Welcome Nakul Shenoy! And happy birthday, ISLAND MAGIC

Aha! Welcome to party central! It’s the birthday of my new book, Island Magic, and I figured…what better way to celebrate than to have a real live email interview posted on my blog? Nakul Shenoy and I have been twitter buddies since I first started getting seriously interested in magic. He was the first magician to take me seriously, and he’s even read a couple of my books! Now it’s my turn. He has a book about magic coming out, and I thought it’d be a good chance to return the favor. Please help me make him welcome. Also, I’ve decided to give out a $10 Amazon gift card to one random commenter on my blog today, so leave Nakul a question, then beat tracks over to Amazon to buy your copy of Island Magic, if you haven’t already!

~The Interview~

#001_NakulShenoy_ProfileFirst of all, let me be honest, I dont want to know the secrets of my favorite magic tricks. I prefer to believe. Should I read your book?

Indeed, Michelle! I agree. Belief in magic is what keeps many of us going; it inspires us to create effects and presentations that represent ‘real magic’. Anyway, my book is not as much about the tricks, as much as it is about learning to present and perform magic. In many ways the real secrets to creating a magical experience.

This book will serve as a good guide to anybody interested in putting together an effective performance in magic, while also helping them in various ways to improve their confidence, public speaking, and social skills.

You should read my book simply because it is a wonderful thing to be able to amaze and entertain others using magic, and it helps us bring smiles to people’s faces.

Whats the biggest misconception about learning to perform magic?

Good question! The way I see it – and this is based on the numerous interactions I have had over the years – there are two major misconceptions about learning magic.

One, people think magic is performed using hypnosis. That in many ways could be attributed to the mysterious passes and gestures that the magicians perform as part of their act. As romantic as it may sound, hypnotism has really not much to do with the stage magic that we encounter most of the time.

The second misconception is that tricks make magic. Much as this is true, the technical aspects of the trick itself – also called method – has a limited role to play in the performance of magic. A magical performance is embellished with the story, presentation, and premise of the effect; it is this that makes a trick into a miracle. Yet, many of us – including professional magicians – cannot get over the search for the perfect method. Somehow, we can’t get over the belief that learning the secrets of tricks is what makes the best magic.

Whats your best advice for aspiring magicians?

The first, second, and third rule of magic is Practice, Practice, Practice. You really have to internalise the workings and handling of a magic trick, before you can even take it to a rehearsal stage – let alone perform before a live audience.

That aside, the focus of the magician has to be on making magic, magical. As weird as that may sound, in many ways we forget what made us get into magic – that feeling of something being real and amazing – and get too caught up in performing magic tricks, because we can. As far as the aspiring magician remembers to give all the attention to the performance, the presentation that creates the feeling of magic in the audience’s minds, they will create magic, and not just perform a puzzle for the audience to solve.

How do you go about teaching someone to perform magic?

Magic is both an art and a craft. It involves skills that have to be learnt first, then mastered, before they can be crafted together into a charming performance. Much like a musician has to learn and master musical notes and a dancer has to learn and master dance steps, the aspiring magician too has to first concentrate on the basics. Once that step has been crossed comes the performance part, where the focus has to shift on learning and mastering the basics of acting. The words of Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin – the father of modern magic – comes to mind here: the magician is but an actor playing the role of a magician.

Why did you decide to write the Smart Course in Magic?

I took to magic as a 5-year-old kid, fascinated by Mandrake the Magician. I wanted to be Mandrake. In many ways, I still do. I took to seeing any magic show that came my way, as many times as I could. I took to reading anything and everything remotely connected to magic. Somewhere down the line, I found books that dealt with tricks, and later also some that dealt with the performance of magic.

It is just fortuitous that I am where I am today in the world of magic, as I had a lot of things falling into place at the right time – to get the proper guidance, mentorship, and of course friendship. This is linked to a lot of circumstances coming together in the right way – a feat no less magical.

