Feisty flapper Astrid Magnusson is home from college and yearning for the one thing that’s always been off limits: Bo Yeung, her notorious bootlegging brother’s second-in-command. Unfortunately her dream of an easy reunion proves difficult after a violent storm sends a mysterious yacht crashing into the Magnussons’ docks. What’s worse, the boat disappeared a year ago, and the survivors are acting strangely…
Bo has worked with the Magnusson family for years, doing whatever is needed, including keeping his boss’s younger sister out of trouble—and his hands to himself. Of course, that isn’t so easy after Astrid has a haunting vision about the yacht’s disappearance, plunging them into an underground world of old money and dark magic. Danger will drive them closer together, but surviving their own forbidden feelings could be the bigger risk.
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September 15, 1928
University of California, Los Angeles
I got your letter in the mail today and was so eager to read it, I completely forgot to attend my history class—no great loss. My professor never smiles and doesn’t seem to like me. Besides that, everything is wonderful here. My dorm mate, Jane, and I took a streetcar to Hollywood Boulevard this weekend. Unfortunately, we saw zero motion picture stars.
Sorry to hear someone scratched your new Buick, but not half as sorry as they’ll be when you find out who did it. Sounds like you’re working too much at the warehouse. Just because Winter promoted you to captain doesn’t mean you’re his personal slave. Tell him to give you some time off. Perhaps a weekend in sunny L.A. would do you some good!
I have to go. My next class, Physics, starts in ten minutes and I’ve already missed it too many times. Luckily, that professor thinks I’m cute.
P.S.—Don’t tell Winter I’ve skipped any classes.
September 25, 1928
Magnusson Fish Company
San Francisco, California
Your brothers both send their regards. In fact, Lowe came by the warehouse with Hadley and Stella today. They have booked a trip to Egypt next month. (All three of them.)
The mystery of the Buick’s scratch is solved. It was Aida. She ran into it with the baby carriage—an accident, of course. It’s hard to stay mad at a pretty woman. By the way, I’m thinking of naming the Buick “Sylvia.”
Sounds like you’re having fun, but you need to stop missing classes. If they expel you, Winter will blow his top. He’s mad enough that his baby sister isn’t going to Berkeley and still moans about your Southern California campus being a “poor substitute for the real U.C.” And while we’re on the subject, who is this Physics professor? Old men shouldn’t be telling you that you’re cute. Be careful around him. Don’t make me worry about you.
Your friend (and enemy to lecherous old men),
October 5, 1928
University of California, Los Angeles
Egypt? Stars above. Please give Stella lots of kisses for me when you see her again and tell her Auntie Astrid misses her. I’m not sure how to make the word “miss” in sign language, but Lowe will know.
My dorm mate, Jane, and I are not on good terms right now because her sweetheart asked me to join him and some of his friends last night when Jane was at a sorority meeting. We saw the Bruins play football—that’s our collegiate team. I thought it might be boring to spend time with all those boys, but they were cutups, and called me Queen of Sheba, joking that they would be my male harem.
You don’t have to worry about dirty old men. Professor Barnes is only twenty-six. This is his first year teaching. He thinks I’m “delightful,” and not just cute, so he’s not only interested in my good looks. He told me if he has time this semester, he might take his best students to visit Mount Wilson Observatory, to look through the giant telescope there. It’s up in the mountains near Los Angeles, so we will stay there in a hotel overnight. More soon. Sylvia is a great name for the Buick!
October 15, 1928
Magnusson Fish Company
San Francisco, California
Your professor is up to no good. Teachers should not be staying in hotels with students. Lowe, being a professor himself, agrees with me. I am very concerned about your well-being. If you need to wire me a message for any reason, please do so. Never mind the train ticket, I will drive down there and come get you. I haven’t mentioned this to Winter, because he would already be down there. Please use common sense.
October 30, 1928
University of California, Los Angeles
I can’t believe you told Lowe. That was personal, between you and me. I am perfectly capable of making decisions without anyone’s help, you know. And for your information, I had a wonderful time with Luke at the observatory. He is kind and sensitive, and he sees me as none of you do: as a woman.
Your adultfriend (not your “little sister”),
December 5, 1928
University of California, Los Angeles
I am sorry about my last letter. I suppose I was upset with you, but that was silly. It’s really very touching that you’re concerned about me. It means a lot. I just wish you’d trust me to make my own decisions, even if they are the wrong ones sometimes.
Are you receiving my letters? I’ve heard on the radio that terrible storms are heading up the coast toward the Bay, so please stay safe.
My favorite wristwatch broke, which was upsetting. I will look for a replacement in S.F. There are no decent jewelry stores here. Oh, I bought my train ticket home and leave in ten days. That’s December 15th at noon. (Does that date sound familiar?) I can’t wait to see you at the station.
Your true friend,
P.S.—I’m sorry I got mad about you calling me mui-mui. I actually miss hearing you saying that. No one here speaks Cantonese.
DECEMBER 15, 1928
Astrid Magnusson was mad as hell. She furiously wiped the fogged-up window of her brother’s Pierce-Arrow limousine with the mink cuff of her coat, but it didn’t help. The hilly streets were nothing but darkness punctuated by the occasional streetlight as they drove through more rain than she’d ever seen in her life.
“I can’t believe it’s been like this all week,” she said to the family driver over the half-raised window divider between the front and back seats. “It never rains like this here. Never.”
“Ja,” Jonte replied in Swedish as they turned onto the Embarcadero. “You shouldn’t be down here with all this flooding. Winter will be angry.”
Whoop-de-doo. She’d been back in San Francisco since noon and had barely spoken to her oldest brother. Half the city was barricaded, and she knew that’s why Winter was down here working at nine in the evening—to help sandbag the warehouse. She also knew that’s why Bo was here; however, him she wasn’t ready to forgive.
