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Shakespearean actress turned Pinkerton detective Lilly Long and her reluctant partner, Cade McShane, travel to New Orleans to save a young widow from a fate worse than death…
1881, Chicago. Assigned to her second case as a Pinkerton, Lilly still needs to prove herself—both as a novice detective and as a woman in a man’s world. Ordered to once again work with Lilly, Cade needs to redeem himself for conduct unbecoming to a Pinkerton—a grief-driven drunken brawl. As if their forced partnership wasn’t bad enough, the agents must pose as husband and wife servants in the troubled household of a wealthy New Orleans family. An acting challenge if ever there was one…
The elderly matriarch of the Fortenot family is convinced her grandson’s former widow has been unjustly committed to an insane asylum by her second husband. She believes the man is attempting to wrest the family fortune away from his new wife. Soon, behind the beautiful façade of the Fortenot mansion, the detectives uncover secrets, betrayal, voodoo curses—and murder. Even as Lilly and Cade chafe against their roles, they must work together to expose the true villain of this tragedy before the hapless widow faces her final curtain call.
About the Author
Penny Richards sold her first book in 1983 and has written over forty well-received books, mostly contemporary romances. She now writes historical mystery and inspirational historical romance. Penny lives in Arkansas, where she is hard at work on the next Lilly Long Mystery.
Visit Penny at www.pennyrichardswrites.com; on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Penny-Richards-Author, and follow her at twitter.com/pennyRwrites.
And don’t miss Lilly Long’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Lilly-Long.
Read an Excerpt
Though This Be Madness
By Penny Richards
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Penny Richards
All rights reserved.
89 Dearborn, Chicago
"I bloody well won't do it!" The declaration came from the man pacing the floor of William Pinkerton's office. "I'm a Pinkerton agent, not a blasted nanny."
William Pinkerton pinned the young operative with an unrelenting look from beneath heavy brows. "You haven't any choice, McShane."
Andrew Cadence McShane faced his boss with a defiant expression. "What? I haven't yet groveled enough for you and your father?"
William stifled his own irritation at the bold statement. McShane was a loose cannon, and if it were up to William, he'd fire the man on the spot. Indeed, Allan had fired him a year ago, for drinking and brawling and behaving in a way that was unacceptable to Pinkerton's code of conduct. But, claiming that he had his life together at last, McShane had come asking for his job back about the same time the young actress, Lilly Long, had applied for a position. Allan, who had always thought the Irishman was one of his best agents, had rehired him on a provisional basis.
"You know exactly what I mean," William said in a measured tone. "No one was holding a gun to your head when you agreed to the terms of our rehiring you, which, as you no doubt recall, was probation for an undetermined length of time."
Feeling a certain amount of uneasiness over his father's decision to hire McShane and Miss Long, William had suggested that McShane be assigned to keep an eye out for the inexperienced new operative on her first mission, which would — Lord willing — keep him too preoccupied to get into any more scrapes. Allan had agreed.
So while new agent Lilly Long tried to locate the Reverend Harold Purcell, a preacher who had stolen from his congregation and disappeared from his home near Vandalia, Illinois, McShane had kept tabs on her by pretending to be part of a traveling boxing troupe. He'd been no happier about the job than Miss Long had been about her missing person assignment, but they'd both known they were in no position to object, just as neither had any say about this new arrangement.
"Until we feel confident that you will not resort to your previous unacceptable behavior, you will partner with Miss Long."
McShane's eyes went wide with something akin to shock. "It was a barroom brawl, sir. I did not reveal any secrets or compromise my assignment in any way."
"We've been through all this before, McShane, and I refuse to revisit it." William's gaze shied away from the younger man's, which had lost its belligerence and grown as bleak as the stormy spring morning.
William cleared his throat. "Believe me, I understand that on a personal level you were going through an extremely rough patch at the time, and for that you have my sympathy, but you must understand that the agency cannot have our operatives behaving in ways that make us look bad. We have a sterling reputation, and we will do what we must to make sure it stays that way. If you continue to do well, you'll soon be on your own again."
