by Stacy Lynn Miller
Are second chances enough when the world is conspiring against you?
High school best friends Rose and Dax each have a secret—they like the other in a way they shouldn’t in 1920’s Prohibition Era California. After sharing a first kiss, they’re forced apart—each sent to a different city to account for their sin.
Rose lands in the coastal tourist city of Half Moon Bay in virtual servitude, working for a distant cousin for pennies. Dax has an idyllic existence in San Francisco, living with her married sister. Then the fates change. Rose escapes and lands a job as a singer at an underground speakeasy. Dax wears out her welcome and ends up at a restaurant—in Half Moon Bay.
After nine years, their paths cross again. But is it too late? Will the lives they’ve led keep them apart? Or will Dax and Rose defy the odds and find a way to be together again?
Book One in the Speakeasy Series.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Golf and alcohol typically end in one thing for me—a poor score. However, on a fun-filled Thursday in 2019, something incredible resulted. The mixture had my friends and me discussing my story for the GCLS Writing Academy and a Sierra Foothills speakeasy. By the turn, I thought what if I combined the two topics? What if The L Word and Boardwalk Empire had a baby? By the end of the round, I had the makings of a book.
Two years later, I dove in. I was stumped for a setting until I remembered the West Coast main highway for illegal liquor coming from Canadian ships during Prohibition was an hour from my California childhood home. A road trip was essential. That day in Half Moon Bay, walking up Devil’s Slide and visiting the marina shops and eateries, spawned more stories and gave birth to the Speakeasy Series.
I hope you enjoy the first leg of Rose and Dax’s journey and fall in love with the cast of characters, as I have."
—Stacy Lynn Miller
The Lesbian Review
Audio Book Review - The narrator’s breezy and dramatic reading enhances a book I already like very much. I never got the impression the narrator is reading at me but bringing me into the world of the novel. All the voices sound different and fit the personality of the character…. Dax and Rose go through a lot in their early lives and the author builds a wonderfully involved world inhabited by great and loving friends and family as well as dangerous adversaries. Their profound love and the dangerous times they live in create a great balance of sweetness and suspense. I found myself totally lost for hours in their deeply drawn world and I’m really looking forward to reading the next installment when it comes out.
S. Ballinger - What a great start to a new series. I loved both the main characters and many of the great side characters. The story was interesting and kept me reading until the end, which leaves the reader on a bit of cliffhanger. Can't wait to read the next one and hope we are not left waiting too long to see what happens next.
Cheryl W. - …Miller weaves a very entertaining historical fiction book, with several plot twists, action, and memorable characters. I highly recommend this book for Miller fans and people who enjoy historical fiction. I can’t wait for the second book in this series.
Jessica P. - I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The chemistry between the characters was well written and the dialogue even better. I learned a lot about the prohibition time and thought the history lesson was the best part. I would recommend this book to anyone but especially someone who may be hesitant to try historical fiction.
Carolyn M. - …Devil's Slide though, is phenomenally written! Emotional, exquisitely paced, and tense for almost the entirety of the tale, readers are kept on the edges of their seats, never sure how things will turn out.
Betty H. - I truly felt I was back in time as I read this book. The author creates a world that is realistic, and in many ways historically accurate. Dax and Rose very quickly wormed their way into my heart. Ms. Miller knows how to make her characters realistic and complex. Dax and Rose are a perfect example. Their tale is filled with excitement, suspense, drama, danger, heartbreak, and love. The best part is, this book is just the first in the ‘Speakeasy Series’ so we will get to read more about the adventures Dax and Rose face as they work to create a future together.
I recommend this novel if you love historical fiction, adventure, suspense, and romance.
Jo R. - Brilliant. If you are already a fan of the author, you will not be disappointed with this new book. A thrilling, historical storyline with plenty of action to mix in, surely to keep you turning the pages.
Alameda, California, 1920
Rose Hamilton arrived at school nearly late for her first class of the day for no reason other than she dawdled because it was Friday—a habit she needed to break, according to her mother. She ran up the steps, clasping her textbooks close to her chest, but slowed once through the main doors. The sea of students milling about meant the first bell had yet to ring.
