Lady Revealed -
A Tenacious Trents Novel
Juliette Mirabelle knew one life and it was one as a ballerina.
The moment Drake Finton, Viscount Acker, saw the ballerina take the stage in Milan he knew he must have her. Yet, Juliette would not be his and when she disappeared he returned to his life in London. Now she was here and Drake intended to make her his.
All Juliette wishes to do is dance, but will the secrets of her past destroy her dreams?
Milan, Spring, 1813
Juliette peeked through the side curtain and scanned the audience until she spotted the dark blond hair in the third box just right of the stage. This gentleman, who she believed to be Lord Acker, had attended at least a dozen performances already. She had no idea when he began coming to the ballet but the first bouquet appeared a month ago. His card always asked that she meet him after the performance and was signed Drake Finton, Viscount Acker. Each time Juliette had left a note thanking him for the flowers but disappeared from the theatre immediately after the performance. Her mother warned her time and time again not to encourage gentlemen because they pursued dancers for one reason only: to be their mistress.
Maman had repeated those warnings after Juliette brought home the first bouquet and showed her the card from Lord Acker. At first maman’s face had gone very pale, and she looked frightened, as if she had seen a ghost, and then she crumpled the card before tossing it into the fire. “You will have nothing to do with that gentleman,” she ordered.
“Why?” Juliette had asked.
“He is English,” she practically spit. “He will use you and discard you. Stay away from him Juliette or you will end up like me.”
After her mother’s strong objection to Lord Acker, Juliette had not taken any more bouquets home, nor showed her another card. Yet, Juliette still wanted to meet him. Had he only sent the one bouquet she could have forgotten about him. But he had sent six different arrangements, including the flowers today. She should thank him in person, at least once, shouldn’t she?
Tonight the gentleman she believe to be Lord Acker shared the box with two couples. He was never with the same people or in the same seats.
“He is here,” she whispered.
“Come away from there before someone sees you,” Genviève, her sister admonished.
“I need to fix the tear and we haven’t much time.” Hélène, Genviève’s twin, grabbed Juliette’s arm and pulled her away from the stage. “Besides, you don’t even know if he is this Lord Acker.”
Juliette stepped onto a small stool so Hélène could ply her needle to the tear at the back of her costume.
“Who else would he be?” she asked. “Each time I receive flowers that man is in the audience. He must be Lord Acker.” She peered down at her sister as she nimbly sewed to repair her skirt. “Besides, who comes to a ballet as often as he? Most people see the performance once, rarely twice, but never three or more times.”
Genviève stood in front of Juliette, folded her arms across her chest and gave a stern look. “You aren’t thinking of meeting him, are you?”
Hélène paused in her sewing and looked up.
Juliette lifted her chin in stubbornness. “Why not?”
“He is an English gentleman,” Hélène hissed and went back to sewing
“Does that make him evil?” Juliette asked. It seemed rather rude not to meet with him after all the lovely flowers he had sent. Besides, what could happen to her at the theatre? Dozens of dancers and patrons were backstage after performances. It wasn’t as if she were going to meet him alone in a dark alley.
“Mother warned us that the English view dancers as little better than prostitutes,” Genviève reminded her.
Juliette blew out a breath. “That does not mean that he does.”
Hélène cut the end of the thread and fluffed out Juliette’s skirt. “Try not to get it caught again,” she said as she rose to her feet.
The twins now stood side by side. Genviève was smartly dressed in a pale green gown, practical yet pretty. Her red hair, so much like Juliette’s, was pulled back into a neat bun at the base of her neck. Had they lived a different life, Juliette always thought Genviève would make an excellent governess by the way she always took charge, even though she was the youngest. She had taken over the running of the household when maman didn’t seem to care enough and Juliette had to admit that everything ran much more efficiently under Genviève’s guidance and maman was happy she didn’t have to deal with the day to day issues involving servants and decisions. The only time maman decided to take charge was when she determined it was once again time to move. After her great grandmother died, they rarely resided in the same house for more than a year.
Hélène wore a serviceable gown with a number of needles stuck through the fabric at the bodice, each with a different color of thread streaming from them. There was a small apron tied at her waist and Juliette knew it held more thread, scissors and other items her sister needed for quickly repairing torn costumes. Her warm chestnut hair, often uncontrollable, was pulled back, yet curls escaped and framed her face. While Genviève’s eyes were light grey, Hélène’s were a clear, light blue. When not acting, Hélène costumed the troupe or assisted with makeup and styling hair for the stage. She prided herself on making others, and sometimes herself, unrecognizable.
