Engaged to the charming and seductive Greg Anders, Sara Shaw is happily anticipating her wedding in Edilean, Virginia. The date has been set, the flowers ordered, even her heirloom dress is ready. But just three weeks before the wedding, Greg gets a telephone call during the night and leaves without explanation. Two days later, a man climbs up through a trapdoor in the floor of Sara’s apartment, claiming that he is the brother of her best friend and that he’s moving in. While Mike Newland is indeed telling the truth about his identity, his reason for being there reaches far deeper. He’s an undercover detective, and his assignment is to use Sara to track down a woman who is one of the most notorious criminals in the United States—and also happens to be the mother of the man Sara plans to marry.
Mike thinks the job will be easy—if he can figure out how to make a “good” girl like Sara trust him, that is. But Mike has no idea what this mission has in store for him. He’s worked hard to keep private his connections to Edilean, which date back to his grandmother’s time there in 1941. But as Mike and Sara get to know each other, he can’t help but share secrets about himself that he’s told no one else. And in return, Sara opens up to Mike about things she could never reveal to Greg. As the pair work together to solve two mysteries, their growing love begins to heal each of them in ways they never could have imagined.
About the Author
Date of Birth:September 20, 1947
Place of Birth:Fairdale, Kentucky
Read an Excerpt
FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA
I THINK WE’VE FOUND her,” Captain Erickson said. His voice was forced, showing that he was working hard to control his jubilation.
They were sitting at a picnic table at the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, just off A1A in Fort Lauderdale. It was a September morning, and South Florida was beginning to cool off. By next month the weather would be divine.
“I guess you mean Mitzi,” Mike Newland said, for just yesterday the captain had given him a thick file on the family. Mizelli Vandlo was a woman several police departments, including the fraud squad of Fort Lauderdale, plus the Secret Service—for financial crimes—and the FBI—for violence—had been searching for for years. As far as anyone knew, the only photo of her had been taken in 1973, when she was sixteen and about to marry a fifty-one-year-old man. Even then, she was no beauty and her face was easily remembered for its large nose and lipless mouth.
When the captain didn’t answer, Mike knew that a Big Job was coming, and he worked to keep his temper from rising to the surface. He’d just finished an undercover case that had taken three years, and for a while there had been contracts out on his life.
Although Mike had never worked on the Vandlo case, he’d heard that a few years ago there had been major arrests in the family, all of it happening on one day, but in several cities. But Mitzi, her son Stefan, and some other family members—all of whom they had many photos of—had somehow been tipped off and had quietly slipped away. Until recently, no one had known where they’d gone.
Mike poured green tea from a thermos into a cup and offered it to the captain.
“No thanks,” the captain said, shaking his head. “I’ll stick with this.” He held up a can of something that was full of additives and caffeine.
“So where is she?” Mike asked, his voice even more raspy than usual. He often had to answer questions about his voice, and his standard half-lie was that it was caused by a childhood accident. Sometimes he even elaborated and made up stories about tricycles or car wrecks, whatever appealed to him that day. No matter what the story, Mike’s voice was as intimidating as his body was when he went into action.
“Ever hear of …?” As the captain fumbled in his shirt pocket for a piece of paper, Mike could tell that he was excited about something other than finding Mitzi. After all, this was at least the sixth time they’d heard she’d been found. “Ah, here it is.” The captain’s eyes were dancing about. “Let’s see if I can pronounce the name of this place.”
“Czechoslovakia no longer exists,” Mike said, deadpan.
“No, no, this town is in the U.S. Somewhere up north.”
“Jacksonville is ‘up north.’”
“Found it,” the captain said. “Eddy something. Eddy … Lean.”
“Eddy Lean is a person’s name, not a place.”
“Maybe I’m saying it wrong. Say it faster.”
A muscle worked in Mike’s jaw. He didn’t like whatever game the captain was trying to play. “Eddylean. Never heard of it. So where—?” Halting, Mike took in a breath. “Ed-uh-lean,” he said softly, his voice so low the captain could hardly hear him. “Edilean.”
“That’s it.” The captain put the paper back into his pocket. “Ever hear of the place?”
Mike’s hands began to shake so much he couldn’t lift his cup. He willed them to be still—while he tried to relax his face so his panic wouldn’t show. He’d told only one man about Edilean, and that had been a long time ago. If that man was involved, there was danger. “I’m sure you’ve found out that my sister lives there,” Mike said quietly.
The captain’s face lost its smile. He’d meant to tease Mike, but he didn’t like seeing such raw emotion in one of the men under his command. “So I was told, but this case has nothing to do with her. And before you ask, no one but me and the attorney general know about her being there.”
Mike worked on controlling his heart rate. Many times before he’d been in situations where he’d had to make people believe he was who he wasn’t, so he’d learned to keep calm at all costs. But in those times, it had been his own life in danger. If there was something going on in tiny Edilean, Virginia, then the life of the only person who mattered to him, his sister Tess, was in jeopardy.
“Mike!” the captain said loudly, then lowered his voice. “Come back to earth. No one knows about you or your hometown or your sister, and she’s perfectly safe.” He hesitated. “I take it you two are close?”
Mike gave a one-shoulder shrug. Experience had taught him to reveal as little about himself as possible.
“Okay, so don’t tell me anything. But you do know the place, right?”
“Never been there in my life.” Mike forced a grin. He was back to being himself and was glad to see the frown that ran across the captain’s face. Mike liked to be the one in charge of a situation. “You want to tell me what this is about? I can’t imagine that anything bad has happened in little Edilean.” Not since 1941, he thought as about a hundred images ran through his mind—and not one of them was good. While it was true that he’d never actually been to Edilean, the town and its inhabitants had ruled his childhood. He couldn’t help it as he put his hand to his throat and remembered that day and his angry, hate-filled grandmother.
