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Authors: Anna Godbersen

The Lucky Ones

BOOK: The Lucky Ones
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For Farrin


ON THE SECOND SUNDAY OF AUGUST, ASTRID HAD been Mrs. Charlie Grey for exactly two weeks, and she was beginning to settle into the idea. They lay by the pool, in comfortable silence, as they had every day since the heat got bad. After dark he went out on his rounds. This was the order of married life, she was learning. A wife stays in her wifely place and occupies her mind with wifely thoughts, like who to invite for luncheon and when the furniture has gone out of style and needs to be replaced. Meanwhile, a husband goes off in the mornings to the mysterious world of work. Or, if he happens to be a bootlegger, he goes at night.

It had not been her intention to marry Charlie. When she met him he had seemed more exciting than anyone she had ever known—that was all. She had been content to call him her boyfriend without losing her famous taste for flirting, and he had strayed once that she knew of. But they had always had a furious grip on one another, and after his father died so suddenly and horribly they became engaged. Even then it was anybody’s guess whether the engagement would last; they always went up and down the roller coaster together, Charlie and Astrid. But that was before the Hales kidnapped her. Everything had been different between them since that night, when he’d broken into the dank warehouse where she had been sure she would die. He had killed the man who had tormented her all those awful hours, and then he had carried her home in his strong arms. That was when she knew for sure she loved him.

And oh, how she loved him. She loved the way he swaggered from some speakeasy to his Daimler having just sealed a deal, and she loved the way he took her face in his hands—the better to put his mouth to hers. She loved the way he surprised her with jewelry, and she loved the way his name looked in the paper, when it was mentioned in connection with “the former Miss Astrid Donal.” She loved his body lying next to hers on the double chaise by the pool at Dogwood.
pool. He was big and shiny in the sun, and he wore white swim trunks that matched her white swim costume, which was exactly how she had always pictured marriage.

They had finished the champagne and orange juice that Milly, the maid, had brought down with their lunch, and their skin had dried from their last swim. He was on his back with limbs thrown wide like a star, and she lay on her belly, pushed up on her elbows to look at him. His eyes were closed—whether to protect from the sun or because he was sleeping, she couldn’t tell—and his shoulders were relaxed.

“What are you looking at?”

She blinked, surprised. His eyes were still closed, but then she saw the curl at the corner of his lips. “At you, you big lug!”

“Plotting my overthrow, kitten? Poison, penknife, firing squad?”

“Oh, Charlie,” Astrid replied, her voice low with mock pity. “When I stage my coup, there shall be no advance warning.”

“You’ll do it quick and painless, in a kind of sentimental gesture to the love we once shared?”

“Of course! I’m ruthless, darling, not evil.”

“I ’preciate that.” Charlie furrowed his brow theatrically and waved his index finger like a professor. “However, as your tutor and chief guide in the world of racketeering and vice, I must advise you to be wary of sentimental gestures. Perchance they seem to you small indulgences, but minor errors of the kind have undone men more ruthless than you.”

A gasp escaped Astrid’s plush lips. “Men more ruthless than me?” she repeated with faux indignation.

He didn’t say anything after that, and the joke melted into the humid afternoon.

A silence settled in, and Astrid closed her eyes to the brightness. But just as she was about to doze off, she felt Charlie’s hands gripping her shoulders, and with sudden quickness he flipped her over and pinned her from above. Surprise hit her like a stealthy cold breeze.

“See?” he said triumphantly, smiling down. “If you go soft like that, you sorta beg your enemy to make a sneak attack.”

He was close now, and she could feel the way his skin had absorbed the warmth of the hazy sun.

“The king lives to rule another day,” Astrid replied dryly, wishing that she could move her arms. She squirmed, testing the strength of his grasp, but his hands were as steady and unrelenting as his grin. The sun was so strong overhead that it almost bleached the sky, and she closed her eyes to protect her vision.


They both turned toward the speaker, and when Charlie saw Elias Jones, who had been his father’s right-hand man, he rolled to the other side of Astrid, propping himself up on an elbow but leaving his other arm draped possessively over his wife’s torso.

