In a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat butter, brown sugar, and
molasses until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat until
In a medium bowl, whisk flour, spices, baking soda, and salt until
combined. With the mixer on low, gradually add dry ingredients to wet
ingredients until dough just comes together. (Do not overmix!)
Divide dough in half and create two discs. Wrap each in plastic
wrap and chill until firm, about 2 to 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 350° and line two large baking sheets with parchment
paper. Place one disc of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll until
1/4″ thick. Cut out gingerbread men with a 3″ wide cutter and
transfer to baking sheets.
Bake until slightly puffed and set, 9 to 10 minutes, depending on
the size of your cookie cutters. Let cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes before
transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Repeat with remaining disc
of dough. Decorate with icing and sprinkles as desired.
An Excerpt from The Little White Christmas Lie
FREE FOR A LIMITED TIME
Carson went to the kitchen with every intention of spilling his
story to his family, but the only person he found was his grandmother. She had
her gray hair tied up in a ribbon, an apron over her jeans and sweater, and a
welcoming smile on her face. She held out her arms for a hug as soon as Carson
He gathered her against him, inhaling her warm scent. She always
smelled of vanilla with a touch of cinnamon.
“You know Millie and I aren’t engaged, right?” Carson pulled away
“Of course, darling.” She turned back to her rolling pin and dough
on the counter. “I had rather hoped, of course…but it did seem too good to be
true.” She flashed him a quick smile and a wink. “Did she tell you I had called
After Carson nodded she said, “Why don’t you tell me what really
Carson took a seat at the kitchen table and watched his
grandmother use a cookie cutter on the dough while he filled her in.
After he’d finished, she said, “And now, what are we going to tell
Carson blinked. “We’re going to tell them exactly what I just told
His grandmother tsked her tongue. “No. That’s boring. We need a
“I think Millie would prefer boring honesty,” Carson said.
Using a spatula, his grandmother carefully transported a freshly
cut gingerbread man from the counter to a parchment-covered baking sheet. “I
don’t believe that for one second,” she said. “Have you even read any of her
“Granny, I’m not really her target audience.”
“And why not?” She pinned him with her stare.
He lifted his shoulder. “If things work out, I promise I’ll read
one of her books.”
His grandmother banged her cookie cutter on the counter. “You’re
doing it all backwards. You have to read the book first!” Sighing and shaking
her head, she returned to her cookies. “It’s a wonder you ever made it through
“Romance novels weren’t required reading in the business program.”
“Pity that.” With her back stiff and straight, she moved a few
more gingerbread men to the pan.
“Granny…” It occurred to him that his grandmother might be
distracting him by talking about Millie so that they didn’t have to talk about
the inn’s dismal finances.
She cast him a sly look. “And what do you mean ‘if things work
out’? Could it be that you’ve finally met your match?”
Carson flushed, and his shirt suddenly seemed itchy and too tight.
He pulled at his collar. “I just…”
“Have I ever told you about the first time I saw your grandfather?
Our eyes met and the whole world seemed to freeze and fade like a black and
Although Carson had heard the story many times, he didn’t stop
her. He loved his grandparents, and he longed for a marriage like theirs.
Besides, he didn’t want to talk about Millie. He just wanted to be with her.
“He looked so handsome in his uniform,” his grandmother continued.
“We were at the train station. I was heading for New York City and cooking
school, and he was off for training in Fort Dix.” She sighed. “I miss him every
Carson stood, wrapped his arms around his grandmother, and kissed
the top of her head. “I do, too, Grandma.”
She leaned against him. “I just don’t understand why your sister
has been so unlucky in love.”
“Jackson’s a good man.”
“And your father…”
“Also a good man.”
“But not a prudent one.”
“He’s gone now, Grandma.”
“Don’t I know it,” his grandmother sighed.
Carson wanted to talk about his dad less than he wanted to talk
about anything. “Let’s talk about the inn. I noticed all the rooms are full.”
She perked up. “Yes, I invited everyone I know for the Twelve
Nights of Christmas.”
“You invited…you mean, none of the guests are actual guests?”
“Of course they’re actual guests!” She huffed.
“Is anyone paying?”