She hadn’t seen Bo in almost four months, he’d stopped answering her letters, and now that she was home, he couldn’t step away from the warehouse for one hour? Not even a telephone call or a note?
At least the staff had made her a nice dinner to welcome her back, and she’d had a little celebratory champagne. A little too much, possibly, but she didn’t feel very drunk. Then again, she wasn’t very good at drinking. A couple of months back, she’d downed five glasses of bathtub gin and ended up with a sprained ankle after falling off the dormitory balcony. But the post-drinking sickness had been far worse than the sprain, and she swore to all the saints she’d never drink again.
But really, that was a pointless promise to make, considering that Winter was one of the biggest bootleggers in San Francisco.
The limousine slowed in front of a long line of bulkhead buildings that sat along the waterfront. Warm light spilled from windows that flanked an open archway marked PIER 26. Magnusson Fish Company’s waterfront dock. At least, that’s what it was in the daytime; at night, it was a staging warehouse for citywide liquor distribution.
Astrid grabbed her umbrella and began opening the Pierce-Arrow’s door before it came to a complete stop. “Don’t wait for me,” she told Jonte. “I’ll get someone to drive me back home.”
“Good night, Jonte,” she said more forcefully and erected the umbrella against the blustery night rain.
Ducking under the building’s gated Spanish stucco archway, she splashed through puddles and immediately smelled exhausted engine oil and shipping containers. Familiar and oddly pleasant. Just past a fleet of delivery trucks parked for the night, men stacked sandbags against the warehouse walls, where water ran across the cement floor. Winter was there, talking to someone as he directed the sandbagging.
But no Bo.
Before Winter could spot her and yell at her for coming out here at night, she folded her umbrella and took a sharp right into the warehouse offices. The reception area was empty, but a light shone from the back office. She marched with purpose, head buzzing with champagne, and stopped in the doorway.
The office was exactly as she remembered. Framed ancient photographs of her family lined the walls, slightly askew and dusty: their first house in the Fillmore District, her brothers as small children, and every boat her father had ever owned—even the last one, right before he died in the accident three years ago. Watching over those photographs was Old Bertha, a stuffed leopard shark that hung from the ceiling.
And hunched below that spotted shark was Bo Yeung, stripped from the waist up and dripping wet with rainwater. A soaked shirt lay on a nearby chair; a dry one was draped across a filing cabinet.
A sense of elation rose over the champagne singing in Astrid’s bloodstream. He was here, her childhood friend, the person she trusted more than anyone else in the world, and the only man she’d ever cared for.
Stars, she’d never been so happy to see his handsome face. She wanted to rush forward and throw her arms around him, like she used to do when they were both too young to recognize things were changing between them . . . when she was just the boss’s baby sister, and he was only the hired help.
And with that realization, all her hurt feelings rushed back to the surface.
“So you are alive,” she said.
At the sound of her voice, he stood and turned to face her, and the sight of his sleek, sculpted chest momentarily took her aback. She’d seen him without a shirt a dozen times before—working outside in the sun, in the Chinatown boxing club where he sometimes went to blow off steam, or when they’d find each other in the kitchen raiding the icebox at midnight. But as he stood there in front of her now, holding a damp towel as if poised to fight, the elegant sheen of his finely muscled arms seemed almost risqué. Virile. She felt hot all over, just looking at him.
It was unfair, really.
“Astrid,” he finally said in a rough voice. Straight hair, normally neatly combed, fell over one eye like a stroke of black calligraphy ink. He pushed a damp lock of it back and stared at her like she was a mirage—one that he hadn’t expected to see.
Too bad. Astrid wasn’t going be ignored. She’d worn her best fur and a stunning beaded amaranthine dress that showed off her legs, and she’d practiced exactly what she was going to say to him.
Only, now she’d forgotten most of it.
“You didn’t pick me up at the train station,” she said.
“I was working.” He shrugged with one shoulder, as if he couldn’t be troubled to lift both of them. “Besides, I’m not the family driver. That’s Jonte’s job.”
As if that were the point? Truly.
“And you didn’t come to dinner. Lena made almond cake.”
“Did she? Sorry I missed that,” he said lightly.
“Is that all you missed?”
“Don’t tell me she made lemon pie, or I really will be sorry.”
Anger heated her cheeks. “I’ll give you something to be sorry about, all right. Be serious for one moment, please. I think you owe me at least that for not bothering to say hello to a girl you haven’t seen in months.”
He snapped the edge of the towel toward the ceiling. “Do you not see what’s going on out there? We’re nearly underwater.”
“But it’s my birthday.” Even as the words came out, she knew they sounded petty and childish, and wished she could take them back.
“I know,” he said.
And that made her livid.
“A simple ‘Happy birthday’ would be the polite thing to say. But I’m not sure why I expected you to even remember, because you haven’t answered any of my letters.” He hadn’t even bothered to write and tell her the disappointing news that her friend and seamstress, Benita—who lived downstairs in the Magnusson house—had left for Charleston two weeks ago to tend to a sick relative. “I suppose you just forgot to write me back?”
Bo grunted and avoided her eyes.
“Don’t tell me you were busy working, because I know damn well it hasn’t been raining all that time.”
“No, it hasn’t.” He turned away from her, toweling off his hair.
“Then what? Out of sight, out of mind—is that it? Am I that forgettable?”
“Damn, but I wish you were.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? God, Bo. Is it because you’re not being paid to wheel me around town anymore, huh? Is that it? You get promoted and now I’m just a job responsibility you can shuck?”
He tossed her a sharp glance over his shoulder. “Stop being ridiculous.”
“You came down here in the middle of the night to tell me that?” He tossed the towel aside and pulled on a dry undershirt.
