The Red Slipper - Excerpt


The Red Slippers

It would take magic for Cosette to believe in her abilities.
It would take Avery to conjure up the spell.

Cosette Binet has dreams of being a ballerina. When she learns the Paris Opera Ballet needs additional dancers, she applies. While practicing for her audition, she dances into the arms of the handsome artistic director and dancer, Avery Dubois. The subsequent audition is magical. It is a dream come true.

Avery Dubois is enchanted by Cosette and impressed with her talent. He offers her a well-deserved place in the corps de ballet. His keen eye sees a great dancer as well as a woman he could love.

Cosette captivates the audiences as she has captivated Avery’s heart. She is chosen to dance more roles but is plagued with doubt. When she has difficulty dancing she is sure she is not good enough for the ballet or for Avery. But Avery believes her doubt is a self-fulling prophecy. While trying to help her, he comes upon a pair of worn red ballet slippers. He gives them to Cosette telling her they are the shoes of a great dancer and are filled with magic.

Do the red slippers hold the magic to make Cosette a great ballerina
and  remove her doubts about Avery’s love?

The Red Slippers is part of The Druid Knight Series.

Chapter One

Spring 1769

Madame Cosette Binet DuBois pulled back the drape and gazed out at the window in the dance studio. It was late afternoon as a gaggle of ballet dancers flocked across Paris’s Rue de Rivoli to the Théâtre des Tuileries to prepare for the evening’s opening performance. A smile touched her lips as her fingers toyed with the tiny ruby slippers dangling from a velvet ribbon tied around her neck.

Fourteen years ago, she was one of those girls leaving for the theatre, facing an opening night performance, primed, eager, anxious, and scared.

Her students needn’t worry. Like her predecessor, the ballet mistress prepared her students well.

“Did you have a good day?” Avery Parsons DuBois, her cherished husband and Artistic Director of the Paris Opera Ballet School, stood at the doorway. “I’ll be with you in a few minutes. I have one or two things to finish before we leave.”

Cosette let the drape fall back into place and turned toward him.

“It was a particularly good day. With all the excitement, their practice went well.” The vision of dancing with her students cleared from her mind, replaced by reality. Cosette Binet, world renowned prima ballerina, would never dance again. She had the heart but no longer the physical stamina or fitness.

With the help of her Avery, Cosette’s legacy to the art she loved would be transferring everything she knew to her students. She attacked the challenge as she did everything in life, wholeheartedly. The passion and love for her art was only surpassed by her passion, love, and devotion to her husband. His deep, soothing voice was her elixir. He alone made the pain of her body and soul bearable.

“If you need to finish the accounting, I can go ahead. You can meet me at the theatre.”

She ran her hands down her skirt, pretending to chase away the wrinkles. The man was forever detained with some company business. It wouldn’t be difficult for her to cross to the theater. It was steps away. Cosette walked to the door and stood in front of her husband. Her Avery. She danced into his arms while rehearsing before her audition. By the time he spoke to her she had already fallen in love with him.

With Avery’s help she had gone from a mere seamstress who dreamt of dancing to become one of the ballet world’s renowned prima ballerinas. And when she retired, he confirmed her legacy to the art she loved so much. Avery converted the small room in the studio into a salon and demanded it be magnificent and lavish with tapestries, sculptures, bronzes, and paintings. He commissioned artisans to carve the wood paneling with gilded scroll trim. All the things they acquired during her dance career elegantly filled the room. There was a small dining table, and comfortable chairs in intimate groups to encourage conversations.

Even when her stamina began to fade, she was determined to continue with the ballet company. Avery insisted she reduce her schedule, but he still found her in the rehearsal hall with her students. He added a chaise lounge in her sanctuary for her to rest, to keep her close to her students, and to him.

He smiled at her now. “No, princess.” With gentle encouragement, he took her into his arms. “The hand of the famous Cosette Binet will be on my arm as I escort her through the throng of her admirers. I will be the envy of everyone.” He kissed her forehead. “I won’t be long. I noticed Monique in the private rehearsal room. You are a hard task master. Worse than Claude ever was.”

“Monique’s a talented dancer. I do not push her. She requires it of herself.” Cosette understood a dancer’s demand for perfection, especially Monique’s. She recognized the dancer’s hesitancy was bound up in self-doubts. If she believed in herself and trusted her skills, she would perform like no other dancer on that stage tonight.

“Ah, and I know what you see in the girl. I see it, too. How can I miss it? I look at her and see you fourteen years ago.”

Cosette stepped out of his arms. “I’ll speak to her unless you can use your latent druid powers and convince her it’s time to leave for the theatre.”

