A Seductive Bride for the Illusionist Preview

A Steamy Regency Romance

 

About the book


“You are the only woman who made me risk everything for just a second in your bed…”

Meticulous and stubborn, London journalist Sophie Gale is struggling to provide for her family in a world ruled by men. When her boss asks her to uncover the secrets of the elusive Great Dynamo, she must push aside both her passion and her morals.

Edward Linfield, else known as the Great Dynamo, hides secrets greater than his name. As a famous illusionist, his days are filled with excitement and intrigue—a mask to hide his true pain and plan. A plan that just might blow up when the ever persistent Sophie manages to slip in through the cracks. 

It only takes one mistake to ruin the fun. As Edward’s plans of revenge move to action, there’s one thing he never anticipated; having to choose between duty and passion. For who breaks the illusion when the one who created it is dead?

Chapter One


A streak of light from the soft morning sun broke through the old, leaky window as water dribbled into the wash basin. With a careful, hypnotic tempo, the droplets ran down the young girl’s bare shoulders, and soothed her aching muscles as they went.

Sophie Gale, a gentle and loving sister, wrung the washcloth over the top of the basin, then she placed it ever so nicely against Patience’s back as she sat in the tub.

Patience, the youngest of the two, had suffered from typhus. There were complications during her recovery, and she was left unable to earn a living. However, Sophie didn’t mind taking care of her sister. In fact, when Patience first came down with the illness, Sophie vowed to do whatever she could to keep her sister alive.

“My sister is an angel,” Patience murmured quietly as she sat in the hot water, pale skin glistening with a sheen of sweat. Her eyes remained closed, and her eyelashes were heavy with moisture.

Sophie smiled from the sentiment and continued to carefully scrub her sensitive skin. “Angels help those who need it most.”

Patience’s smile was a hazy, relaxed one. She melted like a feline under the water’s comfort. “Surely, you don’t need to help me wash.”

“I would be lost if I didn’t,” Sophie replied with the kind eyes she always gave her sister. Her life meant a great deal to the eldest daughter as it was almost torn from her before. “Besides, does the water not soothe your aches?”

Patience sighed and wiped the stray water from her eyes. “It does, truly.”

“Then I am content.”

After the younger girl was washed, Sophie helped her from the washing tub and dried the water from her skin. She used the lightest touch she could, afraid of hurting her dear sister.

Since the illness overcame her some months prior, Patience was as sensitive as a newborn. Her muscles often ached, nausea gripped her at times, and she even suffered from confusion. While she had been lucky to survive the illness, the aftermath often brought her grief. Although, she tried her best not to worry her sister too much.

Despite her inability to earn her keep out in society, Patience never steered away from making sure the house was well kept, as she wanted to take the stress away from Sophie’s shoulders. While Sophie did whatever she could to give Patience a good life, the youngest sister always tried everything in her power to make things easy for the eldest. She knew how exhausting it must have been to care for her, while earning her own keep.

Patience pulled a pale-yellow dress over her head, made of modest fabric. While she often longed for the finest silks that money could buy, the young girl never asked for much, nor did she complain about what frocks she was given. Sophie was grateful for her sister’s understanding and kind heart.

Once Patience was dressed, she sat at the small vanity in their shared room and waited for her sister, who was occupied with opening the curtains. The sunlight warmed the young girl’s skin further, and she took a moment to reap the comfort it brought.

With fine, long strokes, Sophie ran the bristles through Patience’s long brown hair, careful not to snag any knots. It was her favorite part of the morning, as she loved how her sister’s hair shimmered under the light. Despite the illness, her locks never lacked softness.

The two sisters looked quite similar. They both had healthy brunette hair, sea-colored eyes, and fair skin. Being twenty-five, Sophie carried the curves of a woman, while her sister still held onto vague characteristics of a young lady. Sophie often wondered if the illness had slowed her younger sister’s growth. Still, she saw Patience as nothing less than beautiful.

Together, the sisters prepared their breakfast and ate it quietly while gathered around their small table. They talked lightly about local gossip they had heard through friends, even though neither of them truthfully took pleasure in it.

Sophie recalled a story her friend, Georgiana Russel, told her in confidence the last time they were together. It was a rather explicit tale about a young couple and infidelity. However, Sophie didn’t retell the more provocative details to her little sister.

“How did he find out?” Patience asked curiously, intrigued by the delicious drama as she typically had limited entertainment.

“Mr. Thornbury forgot his foolscap in the sitting room when he left for work. When he turned around to retrieve them, Mrs. Thornbury was sharing their bed with Liam Bennet,” Sophie divulged to her sister.

