December 31, 2015

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Need a new read for the New Year? Here's wishing you a happy close to 2015 and a bright, shiny 2016 with a free chapter excerpt from Seven for a Secret!


New Year’s Eve 1926 / New Year’s Day 1927

“Three, two, one...Happy New Year!”

Thousands of revelers buzzing on bootlegged liquor raised their arms in the air at the Aragon Ballroom.

“Wooo!” Effie cried into the cacophony, throwing her arms around her dance partner’s neck. “Oh, Lonnie, won’t you kiss me Happy New Year? It’s bad luck if you don’t!” She nuzzled her silver-beaded breasts against his vest and wore a deep garnet, balloon-lipped pout. “Lonnie, you’ve been giving me the absent treatment all night,” she cooed, raising that pout and puckering it as blatantly as a fish. 

That’s what it is, Lon realized. He leaned back to eye her up and down and had to catch his footing as he almost lost his balance. Squinting through his gin-distorted vision, he confirmed that that’s what Effie had reminded him of all night in that little dress of overlapping giant sequins and beads: a silvery, scaly fish.

“Ohhh,” she moaned into him, tracing her index fingers in symmetrical snakes down his chest. “Come now, darling. Since when are you so shy?” She giggled with a hiccup and swayed against him as a trumpet wah-wahhed the remainder of the band’s jazzy rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.”

Scanning the crowd for the other couples they’d arrived with, Lon couldn’t make out any familiar faces. The camaraderie he usually shared with just his male companions at the late-night clubs wasn’t to be enjoyed this evening. He heard Effie “Mmmm!” at him in pleading and figured, What the hell. He joined in her sway as the band’s piano began to provocatively plunk out the song “Squeeze Me.”

Bending down, Lon practically swallowed Effie’s ready lips, penetrating that pucker and unable to care less if an usher tapped his shoulder for indecent public behavior. Passionately groping her hips and bottom thanks to his flask of gin, Lon went for it and waited for the slap across his face.

He had underestimated Effie.

“Mmm,” she continued to moan while her fingers tucked into the waist of his trousers at his back and slid around to the front. She gave his fly a tug and detached from his mouth. “Check, please. Let’s say we blow this joint and you take me to your hotel.” Her eyes were glassed on hooch, but they appeared to focus steadily enough on his.

A mental inventory of his lodgings ran through Lon’s reeling mind as he appraised how suitable it was for company. Had he picked up his clothes? Put away his paints and canvas? But perhaps he hadn’t been considering the most important question: Did it matter?

“So where are you staying?” Effie asked. “The Drake? Palmer House?” 

Lon narrowed his eyes. Of course. Why should she assume anything less than luxury?

“Allerton?” she persisted. “Some place real swanky, I’m sure. You weasel; I’m certain you’ve been to town sooner than this and haven’t called me. Show me where you’ve been hiding.” She grabbed his lapels and looked up at him like an imploring puppy. “Pleeease, Lonnie? Take me where you bring the other girls.” Her voice returned to its characteristic nasal whine. A shame; Lon had enjoyed the brief departure. “I’m feeling an edge, and this music’s starting to grate on me,” she yammered on. “Come on, let’s ankle, huh?” She was actually pulling his arm now. “Before my giggle water wears off and gives me a headache.”

With Lon rooted firmly in place, Effie kept a hold on him and leaned backward at an otherwise impossible angle. In an effort to motivate him, she released one of her hands to pull up the hem of her dress and reveal her garters.

Not wishing her to fall over, Lon gave in to her tugs, watching this debutante-turned-flapper whom he supposed could be considered a kindred spirit, a renegade of her class — if not for the fact that she was sure to still color inside the lines enough to keep her key to The Club. She was fodder for gossips, to be sure, but she’d not been branded visibly enough to deny her invitations to all the elite events. She could turn her slang on and off like a light switch, transitioning with ease into the polished Standard English she’d been brought up with on command. And, though twenty-one, her parents still doted on her like an infant. Perhaps they thought it was safer to keep her on an extraordinarily long leash, but a leash nonetheless that would pull taut and tug her back if she ran out the slack. Daddy’s Girl, on the perpetual prowl for a Sugar Daddy to support her if ever she did snap that leash.