“If I had that kind of power I wouldn’t squander it on a nervous student. I would—”

Cosette put her finger on his lips. “No need to say anything. I know what you would do.”

“And what would I do?”

Cosette tilted her head and stared at him. “Make all those papers go away so you and I can enjoy Monique’s first solo performance. The girl is quite accomplished. But you do disappoint me.” She shook her head and raised her fine arched eyebrows in protest. “All these years I was sure you were a great druid magician.”

“You thought I was a knight.” His pursed lips and twinkle in his eyes sent a spark of delight racing through her.

“Like your ancestor, the druid grand master, Maximilian.” A deep sigh escaped her. “We haven’t been to England or Fayne Manor in a long time.”

He pulled her closer. “What I would give to be the druid grand master and make you well.”

Cosette nuzzled the perfect spot against his neck. “You can’t fight all my battles. Some I have to do on my own.”

“When did you ever let me help you with any of your challenges?” He held her away and gazed into her eyes. “Oh no, princess, don’t paint me with that brush. You, my dear, are a formidable woman and the world’s greatest ballerina. I am humbled by you.”

“You were my artistic director and with that magic, you made me what I am. Go. Finish your papers. I don’t want to be late.”

She stepped out of his arms and already missed his warmth.

“The papers can wait. I’ll get our coats and meet you at the practice room.”

“I’ll see to Monique.” Cosette walked down the hall and entered the small studio where her student repeated the intricate combination of steps over and over. Her keen eye caught the flaw, but nothing needed to be said. Monique didn’t wait to complete the sequence. She stopped and stomped to the side of the room, took a linen cloth, and wiped the dampness from her face.

“This isn’t particularly difficult,” Cosette said. “You have performed variations of this combination fifty times in other performances perfectly. You put too much pressure on yourself. Enjoy the dance, let the music carry you across the stage.”

“Madame Binet, what if I don’t do well?” Anxiety glittered in the girl’s eyes.

“Throughout your years in ballet school, you were tested, evaluated, and critically judged. Before every performance you were anxious, yet when the music started you danced without hesitation or flaws. This performance is the same. I promise, once you’re on stage, you will be wonderful.”

Her student stood next to her, wringing the linen. Cosette put her hand over Monique’s. The end of the girl’s solo highlighted her extension and grace. Her arabesque was superb.

“Come with me.” They went into the salon where Cosette opened a cabinet and took out a pair of worn red slippers.

“Here, wear these.” Cosette handed them to Monique. “These dance shoes once belonged to someone special and hold the secret to her dancing.”

Monique stared at the slippers and held them with wonder and respect. Cosette was certain the magic of the shoes was all the young dancer needed to overcome her anxiety.

“Madame, these are yours.”

“Now the shoes are yours. These once belonged to Maria Camargo, one of Paris’s greatest prima ballerinas. The slippers have never failed me. They won’t fail you.”

“Oh, Madame.” Monique threw her arms around her.

“Go. You need to dress for the performance.”

The girl stood and stared at her.

“Go.” Cosette nudged her toward the door.

“Thank you.” Monique’s eyes were bright with tears. She clutched the shoes to her chest and ran out of the room.

Moments later, the outside door closed. Cosette glanced out the window as the young woman hurried across the road.

“Your student has joined the others?” Avery came up next to her, wearing his hat and coat, her cloak in his hands.

“It’s nerves. I suspect once the music starts, her jitters will stop and Monique will dance without a flaw.” She took her wrap from Avery who helped put it around her shoulders. “Do you plan to finish your paperwork tonight?”

“It can wait until morning. I’d rather not stay too long at tonight’s opening celebration. I thought a quiet dinner for two was in order. An early evening.”

“That would be lovely. I don’t know how we did it when we were their age, practice all day, the excitement and stress of a performance, then up most of the night celebrating. You don’t miss that, do you?”

“Not at all.” The pair left the studio, crossed the road, and found themselves surrounded by a crowd of people as they approached the theater entrance.

“Madame Binet,” someone shouted.

“It’s wonderful to see you, Madame,” another called.

“There she is. With Monsieur DuBois.” A woman turned to her companion. “I told you Madame Binet would be here tonight.”

People parted, making way for her and Avery. Although she had retired from dancing five years earlier, the crowd’s excitement still surprised and humbled her. People shouted their good wishes, and several handed her bouquets as she and Avery made their way to the main doors.

Reaching the entrance, the retired prima ballerina stopped and faced the spectators.

“Thank you all for your wishes and,” glancing at the bouquets, “for the flowers.” Avery escorted her into the building’s grand foyer.

