Shining a Spotlight on Before the Crown by Flora Harding #BeforeTheCrown #BookSpotlight @AuthorFlora @OneMoreChapter_
Hello Sunshines! I have the huge pleasure to be shining a spotlight on Before the Crown by Flora Harding. I am super excited to be sharing this gorgeous book with you all, I had the massive pleasure to receive an early copy from One More Chapter, and I can’t wait to share my review in the next few weeks with you all. But until then, I wanted to share a peek at what will be the love story of the summer. I hope you will love it as much as I do!
Before the Crown by Flora Harding
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: One More Chapter/Harper Collins
Release Date: 18th September 2020
The most page-turning and romantic historical novel of the year!
Before the crown there was a love story…
Windsor Castle, 1943
As war rages across the world, Princess Elizabeth comes face to face with the dashing naval officer she first met in London nine years before.
One of the youngest first lieutenants in the Royal Navy, Philip represents everything she has always been taught to avoid. Instability. Audacity. Adventure.
But when the king learns of their relationship, the suitability of the foreign prince is questioned by all at court.
He is the risk she has never been allowed to take. The risk not even the shadow of the crown will stop her from taking…
Step through the palace gates and discover a captivating historical novel of royal secrets and forbidden love exploring the tempestuous courtship between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in the wake of WWII.
Before the crown, there was a love story…
If you love the sound of this book, then why not request a review copy over at Netgalley?
About the Author
I started writing to fund a PhD on waste disposal in the Elizabethan city and have been juggling fact and fiction ever since. I write across various fiction genres and have written a number of histories and guides, too, on subjects ranging from cathedrals and car distributors to royal palaces. I’m a walker, a traveller, a cook and a card player, and I live in the centre of York, a historic city in the north of England, although I spend a lot of time yearning for the big skies and open horizons of moorland, coast or desert. Flora can be found on Twitter @AuthorFlora
If you are a Romance and/or Historical author and would like a free Book Promo/Spotlight which will feature on the blog and across Chicks, Rogues and Scandals social media, then do get in touch via the Contact Me page quoting ‘Book Promo’
Shining a Spotlight on The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs #TheLostAndFoundBookShop #BookSpotlight @susanwiggs
Hello Sunshines! I have the huge pleasure to be shining a spotlight on The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wigg, I am super excited about this book, I am reviewing this as apart of a release week push in July, but I really wanted to share this gorgeous book with you all now. I am sure you will love it as much as I do, and I hope you will all pop back in July to read my review.
The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs
Genre: Women’s Fiction / Publisher: William Morrow/ Harper Collins / Release: 7th July 2020 (Amazon UK says it’s to be released on 17th September)
Natalie Harper wants to sell the bookshop she’s inherited to pay for her grandfather’s care, but he refuses to acquiesce, so she decides to renovate instead. As she chats with the young daughter brought along by the contractor and delights in the artefacts discovered in the walls, Natalie’s life starts to light up again.
If you love the sound of this then why not request a review copy on Edelweiss – The Lost and Found Bookshop
For those who don’t know, Edelweiss is just like Netgalley, if you are approved you will receive an early review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Praise for Susan Wigg
“The great Susan Wiggs writes with grace, insight and wisdom about the things that matter.”―Adriana Trigiani bestselling author of The Shoemaker’s Wife
‘This is Susan Wiggs at her best. I devoured the book, turning the pages so fast I got a papercut!’ DEBBIE MACOMBER, New York Times best-selling author
‘Love, loss, passion and everything in between… I love Susan Wiggs’ novels so much.’ JENNY COLGAN
‘A wonderful read, fun and wise and absolutely delicious!’ NANCY THAYER, New York Times-bestselling author of The Island House
About the Author
Susan Wiggs’s life is all about family, friends…and fiction. She lives at the water’s edge on an island in Puget Sound, and she commutes to her writers’ group in a 17-foot motorboat. She serves as author liaison for Field’s End, a literary community on Bainbridge Island, Washington, bringing inspiration and instruction from the world’s top authors to her seaside community. (See www.fieldsend.org) She’s been featured in the national media, including NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” and is a popular speaker locally and nationally.
