Under her spell, p.1

Under Her Spell, page 1

 

Under Her Spell
 



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Under Her Spell


  Other ImaJinn Books

  by Jo Ann Ferguson

  (Regency Romance)

  My Lord Viking

  Gentleman’s Master

  Marry Me, Millie

  Under Her Spell

  Writing as J. A. Ferguson

  Call Back Yesterday

  Dreamsinger

  Dreamshaper

  DreamMaster

  Dream Traveler

  Luck of the Irish

  Daughter of the Fox

  Timeless Shadows

  The Wrong Christmas Carol

  Sworn Upon Fire

  Writing as Jocelyn Kelley

  (Regency Romance)

  Sea Wraith

  Under Her Spell

  by

  Jo Ann Ferguson

  ImaJinn Books

  Copyright

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events or locations is entirely coincidental.

  ImaJinn Books

  PO BOX 300921

  Memphis, TN 38130

  Ebook ISBN: 978-1-933417-90-5

  Print ISBN: 978-1-933417-42-4

  ImaJinn Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc.

  Copyright © 2010 by Jo Ann Ferguson

  Published in the United States of America.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

  ImaJinn Books was founded by Linda Kichline.

  We at ImaJinn Books enjoy hearing from readers. Visit our websites

  ImaJinnBooks.com

  BelleBooks.com

  BellBridgeBooks.com

  #10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

  Cover design: Deborah Smith

  Interior design: Hank Smith

  Photo/Art credits:

  Magician (manipulated) © Vladimir Mucibabic | Dreamstime.com

  Cards (manipulated) © Konradbak | Dreamstime.com

  :Ehus:01:

  Dedication

  For Laurie Kuna

  Thanks for everything, especially your friendship!

  Prologue

  “THE GIFT IS YOURS. Look.”

  The child stared into the cupped hands the woman held out to her. “There is nothing there.”

  The woman frowned, her face becoming as lined as a map of the many miles she had traveled to get here to the child. “Look more closely.”

  “I see nothing.”

  “Do not seek with your eyes. They will betray you. Seek always with your heart.”

  “My heart?”

  The woman pressed her cupped hands against the child’s thin chest. “I can feel your heart from within you. You must heed it.”

  “I hear its thump, but I do not know what it means.”

  “Yes, you do. We have spoken of it before.” The woman glanced at the fire burning in front of the small wagon where the child’s family slept. The faded letters painted on the wagon’s side were consumed by the darkness. To find a child possessing such a gift with the family who traveled in that wagon had been a great surprise. The child’s parents would have been even more astonished if they learned of the child’s gift. They must not, because they might try to put a halt to the lesson.

  The woman’s hands clenched with frustration. Fools! Did they think they could keep the child away from her? The child was ten years old, and it was time for her to grasp her destiny. The gift she had been given was both a blessing and a burden. The woman understood that as no one else could. The gift had been hers for so many years, even though it now was far weaker than the child’s. Despite that, she was obligated to instruct the girl. It was the way of those who had the gift and recognized it in another.

  “Help me,” whispered the child. “Help me hear it.”

  She put her hands to the child’s chest again and then held them close to the little girl’s ear. A smile so bright that even the moonless night could not conceal it swept across the child’s face.

  “I hear it!” she cried.

  “Shh!”

  A shadow moved by the wagon’s window. If someone were to peer out now . . . It did not matter. She had taught the child well, and now nothing was left but to bring forth the gift. Holding out her hands, cupped as if to hold water or a precious jewel, she said, “Look within and discover the gift inside you. Open yourself to it, but only if you wish. Guard your gift well and use your gift wisely or it will turn its power upon you. Think well before you look once more, because there is no turning back.”

  The child’s eyes widened as her mouth became a perfect O. Slowly, she raised her small hands and put them around the woman’s. Just as slowly, the woman drew her hands away and sat back, smiling, as the child stared at her own palms, transfixed.

  With a sudden laugh, the child threw up her hands, and bright lights cascaded over both the old woman and the child. She flung her arms around the woman before running to scoop up the sparkles in her long nightdress.

  The woman smiled with satisfaction.

  It was done.

  It could now begin . . .

  Chapter One

  Kent, England

  1897

  “AND NOW, FOR your mystification and entertainment, The Amazing Nightingales!”

  Madeleine Nightingale gave the simple front of her white satin gown one last tug before she followed her brother onto the makeshift stage in front of the church. She glanced at the crowd and sighed. A score of children and half that many adults made a poor audience and would bring a meager collection at the end of the show. Unless a bigger crowd attended the performance tomorrow afternoon, she would have to dip into their paltry savings to buy food for her and her brother Roland.

  The applause was more enthusiastic than she had anticipated, and her hopes rose. An eager audience might put in a generous contribution when the hat was passed at the end of the show. But she could not think of that now. She had to make sure Roland completed each trick without a mistake. A single mistake could be costly because people would not pay to watch errors. They wanted to be dazzled, and it was her duty to be certain that Roland did just that.

