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The Bride Spy - Chapter One

Chicago, Illinois
October, 2008

Hannah Nelson stood with her hands on her hips and stared at the tornado she’d created. Her best friend, Emma Wellington, had disappeared several months ago from her home in Portland, Oregon. Thousands of miles away and anxious to help, Hannah’s half of the tiny dorm room at DePaul University, was covered with newspaper clippings, printouts of email blogs, and anything else that might be deemed a clue.

The other half of the room belonged to her roommate, Victoria Carrington. Hannah sighed as she took in Victoria’s neatly made bed, ridiculously organized desktop, and bookshelves that would make a librarian squeal in glee. Victoria even had organized bins under her bed.

Hannah, on the other hand, avoided looking under hers, convinced she’d find half a dozen missing socks, a dust bunny with fangs, and perhaps even a leprechaun. And not the cute one from the cereal box. More than likely the one from the bad ‘B’ movie. The tinkle of the phone aided her procrastination. Half frustrated, half thankful, she answered it. “Hello?”

“Hi, honey.”

“Hi, Mum. How are you?” Shouts sounded in the background. “Where are you?”

“We’re at home—and good. Mitch has a few mates over, so it’s a bit loud at the moment.”

“Ah, that’d be it.” Hannah’s mind flashed back to her childhood home in Murrays Bay, New Zealand. Memories of black sand between her toes, and warm ocean that never seemed to end, made her smile.

“I can’t talk long. Dad and I are off to Rotorua for a week, but you can ring us on our mobiles if you need us.”

“Ta. I’m going to have my head buried in a case study, so I’m not sure if I’ll leave my room much over the next week. I might try and drag Victoria out for some sightseeing this weekend.”

“Good on ya. You are being careful, aren’t you?”

“Mum.” Hannah sighed. Overprotective didn’t even begin to describe her Irish mother. “I’m fine.”

“I know I’m nagging, darling, but with the disappearances of your friends, I’m a wee bit on the concerned side.”

“In Portland, mum. I’m in Chicago. I highly doubt the same thing will happen. Besides, I’m surrounded by people all the time. If the same thing were going to happen here, it would have already. To someone else.” She heard her mother’s groan on the other end of the line. “Seriously. I’m fine.”

“All right, lovey. I’ll drop the subject—for now.” Her mother’s Irish accent seemed heavier today, indicating her stress, so Hannah knew the subject wouldn’t stay dropped for long.

“Ta.” Hannah sat at her desk and powered up her laptop.

“I’ll give you a ring when dad and I get back.”

“Love you, mum.”

“Love you too, darling. Bye.”

“Kiss Dad for me.” Hanging up the phone, Hannah found a note from her roommate and read it distractedly as she waited for her email to load. She heard the scratch of the key in the lock and turned to see Victoria walk through the door. She waved Victoria’s note in the air. “I thought you were at the studio.”

Victoria sighed. “No, the family moved their appointment. The baby was too cranky for photos.” Dumping her bag on her bed, she sat cross-legged to face Hannah. “I’ve got an hour before I need to be there. I have that stupid paper to finish.” Her focus landed on her evidence wall. “Any word on Emma?”

“Nothing.” Hannah frowned at the wall and then turned back to Victoria. “It’s all so bloody frustrating.”

Victoria smiled gently and then stood. “Is there anything I can do?”

Hannah shook her head. “No, but thanks.”

“Have you been watching the news?”

Hannah sighed. “Are you referring to the fight for the senate in Washington?”

Victoria nodded. “Yes. That Victor Cary fellow is nasty. He’s doing some underhanded things to help his uncle.”

“I did read that on my news page. He’s an ugly, ugly man, too.”

Victoria wrinkled her nose. “Ew, I know. He’s the perfect henchman.”

Hannah shrugged. “Well, I don’t care all that much about politics. They can all kill each other for all I care.”

Victoria rifled through her bag. “Their reach is pretty long, though,” she said distractedly.

“Good thing we’re in Chicago, then, eh?”

Victoria smiled. “Well, I’m going to take a shower, I think, before I go to the studio.”

“What about your paper?”

Victoria raised an eyebrow at her.

Hannah giggled. “Procrastinating today, eh?”

Victoria put her finger to her lips. “Don’t tell.”

Reading her email as Victoria gathered her clothes and made her way into the bathroom, Hannah did another search for any possible news updates on the string of disappearances in Portland. Emma was not the only one who’d vanished from that house. A medical student back in 1997 was the first, followed by Emma’s remaining family. Her sister, Sophie, and brother-in-law, Jamie.

