The final novel in Joanna Shupe’s critically acclaimed Uptown Girl series about a beautiful do-gooder who must decide if she can team up with one of New York’s brashest criminals without losing something irreplaceable: her heart.
He’s built a wall around his heart…
Orphaned and abandoned on the Bowery’s mean streets, Jack Mulligan survived on strength, cunning, and ambition. Now he rules his territory better than any politician or copper ever could. He didn’t get here by being soft. But in uptown do-gooder Justine Greene—the very definition of an iron fist in a velvet glove—Jack may have met his match.
She wears hers on her sleeve…
Justine is devoted to tracking down deadbeat husbands and fighting for fair working conditions. When her mission brings her face-to-face with Jack, she’s shocked to find the man behind the criminal empire is considerably more charming and honorable than many “gentlemen” she knows.
Forming an unlikely alliance, they discover an unexpected desire. And when Justine’s past catches up with them, Jack may be her only hope of survival. Is she ready to make a deal with the devil?
Coming June 30, 2020.
“A strong finish to an excellent series about strong-willed women determined to live life on their own terms.”
—Kirkus Reviews (STARRED REVIEW)
They arrived at an ornate wooden door. The guard knocked then threw open the heavy wood. Her eyes went wide at what was revealed on the other side. It was like stepping into an uptown salon. Crystal and gold fixtures abounded, along with patterned wallpaper and thick Eastern rugs. The armchairs were clearly French antiques—Second Empire if she wasn’t mistaken—and a large Gainsborough hung on the wall. A marble statue of Diana resided in one corner, a piece so old it might seem more at home in the British Museum.
Crime, it appeared, paid quite well.
A door stood ajar on the far side of the room. Before she could wander over to peek inside, a man appeared in the doorway.
The afternoon light through the windows hit him just so, highlighting impossibly perfect features, and Justine blinked, taken aback at the sight of such handsomeness. Most men in this neighborhood were rough looking, rugged, with crooked noses and scars here and there. Souvenirs of a hard life earned by many on a daily basis.
He was different. This man had a strong jaw and sculpted cheekbones, sharp blue eyes, and full lips that brought to mind thoughts of the wicked variety. Smooth skin with the hint of an evening beard that somehow only made him more appealing. He was dressed in a navy suit, sans coat, with his shirtsleeves rolled up over muscular forearms.
Goodness. She hadn’t expected this.
It had to be Mulligan. Rumor held there was no more beautiful criminal in the entire city—and now Justine knew why.
Then she noticed his hands. He held a scrap of cloth and was using it to wipe . . . blood off his knuckles. My God. “Are you bleeding?”
The side of his mouth curved. “This isn’t my blood. Please, have a seat.” He disappeared inside the adjacent room and she heard water running.
Chest tight, she went to the chairs opposite his desk and lowered herself into one. He has someone else’s blood on his hands. Everything told her this was a mistake, that there had to be another way to help Mrs. Gorcey. But that would take time, one thing the mother of five did not possess.
Mulligan was the most efficient solution available. If he agreed to help, of course.
The water shut off and Mulligan strolled out of the washroom. He smoothed his shirtsleeves back in place as he approached his desk, then lifted his topcoat off the chair back and slipped it on.
He looked ready to promenade on Fifth Avenue.
He gave her a once-over as he dropped into his seat. “Well, well. Downtown’s notorious do-gooder at my door. I am honored.”
She couldn’t detect any sarcasm but she wasn’t certain. So she pretended he hadn’t spoken and launched into her rehearsed speech. “Mr. Mulligan. Thank you for seeing me. I am here—”
“How is your sister?”
The question may have bothered some women but not Justine. Both her older sisters were stunning, far more beautiful and interesting than her plain self. “Which one?”
“Forgive me. I was referring to Florence. She spent a bit of time here before she and Madden settled things. I enjoyed getting to know her.”
Oh. Florence hadn’t mentioned as much, but her sister was known for keeping secrets.
More importantly, what did Mulligan mean? The tone sounded fond, and she wondered if he’d developed a tendre for Justine’s sister. Well, he wouldn’t be the first in that regard. Florence had collected many a heart over the years, even refusing several marriage proposals. “She is well. The casino’s nearly finished. She plans to open at the end of the summer.”
“I am happy to hear it. Please give her my best. Now, what may I do for you, Miss Greene?”
Justine cleared her throat and got to the point. “I am here on behalf of a client, Mrs. Gorcey. Her husband, one Mr. Robert Gorcey, deserted her months ago, never to be seen again. She is demanding he fulfill his familial obligation by providing for his family.”
“And what does this have to do with me?”
“I understand Mr. Gorcey is in your employ. I ask that you allow me to speak with him. I must press him to do the right thing by his family—or I’ll be forced to turn him over to the police.”
Mulligan stared at her for a long moment, his blue eyes steady and calm. They had hints of gray, almost as if the irises changed colors depending on the light. She couldn’t tell what he was thinking as the seconds stretched and his attention started to unnerve her. Just as she opened her mouth to explain, he said one word.
