The Heart of An Agent
Welcome, Tracey! Thank you for being here today and congratulations on the release of your new book. Please tell us a little about it.
How would you describe your main character(s)? Lily Handland is a strong, feisty independent woman with a big heart. Owen Murphy is a wounded man, who desperately needs to find his way back to the living.
What is the problem your character(s) face in your book? A former Pinkerton Agent, Lily Handland the heroine of The Heart of An Agent is looking for redemption and new life. The hero Owen Murphy has survived the loss of his wife and now needs to rebuild his life. The problem is he can’t seem to let go of the memory of his wife and Lily struggles to let go of the things she’s done in her past.
What would you like your readers to know about your character(s)? I fell in love with these characters. Even though they butt heads, once these two get together there’s nothing they can’t do!
Enjoy reading an excerpt of The Heart of an Agent!
Heartston, New York, 1890s
The sun skimmed the horizon in the eastern sky, bathing the far hillside in a pink morning hue. Lily Handland stood at the window in her bedroom on the second floor of the rooming house, watching for the man. At first, he was nothing but a speck on the horizon. But as he rode into the town, she began to make out his form. He sat tall in the saddle, dressed in black pants, a collared shirt, and a tan jacket that settled just below his thighs. Even though he wore the brim of his hat pulled low on his forehead, she could see the wisps of his straight brown hair. He always stopped outside the wrought iron gate of the cemetery, dismounting and looping the reins three times over the hitching post. And today, as with every other day, he took his hat off before he unlatched the gate.
Gripping the hat in his hands, the man walked into the cemetery with his shoulders hunched and his head slung low. His steps faltered as he drew closer to his destination. Walking along a short row of four headstones, he knelt beside the last one. Lily’s fingers tightened around the heavy curtain. The hat fell from his hands, landing on the soft earth. His head dropped back. He turned his face heavenward and cried out. His raw pain shook her to the core.
Lily knew she should look away, but she couldn’t. Something kept her there by the window, pulling her to look out for him. She wiped tears from her eyes.
Finally, he picked up his hat and stood at the foot of the grave. She sensed a change in him. Whereas moments ago he’d been crying out in pain, now he stood silent and still. A yellow butterfly circled his head and dipped down to land on his shoulder. He didn’t notice. The insect fluttered off to sip from the nectar of a beautiful red flower growing next to the fence. The man took the path back out to the road. He paused next to his horse. And then he looked up.
Their gazes met. Lines of fatigue stretched over his face and bracketed his eyes. She knew sorrow could bring even the strongest person down, but Lily saw something more troubling in this man’s expression. His eyes, though reddened from his tears, seemed hollow, lifeless. Her heart broke for him.
He turned away. Untying the reins, he mounted the horse and rode back the way he’d come.
Lily left the window. Moving about the small room she’d been renting for the past month, her thoughts tumbled through her mind. She worried about the man in the graveyard, wondering who it was he visited every day. She supposed it wasn’t her concern. Yet after having watched him for so many days, she felt an odd connection to his plight. Perhaps it would be best if she put him out of her mind and concentrated on the day before her.
Lily’s job as a Pinkerton agent had taken her many places, but none were as beautiful as the Adirondack mountains. People came to this sleepy New York town, nestled at the base of the towering high peaks, from far and wide to fish in the magnificent crystal clear lakes and to hunt the wild game that roamed the thick surrounding wilderness. Pine trees grew in such abundance that the area supported several lumber camps. The region was also known for the great camps that dotted the landscape. She’d heard that the camps carried all of the amenities of city hotels, including long porches and rocking chairs where a person could sit and get their fill of the crisp air. Of course, Lily hadn’t had time to enjoy any of those things; she’d be too busy pretending to be someone she wasn’t.
Today that was all going to change.
She moved away from the window, pausing in front of a medium-sized trunk. She knelt down and raised the rounded top. The black dress and bonnet that she’d worn when she’d been posing as a widow lay on top. Beneath that was the emerald-green ball gown that she’d had on the night she’d been tasked with enticing a certain gentleman to hand over the jewels he’d stolen. Off to back side of the trunk lay her most recent saloon girl finery, the frilly red dress with the black petticoat—all disguises of her past. Pushing those garments aside, she reached in, groping around until she felt the sack containing her savings.
She pulled it out and slammed the lid. Lily stood, thinking how the contents were the key to her future—her new beginning. She placed the cloth bag next to her reticule on the nightstand and crossed the room to the large wardrobe on the other side. Opening the doors, she looked at the modest dresses hanging in front of her. She selected her favorite light blue dress, the one with the three-quarter length sleeves and lace collar. Lily added a pair of white kid side-laced boots to her little ensemble. She set the outfit on the bed and went about her morning ablutions.