He swallowed a groan. “You invited your friends…”
“Yes,” she said, defiance ringing in her voice. “It will be a
lovely holiday season.” She slid a glance at him. “I even got you to come home,
He opened his mouth to deliver a lecture, but she cut him off.
“There’s going to be sleigh rides, a cookie exchange, a toy drive for the
homeless shelter, a singalong, a craft fair, and a reenactment of the
“And who’s paying for all this?”
She kept her back to him. “None of this is going to cost a dime.”
“Granny! Who’s paying for the cookies? The hot chocolate? Don’t
tell me you planned on inviting the town and everyone you know without feeding
She spun around to face him, holding the rolling pin aloft. The
look on her face told him that she wanted to smack him with it.
“I know the date,” Carson said through clenched teeth, “but do you
understand that you have to live within the budget I created for you?”
She tilted her head to the side. “There are so many lonely people
out there. And the children in the shelter—don’t you think that they’d like to
see Jed’s camels?”
“Camels? Jed? Who’s Jed?”
“Jed Forester. He bought the Nelsons’ farm and opened up a camel
ranch. Did you know that camel’s milk is considered a power food? He ships his
camel milk products all over the world! It’s really something. He uses the milk
to make shampoo, face cream, lip balm—”
“What do the camels have to do with the inn?”
“Well the wise men are going to be riding them, of course.”
“Of course.” Carson took a deep breath, feeling particularly unwise.
sat on a bench in the Maritime Park, unaware of the flotsam of people passing
her by. Barking sea lions jostled and jockeyed for position on the nearby pier,
much like the pedestrians around her. A young man sitting at the adjacent sidewalk
café unbuckled his belt, pulled down his pants, and squeezed a hypodermic
needle into his left buttock, but even this did little more than tickle her
elderly woman carrying a leather satchel with a large golden lock sat beside
Addison. Kicking off her shoes, the woman let out a sigh, propped an ankle on
her knee and massaged her toes.
can always tell when it’s about to rain,” she said. “Arthritis. I didn’t use to
believe in achy joints predicting the weather, just like I used to think that
people claimed to have motion sickness just so they could sit in the front
seat.” The woman slid Addison a glance from under her lashes, probably to see
if Addison was paying attention.
thought about moving to another bench, but that would take energy and
gumption—two things she currently lacked.
probably too young to have arthritis. How about motion sickness?”
pulled herself out of her funk long enough to glance at the elderly woman. She
wore a velvet patchwork skirt, a silk blouse, and a string of pearls around her
neck. The sharp sea breeze toyed with her silver curls and had turned her pale
cheeks pink. She exuded a friendly curiosity that made Addison want to crawl
under the bench and roll into a ball. But because it would be rude to say
nothing, she squeezed out a syllable. “No.”
took a deep breath and blew it out through her nose. “No, I don’t get motion
good.” The woman smiled as if Addison had just informed her the Giants had won
the World Series. “Then maybe you would like to go whale watching.” She fumbled
in her satchel and pulled out two glossy blue and red tickets. “I bought them
for myself and my grandson, but circumstances have changed and that’s no longer
possible.” She paused. “He’s a lawyer,” she added with more exasperation than
opened her mouth to protest, but couldn’t find the words. The mid-spring sun,
so often hidden behind clouds in Northern California, warmed her skin. Not even
the weather could offer an excuse. After a moment, she came up with, “Isn’t
there someone else you’d like to go with?”
Landon is my only family, other than my sister Erma. No one likes her. And all my
friends are dead,” she said this without a trace of sadness. “It’s nature’s way
of punishing me for hanging around so long—I had to watch all my friends die.”
lips twitched. An hour ago, she hadn’t thought she’d ever smile again, and here
she was, chatting with a stranger. “Sure. I’ll go whale watching with you. When
woman let out a long sigh. “You’re a lovely girl. I used to look like you
once—willowy with long red hair. Now, of course, I’m gray and more Monterey
pine than willow. I hope this won’t offend you, but I no longer wish to go.”
you look nothing like a Monterey pine. They’re all twisted and weather-beaten.”
silly to compare yourself to a tree. Why not a cat?”
allergic.” The woman winked at her. “Would you like to go whale watching or
you sure?” Addison took the proffered tickets and saw they were for tomorrow
morning. She had thought to leave before then, but she’d already paid for the
vacation rental for the weekend, so she might as well stay. “Would you like me
to buy them off you?”