“What if I did? At least I remembered where to find you after four months, which is more than I can say for your crummy sense of direction.”
Swearing under his breath, he snatched up a clean shirt and glanced up at her as he shrugged into it. His fingers paused on the buttons. “Have you been drinking?”
“Drinking?” Astrid repeated, as if it were the most ludicrous thing she’d ever heard.
“You keep squinting at me with one eye shut.” He marched toward her. Before she could get away, his fingers gripped her shoulders. She dropped her umbrella and leaned back, trying to avoid him, but his neck craned to follow her movement. His attractive face was inches from hers, all sharp cheekbones and sharper jaw.
He sniffed. Clever, all-seeing eyes narrowed as he tracked her sin with the precision of a bloodhound. “Champagne.”
“Only a little,” she argued, breathing in the mingled scents of the dusty warehouse and rainwater, and beneath those, the brighter fragrance of Bo.
All her anger disappeared for a moment because—damn it all!—she’d missed him so much. She didn’t care if his position in the Magnusson household meant they shouldn’t be together, or that societal rules regarding their cultural differences meant they couldn’t be together. If she had to make a vow never to leave him again, she would. And unlike the no-drinking promise, she’d be able to keep this one, because if going away to college had taught her anything, it was that Bo was what she wanted.
She softened in his grip and dazedly blinked up at him with a small, hiccupped laugh.
“Ossified,” he proclaimed. For a moment, the slyest of smiles curled the corners of his mouth. She loved that smile. He was the shiniest, most vibrant person she’d ever known, and she wanted to soak him up like warm sunlight.
His gaze fell to her hand, which had drifted to her neck like a shield, as if it could somehow prevent her runaway feelings from escaping. “I thought you said you broke that wristwatch,” he said in a lower voice.
“I did. But my arm feels bare without it.”
For a moment, she thought he might reach for her hand. But he merely released her, stepping away to button his shirt. “You shouldn’t be drinking.”
“So what if I’ve had a coupe or two of champagne? A girl’s entitled to that much, freshly back from college and on her birthday,” she said, following him around the desk. Never mind that she’d had five glasses, possibly six. She could still walk straight. Mostly. “Besides, I’m an adult now, if you haven’t noticed.”
“College magically transformed you, huh? To think I’ve been doing it wrong all these years, what with this pesky hard work and responsibility.”
“You’re a jackass.”
“So I’ve been told. By you, several times, if I remember correctly.” He tucked in his shirt and donned a leather shoulder holster and gun, a sobering reminder of this warehouse’s purpose and Bo’s role in it.
“Why are you avoiding me?” she persisted. “Why did you stop answering my letters?”
“I’m sorry—were you waiting on me to answer?” He combed his damp hair back with his fingers, cool as you please, but his words were delivered with tiny barbs. “It sounded like you had your hands full, what with that harem of college boys salivating beneath your skirt.”
Her cheeks heated. “I never said that!” Not that crassly, anyway. Sure, the boys at college were a lot more open and forward, which was probably due to the fact that, unlike her suitors in high school, they didn’t know she had two older brothers who would pummel anyone who so much as winked at her.
“Not to mention that you seemed pretty busy gazing at stars with what’s-his-name,” Bo said, snapping his fingers. “Professor Hotel Room.”
Astrid was too tipsy to convincingly feign shock over his implication. Yes, she’d told him about Luke and the hotel. But she certainly hadn’t said what they’d done there. It was none of Bo’s business. Besides, she hadn’t spoken to Luke since that night. She merely stopped showing up for class, and he never bothered to track her down.
So much for her sensitive professor.
But it didn’t matter. She was a grown woman. So what if she’d made a few mistakes her first semester at college? Well, a lot of mistakes, actually. Luke may have been the worst of those, a lapse in good judgment, but there was nothing she could do about that now. Life went on. And everything else was perfectly fixable as long as Winter didn’t find out. Now, as for Bo . . .
Hold on just one second. Her drunken brain oh-so-slowly began piecing Bo’s words and tone together. Was he jealous? Her heart skipped a beat.
“Listen,“ she said as he slipped into his suit jacket, but the rest of her words were lost under a horrific wrenching noise that was so long and loud, it rattled all the family photographs on the back wall for several seconds. Beyond that wall was the northern pier.
They both glanced at each other. Bo drew his gun, and without another word, they raced through the offices and into the warehouse. The workers had abandoned their sandbagging and were running through an open cargo door onto the docks. Cold rain and a howling gale cut through Astrid’s clothes as she jogged behind them into briny night air.
Industrial lights lit up the pier. Foaming waves, impossibly high, streamed over the creaking dock boards and splashed over her ankles. No wonder Bo was sandbagging the warehouse; she’d never seen the Bay this high. And it was storming so hard, she couldn’t see past the men thronging the edge of the pier. Winter shouted something at Bo, who pushed his way through the crowd. She shielded her eyes with one hand as a bolt of white lightning pierced the sky.
And that’s when the source of the noise came into view.
A luxury motor yacht, encrusted in barnacles and draped in seaweed, had crashed into the Magnussons’ pier. Inside the main cabin, a group of people stared out the windows, unmoving and silent. And for a dizzying, terror-struck moment, Astrid was convinced they were all ghosts.
The Plumed Serpent wasn’t precisely a ghost ship, Bo decided, after helping to moor the crashed yacht. But the strange people who filed off its deck were certainly spooked. None of them knew who they were. Names, family, homes . . . all forgotten. No one remembered where the yacht had been or how they’d gotten on it. They all claimed to have woken up a few minutes before they’d crashed into the pier.
Six survivors. Six men and women wearing white robes, and whose cheeks and foreheads were covered with blue greasepaint, like they’d been staging some kind of theatrical performance. They were terrified. Confused. And yet, apart from looking weak and dehydrated, seemingly unharmed.