After she got dressed, she walked back to the mirror to finish getting ready. Taking great care to pull her hair back from her face, she reached into a small jewelry pouch and took out a copper hair clip that had belonged to her mother. Lily ran her fingers over the raised scroll design.
Mama, I miss you. I’m thankful you’re not here to see what I’ve done.
Carefully she secured the clip at the back of her head. Doing a quick spin in front of the mirror, Lily felt refreshed. For the first time in a very long time, she’d be leaving this room without pretense. Her future lay beyond these walls. After carefully placing her money inside the reticule, she left the boarding house.
She stepped out into the summer sunshine. The warm air felt good against her skin. Off in the distance she heard the sound of children. Turning her head, she saw that they were playing in the schoolyard. She couldn’t help but smile. Stopping at the edge of the walkway, she waited for a buckboard loaded with supplies to pass by. Then stepping down, she crossed the street, heading to the Oliver Lumber Company office.
John Oliver, a semi-retired Pinkerton agent himself, greeted her at the door. “Good morning, Lily.”
She tipped her head back and looked up at her mentor, a man whose massive presence could fill any room. She noticed that his dark hair had started graying at the temples. His blue eyes were still sharp as he took in her appearance.
“Good morning, John.”
Stepping back, he said, “Looks like we’re in for another nice summer day.”
Lily looked back over her shoulder at the cloudless sky. “Indeed. I could get used to this sort of weather.” She turned to follow him back to his office.
“Here take a seat,” he said, removing a pile of old newspapers.
“So tell me what brings you by?”
Toying with the fringe on the reticule, she searched for a way to broach the matter of her service. After a few uncomfortable moments had passed, during which John watched her with increasing curiosity, she decided to take a direct approach. “I’ve fulfilled my duty to the Pinkertons, and I’ve decided to leave the agency. I’ve already written up my resignation letter.”
Steepling his fingers under his chin, he studied her a few seconds. “You’ve been a fine agent, Lily. One of the best. I don’t think there will be any problems. If you can get me the letter, I’ll sign off on it.”
“I’d appreciate that.” She pulled open the drawstrings and took out the letter. “I have it right here.” She smiled, handing it across the desk.
After a cursory look, he signed the bottom. Setting it aside, he asked, “What are your plans for the future?”
“I think I’d like to stay in Heartston. After I leave your office, I’m going to the bank to open an account.” She paused. “I have a fair amount of money saved. What I’d really like to do is have a business of some sort.”
“Maybe you could open up an inquiry office.”
Lily laughed. “Goodness! After years of chasing down criminals, the last thing I’d want to do is spy on my neighbors. I’m going to stay open-minded. I have a feeling that there will be an opportunity coming my way.”
He rose and came around from behind his desk to stand in front of her. Lily stood. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, John,” she said.
“I was only doing my job.”
“We both know you did more than that,” he replied. He studied her for a moment, the wrinkles fanning out from his eyes deepening as he frowned.
“Lily, I think you need to be prepared for what it takes to return to civilian life.”
John Oliver had watched over her these past months. And for a long time before that. In the beginning of her career, he’d been in charge of her assignments. Several years ago he’d returned to here to his hometown to go back to his family’s lumber company. And then they’d worked this last case together. In some ways Lily owed him her life.
She brushed off his warning. “You were able to settle back in to your former life with little trouble.”
“I had a life to come back to, where as you don’t. You’re going to be starting fresh.”
Lily bit her lip, wondering why he was trying to put a damper on her future here. Pulling her shoulders back, she replied, “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
He tipped his head, looking at her as if trying to read her mind. “I want you to be happy. You deserve that. But if you get into trouble, you know you can always come to me for help.”
“I don’t anticipate there being any trouble. Like I said, I’ll be fine.” She gave him a quick hug and left him to his work.
Once back out on the walkway, she turned left toward the center of the village. She found the bank and entered through a tall set of thick wooden doors. A desk sat in the middle of the room, facing the entry. Behind that was a long narrow counter with two small windows covered in bars. The man behind the counter was bald and middle-aged, and somehow the small spectacles he wore on his round face made him appear child-like. He smiled at her from behind the counter.
“A great good morning to you, young lady!”
“Good morning to you—“she took a closer look at the name plaque on front of his station. “Mr. Goodwin.”
“What can I do for you?”
Walking up to the counter, Lily set her purse between them. “I’d like to open a bank account. And would you happen to have some sort of safe box where I can keep some other items?”
He studied her, his sharp eyes taking in every inch of her face. Lily didn’t know what he thought he might see in her, but she hoped that her being a woman wouldn’t present a problem. She’d been independent for so long now that she didn’t know what she’d do if he turned her away.