Addison’s suspicion hackles rose. She didn’t like making deals with strangers.
can tell me a story. I collect stories, you know.”
So do I!” Addison perked up, but then remembered her sadness. “Or at least I
a writer, always a writer.”
am a writer, just not a very good one.”
woman quirked an eyebrow.
a successful one,” Addison amended, thinking of her collection of rejection
letters from agents and editors. “And I own a bookstore, so I collect stories
there, too. Or I did.”
economy,” a sick anger burned in her belly, “and the ugly tide of self-publishing.
I leased out my bookstore last week. Soon it’ll be a massage parlor.”
glad someone can laugh about it.” Addison tucked a loose curl behind her ear.
you have to admit, a bookstore and a massage parlor are both in the same
both used to manipulate moods.” The woman gazed at her with watery blue eyes.
that it?” the woman asked, her gaze growing more intense.
what it?” Addison squirmed beneath the woman’s scrutiny.
your failing bookstore the reason you look like someone drowned your cat and
poisoned your dog?”
thought about confessing her mistake to this woman, but she wasn’t ready to
admit it, not even to herself.
woman patted Addison’s cheek with a hand of bones and papery thin skin. “It’s
okay to be sad. Here, I have something that will cheer you.” She pushed her
satchel toward Addison.
a story. I’ve been carrying it around, wondering what to do with it. I didn’t
feel I could leave until I found the right person to take care of it for me,
but you are that person. I want you to have it.”
opened up the satchel and peeked inside at the hundreds of typewritten pages.
“You don’t think your grandson will want it?”
he only reads nonfiction.” She wrinkled her nose as if she could smell fried
liver and onions.
smiled. “Thank you. This is…so kind.”
woman slipped her feet back into her shoes. “No, thank you. It’s nice to
see a story you love reach a happy ending. Now, how about you? You owe me a
don’t want to hear my stories.”
can you be so sure?”
why would you? No one else does…”
woman contemplated her. “Perhaps you’re right. How’s this? In payment for those
tickets, you need to make sure that this weekend has a happy ending.”
thought about the disappointing beginning of her weekend and bit her lower lip.
“I’m sorry, I’m not sure I can promise that.”
woman leaned forward to peer into Addison’s face. “Will you try?”
Sure. I’ll try.”
woman pulled herself to her feet. “Goodbye, my dear. Promise me you’ll take
good care of my story and write a happy ending for this weekend.”
promise,” Addison said, although she had no idea how to do that, or what the
woman was asking of her. As the woman tottered away, Addison glanced around and
spotted a bookstore. Because she’d learned long ago that her only hope for a
happy ending lay between the pages of a novel, she headed for the familiar
warmth of a shop full of books.
buying a blueberry muffin and a cup of tea at the counter, Addison found a
plump upholstered chair near the window, pulled out the manuscript, and began
Gracey and the Gambler
By Geneva Leigh
Wanted: A nice, plump, healthy,
good-natured looking domestic and affectionate lady to correspond with. Object:
matrimony. She must be a believer in God and immortality. She must not be a
gadabout or given to scandal, but willing to endeavor to create a happy home.
The Arizona Sentinel, 1875
was playing her song! White-hot anger, as mind-altering as any potion or
aphrodisiac, flashed through Gracey. Clarisse, a virginal vision clothed in
white lace, opened her mouth to sing, and Gracey grabbed the closest weapon she
could find, an occupied wig stand, and headed for the stage.
high C turned to a squeak and her blond curls bobbed when she saw Gracey flying
up the stairs wielding the wooden head.
my song, you little strumpet!” Gracey took center stage and swung at Clarisse.
wig hit Clarisse in the face, but she brushed it away as if it were a large,
hairy spider. Clarisse straightened her dress and picked up her tune, leaving
Poke, the pianist, a few stunned beats behind.
the wig stand braced in front of her like a battering ram, Gracey charged.
Clarisse jumped away, and Gracey landed in the curtains. Clarisse climbed onto
the piano bench, jostling Poke, who lifted his hands from the keyboard and
flashed Gracey a startled although amused look. Clarisse, balancing beside the
pianist, nudged him with her tiny shoe. “Please continue, sir. This audition is
yes it is!” Gracey dropped the wig stand, which bounced around her feet as she
lunged for Clarisse.
Miss Clarisse, you know I can’t let you climb on the piano.” Poke, struggling
not to laugh, reached for but missed Clarisse.
inched across the lid of the upright piano as Gracey scrambled onto the bench
and, using Poke’s shoulder as a toehold, tried to join the music-thieving
Clarisse on the top. Poke grabbed Gracey and hauled her to center stage. She
kicked Poke’s legs and tried to pry his grip from her waist.
you see she’s a complete nutter, Ivan?” Clarisse said from her perch on top of
the piano. “We simply cannot have her in the troupe.”
wriggled for a better look at Poke’s good-natured face. “I wrote that song.
It’s mine. She stole it!”
didn’t steal it. Besides, how can one steal a song?” Clarisse asked. “I simply
heard it, learned it—”
the paper-thin walls while I wrote it. Do you want to know what I heard through
the walls?” Gracey smacked her lips, making kissing noises. “If you get a spot
in the troupe, we will all know why!”
gasped in outrage, and Ivan, the director, laughed from his place in the dark
got my position in the troupe because of my gifts and talent!” Clarisse said.
Clarisse already had a role. Little wonder. “And your willingness to share your…gifts
and talents.” Gracey wiggled, but Poke wouldn’t let her go.
you like to sing, Miss Ryan?” Ivan’s disembodied voice spoke from the theater
seats. Because of the dark house and the flickering gas lights lining the
stage, Gracey couldn’t see Ivan and wished she could. She longed to read his
didn’t seem in the least perturbed about holding her. Of course, he was built
like an ox. He was not solely the troupe’s accompanist but also the “man at
large” responsible for assembling and disassembling the heavy settings.
her down,” Ivan said. “Let’s hear her.”
put her balled fists on her hips. “I think we have heard quite enough from
chuckled and set Gracey down. Gracey flashed Clarisse a warning glance. Gracey
worried that Clarisse might stomp the piano keys or kick at Poke, who was
settling onto his bench, acting as if having a blond tart atop his piano was de
wrote this song?” Ivan said. “Then let’s hear it.”
Clarisse’s tone turned silky soft, reminding Gracey of Clarisse’s many “private
auditions,” when Ivan had undoubtedly seen and heard more than a song…or two.
heard you, Clarisse. I know what you can do,” Ivan said, confirming Gracey’s
suspicions that Clarisse had only gone through the formality of the audition
for the prime purpose of discouraging Gracey from joining the traveling troupe
and escaping dreary Seattle.
played the opening bars while Gracey stared into the lights. Blood pounded in
her head and zinged through her veins. Every nerve tingled, and goosebumps rose
on her arms. The Rose Arbor Traveling Troupe was her ticket back to New York
City, and she wasn’t about to let a trollop like Clarisse steal it from her.
came in right on cue, her voice steelier than her spine and almost as strong as
the show you put on tonight,” a voice sounded from the center of her dressing
room and sent the sensation of crawling worms down Gracey’s back. She took a
deep breath and threw a robe over her chemise. Boris Kidrick, a heavy drinker,
tobacco chewer, and black licorice sucker, carried his own unique odor—a stink Gracey
easily recognized and did her best to avoid. She wondered when he had come in because she hadn’t heard the door over
the clatter of the dancers and the tinkling piano rising through the
floorboards. Gracey poked her head over the screen to see Boris leering at her.
try to entertain.” She kept her voice light. Her earlier outburst had left her
tired and drained. She didn’t want another sparring match.
glance fell on the fire tools beside the mantel. She considered caning Boris
and finishing him off. She’d be doing the world a favor, and then the world
would be in her debt. She really would like to be in a position to call in
favors, instead of the awkward, semi-clothed position in which she currently
I could use a little entertainment.” He licked his lips. “How much for a
door flew open, and Matilda breezed in, but she stopped short when she spotted
Boris standing bull-like amid the overflowing costume trunks and crates of
props. Matilda took a step toward the screen, as if to protect Gracey, and
glared at Boris.