All the fiery irritation seemed to drain from the younger man. "Yes, sir."
"Actually, this assignment is one that will be best served by a man and woman working together."
Seemingly resigned, McShane took a seat in the chair across from William's desk. "Tell me about it."
"I prefer to explain things to you and Miss Long together," William said. "She should be here any minute. But I will tell you this much. The two of you will be going to New Orleans."
* * *
The rain had stopped ... at least for the moment, but thick black clouds still roiled uneasily in the sky when Lilly's cab pulled up in front of the five-story building that housed the Pinkerton offices. She paid the driver and, careful to step around the puddles, entered the structure with a feeling of elation.
Since returning from her first assignment just a week ago, she'd been riding the wave of her success in bringing her first case to a satisfactory conclusion and basking in the knowledge that she would continue to be employed by the prestigious detective firm. She'd been more than a little surprised when she received a message that morning stating that William wanted to see her at once.
Though she knew she had a long way to go before becoming a seasoned agent, the praise she'd received from both William and Allan was, to paraphrase the bard, "the stuff that dreams were made of." When her missing person assignment had evolved into solving a twenty-year-old murder, it had been satisfying to know that she'd helped bring about justice. And Allan, who loved correcting what he perceived as social wrongdoing, had been quite satisfied that things had been made as right as humanly possible. She was eager to embark on her next mission.
Pausing outside the doorway, she tucked a loose strand of red hair beneath the brim of the straw hat she'd purchased as a treat for herself the day before. The soft green of the grosgrain ribbons was the exact hue of her new walking dress with its high stand-up collar topped with the wide, heavy white lace that marched down the front. The off-the-ground hem of her narrow skirt showed the pointed toes of her matching shoes and was trimmed with a wide band of the lace.
She stepped through the door to the outer office, where William's clerk, Harris, pounded on the keys of the Remington typewriter, using the hunt-and-peck system. The morning sunshine behind him illuminated the long, thin wisps of graying hair that had been combed over to help disguise his balding pate.
Hearing her at the door, he looked up. "Good morning, Miss Long," he said with a polite smile. "You're looking chipper today."
"Hello, Harris," she replied. "I am chipper this morning. I'm anxious to get back to work."
Harris stood. "I'll just let them know you're here," he said.
Them. Lilly smiled. Oh, good. Allan was going to be involved in her next project. She had the feeling that the intrepid lawman supported her hiring, even though William was ambivalent at best about his father's determination to hire female agents.
"Miss Long is here," Harris said, moving aside for Lilly to enter.
When she stepped through the aperture, William was already coming around the desk, his hand extended in greeting. But it wasn't William who caught Lilly's attention. It was the man who had risen from a chair as she entered the room. It wasn't Allan Pinkerton who stood when she stepped through the doorway. It was Cadence McShane.
With her attention focused on the other man, she barely heard William's words of welcome. The last time she'd seen McShane was after the completion of the Heaven's Gate assignment. He'd made a cryptic comment and disappeared into the crowd. She thought she'd seen the last of him, so what was he doing here, she wondered as he took her hand in greeting. His palm was rough and warm, and his words and smile were pleasant, but the coldness in his sapphire-blue eyes was undeniable.
What the devil was going on? she wondered again, her lively imagination steering her toward a conclusion that was not the least bit acceptable. Seeking an answer to the questions churning around in her head, Lilly turned her puzzled gaze to William. Allan Pinkerton's son was noted for his speed in assessing situations, and he did not miss the query on Lilly's face or the disdain on McShane's.
"Have a seat, Miss Long," he said, gesturing toward the chair Cade had vacated at her arrival.
Clutching her purse in her lap, Lilly did his bidding.
"My father and I have decided on your next assignment," William told her, wasting no time getting to the point. "You and McShane will be going to New Orleans."
