Nights at the speakeasy… Spark a dangerous romance Evelyn Laroque’s performances at Lorenzo De Luca’s Kansas City blues club draw even bigger crowds than his bootleg whiskey. And every time he hears her voice, Lorenzo falls a little harder for the achingly beautiful blues singer. When Evelyn becomes a target for the KKK, Lorenzo faces an impossible choice. Will this son of a gangster turn to the mob if it’s the only way to protect the woman he loves? From Harlequin Historical: Your romantic escape to the past.
Release date: August 31, 2021
Print pages: 288
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A Blues Singer to Redeem Him
PrologueMay 31, 1921, Greenwood, Oklahoma
Evelyn Laroque had never smelled human flesh burn. The metallic stench hung heavy in the air as she and her family packed to flee Greenwood. Her father and mother, Mr. and Dr. Laroque, had heard from one of their friends in the Tulsa Police Department about the mob headed for Greenwood.
Evelyn’s fearless mother trembled with terror. Watching as her mother’s hands shook, Evelyn blinked back warm tears. Her mother dropped several garments to the floor before they actually made it into the bag she was packing. The smoke from the fires seeped into their two-story home like the smells from a barbeque.
Evelyn followed her mother from the kitchen to the living room, stepping over large bags filled with her mother’s medical books, her dad’s collection of pocket watches, the jewelry her grandmother had handed down to her mother, that Evelyn had used to play dress-up as a child. The black bags stood out against the gray couch, the light oak floors, and paisley-patterned red-and-beige carpet.
“Why do we have to leave?”
Evelyn stood under the arched opening separating the dining room from the living room, intentionally blocking her mother’s way. She tried desperately not to yell, but she could no longer feign indifference to her mother’s resolve to flee. Her mother had been flitting about since she’d gotten the phone call. As soon as the first gunshots rang out, her mother’s demeanor had completely changed.
“Evelyn Anne Laroque, go to your room and pack. We don’t have much time, so only take the things you need.” Her mother’s voice quivered.
“No, Momma. I’m not going. If the police know about what’s happening, why aren’t they stopping it?”
Evelyn couldn’t understand what her mother was doing. Her mother hadn’t backed down from a fight ever. Now Evelyn couldn’t reconcile the woman she saw, hands shaking, packing only the essentials, with the woman who’d fought to become a doctor when the entire world had said she wasn’t smart enough, wasn’t good enough.
How could her mother leave Greenwood so willingly? Their custom-made artistic white house with navy shutters was their dream home, a home that contained some of their best memories—Evelyn’s seveneenth birthday, the first time she’d told her parents about her dream to become a singer and the first date she’d been allowed to go on with Jimmy Martin, a future dentist.
In her mother’s study, Evelyn could see the destruction from the window. Their house sat high on a hill that overlooked Greenwood. Tulsa was flat, but her parents had bought the only lot that offered a view of the city.
Black clouds of suffocating smoke billowed up from the raging fire that ate through the entire town. The mob led by the Ku Klux Klan had opened the gates of hell and were burning everything the residents of Greenwood had. Hate had clawed its way into Tulsa and erupted on the affluent Black section known as Black Wall Street.
Evelyn’s father had been silent throughout Evelyn’s protest. He quietly pulled pictures that couldn’t be replaced from the walls and stuffed them unceremoniously into a bag. Evelyn looked at him for a moment. What had he and her mother been like when they were Evelyn’s age? Was she the crazy one for wanting to stay and fight?
Evelyn’s mother went upstairs. Evelyn followed her. Her normally charismatic mother pulled clothes frantically from the drawers and took Evelyn’s favorite paintings from the walls. Beads of sweat dripped down her forehead. Her mother even packed Evelyn’s favorite gramophone records. She had many, but her mother knew Evelyn’s favorites were always on top.
