New Releases/#Free & Bargain Books for May 3rd - May 9th #freebook #booksale #booklinkup #booklinky

Here are the New Releases / Free & Bargain Books, hosted by
Sharon over at Beck Valley Books, for this week! Check it all out below...

Authors please feel free to add your own books.
Readers please free to add your own finds.
(any genre except erotica welcome)

This weekly link up is hosted by Beck Valley Books & these awesome book loving blogs...

For Pre-orders post - PRE-ORDER / genre / title /author
For New Releases post - NEW / genre / title / author
For Free Books post - FREE / genre / title / author / end date 
For Bargain Books post - SALE / price / genre / title / author / end date
(Strictly no Erotica please.  Steamy romance is fine but watch those covers people, incase any underage child is viewing it!)

Here is this weeks awesome selection!

By adding your link, you acknowledge that the information you provide will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy and transmitted to Inlinkz in accordance with their Privacy Policy.

Would you like to share our linkup on your site? click here
Would you like to become a weekly host? sign up here

Come back and check out the new selection every week!

The final battle where all is at risk... Realms of Light by Sandra Fernandez Rhoads (Review & #Giveaway) #yalit #yafantasy #christianfantasy #thecollidingline @Celebrate_Lit @EnclaveBooks

Welcome to my tour stop! Check out my review and enter the tour giveaway below...

Realms of Light
(The Colliding Line #2)
By Sandra Fernandez Rhoads
Christian YA Contemporary Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Hardcover, Audiobook & ebook, 320 Pages
April 13, 2021 by Enclave Escape


From the Ashes, Spring Will Rise

On the run from the brutal Sage and his army of Legions and Cormorants, seventeen-year-old Cera Marlowe knows the only place strong enough to protect her is the Alliance Council Estate.

Cera’s introduction to the Estate is far from welcoming. As a Blight, her dueling powers of light and darkness make her a half-breed threat to the Alliance’s sacred powers. Cera’s ability to decipher hidden messages in classical artwork buys her shelter temporarily, but the clock is ticking as she’s faced with a daunting choice that could cost her everything.

My Review

REALMS OF LIGHT is an intense sequel where the characters are tested with challenge after challenge as the story builds to a final battle. Fans of the first book will enjoy being with these characters again and journeying with them to this dramatic conclusion. YA fantasy readers will find a unique world and likable characters to cheer on.

I wish the author would have had a bit more of a recap worked into the beginning of the story. I remembered pieces of the first book, but could have used a few reminders. It took me a bit to remember who Cera's love interest was and why she was going to the Estate in the first place, as well as other key figures. Not that I didn't understand this story, but it took a bit to find my footing. Definitely read the first book before this one, if you haven't.

I still loved Maddox and Cera as well as a bunch of the side characters. There's a lot that they've had to face in the past and that they had to face during this second installment. It felt like there were a lot of power plays going on. You have Sage who wants the power from his realm, the Alliance with their stance on blights and fighting (or not) Sage, and then different characters who have their own power plays, like Gray and others. In the middle of it all are Cera, Maddox and Cole who only want to help. I also loved some additional characters who are introduced in this book, like Cole. I again liked that the author has created this unique world and plot that is different from any previous series I've read. I knew what would happen in the end, but not how anything would play out and the intensity definitely ramps up in this book, especially to a very climatic end. I also liked that the book doesn't actually have religious elements, so even though it's a fight between good and evil, any YA fantasy fan can read it. The ending was adorably sweet and left me with a smile.

I also had a lot of issues with this story. First off, the drama was off the charts. There was a lot of it and it was a pretty consistent part of the story. Cera is constantly trying to be sacrificial and then trying to survive, sometimes in the same paragraph. It frustrated me quite a bit. She literally was like, kill me right now and then in the next breath saying she'd do anything to live. She also was at one turn weak and the next strong, or in love with a guy and then believing she had somehow influenced his feelings. She believes lies and some truths, but never really decides to actually figure things out. She's told to look for clues, but doesn't really trust in anything. I just wanted her to pick something and go with it instead of the constant back and forth with all the full-throttle emotions. After chapters of this, I literally could not help rolling my eyes, so it made the impact of things unimpactful and meaningless. Sometimes less really is more. I also had issues with the first meeting with Gray and with the Alliance. Like just murdering a girl and it being no big deal. Or constantly telling lies when their supposed to be the good guys. That didn't sit well with me at all. I think if it would have been just one person that wasn't quite good or a segment, but to have the whole group pretty much be that way felt a bit unrealistic. The battle also really dragged on for me. If the story would have had a lot less drama, making room for more development and for me to connect better with the characters and story, I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more.

In the end, was it what I wished for? Overall, I had issues with the drama and some other aspects of this story, but I still needed to find out how things would turn out. It's a very intense read as the level of danger grows from start to finish with a climatic end. If you enjoyed the first book, you're sure to enjoy this one.

Content: Some violence and innuendo.
Source: I received a complimentary copy through Celebrate Lit, which did not require a positive review. All opinions are my own.

Other Books in the Series

(Linked to my review.)

About the Author

Sandra Fernandez Rhoads is the author of Mortal Sight. She is a Cuban-Colombian living in Dallas, Texas with her husband and four children. She has a deep love for the artist community, and is an active part of Art House Dallas and the Fort Worth Writer’s group. She holds an M.A. in English with a focus on John Milton and has an insatiable love for coffee, laughter, and adventure. And dinosaurs.

More from Sandra

What if there was an unseen war affecting our everyday world, but only a few could see the battle? And what if the secrets to this other realm and winning the war were embedded in classical art and literature?

These questions led me to the ideas that formed the Colliding Line duology, and final installment in the series, Realms of Light—the story about a select group of emerging artists called the Awakened that are given unique powers to help combat the forces of evil.

The protagonist, a young girl named Cera Marlowe, quickly took the lead in the first draft of the story. On a quest for her identity, she steps into her destiny by joining a community of unlikely warriors who would need to overcome great odds, learn to work together, and battle their past in order to defeat the enemy.

The story took more than five years to write and the first draft was over 180k words. The use of classical art emerged slowly over that time. But the verses from John Milton’s Paradise Lost fit seamlessly from the start, paralleling the fight for truth, identity, and war in our fallen world.

At its core, the story is about embracing the past to help shape our future. My hope is that readers see classical art and literature in a new way, and find their own creativity as a much-needed gift to the world.

Tour Schedule

Rebecca Tews, April 29

Tour-Wide Giveaway

To celebrate her tour, Sandra is giving away the grand prize package of $40 gift card, custom Bookmark, custom signed bookplate, custom Realms of Light notebook, and library book pattern book / tablet sleeve!!

Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.

Have you read this series? Will you be?

A story of self-discovery perfect for summer reading... Sunkissed by Kasie West (Review) #yalit #newbook @TBRBeyondTours

I've been a fan of this author since her debut. Read my review of her newest below...

