Nota bene: If you haven't read and completed Harlequinade 4: Theater of War you REALLY DO NOT WANT to read this excerpt. This excerpt will spoil the crap out of the previous book. If you either HAVE finished book 4 or just don't give a darn about learning spoilers, then proceed and enjoy!
Harlequinade 5: Theater of Desire to be released June 15, 2018~! You can learn more about the Harlequinade at my brand-spanking new website, www.celinasummers.com!
LONDON. THAT’S all.
I resisted the urge to squeal like a teenage girl. The Royale Theater Troupe was going to play the West End. The day after we arrived in London, I stood across the street from the Dumas-Oxford Theatre and watched as our sets, costumes, and props were loaded in. Chris, our designer, had flown to the UK several months ago and supervised the construction of our new sets. I hadn’t even seen them yet.
It’s funny, really. No one looking at the huge crates and packing boxes would ever guess the magic contained inside them. Right now, they looked like huge plywood boxes. In a few days, however, they would comprise the immense, fanciful sets for the Carnival trilogy, the story of when two young girls met and fell in love with two extraordinary young men.
Our history, believe it or not.
After we’d signed a contract with James Harrison, the undisputed magnate of the West End, we’d invested much of our liquid capital into the four shows we were performing in London. First, we’d do the trilogy in true repertory. The audience would buy three tickets for three consecutive nights to see the story in its entirety. Then, we’d bring Harlequin to the London stage.
I was nervous about performing the trilogy again, and I’d made no bones about it. The trilogy was really a retribution our erstwhile enemy Phillip Lewis had created to punish Dominic and Alistair. After all, what could be crueler than forcing your captives to relive their heartbreak every night for two hundred and forty-one years? For two hundred and thirty-nine years, they’d only done the first show, Carnival. Three years ago, the trilogy had been born and performed in full for the first time. Once Phillip found me, he added the two sequel plays.
After all, I was the culmination of the story.
Everything that happened in Asylum and Sacrifice had set the stage for my entrance into the tragedy. I, Catherine Brighton, who my husband thought was the reincarnation of the original Odette de Chevigny in the court of Louis XV….Odette, his first wife. I didn’t like to remember Odette, and I didn’t want to channel her onstage anymore either.
Unfortunately, it was starting to look as if I couldn’t channel her anyway. Although everyone else had been right back in the swing of things within a few days once we started reworking the trilogy, I’d hovered on the cusp of the power and never just dived right into it like I always had before. Those insidious shows changed us. They made Dominic more autocratic and Alistair more alluring. They made me anxious, even though now they shouldn’t. Phillip was gone; I’d obliterated his mind myself. Mary Houghton had been destroyed also.
The dark council of mages in Medmenham had been obliterated by the Harlequin, my erstwhile enemy who had tormented me in some bizarre game and lost. He was probably sitting in his tacky throne-like chair, trying to figure out a way to repair the damage I’d done to his ceiling where every pane of glass was a moment of decision in time.
I had a rather large shard of that glass, actually— the shard where Dominic’s soul had hovered on the brink of life and death. The shard I’d broken just a split-second before he was lost to me forever. But with that shard had come uncertainty, too. The panic attacks I’d thought were a thing of the past had returned with a vengeance and were far more potent than they’d once been.
So now I was broken too, just like that shard of glass.
Broken. Just like the Harlequin’s little dolls.
I hadn’t mentioned that to Dominic yet. I watched as the stagehands wrestled a huge crate of flats out of the truck, sliding it carefully onto the loading dock. They had no idea that what they were handling was actual history. No one did, save the cast, and it wasn’t something we talked about. Not even among ourselves.
I looked up. Dominic was standing a few feet away, watching me with a small smile curving his lips.
“I keep seeing zeroes and dollar signs on the wrong side of the decimal point,” I said lightly. “That and all the articles scoffing about an upstart amateur American troupe being stupid enough to try a true repertory series on the West End. Between the two, I’m petrified.”
“The show will sell out for the entire run. Zeroes should be a positive thing.”
“I know.” I looked up at him from under my lashes. “Just…concerned. I’ll be all right.”
“Well, there’s nothing for you to do here, really,” he pointed out. “Shall we go? I have a call to make.”
“A call?” I laughed. “Do people even talk that way anymore?”
“I do. I’m meeting an antiquarian who has a set of Goethe I’m interested in.”
“You want to go to a bookstore? On our first day in London? For Goethe?”
“Of course not.” Dominic raised his hand and hailed a cab. “We’re going to his house. It won’t take long.”
“We need to go house hunting.”
I sighed as he opened the door for me and slid into the waiting car. Dominic had point-blank refused to take a house or apartment without seeing it first. We’d had a fairly serious disagreement about that, but in the end he’d won with one word.
“Look at this article,” he’d said, coming into my office with a magazine. “Apparently the entire theater district is infested with rats. How do you expect anyone in the company to move into a place sight unseen? It could be dripping with rats and then we’d be stuck in some rat trap for a year.”
After that conversation, I’d insisted that no matter where we moved the cats were coming with us.
Once we'd gotten pet passports, plus all their shots and microchips, we’d sedated Spawn and Demon and they’d flown with us to England. Even now, they were in their comfy crate, totally pissed off at me, at the hotel. And Dominic had won the living arrangements argument, insisting that when we got to London I would take charge of the business of the theater as usual while leaving the housing situation to him.
That’s why we were all currently lodged in a sterile hotel chain.
“Do you realize how impossible it will be to find lodgings for the entire cast and crew in metropolitan London?” I asked, warming to my theme.
“Not impossible,” my husband replied as the cab pulled into traffic.
“I don’t even know where to start. I don’t know enough about London to even begin the search.”
“As I told you already, I’ll take care of everything. You have enough to worry about.” Dominic didn’t seem that concerned. But I handled the accounting for the company myself. If he knew how our capital had been deprived by this move to the UK, he might not have been so flippant.
“Wherever we end up, it’s going to cost us a fortune.” I caught myself gnawing on my thumbnail, so I dropped my hand into my lap. “London is horrifically expensive. We should have stayed on Broadway a couple more years and built up the bank account first.”
“Oh, it won’t cost that much. If you’re worried about the company’s finances, I’m more than willing to foot it a loan.” He smiled lazily. “The interest will be a pleasure to collect.”
“Guilty as charged.”
The taxi pulled up in front of a block of houses. We were in Mayfair, which seemed only appropriate considering why we were here. Only a wealthy person, like an antiquarian, was able to afford a house like these. The entire block was made up of a series of tall Georgian townhouses, their facades broken only by a few flower boxes and front doors with small stoops and Palladian columns. Dominic paid the driver then took my elbow as we went up the four steps of the stoop.
To my surprise, Dominic opened the door and walked right in. Confused, I followed.
“Seriously? Shouldn’t you have at least knocked?”
The entrance hall was a long, narrow room with a gorgeous staircase winding both up and down. The whole room was open and light, and the terrace was clearly visible through the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Whoever this antiquarian was, he certainly had hired a fantastic interior designer. The walls were painted a cool gray above creamy wainscoting that seemed original to the house. The floors were polished to such a shine that the furniture was reflected in it, and while the furnishings were modern they didn’t clash with the feel of the centuries’ old building.
“He said he’d be on the first floor and just to come up,” Dominic said.
“We are on the first floor.”
“Not in Britain. Here, this is the ground floor.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“Apparently it does to them. Shall we go upstairs?”
Together, we climbed the staircase—which made me extremely jealous, I might add—and emerged into an immense drawing room. The door in the back wall alerted me there was another room behind this one, but this room took my breath away. I glanced at the comfortable but still elegant furniture, the tasteful art on the walls, that plush rug covering the wooden floor, the recessed fireplace, the two cats dozing on the sectional…
I didn’t have to ask if this was our house. Spawn and Demon were curled up together in a multi-colored heap.
“Dominic, how did you pull this off?”
“I bought the property right after we signed with James,” he confessed. “Then I hired an interior designer, who oversaw the renovations. I am not as content as you are in apartments or lofts, and I wanted to make certain that you had your own home while we were here. The furnishings are a bit sparse, but I thought you’d enjoy shopping for your own. In the meantime, we’re moved in and that’s one less stress you have to worry about.”
I ran my hand along the velvet plush settee facing the sectional, and a twist of guilt made me take a step back. “But what about the company? How can we put ourselves in a gorgeous house and leave them in hotels?”
“Love, I don’t think you understand. I said I bought the property, not the house.”
I wasn’t quite catching what he was trying to say.
“We own all the houses except one on this side of the block,” he explained patiently. “They’ve all been renovated into apartments and furnished. In fact there actually are four apartments more than our American crew needs, so we have an option for additional income should it become necessary. That’s even with me setting aside an apartment for David and Christopher when they come, or family like Eleanor’s parents or Janet’s children or your father. This is my gift not just to you, but to them. If they ever decide to retire or to leave the company they each own their own flat in Mayfair. It’s a nest egg for all of them. As for you, I—”
I stopped him with a kiss. He tightened his arms around me, sliding his fingers into my hair. I broke away, laughing, and he was laughing too.
“Are you going to thank me properly?”
“Of course I am, but that will have to be later.”
He sounded so horrified that I laughed again. But his eyes were sparkling and his body relaxed. This was something I had yet to become accustomed to. Since I’d shattered the Harlequin’s glass ceiling that allowed him to travel through time, Dominic had slowly…gradually learned how to relax. If I woke up in the middle of the night, he was sleeping next to me and not sitting in a chair mounting a psychic guard so I could rest. The cares and burdens of over two centuries had fallen from his psyche, and he was healing as a result.
That alone made everything we’d endured worth it.