Friday, June 08, 2012

Love in Disguise

Love in Disguise

by Carol Cox

"Cox…has fleshed out a fascinating cast of characters that move readers through a novel that dispenses romance and wit in the intriguing context of a Wild West mystery. A most delightful and engaging read." —Publisher's Weekly

Can she solve the crime before they uncover her true identity?

When Ellie Moore wins a job as an undercover Pinkerton operative, she finds that playing a part in real life is far different than acting out a role onstage. Will the man who captures her heart still care for her when he learns the woman he's fallen in love with doesn't exist?

Chapter One

Chicago, Illinois
December, 1881

"O happy dagger! This is thy sheath."

Ellie Moore gripped her hands together as she mouthed the well-known line from the last act of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The words floated out into the dark chasm beyond the edge of the footlights, and an expectant hush filled the theater, followed by a collective gasp at the moment she plunged her fists toward her abdomen and threw her head back with an agonized grimace.

"There rust, and let me die." Ellie let her head fall to one side and held her pose, silent as the grave, while the Capulets and Montagues reconciled, and the prince delivered the final line.

Not until the roar of applause swept through the auditorium of Chicago's Orpheum Theater did she stir again, ready for the curtain call. Ellie waited for the proper moment, then swept one foot behind her and sank into a low curtsey, spreading her arms wide. Her right hand brushed against the back of the red velvet curtain that screened her from the stage.

"Here now. Don't you dare set that curtain to moving."

Startled by the abrupt hiss behind her, Ellie jerked her head around and met the fierce gaze of Harold Stiller, the theater manager.

At the same moment, the actors began to file off the stage. Roland Lockwood, the troupe's Montague, bumped against Ellie's outstretched hand. Arms flailing wildly, Ellie floundered to regain her balance, but to no avail. With a muffled thump, she plopped into an ungainly heap on the wooden floor.

Burt Ragland, one of the stagehands, pushed past, his lip curled in obvious disdain. "That wouldn't have happened if you spent your time tending to your own job instead of pretending you're some kind of star."

Ellie scrambled to her feet, brushing dust from the hem of her skirt and trying to ignore the snickers from the other stagehands who'd gathered nearby.

"At least I intend to make something of myself," she snapped. "You'll be stuck here long after I'm gone." She lifted her chin when she heard the grunts of indignation from the group. Ha! That rocked them back on their heels, all right. And good riddance.

Noting the cleaner area on the floor that marked the spot where she'd made her undignified landing, Ellie swiped at the back of her skirt. "I'll think of you all, languishing here in this dusty hole, when I'm sipping tea in London."

Outright guffaws met her statement. Ellie gave up on trying to swat the dust from her backside, finding it too difficult to twist herself into a pretzel shape and maintain her haughty air at the same time.

Let them say what they wanted. It didn't matter anymore. Before the night was over, she would be gone from their midst and on her way to England. There, in the homeland of the Bard himself, she should find many who would appreciate her acting skills, gleaned from years of observation in the theater. Finally people would look past her drab exterior and see the raw talent that lay beneath. All she needed was a chance—just one! Then she would show them all.

While the other actors dispersed to their dressing rooms, one of the crew opened the house curtain one last time, so Magdalena Cole, Queen of the American Stage, could address the audience.

Her voice filtered back into the wings. "Thank you all for being here. Every performance is special to me, but tonight has a significance all its own."

Ellie glared at Burt and the others while Magdalena continued with the pretty speech she and Ellie had worked out the night before.

"This marks my last performance in your fair city, and not only in Chicago, but in this great land of ours." Magdalena paused to let the murmur of surprise die down before she went on. "Tonight I leave for New York, there to board a ship that will carry me away to share my art with the audiences of Europe."

"Don't make out that you're any better than us," Burt growled. "The only reason you get to go is because you're that woman's toady."

Ellie sucked in her breath. "That's personal wardrobe mistress—thank you very much."

