07 July, 2015

Audiobook Release of Suspicious & The Sheriff of Shelter Valley By Heather Graham & Tara Taylor Quinn Blitz!!

On Tour with Prism Book Tours.

We're blitzing about the audiobook release of
Suspicious & The Sheriff of Shelter Valley
By Heather Graham & Tara Taylor Quinn

This Harlequin Bestseller Author Collection is the re-release of Suspicious by Heather Graham and The Sheriff of Shelter Valley by Tara Taylor Quinn, two best-selling romantic suspense books.
Find out more about this collection and the audiobook release from its tour here.

Exclusive Excerpt from The Sheriff of Shelter Valley
By Tara Taylor Quinn

“MAMA! MAAMAA!” Ryan’s scream tore through her fog of sleep.

Beth Allen was out of bed and across the room before she’d even fully opened her eyes. Heart pounding, she lifted her two-year-old son out of the secondhand crib, pressing his face into her neck as she held him.

“It’s okay, Ry,” she said softly, pushing the sweaty auburn curls away from his forehead. Curls she dyed regularly, along with her own. “Shh, Mama’s right here. It was just a bad dream.”

“Mama,” the toddler said again, his little body shuddering. His tiny fists were clamped tightly against her—her nightshirt and strands of her straight auburn hair held securely within them.

“Mama” was what he’d said when she’d woken up alone with him in that motel room in Snowflake, Arizona, with a nasty bruise on her forehead, another one at the base of her skull. And no memory whatsoever.

She didn’t know how old she was. How old her son was. She could only guess Ry’s age by comparing him to other kids.

She didn’t even know her own name. She’d apparently checked in under the name Beth Allen and, trusting herself to have done so for a reason, had continued using it. It could be who she really was, but she doubted it. She’d obviously been on the run, and it didn’t seem smart to have made herself easy to find.

Suspicious & The Sheriff of Shelter Valley
(Bestselling Author Collection)
Adult Romantic Suspense
Paperback, ebook, & audiobook 544 pages
May 26th 2015 by Harlequin
Audiobook Release July 7th 2015 by Harlequin

by Heather Graham

Cold-blooded predators lurk in the Everglades—and not all of them are gators

When Jesse Crane returned to his roots to serve on the Miccosukee police force, he'd hoped to leave behind the violence of the city and the memories of his murdered wife. But bodies start to pile up in Jesse's corner of the sultry Florida swampland…

As he probes these crimes, Jesse is drawn to the beautiful Lorena Fortier, a new hire at the local gator farm and research facility. Lorena is a little too interested in Jesse's investigation, but before he can uncover her true motives, they're both pulled into a dangerous web of greed, ambition and animal cunning. To survive, they'll have to decide whether they can trust each other…before the hunters become the hunted.

The Sheriff of Shelter Valley
by Tara Taylor Quinn

Six months ago, Beth woke up with no memory of her past, a bruised face and a little boy who called her "Mama." Until her memory returns, the most dangerous thing she can do is to fall for the sheriff—the one man who can uncover the truth and destroy the person she's become.

New York Times and USA Today best selling author, Heather Graham, majored in theater arts at the University of South Florida. After a stint of several years in dinner theater, back-up vocals, and bartending, she stayed home after the birth of her third child and began to write. Her first book was with Dell, and since then, she has written over two hundred novels and novellas including category, suspense, historical romance, vampire fiction, time travel, occult and Christmas family fare.

She is pleased to have been published in approximately twenty-five languages. She has written over 200 novels and has 60 million books in print. She has been honored with awards from booksellers and writers’ organizations for excellence in her work, and she is also proud to be a recipient of the Silver Bullet from Thriller Writers. (And award for charitable endeavors.) Heather has had books selected for the Doubleday Book Club and the Literary Guild, and has been quoted, interviewed, or featured in such publications as The Nation, Redbook, Mystery Book Club, People and USA Today and appeared on many newscasts including Today, Entertainment Tonight and local television.

Heather loves travel and anything that has to do with the water, and is a certified scuba diver. She also loves ballroom dancing. Each year she hosts the Vampire Ball and Dinner theater at the RT convention raising money for the Pediatric Aids Society and in 2006 she hosted the first Writers for New Orleans Workshop to benefit the stricken Gulf Region. She is also the founder of “The Slush Pile Players,” presenting something that’s “almost like entertainment” for various conferences and benefits. Married since high school graduation and the mother of five, her greatest love in life remains her family, but she also believes her career has been an incredible gift, and she is grateful every day to be doing something that she loves so very much for a living.

Tara Taylor Quinn

The author of more than 70 original novels, in twenty languages, Tara Taylor Quinn is a USA Today bestseller with over six million copies sold. She is known for delivering deeply emotional and psychologically astute novels of suspense and romance. Tara is a recipient of the Reader’s Choice Award, a five time finalist for the RWA Rita Award, the Reviewer’s Choice Award, the Bookseller’s Best Award and appears frequently on bestseller lists, including #1 placement on Amazon lists. Tara is the past-president of Romance Writers of America and served eight years on that board of directors. She has appeared on national and local TV across the country, including CBS Sunday Morning and is a frequent guest speaker. In her spare time Tara likes to travel, climb Arizona mountains, and inline skate.

Tara is a supporter of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. If you or someone you know might be a victim of domestic violence in the United States, please contact 1-800-799-7233. 

Click on the banner to take you to Tara's landing page for all her tour events.

As part of Spend the Summer with Tara Taylor Quinn, Tara is holding a contest for those who share on social media about how they love life during the summer! Each day you can share an image, picture, or quote, linking to her events' landing page 

(http://www.tarataylorquinn.com/Summer%20With%20ttq.html) to enter to win ONE BIG SUMMER BASKET!!! We'll be pulling the best submissions and voting for the top one during her Facebook Party on July 16th. Pull out your creative juices and share your joy of summer, be it with friends, family, or the love of your life!

Beach-themed basket will include: shell wind chime, shell choker and matching bracelet, beach/flip flop note cards, picture frame, 4x6 picture album, plus some surprise print copies of Tara's books (including Once Upon a Friendship).

Share must be public to be eligible. Can enter one each day. US only. Giveaway ends July 16th.