And while the police questioned them, Bo had sent Astrid back inside the warehouse to safety while he watched the chaos from a healthy distance, mumbling an old Cantonese folk saying to ward away evil—along with a bit of the Lord’s Prayer and a line from a popular song for good measure. Whatever had cursed the yacht, he wanted nothing to do with it. Granted, the Plumed Serpent was a damn fine boat. Only a handful of yachts like it in the Bay Area, and Chief Hambry confirmed this one belonged to a wealthy widow who had reported it missing during an investigation last year.
Lost at sea for an entire year.
A boat doesn’t just reappear after being gone that long.
Ambulances carried the stunned survivors to Saint Francis in Nob Hill. And when the hubbub finally died down, Bo shivered in his wet clothes as he watched the police chief’s car pull away from the pier.
“I’ve seen a lot of strange things in this city . . .” Winter murmured from his side as they huddled together beneath a narrow overhang outside the warehouse.
Bo snorted. “I’ve seen a lot of strange things in your house.”
The dark-headed Swede chuckled and pressed the heel of his palm against his scarred eye. “True. But this feels wrong. Something happened to those people, and I don’t want any damn part of it. We don’t need this headache right now.”
Winter wasn’t just Bo’s employer. Five years back, after Bo’s uncle (and last living relative) had died, the burly head of the Magnusson clan had taken then sixteen-year-old Bo out of Chinatown and given him a home in Pacific Heights. More than a home. A job. Education. Purpose. A family.
The entire city saw Winter as one of the biggest bootleggers in town—someone respected and feared, no one to screw around with—but Bo knew the man behind the mask. And knowing this man had changed Bo, for good and for worse. Bo was neither wholly Chinatown nor Pacific Heights. Not part of his old life, not fully accepted into all corners of this one, either. He was between cultures and classes. Between worlds. And that was unstable ground.
Bo rubbed warmth back into his fingers. “I’ll make sure the yacht’s not taking on water and poke around in the engine room. See if she can be started up. If so, I’ll move her to that empty pier next door, so that she’s off the property and out of sight from the road. Otherwise, I’ll get a tugboat over here to move her in the morning.”
Gawking reporters and nosy crowds were the last thing an illegal enterprise needed, so the less the public could see of the yacht, the better—at least until the police could track down the owner and get the damn thing off Magnusson property. They didn’t need the cops poking around out here, either. Sure, Winter paid them off. But it was one thing for them to look the other way, and another to operate right in front of their faces. Tomorrow night’s distribution runs would need to go through their secondary Marin County docks across the Bay, which would mean more time spent in the cold rain.
Bo had little faith he’d ever feel dry or warm again. All of this weirdness with the blue-faced survivors was a bad ending to a bad day, and he was impatient for it to be over.
He was just impatient to see Astrid again. After she’d left for college at the end of the summer, he’d hoped time apart would tame his feelings. Instead, the yearning turned him into a deranged man, one match short of combusting with obsession. Absurd, really, that one tiny girl had that effect on him. So he told himself it was merely a case of mind over matter, and prayed when he saw her again she’d appear less dazzling. He would merely look upon her fondly. Platonically. Like the old friend she was, nothing more.
But now that he had seen her, he knew all of that had been a pipe dream. It was so much worse now. Because the truth was, college had changed her. He didn’t know how or why, only that if it had anything to do with that Luke fellow she wrote about, it would take every man in the warehouse holding Bo back to stop him from driving down to Los Angeles to bloody the professor’s face against the classroom chalkboard.
No, time apart hadn’t helped one bit. His blood still heated at the sight of her. His heart still ached, wanting what it couldn’t have. And no matter how he tried to pretend she was still the same fourteen-year-old, gum-smacking, know-it-all live wire he’d first met years ago, she hadn’t been a little girl for a long time. Seeing her tonight did strange, bewildering things to him. The sound of her voice alone sketched a secret road map from his heart to his brain, with a looping detour down to his cock.
Aiya, she made him miserable. Weak. Crazy. Stupid.
He absently glanced toward the light of the office window and spotted her silhouette.
“She’s angry with you,” Winter said, startling Bo out of his thoughts.
Not half as angry as he was with her. But he didn’t say that, because then he’d have to explain why. And as much as he confided in Winter, he wasn’t dumb enough to admit that Astrid had yanked out his heart and stomped on it with a few careless words in a weeks-old letter. Some lines you just didn’t cross, and pining over the Viking Bootlegger’s fox-eyed baby sister was one of them.
He tore his eyes away from the girl and stared straight ahead at the yacht. “She’ll get over it when she goes back to Los Angeles after the holidays.”
Three weeks. He might survive three more weeks of Astrid (devious smile, stubborn chin, blond curls, scent of roses, soft skin) if he stayed busy, out of sight. Found excuses to sleep at his old apartment in Chinatown instead of in his room at the Magnussons’. Kept his cock and balls locked up in some kind of medieval chastity cage . . .
“I’m going home,” Winter said in a weary voice. “I haven’t had more than an hour of sleep since yesterday, and Aida will divorce me if I stay out another night. She hasn’t been sleeping, either. She’s had a few unsettling séances lately. Heard strange messages . . .”
“About what?” Winter’s wife, Aida, was a trance medium who conducted séances for a living, temporarily able to summon back the dead to talk with their loved ones. Plenty of frauds out there, but Aida was the real thing. “Not about all this, I hope,” Bo said, motioning toward the yacht.
Winter shook his head. “No, something else is coming. It’s probably . . . well, hopefully she’s wrong about it, but it’s making her worry.”
“Go home, then,” Bo encouraged.