Hannah let out a snort of derision at the lack of information. Apparently, enough time had passed that the media no longer cared. Finished with her stack of emails, including one that promised a larger penis, Hannah flopped on her bed, and stared at the ceiling. Exhaustion blurred her vision, and she rubbed her gritty eyes.

Once again subjected to a sleepless night, she took a deep breath. Ever since Emma’s disappearance, her dreams were plagued with nightmares. The confusion lay in the fact that the dreams weren’t specifically about Emma. Hannah searched her mind over and over trying to discern the threat, but she was at a loss and would wake with a scream most nights.

Poor Victoria.

Hannah knew she woke her more often than not. She desperately wished she could get a handle on her nightmares, and it was times like these when she needed Em the most. The pain ripped through her like salt in an open wound.

Frustrated and amped up, she knew she needed to blow off steam. The dance studio might be her only option, even without Emma to push her. Jumping off the bed, she looked around the room, and then grabbed her dance bag. She threw in a couple of practice leotards, her ballet slippers, and a change of clothes. She’d do some toe work today. She’d concentrated on lyrical over the last few months and neglected her ballet training.

As she threw her phone and iPod in her bag, she hoped the music from her favorite band would take her mind off things. Just as she zipped her bag closed, Victoria surfaced from the bathroom. Hannah giggled and waved her hand, to clear away the vapor from the hot shower that followed Victoria into the room. “Short shower today?”

“What ev!” Victoria retorted. “I still have to do that paper, so lingering isn’t an option.”

“Why did you wait so long, lovey?”

“As daddy says, ‘if it weren't for the last minute, he'd get nothin’ done.’ ”

Victoria, the only daughter of a wealthy Kentucky surgeon and a socialite mother, had sayings that were often as funny as Hannah’s ‘kiwi-isms’.

“Love it. Well, I’m off to dance and then I have a job tonight.”

Victoria’s eyebrows puckered. “Why do you have to do your spy thing at night?”

Hannah shrugged. “Because it’s a cheating case and the wife’s out of town. The creep likes to frequent a particular bar, so I’m bait.”

“You say that as though you’re going to a typing pool.” Victoria crossed her arms. “This is dangerous, HoBo.”

Victoria earned her nickname one night after Hannah found out what her middle name was. For such a fancy name as Carrington, she couldn’t believe her parents had named her Vickie Jo. When a rap song came on the radio and Victoria started rapping to it, it was too much for Hannah. A whiter rapper, you will have never seen. She dissolved into uncontrollable laughter and decided Victoria needed a rapper’s name, so Lil’ JoBo was born. Of course Victoria retaliated and Hannah became HoBo.

Victoria’s use of the nickname made Hannah giggle. “It’s not dangerous, JoBo. Havoc will be with me.”

Johnny Havoc was really Johnny Smith, but when he opened his private investigation business, he thought he should have a “tough” name, so he called himself Havoc, and it stuck.

Victoria snorted. “Havoc…what a stupid nickname.”

Hannah laughed. “I’ll be sure to tell him that.”

“Sounds good.” Victoria bent her head slightly. “Are you wearing shoes?”

Hannah lifted a foot. “Yes, mum, I’m wearing my shoes. Of course, my mum never cared if I wore shoes, but you Americans are so picky about that!”

“Might I remind you that you’re an American now, or are they revoking your citizenship so soon?”

Hannah giggled. “Funny.”

“You can take the girl out of New Zealand, but…”

“Oh, you’re hilarious.” Hannah smiled. “I’ll see you later.”

Hannah walked out the door and down the dorm hallway, dragging her bag and outerwear with her. Always reluctant to wear her heavy down jacket, although warm and appropriate for Chicago in the winter, it stifled her. Not only did she avoid wearing shoes, she avoided wearing anything that meant it wasn’t summer anymore.

Dragging open the door to the building, she was hit with a burst of frigid air. With an expletive that would have made her mother blush, she jumped back inside the building.

“G’day.”

Hannah turned to see her Australian friend, Kevin walking down the hall toward her. She grinned. “Hi. Visiting Jen?”

Tall and slender, Kevin had blond shaggy hair, and light blue eyes. The accent only added to his appeal to the college girls, but much to their disappointment, he was a one-woman man.

“Yeah.” Kevin chuckled. “Avoiding your clothing?”

“Dag.” Hannah held her backpack out to him. “Hold this for a tic, would you?”

He took the bag and Hannah pulled on her coat, the rustle of the waterproof material loud in the echoing hallway. “When’s it going to be summer again?”