Tour Giveaways
(All to one winner - US only.)
$10 VISA Gift Card
Copies of all five books on Tara's Summer Tour
Spend the Summer with TTQ T-Shirt
Ends July 16th

Audiobook of Suspicious & The Sheriff of Shelter Valley
US Only

The Secrets We Keep by Stephanie Butland Spotlight WIth Excerpt!

The Secrets We Keep
By Stephanie Butland
Sourcebooks Landmark
Women’s Fiction
July 7, 2015
ISBN: 9781492608301
$14.99 Trade Paperback

About the Book

A tragic accident, a broken heart, and a marriage drowning in secrets...

Mike always walks the dog in the evening while Elizabeth relaxes in the bathtub--but one night he doesn’t come back. Mike has drowned while saving a teenage girl named Kate, his dog standing on the bank barking frantically as the police pull his body from the water.

But despite her husband being lauded as a hero, Elizabeth can’t wrap her mind around the fact that Mike is gone--and Kate won’t reveal the details of what really happened that night.

Elizabeth finds herself facing the unfathomable possibility that she may not have known her husband at all. Does she really want to know the truth? Or will the weight of Mike’s secrets pull her under?

Purchase Here:

About the Author
Stephanie lives in Northumberland, England, and talks and trains in thinking skills all over Europe, most recently in Kazakhstan. She has written two books on her experience with cancer, and she is an active blogger and fundraiser. The Secrets We Keep is her first novel.

Connect with Allegra Jordan

Praise for End of Innocence
“An emotionally wrenching read that delivers an engaging story…” –Library Journal

“An immensely powerful, and ultimately uplifting, debut novel” – Katie Fforde

“I thoroughly enjoyed this.I was completely immersed to the point it no longer seemed like I was reading but discovering the truth and lies of these brilliant characters.” – Louise Douglas, Richard & Judy-selected author of The Secrets Between Us

“[The Secrets We Keep] is a moving exploration of grief and love and the darker depths that lie beneath the surface of a seemingly idyllic marriage” – Tamar Cohen, author of The Mistress's Revenge

“I read [The Secrets We Keep] last night in one big gulp...It's beautiful and sad, the characters so well-drawn, and the writing is gorgeous. I had to take a deep breath and let out a big sigh when I'd finished.” – Julie Cohen