“Suppose I should take Astrid back with m—”
“I won’t be much longer,” Bo said a little too quickly and tried to keep the eagerness out of his voice. “The sandbagging’s finished, and squaring away the yacht shouldn’t take long. I’ll drive her back.”
“She’s not your responsibility anymore,” Winter said softly. “You’re my captain now, not a driver, and not her guardian. She can take care of herself while she’s home for the holidays. She’s a grown woman.”
Oh, he’d noticed, all right. But that didn’t stop him from worrying over her safety. Hell, it made him more anxious. The Magnussons might be wealthy, and Bo might be better paid than ninety-nine percent of the other Chinese immigrants living in San Francisco, but that money was hard-earned and came with a list of threats so long, he couldn’t keep them all in his head at once: rival bootleggers, cheap club owners, crooked cops and politicians. Mobsters from out East. Smugglers hunting new cargo. Disgruntled customers looking to save a buck . . . and hungry, delinquent kids looking to steal one.
He should know.
To someone slinking down dark alleys, trying to stay alive, Astrid Magnusson’s blue eyes looked like easy money. A kidnapping waiting to happen. And that’s why Bo had been both relived she’d chosen to attend college in Southern California, so far away from all this—yet at the same, time terrified that it was too far. That he couldn’t watch out for her anymore. That he couldn’t protect her.
His absolute nightmare.
“I don’t mind taking her home,” Bo told Winter, as if it were only a mildly irritating hardship. Casual. “It’ll give her a chance to yell at me some more.”
“Better you than me,” Winter replied with a tired smile and slapped him on his shoulder. Then he bid Bo good night and left the warehouse to drive home to his waiting wife.
Bo sighed heavily.
Before he could punish himself by being confined in a small automobile with Astrid, he had to take care of the crashed boat. He grabbed a chrome-handled flashlight from the warehouse and headed back out into the drizzle to track down the single cop the police had left behind to guard the yacht.
“Officer . . . ?” Bo said, bending down to peer into the cracked window of the black Tin Lizzie squad car.
“Barlow,” the man supplied.
“Officer Barlow,” Bo said with a smile and a polite dip of his chin. “Sorry to bother you. Just wanted to let you know that I’m going to step onto that yacht to see if she still runs. Boss wants me to move her. We got crabbers coming in tomorrow.” Fishing was still the legitimate part of the Magnusson business. Never mind that the storm was moving into the Bay too fast and scattering all their Dungeness pots to hell, filling them with sand; he just needed an excuse to move the damn yacht.
But Officer Barlow wasn’t buying it.
“No can do,” he said, swallowing a bit of sandwich.
“You can’t move the yacht. It’s a crime scene.”
Bo smiled and tried a more jovial tone. “What’s the crime? Wearing bad theater makeup? Not bothering to tell their families they decided to sail to some tropical island on a yearlong vacation?”
The officer was too dumb to be charmed by humor. “Magnusson should have cleared it through the chief.” He began rolling up the window as if the conversation were over.
Bo clamped his hand over the rain-streaked glass. “The chief cleared it. You just must not have gotten the message.”
Bo held Barlow’s dark gaze, measuring the offense in his squinting eyes. It took him all of half a second to know that the man didn’t have the balls to physically challenge him.
“The boat’s on our property,” Bo said matter-of-factly. “We want it off. So you can call someone out here to tow it, or you can let me see if I can move it a few yards to the empty pier next door.”
“Your property? You people couldn’t even vote three years ago.”
Bo’s vision clouded as a dark urge for violence rose. His hand reached for the car door handle.
But a confident feminine voice piped up before he could open the car door. “Wait for me, Bo! I’m coming on the yacht, too. Oh, hello there, Officer. Are you going along with us? My brother will be glad to know you’re concerned about our well-being.”
Buddha, Osiris, and Jehovah, Bo cursed under his breath.
Lemony blond finger waves floated beneath an umbrella.Astrid’s cunning, foxlike eyes blinked up at him with sham innocence, her previous drunken wink now gone.
I don’t need you saving me from this lazy prick, he tried to project to her with a fake smile. Years of living under the same roof had made them good interpreters of each other’s body language and expressions.
He’s not worth the effort, she seemed to project back at him.
And she was right; he really wasn’t. But Bo resented when she stepped in like this and smoothed over the indignity with a smile. Whatever favor she thought she was doing him, he paid two times over with the loss of his pride. But maybe that was a good thing tonight; he needed a reason to stay angry at her.
Anger kept the wanting away.
“Or we can just go on our own,” Astrid added.
Officer Barlow opened his car door. “I’m going with you. Let’s make it quick,” he said, and without another word, he followed them along the pier.
Lightning streaked over the Bay. The bow of the boat canted in the choppy water. Bo was half convinced that they’d all disappear at sea if they stepped foot on it, but Astrid showed no sign that she shared his worry. When he suggested she go back inside the warehouse and wait, she answered through a stilted smile, “Like hell I will.”
“Suit yourself,” he answered, and held out a hand.
One after the other, the three of them boarded the aft deck and ducked inside the door to the main salon. Black and blue shadows crossed the spacious room. Without the engine running, there was no power. No lights. And though Bo could make out the general layout by the light filtering through the salon’s windows, it wasn’t enough to ease his needling anxiety. He popped open the strap of his holster—just in case—and flicked on his flashlight.
“Stars,” Astrid mumbled at his side as she folded up her umbrella.
The salon was the pinnacle of class and taste. Expensive furniture. Fine art. A sleek bar in the back near a white baby grand piano. But all of it was wrecked. Furniture lay tipped over, and broken stemware littered the woven Persian rug. The mirror above the bar was cracked down the center.
