Brenda Joyce has enthralled millions of readers with her New York Times bestselling novels. Now, join us in the next chapter of her unforgettable storytelling: the Francesca Cahill novels. 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...
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...
About the Author
Brenda Joyce is the author of 26 novels. She lives in Colorado.
Brenda Joyce is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than two dozen novels, including Deadly Pleasure and Deadly Affairs. She lives in southern Arizona with her significant other, her son, and her dogs, Arabian horses, and cat.
Read an Excerpt
By Brenda Joyce
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2002 Brenda Joyce Dreams Unlimited, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Friday, January 31, 1902 — 9:00 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 the Cahills as they arrived, filing around numerous goldswagged 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 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. "Mama, 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 bluestocking."
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 daresay."
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 that had happened right under their very noses two weeks ago — their neighbor's child had been abducted out of his bed by a madman. Julia 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, Mama," 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, behavior, 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. But 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, Mama, 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 Sarah Channing somewhere about, Evan?" she asked sweetly. "Shouldn't you attend your fiancée?" Evan had recently become engaged.
But Evan was not to be dissuaded. "Perhaps I will chaperon 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 Tammany Hall. As Seth Lowe's appointee, Bragg was expected to reform the notoriously corrupt police department, no easy task indeed. He 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, D.C., 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.
Evan 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 sweatshops and temperance, about the poor and the indigent, about Tammany 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 bluestocking 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 Francesca's pursuit of a higher education made it a very serious act indeed. Fortunately her parents were very generous in regard to Francesca's spending; nor did they question her sudden inclination to purchase a new wardrobe. Francesca had also borrowed money from her sister.
But attaining her degree was only the beginning. Francesca was a reformer with a capital 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. 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 Francesca. 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 Bragg 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:
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 only 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 Francesca 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 important, Julia had noticed Francesca's interest in Bragg and 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 Francesca's arm, not even looking at her, 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 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."
Francesca's cheeks warmed. She 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 meatpacking 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 Mama 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, having decided 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 that he demoted all three hundred of the department's wardsmen. 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?"
Francesca stared, feeling faint and giddy at the same time. Police reform was one of the burning issues facing the city. It had been for years, ever since Theodore Roosevelt had held the post of commissioner and had begun to make a few inroads on the existing system of graft and corruption. The entire city — well, all reformers like herself, as well as liberals, clerics, and journalists — was waiting with bated breath to see if Bragg would bring to heel the notorious institution. Francesca thought he might succeed. If anyone could reform the city police department, she thought it was Bragg, a man of true moral fiber and character, a man capable of swift, unremitting action. "How could he demote three hundred wardsmen?" she asked.
"We really did not speak. He said it would be in the papers on the morrow. He is here, by the way. We came up together," Andrew said.
Her heart stopped. Then she saw her father studying her, and she ducked her head. As much as she adored Papa — and he was always on her side — he and Mama talked. And too frequently, the subject they discussed was their children. Connie, Francesca's sister, had married Lord Neil Montrose four years ago, and recently Evan's engagement had been announced. So that now left Francesca. She had little doubt that she would be the featured topic of most of their remaining conversations, and it would only get worse once Evan was married.
Excerpted from Deadly Pleasure by Brenda Joyce. Copyright © 2002 Brenda Joyce Dreams Unlimited, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
A Letter from Brenda Joyce
When the idea of doing a mystery series occurred to me, I nixed it as I was not interested in writing hard-core mystery. Then, one day, when I was hiking up a mountain in northwestern Colorado where I now live, the idea came to me like a bolt of brilliance out of the blue. I would do a series set in turn-of-the-century New York City, with a heroine who was the daughter of a wealthy and powerful family, like the Carnegies. She would be intelligent and strong-willed, a bluestocking, and that would make her an eccentric among the ultra-wealthy, high-society types who surrounded her. Of course, once she solved her first crime, she would be hooked.
