Deadly Illusions

Deadly Illusions

3.8 16
by Brenda Joyce

View All Available Formats & Editions

Irrepressible heiress and intrepid sleuth Francesca Cahill moves from her own glittering world of Fifth Avenue to the teeming underbelly of society, a place of pride, passions…and sometimes deadly perversion.

Despite the misgivings of her fiancé, Calder Hart, Francesca cannot turn away from a threat that is terrorizing the tenement


Irrepressible heiress and intrepid sleuth Francesca Cahill moves from her own glittering world of Fifth Avenue to the teeming underbelly of society, a place of pride, passions…and sometimes deadly perversion.

Despite the misgivings of her fiancé, Calder Hart, Francesca cannot turn away from a threat that is terrorizing the tenement neighborhood of Lower Manhattan. A madman has attacked three women, but while the first two victims survived, the third is found dead. All the victims are impoverished but beautiful Irishwomen—andFrancesca fears that her dear friends Maggie Kennedy and Gwen O'Neil could be next.

Soon she is working with her former love, police commissioner Rick Bragg—Calder's half brother and worst rival. But even as Calder's jealous passions leave his relationship with Francesca teetering on the brink, Francesca is frantically on the killer's trail, certain the Slasher will strike again, afraid she will be too late.…

Product Details

Publication date:
A Francesca Cahill Novel , #1
Sold by:
Sales rank:
File size:
647 KB

Read an Excerpt

New York City Tuesday, April 22, 1902 5:00 p.m.

The crime scene was a gruesome one, indeed.

Chilled, Francesca Cahill stared at the woman. The victim was clad only in her corset, chemise and drawers, lying in a pool of blood the same dark red-brown color as her hair. Shivers swept up and down Francesca's spine, shivers that had nothing to do with the temperature of the day, as it was warm and sunny outside, a perfect spring day.

Not that one would ever guess that fact from this tenement flat. The railroad apartment that Francesca had so boldly entered was long and narrow, consisting of a single room. A window at each end let in some light, but not much, as the brick building just a few feet behind this one blocked out much of the daylight. At the flat's far end was the victim's bed, where she lay in her underclothes. Francesca stood in the doorway, the dark, dank corridor behind her. Between her and the victim were so many signs of a vital if impoverished life—a small sofa, the muddy-hued fabric torn and ripped, a faded and torn throw rug upon which sat a pail of water, as if the victim had been soaking her feet before bed. Beyond the small salon area, there was a rickety square table and two equally despairing chairs, one with a leg tied together. In the kitchen's area, there was a wood counter covered with some stacked plates and utensils, a wood-burning stove and a sink containing a pot and some other items. In the other direction, behind Francesca, there was a police sawhorse in the doorway of the flat. An officer had placed a Do Not Cross sign upon it.

A man carefully viewed the body. Portly, of medium height, his suit shabby and tweed, Francesca recognized him instantly. She coughed to make her presence known and started forward, her navy blue skirts sweeping around her, tendrils of blond hair escaping her chignon and smart little navy blue hat. In her gloved hands, she clutched a purse.

He whirled. "Miz Cahill!" he cried, clearly surprised to find her there in the apartment.

She smiled warmly, determined not to be ousted from the crime scene although this was not her case, as she had no client requiring her to investigate this murder. "Inspector Newman, good day. Although from the look of things, this has not been a good day for the victim." She cast another glance at the dead woman, who appeared, at this closer range, to be in her early twenties. She had been a pretty woman. Newman had closed her eyes.

He met her halfway. Flushing, a sheen of perspiration on his forehead, he said, "Are you on this case, Miz Cahill? Is the c'mish with you?"

Her heart did a little flip. She hadn't seen the police commissioner in weeks, not really. Passing him in the hall of Bellevue Hospital the times she had planned to visit his wife did not count. "I'm afraid I am alone. Does this appear to be the work of the Slasher?" she asked, her gaze drawn to the victim as a moth is drawn to candlelight.

