Authors: Carol Cox
Tags: #Historical Mystery
© 2012 by Carol Cox
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Ebook edition created 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Unless otherwise identified Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.
Scripture quotations identified NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by Jennifer Parker
Author represented by Books & Such Literary Agency
To Dave and Katie,
my constant sources of encouragement—
Your patience and support mean the world to me.
To Kevin, Samantha, Emmalee, and Madilyn—
You bring joy into my life in so many ways.
And to Fayly Cothern—
You may never know this side of heaven how much
your walk with Christ has influenced me . . .
and countless others.
Your life is an example that speaks louder
Teach me your way, O Lord,
and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.
Psalm 86:11 (NIV)
happy dagger! This is thy sheath.”
Ellie Moore gripped her hands together as she mouthed the well-known line from the last act of Shakespeare’s
Romeo and Juliet
. The words floated out into the dark chasm beyond the edge of the footlights, and an expectant hush filled the theater, followed by a collective gasp at the moment she plunged her fists toward her abdomen and threw her head back with an agonized grimace.
“There rust, and let me die.” Ellie let her head fall to one side and held her pose, silent as the grave, while the Capulets and Montagues reconciled, and the prince delivered the final line.
Not until the roar of applause swept through the auditorium of Chicago’s Orpheum Theater did she stir again, ready for the curtain call. Ellie waited for the proper moment, then swept one foot behind her and sank into a low curtsey, spreading her arms wide. Her right hand brushed against the back of the red velvet curtain that screened her from the stage.
“Here now. Don’t you dare set that curtain to moving.”
Startled by the abrupt hiss behind her, Ellie jerked her head around and met the fierce gaze of Harold Stiller, the theater manager.
At the same moment, the actors began to file off the stage. Roland Lockwood, the troupe’s Montague, bumped against Ellie’s outstretched hand. Arms flailing wildly, Ellie floundered to regain her balance, but to no avail. With a muffled thump, she plopped into an ungainly heap on the wooden floor.
Burt Ragland, one of the stagehands, pushed past, his lip curled in obvious disdain. “That wouldn’t have happened if you spent your time tending to your own job instead of pretending you’re some kind of star.”
Ellie scrambled to her feet, brushing dust from the hem of her skirt and trying to ignore the snickers from the other stagehands who’d gathered nearby.
“At least I intend to make something of myself,” she snapped. “You’ll be stuck here long after I’m gone.” She lifted her chin when she heard the grunts of indignation from the group.
Ha! That rocked them back on their heels, all right. And good riddance.
Noting the cleaner area on the floor that marked the spot where she’d made her undignified landing, Ellie swiped at the back of her skirt. “I’ll think of you all, languishing here in this dusty hole, when I’m sipping tea in London.”
Outright guffaws met her statement. Ellie gave up on trying to swat the dust from her backside, finding it too difficult to twist herself into a pretzel shape and maintain her haughty air at the same time.
Let them say what they wanted. It didn’t matter anymore. Before the night was over, she would be gone from their midst and on her way to England. There, in the homeland of the Bard himself, she should find many who would appreciate her acting skills, gleaned from years of observation in the theater. Finally people would look past her drab exterior and see the raw talent that lay beneath. All she needed was a chance—just one! Then she would show them all.
While the other actors dispersed to their dressing rooms, one of the crew opened the house curtain one last time, so Magdalena Cole, Queen of the American Stage, could address the audience.
Her voice filtered back into the wings. “Thank you all for being here. Every performance is special to me, but tonight has a significance all its own.”
Ellie glared at Burt and the others while Magdalena continued with the pretty speech she and Ellie had worked out the night before.
“This marks my last performance in your fair city, and not only in Chicago, but in this great land of ours.” Magdalena paused to let the murmur of surprise die down before she went on. “Tonight I leave for New York, there to board a ship that will carry me away to share my art with the audiences of Europe.”
“Don’t make out that you’re any better than us,” Burt growled. “The only reason you get to go is because you’re that woman’s toady.”
Ellie sucked in her breath. “That’s
personal wardrobe mistress
—thank you very much.”
“Good night, my friends, and God bless you, each and every one.” Magdalena glided off the stage to thunderous applause, carrying a bouquet of deep red roses in the crook of one arm. She thrust the flowers at Ellie as she walked by. “Put these in water,” she ordered, then gave a quick laugh. “What am I thinking? I won’t be here tomorrow to enjoy them, so it doesn’t matter what you do with them. Throw them away, if you want.” She continued down the hallway without breaking stride.
Burt snorted. “Sounds more like
Ellie tossed the bouquet into a nearby trash barrel and followed in Magdalena’s wake, not deigning to give Burt the satisfaction of a reply. She closed the dressing room door, shutting out the post-show flurry.
“Hurry.” Magdalena’s eyes shone like a child’s on Christmas morning. “We haven’t time to waste.” She spun around so Ellie could unfasten the hooks on the back of her costume. “Arturo will be here any moment. Is everything packed?” Magdalena slipped out of the Juliet gown with practiced ease.
“It’s all ready.” Ellie draped the costume over the back of a nearby chair and reached for Magdalena’s new traveling outfit. She slid the stylish dress over the actress’s head and upraised arms and fastened the row of jet-black buttons that ran from neck to hem. Then she stood back to study the effect.
“Well?” Magdalena pivoted slowly. Even in their present rush, she could find time to pause for an accolade.
Ellie reached out to adjust the rounded collar, then nodded. “It’s perfect. That cobalt blue matches your eyes exactly. Your couturier outdid himself this time.”
“And well he should have. I paid dearly for those new gowns. Even though I’m planning to acquire a whole new wardrobe once we reach London, I could hardly begin my grand European tour dressed like a second-rate bit player, could I? First impressions are so important.”
Ellie folded the Juliet gown with care and placed it on top of the other clothing in the costume hamper. She lowered the lid, pressed it down with both hands, and then finally sat on it in order to fasten the latches.
“There now, we’re all set. Your new dresses are in the two large trunks, along with your other personal effects. Costumes, wigs, and makeup are here in the hamper. We’re ready to leave as soon as Mr. Benelli arrives.”