Atlanta, Georgia, 1905
Daniel Walker loved a good fight. He loved the law. He loved to win. In fact, Daniel loved winning most of all.
He rose to his feet. He folded his arms across his chest and stared at the short, cherubic-faced man on the witness stand for a long, thoughtful moment, as if trying to decide how best to approach him. It was an act, of course. Daniel knew exactly what he was going to do. He just hoped it worked.
He walked toward the witness and watched the other man swallow nervously at his approach. It was a common reaction. Daniel was six feet three inches tall, weighed two hundred pounds without his clothes, and had shoulders wide enough to block a doorway. He was fully aware of how intimidating his size could be, and before he was done, he was going to intimidate the hell out of George Duvet.
"Mr. Duvet," he began, "tell me about the mysterious woman in red the newspapers have been talking about. What do you know about her?"
Hugh Masterson, a public prosecutor for the city of Atlanta, was on his feet. "Objection! That woman is not relevant. Mr. Walker is trying to cloud the issue by using the romantic speculations that have been generated in the press."
Daniel had expected this. He turned to Judge Rayner. "What is brought up on direct may be refuted on cross."
Hugh stared at him. "I never brought up the woman in red on direct."
"But he did, Your Honor. He asked Duvet about the effect the press was having on him during the trial. If the woman isn't relevant, how could she affect his state of mind?"
Judge Rayner turned to Hugh. "You did ask the question."
"Well, yes," the prosecutor admitted. "But...but...it was only a passing reference....I mean...that is, I never intended..." His voice trailed off helplessly.
"You opened the door, Mr. Masterson," the judge reminded him. "You can hardly blame Mr. Walker if he uses it. Your objection is overruled."
The opposing attorney glared at Daniel as he sat down, but there was nothing he could do. Daniel responded to his opponent's anger with a careless smile, but he was fully aware his plan could easily backfire on him. If Duvet didn't fall for it, Daniel knew his entire defense strategy would fall apart, he would lose the case, and Tom Rossiter would hang.
"Once again, Mr. Duvet, tell me about the woman in red."
"I don't know anything about her."
"Was she there that night?"
"I never saw her."
Daniel glanced at the back of the courtroom, where Josiah stood waiting for the signal from him. He nodded slowly, and his law clerk left the room. Daniel returned his attention to the witness.
"You never saw her?" He put just the right amount of derision in his voice. "The newspapers have been discussing her for weeks. They have reported that she was there that night. Was she there, George?"
"I don't know. I didn't see her, I tell you."
"But maybe she saw you. Did she? Did she see you kill Amelia Rossiter?"
"No!" Duvet burst out. "I went to the warehouse that night to go over the accounts, and I found Amelia there. I never saw the woman in red -- " He broke off as the doors to the courtroom opened and a tall blond woman in scarlet silk walked in. Murmurs of astonishment rippled through the packed courtroom as she moved with Josiah to stand at the back of the room, in plain view of the witness stand.
George Duvet stared at the woman, and his hands began to shake. He broke out in a sweat. It was exactly the reaction Daniel had hoped for. He resumed his cross-examination. "The truth is, Mr. Duvet, that you killed Amelia Rossiter, didn't you?"
George Duvet shook his head. "No, no. I didn't kill her. I -- " His voice broke. "I loved her."
Daniel nodded. "Yes, of course you did. And that's why you killed her. You found out she had no intention of leaving her husband." He leaned closer, and his voice hardened. "She played you for a fool, didn't she, George? And that enraged you. So, you killed her."
The witness looked away, refusing to meet his eyes. "No. It isn't true. I never -- "
"You can't lie to us. We know all about it." He pointed to the woman at the back of the room and leaned closer to the witness. "She knows. And she can tell everyone, George," he murmured. "She can tell everyone what she saw."
"That's impossible!" Duvet burst out. "She wasn't there when I -- "
"When you what, George?" Daniel asked softly. "When you killed Amelia? When you strangled her with your bare hands?"
Hugh jumped to his feet and pounded the table before him with one fist. "Objection! The witness is not on trial!"
