Authors: Pam Hillman
Tags: #General Fiction
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Copyright © 2011 by Pam Hillman. All rights reserved.
Cover photograph copyright © Ange Movius/iStockphoto. All rights reserved.
Cover and title page designed by Erik M. Peterson
Edited by Erin E. Smith
Published in association with the literary agency of The Steve Laube Agency.
Scripture quotations are taken from the
, King James Version.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
ISBN 978-1-4143-6661-6 (ePub)
Table of Contents
“Where’s my little brother?” Luke glared at the man with the jagged scar on his right cheek.
“You do as I say, kid, and he’ll be along shortly.” Pale-blue eyes, harder than the cobblestone streets of Chicago, bored into his. “Otherwise, I’ll kill him. Understand?”
Luke stood his ground, memorizing the face of the man who’d paid off the coppers.
“Get in.” The man motioned to a wooden crate not much bigger than an overturned outhouse.
Luke crammed in, the three other boys squeezing together, making room. Nobody said a word. Nobody cried. They didn’t dare. Scarface would kill them if they disobeyed.
Luke knew he’d been stupid. He’d tried to teach Mark the art of picking pockets, and they’d gotten caught. But instead of going to jail as expected, money had changed hands, and they’d been handed off to the man with the scar.
And now Luke would be shipped out of Chicago. Without Mark.
He pulled his thin coat tight around him and curled into a ball for warmth.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
Luke shuddered with every slam of the hammer against the nails. He drew his knees to his chest, shivering. This time not from the cold.
He pinched his eyes closed, fighting the urge to throw up.
His heart raced faster than the first time he’d picked a pocket.
Where was Mark?
The ill-dressed, grimy child jostled a broad-shouldered cowboy, palming the man’s pocket watch. Gold flashed as the thief discreetly handed his prize to another youngster shuffling along the boardwalk toward Livy O’Brien.
Livy didn’t miss a thing—not the slick movements, not the tag-team approach. None of it.
Neither boy paid her any attention. And why should they? To them she was no more than a farmer’s wife on her way home from the mercantile or maybe one of the workers over at the new glove factory.
If they only knew.
Her gaze cut to the man’s back. When he patted down his pockets and his stride faltered, she made a split-second decision. As the thin boy with the timepiece passed, she knocked him into a pile of snow shoveled to the side of the wooden walkway. She reached out, pulled the child to his feet, and dusted him off so fast he didn’t have time to move, let alone squirm away. She straightened his threadbare coat, two sizes too big and much too thin for an icebound Illinois winter. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Did I hurt you?”
Fathomless dark eyes stared at her from a hollow face. Eyes that reminded her of her own in the not-so-distant past. She wanted to hug him, take him home with her.
“No, ma’am.” The words came out high-pitched and breathless.
“Hey, you!” The man hurried toward them.
Fear shuddered across the boy’s face, and he jerked free of her grasp and darted down a nearby alley.
Livy let him go and stepped into the man’s path, bracing herself as he slammed into her. The impact sent both of them hurtling toward the snowbank. The stranger wrapped his arms around her and took the brunt of the fall, expelling a soft grunt as Livy landed on top of him. Her gaze tripped off the end of her gloved fingers and collided with a pair of intense jade-green eyes. She stared, mesmerized by long, dark lashes and tiny lines that fanned out from the corners of his eyes. A hint of a smile lifted one corner of his mouth.
A slamming door jerked Livy back to reality.
Heat rushed to her face, and she rolled sideways, scrambling to untangle herself. What would Mrs. Brooks think of such an unladylike display?
“Ma’am?” Large, gloved hands grabbed her shoulders and pulled her to her feet. “Are you all right?”
“Those kids stole my watch.” A muscle jumped in his jaw.
“Are you sure?” Remorse smote her with the same force as that of the stranger’s body knocking her into the snow. She’d reacted, making a split-second decision that could have resulted in catastrophe.
“Yes, ma’am.” He patted his sheepskin coat again. Suddenly he stilled and removed the watch from his pocket. “Well, I’ll be. I could’ve sworn . . .” He gave her a sheepish look. “Sorry for running into you like that, ma’am.”
Livy breathed a sigh and pulled her cloak tight against the cold. Disaster averted.
Forgive me, Lord. I hope I did the right thing.
“That’s all right. No harm done.”
The stranger pushed his hat back, releasing a tuft of dark, wavy hair over his forehead. “I don’t believe we’ve met. Jake Russell.”
Her gaze flickered toward the alley that had swallowed up the boy. She didn’t make a habit of introducing herself to strangers, but revealing her name might keep Mr. Russell’s mind off the boys who’d waylaid him. “Livy O’Brien.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. O’Brien.”
O’Brien,” she said. At least the gathering twilight masked the flush she could feel stealing across her cheeks.
Was it her imagination, or did the grin on Jake Russell’s face grow wider?
“Pleased to meet you, Miss O’Brien. May I escort you to wherever you’re going?” His eyes twinkled. “It’ll be dark soon, and a lady shouldn’t be out alone after dark.”
Livy sobered. She’d never claimed to be a lady. The tiny glow inside her faded with the setting sun. Mr. Russell would never be interested in Light-Fingered Livy O’Brien. “No thank you, Mr. Russell. I’m not going far. I’ll be fine.”
“I’d feel better, ma’am.” He gestured toward the alley. “Especially after what happened.”
He held out his arm, one eyebrow cocked in invitation. Her emotions warred with her head. She shouldn’t allow such liberties, but what harm would it do to let him escort her home?
She placed her hand in the crook of his arm. “Very well. Thank you, Mr. Russell.”
“Call me Jake.”
Livy’s heart gave a nervous flutter. Did Mr. Russell mask his intentions behind a gentlemanly face and kindly words? A common enough practice where she came from. “I’m afraid using your given name would be a little too familiar. I don’t know anything about you.”
“Well, I can remedy that. What do you want to know?”
Livy shook her head, softening her refusal with a smile. It wouldn’t do to ask the man questions about himself. If she did, then he’d feel at liberty to ask questions of his own. Questions she didn’t want to answer.
He chuckled. “You sure are a shy little thing, Miss O’Brien.”
Better to let him think her bashful than know the truth. A couple of years ago, she might have spun a yarn or two to keep him entertained, but no longer. If she couldn’t speak the truth, she’d say nothing at all.
Her silence didn’t stop him. “You must be new around here. I don’t remember seeing you before.”
“I arrived in Chestnut about two months ago.”
“That explains it. I’ve only been back in town a few weeks myself.”
Livy darted a glance from the corner of her eye to study him. Discreetly, of course—she’d at least learned
from Mrs. Brooks. The top of her head barely reached his chin, and broad shoulders filled out his coat. A late-afternoon shadow dusted his firm jawline.
He stepped off the boardwalk and helped her across a patch of ice. Her stomach flopped when his green eyes connected with hers, and she blurted out the first thing that popped into her mind. “Oh? Where’ve you been?”
She could’ve bitten her tongue. She shouldn’t have asked, but curiosity had gotten the best of her. What made her want to know more about Jake Russell? Mercy, why should she even wonder about the man? He wasn’t anyone she should worry with.
If only her foolish girl’s heart would listen to reason.
“Taking care of some business in Missouri. It’s good to be home, though.”
They ambled in silence past the Misses Huff Millinery Shop and the recently opened Chinese laundry. The scent of green lumber tickled Livy’s nose, bringing forth the image of the fresh sprig of mistletoe hung over the door of the orphanage.