Juliette studied them. “If I stay to meet Lord Acker will you tell Maman?”
The sisters looked at each other, their lips pursed. Never had they gone against their mother but Juliette wanted more for her life than to simply dance. Though she loved the ballet and could not imagine her life without it, she also wanted to marry one day, have a home of her own and possibly children. That would not be possible if all she did was teach children during the afternoon and dance at night. There was never an opportunity to meet men nor did her mother allow her to greet the few admirers after a performance. She was already four and twenty. If she didn’t meet someone soon it would be too late.
“Just this once, but I am staying with you,” Genviève insisted.
“As am I,” Hélène insisted.
Drake Finton, Viscount Acker, wiped his damp palms against his breeches. Why was he so nervous? It wasn’t as if he hadn’t met an actress, singer or dancer following a performance before. Some of his favorite mistresses had been performers, but the anticipation of meeting Juliette Mirabelle caused an anxiety he hadn’t experienced since the first time he attended a ball and became besotted with a beautiful young debutant he wished to partner.
The ballet was almost at an end. Juliette Mirabelle would soon twirl, collapse and die as the story came to an end. At the moment she was being lifted, her graceful arms spread, toes pointed and neck lengthened as she looked above. He had never seen a more beautiful or graceful sight in his life.
Would she meet him tonight? He took great care in finding the perfect arrangement of the freshest and most beautiful flowers and paid a lad to have them delivered to the theatre prior to the performance. It was larger than any of the others before. All he could do was hope that she remained tonight and he didn’t find another note thanking him for the bouquet.
Why didn’t she ever remain to meet him? Did she have a protector like so many female performers? Or worse, was she married?
Acker still recalled the first time he had seen her dance. He had been dragged to the ballet by a friend now living in Milan. He’d attended the ballet once when he was younger and quickly learned that it wasn’t something he enjoyed. That all changed the moment Juliette entered, dancing the lead role. Acker hadn’t been able to take his eyes from her and had returned to the theatre every night he could. After a week he sent her the first bouquet.
Acker leaned forward, the end was near. Her graceful movements slowed and arms folded across her breast as she fell, caught in the arms of her onstage lover, and died. The roar of the audience’s approval reminded Acker he was not alone in the theatre. So caught up in watching the young woman dance he had forgotten there were four companions with him. He came to his feet as Juliette entered to take her bow, a delicate smile on her lips and then she was gone again. Acker’s companions stirred and moved toward the entrance leading to the corridor.
“That was marvelous,” Signori Bellibi proclaimed. He was the man who had originally brought Acker to Milan. Bellibi worked within the government of the Kingdom of Italy, but he and others secretly worked with the English to find a way to bring an end to Napoleon and break his hold on the region.
Acker had been gone from home these past six months visiting with those who supported England in their war against Napoleon and should have been done with this business and onto Prussia but he could not leave Milan without first meeting Juliette. The Home Office had not questioned his delay but they soon would and Acker couldn’t exactly report that he remained because of a ballerina and not for the war effort.
“Thank you for the invitation.”
“It was my pleasure,” Acker responded. He was quickly running out of people to invite to the ballet. He couldn’t very well attend on his own. How would that look to others?
His companions filed out into the corridor already crowded with patrons leaving the theatre.
“Will you be joining us for a late supper?” Bellibi questioned.
Acker shook his head. “No. You go on.”
The man simply nodded and escorted his wife toward the stairs that would take them to the entrance. Soon they were swallowed by the crowd and Acker made his way to the back of the theatre.
His heartbeat increased with each step. Had she waited for him or would he find another note? Was he a fool in pursuing a dancer when he had important work to do?
The back of the theatre was crowded with performers and patrons, much like it was each night he ventured here. The door leading to Juliette’s dressing room was on the far side and closed. For a moment he was hopeful. All other times it had been open, but empty. Had he caught her in time? Had she not left?
He paused before the scarred wood entrance, took a deep breath and knocked. It opened a moment later by a young woman with auburn hair pulled into a knot behind her head. Perhaps she was the ballerina’s maid.
“May I help you?”
“Might Juliette Mirabelle still be here?”
The young woman tilted her head and studied him. “Whom shall I say is inquiring?”
Acker cleared this throat. “Viscount Acker.”
She nodded, stepped back and fully opened the door. Across the room stood Juliette, no longer in her costume but dressed in a simple gown of pale blue. His breath ceased when he looked into her clear emerald eyes. Speech failed him at that moment.