Driven from his family when his sexuality is exposed, Jonah discovers drama, passion and intrigue in a traveling carnival—and in the enigmatic owner, Rafe Grimstone. The preacher’s son and the lord who’s rejected his former life in England feel the heat of attraction from the moment they meet.
Open-hearted Jonah is willing to risk hellfire and damnation for brief moments of pleasure with Rafe, but the older man is frozen in a past he can’t escape no matter how far he runs. As Rafe struggles to choose between responsibilities of his present and his past, mysterious accidents assail the close-knit carnival community.
Will the perpetrator be revealed before the traveling show is ruined? And will Rafe finally reveal his true self to Jonah or continue to mask his identity like the changing images in a house of mirrors?
***Previously published as House of Mirrors.***
Another great historical romance from the writing duo of Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon. This time love meets the traveling carnival and all the very interesting characters that come with it. Rafe and Jonah are a perfect pair even when they are fighting the connection. At first glance they seem to fit the "running away to hide in the circus" cliche but as the story progresses we quickly learn that both their individual stories as well as a couple, far outweigh their cliche beginning, Throw in the secondary cast and a little mystery of sabotage and you have yourself a very intriguing read that both excites and calms the reader.
“Step inside to see real magic. Your face reflected a thousand times over, glass within glass. Which image is the real you? An avenue of mirrors, ladies and gentlemen. An attraction so unique no other traveling show can boast of such a marvel.”
The tall, dark-haired man on the platform wove wonder with his words and hands as he gestured dramatically toward the open door of the brightly painted wagon. Its very blackness, the suggestion of a mouth ready to devour those who entered, was both a challenge and an enticement. Fear, danger, thrills and surely real magic waited inside. To leave humdrum life behind and see something new was too great a temptation to pass up. People began to shuffle forward and offer their nickels.
A young man tugged on his lady friend’s reluctant hand as she protested, “No, Tommy. I don’t want to. It’s eerie.”
“But you love looking at yourself in a mirror so you should love seeing yourself in a thousand of ‘em even more,” he replied, earning chuckles from those around him.
The girl shrieked and slapped his arm but allowed him to buy her a ticket from the lovely lady in the short, sparkly skirt. Together they headed inside.
The pretty ticket taker with the pile of auburn curls, her eyes outlined in theatrical black, was meant to attract the gentlemen’s attention and prompt their purchase. She smiled and pursed her lips and fluttered her lashes, giving the idea that perhaps something more entertaining than mirrors might be waiting inside. But Jonah was not interested in the swelling décolletage pushed high by a tight corset. He had eyes only for the showman, who never ceased his melodious patter.
“Adventure, excitement and a memory you will treasure for a lifetime,” he promised. His face was long and gaunt with sharp cheekbones and a saturnine appearance enhanced by the moustache and goatee that framed his full lips. He wore a black cape, which swirled dramatically around him, over a vest studded with tiny mirrors that caught the light and sent sparkling diamonds showering over the crowd. His body was lean and graceful as he took control of the small stage, conjuring anticipation and enthusiasm out of thin air, weaving a spell that pushed listeners inexorably toward the house of mirrors.
Jonah didn’t join the group. He wasn’t here to enjoy any sideshows but to try to find employment. His lip was torn and when he tongued it, he tasted metal. His left eye had swollen nearly closed. Every muscle in his body was stiff and aching. He’d barely been able to stumble over the hill to follow the sound of discordant calliope music and the glow of the lights that beckoned one and all to the carnival. He couldn’t go back, even if the traveling show wouldn’t hire him. He no longer had a choice about leaving home and realized he should’ve made the decision to go rather than waiting for the situation to explode in his face.
His father’s words of righteous anger still rang in his ears. “Abomination. You’re a filthy pervert, a freak of nature who has brought shame on our family.”
Well, wasn’t a carnival sideshow the place for a freak? But no. A freak of his type wouldn’t even fit in here.
Jonah turned to go find the owner of the carnival. He hoped his battered appearance wouldn’t alarm a prospective employer. He was strong and capable of lifting and carrying tentpoles, watering animals or mucking out stalls. It didn’t much matter to him what he did right now. He just needed a place to hide and a way to travel down the road.