By Kasie West
YA Contemporary
Hardcover, Audiobook & ebook, 320 Pages
May 4, 2021 by Delacorte Press


A lighthearted and swoony contemporary YA romance by fan-favorite author Kasie West about a girl who finds that a summer spent at a family resort isn’t as bad as she imagined…and that falling in love is filled with heartache, laughter, and surprises!

After being betrayed by her best friend, Avery is hoping for a picture-perfect summer. Too bad her parents have dragged her and her sister to a remote family camp for the entire summer. And that’s not even the worst part. Avery also has to deal with no internet, a cute but off-limits staff member, and an always-in-her-face sister.

But what starts as a disaster turns into a whirlwind summer romance as Avery embarks on an unexpected journey to figure out what she truly wants and who she wants to be.

(Affiliate links included.)

My Review

SUNKISSED is a story about a girl who comes to a summer camp with her family after a betrayal involving her best friend and former boyfriend. It's a story of friendship, family and romance as she goes on a journey of self discovery. Recommended to fans of the author and genre.

Avery is one of those characters that grows on you as the story goes. She's very passive, hates conflict, and puts others' happiness before her own, which bothered me at points. I think many readers will easily relate though. Her sister is completely opposite and Avery feels a bit like she's always in her sister's shadow even though Avery is the older one. I definitely didn't like how selfish Lauren could be at points, but I also understood the dynamics of her relationship with her sister. I really liked how the friendships develop in the story and how Avery decides she needs to push out of her comfort zone. There are many moments of self discovery as she pushes past fears and opens her heart. I also really loved the other side characters, especially Brooks and Maricela.

In the end, was it what I wished for? This is a fairly quick and sweet read. The story is mostly light, but with some topics that ran a bit deeper and will resonate with readers. Perfect for summer reading.

Content: Clean
Source: I received a complimentary copy through TBR and Beyond Tours, which did not require a positive review. All opinions are my own.

About the Author

Kasie West is the author of many YA novels, including The Fill-in Boyfriend, P.S. I Like You, Lucky in Love, and Listen to Your Heart. Her books have been named ALA-YALSA Quick Picks, JLG selections, and ALA-YALSA Best Books for Young Adults. When she’s not writing, she’s binge-watching television, devouring books, or bury-ing her toes in the sand of the Central Coast. Kasie lives in Fresno, California, with her family.

Tour Schedule

Follow the tour here.

Are you a fan of this author? Will you be reading this one?

Navigating a new marriage in Victorian England... Isabelle and Alexander by Rebecca Anderson (Review & #Giveaway) @BeccaWilhite @ShadowMountn #IsabelleAndAlexander #HistoricalFiction #VictorianRomance #InspirationalFiction #RebeccaAnderson #BlogTour

Welcome to my tour stop! Read my review of this new Proper Romance below...

Isabelle and Alexander
(A Proper Romance Victorian)
By Rebecca Anderson
Adult Historical Romance
Paperback, Audiobook & ebook, 368 Pages
May 4, 2021 by Shadow Mountain Publishing


London, 1850

Isabelle Rackham knows she will not marry for love. Though arranged marriages have fallen out of fashion, hers has been settled for some time to combine the upper-middle-class wealth of her father's coal mines with Alexander Osgood's prospering Northern country textile mills. Though not a man prone to romantic gestures, Alexander is well-known as an eligible bachelor. His good looks have turned more than one head, so Isabelle is content to think of herself as Alexander's wife.

However, her marriage is not what she expected. Northern England is nothing like her home farther west in the lake country. Cold, dreary, and dark, the soot from the textile mills creates a gray hue that seems to cling to everything in the city of Manchester. Alexander is distant and aloof, preferring to spend his time at the mill rather than with her at home. Their few conversations are brief, polite, and lacking any emotion, leaving Isabelle lonely and desperately homesick.

Sensing his wife's unhappiness, Alexander suggests a trip to his country estate. Isabelle hopes this will be an opportunity to get to know her new husband without the distractions of his business. But the change of scenery doesn't bring them any closer. While riding together on horses, Alexander is thrown from his and becomes paralyzed. Tragedy or destiny? The help and care that Alexander now needs is Isabelle's opportunity to forge a connection and create a deep and romantic love where nothing else could.

Praise for the Book

"Anderson’s first foray into historical romance is an atypical, yet satisfying story set in Victorian Manchester’s upper middle class. Hand this to readers looking for a book that navigates the peaks and valleys of two strangers attempting to make a life together despite the hardships life throws at them."— Library Journal

"Isabelle transitions from an unaware, leisure-class woman to a more enlightened spouse and supporter of the working class. Intimacy and romance develop between Isabelle and Alexander because of simple gestures, like a long look or a thoughtful gift, and their conversations. Their slow, stately courting is reader appropriate for any age or audience. Manchester also gets its due as a place of grit and incredible production. Descriptions of bustling mills reveal their impact on the couple’s family and its fortunes. Isabelle and Alexander is an intimate and touching romance novel that focuses on women’s lives in the business class of industrial England."— Foreword Reviews

"Isabelle must use her quiet spunk, busy mind, and compassionate spirit to woo her husband in a wholly new way. Anderson's debut is a lovely northern England Victorian romance about confronting the seemingly impossible and the power of empathy. Anderson also addresses the time period’s treatment of physical and intellectual disabilities. Most of all, she beautifully depicts love in its many forms beyond romance, such as compassion, patience, and vulnerability; and her characters illustrate the ways that these expressions of love carry us through even the darkest hours. Isabelle’s loving and persevering fervor and devotion will resonate with any caregiver’s heart."— Booklist

(Affiliate links included.)

My Review

ISABELLE AND ALEXANDER is a Victorian romance between a cotton mill owner and a coal miner's daughter as they navigate marriage and then a terrible accident. Its a story that explores the complexity of marriage and the care, patience and strength needed to face a debilitating injury. Readers should be ready for all the emotions this story will evoke as they turn the pages, and the love they'll have for these characters and this story in the end.

I don't think the cover can properly convey the journey this story will take readers through. The beginning is an awkward start between Isabelle and Alexander as Isabelle tries to get to know her husband who is practically a stranger to her. She tries to engage over and over and can't seem to connect with her husband and then she faces an even greater challenge when he falls from his horse and is paralyzed (not a spoiler as it's in the summary). It's a heartbreaking, emotional roller-coaster of a story as they traverse this new normal and try to still build love in their marriage.

I loved these characters so much! The beginning was a bit of a rough start but then it was just endearing and heartbreaking. So many feels in this book! I appreciated that the author was very blunt in the beliefs and practices at the time for what they call "simple" and also "invalid." What Isabelle and Alexander both had to go through was astounding, although anyone in the same situation would have an equally challenging road ahead of them. The information about the cotton mill was also interesting and it reminded me quite a bit of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. I loved the friends Isabelle makes both inside and outside of the house. I also loved seeing her relationship with Alexander weave and flow with so many little nuggets of wisdom throughout.

