of her white lace gown as she wove between people milling about the bricked path.
No more looking down in subordination to those more esteemed than her. No more trusting people not to steal. This time she would restrain her exuberance over "the find." This time she would be clever and sly to outwit the deep pocketbooks of her competitors.
This time she would take first prize.
Malia stopped at the steps leading up to the veranda surrounding the interior courtyard. She squared her shoulders then faced the bustling courtyard to regard Pieter Joossens, her chosen artist, at the opposite corner. The immigrant from Flanders was two decades older than any other artist at the exhibit. He spoke little English, smelled of rookworst and sketched in the unpopular medium of charcoals; thus, to her delight, most of her fellow patrons avoided him in lieu of the painters and sculptors. While graphite boasted a greater attention to detail, charcoal provided an unmatchable depth that Malia loved to see, loved to feel under her fingers. With the right patron—with her as his sponsor—Pieter Joossens could become the next Paul Gauguin.
"Hij is mijn, " muttered Malia in Dutch, a language as comfortable on her tongue as Italian and English.
Never had she been more appreciative of her ability to converse in the language of her mother's New Amsterdam ancestors. Papà and Nonno had insisted that Malia and her brother be named after Vaccarelli ancestors instead of De-Witts, so Mamma insisted on teaching her children Dutch. In secret, of course, because one did not defy Papà openly. Because of her mother's rebellious spirit, Pieter Joossens would be Malia's greatest find.
To relieve the tension twisting her insides, she breathed in the clean air shielded by the Park Avenue Hotel's seven-story walls. The string quartet's music resonated off the iron and white brick facade. Divine sounds on an equally divine spring morning. Her day could not improve.
She looked to the left, but the wide brim of her feathered hat shielded all but the speaker's navy trousers and polished shoes. The waiter descended to the stairs' bottom riser. As had every other hotel employee she'd encountered this morning, he knew who she was. The staff had probably been given a binder with names, photographs and a biographical summary of the Best Society attendees.
He motioned to his sterling tray, and she claimed a juice-filled champagne flute from him.
His gaze lowered respectfully and he continued on.
Malia sipped her juice and glanced about. Amid the blooming and fragrant flora in the courtyard garden and on the surrounding veranda, twenty artists displayed their work in an attempt to hook one of Manhattan's millionaires who had been invited to the private showing by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At 9:00 a.m., a little more than thirty minutes from now, the room would be opened to the public. By then, at least one artist's world would be turned upside down. A life would be changed because a socialite with more money than what she—or he—knew what to do with gave it away in the name of supporting the arts.
Until then, Malia would watch her chosen artist to ensure no one else pounced.
She continued to sip the orange juice as if she had not a care in the world, as if she were waiting on someone to join her. She wasn't—waiting for a friend, that is. As the only granddaughter of land and coal baron Gulian DeWitt, and niece to the Countess of Balwick, she knew the names of her fellow patrons and collectors, socialized with them, attended the finest schools with their daughters. Yet because of her paternal heritage, none had ever invited her into their brownstone mansions for tea, or holidays at their summer homes on Staten Island.
All that would change if her sponsorship of Pieter Joossens catapulted him to fame.
She swallowed the juice, which was sweet yet tart—just like her circumstances. Though welcomed at exclusive art shows such as this one, she wasn't "blue" enough to be accepted or welcomed in High Society. She could always marry into it. Marry up to get "in," as her defiant mother had married down to get out, or so Grandfather DeWitt regularly accused.
No, Da, I married for love, as Malia will do.
She smiled. How stubborn, hopeful yet romantic her mother had been.
"Ah, Miss Vaccarelli, you must tell me what amuses you."
Malia turned and managed to retain her smile despite the sourness on her tongue. Mr. Edwin Daly, Esq., was standing close. His ungloved fingers cradled her elbow as if he were her suitor, not her chief competitor responsible for wooing away the last three artists she'd offered to sponsor. Not that she faulted the artists for choosing him. A third-generation, Fifth Avenue Daly made a more prestigious patron.
"Good morning, Mr. Daly. Late, are we?" She prayed he hadn't seen her give her calling card to Pieter Joossens.