Walking down the corridor, she noticed a boy she hadn’t seen before, a senior maybe, shamelessly flirting with the class beauty queen near the attendance office door. He appeared handsome enough with a blond crew cut, broad shoulders, and new clothes, but when Rose passed him, the overpowering scent of oakmoss nearly made her choke. Clearly, he didn’t understand the meaning of moderation when applying Aqua Velva.
Rose snickered. On his first day, this young man already appeared no different from the other boys in her high school. They were all out for one thing—S.E.X. But that didn’t interest her, at least not with boys. That fact, though, was a tightly held secret. Thinking such things was a sin, and as far as Rose knew, she was the only one in her high school who did. However, she hoped that one particular girl might think the same way.
The warning bell rang, and Rose searched the hallway for her best friend of the last five years. Dax was easy to spot, not because she was athletic and six inches taller than Rose, but because she was the only girl in school with hair cropped short around her ears.
Rose glimpsed Dax’s dark hair as she stepped into their eleventh-grade history class and took off after her. Following a quick “good morning,” both took their traditional seats next to each other, the same ones they’d chosen on the first day of class. Rose’s position in the second-to-the-last desk in the row furthest from the teacher’s desk had its benefits. With Mrs. Bowman’s rule of filling in every seat, starting from the front, Rose had no one sitting behind her. For the past three weeks, she and Dax had passed notes to each other with impunity.
To Rose’s horror, Aqua Velva walked in at the final bell. She buried her head in her arms atop her desk. “Please, just be looking for directions,” she whispered to herself, but then the teacher welcomed Billie to class and directed him to take the first empty seat. Rose popped her head up, nauseated by his toothy grin first and then by his aftershave when he reached the desk right behind her.
She tried pushing him out of her head, but the cloud of oakmoss made it impossible until Mrs. Bowman made a second horrifying announcement. She introduced a new student-led teaching method she wanted to try. Instead of her lecturing today, five students would take turns reading aloud sections from a chapter on the Civil War. The walls then started a slow, steady march, closing in on Rose the moment Mrs. Bowman said she would begin with the row furthest to her left—Rose’s row. That meant Dax would be the fourth reader, and Rose would be the fifth.
What unforgivable offense did she commit to tip fate and earn such a cruel punishment? Rose had gotten through ten years of school without asking a single question or speaking in front of the class. A simple “Here” during attendance call, a respectful “Yes, ma’am” or “No, ma’am,” and a reciting of the alphabet one letter at a time were the most she’d uttered in school since her first day of kindergarten. That record was about to come to a terrifying, abrupt end. Besides her parents and her older brother, Conroy, who died two years ago from the Spanish Flu, Dax was the only person she felt comfortable talking to. Heck, Conroy had once told her that besides toddler grunts, Rose didn’t speak to other people until she was four, preferring to let him do the talking for her.
Minute by minute, the pounding in Rose’s head magnified, muffling each student’s voice as they read and making them all sound like they were talking through pillows. She followed along in her textbook until Billie tapped her on the shoulder and dropped something into her lap. By the time she determined it was a piece of paper folded into a tiny triangle and returned her concentration to the book, she’d lost her place. Panic set in, but she remembered what Dax had once told her when she got frustrated before speaking. “Take a deep breath, relax, and focus on the first word.” Rose did, and within a few seconds, found her place again and followed along.
Moments later, there was a second tap on her shoulder. Rose was never one to lose her temper after making it out of the terrible twos, according to her mother, but the Neanderthal behind her was testing her patience. He leaned in until his warm breath tickled her ear and aftershave curled her nose. “Read it,” he said.
That was it. The terrible twos returned with a vengeance. Rose snapped her head around so hard her neck cracked. She yelled loud enough to grind a speeding train to a halt. “Stop it!” Billie leaned back in his chair with the stupidest grin, reminding her of the mischievous cat Lewis Carroll had written about. His confidence boiled her blood to the temperature of a volcano. She flung the note at him, square in the nose. Words flowed fluently from her like hot lava, destroying everything in its path. “You are a bothersome halfwit.”