The idea for the Smart Course in Magic came though as I wanted to create a workshop in a book. Not one that taught numerous magic tricks – there are too many already in the market – but one that focused on presenting magic in the way it should be. So in this book, the tricks are incidental; they are taught only in the context of learning a larger concept of magical performance. I do believe I have delivered what I intended with this book.

 

How did you choose mind reading as your specialty in magic?

This came more recently. I was performing stage magic – the conjuring and illusion variety – for about 10 years. Yet somewhere I found that I was going away from my idea of Mandrake The Magician. He did not seem to have a 10-member troupe or a truck load of equipment. That was when I discovered psychological magic or magic of the mind. Dabbling in that allowed me to create an onstage persona of The Mind Reader. And so most of what I do today is limited to the ‘powers’ that I have attributed to that persona.

Have you ever performed other types of magic? Illusion? Sleight of hand?

Yes! I have walked the path, so to say. I began with close up and conjuring magic – mostly the sleight of hand variety. Then I moved to the stage magic – as I found that more fitting to my context, and performed shows with illusions and conjuring effects. As I said earlier, the move to mind reading was my need – to push myself to other realms of magical performance; to entertain audiences in the best way available to me.

Mind reading is very different from other types of magic, but I imagine they use some of the same psychology. How do you see this?

Yes, they are all various genres of magic. And in many ways, the basic rules remain the same. The methods are varied and different, but what makes any type of magic – magic, is the performance of the same. Yet, there is a great difference in the way you are perceived by the audience, basically because of the premise you are performing in and of course the story of the presentation itself. I like it because there is nothing much to hide behind, and it is magical performance at its purest. It is just the audience and you the performer – with minimal focus on props.

Do humans as a whole want to be fooled?

I do have a theory on that, but in this context I would say that we do wish to be entertained. And in the best possible way. Dariel Fitzkee once wrote, “the audience is there to be entertained – entertained by magic” while reminding that magic was only one of the various other modes of entertainment available. This is a truism I hold dear, and remind myself all the time.

If the focus of our performance is to entertain and entertain with magic, then it never matters what the audience is there originally for and with what intent. So again, whether we wish to be fooled or not, I sincerely believe we wish to be entertained.

What is the biggest challenge magicians face today?

Like everything else in life, the digital age is changing things faster than we realise. Television brought along opportunities to take magic to homes, and now the internet has provided the opportunity to take it to everybody in the connected world. Yet, the real joy of magic is in the performance of it – in front of a live audience. And similarly, it is best enjoyed in first person, live. Somehow, in today’s tech world we are losing the charm of the live theatre performances, and this to me is the biggest challenge for the craft and its practitioners.

Okay, you knew I was going to ask. Can you read my mind over the internet?

Haha! Yes, I indeed did. I think it is best that I share that thought offline!

Ha! Get on out of here, magic man. Thanks for stopping by!

If you want to know more about Nakul, check out his bio below:

NAKUL SHENOY is The Mind Reader – an expert magician and hypnotist based in Bangalore, India. A leading corporate speaker and entertainer with unique insights on communication and people behaviour, he travels the world addressing elite audiences drawn from top corporates.

Nakul took to magic at the age of five via his fascination for the comic book ‘Mandrake The Magician’. He performed his first public show at the age of 15, and since then has continued in his self-professed journey to be “a real-life Mandrake”.

Over the last two decades, Nakul has grown to be a sought-after entertainer for Fortune 500 companies and other coveted events, and has performed at venues in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, UK and the USA.

A compulsive reader of books “on every topic under the Sun and beyond,” he haunts Twitter as @nakulshenoy. Nakul’s first book on performance titled ‘Smart Course in Magic’ will be published by HarperCollins India in December 2014.

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Life as a Self Published Writer and the Road Not Taken

Tomorrow morning, Island Magic goes on sale. My tenth book (nine novels and a novella). It seems like a good point in my career to sit down and look at the road I didn’t take for a minute.

