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Charity Corsetti O'Malley knew she was beautiful. One quick glance in the cheval mirror in her bedroom would have confirmed the fact, and besides, her father had told her so on numerous occasions. Now he was dead.
Dead and buried three months ago. In St. Pat's Cemetery. Under an old sycamore, near the proverbial babbling brook. As things went, not a bad place to end up. But she'd not been back to the gravesite since mid-August, when the leaden air hung sullen and bruised.
Her father had never mentioned feeling poorly, but then again, he wouldn't have. Big Mike O'Malley could handle anything, except apparently, the massive heart attack in the middle of his speakeasy's lively entertainment on that last Friday night. So he'd been buried by friends, she'd been told — a week later, for it had taken two weeks to locate her, and by then he was in the ground. One thing Big Mike never suffered from was a lack of friends.
Charity buttoned up her white middy blouse and tucked it into dark blue cotton trousers. She adjusted the strings of a heavily starched and ruthlessly ironed white apron to circle her narrow waist. Smoothing the crisp material once more, she strode across the scarred wooden floor toward the door.
With her hand on the crystal doorknob, she hesitated. She couldn't deny the reality of what she was about to do. They would call her a whisper sister, a tarnished woman.
She leaned back against the door and closed her eyes. Just beneath the four rooms she now called home, over the saloon her father had operated before prohibition became the law of the land, her lifelong dream awaited.
A dream her father would never have approved.
Mike O'Malley had a fourth-grade education, wiry red hair, and a voice that still held the lilt of the Green Isle after thirty years in America; a burly man who carried a pocketful of jelly beans for his little princess and a perpetual smile on his wide, flat face. Stubby, calloused fingers quickly soothed her childish bumps and bruises, and when he laughed, the bold and hearty sound of it ...
Charity swiped the back of her hand over her eyes and cursed the years living away from her father that had blurred her precious memories and stolen the beauty of them. Oh, she understood her father's good intentions, as he'd told her on many occasions a tavern was no place to raise a proper lady. He wanted to see his only child educated out east, but today all the work and risk and sacrifice he'd endured to send her to a good boarding school and then on to college was moot, now, wasn't it?
Big Mike O'Malley's daughter was about to break the law of the land, and if she had her way, her family eatery and soda fountain would be a success, and the rest of it — well, she'd do whatever had to be done, no matter the personal cost. In a few more days, "O'Malley's Inn" would open for business, and the die would be cast.
Charity pulled a crisp white handkerchief from her sleeve and blew her nose. The last several months had been brutal. With Charlie's sweat and her ideas, limited by a minuscule budget, they'd gutted and remodeled the old tavern. They'd stripped and stained and varnished the tavern's old back bar until the vintage European workmanship glistened.
Coolers, which once held beer kegs, became freezers for ice cream. Large glass jars held lemonade and a pulpy sweet tea instead of pickled eggs. Root beer streamed out of spigots to make Black Cows. Penny candy, sweet and varied, waited in see-through bins to be chosen by eager children; colorful tablecloths and napkins would cover the old, scarred euchre tables for the families she hoped would be the mainstay of her business.
Her business. She suppressed a tiny twinge of guilt. Her father thought he'd paid for a liberal arts teaching degree, when in fact she'd switched almost immediately to business courses without his knowledge or consent. She hoped she hadn't disappointed him, for certainly Big Mike O'Malley gazed down from heaven, if there was such a place, and the next few months would tell if she had what it took to achieve her dream.
She grabbed her father's pocket watch from the nightstand and glanced at the dial. Snapping the gold cover shut, she slipped the watch into the pocket of her trousers for good luck and headed downstairs to disappoint the only man she'd ever loved.
* * *
Gabriel Cavelli lowered the kickstand of his Harley motorbike. Growing up as the middle child of five siblings and now being the only one not leg shackled had enormous disadvantages.
Everyone thought if you didn't have a wife, you had a lot of time on your hands, so you became a damn errand boy for your sisters and sisters-in-law. A beautiful day like this in mid-November, with a temperature of fifty-six degrees, was heaven to a man with a Harley. He should be cruising around the city enjoying the day. Soon he'd have to bench the motorbike because of Chicago's brutal winter weather, and it wouldn't see the light of day until late April — at the earliest.
He didn't mind pitching in for the family's Thanksgiving Day feast. Hell, he ate as much as the next person, but with a house full of ankle-biters and pregnant women, he planned to keep a low profile. Eat and run — that was his plan. He loved his nieces and nephews, but there were so many of them now.
Tessia and Ty had a baby girl four months ago. Gabe couldn't get his head around the fact his baby sister had married the Kentucky rancher and was ... well, he just didn't want to think about what she was doing.
His older brother, Michael, a widower, had added a baby boy to the fifteen-year-old daughter from his first marriage.
Raphael, apparently crazy, had just adopted his eighth child. Rafe and Hope had started out their marriage with her four kids, and wasn't twelve enough for any sane person's family?
