Romance Sneak Peek Spotlight — 06 December 2016
SNEAK PEEK: UNDER THE SPANISH STARS by Alli Sinclair

utss-kensingtonUNDER THE SPANISH STARS by Alli Sinclair 

Amid the vivid beauty of Granada, a woman entrusted with unraveling a family secret will discover the truth about her heritage–and the alluring promise of love…

When her beloved grandmother falls ill, Charlotte Kavanagh will do whatever she asks of her–even if it means traveling to a country that broke her abuela’s heart. Can an unsigned painting of a flamenco dancer unlock the secrets of her grandmother’s youth in Spain? To find the answers she needs, Charlotte must convince the charismatic and gifted musician, Mateo Vives to introduce her to a secluded gypsy clan.

The enigmatic Mateo speaks the true language of flamenco, a culture Charlotte must learn to appreciate if she wants to understand her grandmother’s past–and the flamenco legend that has moved souls to beauty, and bodies to the heights of passion. As Mateo leads her into the captivating world of the music and the dance, Charlotte embraces her own long-denied creative gift and the possibility of a future rich with joy…

EXCERPT:

Chapter One

Charlotte Kavanagh gripped the calico bag that safely concealed her grandmother’s painting as she hurried across the grounds of Granada’s Escuela de Bellas Artes. Her heart raced faster than her feet while she skillfully dodged the students dressed in an array of styles—bohemian, casual chic, business, or sporty—as they lazed on the green expanse, soaking up the sun while idly thumbing through textbooks or sharing a joke with classmates. Charlotte’s low heels clacked along the smooth path, and she longed for a moment to fully enjoy the glory of the intense blue sky, blooming gardenias, and the sun warming her pale skin. But it was impossible to slow down when this visit to Spain held so much urgency.

Taking the steps two at a time, Charlotte hastened through the art deco doors and down the long passageway. Sunlight attempted to penetrate the small windows but failed miserably, leaving the building in gloomy darkness. Squinting, Charlotte edged along the hallway, trying to make out the names and numbers on the doors.

“Bingo!” She drew to a halt and filled her lungs with oxygen, exhaling slowly before rapping on the door.

No answer.

“Damn.” Knocking harder, she adjusted the shoulder strap of her handbag.

Rapping on the door again, she drew her lips into a tight line, about to resign herself to camping outside Professor Fonseca’s door. Charlotte wiped the sweat from her brow, then reached into the handbag, grabbed a water bottle, and took a long drink. The cool liquid brought her temperature down and the frazzled feeling waned slightly.

High heels marching across floorboards echoed down the hallway. The owner of the stunning blue shoes was a petite woman in a stylish business suit, her hair in an immaculately tailored bob, her large brown eyes framed by perfect eyeliner and mascara. The woman stopped in front of the door, and Charlotte smoothed down her faithful jeans.

“Excuse me, are you Professor Fonseca?”

.” She shoved the key in the lock and it clicked open. The woman turned and narrowed her eyes as she looked over her black-rimmed glasses. “Admissions deal with foreign students. I cannot help with your application to my department.”

“Oh, that’s not what I’m here for.” Charlotte opened the calico bag and moved to pull out the painting.

“Do not bother.” The professor made no effort to hold in a long sigh and muttered, “¡Por Dios! Estoy cansada de esto.”

Charlotte chose not to tell the professor she’d understood her comment about being tired of “this.” Whatever this was. “I’m sorry if you have lots of people turn up without an appointment, but I have extenuating circumstances—”

“I wish I had a euro for everyone who says this.” The professor held the door ajar, as if readying to barricade herself in the office against this loony Australian woman. “I have a lecture in half an hour, and I am busy for the rest of the week. You return next Wednesday. Eleven o’clock.”

“Please.” Charlotte resisted the urge to grab the professor’s arm. “My abuela has had a major heart attack—she’s in her nineties and is very unwell. Her heart could give out at any minute, so she’s sent me here to find out who this artist is. The painting holds a lot of significance for my abuela. It’s not signed, and all she knows is it was an artist from Granada.” For good measure she added, “I’ve been told you were the expert in this field.”

Charlotte’s attempt at buttering up appeared to have no effect as the professor crossed her arms.

“You use abuela, the Spanish word for grandmother. Do you speak my native language?”