I see the roads of Self Publishing and Traditional Publishing like this. Self Publishing is a rural route. Part of it isn’t paved, and part of it is freshly hacked out of the forest undergrowth. It’s windy and long and sometimes difficult to get through, and there are a lot of little side paths you might find yourself on if you’re not careful. Traditional Publishing, however, is a highway. Well-paved, but sometimes jammed up. Littered with rejection letters from editors, publishers and agents. It’s only once in a great while that a writer can make their way through the pack and over the bridge and into the big, golden city named Published. And once you do, you have to go back to the beginning and start all over.

I reached the fork in my road a while back. Traditional publishing had paid off only mildly for me (two ebooks with Lyrical Press and one with Carina Press). I tried self publishing with my book, Weeds and FlowersMH900058885, because I had literally no idea how to sell it. It isn’t literary or genre fiction. It’s fairly intense for young adults, but the main characters are teenagers. I tried to rewrite it as a young adult romance, but that didn’t work. So I self published it, telling myself it wouldn’t hurt anything.

And it didn’t hurt anything. But it opened up a whole new world to me. Suddenly I realized, as a writer, I don’t have to sit in a traffic jam on the Traditional Publishing Highway. I don’t have to spend my precious writing hours anguishing over cover letters and synopses. If I took this exit onto Self Publishing Route, I could spend them writing what I want to write. Books.

I can still see Highway Traditional Publishing. It crosses Route Self Publishing from time to time. I check out the market, consider submitting, wish for a moment that life could be easier, that my books would sell themselves. And then I continue writing. Because that’s what I want to do, and if I have to pull out my machete and hack my own way through the wilderness, so be it.

Island Magic goes on sale tomorrow. Don’t forget to buy your copy of my seventh self-published book.

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Island Magic: Let it go…unless it’s a misplaced comma.

commaThis is the story of how a misplaced comma very nearly brought down all my plans to publish Island Magic on time. Okay, maybe not really, but it did cause a very frustrating morning for me.

I spotted the comma in one of my “extra” rounds of editing. I call them “extra editing” but I don’t really have a name for them. It’s what I do when I’ve finished all the other rounds and want to spend a few minutes re-reading and admiring what I’ve done. “Patting myself on the back” doesn’t sound as good as extra editing.

And what I definitely do not expect is to find a mistake. A glaring error. An imperfection in the form of a tiny, itsy bitsy punctuation mark…a misplaced comma.

THE misplaced comma.

I knew immediately where this comma came from. It was stuck in the middle of a sentence between the subject and verb. How on earth did I do that? In no realm of alternate punctuation would I ever think a comma belonged in that spot. But in this particular instance, it was a sentence I’d rewritten on my last pass through the document. I rewrote the sentence because it struck me on that last pass as being too long and complicated. I deleted a clause, but somehow I neglected to delete one of the commas that went with it.

But what to do about this comma? I could leave it. Everything else in my document was perfect. At least as far as I’d seen. But I knew that comma would haunt me. I couldn’t let it go.

So I opened up the document and fixed it. Then I downloaded the fixed file to Createspace and KDP.

That’s when I noticed a mysterious tab had appeared on the left side of most of my document. Where it came from I didn’t know, but it definitely threw off my page count. Which threw off my cover. The tab had to go. Unfortunately, not only was it a mysterious tab, it was also a stubborn one. No matter what I did, it remained.

And then, as suddenly as it appeared, it disappeared. Taking with it all of my formatting. Line spacing, first paragraph indent and all chapter headings and scene break indicators (you know: ****).

During the course of the morning as I fixed the missing and messed up formatting, I cursed myself for ever touching that comma. Really. It was like a zit on your nose that you squeeze and make a big red mark instead. About fifty percent of my readers would never have even noticed that comma zit and forty-five percent of the others wouldn’t have cared. I can only think of a couple who’d ever have mentioned it to me.

I’m not really certain what my take away from all this was. I’m not the type to ignore little zits, even if messing with them causes bigger problems. But the end result, I hope, of striving for excellence is at least a step closer to it.

What about you? Do you let the little mistakes go or are you willing to cause bigger problems to fix them?

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Sleight of Hand Continues: A brief intro to Rachel and Logan from Island Magic!

In just thirteen days, the magic starts again! Island Magic, the third novel in my Sleight of Hand series, releases on October 31. I’m a little excited about this, and not just because the covers (designed by the amazing Farah Evers), look great together:

CloseUpMagicEbookRevEscape MagicEbookIsland Magic eBook

For those who don’t know, I started the Sleight of Hand series a couple of years ago with the release of Close Up Magic. Close Up Magic tells the story of handsome and successful magician Andre Hawke and Stacey Matthews, the scandal reporter looking for a scoop of gossip about Andre and his drug-addicted brother, Tony. Needless to say, attraction leads to passion which leads to complications, and, finally, a satisfyingly magical conclusion. I continued the series a year later with the novella Escape Magic, the story of a cleaner and stronger Tony, who finds himself challenged by an old friend, the inimitable escape magician Lady Lydia. I called this my “anti-50 Shades” bondage romance because, well, Lydia is an escape magician. Makes sense she’d be into that kind of thing, though she’s such a strong heroine, she’s more than capable of turning the tables on any partner who might try it with her.

Island Magic is a bit of a departure for me in that it doesn’t involve a practicing magician. The hero, Ian Logan, retired from the magical life after the death of his wife, which he blames himself for. He’s happy in his retirement until Rachel Duvall, his wife’s best friend, arrives at his island resort, freshly divorced and evidently determined to party her way down a self-destructive path of men, drugs and drink. Logan wants to help her, but first he has to deal with his own attraction to the sexy goddess he barely recognizes.

Rachel is the single most unlikely heroine I’ve ever written, but I absolutely love her. It was hard to get her just right. The things she does aren’t things I could ever imagine doing, so at first I had a hard time relating to her. I had to achieve a balance in her personality that somehow made her worth redeeming, and it was very difficult! Have a look at this excerpt to get a taste of what Rachel appears to be at the beginning of the book:

Three floors down from Rachel’s window handsome, tanned men dressed in white moved around the pool, setting up chairs, sweeping away small bits of trash, piling clean white towels on bamboo stands. Rachel watched their smooth movements with all the admiration she would feel for a ballet. They were coordinated, efficient, pleasant to observe.

They reminded her a little of the cast members she’d seen at Disney World when she was last there. The memory brought a jab of pain sharp enough to penetrate the morning fog. She’d been so full of hope then. So sure it wouldn’t be the last time she believed in magic.

The bedsheets rustled and a tousled dark head emerged. The handsome college kid grinned at her, teeth white against his olive skin. Where was he from again? Spain? She struggled to remember at least that much. His name was out of the question. She never remembered names. How old was he, anyway? She hoped at least twenty-one. She didn’t want to think she’d spent a passionate night in the arms of anyone technically young enough to be her son. He’s still too young for a thirtysomething divorcee. Her years weighed on her for a second before she shook them off impatiently.

He held out a hand. “Come back to bed.”

The invitation was eloquently stated and absurdly inviting to have been uttered by someone so young. However old he was, he certainly had experience in the area of making love. And he had the face and body of a fallen angel. Curly, jet-black hair, brown eyes, lush lips. His bare skin smooth and his muscles rock hard… She shook herself out of the memory, making her voice cold on purpose. “You need to go.”

He laughed and rolled over onto his back, stretching. “You don’t mean that, mi reyna.”

My Queen. Spanish. She’d at least remembered that right. Rachel felt ludicrously relieved, which firmed up her determination. She needed to get this kid, ah hell, this boy out of her room before she fell back into bed with him. Drunk sex was one thing—the only thing she could afford. Making love sober the morning after was another. She turned away. “It’s late. I have things to do.”