Clutching his satchel tighter, he threaded his way through the crowd and around the big wagon with “Mysterious House of Mirrors” emblazoned in flowing script on the side. A painting depicted a woman with her hands upraised and her eyes and mouth circles of surprise as she gazed into a gilt frame, angled so the viewer couldn’t see the mirror into which she was gazing. A person might interpret her expression to be shock, awe, wonder, delight or horror depending on his point of view, but the mural certainly lured viewers to come inside.
Jonah was so intent on gazing at the painting that he barreled right into the barker who had leaped down from the platform. A mingled scent of tobacco, alcohol and sweat came from the man’s clothing. He grasped Jonah’s shoulder to steady him.
“Easy, lad.” The voice was as smooth as worn leather, dark and sonorous. He sounded English, or perhaps Irish. For a moment Jonah forgot his own woes and wondered how the man had ended up in the Midwest.
“Sorry, sir. I wasn’t looking where I was going,” he replied, meeting the man’s eyes. They were black as a night sky with a sprinkling of stars. Maybe it was the reflection of the moonlight on his mirrored vest which made them sparkle. “Could you direct me to the manager of this carnival?”
“What would you be wanting with him?” The man’s tone was cautious.
“A job.” He managed a smile and tasted a fresh spurt of blood on his tongue from the cut inside his lip.
“Ah, I see.” The barker scanned Jonah’s bloody, disheveled state. “In that case, allow me to escort you to his lodgings. I’m just taking my break.”
He guided Jonah away from the House of Mirrors. They strolled past other sideshows; a fortuneteller, a freak tent, games of chance with cheap prizes hung on ribbons like a line of laundry, and the main tent in which big acts performed. Barkers competed with one another in trying to draw people to their attraction. Music blared from gramophones in front of some of the booths, various tunes fighting a discordant battle for supremacy.
Jonah’s head was pounding and he felt his every heartbeat thumping in his ears. The vision in his one good eye blurred and it occurred to him he was about to pass out. That wouldn’t do. He couldn’t appear weak or he’d never get hired. He blinked and drew a deep breath to clear his head.
“Do you know if the manager’s hiring right now? I’d be willing to do any work, anything at all. I don’t care if I get paid much or anything. I’d just appreciate the chance to travel.”
“In a hurry to get out of town, eh? I’ve been in that position before.”
Jonah stumbled and the man beside him slung an arm around his back, lending him support. That small kindness coupled with the man’s sympathetic words made Jonah’s eyes sting. After what he’d been through that evening, he felt as emotional as one of the women who laundered altar clothes at his father’s church, a job saved for newly converted worshippers.
“I’m sorry. I’ve had a bit of a day.” He nearly smiled at the understatement.
“I can see that.” The stranger cast a sideways glance at him. “Would the fellows who did that to your face be likely to follow after you? The show doesn’t need any trouble. We’ve enough of our own.”
“Oh, no. Nothing like that. I haven’t done anything.” Hadn’t he? His actions had brought this trouble down on him. He couldn’t deny that. Jonah gestured at his face. “This was just a…falling out with some family members.”
“With family like that, who needs enemies, eh?” The warm band of the man’s arm left his back abruptly as he turned to Jonah and stuck out his hand to shake. “I’m Rafe Grimstone, sometimes ringmaster of the big show or talker for one of the attractions, but also owner of this carnival. And you are...?”
“J-Jonah Talbot.” He put down the satchel he carried, took the man’s hand and shook it, good manners outweighing his surprise at the sudden turn of events. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Grimstone. I apologize for my appearance, but I promise I’d be a hard worker at any task you assign me.”
I began telling stories as a child. Whenever there was a sleepover, I was the designated ghost tale teller. I still have a story printed on yellow legal paper in second grade about a ghost, a witch and a talking cat.
Writing childish stories for my own pleasure led to majoring in English at college. Like most English majors, I dreamed of writing a novel, but at that time in my life didn't have the necessary focus and follow through. Then life happened. A husband and children occupied the next twenty years and it was only in 2000 that I began writing again.
I enjoy dabbling in many genres. Each gives me a different way to express myself. I've developed a habit of writing every day that's almost an addiction. I don't think I could stop now if I tried.
Summer Devon is the pen name writer Kate Rothwell often uses. Whether the characters are male or female, human or dragon, her books are always romance.
You can visit her facebook page, where there's a sign up form for a newsletter (she'll only send out newsletters when there's a new Summer Devon or Kate Rothwell release and she will never ever sell your name to anyone).