“Nothing has happened, at least not yet,” the captain said, “but we do know that Stefan is there.”
“In Edilean? What’s he after?”
“We don’t know, but he’s about to marry some hometown girl.” The captain took a drink of his cola. “Poor thing. She grew up in a place that sells tractors, then Stefan comes along with his big-city razzle-dazzle and sweeps her off her feet. She never had a chance.”
Mike bent his head to hide a smile. The captain was a native of South Florida where there were stores on every corner. He felt sorry for anyone who’d ever had to shovel snow. “Her name’s Susie. Or something with an S.” He picked up a file folder from beside him on the bench. “It’s Sara—”
“Shaw,” Mike said. “She’s to marry Greg Anders. Although I take it Greg Anders is actually Mitzi’s son, Stefan?”
“You sure know a lot about the place for someone who’s never been there.” The captain paused, giving Mike room to explain himself, but he said nothing. “Yeah, he’s Stefan and we have reason to believe that Mitzi is also living in that town.”
“And no one would pay attention to a middle-aged woman.”
“Right.” The captain slid the folder across the table to Mike. “We don’t know what’s going on or why two major criminals are there, so we need someone to find out. Since you have a connection to the place, you’re the winner.”
“And here I’d never considered myself a lucky man.” When Mike opened the folder, he saw that the first page was from the Decatur, Illinois, police department. He looked at the captain in question.
“It’s all in there about how Stefan was found. An off-duty cop was on vacation in Richmond, Virginia, with his wife and he saw Stefan and the girl in a dress shop. The cop found out where they lived. As for you, a guy you worked with a long time ago knew about Edilean and your sister.” When Mike frowned at that, the captain couldn’t help grinning. Mike’s secrecy—or “privacy” as he called it—could be maddening. Everybody in the fraud squad would go out for a few beers and afterward the captain would know whose wife had walked out, who was getting it on with a “badge bunny,” and who was having trouble with a case. But not Mike. He’d talk as much as the other guys as he told about his training sessions, his food, and even about his car. It seemed like he’d told a lot about himself, but the next day the captain would realize that he’d learned absolutely nothing personal about Mike.
When the Assistant U.S. Attorney General for the Southern District of Florida called and said they thought one of the most notorious criminals in the United States might be in Edilean, Virginia, and that Mike Newland’s sister lived there, the captain nearly choked on his coffee. He would have put money on it that Mike didn’t have a relative in the world. In fact, the captain wasn’t sure Mike had ever had a girlfriend outside a case. He never brought one to the squad functions, and as far as the captain knew, Mike had never invited anyone to his apartment—which changed every six months. But then, Mike was the best undercover cop they’d ever had. After every assignment, he’d had to hide until all of the people he’d exposed were in prison.
Mike closed the folder. “When do I go and what do I do?”
“We want you to save her.”
“Mitzi?” Mike asked in genuine horror. “So she can stand trial?”
“No, not her. The girl. Of course we want you to find Mitzi, but we also want you to save this Sara Shaw. Once the Vandlos get whatever it is they want from her, no one will ever see her again.” He paused. “Mike?”
He looked at the captain.
“If your sister really is there and if they find out about you …”
“Don’t worry,” Mike said. “Right now Tess is in Europe on her honeymoon. I’ll tell her to keep her new husband out of town until this is solved one way or the other.”
The captain opened another folder and withdrew an eight-by-ten glossy of a woman with dark hair and eyes. She was stunningly beautiful. She was standing on a street corner, waiting for the light to change, and a slight wind had blown her clothes close to her body. She had a figure that made a man draw in his breath. “Does your sister really look like this?”
Mike barely glanced at the photo. “Only on her worst days.”
The captain blinked a few times. “Okay.” He put a picture of Sara Shaw on the table. The young woman had an oval face, light hair, and was wearing a white dress that made her look as sweet as Mike’s sister looked, well, tempting. “She’s not Vandlo’s usual type.”
Mike picked up the photo and studied it. He wasn’t about to tell the captain that he knew quite a bit about Sara Shaw. She was one of his sister’s two best friends, which said a lot, since Tess’s sharp tongue didn’t win over many people. But from their first meeting Sara had seen past Tess’s biting words and extraordinary looks to the person beneath.
“Do you know her?”
“Never met Miss Shaw, but I’ve heard some about her.” He put the picture down. “So no one has any idea what the Vandlos want in Edilean?”
“There’s been a lot of research both from a distance and locally, but everybody who tried drew a blank. Whatever it is, Miss Shaw seems to be at the center of it. Is she rich but no one knows about it? Is she about to inherit millions?”
“Not that I’ve heard. She just opened a shop with …” His sister kept him up-to-date on the gossip in Edilean, but it wasn’t easy to remember it all. Now it seemed that every word she’d told him was of vital importance. “With her fiancÉ, Greg Anders. Tess hates the man, says he snubs everyone who isn’t buying something from him. But Tess does all of Sara’s accounting, so she’s made sure Sara hasn’t been put into debt by him.”
“That sounds like a Vandlo.” The captain hesitated. “Your sister manages people’s finances?” His tone said that he couldn’t believe a woman who looked like Tess could also have a brain.
Mike had no intention of answering that. He well knew the captain’s curiosity about his private life and he wasn’t going to reveal anything. “So you want me to catch these criminals, but I’m also to get the lovely Miss Shaw away from Stefan Vandlo? Is my assignment to follow and watch? Or am I to do more than that?”
“You have to do whatever you must to keep her alive. We think Stefan will murder Sara the minute he gets what he wants from her—and what he seems to want most is marriage.”
“My hunch is that since the dresses in the shop are expensive, Sara must get into a lot of rich houses. Maybe the Vandlos want to see what’s in them.”
