You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Harvest House Publishers
***Special thanks to Ginger Chen of Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***
Bestselling author Kathleen Y’Barbo is a multiple Carol Award and RITA nominee of fifty novels with almost two million copies of her books in print in the US and abroad and nominations including a Career Achievement Award, Reader’s Choice Awards, Romantic Times Book of the Year, and several Romantic Times Top Picks. A proud military wife and tenth-generation Texan, she now cheers on her beloved Aggies from north of the Red River. Find out more at www.kathleenybarbo.com.
Sadie Callum is a master of disguise. Undercover agent William Jefferson Tucker is not looking for marriage—pretend or otherwise—but he needs the cover of a wife to clear his name and solve the art forgery case that has eluded him for years. But what will happen to his heart?
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
May 10, 1889 Louisiana State Penitentiary Angola, Louisiana Detective William Jefferson Tucker of the Criminal Investigations Division, London Metropolitan Police, stepped across the threshold of the sewer pit known as the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola with one purpose in mind. To see his brother, also named William. William John Tucker. His twin. His polar opposite. With his first order of business being an explanation of exactly what John had done this time, he turned toward Major Samuel James’s office. When in doubt, go to the top, that was his motto. And Major James was the top dog around here. “Hold on there,” someone called. Jefferson turned to see a uniformed guard coming toward him, one hand on his holster and the other pointing in his direction. “Just paying a visit to the warden,” he said with all the charm his mother had taught him. “Nothing to get upset about.” “We’ll just see about that,” the guard said as he nodded toward the other end of the dimly lit hall. “Just come on back here and sign in, and then we will see if the warden’s interested in visiting today.” Shaking his head, Jefferson tried not to show amusement at the man’s pompous behavior. While he had seen the other side of a jail cell on many occasions, it had always been in the position of arresting officer and not prison guard. To spend day after day in this place would cause anyone to own an ill temper. When the papers were produced, Jefferson signed them. “Anything else you need?” he asked as politely as he could manage. “Any kind of proof you are who you say you are would be appreciated,” he said in a tone that just barely toed the line between polite and sarcastic. “Gladly.” “And I will be needing your weapon.” Routine procedure in prisons, and yet Jefferson hated it. Reluctantly, he removed his revolver and handed it to the guard. “That all you got?” He gave Jefferson a sweeping look. “Nothing else you can hurt anybody with?” “Just a folding knife.” “Hand that over too.” Jefferson offered up his knife and then reached for his identification, carefully selecting the papers that would not give away his current undercover role in London. Placing what he had on the rough slab of wood that served as a desk between them, he stood back and waited while the guard examined the documents. “And what brings you here?” The guard took in an exaggerated breath and then pretended to cough. “Sure can’t be the fresh air and sunshine.” Jefferson played along, pretending to find the gag amusing. “I am here to see my brother.” “Your brother?” The guard clutched the papers as he looked up at Jefferson. “And just who would your brother be?” “John Tucker.” “John Tucker,” the guard echoed as he opened an oversized leather book that sent a cloud of dust into the already rancid air. The odd idea that this process was beginning to feel very much like checking into a hotel occurred. Jefferson decided he would keep that thought to himself. “Don’t see any John…” “William John,” he amended, irritated not for the first time that his father had insisted on giving both his sons the same first name and then calling them by their middle name. The guard’s grimy finger paused below a line of scribbling. “Tucker. Well, here we go. William J. Tucker.” He looked up at Jefferson, his face now unreadable. “Wait here.” Without another word of explanation, he hurried off down the hall, Jefferson’s credentials still clutched in his hand. A door shut somewhere off in the distance and then opened again. “Initial for your property here,” he said when he returned. Jefferson noted the date and the items he had just surrendered and then placed his initials on the line beside them to indicate agreement. “All right. Come with me, Mr. Tucker,” the guard said, not quite making eye contact. Detective Tucker, he almost said. Instead, Jefferson kept silent. Better not to make enemies of anyone in this place. “Yes, of course.” He followed the guard past the warden’s office and around the corner, stopping at an unmarked door. “Right in there,” the guard said as he used a key from his vest pocket to open the door. The room was dark, but a lamp in the passageway sent a weak shaft of light across what appeared to be a table and a bench. “I would be much obliged if you would turn on a light in here,” Jefferson said, the last of his patience with the ridiculous situation disappearing fast. “Just go on in and a light will come on.” He was about to protest when the guard shoved him inside and turned the lock. “Open this door!” Jefferson demanded. “This is not funny. I demand to see either my brother or the