Chapter 1
Blake and Andy hadn't talked about what they would do when they left Elizabeth with her mother-in-law, eight hours after the emergency call from another late-night dog walker reported a young woman, soaked and unconscious, on the bank of Butler's Pond and whipped their world into chaos. They'd obeyed Patricia's stoical instructions-"You know there's nothing you can do for us, so just let us be for a bit"-and gone, leaving the two women side by side on the sofa. Elizabeth was no longer sobbing but making a strange, sad hum of a keening, as though her body had already forgotten how to breathe without also making a cry. Patricia stared straight ahead, eyes glassy, something throbbing in the jut of her jaw.
Even though there's been no discussion, it feels as though there is only one option for the two men. At the gate, Blake says, "Shall we go and have a look?" A question that's not really a question, and they walk the short mile to Butler's Pond in silence as Throckton starts to wake around them.
Andy pulls out his phone. Dials, waits, wonders whether the sound of his wife, sleep-soft and stretching, will be something he can bear. "It's me," he says when she answers, then, after a pause, "Not really. Michael died. Michael drowned." His voice is flat and tight: locked down, for now, until it's safe to start thinking about what's happened. It's too soon to glance at the death of his best friend since childhood for more than a second. Blake matches Andy's steps and listens as he answers Lucy's questions: "I'm with Blake... It looks like an accident... No, I'll go to work... I don't really know, to be honest... OK. Will do." He ends the call and says, "She says I have to make sure I have something to eat before I go to work. She says to say she's thinking of you." Blake nods. Andy redials. He is surprised that his hands are steady. "Me again. I meant to say I love you." He is not the only one, as the news makes its way around Throckton this morning, who will tell someone he loves them. Who will think, There, but for the grace of God, go any of us.
It's still dark, so the floodlit place where Michael drowned and Kate Micklethwaite was saved seems more strange than sad. Kate is in the hospital, vomiting water from her lungs and guts, shivering and unable to speak or focus or do anything but submit to needles and lines and wires, something she will have no memory of. Michael, his body identified by Blake earlier, is already in the morgue, where a pathologist will later confirm what Elizabeth has already been told, that he drowned. Alive when he went into the water, dead when he came out. As simple as that.
So Blake and Andy stand and watch as the grass, the mud, the water are photographed and scrutinized. Although Butler's Pond is generally accepted as a beauty spot, a place for Sunday strolls and dog walking and picnics, this corner of it isn't the prettiest. It's one of those places where rubbish blows to and breeds. The duty officer, recognizing the watchers, offers to lift the tape, but Blake waves him away. They are close enough.
"Unbelievable," Andy says after a while.
"You should never underestimate the water," Blake says.
"He was a bloody idiot to go in there," Andy mutters. They both think of the time six months earlier when Michael, one of the first on the scene of a house fire, had walked into the building and emerged with a mother and baby. Everyone had raged at him-firefighters, senior officers, Elizabeth, Patricia-but he had remained steadfast: someone had to save those people and the fire trucks were six minutes away, which Michael knew was long enough for a toddler to die of smoke inhalation. So he'd gone in.
Blake had been working with Michael that day. He remembered how they had both raised their faces to the wind, asked each other if they smelled smoke, just before the call came in. They both knew the drill: get the neighbors out, keep people away, and wait for the fire department. Never, ever go into anywhere full of smoke unless you are absolutely sure you can get out again. But Michael had gone in, and then there was nothing to do but wait, and hope. The hope had run out just a second before the first fire engine had pulled up. Turning toward the firefighters, he had told them what had happened; turning back, he had seen Michael running up the path, blackened and hacking, propelling a young woman who was herself screaming, every line of her body a prayer as she held forward a child who was silent and still in her arms.
And then the controlled chaos began, the hoses and the water and the aching, burning smoke.
It had been months until Michael had admitted to Andy-it was late, and drunken, and deniable-that there was a moment when he thought he was going to die, and he'd been terrified, and life had never been quite the same since, but he couldn't say exactly why. Andy had put him in a taxi home and they'd never spoken about it again. Now, he wishes that he'd asked more questions.
"I don't think he will have felt anything," Blake says, a catch in his voice.
Andy doesn't know whether he's being asked for a medical opinion or a word of comfort, but he agrees with a nod. And then they turn and walk back to the village, avoiding the eyes of the first curious runners and dog walkers as the light starts to make some real headway into the sky. They make a strange pair-or at least they would, were the overall impression that they gave not one of two men walking home after being up all night, united by something outside themselves. Blake is tall and broad, straight and strong. Only close inspection would show that his uniform is not as crisp as it was when he put it on before walking to work sixteen hours ago. His cap hides his receding hairline and so he looks younger than his forty-seven years when he's wearing it. The shadow of the peak hides the shadows under, and in, his eyes. Next to him, Andy seems slight and short, although there's only four inches' height difference, but the doctor is walking with his head down, letting his tiredness show, wearing mismatched clothes, his pale skin made paler by his thick eyebrows and dark brown hair.
He'd gotten dressed in a hurry in the dark, fumbling for quietness and struggling to make the words he'd just heard make sense. "I'm asking you as their friend," Blake had said, "but your medical eye might help. I don't want an on-call doctor if I can have someone she knows here. Just in case. Come and see what you think."
Lucy had sat up in bed and switched on the light as he was searching the bottom of the wardrobe for his shoes. "So the boys sleep, for once, and now you're the one who is waking me up," she'd said, and he'd told her, more simply and quickly than he would have liked to, his own shock speaking, what had happened. Michael, their best man, godfather to their twins, here one minute, dead in the dark water the next. Lucy's eyes, rounding as she listened. Her pushing him away-"go, go to Elizabeth, see what you can do, tell her"-and then she'd hesitated, because, well, tell her what? Andy had kissed the top of her head and gone, sat for a moment longer than he needed to on the top stair, fastening his laces, finding what he needed for what would come next, realizing he was just going to have to do it anyway.
"I have to go back to the station," Blake says when they reach the market square. "You?"
"I don't know." There's time for Andy to go home, take a shower, watch cartoons with the boys, and tell Lucy he's all right: there's time to touch them, all three of them, just the simplest stroke of hair or brush of hand that might help. But he's not sure he trusts himself. "I think I'll go have half an hour at the office before I start." The bed in the consulting room will be too narrow to be properly comfortable; the staff shower will run out of hot water before he has finished washing. Better, safer, for now.
"I'll look in on Elizabeth later," Blake says. "I can take Pepper out when I walk Hope."
"I'll call on my way home," Andy says. And, even though they see each other often, they shake hands as they part.
• • •
"It's terrible that we have to be practical, but we do," Patricia says later. Elizabeth nods but doesn't agree. She's barely moved from the place Blake steered her to when he brought the news. Every now and then Patricia picks up the balled tissues that lie around her daughter-in-law. Every now and then she stops to have a few tears herself, caught unawares by something she comes across: her son's handwriting on the notepad in the kitchen, his muddy sneakers by the back door. Early on the first day, the phone had rung, and neither she nor Elizabeth had gone to answer it. Instead they'd sat, transfixed by the sound of Michael's recorded voice, cheerfully telling the caller that they'd get back to him or her as soon as they could. It was the only time that Patricia had been comforted by Elizabeth: what seemed horrifying to the newly childless mother gladdened the widow who afterward, during the night, would switch the answering machine on again, sit on the bottom step, and call the number from her cell phone over and over, until her husband's voice became like a blanket, the words heard so often that they became meaningless, but the sound warm and soothing.
Less than forty-eight hours from the knock on the door that would always mark the Before and After of Elizabeth's adult life, she's had conversations about identifying Michael (which Blake has done), the inquest (opened and adjourned), the funeral (a week away), visiting the funeral home (which everyone seems to think she should do), her sister coming over from Australia (which everyone seems to think Mel should do), and the girl Michael saved (hospitalized, shocked, and distressed, but not in any physical danger). She has agreed to meet the vicar, the funeral director, and Michael's boss. She has flinched from every mention of death, or body, or even any use of the past tense as far as Michael is concerned. She feels as though she is being asked to do an awful lot of adult things at a time when she has never been less able to do them. When she looks in the desk for the envelope Michael had put there-If Michael dies first written across it in large letters, next to the one marked If Elizabeth dies first and which she runs her hands over, wishing, wishing that it had been her, so she didn't have to bear any of this-she cries again. But these tears are not grief: they are gratitude. Elizabeth remembers the afternoon Michael had sat them down and suggested they do this.
It was not long after they'd married, and she'd laughed at him, but when she'd seen the look on his face, when he'd said, "Elizabeth, you and I of all people know how suddenly people can be lost," she'd felt ashamed of herself and taken the job seriously. They'd both already lost a parent. They'd each put a copy of their will in the envelopes. Then Michael had photocopied the details of their burial plot so they each had a copy of that.
"Seriously?" Elizabeth had asked when he'd bought the plot. "We could have a great weekend away for that money."
"Yes," he'd said, "but a space in a graveyard is forever." They'd written lists of who they wanted to have their possessions. They'd chosen hymns and poems and laughed about how Elizabeth's choice of "All Things Bright and Beautiful" would go down in Throckton. "It will make you smile," she'd said, "and Mel and I used to sing it every Sunday at church. We chose it for our mother's funeral. It's our theme song. Throckton will just have to lump it." When it was done, they'd sealed the envelopes and gone to bed with a bottle of wine.
Elizabeth is so glad of the envelope. Instead of making decisions she can brandish sheets of paper at people. No to medical research, no to an official police funeral, no to cremation. Yes to "Abide with Me" and "The Lord's My Shepherd" and being buried in his uniform. She decides that if it isn't in the envelope, it doesn't matter, and lets Patricia choose caterers and cars and go through her wardrobe and pick out something for her to wear for the funeral. Between conversations, she sits, mostly quiet, and waits. Waits for this not to be true.
• • •
Elizabeth has never been to a funeral home before. She and Patricia enter the building together and then take turns going into the room. Patricia goes first and comes out swollen-faced and silent, nodding and clasping Elizabeth's hands. So, still unsure, she rises and faces the oak-effect door.
It's a smaller room than she thinks it will be. The light is low, and the smell of flowers, from a complex arrangement in which some of the smaller blooms are dying, is a mixture of sweetness and must. There's a cross. And there's a seat, next to the coffin. Because there's a coffin. There's a coffin. Elizabeth closes her eyes and tries to make herself breathe. She looks again. Yes, there's a coffin. Mike's coffin. Her soul winces. The top part is open, the rest closed.
Experimentally, Elizabeth puts her hand on the wood near the bottom, where she would imagine Mike's feet to be, were she able to think about his cold, dead feet in a box. She checks her heart and feels nothing new, nothing worse. She takes a step farther up. Her hand is where his knees would be. The wood is smooth. Her palm runs up thigh, over stomach, rests on chest, in a horrible pantomime of what she's done so often in life. Her mind is saying, Well, if Mike was gone, this is how it would be, yes, but he can't be gone. He can't be.
Elizabeth knows what needs to come next. So she takes another step, and she looks down.
Mike's face is swollen, only slightly, and an odd color, although that might be the light. Blake had driven them the short distance, neither of them ready for the walk, or the people, or the light of an ordinary day. He had told them in the car that Mike would look as though he was sleeping, but this face, solemn and enclosed, bears no resemblance to her sprawling, duvet-hogging, snoring husband, liable at any moment to throw out an arm and pull her in to him, even though he was fast asleep.
Elizabeth realizes she is holding her breath as she fights to recognize what's in front of her. Cautious, she reaches out her left hand, her own skin dull in this dull light. She touches his face. Her thumb strokes the indentation to the left of his right cheekbone. He is cold, and his skin is powdery, and she watches, waiting for him to open his eyes. Tears fall from hers and gather on his face, and she wipes them away gently with the thumb that wears his wedding ring, and just for a moment these are his tears, and they are crying together.
Elizabeth bends down and whispers, "You can pretend all you like, but I know you haven't left me. I know you wouldn't leave me."
She whispers, "I want to hold your hand." Her own hands, free to rake through her hair and twist around each other and catch at tears falling from her chin, tingle at the horrible thought of being contained in the way his are.