“Jen just asked the same question. Where are you off to?” Kevin handed the bag back to her and she swung it over her shoulder.

“The studio. Do you think we can get together later to go over that case study?”

Kevin held the door open for her, and she pulled her scarf up to her face.

He smiled. “Yeah, no worries. Maybe around six?”

Hannah nodded. “Ta. I’ll see you later.”

With a wave, Kevin took off toward his dorm, and Hannah made her way to her car. The studio, located in an historic, but slightly rundown area of Chicago, was built in the early 1800s. To this day, it smelled of history and stale cigar smoke, which Hannah found oddly pleasing. Plus, she adored the architecture.

Letting herself into the building, she was struck with an eerie feeling that made her pause. The building, usually alive with noise, was quiet. A chill raced over her. As she made her way down the hall to her studio, she slipped the key into the lock. The unfamiliar sound of wood popping came from the stairwell and made her pause again. Leaning back slightly, she heard it again.

While most people would have followed their instincts and run like hell, the forensic side of Hannah’s brain kicked into gear moving her along the hall to in investigate. Removing her keys from the studio door, she made her way down the hall, opened the stairwell door, poked her head in, and called out, “Hello? Is anyone there?” Nothing. She moved further into the small area and the door closed behind her. And locked.

“Dang it! Hello? Can anyone hear me?” She jiggled the doorknob and pounded on the door, but no one came to her aid. “Well, you’ve gone and done it now, Han. Bugger!”

Going to the basement was entirely too creepy—even for her, so she made her way slowly up the stairs, and found another door. It opened.

“Thank you, God.” Moving slowly over the threshold, Hannah stared at the scene before her. Instead of a storeroom full of dusty boxes and rickety metal shelves, she found herself in a perfect replica of a Victorian parlor.

Hannah slowly wandered the room, and her fingers brushed the deep green horsehair sofa facing a large fireplace. Her focus was pulled toward a painting mounted above the fireplace. A young man with dark hair, sporting a mustache and soul patch, and dressed in black with a crisp white ascot, stared at her from a large canvas. Whoever had painted the portrait, captured dark green eyes, which bordered on emerald. As she got closer, she noticed a label below it that read: “War Cabinet, Washington D.C. 1865.”

“Now, aren’t you gorgeous?” She raised her hand to touch his face. “Why can’t I meet someone like you and live happily ever after?”

Giggling at her thoughts, she continued to walk around the room. She touched everything. She couldn’t seem to help herself, but in the end, she was drawn back to the painting of the handsome soldier. As she approached the canvas again, the vision of a dark room met her gaze—as though she were looking through a window. The picture frame was gone, in fact the entire wall was gone, but as she stepped forward she could see the dark room again.

No, not a room. A barn.

She turned to find she was still in the Victorian parlor, but as she looked back toward the fireplace again, all she saw was the barn. Hand shaking, she reached out to the hazy image, and without warning, her world spun and everything went black.

* * *

Washington, D.C.

November 1863


Christopher Butler sat in the office of his colleague and close friend, Clayton Madden. Serving under Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, the men had just returned to Washington from Pennsylvania where the President delivered the Gettysburg Address the day before.

“Are you prepared for our trip to Harrisburg?” Clayton settled his ankle over his knee.

Christopher sipped his whiskey and nodded. “Yes, we’ll be arriving on Wednesday. I’m hoping that’ll give us adequate time to settle in before the Thanksgiving festivities.”

“Knowing Mrs. Wade, she’ll have everything prepared as we speak. Even if you arrived on Thursday, you would not be late.”

Christopher chuckled. “That’s true. When are you leaving?”

“Tuesday morning.”

“I thought Emma preferred the city.”

Clayton smiled. “Yes. She does prefer the city. However, she’s also very sentimental, and is looking forward to the holidays with her sister.”

Christopher ran his hands through his hair as he lamented, “Gwen is driving us all mad with her enthusiasm.”

“That’s not surprising. Gettysburg was her first trip outside of Washington. What girl wouldn’t be excited about spending time with her friends—and shopping?”

“Yes, I suppose so.” Christopher shifted in his chair. “I must say, having brothers is easier than sisters. Even if she’s a very small one.”

Clayton nodded. “Any word from Quincy?”

Christopher’s younger brother currently served in the Union Army, and was not a subject he liked to discuss. “Nothing in over a month.”

“I’m sure he’s fine, Chris. Your brother’s intelligent.”

Christopher leaned back with a sigh. “Sometimes he’s a little too smart for his own good, and that’s my biggest concern.”

