Sleight Of Hand
Dragomir Starkov poses as an illusionist, a showman performing tricks, his Romanian accent and dark good looks all just a part of the drama. That’s how Rose Carlisle first sees him. She’s a respectable girl—she wouldn’t accept witchy birthday gifts from a demon.
But the hustle and bustle of 1912 New York City offers plenty of ways to slip around the strict old rules of propriety. A good thing, too, because once Rose meets Drago, she no longer cares about being respectable.
But the only illusion in Drago’s act is that his magic is smoke and mirrors. Every word of power he speaks is as real as Rose before him, in thrall to his lust and adoration. Drago knows about Rose’s curse, that she will die on her next birthday.
But the shadowy threat that stalks her hasn’t won her yet. If she can trust him, perhaps he can save her too…
New York City
A torrential downpour bounced off the sloping roof of the Sunshine Theater. Inside the auditorium, an eager audience sat riveted by Dragomir Starkov’s onstage presence.
Dressed in black, he moved with confidence. With his hair slicked back from a widow’s peak and his eyes drawing the crowd into his mirage, he spoke in a heavy, Romanian accent. “Ladies and gentlemen, I will now attempt something few magicians dare. I will bring a creature back to life.”
Turning to the rear of the stage, he hid his hands from view. When he faced the audience again, he presented the body of what appeared to be a dead kitten. The small animal hung limply across his open palm. Murmuring a low chant, he waved it from one side of the stage to the other. Then, with a flick of his white-gloved fingers, he urged the kitten back to life.
The small cat sat up erect and blinked in astonishment. As it let out a satisfied “meow,” it sprang to the floor.
The audience clapped wildly. In turn, Drago stepped forward. That’s when he spotted the woman he had willed to come to tonight’s show.
With an abundance of flaxen hair that swayed from a ponytail like wheat in a summer breeze, and a flawless complexion that glowed against the stage’s low-lying gaslights, the young woman’s beauty imprisoned Drago like a padlock. In the sparkle of her violet eyes he saw something amazing—a unique essence of goodness that compelled him as he often compelled
She’s even more beautiful than she was in my vision.
The girl flashed him a smile—and when it illuminated his world of darkness like a bright spotlight, the need to protect and possess her rose within him. But it didn’t matter how he felt. He was here to banish a cruel curse cast upon her when she was a baby. And if he wanted to weave his unique spell around her, he needed to hypnotize her now.
A hush fell over the theater. Clasping his hands behind his back, Drago paced the stage like a caged animal. “For my next trick, I need a female volunteer from the audience.”
Numerous hands went up. He ignored them. Once he unlaced his dark cape, he threw it into the wings. “I need a very special participant for this mystifying trick.”
Pressing his forefinger to his temple, he pretended to use his powers of telepathy. Just then, the beautiful blond girl left her seat, accompanied by her dark-haired friend. They scurried to the theater’s center aisle, apparently adverse to the thought of being called on to volunteer.
“You there!” Drago thundered.
The duo froze in their tracks and wheeled around.
Pulling on her thick, blond ponytail, Rose—her name popped into Drago’s head suddenly—blushed.
“You, my dear.” He galloped halfway down the staircase at the side of the stage and extended his hand.
“Go on, Rose!” her friend encouraged. Drago was right about her name.
Rose smoothed her gingham dress. She joined him on the shadowed staircase, then took his hand. As Drago grasped it, an alarming chill raced up his spine. And when her pink lips spread into another shy smile, he found himself completely enchanted.
Leading her to center stage he said, “Please tell the audience your name, Miss.”
“It’s Rose Carlisle.”
“Have we ever met before, Rose?”
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to tell the spectators how old you are.”
“I don’t know how you could guess that, but very well,” she replied in a sweet, clear voice.
He cleared his throat. “Today is your birthday, and you are twenty years old.” The number surfaced in his mind as surely as he knew his own birthday.
Rose’s jaw dropped open. She nodded vigorously. “How did you know?” Her friend, who had returned to her seat in the front row, mirrored her stunned expression.
Drago felt his affinity for the doe-eyed beauty grow. Yet he urged himself to be careful—and to make her feel as comfortable with him as possible.
“It doesn’t take a magician to see that you’ve attended this show without your parents’ permission,” he said. “Is that right, Miss Carlisle?”
The crowd chuckled lightly at the joke. Rose looked stunned. “I haven’t seen my parents since I was a baby. But my adoptive parents don’t know I’m here.”
“I see,” Drago remarked lightheartedly. But when he saw Rose clutching her hands together nervously, he sensed her pain ran deep.
“Have you ever been a magician’s assistant?”
“No,” Rose replied. “In fact, this is my first magic show.”
“We’ll have to make it one you’ll never forget.”
When he reached for her small, velvet hand, it trembled inside his at the suggestion.
“Promise me you won’t be anxious,” he said. “I would never allow harm to come to you.”
