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The Memoir of Johnny Devine

by Camille Eide

Love can’t rewrite the pages of one’s past, but it can cover a multitude of sins a page at a time.

In 1953, desperation forces young war widow Eliza Saunderson to take a job writing the memoir of ex-Hollywood heartthrob Johnny Devine. Rumor has it Johnny can seduce anything in a skirt quicker than he can hail a cab. But now the notorious womanizer claims he’s been born again. Eliza soon finds herself falling for the humble, grace-filled man John has become—a man who shows no sign of returning her feelings. No sign, that is, until she discovers something John never meant for her to see.

When Eliza’s articles on minority oppression land her on McCarthy’s Communist hit list, John and Eliza become entangled in an investigation that threatens both his book and her future. To clear her name, Eliza must solve a family mystery. Plus, she needs to convince John that real love—not the Hollywood illusion—can forgive a sordid past. Just when the hope of love becomes reality, a troubling discovery confirms Eliza’s worst fears. Like the happy façade many Americans cling to, had it all been empty lies? Is there a love she can truly believe in?

The Memoir of Johnny Devine is a dramatic story within a story of a bad boy and a good girl, both in need of reform. It’s a powerful tale of love, redemption, intrigue, and the miracle of God’s deliberate grace.

Chapter 1

October 1953

Laurel District, Oakland, CA

A tiny cyclone of dry leaves raced ahead of Eliza as she crossed 35th Avenue, urging her to hurry. Or perhaps, more likely, the urge to hurry was coming from her stomach. The warm, leaf-scattering breeze caught the hem of her skirt and swirled it around her knees, quickening her steps all the more. Her heels clicking across the pavement sounded like a tiny horse’s hooves.

At the entrance to Lucky’s Diner, Eliza stopped and searched her sweetheart handbag—a gift from Betty, of course—just to make sure the money was still there. Eliza didn’t care what today’s Blue Plate Special was, as long as it didn’t cost more than fifty cents.

Inside the diner, her stomach groaned at the smells of coffee and fried food. A waitress Eliza had not seen before worked the window side of the diner. Tugging off the scarf that barely kept her dark, collar-length curls in order, she followed the woman’s progress.

The new waitress moved deftly from table to table. Perhaps this one would be friendlier than old Greta.

Eliza hurried to the only empty window seat, then turned up her coffee cup and waited, shushing the embarrassing sounds coming from her insides.

Anticipation must have awakened the sleeping beast.

As she waited, she made a quick study of the other diners. Two young women, one with a toddler and the other with an infant, sat in the next booth. The baby peeked over her mama’s shoulder and blinked at Eliza with big, blue eyes.

Eliza smiled until the baby broke out in a toothless grin. She widened her smile and waved her fingers, but the mother glared over her shoulder and quickly shifted the child down onto her lap. Cheeks warming, Eliza returned her hands to her own empty lap.

A man in a long, dark coat, seated at the counter, peered over his shoulder at her.

She turned and focused her attention on the busy crisscross of traffic outside her window. Busy was good.

“Coffee?” the new waitress asked, carafe in hand.

“Yes, please.” Eliza poked her cat-eye glasses higher and read the name Peg on the waitress’s pin.

Peg handed her a menu and filled her cup. “Holler when you’re ready to order, hon.”

“I’ll have the Blue Plate Special, please.” Eliza took a scalding sip of coffee. Black as tar and bitter as always.

Frowning, Peg watched Eliza gulp down her coffee. “Don’t you even want to know what it is?”

Eliza set the half-empty cup down and smiled. “Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s divine.”

As Peg left with her order, the jukebox blared to life.

Eliza tapped her toes to the lively sounds of Les Paul’s guitar and Mary Ford’s voice singing about her undying love for a boy named Johnny.

Papa would have closed his eyes, tuned out the sounds of traffic and café chatter, and focused on the sound of the guitar. After listening to a song once or twice, he would practice for hours until he could play it note for note.