She whispers, "Show me that you haven't gone," and she sits, and she waits, her hand on the coffin where she thinks Michael's hand must be. She closes her eyes. "You promised you would never leave me," she says, trying a different tack, thinking a prod might work where a plea has failed. Time stops, and the world stops, and even the tears stop for a while, as Elizabeth strains for a sign, all of her senses ready and oh so willing. But no sign comes.

Wealth & Privilege by Jeanette Watts Virtual Book Tour!

02_Wealth and Privilege_CoverPlease join author Jeanette Watts as she tours the blogosphere with HF Virtual Book Tours for Wealth and Privilege, from June 16-July 17. 

Ebook Release Date: 2013 Paperback Release Date: 2014 CreateSpace Genre: Historical 

  Add to GR Button 

Money. Family. Love. Hate. Obsession. Duty. Politics. Religion - or the lack thereof. Sex -- or, once again, the lack thereof. Thomas Baldwin finds himself married to a woman he can?t stand, while head-over heels in love with another woman he can?t have. Talk about bad planning. He is something of a kite, buffeted by circumstances which blow him not only through personal crises, but also through some of the most significant events of the late 1800s, including the railroad riots of 1877, the creation of the Homestead Steel Works, the assassination of President Garfield, and the Johnstown Flood. Over time, and with the help of his muse, who dances maddeningly just beyond his reach, he takes control of his life, wresting it from the winds attempting to control him. A carefully-researched historical novel about life among the privileged class of Pittsburgh during the Industrial Revolution.

Praise for Wealth and Privilege

"Thomas Baldwin is like a Rorschach inkblot test. Some people love him, some people find him unlikeable. Most people can't stand his wife. Others feel sorry for her. I take the fact that people have such a huge variety of reactions to my characters as a sign I succeeded in writing full, rich personalities." - Kirkus Reviews "Wealth and Privilege is an exceptionally provoking read. The real romance is between the author and the reader" - Page Traveler

Wealth and Privilege Available at

Amazon Kindle Barnes & Noble Nook CreateSpace (Paperback)

03A_Jeanette Watts_AuthorAbout the Author

Jeanette Watts couldn't help but notice that all romances seemed to be set in the American West or the South. A staunch Yankee girl, she asked what is unromantic about the North or the East? After living for four years in Pittsburgh, and falling deeply in love with southwestern Pennsylvania, she found it the perfect location for a love story. Besides writing, she is also a dance instructor, an inveterate seamstress, the artistic director for several dance companies, an actress, and a history buff. Wealth and Privilege took her 10 years to write, because she felt the research needed to be thorough. Everything from big events and famous people to little details like dog breeds and women?s fashions have been carefully researched. For more information visit Jeanette Watt's website, and follow the Wealth and Privilege Facebook Page.

Wealth & Privilege Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, June 16 
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews 
Wednesday, June 17 
Spotlight at What Is That Book About 
Friday, June 19 Review & Giveaway at Unshelfish 
Monday, June 22 Review at Book Nerd 
Tuesday, June 23 
Guest Post at I Heart Reading 
Wednesday, July 1 
Review at Book Lovers Paradise 
Thursday, July 2 
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation 
Monday, July 6 
Review at A Chick Who Reads 
Tuesday, July 7 
Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews 
Friday, July 17 Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

 Irritating his mother wasn’t specifically Thomas’ favorite hobby.  She did, however, seem to excel at providing him with opportunities to do so. He didn’t have to try very hard.  His very existence was an obvious irritant to her.  It wasn’t because of who he was – Thomas knew perfectly well it was all about what he wasn’t.

He wasn’t everything his older brother Benjamin had been; quick and clever and charming and talkative.  The entire Baldwin family – especially his mother, Eugenia Baldwin, aspiring family matriarch and his most verbal critic – admitted that Thomas was the much more handsome of the two.  Then everyone shrugged.  Pretty is as pretty does.

Thomas had to agree on that point.  He gladly would have traded his bright blue eyes and much-admired dark hair for the ability to know what to say to people.

He stood at the entrance to the ballroom in his parents’ house, surrounded by giggling girls all wishing him a happy birthday with their dance cards not-so-subtly dangling from their wrists.  Trying to smile, he offered his hand to accept the little pencils and sign the blasted things.

