Keeping his gaze on me, he unhooked a wooden bar hanging on long ropes and tossed it over. “Now, let’s start, shall we?” His look was challenging.
I gripped the bar and tugged. “You don’t truly expect me to swing through the air on this contraption, do you? How will that help me dance?”
“What you’ve done isn’t working, is it? I aim to give you new experiences, push you off a few of your precious safety ledges. Now hold on.”
“But I’m afraid of—”
“I said, hold on.”
. . . heights.
A gentle shove against my back and I was hurtling through open space, high over the straw-covered floors. I clutched that awful bar for dear life, digging my fingernails into the wood. I squeezed my eyes shut as I sailed through the air, then I forced one eyelid open. Another platform rose up to meet me, and I scrambled to get my feet onto it, but as my shoes touched wood, my weight pulled me back down. I trembled on the swing back, until I felt solid hands around my waist.
Jack hauled me onto the loft and steadied me. “Now you know what it feels like to fly.”
“I could have lived without the knowledge.” I had become pudding.
“Lived, yes, but not danced. Not well, at least. You’re so stiff, so grounded. Every good dancer should know what it is to be weightless.”
“I’ve no desire to perform dangerous stunts.”
“A bit of circus advice for you.” He leaned on a pole. “The only way you’ll go far is to leap big. You may fly or you may fall, but either way, everyone will be looking at you.”
I folded my arms over my chest and glared at him. “I have no interest in making leaps of any sort. You and your fanciful—”
Palms out, he gave me a light shove. I wasn’t holding the bar. I flailed, tilted, and plummeted straight down with a cry, my long hair curtaining everything from view. How very long it took to fall. Hundreds of fears had time to surface as I plummeted through empty air, heart pounding double time with the passing seconds.
Thwack. I landed on a deep pile of straw and tumbled legs over head down its side, gasping for breath. My heart still hammered as I stood, brushing the itchy straw from my clothes, my hair. The elephant shuffled in his stall down the way and gave a small trumpet, as if laughing at me. Panic turned to surging anger as I straightened and looked up at Jack, who watched with hands on his hips. “There now, was that so terrible?”
I grasped the rail and marched all the way back up those steps and across the loft. “What on earth was that for?”
“Shall we try the trapeze again?”
“Are you mad? I’ve already had a spill. I wouldn’t go near—”
Oomph. Another shove, and I was sailing over the edge, arms flailing. Again I struck the straw, rump first, and tucked my limbs for the roll down the hill that was becoming far too familiar. Sprawled on the barn floor, I glared up at him. Words evaporated off the surface of my burning anger.
I’d have lain there far longer, firmly on that solid ground, except for a female giggle nearby that jolted my senses. Lizzie watched me from the shadows under the lower loft where she lounged in the straw, sewing a glittery costume. Her smile snapped with a vindictive flavor of glee, and I shot up, unwilling to let her see me downed for a moment longer. Once again I marched up those loft steps to have it out with my foolish trainer in private, to demand he return me to London, but when I reached the top, he grabbed me by the shoulders.
“That was marvelous. First-rate work.”
“You truly are mad.”
“No, no, the way you fell. It was splendid.”
I eyed him with a bit of confusion.
“There was far more grace involved in that little spill, as you call it, than the first one.”
“Thanks to you, I had a bit of practice.”
His grin stretched his face. “A dancer can fall with as much grace as she dances, if she learns how.”
“I’d rather concentrate on not falling.”
“Well now, that simply isn’t an option.” He gripped the trapeze again, urging me to take it. “As I told you before, everyone falls. It only matters what you do about it. Now, take the bar again. We’ll see if you’ve improved.”
“By rolling through straw? Hardly.” I crossed my arms.
“Give her a try. For me.”
“You think I’d do anything for you? You have quite the swelled head, Mr. Dorian.”
He stepped closer, challenge lighting his eyes, extended one palm, and shoved me again.
With a cry I grabbed for something to hold, but tumbled over the edge again, landing on my back in the straw. I lay there and frowned up at him, blowing hair off my face. “And what was that one for?”
He looked down at me with a shrug. “Just making room for my big head up here.”
I climbed again and stood before him, arms crossed. “I’ve had enough of this madness. What’s next?”
