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 except 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.
Excerpt from Resisting Romeo:
The women took turns showing her how to punch, block, and evade capture if a man leapt out of the shadows.
“Miss Darlington was a splendid teacher,” Rachel said, “but I don’t see how a woman is supposed to flip a man to the ground if he attacks from behind. Won’t he be too heavy?”
Claudine smiled, recalling she had asked a similar question of Regina. “You don’t actually lift him. You throw off his balance. Size can work in your favor. The bigger the man, the harder it will be for him to catch himself, especially if he doesn’t have use of his hands. Let me show you.”
She waved for Anastasia to come forward for a demonstration. Claudine chose her, because she was nearly twice Claudine’s height. 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. “I promise not to take you to the ground. I only want to show everyone the steps again.”
“Would you like an actual man for the demonstration?” Mr. Hawke called from the floor.
A delicious shiver ran through her at the thought of him touching her. “That isn’t necessary, sir. Ana will work well enough for our purpose.”
“I wouldn’t mind,” the actress said.
Rachel raised her hand as if Claudine had asked to take a count. “I would like to see Mr. Hawke stand in. I would feel more confident if I can see it is possible with a real man.”
The others agreed.
He was already climbing the stage stairs, and she couldn’t think of a valid excuse to refuse his assistance. Her body tingled in places she really wished it wouldn’t, as his long legs carried him across the stage with a stride that was deliberate, yet unhurried. When he stopped in front of her, a broad smile spread across his face and revealed a dimple in his left cheek. “I am at your service.”
“You may take my place,” Anastasia said and rejoined the group.
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 said, adding in French, “and you better not enjoy it.”
He laughed. “I promise to despise every moment.”
She flinched, having forgotten he could understand her.
“I told you I studied French,” he said. “I also know German, Portuguese, and Spanish. Can you speak with an American accent? I barely understand a word they say. That would be a safe bet if you want to insult me without me becoming the wiser.”
He winked and the other women giggled.
“I wasn’t insulting you,” she said for the benefit of her fellow actresses. If Mr. Hawke closed the theatre after all, she didn’t want to be blamed.
“No, you didn’t, Miss Bellerose. I simply was offering you options in case you want to abuse me in the future.”
She wrinkled her nose at him. “Merci.”
She only knew French and English, and a few German words Tilde had taught her. Growing up, her father had always spoken French to her. He’d never stopped missing his native land, but as he’d often reminded himself, there was nothing left for them in France. Claudine was an infant when her father fled their home with her. When she was old enough to understand, Papa told her about the unrest in France and the rumor that he was to be called before the Tribunal. He said Maximilien Robespierre used the trials as an excuse to execute his political opposition, and Papa had been vocal in his commendation of the violence.
She and her father had arrived safely in England, but a distant cousin turned them away. Papa had always said he left everything behind except his most precious treasure. Sometimes he would pretend he couldn’t remember what it was and ask her to guess. She knew he was teasing about having forgotten, because at night, he would tuck her in bed and whisper, “Mon trésor.” Claudine had always felt fortunate that he loved her as he did.
She took a cleansing breath to bring herself back to the present, and turned away from 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 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 a little room to breathe.” She demonstrated as she walked through the steps. “Now hug his arm to your chest and duck low, throwing your shoulder forward and thrusting out your leg.”
Mr. Hawke pitched forward, tripping over her leg, and landed on the stage with a thunderous bang. She gasped as he winced.
“Mr. Hawke!” Rachel rushed to kneel at his side. “Are you hurt?” She glared at Claudine. “Look what you did. What were you thinking?”
Claudine was frozen, unable to speak or move. He peered up at her. She braced herself for the insults and derogatory names that were sure to come. Any moment she expected Mr. Hawke to rail at her–to shout insults and call her names.
Meet Samantha Grace
RITA-nominated historical romance author, Samantha Grace, discovered the appeal of a great love story at the age of four, thanks to Disney’s “Robin Hood”. She didn’t care that Robin Hood and Maid Marian were cartoon animals. It was her first happily-ever-after experience, and she didn’t want the warm fuzzies to end. Now that Samantha is grown, she enjoys creating her own happy-endings for characters that spring from her imagination. Publisher’s Weekly describes her stories as “fresh and romantic” with subtle humor and charm. Samantha describes romance writing as the best job ever. Part-time medical social worker, moonlighting author, and Pilates nut, she enjoys a happy and hectic life with her real life hero and two kids in the Midwest.
Samantha Grace Author Website http://samanthagraceauthor.com