“I understand it much better than I can speak, but I get by.” Good old high-school Spanish classes had been Charlotte’s only avenue to learn. Her grandmother had refused to teach her offspring, even though she insisted on being called Abuela. Yet another contradiction her grandmother clung to without explanation.

The professor’s arms remained folded as she let out a rapid fire of Spanish. The words zapped around Charlotte’s head as she grappled to gain full meaning. What she picked up was that English wasn’t poetic, and it caused the professor’s ears immense pain to hear it.

“I’m sorry,” Charlotte said. “I didn’t get all of that.”

The professor shrugged. “Classroom Spanish is not the same as real life, no? So we speak English, you and me.”

“Thank you, I appreciate this.” She held back a sigh of relief. When Charlotte had sent out the call to her network of colleagues in the insurance business, she’d expected to be given the name of a second-hand dealer in the backstreets of Granada, so it came as a pleasant surprise to be put in touch with the city’s leading expert in obscure Spanish classical artists. Unfortunately, she hadn’t been warned about the woman’s prickly nature. Making a last-ditch effort, Charlotte said, “My great-grandfather gave Abuela the painting and promised to tell her the story behind it when she was twenty-one. Unfortunately, he passed away before he had the chance.”

“Why has she waited until now to find out?” The professor took her hand off the key in the lock.

“My grandmother was born in Granada, but moved to England in her twenties. I’m not sure when, exactly.” Because Abuela always ensured the details of her life in Spain remained murky, yet she freely spoke about her life in England. Recently, though, her grandmother had revealed tiny snippets about Spain, and for the first time in Charlotte’s twenty-seven years, she’d heard her grandmother speak about her country of birth with a hint of affection. “Later she moved to Australia. Abuela’s only legacy from Spain is this painting. Her illness has spurred her to tie up the loose strings in her life, and this is one of them.” Charlotte hoped Abuela wouldn’t be upset with her divulging the next piece of information. “She suspects this has something to do with her family heritage.”

“It is nice, this wishing to connect with her original country, but I would say the painting is not signed because it was bought in a market and the artist was a nobody.”

“I know this is asking a lot, but I’ve come a long way. If you could just take a moment to look. Please.” Charlotte didn’t want to resort to begging, but she didn’t have much choice.

Professor Fonseca gave a half shrug. “Come back next Wednesday.”

“Please.” Charlotte took a step forward and fumbled in the calico bag, her fingers numb as she withdrew the painting and turned it so the professor could see.

“Next Wednesday.” The professor’s gruff voice echoed down the hall, her eyes refusing to look at the artwork.

“But—” Charlotte’s handbag slid off her shoulder and as she pushed it back on, her grip on the painting loosened and the artwork made a dive for the floor. Catching it just in time, Charlotte righted herself and found the professor staring at the canvas.

“May I?” The professor held out her hands, fingers twitching.

Charlotte dutifully gave her the painting. Sweat pooled in her lower back, and she wasn’t sure if it was from the muggy air or a sign of nerves. The sounds of doors swinging open and hitting walls reverberated as a crowd of students poured into the hallway, laughing and talking. The noise circled them and the professor cast her gaze up and down the hallway while clutching the painting. “Come.”

Gracias.” Charlotte followed the thin woman into the room adorned with dark wood paneling. The air felt ten degrees cooler and had a musty tinge, as if the windows hadn’t been opened in decades. A large desk covered in yellowing files and photographs of spectacular landscapes filled half the room, while a small reading chair and a sofa in matching burnt-orange fabric took up the rest of the space.

Professor Fonseca sat behind her desk and turned on the reading light as she studied the painting from various angles. She squinted, widened her eyes, brought it close then moved it away. Clasping her hands in front, Charlotte stood awkwardly, unsure whether to stand or sit on the expensive-looking reading chair.

Placing the glasses on the top of her head, the professor said quietly, “Syeria Mesa Flores Giménez.”

“Pardon?” Charlotte shuffled closer.

“Syeria Mesa Flores Giménez,” Professor Fonseca said louder. “This painting is close to one hundred years old. Look at this.” She pointed at the thick strokes of orange, red, and yellow flames. “See the way the paint curves up instead of laying flat on the canvas? This is her signature style. It truly is unique.” Placing a finger near the bottom corner on the left-hand side, she said, “This small rip, what is the story?”