"What!" Lilly's gaze flew to McShane's. If the grim twist of his lips and the blatant annoyance in his eyes were any indication, he was no happier than she.
"Do you really feel this is necessary, sir?" she protested. "While I appreciate the fact that you were concerned about my inexperience, I understood the agency was happy with my work in Vandalia."
"We were extremely pleased," William assured her, "but one successful assignment does not afford you any vast field knowledge. While you were the one who rooted out the truth about the Purcells, if it had not been for McShane, you might very well be dead."
She could not deny that there was a kernel of truth in William's statement. She'd been trapped in the attic of the Purcell home, and though she'd been in the process of trying to free herself by jumping from a small window onto a steep roof, her plan might have gone very wrong. McShane had rescued her from a sticky situation.
"Keeping your youth and inexperience in mind, my father and I feel that, at least for the next few assignments, you and McShane should work together. It will give you a chance to hone your skills."
Lilly looked askance at the man now lounging with apparent indolence on the settee, though the set of his jaw and the jewel hardness in his sapphire-hued eyes left no doubt of his true feelings.
She made one last attempt to change the course of her task, indeed, the course of her life ... at least for the foreseeable future. "And is Agent McShane agreeable to this arrangement?" she asked.
William's calm gaze flickered over the younger man. "McShane is a professional, Miss Long," he said in a no-nonsense tone. "He accepts his obligations and gives this agency his best." Though he was speaking to her, she could not shake the notion that his words were directed to her new partner as well.
Lilly sighed. Disappointment, anger, and frustration vied for supremacy. Clearly, neither she nor McShane had a choice in the matter, and to argue it further would only make her appear contrary and disagreeable. As she had with her first assignment, she would accept the situation, do her best, and hope that soon she would be trusted to go it alone.
With a lift of her chin, she said, "So we go to New Orleans." The statement told her employer that she had resigned herself to her fate and was ready to hear the details of the operation.
"Yes, actually, Miss Long, I believe you will embrace the case once you hear about it," William told her, stepping from behind the desk and handing each of them a copy of the journal they were given at the beginning of each case. The book held the name of the client, the situation, and the agency's ideas for following through. As per Pinkerton protocol, the persons seeking help would not be introduced to the agents or have any idea how the help they sought might come about.
"If indeed there is a crime involved, it is against a woman, so I know you'll derive a great deal of satisfaction from investigating it," William said to Lilly.
"A brief overview of what you'll find in the journal is this: Just days ago, we received a special-delivery letter from one Mrs. Etienne Fontenot, whose name is LaRee ... LaRee Fontenot. She and the legitimacy of her concern have been confirmed by her long-time attorney, Mr. Armand DeMille."
William looked from Lilly to McShane. "Mrs. Fontenot believes that her grandson's widow, Patricia Ducharme, has been wrongly committed to an insane asylum by her new husband, Henri."
Lilly's irritation at being paired with Cade faded as she gave her attention to William's tale. "Are you saying she believes there is nothing wrong with her granddaughter-in-law?" Lilly asked.
"That is exactly what she believes."
"Why?" The question came from Cade, who, like Lilly, seemed to have lost his animosity as his interest in the case grew.
"Mrs. Fontenot is convinced that Patricia's new husband's, Dr. Henri Ducharme's, true purpose is to gain control of the family fortune, which, according to Mr. DeMille, is extensive and which all the Fontenot males have gone to great lengths to keep safe for future generations."
"I don't understand," Lilly said. "Wouldn't it pass down to the remaining heirs?"
"Indeed. Louisiana operates under the Napoleonic Code, which means that the closest male relative handles the business and monetary affairs of their womenfolk, who are considered little more than chattel to their fathers and husbands."
Lilly felt herself bristling. Once again, a male-dominated world sought to keep the fairer sex under its thumb. No doubt they felt that feeble female brains were incapable of comprehending, much less dealing with, anything beyond regular feminine pursuits.