Deep down, Justine hadn’t expected Mulligan to be eager to help. Most people needed convincing. “Why not?”
“Several reasons. She could divorce him and find another man to help her. There has to be a reason Mr. Gorcey left. Furthermore, I see no cause to step into what is strictly a family matter.”
“Mr. Gorcey left behind five children, the care of which now falls directly on Mrs. Gorcey’s shoulders. She has taken up sewing to earn a bit of money and the two oldest children have gone to work in factories. Have you seen what toiling in a factory all day does to a ten- or twelve-year-old child?”
“No, but I certainly know hardship, Miss Greene. I’ve lived on these streets nearly all my life.”
“As a man, yes. I ask you to put yourself in the shoes of a woman here, one who is alone and without any support. You cannot divorce your husband, because that would require traveling to Reno, thanks to the arcane divorce laws in New York. You don’t have the money or the time for such a journey. So you’re stuck because the care of children falls on the shoulders of women in this world. And, if you have no financial assistance for that care, then it is your children who suffer most. Children who wake up every day wondering if there will be enough food. Is our society so cruel that we will not force the men—men who co-created such children—to do the honorable thing and live up to their responsibilities?”
She took a breath and unclenched her hands. Lord knew she could get riled when discussing such matters. But it was common sense. Defending the wives against the cruel and selfish men who had deserted them shouldn’t be necessary. And yet, here she was.
Mulligan’s expression shifted, a gleam in his gaze that hadn’t been there before. “Remarkable,” she thought he said under his breath.
“I beg your pardon?”
He shook his head, as if to clear it. “I appreciate your passion for Mrs. Gorcey and her children, but I still must refuse. Was that all, Miss Greene?”
“You are choosing to protect Mr. Gorcey instead?”
“Not entirely, but his personal business is his own. C’est la voie du monde.”
That was the way of the world? No. Justine refused to believe society was so cynical.
“If that is your answer, fine. But fair warning, I shall find him myself and turn him over to the authorities.”
“Mrs. Gorcey has the funds for legal counsel?”
“Mr. Tripp, my brother-in-law.”
Mulligan grimaced, obviously aware of Frank Tripp’s reputation, but then waved this off with a flick of his hand. “Tripp’s assistance aside, I cannot see a court undertaking these sorts of cases in any serious manner. Not when there are real crimes afoot, like murder and arson.”
“I assure you, these are real crimes. I have settled eight such cases already, where husbands were located and forced to live up to their obligations.”
“Eight? Why haven’t I heard of this?”
She smothered a smile, though it was hard not to feel smug about the accomplishment. Those eight men had thought themselves smarter than their wives. Justine had enjoyed proving them wrong. “Are you aware of everything that happens downtown?”
“Yes.” The word held no conceit, just a plain and simple fact.
“Then I must be doing something right. It wouldn’t do for my purpose to become common knowledge. The husbands would go to greater lengths to hide.”
“And the police are assisting you with this?”
“They are.” To an extent. Meaning, they gave Justine leave to find these wayward husbands and bring them in. Only one officer gave her a bit of help, and just when he had the time.
“I don’t care for coppers sniffing around my men, Miss Greene.”
“Then turn over Gorcey, Mr. Mulligan.”
“I don’t care for that, either.”
“It’s one or the other, I’m afraid.”
“No. There are always other options.”
His gaze narrowed in a speculative way she didn’t care for. “Such as I refuse to let you leave.”
She couldn’t help it—she laughed. “Meaning you’ll kidnap me? That’s absurd.”
“No one said anything about kidnapping.”
“What would you call it, then?”
“I would call it keeping you here.”
She chuckled again. For whatever reason, perhaps because he spoke French or had priceless works of art in his office, Justine wasn’t afraid of him. Mulligan reminded her of her father, Duncan Greene, a man of more bluster than actual bite.
She also knew men like her father and Mulligan were incredibly stubborn. There was no getting them to change their minds.
This meeting was over. Standing, she stood and started for the door. If this was how Mulligan wanted to play it, fine. Justine had encountered resistance before.
“You think I won’t do it?” he called after her, obviously back to the kidnapping nonsense.
Pausing with her hand on the doorknob, she turned. He was on his feet behind his desk, his dark brows bunched together, jaw tight. She tried not to notice how his confusion and irritation only increased his handsomeness.
Focus, Justine. This man had just declared himself the enemy of her cause. That meant she was finished with him. “I know you won’t. You’re not a mustache-twirling villain, like the men in those penny stories.”
His jaw dropped open, but she didn’t have time for more banter. Gorcey must be found before Mulligan had a chance to warn him. She let herself out and started down the corridor. Just as she reached the stairs, Mulligan came up behind her. “Miss Greene.”
She looked up at him. His broad chest and shoulders nearly blocked all of the soft gaslight overhead. “Yes?”
“I may not have a mustache but I am indeed a villain. You’d be wise to remember it.”
©Joanna Shupe 2020