One thing you may not know about me is that I really wish time travel was possible. If it was, one of the first trips I’d take would be to head back to the roaring 20s and take in the sights, sounds, and flavors of a speakeasy. Maybe it’s because one of my favorite books of all time is The Great Gatsby, but there’s just something about the Jazz Age that calls to me.
When I wrote A River Between Them, which is set during prohibition, I knew I wanted to write a speakeasy scene. And given that my heroine, Maggie, is a sheltered well-to do young lady with a cad of an older brother, I knew that writing a speakeasy scene through her eyes was the perfect way to describe the indulgence, music, and revelry of the 1920s. I’ve shared the speakeasy scene from A River Between Them below, and I hope you enjoy reading this fun scene as much as I loved writing it.
Two generations. Two love stories intertwined…
What if a piece of furniture could change your life? Antique store owner Samantha Phillips embarks on a quest to find the answer to that question after she stumbles upon a beautiful, weathered wooden trunk. Samantha immediately falls in love with the antiquity when the old, battered wardrobe ends up in her possession. Lodged inside the lining of the footlocker is a stack of old love letters and a gold locket that holds a picture of a handsome young man.
Curiosity gets the better of Samantha and she reads the passionate correspondence one by one, and learns about the love between working class William Hayes and high-society Maggie Flannery. But when Samantha comes to the end of the letters, it is unclear whether William and Maggie end up together. Driven by a force she can’t fully explain, Samantha contacts the former owner of the trunk, hoping for answers about the young couple.
When she reaches out to Maggie’s great-nephew, Bryan Donovan, he is reluctant to share his aunt’s past with a stranger, at least at first. Together, Bryan and Samantha learn the love story of William and Maggie, while discovering their own feelings for each other. Set in historic St. Charles, Missouri, the story of two star-crossed lovers from the 1920s unfolds through a series of letters and an old diary.
“Come on, I’ll teach you how to do the Charleston, beautiful,” came a gruff voice on her right. Maggie looked up into a pair of arresting deep green eyes and a handsome face.
“Who says I need to be taught?” Maggie countered back.
“Oh, you got a feisty one here tonight, eh, Jimmy?”
“That’s my sister, Marvin. My younger sister.”
“I didn’t know you had a sister, Jimmy. I swear,” Marvin turned to Maggie, his eyebrows bobbing up and down in a perfect parody of Groucho Marx. “What do you say, sweetheart? Wanna Charleston?”
Maggie found his eyes and his sense of humor irresistible. She didn’t see any harm in dancing with him, just this once. When the two of them went out onto the crowded dance floor and began dancing Maggie let go of her worries and had fun. As she moved her legs back and forth and placed her hands on her knees she started to laugh. It felt so good to let go. As the singer crooned, the band merged one fast, rolling jazz number into the next one until the songs were seamless. Maggie couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. After what had to be thirty minutes of dancing, both Maggie and Marvin were panting for breath and dripping with perspiration.
“Come on doll face, I’ll buy ya a drink. Anything you want, kid,” Marvin said as he placed an arm around her shoulder and playfully chucked her under the chin. She let Marvin lead her back to the booth reserved for her brother, who had mysteriously disappeared.
Trixie sashayed over and took their drink order, Marvin ordered for both of them and Maggie figured since she may never be in a speakeasy again, she might as well enjoy the full experience. What harm could come from one little drink?
At least an hour and several drinks later, Maggie and Marvin were still sitting in James’ booth. Her brother had yet to make an appearance and Maggie’s head was as light as a feather. The room was beginning to spin slightly. She wiggled in her seat. She felt like dancing. And a cigarette sounded heavenly, she realized as she watched one of the cocktail waitresses saunter by hawking gin and cigarettes.
“I want a cigarette, Marv,” Maggie said. She had taken to calling him the shortened name somewhere between the dance floor and the drinking.
“Whatever you want, sweetheart. Say, toots, over here,” he called out loud and fast to a cocktail waitress. “A pack of cigarettes and another round of drinks. Matter of fact, keep the drinks coming. Thanks, sweetheart,” he told her as he shot her a wink.
“Do you call everyone sweetheart?” Maggie asked around a hiccup.
“No, sweetheart. Only the important people,” he told her with a wink.
When the waitress returned with the drinks and smokes, Marvin grabbed the package of cigarettes and tore the paper wrapping open. He pulled one out and held it out to Maggie, unlit.
“Here, put this between those beautiful lips, sweetheart.”
Maggie took the cigarette from him and did as she was told, her cheeks burning like fire as she did. She’d never had a man speak to her in such graphic terms before, but somehow she knew Marvin’s words were bold. The thought excited her and made her envision the look on her mother’s face if she knew where she was, what she was doing and the type of company she was keeping.
“I’m going to light the end for you, when I bring the flame up to the tip, breathe in, but not too much. We don’t want you getting sick now do we, sweetheart?”
Marvin did as he said he would and when Maggie got the first taste of the tobacco on her tongue she thought for sure she would vomit. She quickly pulled the cigarette out of her mouth and let loose with a fit of coughing. Marvin laughed, but not one to give up easily or be laughed at, Maggie put the cigarette to her lips once again and began to inhale. This time she blew the smoke out of her nose and mouth slowly and suppressed the urge to cough.
“Doll face, you make smoking look good. You have the perfect lips for cradling a cigarette,” Marvin told her as he stared at her lush red lips. He gently pulled the cigarette from her mouth and put it to his own. He inhaled long and deep before he ground the end of it out in the ashtray on the table. He exhaled the smoke through his nose and leaned across the table and put a bold kiss on Maggie’s lips.
Somewhere in the fog inside Maggie’s mind she knew she should pull away. She knew she should have been outraged that Marvin was behaving this way. She knew she should have disliked the kiss. But she didn’t. Maggie had only had one other kiss in her life, from Tom Sanders who’d stolen a peck behind church when she was sixteen. Tom’s lips had been slick with saliva and had reminded her of a slippery fish. She didn’t know kissing could be so exciting. What was taking place was something she had never experienced before in her life. It was clear Marvin possessed boldness, urgency and expertise. His kiss made her breathless and at the same time made her feel weightless and like she could melt into the booth.
Maggie angled her head toward Marvin and leaned into him. Out of instinct she placed her hands at the back of his neck and intertwined them together, locking her fingers into place. Marvin’s hands rubbed up and down her bare arms. She knew what she was doing was wrong. She knew that good girls didn’t allow a man a kiss like this. She knew no matter what may be happening with her mother, she shouldn’t be rebelling in a strange man’s arms, with his lips pressed against hers in this way. But right now she didn’t care. In the morning she’d blame the whole thing on too much booze, jazz and cigarettes. Tonight, it felt like the perfect sin.