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Excerpt from Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Girl in Disguise

by Greer Macallister

Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister X
Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2017, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2018, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan
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Print Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
THE FIRST DISGUISE

August 1856

Like any Chicago tavern in deep summer, Joe Mulligan's stank.

It stank of cigars smoked the week before, months before, years before. Tonight's smoke pooled against the basement ceiling in a noxious cloud. I acted like I smelled only roses. The woman I was pretending to be would have done the same.

I was also pretending the sharp tang of men's sweat surrounding me didn't terrify me. These were not good men. But I wasn't a good woman, not tonight. My mission was to ignore the smoke and the sweat, blind a bad man with a wicked smile, and wring out his secrets. There would be no second chance.

So I breathed as shallowly as I could and made my way through the crowd to the bar. Men's bodies brushed mine, hips and hands and God only knows what, lingering on my shoulder and everywhere below. My nerves frayed, and I stumbled. With anything less at stake, I would have fled Joe Mulligan's as if it were on fire. But I needed the money. The money would save me.

"Drink?" snapped the barkeep.

I squared my shoulders and answered him as the woman I was pretending to be.

"Well, I sure am thirsty," I said, lowering my head as if sharing a confidence, "but I'm waiting on a friend."

Empty glass in hand, he looked me over. The low-sweeping neckline of my claret silk gown and the pale expanse of décolletage it artfully framed. The intricately curled hair piled atop my head, shot through with ribbons. The coy smile, all lips, no teeth. I saw recognition flash in his eyes.

"Do your business, but don't make no trouble," he said and moved on down the bar to a knot of raucous, rowdy men. The first gate, passed. Now, I was just waiting.

And waiting.

At least thirty long minutes crawled by, and with each one, my relief drained away. The same disguise that had fooled the bartender fooled the patrons. Man after man took turns perching on the red leather stool next to me. They bent close. Their mouths offered drinks and conversation, but their eyes made it clear what they really wanted.

I hadn't expected to be the only woman in the place. This late at night, the slatterns of Chicago did a brisk business in establishments like Joe Mulligan's, which is why I'd chosen this place and time. I'd known how it would look and what they would think. But the practice was turning out to be much harder than the theory. Every man had to be skillfully parried away. A single slip would waste the night. The effort exhausted me.

"Oh, sir," I was saying to the latest one, fluttering my fingers at him, "you do me a kindness. But I really must insist you leave that seat free for my companion."

He leaned closer, breathing almost into my mouth, and slurred, "I'll be your companion, sugar."

I swallowed my disgust and kept my voice steady. Be pleasant, I told myself. Cheerful. Bland. "He'll be here any minute, I'm certain of it," I said and gazed over his shoulder hopefully. As if in answer, the door to the outside creaked open.

Rumbles of laughter sounded as half a dozen men guffawed their way down the stairs into the tavern. I recognized my target immediately. He wasn't the tallest of them, nor the most handsome, but it was clear he was in charge. His smirk showed he was the one who'd told the joke everyone was laughing at.

Henry Venable, better known as Heck, was a sallow man with deep-set, hooded eyes. He wore a hat worn soft with age. The rest of his clothes were so new they practically gleamed. If I were closer, I'd be able to see my reflection in his shoes. He looked, unmistakably, like he'd recently come into money. Which the Pinkerton Detective Agency and the First Eagle Savings Bank believed he had, several weeks before, with the help of three accomplices and four shotguns. Eyewitnesses had given a description that matched Heck's, but it wasn't enough. The best way to prove he'd done it was to find the money. He'd spent some of it, clearly, but rare was the man who could spend five thousand dollars in less than a month without leaving some kind of trail. The rest had to be hidden somewhere.

Excerpted from Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister. Copyright © 2017 by Greer Macallister. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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