Sinister Lang Syne : A Short Holiday Novel by Colleen Gleason


Prologue





New Year’s Eve 1929





It was a brisk, snapping cold night to celebrate the ringing-in of the new year—a new decade that many hoped would eventually see the end of the Eighteenth Amendment.

Despite Prohibition, however, the people of tiny Wicks Hollow village held glasses of champagne, mugs of beer, and bottles of whisky as they thronged in front of the Tremaine Clock Tower. Being situated near Lake Michigan on the shipping route from Canada to Chicago meant that residents of the small town had easy access to shipments of the illegal beverages.

Women wearing the flimsy, loose flapper-style dresses currently in fashion covered themselves with heavy wool coats and jaunty cloches over cropped-short hair, with gloved hands gripping their drinks as they jostled in the crowd. Their companions, men in heavy coats and trilbies, fedoras, or Homburgs, bundled the women closer against the crisp bitter cold and helped to keep them warm.

White clouds of breath mingled and meshed as a hundred people talked, sang, and laughed in the midst of their small, close-knit town. It was a night of celebration for many reasons.

They gathered below the wrought iron balcony of the brand new Tremaine Clock Tower, where Miss Brenda Tremaine, the town’s most famous socialite, was about to marry the handsome and debonair State Senator Barclay Langford beneath a starry winter sky. Their vows would be made as soon as the clock struck midnight.

Despite an ugly scene between Senator Langford and his former love, Lonna Dunne, last week, the bride and groom were happy and excited with eyes glowing and cheeks pink from the chill. Nothing would stop them from sealing their wedding vows—not even a crazed, wild-eyed woman and her threats of curses.

The construction of the Tremaine Tower—overseen by Tremaine Construction with the help of Wicks Development—had been completed only two weeks earlier, and tonight was its inaugural event. Imposing and elegant, the dark brick building boasted a large, three-sided clock face, which could be seen from over a mile away. Above the clock was the bell tower, with seven bells prepared to ring in the New Year and the marital junction of the powerful Langford and Tremaine families. Extending from the top of the bell tower was a short spire where a glittering ball perched. The ball would burst into sparkling light on the twelfth stroke of midnight as the crowd watched and celebrated the entry into a new decade.

Brenda and Barclay stood on the balcony below the clock, waving to their friends and family. A large banner with their logo for the celebration—two ornate, intertwined Bs above a framed January 1, 1930—fluttered from the iron railing in front of them.

Despite the chill, Brenda had donned neither coat nor hat nor gloves to spoil her appearance. Slender and boyish in figure—as most of the women of the time aspired to be—she wore a stunning champagne colored dress that glittered with beads of silver, white, pale gold, and ice pink. Frothy, delicate feathers shivered from her shoulders with every movement, and the gown fell in a straight, unbroken line to just the tops of her knees. A large brooch sporting a half-dollar-sized crystal of pale rose surrounded by more feathers glinted from the center of her gown. Her short blond hair, crimped into finger waves, was held in place by glittering pins, and a headband with more gems and feathers cut across her creamy white forehead.

She held the stem of a broad, shallow glass filled with the dark red cranberry champagne cocktail she’d asked to be created specially for her wedding. In the room behind the balcony waited a small and elegant reception with a champagne fountain spilling with the same cranberry bubbles, and trays of tiny shrimp sandwiches, fruit kebabs, and minuscule pastries.

“Brenda! You’re going to catch your death!” cried one of her friends from the ground below. “Put on a coat!”

“I’m not the least bit chilled,” the bride called back, leaning over the railing with a smile. “I’m ablaze with the warmth of love!”

Her groom was just as handsomely attired in a creamy-white jacket with tails. His tie was also festooned with sparkling gems and sequins, and his dark blond hair was slicked back from a

clean-shaven face. He crowded behind her at the railing, wrapping both arms around the bride and offering her his warmth.

“It’s nearly midnight!” someone cried, and everyone’s attention turned from the gorgeous bride and groom to the massive clock face above them. “Three minutes!”

“Are you ready, my love?” said Barclay, turning his bride to face him.