The Gilded Hour Page 55

Jack shook his head. “I’m not a beat cop.”

“But you like it, your job. What you do.”

“Most of the time, yes.”

“That’s something to be thankful for.”

She surprised him, again.

•   •   •

JACK FLAGGED DOWN a cab and helped her in, gave directions to the cabby and took the moment to gather his thoughts. His heart was racing, and he had broken out in a sweat despite the cool night air. But he could wait. He would have to wait until she was ready to talk.

As they set off down Prince Street he said, “Are we still going to the Foundling tomorrow?”

She gave him a curious half smile. “Why wouldn’t we?”

The cab went around the park before stopping at the corner where Fifth Avenue South met Washington Square. Jack helped her out without a word of explanation. He wanted to walk with her here, because he had more to say. The very idea made her throat go dry.

He stood there, his hand extended, and she took it.

•   •   •

“YOU DON’T WALK here at night alone.”

He wasn’t asking her a question, but voicing a command, of sorts. She might take exception to commands, but she understood his concerns.

“The streetlights make a great difference, and there’s nothing to fear from prostitutes.”

“It’s not the women you need to be wary of,” Jack said.

She let out a sigh. “I’m very aware of that. I don’t go through the park in the dark of night alone, but I do know every square inch of it. It was our playground when we were little, and later we—” She couldn’t help grinning at the memory.

He raised a brow. “Go on.”

“You saw that Margaret reads the Police Gazette, almost obsessively, I would say. She would talk about some of the crimes at the dinner table. Nothing violent, not when we were children. But she’d say, ‘Colonel Maxwell was burgled yesterday, every piece of silver in the house.’ And then she’d voice her opinion. Usually she’d say, ‘I suspect the help.’ Or she’d be specific. ‘They hired that Irish cook.’ Aunt Quinlan would take exception, and there would be a pointed discussion. Aunt never shielded us from this kind of thing, and eventually we were curious about the bits of the Police Gazette Margaret wasn’t reading to us.”


She laughed. “It was his idea to wait until she had finished with one, and then he’d snap up the castoff before it could be burned. We read to each other in a corner somewhere about people who had been robbed on the street, corners where a fight broke out.

“Eventually we got up the courage and when we came across something that happened anywhere near us, we went to investigate. It didn’t take long to notice that the police spent a lot of time just a few blocks away.”

“French Town,” Jack supplied, and she nodded.

“We didn’t know the neighborhood had a name. We knew the cafés and the bakery and the fact that everyone speaks French—Sophie was our ambassador when we went exploring there. But it wasn’t until we started studying the Gazette that we heard about the Taverne Alsacienne being raided and the disorderly houses.”

The memory made her laugh.

“Tell me you didn’t stop by the Alsacienne to sample their absinthe,” Jack said.

“No, I was thinking about a terrific argument we had about a raid on a disorderly house on Greene Street. We didn’t know what a disorderly house was at first, and Sophie got into a laughing fit imagining housekeepers being arrested because of dust bunnies under their beds. Cap did know what a disorderly house was, but he wouldn’t tell us. So we went to Aunt Quinlan.”

“She told you?” Jack looked both surprised and unsettled at this idea.

“Aunt Quinlan always answered our questions, no matter how odd or difficult.” Or painful, Anna thought. “As I remember, it wasn’t a long conversation. She didn’t condone or condemn, but she talked about the way poor women live. I thought I understood what she was saying, but I didn’t. I couldn’t, really, at that age. But I do now.”

Jack made a low humming sound as if he were thinking this through, and then he pulled her closer.

“I’m wondering what made you think of dust bunnies and the Police Gazette just now.”

Anna felt herself flush with irritation, at herself and Jack both. He had figured out what she was thinking before she realized it herself, and she felt the sting of that. This was what came of raising the subject of sex, she told herself.

Her rational mind knew that a healthy man of thirty-five did not live like a monk, and further, that she had no right to judge him on that basis. But the idea of Jack Mezzanotte visiting prostitutes sat badly with her, and she couldn’t pretend otherwise. And so she asked.

“Do you have allegiances I should know about?”

He was trying to look serious, and really, Anna thought, he could be insufferable at times. Standing in a pool of light from a lamppost, a curl of dark hair falling over his brow, he grinned at her and then, leaning down, kissed her forehead.

She batted at him. “What was that for?”

Jack caught her hand and pressed it to his chest, holding it there and pulling her in. Then he kissed her properly, the kind of kiss she had been expecting on the bridge, the kind of kiss that made everything else go away. Slow and soft and deep, his tongue stroked hers. She made a noise of surrender.

“We’ll get arrested,” she said against his mouth.

“Not a chance.”

She cursed the lamplight but went to him with an enthusiasm she couldn’t begin to hide. When his hand began to trace the curve of her hip, she tried again.

“We’ll be charged with indecent behavior.”

That made him laugh. “I’ll show you what counts as indecent behavior—”

This time she managed to pull herself away and they stood a few feet apart, both breathing as though they had run a mile uphill.

She said, “Are you going to answer my question?”

Jack rubbed a hand over his face like a man trying to rouse himself out of sleep. “About my allegiances? I don’t have any.”

She raised a brow, crossed her arms. Waited.

“At the moment.” He was trying not to smile, but the corner of his mouth jerked. “My last . . . allegiance ended at the new year.”


“She was a widow; she moved away to keep house for her widowed brother-in-law in St. Louis, with the intention of marrying him. We separated on good terms. Satisfied?”

“Not really. That seems insufficient for a man of your age and vitality.”

“I play handball,” he said. “That settles things down for a while.”

Handball was played all over the city, a hard game involving nothing more than the ball itself and walls. Watching teenage boys playing handball when she herself was a teenager had been unsettling in ways she didn’t understand at the time. Now the idea of Jack playing handball, sweat-soaked, his muscles working, made her swallow.

He mistook her silence for something else. Jack put his hands on her face and lifted it into the lamplight. “I don’t frequent disorderly houses. Even if I were tempted, the possibility of syphilis would stop me.”

She put her forehead to his shoulder and nodded. “That’s a relief.”

After a long moment he said, “What are you thinking?”

“About you playing handball.”

That made him laugh. “When I get back from Chicago you can come watch.”

“I’ll miss you. You’ll be too busy to miss anybody, I’d guess.”

“Hard to imagine.”

From deeper in the park came the sound of a woman’s laugh, high-pitched and less than sober. It roused them both out of their thoughts.

“So tomorrow we’ll go to the Foundling, and then while I’m away you’ll figure out what you want.” He pressed his thumb to her mouth before she could say anything. “I already know what I want, Savard. I’m just waiting for you to catch up.”


THE ENGAGEMENT ANNOUNCEMENT in Sunday morning’s paper took up a full third of the Society News column, ten copies of which were on the breakfast table, arranged by Mrs. Lee before anyone had gotten out of bed. Breakfast itself was delayed for a half hour while each of them studied what Cap had written. Lia sat on Margaret’s lap, and Rosa sat between Anna and Sophie, her concentration drifting away, her face creased with worry. If Margaret was right about nothing else, Anna knew, it was important that the girls had no doubt about their place in the household.

Aunt Quinlan and Margaret agreed that the whole piece was well done. Margaret was more settled this morning, a fact that followed, Anna believed, from the invitation that had arrived by messenger at nine o’clock exactly. The family was invited to take dinner and spend the afternoon and evening on Park Place to celebrate the engagement.

Anna did not doubt for a moment that Cap had anticipated Margaret’s objections, and that this was his countermeasure.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies