Lily Morgan may be Shivaree, Georgia's most talked-about lady. Everyone in town knows about the bitter breakup of her marriage five years before, when Daniel Walker, her husband's tough, uncompromising lawyer, tore her reputation to shreds and left her with nothing but a wish to get even. But now something about Daniel makes her blood boil and her pulse quicken . . . not with righteous fury, but with passion.
Daniel has returned to Shivaree to once again match wits with Lily Morgan. The thought of a rematch with Lily delights him, for he has never forgotten her hot temper--or her lovely looks. But when a shocking murder shakes the town, Daniel joins Lily to find a killer, and their unexpected partnership sparks something between them they never expected--desire. Now Daniel, the strong-willed lawyer for whom winning is everything, realizes he must win the one reward he can't live without: Lily's forgiveness--and her love.
BreathlessShivaree, Georgia was a small town. From Jacob Cole's purchase of a pair of thoroughbreds from up in Calhoun to Mary Alice Billing's fashionable new bonnet shipped all the way from Paris, anything and everything that happened in Shivaree was fair game for gossip.
Until the Shivaree Social Club had closed down a few days before, plenty of handsome men in expensive suits had always been passing through, and such men didn't usually cause much of a stir. Everybody knew what they came for. But when one man in particular got off the train, a tall man with light brown hair, green eyes, and a charming smile, a man whose face was very familiar to the folks around Shivaree, it didn't take long for word to spread that Daniel Walker was back in town. And folks immediately began wondering what Lily Morgan was going to do about it.
Talk was the lifeblood of a town like Shivaree, since there wasn't much else to do but work, and who wanted to do that? North of Atlanta, south of Calhoun, Shivaree was an important stop on the railroad line, partly because of its lumber mill and two cotton mills, and partly because, for some obscure reason nobody could remember, it was the Jaspar County seat. Of course, it also had the Shivaree Social Club, which until last week had been the most famous whorehouse in the entire state of Georgia. These things gave Shivaree a lot to talk about.
It was also the kind of town where ladies of quality sat on their verandahs in the late afternoon, sipping lemonade and watching for any sign of a story to tell. Dovey McRae was one of those ladies. Her widowed sister Densie Stuart had moved to Shivaree from Charleston last summer to live with her, and the two women had taken up the useful hobby of bird watching with the use of opera glasses. Because Dovey's house had a clear view of the train station, the sisters saw Samuel Hardesty standing on the platform as the eleven o'clock from Atlanta pulled in, and the minute they saw Daniel Walker get off the train, carpetbag in hand, they couldn't wait to spread the news.
They dropped their opera glasses and headed hell bent for leather to tell their best friend, Sue Ann Parker, all about it. Sue Ann and her husband ran the Shivaree Hotel, which was right across the street from Samuel's house, and Daniel was bound to stay with Samuel, and Samuel lived right next door to Lily Morgan. With a situation like that, exciting things were bound to happen, and Sue Ann would be able to see everything that went on.
Lily found out about Daniel Walker's return a little later than some. She wasn't part of Shivaree's gossipy inner circle, partly because she didn't cotton much to peering into people's lives with opera glasses, and partly because she was one of the gossip circle's favorite subjects. For one thing, she was modern, which to the ladies of Shivaree was almost as great a sin as being born north of the Mason-Dixon line. She had red hair and wore pink. She played band music on her piano and opera on her Victrola loud enough to wake the dead. She refused to wear gloves, even to church, and it was rumored she didn't wear corsets either. She had a statue of a naked man in her foyer. It was said that her own family wouldn't receive her. Worst of all, she was divorced.
Opinion was divided as to whether she was just a bit on the wild side or completely devoid of morals, and the question was hotly debated at the ladies' sewing circle and the men's barbershop. But just about everybody in town agreed on two things: Lily Morgan was a scandalous woman, and Lily Morgan just didn't act like a librarian.
Because she wasn't among the first to hear the gossip, Lily was completely unaware of Daniel's return until Amos Boone came running into the library to tell her.
"Lily!" he cried as he burst through the front doors. "Lily, where are you?"
The shouting caused her to climb hastily down from her perch on a ladder in nonfiction, where she was putting books back on the shelves. She ran to the railing and looked down from the mezzanine. "Hush, Amos," she admonished, frowning down at the young man, who was weaving his way clumsily between the heavy oak reading tables at an all-out run. "Don't shout."
Amos was a giant, standing over six foot five without his boots. He was nineteen years old, but he had the mind of a child. He was honest, never made moral judgments, and believed implicitly whatever anybody told him. Because his own parents were dead, Lily and her friend Rosie Russell had sort of adopted him as a younger brother. He lived in the basement of the library and did janitorial work there in exchange for the rent, an arrangement Lily had made for him. He ate his meals at Rosie's Cafe. Most folks agreed he was a few peaches short of a pie, but Lily and Rosie didn't care. He was their dearest friend.
"Where have you been all day?" she asked him in a teasing voice. "Having ice cream over at Rosie's, I'll bet, while these shelves needed dusting."
Amos took her words to heart, looking up at her with a stricken expression. "I'm sorry, Lily, but I was helpin' Rosie unload all those tins from Atlanta. And then she gave me an ice cream, and that's when he came in, and Rosie sent me over here to tell you."
"He?" Lily leaned her forearms on the rail and smiled. "Who's in town that's got Rosie in such a lather on my behalf? Is it Alvis Purdy, that flashy book salesman from Missouri who chases me around the library every month waving his money around?"
Amos shook his head. "No, ma'am. It's Daniel Walker."
Lily's smile vanished. Daniel Walker, that bottom-feeding, scum-sucking lawyer who had ruined her life, was back in town. A sick lurch twisted her stomach. "Are you sure?"
Amos nodded vigorously. "Yes'm. Arrived on the eleven o'clock train." Staring anxiously up into her face, he asked, "You all right, Lily?"
Lily scarcely heard. She was remembering all the scandal and shame, the humiliation and pain of her divorce from Jason five years ago, and the man responsible for dragging her name through the mud. Daniel Walker. Oh, how she hated him. Her fingers curled around the carved wooden railing in front of her so tightly her hands began to ache. "How does Rosie know about this?"
"He's over at the cafe having dinner. Rosie said she would have come to tell you herself that he was in town, but with it bein' noontime, the restaurant's mighty crowded, so she couldn't get over here."
"What is he doing here?" she asked. "Did Rosie say?"
Amos closed his eyes and his face puckered up as he tried to remember. "Somethin' about Helen Overstreet hirin' him to get the Shivaree Social Club reopened."
"What?" Lily straightened away from the rail. "Of all the stupid, idiotic ideas--" She broke off, too angry to continue.
"Rosie said you'd be mighty upset."
"Upset doesn't begin to describe it." That den of sin and corruption had destroyed her marriage, and after five years of trying, she had finally succeeded in having it shut down. Now Daniel Walker, that conniving, morally bankrupt scoundrel, was here to undo all her hard work. That thought ignited Lily's temper, which was easily sparked at the best of times. She marched down the staircase and out of the library, her anger growing with every step she took across the square to Rosie's Cafe. Amos followed in silence.
It was midday and the cafe was crowded. Daniel was leaning on the counter at the opposite end of the room talking to Rosie when Lily came in. Samuel Hardesty stood beside him.
Lily halted in the doorway, right next to the sign on the wall that said, "No swearing, no smoking, no spitting," and she felt the impulse to do all three. Instead, she stared at Daniel's back, sizzling with the anger she made no effort to hide. She felt gazes light on her, one after another, and heard voices fade to nothing. She stared at Daniel Walker and watched him slowly turn around to see what was causing the sudden silence.
Of course he had to look exactly the same, with that tall, brawny body and those eyes as dark a green as the Georgia pines. He still had that thick hair the golden brown color of tupelo honey. And he still had that smile, a smile that could make him innocent as a schoolboy or wicked as the devil, depending on what he wanted to make you believe. Even the dark smudge of a shiner beneath his left eye couldn't detract from the face of a man too handsome for his own good. Lily wondered who had hit him. Whoever the man was, she wanted to shake his hand.
The sight of Daniel brought back all the anguish he had caused her with all the force of a tornado. Why, oh why, couldn't he have lost his hair and gone to fat? Why couldn't he have lost a couple of those perfect white teeth in whatever fight had given him that black eye? Why couldn't he have just stayed away from Shivaree for the rest of his miserable life?
Lily lifted her chin, meeting his gaze squarely. She took satisfaction in watching his smile fade, but he did not look away. For a long moment, most of Shivaree stared at them and they stared at one another, until Lily couldn't stand it any longer. She began walking toward him.
Her hot temper had always been a sore trial to her, and from the time she'd been a little girl, she had worked very hard to keep it under control. With every step closer to Daniel, she vowed again not to let her temper get the better of her, so by the time she reached him, she was in complete control of her emotions. She knew exactly what she was doing when she slapped him across the face.
Without a word, she turned on her heel and walked out of the cafe, thinking that this time she'd given the town a scandal shocking enough to leave them breathless.