Heiress | Chapter 27 of 31

Author: Susan May Warren | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1914 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 18

Oliver.

She stared at him, everything that had happened so long ago suddenly fresh and brutal. “I thought you were dead. You died in the fire. I—I don’t understand.” She glanced at her mother, who turned immediately away.

No wonder Phoebe didn’t want to cable her, to ask her to come home. Oliver’s words suddenly burrowed deep. “She knew you were still alive.”

Oliver stepped into the room, glanced at Phoebe, at her father. “I wasn’t even around for the fire. I was on the police beat. I came back early in the morning, and Colleen told me that you were there, and that she’d told you she thought I had died. I searched everywhere for you and finally came here. Your mother met me at the door… .”

Phoebe pursed her lips into a tight bud of annoyance.

“She told me that you had married Foster Worth. By the time I discovered it was a lie, you were long gone.”

Esme rounded on her mother. “You lied to him? But you sent me away to marry him. You knew I loved him, and you lied to him.”

Phoebe’s mouth tightened at the edges. “I never really intended for you to marry him, Esme. I thought your infatuation would run its course, that someday you’d return, realize your folly, and marry a more suitable match.”

“And in the meantime, Jinx married my fiancé.”

Phoebe’s gaze hardened. “Someone needed to, and she was in love with him. I had hoped she would have a better chance at love than you and Foster.” She turned away then, staring out the window.

“The paper today said that Jinx murdered him.”

“Jinx did no such thing,” Phoebe said quietly. “Not that the paper gives her any grace.”

“It’s news, Mrs. Price.”

“It’s my daughter, Mr. Stewart.”

A muscle pulled in Oliver’s jaw.

Esme frowned at him. “What’s going on here? Why… Oliver did you take my sister’s picture, did you put it in the paper?”

He walked over to her father, knelt before him, adjusted the blanket, fallen again. “How are you doing today, Mr. Price?”

“So, what—are you my father’s valet too?”

He stood. “I work for your father, yes.”

She stared at him, a roar consuming her, not even sure where to start. Perhaps with— “If mother didn’t cable me, then who did? I got a cable from the New York Chronicle. I thought it came from my father, but apparently he’s no longer in charge. So, who would cable me from the Chronicle?”

“The publisher?”

“He wasn’t in when I went to the paper. I can only hope he’s not running the Price legacy into the ground.”

“I can assure you that he’s not.” He picked up a poker, turned, and readjusted the logs in the fire. Sparks spit into the flue.

“How do you know? Maybe he asked me to come back because the paper is in trouble. Maybe he needs a Price at the helm.”

“I doubt that.”

She frowned at him. “Excuse me?” She turned to Lilly. “Let’s—”

“I’m the publisher, Esme.”

He said it so quietly, in a voice she’d used too many times, during mine labor negotiations, to diffuse anger.

Now, it left her nonplussed. “What?”

“I’m the publisher, and the current managing editor of the Chronicle.”

She shook her head. “No—no. You were—”

“A stringer. A beat photographer. I know. But after you left, I hit the road too. Moved to Chicago and got a job as a stringer. Eventually, I worked my way back to New York, and applied for a job at the Chronicle. I’m not sure why, but your father took an interest in me. He put me on the city desk as a writer then made me an editor. I moved up from there. I’ve been running the paper for two years.”

Two years. “You’re running the paper?”

He nodded. “And I cabled you when your sister was arrested. I thought…well, it was time for you to come home.” For the first time, something like hurt pressed into his gaze. He looked away. “I thought your family might need you.”

Her voice dropped to a whisper. “You knew where I was, all this time, and you never…you never came after me?”

“You didn’t come home, Esme. And then, of course, you got married.” His eyes flickered to Lilly, who glared at him.

“How did you know that?”

“There was an announcement of your husband’s death in the New York World.”

“Pulitzer picked up the accident?”

“Hoyt sat on the stock exchange for a couple years. The paper listed your name as his surviving kin.” He said it without rancor, except for his eyes.

“I didn’t know you were alive!”