“That’s what we thought too, but as her boyfriend, Vandlo already has access to the houses and no robberies have been reported. It’s bigger than that and no one has a clue what it is.” The captain tapped the folder. “After you read what’s in here, I think you’ll see that this scam of theirs is much more than just stealing a few necklaces. It’s got to be, if both mother and son are there.” He lowered his voice. “We think Stefan divorced his wife of nineteen years just so his marriage to Miss Shaw will be legal—which means he’ll inherit whatever she owns after she dies in some so-called accident.” He looked at Mike expectantly. “You’re sure you have no idea what’s connected to Miss Shaw that’s so valuable that two of the most evil conners in the world have prepared so well for this?”
“None whatever,” Mike said honestly. “The McDowells are rich, and Luke Connor lives there, but—”
“The author of the Thomas Canon books? I’ve read every one of them! Hey! Maybe you can get me an autographed copy.”
“Sure. I’ll be a tourist who’s lost his way.”
The captain became serious again. “Too distant. You’re going to have to use your connections to your sister, to the town, anything you can find, to get close enough to this girl to talk her out of marrying Stefan. We do not want it set up that he can inherit what is hers. And you have to do this right away because the wedding is in three weeks.”
Mike looked at him in disbelief. “What am I supposed to do? Seduce her?”
“No one would ask you to do this if we didn’t think you could. And, besides, I seem to remember that you’ve succeeded with several women. There was that girl in Lake Worth. What was her name?”
“Tracy, and she got ten to twenty. This one is a good girl. How do I deal with her?”
“I don’t know. Treat her like a lady. Cook for her. Pull out her chair. Girls like her fall for gentlemen. I’m sure that’s how Vandlo got her. And before you ask, no, you can’t kidnap her and you can’t shoot Stefan. This young woman, Sara Shaw, has to stay there to help you find out what those two want.” The captain grinned in a malicious way. “We’ve arranged for Stefan to be away for the whole time before the wedding. We gave him some family troubles that he can’t ignore.”
“Even though he divorced his wife, we know he’s still attached to her, so we arrested her on a DUI charge—which was easy. She’s done a lot of drinking since Stefan left her, so we just picked her up one night, and now she’s facing jail. We let her call him in the wee hours, and just as we’d hoped, he came immediately. If he gives us any trouble, we’ll lock him up until he cools off.” The captain smiled. “I wonder what he told his fiancÉe to explain why he went running off to his ex-wife?”
Mike was closing his thermos, his mind still on how to accomplish this mission. “I doubt if a liar like Vandlo had told her about his ex-wife.”
“Eventually, you’ll have to tell Miss Shaw the truth, so that should be a point in your favor. Whatever you do, you just have to do it fast,” the captain said. “And never forget that this young woman would be the fourth one to disappear after she got attached to Stefan Vandlo. He used a fake name and took those girls for everything they had. Then the girls ‘disappeared’ and the boyfriend, Vandlo, couldn’t be found.”
“Yeah, I read that,” Mike said. “And if it weren’t for some vague eyewitness reports, we wouldn’t know who he was.”
“Right, because Stefan left nothing behind, not so much as a fingerprint. And you know the rule: no evidence, no conviction. Personally, I’d like to arrest the man right now, but the higher-ups want an undercover operation so we can get the mother. We take away her son, and she’d just start using her nieces and nephews. She’s the brains, so we have to get her out of action. Permanently.”
Mike looked at his watch. “I just need to stop by my apartment to get some things, then I can leave—”
“Uh, Mike,” the captain said in a tone of apology, “it looks like you haven’t seen the local news in the last couple of hours. There’s something else you need to know.”
The captain took the last documents from the bench and handed them to him. “I’m really sorry about this.”
When Mike opened the folder, he saw a computer printout of a news story. APARTMENT BURNED, the headline read. CIGARETTES TO BLAME, SAY THE AUTHORITIES.
Mike’s anger flared as he looked at the photo. It was his six-story apartment building, and flames were coming out of the corner of the fourth floor—his apartment.
He put the papers with the others before he looked up at the captain. “Who did it?”
“The Feds say it must have been … Let me check. I don’t want to misquote anyone.” His voice was sarcastic as he flipped a paper over. “‘A fortuitous accident’ is what they called it. Lucky for them, that is.” The captain’s eyes were sympathetic. “I’m sorry about this, Mike, but they want you to go there clean. Your story is that your apartment burned down, so you decided to take a much-needed vacation from police work. It makes sense that you’d stay at your sister’s apartment since it’s empty. It’s supposed to be a coincidence that her place is on the same property as Miss Shaw’s. We—they—want you to lie as little as possible. Oh, yeah, I nearly forgot.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a new BlackBerry, and handed it to Mike. “Stefan cut his teeth on pickpocketing, so when you do meet with him he’ll take your phone. We don’t want him to find any numbers on it that would give you away. While you’re in Edilean you’re to contact us only through your sister. Will that be all right with her?”
“Sure,” Mike said and renewed his vow to tell Tess to stay away. The case must be really serious if they’d burned his apartment. He’d never tell anyone, but Tess had been sending him baked goods from her friend Sara Shaw for years now, and it was Mike’s opinion that anyone who could bake like she could deserved to be saved.
When Mike was silent, the captain said, “Sorry about your clothes.” They all knew Mike was a “dresser.” “What did you lose?”
“Nothing important. Tess keeps whatever means anything to me in a storage bin in—” He hesitated. “In Edilean.”
“My advice is that you don’t visit it.” The captain wanted to lighten the mood. “Again, too bad about the apartment. I was going to volunteer to look after your goldfish.”
Mike snorted as he stood up. He didn’t have goldfish or a dog or even a permanent home. He’d lived in furnished, rented apartments since he left his grandparents’ home at seventeen.