warden immediately.” “You just wait right there, Tucker. You will see the warden for sure.” Jefferson felt along the edge of the wall, his fingers sliding across a combination of dirt and slime held together by something so foul smelling he refused to contemplate its source. A moment later he found the bench and managed to sit. Outside the door footsteps approached and then halted. He heard voices arguing, their words indistinguishable through the thick walls. Finally, the door opened and a man whose attire told Jefferson he might be the warden stepped inside. The guard shadowed Major James, as did another underling of some sort. “Look,” Jefferson said, “all I wanted was to see my brother. Is this how you treat all your visitors, Major?” “The major isn’t here today, but I am the man in charge. You can call me Butler. Won’t need any name other than that. And as to your question, no. This is the way we treat those who belong inside a cell.” “Inside a cell? What are you talking about?” Butler thumped Jefferson’s credentials with his free hand. “These here papers say you are Jefferson Tucker. Is that correct?” He gave the man a curt nod. “It is.” “So what you’re saying is that you are indeed the man whose name you have given to the guard?” “Yes,” he said, this time with far less respect. “And that you have a brother currently incarcerated in our fine facility.” When Jefferson nodded, he continued. “And what is that inmate’s name?” “His name is John Tucker,” Jefferson snapped as he sensed a shakedown of some sort in the offing. It was time to tell them who he really was. “William John Tucker. Look, I know how these things work, and I am not someone you can play around with. I have credentials that prove I am a detective with the London Metropolitan Police.” The man’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not sure I would believe that. You certainly don’t sound like no foreigner, so I suggest you change your tune and own up to the truth.” “Here’s the truth for you. Either let me see my brother or the warden, or you can give me the reason why.” Butler chuckled. “Oh, we will do better than that.” He nodded to the two men, who approached Jefferson. Though he tried to resist, they slapped handcuffs on him. “We are going to put you in his cell.” “What are you doing?” he demanded as the two men jerked him out into the passageway. “Taking you to where you belong, Jefferson Tucker,” said the guard who was still in possession of his revolver and the folding knife. “I do not belong in a cell!” Jefferson protested even as he was being dragged through the doors into a cellblock that smelled worse than it looked. And that was saying something. Instantly a deafening noise began as prisoners shouted and banged whatever they could grab against the iron cell bars. The guard took out his pistol and fired one shot. Silence quickly reigned. Up ahead a door swung open. “Looky here, Tucker,” the other guard sneered. “Your room is ready. Welcome home.” “Wait,” the man in charge said. “Let’s let these boys say their howdys first.” A prisoner stepped out of the cell. He was dressed in clothing so dirty that Jefferson could not discern a color or what kept it from shredding into rags. Legs shackled, the prisoner shuffled toward them. And then Jefferson knew him. “John? Is that you?” His brother heaved himself against Jefferson. Though the smell caused Jefferson’s eyes to water, he stood his ground as John held him tight. “What have you done, John?” he said to the man who, under different circumstances, would be nearly a mirror image of him. “Just what I had to,” was John’s quiet reply. “I hope someday you will forgive me, Jeff, but I wasn’t built for a place like this.” “Neither of us were. And rest assured Mother has no idea her boy’s in trouble. It would kill her if she knew.” “She always did see the good in me,” John said. “She still does.” “Even though she never could see to give me Father’s gold pocket watch when I asked for it first.” John looked down at Jefferson’s vest. “I see you’re wearing it now.” He glanced over at the man calling the shots. It took Butler only a moment to reach down and rip the watch from Jefferson’s pocket. “Neither of you’ll get it now.” “The major will hear about this,” Jefferson said, earning him a punch in the gut that took his breath away. The warden’s underling fixed John with a glare that shut him up quick. “All right, Will Tucker,” he said to Jefferson. “Are you verifying that this man is your brother, John Tucker? And that he is your twin?” “I am,” Jefferson said through the pain in his gut as he took in the sight of his always well-groomed brother with streaks of dirt on his face, his hair coated with grease and, from the look of this place, thick with lice. “Well, I believe that is proof enough for me.” Butler tapped John on the shoulder. “You were right in saying you were not Will Tucker, John. On behalf of the state of Louisiana, I hereby declare you to be a free man.” John grinned like a fool and then nudged the bully. “Does that mean I get the watch that is rightfully mine?” “Don’t press your luck, son. Just get yourself out of here while I am still in a mood to let you. Major James might insist on a trial to settle the facts, and you know how long those things take.” “I know when I’ve been bested, so you can keep the watch.” John shuffled off behind the guards without so much as a backward glance. A moment later, the cell door clanged shut behind Detective Jefferson Tucker of the London Metropolitan Police, leaving him once again in the middle of a mess his brother had created.