Lilly had moved over next to her, now stared at her mother. Esme schooled her voice. “You could have written to me. Could have come out to see me.”

His mouth set in a dark line. Unless—unless he hadn’t really loved her. Hadn’t really meant his words, Come back to me, I’ll be waiting right here for you.

“Well, I’m home now, and I’m taking over my father’s office,” she said, using her Montana voice.

He set the poker back in the mount. “I don’t think so. I knew the emotional strain on your father during Jinx’s trial would be tremendous, and I thought you might want to be with him. But the Chronicle doesn’t need your help.”

She didn’t recognize this man, the one who now picked out his pocket watch, read the time, returned it.

“Doesn’t need my help? I am a Price. I am my father’s heiress. I will take over the newspaper, and you have no say in it.”

“Your father gave me power of attorney should he ever fall ill. I have every say in it.” He moved toward the door. “And, I have to get back to work. I have a trial to cover.”

Twenty years in the West had scrubbed all the decorum from Esme. She moved into his way, ignored his startled expression. “My sister’s trial?”

“If it comes to that.” He looked at Phoebe. “I just returned from court. She is supposed to appear in the Court of Special Session tomorrow morning, to see if they have enough evidence to hold her for the crime of murder.”

He looked back at Esme, nothing of a smile on his face. Oh, she hated how, even now, she could find him so devastatingly handsome. And how, after twenty years, he could still make her heart leave her chest. He smelled good—a sort of mint upon his skin, and had freshly shaven. What had happened to the zealous photographer who had once kissed her under the lamplights in Central Park?

She managed to tamp down the emotion in her voice. “Jinx didn’t do it. I know I haven’t seen her for twenty years, but my sister could never murder someone, especially her husband.”

“You don’t know Foster Worth.”

“But I do know my sister.”

“The same one who stole your fiancé?”

I didn’t love him. The words nearly leaked out. I loved you.

But maybe he hadn’t loved her, not really. And certainly, from the way he looked at her now, a chill in his expression, he no longer dreamed of her return to his arms.

She backed away from him, glanced again at her father, still staring into the crackling fire. “I’m going to prove she didn’t do it, Oliver, and when I do, the Chronicle is going to run a front-page article proclaiming her innocence. And then we’ll see who becomes publisher of the New York Chronicle.”

His smile vanished. “Welcome home, Esme Hoyt.”

“Price,” she snapped. “The name is Esme Price Hoyt.”

* * * * *

How much had Jack heard? Foster’s accusation that Jack wasn’t his son? Had he seen Foster threaten her?

Jinx sat in her cell, reeling back her conversation with Bennett.

But, Jinx, I love you. I’ve never stopped hoping that you might come to me, that you might someday love me.

She pressed her hands into her eyes, not caring how wretched she might look. I loved you too, Bennett. And Jack had been that reminder of the one brief moment when she’d felt loved back.

She’d been such a dupe to think that the glittering parties, the social power, her inheritance might be enough to balm the wounds Bennett’s leaving inflicted.

I’ve never stopped loving you, and because of that I’m going to fix this, Jinx. I’m going to fix this, and save our—my son—and then you’re going to be free.

Probably he would dig into the Worth family fortune, make a contribution to the judge’s larder.

But what if it didn’t work? Worse, what if they still blamed Jack?

Please. She closed her eyes, not sure where to start, hearing what sounded more like a wail. Please, God, save us.

But why should the Almighty listen to her—she’d managed to tangle her life into a web of lies and betrayals. No, she was on her own.

She lay on the bunk, finally giving into exhaustion, not caring what climbed into her hair. She allowed herself a few spoonfuls of the chicken soup at lunchtime, and as the sun fell, her cell darkening with the shadows, she counted her breaths, the bricks in the walls, listened to the memory of Jack’s laughter, Rosie’s singing.

Feet upon the concrete. They stopped at her cell. “Visitor for you.”

Jinx sat up, didn’t bother to smooth her skirt, fix her hair. She shuffled down the hallway, back to the interrogation room.