Mike glanced at the roadway that wound through the park. He’d take a run—he needed it—then go. “I’ll leave in two hours,” he said. “I should be in Edilean about ten hours after that—if I use the siren now and then, that is.”
The captain smiled. “I knew you’d do it.”
“Want to go for a run with me?”
The captain grimaced. “I leave that torture to you. Mike?”
“Be careful, will you? Stefan has a bit of a conscience—or at least a fear of reprisals—but his mother …”
“Yeah, I know. Could you put together more info for me on mother and son?”
“How about if you jog over to my car right now and I give you three boxes full of material?”
Mike gave one of his rare laughs, making the captain look at him in question.
“You have something in mind, don’t you?”
“I was thinking of how to introduce myself to Miss Shaw and I remembered a story my sister told me about a very old tunnel. It just happens to open right into the floor of my sister’s bedroom. All I have to do is move Miss Shaw in there.”
The captain waited, but Mike didn’t elaborate. “You’ve only got three weeks. Think you can entice Miss Shaw away from a big city charmer like Stefan in that time?”
Mike gave a sigh. “Usually, I’d say yes, but now …” He shrugged. “In my experience, the only way to get a woman is to find out what she wants, then give it to her. It’s just that I have no idea what a woman like Sara Shaw could possibly want.” He looked at the captain. “So where are these boxes of info? I need to get out of here.” Mike followed him to his car.
Ramsey McDowell was sound asleep when he heard Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” blasting from his wife’s cell phone. Groaning, he put the pillow over his head and tried to shut out the noise—and shut out his feelings. It was her brother calling her, a man Rams had never met, a man more elusive than a ghost, more secretive than a spy. But even though he’d never seen the man, Rams had heard more about him than he cared to. According to his bride, her brother was the smartest, most industrious, most heroic and, of course, the best-looking man on the planet.
“She’s succeeded in making you jealous, hasn’t she?” his cousin Luke had said, laughing. “Don’t worry, old man, a few days—or years—in a gym and you might live up to his reputation.”
Jealous or not, Ramsey knew that his wife halted everything—meals, arguments, even sex—if her phone emitted that outrageous song.
“He is not a hero,” Ramsey said the first time Tess had jumped off of him to run to her phone. “He’s just a policeman.”
“Detective,” Tess said over her shoulder. She was nude, and the sight of her beautiful body running was enough to make him forgive her. But that had been weeks ago and he was tired of the daily calls.
Tess said, “He usually only calls me once a week, but he’s off now so we can talk all we want.”
“All we want” turned out to be every day, and with the way the man caught them in the midst of every “activity,” Rams thought a camera had been set on them. Even now, on their honeymoon, he still called her.
“Mike!” Tess said as she picked up her phone. Her voice was breathless and a bit frightened. “Is something wrong?”
Rams looked at the clock. On European time, it was the wee hours of the morning. Why couldn’t the man get a girlfriend like normal people did?
“All right,” Tess said softly into the phone as she sat back down on the bed. “Of course I’ll do it.”
Rams moved the pillow off his head and looked at her with curiosity. He’d never heard her use that tone before.
“Mike, you’ll be careful, won’t you? No, I mean it. Really careful.”
Rams sat up in bed and watched her more closely. There was enough light in the room that he could see tears in her eyes. “What’s wrong?”
She held up her hand for him to stop talking. “I understand completely. Luke will do whatever I ask him to.”
“Luke will do what?” Ramsey asked.
Tess looked at her husband. “Would you please be quiet? This is important.”
Angrily, Rams flung back the covers, pulled on his trousers that were hanging over a chair, and opened the curtain to look at the mountains outside. Behind him, Tess kept talking.
“Yes, I think it’s in good condition, and besides me, only Luke knows about it. I’m sure he didn’t tell Joce. He was afraid she’d want to explore it, and he’s always thought it was too dangerous.” Pausing, Tess smiled. “Not yet, but Rams is working on it with enthusiasm and endurance. Yeah, the first one will be named Michael.”
In an instant, Ramsey’s anger left him and he stretched out on the bed beside his wife. He didn’t like the way she’d told intimacies about them to her brother, but he did like that she’d said she planned to have children. They’d not talked about having kids, but he now realized he hadn’t done so in fear that she’d say she didn’t want any. Tess was a woman of very strong opinions. But once he was over his first pleasure at hearing that she did want children, Ramsey began to imagine a dozen of them, all with a name in some form of Michael: Michaela, Michalia, Mickey, Michelle—
“What an extraordinary call,” Tess said as she clicked off her phone.
“I draw the line at Mickey. No mice.”
Tess gave him a look of disgust. “Are you going to start on your jealousy again?”
“I’m not—” Rams began but stopped himself. “So why did your brother feel he had to call you in the middle of the night? Or is he playing James Bond in a country where it’s now teatime?”
“He just arrived in Edilean.”
Rams looked at her. “Your brother is in our hometown and you aren’t packed yet?”
“No, and I’m not going to. He wants us to go on an extended honeymoon—and stay away from home.”
“Not that I object, but why does he want us to do that?”
“It seems that my big brother has been sent to Edilean on a case.”
“But he—” Ramsey swallowed. Tess’s brother went undercover for big cases. Huge cases. He dealt in crimes that had international repercussions. He infiltrated gangs that were at war with each other—he’d been shot repeatedly.
Rams got off the bed and went to the closet.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going home; you’re staying here. If your brother’s been sent to Edilean, then something is very wrong.”
“If you go, I’ll follow you, and that will put my brother in danger. And Mike said that if I’m there I might become a target. Is that what you want?”