Patience held a shocked hand over her mouth as she gave Sophie a knowing look. “That is one too many people.”

Sophie and Patience couldn’t help but giggle together as they recognized Mr. Thornbury’s misfortunes, glad to not be involved. While they of course felt for the man, they couldn’t deny the outrageous circumstances.

By midmorning, Sophie led Patience around the town square by her arm as they went for a stroll. It was a common activity that the sisters partook in, as Sophie was worried that Patience would grow ill again if she remained stagnant indoors.

Together, they would walk at a slow pace, taking in the fresh air and the social delights they often craved. It was a great way for them both to stretch their legs and recharge. For soon, they would be bound indoors by the cold months. Sophie always made sure to take advantage of the warm weather whenever she could.

“Mr. Henry is treating you well, I hope?” Patience asked with a sense of knowing in her voice. Patience was the only one around to listen to her sister’s woes that came with her occupation, and she knew better than anyone how hard the man was on her.

Sophie pressed a contented smile, despite how often she complained when she came home. “As well as I could hope.”

“He ought to not give you such a hard time,” Patience frowned with her shoulders squared. “You are much more intelligent than most of those other gentlemen reporters.”

“Be kind, Patience,” Sophie urged. “I should be grateful that Mr. Henry even agreed to hire me. He took some convincing, if you don’t recall.”

Patience sighed with a combination of stubbornness and knowing that her sister was right. “You have the same right as any man to write for the paper.”

“He must think so as well,” Sophie tested, considering the likelihood of her further unemployment if Mr. Henry hadn’t given her the chance when she needed it most. “I don’t wish to strain our business relationship further.”

“You are a brilliant journalist, Sophie. Do not forget it,” Patience said finally, chin in the air proudly. The younger girl always admired Sophie’s work, no matter what her boss had to say about it.

Sophie smiled softly at her sister; eyes glossed by the sentiment. “Do you truly think so?”

Patience’s immediate nod offered Sophie all the reassurance she needed. “I could never think otherwise.”

The two sisters continued on with their day as they typically did. After they said their formal greetings to their neighbors and wished them good-day, Sophie and Patience walked back home to sit pleasantly in the small garden.

Their family didn’t have the large and lavish property out in the countryside like many did, although their modest garden was suitable enough for their liking. They often perched on their benches and talked further about recent events. Patience soaked up as much sun as she possibly could, while Sophie often got lost in her endless thoughts.

“Do you ever wonder what it would be like to live in a manor?” Patience asked after some time, as she angled her face to catch the light. She had hoped the sun would give her skin a healthy glow, despite that most women wished for pale, milky skin from being indoors.

“Occasionally,” Sophie responded, thoughtful, from beside her sister. “While I am most grateful for what we have, I would not mind acquiring an office for myself.”

“That would be brilliant, Sophie,” Patience agreed honestly as the excitement crawled into her cheeks. Then, the girl got down from the bench and carefully laid down on the grass. She loved the feeling of the earth beneath her.

“What would you like?” Sophie asked, curious then about her sister’s inner wishes.

“I would be contented with new dresses—of fine silk, mostly. As well as a new carriage with strong horses to pull it. I could throw extravagant parties and have my lady companions with me wherever I go,” Patience dreamed up merrily with pleasure written on her face. Then, she took a deep breath and released it into the sky. “Most importantly, I would like our family to live somewhere comfortable. I would like for you to spend your days as you wished, not working to provide for us.”

“That does sound lovely, Patience. However, I like what I do, truly. Journalism has always been my dream.”

Patience rolled over onto her stomach so she could gaze up at her older sister. Youth showed through her seventeen-year-old eyes. “What if you had your own newspaper? That way, you could write whatever you wished.”

Sophie liked how the idea sounded, although she couldn’t quite sell herself on it. Still, she wanted Patience to know that her thoughts were appreciated. “I would be my own employer.”

“Exactly that,” Patience hummed, with her chin resting against her palms as her elbows dug into the ground.

However, Patience’s pleasant expression faltered as she gripped at her side. She winced at the pain as her body curled against the grass.

“Patience!” Sophie exclaimed, quick to be at her sister’s side. She helped the girl into a sitting position as she tried to examine her, although Patience rolled into the eldest daughter’s lap. “What is the matter?”

Patience cried out quietly in pain, and she gripped Sophie’s hand tightly as the wave of pain washed over her. She sucked in a rigid breath. “It is only the…the usual pain.”

“Dear girl,” Sophie cooed, carefully rocking her sister through the pain. “We need to get you inside and in bed.”

Patience nodded urgently with her head nestled within the fabric of Sophie’s frock.

After some time, Sophie brought her sister to her feet, and she moved her inside, careful to not pain her further. It occurred often, as Patience’s nerves had been frayed since her illness. The doctor did not elaborate too much into the details, although the young girl’s complications were bound to her for life. Thus, Sophie wanted to make sure the girl was taken care of.

***

Once Patience was inside and tucked beneath the scratchy sheets on her bed, Sophie was able to release the breath she held in. The girl’s pain had begun to disperse, yet her body was overcome with exhaustion. Her eyes were heavy as she felt the gentle contact of Sophie’s hand against her forehead.

“Rest now, dear,” Sophie murmured softly as she stroked her sister’s hair. “We will discuss your pleasant dreams later.”

Patience nodded despite her uncomfortable expression. Her skin grew clammy from the sudden stress of her lingering ailment, yet it didn’t deter Sophie from offering her affection.

Sophie left Patience to get some rest, and she tried her best to let the worry fall from her shoulders. Her sister was safe despite the scare, and she had much to do still. The eldest daughter’s list of chores and tasks never seemed to end, unlike her time of leisure, which easily did.

As she was accustomed, Sophie began the chores. While it was her day away from work, Sophie’s schedule was full of busy yet mundane matters that she needed to attend to. First, she cleaned up the kitchen and made sure everything was as it should be. She cleared the table, did the washing, and decided on dinner. However, their meal required fresh vegetables that they no longer had.

Sophie grabbed a wicker basket and made sure her attire was suitable before leaving the house. The market was only a short walk from home, and she made sure to make a mental note of what she needed to purchase. She never wished to buy food they didn’t need, as it was a waste of their valuable money. Sophie knew what it meant to work for her earnings, and she never wanted to take that for granted, despite how easy it would be to fall for the temptations of new, exciting gifts and trinkets.

Sophie scanned the stands and their goods as she walked with her basket in hand, mindful of the eyes around her as she went. While she wasn’t exactly an esteemed member of society, she was a journalist, and Sophie held her reputation with the highest importance. She couldn’t risk losing her employment and her family’s only source of income by acting foolishly. As her father was a lowly traveling merchant and her mother had trouble finding her own work due to her age, Sophie’s funds depended upon herself.

After careful consideration, Sophie handed her money over to a merchant and selected which produce she wanted. She filled the basket with the nicest vegetables available to her, and she thanked the vendor graciously. While it would have been wise for her to head straight home and continue with her work, Sophie couldn’t ignore the commotion that grasped her attention.

A small crowd of onlookers gathered around something in the square, and they gave sounds of encouragement as they watched. Sophie approached as the curiosity grew in her eyes. She moved as close as she could without being impolite, and the subject of everyone’s eyes became clear.

A man dressed in dirty breeches and a worn waistcoat stood on an empty milk crate with cards in his hands. He opened his arms wide to pull in more onlookers to witness his talents. The man wore a velvet top hat that looked peculiar to Sophie, although she remained in her place to see what the man would do.

The performer stepped down from his crate for a moment as he shuffled the cards in his hands. He cracked the deck down the middle and pulled apart the two halves. Without looking at what card was exposed, he held it out towards the face of a nearby gentleman.

“Dear sir, I ask you to consider this card,” he said with a valiant, confident voice. “How does it fare you?”

The onlooker nodded and adjusted his cap. “Very well.”

The performer nodded and shuffled the cards once again. He walked in a small circle as he moved the cards around, all without seeing the original one.

“Very well, indeed,” the performer murmured to himself. Then, he stopped and broke the deck in half once more. “I ask you now, is this the same card?”

The man from the makeshift audience gazed thoughtfully at the card that was exposed to him once again. His moustache moved with distaste. “It is not.”

The small crowd erupted in slight murmurs, and another gentleman even went so far as to call him a fraud.

The performer didn’t take offence by the slight as he paced around his milk crate. “That is a shame, my most sincere apology, sir.”

There was a harrumph from the crowd as they were displeased by the performance. However, the man stopped and scratched beneath his top hat. With a look of feigned shock, the performer pulled a card out from under his hat.

“I ask you once more—is this the card?”

The crowd gasped at the man’s trick, which was followed by a wave of amused clapping. However, Sophie turned to leave with a dismissive air about her, as she knew their common tricks were nothing more than that.