And his older sister, Anna, for cryin' out loud, started out with three from her late husband and then added a baby boy right after she married Jake Promesly, and — Lord help them! — not even one year later, she was about to pop out another one.
Crimininny. How could a single guy maintain his reputation as a man about town when he had four married women desperate to see him in connubial bliss?
He strode toward the front door of the Cavelli ancestral home affectionately called Bellaluna, then turned back to grab the package tied to the back of his motorbike. Bellaluna's cook wouldn't forgive him if he forgot the chestnuts she intended to roast for Thanksgiving dinner. Gwen had paddled his bottom plenty of times for less. He loved the woman, but she had a wicked wooden spoon and a tendency to swing first and ask questions later.
On top of holiday obligations for the family, he'd made a promise to a friend he'd lost recently to a heart attack, a deathbed promise — so one carved in stone. But he'd head over to Mike O'Malley's place after he conned Gwen out of lunch. You couldn't beat Gwen's cold fried chicken and potato salad.
* * *
"You do know, Rafe, this will be the eighth child you and Hope have adopted in eighteen months." Michael Vincente Cavelli leaned back in his leather swivel chair and tapped his fountain pen on the desk blotter. He handed his brother a bank draft.
"I can count, brother. I just don't know how to say no." Raphael Cavelli grinned and folded the cheque into his pocket. "With Hope's new job at St. Rose's Home for the Friendless, she's in contact with children every day who need a second chance. Some tug on her heart strings more than others."
"Better be careful, Ethel," Gabe said as he entered the library. "Your trust fund will only stretch so far." He folded his long frame into an upholstered chair in front of Michael's Louis XIV desk and stretched out one leg over the other to cross them at the ankle.
"What brings you in today?" Michael asked, wagging his fountain pen at Gabe.
"Are you kidding? I'm an errand boy for the women in this family. Don't any of them realize I have my own business to run? Why don't they ask you two meatballs? They're your better halves, for cryin' out loud."
His brother ignored the comment. "Will you be here for Jacob's first birthday party?"
Gabe snorted. "When have I ever missed a family function? Tell Anna I'll be here." He clapped eyes on the coffeepot on the credenza. "When do you expect Tessia and Ty?"
"The uncles will pick them up at the station. They're on the six o'clock train from Kentucky. Tess wrote she has a surprise for the family."
"Other than the newest little shaver?" The aroma of strong coffee wafted over until Gabe stood and strode to the credenza. "What's the surprise?"
"Wouldn't say. I suppose the uncles will weasel it out of her." Raphael rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm gonna help Amos and the uncles bring down extra dining room chairs from the attic since Gwen says she feeds a small army nowadays. Got time to help?"
"Sorry, I'm heading over to Big Mike O'Malley's."
"A little early in the day, isn't it?" Michael asked with a lift of his eyebrows. "And I thought Mike O'Malley was dead and buried."
Gabe sucked in a breath and blew it out. "Yeah, but I promised I'd keep an eye on his daughter."
"Isn't O'Malley's speakeasy your favorite blind pig?"
"It's closed, busted a few months ago, but I thought I'd look up Charlie and find out what's gonna happen to the girl now Mike's gone. Big Mike told me he left Ireland thirty years ago, after the potato famine, and never looked back, so the girl's alone in the world."
"Girl?" Raphael stood and stretched. "Hell, Gabe, she'd have to be in her twenties by now."
Gabe frowned. "Naw. He always kept a picture of her behind the bar. She's just a little girl. Educated out east for the last ..."
Michael laughed. "For the last twelve years. By my count, she'd be about twenty-two."
"Damn." Gabe said. "This could be a problem."CHAPTER 2
Charity shoved the swinging door to the kitchen open. "Flo," she shouted. "I need you for a minute."
The woman who washed the front window of the restaurant stepped off the small rickety stool and put down her wad of newspaper. She set the bucket of vinegar and ammonia water on the newly varnished wooden floor. "Can it wait? I'm almost finished, and the windows look pretty darn good if I do say so myself." She shoved back the bangs of her carelessly chopped brown hair. "Can Ry help you?"
"I sent him to GC Produce for more eggs. I only need a minute."
"What do you think?" Charity asked when her friend joined her. She pointed at different areas of the kitchen. "Icebox, double sink and prep area, butcher block work space, stove, and pickup counter."
"We've gone over this, and you've changed your mind a hundred times, sweetie. This is perfect, and if we work with this set-up for a while and we don't like it, we can change it. Besides, Charlie will kill both of us if he has to move everything again."
Charity scrutinized the arrangement and pursed her lips. Flo was right. Charlie would kill her. "Okay. Done. Perfect." She took a deep breath and laughed. "Are you ready to set up the tables?"