Everyone ignored him. Daniel leaned over Duvet, watching the beads of sweat roll down the man's face. He knew now that he was going to win. He could feel victory, smell it, taste it. "When you had your hands around her throat, did her face turn blue? Did she gasp desperately for air? Did she -- "
"She lied to me!" Duvet shouted. "She was using me. She told me she wasn't going to leave Tom. She laughed at me. Nobody laughs at me. I had to stop her from laughing. I had to stop her. I never meant to kill her."
With those words, chaos broke loose in the courtroom. Daniel stepped back with a long, slow breath of relief, watching without pity as Duvet began to sob. He glanced over his shoulder at the girl in the scarlet dress, and she gave him a slight nod in return. Then she slipped out the doors and was gone. He turned to the judge, who was pounding his gavel in a futile effort to quiet the crowd. Over the din, he was forced to shout. "Your Honor, I move that the charges against my client be dismissed."
Judge Rayner nodded. "Your motion is granted, Mr. Walker. The case against Tom Rossiter is dismissed. Bailiffs, take Mr. Duvet into custody."
Journalists rushed out of the room, hoping to get the story in the evening newspapers that the woman in red had come to court prepared to testify, the prosecution's lead witness had confessed on the stand, and that the murder charge against Tom Rossiter, the son of one of the most powerful men in the state, had been dropped. And Daniel Walker, successful attorney and future candidate for the Georgia senate, had just won another case.
He turned to his client. "It's over, Tom."
The young man still looked dazed by the sudden turn of events that had set him free. "I can't believe it. I reckoned I was going to swing on a rope for sure."
Before Daniel could respond, a heavy hand clapped him on the shoulder, and he turned to Tom's father. "Thank you, Daniel, for saving my son," Will said and shook his hand with intense relief and gratitude. "I won't forget this."
"I hope you mean that," he answered, "because I'm counting on your support when I run for office."
"You've got it," the other man promised. But Daniel could feel the hostile stare of Hugh Masterson boring into his back, and he knew his seat in the Georgia State Senate was by no means assured. Hugh continued to glare at him as he and his client received the congratulations and thanks of Tom Rossiter's family, friends, and business associates.
Daniel could see Josiah pushing his way through the crowd surrounding him, but it was not until Rossiter and his entourage departed that his law clerk could reach him. "You did it," Josiah said, shaking his head. "I never thought you'd get Duvet to confess. Even when I brought the girl in, I still didn't think you'd pull it off."
"There was never a doubt in my mind," Daniel answered, tongue in cheek. Josiah's brows rose in response to that statement, and Daniel chuckled. "Thank God he broke down and confessed," he muttered under his breath to his clerk. "I don't know what I'd have done if he hadn't."
"Congratulations," Hugh Masterson's voice cut in. "Even if it was pure luck."
Daniel turned to face the prosecutor, grinning in the face of the other man's obvious hostility. "Don't pout, Hugh," he admonished. "I won, you lost, and luck had nothing to do with it."
"The press has been trying to locate that woman for weeks. Where did you find her?"
Daniel glanced around to make sure no reporters were within earshot, then leaned closer to the district attorney. "In my imagination," he answered in a low voice.
Stupefied, Hugh stared at him. "What do you mean?"
His grin widened. "I mean, she doesn't exist. I invented her."
Realization dawned in Hugh's eyes. "You son of a bitch," he said and swung, punching Daniel in the face.
Pain shot through his left cheekbone, but Daniel took the blow without flinching. With his greater size and weight, he could have responded with a much more effective punch of his own, but he did not do so. He recognized the other man's fury for exactly what it was. "Sour grapes, Hugh?"
The prosecutor eyed him with contempt. "Trust you to pull some kind of trick to win."
"Trick? I don't know what you're talking about. Your lead witness lost his head on the stand and finally told the truth about what happened. I prefer to call that justice."
"I will have you disbarred."
Daniel knew it was an empty threat. "For what?"
"You fabricated a witness out of whole cloth."
"Ah, but I didn't. She wasn't a witness. I never intended to put her on the stand, and she never testified. The newspapers saw her visiting the police station and my office regularly and going to see Tom in jail. Everything they have reported about her has been pure speculation. She never spoke to them, and I told them nothing untrue."
"It was all innuendo."
Daniel shrugged. "Whatever works to keep an innocent man from being hanged."
Hugh scowled. "You've always been the golden boy with the newspapers. What will it do to your political ambitions when I tell the press what you did?"