He came out from behind the counter, stopping in front of her with his hand out. “I’m Seamus Goodwin.” He gave Lily’s had a rigorous shake. He must have noticed the question in her eyes, because he added, “My mother was Irish and my father from England.”
Gently she extricated her hand from his. “That’s a nice solid lineage, Mr. Goodwin.”
He squinted his green eyes at her. “Now might I know your name?”
“I’m Lily Handland.” For so long she’d been using other names; this time if felt good to finally be using her real one. No more keeping secrets, no more pretending to be someone she wasn’t. From today forward, Lily was going to be her own person. And opening up an account here would be a good start toward securing her future.
Taking hold of her elbow, he led her to the desk. “Take a seat and let’s see how I can be of service to you.”
She sat on the edge of a spindle-back oak chair. She loosened the strings on the reticule until the fabric gaped open. Lily reached in and pulled out the cloth sack containing all of her savings from the past five years.
“I need to open an account immediately.”
Mr. Goodwin’s eyes widened when he saw what she had placed in front of him. “Yes, you do.” Regaining his composure, he asked, “I trust you came by this honestly? Because my bank has a good reputation.”
Lily stiffened. She’d done a lot of things in the name of justice, but one thing was certain—her virtue remained intact. Using a firm tone, she said, “John Oliver can vouch for me.”
“John Oliver, you say? His family was one of the first to settle here in Heartston. Very well, then.” He opened the top desk drawer, pulled out a ledger, and opened the black leather binding. “I think it best if I give you your own page.”
They spent the better part of the next hour setting up Lily’s accounts. She felt relieved that he didn’t pry into how she’d come to be in possession of such a large sum of money and bonds. Since she hadn’t had a home for the past five years and nothing to invest her monies in, Lily had been carrying her stash around with her from town to town. Not the best decision, to be sure. But now that she’d decided to stay here, it was time to put her hard-earned money in a safe place. The First Bank of Heartston was a perfect spot.
“Mr. Goodwin, I’m also looking to do something with a portion of my savings. I’m hoping you might know if there are any business opportunities that might be fitting for a woman such as myself?”
He scratched his head and then readjusted his spectacles. “I don’t know. Maybe I could see if Mrs. Mahoney is looking for someone to put some money into her seamstress shop. Between you and me, the place could use a little sprucing up.”
Lily shook her head. “Aside from knowing how to thread a needle in order to stitch on a button, I don’t have much use for sewing, Mr. Goodwin. Perhaps you could think of something else?”
“Well, now, there’s the restaurant in the rooming house you’re staying at. I know they’ve been wanting to expand for a few months now.”
She shook her head again. There had to be something less domestic for her to be a part of. Lily couldn’t help thinking that if the banker knew what she’d done to earn a living, he’d be of a different mindset when it came to her future.
“Maybe I should simply open up a new business,” she said, thinking John’s earlier suggestion about opening up an inquiry office might not be such a bad idea after all.
“Now hold on a minute. I might have something that could be of interest to you.” The man shuffled through the ledger and stopped at a spot near the middle. He stabbed his finger on the page. Raising his gaze from the book, he looked at her as if trying to determine her character. “Thing is, I’m not sure how open this particular gentleman would be to having someone help him out. He’s a stubborn sort. More so now than ever before.”
Lily’s curiosity was piqued. She scooted to the edge of the chair. “Tell me about this business.”
“It’s one of the great camps. I’m sure you’ve noticed how many people arrive here daily. The weekends are the busiest times. The Murphy place used to be busy. Sometimes you couldn’t get a reservation there for weeks. He and his wife worked hard to make their place a success. While not the largest camp, it offered all the amenities of the best ones.” He paused for a moment, a solemn look on his face. “I’m afraid after the tragedy, Owen let the business go into decline.”
“There was a tragedy?”
“Yes, his wife died.”
“Oh.” She thought about the man she’d been watching at the cemetery every morning. That had to be Mr. Murphy. After all, Heartston was a small town, and the grief on his face seemed fresh. “That is terrible.” She placed her hand over her heart, saying a silent prayer.
“Still, Owen assures me he wants to keep the great camp. I’ve been trying to find a way to help him out. I’ve managed to keep him afloat for months now. He hasn’t returned any of my requests for a meeting.”
“And yet, you still want to help him. I can see that, Mr. Goodwin.”
“Yes, I do. Owen is a good man who has fallen on hard times.” Mr. Goodwin took off his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. Putting them back on, he looked at Lily with a sudden shrewdness that startled her. “Make no mistake, Miss Handland, regardless of how I feel about the owner, I’m still in the business of making money. The fact is, if Owen doesn’t listen to reason, I will have to serve him foreclosure papers. You’re stopping by here today could be the answer to my prayer.”