She slid a glance his way—and they locked eyes for what felt like an eternity.
“I’ll try not to be nervous,” she finally promised. “What do I have to do?”
“Absolutely nothing. Just close your lovely eyes and remain in one spot.”
Rose did as she was told. Drago took the opportunity to study her high cheekbones, dainty mouth, and hourglass figure. Though she was tall, her demeanor lent her a fragile air. She seemed to him a delicate, porcelain doll which could be broken easily if handled improperly.
Frowning, he tried to concentrate on performing his illusion. While Rose kept her eyes closed, he massaged the air in front of him with his fingertips. As he murmured something inaudible, he willed Rose’s feet to rise slowly off the ground.
It appeared as if someone was pulling her legs out from under her. Eventually, her torso, limbs, and head reached a plane parallel to the stage and she was levitating in space.
The crowd gasped as Drago reached for a large silver hoop. He proceeded to pass the circle back and forth over Rose’s stiff body. When he twisted and turned it in every direction, the audience gasped. The trick, which had been performed only one time before, proved it had the power to intrigue.
“Are you doing all right, Rose?” Drago asked in a gentle voice.
She nodded. Her ponytail swung toward the wooden floor.
“Excellent.” Drago passed the silver hoop to his brunette assistant, Katherine. “Ladies and gentlemen, I have a confession to make. The second half of this trick is new even to me. However, it’s something I feel bold enough to try with Miss Carlisle’s help.”
Drago’s assistant cast him an angry look. He continued on anyway. “Katherine, would
you hand me that red silk drape?” he asked.
Clearly irritated, Katherine moved to the tiny prop table in the corner. Once she passed a large cloth to Drago, he unfolded it and draped it over the length of Rose’s levitating body.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said in a low tone. “Making a woman levitate in midair is one thing. But what if I made her …disappear?”
He whipped off the red drape and exposed nothing but air. Men in pinstriped suits leapt to their feet and women touched their hats in astonishment.
When the audience’s enthusiastic clapping subsided, Drago removed his gloves. “Now
I’ll make our lovely Rose reappear. Just… like… that.”
Snapping his fingers loudly, he moved to a cabinet in the middle of the stage. He opened the cabinet’s door with an exaggerated gesture and there stood a pale-faced Rose. Grinning, Drago took her hand and helped her out. Together they walked to the front of the stage and were greeted with thunderous applause.
As he took one step away from Rose, Drago bowed to her as well. Her cheeks regained their color—and she looked at him as if he were the most wonderful man in the world.
Although leaving her was the last thing he desired to do, he had no choice. Drago came closer to her and pressed something into her hand. Then he mouthed the haunting words, “Wear this and come back to me.”
Rose’s hand closed around the item the handsome magician had placed in her palm. The curtain closed with a dramatic whoosh—and as she stumbled up the aisle, she unfurled her hand and stared at the object. It was a beautiful amulet that bore a silver chain and mysterious Egyptian engravings.
About the Author:
Marina Myles’s love of books began as soon as she read her first fairy tale. During her college days, she received degrees in English Literature and Communications—and enjoyed the unique experience of being a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.
Now that she lives under the sunny skies of Arizona, she hasn’t left her glamorous life behind completely. After all, she gets to divide her time between her loving family, her loyal Maltese, and worlds filled with fiery—but not easily attained—love affairs.
Visit her at www.marinamyles.com
Date of Publication: May 1, 2014
Word Count: 17,000
Giselle Swenov is a radiant opera star whose beauty is second only to her voice. That is, until a jealous enchantress strips away her talent and looks, transforms her into a mute and haggard old woman, and forces her to leave the man of her dreams at the altar on their wedding day. Now there’s only one person able to reverse the spell: Giselle’s warlock ex-fiancé, Lucian Ivanu.
But three years have passed, and the ever-dashing Lucian seems to have moved on―he’s inherited a vast fortune, forsaken his scandalous powers, and is even set to marry again. Will he recognize his former flame when she shows up at his engagement party and begs for help? Can she recover the powerful magic ring needed to break the curse before it’s too late? Giselle’s plight has a darker twist as she discovers just how far the enchantress’s grasp reaches…
Giselle Swenov adjusted her bridal veil with a smile. At the thought of marrying the most wonderful man in the world, her heart beat melodiously—and as Bucharest’s leading operatic protégé, she nearly belted out a glass-shattering note, too.
Restraining herself, she cracked open the dressing room door and stare into the chapel. She knew her family members wouldn’t be in attendance, but she scoured the pews for them anyway. From day one, her mother and father had disapproved of her groom. What was they’d said? “Are you mad, Giselle? Lucian Ivanu is socially inferior—and his connection to the Dark Arts means he isn’t right for you.”