Chapter Two


Sophie’s walk to the old brick building was as typical as they came. She was dressed in her professional blue frock and had styled her hair up in a sophisticated manner. While Sophie did not have a lady’s maid for a lack of funds, she did try her best to make it appear as if she did. Her makeup was neat and light, as the newest fashion was natural. It was up to her to stay up-to-date with the latest fashions.

Sophie bid her fellow journalists good morning once she entered, and she found her place easily. Her desk was stationed in the far-left corner of the office, where she was typically undisturbed as she worked, and occasionally gazed out the small window. When she would find herself stuck on what words would make the greatest impact in her writing, Sophie couldn’t help but watch the fine men and women as they walked on the streets below. From there, she could often work out what new styles were emerging.

However, Benedict Henry, the head of the newspaper, slid the glass panel window across its frame as cigar smoke puffed from his mouth.

“Gale, a word.”

Sophie took a moment as her name registered in her mind, and she smoothed down the front of her dress as she stood. She hurried obediently over to the man’s office, with her eyes averted from that of her co-workers. Sophie slipped inside the office and stood politely.

"Good day, Mr. Henry.”

"Yes, yes, good day, indeed,” he muttered, too busy looking at the papers in his hand to meet her eyes. “The boys took a considerable amount of time to fix up the mess of your last story.”

Sophie grew nervous as she listened, face warming with every word. Mr. Henry always made it very clear when her work didn’t quite reach his expectations. She clasped her hands together in front of herself. “I do apologize sir; it is only that—”

“You’ll do better next time, or you won’t write altogether,” Benedict said flatly, as he never had time for excuses or false promises. He was a strict, stern businessman. He collected the papers in his hands and straightened them with a few knocks against his sturdy desk.

Sophie struggled to find the words, as her cheeks went pale and the pressure was building within her chest. She couldn’t go without work, not while her family depended on her so. The woman took a deep breath and held her chin up. “You have my word, sir.”

Benedict Henry cleared his throat as he handed the stack of papers to Sophie, who collected them daintily. “The Great Dynamo. An illusionist that is catching the attention of many with his shows. He is your new story.”

Sophie gave the man a puzzled look as she held the papers against her chest, recalling the name, as she had seen his flyers all around London. It was hard to miss the grandeur of those posters. She hesitated before speaking. “But sir, I—”

“You are responsible for interviewing and finding the secrets of London’s most famous illusionist. You will do whatever you must to make this story,” Mr. Henry interjected as he adjusted the cigar in his mouth.

Sophie tried once more to plead her case, as The Great Dynamo was an elusive man. “But sir, it is impossible.”

Mr. Henry looked dissatisfied by her response as he set his cigar on the ashtray. He leaned forward with his hands clasped together and rested against the desk. “If you refuse to do so, you will be fired. I give only the best writers employment. Do you understand, Miss Gale?”

The color drained from her face, as Sophie knew there was no choice in the matter. She would have to try her best to find The Great Dynamo and get whatever she could out of the man. While she had her doubts of how things would turn out, Sophie was dedicated to her work, and she wouldn’t take no for an answer from the man.

Sophie gave her boss an obedient nod. “Yes, sir. I will get started immediately.”

Mr. Henry returned the authoritative nod and dismissed her with a wave. “Good, good. Now go.” His eyes returned to the spare papers beneath his forearms. He adjusted the cap on his head as Sophie was already out the door.

Sophie didn’t release the breath she had been holding in until she reached her desk. She sat politely and allowed her chest to decompress as the air left her light-colored lips. The young woman closed her eyes tightly, considering what was needed of her to complete the task. She gently placed the papers on her desk.

The Great Dynamo was never kind to journalists, as he was known for avoiding them at all cost. Many great journalists had tried to interview the man to uncover his secrets, yet they all failed. He did everything in his power to avoid giving up his innermost thoughts.

Is he setting me up for failure? Sophie wondered to herself as she glanced over to the boss’s office. She could just barely see the top of his hat, and the smoke from his cigar through the glass window. Surely Mr. Henry knew how difficult of a feat it would be to interview the man, which could have been why he gave the task to Sophie—the only woman writer on the newspaper.

Sophie tried to not let the idea circle around her mind for too long. While she had considered the notion, she also wondered if it was because Benedict thought she would be capable of getting the man to speak. Sophie gravitated toward that idea more, as it was less wicked of her to think. She could only hope that was the truth. For if she failed to interview The Great Dynamo, which would result in a barren article, Sophie would be out of work. Her family would have no means to survive.