He was silent. She’d hurt him. She closed her eyes. It was better this way. If he fell into the dark hole of her heart, he’d never survive it. She turned, finding his clothes in a pile on the floor. She picked them up and tossed them to him. “Here you go. You’ve got a room here, right? Go take a shower.” She let herself smile gently at him. “Look, I don’t mean to hurt you. Last night was…mmm.” She laughed a little. “You’re very good. But you’re barely old enough for me. Take my advice and stick with girls for now. Give yourself another ten years before you try with a woman my age. At least by then you’ll be interesting.”

I think you get the idea that Rachel has a long way to go from here. Fortunately, she has Logan to help her on the journey, and he’s a hero who’s more than up to the task. Don’t believe me? Here’s a little excerpt to introduce you:

Logan held the burning cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, even though he wasn’t a smoker. He could go days without smoking and never even think about it. Smoking, like most everything else in his life, was an affectation.

Except this place. This is real. Isla Foriscura, his little haven in the middle of the Caribbean, was the only thing real about him anymore. The rest was illusion. The lustful looks of the women, the nights he spent drinking a little too much trying to forget, the mornings when he could very easily have stayed in bed. None of that was real.

She was real. Rachel. She was really here, but it wasn’t really her. He frowned at the cigarette, aware that the others had finished the job he’d started with them, but not ready to move yet. He turned the problem of Rachel over and over in his mind. I stopped believing in magic a long time ago.

That wasn’t the Rachel he remembered, not that he knew her except for Nora’s description: beautiful, carefree, loving and loveable. She’d sent him an invitation to her wedding a few years ago, but he hadn’t gone. He’d sent her a lovely crystal vase instead with a card wishing her well. Who was the guy? Keith? Ken? It didn’t matter. Obviously he was out of the picture and he’d taken most of the woman Nora had loved with him.

What happened to you, Rachel?

And then there was this day. His birthday. Nora always made a big deal out of birthdays. Probably why Logan hadn’t celebrated his since her death. He looked down at the cigarette in his fingers and wound it through them, watching it with interest as it moved, seemingly of its own accord, although he knew it was little flexes of the muscles he’d developed over his years performing sleight of hand magic tricks.

Tricks. The word gave him a sour taste in his mouth. It was all tricks. He tossed the cigarette on the tiles and stepped on it as he stood. He could sit there all day brooding or he could get up and live. He’d always known those were his choices, and he’d chosen life a long time before.

Intrigued yet? In case you’re wondering, Tony, Stacey, Andre and Lady Lydia all make appearances in Island Magic, and you find out where their paths have led them. So if you want to catch up on the story before Island Magic‘s official release on October 31 in print and on Kindle, you can find their books on Amazon. Both are available for the bargain price of 99 cents! Island Magic is available for pre-order for $2.99 for Kindle now.

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Nothing to fear except irrational fear: The monster under the bed

I get ready for bed. I turn out the overhead light and realize I forgot to turn on the bedside lamp. No big deal and certainly not worth turning the overhead light back on for the short, uncluttered distance to my bed, right?

I walk bravely through the dark room to the bedside. I reach for the extra pillows and toss them aside. It’s very dark. And very still. My ankles feel particularly exposed.

Too still. Without waiting to pull the bedcovers down, I jump on the bed and laugh at myself. I’m not four. I’m forty-four. And I’m still afraid of the monster under the bed.

I think about the monster under the bed quite often. I’ve never seen him, but he’s been with me since I was little, moving from one bed to another, one room to another, one house to another. I imagine him as two long arms with grasping, reaching, pincer-like, warty, green hands. What’s at the other end of those arms is a mystery because, of course, he doesn’t exist. He’s the curse of too much imagination.

Or is he? I think the monster under the bed is irrational fear, and irrational fear comes in many forms. In today’s world, irrational fear can seem frighteningly realistic. Ebola. EV D68. Russia. ISIS. All of them grasping, reaching, strr-etcchh-iinn-ggg to reach bare ankles from under our beds.

My monster hasn’t reached me yet, but maybe that’s because I’m too fast for him. I can still jump up on the bed and snatch my ankles away too quickly for him to get me. But what will happen as I age and slow down? In spite of what you might think, forty-four is still pretty spry. Maybe I should test my irrational fear, stand by the bed in the dark with my bare ankles and feet pointing toward the monster. If he grabs me, I can give him a good, sharp kick in the face, right?

And maybe he wouldn’t since I know he’s not really there. Probably.

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Island Magic: My Winter Wishes on Paper

As I leaf through my advance copies of Island Magic, I remember writing it, and it’s a bit funny. Last winter was one of the coldest and snowiest I’ve experienced since moving to eastern North Carolina. Every other year I’ve lived here, we’ve been lucky to get even one significant snowfall. Last year, if I remember correctly and didn’t lose count, we had three. And though temperatures here can dip into the twenties almost any year, the average low is probably closer to fifty, and that’s a cool day. I’ve seen seventy degrees in December. But not last year.

Last year was cold. And our house is drafty. The windows need to be replaced, and I have a particularly bad one in my office. It’s large, old and on cold days, you can actually feel the wind coming through it. Right in front of this particular window is my desk. And that’s where I sat last winter writing about warm, blue Caribbean seas and skies. Romance on a deserted island. I would sip my coffee, blow on my cold fingers and transport myself there through the magic of my tapping fingers on the keyboard.

Ironic? Maybe. Fun? Yes. Challenging? Absolutely!

Writing about lying on a beach in a bikini is a very difficult thing when your feet are cold. Imagining warm sun and sand when snow is falling is near impossible. But somehow, I think I pulled it off. Check this out:

Rachel stretched, trying her best to enjoy the warmth of the tropical sun on her skin, but she couldn’t stop thinking about Logan. Jesus, Nora, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be flirting with him like I did, but damn… She remembered the night before when he’d placed her hand over the glass with the glowing blue-white light in it and her frustration intensified.

A star. How the hell did he do that? She felt uncomfortably hot at the memory of his touch. Maybe she’d been right to walk away last night after all. What the hell? When she’d come here, he’d been nothing but the husband of her dead best friend. Even if she had remembered the way he’d spoken of the island as a place of healing. Even if she had thought at the time that maybe he was her salvation. I still can’t want him. Not like that. Not this bad.

So bad, in fact, she wasn’t certain she’d be able to relax in the warm sun for thinking about the feel of his hands on her skin. And the fact that she didn’t actually know how his hands would feel only frustrated her more.

She sat up, looking around her. Time lost meaning in the tropics, she’d found, and right now what might have been hours must only have been minutes. No other guests peopled the pool deck. Logan had disappeared, too, although a few white-clothed, very beautiful people who were obviously staffers bustled around the little poolside bar. None of them acknowledged her at all, making her wonder if Logan had warned them off. Not a single quirked eyebrow or smirk was cast her way.

Island Magic will be released on October 31. Join me on Facebook for the party and lots of prizes!: https://www.facebook.com/events/1914633948677278/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming

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Island Magic excerpt: Leave a comment for your chance to win an autographed advance copy!

Magic week has been grand, but now it is finished. To celebrate, I’m posting below an excerpt from Island Magic. Island Magic, book three of my Sleight of Hand series, won’t be released until October 31, but if you want more than the prologue posted below, leave me a comment. One lucky winner will receive an autographed advance copy of Island Magic!

Prologue

Night fell slowly in the Caribbean, and when it came, it was complete. Especially in the little bar on the beach that Logan loved. Even the tiki torches on the boardwalk only spread small radii of flickering glow around their poles. The rest was a dark, secret haven.

From his lighted oasis beneath the thatch-roofed bar, he watched the patrons of the resort milling around, coming in from the dark beach, usually hand-in-hand with someone else. Occasionally a group of young men would collide with a group of young women and soon they would pair off and head into dark corners. All Logan had to do was make their drinks and chat. No interference required on his part. He was like a voyeuristic benefactor, watching them leave with nothing but good feelings.