According to Publishers Weekly, Wiggs writes with “refreshingly honest emotion,” and the Salem Statesman Journal adds that she is “one of our best observers of stories of the heart [who] knows how to capture emotion on virtually every page of every book.” Booklist characterizes her books as “real and true and unforgettable.” She is the recipient of three RITA (sm) awards and four starred reviews from Publishers Weekly for her books. The Winter Lodge and Passing Through Paradise have appeared on PW’s annual “Best Of” lists. Several of her books have been listed as top Booksense picks and optioned as feature films. Her novels have been translated into more than two dozen languages and have made national bestseller lists, including the USA Today, Washington Post and New York Times lists.
The author is a former teacher, a Harvard graduate, an avid hiker, an amateur photographer, a good skier and terrible golfer, yet her favorite form of exercise is curling up with a good book. Readers can learn more on the web at www.susanwiggs.com and on her lively blog at www.susanwiggs.wordpress.com
If you are a Romance and/or Historical author and would like a free Book Promo/Spotlight which will feature on the blog and across Chicks, Rogues and Scandals social media, then do get in touch via the Contact Me page quoting ‘Book Promo’
Hello Sunshines, I hope you are all safe and well?! I the pleasure to be sharing my review of this fascinating book with you all; The Queen Secret by Karen Harper. So settle in, grab that cupp and I hope you enjoy it.
The Queen’s Secret (A Novel of England’s World War II Queen) by Karen Harper
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers / William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 28th May 2020
If you love Jennifer Robson or The Crown you will love New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper’s novel about Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.
1939. As the wife of the King George VI and the mother of the future queen, Elizabeth—“the queen mother”—shows a warm, smiling face to the world. But it’s no surprise that Hitler himself calls her the “Most Dangerous Woman in Europe.” For behind that soft voice and kindly demeanor is a will of steel.
Two years earlier, George was thrust onto the throne when his brother Edward abdicated, determined to marry his divorced, American mistress Mrs. Simpson. Vowing to do whatever it takes to make her husband’s reign a success, Elizabeth endears herself to the British people, and prevents the former king and his brazen bride from ever again setting foot in Buckingham Palace.
Elizabeth holds many powerful cards, she’s also hiding damaging secrets about her past and her provenance that could prove to be her undoing.
In this riveting novel of royal secrets and intrigue, Karen Harper lifts the veil on one of the world’s most fascinating families, and how its “secret weapon” of a matriarch maneuvered her way through one of the most dangerous chapters of the century.
Praise for Karen Harper
“If you thought the Queen Mum was a benign, plump, cheery old lady, think again. In Karen Harper’s novel she is tough, determined, and fabulously gossipy. Reading this novel is like sitting next to an indiscreet royal insider at a private dinner.” (Gill Paul, bestselling author of The Lost Daughter)
“Harper’s enchanting latest (after American Duchess) explores the private life of Queen Elizabeth, formerly Elizabeth Bowes Lyon…Harper’s evocative prose and able plotting make each twist and turn believable. This displays Harper’s mastery at fictional profiles of prominent 20th-century women.” (Publishers Weekly)
“…readers will appreciate the Queen Mother’s story as the woman behind the crown is given a chance to shine on her own with all her faults and glory.” (Booklist)
Praise for American Duchess: “Harper’s latest immerses readers in British high society, with intrigue and gossip around every corner…this tender, well researched novel lets readers see the economic, social, and political highlights of the nineteenth-century Gilded Age brought to life through Consuelo Vanderbilt’s eyes.” (Booklist)
Praise for American Duchess: “This absorbing and evocative tale is an excellent reminder of what women have long sacrificed over the centuries for family honor and duty, and how they navigated their circumstances and influence to change the world for the better.” (Heather Webb, international bestselling author of Last Christmas in Paris)
Praise for The It Girls: “The It Girls is a glorious romp through the lives and loves of the scintillating Sutherland sisters…. Readers who enjoy historical fiction are in for a treat!” (Hazel Gaynor, New York Times bestselling author of The Cottingley Secret and The Girl Who Came Home)
Praise for The Royal Nanny: “The Royal Nanny is a gem, revealing that those forgotten in history are often the true treasures.”(Erika Robuck, national bestselling author of Hemingway’s Girl)
“The Windsors continue to fascinate as we watch a new generation grow up. Harper’s novel draws attention to the heroism and strength of the royal family during a trying time in history. A strong selection for those interested in a more personal imagining of royal life at that time.” (Library Journal)
I was instantly fascinated by this, I was intrigued by the back blurb and was hooked by the story completely which is a little surprising seeing as – and I will be totally honest here – and say I am not the biggest royalist, I admire certain members and I love reading about historical royals. I must be one of the only people in the world who didn’t sit down to watch ‘that’ royal wedding (come on, you all know which one I am talking about) and yet saying that, there is something about the 30’s/40’s generation that fascinates me. Maybe it is the whole King abdicating to live the with the woman he loves or maybe I’ve watched The King’s Speech far too many times, whatever I do like reading stories from this era and getting a different perspective and view on the stories that we all know and this one is great.