“I don’t know. The painting has been buried in a trunk under a pile of blankets for decades. My grandmother asked me to retrieve it only a few days ago.”

“It has not been on show?” Professor Fonseca’s eyes widened. “A painting of this historical value should never be hidden.”

“For Abuela, it’s the emotional value that’s important.” A lump formed in Charlotte’s throat as she recalled the last time she’d been with her grandmother. The buzz of the hospital had faded into the distance as they’d held hands in silence, their love for each other warming the cold, sterile room.

Tapping her fingers on her thighs, Charlotte asked, “Any idea why it wasn’t signed?”

“This Syeria, she never put her signature on the paintings because she believed her art was the collaboration between her heart and soul and nature. A team effort, you might say. Many people think they have an original Syeria Mesa Flores Giménez, but it is only a fake. But this”—the professor smiled with appreciation—“this is the real thing. I would bet my career on it.”

“Do you have any idea who the dancer is?”

“No, I do not, but I will say this is linked to La Leyenda del Fuego, the ‘Legend of the Fire.’ You know it?”

“I’m afraid I’m not well-versed on my Spanish legends.” Yet another aspect of Spain Abuela could have passed on, but chose not to. Charlotte had surreptitiously studied Spain as much as possible, but it wasn’t the same as speaking with someone who had been born there.

“It is a shame you do not know much about your heritage, but you could be forgiven in this case. The legend is more of the obscure type, known in the region of Granada and commonly heard in gitano circles. See this?” The professor pointed to the woman dancer clad in a deep red dress, her ample cleavage only slightly exposed. With a simple red rose tucked behind her ear, her thick dark hair flowed down her back and her skirt caught the breeze. Her large, brown eyes looked toward the stars twinkling in the inky sky and her arms reached upward, as if giving thanks. The woman’s long legs stretched out as she leapt over the campfire, her red shoes matching the dress.

“It’s technically beautiful. The hues are . . . they’re amazing.” Charlotte’s eyes welled up, once again overcome by the magnificence.

“You have a good eye.”

“Thank you.” Keen to avoid any topic that involved art appreciation, Charlotte cleared her throat. “Is there additional information you can give me, or steer me toward, to find out more about this artist?”

“There are some important things you must know first.” The professor glanced at the old-fashioned clock, then drew her brows together. “I will need to be fast. I cannot keep my students waiting.”

“I’m sorry for turning up here without an appointment.”

“It is okay. It is not every day I witness the splendor of a talented artist from an era that is no more. Tell me, what is your name?”

“Charlotte Kavanagh.”

“Ah, you are Irish.” The professor gestured toward Charlotte’s natural red hair, blue eyes, and pale skin.

“No Irish, I’m afraid. However, I do look like my grandmother.” Charlotte couldn’t remember how many times people had been surprised at Abuela’s flaming red hair and Spanish heritage.

“Really?” The professor looked at the clock again and pushed back the chair. “You walk with me, yes?”

“Of course.”

Professor Fonseca gave the artwork one last, longing look before handing it over. Charlotte put it gently in the calico bag and tied a knot while the professor grabbed a folder, laptop, and pen. The door locked behind them as they took off down the dark hallway, Charlotte straining to keep up with the professor’s short legs, but long strides.

“This Syeria Mesa Flores Giménez specialized in painting gitano legends from her clan. La Leyenda del Fuego was her favorite, and she painted many works with this theme.” She tucked the pen behind her ear. “Have you ever had a piece of music or painting that has spoken to your soul?”

“Yes,” Charlotte said, casting her mind back to the countless hours she’d spent in a little-known gallery in South Yarra, in her hometown of Melbourne. The gallery was her favorite place to discover unknown artists whose work left her reeling with an array of emotions that cut to the core. These days, though, she preferred to stay away from galleries because they brought back the pain of her one and only exhibition.

“Do you know of duende?” Professor Fonseca asked, click-clacking down the stone steps. They crossed the busy courtyard, the crowds of students parting as the professor powered through.

“Every artist wants to achieve this, right?” Dreams long gone clawed to the surface, but Charlotte shoved them back down into the murky depths of memories best forgotten.

