Can a mysterious beauty win the heart of the most eligible bachelor in San Francisco in this tender western romance?
Jade Douglas is a determined young woman who risks it all to travel to San Francisco in the late 1800’s to learn the truth about her father’s mysterious death.
J.T. Harrington is a handsome, rugged rancher who has just inherited a vast estate. When he finds the radiant beauty on his doorstep, he is tempted to ignore his vow never to love again and offer Jade both his name and his heart.
Before their scandalous wedding can unveil the secrets of the past, J.T. and Jade find themselves torn apart by a dangerous deception, but brought together again by a desire too powerful for either one of them to deny . . .
Jill Marie Landis is the New York Times bestselling author and seven-time Romance Writers of American Finalist for the RITA Award. Long known for her historical romances, Jill Marie Landis also now writes The Tiki Goddess Mysteries (set on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, where she lives with her husband, actor Steve Landis.)
|Product dimensions:||6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.74(d)|
About the Author
Jill Marie resides in Hawaii with her husband. When she's not writing or sitting on the beach reading, she enjoys visiting with family and friends, raising orchids, working in her garden, occasionally quilting, but most of all dancing the hula.
Read an Excerpt
Good deeds stay indoors ... Evil deeds travel many miles from home.
San Francisco 1875
ALTHOUGH SHE WAS anxious to see her hostess, Jade Douglas was glad she had arrived before her old friend had awakened. She needed the time alone to collect her thoughts. Jade stared around her borrowed retreat, studying its overblown opulence. Fall sunlight, diffused by fog, barely lit the second-story room, but even the weak, early morning light could not diminish the shining surfaces of the various gilded frames, polished mirrors, and crystal droplets that adorned the wall sconces. Pausing just inside the door, Jade ran her fingertip over the textured wall covering flocked with gold highlights, and then crossed over to the high, four-poster bed swathed in crushed velvet curtains and spread — a veritable sea of emerald green.
Despite the richness of the room's appointments, there was a look of untouched perfection about the place that made it lifeless and uninviting. When she set her satchel on the bed, the faded, lopsided bag reminded her of an old tramp that had somehow crept into a place where it definitely did not belong. She quickly moved it to the floor.
The same muted light that filled the room highlighted the golden strands woven within the red of her hair. Within seconds of closing the door behind her, she had released the wild mass from the severely wound knot tied at the slender nape of her neck. Now, as she ran her fingers through the thick, shining tresses, they sprang to life with curl. Jade shook her hair once more, enjoying the way it swayed past her shoulders.
She retrieved her buttonhook from the satchel, then sat on the edge of the bed and slowly unhooked the buttons of her well-worn shoes. Once they were undone, she sighed with relief, and slipped them off of her feet. They fell to the floor, the sound muffled by the thick Persian carpet. After tossing the hook back into the bag, she paused to admire the ornate detail of the rug's green and gold pattern. She wriggled her stockinged toes, then stretched, arms skyward, and crossed the room to linger before the window. She opened it and leaned out to welcome the chill October air that chased away the stuffiness of the room. Jade stood in silent contemplation, relishing the tangy scent of salt on the air, and stared out at wisps of fog that crept along and eddied about the other homes that lined Powell Street.
How different San Francisco was from Paris, where she had spent the last five years! Beyond the window lay a city grown wild and unencumbered as a storm at sea. Miners, stockbrokers, bankers, and thieves moved shoulder-to-shoulder with immigrants of every land along the crowded streets in this sprawling city on the edge of the world. Fortunes were made and lost in a day. Everyone in San Francisco was caught up in the fever of speculation, even hotel maids and milkmen purchased stocks on the San Francisco exchange.
People were afraid not to spend their hard-earned wages on a chance at riches, not when so many of the city's most wealthy residents had made their fortunes in speculation, even though just as many had lost. The city was much larger than she remembered, sprawling wherever it was not held in check by the water that surrounded it. Compared to the ancient, winding streets of Paris lined with aged stone buildings, San Francisco seemed new, raw, and barely tamed.
Jade crossed the room again and reached down into the satchel. When she found her hairbrush, she worked it through her hair until it shone, then tossed it aside and slipped off her faded, travel-weary gown. After she draped the dress over a nearby chair, she donned a robe of rich, topaz silk to cover her short-sleeved chemise and cotton knickerbockers. As she tied the sash, she lowered herself to the floor and sat cross-legged — back straight, body relaxed. Closing her eyes, she tried to still the inner chatter that plagued her thoughts as they tumbled one after another.
Jade took a deep breath and sat very still. Her daily meditation period was a habit she had learned long before she went to Paris to learn Chinese. These contemplative moments had long been a custom of her grandfather, Philo Page. As a small child, she had taken to sitting quietly beside her grandfather whenever he and his companion, Chi Nu, meditated. Before she was twelve, she was able to sit in silence for nearly an hour.
She had barely begun to breathe evenly — taking the slow, rhythmic breaths prescribed by ancient Chinese philosophers — when the bedroom door opened without so much as a warning knock and an effervescent Barbara Barrett swept in.