Back, back, back she pulled him through the crowd of couples springing in lively dancing, their feet drumming against the wooden floor. The surrounding plaster façade of a garish Spanish courtyard closed around Lon like a tunnel, at the end of which he only saw Effie’s spread thighs, her garters snapping one by one at the yank of his teeth. Maybe it was worth trying to bounce this Sheba off his Murphy bed after all, send them both into oblivion. In his condition at the moment, her hole was good as any.

Effie walked backward, still facing him and bunching the hem of her dress in her fist as she guided him along. The dancing in his peripheral vision appeared to slow, and Lon blinked as his sight blurred and the images converged in front of him. He looked up to the false night sky of the domed ceiling and tried to focus on its artificial twilight. As his hazy vision swam among the painted stars, he saw nothing else, only heard “Squeeze Me” in the very blood rushing to his ears.

A “Whoops!” broke the spell, and Lon found himself pressed against Effie. She’d backed into one of the “palace” columns running the perimeter of the dance floor, leaving Lon to crash into her.

Closing his eyelids to see the stars behind them, he took her lips with his again and plucked at her garter straps as if she were a bass. Effie complied with pleasing sounds for a little while, but it was when Lon crouched, grabbed the backs of her thighs, and hoisted her up against the column that he felt her struggle. “What’s the idea!” she cried, holding to him for balance while also trying desperately to keep her dress covering her bottom. “Lonnie, stop it now!” He tried to wedge his body between her legs and wrap them around his sides. “Say, I mean it! Quit it now or I’m really gonna cast a kitten in fronta’ all these people!”

Here, kitty-kitty-kitty. Lon laughed to himself as he eased his hands beneath her dress toward her rump. But, with an instinctive sense of decency, he withdrew to let her down — just in time to see two uniformed ballroom attendants make their way toward him. Around them, he heard the disapproving cries of other women, a few of whom appeared to prod their dates to walk over there and knock his lights out.

Lon seized Effie by the wrist and pulled her toward the exit, waving off the men who’d given up their chase but still pointed after him in stern warning.

Out on the sidewalk, she huffed into the frigid air. “You, you’re screwy! You didn’t even fetch my ermine!” She ran at him and pushed him with surprising might. “The nerve, after dragging me all the way uptown. I’ll find myself another ride home, thank you. Don’t call on me again. Ever!”

And with that, she stomped her fish scales back inside, leaving Lon teetering on his feet. He hadn’t even grabbed his own overcoat, but no matter. The glittering lights of the Green Mill jazz club twinkled in the corner of his eye from the nearest intersection at Broadway.

Rubbing and cupping his bare hands to his face, he blew warm breath into them and set foot to deliver himself from drunk to positively zozzled.

* * *

“Three, two, one...Happy New Year!”

Dozens of high society members tipsy on fine champagne raised their coupe glasses in toast throughout the parlor and music room of the Hughes mansion.

“A kiss for good luck, my charming bride,” Finlay said, taking Eva’s hand and kissing the back of it before pulling her nearer to plant one politely on her lips.

“You call that a kiss?” Eva teased, perhaps two glasses of champagne in excess of her threshold. She coiled her arm around his neck and pressed against him. Her lips roamed over his and traveled down to his neck, then up to his ear.

“Evie, darling.” Finlay pulled her arms from their tight squeeze to add a little distance, looking around at the other partygoers and forcing a good-natured chuckle. The Redcliffe influence had tamed Hughes parties quite a bit over the last year. “Ha-ha, yes, perhaps you’ve imbibed a bit too much,” he said loudly for anyone in earshot. “May I walk you to a sofa, or perhaps your old bed upstairs to rest awhile? Collect yourself?”

Eva pulled her arms through his grip and wrapped them instead around his waist beneath his tuxedo jacket. “I think,” she purred with a smirk, “you ought to take me home, darling, and lay me on our bed.”

“Mm, yes,” Finlay replied. “Let’s do. I’ll fetch your mink if you’ll say your goodbyes and meet me in the foyer.”

Eva tightened her hug and giggled into his neck, “Yes, master,” with a firm squeeze of his rear beneath his tails.