“Hey, Jones! Didn’t I catch myself a pretty woman?” he demanded happily, his free hand clutching her waist.


Charlie put a kiss on Astrid’s forehead and then glanced up at Jones, as though to say he was ready for the news.

“Tonight, on the road to Rye Haven.”

The way he spoke, Astrid knew that each of those words really signified five other ones, too.

“After sunset?”

“We should be in position by sunset.”

“All right.”

The skin over Charlie’s brow rippled, and his voice turned gravelly, but his hand remained on her belly. “Good,” he said, as though he had considered the unsaid implications of Jones’s message and accepted them.

No words were said in conclusion, and Astrid knew Jones was gone only by the soft crush of grass underfoot as he walked back toward the house. She threw both of her arms around Charlie’s neck and rolled on top of him. Two sheets of yellow hair fell down, forming a protective tent that shielded both their faces from the sun. He wrapped his arms around her middle, pressing one hand against the base of her skull and the other against her backside.

“The king rides tonight,” she whispered.

When he pulled her tighter for a kiss, his mouth was dry, and she could faintly taste the champagne and orange juice on his tongue. “Yes, tonight.” Charlie pushed her hair behind her ears and studied her face. “But without the queen.”

“The queen has another engagement, anyway.” Astrid turned her face away and shook her hair out indifferently.

“Oh?” Charlie’s hold tightened around her. Now she could feel his heart beating like a drum and was secretly glad he was jealous, even if there was nothing to be jealous of.

“Yes! Dinner at my grandmother Donal’s over in Shagbark Hollow. You were supposed to come along, or don’t you remember?”

It was obvious from his expression that he did not remember, but he gave a big, showy, regretful sigh anyway. “I’m sorry, kitten. I’ve been so caught up I forgot somehow.”

“Oh, that’s all right. Just don’t start forgetting important things—like that my favorite flowers are peonies, or what day my birthday is.” In a stage whisper, she said: “It’s August twenty-third, that’s coming up! Anyway,” she went on gaily, “Grandmother Donal abhors new people.”


“Not new to
, darling. New to her!” Astrid gave Charlie a quick peck on the mouth and wriggled free of his hot embrace. Tiptoeing toward the pool, she added: “She’s just set in her ways—most ladies of her generation are, you know.”

“She’d better not think you’re too good for me.”

Astrid glanced at him over her shoulder and winked girlishly. “But of course I’m too good for you.” The pillows on the chaise were rumpled from where they had been lolling. Charlie was watching her as though she might abruptly fly away. “You’re doing something different tonight, aren’t you?” she asked.


“More dangerous than usual?”

“That’s nothing for you to worry about—I’m gonna take every precaution. But don’t tell anyone where you’re going tonight, and when you’re done with Grandma, come right home.”

Astrid contemplated the still, turquoise surface of the pool. She had been born with a gift for ignoring what was not directly in front of her and avoiding that which might bring her harm. But ever since that night in the warehouse—when she had smelled pickles and onions on the breath of a man she had afterward seen shot dead—she had been nagged by a morbid curiosity about what Charlie did out there without her. The idea frightened her, but it didn’t stop the wondering, the sense that she could no longer turn a blind eye to what happened after darkness fell.

Over her shoulder, Charlie went on: “You’ll take a bodyguard, and he’ll wait outside the whole time. I’ll tell Victor he’s taking care of you tonight—he’s the best shot of all my boys, and the best watcher, too.”

“All right.” Astrid tugged her suit back into place and dove in.

From the balcony of the Calla Lily Suite on the third floor of Dogwood, Cordelia Grey sensed the men positioned among the trees and hedges of her late father’s estate. Someone was always invisibly watching these days. Since the night the Hales had nabbed Astrid, neither girl was allowed to leave the property without a bodyguard, and Charlie had been strict about where they could and could not go.

“Oh, Letty, don’t leave,” she said as she turned away from the vistas of Dogwood and stepped down into the sumptuous bedroom she’d slept in since mid-May.