“Yes, it is true, but the duende I speak of, the one that is depicted in Syeria Mesa Flores Giménez’s artwork, is more complicated than you and I could ever comprehend. In La Leyenda del Fuego, the flamenco dancer is so overwhelmed by the feelings within, he or she is pulled toward the fuego—the flames—that signify the fire in their soul. When the dancer leaps, it is a symbolic leap of faith. By doing so they open up their heart to experience duende in its purest form.”

Entering another building, they started up a flight of stairs.

“Does the fire duende happen to many dancers?”

“No,” said the professor, “the person must be a member of the Giménez clan, but even then there are no guarantees. It is like being the chosen one, and it is beyond everyone’s control. Like other forms of duende, La Leyenda del Fuego cannot be forced. It must be organic—a connection of pure love with spirit, heart, and flamenco.”

Charlotte hesitated, then asked the question brewing in her mind. “As an academic, do you think the legend could be true?”

They stopped outside the lecture hall, and the professor’s lips formed a slow smile. “It does not matter what I think. I know the Giménez clan believe this, so who am I to argue? I have not heard of La Leyenda del Fuego happening for decades, but I am not privy to what goes on inside a gitano clan.”

Charlotte nodded. She’d never been one to foist her beliefs on others, either.

“I cannot offer any more information on the painting belonging to your abuela. As with any clan of the gitano culture, it is closed to outsiders. They do not wish to speak of the past and do not keep written records, so there is no historical information.”

“So how do people know about Syeria Mesa Flores Giménez?” Charlotte asked.

“They know of her existence because an art collector wanted to make her a showpiece, promote her as a gypsy artist. She painted for love, not money. She disappeared from the eyes of the public sometime around 1919. No one saw her again.”

“She didn’t use the gitano network to hide?” This was way more interesting than an ABC miniseries.

“There are rumors she left the country and never returned. No one knows for sure. It is a good mystery, yes?”

A lanky student with shoulder-length hair rushed through the open door to the lecture hall, knocking Charlotte’s arm into the doorframe. A sharp pain gripped her elbow, but she managed to keep hold of the painting that raised more questions than answers. The student threw a hurried “discúlpame” and continued into the room brimming with students.

The professor raised an eyebrow. “I am sorry for my student. Here, take this.” She produced a business card from her folder then hastily scribbled a name on the back. “You would be best to speak with the Giménez clan. They live outside the city, keep to themselves, and follow their own rules—the only way to get access to them is to befriend someone they trust.” Waving the card, she said, “This man is not gitano, but he has the connections you need. You will find him at Club Alegría. It is home to many flamenco greats. He is there most nights, and if anyone can help, it will be Mateo Vives.”

Professor Fonseca handed over the card.

“Thank you.” Charlotte smiled. “Wish me luck!”

The professor drew her brows together again. “You will need it.”

The cool night air clung to Charlotte’s skin as she wove through the streets of Sacromonte, Granada’s neighborhood famous for flamenco and gitanos, and hopefully, the place where she would track down Professor Fonseca’s contact. She traveled up the hills and along the narrow cobblestoned streets crowded with whitewashed houses, colourful doors and windows, all protected by elaborate wrought-iron grilles. As Charlotte sauntered past, she glimpsed inside the caves carved into the hillside that once housed the Moors but now served as restaurants, shops, galleries, and dance and music schools.

Studying the map in the fading light, she made her way up, up, up, her calves burning with every step. All those times she’d avoided the gym because she was too busy with work now haunted her as she slogged up the winding, steep streets. Luckily, studying the stunning architecture took her mind off the pain—for a fleeting moment. As she rounded another corner, Charlotte switched into top gear, and her skin tingled with anticipation.

The aroma of fresh onions, potatoes, and spices wafted down the alley and guided her to Club Alegría. Hesitating outside the door, she observed the patrons laughing and eating, drinking wine and beer. Nerves tingled at the back of her neck. She hated going into places she didn’t know. There was always a risk of not being accepted, a fear she’d developed in her teenage years that still plagued her. Assessing risk every day, in the world of insurance, didn’t help Charlotte deal with her issues, but what could she do? Her father had pushed her into the family business, and there was no feasible way out. Leaving would be…risky.