The Queens Secret did surprise me a lot, from what I have read about the Queen’s Mother, I always saw her as a rather stuck in her ways yet feisty woman who liked a bit of a tipple, and maybe even a little manipulative towards Bertie. From what I have read about her, she did have a tendency to as the back blurb says; ‘manoeuvre’ her husband around, but seeing as her husband had just become King – a role he was never destined for, she maybe had to manoeuvre him around to get the monarchy moving again, who knows after all the first in line to the throne; an older brother; Edward did abdicate leaving the country on the cusp of war and scandal in his wake – I think we all know what happened there don’t we? A true love story if ever there was one!
I grew up with stories from my late grandmother who always thought Elizabeth; the Queen Mother was the backbone, how she was the real thinker of the Royal family, that she was highly influential, then there is the kind and caring side; her visiting the people of London who were being blitzed day after day, these people had lost everything. I got all of that from this book, but I also got an intelligent, cunning, calculating, sobering and an actually a sad, lonely and at the time a miserable woman. And I do think that my grandmother assumptions are somewhat carried into this book, which is a little spooky.
I really enjoyed this, I liked the story some of which I already knew from other sources but there many aspects that were relatively new to me. The characters are engaging, likeable and tend to stick more or less to how we know them to have been. The writing is fluid and steady, even though I did feel at times the tone was a little repetitive, there are parts that do tend to repeat on itself, for example, it is really pushed at the reader just how miserable her life was and that of her past which had a hand in creating the woman she became. I totally get that the author wants to bring across as much of the personality of the woman behind the Queen Mother we know, but as a reader who just wants to settle down and read a what is essentially a good book, I would rather make my own assertions of the characters – again just my honest opinion, other readers may see it differently.
Most of parts of the story I had known or heard already, which is inevitable being British as all WW2 and Royal history is taught from a young age in one way or another, that is one thing we Brit’s are pretty good at we do tend to keep our pasts alive by re-telling stories – unless that is just my family? Yet there were genuine surprises, such as I didn’t really know just how much of an influence Elizabeth had and how other dignitaries saw or even that she had this famous reputation, I thought that was fascinating.
I loved the small details, things that we Brits have knows since childhood, things that we take for granted but little snippets of history that maybe aren’t as widely know around the world as they are here; such as how Londoner’s took refuge in the subways during the Blitz, at one time there were huge families, neighbours friends all living down there, as soon as the siren sounded that’s where Londoners went and it was the same in other parts of the country too. I loved that detail and it is something that really fascinates me, the real side to the war, real peoples tales. Yet, again it makes me think of my own family history of how our local chippy was bombed and how my grandmother used to take the chickens and the dogs into the Anderson shelter, while her mother refused to leave the house. And in certain places in the country people can still visit those old underground bunkers that served as refuges for those being driven from their homes by doodle-bugs and the Blitz. That side to the story really spoke to me, it really makes the reader picture just what Britain was like during the war.
Overall this is an intriguing story, full of historical fact, If you love anything to do with the Royal family and WW2 then this is a must-read.
This was a complimentary copy via the publisher, which I voluntarily reviewed. Thank you, Bianca, at Harper Collins / William Marrow.