The police chief had told Winter that there were signs of a party on board, but he hadn’t relayed just how recent that party had been. The yellow beam of Bo’s flashlight illuminated fresh flowers scattered from broken vases. Fresh flowers and fresh food, not to mention the lingering scents of candle wax, cigarette smoke, and booze.
All this made Bo feel better, actually. Whatever bizarre activities the survivors had been up to, they weren’t ghosts or monsters.
He revised that opinion when he swept the flashlight’s beam up the walls. Witchy symbols were drawn in bright blue paint. A large ritual circle was painted in the center of the salon floor, around which a dozen or more candles had melted into the wooden floorboards.
“What in God’s name were these cranks up to?” Bo murmured.
“They’re occultists,” Officer Barlow said. “Devil worshippers or something.”
“What language is this?” Astrid asked.
“No idea,” Bo said.
The officer shrugged. “Who cares? They were probably all taking narcotics. A lot of heroin’s been coming into the city this year. Or maybe you knew that already . . .”
Bo did, but only from gossip. The Magnussons didn’t have anything to do with narcotics. They only sold alcohol, and not bathtub gin, either. Top quality. And all of it smuggled by ship from Canada, some of which was originally imported from Europe. One of those European imports was a very particular brand of black-label champagne—one that no one else in San Francisco sold. Bo would recognize the bottles anywhere; after all, he’d inspected every shipment of it, checking for false labels, evaluating the bottle marks, and tasting the contents.
Several empty bottles of that very champagne lay on the floor of the salon.
He picked one up and sniffed. Definitely Magnusson stock. Only a few speakeasies around town that sold it, along with the occasional special order for a political fund-raiser or some socialite’s wedding.
He didn’t like finding it here.
“Must have been one hell of a party,” Barlow said. “Hope it was worth it, because as soon as we can get them identified, they’re all going to be locked up for stealing this boat.”
“Is that what happened?” Astrid asked. “They stole it?”
Barlow shrugged. “What else would it be? You saw them. They were young—your age, and vagrants, I’d guess. They took the boat for a joyride, got looped up on drugs, probably sailed up the coast and got lost.”
“For a year?” Astrid said.
Bo shared her disbelief. He wasn’t convinced that vagrants had such expensive taste in hothouse flowers and champagne. And other than the damage to the furniture—which could have been caused by the storm—and the painted blue symbols, the room had been kept up. No piss in the corner. No signs of anyone holing up in here. Hell, there wasn’t even dust on the bar. He lifted his fingers to his nose and smelled wood polish.
“The chief mentioned a man who’d claimed to have captained this boat when it went missing last year,” Bo said. “Know anything about that?”
Barlow made a snorting sound. “Sure, I heard about him. It was just some geezer with a few screws loose who ended up in a mental institution. Claimed that he’d been hired to pilot the yacht, but a storm threw him overboard and he swam ashore.”
“Interesting,” Bo said.
“Not really. The yacht’s owner had never laid eyes on him. We see that kind of stuff all the time. Lonely people with too much time on their hands read about cases in the newspapers and show up at the station, claiming they can help us. They never do.”
Astrid stepped over broken glass and stumbled into Bo.
“Whoa,” he said, putting a hand on her arm to steady her. For a moment, he wondered if she hadn’t sobered up as much he’d originally thought, but then he realized he was wobbly, too. The storm outside was picking up speed. He leaned against the bar for support and held on to Astrid, relishing the excuse to do so, even for a few stolen seconds.
“All right,” Officer Barlow complained when the boat’s swaying finally calmed. “I don’t have all night. Let’s get to the engine room.”
“What’s this?” Astrid bent to pick up something that had rolled across the floor.
Bo flicked the flashlight’s beam near her feet. Bright blue stone glinted as her fingers reached for it—something about the size of his hand. Turquoise, maybe. When she picked it up, a brief flash of white light ringed her hand like a wreath of electric smoke.
She went rigid, convulsed, and collapsed to the floor.
“Astrid!” Bo cried out as he dropped to her side.
The flash of light was gone, but she wouldn’t open her eyes. He couldn’t tell if she was breathing. He bent low and listened over Astrid’s open mouth.
Breath, thank God. And his shaking fingers felt a pulse at her neck.
“Christ!” Barlow shouted. “What’s the matter with her? She having a seizure or something?”
“Astrid, wake up,” Bo said into her face, afraid to shake her. Afraid not to.
Her fingers still clutched the turquoise object. He pried them open and tried not to touch the thing, but it was unavoidable. The stone was hot, but no light flashed when he touched it—a carved figure, from what he could make out in the dark. Some kind of miniature idol. He pulled out a handkerchief and quickly rolled the figure into the linen before stashing it in his jacket pocket.
What the hell was that thing, and what had it done to her? She was unmoving. Completely unresponsive. She felt limp and fragile in his arms as he scooped her off the floor. Barlow’s annoying voice buzzed around Bo’s head, suggesting they not touch her because she might be suffering from whatever ill magic had cursed the blue-faced survivors.
And she might be, but Bo would be damned before he sat by and let it kill her.
“Hold on,” he mumbled repeatedly as he carried her out of the yacht’s salon, doing his best to shield her drooping body from the sting of rain.
“That girl needs to go to a hospital,” the officer yelled over the howling wind, dogging Bo’s heels. “I can’t help you. I’m not allowed to leave my post.”
Bastard. Bo would remember that later, but at the moment, he didn’t care. He made it to his car and heard Astrid moan as he set her down in the front seat. She still didn’t open her eyes.
“You’re going to be fine,” he told her. “Everything’s going to be fine.”
He just wasn’t sure if he believed it.
Astrid woke in fits and starts, occasionally seeing snatches of the dark city whizzing by a rain-splattered car window. Though she’d only been inside this car a couple of times before she left for college, she knew she was riding in Bo’s new forest green Buick Brougham, because it smelled like dyed mohair velvet upholstery and the lemon drops he stashed in the glove box. She did her best to concentrate on those familiar scents, but the bubbling memory of her dream kept pulling her back under.
