New York City, 1919. His career as a concert pianist ended by a war injury, Sutton Albright returns to college, only to be expelled after a scandalous affair with a teacher. Unable to face his family, Sutton heads to Manhattan with no plans and little money in his pocket but with a desire to call his life his own. Jack Bailey lost his parents to influenza and now hopes to save the family novelty shop by advertising on the radio, a medium barely more than a novelty, itself. His nights are spent in a careless and debauched romp through the gayer sections of Manhattan. When these two men cross paths, despite a world of differences separating them, their attraction cannot be denied. Sutton finds himself drawn to the piano, playing for Jack. But can his music heal them both, or will sudden prosperity jeopardize their chance at love?
I have to admit I had a bit of a hard getting into this one but it was no fault of the author. I just wasn't ready to let go of the characters of the previous book I had finished. But by the time I was finished with chapter 3 or 4 I was hooked. Sutton and Jack may have been from opposites ends of the spectrum as far as their upbringing and background but they were more alike than either of them realized. It's pretty clear that they are both better off together than either was alone. If you're a fan of historical fiction mixed with romance, then this is definitely a book for you. I hadn't read anything by this author but after finishing Whistling, I went on to read three more and will definitely be checking out others as well.
If It Ain't Love
In the darkest days of the Great Depression, New York Times reporter Whit Stoddard has lost the heart to do his job and lives a lonely hand-to-mouth existence with little hope of recovery, until he meets Peter, a man in even greater need of new hope.
This is a great little short story. I actually tried to read this before reading Whistling in the Dark but I just couldn't get into it because as I said in my review for Whistling, I wasn't ready to let go of the previous book I read. So I did something I don't often do and that was put it aside and delved into Whistling. Once I finished Whistling, I came back to If It Ain't Love and I just loved it. The only complaint I had was the fact that it was a novella/short story instead of a full length novel. Whit needed something to get going again and Peter needed something to keep going and in each other they may just find it. Such a great read.
Whistling in the Dark
Jack's expression of surprise lasted only an instant before a wicked leer took its place. As he sauntered over, Sutton's heart seemed to quicken to 2/2 time. He didn't know if Jack felt the same attraction, the one coursing with sudden heat through his blood. He wanted to think so—but Jack seemed to play to the crowd as he dropped onto Sutton’s lap and, draping both arms around his shoulders, drew closer for a kiss. Jack's breath warm in his face reminded him to breathe and he did so, audibly. But at the last second, Jack brushed his forehead with a brotherly buss and everyone exclaimed in good-natured protest.
Jack was unrepentant. "That's how they kiss in Kansas," he said and turned laughing eyes back to Sutton. "Tell 'em, Mabel."
Deciding to correct that misapprehension, Sutton took him by the lapels and kissed him. He could feel Jack's initial shock in the lack of response. Then Jack kissed back, sparking something neither of them could blame on the champagne. His momentum dropped them backward to the pillows, Jack still kissing him as if he never wanted to stop, and Sutton didn’t mind in the least if it went on forever. He ignored the whoops and whistles from their audience and Jack did too, until Theo stuck his nose in. "Would you gentlemen care for the key to my apartment?"
Jack broke from the kiss, meeting Sutton's gaze for barely an instant before turning to smirk at Theo. "Satisfied?"
Theo looked only more amused. "Just what I was about to ask you."
Disentangling themselves, they sat up and Jack made a show of straightening Sutton's coat and tie before rising to swagger back to his spot.
Sutton avoided all the laughing faces and wondered if he'd gone too far. No one else seemed to think so or care, so he tried not to care, either. But he couldn't bring himself to look Jack’s way until the game had broken up and the others had returned to dancing. By then, Jack had vanished in the crowd and before Sutton could look for him, Theo pounced to ask without pretense this time if he would play the piano again.
It was after midnight when Sutton wandered to the edge of the roof for a little fresh air and a sumptuous view. A welcome breeze blew in his face along the shadowed walk behind the palms. He found Jack leaning on the parapet, his features in unusually quiet repose as he took in the view. Unbidden came the thought that Jack was terribly handsome and rather dear, besides.
Jack looked around at his approach and smiled easily. "You ready to go home?"
"No, I just wanted to—well, I hope I didn't embarrass you earlier. In the game," he added, at Jack's puzzled look.
"Oh, that?" Jack laughed. "Nothing to worry about. Unless Topeka law says we're engaged."
"Not even promised. In our case, anyway." He felt foolish. The kiss had been part of a silly game. He shouldn't have brought it up.
"Champagne?" Jack picked up the bottle on the ledge and filled his empty glass.
"No, thank you. I think I'm done with that or I'll be sick."