Looking around one last time, Evelyn’s mother grabbed Evelyn’s arm and pulled her back down the stairs and out of the house. Her father threw as many bags as he could carry into their Nash Touring before returning to their home to get the rest. The smoke smothered Evelyn. She coughed, choking on the particles in the air that might be the remains of burned bodies—her friends and neighbors’ burned bodies. The thought made her retch.
Her mother opened the passenger door of their brand-new car and got in, pulling Evelyn after her. The future, no longer certain, clenched scorching hands around Evelyn’s throat and she coughed uncontrollably. She could barely breathe, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that her family owed it to the rest of Greenwood to stay and help.
“I’m not leaving without my friends, Momma. I can’t. What about the rest of our family? We have to help them.”
Dr. Laroque always had a stern expression. It was her normal everyday look. But today she had been more than stern throughout Evelyn’s objection to their abrupt retreat. By the time news had spread about the Black boy who’d been accused of attacking a White girl in an elevator Downtown, Evelyn’s mother had already had them packing.
“We told everyone we could, baby. Our family and friends are doing exactly what we’re doing right now—the only thing we can do. We have to get out of here before they kill us all.” Tears slid down Evelyn’s mother’s face, cresting over high cheekbones. Her dad used his thumb to wipe them away.
They’d only been in Greenwood a short time. Leaving Louisiana had seemed like the right thing to do. Evelyn and her older brother, Carmichael, her dad and her mother, had only come a year ago. They’d traveled a long way so her mother could practice medicine in a town where Black people could be successful.
Carmichael had left Greenwood six months ago to move to Kansas City. Evelyn hoped to go stay with him as soon as she finished school to finally take a chance at singing the blues. Evelyn wanted to follow in the footsteps of her Aunt Shirleen, who sang in the same nightclubs as Mamie Smith. Now all that seemed foolish.
The car jerked as her father shifted and accelerated too fast. The moon shone brightly in the sky, casting a spotlight on the destruction of their hometown. Evelyn stopped fighting and allowed the tears to fall.
Her heart started to beat normally as they neared the border of the town. Her father had slowed to make the turn to leave Greenwood when blinding bright lights barreled down toward them. Another set of lights headed straight for them. They were trapped.
Chapter OneFive years later, August 1926
Lorenzo De Luca stared up at the massive estate. The red brick stood out against the backdrop of a starry night sky. This home had been built as an homage to his family’s native country of Italy. Generations of De Lucas had lived in this house.
The windows loomed like eyes to the soul, reflecting a childhood of happy memories now clouded with the blood of all who’d lost their lives because of his family. His mind went to Holly briefly, before he shook his head to clear his thoughts.
The only reason he’d come was to see his madre. She’d been his saving grace as a child. It was her strength that he’d pulled on to stay committed to not falling into the family business.
Lorenzo stepped onto the porch and sighed deeply. It had been months since the last time he’d been home—if he could still call it that.
His thoughts floated back to that night—the final family meeting he’d attended. The memory carried him back.
He could still hear the way the wineglasses had clanged and the moonshine had sloshed in mugs gripped by the callused hands of the De Luca family. A memory of the centuries-old table with all the important members of the family business around it stung especially deep. The young children who hadn’t been old enough to hear the gory details of the family’s work had played in the courtyard of the mansion that day.
Lorenzo had unbuttoned the top button of his dress shirt and cleared his throat. That had been his almost imperceptible signal that the meeting needed to start immediately.
After a few more pats on the back and kisses on the cheek, Lorenzo’s father, Alonzo “No Hope” De Luca, had said, “All right, everybody sit down, already.”
Lorenzo had grown up running the halls of this mansion that had seemed full of ghosts to a child. At that meeting, he’d stood next in line to run the De Luca family. Ghosts should’ve been afraid of him.
The room had grown quiet and everyone had taken their seats. There’d been an obvious hierarchy.