"Late?" Mr. Daly smiled, showing off his perfectly aligned teeth. He even tilted his chin to the sun-brightened blue sky so they sparkled. "Ah, my darling Miss Vaccarelli, I had to attend to business before pleasure." His fingers gave a supercilious twirl to the edge of his neatly trimmed mustache. What he intended to come across as flirtatious always struck her as slimy, an impression compounded by the way he grew the left side of his hair long and plastered it over his shiny dome.
Hopefully today the assistant district attorney would mind his manners and keep his hands to himself.
Malia handed him her empty flute. "Would you mind retrieving me another?"
His fingers curled about the glass, yet he didn't make a move to replace her drink. His dark eyes settled on hers, his breath warm and liquor-tinged. "Let's take a cruise to Newport. This weekend."
Malia raised her brows as though considering a proposal from a man whose woodsy cologne smelled out of place. The closest he'd ever come to a forest had to be pine floorboards under his feet.
"For what reason should we go to Newport, may I ask?"
"So we may have time to get to know each other better."
"Would this cruise be aboard your yacht?""A cruiser is the perfect place for intimate conversation."
"I doubt conversation is what interests you."
He laughed. "Touché, my dear Malia. Your lack of pretense enchants me." His smile died, his tone growing serious. "What if I got down on my knee and proposed marriage? Here? Now?"His question—uttered a handful of times over the past year—stirred nothing in her heart. Rumor had it he was courting a Newport heiress.
Malia sighed. "Please don't. You know what I would answer."
"Give me a chance to prove my feelings are sincere." He raised her hand to his lips. Despite the dozens of people in the courtyard who could notice them, and with impertinence natural to him, he brushed a kiss across her knuckles. "Someday we will take the first of many intimate cruises."
Malia's face warmed. Before she could counter, he dropped her hand and hurried up the stairs toward the brunch tables still brimming with fruit and pastries. She looked about the courtyard. Those who had been watching them turned back to their private conversations. Every artist spoke to someone—except Pieter Joossens. Her chosen one stood quietly and looked to be listening to an unfamiliar man in an ebony pin-striped suit as finely crafted as the one Mr. Daly wore. The handsome stranger had to be speaking Dutch because Mr. Joossens understood little English.
Malia worried her bottom lip, nerves tightening her insides. She should intervene, or at least move closer to hear what the man was saying over the other conversations and music in the bustling courtyard. Yes, go now.
Before she could move, J. P. Morgan's daughter, Anne, walked to the stranger and greeted him with an exuberant smile. Whoever he was, he and Anne were more than casual acquaintances. They spoke a bit. Laughed. Nodded while smiling. Anne abruptly raised a hand and motioned to her left, causing the man's gaze to shift to—
He stared. At her. As if they were the only two people in the courtyard.
The right corner of his mouth eased up, and Malia couldn't breathe. Her heart beat erratically. She'd seen better-looking men, not to say he wasn't quite appealing on his own merit. His blond brows were darker than his unoiled wheat-colored hair; his jaw, sharply angled, made his face almost heart-shaped. His light blue eyes were inquisitive—no, more than that. Probing. Studious. As if he was memorizing what he saw. Even the sounds around them silenced.
Her toes itched to walk forward, to walk to him.
Then he looked past her, smiled and tipped his head.
Malia glanced over her shoulder.
George and Edith Gould descended the staircase, waving, not acknowledging her presence at all. It wasn't a direct cut, though. Like most of those in Society, the Goulds were indifferent to everything—and everyone—outside their personal concern. Miss Malia Vaccarelli wasn't significant enough to be noticed.The stranger noticed her. He saw her, didn't he? She certainly hadn't imagined the connection.
She sought his gaze again, but his attention was on the talkative Anne Morgan as they walked without a backward glance—he with a slight limp to his left leg—toward a watercolor artist. Malia gave her head a little shake. How silly to think he had any interest in her. To think, even for the briefest moment, she wasn't alone amid a crowd. She would always be on the outside looking in, as one did at the glorious department store window displays, wishing she was as perfect and desirable as the products behind the glass.
Malia raised her chin, straightened her shoulders. No. She wasn't going to be that girl anymore. She was going to be confident and acquire a good standing of her own.
She turned to the grave voice and face of the hotel's concierge. "Yes?"
"Mr. Giovanni Vaccarelli phoned and asked that a message be delivered to you." With a we-guard-your-privacy look, he handed her a folded sheet of paper. "I secured a hansom cab. It's waiting at the main entrance." He bowed ever so slightly and walked off before she could respond.