“Miss Hamilton!” Mrs. Bowman barked. “Need I send you to the principal’s office?”
Rose’s stomach churned her morning pancakes into a bubbling, burning concoction that threatened to make a reappearance. Her mother would never stand for her being singled out for punishment. “Insolence and insubordination were the devil’s work,” she would say. “God reserved a special place in hell for unmanageable little girls,” her mother had often told her after Sunday church service.
Rose inched her head in the chalkboard’s direction, afraid to lock eyes with the fuming taskmaster. Without a doubt, Mrs. Bowman had steam blasting from both ears like a train whistle. The teacher was now the train Rose had impulsively brought to a stop right at her feet. Her chin pinned to her chest, Rose answered, “No, ma’am.”
“Very well. Thank you for a fine reading, Miss Xander. You may finish the chapter, Miss Hamilton.”
Besides Rose not knowing where Dax had left off, a lump the size of the apple Rose had waiting for her in the lunch sack below her desk formed in her throat. She hadn’t felt this shaky since the day her father returned home to say that Conroy had died. “I-I—”
“I’d like to keep going, Mrs. Bowman, if it’s all the same.” Dax volunteering to save Rose from inevitable humiliation was no surprise, and like her kindness did a hundred times before, the offer warmed her heart.
Since meeting on the first day of secondary school, Dax had been Rose’s sworn protector from the playground bullies. It didn’t seem to bother Dax that Rose hadn’t said a word to her for the first three days. In fact, she appeared to feed on it. The more embarrassment-filled smiles and grateful grins Rose had issued for coming to her rescue, the more time Dax had spent with her. They were inseparable by the end of the first week during and after school unless Rose had to be home or Dax had a carpentry job with her father.
“I applaud your zeal, Miss Xander, but it is Miss Hamilton’s turn.”
Rose sunk deep into her chair, dreading the equivalent of being stripped bare in the public square. Dax twisted at the waist, shifted her stare over her shoulder, and squeezed Rose’s hand. Her sad eyes and reassuring nod momentarily eased Rose’s trembling.
Rose shook her head, unsure where to begin reading, and mouthed, “Where?”
Dax pointed to the passage labeled “Battle of Antietam.” Crap. Crap. Crap. A problem sound on the third word. She’d never get through this without making a fool of herself. Rose glimpsed at Dax again for an extra dose of courage, but instead, her eyes gave her the softest caress she’d ever felt. And when Rose cleared her throat, she still felt its echo on her cheeks.
“Battle of Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah.” Rose’s trembling returned tenfold. Her worst enemies were Rs, Ws, Ls, and multisyllable words beginning with vowels. They had the power to make her feel incapable, inferior, embarrassed, and furious all at once. Not even her overbearing mother could do that. Everyone she knew spoke as smooth as glass, some more elegantly than others. However, Rose couldn’t get out two words in front of people without stumbling on one. She was a little better with Dax but not perfect like her, and today, she learned she could speak flawlessly when blowing her stack. If only she could sing her reading. For some unknown reason, Rose could string together every word in the dictionary when alone or singing.
“The word is Antietam, Miss Hamilton,” Mrs. Bowman said with an added hint of superiority when she stressed the word Antietam. And in an instant, embarrassment took a front seat. A chorus of snickers made Rose want to crawl into a hole for the next seventy-five years.
“Who’s the halfwit now?” Billie rolled to the floor into an ear-bursting belly laugh, turning the room’s snickers into a mortifying mix of shrieks and guffaws.
Short of dropping dead, nothing could take away the hurt Rose felt at that moment. Not even Dax. She picked up her books and ran out the door, leaving her lunch and every ounce of self-respect behind. Tears fell as fast as her feet were moving, the fastest they’d ever come and the fastest she’d ever run. She wanted out of this nightmare and never to step foot in this school again.