A waiter dressed in white and black waved her in. Do this for Abuela. Swallow the fear. Taking a deep breath, Charlotte crossed the threshold into the cave. Nausea grew in her belly. Despite a lack of space, the bar was cluttered with people of all ages sitting on dark wooden chairs at tables that looked a century old. At the back of a room was a small, empty stage.

Capturing the attention of the waiter she said, “Estoy…buscando …” Why wouldn’t the words come? “Un hombre—”

The waiter held up his hand and smiled. “It is okay. I speak the English.”

“Sorry about my Spanish.”

“It is all right. You try.” He flipped a pristine cloth over his shoulder. “You say you look for a man? This is not the right place.”

“I’m looking for this man in particular.” She passed him the professor’s business card with Mateo Vives scribbled on it. The waiter studied it intently, flipping it over in his fingers, then he handed it back.

“Ah, yes, la profesora. This Mateo Vives, he is, how you say, good eggs?”

“He’s a good egg.” Charlotte smiled. “So you know him?”

The waiter motioned for her to sit at the table with two chairs near the stage. “Yes, I know him. Wine?”

She nodded, figuring she’d more than earned an alcoholic beverage, plus her legs and nerves needed a break. The waiter disappeared into the crowd, which left Charlotte to her own devices. Her fingers twitched and she grabbed her phone, checking her work email again. Nothing had arrived since she’d boarded the flight in Melbourne, and the lack of communication made her uneasy. The phone always accompanied her, and if she wasn’t talking on it and negotiating contracts she was sending and receiving emails. Always. And now she had an empty inbox, thanks to her father banning staff and clients from contacting her while she was away on “important family business.”

Dropping the phone back in her bag, she placed her hands on her lap and took in the surroundings. Large posters advertising concerts lined the walls, some in artistic stylings of the 1930s and 40s. People chatted and laughed, an air of joy hanging in the tiny bar, while Charlotte wondered what it would have been like for Abuela when she danced in Granada. Did she spend her early years in these bars before moving on to bigger venues? And what had killed the passion she’d once held for flamenco?

The waiter arrived and set down a carafe of wine and a glass, along with a plate of tapas. The pile of almonds, olives, chorizo and cheese croquettes made her stomach growl.

Looking up at the waiter, Charlotte said, “Sorry. I should have said I only wanted a glass of wine.”

“You look thirsty. ¡Salud!” He nodded toward the full carafe then scurried away before she had a chance to ask more about the professor’s mystery man.

Standing, Charlotte craned her neck to look over the crowd so she could get the waiter’s attention, but he’d already vanished. Tapping the corner of the professor’s business card on the table, Charlotte sipped the very nice, but potent, wine and contemplated her next step. Lollygagging in a bar in Spain would not get the answers she so desperately needed for Abuela.

“Are you lost?” A tall, dark, and handsome cliché gave a lopsided grin, his dark chocolate eyes framed by impossibly long, black lashes.

“Not lost, but I’ve lost someone. Did you see where the waiter went?” Man, this guy was attractive. So flipping attractive, he would scare most women into speechlessness. Not Charlotte, though. She’d dealt with every type in her line of work, including men who had the world at their feet because of their looks.

“He is busy, yes? Perhaps I can help?”

“Thank you, but I don’t think so.” She sat down again.

“May I?” He motioned toward the spare chair and she couldn’t say no without appearing rude, which was not in her nature.

She gestured for him to sit and he did so, leaning back and placing his hands behind his head. “So, what brings you to Club Alegría? Flamenco? Wine? Tapas? My scintillating company?”

She furrowed her brows, not sure whether his questions were born of sarcasm or arrogance.

“I am doing the joking thing.”

She gave a polite laugh.

“So…” He lifted an eyebrow in a questioning manner.

“Charlotte.” She held out her hand, which he took and planted a light kiss on her skin. Goosebumps broke out involuntarily, and she subtly moved her arm away.

“It is not cold in here, but look at your skin.” He pointed at her forearms before she hid them under the table. “So Charlotte, why are you here alone?”

“I’m looking for someone.”

“The waiter?”

“Sort of. Apparently, the waiter knows the person I’m looking for.” Curiosity got the better of her. “I’m sorry, but who are you?”

“Me? I am someone happy to help a foreigner. Tell me, who is this person you seek? In Sacromonte we all know each other.”