When he first spotted Rachel in the bar, then lost sight of her in a crowd of college kids, he thought he must be mistaken. He frowned, craning his neck. It certainly had looked like Rachel. Nora’s best friend, the maid of honor at his wedding to a woman who was now dead. But what would Rachel be doing there? He hadn’t seen her in years, but he didn’t believe in coincidence. Magic, but not coincidence.

He recognized the long, luxurious hair and the lovely features, even though they had a hard edge he didn’t recall. And what was up with the slinky dress? Rachel had always seemed so strait-laced he’d figured she would be a suburban soccer mom by now. This was no soccer mom. This wasn’t even the beautiful, gentle woman Nora had known in the years after their marriage.

She sat at a table not far from the bar. She was alone, but everything about her said she had no intention of remaining that way. Logan noticed several men glancing her way. He couldn’t blame them. Her raven hair fell over one bare shoulder, her sleeveless red sundress setting off her tan. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, and he shouldn’t be looking at Rachel that way. Not Nora’s best friend.

When the waitress took her order for a frozen margarita with salt, Logan intercepted it from Ramon. “Sorry, man.” He grinned at his friend and fellow bartender. “I’m gonna deliver this one personally.”

Ramon gave him a mock growl. “Earn me a good tip if you’re gonna pull rank on me, amigo.”

Logan flashed him a smile and vaulted the bar neatly, landing on the other side to appreciative looks from a group of young women. He saluted them, picked up the margarita and crossed to the table. “Your margarita, señorita.”

She raised beautiful dark eyes to meet his. The raw sensuality in that gaze left him breathless. She smiled, playing along as if she had no idea who he was. “Muchas gracias, señor. To what do I owe the special delivery?”

He glanced left and right, then sat across from her, leaning over the table as if to keep their conversation covert. “Between you and me, I’ve been told I’m overly concerned with our guests’ satisfaction.”

The curve of her lips deepened and he knew she’d sensed a double entendre in his words. He wanted to laugh but didn’t give in to the impulse. He wasn’t even certain he’d meant to flirt with her, but it had come out that way. He’d spent so many years on stage, his career so dependent on reading his audience, yet he couldn’t seem to see through Rachel’s carefully guarded exterior. She was so unlike the woman he remembered, it worried him. Enough so he stepped over a boundary he hadn’t crossed in years.

He beckoned her closer. When she obliged, her expression highly amused, he said quietly, “Do you believe in magic?”

****

The light touch of his breath on her ear sent a pleasant tingle of electricity through Rachel’s body. Maybe it was the way he pretended not to know her instead of demanding instantly what she was doing there and why she looked the way she did. He’d have every right, of course. She probably shouldn’t have just shown up this way. Why the hell did I? There are thousands of resorts in Cancun, but here I am on his island, a hundred miles away from those resorts and reachable only by plane. I might as well be on Fantasy Island.

The idea of this exceptionally tall, dark-skinned, very handsome man as a modern-day Mr. Roark was close enough to the truth of what Rachel knew she’d come searching for so she shied away from it. Magic wouldn’t help her now. Even if she did believe in it.

But maybe it had been what had brought her here to Isla Foriscura with her life in shambles around her. She’d told herself she wanted nothing but fun and a chance to spend her alimony, but in her broken heart, she knew the truth lay in the question the widower husband of her dead best friend had just asked her.

Do you believe in magic?

To the best of her knowledge he hadn’t performed magic since Nora died. Since he’d retired to his private island turned reclusive resort in the Caribbean. But she had no intention of asking him about it because that would break the little spell of pretense between them.

Instead she sipped the margarita, enjoying the tangy drink mixed with the salt from the rim. She let her lips part a little just before answering, noticed the way he focused on her mouth. “Should I?”

“Maybe.” He snagged an empty glass from a passing waitress and set it on the table in front of her.

She frowned. “Am I supposed to do something with that?” She glanced around, noticing that a little crowd of interested onlookers had gathered, including the waitresses. Did they know something she didn’t?

He shook his head, taking her hand and pulling her to her feet. “Not that.” He twirled her around so she stood with her back to his chest, one of his hands on her waist. She wasn’t a short woman and she was wearing heels, but Logan was exceptionally tall. Over six feet tall and well built, he dwarfed her, but he adjusted his stance so his head was just over her shoulder.