***

Sophie’s footsteps were delicate as she walked to the theatre on her own during her hour break. Her mind hadn’t left her newest assignment or The Great Dynamo since she was informed of the project. While she began her report, Sophie remembered that she had never seen the illusionist at work with her own eyes before, and she decided that would be her first course of action.

The theatre office was barren when she arrived, as a midday show had already begun. This made it easier for Sophie to purchase her ticket for her subject’s show later that night. While she didn’t want to leave Patience for the evening, she was required to place herself wherever The Great Dynamo would be, thus the show would be an optimal opportunity. In order to get the responses Sophie needed to write her article, she would need to be more persistent than those before her who failed to do so.

Sophie thanked the vendor and returned to the office with the ticket in her hand. She glanced down at the ticket every once in a while as she wondered what the show would be like. From her experience, most street performers were hacks with tricks up their sleeves. They didn’t entertain her, nor did they attract her. Sophie chalked it all up to practice and illusion. She found it difficult to be in awe of their common illusions.

Despite her distaste for illusionists, Sophie knew she needed to dedicate herself to her work in order to do well and to be fortunate enough to keep her employment. Sophie wasn’t sure what she would do otherwise if Mr. Henry decided she was no longer suitable for the position. Patience would be mortified, as she was well aware that her oldest sister was carrying her responsibilities already. She never wanted to be a burden.

When Sophie returned to the office, she completed some mundane tasks before she would have to leave for home, then for the theatre to catch the show. As she worked in the quiet office, one of her fellow journalists sat himself down in front of her desk. He puffed quietly on his pipe. Mr. Henry and most of the other writers were still away for their own lunch, thus the office was nearly empty.

“The Great Dynamo, huh?” Jonathan Plat inquired as he eyed Sophie, who caught his eye despite trying to finish her work.

“Yes, that is correct,” Sophie replied easily, although she was deterred by the way Plat looked at her, as if she would crack beneath that stare. Jonathan was known for his frank and uncivilized ways of doing things. Sophie often tried to distance herself from the senior writer.

“Hmm,” Plat murmured to himself with a careful stroke of his neat facial hair. “A considerably more difficult task than you are used to, I suppose.”

Sophie pressed a polite smile as she listened to what he had to say. She was overcome with the sudden determination to not give in to his intimidation. She had heard what it was like to feel the judgement from a few of her fellow writers.

“Are you sure you’re up for the challenge?” Plat teased, with his eyes holding back something Sophie didn’t want to understand. “A small thing such as yourself around an illusionist?”

The annoyance tugged at Sophie’s lips, although she wouldn’t let her reluctant courtesy falter. “I can handle anything Mr. Henry hands me. I know what I am capable of.”

Plat considered this for a moment before releasing an uncertain sound. “We will find out one way or another.” Disinterested by the matter, Jonathan stood from his place and made his way back to his work space.

Slightly ruffled by the encounter, Sophie busied herself as best as she could before the day was done. With her bound notebook in hand, Sophie made her way back home in what was left of the daylight, with her mind reeling with her newest responsibility.

With what help Patience could offer, the two sisters prepared dinner for themselves and their mother, and they did the washing up as well. She told her sister about the impossible subject of her next article, and that she was to see his show in only a few hours. While her younger sister empathized with her worries, she couldn’t help but be excited for her. Sophie was about to be in the presence of London’s most famous illusionist.

***

Night had fallen by the time Sophie was made up for the performance. She changed into a more proper dress, as she anticipated the presence of many esteemed individuals. The young woman powdered her face, fixed her hair, and made sure her image was in order. Not only did she want to appear as well-to-do, but Sophie also wanted to look professional. She wanted to be taken seriously as a journalist.

The theatre was more crowded than Sophie had expected, despite the praise she had already heard. As carefully as she could, Sophie made her way through the crowd of socializing onlookers and found her seat. At last, she would be able to say she witnessed a show of The Great Dynamo with her own eyes. She wasn’t sure what to expect. Whether he was a genuine performer, or a common street con, Sophie was bound to find out.

As Sophie waited in her seat, she took a mental note of those around her. The crowd was full of well-off individuals seeking the latest pleasure to throw their funds at, as they doubled the event as a time to advance socially. A part of her felt left out for not doing the same, although Sophie reminded herself that she was only there for business matters. If it weren’t for the nearly impossible article she was meant to write, she wouldn’t have been there at all.

Before the show could start, however, those who chose to stand and socialize eventually wandered back to their own seats, and Sophie was unfortunate enough to have a tall, feathery bonnet belonging to some woman in her view. She could have cursed the woman, although she restrained herself and sat patiently.

