on August 18th 2016
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French actress and aspiring playwright Claudine Bellerose recently closed the curtains on a bad romance and has returned to center stage at a small London playhouse where she is about to premiere her first production. Enter Russell Hawke, the new owner of the Drayton Theatre, to deliver disturbing news. If Claudine’s play doesn’t turn a profit, he’ll have no choice but to close the theatre. To further complicate matters, her leading man just suffered an accident and can’t perform. Russell is confident he is capable of stepping in to star opposite the lovely Claudine, but she quickly realizes his horrible acting is threatening to turn her romantic play into a farce. Her only option is to tutor him in his role, and hope she can resist the charms of this handsome Romeo.
Claudine pressed her hand against her stomach to quell the jitters inside her and led the company into the auditorium—minus the leading man. Oliver hated being on stage, but she saw no alternative if Lars couldn’t perform. They would have to find a way for Oliver to overcome his nerves for the good of the company, but perhaps all the worry would be for naught. Until the doctor completed his exam, no decisions needed to be made.
“Let’s go on stage,” she said to the women. “You can demonstrate what Miss Darlington taught you yesterday while we await word from the doctor.”
Benny and the owner, Russell Hawke, had followed them to the auditorium and claimed spots on the front row while everyone else headed for the stage stairs.
Mr. Hawke’s presence did nothing to calm Claudine’s nerves. She hadn’t quite sorted out the man’s character, but scoundrels tended to stick together, and Mr. Fletcher, the owner’s friend, reminded her of every man who had knocked on her door offering patronage after Stanhurst’s death.
She couldn’t help wondering if Mr. Hawke would have agreed to extend the offer to purchase the theatre a second time if Oliver had gone in her place. After six and twenty years and a time in the limelight, Claudine recognized when a man desired her, and the manner in which Mr. Hawke had ogled her outside the hotel suggested he found her attractive. Normally, she wouldn’t be concerned about discouraging his attention, but he held the fate of the theatre in his hands.
When she stole a glance at him on the front row, he flashed a smile. Her heart skipped and heat flooded over her, forcing her to face the truth. She was attracted to him, too.
She directed her focus to her fellow actresses. “Who would like to be the first to demonstrate?”
Anastasia’s hand shot in the air.
“Very well.” Claudine waved her forward and moved to a safe distance.
Anastasia showed her how to punch, block, and evade capture if a man leapt out of the shadows.
Claudine and the actresses applauded when she finished a series of punches that proved her an excellent student.
“Miss Darlington was a splendid teacher,” Rachel said from the sidelines, “but I don’t see how a woman is capable of flipping a man to the ground if he attacks from behind. Will he not be too heavy?”
Claudine smiled, recalling she had asked a similar question of Regina Darlington. “Lifting him would be impossible, but you can throw off his balance. Size will work in your favor. The bigger the man, the harder it will be for him to catch himself, especially if he does not have use of his hands. Anastasia, would you lend your assistance for another demonstration?”
The young actress nodded. Claudine chose her, because she was nearly twice Claudine’s height and most likely to inspire the other women’s confidence. Anastasia often stood in for one of the male parts in shows simply because she was tall. A bit of make-up, padding, and a hat could hide her beauty well enough to make it somewhat believable, if she didn’t have many lines.
“I want you to grab me from behind,” Claudine said.
Anastasia’s blond eyebrows shot up on her forehead.
Claudine smiled to reassure her. “I promise not to take you to the ground. I only want to show everyone the steps again.”
“Miss Bellerose,” Mr. Hawke called from the floor. “Would you like an actual man for the demonstration?”
A delicious shiver ran through her at the thought of him touching her. “No, thank you, sir. Ana will work well enough for our purpose.”
“I wouldn’t mind if Mr. Hawke stood in,” the actress piped up.
Rachel raised her hand as if Claudine had asked to take a count. “I would like to see Mr. Hawk stand in, too. I would feel more confident if I can see it is possible with a real man.”
The others agreed, and Claudine was too flustered to create a valid excuse for refusing his assistance. Besides, he was already climbing the stage stairs. As his long legs carried him across the stage with a stride that was deliberate, yet unhurried, her body tingled in places she really wished it wouldn’t. He stopped in front of her, and a broad smile spread across his face, revealing a dimple in his left cheek. “I am at your service.”
“You may take my place, sir.” Anastasia rejoined the group and folded her hands primly at her waist to observe.
Mr. Hawke claimed Anastasia’s spot on stage. “Did I hear correctly that I am to grab you from behind, Miss Bellerose?”
“Yes, Mr. Hawke.” She arched one brow and added in French, “And you had best not enjoy it.”
He laughed. “I promise to despise every moment.”
Heat flooded over her. She had forgotten he could understand her.
“I believe I mentioned having studied French,” he said. “I also know German, Portuguese, and Spanish. Are you able to speak with an American accent? I barely understand a word they say. That would be a safe choice if you want to hurl insults without me becoming the wiser.”
He winked and her fellow actresses giggled.
“I was not insulting you,” she said for the benefit of their audience. If Mr. Hawke closed the theatre after all, she wished to avoid blame.
“Nor did I feel insulted, Miss Bellerose. Simply, I was offering options in the event you want to abuse me in the future.”
“I am certain there will be no cause to learn another language,” she said, trying her best to subdue her amusement least he think she enjoyed bantering with him, “but thank you.”
She had to admit his advanced study of languages impressed her. She only knew French and English, and a few German words Tilde had taught her. Growing up, her father had spoken French at home, so it came natural to her.
Papa had never stopped missing his native land, and looking back, Claudine believed he’d wanted her to share his language so she never forgot her origins. Perhaps he hadn’t realized how little anyone in England cared about their past connections or station in life.
They had arrived in this country destitute but unharmed. If her father hadn’t fled with her when she was an infant, likely they would have suffered the same fates as many others. Papa often had spoken of the unrest in France, and the rumor that he was to be called before the Tribunal. He’d explained how Maximilien Robespierre used the trials as an excuse to execute his political opposition, and Papa had been vocal in his commendation of the violence, effectively marking himself as a target. Her father had hoped to seek refuge with a distant cousin, but he had turned them away.
Papa always said he’d left everything behind when he’d escaped, everything except his most precious treasure. Sometimes he would pretend he couldn’t remember what it was and ask her to guess. He had only been teasing her, of course, because at night when he would tuck her in bed, he would whisper, “Mon trésor.” Claudine had always felt fortunate that he’d loved her as he did.
She took a cleansing breath to shake off the past and presented her back to Mr. Hawke. “Whenever you are ready, I want you to pretend to attack me.”
It must be instinct–or perhaps boys were taught how to grab a woman as part of their education–but it seemed all men tried to hook a woman around the neck when he meant her harm. Mr. Hawke, however, was the exception. He draped his arm across her body, cradling her against his firm chest. His gentleness caught her by surprise, and instead of trying to break free of his hold, she closed her eyes and sank against him.
“If you promise not to hurt me,” he whispered in her ear, “you may take me to the ground.”
Sacre bleu. He smelled magnificent, like a cozy wood fire on a cold night blended with a hint of spice. She swallowed hard and nodded.
“W-when a man grabs you, try to get your hand between his arm and your neck, so you have room to breathe.” She demonstrated as she walked through the steps. “Hug his arm to your chest. Duck low. Now, throw your shoulder forward while you thrust out your leg.”
Mr. Hawke pitched forward, tripped over her leg, and landed on the stage with a thunderous bang.
She gasped. He winced.
“Mr. Hawk!” Rachel rushed to kneel at his side. “Are you hurt?” She glared at Claudine. “Look what you’ve done. What were you thinking?”
Claudine stood frozen, unable to speak. He peered up at her with parted lips. Any moment she expected Mr. Hawke to rail at her. She braced herself for the insults and derogatory names.
He blinked, looking up into the faces of the women surrounding him, and burst into laughter.
Samantha Grace is giving away a digital copy of Resisting Romeo.
She is curious….
Theater is Russell’s passion, and he dreams about being on stage. Unfortunately, his status as a gentleman is a huge roadblock.
What is your passion, and would you jump at the chance to follow your dream if the opportunity arose, even if others didn’t approve?