Monica Jewell is determined to find the man who murdered her stepfather—even if she has to work undercover to do it.
She suspects one of Chicago’s top mobster leaders to be the killer. Justice needs to be served even if she does it herself. When she meets the mobster’s incredibly handsome chauffeur, Anthony Kelly, she worries he’ll become her worst distraction, especially, when he takes liberties with her and steals a kiss—a kiss that confuses her greatly. He works for the mob, which makes him a criminal, too.
He’s already stolen her heart. What other crime will he commit?
“I’m going to kill him with my bare hands!” Monica Lange bunched her hands into fists as a mixture of anger and sorrow filled her soul in the wake of her stepfather’s death. Blinking back the tears, she allowed rage to be the main emotion controlling her right now. As she paced the floor in her stepfather’s den, her mind headed in one direction—in the only direction it could.
“When I finally meet Norman’s murderer,” she continued, “and just as I’m snatching the last breath from him, the last words he’ll ever hear will be, you messed with the wrong woman. Then, when the man laughs in my face—” She paused and peeked over her shoulder at her cousin, Anna, who sat on the sofa, listening to Monica’s outrage, “—and I know he’ll laugh at me. Evil men like him always think they are in control.” She gave Anna a sharp nod. “But when he laughs, I’ll tighten my fingers around his throat and strangle the very life right out of him.”
Her mind envisioned this horrendous crime although she couldn’t see the murderer’s face. The punishment fit the transgression. The pain in her heart over her stepfather’s death weighed at least one-hundred pounds and she could scarcely breathe from the heaviness crushing her chest.
Finalizing her thoughts, she crossed her arms over her chest. The need for justice pumped through her veins, and she took on the responsibility to see that justice was served now. Waiting for the cops would be a waste of time. Yet, as she repeated the words she’d just spoke in her mind, they didn’t sound realistic. Good heavens, she was only a college student; twenty-three years of age, and the killer was probably a large man.
Frowning, she added, “Oh, blast it all! I can’t strangle him. He would be bigger and stronger than me.”
Growling, she ran her fingers through her long hair, lifting the thickness off her neck as she pondered her next move. “Let’s see…how can I kill him?” She paused for a brief second as she dropped her hands from her hair, making her locks fall to the middle of her back. “I’ll stab him.” She glanced at her cousin again who sat quietly on the only stitch of furniture left in the study. Anna was two years older, and her expression was mixed with disbelief in Monica’s threat, and a genuine maternal concern for her state of mind.
Ignoring her cousin, Monica continued, “I’ll take Norman’s favorite knife and stab the killer.” She made the motions through the air with her hand, emphasizing her words. “I’ll keep on stabbing him until he’s dead.”
She stopped again, rehashing it through her mind. Finally, she concluded this was indeed, doable. She’d certainly be able to accomplish her goal now. Satisfaction filled her and she smiled in triumph. “Yes. That’s what I’ll do. Justice will be served nicely, don’t you think?”
Anna remained on the couch, sitting very still. Not even an eyelash moved, although the look of shock was still etched in her expression. Monica knew she’d surprised Anna. Usually Monica wasn’t this violent or calculating. It was almost humiliating to have the avenging demon inside her show itself in front of her cousin.
All during her childhood, Monica had been the shy, demure child. There wasn’t a mean bone in her body. Unfortunately, circumstances had changed drastically and she wasn’t a child any longer. Nor was she going to allow her stepfather’s killer to get away with what he’d done.
Hopefully, Anna understood and would help. Monica had been losing control of her life since the police told her last week that her stepfather had been murdered—a bullet through the head. Then, three days later she found out his life-long business had been sold right before he died, and yet not a dime of the money was in his bank account. Nothing made sense anymore.
Although Norman wasn’t her biological father, he was more of a parent than the first man who’d been married to her mother for a short while. The early years of Monica’s life, her grandmother had raised her because her alcoholic mother was unable to take on the task of motherhood. Then the woman married Norman. He’d turned Monica’s mother around, and for several years, they had been a happy family. Slowly, her mother returned to her old habits. Little by little, the bottle of whiskey became her companion instead of Norman. During this time, Monica had clung to the one parent who showed her love—Norman. When her mother divorced him, Monica begged her mother to let her live with Norman. Thankfully, the woman wasn’t sober long enough to argue.
Anna released an audible sigh and sat forward on the couch, leaning her elbows on her thin knees. “You’re forgetting one thing, Monica. If you bump off the man who killed Uncle Norman, you will be no better than a murderer, yourself. Do you want that on your conscience, let alone a rap sheet of murder? Do you want to sink to their level? I can assure you, if Uncle Norman knew what you were planning, he’d turn over in his grave. Not only that, I think he’d haunt you.”