Malia pinched her lips tight to contain her frustration. A cab waiting? In other words, she was expected to leave immediately. If Giovanni had come home last night, she would have reminded him how busy she was this morning. Not that her schedule ever mattered to him. When her brother wanted something, no one—not even family—argued. He expected everyone to be at his beck and call. No wonder he had yet to find a wife.
With a shake of her head, she tucked her clutch under her arm. She unfolded the paper, her gaze searching each end of the courtyard and veranda for the handsome stranger. He wasn't anywhere to be found.Malia turned her focus to the sheet of ivory hotel stationery. She blinked. Her mouth fell open, the words blurring except two… In jail.
Her pulse began to race. Nonno had warned for years that the Metropolitans couldn't be trusted. Her brother was an upstanding member of the community, unlike the police, who were known for their corruption. Malia folded the paper and stuffed it back into the envelope. She hurried up the staircase, heart pounding against her chest as she wove through the crowd on the veranda. She needed to contact the family lawyers. She had to cancel her lunch meeting with Irene at Delmonico's. She had to hurry, had to—
Hands gripped her arms, stopping her on the lobby threshold. "What's wrong?"
She looked into the face of Mr. Daly and blinked repeatedly as her eyes adjusted from the brightness of the morning sky to the electric lights dimly lighting the lobby. What had he asked? What was wrong? Nothing. Everything.
"I. . .uh, I have to go."
"Darling, you're as white as your dress," he said with such concern that she actually believed his endearment. "I'm going with you."
To the police department? What little opening she had in Society would be closed should it become known her brother had been arrested. She gave a dismissive wave of her hand. "It's a minor family matter."
"No, I—" She bit back her words and managed a serene smile. "Thank you, but I must attend to this on my own. Enjoy the art exhibit."
Malia broke free from his hold and, although the potted ferns and Grecian columns closed in around her, walked at a steady pace across the carpeted floor toward the lobby's glass front entrance. Out. Out. She had to get out of the hotel and away from everyone. Giovanni—the only family she had left who truly loved her, who actually spoke to her—was in trouble. She had to do whatever was necessary to save her brother. She couldn't lose him, too.
DEPUTY U.S. MARSHAL FRANK GRAHAME LOUDEN followed the gaze of the angry-looking assistant D.A. to the dark-eyed beauty, one gloved hand lifting the front of her lace gown as she strolled across the lobby. The corner of Frank's mouth eased upward as he admired the enticing sway of her curvy hips. Once he finished with this pursuit, he might take a little time off to—
"Did you get her name?" Winslow asked with more than professional interest. "I think one of us should follow her."
Of course he'd learned her name, and as much as he could before Anne was distracted by a sculptor.
Frank met Winslow's questioning gaze. "Miss Morgan says the girl is a kindhearted soul who fancies art. And, judging by her coolness with Daly, she's not one of his many mistresses. She's insignificant. Besides, I heard she's not fond of men with last names that start with W." He patted Winslow's shoulder. "There's always Norma. She thinks you're cute."
Winslow looked dubious. "Norma said that?"
Frank's lip curled. "There's not a female in Manhattan who doesn't think that."
Winslow's grin couldn't get smugger.
"Where did Daly go?" Frank refocused on the job.
"He spoke to three men, none suspects, at the refreshment table"—Winslow withdrew a notepad from his inner coat pocket and flipped it open—"before the concierge gave him a message. He then made a call using the public phones. I caught all the numbers except the last."
"We can check them against the numbers in his file." Frank leaned against the marble column to take weight off his wounded left foot, the potted fern next to it shielding them both from Daly's view. "Anything else?"
Winslow replaced the notebook. "The meeting with O'Flaherty is off." He paused. His blue eyes met Frank's and he grinned. "Van Kelly is in custody."
Shock at the news punched the air from Frank's lungs. Now that was the catch of the decade. He'd have given anything to be the one to make the arrest. It would have pushed him to the top of the list as Henkel's replacement next month. His determination to arrest Billy O'Flaherty and Edwin Daly doubled. He needed to catch the pair together in the same room.
"Who caught Van Kelly?"
Winslow gave a "don't know" shrug.
Frank hoped it wasn't Ben Loskowitz, his greatest competition for the promotion.