Jack downed the glassful. "You've been to fancier parties than this. Your folks must throw some real hummers."
"Yes, just—decidedly different." He shuddered to imagine what his parents would think of the goings-on at Theo's.
"No kissing? Or dancing?"
"Dancing, of course. But of the proper sort."
Jack rolled his eyes. "A party's no place to be proper. Your folks don't know you dance with boys?"
"I never have," Sutton said, then realized Jack meant more than dancing.
"You always blush that easily?" Jack grabbed his hands and whirled him around in an unsteady circle.
"Jack, for heaven’s sake." But he couldn't keep from laughing.
"You can't fox-trot worth a damn, Mabel."
"Is that what you're trying to do?"
"Smug bastard." Jack grinned and pushed him. "You don't even know how to get good and drunk. I think you met me just in time."
"Well? What do you think?" Whit gazed across the miles of ink-stained oak to where Charlie Hadley sprawled against cracked leather, his customary scowl mostly hidden behind a scrap of badly typed copy. It wasn't the scowl that worried Whit. It was the extended quiet in a room that was normally loud and frequently blue with Hadley's rants. "Best thing you ever read? Pulitzer material?"
Hadley lowered the copy to the desk and looked at Whit. The dollop of amusement mixed with an even smaller dollop of sympathy made Whit's heart drop a little further than it had the last time—was it only two weeks ago?—that he'd turned in a story Hadley had no use for. If Hadley took it, it would be less out of interest than dwindling hope that time and patience would give him back one of his best journalists.
"What do I think?" Hadley shook a Camel out of the pack at its post beside the smiling wife and kids. "Mrs. Grasby's parakeet will love it."
"So I'll get a Pulitzer for most popular birdcage liner." Whit looked longingly at the cigarettes. Probably just as well he was out of pocket. Camels didn't sit well on an empty stomach. "You taking the story?"
"You think I ought to?"
"I've still got a good nose. It's just—allergy season."
"I figured." Hadley lit the cigarette. "Why don't you get that nose sniffing uptown and check out the Dorington bru-ha?"
Whit shook his head. He still had some pride. "I don't write sob stories over suicides. Save that for the young guys fascinated by the distant spectre of death."
Hadley snorted smoke into the office's stale air. "You're what—twenty-eight?"
Whit resisted the urge to inhale a little of the cloud passing by. "Twenty-nine."
"I think you got some time left," Hadley said.
That had seemed truer four years ago, before the world had gone to hell. Whit sat up a little straighter and tackled the question still hanging like dead weight on his shoulders. "Lend me a little for the week?"
Hadley's brows rose, brushing the unkempt fall of gray hair. "Already? What happened to the five I gave you?"
"I bought a yacht," Whit retorted. "What the hell do you think?"
"You eating at Delmonico's?"
"When was the last time you had a soda and a ham sandwich at Delmonico's?"
"Yeah, all right." Hadley fished a dollar from his own pocket, to Whit's relief; he hated the condescending clerk in accounting.
"Yeah, okay. Save some of it for a sunny day, will you?"
"Sunny days," he said with a laugh. "You didn't hear? Those are over. Done. Settle in and enjoy the rain." Before shame could show through the ill-fitting nonchalance, Whit got up and headed for the door.
"Dorington," Hadley called after him. "Human interest. Sells papers, remember?"
Human interest. As he started down the deserted corridor to the lift, Whit made a face. He'd lost all interest in humans, lately. The street preacher he'd seen standing at the bread line at dawn had only cemented his certainty that humans, the lot of them, were divided into two predictable camps. The hyenas, ever alert to claim the first fresh meat, conscionable or not—and the lambs, who generally wandered right up and threw themselves in the roasting pan, no doubt convinced by all the hollow assurances that tomorrow would be better. Sure it would.
For the hyenas.
God's punishment, the preacher had intoned with grim reproach, as if he were exempt somehow from the sins of his race. Punishment for what, Whit had wondered, looking down the line of tired, hopeless faces. What had any of them done that was so terrible? He took some comfort in realizing no one listened to the preacher. They were distracted by hunger, by worries that had not lulled in months—in years. He was glad for their distraction. It was a shield—momentarily—from just another goddamned worry. The world was falling apart at the seams and no one, not even Roosevelt, would be putting it back together.
Whit smoothed the crumpled bill, folded it, then eased it securely into his vest pocket. Some of the dollar would have to be spared for a bed. He wasn't sleeping in a doorway again, if he could help it. He made his way against a gusty wind to Rivington, nurturing a small hope that the bread line had diminished. That hope was doused as he came around the corner and found the line had grown until he could not see its end. Not even the blackening clouds deterred the crowd. In fact, they hardly seemed to notice. Compelled by growling bellies, they shuffled forward, then stood doggedly as the first raindrops fell.