In the end, was it what I wished for? This was a heartbreaking and heartfelt story with delightful characters. The romance is sweet, but it's also so much more than that as its a deep and abiding love that develops between the characters. A story that will make readers swoon, cry and laugh, sometimes at the same time. Definitely worth the read!

Content: Clean
Source: I received a complimentary copy from the publisher through Austenprose, which did not require a positive review. All opinions are my own.

About the Author

Rebecca Anderson is the nom de plume of contemporary romance novelist Becca Wilhite, author of Wedding Belles: A Novel in Four Parts, Check Me Out, and My Ridiculous Romantic Obsessions. Isabelle and Alexander is her debut historical romance novel.

High school English teacher by day, writer by night (or very early morning), she loves hiking, Broadway shows, food, books, and movies. She is happily married and a mom to four above-average kids.

Tour Schedule

Join the virtual blog tour of ISABELLE AND ALEXANDER (Proper Romance Victorian), Rebecca Anderson’s highly acclaimed historical romance novel, May 3–16, 2021. Over forty popular blogs specializing in historical fiction, inspirational fiction, and Victorian romance will join in the celebration of its release with spotlights, exclusive excerpts, and reviews of this new Victorian-era novel set in Manchester, England.

May 03 Lu Reviews Books (Review)
May 03 Timeless Novels (Review)
May 03 Our Book Confessions (Review)
May 04 Literary Time Out (Review)
May 04 My Bookish Bliss (Review)
May 04 The Book Diva's Reads (Excerpt)
May 05 Heidi Reads (Review)
May 05 Laura's Reviews (Review)
May 05 Wishful Endings (Review)
May 05 Gwendalyn's Reviews (Review)
May 06 Margie's Must Reads (Review)
May 06 Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen (Excerpt)
May 06 Relz Reviewz (Review)
May 07 Randi Loves 2 Read (Spotlight)
May 07 The Reading Frenzy (Review)
May 07 Nurse Bookie (Review)
May 08 The Christian Fiction Girl (Review)
May 08 The Bibliophile Files (Review)
May 09 Reading with Emily (Review)
May 09 Fire and Ice (Spotlight)
May 10 My Jane Austen Book Club (Excerpt)
May 10 The Caffeinated Bibliophile (Review)
May 10 Booked Solid (Review)
May 10 From Pemberley to Milton (Spotlight)
May 11 Greenish Bookshelf (Review)
May 11 Captivated Reading (Review)
May 11 The Green Mockingbird (Review)
May 12 For Where Your Treasure Is (Excerpt)
May 12 Bookworm Lisa (Review)
May 13 Books, Teacups & Reviews (Spotlight)
May 13 Library of Clean Reads (Review)
May 13 Robin Loves Reading (Review)
May 13 So Little Time (Excerpt)
May 14 Eli's Novel Reviews (Review)
May 14 The Lit Bitch (Review)
May 14 The Bluestocking (Review)
May 15 Reading Is My Superpower (Review)
May 15 Christian Chick's Thoughts (Review)
May 15 A Darn Good Read (Review)
May 16 The Silver Petticoat Review (Excerpt)
May 16 CozyNookBooks (Review)

Are you a fan of this line of books? Will you be reading this one?

I Can't Wait for... My Contrary Mary by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton & Jodi Meadows (Can't-Wait Wednesday/Waiting on Wednesday) #CWW #WOW #MyContraryMary #yalit #newbook

Can't-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted here, at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we're excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they're books that have yet to be released. It's based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine. If you're continuing with WOW, feel free to link those up as well! Find out more here.

Tag me on your CWW posts on Twitter (@wishfulendings) and I'll like and retweet!

So I have yet to read the other books in this Jane series, but I have them all and they're totally my type of reads. The newest is a retelling of Mary, Queen of Scots, and starts a new trilogy of historical women with the name of Mary. It's my pick this week...

My Contrary Mary
(Mary #1)
By Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton & Jodi Meadows
YA Historical, Paranormal, Fantasy, Retelling
Hardcover, Audiobook & ebook, 512 Pages
June 22, 2021 by HarperTeen


Long live the queen: The authors who brought you the New York Times bestselling My Lady Jane kick off an all-new historical trilogy with the classy, courtly tale of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Welcome to Renaissance France, a place of poison and plots, of beauties and beasts, of mice and . . . queens?

Mary is the queen of Scotland and the jewel of the French court. Except when she’s a mouse. Yes, reader, Mary is an Eðian (shapeshifter) in a kingdom where Verities rule. It’s a secret that could cost her a head—or a tail.

Luckily, Mary has a confidant in her betrothed, Francis. But things at the gilded court take a treacherous turn after the king meets a suspicious end. Thrust onto the throne, Mary and Francis face a viper’s nest of conspiracies, traps, and treason. And if Mary’s secret is revealed, heads are bound to roll.

With a royally clever sense of humor, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows continue their campaign to turn history on its head in this YA fantasy that’s perfect for fans of A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.

(Affiliate links included.)

Will you be reading this one?

Read an excerpt from this new historical ... In a Far-Off Land by Stephanie Landsem @tyndalehouse #christianfiction #newbook

I'm excited to share an excerpt with you today for this new release! Read it below...

In a Far-Off Land
By Stephanie Landsem
Christian Historical Fiction, Romance
Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook & ebook, 378 Pages
May 4, 2021 by Tyndale House Publishers


A story about the price of fame, the truth sacrificed on its altar, and the love that brings a prodigal daughter home.

As the Great Depression hits the Midwest, Minerva Sinclaire runs away to Hollywood, determined to make it big and save the family farm. But beauty and moxie don’t pay the bills in Tinseltown, and she’s caught in a downward spiral of poverty, desperation, and compromise. Finally, she’s about to sign with a major studio and make up for it all. Instead, she wakes up next to a dead film star and is on the run for a murder she didn’t commit.

Only two unwilling men—Oscar, a Mexican gardener in danger of deportation, and Max, a too-handsome agent battling his own demons—can help Mina escape corrupt police on the take and the studio big shots trying to frame her. But even her quick thinking and grit can't protect her from herself. Alone, penniless, and carrying a shameful secret, Mina faces the consequences of the heartbreaking choices that brought her to ruin . . . and just might bring her back to where she belongs.

(Affiliate links included.)


C H A PT E R 1

Los Angeles, California


Roy Lester’s mansion was as ritzy a place as I’d ever seen. I had to pinch myself to make sure I was really there—me, Minerva Sinclaire—at one of the most glamorous parties in Hollywood. This was the moment I’d been waiting for. The part of the story right before the happy ending.

At least that’s what I thought at the time.

When the towering mahogany doors swung open, it was like stepping into The Hollywood Revue. The high-ceilinged great room sparkled, lit by a chandelier as bright as any studio set. Women in jewel-toned silk took their places with men in midnight-blue evening jackets, all in glorious Technicolor. In the center of the room, a grand piano provided the score, accompanied by the swell of conversation and the clink of ice against glasses. Toward the back of the room, a champagne cork popped, and a woman shrieked a laugh. I half expected to see a cameraman on a moving platform or hear a director with a megaphone call, “Cut!”