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author KAREN HARPER is a former Ohio State University instructor and high school English teacher. Published since 1982, she writes contemporary suspense and historical novels about real British women. Two of her recent Tudor-era books were bestsellers in the UK and Russia. Harper won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for Dark Angel, and her novel Shattered Secrets was judged one of the best books of the year by Suspense Magazine.
Hello, Sunshines, I hope you are all safe and well? I have the huge pleasure to be sharing my review of; The German Heiress by Anika Scott. So grab a cuppa and let me tell you about this fabulous book.
The German Heiress by Anika Scott
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Women’s Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers/ William Morrow Paperbacks
For readers of The Alice Network and The Lost Girls of Paris, an immersive, heart-pounding debut about a German heiress on the run in post-World War II Germany.
Clara Falkenberg, once Germany’s most eligible and lauded heiress, earned the nickname “the Iron Fräulein” during World War II for her role operating her family’s ironworks empire. It’s been nearly two years since the war ended and she’s left with nothing but a false identification card and a series of burning questions about her family’s past. With nowhere else to run to, she decides to return home and take refuge with her dear friend, Elisa.
Narrowly escaping a near-disastrous interrogation by a British officer who’s hell-bent on arresting her for war crimes, she arrives home to discover the city in ruins, and Elisa missing. As Clara begins tracking down Elisa, she encounters Jakob, a charismatic young man working on the black market, who, for his own reasons, is also searching for Elisa. Clara and Jakob soon discover how they might help each other—if only they can stay ahead of the officer determined to make Clara answer for her actions during the war.
Propulsive, meticulously researched, and action-fueled, The German Heiress is a mesmerizing page-turner that questions the meaning of justice and morality, deftly shining the spotlight on the often-overlooked perspective of Germans who were caught in the crossfire of the Nazi regime and had nowhere to turn.
Praise for Anika Scott
“Fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz will be fascinated by Scott’s portrayal of post-war Germany.”–Woman’s Magazine (UK)
“The novel delivers interesting discussions on guilt, redemption, and the actions of ordinary people in extraordinary times.”–Booklist
“Scott’s magnetic debut follows one woman’s quest for survival amid the devastation of post-WWII Germany… Scott’s narrative is embellished with realistic depictions of rubble-filled German cities, scavenging residents, and moral questions about Clara’s family ties to the Nazi regime. Fans of WWII fiction will be intrigued by Scott’s exploration of how war changes the moral compass of its victims.”–Publishers Weekly
“Meticulously researched and plotted like a noir thriller, The German Heiress tells a different story of WWII– of characters grappling with their own guilt and driven by the question of what they could have done to change the past.”–Jessica Shattuck, New York Times bestselling author of The Women in the Castle
“Scott transports readers back to Germany in the aftermath of this war, showing both the heartbreak and heroism of a once powerful businesswoman known as the Iron Fraulein. Clara Falkenberg’s confusion and compassion, the courage and corruption of those she loved–all of it resonated deeply and led me to ask, what would I have done if I were forced into her tragic position? It’s impossible to know, of course, but this remarkable novel made me dig even deeper, longing to be resilient like Clara in the face of evil…a story that will stick with you for a lifetime!”
–Melanie Dobson, award-winning author of Catching the Wind and Memories of Glass
“Anika Scott’s finely drawn characters in The German Heiress bring to life not only the struggle to rise from the ashes of war, but also the depth of resolve often required to gain redemption. Illuminating and beautifully rendered.”