Turning, Ramsey looked at her. She wore no makeup or clothing, and she was so beautiful he could hardly stand upright. He still couldn’t believe that when he’d asked her to marry him just four weeks ago, she’d said yes. Three weeks later they’d been married in a private ceremony with only a dozen guests. And except that her brother hadn’t been able to be there, it was how they’d both wanted it. In fact, Tess had said, “If you think I’m going to make a fool of myself by wearing a hundred yards of white silk and having a bunch of women around me in pink dresses, then you’ve asked the wrong woman to marry you. Spend the money on a rock. I want a ring big enough to dance on.” He’d happily done just what she asked. And he’d added a pair of diamond earrings—all of which she was wearing now. Just the diamonds, her skin and hair.
“What’s going on in Edilean?” Rams asked. “Who is in danger?”
“You know Mike can’t tell me anything. His cases are top secret. If anyone found out, lives could be lost.”
Ramsey gave her a piercing look. As far as he could tell, her brother didn’t keep secrets from her.
Tess sighed. “Sara.”
Ramsey took a deep breath. “My cousin Sara? Sweet, dear Sara? It’s that bastard she wants to marry, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Tess said simply. “He’s not who he says he is.”
“Now there’s news! I’ve disliked him from the moment I first saw him.”
“All of us have felt the same way, but he’s helped Sara to recover, and their customers love him. Mike wants us to do some things.”
“Mike wants us …?” Ramsey grimaced. “If he asked us for help then he meant for you to tell me about Sara, didn’t he?”
Tess smiled. “Do you think I’d tell you anything Mike didn’t want me to?”
Ramsey started to, yet again, tell her what he thought of her elusive, secretive brother, but he didn’t. “Okay. I’ll bite. What does he want us to do?”
“First,” Tess said as she lowered her voice and slid down in the bed, “he wants nieces and nephews. He says he’s sick of having no kids to buy Christmas presents for.”
“Did he now?” Rams said as he slipped off his trousers and slid under the covers. “And what else did your very intelligent brother ask for?”
“To figure out what Sara owns that a thief would want. It seems that Greg is a big-time crook and Sara has something he’s gone to a lot of trouble to get.” When Rams started to move away, Tess pulled his face down to hers. “And you’re to take me to Venice.”
“For how long?” he murmured.
“Until Mike says we can return.”
Ramsey didn’t like the autocratic way his brother-in-law was making decrees, but he would do whatever he must to keep his beloved wife safe. Abruptly, he pulled away from kissing her neck. “What kind of gifts does your brother give to kids?”
“C-4.” When Ramsey gave her a look of horror, she laughed. “I don’t know. Why don’t we wait and see?”
The next morning, while Ramsey was in the shower, Tess called her friend and Ramsey’s cousin, Luke Connor, to talk about what Mike needed. He and his wife, Jocelyn, lived in Edilean Manor, a rambling mansion built in 1770. They resided in the two-story main part, while Sara had an apartment in one of the flanking wings on one side. Until her marriage, Tess had had the apartment on the other side.
A few years ago, Luke, a famous best-selling author, had returned to Edilean to recover from a disastrous marriage. As a way of healing, he’d taken over the maintenance of the old house and grounds. After days of heavy rain that nearly flooded the town, he’d discovered an old tunnel. It had been shored up with heavy timbers, and the floors had been laid with handmade brick—and it opened into the floor of Tess’s apartment.
Under normal circumstances, he would have told the people of Edilean what he’d found, but at the time he was so miserable he wasn’t talking to anyone. In private, with only the help of his grandfather, he’d restored the tunnel—which he figured had been used during the Civil War as part of the Underground Railroad to help slaves escape.
After his grandfather died, no one but Luke knew about the tunnel—until Tess discovered it. She was curious about the big square cut in the boards in the middle of her bedroom floor. Luke had made sure there were no handles on top and that it was locked from the inside, but that didn’t stop Tess from using a crowbar to pry up the boards. She went down the ladder Luke had put there and used a flashlight to make her way along the dark, dank corridor. When she tripped over Luke’s sleeping body—and found out where he disappeared to when no one could find him—for several long moments they’d both been in a state of panic. After they’d calmed down, they went to Tess’s apartment, and Luke ended up telling her his personal problems. And Tess told Luke about her brother and a little of why she’d come to Edilean. She didn’t have to tell him that she was madly in love with her boss, Luke’s cousin, Ramsey. He said the whole town knew that. But Tess had had to wait a long time before Rams figured that out for himself.
After that first nearly hysterical encounter, Luke and Tess had formed a bond between them, and unknown to the gossipy little town, Luke often entered her apartment through the tunnel and spent the night in her second bedroom. So now she called and told him what her brother needed.
“Let me get this straight,” Luke said. “You want me to sabotage Sara’s apartment so she has to move into yours because your brother—who I’ve never met—wants to sneak into your bedroom where Sara will be staying? And this is in the dead of night?”
“That’s exactly right. Is the tunnel in good shape?”
“Bugs and cobwebs, but the structure is sound.”
“So will you do it?”
“I have one question.”
“And that is?”
“Is your brother married?”
“Think he could seduce Sara away from Anders?”
“My brother could seduce Jolie away from Pitt.”
Luke groaned. “Sometimes I almost feel sorry for my cousin.”
“Rams needs competition,” Tess said. “How’s Joce?”
“Not so good. We just found out that she has to stay in bed for the rest of her pregnancy or risk losing the twins. But I got her started on doing the family genealogy, and she’s liking that.”
“Tell her that my heart is with her and I’ll call her tomorrow. Anything I can do for her?” Tess asked.
“Come home as soon as you can. She misses you. About Sara, if I tell her I have to fumigate her apartment, she’ll be out in seconds. Leave it all to me.”
“Thank you very much,” Tess said and hung up. When Rams got out of the shower, she was sitting on the little sofa in the hotel room, reading a magazine. “So what do they wear in Venice?”
“Exactly what you have on.” She was completely naked. “Except they add a mask.”
“And where do they put it?”
Ramsey laughed as he walked toward her, his towel dropping to the floor.
