Is choosing career over family—or a potential spouse—sometimes the better choice?
If your spouse is number one, what else are you sacrificing? Are you giving up the very thing that serves the community and provides the better good for all?
What if you’re on a dangerous career path that puts away criminals? Every day, police officers put their lives on the line, at risk of leaving their families bereft.
But perhaps duty to protect the community is also the way to love one’s family. Ultimately. Or maybe not.
All these questions surfaced while reading Counterfeit Love by Crystal Caudill. The hero Broderick Cosgrove finds himself in a place of tough choices. Stakes are high no matter the outcome. He faces the dilemma of loyalty to his career or the love of his life, Theresa Plane.
Broderick works for the Secret Service in the early years of its existence (1880s), before it involved protecting presidents. Formed in 1865, the Secret Service Division mainly consisted of detectives investigating crimes regarding distilleries, smugglers, mail robbers, the Ku Klux Klan, and more.
In 1894, responsibilities expanded to include the protection of President Grover Cleveland, part-time, then full-time in 1902 after President William McKinley was assassinated. Learn more here.
Counterfeit Love is book one of Hidden Hearts of the Gilded Age, and Crystal Caudill’s debut novel.
Can this undercover agent save the woman he loves–or is her heart as counterfeit as the money he’s been sent to track down?
After all that Grandfather has sacrificed to raise her, Theresa Plane owes it to him to save the family name–and that means clearing their debt with creditors before she marries Edward Greystone. But when one of the creditors’ threats leads her to stumble across a midnight meeting, she discovers that the money he owes isn’t all Grandfather was hiding. And the secrets he kept have now trapped Theresa in a life-threatening fight for her home—and the truth.
After months of undercover work, Secret Service operative Broderick Cosgrove is finally about to uncover the identity of the leader of a notorious counterfeiting ring. That moment of triumph turns to horror, however, when he finds undeniable proof that his former fiancée is connected. Can he really believe the woman he loved is a willing participant? Protecting Theresa and proving her innocence may destroy his career—but that’s better than failing her twice in one lifetime.
They must form a partnership, tentative though it is. But there’s no question they’re both still keeping secrets–and that lack of trust, along with the dangerous criminals out for their blood, threatens their hearts, their faith, and their very survival.
This book is a plunge into the Gilded Age (1880s), set in Cincinnati, Ohio, where a counterfeiting ring thrives and threatens.
Given the plot’s complex nature and complicating factors, Broderick Cosgrove’s options of career or love are mutually exclusive. Each choice is accompanied by devastating losses, making it a lose-lose situation despite right motives (easily misconstrued). He’s torn between wanting to protect and honor his love Theresa Plane, and wanting to end crime to keep the city safe.
I felt his pain. The author made sure of it. His dilemma definitely got me to thinking and understanding some of his decisions.
Chapter One gripped me immediately. Broderick has been undercover for months, getting closer to identifying the counterfeit ring leader. What he doesn’t expect is running into former flame Theresa Plane in the middle of a cemetery at midnight. But worse is learning about her possible connection to the counterfeiters.
He’s not the only one shocked by this turn of events. Besides finding herself face to face with her former fiance, Theresa discovers her grandfather may have shady dealings that threaten her future security and their home.
The foreboding question haunts: who is the engraver for the plates that prints the counterfeit money?
Theresa takes initiative when she realizes her grandfather has buried the two of them in debt. Her fiancé Edward Greystone offers to help, too, but his main solution is marriage—the sooner the better. His wealth will provide Theresa with all she needs financially. But he doesn’t have her whole heart.
As Theresa starts to depend more on Broderick’s protection, Edward becomes jealous, territorial, and self-serving. But is Broderick any more trustworthy? After all, why did he leave her six years ago?
Though I’d like to have known more about Broderick and Theresa’s backstory sooner, it is effectively woven in as needed, and keeps you guessing in between.
Broderick is suddenly caught between choosing his career or protecting Theresa, in order to prove her innocence—a dilemma that torments him especially considering his previous disappearance from her life. Add to the mix Broderick’s brother Nathaniel and his shady past. Theresa believes he’s a changed man, but Broderick doesn’t trust him. The reader is left wondering where the truth lies.
The stakes are high, and nothing is simple. Broderick had already paid the price before, but another price looms. And it will cost him everything. As events unfold, it’s clear he can’t have both Theresa and his career.
Not that Theresa will ever return his love again. Besides their regrettable past, current obstacles may prove fatal to any possible rekindling of their romance—despite many swoon-y moments. Despite his integrity and protective actions. Despite Edward’s blustering and foibles. Yet only Edward can offer her stability and security.
The story’s characters are fully developed, the well-researched setting is immersive, the plot gripping. Some twists at the end prove surprising, yet are aptly foreshadowed.
A thread of faith weaves through the narrative without being heavy-handed. Theresa wonders: is God really there? If so, does He notice, listen, or care? Is He trustworthy?
To be honest, sometimes Theresa’s character frustrated me. She was often stubborn for the sake of being stubborn, rejecting protection, despite the risks. But if you like a headstrong heroine who takes initiative with strength and courage, you’ll appreciate Theresa Plane.