Not a dream. It was too strange, too bright and surreal. And she’d been far too conscious when it was happening, as if the turquoise idol had opened a door when she’d touched it, and she’d lifted outside her body and stepped into another time.
When she finally kicked away the thick haze that held her under, she was lying in a hospital bed on top of drum-tight sheets, and a nurse in a crisp white pinafore apron and pointed hat was taking blood from her arm. “There she is,” the nurse said with a kind smile. “How are you feeling?”
“A little weak,” she admitted.
“I’m Nurse Dupree,” she said, removing the syringe and tourniquet from her arm. “Do you know who you are?”
“Someone who stupidly drank too much . . . uh, grape juice.” The woman seemed nice, but she might be a teetotaler. Best to play it safe.
“But what’s your name, dear?”
“Astrid Cristiana Magnusson,” she enunciated carefully.
Behind the nurse, Bo let out a small sound of relief.
“I’m all right,” she told both of them. “A little dizzy, but it’s passing.”
After the nurse bandaged her arm and ran through a list of symptoms that Astrid didn’t have, she left with a blood sample and a promise to return shortly. “A lot going on tonight with those boat survivors and the police,” she said. “I’ll try to get a doctor in here as soon as I can.”
Bo’s anxious face peered down from the side of the bed. “You scared the life out of me.” He blew out a long breath and ran a hand over his hair. A moment later, it was hard to tell if he was genuinely concerned . . . or merely irritated at her for inconveniencing him.
He picked up a pitcher from her bedside table and poured water into a glass.
Astrid looked around and realized they were in a room with three other beds—one of which was occupied by a man in a full body cast, who seemed to be sleeping. Distant commotion and chatter echoed down the spotless white hallway outside the propped-open door. The occasional nurse scurried back and forth.
“Are we at Saint Francis?” she asked. “Are the boat survivors here?”
“Down the hall. Drink,” he encouraged, holding out the glass as she sat up in bed.
She took it from him and gulped down the lukewarm water, requesting another glass when she’d emptied it. “Remind me never to get sloshed again.”
“I don’t think this was from the champagne. I told the nurse you fell and went unconscious after the yacht crashed into the pier. I didn’t tell her why, exactly.” He paused and looked at her seriously. “Do you remember what happened?”
“I touched the blue idol and fell out of myself.”
“You . . . what? Hold on.” Metal zinged as Bo pulled the privacy curtain, separating her from the man in the body cast. “Tell me everything.”
Now she had his full attention. Finally. She patted the bed next to her and scooted over to give him room. He hesitated a moment before sitting down. Like it pained him. It was clear he was trying to keep some space between them. She shifted her leg to erase that space, mentally tallying a point in her favor, and began explaining the sensation she’d felt when she’d touched the object.
“It was an electric pain,” she said. “A shock. I felt hot.”
Then she recounted her strange vision . . .
She’d been on the yacht. In the salon.
It was dim, the room lit by candlelight. Night loomed beyond the band of windows. Nothing was wrecked—no cracked mirror behind the bar, no glass on the rug, or strewn furniture—but the blue symbols were still painted on the walls . . . and on the floor. Standing inside the ritual circle were six people dressed in white robes.
And facing them around the outside of the circle were six additional people. Each of them stood naked in a puddle of rough, brown fabric, wearing nothing put pairs of strange-looking boots.
Bright blue stones glowed in their hands. Miniature idols, like the one Astrid had picked up. Six people, six idols. One by one, each of the expressionless nude participants handed the turquoise statues to the survivors before picking up the brown fabric that pooled around their strange boots. Brown burlap sacks, big enough for a man to stand inside. They pulled the sacks over their heads like cocoons and cinched them closed from the inside.
Lightning flashed in the windows. The survivors stepped outside the circle and embraced the sack-tied people. And as they did, Astrid saw a single person left standing in the middle of the circle. A woman in a deep red robe. Some kind of priestess. She was elderly—her hands were horribly wrinkled, and strands of white hair peeked from her hood—and though her back faced Astrid, when lightning flashed a second time, she could almost make out her blurred face in the mirror over the bar—
And then it was over. Astrid had snapped back into her body. It was the strangest thing she’d ever experienced, and even now, made her shudder.
“Do you think the idol infected me with some sort of magic?” she whispered. “Remember what happened to Winter when he got cursed and started seeing ghosts? I definitely do not want to see ghosts.”
“Winter was cursed on purpose. There’s no way anyone could have known you’d pick that idol up.”
“What was it?”
“I don’t know, but whatever kind of charge it held seems to be gone.” From the pocket of his suit jacket, he retrieved a gray handkerchief embroidered with his initials and unfolded it. Inside the fabric, turquoise winked.
It was definitely a stylized figure. The carving was crude yet beautiful, the bright blue surface covered in a delicate web of cracks. The figure’s wide eyes were inlaid with gold, and a strange symbol was embossed on a gold disk in the middle of the idol’s stomach.
“You kept it?” she whispered.
“I touched it after you did, but nothing happened.” He demonstrated with a finger. “It was hot to the touch before, but it’s cooled down. If what you saw is somehow real—”
“It was real, Bo. You have to believe me.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I believe you. You Magnussons are a goddamn magnet for the supernatural.”
In addition to Winter’s wife being a trance medium, Lowe’s wife, Hadley, was a museum curator who’d inherited a regiment of ancient Egyptian death specters from her cursed mother.
So, no, the Magnussons weren’t exactly a normal family.