A woman stood, her back to her, staring out onto Centre Street. Dressed in a belted suit coat, a skirt that hung just above her ankles, a smart, wide-brimmed hat, she held her dark gloves in her hand.

Jinx folded her hands over her chest and tried not to flinch when the bolt slid shut behind her. “Who are you?”

She turned, and words sloughed out of Jinx. She pressed her hand to her mouth, the other around her waist.

“Hey, Jinx.”

She was so beautiful, even more than when she’d left; tall and graceful, her blond hair secured low on her neck, a gentleness about her smile Jinx had never seen before. “Esme.”

They stared at each other a long, pulsed moment. Then Esme came and put her arms around her, pulled her close. “It’s going to be okay.”

Jinx wrapped her arms around her and sobbed.

Esme held her and said nothing.

Jinx knew that she had become loud, a soggy mess, a social misfit as she clung to her sister. But something about Esme’s appearance, the smell of her, clean and fashionable, healthy and whole… “I missed you. I really missed you.”

She hadn’t realized how much until that moment. “I’m so sorry for what I did, for stealing Foster from you.”

She felt Esme’s hand on her hair. “I think you’ve suffered much more than I have.”

Jinx drew away from her, but there was nothing of malice in Esme’s expression. “He was an awful man.” She looked away, her eyes soggy, and accepted her sister’s handkerchief when she offered it. “I hated him. And frankly, yes, I wanted him dead.” She wiped her face, turned back to her sister. “But I didn’t kill him.”

“I know you didn’t.”

Her words unknotted something in Jinx’s chest, and for the first time in five days, she could breathe. Full and clean and— “You believe me?”

“Of course I do.” Esme took her hand. “I’m your sister, right?”

Jinx could only nod.

“So, let’s figure out who did.”

Jinx nodded again.

“Which means you’ll have to tell me what happened, Jinx.”

Jinx drew in a breath, nodded.

“With words.”

Jinx allowed a smile to press through her tears. “I’m not sure where to start.”

Esme pulled out a chair, dropped a notebook on the rough-hewn table. “How about with a list of people who might want to hurt Foster?”

“Name anyone in New York City. He’s a shrewd businessman, he has had affairs with the wives of politicians and judges, not to mention his harem of floozies down on Broadway.”

Esme stared at her, probably shocked by the lack of venom in her voice. “He cheated on you?”

“Nearly from the day we married. I think he was angry that—that I wasn’t you.”

Esme blinked at that, drew in a breath. “I’m sorry either of us had to marry him.”

“Did you ever get married?”

“Yes. I have a daughter.”

“And your husband?”

“He died before she was born.”

Jinx stared out the window, barred though it was, onto Centre Street, the street cars, the late afternoon foot traffic, a newsie on the corner, hawking his rag. “Oliver Stewart is publisher of the Chronicle.”

“I know.”

“Mother told me he was dead. He moved away, to Oklahoma or some place. He showed back up about ten years ago, started working for Father.”

“He wants to control the paper.”

Jinx smiled. “But you’re not going to let that happen, are you?”

A muscle pulled in Esme’s jaw. She narrowed her eyes. “Tell me about these affairs—did Foster ever have a jealous husband come after him?”

“Not that I know of. But according to Bennett, he was going to leave me for Flora St. John. She’s a Ziegfeld girl down at the New Amsterdam Theater.”

“Bennett?”

Jinx drew in a breath. “Foster’s brother. Probably you remember him—Bennett Worth?”

“Yes…he was the wild one, wasn’t he?”

“I think Foster had him beat. Bennett is…underestimated.”

Esme considered her. “You and Bennett are friends.”

Jinx looked out the window again. “We were, once.” I guess I had some sort of idea that, after all this, you might be willing to ignore the scandal and follow your heart. She stiffened. Looked at Esme. “Actually, that’s not true. He’s the father of my son, Jack.”

Esme blinked at her. Put down her pen.

Opened her mouth. Finally. “Oh, Jinx.”

She nodded. “I loved him, and I probably should have left Foster, but…”

“You couldn’t live with the scandal.”

“Yes. Or the fear. Foster was a despicable man.”

