Home > To Catch a Raven (Women Who Dare #3)

To Catch a Raven (Women Who Dare #3)
Author: Beverly Jenkins

 

Prologue

 

 

San Francisco

May 1878

 

San Francisco jeweler Oswald Gant looked around his shop to make sure everything was ready for the imminent arrival of the princess and her entourage. He’d never met royalty before, and the anticipation left him elated and more than a bit nervous. Two members of her military guard had come in that morning to make arrangements for her purchase. They informed him that to ensure the princess’s security, no one else was allowed on the premises during the transaction. With that in mind, Oswald had politely shown the last customers the door an hour ago. In the time since, he’d made sure no fingerprints marred the gleaming glass of his display cases and swept the floor to rid it of any dirt the day’s customers might have tracked in. He'd also lowered the window shades to thwart gawkers passing by on the walk and placed the closed sign on the front door. He wanted no one wandering in and ruining things. Pulling out his handkerchief, he mopped at the perspiration beading his receding hairline, and drew in a deep breath. After adjusting his tie and the cuffs of his suit coat, he was no less nervous, but he was ready.

The bell above the door sounded and the two escorts he’d met that morning entered first, resplendent in their blue military uniforms. They greeted him with a nod and took up positions at the door before announcing, “Her Royal Highness, Princess Nya of Kasia.”

She entered in a faint cloud of perfume with her face masked by a thin veil. Its color and that of her rich gown and cape rivaled the brilliance of his most expensive sapphires. The kohl-lined eyes assessing him above the veil were dark and mysterious, and the skin beneath the arched brows glittered with the same shade as the gown. Her skin was brown, and that threw him. The escorts, one with blond hair and blue eyes, and the other with dark hair and eyes, appeared to be White men. Was she Colored? In the end, he was so mesmerized by her presence and how much profit he planned to make by overcharging her, he decided her race was of no consequence.

The princess spoke to the blond man in a language Oswald didn’t understand.

“The princess doesn’t speak American English,” her man explained, “but she thanks you for accommodating her.”

“Tell her I’m honored.” Beaming, he directed the entourage over to the small table and chairs he’d set up by the case. “If Her Majesty would kindly be seated, I’ll get the pieces you asked me to set aside.”

The guard translated the request, and in a rustle of sapphire silk she crossed the room. The escorts took up positions flanking her, and Oswald hastened to the case. He returned with a small black velvet bag. While the princess sat silently, her jeweled reticule resting on her lap, he removed the contents inside the bag and gently placed them on a tray in front of her. Three rubies, two diamonds, two emeralds, and one perfect white pearl.

She nodded approvingly, and while the dark-eyed man counted out the money owed, she placed the stones back into the bag and into her reticule.

Oswald eyed the coins with confusion. “What kind of money is this?”

“French.”

“San Francisco isn’t in France. This is America. I take only American money.”

The man countered calmly, “Francs are honored all over the world, Mr. Gant.”

“American money or no sale.”

The guard sighed and turned to the puzzled-looking princess. When he explained the situation, she erupted with verbal outrage. While the red-faced, tight-lipped Oswald silently stood his ground in response to her rising vocal anger, she withdrew the jeweler’s bag from the reticule and all but threw it at him as she rose to her feet and stormed to the door. Oswald hefted the bag on his palm to make certain it wasn’t empty, and before he could ask if she’d be returning, the princess swept out of the shop. Her escorts offered hasty assurances that they’d be back in the morning with American coin, then hurried off to catch up with the furious royal.

Later, after gathering himself, Oswald prepared to close for the day and head home, but first he opened the velvet bag to place the stones back inside the case. As he shook out the contents, his eyes widened and his breath caught at the sight of eight pebbles the same sizes and shapes as the stones and pearl that were supposed to be inside. Heart pounding, he almost fainted. When he recovered, he hurried to the nearest police station.

But by then, the blond-haired guard, Renay Deveraux, now wearing a traditional brown suit, was on a train bound for New York City with the diamonds. His similarly dressed, dark-eyed cousin, Emile, had an emerald and the pearl safely secured in his luggage on a steamer sailing to Mexico City. The weary Raven Moreau, having traded her princess finery for plainer attire, didn’t mind riding Jim Crow by train back to her native New Orleans. Their gambit had been successful. She had her portion of the take, and was pleased knowing Oswald Gant, a member of a group of California businessmen infamous for importing girls from China and selling them to bordellos up and down the coast, was now much poorer than he’d been at sunrise.

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

Boston

June 1878

 

Braxton Steele got off at the trolley stop closest to his father Harrison’s Boston home and walked the rest of the way. They dined together once a week and always enjoyed each other’s company. Harrison Steele was a well-known painter and illustrator. Between his work for a few of the local newspapers and the portraits commissioned by Boston’s elite, both Black and White, he made enough to live a fairly comfortable life. Brax hadn’t inherited his father’s artistic talent, however. He made his living as a tailor and managed the estate left to him by his grandparents.

It was a lovely spring evening, and when Brax arrived, Harrison was seated outside on the top step of his small home. “Greetings, son.”

“How are you, Da?”

“Doing well for an old man. Come on inside.”

His father was also a passable cook, and they sat down to a meal of roast chicken and root vegetables. The usually gregarious Harrison seemed subdued, however, and it gave Brax pause. “Is there something wrong?”

His father shrugged, saying quietly, “Maybe. Maybe not.”

“Meaning?”

“When you have a past, sometimes it comes back to put its foot on your throat in ways you hadn’t considered.”

“That’s certainly a definitive answer.”

That earned him a rueful smile. Brax waited for more clues as to what this meant.

“Back before I married your mother, I was in love with a woman named Hazel Moreau. In those days I was an art forger, and she and her family were one of the best grifter operations in the South.”

Brax paused with his fork on its way to his mouth. “An art forger?”

“Yes. I was exceptionally good at it, too.”

Brax set his fork down and wiped his mouth on his napkin. “Why do I get the impression I’m going to need a drink for this conversation?”

His father’s aging eyes twinkled. “You know where the scotch is. Pour me one, too, if you would, please.”

Brax returned to the table with glasses and the decanter. “In case I need more bracing,” he explained, indicating the decanter.

His father nodded and after a sip asked, “Now where was I?”

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