The most important and dangerous members of the family sat toward the middle of the table. They were the central players in the business. Lorenzo’s grandfather’s seat was left empty out of respect. His grandfather was serving two consecutive life sentences for the murders of the Ricci family bosses. He hadn’t acted alone of course, but he wasn’t a rat. Being the oldest, his grandfather had taken the fall for the younger bosses, as was expected.
“We need to get down to business. I’m getting old, and the time has come to prepare to hand over the reins to the next Don. I’m honored that my son, Lorenzo, will be taking on a more active role in the family.”
Alonzo had turned and kissed Lorenzo on both cheeks. Everyone around the table had erupted in cheers. Lorenzo’s jaw had tightened. The thought of having to take on the burden of his family had sat heavily on his chest, making it hard for him to breathe.
The wallpaper in striking golds, blacks and whites had seemed to close in around him. He’d hoped the smile he’d practiced so well wouldn’t betray the roiling emotions he’d hidden inside. He’d been able to hold himself in check so far, but the closer he got to being an actual boss, the more he’d feared what he had to tell his father.
Seeming to notice Lorenzo’s discomfort, Alonzo had said, “All right, let’s settle down. There’s a lot to go over and the change won’t happen overnight. I’m just excited that my son, in all his brilliance, along with his cousins, will be leading our family into a new era.”
Lorenzo hadn’t been able to breathe. He’d unbuttoned another button on his dress shirt. Sweat had slicked his skin. Dragging his hands through his hair, he’d closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of his chair.
The old chairs had been brought over from Italy when the house had been built, a hundred years ago. They’d been restored a couple of times and were now adorned in black and embellished with gold. He’d briefly considered throwing the relic through the stained-glass window.
“Can I talk to you...in private?” His voice had been but a whisper in the large room.
Alonzo had looked at his son, concern etched in his features. He’d nodded. “Discuss the issues we’re having with the new city officials. When we get back, I want to hear options for handling it.”
Lorenzo’s father had led him to the library, down the hall from the meeting room.
As soon as the door had closed behind them, Lorenzo had turned to his father and said, “I can’t do this.” His voice had come out stronger in the small room than he’d expected.
“What did you say?” His father’s voice, though tempered, had been laced with venom.
Lorenzo had lifted his head and met his father’s glare. “I said, I can’t do this. I won’t continue to be a part of this business. I wouldn’t even call the intentional murdering of people a business.”
“It’s called a family,” Alonzo had said. “And if you can’t be a part of the business, then you aren’t a part of this family either. Think about what you’re saying and tread carefully.”
Lorenzo had walked closer to his father to make sure he got his point across. “Then I guess I won’t be a member of the family. I’m finally realizing the cost of being in this family. It’s too great.”
“Don’t forget what the De Luca name has done for you and continues to do for you.” His father’s voice had risen.
Lorenzo walked to the door. With his hand on the handle, he said, “That’s the problem. How can I call myself a boss, someone to be respected, when I stand on the backs of the De Lucas? I won’t continue to benefit from this...” Lorenzo motioned to the expensive furniture in the room “...this family any longer.”
He’d opened the door and walked out. The sound of glass shattering behind him as he’d fled the room hadn’t surprised him. His father’s temper was legendary.
“Lorenzo, where are you going?” His father’s voice had thundered.
“Don’t worry, Father. I won’t be back.”
Lorenzo had let the door slam in his wake.
The memories flooded in as Lorenzo stood outside the front door to the home he’d once loved. The night air yanked Lorenzo from his reverie. He couldn’t focus on his last conversation with his father. He had to move forward and try to stay connected to the only member of his family who still spoke to him—his mother.
Before he could knock, the heavy door swung open. “Lorenzo, my sweet boy. I was worried you’d changed your mind about coming. Why are you standing out here?”
Lorenzo’s mother stood in a gray floor-length flowing gown covered with black lace and beading. Her intricately coiled hair was pinned up away from her face, the inky black strands shining against a crystal headband embellished with equally dark feathers. She reached out and pulled him into a hug.
