Grand Rapids, MI (March 30, 2022)
When you hear the words Secret Service, what do you think? The men in suits strategically spaced around the President of the United States, right? Did you know that the original purpose of the Secret Service was to catch counterfeiters and thwart their schemes to make money at the cost of the nation’s economy? It would be more than three decades before the agency would protect their first president. When author Crystal Caudill first read a story and learned that fact, she became hooked on the fascinating history of the Secret Service. In fact, that fascination became the inspiration for her debut novel, Counterfeit Love (Kregel Publications), and she hopes her readers are lured in by the history as well.

In this interview, Crystal shares her thoughts and insights on her new novel, Counterfeit Love.

FF: Will you introduce us to your debut release, Counterfeit Love?
From the very first moment I read True Detective Stories by A. L. Drummond, I became hooked on the fascinating history of the Secret Service. For nearly three decades before the first president was protected, the Secret Service’s primary purpose was to thwart counterfeiters and their schemes to make money at the cost of the nation’s economy. Oftentimes, chasing those criminals required going undercover. Enter the inspiration for the plot of Counterfeit Love. More than just an exciting plot, I wanted a romance story where real love and relationships are portrayed as messy and complicated. The ones we love most can and usually do hurt us the worst. How we respond to those hurts profoundly impacts ourselves and those around us. When I wove all those elements together, I ended up with Counterfeit Love—a story of dangerous betrayals, malicious counterfeiters, and the second chance romance between an undercover Secret Service operative and his former fiancé.

Six years ago, Broderick Cosgrove left his former fiancé Theresa Plane as a means of protecting her. When he discovers her entangled with the schemes of the dangerous counterfeiting ring he’s investigating, he risks his career to prove her innocence and rescue her from deadly threats. Having experienced jilted love once, Theresa’s determined to choose a safe, secure future for herself and to rid her militant grandfather of the debt that has dogged them for years. When past and present betrayals collide, Theresa is confronted with the uncertainty of who she can trust. Can she lean into the man who once abandoned her? And what about God—the one who’s stripping everything from her?

FF: In writing a historical novel, you could have chosen any place and any time. Why Cincinnati in 1884?
There are many reasons why the setting had to be Cincinnati in 1884. On a personal level, I moved to the Cincinnati area after getting married, and my initial dive into research was simply because I wanted to explore the history of my new home. However, it veered quickly away from personal to necessary. During my study of the Secret Service, I discovered that Cincinnati was one of the top five counterfeiting centers in the country during the first few decades of the Secret Service’s existence. I read about multiple cases in the city, and one in particular excited my imagination and kick-started the idea for Counterfeit Love.

The reason I chose 1884 has to do more specifically with Cincinnati’s flood history. In February 1883, Cincinnati experienced a catastrophic flood that devastated the local economy. Many families and businesses were still reeling from its effects when a second, even worse, flood struck exactly one year later. Sandwiching my story between the two floods gave Theresa’s family a final push into financial ruin and allowed for an exciting climax where waters rise again and threaten to destroy all Theresa has left. In addition, 1884 set my operatives right in the middle of a time when the Secret Service was reinventing its practices and struggling to gain autonomy in its powers as a law enforcement agency. The combination of reasons brought a wonderful dynamic to the story that was fun to explore.

FF: What situation does Theresa find herself in, through no fault of her own? Or is she really as innocent in everything going on around her?
Various betrayals work against Theresa throughout her history and present, not the least of which is the betrayal from her grandfather. While their debt developed through a combination of poor business choices, her misadventures, and reoccurring illness, it is ultimately his handling of that debt that leaves Theresa fighting for her home and her future. She is innocent of his poor choices, yet she is the one to pay the consequences and have her reputation clouded by a suspicion of criminal acts.

Even though Theresa is innocent of any criminal involvement, she is not innocent in all things. Like everyone else, she is responsible for her reactions and choices. Through her experiences growing up and now reenforced by Grandfather’s betrayal, Theresa has learned to be self-reliant and rarely listens to the wise counsel of those around her. Unfortunately, her self-reliant decisions compound her problems, and her situation grows from dangerous to dire.

FF: Why does Theresa think her grandfather’s problems are hers? Does he know how involved she is in trying to pay off his debts?
Family relationships can be strange things. Though not always the case, we tend to make allowances for the family members closest to us, even when they hurt us. Loyalty—though undeserved from the outside—is freely given. For Theresa, her grandfather is the only family she has left. She’s staunchly loyal to him because she recognizes the sacrifice he made in choosing to keep her with him after her parents died. She’s also keenly aware of the financial burden she’s added through her many misadventures and fragile health. She wrestles with the knowledge not all of his choices have been wise or even made in her best interest, but she loves him and is loyal to him anyway.

