My Guardian Angel
ISBN-13: 9780553569162 ♦ ISBN-10: 0553569163
including “Angel On My Shoulder” by Susan Krinard
A lovely actress is torn from her lover’s arms but her wily parrot houses a spirit determined to see that the two meet again.
Read an Excerpt
Damien returned to the saloon a week after he’d left Heaven’s Bar, bone-weary with the long journey from Sacramento just behind him. Not once during the days on foot and horseback and steamship had he been able to put the past out of his mind.
As he walked into the Pearly Gates he thought he was ready to sample Sullivan’s whiskey after all. But he stopped just inside the door, staring around the room at empty tables and empty bar, hearing only an eerie silence.
Not quite silence. A murmur filtered from the adjoining room, the parlor Sullivan used for special customers and guests. For the first time Damien noticed the crudely painted sign propped up on top of the bar.
“Shakespearean performance in the Pearly Gates Theater at sundown,” he read slowly.
Shakespeare — here, in Heaven’s Bar. He’d attended performances in the Eagle Theater in Sacramento — but Heaven’s Bar? The Pearly Gates Theater?
The roar of male voices rose from the adjoining parlor, accompanied by shrill whistles. Damien walked toward the curtained partition that led to the parlor and paused as silence descended again.
The voice that began to speak — Hamlet’s soliloquy, Damien realized with a start — was low and melodious and hypnotic. He found himself listening, eyes closed, as a flood of memories carried him back to New Orleans — when he had first seen Miranda perform on the stage at the tiny leased theater on Camp Street — when he and Miranda had walked in Lafayette Square and played out their favorite roles. Romeo and Juliet. Rosalind and Orlando. Beatrice and Benedick . . .
Pushing the curtain aside, Damien strode into the parlor. He hardly noticed Sullivan’s henchman, who demanded an outrageous price for the privilege of a ticket; Damien tossed the man a small bag of gold dust and walked past him without a word. His eyes were all for the new stage and the small figure who stood on it.
He froze, as rapt as the miners who watched in fascinated silence from rough benches and the floor and every corner of the room, It was the boy — the boy he’d tried to rescue a week ago. A boy who commanded the stage like the prince he pretended to be.
“‘And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
and lose the name of action.'”
As the boy finished, bowing his head, the audience broke into howls of approval. Stamping feet rattled the floorboards. And the boy, looking up with regal pride, reached up to pull off his feathered velvet cap.
Long, lush hair, red as a mountain sunset, tumbled about the boy’s shoulders. There was a moment of silence from the miners, and then their shouts redoubled.
A woman. Not a boy at all, but a woman. Damien stepped back, bumping hard into a miner he vaguely recognized as one of the toughest in camp, and leaned heavily against the wall.
Miranda. Miranda, here.
Dazedly, he looked about the room for the parrot. It had been Ariel all along, Ariel who had come to him for help when Miranda had been in danger . . .
Danger. Damien ground his teeth together and stared at the rough, unshaven, dirty faces on every side. Where was her father? Why would he let her perform here, in such a place as this? What bizarre twist of fate had brought her to California at all?
“Miranda,” he whispered, staring up at the stage, where she stood calmly accepting the accolades and the bags of gold dust thrown at her feet. Without any command from his mind his legs began to move, pulling him toward the stage. He heard Miranda begin to speak again, her voice restored to its lovely, throaty lilt, but he heard nothing, saw nothing but her petite figure so exposed in the tunic and tights, her lips curved in a smile for her adoring audience, her clear green gaze exactly as he remembered it.
A snap of feathers and a rush of air swept by his ear as Ariel landed on his shoulder.
“‘All hail, great master,'” the parrot quoted softly.
And then Miranda looked down, directly into Damien’s eyes.
Papa was right, Ariel, Miranda thought.
She gazed down at the sea of bearded faces, breathing a sigh of relief. These men were desperate for entertainment — and not all of them were uneducated louts. They had listened to Shakespeare as if it were celestial music, and the pile of gold dust-filled bags scattered across the stage was proof enough of their satisfaction.
If she felt almost nothing of the pleasure she’d once found on the stage, that mattered not at all. This was only a temporary measure, just as the gambling had been. A few months, perhaps — here and touring other mining camps — and she could begin to make a new life for herself. Somewhere.
But this night’s performance was not yet done.
Miranda smiled down at the miners and raised her hand.
“I know there are many among you who have hidden talents. I’m in need of a gallant gentleman to play Benedick to my Beatrice — if there are any volunteers who can read the part?”
There was an immediate murmur of eager voices as one and another miner pushed his way forward to volunteer. Ariel swooped down suddenly from the far end of the room, where he’d observed Miranda’s performance with a critical yellow eye, and came to land on the broad shoulder of a black-bearded man at the foot of the stage.
Miranda looked down and froze. She knew the man. He was the same miner who’d come to her belated rescue a week ago — a man whose face she’d never seen clearly, and not once since that night. A man she hadn’t been able to thank.
He was handsome, even bearded as he was. Though he looked as tough and hardened as any man in the room, there was a difference about him — something that made her heart race and her breath come short. His broad shoulders and muscular arms were hardly concealed by the plain miner’s shirt he wore. Dark eyes regarded her with a flat, unreadable stare.
Eyes she could never forget.
Damien’s eyes. Damien — here.