Charlotte bit her lip. The waiter hadn’t reappeared, despite her sneaking glances between the throng of bodies.

“His name is Mateo Vives, and I believe he frequents this bar.”

“Hmm…sometimes he does, sometimes he does not. Why do you search for this Mateo Vives?” Her companion scratched his chin.

“An acquaintance says he can help me find a particular gitano clan I need to meet with.”

“Why do you want to meet with gitanos? They prefer only to keep to themselves.”

“That’s why I need Señor Vives to help. I believe he has a special connection with them.” Man, this guy liked to ask questions. If he wasn’t a journo or a cop, she’d be surprised.

“Which clan do you seek?” He tilted his head to the side, and the stage lights illuminated his face like he was in a photo shoot for a men’s magazine.

“It’s a long story, and I don’t mean to sound impolite, but I would prefer to keep the details to a limited audience.” Taking a sip of wine, she put the glass down. “I’m sorry, I’d offer you some, but there’s only one glass and the waiter seems to have gone on vacation.”

“Do not concern yourself, por favor. I am content. Who suggested you look for this Señor Vives?”

Gee, he didn’t let up. Figuring giving him a snippet was better than being rude when he’d offered to help, she said, “Professor Fonseca at the Escuela de Bellas Artes.”

A slow smile spread across his lips. “Ah, she spends many hours in this barrio. She is big fan of flamenco, no?”

“I guess so. Is Sacromonte where the flamenco artists hang out?”

“Yes and no. There are bars in Sacromonte that have tourist flamenco. This is what keeps performers from starving on the streets.” The man cast his gaze around as if searching for someone. “What do you know of flamenco?”

“Not much.” Because Abuela made sure her life as a flamenco dancer remained a mystery.

“Then, as a disciple of flamenco, it is my duty to inform you.” The seriousness in his tone didn’t match the glint in his eyes. “You have time, yes?”

The waiter hadn’t appeared and the carafe wasn’t yet empty. Plus, she had a mighty fine view from this side of the table. “Sure, inform away.”

Shuffling forward, the handsome stranger began. “The history of flamenco is complicated, but if you look carefully, you will find it everywhere, not just in tourist bars. Flamenco shines in the eyes of the people, the way they walk or speak. Flamenco, it is in the blood, and very few foreigners can understand the importance of this. I am talking about the flamenco puro not the tourist flamenco with the big dresses with the…” He wiggled his fingers around his shoulders.

“Frills.”

“The frills, yes. Tourists come here and expect to see and experience the zambra—a festive dance. It is happy and makes the people feel good. Zambra has a rhythm of four-four with accents on the first and third beats. Like this.” He placed the fingers of his right hand on the palm of his left and clapped while repeating daa-da-daa-da. He held the rhythm easily as he continued talking.

Why hasn’t the waiter returned? Should she ask this guy if he knows where Mateo Vives lives? She studied the man across the table, his eyes shining as he enthusiastically gave her a rundown on flamenco. Any other time she’d be interested, but right now too many thoughts vied for her attention. She tried her best to tune back in, but he’d just stopped talking.

“I am sorry, I may have confused you with all this information. My fault is my passion for flamenco.”

“I can’t see how that can be a fault. There’s nothing wrong with finding a passion and loving it.” She smiled even though guilt assailed her on a daily basis for ditching the only passion she’d ever possessed.

“This Señor Vives, I can help you find him. Will you stay for the concert?” He tilted his head toward the stage. “We start very soon.”

She liked this guy and got the feeling he was sincere and not expecting anything in return. Then again, she’d been off the mark with plenty of men in the past, especially with her last boyfriend, who had done a wonderful job of appearing straight while he conducted a hot affair with one of the players on his football team. Perhaps trusting her instincts with men, romantic intentions or not, wasn’t the wisest move, but she had little choice at the moment, especially since her waiter had been abducted by aliens.

“Please excuse me.” He stood and pushed the chair under the table.

The moment he appeared on the stage, people cheered and whooped. Over the noise she shouted, “I didn’t catch your name!”