The moment the door shut, the laughter inside the classroom crested to a roar. It was an unthinking, uncaring reaction that turned Dax’s stomach. They didn’t realize they were ridiculing the girl she loved. Dax had heard all she could bear. Making matters worse, Mrs. Bowman stood statue-like following Rose’s hasty departure, mouth agape, doing nothing to quell the mob of bullies.
“Enough!” Dax yelled, leaping to her feet. The room came to a sudden hush. “You should be ashamed of yourselves. For God’s sake, she’s a straight A student with a malady.”
Dax scanned the room of tormentors and found suitable targets to drive her point home. This would unfold as a distasteful lesson, but she had to do it after how cruel they were to her sweet Rose.
“I wouldn’t laugh at you, Tommy, for the pits left on your face after your bout with chickenpox even though they make you look like a corpse. Or you, Sally. I wouldn’t laugh at your head-to-toe freckles that look as if you haven’t bathed for months. Or you, Mrs. Bowman. I wouldn’t laugh at that nasty mole on your cheek that looks like a rat gnawed it half off.”
At the students’ collective gasp, Mrs. Bowman turned fiery eyes on Dax. “That’s quite enough, Miss Xander. Report to the principal’s office right this instant.”
“My pleasure.” Dax stuffed her book into her satchel with an exaggerated huff. Before leaving, she gave Billie, who had returned to his chair, a bone-crushing stomp on his foot. She heard something crack. The ensuing sharp bang confirmed she’d yanked the door open with the force of a tornado. Dax stepped down the hallway with an added strut, chin held out in both indignation for that disgraceful show and satisfaction for unveiling it for what it was.
Ignoring that awful teacher’s orders, Dax continued past the principal’s office to the main entrance without one ounce of concern for the punishment the principal would pile on for skipping out. Every minute of detention spent writing sentences would be worth it because she had one vital task on her mind: Find Rose.
The previous five years as each other’s only friend gave Dax a pretty good idea of where Rose might go to lick her wounds. She wouldn’t dare go home in the middle of the school day. Nor would she sneak into Neptune Beach on a Friday with all the tourists. That left only three options. The drug store soda fountain on Webster Street, which she and Rose frequented for a soda when they each scraped up a dime, would likely be too crowded. The same went for the movie house. Rose didn’t like being around people when she was upset, so that left Sweeney Park.
Slipping into the girls’ bathroom, Dax removed the uniform skirt the school made her wear, which was punishment itself, and stuffed it into her satchel with her books. The wool knickerbockers she had on underneath were much more her style. The white shirt she had to wear under her dark, heavy blazer wasn’t too bad, but the way the school had her tie the dark blue scarf around her collar was silly. She removed it too and instantly felt more like herself.
Dax jogged the mile to Sweeney Park but kept her pace slow. Rose’s protector shouldn’t show up smelling like a mule. Several young mothers had set up in a circle on the grassy field. Some tended to infants on their picnic blankets while a group of toddlers engaged in mayhem in the center. Walking past the maternal scene Dax couldn’t fathom for herself in any universe, she set her sights on the grove of poplar trees at the far end of the park.
Her heart broke when she spotted Rose sitting against a tree trunk deep inside the grove, with her head buried in crossed arms resting atop her raised bent knees. Rose and Dax had been in this position before—Rose devastated by a bully and Dax consoling her after dealing with the browbeater. It was a dynamic she didn’t mind. In fact, it made her feel as if she had a purpose in life beyond being her father’s assistant on big carpentry jobs.
Dax lowered her satchel and then herself to the ground, leaning against the same tree trunk as Rose. She scooted closer. The moment their thighs and shoulders touched, Rose quaked, sniffles coming from beneath her arms. The silence between them, Dax figured, was all Rose needed for now.
Dax inspected the gray sky between the delicate leaves when the crying stopped, discovering the marine layer had never lifted. “I think it might rain today.”
Rose finally lifted her head and stared up into the trees. “I think you’re right.” Her words came out nearly perfect, a shift Dax noticed about a year after they’d become friends. When it was only the two of them, Rose’s speech improved so much that Dax often forgot about the malady.