“You mustn’t tell a soul about Bennett, Jinx. It won’t matter that Foster cheated on you with every woman in town. It’s more evidence against you.”

“I might as well move to Baltimore, or Philadelphia.” Jinx smiled at Esme.

Esme smiled back. “Perhaps.”

Jinx sighed. “I’m tired of living with lies. I’m tired of always trying so hard to please everyone. I’ve been living in the tombs long before this.”

Esme’s smile vanished. “I have to ask, Jinx. Do you think Bennett could have killed Foster? Perhaps out of jealousy?”

“No. Never. He—he didn’t know Jack was his until today.”

Esme glanced at her, her lips drawing to a thin line.

“I couldn’t tell him. It would only make my staying with Foster more horrible. But the murderer had to be someone Foster knew, someone he trusted, because whoever it was, shot him in the back of the head at close range. There was so much blood, Esme. So much.”

“Shh…we’ll find out who did this.” Esme reached out for her, but the door opened.

Jinx turned. The matron stood before her.

“You’re free to go, Mrs. Worth. They’ve caught the murderer.”

Oh, yes, thank you—

“Bennett Worth has just confessed.”

* * * * *

Esme had never been allowed to see vaudeville. She’d read about it, of course, in the occasional copy of the Chronicle, but as she stared at the playbill outside the theater, advertising the upcoming performances of the Follies and the late night, rooftop Midnight Frolic, she considered she just might be in over her head.

Jinx looked so wrung out, it undid Esme just a little, her confidence deflating as she escorted Jinx home, wrangling them through the throng of reporters. She looked for Oliver, but didn’t see him.

A chill seeped under her coat in the mausoleum of a home Jinx had built, despite the French paintings, the tapestries, the renaissance stature. While Lilly roamed the house on a tour with her cousin, Rosie, Esme drew a hot bath for Jinx, tucked her into her bed afterwards, instructed Amelia to light a fire, and inspected Jinx’s closet for something that might make herself appear younger.

Rosie might have a better chance at posing as a Ziegfeld girl than Esme did, but she managed to find a V-necked dress that swept age from her appearance. She added a peacock-blue cape with a gold brocade trim. If only she had shorter hair like Jinx’s and Rosie’s. Apparently the New York fashion meant she had to chop off her long hair.

She tucked her mane instead inside a turban embellished with a dahlia flower, from Rosie’s wardrobe. She simply needed to get inside the dressing room at the theater, get close to Flora.

She counted on the prestige of netting a millionaire to get Flora bragging…and to the truth.

Now, Esme stood outside the theater, reading the playbill of the upcoming show opening in June. Bert Williams, Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, and The Fairbanks Twins. Rosie’s words as she helped her with her makeup returned to her. “Last year, Ziegfeld’s girls danced on an electric mat that shot sparks from their shoes, wearing rose costumes. I heard that William Randolph Hearst sat in the same orchestra seat every night for eight weeks. Apparently he had a thing for Miss Davies, one of the girls.”

Lilly, of course, watched Rosie with wide, hungry eyes.

“W.C Fields was there, and this absolutely dashing cowboy—Will Rogers—who did tricks with his rope.”

“A lariat,” Lilly said quietly.

Rose looked at her, raised an eyebrow.

“The rope—it’s called a lariat. I have one at home.”

“Are you a cowgirl like Annie Oakley?” The way Rosie said it, it made Esme want to protect Lilly, but apparently her daughter needed no protecting.

“No. I’m a better shot than Annie Oakley.”

Esme smiled even now, as she made her way down the alleyway to the side entrance. Indeed, Lilly was a much better shot.

Esme could hear the music as she opened the door.

A man sat at a table, arms folded.

“I’m sorry, I’m late for rehearsal.” She smiled at him, hoping the shadows were kind to her masquerade.

She began breathing again as she made her way down the corridor, backstage. The music floated from the stage, and costumes hung in racks outside rooms marked with the names of headliners. Their dressing rooms remained dark.

Technically, the Follies wouldn’t open for six weeks.

She found the massive dressing room for the chorus girls and entered.