"Good night, my friends, and God bless you, each and every one." Magdalena glided off the stage to thunderous applause, carrying a bouquet of deep red roses in the crook of one arm. She thrust the flowers at Ellie as she walked by. "Put these in water," she ordered, then gave a quick laugh. "What am I thinking? I won't be here tomorrow to enjoy them, so it doesn't matter what you do with them. Throw them away, if you want." She continued down the hallway without breaking stride.

Burt snorted. "Sounds more like personal dogsbody to me."

Ellie tossed the bouquet into a nearby trash barrel and followed in Magdalena's wake, not deigning to give Burt the satisfaction of a reply. She closed the dressing room door, shutting out the post-show flurry.

"Hurry." Magdalena's eyes shone like a child's on Christmas morning. "We haven't time to waste." She spun around so Ellie could unfasten the hooks on the back of her costume. "Arturo will be here any moment. Is everything packed?" Magdalena slipped out of the Juliet gown with practiced ease.

"It's all ready." Ellie draped the costume over the back of a nearby chair and reached for Magdalena's new traveling outfit. She slid the stylish dress over the actress's head and upraised arms and fastened the row of jet-black buttons that ran from neck to hem. Then she stood back to study the effect.

"Well?" Magdalena pivoted slowly. Even in their present rush, she could find time to pause for an accolade.

Ellie reached out to adjust the rounded collar then nodded. "It's perfect. That cobalt blue matches your eyes exactly. Your couturier outdid himself this time."

"And well he should have. I paid dearly for those new gowns. Even though I'm planning to acquire a whole new wardrobe once we reach London, I could hardly begin my grand European tour dressed like a second-rate bit player, could I? First impressions are so important."

Ellie folded the Juliet gown with care and placed it on top of the other clothing in the costume hamper. She lowered the lid, pressed it down with both hands, and then finally sat on it in order to fasten the latches.

"There now, we're all set. Your new dresses are in the two large trunks, along with your other personal effects. Costumes, wigs, and makeup are here in the hamper. We're ready to leave as soon as Mr. Benelli arrives."

Magdalena cleared her throat. "Ellie, there's something I—" A knock at the door cut her off. She leaned back against the dressing table and struck a pose, then nodded at Ellie. "It must be Arturo. Let him in."

Ellie opened the door to find a small contingent of theater workers gathered there. Harold Stiller stood in front of the group.

"We've come to say goodbye." He pushed past Ellie and walked over to Magdalena, who abandoned her dramatic stance the moment she recognized her visitors. "On behalf of all of us at the Orpheum, I want to wish you a safe journey to England and a dazzling career in the theaters of Europe. We will always treasure the memory that we, in some small measure, played a part in your success."

Magdalena's lips tightened, then curved in an expression that would look like gracious acknowledgment to anyone who didn't know her as well as Ellie did. It was obvious to her that the actress had no intention of giving credit for her success to anyone but herself while she stood on the threshold of her greatest triumph.

Their triumph, Ellie corrected herself. How many times had she heard Magdalena say she didn't know what she would do without Ellie's help?

"Thank you for coming to say farewell." Magdalena's tone held a note of dismissal, but Stiller didn't take the hint. He leaned against the chair as if settling in for a long conversation, ignoring the glitter in the actress's eyes that would have warned a more observant person of a pending eruption likely to rival that of Mount Vesuvius.

About the author:

CAROL COX is the author of nearly 30 novels and novellas. A third-generation Arizonan, Carol has a lifelong fascination with the Old West and hopes to make it live again in the hearts of her readers. She makes her home in northern Arizona, where the deer and the antelope really do play—often within view of the family's front porch.

To learn more about Carol, visit her website at or connect with her on Facebook at

Love in Disguise is available at fine bookstores everywhere, and online at,, and

Copyright © 2012 by Carol Cox.
ISBN 978-0-7642-0955-0        Bethany House Publishers
All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

No comments: