Is his love her safe place to land…or just smoke and mirrors?
Grace Owens danced her feet bloody to become the finest en pointe prodigy of her generation, but the only accolade she longed for—her father’s approval—never came. Finally, broken and defeated, she cut ties and fled to London to live life on her own terms.
Now, after four years as an actress in London’s smaller theatres, a last-minute production change lands her right where she never wanted to be again. Front and center in the ballet—and back in toe shoes.
From his perch on the catwalks, machinist and stagecraft illusionist Isaac Caird can’t take his eyes off Grace. A woman who wears men’s clothing, but not as a disguise. An exquisite beauty who doesn’t keep a lover. A skilled dancer who clearly hates every pirouette.
The perfect lines of her delicate body inspire him to create a new illusion—with her as the centerpiece—that will guarantee sold-out shows. Maybe even attract a royal’s patronage. But first he has to get her to look at him. And convince her the danger is minimal—especially within the circle of his arms.
Featuring a gender-fluid ballet dancer, an amateur chemist who only occasionally starts fires, and an old rivalry that could tear them apart.
“This book is basically a rare and beautiful unicorn!” – Rina Borough
“That Potent Alchemy, the third book in Tess Bowery’s “Treading the Boards” series blows all of the historical romances I’ve been reading clear out of the water.”
“That Potent Alchemy gave me that sense of belonging, that “I could be here” feeling that I rarely find in the historical romances I read.“
“In Tess Bowery’s England, there’s room for queer women and genderfluid people to be.” – Stitchmediamix Reviews
“Michele says THATPOTENTALCHEMY by Tess Bowery has “plenty of spark” & “a proud & courageous heroine!” – Justloveromance reviews
“You’re speaking of Three-Fingered Ned.” Grace turned the wineglass in the light, the candle flames burned down low enough now that the orange and yellow fire reflected in a dozen scattered flashes off the irregular crystal. The cold collation had been put to bed along with the remnants of the fruits and nuts some time ago, and now there was only an inch, perhaps two, of the good red wine left in the base of the heavy decanter.
“Did you never wonder about how he lost the other two?” Caird asked, lifting the decanter and draining the last of the wine first into her glass, and then his. The sight of the dregs settling back to the bottom of the crystal beaker struck a sudden and inexplicable pang of disappointment somewhere deep in Grace’s chest.
“I suppose—yes, fine, I have. But I’ve never had the audacity to ask him about it!”
“That’s where being a nosy young apprentice will get you farther than respect.” And he tapped the side of his delicious nose, a knowing smile playing over his full lips. The attic room had stayed warm even against the cool night air that occasionally rattled the shutters, the shadows playing in the corners old friends by now.
How long had they been talking, as the wine level fell and candles sank down in their sticks? It hardly mattered—this little world of theirs was a cozy place, a comfortable one, where she wore lace-trimmed gowns and he a blue waistcoat, double-breasted, with his top button open over his broad, strong chest.
“Are you going to tease me or tell me?” she dared him, and that smile of his turned wicked, the very tip of his tongue moistening the center of his lower lip. The lightning sprang between them, fire in his eyes. Then he continued talking and the moment passed by unclaimed.
“Ned was a gunner on one of His Majesty’s mighty warships—”
“Him?” Grace could hardly help sounding astonished—the elderly propmaster at the King’s Theatre was far more widely known for his love of ale and horse races than for any patriotic devotion. “When you said he’d seen a ship on fire, I thought you meant in harbor.”
Caird nodded nevertheless. “Press gang got him coming out of a brothel. Totally innocently, you understand,” he added, a grin wide on his face.
“Mmm-hmm.” She hardly needed to reply at all.
Caird pressed his fingertips against his chest, and affected an air of innocence. “He was there to mission to the ladies, to pray for their eternal souls.”
“I’m sure you’ve both spent a lot of time there upon your knees.” She was trying to shock him now, because that face was simply asking for it.
He laughed long and low, shaking his finger at her as though she were a naughty child. “So Ned was pressed into the navy and became a gunner, learned everything black-powder related. He got his damn fool fingers blown off in a skirmish against the American rebels, and retired to become a propmaster and professional irritant.”
Grace chuckled. “And then you apprenticed to him?”
Caird nodded. “And he taught me everything he knew about explosives and chemical reactions, which brings me to the illustrious position I hold today.”
“Making stage smoke for witches and tempests.”
He leaned forward, as though he meant to whisper something in her ear. Grace found herself drawing in to him, pulled closer, but he didn’t tilt his head, nor murmur something soft and sweet.
Instead he took a pinch of salt from the tiny saltcellar set between them, and sprinkled it above the candle flame. A bright orange fire leapt from the candle and consumed the grains even as they fell, sparking into brilliant flares of light that extinguished before they hit the linen. “I make magic,” he intoned solemnly, and snapped his fingers. Another spark lit, floated, and died.
An angel falls from dark to dark—
Grace’s heart lurched sideways in her chest, the flame colors all too close and too bright, triggering the memory of hazy words and sickly-sweet smoke all in a rush.
He wants to make me into an angel.
A man will bind you, and keep you in chains…
She blinked and shook it off, but not before his brow furrowed. He had seen her reaction. “More like alchemy,” Grace said lightly. “Nothing I know anything about.”
He shook his head. “It’s all just proportions, knowing what elements can come together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.” He rose to his feet, then. “What salts and earths in what quantities to hold a spark.”
He stepped around the table that had stood as a bulwark between them, and extended his hand. His eyes glimmered in the darkness above the warm, soft sphere of candlelight. For a moment, Caird standing tall and strong above her, she felt small, delicate, her breath catching low in her throat.
She put her fingers in his hand. He closed his around her and drew her gently to her feet, but did not stop her. He tugged her in, moving at the same time, so that they stopped with barely a fingerwidth between them. His chest rose and fell faster than before, and Grace’s heart set a double-time that had to be visible in the pulses at her wrist, at her throat.
When he spoke again it was in a low murmur, his head bent down and his lips moving against her ear. “How much heat on a mixture will ignite a flame.”
How much, indeed. Desire burned through her, her knees trembling to hold her up. She ached at her core, empty and hollow, all the awareness in her body collecting at the one point where they touched, where his hand fit so completely around hers.
His cheek brushed against hers, his jawline betraying the faintest of rough prickles. His breath was sugar-sweet, and when her lips parted and he kissed her, he tasted of marzipan dainties and pistachio nuts. His hand came up to splay across her lower back, the other cupping her jaw, his fingers pressing hot and firm against the side of her neck. Caird’s lips moved over hers gently, exploring, brushing his mouth against hers once, twice, before she melted against him entirely.
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