For a few minutes, Monica stood firm as her mind raced to find answers to her cousin’s remarks, but no answers were forthcoming. Defeat swept through her, burning her hopes to ashes. She slumped on the couch and sat beside her cousin as tears gathered in her eyes. “You are correct. I don’t want to be considered in the same class as a murderer. Forgive me for saying such vile things Anna, but I’m all balled up inside. I don’t know what to do.”
“Perhaps there’s nothing you can do.” Anna frowned. “Let it rest. Justice will prevail sooner or later.”
Monica massaged her forehead with her fingertips, trying to make the throb in her head disappear. “It’s not fair. Someone killed Norman and nobody knows who it is, and the low-down dirty creature is walking the streets free as a bird, while my stepfather is six feet under.” Her voice cracked slightly. “There’s got to be something I can do.”
Anna placed her hand on Monica’s arm, and rubbed small circles on her skin in a soothing gesture. “There’s nothing you can do. Nothing at all. Do you understand? If Uncle Norman’s neighbor, Mrs. Beckstead, is right and the mafia ordered the hit, then you’re at a standstill. You cannot mess around with men like that or you’ll end up dead like your stepfather. We have to believe that sooner or later the man who killed Uncle Norman gets what he deserves.”
Raising her gaze, Monica looked into Anna’s big green eyes. As always, she wished for the perfect life her cousin had, and especially the perfect looks. For as long as Monica could remember, she’d wished for the green eyes and the short, black hair, like her cousin. Instead, she was cursed with dull blue eyes and plain blonde wavy locks.
She managed a weak smile for her cousin. “Anna, thank you for caring. I know you’re trying to help, but right now all I can think about is revenge. Someone needs to put Norman’s killer away for what he did.”
“I know you can’t help but feel this way. It’s to be expected for someone who is grieving as you are.” Anna continued softly rubbing her hands on Monica’s arm. “Norman was more of a father to you than that imbecile on your birth certificate. But seeking revenge for Uncle Norman is not the way to ease your conscience.”
Sighing deeply in desperation, Monica leaned back in the couch. “I suppose I should put my worries aside and finish packing Norman’s things.”
“Where will you go? Back to live with your mother in Michigan?”
Monica wrinkled her nose. “Not on your life—or mine. I’m staying right here in Chicago until I’m old and gray. I don’t plan on going back to her unless she changes her drunken, wild lifestyle.” She shook her head in disgust. “You know, if she keeps picking her boyfriends younger, she’ll soon pick one my age, and then maybe he’ll fall in love with me and want to marry me instead.”
Anna chuckled, making her emerald eyes twinkle. “Will you continue to live at the University?”
Monica shook her head. “Unfortunately, Norman paid every semester for that privilege, and now that he’s dead, there are no funds for me to continue. I’ll have to find a job, maybe get an apartment with three or four other college girls. The money my mom sends me isn’t much.”
Anna stood and tugged on Monica’s arms, helping her up. “I have a nifty idea. You can stay with me until you find a job and another place to live. Let’s get a wiggle on so we can pack your things. We don’t have very much time, do we?”
Sadness encompassed Monica again. “Unfortunately, time is something that nobody has enough of.”
She struggled through packing the remainder of her belongings, and each step out to her car to load the boxes, her heart sank. How could all this be happening to her? She thought for sure her stepfather would change his will and leave her everything—since she was the daughter he’d never had—but the lawyer told her Norman hadn’t put her in his will. Even if he had, there was nothing to get. According to the lawyer, her stepfather sold every item he possessed—including the store—leaving her with nothing. She wondered where the money from the sale had gone, but according to the lawyer, Norman had nothing in his bank account. The only thing she knew was that some man named Damien Chiappa owned the drugstore now that Norman was dead.
Why didn’t the police see the quick change of ownership as suspicious? Obviously, the mafia had them in their clutches, too.
Angrily, she realized it was up to her to find answers. No matter what Anna said, Monica needed to do something. She had to find out who killed her stepfather and stole his money. Mafia or not, evidence was what she needed to put the killer away.
After she placed the last box in the car, she stepped back and gazed upon the two-story red-bricked building. It had been her home until she started going to the University. Now she was homeless, yet it was the loss of Norman that made everything bleak.
“Hey, Mon, I’ll meet you over at my apartment. I have to swing by and pick up Paul first.”
Monica glanced at her cousin. “Who’s Paul?”
“A new man I met.”
Monica flipped her hand in the air in a dismissal wave. When wasn’t Anna meeting men? “No need to worry about me. I’ll see you later.”
She climbed in her brown interior, two-door Sedan and drove across the street to the ice cream shop. Memories crashed through her, leaving shards of her heart to keep her company. Norman had taken her here for hot-fudge sundaes once a month since she was six years old. She’d definitely miss those monthly chats with the man she’d wished was her true father.
On weary legs, she moved to her favorite booth and sat. Norman’s drugstore was right in view. The sun descended behind the building as pink light gleamed through the sky. Tears filled her eyes, and she realized she hadn’t grieved for Norman like she should have.