It wasn’t that he disliked dancing, really.  He just loathed having to go through the process of begging for dances, and inflicting himself on the expectant young ladies who smiled sweetly and patiently at him.  He wasn’t a bad dancer, but he wasn’t a brilliant one, either.  And hanging over him like a cloud was that dreaded requirement to make small talk.  He could see his mother glaring at him from the chair where she was holding court on the far side of the hallway.  He hadn’t said anything for a while, as a fresh batch of young women wished him a happy birthday and smiled up at him while he signed his name.  With a mental sigh, he searched for something to say.

“So, am I supposed to make more mature small talk, now that I’m a quarter century old?”

He almost flinched as the cluster burst into peals of merriment, entirely out of proportion for such a lame little joke.  But no doubt it was very much in keeping with the instructions each girl received from her mama before leaving for his birthday dance. “Now, sweetheart, I know he bores you, but the Baldwin family is worth a fortune.  Smile for him.  Laugh at his jokes.  Make a good impression, for goodness’ sake.”
He should feel a sense of comradeship; after all, his mother had delivered a similar lecture to him.  “Now, Thomas, please try and be charming tonight.  No slipping off to avoid signing dance cards.  It’s your birthday party.  Smile.  Say something.  Make a good impression, for goodness’ sake.”

But when he looked into their eyes, he never found a kindred spirit looking back. He saw a sort of demure ambition that made him want to run and hide.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t a viable option.  He suffered through each glance, and felt himself slowly suffocating.

It was a typical Baldwin family function.  Aunt Eleanor had arrived first, her daughters Ella and Margaret in tow, determined to undermine the placement of every piece of greenery the servants had placed without her express approval.  For some mysterious reason, his mother followed behind, drinking in their every word.  Thomas’ favorite cousin Edgar also came early, since of course he wanted to have a few words with the musicians before the dancing started.  He was outgoing, fun-loving, charming (just like Ben had been), and the natural leader for the dancing party games that would replace the regular dancing after midnight supper.  He kept such a collection of Germans in his head, he was eagerly invited to parties all over Pittsburgh.  Then the rest of the family and friends started arriving.  Quiet Uncle Alfred and Aunt Rebecca came with their four stoic sons, Albert, Osric, Stefen, and Peter, followed by a merry party led by Edgar’s always gay siblings, Lily and John.

Old friends of the family, the Masons (with their dark-haired daughter Janey), were followed by business friends of his father’s, the Burkes and the Thompsons (with their marriage-aged daughters, Meredith and Elsie).  Thomas was glad to see the Garretts brought along Grandma Lizzie, who declared years ago that if she were fifty years younger she would’ve married him.  She always claimed the first polka.  But they also brought slender nineteen-year-old Rose, whose brown eyes always seemed to be telegraphing to Thomas that she shared her grandmother’s intentions – and not for a polka.

The flow of people became a flood.  He thought he caught a glimpse of the Mellon boys, which meant his father must be thinking about getting a loan for something.  His mother didn’t like Mrs. Mellon, so they were only invited to parties when his father specifically wanted something.

Coats and overshoes came off and went away.  Ladies dis-appeared to primp, and returned.  Then the ball cards appeared for the ritual torture of single men and ladies, and the mothers of single men, of course.

Eventually, the ball cards were signed, Edgar gave Thomas a significant eyebrow, and the birthday boy led his guests into the ballroom.  Thomas danced the first waltz with his mother, the first polka with Grandma Lizzie.  Then began the parade of quadrilles, gallops, waltzes and schottisches, which Thomas dutifully danced with every single lady in the room.  He found himself wondering if the Prince Charming in the children’s fairy tale felt as much like a prize bull as he did.


It was blessedly quiet in the conservatory.  If Thomas lis-tened very hard, he could hear the orchestra playing a lively polka.  His head ached mildly and his ears were ringing from the incessant giggling of his various feminine partners.  Just once, he thought, he wanted to hear a woman laugh.  A deep, hearty, belly laugh.  He’d marry a woman if he could stand the way she laughed.

As if on cue, his mother appeared in the doorway of the conservatory.  “Thomas?  I told you, no running off to hide to-night.  You’re the host, for goodness’ sake.  What are you doing here?”

“I had to get away for a moment, Mother,” he said, trying not to sound petulant.  “My head aches something awful.”

“Don’t talk to me about headaches, boy,” his mother answered sharply.  “You’re giving me quite a headache right now.”

Thomas managed a small smile.  “I’m sure I am, Mother.  Please don’t lecture me about my manners.  I had to sneak out.  Otherwise, that flock of girls would have wanted to come along to comfort me, and I wouldn’t get any quiet.”

Eugenia saw her opportunity.  “Well, if you’d only pick one of the crowd that’s been hovering around you, then you could have one companion to comfort you.”

Thomas groaned.  “Mother…”

Eugenia interrupted,  “Don’t ‘Mother’ me.  Honestly, I do wish you could be just a little more like your brother.”

Benjamin had been six years older than Thomas, and was seventeen when Southern rebels fired on Fort Sumter.  Ben im-patiently followed the Rebellion for a year, while both parents loudly and frequently forbade his enlistment.  But when the call went out seeking men of good character for a volunteer cavalry, it was more than Ben could stand.  His parents were horrified, and livid – for a month, until Ben’s unit was called out of drill practice and sent to Antietam.  Ben became a hero in the field – and be-came a hero again when he died someplace in Tennessee called Stone River.

His mother had worshipped her first-born son thoroughly enough while he was alive.  He was completely sanctified in the twelve years and two months since his death.  So much so, Thomas had trouble separating the facts of the brother he remembered from the fiction his mother created.

“Benjamin never had so many girls following him around as you have – you’ve always been the handsome one - but at least he could talk to them.  Somehow, he got all the charm, you got all the looks.”

Thomas had been hearing that particular phrase as long as he could remember.   Sometimes he entertained himself wondering what clever answers Ben would have given their mother.  “So you’re saying I’m as ugly as an old shoe, eh, Mum?  You’ve wounded me!”  Ben could – and did – say anything to their mother, and she would only smile.  Thomas could say the same things, and usually got a sigh and a frown instead.  He wished he could have been blessed with the charm, instead of the looks.