—Susan Meissner, bestselling author of The Last Year of the War
“Anika Scott’s riveting novel, The German Heiress, compellingly explores the nature of innocence and guilt, and the human desire for redemption. A terrific book with historical detail skillfully woven into the fabric of the story. An absolute must-read for all fans of World War II fiction!” —David Gillham, New York Times bestselling author of City of Women and Annelies
“I loved [The German Heiress]. It’s a special novel that opens one’s mind to aspects of history we on the “winning” side have given little thought to, and a moving story of courage and everyday heroism rising to meet unbearable challenges.”–Alex Marwood, international bestseller and Edgar and Macavity Award winning author of The Wicked Girls
“The kind of novel we need now more than ever…The German Heiress achieves what the best historical fiction can, asking us to see the past, and then pushing us to see ourselves in that past, demanding: Who would you have been then? What would you have done? Unflinching and absorbing, The German Heiress does not let you look away.”–Sarah Blake, New York Times bestselling author of The Postmistress and The Guest Book
“What a great debut! I loved this book, especially since it looks at the aftermath of war from a rare perspective: the appalling suffering that Germans faced in their devastated cities after 1945, and the guilt of those who’d followed the Nazi rules. It still haunts me, days after finishing it.”–Liz Trenow, New York Times bestselling author of The Poppy Factory and The Silk Weaver
Well, this is marvellous, what an incredible debut! If I had read this without knowing beforehand that this was Anika’s first book then I wouldn’t have believed it – in fact even now I am still astounded – this is pure class
I have read a lot of books set in this era, n fact I was reading ww2 historical fiction before I found romance, there is something about this era which really captures the imagination especially when it is so flawlessly written like this is.
The majority of the book I have read has been focused more on the allies, the British, the French resistance and what happened during the war itself around Europe, it is so rare to find a book where the reader sees the story through the perception of Germans who were sort of stuck in the middle. I do think that certain aspects of that war have been lost in time, those stories have been left to fade into history – which is understandable with the horrors that happened during that bloody terrible war, but a little sad too that there are innocent voices who haven’t been heard. Thank goodness for gifted authors such as Anika Scott for bringing the voices of the likes of Clara Falkenberg to the ears of the world.
The German Heiress is an amazing book; full of intrigue, drama, danger, surprises, twists and turns, a beautifully constructed and daring plot which keeps you guessing throughout. I can guarantee you will be hooked from page one, and that you may end up reading the entirety of this book in one go. There are some unsettling and uncomfortable moments, but this is a WW2 novel so it’s to be expected.
Clara Falkenberg who was once destined to be the most sought after and wealthiest heiress of the biggest ironworks in all of Germany now is living under an alias after she fled her home and everything she knows as she was discovered sneaking extra rations into to help feed her workers, now she must live in the shadows in fear of her life and of the Nazi’s, she was helped by a friend; Elissa.
The war has been over for the last two years, Clara is no safer than she was before, she has returned to her home to find the truth about her families past, it is once arriving that she finds her much loved friends; Elissa has disappeared which starts off a journey of danger and discovery as she tries to find the answers to her burning questions, find her friends and try to evade capture from a ruthless British officer who thinks she is guilty of war crimes.
Clara is an interesting character, I was in two frames of mind about her though, in one moment I liked her for her bravery and trying to the right thing by feeding extra rations to the workers and then the next she is an untrustworthy war criminal, in those moments I desperately wanted to see justice done for those who couldn’t speak for themselves.
This book really pounds at the emotion, it is a complex mixture of feelings as you read. The plot isn’t taxing, it is very easy to read yet it does pull you in, it’s compelling reading. The writing is solid, there is a lot of research that has been put into this book.
I applaud Anika for writing such a gripping, engaging, thought-provoking and illuminating tale which certainly is set apart from all others that are set in this era. This is a stunning debut, and I know from the quality of this book Anika Scott with have a long and successful writing career and I personally cannot wait to read more from her.
This was a complimentary copy via the publisher, which I voluntarily and honestly reviewed. Thank you, Bianca, at Harper Collins / Willam Morrow
About the Author
Anika Scott was a journalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Chicago Tribune before moving to Germany, where she currently lives in Essen with her husband and two daughters.
She has worked in radio, taught journalism seminars at an eastern German university, and written articles for European and American publications. Originally from Michigan, she grew up in a car industry family. This is her first novel.
He’s been a bad, bad rake—and it takes a governess to teach him a lesson
The accidental governess.
After her livelihood slips through her fingers, Alexandra Mountbatten takes on an impossible post: transforming a pair of wild orphans into proper young ladies. However, the girls don’t need discipline. They need a loving home. Try telling that to their guardian, Chase Reynaud: duke’s heir in the streets and devil in the sheets. The ladies of London have tried—and failed—to make him settle down. Somehow, Alexandra must reach his heart… without risking her own.
The infamous rake.
