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