Lorenzo took a deep breath. She smelled of expensive perfume and flowers, as she always did. As a child, he would hide his face in her neck as she held him tight. He’d often been running from his father, who’d thought discipline was synonymous with heavy fists and yelling.
Lorenzo had grown up thinking his father hated him, but when he’d gotten old enough to join the family meetings, he’d realized his father had been trying to prepare him for a life of violence. His father had wanted Lorenzo to be someone everyone else feared. His father had wanted him to be the strongest De Luca there ever was.
“I’ve missed you, Mamma.”
Lorenzo pulled back. In one night, he’d gone from seeing his mother and father just about every single day to not seeing either of them for months. He still talked to his mother on the telephone daily, but it wasn’t the same.
He missed her soft smile and kind eyes. He missed her home cooking that always made him feel like a child again. Even with hired help, his mother relished being able to cook authentic Italian meals for the entire family. Lorenzo had always thought she should rely more on the maids when it came to preparing meals, but it was one of the few things that made her happy in a world filled with imminent danger.
His mother moved out of the doorway and gestured for him to come in.
The butler appeared in the hallway. “Can I take your jacket, Mr. De Luca?” The tall man stood statuesque in a black tuxedo.
“No, Alan, I’m not staying long. And please don’t call me Mr. De Luca—that’s my father.” Lorenzo smiled.
He’d grown up with servants, and he had befriended them all. Alan had been a part of his household since he could remember, and no matter how many times Lorenzo told him not to call him Mr. De Luca, he always did. Lorenzo’s father had always been miffed at how friendly Lorenzo was to the people who worked for them.
“Come into the study, please.”
Lorenzo’s mother walked into the dark room with walls of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. She turned on the golden lamps. The dark leather furniture, huge antique desk and the hundreds of books had been some of his favorite things growing up. Now the study looked out of place—or maybe it was him that was out of place.
“I can’t stay long.” Lorenzo stood in the doorway not sure what to do.
“Sit down, son.” His mother offered him a glass of whiskey from the crystal decanter.
He shook his head and sat in one of the oversize chairs. The room smelled like his father: smoke, maple and sandalwood. Those smells used to strike so much fear in Lorenzo. It stunned him how much the scents smelled like home now.
His mother sat in the chair next to him and took his hand in hers. “I’ve missed you so much. Our phone calls are the highlight of my day, but there is nothing like seeing your face.” She touched his cheek and smiled brightly. “I’ve missed those beautiful eyes of yours, my son.”
“I’m sorry I’ve not been around, but you know how Father feels toward me. Coming here would’ve served no purpose.”
“Your father loves you, Lorenzo.”
Lorenzo didn’t respond. His mother stood and picked up her drink from the bar cart. She paced back and forth.
“What is it, Mother?”
Lorenzo hated to see his mother wound up. He’d come immediately when he’d heard the panic in her voice. He’d been in the middle of discussing hiring a new singer with Jeb, his second-in-charge, but he’d run out of the club after receiving the phone call from his mother. She’d refused to tell him what was going on over the phone.
His mother looked over Lorenzo’s head toward the doorway. Lorenzo followed her gaze. His father stood there, brooding and breathing heavily like he’d just taken a run.
“What’s going on?” Lorenzo stood and turned to his mother. “You said he wasn’t going to be here.”
“He has something important to tell you, son. You need to hear it from him. Please, sit.”
Lorenzo stared at his father for a long moment. He couldn’t interpret his father’s expression, but it wasn’t the anger he’d expected. He sat heavily in the chair and his mother sat next to him again, clenching her drink in her hands and avoiding his gaze.
His father walked in and sat behind his desk. “I have some bad news to share, which might change your mind about being a part of the family.”
Lorenzo started to protest, but his father held up his hand to silence Lorenzo.
“Your cousin Vinny has been missing for the last week. His body was found this morning, along with that girl he’s always with.”
“You mean his fiancée, ...
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