“This book is basically a rare and beautiful unicorn!” – Rina Borough
Is his love her safe place to land…or just smoke and mirrors?
Grace Owens danced her feet bloody to become the finest en pointe prodigy of her generation, but the only accolade she longed for—her father’s approval—never came. Finally, broken and defeated, she cut ties and fled to London to live life on her own terms.
Now, after four years as an actress in London’s smaller theatres, a last-minute production change lands her right where she never wanted to be again. Front and center in the ballet—and back in toe shoes.
From his perch on the catwalks, machinist and stagecraft illusionist Isaac Caird can’t take his eyes off Grace. A woman who wears men’s clothing, but not as a disguise. An exquisite beauty who doesn’t keep a lover. A skilled dancer who clearly hates every pirouette.
The perfect lines of her delicate body inspire him to create a new illusion—with her as the centerpiece—that will guarantee sold-out shows. Maybe even attract a royal’s patronage. But first he has to get her to look at him. And convince her the danger is minimal—especially within the circle of his arms.
Featuring a gender-fluid ballet dancer, an amateur chemist who only occasionally starts fires, and an old rivalry that could tear them apart.
Representation notes: Gender-fluid lead. Straight cis male lead. Asexual secondary character. Bisexual secondary character. Gay cis male secondary character.
Read an Excerpt
Grace changed briskly, washed, and packed her bag once more, heading out into the bright afternoon. The sun was too hot, the walk from the school to the theatre too long, and the salve she’d rubbed on the raw skin on her feet was doing nothing useful.
Why had she agreed to this? Because she didn’t feel like looking for new employment, and worse yet, because she had been briefly swayed by the thought that she might find a man attractive. Honestly, what had become of her?
She was supposed to be calm, steady Grace. Supportive, strong, independent Grace. That was what everyone expected of her. Not whatever sort of…acquiescent, submissive girl she was turning back into.
Of course there were times when she longed for someone to take her under their wing, the way she had done for so many others. For it to be her turn to have someone draw a hot bath, rub liniment on her sore muscles, brew a cup of tea for her and set a hot Chelsea bun on the plate beside. Just because. But that didn’t make her weak, or childish, or easy to push around.
Elliston and his wife had no business trying to force her into a role she was uneager to play. If they wanted La Camargo back, let them go to Belgium and dig her up in the churchyard.
And fie on Mr. Caird for that matter, who couldn’t have simply left her alone. If he hadn’t started those conversations, she’d never have been curious about him. If she’d never been intrigued, then she would have had nothing to keep her at the Surrey. And if she’d quit like she should have, well! Her feet wouldn’t be hurting now, would they?
So it was all, essentially, his fault.
Grace had worked herself into a properly indignant strop by the time she arrived back at the Surrey to find the building mostly empty. Rehearsals had ended for the day, the theatre deserted but for a few boys having a war with their brooms on the stage. Lucy had already gone. The dressing room above stairs was empty as well, except for the usual debris—shoes kicked under the bench, a sweaty shift badly in need of laundering draped over the arm of a chair, and three washcloths piled in a damp heap on the stand beside the water jug.
And at Grace’s usual mirror, her boy’s cap set on the corner of her dressing table, something new. A white gauze sweet bag, tied with a delicate satin ribbon. Grace set her own satchel down and approached her dressing table slowly. There was no card or note, no suggestion of the giver or the intended recipient. Perhaps it was meant for Lucy, or one of the other girls?
She picked up the bag and tugged on the ribbon; that was when she knew. The little sweet bag fell open, the sides bulging from the contents. It held a good handful or two of candied nuts, the warm sugar smell of the confection cloying and too sickly-sweet.
Who else would have left her nuts? She had turned him down upstairs, refused his offer of sweetmeats there. Was this his reaction? To press gifts upon her again, in the hopes that she wouldn’t know whom to refuse?
Honestly, he’d caused enough trouble for her already.
Her stomach growled and she ignored the urge. He would know, somehow, even if she only ate one. And that would mean he was winning.
Winning what, precisely? She had no answer for that, but still the feeling lingered.
Grace took the bag and headed around the corner, up the stairs again, until she reached the little door that led into the loft. It was closed, which meant she could just slip in, give back the bag, and slip out again.
She turned the handle, then held very still. Were those footsteps beyond? Was he in there? Running in to Mr. Caird again had not been part of her plan.
She waited, holding her breath, her heart thumping treacherously in her chest. The shuffling sound didn’t come again.
With more desire than ever to get the entire thing over with, she pushed open the loft door, and strode inside. The setting sun meant no warm golden pools of light on the floor this time. That was for the best. Her eyes played tricks on her when a shadow seemed to shift at the far end, but when she looked right at it, the room was still.
Exhaustion, that was what it was. Already overworked, and it was only her first day.
Grace strode purposefully across the room, and set the sweet bag firmly down on the middle of Mr. Caird’s workbench, where he would be sure to see it. And then for good measure, she searched the messy tabletop until she found a little bit of pencil, the wooden end splintered and chewed, and the little green book he’d used to make all his notes. No, she wouldn’t rip a page from a book—she wasn’t that far gone.
A different scrap of paper, then, without too many scratched-out annotations on it, and a blank side on which to write. Grace licked the end of the pencil and wrote her note. I don’t accept gifts from strangers. She left it propped up beside the bag. Let that be an end to all of this nonsense.