And so Francesca Cahill was born. And the moment she was, I just knew that she would have this wonderfully dysfunctional family -- a strong mother, an adoring father, a handsome, rakish brother -- and, of course, the hero of the series would be a Bragg! I decided to add to the fun by having some of my favorite characters from previous books and other Bragg family members pop up in New York and in some of the mysteries Francesca is solving. Eventually I envision spinning off some novels devoted solely to the younger Braggs.
Basically, this series is a blast for me because I love all of my characters, especially Francesca. In fact, the moment I think about her I grin! Her selfless and reckless determination to help anybody in need makes her a magnet for trouble. And though her judgment is sometimes lacking (she is so stubborn!), she always means well. Her reckless decisions provide lots of interesting plot twists for me to explore...and she does manage to get herself out of danger and save the day.
Rick Bragg is a great hero. He's the new police commissioner of the city -- a real hands-on type -- a powerful, brilliant and determined man. Research soon revealed how terribly corrupt the police were back then. That's what inspired many of the actions I had Rick take to reform the Police Department, as well as to deal with the social and political issues he faces -- issues that are made more complicated and interesting by the fact that while he's a member of the powerful, influential Bragg family, he's also illegitimate.
I should say that I truly don't consider this a mystery series, even though the mysteries are quite important to the books. My focus in each and every book is on Francesca's escalating romance, and on exploring the personal trials and tribulations facing the ever-growing cast of series characters that have been drawn into her adventures. For example, Francesca's brother, Evan, is a wonderful man, but his addiction to gambling has led to a forced engagement that he cannot stand, while his fiancée, Sarah Channing, could not care less about the marriage either, for at heart she's a bohemian artist who only wishes to paint. And Francesca's sister, Connie, is about to have her heart broken by her handsome but faithless husband, Lord Montrose, while Francesca's newly hired assistant is a young street thief whose mother is struggling to raise her four children in a tenement on a seamstress' wages. Then there is Rick's half brother, Calder Hart, possibly the sexiest hero I have ever created! He was raised in poverty, and now he is an extremely wealthy and powerful man -- one who doesn't give a damn about society and what's correct. He's the typical bad-boy hero -- a notorious ladies' man and a renowned world art collector. Fortunately, his wealth keeps all doors open to him, not that he could care.
New York City at the turn of the last century enchants me. It just happens to be my favorite setting and time period -- and the world I have created for the Deadly series is one where glittering ballrooms and Fifth Avenue mansions are juxtaposed against sordid back alleys and filthy tenements, it's a world filled with strapping, sexy men and intriguing, intrepid women, and here fairy tales can and do come true. That is, the gal does get the guy (usually a Bragg), and justice and love always win the day. This magical world has bewitched and bedazzled me, and I hope readers will fall in love with it too.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved the book and the characters. I can't wait for another one to come out in series.
Francesca Cahil, the twenty-year-old daughter of wealthy parents, lives in a posh New York City neighborhood. In 1902, a young woman with her status should be going to society balls and looking for a rich husband, but she is hardly the typical debutante. She has enrolled in college, without her parents¿ knowledge, is trying to earn money as a sleuth, and is madly in love with the police commissioner, Rick Bragg. Although Rick returns her feelings he keeps their relationship on a platonic level because he¿s married although he hasn¿t seen his wife for four years. The only part of contact these star-crossed lovers have is when Francesca inserts herself into a police investigation. While out on a case of her own, Francesca finds the dead body of a young Irish seamstress and learns from Bragg that there was another murder identical to the one the beautiful bluestocking discovered. Trying to keep their emotions in check, the two sleuths work together to uncover a very clever killer. Although DEADLY AFFAIRS is labeled a romance, it is really an amateur sleuth mystery. Brenda Joyce writes a compelling tale filled with so many twists and turns that readers will never be able to discover who the killer is until the author is ready to reveal it. This is a series that will have crossover appeal to romance and mainstream readers. Harriet Klausner