Letty, her oldest friend, was standing by the bed contemplating an open suitcase and how to make a heap of recently acquired items fit inside. She blinked in her innocent, concerned way, and for a moment Cordelia was back in Ohio on the New York–bound train, breathless with everything she had given up and hungry for everything yet to come. But in the next moment, the quality in Letty’s eyes changed; a sweet smile overtook her button of a mouth; she shook her head, almost sadly.

“You know I have to! It’s what I came all this way for.”

Neither girl much resembled the version of herself that had stepped off the train and into Pennsylvania Station in the first weeks of summer, with a single suitcase in hand and the dreamy look of every newcomer in their eyes. Letty, whose gentleness and shyness had prevented her from auditioning even once over her first few months in New York, had now been taken under wing by Valentine O’Dell, whose movies they used to watch, back in their old lives, at the little theater in Defiance, one town over from Union. After two weeks of Letty taking the commuter train into the city for lessons with Valentine’s own voice and acting coaches, he and his wife, Sophia Ray—who was also his costar—had again suggested Letty move into their Park Avenue apartment, the better to oversee her transformation into the thing she’d always wanted to be: a creature of the stage.

“I know.” Cordelia sighed and draped herself over the low, stuffed white chair by the balcony’s open French doors. A white carpet spread between the two girls like an acre of new-fallen snow. “You’re so lucky to be leaving this place!”

“Don’t be silly, you’ll break free soon enough, and you’ll come to visit me, and we’ll have tea with movie stars!” Then Letty laughed, that joyful little laugh that was like a bird trilling at twilight, and Cordelia had to laugh, too. Good Egg, Letty’s greyhound, who was sitting at her mistress’s feet, swayed her head back and forth as though she wanted to be in on the joke, too.

When Letty walked toward the vanity table and began to sort through the mess of makeup that had accumulated there, Good Egg followed and flopped at her feet. With a little sigh, Cordelia picked up the newspaper from the varnished walnut coffee table and flipped to the society page of the
New York Imperial

Last night at The Vault we observed the late bootlegger Darius Grey’s daughter overseeing her family’s business, charging back and forth across that boîte’s mosaic floor in a dress of floating black silk, her tawny hair sleek against her scalp and her lips glossy. Though the room was packed to the gills with sports and socialites and gamblers and poets, I never did spot the pilot Max Darby, who is of course known for his distaste of nightclubs almost as much as he is known for his aerial acrobatics. However, he has recently become known for his taste in Cordelia Grey . . . What is happening between the teetotaler and the girl behind The Vault’s success? Will we see them together again soon?

Cordelia’s fingers tightened around the edges of the paper as she took in a strange cocktail of pride and irritation. She allowed the columnist Claude Carrion to loiter at her place and drink for free because it was good business; her name had appeared regularly in his column since her arrival in New York, and this attention contributed in no small way to the success of The Vault. If there was an author of the myth of Cordelia Grey, it was him. Yet she had never really liked the man in the expensive, ill-fitting suit with the middle-parted hair and night-owl skin. And she knew that this kind of attention would only make it more difficult to see Max.

“You’re so lucky you get to walk around like anybody else, without having to worry about snooping writers or bodyguards!” she said as she folded up the newspaper and put it aside.

Letty stepped away from the mirror. She had been trying on a lipstick, and her mouth was a poppy color that made her eyes vividly blue. For a moment she regarded Cordelia sympathetically. But a mischievous smile soon spread over her lips, and she began to slink across the carpet, at first shimmying her shoulders and then leaping like a fawn, before waving her hands and transitioning into a wild little dance. By the time she reached the chair by the French doors, they had both broken out laughing.

“You can’t pretend with
, Cord,” Letty said, when she’d finished her performance and Cordelia had made room for her on the chair. “I know you secretly like all that fame-and-fortune business, even if you do pretend you’re not seeking any spotlight! It’s missing Max that’s bothering you, and you’ll see him soon enough. If I know you, you’ll find a way.”

As their giggles subsided, Cordelia let out a sigh. Letty was right, of course. The weekend had been long, and Cordelia had worked hard at The Vault, but now the week was new, and she was full of boundless energy. She could feel it in her bones that she was going to see Max any day now. If fate didn’t arrange things, she’d just see to it herself.

BOOK: The Lucky Ones
4.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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