“Er,” Finlay replied and coughed into his hand. “I’ll just be retrieving your fur, dear. Why don’t you make your way to the door now.”

Pressing her lips together in a grin, Eva saluted her husband. She then dropped her hand with such gusto that it swung her around, so she followed its lead and walked in its suggested direction.

Weaving through the merrymakers with a smiling nod, she eventually found herself in the front foyer. She stood on the mosaic tiles between the great columns and swayed to the string ensemble. Fleetingly, she wondered if she ought not quickly run upstairs to check on Ollie, but looking down the golden corridor, she spied the marble lovers above the fountain. Her sister forgotten, the corners of Eva’s lips twitched downward, and she softly sang along with everyone else to “Auld Lang Syne.”

Her throat tightened, making her voice falter into silence. Yet she still swayed, leaning against the door and frowning.

Seconds later, Finlay descended the grand staircase with her white fur in hand.

“All right, my darling, let’s be off.”

Compliant, she stood away from the door and allowed the butler — who’d been invisible to her until just then — to open it for her. Humming the song, she clopped down the stone steps, turned an abrupt left at the sidewalk, and marched the short distance to her own home next door. She then took another sharp military turn left up their steps.

Once inside the foyer there, she turned onto Finlay to half-heartedly renew her seduction.

“Mmm, kiss me, darling.”

“Of course, dear.” Finlay pecked her lips, then her forehead.

“Oh, come now, can’t you do better than that?” She fixed a ravenous gaze on him and reached for the fly of his tuxedo pants.

“Eva, my me just — ” And he swept her off her feet and carried her upstairs.

Entering their master bedroom, he laid her on the bedspread and covered her with her white mink, which she promptly snatched off. Crawling onto all fours, she flicked it at him like a whip. “Come here, you.”

“Darling, I must get back to your father’s. There are important men there that I need to speak to, and — ”

“Well, if you must go, then go!” Eva spat, poised up on her knees. “Here I am throwing myself at you, and you still won’t touch me! I am your wife! I’m the one you always return to exhausted from your days of commerce or riding or golfing or whatever it is that you do at any given hour with the other Rulers of the World. There’s always someone else important to speak to. I fear I don’t interest you very much.”

“Pardon me, darling, but do I disrespect you? Do I treat you poorly? Deny you any comforts you’re used to? After only one year away, you’ve had to move all but one door down from your childhood home, for goodness sake.”

Eva pouted, tears streaming down her face. Why did she always seem to be crying? Ever since 1925, ever since the engagement, and was this how she was to ring in yet another year as well? Another New Year of old tears? A New Woman confined to old ways?

“No,” she replied. “You’ve been a gentleman in every way.”

“What then?” he beseeched. “Eva, what can I do to make you happy?”

“Must you really ask? Fine, then. I give up.” Hands folded at her lap, she sank onto her heels. “Intimacy, Finlay. I want to feel intimacy. I want us to find pleasure in each other, emotionally, physically. I feel all I’ve accomplished since our wedding is a successful role-play as Wife. My next audition will be for the role of Mother of Your Children. And yet how am I to achieve that when you scarcely lay a finger on me? It’s been over a year, and I still simply want to feel like a woman first before becoming a vessel for your seed.”

“Don’t be vulgar, Eva. It doesn’t become you.”

“What doesn’t? Modernity?”

“You know very well.”

Eva closed her eyes and mouth at once and concentrated on breathing through her nose.

“Darling, I...” Finlay’s voice had softened, and she could hear him approach just before his weight pulled down at the bedside and his smooth hand rested on top of hers. “This isn’t how I wanted our evening to end, darling.”

Keeping her eyes closed, Eva snorted. “Who ever wants any evening to end like this?”

“Yes, of course, but I only mean to say...I suppose I’m not quite good at being a husband. Not yet. But I swear to you, I’ll endeavor every day of my life to try. I’ve never done this before, Eva. You must be patient.”

A tear trapped beneath Eva’s eyelid slipped its way to freedom down her cheek. She opened her eyes to look at her husband beside her. “And you think I have done this before? Where do you suppose I’ve stored all my previous husbands? In the cellar?”