Sophie watched as a stocky man wearing fairly impressive garb embellished with gold finishes walked across the stage and lit tall pillar candles that sat within their extravagant holders. As he did so, the stage lit up and exposed a smaller platform surrounded by several strange objects. The crowd’s murmurings hushed as they anticipated the arrival of The Great Dynamo. Sophie couldn’t deny that she could feel the suspense that arose from within her chest.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” The man said suddenly as he stood in front of the crowd, still holding the candle as its flame flickered carefully. “I thank you for joining us this evening, as we have an extravagant show in store!”

The crowd clapped and hollered, barely able to contain their excitement that had been building for some time. Word of the illusionist’s shows had spread around London like wildfire, and he managed to pull in a staggering number of viewers. Sophie almost couldn’t believe the raving reviews the man had received from previous audience members. Even more so, she couldn’t believe she was in the crowd.

The announcer took a deep breath and raised his arms with a wide smile. “Please allow me to introduce you to…The Great Dynamo!”

The show began with a brilliant opening as The Great Dynamo seemed to appear out of thin air to blow out the candle his stage guest had been holding. Sophie was enthralled by the show almost immediately, as she couldn’t take her eyes away for even a second. She watched intently as the man proceeded to pull off many tricks that wowed the audience. Trick after trick, The Great Dynamo had the crowd in the palms of his hands entirely.

Sophie found herself wanting to know what the man looked like underneath the small eye mask he wore, which only contributed to his mystery. She took the occasional note, but the journalist was so absorbed that she found it to be a pain. She simply wanted to enjoy the show like the rest of the audience. The young woman was impressed by the illusionist’s attire, as his waistcoat was as dark as the night, trimmed with the same gold material as his partner. His smile seemed even more brilliant with those fine details.

The young woman could finally catch her breath once the show was finished, although she needed to have a word with the performer. Quickly, before anyone could get in her way, Sophie found her way to the back of the stage and climbed the small staircase, hidden out of sight. She looked around urgently, hoping to not miss the man.

When Sophie turned a corner, the air was pulled from her chest once she came face-to-face with The Great Dynamo. His dark eyes peered down at Sophie through the mask as his skin glimmered with a light sheen of sweat.


Chapter Three

          

Sophie’s heart quickened in her chest as she had those deep, mysterious eyes on her. A heat rose in her cheeks, and her mouth went dry as if she had gone days without water. The young woman was locked in place by his gaze, charmed and amazed by the show she had just seen, which surprised her. She never thought it was possible to be impressed by an illusionist and his tricks.

The Great Dynamo was even more thrilling to look at up close, as his regal attire put him on a greater pedestal than he would be on if it weren’t for his attractive garb. His brunette locks were coming undone from the confines of his pomade, as his hair dipped in front of his left eye. His chest began to steady as he caught his breath.

Sophie gathered herself once she remembered why she was there, and what her task was. With a deep breath as she discreetly cleared her throat, Sophie stood up a little straighter and put a sophisticated air back into her posture.

“The Great Dynamo, that was a brilliant show you put on. My name is Sophie Gale, and I am a journalist for The London Daily. I would be grateful for just a moment of your time,” the young woman said professionally as she held her foolscap in hand, prepared to write down whatever morsels she could.

The Great Dynamo held her gaze for a moment longer as something passed through his eyes. He tore the mask from around his head and pushed the hair away from his face. “That’s a shame. I have no interest in speaking with journalists.”

An icy panic scurried down Sophie’s spine. Those were the words she was dreading, and she couldn’t take no for an answer. She needed the interview, and she was going to try her hardest to make it work. The young woman watched as the illusionist began walking toward his dressing room, uninterested in the conversation that meant employment or poverty for Sophie. With desperation nipping at her heels, Sophie followed the man until she reached the doorframe.

“Sir, please. It will only take a moment. I truly don’t wish to bother you, although that is my job,” Sophie tried to appeal to him as she held the papers against her chest.

The Great Dynamo paid no attention to the woman standing in his doorway as he walked around his dressing room. His flashy long coat had been shed, and he worked on the buttons of his waistcoat. Then, he reached for a glass and poured himself a drink from an amber-colored pitcher. “If it weren’t for your job, I may have considered your company.”

Sophie’s stomach squirmed at his words, and she swallowed hard. While she wouldn’t have minded being in his company, it was not the thing she was hoping to hear from him. Sophie had her funds to think about, and her family as well. Despite the chill that ran across her arms, Sophie steadied her heart rate. “You have talent, Mr. Dynamo. Would it not be wise for you to share something about yourself with your fans? The crowd was enthralled by you.”