  Holding out her arm to focus everyone’s attention on her brother, she kept a practiced smile on her lips. She did not even bat away the insects buzzing around her head. After spending nearly every evening of her life standing in the bright glow of lamps, she had learned to pay them no mind. She had also learned not to open her mouth unwisely or to breathe in deeply when they swarmed around her head.

  Roland bowed, and her smile became genuine. In the past year, her younger brother had outgrown his lanky awkwardness, and she began to see a resemblance to their father. His glistening hair, which was a deeper ebony than hers, and long, slender hands were his most obvious legacy from Papa. If only he had inherited Papa’s skill as a prestidigitator and . . .

  She had no time to finish the thought as she handed Roland the battered top hat. Pulling a rabbit from a hat would charm the children, although the trick was as old as stage magic itself. She brushed down the back of Roland’s worn frock coat, not wanting him to chance revealing any props for upcoming illusions. He did not falter in his patter as he held up the apparently empty hat for all to see. He was accustomed to her tending to such details. In fact, he depended on her for those matters, whether he
acknowledged the truth or not.

  Childish squeals welcomed the bunny that Roland lifted from the hat. Madeleine took the hat and Pudgy. She slipped Pudgy another piece of the carrot that had been too soft to put in their stew. Setting them behind her, she again motioned broadly toward Roland, aiming the applause at him.

  “That went better than last week,” he murmured under his breath as he reached for the deck of cards she offered him with another graceful wave of her hand.

  “Pudgy is not hungry tonight,” she answered as softly. “He is always more cooperative when his stomach is full.”

  A scowl darkened his thin mustache. “Me, too, but who knows when that will be?” He glanced at the meager audience.

  She gave him a bolstering smile. Roland should not be thinking of anything but the next part of the routine.

  Stepping aside, she folded her hands behind her, letting them rest on the cascade of deep blue ruffles dropping along the back of her gown. She watched Roland closely. With every performance, he gained more confidence. Maybe someday he would do as he had vowed and become the star in a fine London theater. Then, the rough life of traveling from town to town, wondering each day how they would afford to eat tomorrow, would be over. He wanted that desperately, and she would do what she could to help him obtain his wish.

  Madeleine stole a glance beyond the lanterns at the edge of the simple stage to appraise the audience. They appeared fascinated by Roland’s sleight-of-hand. More people were gathering. The day had been rainy. Maybe folks had been delayed in town by muddy roads. She must pick exactly the right moment to pass the top hat to collect whatever pennies these farmers and small merchants would part with.

  She heard Roland say, “And now the lovely Miss Madeleine Nightingale will . . .” She turned to collect his baton from the table and froze as her gaze was caught by the eyes of a tall man near the back of the audience.

  He walked slowly toward the stage. She did not need to take note of his elegant clothes to know he did not belong in this small village any more than she and Roland did. She could tell he was a man of some standing by the way the others glanced over their shoulders as he neared and then stepped aside. Unlike the others, who were dressed casually, he wore a top hat as dark as his frock coat. The tip of his walking stick matched the gold buttons on his vest. His stylishly trimmed mustache was the golden-brown of spun caramel.

  “Madeleine, assist me,” hissed her brother.

  She could not tear her gaze away from the man’s, not even to answer Roland. Those heated eyes held her. The man paused directly in front of the stage, so close that his eyes were hidden by shadows cast by the lantern. Yet, when he folded his arms over the front of his coat, she could see the bold smile he aimed at her. Something . . . something unquestionably pleasurable, twisted through her.

  His gaze moved easily along her, as if she were wares in a market and he was considering buying. She resisted straightening the satin straps of her gown which left her arms immodestly bare. As he looked at her breasts, his smile broadening slightly, she did not dare to breathe. She was unsure if she could have, even if she had wanted to. His attention did not linger there as it continued along her, making her aware as never before that her dress was too short for anywhere but the stage, because the hem barely reached the top of her high-button shoes. His smile curled into a knowing expression. The only problem was she had no idea what he thought he knew.

  “Madeleine, what is amiss?” her brother demanded.

  “What—?” She stared at Roland. He was frowning. When he gestured toward the table, she nodded.

  What was wrong with her? Only once before had she lost her place in a performance, but then she had been no more than four or five years old. She had gone through his routine so often with him during so many shows that she should have been able to make each motion without thinking. She reached for the bowl he needed for the next part of their act.

  He turned back to the audience to begin his introduction to the next illusion. “My dear friends, you are in for a treat. I—”

  The bowl slipped from her fingers and smashed into dozens of pieces that skittered across the small stage. Laughter trickled through the crowd, embarrassed laughter for the magician’s assistant who could not manage the simplest task. She stared at the broken bowl, appalled. Her gaze flicked from the shards to the man by the stage. He gave her a sympathetic nod, but his smile never wavered.

  “What is wrong with you?” Roland asked in a taut whisper.

  “Nothing, nothing.” She hastily picked up what looked like an empty cage and held it out to him. “I am sorry, Roland.”

  He frowned at her, but continued the performance.

  Madeleine listened to his patter and waited for the exact moment to place the paisley scarf over the cage. She was astonished when her fingers trembled. She did not suffer from stage nerves. But if that was not the reason her fingers shook, what was? Or who? Although she knew she should keep her focus directed on the scarf, she looked over it to the tawny-haired man who stood right in front of her.

  His eye closed in a lazy wink.

  She gasped as something flapped against her fingers. A pair of doves erupted from beneath the cloth and flew up in her face. Roland cursed, and heat rose along her cheeks. The children in the audience shrieked and pointed skyward as the gray shadows of the birds vanished among the stars. Laughter rose in their wake. Not a titter this time, but a roar.

  Her brother took her by the arm and turned so his back was to the audience. “What is wrong with you tonight? You are never clumsy.”

  “I . . .” She still faced the audience and found herself staring at the handsome man whose smile sent sweet sensation through her once more.

  The man leaned forward and rested his arms on the lip of the stage. Now that he stood so his face was fully lit by the lanterns, she could see that his eyes were a cool moss green. They twinkled as brightly as the lamps.

  “Madeleine!”

  Roland’s insistent voice brought her own eyes back to him. His square face furrowed with frustration. She could not blame him. Everything she had done tonight was wrong.

  “I am sorry,” she said yet again, struggling to keep from looking at the handsome man. Was she out of her mind? Other men had tried to flirt with her from beyond the lights. Not once before had she succumbed to silly giddiness.

  “Are you all right?”

  She managed a smile. Dear Roland! How kind of him to think of her when she had made a jumble of everything. Patting his arm, she whispered, “I shall be fine. Why don’t we continue?”

  “There is only one illusion left.”

  “Making us both disappear?”

  The anger in his voice lashed at her. “If only we knew how, I would be grateful for such a finale tonight.”

  Madeleine bit her lip so she would not speak the truth. Roland did not believe in magic, only illusion. If she were even to hint . . . No! She silenced the reckless thought, especially when he was so discomposed.

  But she could not stand here and do nothing. After all, she had ruined tonight’s show. It was her obligation to fix it. She watched as Roland went back to the middle of the stage and began the final deception aimed at convincing the audience that he truly controlled nature and could twist it to his will. Stepping into the shadows beyond the edge of the curtain tied back to hide its fraying edges, she closed her eyes and cleared her mind. She formed an image of Roland in her head. Her mind’s eye focused on his hands. Painting them with a golden glow, she concentrated on keeping the light around his fingers. Old Saza had taught her to center all her thoughts so she could help steady Roland’s hands and bring them the skill Papa had had. It was almost as good as creating the illusions herself.

  Explosive applause and cheers brought her eyes open. She had done it! The audience and Roland believed the skill was his, and that was the
way she wanted it. With a smile, she moved back into the light and raised her hand toward her brother as Roland took a deep bow. Even the handsome man by the stage clapped appreciatively.

  She picked up Roland’s top hat and went to the steps on the far side of the stage. Her eyes widened when the handsome man paralleled the stage at exactly the same pace she walked. When she reached the steps, he held up his hand to assist her to the ground.

  She hesitated, and he raised a golden brow and asked, “Miss Nightingale, may I?”

  “Thank you.” She gave him her coolest smile and placed her hand on his gloved palm. The leather, she noticed quickly, was uncracked and an amazing light gray.

  His fingers closed around hers, and she forgot all about the fine gloves. The warmth that had whirled within her became a windstorm as the heat of his skin oozed through the leather. Slowly he drew her down the steps until her eyes were even with his. The light from the stage glowed on only one side of his face, hiding the other half. He said nothing. He did not move nearer. Even so, she wondered if she had ever been so intimately close to another human being. She was certain she had never been so close to a man who unsettled her as he did.

  He! She did not even know his name. What a fool she was to let his impertinent smile delight her! She shook herself free of her own fancy and edged off the lowest step.

  “Thank you, sir,” she said.

  “My pleasure, Miss Nightingale. My deepest pleasure, if I may say so.”

  Madeleine decided anything she said might be the wrong thing, so she simply nodded. She started to turn away, but he halted her, dropping several coins into the top hat. “Thank you, sir,” she said again, glad to fall back on the trite. “I am pleased you enjoyed The Amazing Nightingales’ show.”

  Strolling among those who had viewed the show, she smiled each time someone dropped a coin into the hat. Most offered only pennies, but even these few pennies would help feed them and their animals.

  “Excellent entertainment,” said a deep voice from her left.

 
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