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Read an excerpt:
Wendy expected a flutter of moths or a funky smell, but instead it smelled like…the theater, a smell she knew well from her high school years. She’d never been an actor, never wanted to be, but to be involved in make-believe had made her a part of something bigger than herself, something that gave people pleasure. She’d been a stage manager, a stunt woman, and yes, a costume designer, and now she reached into the contents and pulled out a long, blond wig. “Wow,” she whispered. She shook it, no vermin fell out, so she placed it on her head and reached for the next piece, a skimpy leather skirt. She knotted it around her waist, took the companion piece, a leather halter, and tied it around her chest. She went to stand in front of the mirror; her dusty rose jumpsuit molded her shape and with the blond wig and the costume, she looked like some Hollywood producer’s idea of Tarzan’s Jane. Cool.
And she needed to stop fooling around and gather props. She should be able to get everything she needed out of that one trunk, and she headed back and leaned in. She heard a whistling noise. Something heavy and hard struck her on the back of the head. The light changed. Stars swirled in a vortex. She collapsed into the trunk and realized—oh, God, the trunk had been placed on top of a trapdoor. She fell. And fell. And never hit bottom.
Wendy opened her eyes, shook her head to clear it, and hearing voices, hastily stood up.
A man grabbed her by the arm. “Quiet backstage. The play is live!”
She faced him, wide-eyed and confused. Where had he come from? She looked around.
More important—Where am I?
The guy checked out her blond wig, then surveyed her figure in her leotard, her running shoes and her silly, leather skirt and halter. “You’re the stunt woman who agreed to step in our hour of need, right? Thank you for that. I’m Percy, the stage manager.”
Percy wore a suit. With shoulder pads. And pin stripes. And a crisp white shirt with a tie that had been loosened to allow him to open the top button. Wendy had never in her life seen a stage manager dressed in anything but torn jeans and a t-shirt.
“I’m Wendy Giordano.” Her voice sounded scratchy to her own ears.
“Good to meetcha.” Percy kept his voice low and his delivery staccato.
“Where am I? I mean, what’s the name of this place?”
“The Gothic Palace. How many other theaters do you think there are out here in the back of beyond?” He surveyed her as if worried. “You okay?”
“I hit my head.” She rubbed the lump on her skull.
“Can you go on? Because when Brenda broke her arm, we thought we have to lose our most impressive stunt and the audience is expecting it.”
“I think I can.”
He got hostile and forbidding. “Don’t think by stalling I’m going to pay you more. I already doubled the amount I was paying Brenda to get you down here.”
Wendy was in the theater, obviously, the old Gothic Palace theater. But instead of dim and dust, the place was bright, clean, bustling with people backstage carrying costumes and props, wearing grass skirts and lining up for the dance number. Onstage, Wendy could see a set, complete with painted tree trunks and potted ferns, and just off-stage in the wings, stagehands stood waving palm fronds to simulate a breeze.
“You know what you’re supposed to do, right? Sure, but let me walk you through it one more time.” He pointed up the flimsy ladder. “You’re going up. Stay out of sight until Miss Lindholm says”—he switched to a high, girly voice—”Tarzan, I can’t!'”
Wendy nodded. Whatever had hit her must have knocked her silly. Now she was hallucinating she was a stuntwoman in a Tarzan play back when… “Wait. This is Angelica Lindholm we’re talking about?”
Percy viewed her oddly. “No, Maeve Lindholm. You know, the movie star? The lady who founded this town and owns every last stick of it? The ball-buster?”
“Right.” Maeve Lindholm, the actress from Sweden in the 1920s to became a star on the basis of her beautiful and expressive face, who made the transition from silent movies to the talkies, who built the town of Gothic, California…the woman who had been dead for seventy years, now took a starring part in Wendy’s delusion.
“Miss Lindholm will step back out of sight of the audience. Tarzan calls, ‘Jane, Tarzan catch. Trust Tarzan.'”
Wendy had put on that costume, thought about Tarzan and now here she was, in a Tarzan play back in the—she eyed Percy’s suit—in the thirties?
Percy continued, “That’s when you step onto the platform. Remember to keep your hair pulled close around your face so they can’t get a good look at you. The wig and your shape will fool them. It’s stage magic.”
“Uh-huh. There is an audience, right?”
He shoved her toward the curtains. “Your official peephole. Take a look.”
Wendy strode over, lifted the flap and peered through the gap. The ceiling and the columns were decorated exactly as they were in the twenty-first century, with gleaming gold paint and silver stars and richly colored Egyptian motifs, but it all looked brighter, newer. Red velvet chairs stood in rows with an aisle on either side, and the floor rose toward the back of the theater to afford every audience member a view. Every seat was full; women in dresses with fur stoles tossed around their shoulders, men in suits and ties, Navy men in dress whites, Army men in dress greens, shined shoes, lots of starch, lots of ironing.
Full kudos to Wendy’s hallucination for authenticity. She returned to Percy. “Full house!” she said brightly.
“It’s Maeve Lindholm and Hugh Capel. Of course it’s a full house.”