"Tell them whatever you like. I did nothing unethical, and you know it. Besides, I doubt the press will pay much attention to such trivial accusations. They'll be too busy writing headlines about how one of Atlanta's public prosecutors punched Georgia's next senator in the face."
"You're not a senator yet," Hugh said furiously. "One of these days, you're going to fall on your ass. I just hope I'm there to enjoy it."
"I hope so, too," Daniel agreed. "God knows, I've enjoyed watching you do it for years."
Masterson's hand curled into a fist, but he did not try to hit Daniel again. Instead, he marched out of the room without another word.
Josiah, who was still inexperienced enough to be in awe of prosecutors, also watched the other man leave. "I can't believe he actually hit you."
"I can. Poor Hugh. He doesn't like losing, especially to me."
"You'd think he'd be used to it by now." He studied Daniel with a worried expression. "You'll have a black eye."
Daniel touched his throbbing cheek with a grimace. "Probably. But it was worth it." He picked up his leather portfolio and started for the door.
Josiah followed him. "Are we going back to the office?"
"Yes," Daniel answered as they walked out the front doors of the courthouse. "I have something to do first, so I'll meet you there."
The words were barely out of his mouth before he caught sight of the luxurious carriage standing at the curb. It was a fine summer afternoon, the carriage top was down, and Daniel could plainly see the man seated inside. The man beckoned to him, and Daniel paused on the courthouse steps. He turned to Josiah. "On second thought, why don't you just go home? See your wife. How is Muriel, by the way?"
"Fine," Josiah murmured absently, gazing at the carriage. "Baby's not due for over a month." He turned to Daniel. "You're meeting Calvin Stoddard?" he said in surprise. Even Josiah, who did not move in the high social sphere that Daniel did, recognized the man universally acknowledged to be the wealthiest, most powerful man in the state of Georgia.
"The very same."
Josiah let out a low whistle, suitably impressed. "First Will Rossiter, now Calvin Stoddard. You're moving in high circles these days, sir."
"So it would seem. Go on home. I'll see you tomorrow."
His young law clerk knew better than to ask questions. He turned away, and Daniel walked toward the carriage. Calvin swung the door open, and he jumped inside.
"Congratulations." Calvin grinned and offered him a cigar.
Daniel accepted it. "You heard?"
"Of course. A few minutes ago, reporters were running out of that courthouse like it was on fire. I'll bet Will was pleased."
"Happy as a clam in mud. Wouldn't you be if your son was acquitted of murder?"
"Indeed I would. Where can I drop you off?"
The mention of a street in Atlanta's most notorious prostitution district caused Calvin to raise an eyebrow, but he nodded to his driver, and the carriage jerked into motion. "Celebrating?" he asked.
Daniel laughed. He lit his cigar and leaned back. "No. Business."
"Good. It wouldn't do for a future senator to be seen in an alley with his pants down. Especially if I've given him my backing."
Triumph flooded through Daniel at those words, and it was a sweet sensation. With Calvin Stoddard's support, he would win his senate seat hands down. "So you're endorsing my candidacy?"
"That depends. I have a case for you to handle on my behalf."
"I see. There's a catch."
"Isn't there always?" Calvin shrugged. "Don't worry, Daniel. It's nothing to compromise your legal ethics."
"I'd be more worried if you gave me your backing without asking for anything in return." He met the other man's inquiring gaze and his voice hardened. "I make it a policy never to owe anybody a favor."
"Very wise of you. In politics, it's a bitch when people call them in."
Calvin took a puff on his cigar. "Then you'll take a case for me?"
"That depends," he answered, throwing Calvin's own words back at him with a smile. "What are you accused of doing?"
"Me? Nothing. I have a business partner, however, who has a bit of trouble. A very beautiful and charming business partner."
"I see." Daniel made it his business to know everything about men like Calvin -- men who had power, men he needed on his side -- and he knew Calvin had several partners who could fit the description of beautiful and charming. "Which one?"
Calvin laughed. "You're from Shivaree, aren't you?"
The mention of Daniel's hometown gave him the answer to his question. "Is this about Helen Overstreet?"
"You know her?"
"Shivaree is a small town."
"It's also big business, and that business has dried up. The Shivaree Social Club is closed."