“I’m not Benjamin, mother.  And if he were standing here with us, he’d roll his eyes and say ‘Thank goodness for that!’ ”

His mother wasn’t listening.  She’d passed on from one of her favorite subjects – comparing him to his brother – to her other favorite subject – complaining about his father.  “I told your father that compared to Benjamin you were backward.  But he couldn’t seem to find any time to help me raise his children.  I had to try to bring you up all by myself.”  Thomas wisely held his tongue.

“You’d think I was a widow, for all the help I got with you.  Fathers are supposed to teach their sons how to talk to women.  All your father can teach you is business.”  The combative gleam in her face told Thomas she was coming full circle; he was about to become the recipient of her ire once again.  “But you’re not trying, Thomas,” she frowned at him, a puzzled look twisting her face.  “Maybe I’ve taught you how to treat girls too well.  I don’t fault you for being a gentleman, but maybe you’re being too much of a gentleman.”

Thomas was amused by his mother’s attempt to analyze his failure to secure one of the pretty brainless creatures who’d been pursuing him all evening.  It never occurred to her that he just didn’t like them.

“Too much of a gentleman?  For most of my life, Mother, you’ve been drilling it into my head how to be a complete and proper gentleman.”

“Well, at least be enough of a cad to let a girl know that you like her!” his mother snapped impatiently.  “I don’t care how you do it – but it’s about time you did!  Just what do you suppose will come of the Baldwin name if you don’t keep the family going?”

Thomas smiled a small, ironic smile and did some quick mental arithmetic.  “Assuming Aunt Mary and Aunt Rebecca don’t have any more children?  Well, even if I leave no offspring, there are three more Baldwin males in my generation, and two of them are already married.  Then Father’s cousins Henry and Margaret have two boys.  So that’s five other Baldwins in the city of Pitts-burgh alone.  Henry has brothers, too, doesn’t he?  Relatives in Cincinnati?  The Baldwin name is in no danger of extinction.  As to our little branch and our little empire, well, after we’re all dead the surviving Baldwins can fight over it.  Or none of them will want it, and they’ll put all of it up on the auction block.”

Eugenia stared at her son with confusion while he assessed the family tree, then she dismissed him with a wave of her gloved and bejeweled hand.  “Rubbish,” she snorted.  “Olympic Ironworks up for auction?  Bah!”  Not willing to be sidetracked, she returned to the subject.  “Thomas, there are fifteen girls on that dance floor who would be perfectly suitable additions to the family.  What exactly are you looking for?”

Thomas gazed steadily at his mother.  “Before I answer that, would you tell me just what makes those particular fifteen suitable?”

His question flustered Eugenia.  “Why, they’re all pretty girls,” she stammered.  “Victoria’s the heiress to a fortune in coal fields, Yvette’s from one of the oldest families in the city.”

“So, then the criteria are beauty, money and family?  Does it have to be all three, or merely one or two of them?  If I find a beautiful serving maid, will that do?  What if she’s homely, but rich?  What if she’s beautiful, but dreadfully poor, but she comes from an old family?  British royalty, maybe? I understand a lot of the nobility are frightfully poor and looking for rich Americans to support them.  Maybe that’s what I’m doing wrong.  I should be in London, wooing a Duke’s daughter.  Maybe a Duke’s daughter would be the only woman who could compare with my formidable mother.” Thomas reached over and picked an orchid, presenting it to her with a kiss on the cheek.

Eugenia looked down at the flower, then up at her son, and sighed.  “I don’t understand you, Thomas.  You’re nothing like your brother was.  Every time you open your mouth I have trouble believing that you’re my flesh and blood.”

“Biologically speaking, Mother, you had to be there when I was born …”

That was a mistake.  The reprimand came sharply back into Eugenia’s voice.  “I also have trouble believing my son can speak in such a crude manner to any woman – even his own mother,” she said sharply.  “Is that how you keep young ladies at bay?  With that – that frank language?”

“Now, Mother,” Thomas reasoned, “do any of those young ladies seem to be at bay?  They’re all over me like bloodhounds at a foxhunt.”

Eugenia frowned at him.  “You’ve never been on a fox-hunt.”

“I’m using my imagination, Mother.”

Eugenia was blessed with very little imagination, and did not care for his.  Nor did she take kindly to this latest turn in the conversation.  She knew that she did not argue logically, and that she did not fare well in any argument with her son.  She was, however, enough of a tactician to realize that escaping with the last word was an acceptable substitute for victory.  “I’m heading back to the party now.  I expect you to follow me.  And if you don’t choose a fiancée soon, keep in mind that I will choose one for you.”  With her head high, she turned her back, and left the room in a dignified swish of taffeta.

Threats.  Every time he argued with his mother, she ended the argument by delivering a threat, then leaving the room.  Angry, he wanted to break something.  But the hothouse didn’t have much to offer besides plants.  Plopping down on a bench, he scooped up a handful of tiny decorative stones and hurled them one by one into the decorative pool in the center of the conservatory.  Then he hurled the rest at the wall of palms which obliterated the view of the rest of the greenhouse.

A startled cry of pain arose from the direction of the palms.
In confusion, Thomas stood up and stared at the palm leaves.  “Hello?”

A pained but amused voice rose from behind the curtain of fronds.  “The breeding of money has always been ugly.  I didn’t realize it had also become dangerous.”

Thomas jumped forward and parted the curtain of palm fronds.  Standing in the middle of the path was a woman, dressed in dark red, holding her handkerchief to a small cut on her face.  Thomas could see that several of the stones he’d thrown had lodged in the ruffles of her overskirt.

“What are you doing back here?”  Thomas stammered. 

The woman smiled ruefully.  “Mostly demonstrating my boundless talent for bad timing.  I was hoping to find someplace quiet for a moment.  I had no idea I was merely the advance guard before your tête-à-tête with your mother and – ” she surveyed the red spots on her handkerchief with a deep chuckle, “directly in the line of fire.”

Thomas flushed.  “I’m terribly sorry.  I – thought I was alone.”

“Of course you did,” the woman answered.  “Your family throws magnificent parties, and only those of us with no manners whatsoever would dream of sneaking away in the midst of such gaiety.  Well,” she amended with an amused twist to her mouth, “that is, I’m sure others sneak off, but not alone.”