Like any self-respecting libertine, Chase lives by one rule: no attachments. When a stubborn little governess tries to reform him, he decides to give her an education—in pleasure. That should prove he can’t be tamed. But Alexandra is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. She refuses to see him as a lost cause. Soon the walls around Chase’s heart are crumbling… and he’s in danger of falling, hard.
This is book two in the Girl Meets Duke series, and it is just as wonderfully romantic and engrossing as the previous. Which is exactly what we all have come to expect from Tessa Dare, her skill at crafting a well-rounded, articulate and mesmerizing story is flawless and incomparable. Like every other Tessa Dare book I have read, this is amazing.
This time we meet down on her luck Clock Setter; Alexandra Mountbatten, who is a little down on her luck she has a handful of client’s but not enough to really be comfortable so when she organizes to tend to the clocks at one of the major houses in London she thinks that this will be the job to finally put her on her feet. It just happens that the lord of the manor is the very man she fell head over heels for in an accidental meeting in a book store, he however confuses her presence there as the new governess for his wild wards. One thing leads to another and after an incident she ends up faced with an uncertain future. She reluctantly takes Chase up on his offer of the post of Governess, even though she knows nothing about children.
Alex is a wonderful character, she real pulls you in and you instantly like her, she is warm, head-strong and has a resilient nature, she is hardworking and caring which you really see when she is working her magic on the stubborn, set in his ways Chase. I really like their relationship, he is supremely sexy and a little distant towards life and the way he is so taken with the little, caring Alex is so loving.
Chase wanted nothing more than to wile away his days in pleasure, no attachments, no responsibilities that is until he becomes the reluctant guardian of two practically feral children. I mean it too, these two little girls are wild and unruly, they repeatedly murder their little doll, so they can have a funeral for it every day. Beneath that wild behaviour there are two vulnerable and scared little girls who are confused by what has happened to them. Alex is really the making of them and their randy and somewhat broody guardian; Chase. He see’s himself as nothing but a reckless libertine, who is way out of his depth especially when he meets the intelligent, spirited and no-nonsense Alex.
I love the moment when Alex and Chase first meet, in a book shop. It is very normal, and a lot of people can relate to that moment, Alex has a bit of a tongue tied, clumsy moment in front of a devilishly attractive man with the greenest eyes. I can relate to that, and I can relate to Alex. She is a wonderfully down to earth and practical woman wo knows that life isn’t all beds of roses, it is hard, people struggle, and she is living proof of that. Ms Dare has this gift at creating ordinary, hardworking women who just do what they have to survive, and Alex is no different.
This is what I love about Tessa Dare she grab’s hold of your imagination and takes you on a delightful and endearing journey as we watch two completely different character’s fall in love. The Governess Game is another win, it is beautifully written, captivating with a mesmerizing and tender romance wrapped up with a thrilling and breath-taking story that will engage and enthral readers.
Utterly fabulous, I cannot recommend this highly enough!
This was an ARC copy via the publisher in exchange for an honest review
The Governess Game is out today and can be purchased from Amazon.
Jazz may be king, but heiress Mae Malveaux rules society with an angel’s smile and a heart of stone. She made up her mind long ago that nobody would decide her fate. Marriage, money, freedom… Mae wants complete control. To have the pleasure she craves, control is paramount, especially control of the men Mae attracts like moths to a flame.
Valiant Jackson is accustomed to getting what he wants—and he’s wanted Miss Malveaux for years. The door finally opens for him when Mae is slighted by her former lover Frank Washington, and she strikes a bargain: seduce her virginal young cousin, Cecily, who is now engaged to Frank, a man who values Cecily’s innocence above all else. If Val is successful, his reward will be Mae.
Unbeknownst to Mae, Val seeks another, even more valuable prize. Elizabeth Townsend is fiercely loyal to her church and her civil rights attorney husband. She is certain that there is something redeemable in Mr. Jackson. Little does she know her most unforgivable mistake will be Val’s greatest triumph. But Mae and Val are unprepared for what can happen between a woman and man when the thrill of the chase spirals wildly out of control.