Lily doubted she was the answer to anyone’s prayer. She wasn’t proud of some of the things she’d done over the past few years, even if they were in the name of justice. She imagined there were few who would understand the circumstances that led her to be here today.
Still, she pondered the opportunity that the banker had placed before her. She didn’t know anything about running a Great Camp. She imagined the proprietor would need to see to the guest accommodations and provide good meals. She recalled seeing advertisements in the local newspaper telling of parties and activities at these places. So there was that to consider. And did this Mr. Murphy have a staff in place to handle such things? The way Mr. Goodwin described the Murphy Camp gave Lily pause. Maybe it would be too much for her take on.
And maybe the challenge was just the thing she needed to make a new start. She’d heard many a preacher say that everyone deserved a second chance. She wondered if that applied to someone like her.
“Tell me how you think it best to handle this situation.”
“I feel you should go out there and see the place firsthand. Stay a few nights as a guest. Then you can decide if this is something you’d be interested in doing. The Murphy Camp is about an hour’s ride outside of Heartston.” Pulling out a clean sheet of paper, he drew a simple map and wrote out the directions. He handed her the paper.
She looked the directions over. The trip looked pretty straightforward. “I can rent a buggy and horse from the livery,” Lily said, her plan already taking shape in her mind. “I’d like to get out there today, if possible.”
“All right.” Mr. Goodwin nodded. “You do understand that if you decide to do this, you may not see a return on your investment for quite some time?”
“I do.” The thought didn’t bother her at all. Lily had already decided she wanted to remain in Heartston. Anticipation built inside of her. This could be the new beginning she was looking for!
With the map in hand, she left the bank. She could barely contain her excitement as she made her way back to the rooming house. The heaviness of uncertainty that had surrounded her future for days began to lift, giving way to a new light.
The direction Lily took back to the boarding house brought her right by the cemetery. Suddenly a bit of the light dimmed. She slowed her steps as she neared the wrought-iron fencing. The black scrollwork swirled in delicate circles on the tall gate, framing the date: 1800. A blue jay, perched atop of one of the finials, squawked at her. She glanced at the bird, wondering if he was trying to intimidate her. Little did that bird know she’d been in far more frightening situations. It would take more than a few soulful sounds to scare her off.
Looking over the top of the fence, she studied the place where dozens of townsfolk had been laid to rest over the years. She thought about the man who’d been coming by here day after day. His sorrow had been palpable. Because she’d watched him from her window, Lily knew the exact path he’d taken through the maze of headstones. Lifting her head, she could just make out the top of the gravesite where he’d knelt. Her curiosity got the best of her. She sent the bird a determined look and pushed open the gate.
As if to say, “I warned you,” the wings of the creature fluttered open as it launched itself into the air.
A breeze blew through the cemetery, lifting the strands of Lily’s hair from her face. As she reached the spot, the air stilled, as if waiting in anticipation to see what she would do next. A twig snapped under her foot as she moved closer. A strange feeling settled in the pit of her stomach, one she couldn’t quite define. It wasn’t fear, or trepidation. No. Something she couldn’t quite put her finger on took hold of her. For a moment Lily felt as if she were trespassing on sacred ground. The closer she came to the grave, the stronger the feeling became, until she thought perhaps she should heed the bird’s warning and turn back.
But there was another, stronger pull tugging at her. Even though she suspected what she was going to find, Lily needed to see the name on the headstone. She read the inscription on the marble stone.
Rebecca Louise Alden Murphy
born March 5, 1869
died August 15, 1890
Beloved wife to Owen
Lily stared at the names and the date of Rebecca’s death. Owen Murphy had been in a state of mourning for the better part of two years.
You can find Tracey online at:
I always liked to play make-believe. So writing fiction seemed like a natural progression in my life. What started out as a little girl imagining that all those hidden nooks and crannies in my back yard were castles and mansions, evolved into a teenager wanting to become an actress, and ended up turning into a young woman writing romance novels.
I have an Associates Degree in Theatre Arts. Married for 31 years to my high-school sweetheart, we are the proud parents of two sons, and one daughter-in-law. After living in upstate NY for the better part of my life, my husband and I packed it in moving to the San Francisco Bay area. We were there for three years and then we packed again moving back to New York State. We’ve finally settled in a small town in Orange County, New York.
I sold my first historical romance novel, Mountain Jewel, on 9/9/99! Remember that was the day everyone thought all the computers were going to crash! After a nearly four year wait, I sold my second, third and fourth on my mother’s birthday 7/10/2003! A Surprise For Abigail, Lydia’s Passion and Making Over Maggie are part of The Women of Surprise series published by Avalon Books.
• The founding President of the Capital Region Romance Writers of America Inc.(CR-RWA)
• Member of Romance Writers of America
• Novelist Inc
• American Christian Fiction Writers
• New Jersey Romance Writers