Thomas sighed despondently and sank back onto his bench.  “It always comes back to mating rituals, doesn’t it?”

“Usually.”  The woman eyed him with impartial curiosity for a moment, then with a great rustling of red silk settled herself on the bench beside him.  “So is it marriage you object to?  Or the specifics of mating?  I’ve known people who’ve objected to one, and I’ve known people who’ve objected to the other.”

Thomas toyed with a palm frond.  “Oh, it’s neither one.  It’s just….”  He stopped.  He could feel his face getting warm, and suddenly he could not look in her direction.

She laughed; a warm, rich, deep laugh.  Thomas remem-bered his recent longing for a female who didn’t giggle.  His heart beat faster, and he looked studiously at the palm he was now shredding into thin strands.

“No, I don’t suppose this conversation falls on your mother’s list of acceptable topics to discuss at social gatherings.”

Thomas looked up at her in surprise.  “How did you know…” In looking up, he fell straight into a pair of warm, black eyes that seemed to see all the way through him.  Further disarmed, he dropped his gaze again.

“My mother gave me the same list,” she answered, laughing again.  It was a deep, musical sound.  Warm and rich.  Thomas listened, transfixed.  He’d read descriptions comparing a laugh to honey, but he’d never heard such a sound before.  Until now.

Unaware of his musings, she continued,  “I’ve spent deli-cious and scandalous years since I received that list, trying to break every rule on it.”

Thomas stared at his companion, too fascinated to be embarrassed.  The face looking back at him was an open, honest face.  Her black eyes twinkled with good humor.  A full, moist set of lips curved in a confident, almost conspiratorial smile.  She was dressed in a deep claret red.  Ruby earrings drew the eye downwards to a ruby necklace on a long, graceful neck.  Her shapely shoulders were framed by the top edge of her black-shot red taffeta bodice.  Her dark hair sparkled from the red-jeweled pins keeping an elaborate pile of curls in place.

She exuded wealth – she also exuded an intelligence and independence that made her seem appealingly exotic to Thomas.

She smiled, and his eyes were drawn to the frank sensuality in her smile.  “Well?”  she asked, bringing him out of his scrutiny.

“Well what?” he asked, unsure of how to answer her question.

“You’ve studied me pretty thoroughly.  What conclusions have you reached?”

Thomas blushed.  She laughed.  “Do you always embarrass this easily?  She asked.

“No.  I mean, yes.  I mean,” Thomas stammered.

“Well, which is it?”

Thomas returned her direct gaze.  “Do you know that you’re a very disconcerting person?”

His guest nodded agreeably.  “Yes, I am,” she admitted easily.  “Which is very rude of me, I’m sure.”

            “Oh, no,” Thomas hastened to dissemble.  “Certainly not.”

Her eyes twinkled.  “You’re only saying that because it’s polite,” she pointed out.  “But isn’t it also rude to contradict people?  Besides, it’s not honest.  Why isn’t honesty considered polite?”

At ease again, Thomas laughed.  “You win.  You’re terribly rude.  And you’ve got the oddest way of looking at things.”

“There, wasn’t that refreshing?  You just said exactly what you were thinking, without censoring yourself.  I bet it’s been a very long while since you’ve done that.”

“Well, I certainly hadn’t said a single honest thing all night, until I came in here,” he smiled.

His smile faded away, however, at the sound of giggling voices approaching  from the hallway.

“It sounds like you’re not done with censorship for the night,” his guest observed.

Four girls burst loudly into the conservatory.  “Thomas!?”  They squealed merrily, then their gazes turned hostile as they saw his companion.  “Your mama sent us to find you and bring you back to the party.”

Stiffly, Thomas stood up, then glanced down inquisitively at the enigmatic woman in red.  She smiled up at him.

“Thank you so much for escorting me to your conservatory,” she lied calmly. “I’m sure I’ll feel better once I’ve sat for a little while.  I do hope your guests will forgive me for imposing on their dance partner.”  She turned a warm, yet some-how condescending smile upon the gaggle of girls standing in a clutch a
round Thomas, each maneuvering to be touching him in some fashion.
Her look subdued the noisy little crowd.  Collectively, they dropped their eyes.  “Of course,” “Sorry you’re not feeling well,” they murmured, gloved fingers still locked onto Thomas.

He looked at the woman on the bench almost imploringly.  “If there’s nothing else I can do for you, then?”

She smiled up at him, and he detected subtle mischief in her face.  “It would be rude of me to keep you from such delightful company,” she answered.

He opened his mouth, and closed it again, unable to think of anything he could say in answer.  Hoping his eyes could convey his respect, he bowed to her, then allowed the gaggle of young ladies to drag him away.

The foursome could barely contain their curiosity until they were out of earshot.

“What were you doing with her?”  Elsie Thompson asked, appalled.

Confounded by the question, Thomas responded, “The lady had a headache.  I showed her to the conservatory so she could sit where it was quiet for a while.”

“Well, I can imagine why that sort would have a headache,” Meredith Burke sniffed.  “Reading too many books, I suppose.”

“Mama says she’s no lady.”  Janey Mason chimed in.

“What kind of a lady would actually attend that college in Waynesburg?”  Rose Garrett sneered.  Thomas wondered to him-self if it was ladylike to sneer.  He assumed not.

“Attend, nothing,” Elsi
e Thompson added importantly.  “I hear she has a degree from there!”
 “So tell me,” he asked as casually as he could, “who is this woman you say is no lady because she has an advanced education?”
“Why, don’t you know,” Rose Garrett gasped,  “That’s Regina Waring.  The Mrs. Waring!”

Regina Waring.  The Mrs. Waring. Everyone in Pittsburgh, Allegheny, and, heck, all of Allegheny County had heard of her.  Perhaps the entire industrialized world knew who she was.  Wife of the eccentric Henry Thorougood Waring, who swore proudly, frequently, and publicly that no one, man or woman, in any country, could compete with his wife’s business acumen.

While fashionable women whispered in their parlors about Regina’s unseemly – no, unwomanly – behavior, Regina was wel-comed behind the closed doors of board rooms where powerful men made deals – and made money.