Scott deftly tackles themes of love, faith, lost innocence, betrayal, and redemption in this stunningly original novel. UNFORGIVABLE LOVE introduces readers to both the café society and upper crust Harlem and takes readers from the grand town homes on Lenox Avenue to the lush woods of Anselm, North Carolina, in a whirlwind of passion.
Harlem, May 1947
Mae loved herself with a ferocity that came of feeding too hard and too long on her own exquisite beauty. She could smile in the rearview mirror of her car and see the alabaster beam reflected back from her picture in advertisements for Malveaux’s Magic Hair Pomade plastered on every billboard and in the windows of every drugstore starting from West 53rd Street, going all the way up Manhattan and through Harlem for the next hundred blocks.
Even now she gazed happily into her vanity as her maid, Justice, applied the French pomade and arranged the dark folds of her hair into thick Victory curls perfectly framing her face. She never used the concoction her mother had created and made famous. Tired of having it smeared on her head since childhood, Mae had thrown away her own grease-filled powder blue tin in the days after her mother’s death.
She held out her wrists and Justice dabbed on fragrant dots from the crystal bottle of Caron Fleurs de Rocaille perfume. Mae’s cold-creamed skin glowed bright and her eyes danced with the sparkle of a girl, making her seem younger than her thirty-three years. She knew this feature made her irresistible. Mysteriously, each man thought he had discovered this light for himself and believed only he could see it in her. They never noticed her well-hidden contempt for their arrogance.
Mae was vigilant about her expressions. She learned long ago the faces she wore would always be more essential than any dress she put on, no matter if it were a Christian Dior or a Pierre Balmain. Her beauty was a formidable instrument because people liked to stare at her as they would a motion picture actress and, in the same vein, she could tell them any story she chose to project and they would believe it. So she practiced the lift of her cheeks, the turnings of her mouth, the shapes of her lips, and the conjured emotions that she flitted across her eyes.
Her masterstroke came when she could wipe her face smooth and present a look of calm so luminous it bewitched her admirers into claiming her a goddess.
In rare instances, though, she suffered a rebellion to her visage of serenity. It was an errant twitch seated in the muscles of her lower-left eyelid. She always felt it right before it surfaced. It was as though the weight of all the folly the eye had beheld was suddenly too much for it.
She saw how, though small and fast, it unmasked her disdain. Not everyone would notice, but someone less foolhardy—someone like Val Jackson—would never miss such a telling detail.
Regina, her white Polish maid, brought in Mae’s long, satin Dior that had arrived from Paris the previous day. Mae stood, stepped into the gown, and enjoyed the feel of the gold fabric flowing down her body in a shimmering cascade. She replaced one hand on Justice’s shoulder and lifted her right foot with the grace of a ballerina. Regina took hold of Mae’s ankle, guided her into leather sling back pumps,then pulled the strap through the buckle.
Too tight. Too tight.
“Ouch!” Mae lit out with her right hand, landing a blow upon the woman’s earand side of her face. Regina’s arm rose in defense.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
Mae looked away while she finished. The stacked heel added nearly two inches to her height so she had to sit again. This allowed Justice to fasten the necklace of marquise-cut diamonds while Regina clasped the diamond-and-platinum bracelet around Mae’s thin wrist.
Mae occupied the largest brownstone on Sugar Hill. Designed by the noted architect Branford Waite, it featured a double width façade and a broad stoop from the front door to the street. Perfect white shades on the windows muted thesun’s glare during the day but let in plenty of light.
The flower boxes on the ledges contained enough nicotiana, tuberose, and alyssum so their combined sweet fragrance would greet Mae each time she walked out the door.
That night she came gliding out of the building like a new moon rising. All down the block she knew quick hands snapped shutters closed than reopened them a crack so their owners could spy on her floating down the steps to where her man,Lawrence, held open the door to her forest-green Packard. She knew this because she knew exactly how her world was situated—how every single person thought,including and especially what they thought of her. She choreographed each step,each motion, and she moved through Harlem exactly as she pleased because of it.
What good was money otherwise? She laughed at the predictability of society and how no one but her seemed to understand how to wield this delicious power. And since her mother died, and then her own husband, Mae reveled in the added sweet freedom of answering to no one.