Knowing that Grandfather is a proud man, Theresa tried to keep her involvement in paying off debts secret. However, he isn’t unaware. He doesn’t want her help, nor does he approve, but he doesn’t stop her either. Their debt situation has become the least of his worries, and he’s more focused on getting them out of a danger far worse than unpaid debts.

FF: Theresa describes her new fiancé, Edward, as a “practical love.” Is that a two-way street?
For Edward, his love for Theresa is genuine and passionate. There are always practical reasons for a man to marry, and he has a few that extend beyond the typical. However, where Theresa’s love is less of a romantic love, his is a complicated swirl of passion and wanting what’s best for her, himself, and their future.

FF: There’s something about Edward that’s just unlikeable to other characters and readers alike. Even though Theresa is engaged, her best friend still wants to fix her up with another man. What is it about him?
While Edward genuinely loves Theresa, he has decided opinions on what she should and should not do. He intends to protect and provide her with everything she needs, but the way he goes about it isn’t well-received by those around Theresa. He’s very pushy and controlling at times—to the point of being manipulative when her stubborn refusal puts her in danger.

On top of that, readers and Theresa’s friends see that Theresa is settling. She doesn’t have that spark of excitement that she had when engaged to Broderick. She’s not opposed to romance, but she doesn’t seek it out any longer. While Edward does make some sweet gestures, he doesn’t seem to understand Theresa in the same way that Broderick does. Readers and her friends see this and want better for Theresa. However, romance isn’t always the best determination of if a marriage will last. Theresa knows this and is determined to focus on the practical side of love rather than emotions that can come and go.

FF: Tell us about Broderick and the part has he played in Thresa’s past?
Broderick grew up in a family of detectives and has a deep sense of justice and the need to protect others, especially Theresa. Their mothers were close friends, and as a result, they grew up together. Theresa was always spirited and adventurous, and she often tagged along on Broderick’s cases. After her parents died, he took it upon himself to keep her close and protect her, as it was well-known that her grandfather was a militant curmudgeon. Their friendship developed into love, and they became engaged. However, after a betrayal left Theresa fighting for her life, Broderick believed the only way to protect her was to leave.

During his six-year absence, he became a Secret Service operative. When an undercover investigation leads him to a midnight meeting in a cemetery, he finds Theresa entangled with the counterfeiters he’s hunting. He must investigate her and her grandfather, but he cannot believe her guilty. While marriage is out of the question, he’s determined to protect her and prove her innocence. He will not fail her again.

FF: We think of the Secret Service today as the men and women in black suits within a certain perimeter protecting the President, but what was the original purpose of the Secret Service?
I find the early days of the Secret Service incredibly fascinating and somewhat shrouded from public view. Most are familiar with their current black-suit role, but the Secret Service didn’t start unofficial part-time protection of the President until 1894, almost thirty years after their creation. While April 14, 1865 is most well-known for Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, it was also the date Abraham Lincoln authorized Secretary of the Treasury Hugh McCullough to create an organization whose sole purpose was to thwart the counterfeiting of U.S. currency. At that point in history, it is estimated that one-third of all circulating currency was counterfeit, and an unstable currency is a menace to the health and economy of a nation.

On July 5, 1865, William P. Wood was sworn in as the first Chief (now called Director) of the U.S. Secret Service. The organization’s first decade was fraught with questionable practices, scandal, and a negative public image. In the mid-1870s, policies and procedures were changed, but they remained an organization with little power on their own. They required the partnership of local police or U.S. Marshalls to make arrests, obtain warrants, and conduct searches. The challenges they faced were incredible and so fascinating. In 1867, their umbrella of investigations expanded beyond counterfeiting to include any frauds against the government. Some examples are investigating the Ku Klux Klan, nonconforming distillers, smugglers, mail robbers, land frauds, and so much more. However, it wasn’t until President McKinley’s assassination in 1901 that Congress requested official full-time Secret Service protection of U.S. presidents, and it was 1902 before the Secret Service assumed that duty. I could literally spend hours talking about the history of the Secret Service because I love it so much. In fact, I created a section on my website to share some of the information that wouldn’t fit into my story for those who are interested.

FF: What happened to split Theresa and Broderick apart?
The details of their split slowly unfold throughout the story, so I don’t want to give too much away. However, I will say that it was not a clean break. It actually felt like a betrayal to Theresa. Broderick had promised to be by her side no matter what they faced. Then an event occurred that almost took Theresa’s life, and Broderick decided the best way to protect Theresa was to leave her. And he did, without any word. She woke up to find him gone with no explanation or intention of returning.

They had no communication or knowledge of each other’s lives for six years. The wound of betrayal festered and turned gangrenous for Theresa, and it led her to develop a wall of self-reliance and a determination that feelings would not be the basis of her future marriage. Edward is a good man. She believes he will be enough for her, even though her traitorous heart still longs for an explanation from the man she once loved. And maybe still does.

FF: What is the faith message in the story? Do you always know what part faith is going to play when you start out writing a book?
I rarely know what part faith will play when I start writing a book. Sometimes I have an idea, but rarely does it stay the same. For me, writing is an act of holding my hand open and saying, “Okay, God. What do you want to do with this story?” Oftentimes, it ends up paralleling a growing experience in my faith. For example, in Counterfeit Love, Theresa wrestles with whether or not she can trust and love God, even if He strips everything away from her. It is the same question I struggled through as I wrote the story and experienced two of the hardest years of my life. I’d never been so stripped of my faith, and neither had Theresa.

We all walk into our faith with preconceived notions of how God shows love to us. If He doesn’t behave in a way we think He should, it rocks our world and causes us to distrust His goodness. But He is always good, and His ways are not our ways. We all reach a point in our faith when we must decide if we will choose to love and trust Him in those “even if” seasons of our lives. And that struggle is at the heart of Counterfeit Love’s faith message.

FF: Both Broderick and Theresa had to learn lessons in forgiveness and second chances. Why was forgiveness towards some people easier than others for them?
Forgiveness is a difficult lesson any time it’s applied, but it’s both easier and harder to forgive those closest to you. Harder in that their betrayal cuts deeper, but easier in that love covers many sins. Broderick and Theresa’s most difficult people to forgive were the family members who betrayed them. You should be able to trust family, and to be betrayed by them is like being flogged. Even after time has healed over some of the wounds, it leaves behind puckered scars that remind you of the betrayal each time you see the person who caused them.

The new betrayals come like a whip for Theresa and Broderick, reopening the old scars and allowing welled-up bitterness to seep out. To forgive those that hurt them the most means confronting the pain, understanding that forgiveness doesn’t excuse the behavior, and learning to no longer hold the betrayal against the one who betrayed them. No one deserves forgiveness, but it has been freely given to us through Jesus Christ. Forgiveness is a source of healing for Broderick and Theresa, and it provides an opportunity to repair broken relationships.

FF: Can you give us a tease of what to expect as the Hidden Hearts of the Gilded Age Series continues?
In book two, Counterfeit Hope, readers will get a surprising view of Andrew Darlington—an operative who has little tact and tends to see things in black in white. Readers and the heroine will discover that he’s not quite the man he appears to be and is worthy of the title hero. However, he’s been harboring a secret from his superiors. He spent his childhood as a member of a criminal family before being adopted by his arresting officer. When a case brings him face-to-face with his former family, his character comes into question despite all he’s done to earn his sterling reputation. Matters only worsen when the woman who captures his attention—and possibly his affections—is the wrong kind of woman for a Secret Service operative. A pickpocket and former prostitute.

In book three, Counterfeit Faith, Josiah Isaacs’s charming ways get put to the test when he partners with the matron of Final Chance House of Refuge. Someone is using the institution for children convicted of crimes as a cover for their participation in a green goods game, and they’re willing to silence anyone who poses a threat to their operations, including the matron and children who are forced to participate.

Counterfeit Love
Hidden Hearts of the Gilded Age Series #1
Crystal Caudill
Genres: Historical Romance, Romantic Suspense
Release Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN-10: ‎ 0825447402
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0825447402

Book Summary:
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.


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About The Author

Crystal Caudill is the author of “dangerously good historical romance,” with her work garnering awards from Romance Writers of America and ACFW. Counterfeit Love is her debut published novel. Caudill says that reading and writing are part of her soul and have been since she first held a crayon. While she considered writing to be an escape from challenges and struggles and a way to keep her sanity, Caudill would come to recognize that God used it as a teaching tool. “The stories came through my fingertips, but they were marked with His fingerprints,” she shares. As she delved into history and crafted her own stories of hope through danger, Caudill would answer the call to pursue writing as a career after her first writer’s conference. “My stories are still filled with danger, struggle, and history, but they are also permeated with the hope and love of Christ. I hope they are dangerously good. Good for the heart and for the soul.” She is a stay-at-home mom and caregiver, and when she isn’t writing, Caudill can be found playing board games with her family, drinking hot tea, or reading other great books at her home outside Cincinnati, Ohio.