With a sigh, Eliza shelved the memory. The last time she saw her parents was in 1938, just a week before her high school graduation. They had looked so full of life, waving goodbye from the train as it pulled away from the station, promising to return with pennants from Fresno State for her and Betty, and with any luck, two full-time teaching jobs. Papa had been especially keen on teaching again. Eliza always suspected the lean years following the Great Crash had been harder on him than on Mama. But the only souvenir Eliza and Betty got from their parents’ trip was a telegram saying they’d been killed in a railway accident outside of Modesto.

When her meal arrived, Eliza quickly assessed each item. The gravy-coated mashed potatoes and breaded mystery meat wouldn’t keep—those she would eat now. The dinner roll and dill pickle spear could wait. The green beans were questionable, but they would also wait.

In the center of the plate, as either an added bonus or a mistake, rested a cluster of plump, green grapes. Since when had the standard bargain fare included fresh fruit? She looked up.

In the long galley window, a toothy grin greeted her. Jimmy was cooking today. Of course.

Eliza checked to see if anyone was watching, then raised her hand in a brief wave of thanks.

Jimmy waved back, still grinning.

Swell. Grateful as she was for the treat, she didn’t want to encourage a college boy. For some reason, Jimmy didn’t seem to understand that Eliza was at least ten years his senior.

She ate slowly, marveling at the way warm potatoes could reach into the hollowest places. She cut the breaded mystery meat—which turned out to be chopped beef—into tiny bites and made her meal last longer with two more cups of coffee, a trick she’d learned from the girls in steno school. When she finished her allotted portion, she pushed the plate away, then drained her cup and signaled Peg for one last refill.

“Pity you didn’t eat all your dinner,” Peg said, filling Eliza’s cup. She reached for the half-empty plate.

“No!” Eliza grabbed the plate and pulled it close. “Sorry, I’m … not quite finished with that.”

“Well, that’s good. Because just between you and me, doll, looks like you could stand to gain a few pounds.” Peg gave her shoulder a soft pat and moved along to the next table.

Eliza tugged four napkins from the dispenser, unfolded them, and piled the rest of the food into the center of each. As she did, she felt eyes on her and looked up.

The man at the counter was staring at her again, sending a tingle along her spine.

She wrapped up the food and stuffed the bundles into her handbag. Whatever the stranger had in mind, she wasn’t interested.

Peg returned with her check. “Will there be anything else? Dessert? More coffee?”

“No, thank you.” Eliza smiled.

Peg smiled back and waited.

Ah, the tip! Eliza held her smile steady but wanted to slither beneath the table. She had only enough money to pay the bill and not a penny more. Betty would have kittens.

Once Peg had moved on, Eliza dug like mad through her handbag, searching for anything of worth she could leave the woman. Or at least a scrap of paper to write an IOU on.

Was she really so pitiful? No. This was only temporary; things would turn around soon. She just needed a break, a leg up. Perhaps the American Women’s Alliance would offer her a regular column now that she’d written a dozen articles for them, and one that paid in double digits for a change.

She could just hear Betty now. Don’t tell me you have no choice, Eliza. Women of our class do not scrape by. Forget those crazy notions of yours and get yourself a husband.

The trouble was, Eliza had already taken that particular advice, but marriage hadn’t been the fairy tale her sister had promised. Far from it.

In the bottom of her purse, Eliza’s fingers grasped something cold. She pulled out a nickel.

Her last nickel.

She could buy a cup of coffee with that.

Or … she could leave a tip. Peg had to eat too.

She left the nickel beside her plate, then paid her check.

The man at the counter rose and paid his check also. He left the diner a few steps behind Eliza.

She hurried across the street and looked back, but the ogler must have gone another way. Eliza slowed her pace. She was in no hurry to trade the clean bay breezes for her stifling one-room studio.

Since her last freelance job had just ended, the next thing on Eliza’s to-do list was to call the employment agency. Inside her building, Eliza ignored the peeling yellow paint in the lobby and looked around.

With any luck, the super was occupied elsewhere and not hovering near the telephone eavesdropping on tenants’ conversations.

She hurried to the hall at the bottom of the stairs, fully expecting to wait in line for the telephone, but for once, none of the other girls were using it. She gave the number to the operator and waited to be connected, fingers crossed.

It didn’t take the receptionist at the agency long to answer Eliza’s query. Still no typist or stenographer work.

Not ready to give up, she headed upstairs to her apartment for her telephone book. There were still a couple of former contacts she could try again. But as she neared the top of the stairs, Eliza nearly tripped on the last step.

Her sister waited at the apartment door.

JD Scenebreaks

Kit-Cat’s steady ticking seemed louder than usual—as if to announce that there was an intruder in the room.

Betty must have heard it too, because she looked over her shoulder at the clock and made a huffing sound. “I positively despise that thing.”

Eliza sighed. She happened to love that clock. It was different.

“It’s tacky, Eliza. I hate the way the eyes move back and forth with the tail. It gives me the heebie-jeebies.”

All the more reason to love it. Eliza hid her smile.

Betty swept a narrowed gaze across the studio apartment.

Why had she come? With a husband, two neatly groomed kids, and a picture-perfect home surpassed only by Ozzie and Harriet’s, Betty was far too busy for drop-in visits. She only ventured down from Richmond Heights when something she couldn’t be caught dead without wasn’t available there.

As Eliza waited, Betty continued her scrutiny, shaking her blonde head at the narrow sideboard just big enough for a hot plate, electric coffee pot, two saucers, and a cup. She frowned at the small café table in the center of the room where Eliza’s ancient typewriter left no room for eating. Which was a moot point.

Betty grimaced at the threadbare chair, the rickety bureau, and lastly, Eliza’s twin bed. Which she’d forgotten to make.

She hadn’t exactly been expecting company.

Betty shook her head. “Darling, you really need to—”

“Betty, please. Don’t start.”

“What? I just want to see you happy. It’s not too late, you know. You’re still young. And ten years of mourning is plenty sufficient.”

Mourning? Was that what her sister thought she’d been doing?

“You’re throwing away the best years of your life, Eliza. What’s all this writing and working yourself stick-thin getting you? Not a home of your own, that’s a fact.” She frowned, dark-blue eyes seeming genuinely confused. “What kind of a woman doesn’t want a home of her own?”

“The kind who would rather have no home than a miserable one,” Eliza said quietly.

Betty stared at her, barely masking her disbelief. “Just because your marriage wasn’t ideal is no reason to throw away your—”

Ideal?” Eliza stiffened. The only “ideal” thing about her marriage to Ralph Saunderson was that he joined the army the minute he heard about the war, giving Eliza a chance to lick her wounds in peace.

And then the selfish brute got what was coming to him.

Burning with shame, Eliza went to her bed and straightened the bedding, forcing the awful thought from her mind. A good wife would feel grief, not relief, at the news her husband had been killed in battle. But then, a good wife would probably do many things Eliza had never mastered, like turning a blind eye to his cheating. Or to the fact that he’d named some other woman his beneficiary.

Taking up her pillow, Eliza turned to her sister. “I don’t want to argue with you, Betty.”

“Good.” With a sigh, Betty moved closer, her brow creased. “What do you want?”

Eliza fluffed her pillow and lifted her shoulders in a shrug. “I just want … to feel complete.” She frowned. It wasn’t a notion she’d ever entertained, much less voiced aloud.

“Well, sure you want to be complete, darling. Hence the need for a husband. Isn’t that what I’ve been saying all along?”

Eliza tossed the pillow to the head of the bed, suddenly weary of the pressure to accept this destiny, to measure her worth by her home and what man she belonged to. Betty seemed so certain, and yet at times it all seemed like pretense, like the silent lie Eliza had lived once and swore she would never live again.

“I don’t think a woman should get married just so she can have an automatic dishwasher and a full Frigidaire,” she said.

Betty’s cheeks reddened, nearly matching her bold, red lips. “You make married women sound shallow.”

Eliza shrugged again.

“Please tell me that’s not what you think of me.”

She looked her sister in the eye. “I thought we were discussing me.”

Kit-Cat’s ticking—which suddenly seemed louder—filled the room.

Rats, the time! Eliza needed to call her former employers again, now that people were getting home from work. Best not to do that with Betty hovering nearby. “The drive to Richmond Heights must be a real bear, especially at this time of day.”