She could feel the heat of his breath on her neck and she closed her eyes. If he weren’t Ian Logan—if she really didn’t know him—she would have enjoyed this. She would have let her body mold against his, felt his response, reveled in the feel of his firm body…

She forced herself to open her eyes, maintain her distance. Dear God, how had she forgotten what a sexy man he was? Ian Logan had everything. Money, talent, looks, confidence…and a broken heart the last time she saw him. Still, she wondered what it would be like spending the night in his arms. Would it be different from all the other nights? She remembered Kevin and her heart shuddered. Her voice came out sounding slightly more acidic than she’d intended. “What, then?”

Unperturbed by her change of tone, he raised his free arm and pointed at the stars. “Those.”

She frowned. “I beg your pardon?”

“Pick one.”

“Just one?” His gentle mysterious tone intrigued her, but she couldn’t help mocking him a little bit.

He laughed. “Just one. I can only catch one at a time.”

“Oh, you can catch one, can you?” She snorted, scanned the skies and decided to play along. Obviously she’d been wrong about him not practicing magic. He had a little bar trick he used to amuse the crowd and probably to pick up women. Well, it wouldn’t work well on her unless she wanted it to. She chose a bright star low on the horizon. “That one.”

“Perfect.” He moved away, leaving her bare back surprisingly cool in the evening breeze. He handed her the glass. “Hold that.” He gazed into the distance for a moment, then reached out as if plucking something from the air in front of him. It reminded her of the days when she used to catch fireflies as a child and she fended off the jolt of nostalgia with difficulty.

He turned back, his hand closed and a mischievous expression playing on his features. She’d forgotten the other people clustered around them. She’d almost forgotten that she knew Logan and he knew her. They were two strangers in a bar and she wanted to believe the expression in his warm brown eyes was just for her. That he wasn’t still a showman and that all of this was for her benefit alone.

He raised one eyebrow, holding his hand close to his face. “You didn’t answer my question earlier.

Do you believe in magic?”

She thought of everything that had brought her to this point, everything that had gone wrong in her life and what she’d lost. How could she believe in magic now? Without pausing to doctor her answer, she replied honestly. “No. Not anymore.”

His smile faded, but not as if he’d lost confidence. More as if he felt her pain. She looked away, uncomfortable, wishing he hadn’t spotted her. Or maybe that she hadn’t come. He didn’t falter, however. Instead he placed his closed hand over the glass and took her free hand, placing it on top of his. In a swift, practiced movement, he opened his hand and pulled it away, pushing hers down on top of the glass. “Do you believe now?”

She gasped, looking at the blue-white light hovering in the glass. What could it be but the star she’d requested? She turned the glass in her hands as the little crowd applauded and he bowed. No matter which way she turned the glass, the light shimmered back at her. She stared in amazement, barely feeling it when he led her back to the table and helped her put the glass down without taking her hand away.

She tore her eyes away from the glimmering light, trying to focus on him. “This is a trick, right?”

“The best magic always leaves you wondering.” He smiled a little, but she could see the shadow of sorrow still hovering in his eyes.

“What happens if I move my hand?” She glanced back at the glass.

“The light goes out.” He shrugged. “You can’t keep a star captive forever.”

“No. You can’t.” His words filled her with sadness and she knew why she’d come there. To his island. To him. Because of all people, Ian Logan knew that nothing lasted forever. Love, life, stars. She gave the light in the jar a final look of regret before taking her hand away from the top. It flickered and died. She raised her eyes to Logan’s. “It’s a neat trick, Logan. And thanks, but I stopped believing in magic a long time ago.”

Summoning a flirtatious smile and a little wiggle into her hips, she moved out of the circle of light around the bar, feeling the darkness descend in a wave of welcome obscurity. She knew another bar down the beach where the young men were sexy and ready to get laid and didn’t bother making her feel like she mattered to do it.

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