Newman blinked. "Her throat was cut, Miz Cahill, like them first two. But this one, well, she's dead. To my eye, it looks similar to the first two victims. Of course, until the coroner has examined the body, we cannot be sure."

Francesca nodded gravely, her gaze briefly on Newman. If the newspapers were to be believed—and Francesca knew very well one could not always believe what the dailies reported— there was a pattern here. According to the Tribune, the first two victims had been young, pretty and Irish. The victims, however, had not been murdered, but merely had their throats slashed and were understandably traumatized. But the second slashing was sensational enough to warrant a headline. Of course, this third woman was dead, so maybe there was no connection. But Francesca did not believe that for a moment.

She had learned since embarking on her profession of criminal investigation that she had very accurate instincts. They shrieked at her now. The Slasher was at work here—and the stakes had suddenly changed.

Murder was now the name of the game.

And that most definitely made the case her affair—as people she cared about lived two doors down. "Do we know her name?" she asked softly, noting the way the woman lay. Her arms were flung out, her head turned to the side. There had been a struggle. She felt certain that the dead woman was also Irish.

"Yes. Her name is Margaret Cooper." He also turned to stare at the victim.

Francesca started at the name, which was no more Irish than her own. She was surprised she had been wrong, but there was still a pattern. She went grimly forward but Newman suddenly detained her. "Miz Cahill? Should you be here? I mean—" and he blushed crimson "—this is a police matter and if the c'mish is not here, I am not quite certain you should be."

Francesca didn't hesitate. "I am officially on this case, Inspector, and we both know the commissioner will be supportive of that." She smiled, at once friendly and firm. But she no longer knew just how supportive of her investigative work Rick Bragg would be. So much had changed—and so quickly.

"Well, I guess I won't have to decide!" Newman cried in relief as footsteps sounded behind them from the hallway.

Francesca didn't have to turn to know who it was. She tensed as the police commissioner strode past the sawhorse and into the room.

He was a handsome, charismatic man. Once, she had thought him the most handsome man on the planet, but that had been before she had learned of his estranged wife and his on-again, off-again marriage. Rick Bragg stood a bit over six feet tall, his stride long and purposeful, his shoulders broad, the brown duster he wore for motoring swinging about him. His complexion was dark, his hair golden, and no one looking at him could mistake his air of authority and purpose. In fact, the night they had met at a ball held by her family, in spite of the crowd she had seen him the moment he entered the room. But that felt like a different lifetime, and she had been a different woman, oh yes.

Their gazes met and held.

She realized she had bit her lip and that her fists were balled up. Her pulse had also accelerated. "Hello," she said, trying not to be nervous. But it was hard. Once, they had been in love. Now she was engaged to his most bitter rival—his half brother, the wealthy and notorious Calder Hart.

If he was surprised to see her, he did not evince it. "Francesca," he said, pausing before her. His gaze did not move, not even once, from her to the victim or the crime scene. "This is a surprise."

She stared into his amber eyes and instantly saw how tired he was, both emotionally and physically. She ached for him. She knew he had agonized over the condition of his wife. And suddenly she did not want to talk about Margaret Cooper— she wanted to talk about him, his wife and the two children fostering with them. She wanted to take his hand, she wanted to help.

Instead, briskly, she said, "I ran into Isaacson from the Tribune." She tried to smile but it felt like a grimace and he simply stared, saying nothing. Her anxiety increased and she clutched her purse with both hands. "He must have been at headquarters when the call came in. When he told me that it might be the Slasher, and that the victim lived on Tenth Street and Avenue A, I had to come directly over. Maggie and her children live two doors away, Bragg," she said earnestly.

"I know," he said. His expression softened. "I was concerned myself." He hesitated, studying her with some intensity, his gaze dipping to the way she held her purse.