Betty gasped at her watch. “Oh, for pity’s sake, Ed will be home in two hours, and I don’t have meat thawing. I wouldn’t have come here if I’d known I’d have to wait so long for you to show up. We’ll talk soon, hon.” She pecked the air with a kiss and left.

As soon as Betty was gone, Eliza took the bundles of food from her handbag and tucked them between the coffee pot and hot plate. Her stomach piqued a sudden interest in the grapes. But until she got paid again, she needed to make the food last.

A buzz sounded at the door.

Expecting to hear one more piece of sisterly advice, she opened the door, but it was Ivy from across the hall.

“There’s a call on the line asking for Mrs. Saunderson.” Ivy peered beyond Eliza as if looking for someone. “Sounds official.”

“Thank you.” Eliza stepped out and closed the door behind her, forcing Ivy and her curiosity to step back on the landing, and dashed downstairs. It had to be the agency. It had to.

“Hello, this is Mrs. Saunderson,” Eliza said into the receiver, hoping she sounded confident.

It was the agency. The receptionist told her about an interview for an opening. “However,” she said, “the job doesn’t fully suit your qualifications.”

Eliza frowned. “But you said the job is for an editorial assistant with typing and shorthand skills. I have extensive experience in all three. It’s on my profile. Why do you say I’m not qualified?”

The receptionist apologized. “What I meant was it doesn’t match your specifications. But I know you’re eager for work, so I thought you might want to hear about it anyway.”

“Yes, please.” What specifications had she listed on her profile?

“The job is a long-term project requiring strong editorial skills.”

“Yes, I understand that.”

“And it pays very well.”

A shiver of excitement raced down her back. “But …?”

“But the employer is … a single male, and the job is at his private home.”

Ah. Her rule on that item was non-negotiable. “I’m sorry, I don’t think—wait, how much does it pay?”

The woman gave her a figure.

“Per month?” It wasn’t heaps more than what she’d made on her last freelance job, but was still worth considering.

“No, that’s per week.”

Eliza gasped. “Per week? Are you sure?” She could earn six times her rent in a month. But working for a man in his home? It just wasn’t smart. “I’m sorry, but I—”

The super lumbered past in his usual untucked, grease-stained work shirt—ironic, since he never actually worked on anything. When he saw Eliza, he rubbed his fingertips together and gave her that leering look of his. The one that reminded her that the further she got behind on rent, the less pleasant he could be.

Eliza shivered. “Yes, I will take the interview.”

Chapter 2

The bus left downtown Berkeley and climbed into the east hills. The neighborhoods north of the University campus differed from the rest of the city. The homes here were larger, finer, and set farther apart. But what stood out most was how vastly different each home was from the others in design and character, nothing at all like the uniformity of her east Oakland neighborhood.

The bus let her off at Beechwood Lane. It was a good ten-minute walk to the address the agency had given her, which turned out to be the last home on the dead-end, tree-lined street. At least, she assumed it was a house, since she couldn’t see any part of a building. A hedge of evergreens formed a tall screen along the front of the property and ended at two thick stone columns supporting a barred, metal gate.

Eliza tugged the hem of her jacket, smoothed her skirt, and pushed the call button. She’d never encountered a locked gate at a residential job before. Tucking a wayward curl behind her ear, she looked over her shoulder at the quiet lane. Only two cars had passed during her walk, another stark contrast to her busy neighborhood. It was almost as if she’d stepped into another world.

The speaker box beside the gate crackled. “Yes?” The female voice was nearly lost in the static.

“Hello,” Eliza said, wincing at the natural softness of her voice. She spoke up. “My name is Mrs. Saunderson. I’m here for an interview.” She pushed her glasses higher and peered closely at the tarnished brass plaque above the speaker box. Vincent.

“Come up to the door and wait,” the tired voice said.

The gate buzzed, then opened slowly with a humming, metallic sound.

Eliza stepped onto a cobbled stone drive.

The gate closed on its own.

She followed the drive as it curved to the right, bordered on either side by an overgrown hedge bursting with white blooms. The sweet fragrance reminded Eliza of her mother. Somehow, the passing years had made Mama’s favorite scent easier to remember than her face.