Whit couldn't take a place in line. Bad enough it was a bitter cold night; but he'd be a damned jerk to make anyone else wait behind him when he had enough in his pocket to buy himself a meal. Funny, how privileged he felt with only a dollar to his name. The one-eyed man in the land of the blind. He walked in the gutter, leaving the sidewalk to the waiting, and made eye contact as he passed. An exchanged nod or a rueful smile shared with any one of them, and he might feel a little less like a Park Avenue high hat going off to dine on meatloaf and macaroni and cheese.
But almost everyone's attention stayed fixed ahead, to the kitchen entrance. Those who hadn't come alone stood huddled with their companions, still drawn to check the line's progress every few feet, as if they couldn't have told as easily with their eyes shut. A block further, two blocks further, and Whit briefly met the glance of a man standing alone, shoulders hunched, face white under the stark light of the street lamp. The puffy eyes and damp face startled Whit. He'd thought by now he was inured to public tears.
"Hey." He kept it low, trying to single out the man's attention. With a step onto the curb, he came closer. "The food here stinks." He tried on a grin, wanting to feel it. "Come on and I'll buy you a cup of coffee."
The man stared at him, perhaps not sure what to comprehend from that. The woman behind him comprehended plenty. "The end of the line's that way," she said, her indignation waking those around her. She patted the crying man smartly on the shoulder. "You don't let him cut in."
"Wouldn't be fair," the elderly man behind her agreed.
"I'm not cutting in," Whit said, astonished.
The crying man's mouth set in a disgusted line. "You trying to lose me my place? Get me booted off?"
"Leave him alone," the woman said.
"Selfish," the elderly man muttered.
Whit's stomach churned, not entirely from hunger. Selfish. Sure. He had a dollar in his pocket and he didn't have to share, after all. "Enjoy the soup."
He should have gone to the automat. But the cafeteria across the road from the soup kitchen was open and he went there, in full view of the crying man and his defenders. He didn't look around to see if they'd noticed. He didn't want to give a damn. A further damn, anyway.
The cafeteria smelled of onions and garlic, no doubt liberally applied to old meat. Whit looked over the beef stew and the chicken that seemed more skin and bone than meat, and decided none of it was worth spending the night puking in a flophouse toilet. He took a bowl of noodles and some bread and scouted out the loneliest table he could find. Human interest. There was enough human interest in the cafeteria, alone, to fill a dozen papers—but the story might get wearying after the hundredth read. Couple struggling. Family struggling. Everyone struggling.
The noodles were flavorless and he swallowed them down like medicine, along with the stale bread. While he ate, he watched a middle-aged man, hat pulled low, move around newly vacated tables, stopping frequently to shove a bread crust into his mouth or polish clean a chicken bone. What a cruel thing, Whit mused, that people couldn't stuff themselves like bears and sleep the winter away—not that it would spare anyone. Winter had come to stay.
It was raining in earnest when he left the cafeteria; God, no doubt, again passing judgment upon his miserable flock, still gathered on the sidewalk. The rain washed away what remaining color was left in the world as Whit hurried down darker and darker blocks to the hotel—an amusing designation, as far as he was concerned. He might not have grown up a Vanderbilt or Rockefeller, but he knew what a hotel was; this cavernous, damp, dark room with row upon row of iron bedsteads and thin, stained mattresses did not qualify. But the residents, as stained, damp, and miserable as their surroundings, didn't exactly qualify as guests.
Except perhaps one.
Whit had seen some expensive shoes propped on the grubby flophouse blankets, shoes in sad shape, worn down and dulled by the miles walked in search of a job. The damp pair resting on the bunk beside his were all but new, and slick with a recent buff. So too the overcoat, with its shiny dark brown buttons, and the muted brown diamond weave of a suit more clean and brushed than anything Whit had seen on the street in over a year. His first thought, that the fellow was on the run from the law, would have persisted, if not for the introspective quiet in his eyes and the careless way he lay slumped on the mattress, his hat crushed against the bedframe. He was so far away, he didn't seem to sense Whit's gaze on him, and Whit stole a moment to appreciate features that were all angles, but not unattractively so, framed by hair that Whit sensed was usually neat but now tumbled in a dark brown wave over his forehead. Between crumpled hat and new shoes, the lanky length of him didn't promise an especially strapping figure, but looked fit enough to keep a girl warm at night—or fellow, as the case may be.
Tamara Allen resides in the piney woods north of Houston with her cozy family of husband, son, and cat. Her primary occupation is keeping them out of trouble, but on the side she likes to make up stories, for the pleasure of living briefly in an era long gone by.
Whistling in the Dark
If It Ain't Love