She smiled a little at him. He did not smile back. It was simply awkward now, being with him. What should she say, what should she do? Were they still friends? Did he hate her? Had he forgiven her for becoming engaged to the man he bitterly despised? Had he accepted the fact that one day she would marry Hart? For she had finally, with great difficulty, accepted the fact that Bragg belonged with his wife.

Francesca wanted to reach out to him and demand answers to all those questions, but she did not dare. How selfish it would be. But God, there was no one she admired more, no one more noble, more determined, more honorable than Rick Bragg. He had been appointed police commissioner with the charge of reforming the city's infamously corrupt police department, but it was like spitting into the wind. He had fired some officers, hired new ones, reassigned entire units, but every small step forward was gained at a painful cost. The press hounded his every move. The clergy and the reform movement demanded he do more; politics demanded he do far less. Tammany Hall had lost the last election, but still ruled most of the city. He was up against Platt's political organization, and the mayor, elected on a reform platform, did not always back him up, afraid of losing the working man's vote. An election loomed, one Mayor Low did not want to lose. Bragg fought it all, alone.

She knew he would never give up.

And all this with his wife lying in the hospital, the victim of a tragic carriage accident. "I heard that Leigh Anne will be going home soon," she suddenly said, reaching for his hand without thinking about it. He started as her fingers closed over his, and realizing what she had done, she quickly released him.

"Yes. In fact, they will release her tomorrow." He looked away.

Francesca knew him so well—or once she had. Now she could not tell whether it was grief or guilt that made him flinch and turn away. "Thank God she regained consciousness within days," Francesca whispered, a small hurt inside her heart. Why couldn't she simply hug him and hold him close? He needed to be comforted, that much she knew. She might be engaged to another man, but she would always love Rick, too.

He was grim and he did not speak.

"Is the prognosis the same?" she asked. She had gone to the hospital several times, but in the end had only visited with the rest of the Braggs, who had been coming and going to see Leigh Anne, and not with Leigh Anne herself. She had been afraid of her reception; she had not wanted to upset the other woman, either.

"She will never walk again." His tone was flat, final. He glanced past her at the victim. "If this is the work of the so-called 'Slasher,' then we have a serial killer on the loose." He walked over to the bed.

Francesca followed until they both stood within feet of the victim. "But the first two victims survived, if the reports I have read were correct."

He grimly surveyed the body in the bed. The sheets were a cheap coarse cotton, and except for the bloodstains, freshly laundered. The woman's hair was undone and some of it lay across her neck. "They did survive. Both attacks were one week apart, exactly, each on subsequent Mondays."

"Oh dear," Francesca said, intrigued in spite of the terrible tragedy she was witness to. The reporters had failed to note that. "Was this woman killed yesterday?"

"She was found at noon today. But I am going to hazard a guess that she was killed last night, Francesca." He gave her a significant look.

If the woman had been in her underclothes, then she had been murdered either first thing in the morning, or in the evening before bed. "Rick, I had read that the first two victims were Irishwomen in their twenties. Is that true?"

He leaned over the woman and moved her long, tangled dark red hair away from her neck. Her throat was brutally slit. Francesca wanted to gag; instead, she closed her eyes and breathed hard. No matter how many cases she had, she was certain she would never grow accustomed to violence and death. Of course, there had only been six investigations thus far. Her career as a sleuth had begun last January when her neighbor's son had been abducted. She had tried to help, never imagining how it would change her life.

Bragg straightened. "Both victims were Irishwomen in their twenties, yes. Both were estranged from their spouses. From the look of this cut, I would say the Slasher has been at work again, but this time with deadly results."

Francesca stared, forgetting all about her fiance. She fought her queasiness. "This woman is not Irish. The name Cooper is as American as apple pie."

"A pattern remains. Three attractive young women, each without means, assaulted on subsequent Mondays."

Francesca agreed. "Do you think she was killed accidentally? Or is murder now the Slasher's intent?"