Finlay smiled and squeezed her hand.

“I suppose,” Eva continued, “I’m not much good at being a wife. Yet. I promise to try, too.”

“I appreciate that, darling. They always say the first year is difficult. We will work on this second year, together.” He kissed her cheek, then leaned further to kiss her lips, not just once but twice, somewhat of a record for Finlay in one sitting. With a double pat of her hand, he rose and straightened his tuxedo jacket. “So then, are you fine to stay here? Or can I escort you back to the party?” 

He held his arm out akimbo for her to take. The stance was unsettlingly familiar.

“No,” Eva said, staring at his offered arm. “No, thank you. You go on. And please do extend my apologies to everyone for leaving without saying goodbye. As you said, I imbibed too much. I believe I’ll sleep it off now.”

Finlay patted her head and withdrew to the door. “Happy New Year, darling,” he whispered just before closing the door behind him.

Eva lay down on her side and hugged a pillow to her chest, replaying the conversation in her mind and asking herself again if crying was to remain such a regular state of being. Where had her strength evaporated to? Her independence? Her long-ago dreams of becoming a world-traveling journalist? Why did entering into a marriage mean having to check her identity at the door? For being a marriage of convenience, Eva was hard-pressed to identify just what had been so convenient about it. 

“I simply want to feel like a woman,” played back in her mind. “We will work on this,” did as well.

Still practically newlyweds, they were already having to work on it. Eva supposed that was a fair enough reality of commitment, but what she couldn’t define quite as precisely was what they’d be working for.

At least he was trying. That counted for something when another man in her life had ceased working at even friendship. And from only a block away, if he even still lived at that hotel; Lon could have moved months ago for all she knew. That he remained in Chicago at all was only confirmed through the rumor mill. But Eva couldn’t act spiteful of that. She’d brought it on herself and hadn’t dared make the effort either. Meeting Lon at the movie house last winter had been a rash misjudgment. And how dreadful to have put him in that position — she’d single-handedly tried to drag him back to his philandering days, after he had been there for her, just as he’d promised.

No, she’d owed Finlay this first year, reserved for just the two of them as they began a new life together. And she owed Lon a chance at his happiness in the way he wanted to seek it. He didn’t need a rich married woman cramping his style.

Eva sat up. She didn’t need a rich married woman cramping her style either.

Striding to her wardrobe, she yanked her hanging dresses along the bar one by one and stopped at a little black knee-length Coco Chanel number she’d bought months ago but never had the right opportunity to wear. Unfastening and peeling off her fern green gown, she stepped into the beaded and fringed black crepe and rummaged around for her favorite black beaded purse, the hexagonal one she’d carried the night she’d first snuck into the Lincoln Park Zoo with Lon. The one that reminded her of the stars, the sea of dew where she could cast her nets and soar with the Dream Lady.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be found.

“Drat,” she muttered, frowning over where she might have misplaced it. Yet not wanting to dawdle any longer than she needed to in the event Finlay returned for her, she plucked up the next best thing — a basic silk clutch — and glided to the door.

She halted. Returning to her wardrobe, she opened a small interior drawer and withdrew from it a little mahogany box lined in black velvet. The winter chill that crept in through the windowpanes had shrunken her fingers enough that her emerald engagement ring and diamond-encrusted platinum wedding band slid off with ease. She tucked them into the velvet’s recesses, clapped the case shut, and scavenged through yet another drawer and jewelry box for a plain gold band to wear on her ring finger instead. It wasn’t that she didn’t wish to look married, just not flashy. She’d forego wearing a fur as well, but the champagne hadn’t driven her to complete insanity — it was January in Chicago.

Penning a brief note in her elegant script, she placed it on Finlay’s pillow. She affixed a black cloche hat with a low-hanging brim, wrapped herself in an ankle-length black mink, and snuck out to Clark Street where she hailed a taxi to the Green Mill. 


Read the rest of Seven for a Secret at or find your preferred book retailer at Simon & Schuster. The ebook is still ON SALE for 99c through New Year's Day--but more importantly...


1 comment:

  1. Nice chapter! Thanks for sharing and Happy New Year to you!