Mary Vere, servant girl, is determined to become a lady and locate her missing father. When the chance arrives to make her dreams a reality, she leaves Alabama for California and gradually reinvents herself into the alluring and mysterious Monique Vandreuil.
Monique falls in love, giving her heart to Jeremy Johnston, one of the men who helps her establish her new identity. But when Jeremy weds another woman in San Francisco, a despondent Monique heads for the rip-roaring, lawless town of Virginia City, Nevada, accompanied by Philippe Manigault, a professional gambler and the man who taught her to be a lady. Life is no easier in Virginia City, however, when Monique and Philippe quickly run afoul of Alex Campbell, the ruthless, lethal, and self-styled "king of the town."
Forced to take drastic measures to earn a living, Monique opens a high-class parlor house, which she christens The Flame, and eventually becomes a power in Virginia City. Yet continually haunted by controversy and scandal, and plagued by Jeremy's moral wife, how can Monique bring down Alex Campbell for all the evil he's bestowed upon her? And will she ever find true and everlasting love?
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Amber Quill Press, LLC
September 19, 2010
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Excerpt from The Flame by Jane Toombs
..The door closed behind him, leaving Mary alone. Not only was she alone, she felt alone, more so than she ever remembered feeling before, as a street seems especially empty after a parade has passed by.
She ran from the verandah into the night, ignoring the music from the Randolph house. There was no sign of Dillie in the shadows and, uncertain, she paused by the first of the slave cabins, wondering whether to seek out her friend. After a moment she turned away, aware she didn't want to share what had happened with anyone. As she walked rapidly toward the road to Jarvis', she savored her meeting with Philippe Manigault and Jeremy Johnston, repeating every word she could remember to herself so she wouldn't forget them.
The sound of low voices roused her from her reverie. Looking around, she saw the glow of a cigar where a group of coachmen stood talking near the stables. She recognized the high-pitched voice of Caesar, the Longstreets' slave, recounting an involved tale of an overnight journey to Montgomery.
Mary hastened away from the shed-like stable buildings, skirted the empty carriages, and reached the road leading home. Ahead of her she heard a horse, the thrum of its hooves receding into the night. Suddenly she stopped. Was it midnight? Near it, certainly. At midnight, Philippe had said, a pumpkin would turn into a coach-and-four. Retracing her steps, she approached the carriages until their silhouettes were high and dark against the lights of the house. Not that one, nor this. Yes, here, this was the carriage that had brought the two strangers here and would soon return them to the Longstreets' home.
Going to the rear of the carriage, Mary ran her hands along the side of the boot. Careful to make no noise, she climbed onto a spoke of the wheel, lifted the cover and felt inside. The boot was empty. Hope surged through her, and she smiled. Caesar hadn't yet harnessed the horses so she had time if she hurried.
This was her chance, she told herself, perhaps her only chance. She'd seen too many other servants and slave girls become big with child, and watched as they married, or not, into a life of drudgery in either case. That wasn't for her. Not for Mary Vere. She wasn't meant to be a servant for the rest of her life. The world beckoned to her. Somewhere in that world she would find her father.
Mary hurried down the road away from the Randolph house, heedless of the noise she made as she ran, not caring whether or not she was seen. She passed no one. Panting as she ran into the Jarvis yard, she looked up at the three-story house looming darkly over her, a weak light shining through two of the rear windows. She was sure no one had yet returned from the ball.
Still hurrying, though careful not to disturb any of the house slaves who might be asleep in the west wing, she entered the house through the back door, made her way to the stairs and climbed to the second floor. At the foot of the narrow steps leading to the tower, she hesitated, shivering slightly without knowing why.
As she climbed the winding staircase, she murmured reassuringly to herself. She'd retrieve her small savings from its hiding place, pack her carpetbag, take her cat and be ready to leave this house forever. Mary felt no regrets. She'd never been happy here as a servant and, besides, she was no longer a child. She could do as she pleased. No matter what some men might think. Remembering the cursory glance of Jeremy Johnston, she frowned. He'll not look at me like that the next time he sees me, she vowed.
Opening her door, she stepped into darkness. Again she felt a chill. Shaking her head, she walked to a small table and felt inside a drawer for a match. After lighting it, she reached for the candle on the tabletop as the cat curled itself around her ankles.
Startled by a sound behind her, she whirled around and heard a click as the door of her room closed. By the light of her match she saw Micah Randolph grinning at her. Or was it Esau?
"I've been waiting for you," he said...