Casually wrapped in a satin dressing gown with matching ivory slippers, Babs was a picture of elegant dishabille — her luxurious brunette hair swept up off the back of her neck and tied with a wide ribbon in a loose, sensuous style. She looked as beautiful as Jade remembered her.
When they were both thirteen, Babs's figure had already blossomed, while Jade's had remained reed thin. Now, at twenty-three and nearly the same height, Babs was a stunning brunette with dark, flashing eyes and a complexion that glowed the color of ripened apricots. Jade considered herself lucky not to have inherited her father's freckles. Her skin was the palest ivory; beside Babs, Jade had always felt like an ugly duckling.
Babs halted just inside the room and stared down at Jade as if she could not believe her eyes. She took a tentative step forward then halted again. "What are you doing sitting on the floor?"
Jade smiled and stood up, careful to keep her robe modestly closed. She hurried to embrace her old friend with a warm hug. "Oh, Babs! I'm so glad to see you! You look wonderful. You're too good, taking me in like this."
Babs laughed and hugged Jade tight, then pulled back to study her carefully. Her expression sobered. "You look tired, Jade."
Leading Jade across the room, Babs sidestepped the satchel without comment and sat on the edge of the bed. She pulled Jade down beside her. The scent of Babs's expensive perfume heavily scented the air about them.
"You poor thing. If I had known you were arriving so early, I would have been up to meet you. I felt just awful having to cable you in France about your father's murder, but I knew you would want to return as soon as possible." Babs hesitated while she watched Jade's reaction to her words. "You did want to come home, didn't you?"
Jade nodded, reassuring her friend as the two held hands in silent solidarity. She stared down at Babs's well-manicured nails and was suddenly all too aware of her own uneven and neglected ones. "I suppose it was time I came back. My studies were at an end. I'm able to speak Cantonese fluently now, which is what grandfather dearly wanted. So yes, returning to San Francisco was the logical thing to do."
"But what a horrible thing to have to face," Babs said, giving Jade's hand a final squeeze before letting go. "You can't imagine Reggie's reaction to your father's murder —"
"Oh, I think I can." It was no secret that Babs's husband, Reginald Barrett, hated scandal of any kind. He had never hidden his disapproval of Jade. Even when the three of them were younger and he and Babs had first become engaged, Reggie's feelings were clear. To his way of thinking, Jade was too eccentric, too headstrong, and far too intellectual for a woman. A bluestocking, he always called her. "I know Reggie's penchant for keeping up appearances," Jade added.
Babs shrugged. "Well, one can never be too careful. There's nothing San Franciscans enjoy more than someone else's scandal. Have you received any details aside from the Chronicle articles I sent you?"
Bothered by disturbing thoughts, Jade was unable to sit any longer. She stood and began to pace, pausing here and there to gingerly touch whatever piece of bric-a-brac caught her eye as she spoke. "A few. I stopped at the police station this morning while I was waiting for a decent hour to come knocking on your door." She lifted the lid of a crystal bonbon dish. It was empty.
Babs brushed at a stray wisp of hair that had escaped the pile atop her crown. "We were out late last night, but you could have come right over. The servants are here to answer the door anyway. "
"I met your maid when she let me in."
Babs leaned back on her elbows and jiggled her foot, admiring her fashionable slipper. "Doreen is utterly useless." Jade paused for a moment and contemplated a Staffordshire vase on a side table. She wondered if Babs truly meant the insensitive remark. The maid had struck her as very young, inexperienced, perhaps, but very pleasant and hardly useless.
"Well?" Babs prodded.
Jade started. "Well what?"
"What have you learned about the murder? What did the police say?"
"Not much. The detective on the case wasn't there, but the man at the desk was able to tell me that they think my father was connected to a kidnapping of some kind. I'm to meet with the detective in charge of the case later this morning to learn the details."
"This morning? But you just got here. Surely they'll give you time to rest?"
Jade shrugged. "It's not every day a Caucasian is found in Little China with a tong war axe buried in his skull."
"God, it's awful, for a man to die that way, isn't it? I mean, I know there was no love lost between you and your father, but ..."
Jade walked over to the window again, took a deep breath, and stared out at the city. Babs knew her well enough to know what a strain Francis Douglas's drinking and gambling had put on her childhood. The girls' mothers had been close; both women encouraged the children's friendship. Jade used to relish her visits to Babs's home; compared to her own, it was a haven, a place filled with love where both parents lavished affection on their child.
Francis Douglas had never hidden the fact that he had not wanted the burden of his only child. Jade and her mother had been the victims of his constant verbal abuse. After her mother's death, Jade's grandfather had urged her to study in France. He'd insisted that he needed her to help him catalogue and translate markings on the piece of his Chinese art collection. In reality, they both knew it was a way to escape from her overbearing and increasingly irrational father.
Looking back now, she wished she had possessed the foresight to return before her father had placed the very collection that was essential to her grandfather's dream in jeopardy.
"It's just horrible," Babs went on, unaware that Jade had not been paying attention. "God knows we're probably not even safe in our own beds. That's the trouble with having so many Chinese around. They're taking over the city, you know. I won't even have a Chinese servant in the house."
