Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss

Kimberlee Turley | Exclusive Excerpt: CIRCUS OF SHADOWS

May 12, 2022

Auction Scene from chapter XIII © 2022 Marcella.


# Chapter XIII excerpt#


For the entire morning, Gracie could not be found without a gaggle of women around her. And she took a circuitous route wherever she went, further hindering his chances of finding an opportunity to deliver a private apology. Jack had considered giving up until Harris and Gracie entered the big top, her small hand tucked in the crook of his elbow. She wore a pale pink dress trimmed with white bows and black ribbon. In her free hand, she carried a black umbrella.

If Gracie could forgive Harris enough to let him escort her to the auction, it seemed reasonable that she could overlook whatever Jack had said to offend her yesterday and last night. Squaring his shoulders, Jack marched in after them.

The tent was filled with a brown fog from the fine dirt kicked into the air by the patrons who’d come for the auction. Jack signed his name to a wooden bidding paddle while the Colonel stamped his hammer to close the sale of a gilded mirror.

The small herd of auction attendees stirred a little in the break before the next item was brought out. With Harris standing at Gracie’s left side, now carrying the umbrella for her, Jack placed himself on her right. She greeted him with a curt nod and condescended to murmur a painfully polite, “Good afternoon,” in his direction.

Undeterred, he bowed his head. “Miss Hart, you look very fine in that gown. Are you here to model the lot items or acquire them?”

Gracie blushed, raising her paddle over the lower half of her face to cover it. “There is one item in particular I hope to bid on, though I doubt I’ll be its only contender,” she said. “And I’ve told you before to call me ‘Gracie.’”

“If it’s a dress, I should think it will fit you very well.”

“Yes, I’m sure any of Katherine’s dresses would fit my sickly figure better than your lumberjack one,” she shot back, deflecting his intended compliment.

Jack sighed. He should just invite her to jab his nether regions with the stupid umbrella. The circus would be in Nebraska before he got in Gracie’s good graces. However, the thought of being so easily outwitted and outmaneuvered by Harris was demoralizing enough to keep Jack from returning the paddle.

He settled into his seat as the auction continued. Gracie clutched her paddle to the front of her chest with both hands like a shield, getting steadily more agitated. The lot numbers moved into the fifties, and two men carried a reddish trunk out and set it in front of the Colonel’s podium. Gracie bounced the fan end on her palm then wrung the handle in both hands. Jack suspected the paddle might not survive the auction.

The auction colonel shuffled the papers in his hands before announcing, “Our next item, lot 56, one rosewood trunk, is now open for bidding at one dollar.”

Harris turned to Gracie. “This is the item you want, right?”

Gracie’s paddle flipped up. A crone with hoary hair, dressed in shades of gray and lavender, raised her paddle. A gentleman with a brown bowler hat increased the bid. As Gracie fought to be the highest bidder, Jack found himself being fanned by her paddle like he was the sultan of a Middle Eastern country.

The allure of the trunk grew among the patrons as a few more paddles went up and the bid passed $1.50. Gracie chewed on her lower lip and upped the bid to $1.70.

Jack leaned toward her. “Why do you need such an expensive trunk?”

She switched her paddle to her right hand and he had to lean back to avoid getting smacked in the face. “When I want your opinion on how to spend my money, I’ll ask for it.”

Harris stroked his chin with two fingers. “You said I stole your money at the station. How can you afford it and also claim you’re broke?”

Her stiff shoulders sharpened, as did her tone. “Mr. Detweiler gave me a loan.”

A flush of heat ran from Jack’s collar to his ears as though he’d backed up too close to an upright furnace. When had this exchange occurred? And what was it about Harris and Jonathan Detweiler that made all the young ladies turn a blind eye to the fact they were disagreeable as hornets?

The old woman raised the bid to two dollars. A splotchy blush crept high on Gracie’s cheeks and spread to her neck. Whatever money Mr. Detweiler had given her, it wouldn’t hold out against the widow’s estate.

At $3.70 Gracie’s arm lowered and her head drooped in defeat.

“I’m sure you can find another trunk you like that’s cheaper,” Harris offered his condolences.