Kidrick, you must know men aren’t allowed in the dressing room!” Matilda crossed
her arms and drew herself up to her impressive full height, towering over the
chuckled. “I now own this room and that fancy stage you’re so fond of parading
replaced Matilda’s haughty expression, and Boris rubbed his hands together.
“Didn’t know that, did ya?” He chuckled at Matilda’s sagging shoulders. “Good
things are coming my way,” he said, an unpleasant glint in his eye. “We will be
having that show I mentioned. If not tonight—then soon. Maybe on this stage or
maybe someplace quieter. You may not know it yet, but when I bought this
theater, I bought you too.”
winked at Gracey, who ducked behind the screen and tightened the belt on her
robe. She waited for the sound of the door closing before she peeked out.
gone.” Matilda crossed the room, dropping clothing on her way to the dressing
table. She sat before the mirror and rubbed her face with cream, leaving her
stage makeup in runny smears. In the harsh light, she looked all of her forty
years plus some.
didn’t know Mr. Taylor had sold the theater,” Gracey said, settling down on the
bench beside the older woman.
shrugged and frowned. “I heard Kidrick came into some money.”
chance he’ll lose it—and the theater?” Gracey’s glance met Matilda’s in the
inevitable. But until then, we have to live with him.” Matilda scrubbed at her
worn and tired face. Once she had been beautiful. Under the stage lights, she
still moved like royalty. But here, in the quiet dressing room, after a long night
of trying to carry a loveliness she could no longer claim, Matilda appeared
faded beside Gracey’s pink skin and blue eyes. Gracey, feeling apologetic for
her youth, twisted her hair into a long, thick braid.
patted Gracey’s hand. “Don’t worry, pet, you’ll be on your way to New York long
before we get a new lock for the dressing room door.”
do men like Boris consider actress synonymous with harlot?”
twitched a boney shoulder.
David liked to sing and dance. No one thought he was immoral.” Gracey’s voice
faltered. “Until Bathsheba came out on the roof… Maybe he’s not the best
example—but he did sing and dance.”
laughed. “There are plenty of noble and worthy performers.”
that to my father, my mother, my grandmother and my cousins.” Gracey swallowed.
“Tell that to men like Boris.”
father and mother—although they might not have meant to—have hurt you far worse
than the likes of Boris Kidrick.”
had learned a lot from Matilda since she had joined the Rose Arbor troupe, but
that particular lesson she had learned months earlier when her parents had
shipped her to her grandmother’s ranch seven long, bumpy, jaw-jarring and
teeth-rattling miles from Godforsaken Seattle. Had they really expected her to
stay on a ranch surrounded by acres of pastures of horses, cattle and cow pies?
Did they really think she would learn to behave like her hick grandmother and
shovel out stables?
if reading her mind, Matilda said, “I don’t know why you’re so anxious to
return to their company.”
leaned against her friend. “I don’t want to go to New York to see my parents!”
lips curved into a smile. “You want to be on the New York stage.”
you imagine that you will sing and dance right beneath your family’s nose and
they will never notice?”
am an actress—and a wizard with makeup and design. They will never recognize
me.” She straightened her spine and pride tinged her voice. “I’ve been right
under my grandmother’s nose for weeks, and she hasn’t found me!”
for want of trying.” Matilda lifted an eyebrow. “Your family has already
summoned a posse to look for you.”
