Sunday, May 4, 2014

Daughter of the Demimonde - an Excerpt

The first book of The Demimonde Trilogy is now available on Amazon.  I typically post excerpts of the beginning of my books, but I wanted to share this one, as well.  This is the moment with Cathleen Ainsley, daughter of a notorious brothel owner, meets Agent Kane Malone, the man investigating allegations of human trafficking in the red light district.  He mistakenly believes that she works as one of her mother's prostitutes and is less proper than he probably should be.


     He sipped the amber colored liquid from his glass, noting that the color of his scotch matched one of the many shades of Cathleen’s hair. Holding the glass between his thumb and index finger, he swirled the contents and smiled to himself.
     “I understand that you’ve been looking for me.”
     Startled, he dropped the glass and leapt to his feet, but not before getting his lap sprayed with his spilled drink. The sound of the glass striking the hard wood of the hand crafted table echoed around the room, even above the sounds of the other men’s voices.
     She stood before him, her chin thrust into the air, whether out of pride or in an effort to meet his gaze, he couldn’t be sure.
     “You have freckles,” he greeted absently.
     “I am aware of that. What I am not aware of, Agent Malone, is what business you think you have with me.”
     She hadn’t expected him to be so tall. When she’d seen him at Hum Yow’s, he’d been hunched over, retrieving the bolt of fabric he had toppled to the floor. Her eyes dropped to the front of his wet pants. His clumsiness seemed to be a chronic problem.
     Meeting his eyes again, she caught both amusement and challenge in his hazel eyes, and when her pulse began racing, she comforted herself with the knowledge that Bear was only forty feet across the room. And in a matter of moments, he would be much closer, judging by his past protective behaviors.
     She cleared her throat in expectation.
     “I have been trying to track you down,” he explained, having regained his senses.
     “Yes. The question is why?”
     “I saw you at the Chinese silk store, and you caught my attention,” he began. He smiled disarmingly, increasing her sense of unease.
     She flicked a nonexistent piece of lint off of her sleeve, feigning disinterest. “I remember.” Her short, direct answers were her way of encouraging an explanation without giving away the tremor she felt threatening her voice. Her knees felt shaky, and she feared that she would drop if she didn’t sit down soon. Nevertheless, she urged herself to remain standing so that she could keep the tone professional for this particular conversation.
     “When I saw you enter the Artisan, I knew that I had to speak with you.”
     She narrowed her eyes suspiciously, assuming that talking wasn’t the only thing he wanted to do with her. Her mother’s business had taught her that much about men. Short of Bear and Tommy, she’d not met one yet who could be trusted to treat her as a human being. But to be fair, her mother and Bear had taken care to keep her from having direct interaction with too many members of the opposite gender. Nevertheless, the limited contact had not been reassuring.
     “I have been there the past two nights in hopes of meeting you, but you were not there either night. Did Justine tell you about me?”
     Rather than answer, she said, “I find it hard to believe that you were so entranced by me in Hum Yow’s that you have shamelessly been hunting me ever since. You strike me as a proud man.”
     He was a proud man. And he was insulted by her bold response. “‘Shamelessly’ seems an exaggeration.” His pride struck back. “If it was an attraction I felt, I wouldn’t want to speak with you. You are a whore and available at a price much more reasonable than the expense of a conversation, no?”
     She flinched and responded curtly, “Perhaps not.”
     Feeling guilty for having evidently offended her, he tried again. “Of course you are attractive. And I would happily purchase your services. I may yet.”
     She shifted uncomfortably and glanced back at Bear. He still stood behind the bar, but was glaring in their specific direction. His paying customers tried and failed to catch his attention as he undoubtedly was weighing the consequences of letting their conversation continue against the consequences of killing a federal agent.
     “Perhaps not,” she repeated with a touch of disgust in her tone.
     Malone continued, “To be honest, I am not in town to become a parlor house patron. I am in town for business. And I think that you could be a great help to me.” He reached out to gesture at the chair across from him, but accidentally brushed her fingertips with his own.
     He did not hear the slight gasp that she emitted, but found himself briefly distracted by the swift parting of her bright lips. She pulled her hand away as though burned and twisted her hands together uncomfortably. The new color in her cheeks was somehow both arousing and angelic, and Malone found that he—like Artan Murphy—suddenly wanted to protect this young woman. Even if it meant protecting her from himself.
     Cathleen glanced over her shoulder and silently begged her heart to slow down. She could feel the heat in her face and knew that she was humiliating herself. And a swift peek at Bear confirmed that she didn’t have much time to give Agent Malone her message.
     Bear had tossed his towel on the top of the bar and was moving to the opening that would allow him to join his customers on the more popular side of the bar.
     “I am not interested in helping you, Agent Malone,” she whispered quickly.
     “I haven’t even told you of my business,” he protested. He took his eyes off of her for the briefest of moments and concluded that he had only seconds before they were going to be interrupted.
     She, too, concluded that she was nearly out of time. “You are here in hopes of identifying any madams guilty of holding girls against their will or enticing them under false pretenses.”
     He stood silent, stunned by the accuracy of her conclusion.
     “And the reason I cannot help you, Agent Malone, is because my mother is not guilty of any such behaviors. In fact, I am fairly confident that no madam in Butte is guilty of these atrocities.”
     Her gaze was unwavering, a rare quality in a young woman of her age. He could only blame her chosen profession for her bold nature. But he could clearly see that she was serious and believed her claim.
     “Someone in Butte is definitely guilty. I have seen the advertisements myself. And given the nature of your relationship with the Artisan’s madam, you must understand why I can’t simply take your word. We are launching a full investigation of each of the parlor houses on Mercury Street, and some of the crib madams, as well.”
     She met his determined gaze, his warm hazel eyes meeting her gaslight blue ones. To her credit, she didn’t blink.
     A low rumbling caught the attention of both of them. “Cathleen,” Bear growled. “I thought you were waiting in the back.”
     She froze Kane with another look before turning and warmly patting the large man on the arm. “I’m going. I was just telling Agent Malone how fruitless his investigation into my mother is. Alas, he clearly cannot be swayed.”
     She turned on her heel and moved across the room.
     He admired the sway of her hips as she moved, but only until he realized that Artan Murphy was watching him watch her. He cleared his throat briefly. “I apologize for upsetting her.”
     The large beast of a man and the federal agent stared each other down with more ferocity than made sense. Finally, the large man’s stern face broke into a grin. “She’s not upset,” he informed him. “That’s her natural reaction to people.”
     Clearly, Kane concluded, it would take more to convince the stubborn woman to speak with him about her mother’s business. And even if Nora Ainsley was innocent, and that was a big “if,” the advertisement that the Bureau had uncovered suggested that another madam in Butte was guilty of human trafficking.
     He glanced at Murphy and found the large man was still smiling at him.
     “Are you going to kill me now?” he asked with a charming smile.
     Murphy threw his head back and laughed. “I’d like to,” he admitted. “But I honestly think it will be even more fun to watch that girl’s mother get her hands on you. Anything I could do to you would be a leisurely stroll down a sunlit beach compared to being ripped to shreds by Nora Ainsley. Nobody messes with her girls, especially not that one.” He laughed again and shook his head, putting a sympathetic hand on Kane’s shoulder. “Poor bastard.”