Max joined me at the top of three marble steps that led down into the room filled with music and color. “Mark my words, Mina. This is a mistake.”

“Don’t start.”

Max had been grousing since he picked me up at my boarding- house an hour ago. “You’re still my agent,” I’d told him on the telephone, “and a girl can’t show up at the door alone.” With how things were between us, I couldn’t tell him the truth that I needed him beside me. The thing that had happened between us over a month ago—what I called the New Year’s Day Incident—had been a mistake and best forgotten. If only Max were more forgetful. But if Max wanted his 20 percent of the contract I was signing tomorrow, he’d help me out tonight.

Earlier, he’d helped me into his lemon-yellow LaSalle roadster like we were on our way to San Quentin instead of the gladdest party in Los Angeles. He drove into the hills like a madman—as if driving faster could get the party over with. He twitched a cigarette in one hand as we chased the half moon, headlights dancing ahead of us, the roadster spitting gravel behind. When we pulled through the gated entrance to Roy Lester’s place, it was too unbelievable. Like one of those English estates had dropped out of the sky and onto the brown foothills of the Santa Monica mountains.

Max threw the stub of his smoke out the window and shifted to low gear on the smooth, winding driveway. He stopped sulking long enough to tell me about the place. “Twenty bedrooms, a theater that seats thirty, and a walk-in fur vault. There’s a for- mal English rose garden and greenhouses, and behind there—” he motioned past an unnaturally perfect lake lit by an illuminated fountain—“is a maze you could get lost in for days.”

We sped past sculpted box hedges, giant rabbits, and teapots casting moon shadows on a vast manicured lawn. Sodium lights blazed over two red-clay tennis courts.

“Your friend Roy has a cellar filled with real whisky and gin— the good stuff from Scotland and England. And champagne imported from France. He’s got a switch upstairs that locks it up tight if the feds come calling.” Max snorted. “As if the law would raid Roy Lester’s little haven. They’re paid off too well for that.”

Max’s glum take was starting to rub me the wrong way. “Since when is bankroll and booze a problem for you?” In the four months I’d known Max, he’d never taken offense at other people’s cash—or turned down their liquor.

I watched his profile as he maneuvered the roadster around the circular driveway and came to a rolling stop. His scowl really did mar that handsome face. His hair was neatly combed back and his black fedora set at an angle. A dark lock curled over his forehead, giving him a touch of boyish charm, which he used plenty well. He had a jaw worthy of any leading man and a nose with a hint of a crook, as if he’d broken it years ago. His amber eyes, with lashes that would make Greta Garbo jealous, were guarded as he turned to me. “I don’t like Roy Lester.”

Max played his cards close, and usually I let him keep his secrets, but this time I pushed. “Then how do you know so much about him?” I waved a hand. “And about his place?”

“I just do.” The roadster sputtered and went silent. “Be careful with these people, you got me?”

I got him, all right. What was good for the gander and all that applesauce. But my time was running out. I’d learned plenty in the ten months I’d been in Hollywood—to dance, to act, to pretend I fit in. I’d even learned to drink bootlegged whisky—not legally, of course, but nobody cared about that. And I’d learned to take my breaks where I found them—with or without Max’s blessing.

Now, faced with a roomful of Hollywood’s elite, I wasn’t so nervy. My knees wobbled and my palms went damp. A Chinese butler in an embroidered silk robe and satin-tasseled hat greeted us with, “Good evening.” I’d heard Oriental butlers were all the rage, but I’d never actually seen one.

I slipped off my fox wrap as if it were a full-length mink. Act like you belong, that’s what everybody else is doing. I took a deep breath and passed the fur to Max. Acting had got me this far, and it would have to take me the rest of the way.

“I’m not the coat-check girl,” Max muttered, but he took my fur just the same.

“Be careful—it’s rented,” I whispered.

Max took off his crisp fedora and leaned closer. “At least prom- ise me you’ll follow the rules.”

That was rich, and I wasn’t so nervous that I couldn’t fire back at him. “Maybe you should try following them yourself, Max.”

At least he had the grace to flush. He turned away, giving his fedora and my fox to the celestial butler, whose expression didn’t flicker a jot.

With or without Max’s help, this night was going my way. Granted, my plan since I left Odessa hadn’t come off without a hitch. I’d stepped off the bus at Central Station as green and innocent as a South Dakota spring. Well, I wasn’t green anymore, and I sure as sugar wasn’t innocent. But I was at the end of my rope.

I glanced into the ceiling-to-floor mirrors that flanked the entrance. If mirrors told the truth, I would have seen a small-town girl with her knees knocking and stomach churning. But—thank the stars above—mirrors lie, too. The woman looking back at me wasn’t a nervous Nelly but a sophisticated Hollywood ingénue. And with any luck at all, Cosmopolitan Productions’ next leading lady.

My hair was somewhere between a brunette and redhead—in Hollywood they called it auburn. Bobbed, waved, and as smooth as glass, it was absolutely the thing. Garnet lipstick set off my blue eyes and milk-white skin—no freckles, thank you very much.

Then there was the dress that had cost me my last nickel.

It was an emerald-green sheath, sleeveless and cut on the bias. Pearl beads weighted the cowl neckline and set off my ivory skin— and plenty of it. The slim cut skimmed over my hips and clung to my legs, all the way down to my matching satin heels. An armband of gold wire and pearls—cultured, of course—wrapped above my elbow, and a matching spray gleamed behind my ear. I turned slightly and looked over my shoulder. The back plunged indecently low. Penny would be shocked. In fact, all of Odessa would be shocked.

Max gave me a look that said exactly what he thought of the dress. He knew how much a frock like this cost, and he knew my situation as well as I did. But it wasn’t an extravagance. It was an investment. Max was sore because I’d got to this party—the one that would make me a star—without his help. Not only that, but I’d been invited by Louella Parsons herself. The Queen of Gossip, they called her. If she gave a girl the nod in one of her Examiner columns or on her radio show, that girl was on her way up. But if Louella took a dislike to a new actress—didn’t matter why—she might as well go back to Kansas.

You could have knocked me over with a horsefeather this morning at the Brown Derby, where I made about enough to keep my cockroaches alive. I brought Louella her breakfast of oatmeal and cream, and she gave me her usual scowl. I won’t go into that whole story right now; let’s just say Louella and I had got off on the wrong foot.

I poured coffee all around and tried not to look like I was listening to Louella and William Randolph Hearst talking about a party at Roy Lester’s that night. I pretended not to notice Louella’s husband, Docky Martin, slip a flask from his pocket and dose his coffee. Suddenly, Louella turned on me like she was seeing me for the first time. “Minerva! My dear. Aren’t you just the cat’s pajamas?” She looked me up and down. “And that hair. Such a pretty shade.” “Thank you, Mrs. Parsons,” I managed, clutching the coffeepot. “Dearest Minerva, how long have you been working here?” she

asked, almost like she cared.

I told her four months and waited for her other size-ten T-strap to drop.

“You poor thing,” she cooed. “What you need is someone to take you under her wing, like a mother hen.” She smoothed a hand over her tan tweed suit. With her matching cloche hat and a spray of crim- son feathers, she did resemble a hen I’d known back at the farm—one who’d kept the other hens in line with her sharp beak. “Tell me now, do you know Roy Lester?”

Every red-blooded citizen in America knew Roy Lester. America’s Hero, they called him. And everyone in Hollywood knew he was the highest-paid actor in history. “I can’t say I’ve met him, Mrs. Parsons.”

“Call me Lolly, darling. And that’s going to change tonight. Isn’t that right, Docky?” She went on without an answer from her husband. “A soirée at Roy’s estate, and you, my dearest, are going to be. My. Guest.” She tapped the table with each of the last three words like it was a headline on one of her columns.

I stammered something; I don’t even know what. I scooted around the table before Docky could pinch my bottom, while Louella put cream and two sugars in her coffee. Me, Louella Parsons’s guest?

She shifted to a stage whisper. “Roy himself told me he’s look- ing for a fresh face for his next leading lady.” Her gaze slipped to Docky, who had tipped slightly to eye my backside. He grunted as her foot connected with his ankle. “He’ll love you. Leave it to me.” I was speechless. This was what I’d been waiting for. Across the room, Norb, the owner of the joint, was staring at me. He didn’t like the help hanging around the guests, especially the big names.

I took a cloth out of my apron and wiped an invisible spill. “Terrific, Lolly,” I managed as if I were invited to a millionaire

actor’s house every day of the week. “I’ll be there with bells on.” Now Norb was weaving through the tables, his eyes on me, his brow furrowed.

Louella smiled, her bright eyes narrowing to slits. She scribbled the address on a scrap of paper and tucked it into my apron with a plump, jeweled hand. “Trust me, dearest, you won’t regret it.”

The minute my shift ended, I’d hightailed it back to the boardinghouse I called home. My roommate, Lana, was putting in an early shift at the dance hall so I had the place to myself. Rent was due, and my cupboard held nothing but mouse droppings and a can of sardines, but it didn’t matter, not this time.

I changed into my best street dress, a cardinal-red wool number that hugged my figure and fell exactly between my knees and ankles. With a dove-gray roll brim dipped over one eye and suede shoes trimmed in lizard, I looked the part. I pulled my rent money out of the tea tin marked Do Not Spend!, tugged on my gloves, and hopped the streetcar for Bullock’s on Seventh and Broadway.

Two hours later, I left Bullock’s with the emerald dress, boxed and wrapped in tissue. Smaller packages held the matching kitten heels, the pearl armband, and the hair comb. It’s an investment, I said to Max as if he were there. I talked a lot to Max in my head. Those days, they were the only civil conversations we had.

I’d made a final stop in Bullock’s discreetly placed lingerie department. If Penny could see the rose silk panties with the ruffled petal hem and the new-fashioned brassiere, she’d pitch a fit, but white cotton bloomers and a modest camisole wouldn’t do under this gown. And besides, pretty underthings give you confidence—that’s what all the magazines said—and I needed all I could get.

I had about enough change for a sandwich and a cup of coffee if I walked home instead of taking the tram, and by the time I got to Broadway and First, my feet were killing me. I didn’t give a hoot. I tip-tapped down the street, humming one of those sappy songs I’d heard on the radio.

At the corner, a handful of the down-on-their-luck men stepped to the side, lifting their hats to me. Hand-lettered signs around their necks or propped beside them on the curb told their sad stories.

Will Work for Food.
My Family Is Starving.

My gown and shoes suddenly felt heavier in my arms. Since the crash and what came after, men got off the bus in LA every day to find the same hard truth I’d learned ten months ago: jobs were as hard to come by in the Golden State as they were in the rest of the country. From what the headlines said, it was only getting worse. The lucky men sold apples for two cents each. The unlucky men—and their families—slowly starved to death.

I should have moved on, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. An old man, his face creased like a well-read newspaper and his pale eyes desperate, stood in the hard sun, a barrel of apples at his feet. He looked like a farmer. Like Papa.

He picked through his bin of apples and chose one, polishing it on his sleeve before offering it to me. “Please, miss.”

I looked at the packages in my arms. This man had nothing and would probably have nothing again tomorrow. One more day with an empty stomach wouldn’t kill me. Not anymore.

I dumped the entire contents of my purse in his cup. Two bits and a couple of dimes would get him a square meal. I took the apple and turned away as quick as I could, but not fast enough. Eyes bright with tears and a whispered “bless you” gave me a stab of homesickness. Was Papa hungry tonight? Was Penny making ends meet?

When I got home, I wrote to Penny.

Maybe my luck is changing, Penny. Maybe this story will have a happy ending after all. Even if I don’t deserve it.

I sealed up the letter and told myself it wouldn’t be long now before I could go home to Odessa. First thing, I’d pay off the mort- gage and the taxes so Papa would never have to worry again. Then I’d get one of those newfangled tractors that practically planted the corn for you. Maybe I’d buy a closetful of dowdy dresses and the sensible shoes Penny liked. We’d have steak every night of the week and twice on Sundays. That’s what I’d do. I’d make everything up to Papa. Even Penny would have to admit I’d come through.

And it would all start tonight—right now—at Roy Lester’s party.

Max waited at the top of the marble steps, looking like he was about to get a tooth pulled. The piano swelled to the chorus of “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” and a trio of men began to sing off-key. I took a deep breath and lifted my chin.

This was it, what I’d been waiting for. So why were my legs wobbling like a soused sailor?

Max looked down at me with what could have been a hint of compassion and tucked my hand in the crook of his arm. “Let’s get this over with.”

We stepped down, entering the whirl of color and sound. Max’s arm under his midnight-blue evening jacket was rigid, his jaw set as if he were going into battle. Was he sore because of what happened between us, or was it something else? You never could tell with Max.

He guided me smoothly through the crowd. The women, all beautiful, moved as gracefully as if they were choreographed dancers. The men made elegance look effortless. Everyone held a glass—dainty bowls of champagne, tumblers of dark whisky, martini glasses of clear gin with the occasional olive. Like everywhere else in the country, the Eighteenth Amendment had not only failed to curb the consumption of liquor, it had made drinking a national pastime.

A maid, a lovely Mexican girl probably no more than eighteen in a black below-the-knee dress and a shapeless white apron, stopped short in front of us, glasses teetering on her tray. She stared at Max. I was used to it—women ogled him wherever we went—but the way her mouth dropped open looked like astonishment. Max took two champagnes and said something to her in a low voice.

She hurried away as if she were being chased.

“What was that about?” I asked.

He gave me one of the glasses and shrugged. “This joint is a waste of time, Mina.”

“A waste of—” Changing the subject was one of his specialties, but I fell for it. “Says you.” I turned on him, whispering furiously and jerking a nod at the piano. “That’s John Gilbert over there.” Gilbert, dubbed the Great Lover, earned more in one picture than my father’s farm was worth.

Max downed his champagne in one gulp, then put a hand at the small of my back, guiding me toward the center of the room. “Gilbert’s a liability. The drinking’s one thing, but the women . . . He’s probably traded pajama bottoms with every Jane in this room, except maybe your dear friend Louella.” Max didn’t hide his disdain. “Not to mention his voice. Gilbert’s first talkie was his last.”

I’d seen Gilbert’s debut in talkies and couldn’t help but laugh at his high, effeminate voice like the rest of the people in the picture house. I took a sip of my champagne, letting the bubbles dis- solve on my tongue. “But look! John Barrymore.” My voice fairly squeaked. Me, in the same room as an icon.

Max harrumphed as if the man leaning against the crowded bar wasn’t Hollywood royalty. “Barrymore’s downed enough gin to sink the Titanic, and it’s starting to show. The suits in New York—the ones who hold the purse strings—they don’t want that kind of trouble, not anymore. If they could break his contract, believe me, they would.”

I looked closer at the man they called the Great Profile. Yes, there was a telltale slackening around his jaw. The eyes thousands of women had fallen in love with were bloodshot and puffy. But Max didn’t need to be such a sourpuss.

Max guided me around the throng at the bar, to an alcove where we could see most of the room. “See those birds?” He jerked his head toward a trio of women dancing next to a crackling phono- graph. Billie Dove, known by every filmgoer as the American Beauty, leaned against Colleen Moore, who had transformed girls’ hair across the country with her Dutch boy bob. I’d seen every film either of them had made, sitting in the tiny Odessa Picture House, so caught up in the films I hardly noticed my beaus trying to hold my hand or sneak a kiss. Beside Billie, Norma Talmadge—the most glamorous flapper of all—whispered in the ear of a kid half her age. “Between the crash, budget cuts, and talkies, they’re washed up.” Max kept at his lecture. “Rumor has it none of them will work again, unless it’s at the Macy’s perfume counter.”

That brought me up short. Could Max be right? I watched them over the rim of my champagne glass. Their laughs were a bit overloud. And yes, their eyes under the heavy liner and fake lashes held a desperate cheerfulness I knew too well.

“These people aren’t who you want to rub elbows with, Mina. The ones who do—” he dipped his head at a set of walleyed young things stumbling through the Charleston—“crash and burn before they get anywhere.”

I wanted to ask him how he knew so much, but the hoofers started singing along with the phonograph, and the piano player raised the ante, pounding the keys like he was trying to win a con- test. Max leaned closer so I could hear him over the din. “Mina, you need to wise up. Tell me something. Who isn’t here?”

He was close enough for me to smell the cologne he always used, clean and lemony. I pushed the memory of the New Year’s Incident away and tried to follow. “Mary Pickford,” I answered. America’s Sweetheart, they called her, and she wasn’t here. If she were, she’d be the center of attention.

He nodded. “And?”

I shook my head. What was he getting at? “Douglas Fairbanks?” Pickford’s husband. They went everywhere together and unlike some film couples, they were mad about each other.

He acted like I was a schoolgirl finally understanding her les- son. “Buster Keaton, Carole Lombard.” He looked at me, his dark brows raised. “The real high-hats, Mina.” His eyes ran over the crowd as if assessing them. “Gable and Crawford wouldn’t set foot in this place. Not that they don’t drink or sleep around—they all do—but not with people like Lester. And your heartthrob, Mr. Chaplin? Wild horses couldn’t drag him here.”

That was low. I’d only confessed to him my infatuation with Charlie Chaplin in a moment of weakness. It was ungentlemanly to use it against me, but Max always dug deep to make his point. Max kept at it. “They stay away for good reason, Mina. Nothing but trouble waiting to happen here. And your friend Louella, waiting to jam somebody up on tomorrow’s radio show while her hus- band supplies pills to most of the men in the room and abortions to half the women.”

I flushed. Max was worked up, and maybe he was right. But his way hadn’t panned out and I was desperate. And desperation put me in a fighting mood. That’s when my winning argument perched her famous backside on top of the bar in front of us. “What about Clara?”

Clara Bow, vamped up in thick black eyeliner and a clingy scarlet dress, the three-inch fringe well above her knees. Pencil-thin eyebrows gave her a sad-eyed look, and her hair, a bobbed halo of dark-red curls, caught the glow of the lights. She crossed her shapely legs and raised a highball glass to a gaggle of adoring men. I’d seen every one of her pictures, from The Daring Years, when I was barely fourteen, to The Wild Party, Clara’s first talkie. She was the cat’s meow. The It Girl. The woman who not only made her own choices but made more coin in one picture than I’d seen in three years of working at the diner in Odessa. Even Max couldn’t argue with fame like hers.

Max followed my gaze, saw Clara, and quickly turned his back to the bar, as if he didn’t want to look at her. “Do you even read the news rags?” he whispered.

Well, yes. I’d seen the photos of her in court with her current boyfriend, Rex Bell, at her side. “But she’s not on trial, her secretary is.” Her secretary, Daisy DeVoe, had tried to blackmail her for over a hundred thousand dollars.

“Sure, but it’s Clara being raked over the coals.” Max kept his head turned away, but his expression was grim and a little sad.

What came out at trial was shocking, even for Hollywood. Drunken parties, cocaine, plenty of men—Gary Cooper, Victor Fleming, the entire USC football team, or so they said—all of it written in letters so explicit, they couldn’t be printed even in the seediest tabloid. The newspapers jumped on Clara Bow like hyenas ripping up a carcass. IT Girl Exposed! Singed Starlet in Ruins!

Max went on. “Paramount can’t handle her mess of a personal life, especially now that it’s no longer personal. Not to mention she’s the last word in self-destruction. Between the men, booze, and drugs, they won’t put up with much more of her, not when she can’t even remember her lines.” Max snorted. “For the life, I can’t understand why these people have to write it all down. They keep letters and diaries like trophies, then they’re shocked when some mug finds them and wants a payoff.”

Max was a lot of things—stubborn, overbearing, bossy . . . I could go on. But he was rarely wrong about the business. Could the It Girl really be finished? Then I heard her. She’d only been in one talkie, but I’d recognize her voice anywhere. Throaty, with a tinge of a Brooklyn accent.

“Maximilian. Are you going to hide out over there all night, or are you going to come on over and say hello?”

My mouth dropped open. Was she talking to my Max?

Max let out a long breath and gave me what seemed to be an apologetic look. He turned toward the bar. “Clara. It’s been a long time.” He sounded none too pleased.

Max, on a first-name basis with Clara Bow?

