John O’Malley’s sister is missing. All the clues of her disappearance lead to Hayward County, Wisconsin and the crooks and questionable sheriff that reside there. Pretending to be one of them, John takes a job as bodyguard for the sheriff’s beautiful sister, Grace. It seems like the perfect way to investigate their crimes and corruption, but when someone threatens to kill Grace, the job proves harder than he thought. Is she an innocent witness to a crime, or just as guilty as everyone else?
Grace Sullivan just wanted a normal life: find a good man, get married and have a family. She has had enough of looking the other way while her brother hides behind his sheriff’s badge to conduct shady dealings. Hiring a gangster named John to watch her is the final straw. When a face from the past threatens her life, she is forced to put her life in John’s hands, but as time goes on, all she really wants is to be in the gangster’s arms.
John slid into the shadows. He watched as the stout man threw a cigarette on the ground, snuffed it out with the toe of his shoe, and gave the fallen man a swift kick to the ribs. “When you’re done, go check out the action at Zelda’s. There are some new girls coming in tonight. Report back to me later.”
“Sure thing, boss.”The two thugs grabbed the unlucky man under the arms and dragged him in his direction. Without another glance, the big guy returned inside and slammed the door shut.
John hid further as they hauled the man past. He didn’t need this and didn’t need to get involved. It was his biggest flaw, but his mother praised him often for it, ‘a good soul will always help those in need, even when the battle seems unwinnable.’ He needed to stay out of trouble, save his money, and find his sister. He wasn’t a hero, one able to fight what looked to be like professional hit men. What if they had guns? He gazed at the stars, and searched for an answer, when the sound of a scuffle brought him back to Earth. The lone man was fighting back.
John leaped from his hiding place. He had to help. It was two against one.
John grabbed the nearest guy from behind and spun him around. Pain shot from his knuckles to his elbow as they connected with the thug’s jaw. The impact shook him to his shoulder. His opponent stumbled and hit the ground with a thud. The man’s head connected with the concrete curb and he was down for the count. It was a lucky punch. John flexed his aching fingers and returned his attention to the other men.
The two struggled on the ground and were breathing hard. John grabbed the bully from behind, and with his already aching hand, hit him in the gut. This man wasn’t going down as easy and managed to throw a counter punch that had him seeing stars. He fell to the ground. His head was spinning. The man landed on his chest and his arm rose for another blow. Before he could brace for the second hit, the man was gone. The injured man on the ground had gotten the upper hand and smashed a bottle over his opponent’s head. He turned his attention on John, broken glass in hand.
John rolled to sitting and held his hands up in the air. “I’ve no quarrel with you.” The man with the bottle advanced. He tossed the bottle to the ground and held out his hand.
“Name’s Flynn. Mickey Flynn.” The man pulled John to his feet. Flynn was a large man with a firm grip. Mickey was at eye level of his six foot height and just as wide in the shoulders. He appeared out of place wearing glad rags in this neighborhood. The man must have been asking for a fight. A wide grin flashed on his face.
“John O’Malley.” He shook Flynn’s hand and brushed the dirt from his trousers. John bent to retrieve his favorite hat from the sidewalk. It was the last thing he had of his father’s. The wool, driving cap he always wore. A split second of melancholy twisted in his heart. It was none the worst for being in the scuffle and he adjusted it back on his head.
“Grace, I have the seeds in that you ordered. Unfortunately, the fabric is not here yet.” The shopkeeper rattled on and on, but Grace kept her gaze on the young man by the car.
“Mrs. Kallstrom, do you know who that fella is? The one who’s fiddling with my brother’s car?” The older Norwegian woman waddled down the store aisle. She pushed her glasses up her nose and peered out the shop window.
“No. Afraid not. Could be one of those men from Illinois?” Her accent made it sound like ill-a-noise-ah. “Don’t know what this world is coming to. Gangsters in Hayward County.” She made the sign of the cross and walked to the candy counter.
“I’ll be just a minute,” Grace called, as she walked out the door. An overhead bell jingled as she passed. “Boy! Get away from that car.” She hurried down the wooden steps. Her heels clicked on the wood sidewalk as she rushed to Daniel’s vehicle.
He stood. His height now blocked the sun and shadowed his face. This was no boy. She had to look up to see his face. Grace cupped her hand to her forehead in hopes of seeing him better.
His eyes were hazel. His jaw was clean-shaven, but already forming a shadow of whiskers. A straight nose and full lips accented his handsome face. The man was dressed cleanly and neatly in a blue shirt with white stripes, a navy tie, and reddish brown vest and trousers. A matching suit coat lay carefully folded on the wheel of the car.
“I, uh, I beg your pardon, sir.” Grace swallowed as her eyes fell to watch him slowly rub his hands on a clean rag. Not one to be lost for words, she struggled to find her next one. Her heart fluttered faster and her palms started to sweat.
“John, I see you’ve met my lovely sister.” Her brother grabbed John’s shoulder from behind.
“Ain’t she a beauty?” John nodded in greeting, but remained silent. “Grace, this here is John. I’ve hired him to help around here and the homestead. He’s a wiz with cars too.” John continued to stare at her as Daniel introduced them.
“Well then, I’ll leave you two to finish whatever you were doing and I’ll continue with my purchases. I will see you at dinner time.” It was rude, but she couldn’t help it. John was the second man to unnerve her in less than twenty-four hours, and she hoped the pattern would not continue. Her stride brought her quickly to the store and she slammed the door. The bell clanged.
“Ah, there you are. Is there something else I can help you with today, yah?” Mrs. Kallstrom always seemed to answer all her own questions with an affirmative.
“Yah,” Grace shook her head, “I mean, no. That will be all, please.” Why the young man unsettled her, she did not know. He didn’t seem dangerous, but he troubled her nonetheless.
She unclenched her fists and reached for her coin purse.
Payment paid in full, Grace gathered her purchases and placed them in a basket. “Thank you, Mrs. Kallstrom, and please give my regards to Mr. Kallstrom.”
“Oh, yah. Have a nice day.” She accompanied Grace to the front of the store. “Will Mr. Sullivan be driving you home now?”
“No, I prefer to walk.” She reached for the door handle.
“Be careful of the gangsters.” The shopkeeper tossed out before continuing the lecture in Norwegian. A knot formed in her throat, as the man’s face from last night flashed before her eyes.
Grace risked a look in the direction of her brother. Maybe she should have him drive her home, but he was still engaged in a conversation with the new guy. Her brother may be the county sheriff, but she never knew if he was talking to one of the good guys or one of the bad, especially now.
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Ginger Ring is an eclectic, hat-loving Midwestern girl with a weakness for cheese, dark chocolate, and the Green Bay Packers. She loves reading, playing with her cats, watching great movies, and has a quirky sense of humor. Publishing a book has been a lifelong dream of hers and she is excited to share her romantic stories with you. Her heroines are classy, sassy and in search of love and adventure. When Ginger isn't tracking down old gangster haunts or stopping at historical landmarks, you can find her on the backwaters of the Mississippi River fishing with her husband.
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