"I have no idea. But if she was murdered Monday, and if the Slasher holds true to the course he has set, there will be another victim in six days exactly." He faced her and their gazes met.

"We will find this killer, Bragg. And I do mean it."

He started and, finally, began to smile at her. "If anyone can find him, you can."

She was thrilled at the gesture of intimacy and she smiled back. "I also assume the Slasher is a man, but we cannot rule out a woman. Remember, the Cross Killer turned out to be Lizzie O'Brien," she said, referring to a previous case.

"Of course I remember," he said, and then his expression changed and she thought he was remembering everything that had once been between them. He cleared his throat. "The two previous victims were Kate Sullivan and Francis O'Leary. Neither woman saw the Slasher, as he assaulted them from behind. But it was a man."

She nodded. "Who alerted the police?"

"A Mrs. O'Neil found her. Apparently, she has the flat next door."

Francesca stiffened. "Bragg! Not Gwen O'Neil?" An image of the striking redhead assailed her mind.

His tawny eyebrows lifted. "Yes, that is her name. And she is at headquarters. She is very upset," he added. "Do you know her?"

She seized his arm. "Not only do I know her, you know her, too!"

Meet the Author

Brenda Joyce is a New York Times bestselling author of more than 50 novels and novellas, including the popular and critically acclaimed de Warenne Dynasty Saga, a series of novels set in Regency and Victorian England. She lives on a ranch in Arizona with her dogs, broodmares and the year’s current crop of foals. If she isn’t on the back of a reining horse, she can be found madly at work in her office, penning her latest romance novel.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Deadly Illusions 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
millmm More than 1 year ago
I have read all the Deadly books as they have come out and thoroughly enjoyed them. I you like Historical Romance/Mystery this series is for you!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AAR More than 1 year ago
DEADLY ILLUSIONS(A FRANCESCA CAHILL NOVEL)by Brenda Joyce is an interesting Regency suspense/romance.It is the seventh in the series,but can be read as a stand alone.As this is the first in this series I have read.The author gives you updated information so it is not too hard to follow the storyline,if you have not read the others in this series. It is a fast paced story of a female sleuth,a serial killer,a friend who was her first love,but he was married,a fiancee,who is not sure about love and trust.The fiancee,Hart,just happens to be her commissioner's estranged half brother.As Francesea and Hart struggle with their own love life.As they both have trust issues,Hart more than Francesea,a serial killer is in the lurk,killing young women.The first two manage to survive,remembering much of nothing,But as Francesea investigates she finds one of the survivors actually remembered he had a ring on his right hand with a large stone and they both remembered he called them "faithless wrench".In the meantime,the chief commissioner,Bragg, is trying to reconcile with his wife,who was run over by a carriage and left paralyzed. The plot in intriguing,while it does have multiple facets and multiple plots going on with only one conclusion,the killer is found.The characters are enchanting and will capture your heart.While,I myself find I like stories with an ending or completion to each plot, this one it is a wait and see.For instance,Francesea and Hart,Bragg and his wife, and Francesea's brother,Evan,Maggie and the Countess,who claims to be pregnant with Evan's child,what a triangle of unfinished business.But we will have to see what happens with the next installment.I hope they all find their happy endings.Otherwise this is a fast paced,page turning story full of action,mystery and romance.This book was received for the purpose of review from Net Galley and details can be found at HQN and My Book Addiction and More.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LASR_Reviews More than 1 year ago
This re-release of Ms. Joyce's 2005 title made me want to go back and read all the previous titles in the Deadly series. The murder mystery is interesting-who is killing the poor, but hardworking Irish women in the tenements?--but it's the characters that carry this book. Each character is multi-dimensional. Francesca Cahill is bright, witty, daring, and beautiful yet a bit reckless. Her fiancé, the notorious rake Calder Hart, is arrogant and self-assured yet needy and jealous when it comes to Francesca. The police commissioner Rick Bragg, Calder's half brother, has unresolved feelings for both his beautiful wife and Francesca. Francesca's gambling-addict brother secretly loves a poor widow, but is openly involved with Bartolla, a scheming widow who is after his money but doesn't quite understand he's been disowned by his father and is broke. Francesca is flawed in ways appropriate for an heiress in early 1900's New York. She lives in a privileged society and though she sleuths in New York's seedy underbelly, things come far too easy for her. The poor she befriends are the working poor who don't hold her privilege against her. And while the reader may suspect the poor live in desperation, the feeling of those scenes is more of gentile poverty than squalor and fear. She travels about with little or no concern for her safety. The gun she carries is of more danger to herself than to anyone else. Everything simply comes easily to Francesca. Her family may disapprove of her sleuthing, but they take no steps to stop her. Her fiancé is willing to give up his evil ways to be with her. During their sexual interludes, Calder is the sensitive one committed to postponing consummation until marriage. Despite the risks Francesca takes, she is safe with him, and he makes certain she is safe while they are apart. During the final moments of the mystery, Francesca just has to think hard and the answer comes to her. In other words, Deadly Illusions is a light, fun, character-driven, romantic suspense set in 1902 Manhattan. Despite the complexity of the characters, the story is entertaining but not deep. I enjoyed the suspense, but was never really worried about any of the key characters because the outcomes were predictable. Still, I have two more of Ms. Joyce's Deadly titles on my shelf and have no doubt they'll be as entertaining as Deadly Illusions was. Originally posted at The Long and Short of IT Romance Reviews
LaJana Paige More than 1 year ago
This is a reprint of a book from 2008. When is the author going to finish this series?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was just as amazing as the ones before it. Although I think we all can't wait to see Francesca and Calder married..good things come to those who wait. They are so good together and I am sooo in love with Calder!! After reading an excerpt from the next book in the series: Deadly Kisses, I am anxiously waiting for February to come already! It's been too long! I want to know what's gonna happen! Whatever is gonna come..Francesca HAS to stick by him cuz he's a good man despite his past. He just needs her love.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the story, as well as the other stories. I was hoping they would finally marry and I also hope the commissioner and his wife work things out(ie. she gets to walk again also). I think Calder and Francesca have encountered enough trial and error already, let them be together now.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I anxiously waited for this book, thinking that Francesca and Calder would finally marry. It didn't happen and now her father is against the marriage. The murder plot was okay. Another plot it seems is in the works since Francesca's nude painting was stolen. Looking forward to the next, hope the wait isn't as long and hopefully these two will finally marry, and the police commissioner and his wife will get back together again.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1902 Manhattan, the Slasher has attacked three working class Irish women; the first two survived the ordeal, but the third victim is dead. Fearing for her friend Maggie Kennedy who lives in the same neighborhood that is under assault, heiress sleuth Francesca Cahill begins to investigate the vicious crimes over the objection of her fiancé successful businessman Calder Hart. He does not want her in harm¿s way or hanging out with his rival his half-brother married Police Commissioner Rick Bragg because Francesca and Rick were once thought to be in love.--- Still Francesca is an independent person and no one, even her future spouse, will tell her what she cannot do. She makes inquiries and visits the crime scenes where she runs into Rick. Suspects are everywhere especially estranged spouses and fiancés, but in spite of the combined efforts of Rick and Francesca the Slasher strikes again. To catch this killer Francesca knows she must be the bait.--- The seventh Cahill historical mystery provides Brenda Joyce¿s audience with a wonderful lamplight look at Manhattan at the turn of the century. The story line is fast-paced but loaded with intricate family relationships that bring to life the key players especially the half-brothers, Rick¿s wife, and the heroine. The who-done-it is fun as the suspects seem plentiful and the moving forward on relational fronts provides a freshness somewhat lacking in the last two books, but DEADLY ILLUSIONS is at its best lighting up 1902 New York City.--- Harriet Klausner