Daniel raised an eyebrow at the news. The Shivaree Social Club was famous, or infamous, depending on your point of view, because it was the most notorious gentlemen's club in Georgia. "Has Helen been arrested?"
"No, and that's where you come in. Some woman in Shivaree managed to convince Judge Billings to slap an injunction on the place a few days ago, closing it down. I want that injunction overturned."
Daniel suspected he knew which woman was responsible. A picture flashed through his mind of a slender, fiery redhead who could wreak more havoc than General Sherman. "Why not just reopen under another name someplace else? Isn't that what you usually do when something like this happens?"
"Usually, yes. But the Shivaree Social Club is very well known if a man wants to have a good time. Men from all over the state go there. Helen and I have spent years building its reputation and profits have never been higher. I don't want to lose that if I don't have to, especially since they can't prove anything."
The eyes of the two men met in tacit understanding of the rules of the game. Innocence was always presumed.
"No charges have been brought?" Daniel asked.
"The judge simply closed the place on Lily Morgan's say-so?"
"How do you know it was Lily Morgan?"
"Stands to reason. Every year, she goes down to the Jaspar County Courthouse and files for an injunction against the Shivaree Social Club. Every year, Judge Billings turns her down. What's different this year?"
"I don't know. Helen didn't give me any details. I want you down there as soon as possible. Helen and I are losing money every day that injunction is in place."
"Since no one has been arrested, and nothing has been proven in court, it shouldn't be too difficult. I'll go down there tomorrow and file a motion with judge Billings to have the injunction overturned for lack of evidence."
"Excellent. If you manage to win this case for me, there are many things I can do for you."
"All you need to do is endorse my candidacy for the senate." He gave Calvin a cheeky grin, and added, "I won't even charge you my usual exorbitant legal fees."
"From a lawyer, that's a first."
Daniel glanced around, realizing they were very close to his destination. He gestured to the comer. "You can drop me off here."
Calvin tapped his gold-capped walking stick on the floorboards, and the carriage came to a halt. He gave Daniel a speculative glance. "I'd love to know what brings a man like you down to Magnolia Street."
Daniel did not enlighten him. "Thank you for the ride," he said and jumped down from the carriage. "I'll take the train to Shivaree in the morning."
The carriage went on. Daniel waited until it turned at the comer and disappeared, then he walked into a nearby alley. The girl in red silk was waiting for him there.
"Thanks, Pearl." He handed her a twenty dollar bill. "Well done."
The twenty-one-year-old prostitute who really wanted to be an actress hiked her skirt high enough to reveal a long and shapely leg in a black silk stocking. She slipped the money into her garter and, without lowering her skirt, she looked up at Daniel, giving him a smile far too practiced for a young and pretty woman. "Care to spend the night celebrating?"
Many men would have taken her up on her offer, but Daniel did not. As Calvin had reminded him, future senators had to be careful. Besides, Daniel preferred to celebrate each victory by preparing for the next one. He shook his head. "I have work to do."
Pearl sighed and lowered her skirt. "All work and no play," she admonished, turning to go. "You know where I am if you change your mind."
Pearl left him for more promising prospects, and Daniel went back to his office. He worked until midnight, then he went home.
Home was a luxurious mansion on fashionable Courtland Avenue. In it, there was everything that a wealthy and successful man could want. There were silver and crystal, monogrammed sheets and damask draperies, hot water taps and gas lighting. There were servants to see to his every need. Quite an achievement for a man whose father had been a Cracker sharecropper, whose strongest childhood memories were the pain of an empty belly and a razor strap, and whose bed until the age of sixteen had been a dirt floor.
Today, he had won a very important case and the backing of two very powerful men. He was well on his way to being a senator, well on his way to having the power he had always wanted, and the realization filled him with a profound satisfaction. Success was sweet indeed.
When Daniel entered the house, it was dark and quiet. He paused in the marble-tiled foyer, and in that brief moment, all his exaltation vanished with a suddenness that startled him. In the silence, he felt a sense of disappointment. There was no one waiting to share in his victory and celebrate it with him.
It was a feeling so unexpected, so ridiculous, and so unlike him, he ruthlessly shoved it aside. He lit a lamp, walked into his study, and poured himself a drink. He told himself it didn't matter that he drank it alone. Today, he had achieved the greatest success of his career, and to Daniel, success was the only thing in life that mattered.