"Almost. Give me five minutes to finish the windows. I picked up the tablecloths from Mrs. Murphy and paid her." She used her index finger to test the blue paint on one of the milk bottles lined up on the window sills. "The centerpieces are almost dry, and Ryan's set to pick up the carnations from Doyle's Floral Shoppe late on Saturday. They should stay good for the week. Red, white, and blue. Pretty and patriotic ... friendly."
"When is Betty scheduled to come in today?"
Flo's pretty face morphed into a grimace. "You made the schedule. As late as possible, I hope. We don't need to pay her for busy work we can do ourselves. I don't trust a woman who wears too much rouge."
"She came highly recommended."
"Probably wrote the recommendation herself," Flo muttered.
"She's an experienced waitress. I need someone who knows what she's doing. I don't have time to train anyone."
"Told you I could handle it for a while." Flo turned the faucet on to wash off the newspaper's black ink from her hands. The plumbing groaned and put forth a stingy stream of water.
It was an old argument. Flo was her dearest and oldest friend, but stubborn as a dog with a bone. "I'll need you in the kitchen when we're serving. I won't be able to keep up by myself. Even with Ry helping us with the small stuff, it'll be tricky. We'll only get one chance to make a good impression, and we want repeat customers, people in the neighborhood who want a good meal at a reasonable price."
"We'll have good food at a reasonable price, but good service is just as important, and I'm not sure Betty is the best choice." Flo started to fold the towel she'd dried her hands on, then changed her mind and snapped it.
"Nothing." Flo flipped the towel over her shoulder and grimaced. "I just don't like the way she stares at Charlie. The woman wants every man in the room to pay attention to her. You know the type. We all do. Too bad most men don't understand about women like Betty. All they see is a pretty face and big —"
A hard knock on the front door had the bell mounted over it jingling. Charity turned around. "Are we expecting any more deliveries today?"
"Nope. I flipped the sign for the iceman, but he always comes to the back door. Go ahead. I'll finish the dishes in the sink."
Charity strode over the weathered oak floor toward the front of the restaurant. A man stood hipshot on the other side of the front door. Tall, rangy, with a head of unruly light brown hair, sun streaked and too long for what current fashion dictated. Mussed, she saw, from the ride on the Harley motorbike parked in front of her place, or perhaps from shoving his fingers through it impatiently, as he was doing now.
He was in his shirtsleeves — definitely not protocol. The leather jacket he'd worn for the ride was thrown over the bike's seat, but he didn't appear too worried about it. His shirt was casual but, to Charity's trained eye, expensive, like the scuffed boots he wore. He pounded on the door again, and his brows slashed over eyes a cold ice blue. His pretty face and squared off jaw needed a shave.
"I'm not hiring," Charity said through the door and started to pull down the roller shade mounted above the glass.
He glanced up when she spoke and gave her a quick and rude perusal. "I'm not looking for a job." His drawl sounded like honey over gravel, and he didn't appear too pleased by her response. "I'm here to see Charity O'Malley."
"About what?" The man appeared irritated — with her.
"Look, lady , Big Mik e sent me. Go get her, and I'll explain."
"Big Mike's dead. He didn't send you."
The man's lips thinned out, and he yanked at the doorknob. Charity stepped back. 'Go away or I'll call the police."
The man smiled and held up his hands, palms out. "Sorry, sweetheart, let's start over. I'm Gabriel Cavelli, and I was a friend of Big Mike. I have a message for her from her father."
Charity thought it over. His name sounded familiar, but the man looked like trouble. "Not interested. Go away." She drew the roller shade down and headed back to the kitchen.
"Who was at the door?" Flo asked, slipping the dish towel over the drying rack near the sink.
"Nobody important," Charity said. She reached for a cast iron skillet just as the back door opened and Gabriel Cavelli stepped in.
"Call the police if you want. I know most of the cops." He nodded at Flo and held out his hand. "Gabriel Cavelli, ma'am."
Flo took the proffered hand. "Like the dairy," she said.
"One and the same." His lethal grin spread across his face. "Family business."
* * *
The small one was pretty, but the tall one was a knockout, Gabe thought. Five nine or ten, he guessed, and staggeringly beautiful. Hair as sleek and shiny as a mink's coat and blacker than he'd ever seen hung in a long thick braid half way down her back. High, surprisingly full breasts, thank the Lord, and a narrow waist. Eyes almost black with golden edges, gypsy-like in their intensity, heavily lashed and topped with neat brows. Unfortunately, those lovely eyes were trained on him, and if looks could kill, he'd be a dead man.
"I don't mean to bother you, but I really do have a message for Miss O'Malley. Is she available?" He hooked his thumbs in his front pockets. After he finished his business with Mike's daughter, he'd take a run at the tall one. Maybe the day wouldn't turn out to be a waste after all. "If it's not too much trouble, of course."
"Let's step outside, Mr. Cavelli." The woman waved her hand toward the door and grabbed a shawl off the hook by the door.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Angel Lost, Angel Found"
Copyright © 2015 Johanna Shapard.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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