“Why don’t you stutter much around me anymore?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because it’s just you.”
Dax shifted her position until she knelt in front of Rose. “What do you mean, just me?” Dax feigned taking offense. “Just as in, I’m a nobody? Or it’s just the two of us and you prefer it that way? I don’t think I could live with the first choice.” Dax placed both hands over her chest in dramatic Lillian Gish fashion. “It would stab me through the heart.”
The slightest grin formed on Rose’s lips, precisely what Dax had hoped to extract. Rose didn’t know it, but her cute button nose, long brunette curls, and a smile that could guide ships into San Francisco Bay had her mesmerized at first sight. And when Rose spoke to her for the first time days later, her sweet, unique voice stuck in the most disarming fashion, capturing her heart. No one knew her secret, not even her older sister, May, her confidant in all things except Rose.
“You know which one.” Rose’s grin inched wider. “You’re my best friend.”
“I’m your only friend.” Dax gave Rose’s knees a playful shove. The sparkle in Rose’s eyes that had been missing since history class partially returned.
“Well, I’m your only friend, too. Who else would want to be friends with a strange one like you?”
Dax returned her bottom to the ground with a thump. “No one after what I did today.”
“What did you do, Darlene Augusta Xander?”
“I hate it when you call me that.” Why on earth did her parents name her after her grandmother? The only thing she remembered of her mother’s mother before she died was she’d wrap her long hair in a bun and wear a white apron that covered her dress from the waist down. Dax looked nothing like her. If anything, she looked like the grandfather whose middle name she shared. Dax much preferred her chosen nickname based on her initials.
“Then tell me what you did,” Rose ordered.
Dax released a deep sigh. Unlike Rose, Dax had narrowed her friend list to one out of choice. Before Rose came along, popularity wasn’t an issue. Dax had the same group of boys and girls she’d grown up with since kindergarten. But none of them held her interest once she’d laid eyes on her sweet Rose.
Conversely, Rose was new to town. She’d refused to talk to anyone and stayed to herself. Heck, it took three days of persistence to get a “hello” out of her, but once Rose spoke, Dax was hooked. Dax was sure none of her old friends would have her back after what she’d unleashed today, though. She’d likely burned every bridge in that school, all but the one she had with Rose.
Dax rubbed the back of her neck, pushing back her regret. “I pointed out Tommy’s pox face and how it made him look like a corpse, Sally’s freckles and how it seemed like she hadn’t bathed, and Mrs. Bowman’s nasty mole that looked half-chewed.”
Rose slapped Dax on the arm with the unmistakable force of shock and disappointment. It stung both inside and out. “You didn’t.”
“I know it was wrong.” Dax dipped her head. “But I had to make a point about making fun of people for things they can’t change about themselves because that was exactly what they did to you. I couldn’t let it stand.”
Rose raised Dax’s chin with her small, slender hand, sending shivers up and down her spine. Rose had never touched her like that before. The informal familiarity of being best friends receded, giving way to a gentleness that sparked an ache in her chest. She wanted that breath-stopping caress to never end.
“You did that for me?” Rose asked in the softest, sweetest tone Dax had ever heard.
“Of course, I did. You’re my best friend. I love you.” Those last three words tumbled out of Dax’s mouth before she could stop them. She knew they were true, but according to church, school, and her parents, loving Rose in that way was wrong. Dax couldn’t help herself. Everything about this angel had her floating in the clouds.
“Well, thank you.” Rose dropped her hand, its touch still tingling Dax’s skin where it had touched. “But it was still wrong.”
“I know.” Dax fought back the disappointment that Rose didn’t say she loved her too, and forced a grin. “But you might be pleased to hear that Billie might return to school on Monday using crutches.”
Rose’s mouth fell open wide enough that Dax could fit an apple in there. “What did you do?”
“I may have broken his foot when I stomped it.”
“That’s horrible.” Rose’s hand flew to her mouth to hide a growing smile.
“Just horrible.” Dax’s cheeky tone matched Rose’s.
Raindrops spritzed Dax’s hair. She craned her neck to check the expansive green she’d passed earlier. The group of mothers had packed up their children and were making their way to the street. Except for a loose dog scurrying toward the other end of the grove, Dax and Rose were the only ones remaining in the park.
The rain picked up, quickly bursting into a full-out shower. The poplar trees helped block a fraction of the rain with their sparse leaves, but most of it got through. Dax and Rose would be soaked in no time. She removed her school blazer, scooted next to Rose, and draped it over their heads.
The wind picked up, and Dax considered seeking better shelter, but being this close to Rose came with a new sensation, one she didn’t want to stop. She’d known for years that she loved Rose and until today hadn’t the inclination to say or do anything about it. She suspected the reason for the sudden change but feared admitting it. Even to herself. Especially to Rose. She was no longer satisfied with simply being friends.
“Are you cold?” Rose asked.
The innocent question laid a dilemma at Dax’s feet. Telling each other the truth had become the bedrock of her and Rose’s friendship, but until now, the truth had never scared her. The heart-pounding truth was that she’d shivered at the prospect of caressing Rose’s face like she’d done to her. But this novel sensation she felt for Rose had her convinced that one touch wouldn’t be enough. How could it? Rose was the most beautiful creature in the world.
“No,” Dax replied. A nugget of the truth would have to suffice.
“I just learned something about you.”
“You’re a terrible liar.” Rose wrapped her arms around Dax’s torso and pressed their bodies together. Dear Lord. The sensations Rose’s earlier caress had kindled returned a hundred times stronger. Every nerve ending sparked like fireworks on the Fourth of July, making that heartbending truth impossible to hide.
“Look at me.” Dax dizzied, saying those three words. Her chest thumped at the leap she was about to take. The next minute would make their friendship strong as granite or forever fracture it. Rose loosened her hold and raised her head to meet Dax’s gaze.
Dax swallowed the lump in her throat to summon the final bit of courage. She inched her head down until their lips touched. Please don’t pull away, she thought. Please let this moment linger. Every childhood dream and fantasy about a first kiss was about to be tested. Would Rose’s lips feel as pillowy soft as she’d imagined since her first hello? Would they taste like sweet fruit freshly picked from the vine?
Rose flinched, and in that instant, every thought Dax had conjured up about sharing a magical kiss went up in smoke. She’d never know if a kiss compared to a summer’s day because Rose was the only one who made her want to discover its properties. Dax pulled back, the weight of her egregious error crushing every good feeling flat.
Rose narrowed her brow. A prominent crease formed between her eyes. “Why did you stop?”
“Because you made my heart stop.” Rose’s gaze dropped to the level of Dax’s lips, breathing life into her dreams. Rose leaned in, pressing their lips together into a soft kiss.
Each muscle relaxed in succession, starting from Dax’s chest. Her long exhale released every expectation. Her inhale tingled both lungs with the savory scent of Rose. No drug store perfume. No earthy soap or shampoo. Only her. A moan escaped. Then another. Both were hers, and both were Rose’s. One kiss turned into two. Then three. Then four. Dax could do this forever, but an ache formed in each arm from holding up her rain-soaked blazer.
Dax pulled back reluctantly and adjusted their makeshift shelter to relieve the crick in her arms. The sparkle in Rose’s eyes had transformed into something Dax had only seen on the movie screen. They seemed to smile and wrap Dax in their warmth at the same time.
“Remember when we were fourteen, and we fantasized about falling in love with someone?” Dax asked.
“I love you, Rose.”
“I love you too.” But for a slight grin, Rose’s expression remained unchanged. Either she didn’t understand the meaning of Dax’s confession, or she didn’t return the feelings. Dax’s instinct was to not press her luck, but the way Rose’s body felt against hers demanded otherwise.
“I mean, I really love you. You’re my fantasy.”
Rose’s grin slowly expanded until her teeth showed. Then she said the sweetest three words Dax had ever heard. “You’re mine too.”