This story has been written for a month now, and I’ve spent many long, sleepless nights revising, working through the text with a very thorough, honest critique partner. Sometimes, I hated this story. Actually, I hated this story for about two weeks straight as I continually pushed to make it better. Tonight, I made the last changes, read through areas I’d worked over repeatedly, and then added a bit more meat to the ending, and I literally teared up when I hit “Save and Close.”
I’ve never done that before. I mean, I’ve felt the excitement and giddiness, the relief and even fear to let it fly, but to actually cry when I was done? Never happened before. I’m trying to figure out exactly why that is. This story is so entrenched in my heart. I absolutely love it, and I love the characters. And I’m beyond excited to release it to the world on November 2nd. So, for those fans anxiously awaiting, I offer you this excerpt as a teaser. Enjoy!
After two days of a dark heart, this man had brought in light. She knew his effects should not be ignored. Like any warm creature lunges for the light, she scribbled out a quote for him in return.
Let’s go hand in hand. Not one before another. – I invite you.
She gave the note to Monkey and returned to the vanity, resting her elbows on the wooden top, hands folded beneath her chin. And that’s the position she was in when her eyes met his in the mirror. The heavy beats of her heart drummed in her ears before slowing to a quiet crawl. Her body went still, paralyzed and cold. If her hands hadn’t been holding her chin up, it would have fallen with her jaw in pure shock. Her eyes grew wide enough to hurt.
His face bore the same incredulity. “What in the hell…”
“What are you doing in here?” She spun in her chair. The part of her robe fell open, revealing her knees clad in white stockings. His eyes dropped to the sight and she quickly stood and held the scant covering closed over her body. His face had gone pale, his mouth agape and his eyes roved in a slow, stunned circuit of the room.
“Well?” she demanded.
He blinked in rapid succession and licked his lips before shaking his head clear of the confusion controlling him.
“Um…” he stepped forward, coughed a laugh, and held up her note. “You invited me.”
She gasped and covered her mouth with her palm. “You?”
He scratched his brow and laughed again. “My thoughts exactly.”
Nausea spiraled in her stomach and crawled up her throat. She spun away from him and buried her face in her hands. “Oh, my God. I can’t believe this.”
He took a deep breath behind her. “Again, my thoughts exactly.”
Her head shook back and forth at the enormity of it all. Dalton! Sending her quotes from Shakespeare, making her feel like the most important and talented human in Boston, yet also responsible for the sadness gripping her the past two days. Dalton. There at The Museum, backstage, with her in nothing but a robe and undergarments. She ducked behind the mirror and peaked around it so only her eyes could be seen. He chuckled and anger boiled inside of her.
“What are you doing back here?” she asked, her voice tight. He held out a palm and peered sideways at her, as if he didn’t understand why she was asking such a question and she huffed. “I didn’t mean for you to come back here.”
“Of course not! You don’t think I invite strangers to see me half-dressed, do you?”
“I hope not.”
“Well, obviously I should have been more specific in my note.”
He placed a hand on his hip and used the other to rub his forehead. “Yes, you might have been. What, exactly, did you mean when you wrote ‘I invite you’?”
Heat flooded her cheeks and she was glad the mirror hid her crimson-colored skin. “I was inviting you to…to…well, what were you suggesting in your note to me?”
Dalton stopped pacing and laughed, his blue eyes boring into hers with a new level of intensity. “Honey, I doubt you and I had the same thing in mind. If you tell me I’m wrong, I’ll wear the dress in your next play.”
His meaning seeped into her, creating an inferno deep in her belly that turned to anger as it reddened her cheeks. Her spine stiffened. “I am insulted you would think to earn that from me with only a handful of Shakespearean quotes.”
“I wouldn’t have if I had known it was you,” he said, gesturing toward her. “I expected a more…worldly woman.”
“So sorry to disappoint you,” she drawled.
“I’m not disappointed,” he said, and his lips began to curl slightly at the corners as his eyes roved slowly around her face, igniting shivering tingles over her skin.
She tightened her fist around the fabric of her robe. “You’re…you’re not disappointed it’s me?”
He chuckled. “The young girl I met at the restaurant? That was disappointing. But the woman I’ve watched on the stage these past weeks…definitely not disappointing.” He shook his head with an incredulous huff. “Damn sure shocking, though. I’ll tell you that.”