But they won’t think to look in their own backyard!”
clouded Matilda’s expression. “If they are as influential and prominent as you
lifted her chin. “No one can stop a shooting star.”
smiled and wiped off her face cream. “Laws, child, have you no fear of
put down the manuscript. It was silly…but compelling. The opening advertisement
made her ill. So many women through so many generations saw marriage as the
end-all. Her mother had taught her, “A man is not a financial plan.” And yet,
Addison had still fallen for it. It was like she was programmed to see a man as
an answer to her problems. When would she finally grasp that a man wasn’t the
answer, but, in her case, the problem?
braced her shoulders. She had to solve her own problems now. But a tricky
little voice in the back of her head whispered that even after Paul’s death she
still wasn’t standing on her own financial feet. The life insurance policy
would always eclipse anything she could ever hope to earn at the bookshop. It
had been tempting to continue on at the store, watching it lose money every
month, but common sense and Mr. Patel had prevailed. She had tried to make a go
of a business, and she’d failed. Just like she’d failed her marriage. Even if
she hadn’t known it.
glanced around the Books and Bun Bookshop. What made this place successful? Who says it is? the voice in her head
asked. All the people? But how many are
actually buying anything?
sank back in the club chair and took note of her fellow bookstore patrons. The elderly
man with his glasses perched on the end of his nose had a pile of historical novels
on the ottoman in front of him. In the children’s section, a mother with a
toddler on her lap flipped through a picture book. Two chairs over, a
nail-biting woman sat lost in a romance. Dozens of people were parked at the
tables, hiding behind laptops. She couldn’t see the checkout counter from where
she sat and, of course, she had no way of knowing the store’s financials, but
if no one was actually buying anything, the store had to be suffering.
was just like the self-publishing tidal wave. If everyone was going to give
away books, how would any book business survive?
What are you doing here?”
late to hide. She smiled up into his blue eyes. How could she have been so
mistaken? Had she completely misread him? Had all those lunches and long
conversations been nothing more than a pleasant way to spend the time?
out the competition?” he asked.
swallowed. “A bookstore in Shell Falls could hardly compete with a shop in
Frisco.” Especially if the Shell Falls shop closed its doors.
true.” He nodded. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to find you in here. But
why didn’t you tell me you were coming to San Francisco?”
knowing what to say, she gave him a weak shrug. She’d wanted to surprise him.
But he’d been the one to surprise her when she’d spotted him kissing that
blonde on the pier. The girl looked like a teenager with an incredibly poor
sense of color coordination—bumble-bee stockings, a red and white striped
mini-skirt, a purple hoodie.
a long way from home.” She heard the questions in his tone, but she didn’t feel
the need to provide any answers.
Grant handsome, James usually caused her to melt whenever he came into her
shop, but now when she looked at him, she couldn’t help seeing the Barbie hanging
on his arm. Even if the blonde wasn’t there physically, in Addison’s head, she
bookstore owners need a vacation,” she told him.
long are you in town?”
had thought about leaving as soon as she’d seen him and Barbie-Bimbo in action,
but now she decided she wasn’t going to let him run her off like a dog with a
tail between her legs. “I’m here for the weekend.”
to mask his surprise, he glanced at his watch. “That’s great. I have a
I bet you do,
how about tomorrow? Are you available?”
I have plans.” It gave her a little surge of power to say that, and like candy
sprinkles on top of a cupcake, the disappointed look on his face only added to
sorry, James,” Addison said, picking up the manuscript.
I can see you’re busy,” he said. “Maybe we can meet up next time I’m in Shell
she murmured. She started reading and refused to watch him walk away.
Christian Roberts sat at the gaming table, coins on his left side and a flask on his right. A pair of kings, accompanied by a six, a four and a whatchamacallit, swam in and out of his vision. He tried holding the cards a little further away and willed his eyes to focus on the whatchamacallit. Was it a queen—or that other card that he couldn’t remember the name of—or was it another king? He hoped it was another king. He held his cards away from his chest but after half a second he slapped them face down on the table. He didn’t trust his friends not to look—not even his partner.
he was pretty sure these men weren’t even friends. Not really. They tolerated
him because he had a steady stream of gold…and whiskey…and he liked a good
game. A game with kings. He didn’t mind the whatchamacallits, not when they
came in pairs. One by its lonesome couldn’t do much. He picked up his hand and
tried to steady his gaze while a mammoth man pounded on the piano.
threw the musician a frustrated glance. Maybe he could focus on the game if
that brute would stop filling the room with that awful sound. He looked at the
men sharing his table, trying to read them. No one else seemed to mind the
racket coming from the corner.
in?” Percy, on his left, asked.
was definitely inside because the piano was inside. Never really ever seen a
piano outside—unless it was on its way from one place to another. And yep,
there were bottles lining shelves behind the bar. A wooden floor. A stamped
brass ceiling. Four walls. Definitely inside. He nodded.
Reynolds, on his right, prompted.
The game. He was supposed to ante up. What did that mean? Funny expression,
sounded like “auntie up.” Christian tried to imagine how his Aunt Mable would
respond if someone tried to ante up her. He snorted. His attention flicked over
the men surrounding him, all looking so grim and serious. He doubted any of
them even had an aunt.
so funny?” Kidrick demanded.
and Reynolds were good chaps, if poor poker players, but he despised Kidrick. A
pity Percy and Reynolds didn’t have Kidrick’s business sense and card savvy.
Why should a louse like Kidrick own half the town and win at cards? Christian
imagined Aunt Mable anteing up Kidrick with a wooden spoon. He chuckled low and
French,” Kidrick muttered.
say now—” Bad form cussing his nationality. Well, his mother’s nationality. His
eyes welled as he thought of his mother. He blinked away his tears because,
while he wasn’t sure whether the brutes at his table had aunts, he was very
sure they never cried. At least not over a pair of kings. Or a trio of kings.
He still couldn’t tell, but he did push in his entire pile of coins.
sure, Roberts?” Percy lifted an eyebrow.
shrugged. “What have I got to lose? Kidrick here has already won the theater.”
He laid his cards down. From the reaction, he guessed it was a trio of kings.
Percy stood so suddenly his chair fell over. Kidrick brought his fist down on
the table, making all the coins jump.
smiled as he scooped the pot into his bag, then stood and swagger-staggered
toward the door.
Roberts,” Reynolds called after him. “You can’t leave.”
back here.” Kidrick pushed after Christian and grabbed him by the elbow.
looked at Kidrick’s hand and then at his face. Kidrick cocked back his arm for
a punch that would land in Christian’s gut if he didn’t block it. Christian
grabbed Kidrick around the neck and held him in midair, considering what to do
with him, before tossing him out into the street. Kidrick landed in the arms of
a well-built man who also didn’t desire his company. Within seconds Kidrick and
the well-built man were throwing punches.
inside the bar, Christian watched the fistfight and felt a smidgeon of remorse.
He had started it, but dem if he’d back up Kidrick. His gaze went to the stars
shining through the window. He had to get away from the tavern’s smoke and
stench. He paused at the open door. But first—
raised a hand, which stopped the calls of his poker-mates. He heard their
collective sigh as he turned to face the room, followed by their groans as
Christian sat at the piano, bumping hips with the brute at the keyboard.
me,” Christian mumbled.
pianist reluctantly relinquished his seat as Christian poised his fingers over
the keyboard and began Dickson’s “Land of Long Ago.”
a moment the laughter hushed and it seemed as if only music filled the night as
the piano cast a spell over the crowded, smoke-filled room.
stopped playing as abruptly as he had begun and pushed away from the instrument
and out the door, stepping over the inert Kidrick on his way to anywhere else.
literally danced when she heard the news. Her feet skipped, her toes pointed,
and her knees wanted to drop to the ground in worshipful thanksgiving.
won’t regret this!” she promised Ivan, stopping mid-dance to hug him.
craggy-faced man smiled while the blond beauty behind him mouthed, “Oh, yes, he will.”
wasn’t about to let Clarisse piddle in her pot of pure happiness. She had an
all-expense paid ticket out of Seattle. Her family would never think to follow
the Rose Arbor troupe across the country. Think of all the cities she would
see! On her way here, she had traveled by rail accompanied by the stiff,
self-righteous cousin who never let her leave the confines of the sleeper car.