Max’s grip on my elbow tightened as the circle of men reluctantly parted for us. Clara didn’t spare me a glance as she handed Max her empty glass. “Fill that for me, will ya, Maxi?” She turned to the men lounging beside her. “Fellas, this is Max Clark. His father was Dusty Clark, the Kissing Cowboy.” She smiled and swayed a bit. “As fine a man as you chumps could ever hope to meet.”

Max refilled her glass with a splash from the bottle on the bar. His jaw was rigid, and he didn’t even try to look like he was glad to see the most famous woman in Hollywood. “How you holding up, Clara?” He held the glass out of her reach, forcing her to look at him.

She gave him a sultry smile instead of an answer. “So this is who you’re spending your time with now?” She kept her eyes on Max. “Isn’t she a pretty little thing.” It sure didn’t sound like a compliment, so I didn’t thank her.

Max introduced me with precious little enthusiasm. Close up, I could see what he’d meant. Clara looked worn, like a dollar bill that had passed through too many hands. Her heavy makeup couldn’t conceal the bruised circles under her notorious bedroom eyes.

“It’s a pleasure, Miss Bow,” I got out before she turned away, bellowing for more glasses.

She filled them herself, almost to the rim, and passed one to Max and one to me. “Any friend of Max’s” was all she said before raising her glass. “To Dusty Clark.” All the men followed suit. “He could drink any of you cake-eaters straight under the table. Didn’t matter what there was, gin, whisky, or moonshine.” She clinked her glass with Max’s and gave him a slow wink. “Down the hatch,” she said, throwing back the glass in one go.

I took a gulp from mine. It burned all the way down and made my eyes water.

Max set down his empty glass and took Clara’s hand. It was small and pale in his. “Take care of yourself, will you, Clara?”

She looked at him blearily. “I’d rather if you took care of me, Maxi,” she whispered with a look that could melt steel.

My cheeks burned as hot as my throat. Was Max one of the long line of Clara’s men? I was hardly as pure as the driven snow, but the notion of Clara and Max together made a little fire flare up in the back of my brain.

Without another word, Max moved me through the crowded room.

“You know her?” I whispered, staring up at his tight jaw. Max kept a lot to himself, but when he did talk, he told it straight. I liked that about him, even if sometimes I didn’t want to hear it. But at the moment he was looking anywhere but at me.

“My father was part of this crowd.” That answer was bushwah, but he had that look on his face that told me not to push it. “Mina, please. Let’s go.”

Max didn’t beg, so I must have misheard that plea in his voice. Besides, I’d just met Clara Bow, and I still hadn’t found Louella or Roy Lester. “Max, I’m not leaving here until I do what I came to do, and that’s get this part.”

Max turned, grabbing my elbow just below my faux pearls and whispering furiously, “Mina, listen to me for once. These people—” he jerked his head at the whole room—“people like Clara, like Barrymore. They’re looking for something—happiness, meaning, I don’t know what. They think they can find it in the bottom of a bottle, or with dope, or in somebody else’s bed.” His honey-gold eyes were bright and close. “They keep looking and looking.” His voice hardened. “And then they end up destroying themselves.” He put his hands on my bare shoulders. “I’m telling you, Mina, this is a bad idea.”

I stared up at him. Honestly, where had this come from? Was this about his father? What happened to Dusty Clark—star roper and rider and in at least a hundred films—had been a tragedy. “Max.” I swallowed hard. “I’m not like your father. I can handle this.”

Max shook his head, blowing a frustrated breath. “No,” he said firmly. “You can’t.”

Max knew plenty about the business, but he didn’t know beans about me. He thought I wanted to make it big, live in a fancy mansion like Lester’s, wear furs and designer dresses. But he was wrong.

I had no intention of staying in Hollywood any longer than I had to.

The studios loved new faces and they paid them well. Why, Joan Crawford, the most elegant of all the flappers, had started at seventy-five dollars a week at MGM. My plan was to make my money then get out. A six-month contract as Roy Lester’s leading lady would make me enough coin to leave California with ten times what I’d taken from Papa. Enough to make up for everything and keep Papa in peaches and pipe tobacco for the rest of his life. I’d left the farm almost a year ago, and by now the mortgage and taxes were past due. If I didn’t make it soon . . . I’d never be able to go home.

But I wasn’t about to tell Max that.

My name, sung out in a familiar bleating voice, broke through the tension wrapped around us. Max’s hands dropped from my shoulders. Louella Parsons’s stout frame pushed through the slim women and swellegant men like a freighter through frothy waves.

“Minerva, my dearest! You came. I knew you would.” She was wearing a flowing gown of burgundy silk trimmed in black marabou. Her cheeks were pink, her eyes overbright. She fluttered her lashes at Max. “It’s been a long time, Maximilian.”

“Louella.” The look on his face said not long enough.

So Max knew Louella as well as Clara Bow, and hadn’t even told me? He was a dark horse, but this was the clincher. How else had he been holding out on me?

Louella lifted one of my hands, twirling me around. “You. Look. Divine.” She linked her arm through mine. “You don’t mind if I steal your little friend for a bit, do you, Maximilian?”

Max held out his hand to me, as if giving me one last chance to change my mind. I shook my head. Ever since the New Year’s Incident, he’d been in a mood. Sure, he’d got me some auditions, even the promise of a contract with Cosmo, but everything he’d done had fallen through. Sometimes he acted like he didn’t even want me to make it in Hollywood.

I let Louella turn me away from him, a lump in my throat. Max was my agent and he wasn’t doing his job. That’s all there was to it. The crowd closed around me, and the last I saw of Max was his worried eyes watching me walk away.

Louella steered me toward the back of the house like a force of nature, her fingers digging into my arm like talons. “Minerva, dearest,” Louella said, “I can put you right up on the screen. You know that, don’t you?” I didn’t know what to say, but it didn’t matter because she went on. “I just need you to do a little thing for me.”

“But, what—?” A little thing?

“It’s nothing. Just keep Roy Lester busy tonight. And by tomorrow, you’ll be signing a contract with Cosmo. I guarantee it.”

“But doesn’t Mr. Lester make the decisions about his leading ladies? And Mr. Hearst?”

She stopped midstride and turned to me, her voice sticky-sweet. “Don’t you worry. I have Mr. Hearst right in my pocket.” She pat- ted her breast as if she had a pocket with a miniature William Randolph Hearst trapped inside.

I tried to clear my muddled head. I do this for her, and she gets me a contract with Cosmo? With Louella’s help, I could be bringing in hundreds of dollars a week in no time at all. Enough to wire to Papa and keep him in the clear. And what was the harm in keeping Roy Lester company, anyway?

Then, through a tall double door, we entered a party that was far more intimate than the crush in the other room. Half a dozen people lounged on red velvet divans and tufted chairs in front of a massive stone fireplace. The lights were dim, the music muted. A white bearskin lay on the floor, the mouth gaping open to show enormous ivory teeth.

A shiver ran over my bare back.