It was no use. The audience grew rowdy as more musicians poured from the crowd like ants from an anthill. Her mystery companion sat on a stool, reached behind the curtain, then pulled out a shiny guitar and placed it on his knee. The deep orange and red of the wood reminded her of the sunset she’d witnessed earlier that evening, when she’d stood in front of Sacromonte Abbey, bathing in an array of warm hues. Despite Granada’s turbulent history, Charlotte found this city enchanting, and she loved the way Granada thrived on its mixed cultural heritage, embracing the old and the new, just like her beloved Melbourne.

A woman sauntered onto the stage and the bar fell silent. She wore a pristine white shirt tied under her breasts, a red scarf around her neck and a yellow skirt that fit snugly from her waist to her knees then fanned out to swirl above her ankles. Her hair was pulled back in a severe bun, but her natural beauty didn’t suffer. She floated to the center of the stage, head bowed, arms by her side.

An older man appeared from behind the curtain, his navy blue shirt with high collar pressed to perfection. He sat next to her handsome new acquaintance, who’d already started strumming his guitar, the hypnotic notes reminding Charlotte of the music played in her favorite Moroccan restaurant at home. The older man’s gravelly voice drifted through the room, and a moment later two more women stepped onto the stage, clapping in a steady four-four rhythm just like the guitarist had mentioned. There was a slight pause in the music, then the dancer arched her back and swung her arms high in the air. She stamped her feet continuously, the steady rhythm gaining momentum as her body dipped and twirled. The fluidity and strength in her movements commanded full attention from everyone in the room.

The singer’s words chased the swirling notes through the cavern, weaving between audience members’ bodies frozen in the moment. The dancer grabbed the hem of her skirt, revealing slim, athletic legs and black, patent leather shoes. She hit the boards hard with her heels, shot her arms toward the heavens and let out a guttural cry that hit Charlotte straight in the chest. This primal energy surging through the room ignited an unfamiliar feeling in Charlotte. What was it? Electricity? Sensuality? Ghosts of her family?

The power of the dancer radiated within the small cave, then she abruptly moved to the side of the stage, her chest rising and falling heavily. The guitarist ran his fingers up, down and across the strings with ease. He finished the solo, and the dancer took center stage again, her passion and intensity hitting Charlotte once more. When the performance finished, the audience leapt to its feet and shouted their appreciation. The group played a few more songs, and then Charlotte realized nothing was left in the wine carafe.

Oops.

With the set complete, the group disbanded. Picking at the tapas to line her stomach, Charlotte wished she’d had one, perhaps two, glasses fewer than she’d guzzled but it was too late. Light-headedness had descended.

The guitarist sauntered over, then slid onto the chair as though they’d been friends for years. This time, she welcomed his presence. “Did you enjoy the performance?”

“It was…uh…it was…” For someone with a dual degree in economics and business management she nevertheless abjectly failed to string a sentence together in this instance.

He gave a gentle laugh, smile lines crinkling around his dark eyes. “Do you always have trouble with your native language?”

“I…” God, what was wrong with her? “That whole performance gave me goose bumps. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Was that duende?”

“You know of this?”

She nodded and his smile broadened.

“Señorita, if you have to ask if it was duende, then I am afraid it was not. You will know it when it happens, I promise.” He punctuated this with an authoritative nod. Even after the magic he’d worked on stage not one bead of sweat appeared on his lovely olive skin.

The waiter finally reappeared with another carafe of wine, two glasses, and more tapas. He set it down on the table and topped up Charlotte’s glass. Her head spun at the thought of drinking any more, but to be sociable, she took a small sip.

The waiter winked at her and slapped the guitarist on the back. “Tonight you perform very well, Mateo.”

You can purchase Under the Spanish Stars at:
Kensington Books

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

alliAlli Sinclair is a multi-award winning author of books that combine travel, mystery, and romance. An adventurer at heart, Alli has climbed some of the world’s highest mountains and immersed herself in an array of exotic destinations, cultures, and languages. Alli’s stories capture the romance and  thrill of exploring new destinations and cultures that also take readers on a journey of discovery.

Alli volunteers as an author role model with Books in Homes, promoting literacy and reading among young people.

Alli can be found at:

www.allisinclair.com

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I am the Senior News Editor for Reader's Entertainment News. I also write articles, scripts, and reviews for multiple print and online media outlets. I am also the author of romantic comedies and humorous mysteries.

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