Still, the blooming hedge was a good sign. Anyone who would surround their home with the scent of gardenias couldn’t be all bad.

Weeping willows obscured Eliza’s view of the dwelling until she rounded another bend in the drive. There, nestled between flowering shrubs and trees, stood a house Eliza could only describe as something from a storybook. Dark, decorative trim adorned the white stucco walls, matching the weathered shakes of the roof. Leaded glass windows made up of small, square panes faced west, and smooth, round stones of varying sizes formed an arch above the door.

What really drew her attention was the turret above the entryway, a column rising from the place where two angled parts of the house met in the center. A cone-shaped roof topped the tower, coming to a point like a witch’s hat. The turret’s narrow window glittered from sunlight hitting the tiny diamond shapes. A small balcony jutted out beneath the window.

Eliza had never seen such a charming villa anywhere but in a book, and certainly not in the middle of a swanky Berkeley suburb. This home looked more like something from The Hobbit. Surely a bearded dwarf would round the corner any minute, and then perhaps a hobbit with a long pipe would throw open the tower window and shout a friendly greeting.

To the right of the house, beyond the drive, the grounds ended at a line of dense trees partially obscuring a stone wall. This homeowner clearly valued his privacy.

She couldn’t really blame him. Who wouldn’t want to keep such an enchanting place tucked away from prying eyes?

From midway along the drive, a moss-entwined stone path cut across the lawn and curved around the left of the house toward a secluded garden, daring Eliza to slip off her pumps and test the cool, green carpet and smooth stone with her stockinged feet. A trellis dripping with clusters of wisteria formed a canopy in the center of the garden, and beneath it, two white, wrought iron chairs and a table beckoned her to come sip tea and spend a leisurely afternoon basking in sweet-scented seclusion.

Hopefully no one was watching her from the house as she paused a moment longer, drinking in the charm with a smile she couldn’t contain.

This would be no ordinary typing job.

She followed the path to the house. On either side of the front door, windows overlooked lemon-scented shrubbery and a shaggy lawn.

The front door opened, and a small, colored woman wearing a starched gray-and-white maid’s uniform stepped out. She peered at Eliza through round glasses. Her sparse gray hair, pulled back from her creased forehead, tufted in places like a fine mist. Without speaking, she looked Eliza up and down.

“Hello.” Eliza offered her most professional smile. “I’m Mrs. Saunderson. The agency sent me.”

The old woman planted fists on her hips and studied Eliza’s shoes, then her two-piece navy suit—another hand-me-down from Betty, chosen to accentuate Eliza’s dark-blue eyes—then peered up at Eliza with a narrowed gaze. “Ma’am, how old are you?”

Not once had she been asked her age for a typing job. “I’m thirty-three.”

The woman continued her scrutiny. If not for the incredible pay and the amount of borrowed bus fare it had taken to get here, Eliza might have turned around and caught the next bus back to Oakland. But perhaps people who lived in enchanted estates—or at least their help—could be expected to be a bit eccentric.

“Do you … want to know my typing speed or see my portfolio?”

“No, ma’am. I ’spect you type just fine.” The maid studied her face again.

Eliza got the feeling the old woman was trying to decide if she knew her.

Finally, the woman nodded. “All right then, come inside.” Leading the way with a steady hitch in her step, the woman took Eliza through a small sitting room filled with an assortment of antique furnishings, past a narrow, curved staircase with a hallway beside it, and into a long parlor. The room was more of a library, the walls inset with dozens of shelves and papered in gold and crimson. The golden glass and wrought iron sconces and quaint furniture looked like they’d been here for half a century, but were spotless and well-kept.

“Have a seat, ma’am.”

Eliza sat on a velvet settee facing the front windows and the picturesque view of the bay with the silhouette of the Golden Gate in the distance.

The maid peered at her again, hunched shoulders bringing her face nearly level with Eliza’s. “Do you know who live here?”

“I’m afraid I don’t.”

“Well, he be the one you discuss the typin’ with. But before he come, I need to know how you behave around famous folks.”