Shivaree, Georgia, was a small town. From Jacob Cole's purchase of a pair of thoroughbreds from up in Calhoun to Mary Alice Billings's fashionable new bonnet shipped all the way from Paris, anything and everything that happened in Shivaree was fair game for gossip.
Until the Shivaree Social Club had closed down a few days before, plenty of handsome men in expensive suits had always been passing through, and such men didn't usually cause much of a stir. Everybody knew what they came for. But when one man in particular got off the train -- a tall man with light brown hair, green eyes, and a charming smile, a man whose face was very familiar to the folks around Shivaree -- it didn't take long for word to spread that Daniel Walker was back in town. And folks immediately began wondering what Lily Morgan was going to do about it.
Talk was the lifeblood of a town like Shivaree, since there wasn't much else to do but work, and who wanted to do that? North of Atlanta, south of Calhoun, Shivaree was an important stop on the railroad line, partly because of its lumber mill and two cotton mills, and partly because, for some obscure reason nobody could remember, it was the Jaspar County seat. Of course, it also had the Shivaree Social Club, which until last week had been the most famous whorehouse in the entire state of Georgia. These things gave Shivaree a lot to talk about.
It was also the kind of town where ladies of quality sat on their verandahs in the late afternoon, sipping lemonade and watching for any sign of a story to tell. Dovey McRae was one of those ladies. Her widowed sister Densie Stuart had moved to Shivaree from Charleston last summer to live with her, and the two women had taken up the useful hobby of birdwatching with the use of opera glasses. Because Dovey's house had a clear view of the train station, the sisters saw Samuel Hardesty standing on the platform as the eleven o'clock from Atlanta pulled in, and the minute they saw Daniel Walker get off the train, carpetbag in hand, they couldn't wait to spread the news.
They dropped their opera glasses and headed hell bent for leather to tell their best friend, Sue Ann Parker, all about it. Sue Ann and her husband ran the Shivaree Hotel, which was right across the street from Samuel's house, and Daniel was bound to stay with Samuel, and Samuel lived right next door to Lily Morgan. With a situation like that, exciting things were bound to happen, and Sue Ann would be able to see everything that went on.
Lily found out about Daniel Walker's return a little later than some. She wasn't part of Shivaree's gossipy inner circle, partly because she didn't cotton much to peering into people's lives with opera glasses, and partly because she was one of the gossip circle's favorite subjects. A body could get downright breathless listing all the scandalous things about Lily Morgan.
For one thing, she was modern, which to the ladies of Shivaree was almost as great a sin as being born north of the Mason-Dixon line. She had red hair and wore pink. She played band music on her piano and opera on her Victrola loud enough to wake the dead. She refused to wear gloves, even to church, and it was rumored she didn't wear corsets, either. She had a statue of a naked man in her foyer. It was said that her own family wouldn't receive her. Worst of all, she was divorced.
Opinion was divided as to whether she was just a bit on the wild side or completely devoid of morals, and the question was hotly debated at the ladies' sewing circle and the men's barbershop. But just about everybody in town agreed on two things: Lily Morgan was a scandalous woman, and Lily Morgan just didn't act like a librarian.
Because she wasn't among the first to hear the gossip, Lily was completely unaware of Daniel's return until Amos Boone came running into the library to tell her.
"Lily!" he cried as he burst through the front doors. "Lily, where are you?"
The shouting caused her to climb hastily down from her perch on a ladder in Nonfiction, where she was putting books back on the shelves. She ran to the railing and looked down from the mezzanine. "Hush, Amos," she admonished, frowning down at the young man, who was weaving his way clumsily between the heavy oak reading tables at an all-out run. "Don't shout."
Amos was a giant, standing over six foot five without his boots. He was nineteen years old, but he had the mind of a child. He was honest, never made moral judgments, and believed implicitly whatever anybody told him. Because his own parents were dead, Lily and her friend Rosie Russell had sort of adopted him as a younger brother. He lived in the basement of the library and did janitorial work there in exchange for the rent, an arrangement Lily had made for him. He ate his meals at Rosie's Cafe. Most folks agreed he was a few peaches short of a pie, but Lily and Rosie didn't care. He was their dearest friend.
"Where have you been all day?" she asked him in a teasing voice. "Having ice cream over at Rosie's, I'll bet, while these shelves needed dusting."