© 2010 Deveraux, Inc.
What People are Saying About This
“Deveraux is a master storyteller, and her books fairly shimmer with excitement and adventure, making her one of the most popular women’s fiction writers today. Scarlet Nights is no exception. With strong characters, down-home charm, and an intriguing story, fans will enjoy catching up with the folks from Edilean” —Times Record News
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Scarlet Nights includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Jude Deveraux. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Sara Shaw is beautiful, good-hearted, a devoted churchgoer, and the best pie maker around. The catch: she’s engaged to a man everyone despises, a man who happens to lead a secret life of fraud and thievery and who is wanted by the FBI. When Mike Newland, an undercover cop assigned to catch Sara’s fiancé Greg and his convict mother, arrives in Sara’s small town of Edilean, Virginia, things begin to heat up. Mike must work to gain Sara’s trust to help him catch the infamous criminals—and in the process, he falls head over heels for Sara. Together Mike and Sara discover the secret of the town—and Mike’s family—that has been hidden for nearly seventy years. In the end, Mike finally learns what it means to have a family and Sara realizes what it means to be loved.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. “Sometimes she felt torn between the man she loved and the town she adored” (22). Sara faces this dilemma early in the story as she is forced to choose between her quiet country life and family and the man with whom she has fallen in love and agreed to marry. Was there a singular event you see as the moment of Sara’s realization that the world is not an easy place—even in the seemingly perfect town of Edilean, Virginia? Why do you think she falls in love with Greg Anders? Why do you think it took an outsider—Mike—to open Sara’s eyes to the truth about Greg?
2. Discuss the significance of Merlin’s Farm. What does it represent for Sara? Arguably, the farm was both an escape and an entrapment—without the farm, Greg would not have wanted Sara. But the farm is also the setting where Sara and Mike first fall in love. Do you see the farm as more of an escape or an entrapment for Sara? How so?
3. What does the title Scarlet Nights symbolize?
4. Why do you think Mike keeps his personal life a secret from his coworkers and friends? Why does he find it so difficult to tell Sara the truth? Do you think he is ashamed of his past?
5. How do Ramsey and Tess factor into the story? Do you view them as minor characters or as necessary to the integrity of the story? How much or how little do you think Ramsey and Tess aided in Sara’s discovery of love, happiness, and survival?
6. How would you characterize Mr. Lang? What are his intentions? Consider his character from the points of view of Sara, Ellie, Mike, and the collective town. Who do you think knows the “real” Mr. Lang? How can you tell?
7. The novel opens in Fort Lauderdale, but most of the story takes place in Edilean. Discuss how the different settings help transform Mike and Sara. Would it have been possible for Mike to change if he hadn’t been to Edilean? Would Mike and Sara’s relationship have been different if she hadn’t gone to Fort Lauderdale against his wishes?
8. The struggle for intimacy and openness is a central theme in the novel. On page 3, Mike thinks, “Experience had taught him to reveal as little about himself as possible.” Think of other examples of the struggle for intimacy in the novel. Consider Sara, Mike, Tess, Mr. Lang, and Sara’s sisters in your response. How do each of these characters struggle with opening up to their family and friends?
9. What did you make of Mike’s initial good impression on the town of Edilean? Do you think initially his kindness was part of his act? If so, when did it become sincere? Why was everyone so willing to believe him? Why wasn’t Sara?
10. Discuss Sara and Ariel’s rivalry. What is the root of their dislike for one another? Are the two more similar or more different? Do you think they will ever be friends?
11. Revisit Mike and Sara’s picnic at Merlin’s Farm, beginning on page 109. Do you think Mike was showing his true feelings for Sara? Was this the moment they fell in love? How can you tell?
12. In Scarlet Nights, appearances are often very deceiving. Greg is really Stefan, Mrs. Myers is really Mitzi, and Mike is really in love with Sara. Think of other examples where things are not what they seem in the story. How does the author exploit this conceit? For what purpose do you think the author made use of this theme?
13. What was your reaction to the ending of the story? Would you call Sara the heroine? Do you think Mike and Sara will live happily ever after?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Edilean, Virginia, is a fictional town, but it represents an idea of small-town life that is part of our collective conscience. If you don’t already live in a small town, take a daytrip with your book club to one nearby. Visit restaurants, shops, and churches. Talk to the locals and sample the food for which the town is most proud. Over lunch, discuss with your book club the similarities and differences between this town and Edilean. Can you imagine high-profile criminals slipping unnoticed into town life? Why or why not?
2. Jude Deveraux is a popular bestselling author. If you haven’t done so already, have your book club read the previous two books in the Edilean family series, which began with Lavender Morning and continued with Days of Gold. Or, if your book club has already read these novels, discuss the characters that overlap. Do they change from one book to the next? Does Edilean change? Which book is the group’s favorite?
3. The characters in Scarlet Nights are deeply connected to their Scottish heritage. Recreate the festival with your book club. Host a party and have each member wear a medieval gown or kilt like the characters in the book. Serve lavender cookies, have a tarot card reader, and serve Scottish beverages. Have one member research the history of Scotland and present the group with a history lesson. Why do you think the town felt so closely connected to Scotland?
A Conversation with Jude Deveraux
You’ve written several other historical romance novels. Did any of your previous books inspire this story? Are there more books to come in the Edilean family series?
In the past, I wrote a series about two families, but I found that limiting, so I decided to create a town. I came up with seven founding families, showed their personalities and interests in Days of Gold, then carried them forward. Yes, I plan to write lots more books set in Edilean. I truly and deeply love my characters.
I want to write about other characters in the town besides those from the founding families. I want to see how they feel about living in a town that’s run by families that have lived there for centuries.
Who is your favorite character in the story and why? Do you think this is Mike’s story more so than any other character’s? Why or why not?