She settled into the caramel cushions of the car’s backseat. Lawrence steered in the direction of the Swan, her chosen nightclub. Mae knew in particular how it would be there. Lately the bandleader would make sure they didn’t play Duke Ellington’s gorgeous new piece, “Lady of the Lavender Mist,” her favorite, unless she was in the room and ready to dance. Her usual party would be seated and waiting at her table. The air already hummed with the expectancy of an unseasonably warm Saturday night. The scene was set. It only needed her to make it come alive.
Before Val Jackson had left for the Swan he’d sat in his office above his own club,the Diamond. The handsome walnut clock on the wall struck the half hour: nine thirty. He felt the bass throbbing in the floorboards under his feet. Half of Harlem danced beneath his good graces tonight but Val, pulling on his crisp white tuxedo shirt, thought only of Elizabeth Townsend, who was quietly situated at his aunt Rose’s Westchester estate. She would be getting ready for bed about now.
His aunt always insisted on dinner at six—ridiculously early. Then she and Elizabeth would walk in the rose garden. Auntie turned in well before nine and that’s when Elizabeth wandered the great house alone, sometimes reading in the library. Her husband called each night at nine, an annoying detail. Then she would dress in her night-clothes, a thin cotton gown sleeveless, the maid Annie had said and sit on the balcony outside her room and gaze up into the sky before going to bed.
One night the housekeeper thought she heard Elizabeth praying out there.
Val fastened the silver cuff links at his wrists and recited Elizabeth’s routine to himself twice more as he finished dressing. He knew all the details, thanks to his man Sebastian’s unfailing ability to bribe just the right people in his aunt’s household. Elizabeth would be in bed by ten p.m. sharp; that’s what the latest report had said. He loved the potential of those two succulent hours between eight and ten. Just now, in May, they would be filled with air so thick with humidity no one’s mind would want the trouble of thinking straight. The end of a hot summer day was when a woman’s guard might be down just enough to entertain latent thoughts.
But that’s what he enjoyed about this particular conquest.
Elizabeth Townsend didn’t have any latent, smoldering desires. He had watched her long enough to know this, seen her loving eyes trained on her straight-as-a-board husband and her arm looped through his.
Val would change that. He knew he would be the one to light the match, and whatever thoughts burned in her from their would be entirely his own creation. For a few sweet moments he paused and allowed himself the pleasure of imagining Elizabeth in her bed, her bare skin sliding between the cotton of her nightgown and the famously soft sheets his aunt’s home was known for.
The prospect made him ache with satisfaction.
A long, slow smile ignited from one corner of his mouth and spread to the other as he sat down behind his desk and leaned back in the enormous burgundy leather chair. Was this what Satchel Paige felt like, coming to the mound to meet afresh opponent after so many years? Was he rolling in the life of it, so excited that there was still someone worth pursuing even after he had bedded and tasted the best? Elizabeth Townsend was so damn perfect not one of these pants down, legs up women easily charmed by his name alone.
He would savor Elizabeth Towns end when the time came and it would be so fine the streets of Harlem would want to open up and swallow him, engulfing him in praise and awe.
The butler answered so fast it was as though he’d come at Val’s very thought.Without a word, he took his employer’s left hand and, with a silver file, smoothed the nails and cleaned underneath them.
“Any news?” Val used his right hand to remove a Montecristo cigar from the mahogany humidor on his desk. Sebastian pulled a lighter from his pocket and lit it. The smoke encircled Val’s head like a gentle fog and the spicy wood aroma filled the office as Val settled into his feel-good body for the night.
“Miss Malveaux, they say, will be at the Swan, sir.”
Val drew on the cigar with a long, deep breath. Nice. He and his wayward love would play their game tonight. There was nothing better than when he and Mae gotto perform before an audience.
Only one question remained—who would be their targets?
About the Author
Sophfronia Scott hails from Lorain, Ohio. She was a writer and editor at Timeand People magazines before publishing her first novel All I Need to Get By. Her short stories and essays have appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, NewYorkTimes.com, Killens Review of Arts & Letters, Ruminate magazine, Saranac Review, Numéro Cinq, Barnstorm Literary Journal, and Sleet magazine. She lives in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, with her husband and son.