Cold Case, Hot Bodies

By: Jule McBride


December 1890

GEM O’SHEA GLIDED her hands beneath her lover’s shirt, feeling his nipples contract. It was exactly the kind of well-made shirt she’d sewn in sweatshops when she’d first come from Ireland, and her lips curved into a smile against the linen. “Do you remember when you first…bought me, Nathaniel?”

He grinned, his eyes catching light through the carriage window, from one of the gas lamps lining the dark river road. “I don’t believe I do.”But he couldn’t have forgotten the night she’d presented herself at Angel’s Cloud, in New York’s notorious Five Points neighborhood, determined to sell herself to the highest bidder. “Should I remind you?”

“Of every detail.” He urged her closer, between his legs, and the satin dress she’d worn to the wedding bunched between them, an unwanted barrier. She brought her mouth to his, and the taste of wedding cake invaded her senses.

“I had too much champagne,” she whispered.

“You won’t hear me complaining.”

Heat surged through her limbs despite the cold. Everything but passion vanished as Nathaniel deepened the kiss—the pounding hooves on the cobbled road, the rushing of the East River’s wild currents, the crack of the driver’s whip. Hungrily, her fingers opened the studs of his shirt. Just as quickly, his tongue swept inside her mouth. Heat exploded as she stroked his chest hair, and she felt it catch on the backs of her rings—beautiful rings that were gifts from him, just a few of the countless jewels he’d given her over the years.

As desire took her, Gem thought of another kiss, the one they’d just witnessed at the altar between her and Nathaniel’s son, Mark, and his young bride, Lily Jordan. With the memory, her arms swept around Nathaniel’s neck, and she wished with all her heart she could marry him. How many nights had she lain awake, knowing her heart’s deepest desire would remain an impossible dream?

She dropped down, moaning against his chest, her tongue searing a nipple, his answer a sound of need as he grasped her hand, urging it into the folds of his trousers. Soon they’d be at Angel’s Cloud, where countless warm beds waited—either in the hidden rooms, or in the bawdy house, or in the rear building where she’d lived—but she wanted Nathaniel now. Her body was burning all over, just as it had the night they met.

She’d been desperate then, still speaking with a brogue so thick that most American natives couldn’t understand her. She’d rarely even kissed a man, but she’d heard other, less reputable girls talk at the sweatshop, claiming men paid them for sexual favors, and because she’d been determined to earn her mum’s passage from Ireland, she’d soon found herself standing on the shell-strewn floor of a Five Points bawdy house.

“Two hundred dollars,” a man had called.

She’d nearly fainted. When he’d stepped from the shadows, his sparkling blue eyes had captured hers, then she’d recognized Nathaniel Haswell. He’d gotten his start as a self-made, import-export man, a buyer and seller of whatever prospered, and he owned acres of real estate on Manhattan Island. His picture was always in the papers. Without ceremony, he’d grabbed her hand and hauled her toward the stairs, and she’d foolishly blurted the first thing that had come to mind, “You’re married!”

He’d turned to stare, the set of his mouth incredulous. “Don’t tell me that bothers you?”

“Of course not,” she’d managed quickly. All the men in Angel’s Cloud were probably married. “In fact,” she’d added brazenly, “I do prefer it, sir.”

He’d continued toward the room. “And why might that be?”

“No messy attachments. I’m a professional, you know.”

“I see,” he’d returned as they reached the bedroom. “Experienced at this sort of thing, are you?”

“Indeed,” she’d enthused, the pulse at her throat ticking madly as he’d shrugged out of his jacket.

She’d been trembling all over, still scared of the rowdy men downstairs, her head pounding from cigar smoke. Her throat had tightened as Nathaniel undid his trousers, and she’d considered running, but she’d thought of circumstances in Ireland, and of her mum, then of the poor girls still working in the sweatshop, scarcely earning a wage to buy adequate food. Her stomach growling, she’d taken a deep breath, stared boldly in the general direction of Nathaniel’s private parts, then she’d plunged on. “Why, I’ve been to Angel’s Cloud many a time, sir.”