Together, the Warings had turned Henry’s father’s flour mill into an industrial empire.  Opportunity was everywhere in Pittsburgh, at least for good businessmen with something to sell.  With the country expanding westward and the railroads spreading fast, the demand for goods like flour was large.  So were the profits of those who could meet those demands.  The Warings had turned those profits back into more flour mills, into an immense glass-works along the southern bank of the Monongahela River, and into copperworks somewhere close to Johnstown, east of Pittsburgh up in the Laurel Highlands.

The Warings, Thomas reflected, made their fortunes the same way his own father had.  Except that Thomas’ mother made party arrangements, not business deals.  Thomas was intrigued, and crushed.  He had just fallen in love at first sight with a married woman!

Thomas’ mind had run out of useful information about the dashing Regina Waring by the time his escorts finished dragging him back to the ballroom.  Absentmindedly, he danced with each of the young ladies in turn, leaving the other three to put their heads together and whisper.

He was dancing the York with little blonde Meredith Burke when he saw his lady in red enter the room.

Upon second viewing, he concluded she was the most stunning creature he’d ever seen.  Her dark red contrasted sharply against the pale, gay swirls of color standing in clusters near the door. She was neither the tallest nor the shortest woman present, but she carried herself with an elegance every other female in the room was lacking.

His eyes couldn’t memorize the sight of her fast enough.  The red dress flattered her figure most emphatically.  The long, curved lines of her bodice advertised a tiny waist, calling an enticing invitation to masculine hands.  Her skirts tumbled to the floor in playful waves, tucked here, billowing there.

An irritated cough called his mind back onto the dance floor.  Meredith was regarding him indignantly, as they silently went through the motions of the dance.  Thomas leaped on the opportunity she had just afforded him.

“You’re not altogether well tonight!” he exclaimed solicitously.  “How thoughtless of me to keep you out here.  We can finish this dance another time.  Let me fetch you a glass of water for that cough.”  Deftly, overriding her protests with his own protests of concern, he maneuvered his partner to the corner where the other three had their heads together, and deposited a now very indignant Meredith among her friends.  Excusing himself, he dashed to the door.

He reached the stairs, and stopped to watch in fascination as Regina descended.  There was an animal grace about the way she moved, a thinly veiled power; and in her smile, a frank sensuality Thomas found mesmerizing.

He wasn’t the only one.  Thomas was astonished to recognize the members of the small male crowd that stopped her half-way down the stairs; George Westinghouse, the enthusiastic genius inventor of the air brake; Tom Carnegie, who was building a steel mill up the Monongahela in McKeesport for his brother Andrew; Jacob Vandergrift, the local oil and gas king, and, of all people, his own father!

Thomas couldn’t believe his ears as the foursome all clamored for a dance.  He could pick out his father’s voice, claim-ing, “Since Henry couldn’t join us tonight, you’ll have to let me fill in for him!”

“Oh, no!”  Three other voices rose as one, then broke into separate protestations as each man pressed his claim upon her.

Thomas stood, rooted to the spot, as the group resumed their descent, each of the four gentlemen insisting on the next dance.

Richard Baldwin rarely took any notice of his only surviving son, who was his ever-present shadow in all affairs regarding the running of the family empire.  But even he couldn’t miss the sight of Thomas, standing bug-eyed at the bottom of the stairs. “Thomas!  Come meet the most beautiful capitalist in America.”  Richard grinned foolishly at the lady. “Thomas, this is the incomparable Regina Waring.  Regina, this is my boy Thomas.”

Boy?  Thomas was thrown by his father’s term.  It made him feel backwards – more specifically, like he was twelve years old.

Regina smiled at him, holding out a slender black-gloved hand.  “We’ve met already.  Your son had – lost something.”  Thomas caught that twinkle of humor in her eyes.  “Have you found it again?”

“Yes, thank you.”  Thomas responded, understanding her veiled reference to his temper, and looking desperately for some-thing clever to say.  “I believe I have,” was all that he could think of.

The two looked at each other for a brief second.  Detecting that there was nothing more to say, Richard jumped in, thinking to cover for his awkward son.

“Excuse us, Thomas,” he said, taking Regina’s hand from where it still lay in Thomas’ grasp.  “I’m determined this lady has the next dance with me!”

Thomas didn’t hear the friendly protest of his father’s friends.  Already, the clever phrases it was too late to say came bubbling to his lips;  “Why, yes, it was kind of you to help me look for it.”  “I couldn’t help overhearing that you are missing your usual escort tonight.  Rather than start a war among these fine gentlemen, may I fill in?”

He looked after the departing group, and watched as Regina and Tom Carnegie separated from the rest and joined the dancers.  Married.  The most musical laugh he’d ever heard, and she was already married.  His father was already better acquainted with her than he could ever hope to be.

As Thomas stared after his muse in red, a conference was taking place halfway across the ballroom.  Frustrated and angry at Thomas’ desertion, Meredith Burke sought out her mother.

“Mother!  Janey, Rose, Elsie and I found Thomas alone in the conservatory with Mrs. Waring.  And now, he won’t even look at us!  He abandoned me in the middle of a dance so he could stand and stare at her.  Look!”  She pointed him out, halfway up the stairs, gazing dumbfounded into the crowd of dancers. “He’s still standing there staring at her!”

Marjorie Burke was a practical woman.  She was the daughter of a barge driver and a laundress, who married a man with a little money and a lot of drive.  Her ambition in life was to marry all her children off to families wealthier than their own.  Meredith was the last of four; she’d succeeded with the first three.  Marjorie was not about to lose sight of her goal now.  Thomas was the choicest bachelor any of her daughters had gotten close to.

She followed her daughter’s gaze to where Thomas stood, rooted to the ground as he watched the ever-dazzling Mrs. Waring whirling about in the arms of a carefully attentive A.W. Mellon.  Mrs. Burke’s figure stiffened in dislike.  It was bad enough that woman turned the heads of every married man in the city.  Now she was keeping the unmarried men from paying their attentions to the marriageable girls in the room!

“Well, my girl,” Mrs. Burke said briskly to her daughter, “It looks like it’s going to take some rather drastic measures if we’re going to pry one more victim from Mrs. Waring’s lovely fingertips.  I have a very melodramatic idea,” she said, firmly taking her daughter’s arm and guiding her outside on the terrace for a brief lecture in the icy February air, where no one would be apt to overhear them.

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