“Okay. The stunt.” She took a breath. “I’ll bet I’m going to take the rope and swing over to Tarzan.”
“Right. Don’t worry, Hugh’s good at this physical stuff, he’ll grab you. He’ll put one arm around your waist and pull you close. What you want to do is keep your back to the audience, wrap your arms around him, get a grip on his shoulders and a grip on the rope so when he swings to the other platform” — Percy pointed to a lower platform built into a clump of trees at the back of the stage—”he’s not supporting your whole weight. He kisses you, the lights go out, you trade back with Miss Lindholm, you pick up your check, change into your street clothes, and you’re done. Simple?”
“Not much of a talker. Don’t meet women like you very often.” He chortled and slapped her butt.
Without a thought, she grabbed his tie, tightened it around his neck and said, “Don’t ever do that again.”
Percy’s eyes grew startled. “Tell you that you don’t talk much?”
“Slap my butt.”
“It was just a friendly little…” At her glare, he held up his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. Doll, you’ve got star attitude.”
“Don’t call me doll, either.”
“Oh. Ohhh.” He nodded knowingly. “You’re a butch. With those muscles, I should’ve figured.”
She was ready to take his feet out from under him—when on the well-lit stage, a man stepped out in a costume like hers minus the halter. Or the clothes underneath. Just him and a loincloth and two of the finest thighs she’d ever seen in her life. She let Percy’s tie slip out of her hands.
“Not a butch,” Percy observed. “Just a confused dame. Or a confusing dame.”
“Don’t use butch. Don’t call me dame.” But she’d lost her fiery edge.
The guy onstage was handsome, yes, and the body was well done, the result of hours of workout every day, but she couldn’t take her eyes off him. He had something. She didn’t know what to call it. Charisma? Star-power?
“I shouldn’t even have to pay you.” Percy had a smirk in his voice. “You get to kiss Hugh Capel.”
She turned her dazed face to him. “Hugh Capel?”
“Like you don’t know who Hugh Capel is. Look at you, you’re practically drooling.”
“Because he looks like that, not because I know who he is.”
“Where have you been for the past five years? The guy’s had one hit movie after another.”
“That I believe.” She so believed it.
“He’ll give you the kiss, but he doesn’t mess with the staff. All that tragedy.”
Her ears virtually perked up. “Tragedy?”
Percy glanced at his rectangular-faced Bulova watch. “Better get up the stairs, it’s almost time for your stunt.”
She put her foot on the first rung.
He stopped her. “Take off those shoes first. You’re Jane. You’re barefoot.”
She toed out of her running shoes, took off her socks and handed them to him.
He accepted them gingerly, then handed them off to a passing stagehand. “Where did you get those things?”
“Mr. Nike makes ugly shoes.”
Wendy climbed swiftly up the stairs. Everything went like clockwork. Miss Lindholm delivered her breathless denial, stepped back, and immediately abandoned the character of a frightened Jane to become Maeve Lindholm, seasoned actress. She handed Wendy the rope and adjusted Wendy’s blond wig. Hugh delivered his line. Miss Lindholm indicated Wendy should step forward. Wendy grasped the rope in both hands and sailed down to Hugh. The impact knocked the breath out of both of them, and with a slight smile, Hugh looked into her face.
Looked at her. Looked as if he saw her. Looked as no one had ever looked before. His smile faded. As they stood in the spotlight, hundreds of people watched, but they were alone, enclosed in a bubble of warm, secret silence. “Who are you?” His words were no more than a breath, but they made her want to touch his lips, melt into his body…
Someone above jerked the rope he held, and they both came alive to their surroundings; they were onstage, with hundreds of eyes upon them, and they had seconds before they had to play the second half of the stunt. His arm slid around her waist, he pulled her tightly against his side. She gripped his shoulders with one hand, the other circled his chest and clasped the rope. He lifted her off her feet —Percy hadn’t mentioned that part—and that made things easier; she wrapped her legs around his thigh. He shot her a look of approval and…and something else. Something heated.
Her breath caught. This man was potent.
He placed one foot onto a knot on the rope and used the other to propel them out over the stage.
Someone above was manipulating the rope, but Hugh had given them the right shove in the right direction and they flew through the air toward the proper platform. They both stuck the landing, hitting hard with feet flat while all around them, lions roared and elephants trumpeted.
She knew what happened now. The kiss. He had to kiss her as if he was the mighty Tarzan, king of the jungle, and she was his chosen mate.
His lips touched hers. She breathed his breath, soaked in his warmth, found a home in his arms…
The lights went out.
Miss Lindholm jerked on her arm.
As Wendy stumbled away, she heard him whisper, “Wait for me.”
WELCOME TO GOTHIC is a time travel romantic suspense novella, part of the Last Seen in Gothic series and a companion to POINT LAST SEEN and FORGET WHAT YOU KNOW. Get it as an Audible Daily Deal today only for $.99.
For the moment, WELCOME TO GOTHIC is only available as an audiobook exclusive, so grab it today during this outstanding sale!
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