Excerpted from "Grave Phantoms"
Copyright © 2015 Jenn Bennett.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Roaring Twenties novels
“A unique combination of the historical and the paranormal.”—Fresh Fiction
“The romance and mystery blended seamlessly and kept me engaged from beginning to end.”—Fiction Vixen
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
“Grave Phantoms” is the last book in the Roaring Twenties trilogy by Jenn Bennett. The first two being “Bitter Spirits” and “Grim Shadows”. I have read all three, and this one is unfortunately not up to par with the others. Each book centers around a different Magnusson sibling. The first one being Winter, and the second is Lowe. The first two had a really strong romance/sexual vibe, whereas this just felt lukewarm. It could be that the first two felt more intense because the relationships were just beginning. Whereas in this story Astrid and Bo have known each other since they were kids, and have turned a friendship into love. The supernatural part of the story was pretty good, but I didn’t feel as if there was enough of it. I actually wanted to read more of that, and less about the relationship between Astrid and Bo. And when Bennett did get to the conclusion of that part of the story it felt rushed and over too soon. The huge gap in the story for me was all the time Astrid and Bo spent away from the house, and no one even seemed to notice them missing. They were busy trying to find out more about the occult ritual that the passengers from the ship had done. Because when Astrid picked up one of the totems, she ended up getting an extra aura, that was not look good, around her. They also found themselves a little love nest in a lighthouse, and were gone for what seemed like days, without anyone being worried about them. Bennett did touch on the taboo of relationships between people of different cultures (Bo is Chinese) in earlier American history. I thought she did a great job bringing it to light. And the way Bo and Astrid dealt with the different situations was interesting to see. The epilogue did wrap up the trilogy to the point where I am satisfied. You find out which couples have had kids, how they survived the Great Depression, and a glimpse into their future. I would have given this book four out of five stars because the writing really is good, and the sex scenes were tantalizing, but there was just not enough other story for me to do so.
There are few novels that combine suspense with paranormal elements, romance, and non-standard historical eras. This, happily, is one of those few. As someone tired of reading about dukes and highlanders, I was thrilled to find this series, and this last and latest in the trilogy didn't disappoint. I've highly recommended the Roaring Twenties to all my friends, and would do the same for any reader.
Grave Phantoms by Jenn Bennett is her 3rd book in her Roaring Twenties series, and is the final book in this series. The Magnusson brothers, Winter and Lowe have been the heroes of the first two books. From the start, we have waited for Astrid, the younger Magnusson to have her story. Bo Yeung is our hero, and the man Astrid is destined to be with, as we have known how both have secretly felt about each other. Bo is the right hand of Winter, in the Magnusson bootlegging business, and he is Chinese. In 1928, during the prohibition era, where this takes place, any kind of relationship between them is forbidden and illegal, but both Astrid and Bo find themselves wanting more than just a friendship. Bo has always watched over Astrid, and now with her home from college for a few weeks, she is not a little girl anymore. While looking for Bo on their dock, Astrid finds herself accidently in the middle of a strange phenomenon, which is a paranormal mystery that will drive this story. It seems a yacht has appeared on the dock that was mysteriously missing for a year. After touching a fallen object, Astrid has visions of the past, especially the missing ship and the people on it. Her aura has changed, and between her and Bo they need to resolve the mystery to save Astrid from the dangers it is causing. What follows is an wild and exciting adventure that will put them in the middle of dark magic from the past that will rear its ugly head. We will get a dose of history in this mystery. The romance between Astrid and Bo heats up, and they are determined to solve the mystery, and find a way for them to be together. I thought Astrid was a great character, and loved her strength, her bubbly vivacious personality, and her fearlessness. She and Bo made a great couple. Jen Bennett did a wonderful job putting the final pieces to this fascinating trilogy of the Magnusson family in an era of the prohibition and the Roaring Twenties. I loved the epilogue allowing us to see them all in the future. This was a fun and exciting series, with great characters. I wholly recommend you read this series.
Our Review, by LITERAL ADDICTION's Vivacious Valkyrie - Marta: *Copy gifted in exchange for an honest review This is the third book in the Roaring Twenties series and returns to the antics of the Magnusson family. This time, it's the youngest member of the family Astrid and although she's a rich and pampered young woman she hasn't got the one thing she really wants, Bo Yeung! Bo is almost like an adopted son to Astrids older brother Winter and helps him run his very successful bootlegging business, but at a time when mixed relations were taboo the yearning they share seems doomed before it's even begun. Astrid's home from college when a storm sees a yacht crashing upon the pier the Magnussons use. What stumbles from the boat are a group who has been missing at sea for a year! Astrid and Bo manage to wrangle their way on board, but when Astrid touches a small sculpture her world quite literally turns on its head as she starts having terrifying visions. Something truly evil happened on that yacht, and now it looks as if Astrid is in danger. There's nothing Bo won't do to protect her but it looks as if the storm is far from over! This couple are both quite young and it's a sweet romance that just builds up. Astrid is such a beguiling character and so full of life with a vibrant personality that has poor Bo truly out of his depth. I really liked Bo too as he's resourceful and brave but in San Francisco in the 1920's a Chinese man and a white woman would raise more than a few eyebrows. The dreams they share are more than just frowned upon they are illegal which leaves the author with quite a dilemma but you know what they say " where there's a will there's a way"! What seems like a hopeless forbidden romance with Ms Bennett at the helm takes on a whole new lease of life. An amazing balance of romance with a mysterious paranormal story. It's possibly not the best plot in this series as it takes a while for answers to be forthcoming and if I'm really honest I still felt I wanted a tiny bit more but I was engrossed right up until the last page. The story brought home to me how difficult life was for many just what's a relatively short time ago and prejudice is no laughing matter. What really works though is the fact that it's a character driven story and as usual this author delivers a fun steamy read that had me gripped.