Neither a rich man’s wife nor a rich man’s daughter, Eliza Haycraft lived in a turbulent era very like our own. An illiterate, penniless beauty, she used sex and secrets to carve her own path in the frontier boom town of antebellum St. Louis.

I first heard her name in November 2014. My husband and I were visiting dear friends in St. Louis for Thanksgiving week, as we often do, and went to see a Missouri History Museum exhibit commemorating the city’s founding two hundred fifty years before. Fifty St. Louisans were profiled. Eliza was one.

Her display included no image, for none was known to exist, and the write-up was brief. It included the phrase: “a rags-to-riches story unparalleled in St. Louis history.” I had published eight novels by that time, none historical, yet the bare bones of Eliza’s extraordinary tale captured my writer’s mind. I took a photo of the exhibit, though I needn’t have, for I was not going to forget Eliza Haycraft.

I doubt I will ever again come upon such an exceptional true story not yet fully told. And though I delved deeply into her life and era, Eliza will always remain an enigma, for she never learned to read or write and so left no letters or papers. We can never know how she expressed herself or what she believed. We can judge her only by her actions, as revealed by public records and newspaper accounts.

I approached this novel with a guiding principle: I would not contradict anything about Eliza that I knew or believed to be true. Given how little about her can truly be known, I was left with wonderful room for invention...

Here's a peak at chapter one
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