But the troupe would go from city to city and perform on the very best stages!
so fast!” Ivan warned. “You have to prove you can do this.” He handed her a
sheaf of music. “Come up with a dance.”
studied the music, noting the eighth notes and basic time signature. Because
she was familiar with the popular ballad and its message, she knew
choreographing a dance would be fairly simple. Behind Ivan, Clarisse smirked,
making Gracey wonder what sort of dance Clarisse had used for her audition.
want to see it tomorrow morning,” Ivan warned.
be ready.” Gracey wasn’t worried, but she would need to practice, preferably
with Poke, and absolutely far from Clarisse’s spying eyes. Gracey couldn’t let
that woman sabotage this opportunity. She would need to come up with the dance
on her own and then practice with Poke’s accompaniment once…or maybe twice.
leave in a couple of days,” Ivan told her. “You can bring one trunk.”
wouldn’t care if I could only bring dancing shoes!”
would be interesting,” Ivan said.
not that kind of show,” Clarisse said, coming behind Ivan and laying a hand on
his shoulder. “I told you—she’s not star material.”
taking a chance on you,” Ivan told Gracey, ignoring Clarisse. “It’s going to be
a lot of hard work and a lot of travel. You will, no doubt, find the troupe
demanding and challenging. That’s why I want to see if you can come up with an
original dance overnight.”
love challenges!” Gracey flashed Ivan a smile. She pushed through the backstage
door and found herself in an alley. She needed to practice far from
Clarisse…some spacious, private place where Clarisse would never look. Her gaze
landed on the outhouses and the clearing beyond them. She wrinkled her nose as
she drew closer to the small but smelly clearing, far from windows and prying
exited the outhouse and caught a sudden chill. A skin-pricking sensation said
he wasn’t alone. Animals. Possibly a red fox, raccoon, skunk, opossum. He
tightened his grip on his bag of gold, wondering if Kidrick had followed.
he called out. Night birds answered. Something skittered in a nearby thicket,
and a twig snapped. He watched moonlight flicker through the boughs of a pine
tree then heard footfalls.
was dancing in the moonlight? A fairy? Her dark hair had come loose and swirled
around her spinning shoulders. Such a creature belonged deep in the woods, or
in a valley of wildflowers, or on a gilded throne—she did not belong in a dusty
clearing behind the privy with alley cats for an audience. Her dance-warmed
skin glowed beneath the stars, and her body moved to no music that he could
hear. Unable to stop himself, he stepped closer, as if drawn by a magnet.
“Mon dieu. Qu’est-ce que tu es?”
she stopped and stared at him. “You’re French.”
shook his head. “No, I am drunk.”
studied him as if assessing his potential danger.
tried to look harmless, which wasn’t difficult, because he was basically
when he was angry.
he had left Kidrick for dead in the street. Christian twisted his lips and
decided Kidrick didn’t count.
you always speak French when drunk?”
shrugged. He was better with questions when he was sober. “I asked my question
it was a silly question—anyone can see what I am.”
stepped closer and peered at her. With all that dark hair and her dark red
lips, she looked like his mother. “Are you French?”
He paused. “Don’t let me stop you.” He waved a hand at her. “Carry on.”
scowled. “I’m not going to dance if you’re going to watch.”
not?” He motioned toward the theater. “I assume you came from the playhouse,
where you presumably dance for hundreds on the stage, so why would you not
dance for one, here?”
arms dangled. “I no longer feel like dancing. You killed my mood.” She jabbed a
finger in his face. “But I’m not going to let you spoil my happiness!”
would be devastated if you did.” He tilted his head to one side, smiling. “Do
you always dance when you are happy?”
course not. Although I haven’t been this happy for a long time, so it’s hard to
are you so happy?” An unpleasant thought occurred to him. “Are you in love?”
shook her head.
I’m glad. Love can make you do regrettable things.”
you been in love?”
didn’t want to talk about love. He wanted to watch this girl dance. “Will you
dance for me?”
you dance with me?”
I don’t think so.”
laughed, and the noise delighted him. He didn’t want her to stop, but after a
few moments, she did.
should that matter?” she asked.
shrugged. “Demmed if I know, but it usually seems to. Will you dance with me?”
he asked again.
shook her head.
I walk you home?”
she said, smiling up at him. She took his hand and led him the ten yards to the
theater’s back door.
dropped his hand and pointed to the sky. “On the third floor.”
are you so happy?”
took a deep breath and told him of her plans to join the Rose Arbor Traveling
not happy; that’s sad.”
would you say that?”
“Because this might be the only chance I’ll ever have to do this,” he said, taking her in his arms and kissing her.