“Famous? I don’t know if I’ve ever—”

“Last girl didn’t even make it through her first day.” She let out a huff and shook her head. “I knew that red-faced woman gonna be trouble the minute I seen her.”

“So, your employer is … a celebrity?” Eliza scrambled to think of anyone famous with the last name of Vincent.

“That’s right. He been in many pictures, but I ’spect you was just a schoolgirl then.”

“Pictures?” Eliza smiled. “How exciting.”

The maid’s narrowed gaze told Eliza this was the wrong response. “You ever see a celebrity up close?”

Eliza had to think about it. “I saw Eleanor Roosevelt at a press conference once. But I was in a large crowd and didn’t get close enough to speak to her.”

The maid nodded. “I like Miz Roosevelt. She a smart woman.” She studied Eliza as she spoke. “But movie stars is different.”

Eliza’s curiosity was now fully engaged, but she kept it to herself, since the woman clearly took her screening job very seriously. She looked the old woman squarely in the eye. “I can assure you that I will behave as sensibly with your employer as I would with any other.”

“Humph. I be the judge of that.” The woman’s wrinkly face softened. “I’m Millie.”

“I’m pleased to meet you, Millie. Please, call me Eliza.”

A buzzer sounded from somewhere across the library.

“Beg your pardon, ma’am.” Millie shuffled to a doorway at the far end of the room and picked up a telephone receiver. She spoke in low tones for a few moments, then hung up and came back to Eliza.

“He see you shortly.” Millie turned away.

“Oh, wait—before you go, can you tell me who he is?”

Millie shook her head. “No, ma’am. You know soon enough. Besides, I ain’t goin’ nowhere.” Millie tottered to the stone fireplace and stood beside it like a tiny, gray sentinel, her knobby hands clasped in front.

A twinge tingled along Eliza’s nerves. How would she react to meeting a famous movie star face to face? Would she get weak in the knees? Tongue-tied?

If it meant getting the job, she could certainly act calm. Though pretense was despicable, it was, unfortunately, something she’d become quite good at. If she could spend three years pretending to be serene and unaffected while a storm of humiliation and hurt raged within her, she could certainly conceal being a little star-struck.

Had she and Ralph only been together three years before he had left for war? It seemed so much longer—long enough to leave his voice forever ringing in her ears …

A real woman knows how to keep a man happy. And I’m stuck with one who can’t even get one thing right.

Eliza tried to tune out the memory before the last part could—

Should’ve just gotten a dog.

Something thunked against wood.

Eliza shook off the memory and prepared to meet the employer.

The thunking sound grew louder until a tall, dark-haired man in charcoal tweed slacks, a crisp white shirt, and a tie appeared in the parlor doorway.

Eliza gasped in spite of herself and stood, almost too numb to move. Millie was right—there were probably few who wouldn’t recognize Hollywood’s legendary Johnny Devine.

He leaned on a cane, but straightened to a full six-foot-plus when his gaze found Eliza.

Her heart thudded. The silver screen had not done his looks full justice.

“Mr. John,” Millie said from her post. “This is Mrs. Saunderson.”

“How do you do?” Johnny Devine asked in that trademark voice that made far too many sensible women swoon. He eyed Eliza carefully, waiting.

Still numb, Eliza couldn’t answer.

Millie’s description of her employer as “famous” was an understatement. Notorious was more accurate. Louella Parsons’s Hollywood gossip column had been the first to dub him “Devilishly Devine.” From all accounts, Johnny Devine was extremely fond of women—young or old, rich or poor, married or single, loose or chaste. Rumor had it he could seduce anything in a skirt quicker than he could hail a cab.

Johnny turned to Millie, and the old woman gave him a single nod. He returned his attention to Eliza and studied her for a painfully long moment.

“Mrs. Saunderson,” he said finally. “Won’t you please be seated?”

Reminding herself to breathe, Eliza found her seat. He’s just a man. Just a regular man.

While Millie held her place, Johnny Devine limped to the other side of the fireplace and lowered himself onto a chair, squeezing his cane in a white-knuckled grip as he sat. He drew a deep breath and faced Eliza. Then he smiled.

Oh … my … stars … On screen, that smile was a heart stopper. But in person? It could melt the stockings right off a girl.