The Great Dynamo shook his head absently as he took a swig of his drink, then he put the glass on his vanity table and placed his hands on his hips. His glistening chest was exposed to Sophie, and she was forced to avoid the temptation at all cost. “I don’t know how else you would like me to put it. I’m not interested in any interviews.”

Sophie’s heart dropped, and her head ran to try and grasp something—anything—to change his mind. She could sense that her success was slipping away. Sophie watched as the man approached her with a stern look, and the deep, enchanting smell of his cologne met her like a cloud of pleasure. “If I have no story, I will lose my job. My family needs—”

Sophie saw that last glimpse of The Great Dynamo’s face before the door was closed on her, and she was left alone backstage. The young woman turned around and leaned against the door with her eyes pressed shut. She hugged the blank papers against her chest and released a heavy breath. There was no interview, no story, and the pressure of that reality came down on her like an illness. Her mind was overwhelmed by the fear and frustration that plagued her.

Why did Mr. Henry give me this story? Sophie thought helplessly to herself as she tried to collect her thoughts that raced as wickedly as they wished. If it was a test to see if she would crack under the pressure of the job, then it was working. She had been beaten down by the prospect, and Sophie didn’t know how to recover.

A single tear ran down Sophie’s cheek as she remained against The Great Dynamo’s dressing room door. She released a shattered breath and urged herself to calm down. The woman was a professional, and she was not about to show her weakness, especially not when her fellow writers, such as Plat, wanted to see her fail. She had her own pride to think about.

While Sophie’s fear had mounted higher and higher since the assignment was given to her, she couldn’t afford to be fired. She had Patience to think about, as well as the rest of her family. As Sophie had told herself before, she was prepared to do whatever it took to get the interview with the illusionist and write the greatest story she possibly could. She was going to amaze Mr. Henry and the rest of the newspaper crew, even if it required her to step outside of her own character. Sophie was going to prove her worth.

As Sophie walked out of the theatre and made her way back home through the darkened streets, she contemplated a few ideas. First, that The Great Dynamo was not deterred by her presence, but only by her profession and the purpose of her being there. Sophie saw that as an opportunity to appeal to the man and get him to see that she was more than just a journalist. If he was drawn in by the woman, then that had the potential to help with her case.

Secondly, Sophie realized that she was more interested in the story and the subject than she had been earlier that day. Before she was a witness to one of his heart-stopping shows, Sophie assumed he was nothing but a cheap street performer with even cheaper tricks. However, he proved his own worth in one show alone. She was curious what secrets laid behind those dark eyes of his, and what his real story was. To herself and the rest of London, The Great Dynamo was a sort of celebrity that not a soul knew anything about. He was much like a phantom with expensive taste. While it was Sophie’s job to uncover as much as she could about him, her interest went beyond the interview. She wanted to get to know him for herself, to know things about the illusionist that she couldn’t write in the paper. He was a mystery that Sophie longed to uncover.

Thirdly, Sophie decided that it was in her best interest to not give up on the interview or the story. She would return to the show as many times as she needed to, and sneak back-stage as frequently as he would allow it. Sophie would return time and time again until he gave her something—anything—that would help her. She was glad that the determination had returned to her bones, as too much was on the line. As much as Sophie did not want to feel the fear that came with the debacle, it was her profession, and she was passionate. If the newspaper crew refused to acknowledge her ability as a writer, they would surely never forget about her determination, or the drive that pushed her further and further every time. Her whole life revolved around writing since she was young, and Sophie was not about to let that dream slip through her fingers.

Sophie’s walk home seemed shorter as she went on with the new goals set in her mind, despite how tired she was on the inside. It had been a long, emotional day for the young woman, and she wanted nothing more than to be in her bed. She had a feeling that once her head reached the pillow, she would likely remain awake, as her thoughts would come and go as they pleased. She was often plagued by restless nights, as Sophie typically had too much to think about.

However, Sophie was surprised to see the candle still lit on the bedside table that was nestled between her and Patience’s beds. When she carefully closed the door shut to avoid any loud creaking that would surely wake her mother, Sophie jumped when she saw the bed sheets fly up in the corner of her eye.

“Tell me all about it!” Patience said in a harsh whisper, with the old sheets bundled around her midsection as she sat up, hair disheveled by the static.

Sophie held her hand against her chest as she took a deep breath and tried to regain her composure. When her heart finally slowed, the young woman moved from against the door and wandered over to her dressing corner. “You nearly scared the life out of me!”

