Title The Palace of the Stars: A Thrilling Adventure in Love, Magic, and Mystery
Author Karina McRoberts
Genre Time Travel Romance/Adventure, Historical Fiction
Publisher Rocanadon Books
Lost in time, he finds his feet but loses his heart…
Badly beaten Australian rookie cop Mike Harker emerges from a coma with no history, no job, and no self-respect. While convalescing with a kooky bibliophile, a time portal opens in her bookstore and Mike is hurled into the past.
Faced with another beating, he is rescued from a mob and befriended by the charming impresario of The Palace of the Stars, a magnificent music hall.
There Mike falls for the beautiful and beguiling stage magician, Mae Belle, who begs him to solve a series of gruesome murders of itinerant miners and their families. Mike learns that Mae's magic is more than an act, and, stung by jealousy, he must team with her onstage, and possibly offstage partner, the creepy Chan Li, to discover and trap the killer.
With his own life in danger, Mike seizes his one chance at redemption and winning the woman he loves, but the justice of the day disgusts him. He must make a horrible choice.
Gordon led Mike to what he called the parlour room; well-decorated with period furniture, polished wooden floors, slatted blinds, and small palms in huge brass containers. Two large maps in the antique style were framed and mounted near the piano that stood in the corner. French doors opened out onto a shady veranda.
A handsome man of about thirty, later introduced as Chan Li, and two giggling part-Chinese kids were playing some kind of game. With Mae Belle. As Gordon and Mike entered, the game ceased.
Gordon, after being his ever-charming self, made some apology and departed before Mike could entreat him to stay.
“Are you feeling better, Mr. Harker?”
Her voice flowed over him like heavy silk; low, soft, sensual. Very fine. Gone was the rustic act. Or was this an act? Mike wondered who she really might be, not following at first; he was very nervous. And then he realised.
“Oh. Yes. Yes, sorry.”
“I’m so glad. People don’t usually faint during my act, you know.”
The way she said it - she seemed to be fishing. This only added to his discomfort.
“I…I just got a bit dizzy. You know. The heat.”
She regarded him coolly with a turn of her head not unlike Gordon’s; her enigmatic smile completely disarming him.
“And…and the clothes. Too many clothes.” He slid his finger, attempting to loosen his collar.
Oh crap! Why’d I say that?
He began to worry the same thing would happen again. Don’t faint for Christ’s sake!
In his discomfort he removed his jacket. Don’t these people ever relax? I mean, look at that get-up she’s got on. And I’m stuck in this frypan suit!
“Would you care to remove your jacket, Mr. Harker?” Her grin somehow both friendly and sarcastic at the same time.
Shit! Damn, this is not going well. But what can I say to her?
“Sor…” He didn’t finish it.
Suddenly he wished he’d never come. The situation was totally awkward.
Chan Li was staring at him coolly, sans enigmatic smile.
“Hi. I’m Mike.” He put out his hand to shake.
Chan seemed perplexed and did not take it, instead bowing; very curtly. He then left the room.
The kids said something to Mae in Mandarin.
She replied in the language, hugged them, and the two children scurried out the door.
Oh hell, what have I done now? And why didn’t Gordon bloody tell me!
“Mr. Gordon informed me you wished to see me,” Mae enquired.
That’s an understatement! But now, what’s the point anyway? Especially if they’re married! They’d have to be. We’d have to fight a duel or something!
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry.”
“You keep saying that. Don’t apologise. Please, sit down and tell me what’s on your mind.”
Just then, the older child returned, waiting silently with a tray.
“Here,” Mae offered, smiling at the boy. “Xie, darling.
“I’m sorry I don’t have whiskey. I hope this will do.”
Mike couldn’t speak.
The boy put the tray down and Mae poured tea.
Another affectionate exchange, and the lad disappeared once more.
The tea was steaming hot.
How can they drink this stuff on such a hot day?
“Well, Mr. Harker. What did you wish to see me about?”
“I, uh. Magic. Yes, your magic act. Um, I’d like to know about it, please.”
“I see. Well, I am sorry to disappoint you, Mr. Harker…”
“Mike. Call me Mike.”
“Oh?” She seemed somewhat taken aback by his informality.
“It’s alright. Really.”
She was the silent one now. Her look became quite serious. Or was she angry; angry he was asking about her magic?
She sipped her tea, in the dainty British way, staring over her cup at him.
“As I was saying, I don’t give anything away concerning my act.”
She noted his pained expression.
“Nothing personal of course. You understand.”
The only thing he understood was that she was heart-achingly alluring, and was married with two children, and that he was falling for her more by the second.
And that this is what he’d wanted, what he’d asked for; to be able to sit and talk with her, alone; but that he could not find a single thing to say! He felt trapped; longing to stay but desperate to extricate himself from his acute embarrassment.