I think Mike’s life changed the most. He was a very lonely man, but he didn’t know it. His sister, Tess, did and she fought to give him a life, but Mike didn’t know what he was missing.
But I also think Sara’s life changed. She was devastated by the loss of Brian, the man she loved. She had her entire life planned out, knew where she was going and with whom, then zap! it was all taken from her in an instant. It took away her sense of self. I think maybe she felt that all she deserved was a man like Greg.
How did you come to be a writer? What is your background, and who are your influences?
I write because I have stories running around in my head. I never dreamed of being a “writer” per se. I just wanted to put the stories in my mind onto paper. I haven’t changed. I still have characters in my thoughts, and I want to find out what happened to them. I want to hear them talk and see what they do if they are in a certain situation.
Describe the journey you took while writing this book. How many hours of research did you have to do in order to capture the spirit of the Southern town? Is Edilean based on your hometown? Was there any character that you spent more time researching than the others?
Edilean isn’t based on any particular small U.S. town but all of them. As for the research, I spent many, many hours on it. My good friend Detective Charlie Stack helped me with all of it. He directed me to books and websites and he answered all my questions, whether I asked about martial arts or economic crimes.
I spent more of the time learning about the types of fraud that people like my fictional Mitzi committed than I did anything else. It was fascinating to me how women like her work.
You have been praised by Romantic Times magazine as an author who “has always enchanted readers” and who “instinctively knows what every woman is searching for—her own knight in shining armor.” Was your goal to have Sara find her “knight in shining armor”? Do you think this is a correct assessment of what your books aim to do?
I like for my people to find True Love—and that’s not always easy. I have started writing several books in which the hero and heroine disliked each other so much that I discarded the book. It’s okay if they think they hate one another but feel physical attraction, but if there’s nothing between them, then I can’t work with it.
As for Sara, she deeply and truly needed someone to rescue her. I don’t think she realized—but the town did—that she was heading down into a deep depression, one that she probably wouldn’t have recovered from. Even if Greg Anders weren’t a criminal, the truth was that he didn’t need Sara. Mike did. Sara gave him a home and a future. They were perfect together.
Why did you decide to tell the story from both Mike’s and Sara’s points of view? What effect do you think this has on the story overall?
Sometimes I need for a character not to know what’s going on in the story, so I write in first person. In Scarlet Nights there was so much going on that I had to keep the reader informed of every change and every secret. When I was first plotting the book, I thought of telling the story just from Sara’s point of view. What Mike was doing and why would be kept a secret, but when I tried that, he came off as a jerk. He was sneaking into the apartment, then staying there even when Sara told him to leave. It didn’t work! I changed it all and told the reader everything upfront. Sara was the one who didn’t know what was going on, not the reader.
Did any real-life criminals inspire the characters of Greg Anders and his mother?
Yes, they did. In fact, everything I wrote about Mitzi and Greg is the truth, based on real cases.
You have a remarkable talent for capturing the description of Southern life, especially the food and the landscape. Was it difficult to bring the South to life? Do you write more from experience or imagination?
I just write about Edilean as I see the town and the people. Since I am Southern, I describe what I know.
I have a passion for old houses, so it’s been fun to find houses that fit my people, then have them walk around inside. If I use an old house as the model, I like to imagine how the residents over the years would have remodeled it. I always have a thick stack of photos of the house, the facade, the floor plan, and the setting. Merlin’s Farm has been the most interesting because there’s so much to it. I have many pages of photos of that place, as it’s based on an actual plantation.
Who is your favorite author? Who are you reading now? What is next for you?
I don’t really have a favorite author. The truth is that I read very little fiction. I read a lot of nonfiction for my research. I have several TV shows that I watch, as I think it’s good for me to keep up with current slang and what’s going on in the world. I also watch a lot of movies and I have favorite DVDs that I play often.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book had me from the first few pages. Jude Deveraux writes about Mike Newland and Sara Shaw. Greg is an undercover detective who is assigned to return to his home town of Edilean, VA. He has not been there in years, even though he has a sister Tess who lives there. His job is to protect Sara from her fiance Greg. Greg is really the son of a famous con-artist who has escaped the authorities for years. Her and her son are after something Sara has but what? Mike never talks about his past, his woman have all been criminals wifes tied to cases. How does he handle a good girl like Sara? this book is book 3 of the Edilean Series but can stand alone. You'll love it!
Author Jude Deveraux is the NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of thirty-eight books. There are more than sixty million of her books in print worldwide. Other titles include: Days of Gold, Lavender Morning, Return to Summerhouse, and Secrets. She resides in North Carolina with her family. This book is part of the EDILEAN SERIES, though can be read as a stand alone novel. In the quaint little town of Edilean, Virginia, Sara Shaw is making wedding plans, much to the distress of her family and friends. Greg Anders is not the man they would have chosen for the town's "golden child." Greg isn't like everyone else in town--he's abrupt, rude, and has a superior attitude. Plus, most think he's cheating on her. But Sara is devoted to him, assured that Edilean just doesn't know him. Then Greg leaves town unexpectedly, leaving Sara to wonder when he'll return and where they stand in their relationship. Strangely enough, undercover cop Mike Newland shows up just after Greg leaves. And the town all but bows down to the newcomer. When Sara learns that Mike was sent to Edilean because her fiancé and his mother are career criminals and planning the heist of a lifetime, Sara doesn't know what to do. Worse, she's finding herself attracted to the man, a man who cannot emotionally or physically commit to her. Either way, Mike and Sara need to figure out what it is Greg's family wants from her, before they find it first and she becomes expendable. The only fault I found with the book was that the characters backgrounds and inner thoughts didn't always seem to match their actions. For instance, Sara is witty and smart, yet she lets this Greg guy push her around and doesn't see through him. And Mike, who refuses to ever commit and marry, who lives a thousand miles away, quickly falls for Sara and is a bit soft at times. In saying that, I always take pleasure in a Jude Deveraux book. She writes with a poetic simplicity that makes her stand alone. Though a romantic suspense, this is heavy on the contemporary romance with intrigue elements. The hero and heroine were hilarious in their dialog. Back and forth, back and forth. I laughed out loud. As typical of her books, Deveraux is at her best when describing her settings. It puts the reader right there in the pages with the characters. The secondary characters were a nice add to the storyline. I can't wait to read more about them. Recommended. Kelly Moran, Author and Reviewer Bookpleasures
First let me say I love it when Ms. Deveraux writes books in series, and the Edilean series is very good. I recently purchased a NookColor, which I love. I was excited to again start reading Ms. Deveraux's books again. But I have to say I am a bit disappointed. I've read the five books currently available in the six book "Edilean" series. I'm not sure if Barnes and Noble is responsible for my disappointments or if Ms. Deveraux is responsible, but I believe it is a combination of the two. In the first book I found a reference to a character and the name was wrong, page 177 "Joce and Luke", should be "Ingrid and Luke". Throughout each book every time the word "historical" is used, the word "an" is before it, this is grammatically wrong, and hard to read time after time. These are probably issues that should be direct to Ms. Deveraux. However, having the ebooks numbered incorrectly, whose fault is that? I just finished #5 which has a preview for #3 which clearly indicates that "Scarlet Nights" #3 is after "The Scent of Jasmine" #5. Also, on every page of the story portion of the ebook version of The Scent of Jasmine in the top left corner is "Judge deveraux" so the name of the author is wrong on every page and the author's last name is not capitalized. Who is responsible for that? Now let's talk about ebook number #4 in this series, the fault of both Barnes and Noble and Ms. Deveraux. Having read five of the six books in this series, I have to ask, what were these people thinking? First #4 is not anything more than a seventy page short story, and completely unnecessary to the series as a whole. The enhanced portion of this book, which by the way this book is only available in NookColor format, is video. I was hopeful that the videos would add to the story. They do not. To make matters worse, the videos are all of poor quality and have a very amateurish feel to them. Again I have to ask, what were these people thinking? If I was buying this series as regular paper versions, I would be extremely upset that book #4 in the series was unavailable to me. The story series is very good, and I still love my NookColor and Ms. Deveraux is still one of my all time fav romance writers (I've read probably more than 20/25 of her books), but I am disappointed in the execution of these books to electronic format. Please someone tell me where is the quality control and editors when these conversions are done?
While I have some questions about some things I'm hoping will later be answered, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's like the Montgomery/Taggerts again. It's a great, fun read.
Wonderful book. as usual Deveraux has yet again kept me on the edge of my seat.
Wow, this one was lousy. I enjoyed the previous two Edilean books for what they were: popcorn romance, but enough charm and sizzle to satisfy. This book, surrounding a resident of the town who discovers her fiancée isn't who she though he was, and the undercover police detective there to catch the man, was incredibly cheesy and annoying.Sarah Shaw, a country mouse of a woman (yet apparently startlingly sexy despite her preference for extremely prim clothing and behavior), is the most boring and unappealing character I've encountered in a while. Ugh. I found it completely unlikely that her character could draw in a man as attractive as Mike Newland is described (though he was annoying in his own way).The only reason I kept listening to this was it was better than listening to nothing, though having finished it, I'm thinking I should have gone with nothing...Avoid if you dislike treacly, cheesy love stories with boring and unsympathetic dish towel-like characters who suddenly jump into uncharacteristic action simply so the people around the character have slightly more believable reason to suffer said character's presence. Blech!
I've enjoyed this book, once again returning to Edilean. I felt that this story had more to it than the previous two, but then again the others are building background for this one as well. I found the relationship between Sara and Mike to be fun and believable. I loved the added touch of a mystery and a bad guy who seems to know more about it than anyone else. A fun read and I'll be looking for the next in the series.
Sarah Shaw is happily planning her wedding to Greg Anders. The wedding is in a few weeks, but Greg had to leave town suddenly and she hasn't been able to contact him since. Then one night while she is temporarily sleeping in her friends' apartment while her plumbing is being fixed, a trapdoor opens in the floor of her bedroom and a (very handsome) man emerges. Mike Newland is an undercover FBI agent who is investigating a family of criminals and has traced them to the small town of Edilean. After a rocky start, Sarah and Mike become "friends" but are also very attracted to each other. Sarah doesn't realize that Mike is about to burst her very happy bubble.This is the third book in the Edilean series and features many of the previous characters. It is a pleasantly entertaining novel until the last few chapters when the plot becomes totally implausible. I was enjoying the book until that point, but the ending ruined it for me.
Cant wait to continue this saga
I enjoyed this story and the characters in it. It kept my attention from the start all the way until the end. The banter between our two main characters is fun and I saw the development in both of them take place gradually as they came to appreciate and love one another. The mystery was good and progressed well throughout the story. More sex than I prefer but a good read.
Please tell me how to get to Edilean! I want to move there, but the next best thing is this series that immerses me in it. Jude is so clever to create an endearing town, and her characters are intriguing.
Very good . Hard to put down.
this is a fast moving funny romance with hidden mysteries ... strong characters, female and male, they will put a smile on your face and a question mark in your mind ... great series a must read
The series is wonderful. The characters are well rounded, each story can be read on its own. The characters are intertwined nicely from one story to the next with out having to repeat or give an extensive backstory. This book moves fast and draws you in quickly. A lot of action in this one that men would enjoy it too. This is a good book to read together with your spouse. The love scenes are beautifully discripted and very realistic to a new couple discovering each other with out being vulgar. Also a great action packed ending! I loved this book and will read it again.
True Jude Deveraux.