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City of Lies (Counterfeit Lady #1)
Author:Victoria Thompson

City of Lies (Counterfeit Lady #1)

Victoria Thompson




CHAPTER ONE





Jake looked much too smug.

Elizabeth’s hand itched to smack the smirk off his face, but well-bred young ladies didn’t go around smacking people in hotel dining rooms. Since she was pretending to be a well-bred young lady at the moment, she made herself smile pleasantly and threaded her way through the mostly empty tables to where he was sitting.

He jumped to his feet and pulled out her chair, because he was pretending to be a well-bred young man. “Good morning, dear sister. Did you sleep well?”

“Did you drop the leather?” she asked.

“Of course, and he just came into the dining room. Oh, wait. He stopped to talk to someone.”

Elizabeth glanced over, turning her head only slightly so she wouldn’t be caught watching their mark. Jake had done the same thing.

“It’s a woman,” Jake murmured.

“Shhh.” She could see that. She needed to hear what they said. If he had a friend in the city, someone who might advise him . . .


“Hazel, how nice to see you,” Thornton said, although a trace of strain in his voice indicated it wasn’t really so nice to see her at all.

“Oscar,” the woman said. Her back was to them but her tone was unmistakable. Elizabeth almost shivered from the frost in it. She’d have to practice that tone. It might come in handy someday.

“What brings you to Washington City?” Thornton asked with obviously forced enthusiasm. He’d also felt the chill and was trying to pretend he hadn’t.

The woman rose to her feet, and even though she was much shorter than Oscar Thornton, she seemed to tower over him. How did she do that? “I can’t believe that is any of your concern.” She laid her napkin down on the table and walked away, making Thornton look like a dog. How on earth did she do that? But Elizabeth couldn’t worry about that now. She had to salvage Thornton’s pride.

“Start talking,” Elizabeth whispered.

“So I told him I wanted to order a dozen pair,” Jake said a little louder than necessary so Thornton would know they’d been talking to each other and hadn’t noticed that woman cutting him dead so beautifully. Never embarrass a mark. “And he looks down his nose at me, the way those clerks in those fancy stores do, and he says, ‘Sir, you will never have use for a dozen pair.’”

“He didn’t!” Elizabeth said, outraged on behalf of her brother in this imaginary conversation.

“He did. So I told him I’d take two dozen instead.”

She laughed the little tinkling laugh she’d practiced so many times and said, “Father will be furious.”

“Why do you think I did it?” Then he looked up in apparent surprise to see Thornton approaching their table. “Good morning, Thornton. Won’t you join us?”

Elizabeth looked up, too, and gave him a delighted smile that told him how pleased she was to see him, because she was pleased, if not for the reason he thought. His face was still scarlet from the woman’s snub, but she gave no indication she noticed. “Yes, do join us and save me from having to listen to any more of my brother’s silly stories.”

Jake pretended to be affronted, but they soon had Thornton seated and responding to Elizabeth’s subtle flirting. He probably hadn’t forgotten that woman, but he was thinking about Elizabeth now, which was all that mattered.

“Oh dear, are those women still marching at the White House?” she asked, seeing the headline in the newspaper Thornton had carried with him.

“Yes, even though they’re getting arrested almost daily now,” Thornton said. He’d cleared the last of the humiliation out of his voice, she noticed with relief.

“I don’t know why women would want to vote anyway. Would you, Betty?” Jake asked, using the name they’d chosen for this job.

“I can’t imagine why,” Elizabeth said. “Politics is so boring.” She didn’t have to lie about her opinion of politics, at least.

“And not something a lady should concern herself with,” Thornton said with a condescending smile that set her teeth on edge.

Thornton told them the details of the suffragettes’ latest brush with the law while the waiter in his spotless white gloves served them eggs and potatoes and bacon and refilled their coffee cups. When they were nearly finished, Elizabeth said, “Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Thornton.”

“For what, my dear?” he asked. He thought he was charming, and she let him think so.

“I stepped on your foot.”

“No, you didn’t,” he assured her.

Elizabeth frowned in confusion. “It must have been you then, Jake.”

“No, it wasn’t,” he said.

“Well, I stepped on something,” she said, pushing her chair back a bit and looking down at the floor. “What could it be?”

She couldn’t see because of the tablecloth, so Thornton obligingly bent down to help look. Then he reached under the table and came up with a man’s wallet.

“You’ve dropped your pocketbook, Perkins,” he told Jake.

Jake patted his jacket. “No, I haven’t. Mine’s right here. It must be yours.”

Thornton patted his own jacket and shook his head. “It’s not mine, either.”

“Someone’s going to be very upset,” Elizabeth said. “Look how much money is in it.”

Thornton had opened the wallet and discovered a large amount of cash inside.

“How much is it, do you think?” Jake asked.

“Several hundred at least,” Thornton said.

“We need to find the owner and return it,” Jake said. “Is there anything in there with a name on it?”

Thornton started emptying the wallet, which was stuffed with not only money but other papers as well. He laid the items out on the table, and Elizabeth and Jake moved the dishes aside to make room.

Jake picked up the stack of money and counted it while Thornton laid out several telegrams, a paper with rows of letters and numbers written on it and a newspaper clipping.

“There’s over six hundred dollars here,” Jake said. Two years’ salary for an average working man.

“What does the newspaper clipping say?” Elizabeth asked.

Thornton read it to himself. “It’s about some fellow named Coleman making a killing in the stock market.”

“These telegrams are to someone named Coleman, too,” Jake noticed.

“Is that his photograph?” she asked, peering at the clipping in Thornton’s fat fingers.

“For all the good it does.” He turned it so she could see. The photograph was of a man holding his hat to cover his face.

“We don’t need his photograph if we have his name,” Jake pointed out. “He’s probably staying at the hotel. Let’s take it to him. I want to see his face when he gets it back.”

Thornton glanced over at her. “How do you feel about going to a strange man’s hotel room, Miss Perkins?”

She gave him a mischievous smile. “It’s scandalous, I know, but I’ll be thoroughly chaperoned.”