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from Spirit of Earth by Arline Chase

Chapter Two
Interlude with a Kept Woman

Chapter Two

Interlude with a Kept Woman

In her house on Threadneedle Street, Zoë Styles watched in the three-way mirror of her vanity, while three reflections of Johnny Abercrombie put on their pants. The room was large, but still crowded, because the wide bed had a huge old-fashioned canopy. A secretary desk and a slipper chair had been added to the usual bedroom furniture. She wondered what the man who kept her would think if he knew about her romp between the sheets with one of Baltimore’s most prominent attorneys. Johnny was holding his age well, she thought. The gray hair at his temples didn’t show much and his dimples were just as cute as ever. Zoë never could resist a man with dimples and a boyish smile. Not that she had ever tried. Though he’d more than earned his nickname of “Sidewinder Johnny,”� the lawyer had been a good friend to her for years. Johnny sure knew how to treat a girl who was in a position to hear things now and then.

Tonight she’d given him some news he’d been pleased to hear, and he’d paid her handsomely. Generous to a fault, that was Johnny. Also, unlike most of her “pillow friends,”� he knew how to keep his mouth shut when the chips were down. Truth to tell, she owed him and would pay up any time. And why not, when paying was such a mutual pleasure?

Zoë was a woman who enjoyed life to the fullest and life was good. Except for the boring evening that lay ahead after Johnny left. Sitting home alone had never been Zoë’s forte.

“You sure you got to go, sugar?”� Zoë plucked a chocolate from a gold-foil box and sucked on it. “I can always go another round. And given the right encouragement, you’ve never let me down.”�

“Sorry. I have a meeting.”�

“Tell me her name and break my heart.”� Zoë simpered and batted her eyes at him.

Johnny shot his cuffs and applied the cufflinks without even looking down. “Baltimore Betterment Board.”� He started to put in his shirt studs. “Duty calls, otherwise nothing could drag me from your side.”�

“Oh, sure. I know that. I’m practically the only port in a storm, now that a certain Mrs. Mortimer is taking the air in a New York lunatic asylum.”� Zoë primped at her long chestnut hair, pulling and poking it so deep waves framed her round face.

“How did you know that? Zoë—”�

“There ain’t much that goes on in this town that I don’t know, sugar. And a certain Jewish actress doesn’t find you all that interesting these days either, though I hear your son is doing okay in that department....”� Zoë raised her eyebrows and waggled them at him in the mirror, watching for a reaction. She couldn’t help teasing anymore than she could help breathing. “Must hurt to get cut out by your own kid.”�

“Jon and Desmond—?”� With a surprised look, Johnny leaned down toward the mirror and knotted his tie. “Well—I suppose he’s more her age, anyway. I guess a young man is entitled to sow his oats.”� Johnny grinned. “And I’ll never be really lonely as long as you’re in town, my sweet.”�

“Oh, sure...that goes without saying, sugar. But seeing as how you missed the last Betterment Board meeting, I can’t see why you don’t stick around here tonight. Where were you, anyway, Johnny?”�

“Down a coal mine.”�

“Oh yeah, the damage suits for that cave-in up in Pennsylvania? A strike would wound the B&O, for sure.Well, being out of town has cost you, deary. So missing one more little ole meeting wouldn’t hurt a thing. The damage is already done.”�

“Damage—? How d’you know I missed a meeting?”�

Zoë giggled. “While you were away last month, T.P. went and got himself elected president of the stuffed-shirts’ and do-gooders’ monthly poker game. Just you wait! He’s gonna do right by all those widows and orphans, hon. Got all kinds of ideas. Yessir, Baltimore’s gonna be better’n ever.”�

“T.P. Fitzgibbons?”� Johnny ground his teeth. “Oh, shit.”�

“Yeah. Editor of the Flag. Ever-lovin’ lapdog to the lovely Miss Suzanne Lanier, the Belle of Baltimore. Not to mention he’s my reg’lar fellow, as you very well know.”�

“Suzanne? First I’ve heard of that. You don’t mean he’s serious about the girl? He can’t—”�

“Why not?”� Zoë ate another chocolate. “The bastard ain’t married to me, nor anyone else. He’s free to court anybody he wants. And the Laniers are big-time around here, hon. He’d like to marry into that.”�

“It’ll never happen. Her family won’t stand for it.”� Johnny’s eyes looked shocked.

Zoë felt a little disappointed. Maybe he belonged with the stuffed shirts after all. She hadn’t thought anything could shock Johnny Abercrombie.

“I know the girl’s been half-silly since they broke her engagement to the Wiggins boy. But they’d never let her go and tie herself for life to some Irish upstart.”�

“How they gonna stop her? T.P. could force the issue, you know. He’s certainly fertile, as we both well know.”�

“The Laniers? They’d shoot T.P. and ship the girl off to Europe, and in a few months I’d find myself arranging another private adoption.”�

“Well, sugar, you’re good at that.”� In the mirror Zoë met Johnny’s eyes. Fear tightened her stomach. “You think they really might shoot him? I wouldn’t want to lose my gravy-train.”�

“Tench Lanier?”� Johnny paused for thought and then shrugged. “Maybe not personally, but he’d certainly pay to have the problem removed one way or another. No way he’d let his daughter marry Fitzgibbons.”�

“Well, Johnny, we’ve been friends for a long time, an’ we’ll always be friends. But I sure wouldn’t want nothing bad to happen to old T.P. I keep telling him to back off the girl, but he won’t listen. Thinks I’m jealous.”�

“You?”�

Johnny’s laughter almost rattled the windows. “Zoë, you’ve got no reason to be jealous of any woman. Your expertise in your chosen field is legendary, and rightly so.”�

“Yeah...”� Zoë sighed. “But, hon, I’m pushing forty and I ain’t no skinny young girl, with big moon eyes, no more. What the hell does she want with a man like Tim, anyway?”�

Johnny grinned. “Maybe the same thing you do.”�

“It’s not the sex, hon. T.P.’s not as good as he once was, though he’s as good once as he ever was.”� Zoë batted her eyes again. “It’s politics. The bastard is trying every way he can to take over in this town. Have you read his editorials lately? And now he’s president of the BB...






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