“I’m writing a book,” he said. “A memoir, actually. It’s under contract with a New York publishing house, Covenant Press. I have the first three chapters here—”

He began to rise, but Millie tut-tutted at him and retrieved a manila envelope from the fireplace mantel. She tottered over and handed it to Eliza.

Memoir? Eliza stared at the tan packet on her lap, wishing she didn’t have to touch it.

“After going over those first few chapters,” he said, pointing at the envelope, “my publisher suggested I hire a typist with strong editorial skills. You can see his marks for yourself. He likes the content but wants me to find someone who can do the edits on those chapters and get the project back on schedule by sorting out any other … grammatical issues that arise as I write the rest.”

Eliza stared at the envelope, thoughts whirling. The last thing she wanted was to read three hundred pages of him boasting about his dressing room adventures, much less fix the grammar. But the pay was so unbelievably good.

And yet there was also the issue of working with him. In his home.

Eliza stole a glance at him. He was surely older than he’d been in his last picture that she’d seen, but every bit as attractive. In fact, he was more handsome than a man had a right to be.

She stiffened. Of course, this was a man whose good looks, breathtaking smile, and smooth charm had gotten him anything and anyone he wanted. However, she wouldn’t be duped by a sweet-talking liar, no matter how handsome. She’d learned that lesson all too well, thanks to Ralph. “I have extensive editing experience and am confident I can do the work.”

“Tell me about your qualifications,” Johnny said, his deep voice businesslike.

“I have a bachelor’s degree in English.” Eliza resisted the urge to lift her chin. Though she’d worked hard to earn it, the degree had done her little good. “With a minor in Journalism.”

Wincing, Johnny Devine shifted slightly in his seat. “Impressive. And your experience?”

“During the war, I worked in the steno pool at McClellan Air Force Base. Since then, I’ve worked as a freelance editor, writer, typist, and stenographer.” Not steadily enough to make a decent living, but that wasn’t any of his business. Those good-paying base jobs had been given to men returning after the war, leaving Eliza, and many women like her, jobless.

“Excellent,” Johnny said. “Do you have any questions for me?”

“Yes.” Why hadn’t she inherited Papa’s forthright-sounding voice like Betty had instead of Mama’s soft tone? She sat up straighter to bolster her nerve. “Do you intend for us to work alone?”

He frowned. “Alone?” But just as quickly as it appeared, his frown dissolved. He turned and stared out the window, his lips pressed tight. “No. I should have mentioned that at the start. Millie is here every day of the week. And my handyman, Duncan McBride, lives on the property, so he’s always around.”

Millie chuckled. “Well, where else he gonna go? That ol’ leprechaun older than me.”

Swell. Two ancient domestic workers were Eliza’s only guarantee against unwanted attentions. But at least their presence meant she and Mr. Devilishly Devine wouldn’t be completely alone. And she’d be nuts to pass up the money. Betty would sermonize about the man’s reputation, but Eliza was a grown woman. She could manage the consequences of her own decisions just fine.

Johnny’s gaze was on the hooked rug at his feet and would not meet hers.

She had better not regret this. “Very well, I would like to be considered for the job. But if you intend to hire me, I need to make one thing clear.”

“And that is?” Johnny asked.

Eliza forced her voice steady, because what she was about to say stretched every one of her nerves taut. “Any funny business and I quit. On the spot.”

Millie’s face bunched up in confusion. “Funny business? What in the world kinda—”

“It’s all right, Millie,” Johnny said quietly.

Eliza lifted her chin and waited, heart racing.

“You will not be insulted in this house,” he said. “You have my word.”

She studied him, heart hammering. “Your word?”

“Yes.” Slowly, Johnny Devine looked up and met her eyes. “Though it may be of little worth to you, I am a man of my word.”

For now, she had no choice but to take him at that word.

For whatever it was worth.

1940 was a record-breaking year in many ways. That year, I put more film in the can and received more awards and nominations than ever before. The line of starlets at my door was longer than Gable’s. And the number of times I got so blind drunk I couldn’t tell you my name also reached a record high.

~The Devine Truth: A Memoir

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