Apparently, they were on stage, because the room marked the disarray of pre-performance chaos. Makeup pots, burning lights, shoes, hosiery…a den of femininity.

She remembered the days when her life had been filled with the accoutrements of being a lady, of creating the mysterious allure seductive to men. She’d been a Ziegfeld girl of a different era.

Yet, for the same purpose.

She couldn’t blame Flora too much for wanting a life of security, of prosperity.

She roamed the dressing tables for Flora’s station then found a publicity photo framed near an office door. She searched the faces for Jinx’s description. Tall, lanky, blond…

She found a face that stopped her cold. Nearly a younger version of herself, perhaps more shapely, but enough to convince her of Jinx’s words. I think he was angry that—that I wasn’t you.

Poor Jinx.

Esme trolled down the dressing tables, picking up mementoes and cards. She found cards addressed to Marion, Paulette, Irene, and Claire, but no Flora.

She sank down into a chair, studied herself. Picked up a pot of rouge, dabbed her pinky into it. Rubbed it on her cheek.

In the mirror, she saw a vase of flowers, wilted. She got up, moved over to the roses. American Beauty, the kind the boys would send her before a ball.

A vellum card lay tucked below the vase.

To my Flora, for the rest of our lifes.

She picked up the card, studied it. The handwriting was coarse, block letters, as if the author had no formal training.

And, he’d spelled “lives” incorrectly.

“Who are you? What are you doing in here?”

She turned, and a costumed woman stood at the door, entering fast. She wore a bathing hat of sorts, with a plume of red peacock feathers, a skintight V-neck dress, the arms fanned out in a flourish of lace around her elbows, with a tulle ballet skirt, white hosiery, and ballet shoes. Red lipstick and bright blue eyes made her look more garish than grand. She came close and yanked the card from Esme’s hand.

“Who are you?”

Debate ate Esme’s words. Hopeful dancer? Lost actress? She’d arrived with verve, but standing before discovery, it vanished. So much for her Nellie Bly moment. “Are you Flora St. John?”

“Who wants to know?”

She smiled then, honesty coming to her lips. “I’m a reporter with the New York Chronicle, and I want to make her famous.”

For a moment, the lie sparkled in the girl’s eyes. She seemed to glow, reaching up to pull off her hat. Long blond hair spilled down her back. “Yeah, okay. I’m Flora.” She held out her hand. “Nice ta meetchya.”

Esme placed her as a Bronx girl. “Esme. Price. I’m doing a piece on dancers who find true love on the stage, and someone gave me your name.”

Flora glanced at the flowers, sadness in her eyes. “Who?”

“Does the name Foster Worth mean anything to you?”

She glanced at the card, tucked it back into the flowers. “Nope. I dunno what you’re talkin’ about. I think you’d better leave.”

“My source said you attended the theater with Mr. Worth on the day of his murder.”

Other chorus girls had begun to filter in, some sitting at their stations, others listening to their conversation.

“I don’t wanna talk about Foster.” Her eyes glossed.

Esme’s voice gentled. “Do you have an idea of who might have killed him, Miss St. John?”

Flora looked up, blinking, then pressed her fingers under her eyes. “Nope. And I want you to leave, right now.”

“Flora, listen to me. This is just between us, but if you want, I can turn your name over to the police. Talk to me. Were you in love with Foster Worth?”

She flinched, and a memory seemed to scan through her eyes. Then, “I want you to leave. Right now.”

“Flora, don’t you want to tell your side of the story? It’s going to come out—people might even think you had something to do with his murder.”

“Stay away from me!”

Esme made the mistake of reaching out her arm, catching her. “Please—Flora. An innocent man might go to jail if you don’t tell the truth.”

Flora shook it off, rounded on her. “How do I know you’re a reporter? You don’t look like a reporter.” She gestured to Esme’s outfit. “You look more like one of those society ladies, like Foster’s snooty wife.”

Esme drew in a breath.

“Prove to me that you’re with the Chronicle, and then, maybe, I’ll tell you a story about Foster and who really wanted him dead.”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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