Louella turned to me, her eyes bright with more than the gin I smelled on her breath. “Here we are, Minerva. I’m telling you, Roy is just going to eat you up.”

I ignored the herd of butterflies stampeding in my stomach and plucked up my courage. Roy Lester, get ready to meet your next leading lady.

The murmur of conversation fell silent as we approached, the music and wild laughter of the other room muted and distant. Louella gushed like a little girl, “Minerva, dearest, you remember my friends, William and Marion?”

How could I not? Hearst was propped in one corner of the plush red divan, a full tumbler of whisky in hand. He was forty if he was a day, and Marion had left her twenties behind long ago. Marion was draped over him like a blanket, her famous blonde bob mussed and her lids at half-mast. A champagne bottle dangled from one dainty hand.

I stammered my hello, trying not to gape at how Marion’s sapphire dress, with a plunging V-neck and plenty of spangles, had slipped up her thigh, followed closely by Hearst’s hand. Marion murmured a greeting, took a swig from her bottle, and hiccupped. Hearst raised his glass to me and winked broadly at Louella’s husband, who moved over to make room on the divan. Louella’s eyes narrowed and I hoped to heaven she wasn’t thinking of the Docky Disaster at this moment.

Louella took my arm in her clawlike grasp and turned me to the man seated on the other end of the divan. Roy Lester wore a white dinner jacket, unbuttoned, and his bow tie was already undone. His classic features blurred behind the smoke of a fat cigar. “Roy, I’d like you to meet Minerva Sinclaire,” Louella simpered. “I think you two will just adore each other.”

Let me tell you something. Back at the farm, we had a rooster I’d named Blackie the Pirate, on account of the way he strutted around, his red gobbles wobbling, his swordlike beak ready to strike at any out-of-line hen. Roy Lester made me think of him right off. Roy’s dark hair was combed over a thinning crown, and a narrow mustache outlined razor-thin lips. He even had a fold of red-flushed skin inching over his collar. But mostly, it was his eyes. They were sharp and quick, as if looking for a weak spot.

I held out my hand. I didn’t have to like him; I just had to keep him company, like Louella said. Roy didn’t stand for the introduction, but I guess someone under contract for a million bills a year doesn’t have to stand if he doesn’t want to. He took my hand and jerked me down into his lap. I yelped in surprise and struggled a bit. He laughed, his hand snaking around my waist as I awkwardly rearranged myself to sit beside him and put my dress back to rights while avoiding the hot ash of his cigar. “Pleased to meet you.” I found my voice and gave him a look from under my lashes.

“Miss Sinclaire,” he crowed, his eyes swiveling over me. “Louella’s told me all about you.” His whisky-and-tobacco breath made my eyes water.

I inched away, but Louella settled her bulky form on my other side, trapping me.

“You’re dry,” Lester bellowed, as if it were a crime. “This won’t do at all.” He signaled to a waiter—a kid bearing a striking resemblance to the girl Max had spoken to—who proffered a tray of martinis. I tried to remember how many drinks I’d had. Clara’s whisky, two glasses of champagne, or was it three? Then I reminded myself I wasn’t following Max’s rules tonight, accepted a martini, and took a sip. The gin slipped down my throat like a sharp knife, but I figured it would give me courage. Roy settled back, and Louella started in on who we’d seen in the other room, who they were with, and what they said.

I made small talk and took Roy’s hand in mine so it couldn’t go any further up my thigh. He wasn’t so bad, I told myself, if slurred words and cigar breath were your thing.

Louella leaned into our conversation. “Didn’t I tell you? Couldn’t you just eat her up?” She laughed as if it weren’t the tenth time tonight she’d used the phrase.

Roy buried his face in my neck. I tried to wiggle away as he traced a moist path toward my ear. A flicker of panic started in my chest and I pushed at him. This was too much. Roy leaned back, eyeing me with a hint of disappointment. “Come on, sweet thing, you know the game.” He snagged another martini from a passing tray and put it in my hands. His look gave me the heebie-jeebies. Yes, I knew the game. I wished to heaven I didn’t. I took a sip, even though I didn’t want it.

The party in the other room was getting louder, the singing more off-key, the laughter rowdier. The music on the phonograph competed with the pounding piano. A gal who seemed to be wearing only her underslip scampered past, letting out a small scream and laughing uncontrollably as a man chased her. He caught her up in his arms and carried her out, shouting about the pool.

The room closed in on me, thick with smoke and unnamed expectations. I was definitely in over my head. Oh, how I hated when Max was right. I needed to think, and I couldn’t think with Roy so close, with Louella watching me with those bright eyes. “I need to powder my nose.” I pasted on a sweet smile and got to my feet. The floor swayed in an alarming way.

Roy grabbed my hand and eyed me suspiciously. “You aren’t running out on me, are you, doll?”

“Oh, believe me, Roy, she’ll be back.” Louella jumped in. She gave me a look that said I better be back.

“In two shakes,” I assured Roy, my voice wobbling.

“Lucky man,” Docky slurred, and Louella gave him a glare.

I lurched away, my satin heels sinking into the sprawling bearskin. I imagined the bear’s glassy eyes watching me as I stumbled out of the room. Panic crept up my throat as I veered around a swarm of dancers. I could hear Max’s “I told you so,” but I wasn’t about to accept defeat. I needed air, then I’d come up with some way to see this through.

Once, when I was a kid, Penny and I dared each other to swim across the lake behind the back forty. Whoever lost had to clean the chicken coop. Penny was older but I was the better swimmer and itching to prove it. I started out strong and was soon yards ahead. By the time I reached the middle of the lake, I was exhausted. Penny turned back, but I pushed on. I made it, but only barely. Penny—the tattletale—told Papa the whole story that night, and I had to clean the chicken coop for a month, even though I’d won the bet. With every shovelful, I reminded myself I’d done what I had set out to do—and I’d do it again.

Sink or swim, isn’t that how the saying goes? But how far would I have to swim with Roy Lester? All the way? It wasn’t like this was my first time, I reminded myself. It wasn’t even my first time with someone I’d just met. I’d thought—and hoped and prayed and promised myself— those days and ways were behind me, but I’d come too far and was in too deep to give up now.

I pushed through the crowd, making a beeline for a set of French doors draped in heavy damask. I could leave now and lose my chance or stay and see this thing through. Papa and Penny were fast running out of time.

Sink or swim? I didn’t have a choice anymore.

Excerpted from In a Far-Off Land by Stephanie Landsem, Copyright © 2021 by Stephanie Landsem. Published by Tyndale House Publishers.

About the Author

Stephanie Landsem writes historical fiction because she loves adventure in faroff times and places. In real life, she's explored ruins, castles, and cathedrals on four continents and has met fascinating characters who sometimes find their way into her fiction. Stephanie is just as happy at home in Minnesota with her husband, four adult children, two cats, and a dog. When she's not reading, researching, or writing, she's avoiding housework and dreaming about her next adventure—whether it be in person or on the page.

What did you think of the excerpt? Is this on your list to read?