He pulled the trapeze close, folded my hands over the bar, and turned to face me, his earnest face mere inches from mine. “What is it you want most? Your dream as a dancer. Something distinct that does not include the word ‘perfect.’”
I blanked under the intensity of his gaze.
He softened, as if coaxing a wild animal out of hiding. “Come now, I need to know the shape of that hole in your heart if I’ve any hope of filling it.” He leaned closer, eyeing the details of my face. I half expected to feel the brush of a kiss. The light in his eyes had turned tender. Intimate.
My throat tightened. Breathe.
So this was how women fell for such men. How Mum had likely fallen for Father.
“Well?” His eyes danced.
I gripped the bar. “Philippe.” The word came hurtling from the depths of my heart in the face of Jack’s nearness, wrested out by a combination of deep utter longing and a sense of loyalty to the man who’d been betrayed before. “I wish to dance opposite Philippe Rousseau.”
His eyes narrowed, the gold flecks bright. What he saw when that stare bore into my face, with my heart on full display, I’ll never know. Perhaps it was best that way, for I’d just revealed a great deal.
“Very well, then. Philippe it is.”
I turned away from his gaze, focused on the bar.
“Whenever you’re ready.”
I steeled my arms and stepped into nothing, with my eyes closed. Cool air washed over me, and my chest felt strong, only lightly sprinkled with fear. I blinked and looked down as I swept across the barn to the other side. With a kick against the other platform, I sailed back and relished in the feel of free-falling, of truly soaring. The curtain of fear had been drawn back, and it was both frightening and exhilarating.
This time when Jack pulled me toward him, I fell back against his chest, breathless with wonder and almost eager to do it again. I turned in his arms and his wide grin told me he’d read my thoughts. “There now, you see? Quite different, isn’t it?” His breath felt warm and pleasant on my face. “It only takes a few falls to realize falling isn’t so bad.”
I laughed. It was like a release, a delicious freedom. There was a liberating delight in that swing, in flying through the air that wasn’t so far off the ground, as it turned out.
“Come, shall we try again? This time I want you to move your legs, point your toes, pretend you are onstage.”
With a slow inhale, I once again held the trapeze and released my firm footing. I allowed myself to glide halfway across before daring to arch my back into position and lift my right leg a little behind me. I was sore from the tension and the carriage ride, and the stretch felt delicious through my muscles. I pushed off the opposite platform and sailed back like a swan skimming the surface of a pond, moving my legs and pointing my toes.
I reached Jack and, with a bold smile, kicked off his platform as well and sailed back, delighting in the weightless dance performed in the air. On the next swing, Jack caught my jittery body up in his arms and spun me around with a delighted laugh.
“I knew you could do it.” He twirled me again and bowed as if we’d just waltzed, then lifted that devilish smile. “What magnificence has been trapped in you all this time. It’s a wonder they didn’t completely train it out of you.”
(c) Joanna Davidson Politano, Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2021. Used by permission.
All theater romances are tragedies. Ella Blythe knows this. Still, she cannot help but hope her own story may turn out different than most--and certainly different than the tragic story of the Ghost of Craven Street Theater. Yet as she struggles to maintain her tenuous place in the ever-shrinking ballet company, win the attentions of principal dancer Philippe, and avoid company flirt Jack, Ella cannot deny the uncanny feeling that her life is mirroring that of the dead ballerina.
Is she dancing ever closer to the edge of her own tragic end? Or will the secrets that are about to come to light offer release from the past?
Mystery and romance make the perfect dance partners in this evocative story from fan-favorite Joanna Davidson Politano.
Inspirational Historical [Revell, On Sale: September 7, 2021, Paperback, ISBN: 9780800736903 / ]
Joanna Davidson Politano freelances for a small nonfiction publisher but spends much of her time spinning tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives. Her manuscript for Lady Jayne Disappears was a finalist for several contests, including the 2016 Genesis Award from ACFW, and won the OCW Cascade Award and the Maggie Award for Excellence. She is always on the hunt for random acts of kindness, people willing to share their deepest secrets with a stranger, and hidden stashes of sweets. She lives with her husband and their two babies in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan and shares stories that move her at www.jdpstories.com.
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