"I see you take umbrage at that notion, Miss Long, as I suspected you would," William said with a nod and a slight smile. "As you know, social injustice is one thing that infuriates my father, so he was immediately drawn to this case. It's also common knowledge that he has strong beliefs in a woman's capabilities, or he would not hire female operatives.
"But I digress. When LaRee Fontenot's husband, Etienne, suffered a stroke at a relatively young age, he began to consider ways to insure the money he'd amassed stayed within the family. With Mr. DeMille's legal advice, Etienne transferred all his business holdings, as well as a house on Rampart Street and a plantation called River Run, to his son, Grayson, in whose capabilities he had complete trust. All this before his death.
"By all accounts, LaRee Fontenot was quite a lovely woman in her youth, and Etienne feared that after his death she would fall for some unscrupulous ne'er-do-well, who would take control of the family fortune."
"Let me see if I understand," Cade said. "Etienne hoped that by giving everything to his son before his own death, he could avoid the possibility of his family losing everything he'd worked so hard to gain, should his wife marry unwisely after he died."
"Exactly," William said, nodding. "He knew Grayson would be generous and fair in providing for his womenfolk, yet they would have no money of their own."
"It doesn't sound as if Etienne had much faith in his wife's ability to choose a suitable husband," Lilly said.
William smiled and shrugged. "In any case, LaRee Fontenot never remarried. According to DeMille, the arrangement worked well, and the same agreement was set up between Grayson and his son, Garrett, who lost no time expanding the family holdings — timber in this case — into Arkansas, where he made his home most of the year.
"Garrett was unmarried when his father passed away, and on a visit to his grandmother in New Orleans, he met and fell in love with Patricia Galloway. After they married, they went back to Arkansas to make their home."
"Is this the same Patricia who is now in the insane asylum?" Lilly queried.
"The same," William corroborated. "Garrett and Patricia had two daughters, Cassandra and Suzannah. He died four years ago with no son to inherit. Like his father, he felt that some women are as intelligent and business savvy as men, since his grandmother had regularly and successfully interjected her thoughts and ideas into the running of the various family endeavors."
"You said his grandmother had interjected her thoughts and ideas," Cade said. "Why isn't she still?"
"We're getting there," William said. "Bear with me."
"As a resident of Arkansas, Garrett was not bound by Louisiana law. In accordance with the Married Women's Property Act, which admittedly is haphazardly enforced, depending on who sits in the seat of power, Patricia became heir to everything the male Fontenots had amassed from Etienne's time until the present."
"Ah," Cade said with a nod. "And it was Patricia, not LaRee, who fell for the unscrupulous man, this Henri Ducharme."
"It appears so, yes," William told them.
"If Patricia and her daughters lived in Arkansas, how did she meet Ducharme and lose control?" Lilly asked.
"She was lonely in Arkansas without her husband, and she and her girls had moved in with Mrs. Fontenot. She and Henri met soon afterward. To the dismay of the entire family, they were married as soon as her year of mourning ended."
"You say that Ducharme is a doctor, and yet Mrs. Fontenot doubts his diagnosis in Patricia's case," Cade said. "Why?"
"Yes, Cassandra, the older daughter, confided to Mrs. Fontenot that her mother was mere months into her new marriage when she began to suspect she'd made a dreadful mistake and had put the family fortune in her new husband's grasping hands — Mrs. Fontenot's words, not mine," William clarified.
"I can certainly relate to that," Lilly said in a voice laced with bitterness. She ignored the questioning look her partner shot her way.
"According to Cassandra, it appears that her stepfather's sole intent in life is to spend them into poverty."
Lilly gave another huff of disgust.
"To further upset the family," William continued, "within ten months of the marriage, Patricia found herself with child — what is commonly referred to as a 'change of life baby.' The confinement was troublesome, and Patricia got little comfort from her husband, who constantly warned that something could go wrong because of her age."
Excerpted from Though This Be Madness by Penny Richards. Copyright © 2017 Penny Richards. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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