A hush came over the assembly. The house staff gathered in a double line from the doorway, under the lofty dome, to the grand staircase. This welcome was different from the admirers outside. The theater company and staff were a close family. Cosette went down the line and had small conversations with each person.

Standing before the first twelve steps leading to the landing, she glanced past it to the next flight of stairs branching off in two opposite directions. Cosette let out a heavy sigh.

“I can sweep you off your feet, be your gallant knight.” Avery’s words were for her ears alone. “And deliver you to our private box.”

“No, I’ll walk. Reaching the top will take some time.” With a deep breath, she steeled herself for the ordeal.

Scarily thin and gaunt, Cosette stood tall and hid the strain it took to climb the steps and make her way to her box. Once, she could have run up these steps, danced with abandon, leaped, and jumped across the stage. Now navigating a simple flight of stairs challenged her.

Tired, she paused briefly at the top of the second set of stairs, held her head high. Avery scooped her into his arms and took her the rest of the way.

“There’s no need for you to carry me.” Her head lolled against his chest. She just needed to catch her breath.

“I wouldn’t be your gallant knight if I didn’t.” He nudged the box door open with his foot and set her in her chair.

The box hadn’t changed. There were two rows, each with two seats. A small table with a decanter of wine and a pitcher of water sat to one side. A folded blanket hung on the back of an empty chair tucked into the far corner.

She looked about. “I can imagine Queen Marie and Madame Camargo sitting with us. It’s been so many years since I first entered this theatre.” The words were a whisper, more to herself than to Avery.

“I remember that day as if it were yesterday.” Avery looked down at the stage.

Her hand rested comfortably in his. “I auditioned. You danced with me. You and Claude were searching for more dancers to fill the village scene. The day is clear in my mind, too.”

Le devin du village, the Village Soothsayer. Rousseau staged the piece with more dancers than we had in the corps de ballet. The queen asked for this particular ballet for a birthday celebration. I needed eight more dancers for the one performance. Her Majesty told me to pick my villagers from her staff and gave me a room at the palace for auditions. How could I say no?”

“And all these years I thought you were clever, using Rousseau’s ballet as a ruse to meet me.” Cosette coyly smiled at him, aware that was not the truth. He had never seen her until she walked into the dance studio. “Even then you were late because of your papers. I waited in the empty room to audition for you. I listened to the orchestra rehearsing in the next room and danced while I waited my turn. I didn’t want to be stiff. The music carried me away.”

“I didn’t have the heart to tell you.” For an instant, a hint of nostalgia stole into his expression. “I had already hired all the dancers I needed. I thought you were the clever one, dancing for me without the others. You performed every step of the choreography better than most of the dancers in the company. I had only seen one woman leap as high and as gracefully as you, Marie Camargo. I was so moved by your ability not only to dance, but the emotion you put into the character, when the orchestra played the pas de deux, I had to dance with you.”

“It was a fairy tale. I can still feel the magic dancing with you. I did a series of glissades and cabrioles across the room and—”

“And you danced right into my arms.” He knelt next to her, his arm around her back.

She looked into hazel eyes that were clear, beautiful, and held the same passion she saw fourteen years ago. There were touches of gray in his jet-black hair, distinguished for his position, but he hadn’t aged.

“We continued our duet until the last note.” The tender kiss he placed on her cheek sent shivers down her neck and goose flesh down her arms. “Somewhere in the middle of that dance, I fell in love with you. Before you even hired me. At first, I was ecstatic to be dancing in the company and in the special performance honoring Madame Marie Camargo.

“I watched her perform whenever she was at the palace and decided I wanted to learn ballet. It was thrilling performing for her, but even more inspiring on those rare occasions Madame, in her red dancing slippers, came to our company to teach us.” Cosette let out a big yawn. “All that was wonderful, but I quickly realized you were more important to me than anything else. I have no regrets the way things worked out.”

“Ah, her magic little red slippers.” Avery grabbed the blanket from the back of the chair, tucked it around her legs, and kissed her forehead. “Get some rest. I must go backstage and make sure everything is ready.”

“Go. Inspire our dancers.” She waved him away.

“I’ll be back before the curtain goes up.” He kissed her again and left.

Cosette looked about the theatre. The red damask walls and upholstered chairs were striking. The gilded trim and white marble floor were the perfect finishing touches. The music was enriched by the frescoed vaulted ceiling. The artwork and statuary had changed over time, but it all made for an elegant theater, fitting for the ballet.

“Fourteen years. It wasn’t so long ago...”

Currently on pre-order. The Red Slippers is an Amazon Kindle Unlimited book.

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