Giselle’s pulse leapt as she glimpsed Lucian at the altar. Ironically, he looked nothing like a warlock. With flowing white-blond hair, gray eyes that reminded her of storm clouds over the Black Sea, and a knee-buckling grin, he resembled a prince ready to sweep her off her feet.
Although Giselle wanted to stare at him all day, she shut the door before he saw her in her bridal gown. She refused to let bad luck seep into their wedding ceremony.
“You look beautiful, my dear,” Ileana Zǎpǎda, Bucharest National Opera’s premier patron, called out behind her.
“Thank you Doamna Zǎpǎda,” she replied anxiously. At least Ileana was here to help, unlike her mother.
“Come,” the elegant woman urged. “Take a final look at yourself as an unmarried woman.”
Giselle swiveled around to survey her appearance in the mirror. Cascading golden-brown curls framed her carefully made-up face and a sense of optimism lit her eyes. She had become the bride she’d envisioned as a girl and she could hardly contain her excitement.
“You look a stunning.” Ileana Zǎpǎda stepped in beside her and met her gaze in the mirror. “But
you are a little pale.”
“Nerves, I suppose.” Letting out a self-conscious laugh, Giselle studied Doamna Zǎpǎda. Her refinement spoke of the lofty social standing Giselle’s family wished she would reach. She winced.
“Sit with me and have some tea,” the socialite proposed. “Tea studied my nerves before I married my second husband.”
Giselle swept her train off the floor and settled into a chair at a small table. While she laid her bridal bouquet in her lap, Ileana poured two steaming cups.
“Why are you being so nice to me, Doamna Zǎpǎda?” Giselle asked as she accepted the tea cup.
The woman sighed. “It broke my heart to learn that your parents disowned you. Word spreads quickly through the opera house—and because I’m a mother hen to all my celebrated singers, I knew you’d need some moral support on your wedding day.”
“You must be a loving mother to your own children,” Giselle said gently.
Ileana’s expression turned icy. “I never had children of my own. I have a stepdaughter, but we aren’t particularly close.”
“Well, I sincerely appreciate your help.” Giselle smiled. “Clasping the buttons on the back of my dress would have been impossible on my own.”
As she sipped her tea, her entire body warmed instantly and she began to perspire. I must be more nervous than I thought…
Ileana went on. “I greatly admire your vocal talent, Giselle. I also admire your extraordinary beauty. Unfortunately, I’m about to sabotage both of those exceptional attributes.”
Alarm pierced through Giselle. She tried to protest but before she could speak a word, her throat burned as if she’d ingested hot coals. She clawed at it while Ileana studied her the way a snake zeroes in on its prey. Giselle tried to extend her hand, but her limbs prickled with pain. In an instant, her skin shriveled dramatically and her knuckles became hideously gnarled.
“Poor, unknowing girl.” Ileana stood over her. “I’m an enchantress of the Dark Arts and I slipped
an accursed potion into the tea pot when you weren’t looking.”
Giselle opened her mouth to scream, but no sound escaped her lips. With great effort, she crawled to the mirror like an invalid and stared at her reflection. My God! I’m a mute, old woman!
Heart stuttering, she managed to pull herself to her feet. She flung open the door and entered the chapel. All heads jerked in her direction. When she locked eyes with Lucian, he stared at her in astonishment yet without an ounce of recognition.
All hope evaporated from her body as he thundered, “Is that woman wearing my bride’s dress? Somebody find Giselle!”
“The hag must be playing a cruel joke!” a guest accused.
“Escort her outside,” Lucian roared to an usher.
A burly man took Giselle by the arm and dragged her out the front door. Once he disappeared back into the church, another strong arm grabbed her unexpectedly and thrust her inside an awaiting carriage.
Giselle quaked with terror as she stared at the enormous man hovering over her.
“I work for Ileana.” He grunted. “She commands that you become her servant woman—until she grows tired of you and decides to turn you back into your normal self.”
Giselle made another futile attempt to cry out.
The henchman crossed his arms and shook his head. “You won’t be talking, singing, or screaming for a very long time, Miss Swenov. That should make for a quiet ride to Dantel House.”
Although Marina Myles lives under the sunny skies of Arizona, she would reside in a historic manor house in foggy England if she had her way. Her love of books began as soon as she read her first fairy tale, and grew by leaps and bounds when she discovered Nancy Drew/Agatha Christie mysteries and rich, historical romances.
Dreaming of becoming a published author, she wrote her first ‘gothic’ story at age eleven. She went on to study creative writing at Southern Methodist University— where she received degrees in Communications and English Literature. During her time in Dallas, she had the unique experience of being a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.
Now with her loyal Maltese close by, she relishes the hours she gets to escape into worlds filled with tortured heroes, strong heroines, and their fiery—but not easily attained—love affairs. She’s busy being a wife (to her Italian-born husband) and a mother (to her two beautiful daughters), but she is never too busy to hear from her amazing readers.
Represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency