Today's Reading

(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores April 2024.)

Los Angeles, 1948

Evelyn Bishop often thought the inside of Ciro's nightclub looked like a courtesan's fever dream. All white,the décor managed to be both tacky and boring at the same time. It was not a place Evelyn would normally choose for a night out, though she could afford the over-priced cocktails and her natural beauty fit in among the celebrities. More than a few starstruck autograph seekers veered toward her table, before realizing they did not know her name. Evelyn wasn't sure whether to feel flattered, amused, or slightly saddened that fame carried such currency. Anonymity had always been her preference.

"What do you think, Evie?"

She turned to James Hughes, sitting across from her. Tall and handsome, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes, he was almost too attractive for Evelyn. She preferred men with imperfections. They were usually more interesting, having the burden of developing a personality, rather than relying upon their looks. James's one quirk was the way his hair curled at random, defying the gel he used to slick it down. She found it endearing and often longed to tuck it behind his ear.

"Think of what?" she asked.

"The house."

"What house?" she said. Then, seeing his bemused expression, she apologized. "My mind's wandering."

James followed her gaze to a large man in his midfifties. Cigar smoke curled from his mouth as he reached for his martini and drained it in a single swig. A fresh one arrived before he had the chance to ask. He thanked his waitress with a five-dollar bill and a question. Evelyn was too far away to hear what it was, but the girl leaned forward, deftly offering him a glimpse down her low-cut dress. She had a cute figure and a fresh-from-Tulsa expression that still carried dreams of stardom.

"George Palmer," James said, naming the man. "He supplied tank munitions and bombs. He was rich before the war. Now I can't even imagine."

"He keeps interesting company," Evelyn said, looking at his companion. A middle-aged man, his expensive, understated suit belied the fact that he was Mickey Cohen's bookkeeper, and one of the most dangerous people in Los Angeles.

"Norman Roth," James said. "I worked with him in London."

"Never pegged him as the type to enlist in the army."

"He's Jewish. Still had family in Germany."

"Oh," Evelyn said softly.

"He's a good man," James said. "Well, maybe not 'good', but we got along."

Evelyn returned to the subject at hand. "So, the house is in Benedict Canyon."

"Four bedrooms. Pool. View of the hills."

"Four bedrooms is a lot," Evelyn replied.

"Room for kids," James said.

"Whose kids?" Evelyn asked warily.

"Urchins we pick up from the street," James teased.

"We'll put them to work cleaning the grout on the Spanish tile."

"Or teach them to swim so they can scour the bottom of the pool."

"Send them out with a pair of scissors to trim the grass." Evelyn laughed; then the smile slid from her face.

"I don't know if I want kids," Evelyn said.

"You'd make a great mother," James offered.

Evelyn was not convinced. She knew herself to be selfish in small, petty ways: the indulgence of reading the newspaper with her coffee, of sleeping late on the weekends, of settling down with a good book and not rising until she had finished. They were luxuries she did not take for granted. Plus, after all she had seen in the war, it was hard to imagine bringing a child into this world.

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