Clayton chuckled. “All your siblings are.”

“True. Gwen being the worst offender.” Christopher turned when he heard a derisive snort from the entrance of the office.

Gwen rolled her eyes. “Chris.”

The men stood and Clayton held out his hand to Emma who stood next to Gwen. “Come in, sweet.”

Emma led Gwen into the office with a grin. “I think Gwen is perfect just the way she is, Chris.”

“Thank you, Emma.” Gwen straightened her spine and glanced at Christopher. “Anything to add?”

He had to admit, he was too tired to tease his sister at present, no matter how tempting, so he smiled gently and indicated the chair next to him for her to sit. “No, Gwennie, not at all.”

“Dinner is ready if you two would like to join us,” Emma said and gasped when Clayton pulled her into his lap as he sat back in his chair. Clayton whispered something in her ear and she laughed before facing the siblings, hand over her mouth. “Sorry, that was rude.”

Christopher waved his hand dismissively, but secretly, he wasn’t sure he’d ever get used to such public displays of the physical attraction he’d seen from his close friend. Emma brought out a side of Clayton he was unaccustomed to, evident once again as he watched her give Clayton a secret smile before climbing from his lap.

“Well, I’m starved.” Clayton stood beside her. “Shall we?”

Emma had persuaded them to stay another hour, promising an early dinner so they could get on the road before it got too dark. She’d organized a simple repast of fresh bread and soup, and Christopher was grateful the meal wrapped up quickly.

Once the housekeeper had cleared the final dishes from the table, Christopher laid his napkin on the table, and stood. “All right, Gwennie, we’d better get you home. It has been a full three days.”

Gwen smiled and rose to her feet. “Yes, I am quite tired.”

Clayton and Emma walked them to the door and bid them safe travels, before Christopher assisted Gwen into the buggy and they took off for home.

* * *

Arriving at their family home in Maryland later than expected, Christopher settled the horses in the barn, rather than waking their groom. He’d have plenty of time to relax without commitments for the next two days, and he intended to use his time at home to reconnect with his family.

Christopher grew restless, not unusual for him at this hour of the night, and needed to move around. He’d never been a particularly good sleeper, but with the vast amount of information about protecting the President swimming in his head, his insomnia had gotten much worse. A new layer of snow on the ground beckoned to him.

The blanket of white appeared gray in the darkness, and he smiled. He loved this time of night, especially with the crispness of fresh snowfall. The stars just seemed brighter in the winter, and everything so much more peaceful.

As he gathered his outerwear, his sister walked into the foyer. “Chris? May I walk with you?”

“You should be asleep, Gwen,” he admonished as he pulled on his gloves.

Gwen rolled her eyes. “It’s barely nine o’clock.”

“Past your bedtime.”

Their father was a farmer and as children they’d all been in bed by seven most nights in order to be up at first dawn.

Gwen let out a deep sigh. “I’m not a child, and I’m too pent up to sleep. Perhaps you and Quincy have influenced my sleeping habits.”

“I thought you said you were tired when we left the Maddens.”

Gwen gave a slight shrug. “I slept in the buggy.”

Christopher didn’t really want company but found it difficult to deny her. “All right.”

Gathering their warm coats, gloves, and scarves, Christopher led Gwen toward their favorite refuge. Their parents had built a large gazebo near the barn and Christopher would go there often to think. He’d brought a few girls here to kiss in the dark as well, but he didn’t advertise that fact. They walked into the shelter of the gazebo and sat down.

“Why are you so restless, Gwennie?”

“I don’t know.” She sighed. “How is it you’re not falling over? You delivered the President to the White House late last night. I heard you come in well after midnight, and then you were up early this morning…even before me.”

Christopher shrugged. “I had paperwork to finish. How did you know I came in after midnight?”

“I couldn’t sleep, and you have heavy feet.” She then whispered, “Do you think Quinn is safe?”

Christopher patted her hand. “I pray that he is.”

“As do I. I wish I knew where he was and when he’s coming home.”

Standing, Christopher slapped his gloved hands together in an effort to warm them, and began to pace the small space. “He’ll come home when the war is over—or he’s wounded.”

Gwen gasped. “Don’t say that, Chris. I couldn’t bear it.”

“Sorry.” Christopher grimaced and then changed the subject. “Did you enjoy Gettysburg?”

“I loved it.” Gwen sat up in excitement. “I especially enjoyed shopping with Emma and Sophie. They’re very entertaining.”

Christopher raised an eyebrow. “That’s one way to describe them, I suppose.”