Jade spun around to face her friend. The Chinese she had known were hardworking and intelligent — fighting to make a place for themselves in a culture that was alien to their own. Amazed by her friend's prejudice, she held her temper, nonetheless. She was, after all, a guest in Babs's home. "Even the police aren't sure it was the Chinese that killed my father, Babs. It could be that the murderer just wanted it to look that way."
"But why? Why would anyone have wanted him dead?" Babs wondered aloud.
"You know my father wasn't the most scrupulous of businessmen, Babs," Jade said softly. He had made more enemies in business than she could count. Some he had duped through sales of bogus silver mine certificates, others he had outgambled, and then there were those whose properties he had gained through illegal real estate transactions. It could have been any one of them. "He was always involved in one scheme or another, always losing as much money as he made." She had been too young and frightened then to do anything about his thieving. Now it was too late.
Jade turned and crossed the room again. She stood beside the bed and toyed with one of the tassels on the satin braid that held the bed drapes swagged open. Babs had shifted on the bed and lay curled up on her side, her feet tucked beneath her dressing gown.
"Right now I'm more concerned with recovering Grandfather Page's Chinese collection than finding out who killed my father. The Hibernia Bank contacted me before I left Paris, and it seems that before he was murdered, my father managed to go through all of the money mother had inherited." She took a deep breath, nearly unable to relate her next bit of bad news. "He even took Grandfather's collection ... my collection," she amended, "and used it as collateral against his debts. The bank is holding it until I can find a way to pay off the sixty thousand dollars my father owed them."
"Sixty thousand?" Babs sat up.
Jade shook her head. "Exactly. Where am I supposed to get that kind of money in thirty days?"
"Are you sure there's nothing left of your grandfather's estate?"
"Father sold everything off but the old adobe and the land around it, which he could not touch, but that was only because I was named on the deed when I was a child. Grandfather didn't leave a will, so everything that would have been mother's reverted to my father when she died. All that's left is the house and the land it sits on." She flicked the tassel once more before she dropped it. "I'm sure that wherever Grandfather is now, he hates knowing that. If there was any money left at all, I wouldn't have arrived here this morning, bag and baggage, on your doorstep."
Babs leaned back on her elbows. "Don't even think about it. I want you to stay for as long as need be."
Jade had no idea when her affairs would be settled, and at this very moment, she felt too tired to care.
"Maybe you should talk to them. Tell them you need more time," Babs suggested.
Jade shook her head. In his absent-mindedness, her grandfather had not thought to safeguard the collection for her. He had been a self-taught scholar of things Chinese, living not in the present but in the distant past, trying to understand a culture very different from his own. His dream was to find a way to house and display the collection of Chinese antiques he had collected over the years, so that the people of San Francisco could begin to understand the history of the many Chinese that lived and worked among them. He had passed his dream on to Jade.
She couldn't even imagine what state the adobe might be in. The house and grounds were in disrepair even before she left San Francisco, for sadly enough, crumbling adobe bricks had never taken precedence over Philo Page's studies.
Compared to the new homes she had heard were rising on California Street, the place was little more than a hovel of adobe clay. The surrounding garden had once been filled with native plants as well as exotic herbs and flowers able to withstand the climate. It was the place where she had planned to live, and yet, as much as she loved it, she knew she would gladly give it up if it meant saving the collection of Chinese lacquer, pottery, bronzes, and paintings her grandfather had amassed.
"Maybe if I ask Reggie, he might advance you the money you need," Babs volunteered.
Jade turned to her friend. "Sixty thousand dollars?" She shook her head, her eyes wide but dry. "I can't accept your offer. Besides," she said, shrugging, "Reggie has never been more than decidedly cool toward me. I'm sure my father's scandalous murder hasn't endeared me to him, not to mention what happened the night before I left San Francisco."
She had been eighteen then, emotionally drained, her nerves on edge. Caring for her mother had been an ordeal she had yet to put behind her when her father insisted she accompany him to dinner at Cliff House, the restaurant perched on a point across from Seal Rocks.
Determined to stand up to her belligerent, overbearing father as she had always wished her mother would have done, Jade agreed to accompany him to dinner because she felt it would be safer to tell him she was leaving for Paris if they were in a public place where he would not be able to vent his fury. She had asked that she be permitted to leave once the meal had ended and he had agreed, but once they reached Cliff House, the evening began to reel out of control.
As usual, he had gathered together a group of his cronies and began to drink heavily. Jade stayed until the meal had ended, then asked the manager to hail her a hack. Her father told her to sit down, that she was going nowhere until he said she could, and began to lash out at her verbally, seeking to humble and bend her to his will — as he had always done to her mother.
But unlike Melinda Douglas, Jade lashed back. She refused to let his irrational ranting upset her as she stood in a darkened alcove that did little to shield her from the startled, curious expressions of the other diners.
Excerpted from "Jade"
Copyright © 1991 Jill Marie Landis.
Excerpted by permission of BelleBooks, Inc..
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