“Going once. . . Going twice. . .” the Colonel sang. Jack noted the brown portion of Gracie’s hazel eyes had dulled enough to resemble dirty pennies. She had a pocket full of borrowed money, and yet this trunk was so important to her that she’d stayed for the auction instead of fleeing for the train station. She wanted this more than she wanted to get to Chicago, which he knew she wanted bad enough to become his assistant—to put her trust in a hack of a knife thrower.

Jack shot his paddle in the air.

“I have $3.75 from the gentleman in the back, thank you.” The Colonel reopened the bid.

“What are you doing?” she asked, her eyes suddenly alert, searching his.

“Spending my money.”

With an indignant scowl, the crone raised her paddle to counter. Gracie pulled on his arm.

“You’re not going to spend that much on a trunk, are you?”

Why was she protesting? If he bought the trunk for her, she’d be getting exactly what she wanted without spending any of her money. Did she despise him so much that she wouldn’t accept the trunk as a gift?

“You were, and Granny over there seems to think it’s worth more,” he replied. “Clearly, this is a fine piece of furniture a young lady would be proud to own.”

Gracie lowered and folded her hands. He had her full attention now for the first time since he’d entered the tent, and especially since they’d brought out that ruddy trunk. Having her stare hopefully at him, like he was the answer to her prayers, was a bit burdening. . . and a little attractive.

The value of the chest to the old lady didn’t exceed $4.50. Jack held the high bid at $4.60.

“Going once. . .”

“$4.70!” Jack whirled toward Harris and frowned at his raised arm.

“So now you want the trunk?”

“Of course not. I’m gonna win it for Gracie.

Jack raised his arm stiffly. Whatever Harris was plotting, he would put an end to it.

“$4.80. Will someone offer $4.90?” the Colonel asked.

Harris grinned unctuously and bid. “You know I hate it when we do this.”

“Then stop it.” Jack bid again.

Gracie squirmed in her seat between them. “You two aren’t seriously going to compete with each other to win this for me, are you?”

Harris created a small landmark for the auction by raising the bid to five dollars. “Let’s say we make this a sweeter deal? Whichever of us wins also gets a kiss from Gracie.”

Gracie’s mouth dropped open. “What? You can’t promise things like that!”

“Six dollars!” Jack shouted.

The crowd hushed and the Colonel paused, his rhythm broken. Jack hiccuped in his chest as well. Why had he raised the bid so steeply? He couldn’t let Harris win, so Jack justified the impulse.

“I have s-six dollars! Will anyone beat six dollars?” The Colonel found his voice.

“You drive a hard bargain, Jack.” Harris smirked. “Seven!”

Everyone in the tent gasped, the sound like a gale blowing through the tent.

“Stop this now, both of you.” Gracie clung to Jack’s shoulder. “Jack, let him win. Just stop this nonsense before you send yourselves to the poor house!”

Her eyes, darkened with distress, smothered the flame of his ego. If she wasn’t happy, was there really a point for him to keep going? The voice of the Colonel echoed in the background. Seven dollars. Seven dollars . . .

His hand twitched. Her fingers curled around his hand, pushing it down. “Please, Jack. Stop this.”

“If you want Harris to give you the trunk, I’ll stop.”

“I do.”

The paddle he held felt like a dirigible waiting to take flight. Only the weight of Gracie’s hand wrapped around his kept it anchored. It had been his idea, and he deserved the recognition, but Harris had swindled it away from him.

“Sold!” The hammer cracked like a falling boulder on the podium.

Her hands slid off of his, and her cherry blossom lips murmured, “Thank you.”

She drew Harris, the winner, to her chest in a firm hug—without even a Bible’s width between them. Leaning toward him, she planted a soft kiss on his cheek. From Harris’s wry smile, with his nose pressed into the soft curls of her hair, Jack knew her touch was everything Harris had imagined it would be.

Jack stood, spun on his heel, and returned to the collection’s table, throwing his bidding paddle against the wood with a sharp smack. He shouldn’t have given up.


© 2022 Kimberlee Turley

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