Gwen grinned. “Do you not approve, big brother?”

“It’s not that. Clayton is different, and I didn’t think he would ever change, I suppose.”

“They’re quite out of the ordinary.” Gwen chuckled quietly. “Similar to Charity, but different as well.”

Charity Short, Gwen’s childhood friend, was closer than a sister. She was considered to be a forward thinker, as she was often outspoken and opinionated.

“They do seem quite independent.” Christopher held a hand up and gave her a half smile. “Don’t get any ideas.”

“Oh, I absolutely will! More than you could ever imagine.” Christopher gave a sigh of annoyance and Gwen laughed. “I’m telling you, Chris, one day you’re going to meet a woman who won’t be so easily charmed and you’ll be changed just like Clayton. A woman most certainly not like Delilah.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Delilah.”

“That may be up for debate.” Gwen sighed. “It’s just always so easy for you and Quinn.”

“Easy?”

“Yes. My whole life I’ve grown up with the big brothers everyone loves. Other than Charity, I’ve never had a friend who didn’t fall in love with one of you.”

Christopher chuckled. “I think that might be a bit of an overstatement.”

Gwen shook her head. “It’s not and you know it. You walk into a room and the ladies swoon.”

Christopher raised an eyebrow. “Gwen.”

She slapped a hand on one of the beams. “It’s true. Remember the church picnic last year? You walked over to greet me and Gertrude Harris fainted. Right in the middle of all those people.”

Christopher waved a hand dismissively. “She was overheated. It was August, after all.”

“Christopher, she was not overheated. She grabbed my hand and sighed, then made a strange sound in the back of her throat. When you smiled at her, she fell over. I don’t think we can call that anything other than a lady swooning in your presence.”

“Where do you get your ideas from, little sister?” Christopher crossed his arms. “Perhaps spending so much time with Mrs. Madden isn’t a good idea.”

Gwen let out an inelegant snort. “Whether you choose to acknowledge what I’m saying or not, it’s the truth, and I know you’re aware of what you’re doing, because you only smile at unattached ladies in that way.”

“What way?”

Gwen leaned against the railing. “You do this thing with your eyes, where they crinkle in the corner, and then you smile very slowly and wait for their reaction.”

“I do not,” Christopher argued.

“You do. Quinn does it as well, although, his smile is less like a tiger after his prey than yours.”

“Gwendolyn! This conversation is unseemly.”

Gwen shrugged. “Why? Because it makes you uncomfortable? Perhaps you should be uncomfortable for once. No one ever stands up to you, especially women. And certainly not Delilah. She wants your good name and position in society. She’s willing to do anything to get it.”

“You have quite the opinion, I see.”

Gwen pulled her scarf closer to her chin. “I think you need to marry a woman who is smart and independent. Someone who doesn’t want anything outside of you. And someone who will talk back to you. If Emma’s taught me anything, it’s that.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“You can be quite superior, Chris. You’re an important man, which adds to that superiority, but you’re frightening sometimes. Clayton can be as well, but he tempers his authority with humor. Your humor seems to have disappeared. You hardly smile anymore…unless it’s to a woman you want to affect. And I think Delilah is a horrid woman.”

Christopher narrowed his eyes. His sister had never spoken to him so plainly before. He wasn’t certain where she’d gotten the sudden courage to do so, but he didn’t like it. “Where is all of this coming from? Delilah has done nothing to you.”

“But she’s done something to you…or at the very least, added to whatever has been going on…and I don’t like it.”

“Nothing has been going on, Gwen.” Christopher stared out into the darkness. “And not that it’s any of your business, the truth of the matter is that I enjoy Delilah’s company. I believe you’re wrong about her.”

Before Gwen could comment, a loud crash echoed inside the barn. The horses whinnied in fright. “What was that?” Gwen stood quickly.

“I don’t know.” Christopher jumped the gazebo railing and ran toward the stables.

“Chris?”

“Stay there,” he called.

Stepping over the threshold of the barn, he grabbed a lantern and moved inside with his gun drawn. He worked to calm the horses as he continued further into the interior. Reaching the second to the last stall, he noticed a crumpled form in the corner near the tack room. He slowly walked toward it. As he got closer, he noticed the shimmer of long dark hair and realized it was a woman. He slipped his gun back into its holster, knelt down beside her, and gently swept her hair away from her face. She wore strange blue breeches and a large puffy coat made of a material he had never seen before.

“Ma’am? Can you hear me?” He stroked her cheek and spoke softly. “Ma’am, wake up.”


All content (c) Tracey Jane Jackson
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