Periodically, the timing confused me. One particular scene with dramatic potential was told in retrospect as summary versus being shown in real time. And I would have liked a different outcome regarding a couple of things at the end. But overall, this story is worth every minute of your time.
Be sure to read the Author Notes at the end of the book to learn more about the Secret Service, counterfeit money, the route cypher during the Civil War, and the Great Floods of 1883-84.
Join me for some Q & A with Crystal Caudill.
Questions about Counterfeit Love
What was your inspiration for writing this story? Do you have a personal connection to the Cincinnati setting?
Crystal: The inspiration came from stumbling upon an old article series in the 1900s to 1910s of Secret Service cases shared by former operatives. I devoured them and even bought a book where an operative and former Chief (now Director) of the Secret Service wrote.
The location was of two-fold interest to me. It was one of the top five locations for counterfeiting and it is also 20 minutes from my house. When I first started writing and researching, I was still newer to the area and it provided an opportunity for me to get to know the place in which I lived and my husband worked.
How did you decide on the characters and situations of your heroine Theresa and hero Broderick? Did you consider other time periods before settling on this one?
Crystal: Determining the timeline for this story had more to do with Secret Service history than anything. The 60s and 70s were very unstable decades for the Secret Service. They were finding their footing, determining their ethics, endured scandals, and had to do a complete overhaul of who and how they hired operatives. I wanted to be on the other side of most of that, but still have my operatives dealing with the repercussions of that time.
Deciding on characters and situations was a combination of inspiration from real cases and life, pure imagination, and asking, what could make this worse. That last one is probably my favorite. 😉
How well did you know Theresa, Broderick, Edward, and other characters when you started out? How did they evolve during the writing process? Did Theresa and Broderick hijack the story or did you have full rein?
Crystal: So when I FIRST wrote this story, it wasn’t with the intention of publication. Until God called me to seek publication, I was a complete pantser and it was whatever the characters decided. I got to know them as I wrote and didn’t worry about it.
After spending a few years with the story and learning writing craft, my process evolved. I got to know my characters personality types, did character interviews, and felt like I knew them inside and out. I developed a plot and dove in . . . until about a third of the way through. Then my characters inevitably laughed in my face and ran a completely different direction. . . A process that was repeated over and over until the book was finished, edited, and sent to print.
It’s pretty much what still happens today, although I don’t waste as much time with detailed plotting. I do the high-level plotting now and hold it very loosely in my hands. My characters totally rule and misbehave. I like to think I know who they are, but they are constantly surprising me.
What would Theresa have to say about you? How similar and different are you two?
Crystal: Theresa would call me a pain in the butt, mostly because of what I’ve put her through. I’d say we’re both stubbornly independent and fiercely loyal, but that is sort of where it ends for us. She’s a total animal person–which I can be, but caregiving has killed the desire to have anything else to take care of, especially a pet.
She’s also really impulsive and sassy. Not that I can’t be both of those, but she is it to a much higher degree. She’s also a lot more resourceful and braver than me.
What kind of research did you do? What’s the most unusual thing you had to do or research to create this story?
Crystal: For this book, and series as a whole, I did a ton of in-depth Secret Service history research. It was incredibly difficult to find information pre-JFK because that is where most history books focus. I had to really search through 19th-century newspapers, primary resources including original operative reports that had been digitalized, and had to find hard-to-track-down books that contained the early history.
I did a huge amount of research on how printing presses worked, how Grandfather’s print shop would have run, Cincinnati’s history, the flood history, and basically any detail you can imagine. Including the years of researching before being called to pursue publication, I probably spent about five years learning everything I could.
During this time I ran into obstacles like the Cincinnati Museum Center where a lot of my primary resources on Cincinnati history were being essentially shut down for years of renovation. Then there were periods of time that the Library of Congress website was shut down due to funding issues, and so many resources coming in and out of availability.
Covid hit and that just killed several other hopes I had for in-person research with the Secret Service. I was hoping to arrange a visit to their museum which isn’t actually open to the public. It never happened and I still really really really wish I could go see that. So if any of your readers have connections, I’d be overjoyed. LOL
Do you prefer writing from a male or a female point of view?
Crystal: I bounce between the two. I love writing in the male POV. It is a lot of fun to write and think in a different way and to try and view things from the perspective of a man. Or at least how I think they would perceive it. I’m still learning a lot on that one and rely heavily on the fact I have an amazing husband and two teen boys I can ask anything to and generally get an answer.
It’s sometimes easier to write from the perspective of a woman, but I often feel too tomboyish for that. So I’m just happy to sink into whatever character needs my attention at the moment and go from there.
Do you have male beta readers who offer input for scenes written from the male perspective?
Crystal: I don’t usually do beta readers as there just isn’t time before I have to turn my books in. I have an amazing group of critique partners, but when it comes to the male perspective, I generally turn to my husband and sons.
Questions about writing
What books have been most influential for you as a writer? Was there a book that sparked or confirmed your desire to be a novelist?
Crystal: No.I’ve always written as a way to process the challenges in my life, and it wasn’t until I felt the undeniable pull of God to pursue publishing that I even had an interest in it. And that was still more of a reluctant interest. Now I am honored to be able to participate in the calling I was so reluctant to obey, but it wasn’t a dream for me.
When Calls the Heart by Janette Oke is really what made the most impact on deciding to write Christian fiction. I first read her book either right before becoming a Christian or right after, and it literally changed my life and how I even viewed relationships and marriage. It is because of the impact her book made on me and my spiritual life that I’ve followed the calling to write Christian fiction.
I hope my stories show the various struggles of life and how God is still there, and encourage Christians in their walk of faith, and maybe even bring some to faith, even though the latter is not my primary goal. It is an honor if God chooses to use my stories to point an unbeliever to Christ, but I leave that in His hands, not mine.
Where do your story ideas usually originate from—character, plot, setting, theme, or a combination? Share a couple of examples of how a story grew from an initial idea.
Crystal: Usually, history sparks my imagination. I read about something that happened or a little-known fact and my mind will go wild. It was like stumbling across the Secret Service newspaper stories.
In a prequel novella (Counterfeit Truth) that will be a preorder bonus for my newest upcoming release, Counterfeit Hope, the idea was sparked by a story about the Philadelphia Mint being robbed by one of its own employees in the 1870s or 1880s. Counterfeit Hope was also sparked by a real case of counterfeiters taking over and terrorizing a rural town in Indiana. Their terror stretched across three counties and required the cooperation of the US Marshals and Secret Service to bring it to an end.
From there, it all just depends. I’ve had my stories originate from all sorts of random bits of character, plot, setting, and themes. Every story and series is different.
Please share something about a current project or the direction you want to go as an author.
Crystal: While Counterfeit Love is the only book of Hidden Hearts of the Gilded Age available for purchase at the moment, there are two other full-length books coming out. Counterfeit Hope releases in February or March of 2023 and Counterfeit Faith releases in February or March of 2024. Both of which are already complete and working their way through the official editing rounds.
I have a novella part of the We Three Kings Christmas novella collection coming out in October/November of 2023 that ties into the series through the sibling of one of the operatives and counterfeiting trouble. That one I am currently in the process of drafting and really beginning to enjoy the process. Counterfeit Truth is not through Kregel, though they have given me permission to use it as a promotional giveaway for Counterfeit Hope, and it is the prequel to the series and introduces you to a number of the characters.
After that, I’ve got about five series I’m mulling over to pitch to Kregel. These range from Pinkertons, book club members who get into lots of trouble, labor union upheavals, newspaper men who influenced the Civil War, and a pre-Ellis Island immigration series.
Whatever I write next, you can be certain there will be danger, romance, spiritual struggles, and likely messy families. With the exception of the Civil War series, all take place during the Gilded Age. I’ll gladly take any and all prayers for whatever direction God wants me to go. 🙂 It is my hope to be writing for a long time, but I also leave that in God’s hands.
How do you want your stories to resonate with your readers? What do you want their main takeaway to be?
Crystal: The biggest thing for my readers is I want them to feel encouraged. For me, I want to read stories where the characters are going through things that are worse than what I am facing, struggling with the questions I wrestle with, and will come out on the other side stronger and more sure of their faith.
Life is rough. Life is messy. And I want people to walk away from my stories going, yeah, life is all that, but God is so good. If my readers walk away with a bit more hope than they walked in with, then I am beyond happy.
Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
Crystal: Take your time. There really is no rush. I know patience is so hard and you want to see your book on those shelves, but you will save yourself a lot of headaches if you slow down, learn the craft, go as far as you possibly can on your own in the learning and growing, and walk the entire journey with God.
That last one is the biggest. Your journey is going to look absolutely unique to you. Don’t bother to compare your journey to anyone else’s journey. The most important thing about writing is that you do it with God and follow His leading and trust His timing.
The writing journey is brutal, and if you don’t have Christ at your back, front, side, head, and heart, there is just no survival. Firmly root yourself in Christ, take your time, and watch what God does. It’s not about getting the book on the shelf, it’s about what God does in you through the process.
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you enjoy historical novels set in the turn of the century (near the end of the Gilded Age), you might enjoy my story, Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum. Set in Holland, Michigan near Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa, this split-time novel spotlights The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author, L. Frank Baum. It alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. I’m currently gathering a launch team. Learn more and watch the book trailer here.
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Crystal Caudill Bio
Crystal Caudill is the author of “dangerously good historical romance,” with her work garnering awards from Romance Writers of America and ACFW. She is a stay-at-home mom and caregiver, and when she isn’t writing, Crystal can be found playing board games with her family, drinking hot tea, or reading other great books at her home outside Cincinnati, Ohio. Find out more on her website.
Join me next time for a visit with author Crystal Caudill.
Meanwhile, have you read Counterfeit Love? Have you been to Cincinnati? Which city do you enjoy most as a novel setting? Answer in the comments below.