After giving her order to the waitress, Monica stared out the window until the girl delivered her bowl of vanilla ice cream with hot fudge poured over it, sprinkled with nuts. As she ate, loneliness crept over her. Anna was the only family left here in Chicago. All of Anna’s family moved to Boston two years ago. One would think because of this, Monica and Anna would be inseparable, but her favorite cousin rarely had time to spend with Monica. Anna was a woman of the 20’s—a real flapper. Men (many of them, in fact), alcohol, and dancing were all her cousin wanted in her life. There was no room for boring, puritan Monica. She’d always been a wet-blanket.
As she ate the last spoonful of ice cream, a tear slipped down her cheek. Time to start a new life. No more going to her stepfather to ask advice. No more surprise birthday parties and no more eating ice cream once a month…even on very cold days.
Norman had taught her to ride a bike. He taught her many card games, and she could whip his friends in a friendly game of poker. He was the one who bought her first car before entering college, and of course, he was the one who made certain she could drive it without dinging the fenders.
Gathering her purse, she fished for her keys amongst everything that filled her bag. From out the window, a car pulled in front of the drugstore and stopped. Zeroing her attention to the vehicle, she sighed in awe. Never before had she seen such a beautiful vehicle in this part of town.
Since Norman had been a fan of the stylish motorcars, she knew all about this one. The 1907 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost was furnished in the style of the French King, Louis XIV. Silver plating fittings highlighted the vehicle. Although in convertible style, the back seat was separated from the driver’s front. A low built unique and beautifully shaped radiator shell sat between the front wheels, and long multicolored hood lined with rivets accented its crisp hard edge shape. With its built-in stone guard, the car mounted on a pair of black rubber handballs, which neatly embedded in the casting attached to the radiator and chassis. Norman would have loved to see it, and for certain, he’d have drooled.
The driver opened his door and climbed out. Dressed in a chauffeur blackish-gray suit, he moved with the ease of a jungle cat when he walked to the back and opened the door. Never had Monica gazed upon a man who made opening doors for others look like an art form.
An elaborately dressed man in a black and white pinstriped suit ascended from the vehicle. On closer inspection, she noticed his olive skin color. Could he have Italian ancestry? Was he a mobster, too?
She peered closer, but bumped her nose against the shop’s window. Grumbling, she pulled back and rubbed the sore spot, continuing to watch the activities across the street. The fancy dressed mobster stood in front of the store and pulled out a ring of keys. Her heart picked up rhythm when the man entered. Could this be the man who now owned the building? Damien Chiappa?
Once again, the inner demon of revenge ate away at her soul, moving her from the booth and out the front door. Determination led her across the street, and with every step, hatred burned a permanent mark in her heart.
Sneaking around to the back of the building, she tiptoed in between the hedges bordering the property as she made her way to a window. Hesitantly, she peeked inside, taking caution not to be seen. The Italian stood in the center of the store, assessing every little detail of the layout. Most of the shelves were empty, and she figured the person who killed her stepfather had something to do with it.
The man scratched the small patch of hair on his chin then turned back toward the front door. She hurried to watch his departure, moving around the building. Staying as close to the building as she could, she practically scurried around the corner—and ran into a solid form.
Surprised, she fell back and landed on her bottom. Locks of her hair bounced into her eyes, blocking the full view of the person she’d hit. Using her hand, she swiped away her hair and looked up. How could she have forgotten about the chauffeur?
“Oh, I’m sorry, miss.” He knelt beside her and touched her arm. “I didn’t think anyone was on this property. I didn’t expect to run into somebody back here.”
Neither did I. “Forgive me, because I’m the one to blame.”
He grabbed her by the wrists, assisting her to her feet before stepping back. The setting sun highlighted behind him, spilling right into her eyes. She squinted and tried to block the glare with her hand, but she still had a hard time seeing him. All she could see was an amazing sculptured face, and a wonderful smile. He even looked as if he might be Italian, too.
“I’m…I…um, I was just looking for my dog.” She fibbed, not wanting him to guess her true purpose. “I thought he had come this way.”
The man looked around him and shrugged. “I haven’t seen a dog.”
“Oh, well, then I’ll keep looking. Thanks anyway.”
Before he could say any more, she swung around and hurried to the alleyway. When the man didn’t try to stop her, she breathed a deep sigh of relief. Once her heartbeat started knocking a normal rhythm once again, anger for the interruption shook through her body. If that chauffeur hadn’t stopped her, she may have been able to study the man inside the drugstore a little better. With that information, she could have turned it into the police, too.
She rolled her eyes. They wouldn’t have done anything. But…
A grin tugged on her lips. Perhaps that would have given her something to do while she mourned for Norman. If the law wouldn’t help her, she’d certainly seek justice herself.