Patience gave her older sister a sheepish smile as she smoothed down her dark hair and bundled up under the blankets. “Sorry. I wanted to hear about the show.”

“That is all right,” she said kindly, as the exhaustion began to set in at last. Sophie shed her dress and put on a white nightgown. She sat down at the vanity table and removed the pins from her hair, just as she heard the rustling from Patience’s bed. Her younger sister appeared behind her and helped let her hair down. “The show was incredible, you would have liked it. I was sure the man would be a fraud of some kind, yet his talent seemed genuine. He would not let me interview him.”

“Perhaps he is shy to the attention still? He has become a common topic very suddenly,” Patience said thoughtfully as she worked. Her small, nimble fingers worked much quicker than Sophie’s could in that moment. “I haven’t read a single article about the man yet.”

“That is because he refuses to speak with any journalists. He did not even tell me his real name,” Sophie sighed, at least a little annoyed by the inconvenience. If he had given her something simple and minor, like a small detail into his life, then Sophie would be able to at least make somewhat of a story out of it in the meantime, to appease Mr. Henry and the newspaper readers, while she tried to get more out of him. Yet he offered the poor woman nothing. Sophie was tempted to tell her sister all about the predicament she found herself in, but she stopped herself before the words could leave her lips. She didn’t want to burden her little sister, not when she was already sensitive to the subject of work and funds. Sophie couldn’t worry her.

“What are you going to do?” Patience asked and reached for the old brush that was nearly falling apart. Carefully, the young girl ran the bristles through her sister’s hair. It not only almost lulled Sophie to sleep, but it also calmed her as well. Patience’s sweet voice reminded Sophie of what she stood to lose if she were to fail.

Sophie took a deep breath with her eyes closed, as she soaked in the affection. “I am going to return tomorrow night and confront him again. I will go to as many shows as I need to in order to get that story. Mr. Henry is hungry for it.” The words sounded intense and demanding as they left her mouth, but Sophie knew it was what needed to be done. She was relieved when her sister’s reaction wasn’t judgmental or questioning.

“You are a great journalist,” Patience admired her, then placed the brush back down on the vanity when she was finished. The young girl moved from her place to allow Sophie to wander over to her bed that called to her. Patience went to her own bed and sat expectantly.

"You are a very kind girl, Patience,” Sophie said gently with a warm smile. Before she crawled into her own bed, the eldest daughter cupped her younger sister’s cheeks and planted a kiss on her forehead. “Thank you.”

Patience was pleased by her sister’s contentment, and she slipped under her blankets to keep warm. A chill ran through the rafters of their bedroom, and it made the candlelight flicker. When Patience was settled in bed, she looked up at the ceiling. “What was he like?”

“The Great Dynamo?” Sophie questioned as she got comfortable under the blankets, warmed by their security. When she received a small confirmation from her sister, Sophie took a moment and thought about it. She snuffed out the candle and looked at the dark ceiling as well, with her arms crossed over her chest.

“He was arrogant and entitled when I tried to appeal to him. But he was charming at first—during the show. I was amazed by how he captivated the audience and gave himself an admirable personality.”

Patience held her breath as she listened, always excited by her sister’s stories and the things she came across during her day-to-day life. As her own life indoors was typically less than thrilling, Sophie’s tales and descriptions always made up for the inconvenience. Then, Patience rolled over on to her side and tried to look at her sister through the darkness. A giddiness clung to her tongue as she spoke. Her youth returned to her easily. “Was he handsome, at least?”

The question made Sophie’s mind return to the moment she was face-to-face with the illusionist backstage. She had been frozen in place, completely taken back by his appearance. The way his eyes bore into her through his performance mask made Sophie question the feeling that gathered in her lower belly. While she was not grateful for how he refused her, Sophie couldn’t deny that the man was, in fact, a wonderful sight for her sore eyes. The notion made her feel silly, as if she were a schoolgirl. “Yes, he was quite handsome.”

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Tags

duchess, duke, earl, governess, historical romance, lady, manor, marquess, mysterious, mystery, regency romance, rogue, seduced, temptation, victorian romance


  • This was good. I loved the main characters. They seem so real. I wouldn’t love to be an ARC reader for this story.

  • Terrific start!. You have us rooting for the young woman immediately and the affection between the two sisters is palpable. Already waiting for him to break down and talk to her…at least as an attractive woman.

  • I love stories like this. There are so many questions to be answered and the promise to do so within
    the book. I can’t wait to read it all.

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