She found herself relaxing and giggling along with him. “I imagine so.”
His Adam’s apple twitched over his swallow before he asked with trepidation in his voice, “Are you disappointed it’s me?”
Her eyes met his and she shook her head twice.
He smiled and took a deep breath. “So, this is where you perform three nights a week, then? Not at the Boston Opera House?”
She grimaced at the revelation of her deceit. “Not at the Boston Opera House. Although I wasn’t lying about the show three weeks hence. I am set to debut then.”
“And I take it your darling Winthrop family has no idea you’re here?”
Her head shook slowly back and forth and he burst into laughter. She sighed and raised an eyebrow. “Don’t sound so amused.”
“But I am amused. I am thoroughly pleased to know this side of you still exists.”
“What do you mean still exists? What side of me are you talking about?”
“The bold side,” he answered. “I always admired that part of you, the fearlessness, the lack of intimidation, the part of you that ran away out into a desert thunderstorm at thirteen.” She chuckled and scrunched her face skeptically. He shrugged with a smirk. “I said it was brave, not smart. After our lunch, I thought it’d been conditioned away by the strictures of high society.”
Marlena’s gaze fell to the floor. He had no idea how close he was to the truth, for that part of her had almost been stripped away. If she hadn’t found her way into performing at The Museum, that part of her would have melted into oblivion under the Winthrop household.
“I’m sure it bolsters confidence in the movement knowing Elijah Winthrop’s very own ward is here campaigning against him,” he continued.
She folded her bottom lip between her teeth and peered sideways at him. “Uh…actually…”
His eyes scrunched as he squinted at her in study. “The people here don’t know who you are either?”
Her insides twisted. These were the people she felt guilty deceiving. They’d become good friends, but they still believed her to be the daughter of an innkeeper. While she agreed with Dalton that her identity would strengthen the morale of the cause, it would also risk her future as an opera singer, and she wouldn’t jeopardize the objective she’d worked so hard to attain. She looked at Dalton and shook her head yet again.
“And on that note, please keep your voice down,” she said. “I don’t want to cause any upset around here, especially when I only have two weeks of performances left.”
His brow fell into worried grooves. “What do you mean?”
“My debut is set for the first of the month. I won’t do anything to risk it, so the performance in six days will be my last.”
He crossed his arms over his chest. “Well, that’s a shame.”
Guilt and defensiveness warred within her. “Dalton, my life here is much more complicated than you realize.”
“I can see that,” he said with a laugh. “But there is something I don’t understand, Marlena,” he said as he took a step forward. “You’re amazing out there. Why on Earth haven’t you been performing at the Boston Opera House?”
She smiled at his compliments, at the sound of her name rolling off his lips, but when the reply to his question was admitted out loud, it brought reminders of her frustrations.
“Sarah wouldn’t allow it before. Even now, she claims I am not ready to grace the stage, though she’ll let me do it.”
His face scrunched in disgust. “She’s jealous, simple as that. And she has every reason to be. She’s a canary to your nightingale.”
Marlena laughed softly as heat rushed to her cheeks. “Thank you, but you’re wrong. Sarah Jeanne has the most beautiful voice in the country.”
“No. No, she doesn’t,” he returned with a shake of his head. “When you sing…Marlena, there’s nothing more beautiful in the wide world than your voice.”
They locked eyes and Marlena forgot to breathe. The room was hot and humid, and so were her insides. Neither spoke and she could only hope his thoughts and body were as frantic and frenzied as her own.
Finally, he grinned. “But I can hardly hear your voice when you speak. It’s hard to believe you can belt notes when you sing.” She laughed quietly. “And still so shy. You can come on out, you know. You don’t have to hide back there.”
“I’m not decent, Dalton. Would you mind waiting for me in the alley?” She had to gain control of herself. Thoughts were whirling and racing as quickly as the blood in her veins and her heartbeat pumping it along.
“Of course,” he said before striding halfway across the space. He stopped and turned a smirk onto her. She studied his eyes, the slight crinkle of skin at their corners and the translucent blue that seemed to see right through her, as if he knew she stood trembling behind the mirror. “I’ll be damned, Marlena,” he said. “Of all the things I expected walking through that door…” He shook his head, chuckled, and left her alone, trembling at the wonderful sound of her name upon his lips.