Amos took her words to heart, looking up at her with a stricken expression. "I'm sorry, Lily, but I was helpin' Rosie unload all those tins from Atlanta. And then she gave me an ice cream, and that's when he came in, and Rosie sent me over here to tell you."
"He?" Lily leaned her forearms on the rail and smiled. "Who's in town that's got Rosie in such a lather on my behalf? Is it Alvis Purdy, that flashy book salesman from Missouri who chases me around the library every month waving his money around?"
Amos shook his head. "No, ma'am. It's Daniel Walker."
Lily's smile vanished. Daniel Walker, that bottom-feeding, scum-sucking lawyer who had ruined her life, was back in town. A sick lurch twisted her stomach. "Are you sure?"
Amos nodded vigorously. "Yes'm. Arrived on the eleven o'clock train." Staring anxiously up into her face, he asked, "You all right, Lily?"
Lily scarcely heard. She was remembering all the scandal and shame, the humiliation and pain of her divorce from Jason five years ago, and the man responsible for dragging her name through the mud. Daniel Walker. Oh, how she hated him. Her fingers curled around the carved wooden railing in front of her so tightly her hands began to ache. "How does Rosie know about this?"
"He's over at the cafe having dinner. Rosie said she would have come to tell you herself that he was in town, but with it bein' noontime, the restaurant's mighty crowded, so she couldn't get over here."
"What is he doing here?" she asked. "Did Rosie say?"
Amos closed his eyes, and his face puckered up as he tried to remember. "Somethin' about Helen Overstreet hirin' him to get the Shivaree Social Club reopened."
"What?" Lily straightened away from the rail. "Of all the stupid, idiotic ideas -- " She broke off, too angry to continue.
"Rosie said you'd be mighty upset."
"Upset doesn't begin to describe it." That den of sin and corruption had destroyed her marriage, and after five years of trying, she had finally succeeded in having it shut down. Now Daniel Walker, that conniving, morally bankrupt scoundrel, was here to undo all her hard work. That thought ignited Lily's temper, which was easily sparked at the best of times. She marched down the staircase and out of the library, her anger growing with every step she took across the square to Rosie's Cafe. Amos followed in silence.
It was midday, and the cafe was crowded. Daniel was leaning on the counter at the opposite end of the room talking to Rosie when Lily came in. Samuel Hardesty stood beside him.
Lily halted in the doorway, right next to the sign on the wall that said NO SWEARING, NO SMOKING, NO SPITTING, and she felt the impulse to do all three.
Instead, she stared at Daniel's back, sizzling with the anger she made no effort to hide. She felt gazes light on her, one after another, and heard voices fade to nothing. She stared at Daniel Walker and watched him slowly turn around to see what was causing the sudden silence.
Of course he had to look exactly the same, with that tall, brawny body and those eyes as dark a green as the Georgia pines. He still had that thick hair the golden brown color of tupelo honey. And he still had that smile -- a smile that could make him innocent as a schoolboy or wicked as the devil, depending on what he wanted to make you believe. Even the dark smudge of a shiner beneath his left eye couldn't detract from the face of a man too handsome for his own good. Lily wondered who had hit him. Whoever that man was, she wanted to shake his hand.
With the force of a tornado, the sight of Daniel brought back all the anguish he had caused her. Why, oh why, couldn't he have lost his hair and gone to fat? Why couldn't he have lost a couple of those perfect white teeth in whatever fight had given him that black eye? Why couldn't he have just stayed away from Shivaree for the rest of his miserable life?
Lily lifted her chin, meeting his gaze squarely. She took satisfaction in watching his smile fade, but he did not look away. For a long moment, most of Shivaree stared at them and they stared at each other, until Lily couldn't stand it any longer. She began walking toward him.
Her hot temper had always been a sore trial to her, and from the time she'd been a little girl, she had worked very hard to keep it under control. With every step closer to Daniel, she vowed again not to let her temper get the better of her, so by the time she reached him, she was in complete control of her emotions. She knew exactly what she was doing when she slapped him across the face.
Without a word, she turned on her heel and walked out of the cafe, thinking that this time she'd given the town a scandal shocking enough to leave them breathless.
Copyright © 1999 by Laura Lee Guhrke